Title: Looking Just Like A Ghost
Author: Beer Good
Rating: PG13
Word Count: 2500
Warning: Character death, slight blasphemy.
Pairing: Mentions of Angelus/Darla, Angel/Buffy.
Disclaimer: These characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy etc. If Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale, I wouldn't have made any money off fanfic about her. (I still don't.)
Summary: Wishverse backstory: When she doesn't show up, Angel has to try and stop The Harvest all by himself.

Written for Soundingsea's Freewheelin' Ficathon, and loosely inspired by Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited."

Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe say, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."
(Bob Dylan)

Act I

"Get out of here."

The Bronze is dark. That's nothing new. What's new is the panicked hush that has fallen, an atmosphere thick with fear. Ten minutes ago there was a party here; now the teenagers are being herded together like cattle, their sobs and pleas not even allowed the mercy of falling on deaf ears, but met by taunts and laughter. One by one, they're pushed forward towards the stage where the big vampire with a star on his forehead drinks, kills, drinks, kills, drinks...

"Hush. Be quiet. Get out of here."

Everyone looks at the carnage. Everyone has their eyes on the stage, the humans in terror, the vampires in triumph. Almost nobody notices the shadow sneaking around among the soon-to-be victims furthest away from the stage, whispering about salvation.

"There's a door in the back. Get out of here."

He's not a hero. He knows that. There are no heroes in Sunnydale. That's all the wisdom he has to pass on to the two football players who look like they might cause trouble when one of the cheerleaders is dragged up on stage and summarily executed.

"Don't be stupid. You can't fight these people. Get out of here."

He's not the one who's supposed to be doing this. There was supposed to be a Slayer here, that's what they told him. He's been waiting for her to get here ever since the only time he laid eyes on her, a sunny afternoon in LA. He had it all worked out, even what he hoped was a cool opening line: "Don't worry, I don't bite." Waiting for her to show up, hanging on to that glimpse of sunshine... but she never got here. Now the Harvest has come, the Master's vessel is on stage, and the only one who seems to have any chance of stopping it is a lone vampire who's badly out of practice, hasn't had a proper meal since the 70s, and has been sleeping in a car since he left New York three months ago.

And so he does the only thing he's ever done: he lurks in the dark. He staked the vampire guarding the back door, and now he's just trying to get as many people as possible to safety before the vampires catch sight of him -

"Hey! What are you... guys, I think we got a troublemaker!"

Yeah. That wasn't unexpected. They quickly surround him. Somewhere in the back a door slams shut, and he hears the scream of one of the people he was trying to save, cut off just as she'd almost made it out. He's one against dozens and there's no point in fighting, so he lets them grab him and drag him up to the stage, face to face with the big vampire.

Luke sniffs him with a low growl. "You're one of us. Don't I know you?"

"Really don't think so."

"Strange... I could swear there's something familiar about you. And yet you fight on their side? Well, 'fight' in the loosest sense of the word." The demon chuckles. "How pathetic. But it doesn't matter. You may have saved a few, but their time will come soon enough. There are still more than enough in here for me to drink my fill, and with every soul I drink, The Master grows stronger. Before the night is through he shall be free, and hell will follow in his footsteps. We shall feast on the blood of the innocent until there are none left."

"Sounds like fun." Angel is not completely sure that's sarcasm in his voice.

"You have no idea. Too bad you won't be around to see it." Luke turns to his minions. "Kill him, and bring me another human. All this talking is making me thirsty."

"Then let me buy you a drink." Angel tears himself loose from his captors, reaches inside his pocket for his weapon and leaps at Luke. They land in a heap on the stage floor and Angel's hand sizzles and burns like fire (not a hero) when he smashes the bottle of holy water in Luke's teeth. The other vampires try to drag him off, but he keeps his hands clamped around Luke's jaw, forcing the screaming vampire to swallow every last drop until suddenly Angel is lying on the bare stage in a heap of dust. The vampires howl in rage at the death of their leader and rain blows on him; he's not sure at what point he stops even trying to shield himself, but it feels like it's a long time before he loses consciousness.

