The door slammed open so hard when Annie came in that Faith thought for a moment it might come off its hinges. She watched her fellow Slayer from the bed as the emotions crossed Annie’s face one after another: relief, affection, worry, and then something akin to terror. Then, without a word, the blonde closed the door behind her, and began gathering Faith’s scattered clothes and stuffing them into her duffel.

“You sending me packing?” Faith asked.

Annie didn’t look up from her task. “We’re leaving,” she answered, opening her own well-worn suitcase.

“We’re running again?” her voice was flat. “Geez, I’m shocked we waited so long.”

The other Slayer wouldn’t be baited. “I saw the guy who was looking for you in Boston.”

That gave Faith momentary pause. The possibility, so long remote, that Annie’s unspoken history with her mysterious “Council” might be real, not imagined, became much more concrete. But it was only momentary; she remembered that couple’s faces. “Annie, no.”

“Don’t argue with me, Faith. I’m not letting them find you.”

“And if I want to be found?”

Annie raised her head from packing, looked at her blankly.

Faith stood from the bed. “Somewhere inside, I know there’s a reason why I’m different. Why we’re different. I’m sick of running from it.” She stepped towards her companion. “This place is different, B. There’s a reason we got off the train here, I know it.”

The blonde stared at her with haunted eyes. Her voice was strained. “We’re different because we’re freaks, Faith. And those people who are looking for you,” she pointed towards the door, “want to use you. They want to send you out against these… things, night after night until one kills you. Then they’ll do that with the next freak. They don’t care who you are, just what you are.” Her dam cracked, and tears began. “You, and everyone you love, are expendable to them. I won’t let them take you,” she sobbed.

It was more than Annie had ever said about it. Faith enfolded Annie in her arms, trying to comfort her. She felt her eyes sting, attempted in vain to stem her own flood. “Oh God, B, they did this to you, didn’t they? They used you like that.”

Annie lifted her head from the brunette’s chest and kissed her fiercely. “They can’t have you. You’re mine.”

Faith cried softly. This was so hard. “No,” she whispered, after a moment. “I saved people tonight, Annie. I think that’s why we’re here.”

*   *   *   *   *

Spike entered Willy’s with such velocity his billowing duster gave the illusion of flying. He leveled the first demon he encountered with no provocation but his own rage.

Willy, behind the bar and nose bandaged already, was not looking forward to this.

The blond vampire looked about the tavern for a few moments, forcing eye contact with every bloodsucker and night creature that tried to avoid it. He could feel the unease on his skin like a rash. When he’d left, there’d been some hard feelings. The Mayor was defeated, Veruca was in a coma, Drusilla had been long gone… he’d had no stomach for staying. But many of the devils and demons that survived the wargames of the bloody Watcher and his band of White Hats had felt Spike should have stuck around to help them regroup.

To Spike the decision had been simple: continue to live on the Hellmouth, sharing the food supply with a hundred other vamps, or grab what he could of the dead Mayor’s fortune and head for bloodier pastures.

He didn’t relish returning. He liked being summoned even less. From his brief stare-around, he couldn’t tell who’d have the nerve. The vampire turned to the bar. Time to beat the answer out of Willy.

The bartender set a glass of pig’s blood on the counter as the vampire approached. Spike lashed out a hand that the snitch cringed from, but the fingers laced around the glass rather than the man’s throat. “Thanks, mate,” Spike said, and took a swig. “I’m guessing this is on the house.”

“Well sure, Spike, anything for an old friend,” Willy fawned.

The vampire crooked a brow and glanced around. “You have a friend here?” He wiped his mouth on a sleeve. “’cause I’m wondering who to send the sympathy card to.” And he lifted the greasy man two feet off the floor. “Who in the bloody Hellmouth summoned me? Like I’m some sodding dog to be ordered about!”

In the tense silence of the room, there was a whistle from the corner. “Here, Spikey Spikey… here boy!”

The vampire went paler than usual. Willy wasn’t sure if it was in rage or fear, but he was hoping for the latter. The blond man lowered Willy slowly, then turned wide eyes in an arc that seemed to take minutes to complete. It dawned on Spike finally that the room’s thick tension was only half for him, and that it had been bubbling through the bar long before he arrived, due to the small blonde figure in the last booth.

“Well, well, look who’s awake,” he smirked. His boots thumped on the hardwood floor as he approached her.

“And yours was just the ugly mug I wanted to wake up to,” Veruca replied. She gestured to the other side of the table, and Spike flopped down to the bench there. In an instant the wolf’s own bootheel was planted in his crotch and his back was pressed to the rear of the bench, retreating as far as possible in the tight space. “So why wasn’t it there when I did?” she finished.

Spike gamely tried to keep his voice at a level pitch. “Now, now, luv, you do know it’s been awhile since you… went under.”

“Quite a while,” she answered cryptically.

“And you were taken care of.”

“While you went off and enjoyed yourself.”

