by Tammy and Ellen
My hands pressed to the grilled glass window in the door as I looked through - seeing my own reflection and, behind it, Darla.
She flung herself at the glass in fury, but it was made to withstand the almost-supernatural strength of the criminally insane and it bore up against her vampire strength too.
Her hands battered in futility upon the glass which was all that kept us from touching.
I wondered how long she'd last, abandoned in this padded cell, without blood, without company. Would she starve? Would she go mad? Could a vampire even die from starvation, or only wither, remaining ever alive and conscious in a decaying shell?
Either way, I knew she'd suffer.
Her lips moved. I could only just hear her through the insulating padding of the cell and the thickened glass.
She said, "Let me out."
I was still breathing heavily from the exertions of the fight, and when I caught my breath enough to answer her, the words came out bitterly sarcastic. "Ya think?"
Her vamp mask had left her features, leaving me faced once again with the petite blonde innocence of her human disguise. Her eyes were large and frightened. Hard to imagine that a demon lurked behind them, but all the same, those mind games were not going to work on me now.
I stretched the muscles of my face into a grim smile, and extended a hand to tap out a mocking, jaunty tune on the glass with my fingers.
She shrieked in fury at being mocked, and threw herself at the door again, this time not so much like an angry demon as like a child having a tantrum. Her bleeding hand painted red stains across the window.
It lasted a few seconds before she collected her composure - assuming she'd ever really lost it: I had to remind myself that I couldn't underestimate her dexterity with these head-games, as convincing as her acts could be.
She stared at me, putting her face up close to the glass, clawing her dishevelled hair out of her face with one hand. Something in her eyes was different, like she was really seeing me for the first time. As something other than an amusement, or an annoyance.
"Do you know, I don't even know your name?" she said slowly. "Imagine - all this, and I don't even know who you are."
"It's a little late for introductions, darlin'," I said. I was trying not to let myself get too cocky. Trying to keep in mind that she could still be dangerous, even caged.
Her eyes went misty, as though she was thinking, dredging her mind for something. "Your wife called you Francis," she said abruptly. "But... that's not who you are now, is it?"
I stayed silent.
"Is it?" her voice was soft, and pleading.
"Doyle," I said, harshly, reluctantly, and then wondered afterwards why I had. I certainly felt no pity for her. Perhaps it was just that I wanted her to know who it was that was killing her, just as she seemed to need to know the same.
"Doyle," she repeated, and laughed girlishly with pleasure. "Why do we have to be enemies? Nobody's ever got this close to killing me before. I like that in a man. Perhaps I like you. And since I killed your partner... perhaps we could join forces, and I could give you... recompense... in kind. You find me attractive?"
She was playing the wrong game, if she expected me to go for that. "You disgust me," I snarled.
"I do?" she appeared to find that interesting and amusing, setting her head on one side in a philosophical pose. "Why?"
"You have to ask? You killed my wife. You kill people, an' you don't even do it quick and clean, like most vamps - you have to screw with their heads first."
"Everyone needs a hobby. I made you the man you are. Aren't you even a little grateful?"
"I guess I'm just funny like that. You wouldn't know what it feels like, to lose the one person that matters to you, to have your world fall apart. Have a nice life, Darla, stuck in your little padded room." I'd heard enough of this. I was going. She could stay here and rot.
I started to turn my back and she said "Wait!" sharply.
Her eyes flashed anger, and after a moment she said, "Do you think you're the only person who ever lost anyone they loved? You think I can't feel as you do? You can't know how it feels to lose someone after a hundred years of companionship."
I blinked at her. A hundred years meant some other vamp. From her apparent lack of reaction to his dusting earlier, I guessed she wasn't talking about Luke. "You got a hundred years," I said. "I barely got three. Excuse me for not sympathising."
"Two hundred years wouldn't have been enough," she said, her voice a hoarse whisper I could barely hear. "I had to watch what they did to him, the Master and his people, and say nothing... to lose him twice over. I thought we could break the curse, but all they did was torture him, and kill him when he finally escaped. Now all I have left of him is dust... so don't tell me I don't know how it feels to lose someone!"
