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Challenge #7 - Undead

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  • Challenge #7 - Undead

    Rating: PG -13
    Setting: AtS, between 5.13 and 5.14
    Disclaimer: The characters in this story are not mine. I therefore cannot take responsibility for any inconvenience they might cause while experimenting with criminality and various acts of delinquency or anti-social behaviour.
    A/N: This one’s actually quite shippy for me. But for shippy goodness, read the uncut version, here.
    Word count: 6,583 (as authorised by challenge starter )
    Listened to while writing: Relax (Mika), Come Undone (Robbie Williams), Leather (Tori Amos), Trouble (P!nk) - pm me for info. Also: 99 Red Balloons (Nena) and Everybody Knows (Dixie Chicks)
    Acknowledgements: Thanks to Torchwood for their retcon pills, and Supernatural for their Shape Shifter.

    UNDEAD

    The map-like blotches on the grey walls echoed the pit-stains on the men within them. Angular and low, the ceiling had no ambition to imitate the sky, and only passably succeeded in rendering its whiteness of earlier today, unable to replicate the swiftness of the white, as pushed across the blue by February’s wind. There was no wind in here; despite having only three walls, the square room was entirely draught-free. Through the bars making up the fourth wall, one could see a few ribbons flapping off an old fan on the police officers’ desk, proof that there was air circulating nearby. But it was blown down the corridor, not making it to the cells. Perhaps that explained the damp on the walls.

    Save for the snores of a vagrant lying face down on the side bench, no human sounds were emitted. This uncomfortable silence was alleviated by the drumming of fingers on thighs, a quiet rhythmical pacifying beat, hominine skin on bovine skin, digits on leather.

    Mostly, boredom. Live, fierce, almost snarling boredom, that made you plan out the taking off of your leather pants and the tying them into a noose. And time. The seconds hand above the framed LAPD group photo, going round jerkily but surely, round and round unstoppably, now hiding for the length of the thickness of a bar, and emerging again, with bagfuls and pocketfuls of its loot, tiptoeing off to its lair, with bagfuls, suitcases of stolen time.

    Outside, the city crawled with life. Nightlife and its lights, noise, smells and flavours. Fountains of whisky, tingling your tongue and burning your throat, blurring all sadness around and shyness within, and turning laughter loose. Between whiffs of ozone, the smell of the living, there to be preyed on, played with, mixed with. The softness of their necks on your mouth. Also, violence, since these streets oozed roughness. Danger, pumping adrenaline through your veins till you were high on it, heard it in your temples. The fun in subduing somebody. The goosebumps lining your guts as you broke Man’s law, and the buzz of the fear of getting caught.

    Like tonight.

    The finger-tapping ceased as firm steps were heard coming up the corridor, bringing back the middle-aged on-duty policeman from the front of the station, who planted himself at the door of the cell and looked in.

    ‘Burkle! Someone here for you.’

    * * * *

    ‘I one-phone-called Spike,’ she complained. She drew her legs to her on the bench, hugging her knees and resting her chin on the leather, and looked up at Angel, towering there through the bars, scowling his outrage at her. ‘He said he was coming over.’

    ‘Yeah well, seemed like a managerial matter.’

    ‘Are you gonna bail me out?’ she asked earnestly.

    ‘What are you in for?’

    Fred looked down and sighed, glanced aside at nothing in particular, then focused her gaze in the vicinity of his left shin. ‘Disturbance of the peace,’ she reluctantly answered. ‘And indecent exposure,’ she added, the control over the shaking of her voice slackening. She dragged her eyes up to his and searched them, heartbreakingly sheepish. ‘And a little assault and battery.’

    ‘You are freaking kiddin’ me,’ her CEO let out through gritted teeth. ‘The rest of us are working our asses off to nail this bastard of a case, and you’re getting yourself arrested?! What the HELL did you do to get locked up for assault and battery? Huh? Indecent exp--’ He shook his head. ‘You know what? I don’t even wanna know.’

    He went to the desk, signed a few forms, a cheque, and took the items handed to him by the policeman: a folded jacket as a display cushion for a cell phone, a wallet, a Zippo lighter and a stake. Angel followed him to the cell door and threw daggers at Fred while he unlocked and opened it.

    ‘In the car.’

    * * * *

    LA streetlights flashed past as the Camaro sailed silently to Wolfram & Hart.

