Chapter 8: EDGE

* * *

The whistle screeched, a wild, wailing sound, announcing the train's arrival to someplace. Buffy rose, swaying slightly as the car's speed decreased, stopping with a jerk; first one, then another. She rolled her shoulders, smoothing a hand over her hair. Spike got up, mindful of the dog watching him and scooted around her to tug the door open. Scenes rolled by, buildingsstreetspeople, buildings, streets, people, buildings and streets and people, repeating ever more slowly until, finally, they stopped and steadied, a train station filled to capacity.

Cafell stuck her nose out, blinking at the sudden brilliance of daylight, her tail waving slightly. Buffy captured her dog's leash, scanning the station and stepping off onto the platform. Cafell followed eagerly, ears rising and falling with the unfamiliarity of the place. "Where are we?" Buffy asked Spike over her shoulder.

"Dunno." Spike waved down a porter, stepping into their luggage car. "Oy. Where is this?"

The bulky troll grunted, one foot in the car, the other in the platform. It continued into the car, shoving some of the luggage around. "Dodge City."

"Dodge City?" Buffy's face screwed up in thought.

"Rooms available," the troll said, shoving a huge trunk out of the luggage car and onto the platform. It nodded at the trunk in satisfaction and went back into the car.

"Rooms? Why do we need rooms?" Buffy moved in front of the opening. The troll shoved a trunk at her and she sidestepped it neatly.

"Restocking."

She twisted around, noticing there were porters and tenders of all sorts, swarming over the engine and its cars. People of all types were disembarking, some with their luggage, some without, all of them making a move towards the streets. Buffy wrinkled her nose. The stench here was terrible; people all packed in together, the rendering factories for animal parts. She could smell cattle and other animals close by; could hear the sounds of their cries. "How long will the train be restocking?" she asked.

"Day, maybe two." The troll shrugged.

"Two days?" Buffy couldn't help the near-wail that escaped her throat.

Spike touched her shoulder lightly. "We've been traveling two weeks, pet," he said. "Another day or two won't make much difference. Hell, we could still lose more in the mountains, to bandits." She pinned him with a furious gaze and he held up his hands to deflect her wrath, taking a step back. "Just saying."

"Fine." Buffy bit off the word with a snap. "Porter, bring out that luggage there." She pointed to her boxes. "Spike, go find us some rooms."

* * *

Some places in this new world evolved, Spike thought, staring at the ceiling of his room. Others devolved. Dodge City was one of the latter. Dangerous, dirty; full of rovers and gamblers; fighters and peddlers of all sorts, Dodge City was the type of town he'd have loved back when he was a demon. He could only imagine the trouble he could have gotten into in Dodge. He'd traveled through here before, seeking word of Buffy and Angel. As far as he knew, they'd never passed through this town. He wondered if she'd tell him if they actually had.

Spike rolled off the bed, walking to the window and staring out at it. Night was falling, the sun slipping down in a wake of purple and orange clouds. He could hear the sounds of the city rising from below. A part of him itched to join the nightlife, to become a part of it and lose himself in it. Most were welcome in this world, humans included, but he didn't want to leave Buffy alone in the hotel, no matter that she could take care of herself. He almost thought she might go off and leave him, given the chance.

He sighed, leaning his forehead against the cool glass. She'd turned almost sullen as they'd traveled the streets, looking for a place to spend the next day or so. Maybe it was because the first couple of places wouldn't allow the dog. More likely the loss of time getting her back to her precious Angel.

"Well, that ain't gonna happen overnight," Spike muttered to himself, his breath fogging the window. He stared at it, remembering when he wouldn't have been able to do this. The thought came to him, as it often did, that being a human wasn't for him. He hated the lack of strength his body had; the way it didn't bounce back after an injury. He hated that he couldn't go throw himself into a brawl tonight for the fun of it. He couldn't drink himself senseless, he couldn't do a lot of things any more.

