Title: Death Becomes Her

Spoilers: ATS season 2 - Trial

Summary: Portrait of Darla through three deaths

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, Fox Television, Mutant Enemy Inc., own these characters

Author's Note: A thousand thanks to Evan Como for betareading this story and for a great time in Los Angeles.

******

She is dying, and death does not come as a surprise to her. It has been clawing at her, eating her from the inside out for a long time now. First she had hidden it from herself. Then from her customers.

Her friends she would not have bothered to hide it from; but then, she didn't have any.

Look at the people now, waiting for her to die so they can use the bed for someone else. The women, shrouded in white, about as comforting as those long, white altar candles she remembers from her childhood. She saw the tapers burning but could never feel their warmth, so she tried to touch them. The priest slapped her hands.

No such candles here in the New World. But these women. She didn't bother to find out their names, since they never spoke to her. Standing left and right at her bed, like candles burning for the deceased. But she isn't dead yet. Is she?

If she were, she wouldn't feel the terrible dryness in her mouth, the heat consuming every last bit of moisture, turning every breath she takes into dust. She is dimly aware the leech is feeding on her forearm again. She doesn't know how many leeches Forrester the barber has foisted onto her so far. He isn't a bad man, Forrester, but not a real doctor, if there is such a thing. However, his thick, strong fingers have the advantage of being completely unfamiliar to her. He has never had her, and so she can bear his touch on her skin, that skin which seems to be getting thinner by the hour, giving her less and less protection against the sucking, stifling heat.

She asks them to close the shutters. The sun is hurting her eyes and she has the vague hope that without the sunbeams burning through it, the air won't be quite so dusty anymore.

"You will not see it again," a new voice says, and she observes the figure entering the room. A stranger, though there is something familiar about his voice. An odd voice, bringing to mind things her mother, smelling of old sweat and men and cheap ale, trying to sing her to sleep. She cannot see his face, but his robe reveals his occupation, at least.

"By the time it sets, you will have left this life," he continues, and she refuses to acknowledge him.

"I didn't ask for a priest. Who invited him in here?"

Not for a priest, not for a clergyman. Hypocrites, the lot of them. When her mother died, they did not come. By then, she herself had been a whore as well. At least there is no daughter to be bewildered and angry and secretly relieved now. We come on to this earth alone, and we leave it alone.

"You did. You cried out for me last night in your delirium."

"I do not remember," she protests, aghast that she should have done such a thing. And yet, and yet, here he is, and at least he talks to her, unlike the silent attendants who bide the hours until they can turn their care to worthier patients. "Do you even know what I am?"

"A woman of some property. No husband. No inheritance. Yes. I know what you are. As does God."

Ah. So it is her money he is after. The taste of disappointment changes from dust to bile. If he thinks that she will attempt to buy her way into the kingdom of heaven - trying to please God by leaving what possessions she has to His servants -, he is about to be disillusioned.

"I'm a whore."

A whore, and a whore doesn't give away anything for free. Not that she has much left; she is sure that whatever there is has long been shared among whoever found it first. But still, she has her pride.

"That, too," her visitor replies, sounding almost amused. A strange, stirring sensation fevering the back of her neck warns that something is not right here.

"You should have asked for a priest long ago, child. Your life may have turned out the better for it."

"And you should have paid me a visit before this day, Father. Your life might have been the more interesting because of it," she retorts. The words are like an echo of the banter she used to attract men who wanted their hunger for flesh shrouded with some wit so they could feel better about satisfying themselves. This one, though, refuses to spar.

"Are you prepared to renounce Satan? Beg God for his forgiveness?"

She laughs.

"Why? God never did anything for me."

The cloaked figure makes a commanding gesture, and the walking altar candles disappear, rush away like freed birds. The barber hesitates until the priest suggests, "You can't save her life. Perhaps I can still save her soul."

Left alone with him, she hears her heart beating, loud enough to drown out some of what he says next. Something about her being prepared to renounce Satan and all his works, undoubtedly.

Suddenly she is tired, so tired. She only wants it to end.

"My soul is well past saving. Let the devil take me if he'll have me. It doesn't matter. Either way, I die."

He comes closer, and she smells the earth on him. Not the fresh earth of fields and gardens, but graveyard earth, mould fit to cover dead bodies with, such as she will need in a very short while.

"No, you will not die. You will be reborn," he claims, pulling back his hood. She sees his face. Sharp angles and teeth, nothing human. But she is not afraid. She has seen all kinds of faces, deformed by lust, greed or pain,

below her, above her - as this one is right now -, breathing down hard - as this one

is not. There was not much human about them, either.

"I know you."

"I came to you last night," he says, with an oddly comforting tone, as if speaking to a child. "Sang to you from that window."