    Fred turned to her bail at the wheel and ventured a smile. ‘This is a nice car. Not that I would know,’ she added quickly. Angel stared on at the road, lips and eyebrows immobile. ‘I… I know you said you didn’t wanna know, but I feel I owe you an explanation. Seeing as you bailed me out and all. Which, thank you, by the way.’ Still no reaction. ‘I was a little drunk, okay? I… Something happened and I needed a drink, and I only had a couple but because I’m not used to drinking… I was walking home, through a very quiet neighbourhood, and I don’t know why, I started singing to myself. ’Cause it was too quiet, I guess, and I was plastered. But then I must’ve been singing a bit loud, because these people stuck their heads out the windows above and started shouting abuse at me. So I answered them back, right? I mean, what would you do? If a bunch of stuck-up morons picked on you, like five against one? Bearing in mind the alcohol. Anyway, it carried on like this for a while, not sure how long, with them threatening to call the cops and yelling at me to shut up, and me taunting them to come down and make me, and then this bald guy opens his window and he’s, like, brandishing a baseball bat. So I told him where he could shove it. And then I kinda showed him where,’ she grimaced.

    Angel couldn’t retain a quick horrified look at her. ‘You mooned him?!’

    ‘Did I mention I was very very wasted?’ she reiterated, with another embarrassed face. ‘I didn’t hear a siren or anything, but next thing I knew, three cops were charging at me, you know, like, real police, handcuffs and everything. I tried to bolt but they outran me, what with my pants still half down and all. And I don’t mind telling you, looks-wise, these are the bomb, no question, but emergency-getting-dressed-wise, there’s a whole inelasticity issue… Anyway, they collared me, and by that point I was all set to cooperate, I swear, but one of them went for his cuffs, and I don’t know, Angel, I just flipped. I kicked him in the crotch and I slapped another one’s face, then I got the stake out of my pocket and started clubbing them with it? You know, not that hard, and not for very long because they soon overpowered me, hello, single human drunk female here. And that was the extent of the assault and battery, no more, couple of bruises, tops, that’s it. And there’s absotively posilutely no way it will happen again. Ever. I want you to know that. It was by far my least finest moment, I got drunk, I shouldn’t have done it, and I wish I hadn’t, and I’m never gonna let this sort of thing happen again. Spending a few hours away in that cell was gruesome enough, believe me, and then on top of that, having you come down to pick me up? Seeing me in there? I mean, being called to the police station in the middle of the night and of a mind-vacuumingly difficult case to get the Head of your Science department out of jail? That’s not what you want, is it? I’m fully aware of that, Angel, I need you to be aware that I’m aware. And that I’m really sorry,’ she concluded in a small, emotional voice.

    He kept his eyes on the road and his mouth shut.

    ‘And I’m prepared to take the consequences,’ she went on. ‘The officer on duty, he said I’m likely to get a bunch of community service, now I’m gonna have a word with Charles, see if there’s any chance he can get me out of it, but if he can’t, then I’ll just get on with whatever sentence I get. Won’t be for ages yet, anyway, he said the admin takes weeks, months sometimes. By then I’ll be…’ She glanced at the rear-view mirror. ‘You know, really truly remorseful for my actions. This must totally freak out the other motorists,’ she nodded at the mirror.

    Angel passed up her attempt to lighten the mood, and focused on driving.

    ‘Thanks for the ride, too. I can’t wait to be back in the lab and sink my teeth into my work. Gonna take a shower first, if that’s okay, eugh!’ she shivered. ‘We’ll bust him, Angel, I had time to do some thinking tonight, and there’s a few pseudo-scientific alleys we haven’t gone down yet, so leave it with me, I’m gonna be on it for the rest of the night, and first thing in the morning I’ll fill Knox in and he’ll put the rest of the department on it. We’ll have this whole thing figured out in no time. Angel, I get that you’re disappointed in me, heck, I’m disappointed in me. But you’re being creepily quiet. I mean, more so than usual. Hate it when you’re this quiet. Say something? Anything? Please? Come on, what are you thinking?’

    ‘I’m thinking…’ he muttered without looking at her, ‘that it’s a good thing you like singing.’

    Her smile fell while her eyes lingered on him for a moment, then she turned away and stared out the window for the remainder of the journey. Angel parked in his allocated space in the Wolfram & Hart underground parking lot and got out.

    As soon as Fred stepped out of the car, two burly men from security loomed towards her. ‘Mr Angel, Sir?’

    Angel glanced at them from his side of the car. ‘Do it.’

    The men each gently grabbed one of Fred’s arms, insistently escorting her with or without her consent. ‘Ms Burkle, this way, please.’

