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Angel's Ashes

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Added to the Roswell Slash Archive February 11, 2001

Angel's Ashes - Adam Winsdor
Website: ~ http://members.optushome.com.au/crowroad/
Legal: All characters are (c) Joss Whedon, Fox, Mutant Enemy and probably a whole mess of other people. No infringement of copyright intended.
Archive: Go right ahead. Just let me know, please
Spoilers: All the way up to the end of Seasons 4 (Buffy) and 1 (Angel)
Summary: Someone from Angel's past makes Faith an offer she didn't expect. Faith's POV.
Rating: R (MPAA) - violence, language, f/f concepts
Notes: This is *all* Angel's fault. List-Angel, not show-Angel. Just so you know. Which means that the title of this fic is actually a pun on four different levels. Yes, I am easily amused by such nonsense.



        "Ya got a visitor, Clay." Petersen rumbled at me through the bars.

        I looked up from the creased western I'd been thumbing through. As guards go, Petersen is okay. By the book, but okay.

        "Who?" I tossed the western onto the bed. 'Clay' is a nickname I picked up my second day here. Right after I flattened four dykes who thought they'd get a piece of the new girl. Clay, as in Cassius. Float like a butterfly, sting like a B. That sort of crap.

        Petersen shrugged, which set his belly wobbling like an aftershock.

        "Dunno." His voice was as thick and rough as any Con's, but he was smarter than he looked. I'd seen him in fights. Never came at his target from the front. "Blonde girl. Pretty."

        Well, *that* hit me in the gut like a son-of-a-bitch. For a second, I actually thought it might be B. Then reality slapped me round the face a few times. B thinks I'm a psychotic freak who tried to steal her boyfriend. Which is all true, of course. It would be that detective. Lockley, or whatever her name is.

        I stood and blew Rennie a kiss,

        "See ya, sweetie." I smirked and grabbed my crotch, "your sister's back for another piece."

        Rennie; all skin and bones and dyed red hair; flipped a finger at me without looking up from her crossword. I just grinned. Rennie's okay. Two years into five to ten for grand theft auto. We screw occasionally. What, you thought prison would turn me into a nun?

        I grabbed my cigarettes before I left. Yeah, Rennie's okay. But smokes are better than cash, inside. And it's not like we're short of thieves, here.

* * *

        I sensed the vamp as soon as I walked into the visiting room and stopped so suddenly that Petersen all but barrelled me over.

        "Ooh, Daddy." I ground my hips back at him, "You wan' a piece, all ya gotta do is ask."

        "Fourth cubicle." He didn't even blink. By the book, like I said.

        The vampire tingles grew stronger as I headed for the cubicle. Not lady cop, then. Unless she'd had an 'accident'. I wouldn't cry too much over that, for sure.

        Angel? Nah. Even deadboy had given up on me after six months. And unless he had a secret taste for drag, he didn't match Petersen's description.

        I swung into the booth with my fingers hooked into my jeans. This was definitely *not* Angel. But 'blonde and pretty' was dead on. Literally dead. No doubt she was a vamp. Old, too. You can tell by the eyes.

        "I don't know who the hell you are, but I'm not interested." Actually, I used rather stronger words than that. What can I say? Jail teaches you bad habits.

        She nodded wordlessly, got up, and left.

        I stared after her for about half a second, then closed my mouth with a snap. That was the last thing I'd expected her to do. Well, screw it. I'd meant it when I said I wasn't interested.

        "Who was it?" Petersen asked as I stalked back to my cell. I shook my head, pissed off that I didn't know.

        That night, Rennie and I screwed. In the dark, I can almost imagine I'm with B. Don't bother feeling bad for Rennie. It ain't my name she moans when she gets off.

        The days rolled by. Rissoles. Meatloaf. Pasta. Boot leather. Meatloaf again. Fish, which meant it was Friday. Meatloaf. That was three times in one week, damn it.

        Then it was Sunday again, and Ms Mystery-Vamp came back.

* * *

        Fourth cubicle again, and this time I keep my mouth shut as I sit down. We stare at one another for nearly a minute, but she makes no move to start talking. I guess it's up to me.

        "You're back." Damn, could that have been any more lame?

        She nods, still silent. I wonder if she's laughing at me, and feel that ol' anger start to bubble inside.

        "Look," I say, trying to clamp down on it, "Just give me your pitch."

        "I thought you weren't interested?" her voice is half little girl, half come-get-some. Now I'm sure she's laughing at me.

        "I'm not. Probably." I stuttered. The truth of it was, I hadn't been able to get her out of my mind all week. Mysteries drive me mad. I'm the sort of person who flicks to the end of the book to find out whodunnit. Give me instant gratification any day.

        "I need a bodyguard."

        The reply was so unexpected that I laughed out loud, causing both guards in the room to give me suspicious looks.

        "Look, lady." I leaned back in the chair and folded my arms, "I'm a vampire *slayer*, not protector. You want someone to hold your hand? Try B. She's the one with the yen for vamps."

        She looked at me silently for a moment. I hate when people do that. You just know they're trying to 'read' you from your expression, or something.

        "She hurt you, didn't she?" her voice is almost sympathetic, "When she chose him."

        I get up and walk. The only thing worse than people trying to read you is people who get it right.

* * *

        Another week goes by, and I spend a lot of time thinking about my life. I hate doing it, but the thoughts won't go away.

        When I was in Sunnydale, the only thing I wanted was B. Not her life, not her friends. Just her. And for once, things actually seemed to be coming together. We were raising hell and staking vamps together, and I knew that she was interested. A girl like B doesn't let just anyone put their hand between her thighs. I bet *that* was something she never told her Scooby friends about.

        Then it all went to hell. I killed Allan Finch and suddenly there was just me and her; no 'us'. I just wanted to run away from it, like I'd run from Kakistos. But B wouldn't let me. So I ran to the one person who could make her push me away.

        And that got me eight months in a coma. Then I woke up, and the Boss offered me a chance at B's body. So I took it. First thing I did? Put my hand between her thighs, again. Proved to myself exactly what she had missed. But I screwed up. Gave up on a lifetime of running to come back and help those shmucks at the church. And B got her body back.

        So then it was LA, and one last chance to run. This time, I figured on running right into my grave. But deadboy wouldn't play the game. And damn it, if I didn't begin to think that maybe I could make amends.

        But then B came. And judgement was given. Seems I didn't deserve a chance. She set me running again. Straight into jail, this time.

        It took Angel a while to accept that. He wanted to see my confession as a step toward reform. It wasn't reform. It was running. Here, I can hide from B, and her friends, and from the whole damn world. Just be another screw-up, kicked out of the system.

        And prison suits me. I understand the rules of the game, here. I don't have to worry about anyone but me.

        So why, when Sunday rolls round again, am I pacing my cell, waiting for Petersen to tell me I have a visitor?

* * *

        "You're persistent." I grunt as I drop into the chair.

        "I'm four hundred years old. I can afford to be patient."

        I digest that bit of information. Four hundred means she's old and strong. More importantly, it means she's smart. So what the hell does she want with me?

        I ask her. She smiles, though I wouldn't say she seems happy.

        "Four years ago, I died. A group called Wolfram and Hart brought me back. I know you've heard of them."

        I nod, not liking where the conversation is going. Wolfram and Hart are high on my very own personal shit list, and any friend of theirs is a likely candidate for pronto slaying. Plus the idea that a vamp can come back from dusting is not a good one, in my book.

        "Unfortunately, Wolfram and Hart think that bringing me back makes me owe them." a scornful smile flickers around her lips, "Who do these people think they are? Expecting *gratitude* from a vampire?"

        "Life's a bitch." I agree, and I gotta admit my attention is wandering, "But I don't see what this has to do with me."

        "They want me to turn Angel."

        Now *that* gets my attention. Yeah, he helped screw my chance with B. And he shafted me bad with that whole fake-Angelus thing. But for a walking corpse, he's not too bad a guy. Besides, there's something about the way she says his name.

        "You don't want to?"

        "I'm just not stupid." For a moment I can see a flicker of the demon within her, "Trying it is what got me killed last time."

        "B staked you?" Even I can do that sort of math in my head.

        "Angel did. For her." She almost spits the words. Gotta be the first sign of emotion she's given. And now finally I start to get it. So I'm a bit slow on the uptake.

        "Wow. He really *did* hurt you when he chose her."

        She nods slowly, conceding the point.

        "But I still don't see the deal." I'm feeling a lot more comfortable, now. This is just lover's tiff territory. Well, I'm not stepping in the way of Angel and B again. I may not be the most balanced person you ever met, but even I'm not that stupid.

        "I don't want to play their game." She gives it to me level, "But they won't like that. I'd need protection."

        "Which is where I come in?" I raise my eyebrows, "Sorry, sister. But I'm not about to bust out of jail just to help you snack on your own terms." Neither of us bothers to pretend that I couldn't break out if I wanted to. At least she gives me that much credit.

        "You've done worse." I scowl at the reminder. Just because it is true doesn't mean I have to like it. "But that isn't what I meant. Wolfram and Hart think they own me. I want to teach them that's not the case. I thought you might like a shot at them, too." The tone of her voice is ice cold. Someone at Wolfram and Hart has *really* pissed her off.

        "Yeah." I nod. The thought of slapping those lawyers around has definite potential. "But what else do I get out of it? Bustin' out would add five years to my time."

        "You don't get to be my age without making a few connections." She says, smoothly, "I'll see you get a new identity. Plus the pick of the spoils from our friends at Wolfram and Hart."

        She smiles slightly as she tells me, because she knows that I'm interested. I smile back, because she's going to have to pay a bit more to hire me on. But that's just bargaining. My decision is already made.

* * *

        Two days later, I break out of prison. I won't bore you with the details. These places aren't meant to hold slayers, is all.

        It's night, of course, and she meets me four blocks from the front gate.

        "Nice wheels." I slide into the passenger seat of the new model Honda.