"What fun is being human, anyway?" he asked his reflection. Yeah, like being able to see himself was worth it. He curled his lip at the window. Not that he wasn't a right handsome bloke; Spike admitted wholeheartedly that he was; hadn't kept a lotta girls from offering themselves and some guys, too, to him. Still, it wasn't the same, was it? He could be evil and be human; soulless, heartless but it wasn't the same as being a demon. Plus, and this was the real kicker, wasn't it, he was getting older. Humans aged. Something no one had bothered reminding him about when he was given this bloody 'gift' of humanity. They got old. They lost teeth. Lost their ability to get it up if they were men and lost control of their bowels, both sexes. Sure, he was able to father kids now, like that was any great shakes, but he'd rather look at himself in the mirror and not see new wrinkles and bloody hell, was that a grey hair? Spike growled, spinning away from the window. He peered at himself in the mirror, squinting. His eyesight, too; that was going. It hadn't been great when he was human before, he thought he remembered that, too. Now, with the way things were going, he'd have to ask Red for some sort of sight repair or glasses and no way was he wearing glasses.

* * *

The moon glared down from over overhead, the only light in the sky. It washed away the color of the landscape, muting everything to silvered greys and shades of black. Buffy walked along the beach, the waves making a soft crashing sound. Willow was on one side of her, in a long, flowy peasant dress, the kind that Tara had liked. She had her arm linked with Buffy's, her smile bright and sunny, casting a light unlike the moon's.

"It's so pretty here," Willow said, swinging her free hand.

Buffy glanced around, seeing debris littering the beach; bodies, a burning car, a huge sand castle being torn down by the waves.

"Come on, Buffy," Willow said, jumping ahead of her, spinning in a circle to make her skirts flare. The waves sparkled at her bare feet, rushing up over her ankles. "Everyone's waiting." She pointed at the castle.

Buffy shaded her eyes against the blare from the moon. There were people on the castle's battlements, waving down at her. "Dawn?"

"Buffy!" Dawn waved wildly with both hands over her head.

"Dawnie, no," Buffy whispered, seeing her sister leaning against the wall. The sand glittered and crumpled beneath Dawn's weight.

"Buffy!" Dawn bounced in her excitement, part of the wall falling. "Up here, Buffy!"

"Dawn, step back! You're gonna fall!" Buffy flung her hands out, as if she could stop her sister. "You'll fall!"

"Maybe not. Things change."

Buffy stared at Forge, his head cocked to one side as he studied the castle. "I," she said, biting her lip, "I miss her so much."

Forge smiled one of his toothy grins, something that had made her nervous when she'd first met him. He laid a calloused hand on her shoulder. "What are you willing to give up to keep her, Buffy?"

Water sloshed loudly and Buffy jerked awake, hearing Cafell leap away from the tub. She blinked, shaking her head, pressing her hands to her eyes. "Sorry, girl," she mumbled to her dog. Buffy heard the collie shake her coat, the peculiar clapping sound coupled with droplets landing everywhere and slid deeper into the tub to avoid it. The water in the tub had cooled as she slept. It wasn't really comfortable any more. With a sigh, Buffy picked up the harsh soap, working it to make a lather. She roughly ran the soap over her skin, trying not to remember the feel of Angel's hands following the same paths, the pressure of her back against his chest as they shared a bath, his strong fingers massaging soap into her hair. Shivering, Buffy climbed out of the tub, grabbing the towel and scrubbing her hair. The second towel was wrapped tightly around her body. She crossed the room, sitting on a chair in front of the vanity mirror. Picking up a comb, she began dragging it through the wet white ends of her hair.

The dream clung to her like a shroud. Dawn...Buffy had to close her eyes, thinking of her sister. Usually, when she dreamed of Dawn Angel would hold her. Or he'd take her out somewhere.

Someone knocked.

Buffy met her reflection's eyes, noted Cafell's casual slink towards the doorway. She snapped her fingers and the dog stopped, dropping to the floor at Buffy's signal. "Who is it?"

"Who d'ya bloody think?" came through the door.

Cafell's lips furled back at the sound of Spike's voice. Buffy called the dog to her, winding her fingers through Cafell's collar. "Come in."

Spike hesitated at the entrance, ingrained habit, Buffy guessed. He stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind him. "Not locked." He raised his eyebrows. "Isn't that a bit dangerous, pet? 'Specially while you're taking a bath?" He gestured towards the tub, taking in the towels she wore instead of clothes.

She shrugged. "Cafell's a good protector." Turning back to the mirror, Buffy started working on her hair again.