    ‘Where are you taking me? Angel, where are they taking me?’ she cried, stiffening in their grip. ‘Get your hands off of me, you primates!’ They tightened their hold and began to march her off towards the firm’s entrance. She struggled, twisting her body and thrashing about, and managed a look over her shoulder. ‘Angel, please! I won’t do it again, I swear! Where are they taking me? ’Cause I’m guessing, not to the coffee machine! Angel! Angel, it was the booze, I won’t drink again, I promise! Please, don’t! Angel, I said I was sorry!’

    The vampire silently watched his parking space’s white line as his employee, prot?g?e and friend was dragged away literally kicking and screaming.

    * * * *

    Angel darted into his office, opened his desk, and rummaged through a document drawer, oblivious to his three co-workers waiting there.

    ‘Well? You get her back? Where the bloody hell is she?’

    ‘That’s what I’m gonna find out.’

    ‘Yeah, sounds about right, just what we’ve been hanging about here for, game of ruddy charades. Statement of fact. Four words. First word: “you’re”. Second word --’

    ‘Technically that’s two words,’ mumbled Gunn distractedly, his head in an ancient volume. He felt Spike’s exasperated glare on him. ‘She’s downstairs, you noob. She’s safe.’

    ‘Downstairs? You mean Nina’s cage?’ He turned to Angel still searching his drawer. ‘So you got her out of jail, all the better to lock her up in jail?!’

    ‘Sadistic, huh?’ noted Wesley, looking up from a set of black and white photos. ‘You don’t know the half of it. Fred spent five years without a door, let alone a cage door. It’s all going to feel massively oppressive to her.’

    ‘And you’re okay with that? His Royal CEOness here gets off on triggering your mate’s claustrophobia, I mean, no wonder you’re kicking up such a sitting around.’

    ‘I need a newspaper!’ grumbled Angel, impatiently. ‘Thought I’d left tonight’s edition in here.’

    ‘So much you couldn’t possibly comprehend, Spike, it makes me quite vertigo-ish.’

    ‘Ah. Here.’ Angel produced a broadsheet. ‘Right, Wesley, I’m gonna do what we talked about, so you guys don’t come down until advised differently. I’m getting to the bottom of this.’

    He folded his paper and rushed out.

    * * * *

    The hinges of the metal door to the cage room creaked as Angel shut it behind him. Fred glared up at him from the back of the cage, sat on the floor in a corner.

    ‘That was so not cool.’

    He put down his newspaper on the floor and studied her through the bars. ‘Where is she?’

    ‘Let me out.’

    ‘Where is she?’

    ‘Let me out. Then we’ll talk.’

    ‘We talk first. Then I decide if I let you out before or after I kill you. Where is she?’

    ‘Not very believable, I’m afraid. You’re overdoing it. No way you’d kill a friend. Not for any reason, much less getting into a little trouble with the law.’

    ‘A friend, very unlikely, you’re right. You, on the other hand… WHERE. IS SHE?’ he groaned angrily.

    ‘All right. I’m gonna say it first, but only because my life expectancy is way shorter than yours. Where the heck is WHO?’

    ‘Don’t play games with me, you son of a bitch, you’re gonna lose. You’ve already lost, wake up and smell the cage bars.’

    ‘Okay, Earth calling Angel, not Angelus. Where is who? And how am I supposed to know, I was in jail, remember? Nina? Harmony? Is Harmony missing? Eve? Should I list every female on the payroll? Buffy? ’Cause that one I know. Where is who, Angel?’

    ‘You know who! Winifred Burkle!’

    Her eyes widened. ‘Okay… Forget the murder threat, that was scary. I… I don’t even know how to respond to that. And I thought my blood alcohol was bad.’

    ‘Stop wasting my time, you dirtbag! You tell me where you left her, I go find her, hopefully, for your sake, safe and sound, and my lawyers will make sure you get life. As opposed to death by vampire strangulation. So talk.’

    ‘Ohhhh, I get it. Sorry, I’m a bit slow tonight. You think I’m… Easy mistake,’ she nodded, impressed. ‘I can see where this is going. And, I’m trying but… there’s no non-cliché way to say this. I’m not the Shape Shifter.’

    ‘And I’m not the vampire-with-a-soul. Talk.’

    ‘Oh noooo!’ she whined. ‘This is gonna take ages! I haven’t got time, Angel! Ooo, I know! I know! Cycloid! No—no. Sprocket! There.’

    His eyes narrowed dubitatively. ‘Yeah, nice try. Except you’ve been hanging out here for at least a couple of days. You stole Fred’s identity way before I gave out the password. It’s invalid to you.’