Act 2

In dreams, Angel walks in the sun. In dreams, he's driven the long way from a dark alley to the brightness of California and arrived to find what Whistler promised. In dreams, he did what he was supposed to, his guilt was finally lifted, and she was there to welcome him.

In reality, he awakes to the feeling of her hair brushing against his face as she wipes the caked blood from under his nose. It takes a while for his bruised and swollen eyes to focus, see more than just blonde. "You came..."

"Of course I did." A cool hand carressing his face, so gentle that the dull throbbing pain from the beating fades away and leaves only the searing fire in his burned hand. "My poor boy... what did they do to you?"

Her voice is just as kind and forgiving as he'd imagined it, and for a second it feels like he's home, like he's made it. Then something clicks on at the back of his mind, something that says this isn't what it seems. He tries to move, but realises that he can't; not just because of his injuries, but because of the chains around his arms and legs. When his eyes finally focus on her very familar face, somehow he's not surprised. "Darla."

"Well... yeah. Were you expecting someone else?" She's still smiling, but there's cold cruelty in her eyes and he still knows her well enough to know that she's on her guard, searching his face for any sign that might tell her what he's thinking. She sees him glancing around the small room, trying to find his bearings. "You're at the Bronze. Downstairs."

"The people... everyone... what did you do to them?"

"What do you think? We killed them." Darla laughs. "Oh, I'm sure you managed to save a dozen or so, for now. Won't do them any good in the long run. Remember the missionaries?"

"And the Master..."

"Ah, yes. Do you realize what you did to him? Everything that Luke drank, he drank – including your filthy holy water. If he hadn't been who he is..." She grins. "You know, if you'd just pulled your stunt a little sooner, he would probably have been too weak to survive it. A little later, and he might actually have opened the hellmouth completely when he rose." She cuts him off before he gets the question out. "Yes, he's free. And he's not happy at all. He sent me here to kill you, Angelus." There's no seduction in her voice anymore, only anger.

Oh well. Not like he had expected to walk away from this. "So why are we still talking? Go ahead."

"Do you think I won't?" She grabs his face, makes him look at her. "I should kill you. Do you know how long it took to convince him to take me back? After snubbing him for... for you? I was his favorite for 150 years. The Master made me, just like I made you, and he doesn't brook insolence. If you think you've had it bad, imagine having to play second fiddle to an idiot like Luke. And then just as I was back in his good graces you show up and ruin everything. He's never going to trust me again after this, no matter what I do."

"Do you want me to feel sorry for you, Darla?" He pulls back from her and tries to hold her gaze, but it's remarkably hard. "You're a monster."

"It takes one to know one," she smiles, all business now. "Isn't it time you stopped fooling yourself, Angelus? I know you; you didn't come here just for a pathetic martyr's death. That's the sort of thing a hopeless romantic like Spike might have done, but not you; you want results. You've spent, what, a hundred years begging God for forgiveness, and look where it got you. You did your little hero thing, and you barely slowed him down. Was it worth it? I can kill you right now, and all of it will have been in vain."

He doesn't answer.

She lowers her voice and reaches out again, more tenderly this time, and strokes his cheek. "Or I could set you free. I can't take him and all his minions on alone, but together... You and me again, Angelus, don't tell me you haven't thought about it. We could take down The Master once and for all and rule this town. I made you, I know who you really are. And you know it too. This..." She gestures at him, contempt on her face. "This isn't you. The only thing keeping you in this... cave is that pesky soul of yours. All you need to do is say the word."