I didn't know what she was talking about, and to be honest I didn't particularly care. The thing I owed her least of all was sympathy.
I said, "Well, d'you know what? This time, you just plain lose."
I'd made up my mind. I would leave her in this place, keep tabs on the building to make sure nobody decided to start occupying it or pull it down. Maybe check in person every now and then, to see that she was still there. To watch the process of her decay, or whatever it was that starving vampires did.
I turned to leave, and heard the thud of her weight once again impacting heavily on the door.
"You're really going to leave me?" she asked, a harsh challenge in her voice now. "You're really so afraid to open this door and fight me that you'd risk leaving me here to be let out by any passing stranger, any squatting tramp or vagrant who wanders inside?"
"I don't call this winning. I call it a stalemate!" she practically yelled. "I can't get to you, but you can't get to me without risking letting me out. I thought you wanted revenge, Doyle? I thought you wanted it over. To kill me with your own hands, isn't that right?"
I spun around. "I'm not letting you out," I growled.
Her face, framed in the small window, was laughing. "But you know I will get out, darling. Sooner or later. I won't die in here, because I can't die, although it's true I may want to, a few years down the line, if my imprisonment were to last that long. But consider this - what if you die? It isn't exactly a low-risk business, what you do. You can't check up on me, then - can't be my jailor forever to make sure I stay shut in this box. I'd live longer than you anyway. But that's all immaterial, because you simply can't watch this place day and night, every day, and it won't stay empty forever. One day, someone is going to come in and let me out, while you're not here to stop them."
Although I knew what she was trying to do, my resolve faltered - because she was, to some extent, right. There was a chance she'd stay in here for a long time undiscovered, but it was a gamble. And even though I was a betting man, it was a gamble I wasn't prepared to take.
'Leave her,' I told myself firmly. 'Sure, so it's impractical to leave her here indefinitely, but give it a few weeks, come back when she's weak and starving, and stake her then.'
But somehow, that suddenly felt like cheating. A cheap, cruel, cowardly revenge. Not the grand gesture I'd wanted to make for Harry. Leaving her here at all was not really what I'd wanted to do.
My plan... shortchanged me. And yes, she stood to gain from it if I risked opening that door, she didn't want to gamble being stuck here a long time, suffering - certainly better a quick staking or a chance of freedom than that.
But, also, what if somebody came in the next few weeks? Someone in Sunnydale might know they were based here, and come to check up on them when the Tours didn't turn up. Then, Darla would get away free.
I couldn't leave her here. But I also didn't want to give in to her manipulations. A few days wouldn't harm.
Tomorrow. I could come back tomorrow, with more stakes and Holy Water.
Come back, maybe, to an empty cell?
I looked at Darla, separated from me by the glass, and knew I couldn't let her out of my sight until she was dust.
My neck felt awful, and I didn't feel like fighting her again right now - but on the other hand, she wasn't in the best of shape either, tired and battered and with a hole through the center of one palm where the stake had gone in, earlier.
"All right," I said smoothly. "If that's what you want, lady, you're dust."
I retrieved one of the stakes from where it had fallen, and cautiously stepped forward, reaching for the door's complex locking mechanism.
I turned it, slowly.
I yanked on it, hard, using all my demon-enhanced strength, and it didn't budge.
Darla, on the other side, shrieked, "No!" She battered on the window with her bloodied, maimed hand. "No, no, no!" She screamed, her face contorted in fury and fear.
We could neither of us get to each other. She couldn't get out, and I couldn't get in.
I couldn't kill her. Stalemate.
I fell back from the door with a groan.
The empty bottle fell from my fingers and splintered on the floor. I barely noticed. By that time of the evening, I was pretty drunk, just like most days now.