    ‘Well that sucks.’ She crossed her arms sulkily. ‘It’s not fair! You’re the boss, you should’ve seen this coming and given us a password the minute we took on the Shifter case, not a few days into the case! But no, you wait till after infiltration, then you think about the practical details. What good’s that gonna do? Now I haven’t got a password. Not professional,’ she pointed her finger accusingly.

    ‘So you’re admitting you’ve infiltrated us.’

    ‘No way! But I could have! I mean, he could have!’ She stood up and came to the front. ‘How do I know you’re not the Shifter, huh? Wouldn’t be the first time.’

    ‘Because,’ he grunted, picking up the newspaper, ‘I haven’t been subject to erratic behaviour.’ He chucked it into the cage violently.

    She kept her eyes on him a moment, gauging his anger, then crouched by the front page, her throat tightening as she read the headline.

    “PUBLIC LIBRARY BURNT DOWN. $MILLIONS WORTH OF DAMAGE.”

    ‘No casualties…’ she murmured to herself.

    ‘Not in the headline. Read on.’

    She squinted at him suspiciously. ‘You know I’m Fred…’ She stood back up without reading more. ‘Don’t you? You’ve known all along I’m not the Shifter.’

    ‘Could’ve fooled me. You almost did. Wes made a good case for you. What the hell’s going on with you?’

    She went back to her corner and sat down, facing him defiantly. ‘I didn’t do it. And there were no human casualties.’

    ‘Really? A deaf old man didn’t hear the evacuation order and was still inside when the fire broke out. He got stuck in there.’

    ‘No!’ she cried. ‘He made it out! I -- Someone went back for him! He got out safe!’

    ‘He inhaled a lot of fumes.’

    ‘But he’ll live.’

    ‘But it was close. And Fred would never put people’s lives at risk for kicks. So, one of two explanations. Either you are the Shifter, or there’s something going on making you act up that you’re about to tell me about. So what’s going on?’

    ‘Okay,’ she yielded with a smart-aleck face. ‘I’m the Shifter.’

    Angel growled with rage. ‘It’s not funny, Fred! It’s not just the fire! Or the getting arrested! It’s the drinking! And the shirking! And the vandalism! I got billed by a demon nightclub today! You were caught on their bathroom CCTV last night, smashing the mirrors with a toilet seat! Now what the hell were you doing there in the first place? Huh? Getting drunk with Spike?’

    ‘And Wesley and Charles.’

    ‘Oh but you left with Spike! Spent the night at his place, you think I don’t know?’

    ‘My private life’s none of my employer’s business.’

    ‘It is when Spike’s involved. And the rest of my staff. Have you any idea what that’s doing to Wesley?’

    She looked him in the eye. ‘Is this about me wrecking your car?’

    He sighed. ‘I’m not even gonna dignify that with a denial. You’ve not been yourself these past couple of days. Lashing out at police officers, committing arson! You’ve been getting high?’

    ‘Huh!’ she exclaimed, outraged. ‘Lorne is such a tattletale!’

    ‘So you’re gonna tell me what the hell is the matter with you,’ he ordered. ‘’Cause we’ve gotta fix it.’

    ‘There’s nothing to fix, I’ve just been having fun is all. You should try it sometime.’

    He sized her up, suspecting he wasn’t gonna get anything out of her. ‘All right, that’s it. I’m through. Someone you love goes a bit off the rails, you’re not happy about it, but you let it slide because you put it down to a little natural harmless rebelling, next thing you know they’ve wired innocent people to a bomb and they’re threatening to blow up a mall, and you have no choice but to let them be taken away from you! So I’m done playing. You will not leave this cage until you’ve told me what’s going on.’ He stepped back.

    ‘You can’t do that.’

    ‘And what’s more, you will not see anyone. The rest of the team have very strict orders not to come and see you. Until you’ve told me what’s wrong, you will see me when I come to interrogate you, and that’s it.’ He turned around to leave.

    She got up and ran to the front of the cage. ‘You can’t do that!’

    ‘Watch me. Now I’ll come back to talk to you in a while. Till then… Enjoy the peace and quiet.’ He walked to the metal door.

    ‘Angel, please! Don’t leave me all alone here!’

    The vampire put a hand on the door handle. ‘See ya.’

    ‘I’M DYING!’

    He turned around to face her. ‘What?’

    She went back to her corner and sat back down, staring into space.

    He stepped to the cage door. ‘Are you sick?’

    She shrugged and whispered, ‘Not yet.’

    Angel dialled the code on the number pad and the cage slid open. He strode to the back and flumped next to Fred. ‘What’s the matter, what makes you think you’re dying?’

