by Ellen and Tammy
"...And, furthermore, I'm quite certain there must have been a significantly less hazardous manner in which to clear those people out of the place - one that did not risk inducing mass panic and sending the whole building up in flames..."
I was half aware of Wesley lecturing Faith as we filed back through the office foyer and into the elevator, but I felt curiously disconnected from the scene. As though I was suddenly surrounded by strangers, and Wesley was nobody I knew and his words had nothing to do with me.
Faith and Wesley, the pattern of my life now in this office... suddenly nothing of this seemed to matter any more. The last three years disappeared, wiped out in an instant, and Darla seemed much closer in my memories than three years away.
Her soft laughter echoed around my hollow thoughts.
I felt... numb. I watched my hand, lifting to push the control of the elevator, and it didn't seem to belong to me.
Faith said, "Yeah? Well, at least they're not vamp food. So anyway, what would you have done, 'Master Strategist'? You don't like my plan, so why not come up with your own? You're supposed to be the brains of the outfit, Watcher."
There was a rather long pause.
"Hey, still waiting here." She tapped her heavily-booted foot.
Wesley stuttered with Watcherly indignation, and after a moment finally relented with a sigh. "Granted, it was very much spur-of-the-moment," he allowed evasively. "And there was not a lot of time to hone plans."
I heard Faith's snort and her muttered, "Thought so," as the elevator drew to a halt.
I supposed I could at least be thankful that their arguing had stopped them from noticing - or at least commenting on - my own silence. Because there was absolutely nothing I wanted to talk about with them.
When they got like this, it could go on for hours. And I hoped it did, because that would give me the time I needed for what I had to do.
The door opened and I exited the elevator without looking their way, and walked straight through to my private office, hearing the door slam with unintentional force behind me.
I slumped over my desk as the silence and isolation which I'd sought immediately brought back the crushing barrage of memories I'd spent much of the last few years trying not to remember.
The images battered through my mind with more agony than the damned visions.
Almost four years... it seemed like half a lifetime - no, a whole new lifetime - to me.
Darla? She'd looked just as I remembered her.
She hadn't remembered me, though, I thought again, anger rising finally, creeping in to replace the numbness. I wondered, how many people did you have to kill before your victims became so anonymous...
I saw Harry's dying face in my memory, and that last expression on it - the horror in her eyes which hadn't been caused by the sight of the vamps. I flinched from the reminder.
Whatever else happened, I'd make sure Darla remembered me before the end.
Mirrors. They still bother me. Too many memories, seeing myself in demon form... I don't want to see that face looking back at me and recognise it in any way as my own.
It was easier to practice this move in front of a mirror, but I hated it, just the same.
For years I had been working to control the change to demon form, and I had finally reached a point where I could change one part of my body before the rest. The Brachen defensive spines don't usually pop up on the rest of the body, only on the face, to protect the eyes and other vulnerable areas. I had found by trial and error that if I concentrated hard enough, I could force spines to come out on my hands as well.
Unfortunately, once they did, my hands immediately became useless for anything other than hitting someone. Hand spines make it impossible to hold a weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Evolution gave humans an opposable thumb and no hand spines for good reason. You can't use both at the same time. But for a moment or two, in the thick of a fight, they could be useful.
Hand spines just might buy me enough time to dust Darla and her minions before she killed me.
"Getting ready for the dance, lover?"
I had been concentrating so hard on changing only my hands that I hadn't sensed Faith coming into the room. I could see her in the mirror now, standing in the doorway with hands on hips, watching me.
"You might say that," I muttered, not bothering to turn around.
"Are you going to tell me what all this is about?"
"Believe it or not, Faith, I had a life before you showed up here. Not everything is about you."
"Newsflash, Brainiac, we're partners now. If it's about you, then it's about me."
"I don't think so."
"You don't?" She strode over to me, grabbing me by the shoulder and spinning me around. "So what's it gonna take to convince you?"
I put up my hands defensively, still spined, and she noticed them with a little whoop of delight. "New trick! Way cool!" She reached out a finger and brushed it very lightly against one spine, grinning when it drew a drop of blood. "Sharp, too." She put her fingertip to her lips, licking the blood from it with an exaggerated show of enjoyment.
"So, tell me. Who are you practicing to beat up on?"
"It's not really any of your business."
"Ah, but I'm afraid it is our business, Doyle."
Wesley. Wonderful. It wasn't enough to have Faith trying to worm information out of me, now I had to deal with Wesley as well. As I turned toward the door to deal with Wesley, I started to slide my hands into my pockets, while changing them back to human form. It didn't quite work fast enough; the spines snagged on my jeans along the way. Wesley raised an eyebrow, but made no further comment on my hands.
"You've barely spoken to either of us since that vampire recognized you," Wesley went on. "Don't you think we should know what's going on here?"
"No," I snapped back with barely repressed fury, "No, I don't think you should know what's going on. No, I don't think you need to get involved in my private business. No, I don't need your help. Is that clear enough?"
"Crystal. But what if we need yours?"
That one threw me. "Excuse me?"
"If you're planning to do something reckless that might get you killed, you might want to stop to consider that your actions do affect other people, as well as yourself."
Before I could say anything, Faith jumped in. "Oh yeah, like we haven't heard that riff before."