I leaned over the window, seeing my own reflection there, seeing the city stretched out beyond it. My reflection didn't look like me any more. Even though, at that moment, it didn't look like a demon either. I pulled the window up, fumbling with alcohol-induced clumsiness, and the image disappeared.
Leaving me faced with only the vast, dark, sprawling vista of LA.
It was a fairly long way down, and I looked at it for some time before deciding, no, not today. I left the window wide open, letting a mild breeze blow through to toss papers around the shoddy little apartment, but I was too drunk to feel its chill.
The bottle... the traditional, effective anaesthetic.
I fetched myself another from the kitchen, and sat down in a tattered armchair to drink it, and tried not to think about the events of the past few weeks... as usual, a futility.
I didn't know exactly what it was that vampires did to make new vampires, and I didn't know whether it was done to Harry or not, but I wasn't going to take any chances. Harry's family never did forgive me for having her cremated the day after her death.
I couldn't exactly explain to them that I was making sure she wasn't going to rise from the grave. Then again, if they went ahead and had me committed, it might be the best thing.
The guy at the crematorium did ask me if I wanted to leave the ring on her hand, since it would only get melted into a useless lump. I hesitated for a moment, then said: "I'll switch rings, then."
"Same thing will happen."
"That's all right." I switched my ring with hers; our hands were the same size. From now on, I would wear her ring.
I brought the ashes home in a little box. The living room was still in a shambles, with fragments of the mirror and Harry's blood all over the rug. I could even see the imprint, in her blood, of where I lay sprawled for half the night beside her.
I broke the lease the next day and moved into a hotel until, a week or so after, I found this apartment. The company that managed the building billed me top dollar for cleaning up the place, but they didn't say a word about what caused the mess.
The police had been just as indifferent to the strangeness of my story, and the condition of Harry's body. I half expected them to lock me up. After all, isn't the husband always the first suspect? And I didn't have nearly the fight I expected to get them to release the body for a quick cremation.
The cop who took my statement, a big, burly guy who reminded me uncomfortably of Luke, didn't seem to be too interested in the details. Death by exsanguination even had its own little abbreviation, just another D.B.E. in L.A. As I left the police station, I heard him joking to another cop: "Tell Lockley she's won the pool on D.B.E.s for this week."
Somehow I didn't think that the Los Angeles Police Department was going to do much about the creatures that killed Harry.
I took a leave of absence from my job. It took awhile before I got around to telling them that I wasn't coming back. They would have figured it out fast enough when they read my obit in the paper, but somehow I never quite got around to the suicide that I thought about almost every day.
I spent a lot of time coming up with ways to do it, but I never actually tried. I didn't even know what the demon part of me would mean happened, when I died. For all I knew, it could be worse than this.
Instead, I found out that there were bars in L.A. where it didn't matter if you turn into a demon when you get drunk, because everybody else is just the same. It was a side of the city I'd never noticed before, and I could see it fast becoming my home.
After awhile, when I closed my eyes, I didn't see Harry's face any more. But sometimes, I still saw Darla's, and heard her laughing at me.
In the abandoned mental hospital I lay on my back on the floor, staring up at the settlement cracks in the ceiling and feeling the odd angle of my neck. Putting off the sickening wrench of pain that I would have to endure, sometime soon, to set it back right.
I'd only discovered my mistake when the door swung back. Then I'd realised what her unseen hand had been doing while I tried to open the door.
She hadn't stopped to fight me, just delivered the single, powerful, open-handed slap which snapped my already-weakened neck out of place again, and then ran.
I supposed I could take some comfort from the fact that she hadn't wanted to risk fighting me again, either. Unless, like before, she just enjoyed the irony and the cruelty of knowing someone she'd damaged was still out there, alive, still feeling her legacy.
I was a work in progress.
My mind floated over disconnected things. Harry, and the past. Things I couldn't change. Coming back, eventually, to wondering what Faith and Wesley would say when I got back home.
It took a long time just lying there alone in all the padded, empty space of the abandoned hospital before I finally pulled myself to my feet, to begin that journey back.
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