    ‘I saw it. In a dream. I wasn’t here anymore. Everyone was grieving. It was really sad. It was really real.’

    ‘It was a dream.’

    She shook her head. ‘It was more than a dream. It felt real. I’m dead, and everyone’s mourning me, and you try and fix it but you can’t. And I don’t know how it happens. There wasn’t a body. None that I saw, anyway.’

    He smiled. ‘When does it happen? Whe—When do you “die”?’ he emphasised the word mockingly.

    ‘I don’t know precisely, but in the dream there was a discarded Valentine’s Day card, so I’m thinking, soonish.’

    ‘Hmm hmm. Wanna know what I think? I think somebody’s angry. At wasting five years of her youth in a parallel dimension, and now she’s catching up on all the fun stuff she didn’t get to do back then, and she’s using that dream as an excuse to justify acting up.’

    She sneered. ‘Oh, interesting theory. You wanna know what I think? That you’re a fool.’

    ‘Why you burnt down the Public Library. Of all the places to destroy, you choose the one where your portal opened? We’ve seen subtler acts of symbolic rage, Fred.’

    ‘I didn’t do it out of rage. I did it for the flames. To see them. To watch something beautiful. Because I’m dying in a couple of weeks, but I’m not dead now. And until then I’m gonna feel stuff, everything. I’m gonna get drunk, and get high, and I’m gonna laugh. I’m gonna party, and I’m gonna trash things, and I’m gonna feel my heart thumping when I’m stealing or lying. And I’m not gonna take any orders, or advice, from anyone, in fact, I’m gonna demand things from others and if they don’t comply, I’m gonna hurt them till they do. I’m gonna know what it’s like to be powerful. I’m gonna touch things, forbidden things, with my mouth, I’m gonna taste them. I’m gonna drive guys insane with desire, and I’m gonna have sex, lots of sex, passionate, meaningless, beautiful, routine, any kind of sex, with anyone who offers, with Spike, with Wesley, with Spike and Wesley! Because soon I’m gonna be dead. But until then, so help me, I’m gonna live a little! I’m gonna be the opposite of dead!’

    Angel was alarmed by the sparks in her eyes. He took in a breath of useless air. ‘How did you die in the dream?’

    She had a sigh of her own. ‘I don’t know. But I know you can’t fix it. Or stop it happening. It felt too… fateful.’

    ‘I still think it was no more than a dream.’

    ‘Oh yeah? What if I told you Cordelia was in it?’

    She struck a nerve. ‘Cordy? Cordy was in it?’

    She nodded. ‘She was guiding me. Dressed up as a Smurf, for some reason.’

    He smiled reassuringly. Whether that was reassuring her or himself was beside the point. ‘Well, in that case… I’d say that was a normal, meaningless, run-of-the-mill, human dream. With Cordelia in it.’

    ‘See, that’s why I didn’t wanna tell you! I knew you wouldn’t take me seriously.’

    ‘I am taking you seriously, and I’m taking your dream seriously, and I don’t take this kind of stuff lightly. Whatever it is, it’s clearly messing with your head, and I can’t have that. Okay? So I’m gonna investigate it.’ He took out his cell phone, speed-dialled a number, and brought it to his ear. ‘Now.’ He hung up.

    She recoiled slightly, guessing. ‘I’m not singing.’

    ‘Yes, you are. I need to know what’s what here.’

    She shook her head and her eyes welled up. ‘No.’

    ‘Hey…’ he comforted, pained to see her scared to tears. ‘There’s nothing scary about this. My belief is that you had a bad dream, I just want confirmation. For my own peace of mind. Hey? You’re gonna be fine.’

    ‘I’m not singing, Angel. You can’t make me.’

    ‘Fred, you already think you’re dying, you’ve got nothing to lose! Lorne can only give you good news!’

    ‘No, because I think I’m dying. And I’m pretty sure, say 98%, but if Lorne sees the same thing I did, I’ll be 100% sure. And that’s two percent I’m not so willing to gamble with right now.’

    ‘Well, it’s that 98% full baloney that’s gonna cost me. It’s gonna cost me victims, and probably my Head of Science. So it’s not your call. Besides, if you are right then it gives us a little time to work something out, and if you’re wrong then you can snap right out of badass mode, so either way, I’d rather know now. You’re singing, end of story. Lorne will keep you in the dark if that’s what you want.’

    ‘That’s right,’ piped Lorne, closing the room door, ‘anything my favourite atom-splitting jailbird requests.’ He walked into the cage and looked around. ‘Colourful d?cor, top guy, the kind of innovative psychology that would make Dr Phil blush.’ He sat down opposite Fred, cross-legged. ‘I’m all ears, cupcakes.’