He pushed her foot away. “It’s in my nature,” he shrugged. “You can’t fault me for that. You’d be doing the same thing. In fact,” he took a swig of the blood, “I think that was part of the plan, wasn’t it? Enjoying ourselves?”

“And I bet you never gave me a second thought, did you?” her eyes bore into him with a strange fire.

Spike leaned forward. “I thought about you plenty. Part of why I left was from thinking about you, lying there.” He sat back again. “But a man’s got to move on eventually. Get on with his unlife.”

Veruca’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly.

“Come on, luv, things are different now,” Spike raised his hands. “You’re awake. Reason to celebrate, I’d say, ’stead of sitting here, brooding about. Why don’t I get you a drink and we can have at it?”

She considered, smiling slightly. “Sounds like my Spike, looking for that dark cloud behind the silver lining. Alright.”

“What can I get you then?”

Veruca eyed his glass of plasma for a moment oddly. “Wine,” she said. “Red.”

*   *   *   *   *

Annie whimpered in Faith’s arms. “No, no, no…” she cried. “Don’t think like that. That’s how they want you to think.”

The younger Slayer could barely breathe against the breaking of her heart. But this had been building in her too long. She tried to be gentle. “B, I’ll always be yours. But what if this is what I’m meant to do?”

“No…” Annie’s small body shook.

“I…” the brunette could hardly hear her own voice. “I don’t know what else to do.”

The other Slayer lifted her head, looked into her face. “Stay with me.” She kissed Faith tenderly. “Run with me.”

Faith closed her eyes. “I can’t.”

Her companion pushed back from her grasp. Annie’s tear-stained face became splotchy and red with anger. “You wanna go to them, fine! I’ll give you the fucking address!” She stalked to the nightstand and grabbed the flimsy pad of paper there that the motel left for their guests. She scribbled on the top sheet, then threw the pen down. From the back of her belt she drew out her knife and slammed it point first into the note. Then she stalked for the door.

“Annie…” Faith tried, but the older Slayer wouldn’t turn. “B…”

Annie held up her hand to cut Faith off. With the door open and herself halfway through it, Annie paused. “You won’t always be mine. You’re already theirs. I just tried to keep you safe. I love you.” She turned away. “If you go, don’t expect me to be here when you get back.” And she closed the door behind her.

*   *   *   *   *

Malek, the Kailiff demon bouncer at The Underground, had been his usual gruff self. “Like I told Ripper last night: I ain’t heard nothin’, and I ain’t seen nobody.” No amount of threats would budge him, which meant it was likely the truth. It was like that everywhere, so Angel wound his car slowly through Sunnydale’s darkened streets towards the R & W with a heavy heart and no new information. He wanted to go back, find something, but it was starting to get late and Cordy was probably in need of some sleep, since she’d had virtually none last night. She could crash in Rupert’s room, of course, but he’d feel better with her at the mansion.

He couldn’t be sure that she’d want to go home, he thought, sidling the car up to the curb on Main, but he had to ask. He had to know how far gone this was.

Angel paused before the storefront window, his step tentative, and glanced within, standing silently for a moment. Wesley sat at a table, shuffling papers of some kind, while Willow leaned over his shoulder. He couldn’t hear their discussion easily but, eyes searching for and not finding the reason he’d come here, Angel didn’t care at the moment. His chest tight, he stepped quickly towards the shop door, hand reaching for the knob.

A voice from the shadows ahead stopped him. “You know, for a supposed master of skulking, you’re not very observant.” Cordelia leaned back against the wood-paneled front of the store, hands holding her elbows against a chill.

“Cordy, what are you doing out here?” Angel could hear the unintended harshness of his voice but not prevent it. “Don’t you know how dangerous this is?”

She scowled. “I’m two feet from the door, Dad, and yeah, I think I have a clue about what Sunnydale is like at night.” Her voice was dark. “Even this night.”

The vampire stepped up to her. He took her in: dressed all in black, from boots to slacks to belt to tank, she looked every inch his girl. When did that happen? Cordy’s hazel eyes watched him closely as he laid a palm on her bare arm. She glanced down at his hand; he didn’t remove it.

“You’re cold,” he said.

“I needed air,” she shrugged.

“You finished?” he nodded towards the door.

“For now,” she sighed.

“Say good-bye,” he told her.

“Alright,” she answered.

Willow and Wes looked up as she stuck her head through the door. “My ride’s here. You need me?” she asked politely, knowing they didn’t.

“Get some rest,” Willow said, cutting Wesley off before he could decide otherwise.

Angel hovered until Cordy got into the car, eyes examining every shadow. When he got behind the wheel her eyes were closed, head tilted back against the headrest. He started the car and pulled away in silence, not wanting to disturb her.

“We have anything new?” she asked after a moment.

“Not from me,” he answered, his voice revealing his disappointment. “How ’bout you?”

Her eyes remained closed. “Nothing Hellmouth-shaking. Wes and Will are following up on the symbols I remembered clearly.”