        "Thanks." She smiles, "Consider it Wolfram and Hart's first unwilling gift. There are clothes in the back."

        "Wicked." I reach back and drag them into the front seat. Black Docs and leather pants. Tank top, blood red. Black leather jacket. Look like they'll fit pretty good, too. "So what do I call you, anyway?"

        "Name's Darla."

        She shifts the car into gear and swings us out into the road with a casual spin of the wheel. I grin and start to change as we head off down the dark streets. This looks like it's gonna be a fun ride.

* * *

        The place goes silent the moment we walk in.

        Darla keeps going: right to the centre of the room. I simply shut the door and lean against it, arms folded over my chest. My right hand is inside my jacket, resting lightly on a stake.

        You gotta give Darla credit. Everything about her screams confidence, from the arrogant expression on her face to the designer suit we stole from a store on the way here.

        There are six vamps here, just returned from the hunt, and not a single one on watch. Haven't these idiots ever heard of a slayer?

        The head vamp stands up, the look on his face wavering between confidence and concern. Not surprising, really. They got us outnumbered, but there's something about the way Darla looks that makes people think twice. That, and I've got my best bad-ass grin on.

        "Who the hell are you?" he demands, as his cronies shift around him. They've picked up on his nervousness. I can tell Darla is smiling. Her smile has that effect on people.

        "I'm your new boss." She says sweetly, and my grin broadens. Not one to screw around, Darla. She gets right in there: like a stake to the heart. The vamp just stares. He's getting his balls back, I can tell. Stupid. I wonder how many we'll have to kill this time.

        "If you leave now," He smirks, adjusting his denim jacket, "we'll give you a five minute start."

        Darla shakes her head, silently. I just wait for them to make a move.

        A ratty looking female swaggers toward me. This'll be the head guy's bitch, for sure. She sneers, thin lips curling under a nose that just begs for a right hook.

        "This one's *human*." She says, her nostrils dilating, "Looks like we get a meal out of this, as well as the chance to stake a yuppie slut."

        So I break her nose.

        For a few minutes, things get pretty chaotic. When the dust settles, the head vamp and Ms Broken Nose are the only ones left. Darla likes to keep the stronger ones alive, if she can. And don't blame me for that 'dust' line. I stole it from B.

        "Now," she says, voice as calm as ever, "My name is Darla. This is my bodyguard, Faith." I spin my stake casually as the two of them go wide-eyed. Looks like they've heard of me.

        "Carlos." The male answers slowly, "And Rose."

        "I hope we're going to be friends, now." Darla gives them both a bright, cold smile. She reminds me of the Boss: they've both got that mix of wholesome sweetness and rip-your-throat-out evil. Carlos and Rose nod mutely. Smart of them. I put the stake away.

        "That's a nice jacket, Carlos." I say quietly, my eyes locked on his.

        For a moment, he just looks back, his expression blank. Then he works it out, and anger and fear tussle in his eyes. Fear wins. Lucky for him.

        I fold the jacket over my arm as Darla fills in our new recruits. Looks like my hunch was right. This *is* gonna be fun.

* * *

        "Cool," I lean over the unwashed geek to get a better look at the computer screen. He almost cringes. Why is it that women always scare the crap out of these computer nerds? "You're really into this hacking shit, ain't ya?"

        The geek; who calls himself Goldbug (don't ask me, he said it was his 'handle'); swallows a mouthful of soda.

        "I'm the best in the city," he boasts, deliberately shifting so that his shoulder is pressed into my breast. I briefly consider breaking his arms, but Darla says we need him, so I let him get his perverted kicks. For now. "I can get you into anything."

        The stuff on the computer screen looks like gibberish to me, but Goldbug seems confident.

        "I've finished changing your old records." He announces, "Now we just need to set up your new one. What name?"

        I think about it for about a half second,

        "Anne. With an 'e'. Anne Clay." I get satisfaction from the thought that B will be pissed if she ever learns I've taken her middle name.

        "No problem." He types briefly, "now I just need to put all your old details into his record, and you'll be done."

        I straighten up as Darla comes back into the room. She's been sending off our vampire recruits on a few errands. I don't know what. Like I said, it's a lot like working for the Boss, again. She does the planning and thinking; I just kick the crap out of anyone who argues.

        "How long will you need to get into Wolfram & Hart's database?" she asks, staying clear of Goldbug. Can't say I blame her.

        "Come back tomorrow night." He doesn't look up, "and bring the other half of the money."

        My eyes widen as Darla nods. She already gave the guy ten grand. I really am in the wrong line of business. Suddenly, I realise the vamps' errands: they're out 'fund-raising'.

        We leave. I walk out the door first, giving the street a quick scan before Darla emerges.

        "Why pay the guy?" I ask as we walk to the car, "you could just turn him, right? Or kill him?"

        "I could turn him,." She agreed, "but he would probably still want to be paid. And we may need him again. You shouldn't kill someone you might need."

        I shrug, staying quiet until we get into the Honda. Planning ain't my thing.

        "So what's your beef with Wolfram and Hart?" I ask as she puts the keys in the ignition. "Because there's more here than just you running out on 'em. You're out for their blood."

        She laughs at that, and I suddenly see the pun. A vampire. Out for blood. B would be proud.

        "There's a ritual to restore an injured vampire to full strength." She explains, starting the car as she does so. The Honda runs quiet, not interfering with her words, "It would probably reverse Angel's curse. Wolfram and Hart wanted to use it."

        I nod, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

        "For the ritual, you need the vampire's Sire. In Angel's case, that's me." She continues, and I whistle softly. Seems there is more to Darla than I knew. "However, the ritual is almost always fatal to the Sire. Which is something they didn't bother to mention to me."

        "But you found out." Well, that explains her 'tude. Can't say I blame her.

        "I'm not stupid."

        I settle back into my seat. Revenge. Now *there* is a motivation I understand.

* * *

        When we come back to Goldbug's apartment the next night, Darla brings Carlos and Rose. She says that by vamp standards, they're actually pretty reliable. Which tells me a lot about why B and I have survived as long as we have.

        The Boss always said that you should only bring extra muscle if you know that you'll probably need to use it, which puts me on edge. Darla's a pretty on-the-ball kinda chick: she wouldn't bring these guys for no reason.

        "Expecting trouble?" I ask casually, as she pulls the Honda into the curb. The two stooges are in a crappy old Ford about twenty yards back, so I don't need to worry about being overheard.

        "Always." She answers quietly, scanning the street as she turns the engine off. "Wolfram and Hart didn't get to be as strong and rich as they are by being stupid."

        I'm about to get out of the car, but she puts a hand on my arm.

        "Take this."

        I stare. She's offering me a snub-nosed pistol. It's shiny black metal, with a rubber sleeve on the handgrip.

        "No way." I shake my head. "I got a knife and two stakes on me. That's how I do my work."

        "Take it." Her tone makes it clear she isn't interested in an argument, "this is the safety. Flick it off and you're ready to fire. *Squeeze* the trigger, don't snatch at it. Don't waste time aiming, these things aren't accurate beyond ten yards. You're carrying thirteen rounds."

        "I know how to use a gun." I snap, and take it from her. It's cold and heavy in my hand. "But it won't do any good against vampires."

        "It will against humans." Darla gives me a bright smile and gets out of the car.

        I sit there silently for a moment. Humans. Shit. I hadn't thought about that. Killing people is totally different to killing demons. The last time I did it really screwed me up. But in the end I put the gun in my jacket pocket. Just in case.

        When I get out of the Honda, Carlos gives me a dirty look. Takes me a moment to remember I'm wearing his jacket. Well, screw him.

        "Stay out here and make sure no-one follows us in." Darla tells him. He scowls, but does what he's told. Darla, Rose and me head inside.

        Goldbug is sitting in his nest of computers, surrounded by empty soda cans. When we come through the door, he turns and gives us the kind of shit-eating grin that only ever means one thing: you're about to get screwed.

        Stupidly, I go for my knife.

* * *

        Two minutes later and I hit the front door with my good shoulder, taking the things off its hinges. I tumble through, hoarsely screaming abuse at everyone I can think of. But mainly at Wolfram and Hart.

        Darla follows me out, her once-sharp business jacket torn and bloodied. None of the blood is hers, but a fair bit is mine. My left arm is leaking bad. Goddamn Wolfram and Hart. They got to our hacker. Had a pack of zombies waiting for us. I *hate* zombies. You either gotta tear 'em apart or destroy the brain to make them quit. Either route is as messy as hell.

        I look around for Carlos, and find him to my left, busy putting down one of the walking dead. Darla was right. They did try to box us in.

        "Carlos!" Darla throws him the Honda's keys and steers me toward the back seat, "time to get out of here."

        Our greaser vamp snatches the keys out of the air and grins. I can tell why: the Honda is a much sweeter drive than the old rat-heap he's been using. Darla and I pile into the back; Carlos and Rose take the front. The car leaps away from the curb with a shriek from the tyres. Seems Carlos is as happy to leave as I am.

        I lean back in the seat, very carefully. I've taken some pretty serious pain in my time, but getting shot hurts like *hell*. Most of my left side is numb; which I guess is shock; but the bloody mess of my upper arm feels like it's on fire. There were two guys in charge of the zombie pack. Darla put them both down, but not before one of them tagged me with whatever hand cannon it was he was using.

        "Let me see." Darla twists me gently, but the pain still freezes my mind. For an instant, it seems very dark. I blink away tears. Christ, that hurt.

        She peers at the wound, not touching me anymore, and for a moment I see the ridges of her game face appear. This close to all that slayer blood. It must be driving her crazy. I inch my good hand onto a stake: just in case. But then the moment is gone, and she pulls back, giving me some space.

        "We'll have to get that cleaned and dressed after we hole up." She tells me, "But you're lucky: the bullet missed the bone. With your healing, you should be back up to speed in a couple of days."

        I nod, then wince.

        "Guess Goldbug was a bust, huh?"