    Fred sighed and turned to Angel.

    ‘Come on. You’ll be fine. Like ripping off a band-aid.’

    ‘Fine. But I don’t wanna be told, Lorne.’ The Empath nodded, and she started singing, ‘Tell me now, if you came sneaking up behind, would you know me and see behind the smile? I can change like colours on a wall, hoping no one else will find what lies beneath it all. I think I hide it all so well.

    Stepping out… Everyone can see my face, all the things I can’t erase from my life. Everybody knows.

    Standing out, so you won’t forget my name. That’s the way we play this game of life, everybody knows.

    Looking through the crowd, I search for something else but every time I turn around, I run into myself. Here I stand, consumed with my surroundings… Just another day of everybody looking. I swore they’d never see me cry! You’ll never see me cry.

    You say I’ll pay the price. That’s a chance that I’ll take. Though you may think I’m telling lies. But I just call it “getting by”.

    Everybody knows… I am just barely getting by. Everybody knows I’m just barely getting by. Everybody knows I’m just barely getting by.’ She went quiet and blushed a little, fiddling with a rumple in her leather pants.

    Fred’s audition over, Angel nodded at Lorne and both males headed for the hallway. As he reached the door, the Pylean turned to the girl interrogatively. ‘Fred, your selection… I would’ve put good money on you picking the Dixie Chicks. But I can’t place that song.’

    ‘You won’t. That was the Chicks all right. It’s not on any existing album, though.’

    ‘Bootleg?’

    Fred shook her head. Lorne shrugged and stepped out, urged by his CEO. ‘It was in the dream,’ she muttered to herself.

    * * * *

    ‘What’s the verdict?’ Angel asked Lorne once in the hallway.

    ‘You’re not gonna like it,’ he prepared him for the news, cringing.

    ‘Let’s hear it.’

    ‘She’s had a dream.’

    Angel waited. ‘That’s it?!’

    ‘’Fraid so. She feels strongly about that dream, so strongly that it’s masking her aura. I couldn’t see anything. Happens to the best of us.’

    Angel rolled his eyes in annoyance. ‘Great. Did you at least see the dream?’

    ‘Not so much. Though I can tell you she was probably glad to wake up. It shone with negativity. And the colour blue, for some reason.’

    ‘So there was nothing about her future? Her destiny? What about the dream, did it look like a regular dream to you?’

    ‘I guess. Don’t quote me, though. All I got was intensity. Sorry. It’s a rare but well-known phenomenon I like to refer to as “double Dutch”. The client’s feelings interfere with the picture of their aura, and whatever it is in their aura that caused those feelings is blurred by the picture. Dreams are notoriously a pain for that, you know, like when you wake up from a powerful dream and it stays with you all day? It actually clings to your aura for days. It’s not unheard of, especially with humans.’

    ‘Yeah, remind me why you’re on the payroll?’ he teased. He rubbed his face with his hands, stumped. ‘All right, thanks, Lorne, I’ll figure something else out.’

    ‘Is Fred all right?’ the demon asked, all light-heartedness vanished from his voice.

    ‘Yeah, yeah, she’s fine. It’s a… temporary crisis, I’m gonna fix it.’

    * * * *

    ‘Lorne’s mojo didn’t work,’ Angel announced, back in the cage with Fred. ‘It doesn’t mean anything,’ he quickly added, seeing the worry on her face, ‘it just means that the dream threw your feelings a little out of whack and they obstructed your aura. Or, something like that. But it’s okay, I… thought of something else. To restore you. Back to normal,’ he clumsily explained. ‘I think, if you forget about the dream, you’ll revert to the sweet, good-natured Fred we all love. To work with,’ he babbled.

    Her eyes bulged. ‘You’re asking me to… You actually want me to just… get over it. Just like that. Why sure, no probs, boss, I’ve seen my own death, but it’s okay, it’s not that grim, I mean, there wasn’t even a body to grieve over, how bad can it be? I’ll just… get on with my Petri dishes, then and I’ll… be in the lab if you need me, being chirpy,’ she railed, not budging.

    ‘No, it’s not like that. I… I just want you to be yourself, I… can’t bear to see you like this anymore, you’re hurting! Over a dream! You’re hurting and you’re gonna get really hurt. And you’re gonna hurt people in the process, you’ve already started. Sometimes we wake up from a dream and we can’t remember it. If you hadn’t remembered this one…’

    ‘I wouldn’t be sat in a cage right now, no, if that’s what you’re getting at. But I do. Remember it, and it’s killing me with dread,’ she lamented.