"Listen, pet, I was fancying a trip into town. Wanna come with?" He cocked his head, a cigarette dangling from his lips. Buffy stared at his reflection (Spike's reflection!); the slouch in the doorway, the cigarette, the hair falling over his forehead. James Dean lives, she thought, wondering if Spike had planned the pose. "It's a limited time offer." He shifted his weight in that fluid way he had and she had to drop her eyes from the mirror. They'd traced down from his face past his chest and so not going there, Buffy, she scolded herself, busying her hands with the ends of her hair. "Well, pet?" There was an insinuating quality to his voice when he said, "Look at me."

She licked her lips and slowly obeyed, meeting his gaze. His smirk was familiar, sardonic. She shivered under the force of his stare, remembering other times when he'd trained it on her in the past. It licked across her, that memory firing her senses. Buffy shifted uncomfortably, feeling her flesh flush up, hoping Spike couldn't see it in the mirror. "Or maybe you'd rather stay in."

No such luck. She recognized that silky tone and jerked her gaze to his reflection almost reflexively. The smile she saw there, so dangerous, cocky. It drew her in, moth to flame; so unlike Angel's.

Someone had Angel. He was captured, taken from her, probably hurt. Her backbone stiffened and the expression of her reflection was no longer the one from three years ago but the one from now, harder, clearer. She noticed Spike's disappointment, there one second, gone the next and knew if she hadn't seen it, she wouldn't have known. Acting still, always acting, Spike taking on role of confidant, friend, companion, lover, rapist...what was he now? Oh, yeah. Guard dog.

"Sure." She dropped the word casually. "We'll go into town. Just let me get ready." Dismissively, she turned her attention back to the mirror, grabbing for the edge of the towel as it started to slide.

"Don't on my behalf, pet," Spike said, leering and she caught sight of his surprise when he noticed. So she left the towel half off, watching his reaction to her tattoo in the mirror. "What the hell?" He crossed the room in three long strides, ignoring Cafell's half-rise and Buffy's swift reminder to the dog to stay still. Spike shoved her hair out of the way, pushed the towel further down. "What is this?"

"What's it look like?" Buffy asked, her skin strangely cold now under his warm (human) touch. "These are his eyes," Spike said, his own meeting hers in the mirror.

"He always has my back," Buffy said, almost patiently. "Are you getting out of my room so I can get dressed?"

He fell back a little, the tip of his tongue appearing then vanishing, just that quick. "I'll be waiting," he said, his movements almost jerky now from the shock. "My room." He vanished through the door and Buffy shook her head almost gently. Spike, surprised. And Angel'd missed it.

* * *

"There are things in the night." She wondered if she even said it out loud or just thought it, the words swirling around like a dust devil in her mind. Cordelia brushed at her walnut hair impatiently, making a face at the coarseness of her hands. What she wouldn't give for the lotions she had when the world was right, before the end. Now she had to deal with skin an alligator would find repulsive. She frowned at herself in the mirror, taking in her reflection, studying it closely. Would he recognize her if he walked in the door today?

Cordelia sighed and pushed away from the vanity. It didn't matter. Angel was gone, lost somewhere in the darkness with her. She squeezed her eyes shut. She still hated saying that name. Buffy. Buffy Summers, the vampire Slayer. "God, why couldn't she have just stayed dead?" she asked the air. "But no, Willow had to bring her back and look what happened then." She spun around, striding across the room, her fists thumping her thighs with every step.

There was a soft sound from the corner of her room and Cordelia whirled, her anger bleeding out of her. "Oh, no, baby, don't cry," she said soothingly, moving towards her child. "I didn't mean to scare you. Mommy doesn't want that." She stroked her daughter's face. "I'm not angry at you." She smiled, trying to keep the tears that were building in her eyes from leaking. "Never at you. You're a good girl."

"Good girl," her daughter whispered back.

"That's right. Mommy's just angry, thinking about your Daddy and how long he's been gone." "Daddy?"

"Angel, sweetheart," Cordelia said, wishing her skin was as smooth as her daughter's. Absolutely flawless, silky to the touch. Nothing was finer than the skin of a baby.

"My Daddy," her daughter said, snuggling into Cordelia's touch.