        "Seems that way." Darla doesn't look too concerned. But then, she's got all the time in the world, right?

        "So we've given your way a go." I force a crazy bitch grin onto my face, "And it fouled up. Ready to let me take a shot?"

        "Why not." She shrugs smoothly, almost but not quite smiling. "What do you have in mind?"

        I close my eyes and try to ignore the fire that's eating away my arm.

        "Payback."

* * *

        Back when I stole B's body, I took a long look through her wardrobe. Found all the good stuff way up the back: the leather pants, the black T's. And the shortest, tightest leopard skin dress I ever saw. Wearing it in my own body would've got me arrested. Even in B's, I had a bitch of a job to get into it. But I gotta admit it was worth the effort.

        I never saw *her* wear it, though. I got the feeling it was part of the fun, pre-Angelus B; before killing her boyfriend made her into the super-slayer. That was the B I kept trying to find, the whole time I was in Sunnydale. Never quite could, though.

        So now I'm leaning against a stolen Volvo and thinking about that dress, smoking one last cigarette before we do this thing. Yeah, smoking is another bad habit I picked up inside. I like 'em full strength; unfiltered. Raw and nasty. I know that it causes cancer and tumours and all that bad shit, but what are the chances I'll live long enough for any of that to matter?

        I drop the stub of the cigarette on the sidewalk and grind it out with the toe of my boot. It's just after two in the morning. Later than I'd planned, but our target only came home an hour ago.

        "Ready?" I growl. Carlos and Rose nod. Normally, I'd do something like this by myself. But my arm's still not fully healed, so Darla insisted they come along. "Good. Let's do this the way I said. If you meet a guard, kill him quick and quiet. None of that usual vamp crap."

        The place has one of those electronic gates. Probably a whole mess of other security, too. Doesn't matter. We want speed, not stealth. So we run the Volvo into the gate at just over fifty, tearing it right off the wall. Makes a hell of a noise. The car's a solid steel job, older than me. It gets banged up a bit, but barely slows down.

        Motion-sensitive lights flare on. They're actually a help: makes driving right up to the front a fraction easier. We pile out and I kick open the door, then smash a startled guard in the jaw. He goes down faster'n a prison dyke.

        Ten seconds later, the alarm system starts to scream. By then I'm already up the stairs and into the bedroom. My job is simply to grab our target: it's up to Carlos and Rose to keep any other guards off my back.

        She's sitting up in bed, sheets pulled up to her neck. Her eyes go dark and scared when she sees me. Some instinct whispers in the back of my mind, and I realise that a man's clothes are draped over the chair next to the dresser.

        I duck: just in time. A heavy statue swings through the air above me. Guy must have hidden behind the door. He's naked, in his fifties, looks like a desk-jockey. She must be getting ahead in the firm the old-fashioned way: on her back.

        I don't have time for this, so I pop up quickly and hit him in the throat. At the last moment, I think about pulling the punch, but it's a bit late. Ends up that I hit him hard enough that his windpipe is crushed, but not hard enough to kill him outright. He goes down with a squeal: probably the last noise he'll ever make.

        I try to ignore it, but by the time I reach the bed he's already starting to go reddish-blue. Damn, that's gotta be a nasty way to go.

        I haul the target out of bed: like him, she's stark nude. Tasty, too. Would have been a prize peach, inside.

        "Hi, Lilah." I grin at the terrified lawyer who first contacted me for Wolfram & Hart, "still picking up strange girls in bars?"

* * *

        Sixty seconds later I come out of the bedroom with the now unconscious Lilah tossed over my right shoulder. My pockets are full: I raided her jewellery box while I was in there. We should be able to score over a grand for what I just grabbed.

        Carlos is on the landing. Alone.

        "Where's Rose?"

        He points down the stairs. She's at the front door, feeding on the guard I KO'd. Shit. This is why I hate working with vamps. They're all flakes. Well, except for Darla. I shove Lilah at Carlos.

        "Get her in the car."

        I pound down the stairs in front of him, then slam my elbow into the side of Rose's head. Not thinking, I use my left arm, and a wave of pain rolls through me. Despite biting down on my lip, I can't help but cry out. Rose, bloody-mouthed and pissed-off, notices that. For a second, I can see her think about trying something.

        "Get moving." I snarl, and she does. Not without a long look at me, though. Could be trouble. Screw it. I'll deal with it if it happens.

        We dash out of the house, right behind Carlos. He throws Lilah into the back and I follow her in, while the two vamps take the front. I can hear sirens in the distance, but we'll be gone by the time the cops get here. There's a slim chance one of the locals will give them a description of us, or maybe the car's plates, but most people will just keep their heads down.

        The Volvo takes off with a squeal of tires: Carlos is driving. In the back, I start going through Lilah's jewellery, keeping half an eye on her to check that she isn't coming round.

        Personally, I've never been much into baubles. But they're portable and worth a fair bit, which makes 'em prime targets for the ol' "Want. Take. Have.". Most of Lilah's stuff is gold and flashy: the kind of stuff that screams *money*, if not much else. But one necklace catches my eye.

        It's silver, and seems both delicate and strong at the same time. At first glance, it looks quite plain, but as I turn it over in my hands I can see intricate engraving on each of the links of the chain. It's something B would wear, and I try to imagine her with it, but the image won't quite form. Maybe I'm finally getting over her.

        I raise the necklace, letting it drape down out of my hand. Perhaps Darla would like it. Not that I'm into giving her gifts or anything. But as, y'know, a trophy. And since it's only silver, we couldn't get that much for it if we *did* sell it. So we may as well keep it, right?

* * *

        We get back, and I don't give her the necklace. But I also don't hand it over to be sold. I leave it in my pocket, instead, not sure which way to jump. Goddamn pathetic. I mean, screw it, giving her the damn necklace wouldn't *mean* anything. Darla would know that, right?

        "Are you okay?" she asks, giving me a puzzled look.

        "Five by five." I shrug, "Why?"

        "You seem edgy. Is your arm hurting?"

        "It's fine." I snap, more surly than I had intended. Hell, who does she think she is? The vampire Mother Theresa?

        "Just asking." She raises a hand in a placating gesture. "You are my bodyguard, after all. I need to know if you aren't in top shape."

        Oh. Yeah, that makes sense. I look away, feeling like a prize idiot.

        "Yeah, Darla. I'm fine. Really."

        "Good." She strokes my left arm gently, as if to reassure herself. Then she glances over at Lilah, who we've tried to a chair. "Looks like your friend is waking up. Would you prefer me to do the honours?"

        "No. I've got it." I try to ignore the adrenaline surging through me. I always get this way after some action. Keyed up, ready to get some. Hungry and horny. That's all this is. I'll just have to work out a few frustrations on Lilah. Plus get to know what Wolfram and Hart are up to.

        I have to wait about five minutes for Lilah to fully wake up. Not much point in torture if the victim can't feel it. Darla stays in the room, but moves behind the lawyer, out of sight.

        "Let me explain how this works." I purr, caressing Lilah's cheek. She flinches slightly. "I'm going to hurt you. A lot. And you're going to tell me everything you know. Maybe you think you won't, because you're more scared of your bosses than you are of me. But I'm the only one who will be able to make the pain stop, Lilah."

        "They'll kill me if I tell you anything." She protests, weakly. I laugh.

        "Lilah, *I'm* going to kill you." My hand slips to her breast, cupping it gently. "Talking won't change that. But it will save you a lot of pain." Suddenly, I dig my nails into the soft flesh under my hand. She screams, trying to twist free. It just makes things worse and she stops, quivering. I watch the blood well around my fingertips.

        "You can scream all you like." I mention, as if it's an afterthought. "There's no-one to hear you. And it kinda turns me on." Lilah looks sick. Can't say I blame her.

        I light a cigarette and go to work.

* * *

        Thirty minutes later and Lilah breaks. Torture's an ugly business, and by the time she begs me to stop her voice is already hoarse from screaming. The only place I haven't touched yet is her face. I'd been saving that.

        Darla has watched it all without a word. I don't know whether to be impressed or revolted by her lack of reaction. My own stomach is a mass of acid and confusion, but I don't let it show. I keep remembering what I did to Wesley. But this isn't the same. Wolfram and Hart deserve what they get.

        After Lilah breaks I'm gentle, almost friendly. I stroke her hair softly as she talks, letting her tell us what she knows in her own time. It's a trick I learned from the Boss, and it works a charm. Hurt someone enough and when you finally offer praise they'll do almost anything to keep getting it.

        After a while she's starting to repeat herself; going round in circles. I look at Darla, who nods and moves forward. We've got all we can. Time to put an end to this.

        Darla's shifts into game face and pulls Lilah's head to one side, sinking her teeth into the woman's exposed neck. I watch, half fascinated, half disturbed. It's the first time I've seen Darla feed. Her usual grace and composure gives way to savagery, blood seeping from beneath her lips and dripping down Lilah's front.

        Suddenly she stands and rakes her nails across her own wrist, opening a wound. I open my mouth to protest, but she's already pressed the wrist to Lilah's lips. I see the lawyer's throat work, drawing on the vampire's blood.

        "No!" I snarl, "That wasn't what we agreed. She's supposed to die!"

        "We need recruits." Darla strokes Lilah's hair as the woman licks at her wrist, "and she's a pretty one. I like my children to be pretty."

        For a moment I stare at Darla, furious. Both with her and myself. I'd actually thought I could trust her. Trusting a vampire. How stupid could I be?

        Before Darla can react, I snatch up a stake and bury it in Lilah's chest. It's not like staking a proper vampire: she isn't fully turned yet. Instead, the stake sinks into flesh and cracks bone, the shock of the impact running up my arm.

        Lilah slumps backward, breath rattling in her throat as she dies. Darla just stares at me, her face blank with rage.

        I stare back, fists clenched, more than ready for a fight.

        Darla steps closer, way inside my personal space. We can't be more than an inch or two apart. She's seriously pissed off. Even I can see that, and I ain't exactly Ms Empathy. Well, screw her. I'm pissed off, too.