She sighs. Men. They all expected to be remembered. She should have known Death would be a man, too.

"I remember now," she admits, concedes. "You're Death."

"No," he returns, and this startles her as his features did not.

"What, then?"

"Your saviour. God never did anything for you, but I will."

There is a sharp pain in her neck, like with the leeches, a pulling from under her skin, only tenfold more. In a flash of recognition, she realises what he is doing. Wonders whether he'll find any blood at all considering what

has been taken out already.

Somehow she knew it would end like this. Dying alone, with a stranger on top. If only, she thinks. But does not know how to continue the thought as her heart beats faster and faster and drowns out everything else with a dark,

rolling flood which takes her away.

*****

She is dying, and death surprises her. Of course she had always been aware it might happen, even to her. But the final death happens so quickly to her kind she had assumed there would be no time for thoughts and sensations, if it were ever to catch up with her again. She had expected to dissolve like with the first experience, if it were to happen, only much quicker, with no emotion at all. Instead, time freezes. She is aware of everything. The girl, who a moment before had been helpless and at her mercy. A Slayer, no less. Small and blond like herself, as if to add injury to insult. An insolent child, staring wide-eyed. For once, both of them are bereft of quips.

"What's up with the Catholic school girl look?" he had asked. "The last time I saw you, it was kimonos."

"And the last time I saw you, it wasn't high school girls," she had retorted, enjoying the flare in his dark eyes which told her the barb had hit. It is true, this disguise isn't up to her usual standards of elegance. But it is very

appropriate for the Master's plans, and Darla has had to wheedle her way back into the Master's good graces for a long time now. His fault, in a way, but then, she can't bring herself to regret her decision to defy her Sire for her fledgling's sake. The Master had made her, and so she was a part of him. But she had made Angelus.

The Master should have known that a woman always prefers what was made from her body.

Angelus. Most of all, she is aware of her greatest joy and greatest disappointment. Darling boy, draughted from an Irish brawler whose arrogance and anger and an intriguing hint of despair had settled her decision to sire him,

instead of using and discarding what she had found in that village. She had not known, could not have known, that he would become an addiction.

She tried to wean herself more than once. Leaving him behind in France when her own survival was at stake - and oh! The splendid fury he was in about that incident when he caught up with her again in Vienna. Again in Rumania, when the ever-accursed gypsies gave him a soul. And when he found her in China, made her take him back, betrayed her and fled. But in a secret corner of the heart, which no longer beats, she has continued to hold out hope that one day, he will return to her as his old self - soul or no soul. That they would share the whirlwind again, together for eternity.

So close. They are so close now, and yet so separate. They had been close the other night when he had pinned her against his apartment wall and she had felt the darkness within him answering her, as it had done before. Now he is not in front of her, but behind, and the stake in his hand has unerringly found her heart.

Weak, she rages at herself, and does not mean him. She should never have involved him at all, just gone on with killing the girl. There would have been time enough to confront him again. But no, her vanity had not permitted that, had driven her into contesting this new infatuation of his.

Angel and his obsession with innocence. She doubts this one will be a Drusilla, though.

California girl, all light and sunshine, without the pain-laced fragility the young woman haunted by sight whom she had found for her boy had possessed. And yet, this new one might learn about pain, too. Angelus is the unsurpassed master of the art, after all. He has even found a new pain to teach her, who has woven this particular tapestry for centuries.

She is mocked by the walls that seem to repeat the words she'd spoken to the girl: Do you know what the worst thing in the world is? To love somebody who used to love you.

In utter disbelief, she half turns to glimpse him. She whispers, "Angel?" The endless second dissolves. She cannot read his eyes anymore, and she realizes that once again, she dies alone.

******

She is dying, and Death has wrapped itself all around her. Ever since they resurrected her, she could feel her demise, but never until now could she make sense of it. Seated on an old bed, in a shabby room where the walls

reek failure and disappointment, she is reborn by the sound of his voice.

"Maybe. maybe it would be different. I mean, we don't know. Maybe. because I have a soul. if I did bite you."

What she had been waiting for ever since her memories returned, but now that he has said it, she doesn't want it anymore. As a human, she has been a pathetic failure. And yet, she has learned things which had escaped her for four centuries, which even the Master would not have known.

"No," she replies gently. She feels his surprise. Ever since the British- accented games-keeper touched her forehead, connecting her to Angel, she has not stopped sharing his emotions. So strange, that, and so fitting. It used to thrill her to no end, seeing her boy inflicting pain on others. But when he went through torture and death this time, she found it unbearable. Yet he bore it, as he has endured everything, ever since she sent him away.