"That's right. Your Daddy. Connor's Daddy, too. You remember what I told you about Connor, don't you? He'd be your big brother." Something distant inside of her screamed, "Liar!" at those words. She ignored it. "He'd love you so much. You're so beautiful."

"Me?" Her smile was heartbreakingly sweet, her pretty, bow-shaped lips spreading wide. "Me, Mommy?"

"You, my darling girl," Cordelia said. She embraced her daughter, marveling again that a vampire would be able to father two children. "It must be magic," she whispered, breathing in the clean, childish scent, the copper-colored living armor of her daughter familiar and soothing in her arms.

"Magic's bad, Mommy. You said, you said."

"No, no, sweetheart, not for us. Never for us. It must have been magic for me to get you." She pressed a kiss on her daughter's forehead. "You need to sleep now, darling. It'll be another big day tomorrow."

"Why?" she asked, all childish innocence as she snuggled into her bed.

Cordelia stroked her cheek again. "We have to get ready, Leah. The Slayer will be coming soon." She fingered the russet quills that decorated her daughter's skull, molding into sharp hackles that ran the length of her spine. "And I need you to be very careful. Do you understand?"

"Ssslayer," her daughter said, the sound slipping past her sharp teeth. Her blue eyes glittered up at Cordelia, claws springing cat-like from the tips of her fingers. "Do I get to kill her, Mommy?"

"You certainly get to help." Cordelia wrapped her daughter in another hug. "And then we'll have Daddy all to ourselves, the way it should be."

* * *

The clang jerked Angel awake in time to see a doorway slide open. A huge, completely non- human hand slid a pot through it and the door shut again, long before he could propel himself to his feet and over to it. His nose twitched, the scent captured and registered in his aching head: blood. He needed it. He couldn't remember the last time they'd fed him. Days had a way of taking on an endless quality here. He couldn't even remember how long ago he'd been captured. Was it a month? Two? Longer, even? He tried to count up feedings but they came so irregularly it was useless.

He reached the pot and pushed the lid off. It was still faintly warm, steam rising sluggishly in the fetid air. He carefully lifted the pot in his shaking hands, clasping it in both to steady it. How long had it been since he'd eaten?

Tilting it to his lips, Angel held that first gulp on his tongue for a long time before he allowed it to trickle down his throat. His body ached for him to feed. His face rearranged its configuration, the fangs got in the way of the rim of the pot. God, he was so hungry. But he forced myself to drink slowly, prolong it because who knew when-if-they'd feed him again.

He'd survived being submerged beneath the ocean for a long time. It did things to his mind. He remembered it vaguely, more as impressions than anything else. He knew he went a little, maybe a lot, mad down there. He knew he could do that here. But he knew Buffy was looking for him. He could feel her out there somewhere, her anger and fury building like a threatening storm. And when she found him, someone was gonna be in trouble.

The singsong words echoed off the heavy walls of his cage and he let them drift into his ears. He hadn't realized he'd spoken aloud. He tried to keep from giggling. It wouldn't help matters. He could practice Tai Chi, as he had daily, maybe every few hours since his capture.

If Lilah had really wanted to hurt him, she'd have packed him into something smaller. But he guessed this would do for whatever she had in mind.

Mental torture left scars, too.

It wasn't anything he didn't already know. As a demon, he'd done his fair share of torturing. Angelus was considered a master of it, the ways to drive someone slowly insane with pain or more subtly, by loss of hope. "I can't lose hope," Angel whispered to himself. "She's coming. And she'll get all of us out of here." He wondered now, though, if his first day was a hallucination. Connor was dead. Dawn was dead. Their deaths were the reason he'd run with Buffy, the simple truth. He'd watched his son die. Buffy saw Dawn get ripped to shreds by magic gone horribly wrong.

Angel had lost the ability to assign blame. At first, it had been the daily game, the hourly argument, who was right, who was wrong. He shivered, remembering the fights; real, physical battles, he and Buffy had gotten into over it. Either of them could have walked away at any time but something kept them together. He twitched his shoulder as if he could feel the tattoo of her eyes back there. Now, he was back where it all started.