        "How dare you -" she begins, but I don't let her build up any steam.

        "The deal was that she would die."

        "We could have used her."

        "Screw off. I know exactly what *use* you saw for her." I put all my anger into every word, "And I don't have time for your little vampire dyke games."

        She kisses me.

        It's hard and fierce and sudden, mouth on mouth. I feel like she's stolen all my breath. Her lips are cold, and taste of blood and roses. Then they part, and our tongues meet, pressing against one another. My hands wind into her hair, pulling her closer. Hers dig into my sides.

        We stumble into her room, never breaking contact. I tear Darla's blouse open, stroking the naked skin beneath. She bites my lip, drawing blood, and I hiss, pushing her onto the bed.

        What we do is more like fighting than screwing. It's a battle of strength and will. Nails rake skin; hands pull hair; knees grip and squeeze. I'm stronger and heavier, but she fights me with everything she has, her game face never more than a heartbeat from appearing.

        Finally, I pin her on her front, face pressed into the pillow. Her body is lithe and pale and taut beneath me; cool and dry where mine is slick and hot.

        I bury my face in her hair; it smells of peaches; and put my hand between her thighs. Darla arches; ass raising, legs parting. Just like B, the one time she let me go this far.

        I drive her to the edge, feeling her soft blonde hair against my cheek. Just like B. Her nails dig into the sheets, tearing them. Just like B.

        And when I bring her off, it's *his* name she moans into the pillow.

        Just like B.

* * *

        I leave right after.

        Darla tries to pull me back into bed, but I've never been one for hanging around after the fact. Get some and get gone. I don't even stop to get dressed: just grab my clothes and split.

        Five minutes later, I shrug into the denim jacket I took from Carlos and head for the front door. If I don't go, Darla might come looking for me. It's stupid, but I'm actually upset that she moaned Angel's name, not mine. It never used to bother me when Rennie called out to Mick, or Mike, or whatever his name was. I don't want to think about what that means, and I sure as hell don't want to talk to Darla about it.

        "You and the boss have a fight?" Carlos is leaning against the front door. Just great. I don't have time for this. At least there's no sign of his flaky bitch, Rose.

        "None of your business." I growl, jerking my thumb for him to get out of the way.

        He doesn't move.

        Too late, I hear movement behind me. I start to turn, but fingers curl like iron bands around the still raw wound in my left arm. I bite off a scream, my vision blurring from the pain. Rose. I knew that bitch would be trouble. I try to struggle, but she yanks my arm back and down, driving me to my knees.

        Carlos winds up and hits me twice across the face. First from the left, then from the right. I spit blood: his punches have re-opened the cut Darla made in my lip.

        "I want my jacket back." The greaser snarls. I suppress the urge to laugh. Vampires. They're all morons. Maybe he thinks that I won't risk pissing off Darla by killing them for this. If he does, he needs to buy a goddamn clue.

        "Sure thing, man." I mumble, doing my best to look whipped and spitting blood again for effect. Rose relaxes her grip slightly. Like I said: morons.

        I wrench free. It hurts like hell, but I've lived with pain before. Carlos gapes at me. I hear Rose swear. By then I'm on my feet, and the stake in my right hand lifts the male vamp right off the ground as it finds his heart. He dusts.

        I start to turn, and Rose screams, lunging at me. She all but runs onto the stake: I barely need to move. I stow the stake and slap down the jacket for dust. Shit. Darla *will* be pissed off about this, even if I didn't pick the fight. I probably should have just smacked them around a bit, or something.

        For a second, I actually think about going and apologising to her. Yeah, I need *that* scene like I need a kick in the ass. Time to bail. I'll figure out what to say before I come back.

        *If* I come back.

* * *

        Christ knows why, but I find myself outside Angel Investigations. Maybe I want to see the vamp that B and Darla are both so hung up on. Or maybe I'm just a goddamn idiot.

        I break the lock and push the door open. Stealth is for wimps.

        Angel is home. I can sense him, below, and know he must have heard me. He comes straight up, by which time I'm sitting in his chair, feet up on the desk. It's great for a tough bitch pose, but not really all that smart. Angel comes armed, and I find myself looking at the business end of a crossbow.

        "Nice piece." I smirk, slowly taking my feet off the desk. If he'd wanted, he coulda plugged me before I moved. Automatically, I review my weapons. One knife, one stake, one handgun. Only one of which would be any good against a vampire.

        "You're bleeding." He says, not lowering the bow. I glance at my left arm. There's a dark stain there. Rose must have pulled some of my stitches.

        "Contract dispute." I shrug.

        "I heard you were out." He's trying to read me, I can tell. So I give him my best crazy bitch grin. "Running with a vampire, from the rumours. I thought you'd got smarter than that."

        "We both got a beef with Wolfram and Hart." I see a box of doughnuts on the table beside the desk and lean over to snag it. There are two left. I shove them into the pocket of the jacket. "It seemed a good idea to work together."

        "You can't trust a vampire." He warns sombrely, "He'll betray you."

        "The way *she* tells it," I grin, "you were the one who betrayed her."

        Angel frowns. For a change.

        "She knows me?" he lowers the crossbow slightly.

        "Sure does," I enjoy the moment, "in fact, she was talking about you not thirty minutes ago. Her name's Darla."

        His face goes blank.

        "Darla's dead."

        "Not anymore." I shrug. "What is it with girls who dig you? They just won't stay dead. First B, now Darla. Maybe I should get me a piece of that Angel lovin'."

        "Faith..." Angel sighs. He isn't even pretending to aim the crossbow at me anymore, "did you come here for a reason?"

        "Sure did," I ad lib, mind racing. Why the hell *am* I here? "I wanted to give you a message. From Darla and me."

        "Oh? And what might that be?"

        I lean forward and turn that crazy smile up to the full wattage.

        "We're going after Wolfram and Hart, and we aren't going to play nice about it. You and yours don't want to get hurt, you should stay out of the firing line."

        "And if we don't?"

        "Don't try to out-pysch a psycho, Angel." I let the grin fade, "Darla may have her panties tangled over you, but I sure as hell don't. Get in the way and you're dust."

        "Trying to touch the darkness again, Faith?" his voice is soft, with a hint of Irish lilt. Personally, I think the bastard just puts the accent on when he's trying to make someone do what he wants.

        "Spare me the sermon, Angel." I stand slowly and give him a bored look, "You're gonna tell me I can change, right? Have you ever noticed that no one else agrees with you? Not me. Not B. Not Red or Xander or Wesley. Just *you*." I pause. "And while we're on the subject, you aren't exactly a poster-boy for mental health yourself, are you?"

        He sighs.

        "I can't help you if you don't want to help yourself."

        "My thoughts exactly."

* * *

        I walk slowly back towards our lodgings. If nothing else, seeing Angel got one thing clear in my mind. I'm gonna stick with this thing. I don't know what I feel about Darla. I don't know what I feel about B. Hell, I don't even know what I feel about myself. But I *do* know what I feel about Wolfram and Hart.

        I hate the bastards. And I'm gonna make 'em pay.

        I munch the doughnuts as I walk. They're a bit tough and stale, but still sweet. And they remind me how long it's been since I had a decent feed. I check my pockets. Maybe twenty bucks in change and small notes. And it must be close to six in the morning by now.

        So I take a detour, stopping at a greasy spoon for breakfast. Twenty will go a long way in one of those places, and it's past seven by the time I leave, my stomach swimming with fried food and cheap coffee. After the tip, I've got exactly two dimes to rub together. And I only saved those for the candy machine out the front.

        As I head back, I think about what happened between Darla and me. I can still feel where her nails raked my back. I can still smell her, too. I've always had a sensitive nose. That's part of why I usually shower right after getting laid. But this time I hadn't. So I smell of peaches and rose, of blood and sex. I wonder if anyone in the diner noticed.

        The fact is, I like sex. I like it a lot. But I don't like the baggage that goes with it. I just want to treat Darla and me the way I always treat this stuff, but something won't let me. That hasn't happened since B. What is it with me and blondes?

        Hell, at least the thing I had for B made some kind of sense. We had a bond no one else could share: sister slayers, the chosen two. What have Darla and I got in common, other than the fact that we ought to be trying to kill one another? It smacks of Romeo and Juliet. Well, I know how that movie ended, and I ain't goin' there.

        And then I reach the warehouse we've been using and all those questions fly out of my mind when I see that the front door has been smashed in.

        I almost go inside, but at the last moment I smell gasoline and back-pedal sharply, running across the street to hide in an alleyway. Seconds later two guys in suits emerge. They take a quick glance around, then hurry off along the sidewalk. I watch them from my hiding place, then look back at the warehouse. Smoke is already curling out of some broken windows.

        I swear, then split before the fire department and the cops turn up. For a moment I think Darla might be dead, but then I remember that Wolfram and Hart need her for their ritual. Looks like they've just arranged a little kidnapping of their own. Suddenly Carlos and Rose picking a fight with me makes a lot more sense. They musta sold us out. Damn, I hate vampires.

        I've gone three blocks before I start to think about where I'm headed. But the fact of it is that I don't have all that many choices. Shit. Of course, this had to happen right *after* I've gone and shot my fool mouth off.

        I'll be lucky if Angel doesn't just laugh at me.

* * *

        You ever read one of those books where they turn the story on its ass every ten pages? I hate 'em. I hate it even more when it happens to my life.

        It's after eight when I get back to Angel's, and I'm still trying to figure how to ask Deadboy for his help. Turns out I needn't have bothered.

        The place is a shambles. The front door is bust wide open, the desk is overturned, and there's crap all over the floor. There's no sign of Mr Morbid, either. Though that doesn't stop me from meeting the pointy end of a crossbow for the second time in a day.

        "Hey, Wes." I greet the stuffy ex-Watcher with a smirk, acting like I don't even see the way the place has been messed up, "how's it hangin'?"