And the worst part is that it sounds so very easily done. He remembers that he always loved her like this; manipulative, powerful, beautiful. He could let her take off the chains, rise again, forget about the lie they sold him and give the darkness free rein. Maybe he could even find a balance, a way to use Darla and the others for something good, or... He shakes his head. "No. I'm sorry, Darla. I can't. I have -"

"Screw your soul," she snaps, raising her voice again. "You know, that excuse is getting really old. We've both seen humans do things just as bad to each other as we ever did. Do you really think any of the ones you saved yesterday would hesitate to stake you if they knew what you are? They wouldn't forgive you, but I have. And if you don't trust me, fine, but would you rather have The Master calling the shots? Him or me, Angelus; what's it going to be?"

Angel opens his mouth to answer, he's not sure what, when -

"Well, well. Isn't that a pity. I had my doubts about you, but actually hearing you betray me..." The Master is standing in the doorway, his voice dripping with sarcasm as he puts his hand over his heart. "It hurts me right here."

She spins around in surprise, trying to find her way back into minion mode – "Master, I didn't mean..." – but he interrupts her.

"Hush, Darla. You've lied to me quite enough, don't you think? At least be honest with me this once. As a last courtesy to an old man."

Darla hesitates for a second, then – "Fine." She vamps out and leaps for his throat. But while The Master may be weakened, he's not stupid; he takes three steps back, and when Darla passes through the door there are half a dozen vampires waiting for her.

Act 3

"Sacrifice is the oldest and purest form of worship, did you know that?" The Master stands on the stage of the Bronze, arms folded across his chest. His followers hang on his every word, but he barely seems to acknowledge their presence. Instead his eyes remain fixed on the door. It's locked and bolted, but everyone can hear the sounds from outside: the desperate pleas of a vampire chained to a wall facing East, with only minutes to go until dawn. "All the oldest stories are about somebody – whether God, demon or human – giving something up in exchange for power. Many of you are still young, some of you have only been with us for a few hours. You've only begun to understand the power you have, and as you get older, you will start to wonder just how far it can get you. So let this be a lesson unto you all: this is what it gets you. As far as you are concerned, I am the Lord thy God. Stay on the right path and I will make sure that you get to eat freely. If you don't, however..."

He pauses, his throat still parched from two nights earlier.

"Darla was with me for almost 400 years. As many of you know, she was my favorite, the most trusted of all my children. I saved her from a pathetic death, I gave her life eternal, and all I asked in return was her love and obedience... but she chose to betray me. Now, of course I could have forgiven her, and I'm sure that she would have learned her lesson this time, but..." He holds his hands out and shakes his head, sadly. "At some point, you just have to realise that some people don't want to be saved."

For a while, he is silent. The assembled vampires listen to Darla outside, begging to be let in.

"This is a new day," The Master continues. "And it feels fitting that we should start it with a sacrifice. I give up my most beloved child; in return, I ask only that you remember this. That's the power I have over you. We can waste precious time on power struggles that... well, you can see how they end. Or we can let this bring us together, divide the light from the darkness and allow us to rule this town as one – maybe even the whole world, all in good time. What say you, my children?"

The Master looks at his minions, who raise their fists as one and cheer their undisputed leader with a new-found sense of purpose. As the cheer dies down, one of the vampires – a young redhead, turned so recently that she hasn't had time to feed yet, her complexion alabaster white – points to Angel, who is lying chained and gagged on the floor in front of the stage. "And what about him, Master?"

The ancient vampire's expression is even grimmer than usual as he listens to Darla's frantic pleas. He casually jumps off the stage, prods Angel in the ribs with his foot and snarls: "Keep him alive. There's a special place in hell for those who betray, and I intend to keep him there for as long as possible. See that he's well fed – on human blood, of course - and that he's never not in agony. I'd hate for him to not be around to witness that which he fought against. Like I said, it's a new day in Sunnydale, so for once..."

The blacked-out windows of the Bronze light up slightly as the sun rises outside, and a scream is cut off as Darla turns to dust.

"...Let there be light."

The roving gambler he was very bored
Trying to create a next world war
He found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor
Said "I've never engaged in this kind of thing before
But yes, I think it can be very easily done
We'll just put some bleechers out in the sun
And have it on Highway 61."