And where was she? Angel pressed his back against the wall, the empty jug dangling between his knees. She was coming, he knew that. Lilah wanted Buffy. He was nothing more than bait. Buffy would trade anything to get him back. And if they hadn't been a hallucination, if Dawn and Connor were real...Angel knew Buffy would kill to rescue Dawn. Despite any changes she'd gone through, despite all the baggage and sorrow of the past, she was still the same girl he'd seen so many years ago, sitting on the steps of her school, her heart on her sleeve. Lilah knew how to play it, how to push both of them into exactly the positions she wanted. And right now, she held all the bargaining chips. Whatever she wanted, Angel knew Buffy would probably give it, willingly offering herself for whatever sacrifice Lilah planned.

Something scraped at the door. Startled, Angel didn't quite have the time to scramble to his feet when the door opened, letting something blindingly bright in with him. He could just smell Lilah's perfume drift in lazily. "I think you have a message," she said and threw the bright thing.

He flinched, couldn't help it, the brilliance hurt his dark-adjusted eyes. But the thing chirped and chimed, its wings fanning the air around him. He forced himself to look at it, shading his eyes. Vaguely horse-shaped, glowing pink, as energetic as a mad hummingbird, it darted in close, barely a hands' breadth from his face, its faceted eyes flicking over his face, its tongue tasting his scent. Satisfied, it hummed backwards, hovering. It chirped in satisfaction then, in Buffy's voice, it spoke. "I'm coming for you, Angel. Never doubt that." There was a pause and the inflection of her voice changed from reassuring to deadly. "Tell whoever has you that no one messes with my boyfriend."

The Go-Between chirped again and streaked out of the room, leaving an afterimage of its shape burned into Angel's retinas. He blinked, trying to dispel it as Lilah clapped from the doorway.

"Bravo," she said. "I have to admit, Angel, she's got guts. No style, mind you but guts in plenty." She paused. "You don't have anything to say?" He managed to focus on her, the lights from the corridor behind her making his eyes water. He could just spot the hulking mass of one of her blue-furred guards.

"Maybe I should have Dru come down to shake your tongue loose," Lilah said thoughtfully, pressing a forefinger to her cheek. "She'd probably like that. She's been moaning about her Daddy and when she'd get to see him again." Her smile was still reminiscent of a shark's. "Would you like the company, Angel?"

"You know, Lilah," he said, "Buffy's not joking. She is coming for me." "I'm sure she is. And it's nice that she confirmed that. Always R.S.V.P., that's what I say." She flipped her hair off her shoulders. "It just confirms what I suspected, anyway. Get you here, she'll follow. I'm sure it works the other way around, too." She swayed a little on her high heels, rearranging her stance. "Of course, Dru probably would've just killed her, rather than brought her back. Or maybe it would've been the other way around. Just one big ol' catfight." Her smile was mocking. "The idea turn you on, Angel?"

He watched her through half-masted eyes as he said, "Seen it."

"Yeah, I suppose you have." Lilah shrugged. "Right now, we're just playing a waiting game. Everyone's on alert, my people are waiting for the minute she enters L.A. I'm sure she'll head over to the Hyperion first, check in there - oh, wait, you didn't know it was still active, did you?" She gloated over the reaction he couldn't quite keep hidden. "Cordy's still there, you know; with all your other playmates. Wes, Gunn, the little genius and how could I forget, Lorne?"

"I'm sure they're a thorn in your side, too," Angel managed to rasp out . "Well.I suppose they could be. We don't really run in the same circles any more. They're out there, putting out fires, I'm up here," she swept a hand out to indicate the building.

"Starting them?" he interrupted.

"Oh, silly boy, no, no, no." Lilah wagged a finger at him. "Working. Doing research."

"On what, a way to bring your masters through?" Angel asked.

Her mouth twisted upwards. "Got it in one, Angel. I'm pretty surprised. But it isn't just that, you know."

"Why don't you just tell me, Lilah. We both know you're dying to."

She laughed shortly. "Not exactly, Angel. If I do tell you, somehow, you might find a way to warn your precious Slayer. Or those people still fighting the," she made air quotes, "good fight." Lilah shrugged. "See, I can keep a secret. And really, if you knew my plans, you might see things my way." She rocked back slightly. "But I'd rather not take that chance. See you, Angel." She waved jauntily as the door closed.

Angel waited until the sound of footsteps faded before sliding back down the wall. He dug his fingers into his hair, scrubbing his hands across his face. "Buffy, what have we gotten ourselves in to this time?"