        "Angel is missing." He does his best to sound mean, "Know anything about it?"

        "I figure Wolfram and Hart have him." I jam my hands into my pockets, "They grabbed my boss, too. You're lucky they didn't torch the place."

        "Oh, sure." This is from what's-her-name. The valley girl wannabe. "Like you didn't have anything to do with this."

        "Well, now you mention it..." I say casually, then grab the bow out of Wes' hand and smash it over my knee. "...I didn't. I don't suppose either of you saw anything?"

        The two of them look like rabbits as I toss the wrecked crossbow aside. Then Wes clears his throat,

        "Well, there were two men here when we arrived." He admits slowly, "but we chased them off."

        "You let them get away, more like." snorts his less than loyal companion.

        I shrug. Their little squabbles don't mean shit to me.

        "You probably got here just in time to stop the place going up in smoke." I fold my arms and glance around. If Wolfram and Hart have both Darla and Angel, then we've got some serious trouble in the making. I wasn't around for the Angelus thing, but from the sound of it he was wicked psycho. I can live without a repeat performance.

        I deliberately don't think about what might happen to Darla.

        "Fine. So the lawyers have probably got both our birds. I guess that means I'll have to go looking for them. Does anyone else know this has happened?"

        "Yeah. Me."

        I freeze. It's been a long time since I heard that voice. Still sends a shiver down my back. I turn, and she's really standing there, just inside the busted front door. How the hell does she always find the worst moment to turn up?

        I don't let any of that show, though. I never do. Instead, I just give her a smug grin.

        "Hey, B. You're looking good. D'you lose some weight?"

* * *

        "Faith." She spits my name like it leaves a taste in her mouth. Ah, teen love.

        By now my brain has caught up with my mouth and I think to ask the obvious question,

        "You knew about this? What are you doing in LA, anyway?"

        "I called Buffy." Cordelia announces smugly from behind me, "I had a vision last night that Angel was in danger and you were trying to kill him."

        "What?" I round on the big-mouthed little glamour queen, "You keep yapping that jaw missy, and I'll tear it right off."

        On the long list of stupid things I've done in my life, turning my back on a pissed-off B has to be a contender for a top ten slot. She kicks me right between the shoulder blades, knocking me sprawling across the books and crap that are on the floor. I try to stand, but something slides under my foot and I stumble. That earns me a coupla cracked ribs when B boots me in the side.

        This is starting to piss me off. I'm nobody's punchin' bag. But I don't have time to throw down with B. I got stuff to do. So I dodge past her and grab Ms Mouth in a choke-hold.

        "Back off, B. Or I swear to God I'll break the little cow's neck." I snarl the words in the most dangerous voice I can muster. Cordelia squeaks indignantly. But at least B doesn't risk that I might do it.

        Angel's armed response to my little visit makes a bit more sense, now. He never used to be that cautious. I'd just figured he must be getting smarter.

        "This vision of yours, sweets." I murmur into Cordelia's ear, keeping my eyes on B. "What exactly did you see?"

        "I saw Angel in danger. And some blonde lady I didn't know. And I saw you with a stake."

        I'm guessing that the 'blonde lady' must be Darla, but I don't say anything about that.

        "So from that you figured I must be out to kill Deadboy? Bit of a leap of faith, there."

        "Sure," Cordelia snaps, "It's not like you've tried to kill him at least twice before. No reason to think you were going for third time lucky." I give her neck a squeeze and she shuts up fast. Damn, if I'd known how easy it was to keep her quiet I would have done this years ago.

        "Newsflash, B." I push Cordelia away from me and put my hands on my hips, "I ain't out to kill your boy. Way I figure it, Wolfram and Hart have grabbed him. They took a friend of mine, too. The smart thing for us to do would be to work together to get 'em both back."

        "Never happen, Faith." B shakes her head, giving me a look like she wants to rip my heart out. But she doesn't start anything. Not this time.

        "Five by five." I shrug, circling round to the front door, "I prefer working alone anyway."

        I'm about to leave, but at the last minute I look back and pause. Because you can't leave without a cool line, right?

        "I'm only in this for my friend, B. So you better start looking for your boy. Cos I don't much care if he makes it or not."

* * *

        I stand on the upper level of the shopping mall, looking down at my target.

        He acts like he thinks he's untouchable. And he probably thinks he is. It's daylight, in a public place, and he has two big bruisers with him in case of any trouble. Not only that, but his firm has Darla and Angel tucked away somewhere, ready for their ritual. He's gotta think that no one in their right mind would try to grab him now.

        Well that still leaves me, don't it?

        I walk slowly along the upper floor, waiting for him to get close to an exit that leads to the parking lot. When I see that there's one about ten yards further up, I make my move.

        I vault the railing and drop the twenty feet to the lower level, going into a crouch as I land. Most people would be rolling around on the floor after that, but I've fallen much further than this in the past.

        I land about five feet behind the bruisers, and by the time the quicker of them is turning to see what the noise is, I'm burying my knife in his buddy's back. Figures I'd choose the slower one to take out first. Not that either of them is exactly Speedy Gonzales: I cut the second guy's throat before he's even got his hand on his gun.

        Two quick steps and I have my target by the hair, my knife pressed under his chin.

        "Hello, Lindsay." I murmur pleasantly, "Miss me?"

        "Faith." He grins nervously, obviously trying to think of a way to cut a deal.

        "Not now, Lindsay-boy." I glance around and start backing us toward the exit. The screams are only just starting. I should have a minute or two before any rent-a-cops turn up. "Leave first, torture and chat later."

* * *

        In the end I cracked lawyer-boy over the head, tossed him over my shoulder, and carried him to the nearest car. It was quicker and easier that way. I bundled him in the back, hot-wired the car; it's amazing the things you pick up in prison, these days; and got the hell outta there.

        I tie Lindsay to a chair and wait for him to come round. He's lost a hand since I saw him last. Musta got it caught in the cookie jar.

        "Mornin', sleepy-head." I grin when he finally opens his eyes. "This can go one of two ways. Either you can do what I want, or I can start hurting you. Which would be a pleasant way for me to spend the day, I admit."

        "What do you want?" he blinks slowly, "Money?"

        "Thanks for the offer, but no." I wipe my knife on his tie, then tickle him under the chin with the very tip, "I want to know where you're keeping Darla and Angel. And I want to know when you plan on having your little ritual."

        "It's tonight." He shrugs, "That's why we grabbed them when we did. You need a full moon for the ritual to be effective." Lindsay pauses, "You can't stop it, Faith. Why not accept that and come back to the fold? We can pay you more than Darla did. And I think you'll like Angelus better than Angel. You seemed eager enough to meet him in Sunnydale."

        "I could care less what happened to Deadboy." I press the knife a little more firmly, letting a bead of blood form on the tip, "But your little stunt will kill Darla."

        "Darla?" he looks surprised. And then, despite his situation, he gets this smarmy grin on his face. Men. What is it with them and the idea of two women screwing? "Well, well. You two must make a lovely couple."

        I flick my wrist, slicing the top of his right ear clean off. He screams as blood starts to pour down the side of his head.

        "Next time I'll take your nose." I remark casually, cleaning my knife on his tie again, "That'll bleed even more. And it'll really wreck your chances with the ladies. That is, if I let you live."

        He just whimpers. Torturing a lawyer. Guess I'm doing the world a favour, here.

        "Now," I tilt his head up and smile at him, "What time is your ritual?"

        "Midnight."

        That's good news. It gives me time to break in after dark and get Darla out of there before the ritual takes place. Daylight rescues don't work for vamps, or I would go even sooner.

        "Where are you keeping them?"

        He pauses, and I move the knife toward his nose,

        "I can show you! I can show you!" he squeals, cringing.

        "I just need the address, Lindsay."

        "You'll never find it." He shakes his head. "I can show you."

        "Okay." I shrug, then lean in close, "but if I find out this is just a stunt to let you live a little longer, I'll make you regret it."

* * *

        That night, Lindsay takes me down to the docks, to one of those places where you can rent storage space to put all your crap. The building has the fanciest security system I've ever seen, but lawyer-boy knows the codes, and we get in quiet.

        We make our way slowly between the rows of crates in the main warehouse area. Lindsay keeps his mouth shut and doesn't give me any trouble. I'm just starting to think that I might actually let him live when the lights flare on and I realise I've walked straight into a trap. Four guys with guns have us both covered, and I can see more than a dozen zombies shuffling toward us. Wolfram and Hart seem to use them a lot. I guess it's because you don't have to pay or feed 'em.

        "Let go of Mr McDonald." one of the gunmen orders. I answer by dragging Lindsay closer.

        "Or what? You'll shoot us both?"

        "Yes."

        Damn. They mean it, too.

        I drag Lindsay even closer. These bastards will shoot me whether I let him go or not, so I'm gonna make sure he buys it when I do. It ain't much of a way to strike back, but it's all I got.

        And then B explodes out of the darkness, taking two guys out of the picture before they even realise she's there. I throw Lindsay straight at the third one. The pair of them crash to the ground around the same time I snap the fourth guy's neck. He couldn't make up his mind whether to shoot me or B. I hate those indecisive types.

        Give Lindsay credit: the little asshole is a survivor. He's up and running before the guy I tossed him into even starts to stir. I drag out the handgun Darla gave me and fire a coupla rounds after him, but I don't hit shit. Give me a bow, and I woulda pinned his sorry carcass to the wall.

        So I settle for putting a round in the other guy's back. B looks like she's ready to pound me for that, but by then the zombies are on us, and we're too busy to bother about kicking each other's asses. Zombies are tough to put down, but a knife gives you a big edge: it's much better for chopping someone up than a stake. I've got one. B don't. That's why she still has two left when the last of mine stops twitching.

        B's lost her stake at some point. Bare hands don't make much impact on a zombie unless you're willing to rip them limb from limb. I watch the two of 'em slap her around for a bit, then grab one and carve it up. B finishes the other off. It's a messy job, and by the end of it she has crap all over her hands, shirt and hair. Not a good look.