"As you might recall, Faith, I have actually been proven right on occasion, however reluctant you may be to admit that. Now, Doyle, that vampire said she had seen you somewhere before. You obviously know her. I do have access to information about known vampires, so I would suggest that we pool our resources here and discuss this situation."
"Thanks, but no thanks. I already know all that I need to know."
"Oh, really? You know exactly where to find this vampire, and how many others will be there? You know everything that you need to know to dispose of her and survive the experience? No, you don't, do you. And if I'm guessing right, you don't particularly care about the surviving part."
Damn. When had Wesley become so perceptive? I must have missed that.
Faith gave me a long, slow look. "You getting ready to go kamikaze on us, Doyle?"
"My life is my own business," I snarled back at her, and then realized, too late, that I had answered her question. Faith's face darkened. She advanced toward me, backing me up against the mirror.
"Think again, boss. Now, who is this vamp and why are you so hot on getting her that you don't care if you come back? Give."
I glanced from one face to the other, and realized that the only way I was going to get out of here without some explanation was to knock them both unconscious. Wesley wouldn't have been that much of a challenge, but Faith was another story.
"All right," I said grudgingly. "Her name is Darla."
Wesley seemed to recognize the name. "Darla? Hmmmm. That's not all that common a name among vampires."
Faith snorted. "Yeah, don't they usually prefer scarier names like 'Spike,' also known as 'William the Bloody'?"
Wesley continued as though she had not interrupted, his voice thoughtful. "There was a Darla who made quite an impression in Europe during the last century. She and her companion, Angelus, were near-legendary in their time, wreaking carnage and destruction wherever they went. But they both dropped out of sight around the turn of the century and haven't been heard from again. I wonder if this is the same Darla?"
Faith, as usual, moved straight to the point. "I don't give a rat's ass what she did a hundred years ago. What is she to you, Doyle?"
I didn't answer, and she pressed closer to me. "I said, what is she to you?"
Reluctantly, I gave in. "She killed Harry."
"Oh, dear God," said Wesley. "I'm so sorry, Doyle."
Faith said nothing for a long moment, just stared at my face.
"Oh," she said finally. "I get it now."
She looked away from me as she stepped back, moving toward the door, head down like a child who had been slapped in the face. I don't think I'd ever seen her turn so completely quiet.
Wesley started in again, filling the sudden silence. "You have my deepest sympathies, Doyle. But surely we can still be of some assistance to you?"
Faith's head snapped up again and she whirled toward Wesley. "Wes, shut up. Just shut the fuck up, okay?"
"You have no idea what you're talking about, so just shut your face."
"And you do?"
"Yeah, I do. Remember?"
They glared at each other for a moment. I had no idea what was going on between them, and frankly, I didn't care. If it took them out of my way, it was fine with me.
Wesley began to bluster. "If not for the intervention of the Council, you would have been killed, and you know it, Faith. Why would you want Doyle to make the same fatal mistake that you would have made?"
"Because it's his right, just as it was my right, that you took away from me. You think I forgot? I don't forget, and I don't forgive. So, why should he?"
"You don't mean to tell me that you would stand by and watch him go to his death?"
Faith bit her lip, then shrugged, with an odd, bitter smile. "It's his life. I don't own it. I don't own him. Let him do what he wants, he's entitled. Now let's get out of here."
Perversely enough, now that Faith was willing to let me go, I found myself becoming suspicious. What if her sudden compliance was a ruse, and she and Wesley planned to follow me in secret?
"Wait a minute," I said, in as conciliatory a tone as I could manage. "Maybe you two can help a little, do some research on Darla. That might be of some use."
Faith gave me a dirty look. "Yeah, right. We'll sit here and do some research while you sneak out to kill her. Do it, if you want to do it, Doyle, but don't try to play me for a fool."
Wesley put in, "If you're going straight on out of here to take her on, will you at least allow us to come with you?"
"I'd rather not. But I suppose I can't really stop you from following me, can I?"
"And what makes you think we'd follow you?" Faith flared. "You really think we care so much about your sorry butt? If you're so wicked determined to go get killed, don't think I'm going to throw myself in front of you."
"Faith...." Wesley said plaintively, and Faith glared at him. She took a quick swipe at one eye, but before I could tell if she was chasing a tear or just an itch, she turned away.
"Do what you want," she repeated sullenly, her face averted. "Gee, big bad vampires. Why would you want to involve little old me? I mean, it's not like I'm actually a vampire slayer, or anything like that."
The heavy sarcasm in her voice got through to me, and I relented a little. "All right, already. You can come with me if you insist, but you're going to stay in the car. I'm going in alone."
"Then what in the world is the point of us coming with you at all?" Wesley reasoned, but Faith cut him off.
"We'll be there to claim the body after he's done. That's all you expect from us, isn't it, Doyle?" Her voice was brittle. "Clean-up duty. Well, hop to it then, before I change my mind and try to stop you. What do you want on your gravestone? Oh, don't tell me, I know. 'Beloved Husband.'"
She spun on her heel and walked out of the room. I stared after her blankly for a moment.
Was she actually jealous of a dead woman?
Then I shook my head, dismissing the question. It didn't matter any more. Nothing else mattered, but getting Darla.
I turned my back on Wesley, who was still standing there tongue-tied, and returned to the mirror to practice retracting the spines a little faster from my hands.