    ‘So you’re dying twice,’ he summed up smartly. ‘Assuming you’re right, assuming you are dying, which you’re not, don’t you think once is enough? Take it from a guy who’s been there, once is plenty.’ He saw on her face that he was hitting home. ‘Now we can do that, can’t we? That horrible dream with all the damage it’s done, we could just throw it in the trash and be rid. Couldn’t we?’ Angel knew Fred. He didn’t have Lorne’s gift, but there were a select few he could read, to some extent. Presently she was no longer thinking “no!”, but “how?”. ‘You told me you were working on some pills…’

    ‘My short-term memory deletion pills? They’re still experimental, Angel. I mean, they work on mice, and capuchin monkeys, but…’

    ‘You’ve never tried them on humans?’

    She cast him a sheepish glance. ‘I… had a problem with them. I decided to test them on myself but I… could never remember if I had or not. I think I tested them a few times.’

    ‘So they work.’

    ‘You have to be careful with the dosage, but yeah, I think they do.’ She had a little unhappy smile. ‘You want me to take one?’

    ‘Only if you want to.’

    She sighed heavily. ‘I don’t know… Burying my head in the sand? I don’t know, Angel.’

    Angel stood up. ‘Well, you take your time to think it over. Okay? I’ll come back later and you can tell me then. In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if you stay put. Right here. You’re not yourself, Fred, and I’m gonna be my office, going through a ton of work on the Shifter, and I really can’t afford another trip to the police station tonight. All right?’

    She nodded in silence, not looking up as he left.

    * * * *

    ‘Having a laugh, you are. Door’s bloody open!’

    Fred saw him and beamed.

    Spike walked into the cage. ‘Now, what have we talked about? You get locked up, the door gets left open, you do a runner. You don’t sit in the corner waiting for the screw to come back. Have I taught you nothing?’ He sneered at her teasingly.

    ‘I’m doing some thinking,’ she smiled.

    He raised a playful eyebrow. ‘Thinking about what you’ve done, huh? Trust the plonker.’

    ‘Noooo,’ she laughed. ‘Something I have to decide.’ She gazed at him and sighed. ‘Kiss me.’

    He bit his bottom lip and crouched near her. ‘Asbo, I’ve done a bit of thinking of my own. And I’ve sussed it out.’

    ‘Sussed what out?’

    ‘This,’ he flapped his index between them. ‘Us. I know what it’s about. Who it’s about. And it’s not me.’ They stared at each other, exchanging expressions of alternately fun and serious affection. ‘And that’s okay,’ he smiled forgivingly.

    She covered her mouth with the back of her hand. ‘Spike, I never meant to… I didn’t premeditate… I wasn’t acting.’

    ‘I know.’

    ‘And I enjoyed every second. I’m sorry. If he wasn’t in the picture… You and me, we would’ve been something,’ she boasted, grinning.

    ‘We are,’ he insisted, sitting down on the floor. ‘Just not that. I brought you something.’ He searched in his pocket and produced a hand-rolled cone-shaped cigarette.

    ‘Klootch? You brought me klootch? That’s so sweet!’ she exclaimed excitedly. She extended her hand to take it but he withdrew it.

    ‘I want you to quit,’ he blurted gravely.

    She goggled at him, shocked. ‘What, ’cause it’s bad? You want me to quit ’cause it’s bad, Spike?’

    He glanced around nervously. ‘Oi, keep it down. Don’t make me do it, I can’t risk doing it, all right?’ he urged in a low voice. ‘If this gets out of here… I have a reputation! And I haven’t had the practice, I—I’m bound to balls it up, so don’t make me do it, don’t make me lecture you.’

    ‘All right, I’ll quit,’ she consented, putting him out of his misery. ‘After this one.’

    ‘Obviously.’ He handed the roll-up to her. ‘You’ve still got my lighter.’ She got it out of her pocket and lit up, taking a drag and passing the joint back. ‘Eh, Asbo, when you… get out,’ he jested, eyeing the cage, ‘are you gonna keep wearing those?’ he nodded at her leather pants.

    ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she smiled, ‘I guess I ought to give them back to Wesley.’ Spike’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets. Fred giggled. ‘They’re not his, dumbass! They’re Faith’s.’

    ‘Phew, much easier picture.’

    ‘He keeps them in his work cupboard… with his bike gear, not as a shrine or anything.’ She sighed, exhaling the smoke from another drag. ‘Do you think he’s gonna suss it out?’