        "You psychotic -" she starts in on me, so pissed off she's almost snarling.

        "Screw you, B." I snap, cutting her off. "Any prick who pulls a gun on me is goin' down hard. I don't have time for your girl scout games."

        "I shoulda let 'em shoot you." B mutters, picking stuff out of her hair and clothes.

        "Couldn't do that, B." I give her a grin. It ain't a nice one. "Who'd do all your dirty work, then?"

        She shoots me a surprised look.

        "What, you thought I was too stupid to work it out? The sudden rescue was a bit too convenient, B. You've been following me all along, haven't you? Letting me do the murders, and the torture, and all the other bad shit. Just so that you can keep your goddamn hands *clean*."

        "It wasn't like that -"

        "Don't lie to me, dammit." I take a deep breath. "And don't ever judge me again for doing the things you ain't got the stones to do yourself."

* * *

        I really expected B to haul off and pop me one for my little lecture. I was just too pissed off to care. But she just got this icy look on her face and muttered something about 'making the best of it'. Which I guess means that Deadboy still pushes all her buttons. I wonder if her new college hunk knows that.

        Who am I kidding? That kid wouldn't see it if wrapped it in the American flag and gave him a searchlight. I mean hell, he couldn't tell the difference between me screwin' him and B, so he ain't exactly Mr Perceptive, right?

        Anyway, we started to head through the building, tryin' to find Deadboy and Darla. Or at least, B was lookin' for Deadboy. I didn't give a crap whether he croaked or not. I didn't even know why I was riskin' my neck to save Darla. Sure, I wanted the chance to screw her brains out again, but there were plenty of other fish in the sea. And most of *them* aren't vampires.

        I've never been a girl to fly solo when it comes to getting off, if ya get my drift. Gettin' someone in the sack ain't ever been a problem for me. Only two people ever got to me so much that I played alone rather than finding a boy toy. The first was B. Even after I hooked up with the Boss, I used to dream about her screwin' me blind.

        Today, Darla became the second. It was this afternoon, after my little talk with Lindsay. Even in my fantasy, she moaned Deadboy's name.

* * *

        It takes almost an hour to go through the building. The place is a goddamn rabbit warren. And what do we find? Absolutely nothin'.

        "Looks like your lead was a bust." B says tiredly. There's a bit of malice in there too, but I'm too wound up to care. We only have about two hours left: then Darla dies and Deadboy rejoins the opposite team. I haven't told B any of that, and I don't intend to. If it happens, Angelus is dust. Not because he's 'evil' or any of that shit. It'd be personal.

        Because yeah, in my sick-ass, twisted way, I've actually fallen for Darla. It's totally screwed up, I know, but that don't change it. At least Deadboy had a soul when B got hot for him. Me, I have to fall for a fully-fledged bloodsucking fiend.

        "There's got to be something we missed." I insist, "Wolfram and Hart wouldn't have this fancy security system and a bunch of zombie guards if they didn't have anything here worth guarding."

        "Okay." B says heavily, "So we need to think like the bad guys. You ought to be good at that. Where would *you* hide vampire prisoners?"

        Great. B's one true love is about to go psycho on us again and she's takin' cheap shots at me. I let it slide, though, because I've just worked it out. Guess I do think like a bad guy, after all.

        Silently, I point at the floor.

* * *

        The place has basement levels. Four of 'em. Only access is through the service elevators, and they won't go there unless you have one of those electronic keys. Which we don't.

        Of course, there ain't much that'll stop a determined vampire slayer. We sent the service elevator to the top floor, then climb down the empty shaft and prise open the doors. Piece o' cake.

        The clock's ticking, though: eighty minutes left. I shoulda thought of this earlier. When you have business clients who dislike sunlight, you make allowances. There's direct sewer access down here, and I'd bet a bundle that Wolfram and Hart have a whole bunch of places like this all around town.

        Subtlety ain't my strong point. B might like to think otherwise, but she's only really good for the direct approach, too. Within minutes, we've been jumped twice by guards. Luckily, the ones down here are geared up to deal with vamps and the like. No guns.

        B tries not to kill 'em. That takes her edge off, and she's picked up a coupla big-ass bruises by the end of the second fight. Me, I kill anyone who even looks at me funny. These guys may be human, but they *know* about the things they work for. Normal security guards don't carry stakes, y'know? In my book, they're fair game.

        Still, keeping one of them alive to answer some questions seems like a good plan, so I shake one of B's till he wakes up, then wale on him a bit.

        "Where's the ceremony?" I growl, knife pressed to his groin.

        "The chapel. Third sub-level." He stammers, scared out of his wits.

        A chapel. They've got a goddamn *church* down here. Yeah, these guys are just your everyday security guards.

        "Thanks." I cut his throat.

        A second later, B slams me against the wall,

        "You sick piece of *shit*." She screams, her face less than an inch from mine, "he told you where it was!"

        "Yeah, but I never said I wouldn't kill him anyway." I smirk back, touching the tip of my knife to her stomach. "Now, you want to throw down here? Or should we go stop Angel from losing his soul again?"

        B's face goes white. Oh yeah, she is *so* not over him. But she lets me go. Good choice, since I was about three seconds from opening her guts up.

        "They're going to take his soul?"

        "Yeah." I nod. "C'n you think of any other reason they'd keep him alive?"

        She turns and throws up against the wall. I guess it's a combination of finding out about Angel and the way I've been carving these guards up. I wait impatiently for her to recover. We're on a deadline here, after all.

        Eventually, she turns around, and her eyes are like stone. I never thought B could hate anyone this much. Guess I bring out the best in her.

        "We rescue Angel." She grates, "And then I never see you again. Cross my path again, Faith, and I'll make you wish you'd never come out of that coma."

* * *

        Darla is screaming as we burst into the chapel.

        She and Angel are manacled together beside the altar. Four robed men are in a circle around the two vamps, their arms raised as they chant.

        B takes one look at the place and freezes up. That's the last thing I expected, but there's not much I can do about it. Six guards charge me: for a second I go down under sheer weight of numbers.

        Then I manage to throw one guy off and force myself to my feet, breaking another guy's arm as I do so. I take a sharp smack to the head from one of them, though. Little lights float across my vision and I stagger sideways.

        Thank Christ B finally gets her ass in gear and pulls two of them off me. The robed guys are shouting in unison now, and I figure we've got less than a minute before everything goes to hell. Possibly literally.

        I pop one of the guards; a redhead; on the jaw, shattering the bone. He goes down spitting blood and teeth and I push past him, running for the altar. From the corner of my eye I see B's face go hard as she grabs the last guard's head and twists it. I can tell from the way he collapses that his neck is broken. Looks like B finally realised that these guys are no better than the demons they work for. Either that or she realises how close to the edge we are.

        I feel like I'm running in slow motion, with B just a half-step behind me.

        The robed guys start to shout again, and my hands wrap around the nearest one's head, snapping his head back so hard I hear the muscles tear. The word dies half-finished on his lips.

        There's a pulse: like a flash of light, but black as pitch. My knife sinks into the second robed guy as B crash-tackles the third. Another pulse, and we hit the last of 'em together, the impact throwing him halfway across the room.

        I stagger to my feet and look back at the altar. Darla and Angel still hang in their manacles. My breath is tight, but I feel relief. If Darla was dead, she'd be dust, right?

        B pushes past me, running to Deadboy. Her hands cup his face gently, and I see her tears fall on his cheek.

        "Angel." She whispers, and his eyes open.

        For a second, they seem frozen in time.

        And then Angel tears his hands free of the manacles and smashes B in the face, knocking her flying into me. We both go down in a tangle, B out cold. By the time I push her off and scramble to my feet, he's at the door, Darla cradled in his arms.

        He smiles at me, and there's only darkness in his eyes.

        "I'm back, my love." Angelus whispers, kissing Darla's cold, pale neck. "Better then ever."

        And then they're gone.

        I go back to check on B. She's still unconscious, lying on the floor near the altar. I slide my fingers round her neck and check her pulse: strong and steady. For a moment, I think about how easy it would be to just *squeeze*.

        But in the end I put her over my shoulder and get the hell outta Dodge.

* * *

        It's close to half an hour before B starts to stir. By then we're a good coupla miles from the warehouse, back at Goldbug's dump. I couldn't go back to my last place: Lindsay woulda told them where it was. Besides, I knew Goldbug's would be empty, and there's no reason for Wolfram and Hart to look for us here.

        "What hit me?" she asks, sitting up and rubbing the side of her head.

        "Angelus." I grunt, popping open a can of soda. I don't normally go for the soft stuff, but Goldbug didn't have any beer. "There're Cheerios if you want 'em."

        B pulls a face, then sighs. For a moment, she looks as old as I feel.

        "We were too late?"

        "Angel was turned." I confirm, "I know it's tough for ya, B. But you did everything you could. You even killed that guy -"

        "You don't know *shit* about me." She snaps, stopping me short. "Don't think something like that makes us alike, Faith. We've got nothing in common."

        "Guy's still dead, B." I'm pissed off. I haul her ass out of the fire and she's still soundin' off like she's better than me. "Blood's on your hands, same as mine. You gonna tell me there's a difference?."

        "You want to know the difference?" she stands over me: five-foot-nothin' of righteous anger. "I killed that man because I thought it was the only way I could save Angel. I did what I thought I *had* to do. Just like I did with Gwendolyn Post. But I was wrong. Angel was turned, anyway. The thing is, I *know* what it was I did. I still have to live with that knowledge. You kill people but you don't even think about what that means. That's really fucked up, Faith."

        Man. Now *there's* a word I never thought I'd hear from B. Another line between us blurred. But all the ones that matter are stronger than ever. Goddamn it, why does she have to be so much *better* than me?

        B turns away from me and glances around,

        "Is there a phone here?"

        "Yeah. Next room." I point at the Goldbug's computer den. "Who ya callin'?"

        "Willow. We need to get the curse put on Angel again."