"Angel, I see it now," she continues. There is a brief flicker of hope from him among all his grief, soothing like the cool winter air she has longed for more than once in this city of eternal heat and sunshine. "Everything you're going through, everything you've gone through. I've felt it. I've felt how you care - in a way no one's ever cared before. Not for me."

Not for her. Not for the nameless woman dying all those centuries ago in bitterness and rage. Not for the vampire evaporating into the void. She had asked Lindsey who she was, whom they brought back, and he had not been able to reply. At last she had found her own answer, though, for this is what she has learned. She was somebody who could be loved, who could love in return. Not as a player in the long, twisted game of expectations and manipulations. Not to get something for herself. Such a new, strange sensation. She takes a breath and arms herself to set him free.

"That's all I need from you."

"It's not enough," he protests, and she shushes him with "It is."

Still the grief and unfocused anger in him is overwhelming. "How could the Powers allow you to be brought back - dangle a second chance - then take it away like this?"

"Maybe this is my second chance," she answers, wonderingly. The idea is still new to her, not at all easy to accept. But it will give him peace, and that is what she wants more than anything else.

"To die?" he asks, full of scepticism.

"Yes. To die. The way I was supposed to die in the first place."

They look at each other and, as the anger dies in his eyes, fear clutches at her. To die. To simply stop. Regardless of what he said about there being a hell, she does not remember such a thing. There is probably nothing. She will become nothing once more. She tries to push the fear back, to concentrate on the peace she wants to give him, but it is hard, so hard.

He comes to her, takes her into his arms and whispers, "I'm not going to leave you. Every moment you have left, I'll be by your side. You'll never be alone again."

In a way, it was better when he had been angry. Unable to suppress them any longer, the tears come. While he holds her, she cries, over her first life which she only remembers in brief flashes, for four hundred years full of destruction and little wisdom, for a century away from him because she did not understand what having a soul meant. For the torment he went through, all because of her who had dammed him, and now she understands damnation, she understands all too well. This, too, she has learned.

And yet, dying like that, being held like that. it is what she has never had before. It is an acceptance she feels in him as well. He is battered, and she is dying, but they are together.

It is his shock she experiences even before her own, as the door is kicked open. As men rush in to grab her while they subdue Angel with sharp, electric shocks. After the holy water and the crosses, this is simply too much and he goes down. She struggles against the two men holding her, but this human body is weak, weak, weak, and so she is unable to help him. The ones holding Angel quickly tie him up. Astonishment and rage start to choke her

as Lindsey enters.

"Everyone betrays you, sooner or later," she had told Lindsey, and yet she had not expected it from him. She doesn't know when she crossed the line from seeing him as a useful ally to manipulate and flirt with to seeing him as a friend, but she must have done so. Otherwise she would have expected this. Lindsey, pointedly not looking at her, goes to Angel and pulls Angel's head up by the hair. He says triumphantly:

"How did you think this was going to end?"

So Angel had been right after all. Mind games. It had all been one elaborate mind game by Wolfram & Hart, and Lindsey had been a part of it. A tool is a tool is a tool, and will never be allowed to escape its purpose. All for the purpose of bringing Angel down. The flame burning within her quickly becomes a fire, until it is suddenly extinguished by utter horror, as she and Angel follow Lindsey's gaze to the broken door.

Darla has not seen Drusilla for more than ninety years. After China, she had left the children to their own devices, unable to bear their happiness with one another after losing her boy for the second time.

There is nothing alien about the girl who enters, for Darla never could think of Dru as a woman. Death is not male after all; Death is female, in a red dress, Ophelia out for murder, the graceful end of all hope.

Darla continues to struggle, but knows it is in vain. The merciless justice of it takes away what little breath she

has left. Out of boredom, out of spite she had delivered this girl into the hands of madness, torture and death. Vivid recollections of Drusilla's turning come to her. There had been desperate cries for mercy and salvation which at the time only irritated and amused Darla, though even she had been shocked by Angelus' idea of making this broken thing a vampire, of prolonging her mental torment with immortality. Now the family is together again, Angel and Darla and Drusilla. But this time the childe is in control, and the elders are reduced to

horror, hopelessness and desperation.

The bite, the coldness of the girl's body, the drowning, swooning sensation she had longed for until this night, and Darla attempts to cling to what rage she has left. But it is hard, so hard, as she desperately longs for some fluid to fill her again, to stop the terrible thirst and dryness. She is vaguely aware of being lowered on the bed she had shared with Angel only a brief while ago. She tries to sense him again, to find some strength, and there is the familiar smell, the taste and texture of his blood. Her mouth is pressed against it, and even though a part of her, with a scream fainting in the back of her head, reminds her of the deception, her lips part.

Death embraces her again, pressing against her, wrapping herself around her, and it comes, the flood, the dark, rolling flood.

And Darla is taken away.