    ‘I think he already has. But doing something about it, different kettle of fish. Give him time, pet.’

    She nibbled her lip. ‘I haven’t got it. Spike, you know when you… died…’ she began.

    ‘Which time?’

    ‘The second time. No, the first time. No, the second time. If you’d known beforehand, what would you have done?’

    He peered at her. ‘Are you all right?’

    She forced a smile. ‘Yeah, sure, I… Cosmo questionnaire. What would you have done?’

    He thought for a minute. ‘I would’ve got pissed. I would’ve done nothing.’

    ‘In that order?’

    ‘Yeah. Well, mostly, I would’ve done nothing special. I’d have had a few pints, drank a little blood, maybe read a poem or two, for the road, you know. I’d have been myself. Which I was, both times. Does that help? With your questionnaire?’

    She nodded, smiling. ‘Yes. A lot.’ She gestured for him to give her the cigarette. ‘Pass the klootchie.’

    * * * *

    She slammed a bottle of pills onto his desk, making him jump in his chair.

    ‘I’ll do it, I’ll take a pill. On one condition.’

    ‘Fred.’ Angel checked the door was closed and they were alone. ‘You’ve made your mind up. Good. Good. What’s the condition?’

    ‘You have to take one too.’

    ‘Me? Why?’

    ‘Because if you don’t, and I was right, and I die, and you were wrong, and you didn’t believe me, and you didn’t do anything to stop it, and I forgot about it, and you didn’t, and you know I knew… we’re looking at another 200 years’ brooding with guilt, aren’t we? You’re trying to protect me from the consequences of knowledge, aren’t you? Well, right back at you.’

    He glanced at the pills, then at Fred. ‘Okay.’

    ‘“Okay”? Really? You’re not talking me out of talking you into it?’

    ‘Nope. I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with remembering stuff I shouldn’t. I’m gonna give myself a break on this one… How do we do it?’

    She was dumbstruck for a moment. ‘Okay, I’ll take one first, then you, then we’ll go to sleep. When we wake up, most of the last two days will be erased from our memories, and whatever fragments are left will seem like they were just a dream, which, personally, I find kind of ironic.’

    He had a quick smile. ‘What about the others? They know about you.’

    ‘Huh?’

    ‘They know about you behaving un-Fred-ishly.’

    ‘Oh. Yeah, that they do.’

    ‘Then they’ll have to take a pill too. Leave that part to me.’

    * * * *

    She focused the lens and gasped at the extraordinary sight. Hundreds of teeny little demon-shaped creatures, claw in claw, looking back at her.

    ‘This was a full-size, man-size minion?’

    ‘Before it went splash on me, yeah. What is it now?’

    ‘Not that,’ she mumbled, as focused as her microscope. ‘Spike, can you pass me that slide?’ she pointed to a shelf near him.

    ‘What am I, a lab-rat?’ He handed it to her and she poured some liquid onto it. ‘Fred, what do you know about d?j? vu?’

    ‘Gist is,’ she explained while scraping a blade onto the slide, ‘it’s caused by different parts of your brain “lying” to each other. Why?’

    ‘Just curious. Had a bloody massive one this morning when I bottled that minion liquid.’

    The door of the lab opened. ‘Any development on the minion?’

    ‘Oh, Wesley, hey,’ Fred grinned. ‘Not yet, I’m trying to isolate one of his particles, then I’ll look into ways of communicating with it. I’m gonna need you, actually.’

    ‘How spooky. I need you too. Gunn’s found an abandoned lair that looks like it might have hosted the Shifter in the last few hours, he said you should check it out. He believes there are biological clues as to where he’s gone?’

    ‘Sure. Spike, your thing can wait, right?’

    He just raised his eyebrows at her, unimpressed.

    ‘The only thing is, the lair’s off a dirt track and access is much easier by motorcycle. Now, if you’re comfortable with that we could go on my bike.’

    ‘Oh, I don’t know, Wesley…’ she hesitated, walking with him to the door. ‘I don’t have the right clothes, for a start,’ she indicated her short frilly dress.

    ‘Oh, not to worry,’ he smiled, opening the door for her, ‘I keep some of my bike gear in my office cupboard, have a look if anything fits, I’d be happy to lend you some of my leathers…’ he trailed off as they walked out of the lab.

    ~The End~
    Aissy
    Hellmouth Tourist
    Last edited by Aissy; 02-06-08, 04:47 PM.
    "I'd like to keep Spike as my pet."
    "Get out of my temporal lobe, House!"
    "Confessssssssssss!"
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