        "Five by five." I nod, "It'll make it easier."

        She stops and looks back at me. I don't wait for the question.

        "He has to die, B. This'll make psycho-vamp spree number three. I ain't gonna live the rest of my life waiting for it to happen again."

        "We can cure him -"

        "I don't care, B." I stand, keeping my voice hard and low, "I *really* don't give a shit if you can turn him into a sensitive new age vamp or not. Do you use the curse on every vamp you meet? It'd be better than staking 'em, wouldn't it? No. Only Deadboy gets the special treatment. Not this time, B. I'm putting him down for good. Even if you won't."

        I brace, half-expecting to have to fight, but she doesn't move. Silently, I count the seconds. Eight, Nine, Ten. And then she nods.

        "You're right. I'll help. Just let me call Cordy and Wesley to warn them about Angelus."

        I shrug wordlessly, still stunned that B agreed with me. She goes into the other room for maybe two minutes. I listen at the doorway to make sure she only makes the calls she said she would, but B doesn't try any tricks: just leaves a message on each of their machines. When she comes back, she gives me a hard look,

        "Just so we're clear, Faith." Her voice is calm and flat, "You don't get special treatment either. No curse for Angel, no more chances for you. If we cross paths after tonight, you go down for good."

* * *

        I spend most of the next ten minutes kicking myself for mouthin' off to B. I shoulda just kept my trap shut and staked Deadboy on the quiet. Much less risky, for both Darla and me. But I had to go rub it in B's face. So now we're partners again. I'd feel safer alone. Bet she would, too.

        "He's gone back to his office." She says, getting set to head out.

        "You're sure?" It makes sense, I guess. He's got no reason to hide from Wolfram and Hart, and he knows the building better than we do: may even have traps set up.

        "I'm sure." She snaps, "Angelus likes to play games."

        "You know him better than me." I say pleasantly, watching the barb sink in.

        "You ready?" she ignores the bait.

        "Always." We head out immediately. The smart thing to do would be wait for daylight. But I don't want to take the risk that Angelus might move on. I would, in his place.

        We reach the office just after three in the morning. The place looks deserted, but that doesn't mean anything. Angelus will be downstairs, if he's there at all.

        I take a deep breath and sneak a glance at B. She looks as tense as me. Dammit, he's just one more vampire. I try to focus on that, ignoring the way my guts keep churning inside me, but I keep remembering the time he held me as I cried.

        I look away from B. Suddenly, I've had a small taste of what she's feeling. How does she deal with it? My eyes slide back as I realise that I'll never see her again after tonight. Whatever we had once is dead, now. B buried it a long time ago, even if I never could.

        My thing for B; her thing for Angel ... it's time for us both to deal and move on.

* * *

        The office is empty, and still in a mess from the attack by Wolfram and Hart. I guess cleaning up isn't Wes' and Cordy's strong point. Truth is, I kinda wonder what *is*..

        "Downstairs." B says tightly, jerking her head at the staircase.

        I nod, not liking the idea but not having a better one. So we go down.

        He's waiting for us as we step off the staircase. The bastard's taken the time to shower and change, for Christ's sake. The trademark trench-coat is gone, replaced by a sharp suit and a crisp white shirt.

        "Do you like the new look?" he brushes his lapel and gives us a smug smile. "I thought it more suitable for working with Wolfram and Hart."

        There's no sign of Darla. I cross my fingers that he just has her out of the way somewhere.

        "This is the last time we do this, Angel." B says quietly, drawing a stake. "I won't go through it again."

        "I quite agree, my love. You won't." The cocky prick.

        We go in, bracketing him from left and right. That'll give one of us a chance at his back or side.

        Angelus turns toward B and blocks her swinging arm, then hurls her backward with a casual push. I sweep in on his back, stake plunging.

        And his foot crashes into my chest. Something cracks under the impact and I fly backward into the wall, hitting it hard enough to knock the wind from me. I stagger back just as B flips to her feet. Angelus isn't even breathing hard.

        Something's wrong. I've fought Angel before. He was nowhere near this strong or fast. Losing his soul must make him tougher. But hell, last time this happened B killed Angelus by herself. The two of us should be able to take him without breaking a sweat. So why haven't we?

        We go in again, and the heel of his hand drives into my stomach. I fold over, and take an uppercut straight in the face. It snaps me upright, my vision blurring.

        B stabs at his back. She gets closer than I did: Angelus actually has to dodge. She stumbles past him, and he helps her on her way. B crashes into me for the second time in a night, though this time we stay on our feet.

        Have you ever been in a situation where you could see in you mind *exactly* what was going to happen next, but your body seemed to be on auto-pilot so you couldn't do anything about it? Suddenly, I had that feeling. It was almost like watching the steps of a dance.

        One. B pushed away from me, whirled back toward Angelus, and slashed at him with the stake.

        Two. His fist smashed into her jaw. She staggered drunkenly, too dazed to defend herself.

        Three. I raised my own stake, knowing it was too late. Angelus grabbed B by the shoulders and hurled her against the wall.

        Four. B's skull bounced hard off the bricks right at the moment that Angelus smashed his elbow into my side.

        Five. The impact spun me round so far that his next blow hammered into the back of my head. I fell forward, crashing down beside B as darkness swept over me.

* * *

        I come round slowly, my head still ringin' bells from the beating I took.

        "Ah, the beauty awakes!" Angelus leers into my face, running his hands over my body. I refuse to flinch, and take a moment to get my bearings. He has me chained to a wall, crucifixion style. Cute. I look around. B's about ten feet to my left. Even from that distance, I can see a bloody wound in her neck. Her body's slumped, chin resting on her chest. Still out cold, then.

        "Ooh. Do I get to play with you first?" I give Angelus my best flirty smile, all the while looking past him. Darla looks back at me, her face calm. She's lying casually on the couch, her head pillowed on her arm. When I tortured Lilah, Darla's expression never changed. I wonder if it will be any different, now I'm the one on the receiving end.

        "Play?" Angelus smiles, his hands cupping my breasts through my T-shirt. "That might be fun. But no, you're not a toy for me."

        "Your girlfriend then?" I jerk my head at Darla, doing my best to look tough. Inside, I'm fighting not to throw up.

        He giggles. It's high-pitched, almost feminine. That damn smile broadens. I picture my fist smashing those perfect teeth. It helps a bit.

        "My girlfriend?" he giggles again, "In a manner of speaking, yes. But I don't mean Darla. My lovely sire is still fatigued from that little ritual she went through."

        "Yeah, musta been tough on her." I may be about to die, but there's no way I'm gonna let him see how scared I am.

        "Quite." He cocks his head on one side, "But that raises an interesting question, my sweet. Why *did* you come, tonight? Buffy is easy to explain: she wants to save my precious soul." His smile broadens at this, "But you're almost one of *us*. Why the sudden slayer pride?"

        I don't want them to, but my eyes flick to Darla. It's just for an instant, but the vampire sees it.

        "Oh, my love." He cups my chin gently, his thumb caressing my throat, "You never told me you'd tasted such forbidden fruit, Darla."

        "It wasn't worth mentioning." She shrugs easily, a malicious smile touching her lips for just a moment, "though she would make a pretty child."

        "Indeed." Angelus breathes, the ridges of his vampire face slowing forming, "would you like that, Faith? To be our child?"

        "Not in a million years, Deadboy."

        He shrugs,

        "That's really too bad." The smile never wavers, "it would have been nice to make a pair. But we'll just have to go with the original plan." His teeth scrape my ear, "Buffy can have you as her birthday gift."

        I laugh harshly.

        "Nice try, Angelus." My lip curls, "But B would never drink you."

        "Really?" he grabs B's hair and pushes her head back. For the first time, I see the blood on her lips and chin. "She already has, my sweet."

* * *

        I slip into Lindsay's lap with a low growl, my leather pants sliding on his naked skin. He's slick with blood and sweat, his eyes glassed over by pain and terror.

        A cut on his forehead is slowly seeping blood and I lean forward to kiss it, tasting the coppery tang. Lawyer-boy twitches, but he doesn't make a sound. He's been taught not to.

        "Leave him." Darla's hands snake around my waist and her teeth scrape my neck. She whispers, her voice soft and sweet in my ear, "I want you to screw me."

        A throaty chuckle bursts out of me. I love the way she says that: half prim, half whore. But instead of going with her I lean back and kiss her mouth, letting her share the taste of Lindsay's blood. I know it drives her wild.

        She yanks my hair, pulling my head back. For once that perfect mask of composure has slipped a bit, and I see the way she wants me.

        "Bitch." She murmurs. I just smirk, let her kiss me again. Darla knows me. Lindsay moans softly. He's learning as well, and he knows I'm going to work him for a little longer.

        Because I like to tease.

* * *

        I look at B's bloody mouth and put on my best 'screw you' face.

        "Just one more of you vamps to dust." I shrug, "I'm gonna enjoy stakin' you, Deadboy."

        Angelus smashes me across the face with the back of his hand. Instinctively, I try to swing back. The board my hand is tied to creaks a little, but it'd take a lot more than that to break free.

        "You've got a big mouth, Faith." He hits me again, this time with his fist. Everything goes out of focus for a few seconds. "I'm not the vampire I used to be." He smirks. It's true. Angel was never this strong. "And I have you Slayers to thank for that."

        "So you arranged this little party?" I sneer, "You coulda just said it with flowers."

        Angelus laughs softly and caresses my cheek. The skin is so sore that even this light touch is painful, but I don't let it show.

        "What, and refuse you the chance to share in my return?" he leans close, kisses my numb lips. My first instinct is to bite him, but at the last moment I remember that I might not want his blood in my mouth. Would that be enough to turn me? I don't have a clue. I never planned on getting bit, so I kinda skipped the theory.

        "So why do you owe me an' B so much?" I ask when his lips leave mine. I really don't give a shit, but I figure on playing for time. Maybe Wes and Cordelia will come to the rescue. Yeah, right. Then there'd be four of us hangin' on the wall.