Angel grunted an acknowledgement.

The streets passed in the eerie Sunnydale quiet for a while. Glancing at her, he could almost see the thoughts crossing her mind from her fleeting expressions. He knew what that was like.

She raised her hands to her face at last. “God, I hate this place. My whole life, I’ve hated this damned, dinky town. I wish we could just keep driving, just get out of here.”

How he shared that desire. But… “Cordy—”

Her eyes, open now, were pleading. “Just play along with me.”

Angel felt his insides clench, looking at her. “Lots of places to see on the road.” He faced front again. “Of course, most tourist spots are for daytime viewing.”

“Not everything closes at sunset. And I have good night vision.”

Angel smiled. “Ever seen the Grand Canyon by moonlight?”

She slid closer to him on the seat, leaning against his arm. “Not yet.”

He put his arm around her shoulders. “How about Niagara Falls?”

“I hear they put spotlights on that one after dark.” Cordelia snuggled to him. “Rainbow colored spotlights.”

“That would be nice to see.”

“How are you on room service?” She cocked her head. “With a few side trips to the local butcher, of course.”

He smiled. “I can live on it for awhile.” He watched the road. “Should we just keep going, or maybe point ourselves somewhere?”

“Anywhere without a Hellmouth.”

“Highway 101 is a beautiful drive.” He smiled down at her. “Even at night.”

Angel could feel her almost purr. “I’d love to go to L.A. Get a decent apartment. Mingle a little.”

“Meet some stars?”

“Please! Be a star maybe.”

He kissed the top of her head gently.

“Still,” she sighed. “I’d feel guilty, not helping people.” Cordy frowned. “Ripper and all those damned goody-two-shoes have ruined my perfect little spoiled life.”

Angel pondered. “Well, we could keep helping people. Must be some demon activity in L.A. We could do a little work on the side when you’re not being a star.”

She smiled again. “Maybe we could drag one of those ex-Watchers along to help with research. Call it ‘Chase Investigations’.”

He cleared his throat. “…or maybe ‘Angel—”

“Don’t go there,” she gave him a mock stern look.

The vampire smiled, and drove on in silence.

*   *   *   *   *

The mausoleum was a step down from the posh trappings the Mayor had provided, but at the moment, neither Spike nor Veruca cared. Well, Spike wondered briefly why his wild wolf-girl had led him inside when she usually preferred the great outdoors for a good shag, but only briefly.

Veruca’s mouth tasted of wine; her skin of musk and salt. Spike listened to her moans and growls echo in the murky, sheltered space as the clang of the door shutting behind them faded. He tuned himself into her signals and sounds as he ran his hands over her clothes and lips over her neck. It had been awhile since they’d been together, and he wanted to relearn her a little.

Spike pulled her against him, his back to the door. He slid down slightly, and raised her up slightly, so their bodies were more level with one another. He planted his boots a little apart, and ran his hands down her back, only his fingertips touching, ten spots of sensation through the cotton of her shirt. Her mouth left his and her teeth nibbled over his chin and the top of his throat. As she pressed into him their hips met, and she murmured into his chest. Spike’s palms slid along her rib cage, forward around her body. He felt the muscles tense beneath his touch. His hands were firm so as not to tickle her, and he lifted her up further, his mouth brushing against her hair, his lips feeling the texture of it. He reached her ear and his tongue traced it lightly. He felt a snarl in her throat and her hands gripped his arms tightly.

He walked her backwards deeper into the tomb, her eyes closed, her flesh burning. The fading light of the setting moon slanted through windows coated with dust, revealing a surprising opulence. Heavy velvet drapes hung ceiling to floor, broken by gothic scenes in marble relief. Two great sarcophagi stood near the far end, just before the caged front of a fireplace, from which gentle kaleidoscopic lights sparkled.

Veruca’s elfin form clung to Spike with lupine strength. The vampire loved her barely-checked savagery. As they reached one crypt he lifted her by the hips and slid her back atop it, but Veruca’s legs scissored around him and wouldn’t let go. Their lips mashed, breath in gasps, seemingly exchanging the air in one another’s lungs. Her hands were under his jacket and her nails raked his back, so painfully Spike wondered if the change was upon her.

“I’ve missed this, Spike,” she said, her voice a rasp.

“Me too, love,” he answered between kisses. “Hated the thought of you all broken and limp in that bed.”

Veruca chuckled mysteriously. “Longer than that, darling.”

Spike’s brow furrowed, but the thought was lost as she bit his lip playfully. Her hands slipped out of his coat and slid up over his shoulders. The vampire leaned forward against the stone coffin, tilting her back over it, but she reached a hand to its surface and deflected the two of them so that he fell first, she atop him. Her hands finished their upward journey, fingers around his neck gently.

Then the rasp was gone, and her words had a strong and hauntingly familiar accent to them. “Much longer than that, pet,” Drusilla said, as her hands clenched down fiercely, brutally, on Spike’s pale throat.


VIII: Too Far Gone?