        "Why, by stopping the ritual when you did." He smiles and walks over to Darla, his fingers playing in her hair as he talks, "Had it been completed, my soul would have been destroyed and Darla would have died."

        "I'm *so* glad your girlfriend survived." I try for biting sarcasm, but don't quite manage it. Probably because I actually am glad. Screwed-up, ain't I? Then I start thinking about what he said, "Your soul isn't gone?"

        "Oh no." he smiles smugly, "every whiny, neurotic little impulse is still in here." Angelus taps the side of his head. "It's quite funny, actually. I can hear him trying to get me to let you go."

        "So how come you're in charge?"

        He giggles again. I wonder if B ever knew how gay her boyfriend could sound.

        "That's the beauty of it." He smirks, "Because the ritual never finished, energy is still flowing from Darla to me. It makes me strong enough to take control. And it also makes me stronger and faster than I have ever been before."

        Christ. We gave him a whole *new* way to be a vampire. Then something occurs to me.

        "Better take good care of Darla then, stud." I smirk, "'cos if she ever dies your soul will be back in the driver's seat."

        For a second, the look on his face is priceless. He really hadn't thought of that. Guess this boost of power didn't make him any smarter. As he gets his expression under control I slide my gaze to Darla. Her face is as calm as always, but there's something in her eyes. Anticipation? Great. She's looking forward to seeing me get my face ripped off. I'm gonna lose out to Deadboy again.

        "It's too bad you won't join us, Faith." He sighs. "Guess I'll just have to kill you myself. Buffy can have Wesley as her first."

        Angelus comes toward me, but I keep my eyes on Darla. It might be screwed up, but I want to see her watch me die. I have to know if she felt anything. Even if was just the same low-down tickle I get every time I look at her.

        That's when she pulls the gun.

        For a second, I actually think she's gonna shoot me. For a second, I'm actually *glad* to think that. Hell, at least it means she felt something.

        Then she empties the clip into Angelus.

        Bullets won't kill a vampire. But they hurt 'em. They hurt 'em a lot. Angelus staggers to one knee. I wait for Darla to run. Or to stake him. Or to do anything. But she just drops the gun and waits.

        Angelus snarls and leaps forward, his wide hand gripping her throat.

        "You *bitch*." He snarls, his voice almost unrecognisable, "You'll pay for that."

        Darla quirks an eyebrow, and I laugh despite myself.

        "What are you going to do, *Angel*?" her voice drips scorn, "Kill me?"

        He smashes her to the ground with his fists, striking again and again and again and again. I yell out her name and fight to get free, feeling the ropes flex and shift with each yank of my arms. Blood, warm and slick, runs from my wrists. There's even a sharp *crack* as the board behind my right arm fractures. But I'm still stuck to the wall.

        His fists are bloody now as they rise and fall, crashing into her body time after time. Darla isn't even moving any more, but still he hammers at her, panting and swearing. She never made a sound the whole time. Wouldn't give the bastard the satisfaction.

        Finally, Angelus stands and turns to face me. Darla's beautiful face is a ruin. I wonder if it will ever heal. I wonder if I'll look like that once he's done.

        "Faith." He stalks toward me, his face black with rage. "Time to die, little girl."

        "You think you're bad, Angel?" I snort, "You *still* don't know what evil is."

        And I throw every ounce of strength into my right arm. The rope burns like fire on my bloodied wrist but I shut it out, hearing the board crack again, then splinter and tear free of the wall.

        My arm whips round, the board sailing in an arc to crash into Angelus' head. He staggers, and I snap my wrist back, the short length of rope yanking the board straight into my hand.

        I scream with rage and bury the jagged end of the board deep into his heart.

* * *

        "Poor Lindsay." I murmur, caressing his face gently, "It hurts, doesn't it, baby?"

        He tries to twitch away from my touch, but there's only so far you can move when you're tied to a chair. For some games, that can be nice. But I don't think lawyer-boy is finding this to be very much fun.

        "Don't worry." I soothe him. "It's almost all over. The pain will go away."

        "Why?" he mutters thickly, his eyes afraid. "Why are you doing this? You could have worked for us. You could have been rich. You *both* could have -"

        I put my finger to his lips and he stops talking immediately. That was the very first lesson I taught him.

        "Why?" I smile and glance at Darla. "It's very simple, lover. You screwed with our lives. So now we're ending yours. Thanks for all the tips about your bosses. I'll be sure to give them your regards."

        And as Darla sinks her teeth into his neck and begins to feed, I kiss him on the mouth.

* * *

        I sag in my bonds, staring at Angel's bones.

        I never saw a vampire die that way, before. His flesh turned to dust and flew off his body, but his skeleton is still here, lying on the floor. Maybe it was because he died with his soul still in him. B once said that he didn't just dust when she killed him, either.

        Slowly, I use my right hand to free my left, then undo the ropes on my ankles. For a few seconds, I have trouble standing, but begin to feel a little stronger as the circulation returns.

        I go over to Darla and kneel beside her. I have no idea how you check to see if a vampire is okay. It's not like you can look for a pulse or something. So instead I just take her hand in mine and squeeze it gently.

        Slowly, her eyes open.

        "You look like hell." She murmurs, in that rich, sweet voice.

        "Not as bad as you." I joke, and kiss her as gently as I can. We both gasp at the pain, but we don't let it stop us.

        Eventually, I lean back on my heels and glance over at Angel's bones.

        "You ever see anything like that?" I ask. Darla shakes her head, so I shrug and put it out of my mind. Angel always was out of the ordinary.

        "Guess it doesn't matter. He's dead now, anyway." I go over to where B is hanging from the wall and look one last time at her face. She's still out: eyes closed, chest slowly lifting and falling with each breath.

        If I'd stayed in school, I probably woulda been in one of those 'remedial' courses by now. But I'm not stupid. Vampires don't breathe. I reach out and put my thumb to B's wrist. Her skin is warm to the touch, and I can feel the slow but steady beat of her pulse.

        "She's not a vampire."

        "Naturally." Darla answers, speaking each word slowly and carefully. It bet it hurts like hell for her to talk at all. "Angelus thought you might be convinced to turn if you thought *she* had, so he knocked her unconscious and smeared blood on her mouth."

        "Wouldn't that turn her?"

        "Of course not." I can hear her amusement despite the way she's talking, "If it was we'd be able to turn every Slayer and Watcher we ever beat. The Council would have been out of business years ago. The human has to willingly drink you, or they cannot be turned."

        "Really?" This news sure surprises the shit outta me. "How do you guys get any new recruits?"

        "Most people don't know what being a vampire means." she reminds me, "And you'd be surprised what people will do when they know they're about to die. Even Watchers can be turned sometimes."

        "And Slayers?"

        "Just twice." she pauses, "I thought you might be the third."

        "You figured I'd buy Angel's line?" Suddenly things start to click into place. "That's why you just sat back and watched at first, wasn't it? You figured I'd go for the deal and you'd get us both."

        "Yes." her honesty surprises me. "When I realised you weren't going to take the offer, I had to make a choice."

        "Why'd ya choose me?" I can't keep the surprise out of my voice. Hell. No-one ever chose me, before. Not when there was an alternative.

        "Honestly? He was going to work with Wolfram and Hart. Expected me to just go along with it, like they'd never tried to kill me. I'm not that forgiving."

        "So if he'd been willing to fight them ..."

        "You'd be dead." she confirms, quietly. I'm just starting to feed nice and pissed off about that when Darla points at B. "If *she* were willing to have you back, what would happen to me?"

        I think about lying. But what's the point?

        "You'd be dust." I admit, "How'd you know about me and her?"

        "Last night, in my room ... you called me Buffy."

        "Really? Shit." I shake my head. "Say ... about last night?"

        "Yes?"

        "Wanna do it again?"

* * *

        Lawyer-boy gasps and moans, then dies, his breath rattling into my throat. It's a powerful, screwed up thing to feel that, and know you took a life. Even when it's a life like Lindsay McDonald's.

        I lean away from his lips and glance at Darla as she sucks the last of the blood from his body. Three weeks after the night of the ritual and she is only just coming back to full strength. It took her eight days just to recover from the beating Angelus gave her.

        Darla lifts her mouth from his neck and we kiss, the clash of our mouths hard and rough. After two weeks, I'm starting to get used to the taste of blood. It's part of Darla's flavour.

        You needn't worry, I'm no vampire. Giles would say I'm something worse. And maybe he'd be right. But my first choice wanted me to be something I'm not. Darla accepts me for who I am, and I do the same for her. That goes a long way.

        B would never understand, of course. I probably should have killed her when I had the chance. But we left her hanging from the wall. Either she'd break free by herself, or Wes and Cordy would find her. I sometimes wonder how long it will be before she comes after us. Because I'm starting to get a bad feeling about the way Angel died. A feeling like I should have smashed those bones when I had the chance.

        Darla kisses me again, and I push the future out of my mind. The here and now should have my whole attention. So I lead her across the room, peeling off our clothes as we go. Our lips meet and we sink to the bed, naked flesh on naked flesh.

        And if, in the midst of it all, one of us whispers the wrong name, we'll just pretend it never happened. Because for once, being second-best is proving good enough.

# # #

Author's Note
The ritual used by W&H in part 6 of this fic is of course a variation of that used in the Season 2 episode "What's My Line" (Part 2). The concept of the ritual taking effect without killing the sire is lifted straight from that episode. Everything else (such as the power boost given to Angelus and his consequent 'promotion' to Master Vampire status) is extrapolation on my part.

I'd also like to express my thanks to the following people:
Angel (who provided the initial inspiration, though I no longer remember quite *how*)
Liz Estrada (whose fic still leaves me in awe)
Sean Donohue (the feedback king)
Sasha Chase (Slayer Pride is salty goodness)
Jen (for beta-ing, giving me ego boosts, and liking soccer)
Karen Fainges (for complaining about the puns)

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