Title: Her Fault

Summary: Cordelia and Darla share space, insults and a few uncomfortable truths.

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: Characters property of Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt.

Spoiler: Up to the end of BTVS, season 5, and ATS, season 2.

Author's Note: Virtual chocolates are sent to HonorH for beta-reading, rooting for both girls and coming up with a wonderful Darla line.

Second note: I wrote this story before the current season started, which makes some things in it awkward, but not Jossed. Just imagine Darla's pregnancy didn't begin to show unmistakably until later, and that Angel didn't leave immediately after Willow's announcement but spent a few days in Los Angeles before going of to brood in a monastery.

This is completely, entirely her fault. Of course, what else is new? Everything that went wrong this year has been her fault. Okay, hers and the fault of several creepy lawyers, most of which she ate, but I'm not big on detail right now. And anyway, this situation, which includes me being trapped and imprisoned yet again, is totally lawyer-free. That I know of. God, I hope none of the W & H bastards are going to show up. That would just about make my day.

Here I was, painting my nails which by the way was essential because, hey, Pylea? Pretty much nail-polish free territory. I was feeling only slightly depressed on account of having returned from Sunnydale, which I never meant to visit again in my life, but had to, because Buffy has managed to sacrifice herself just in time for our return to L.A. I've never been her biggest fan, but believe me, that sucked. And not just because Angel went all brooding on us again. It's funny, ever since I found out about her being a Slayer, I had to hear Giles yammering about "one Slayer dies, the next is Chosen," and yet I never expected her to die. I thought she'd keep on and on, fighting in totally unbecoming clothes, and we'd meet every year or so, bitch a bit, exchange news a bit, and commiserate a bit. But I'm not getting mopey about Buffy now, no, not me. I wasn't mopey then, either. Just the tiniest bit depressed, though in the stages of getting cheered up because of the sight of my restored nails, when I got a reminder of why being noble and telling Groo I wanted to keep the visions sounded good but might have been the second most stupid thing I did in my life.

(The first being kissing Xander Harris.)

Yup, there it was, in all its head-splitting glory, a message from TPTB, down to every detail like smell and sound and emotions which made me retch once I got out of it. Because, see, or rather, don't, if you ask me - it wasn't some anonymous poor guy or girl the vision was about. It wasn't one of my friends, either, which I suppose I can be grateful for. No, it was someone I knew, my least favourite person in the entire universe (beating such earlier candidates as the IRS and Wilson Christopher and Maggot Guy who sent me into a coma last year): Darla.

Now Darla attacking someone, that I could have handled. Saving people from Darla is fine by me. Only she wasn't. She was fighting alright, but it was the other guys who had the upper hand, which involved, by the feel of it, lots of electric shocks and a nauseating smell of medicine stuff. Ever since Angel freaked me about Wesley and sex with bleached blonds, I knew vampires were better equipped in the sensory department, and always thought this was majorly unfair. I mean, it means no private life for any of us in the office, right? But when TPTB chose to make my life miserable and bombard me with Darla images, I got the downside of it, from the vampire's side. It was like every hospital I ever was in, after the bar in my stomach, after the visions coma, that sharp, nauseating medicine smell, only ten times more so. There was blood, not too far away, and it drove me nuts. I mean, it drove her nuts.

This isn't what I signed up for - having vampires in my head. Especially Darla. I wish it would stop already, but no, these days, whatever I feel during the visions stays with me longer and longer. So I know now, and I knew then, it wasn't just the electro shocks and the awful hospital stench, and it wasn't just the nearby blood and the humiliation of being taken prisoner yet again (yup, her, too!) by mere mortals, either. It was one black hole of depression and rage and loss and end it end it end it END IT!

So when I came out of it, after I had finished throwing up and felt only an average nausea anymore, I got my crossbow and a stake. I also grabbed my cell phone. Only I couldn't call Angel, because no way am I ever going to let Angel anywhere near Darla again. Going from Buffy depression into Darla obsession would be so not an improvement. I called Gunn instead. He'd have been ideal. We'd have helped Darla, put her out of her and everyone else's misery the unobsessional, quick and proper way, and have dealt with whoever was creepy enough to get his kicks out of zapping vampires as well. Only Gunn didn't answer, and he didn't even have his voicemail switched on. I couldn't call Wesley, because Wesley is with Angel right now. Ever since we returned from Pylea, one of us is keeping an eye on him. Believe me, we learned our lesson. No more lonely brooding and slipping into insanity, ever again. Which, however, made Wesley a no-choice, because a) Wesley sucks at lying to Angel and b) Angel has extra-strong hearing, too.

Fred wasn't going to be any help, either - she was off seeing her therapist, and besides, Wild Girl is still not exactly firing on all thrusters, if you ask me. That left me with Dennis, who can't leave the apartment, and Lorne, who flat out refused to go when I told him.

"That's your call, sweetie", he said. "The big guys want this to be your solo, with no back-up."

I glared at him, wishing we were still in Pylea because that would have made him my subject instead of the Host of a tacky Karaoke bar which was in the middle of being renovated.

"Don't worry, hon", he added. "It'll work out. If it doesn't, say, within a day or two, I'll tell your friends all about your current predicament."

"Gee, thanks. Tell Wesley and Gunn, but not Angel", I snapped and left, with my head still throbbing from unwanted Darla feelings.

Every time I said or thought Angel, I got this image of a hand on his cheek, hers presumably, and a sensation like getting my insides torn out. Which really meant I had to find her, and soon, because if I met Angel in this state, I don't know what I would have done. Thrown up all over him again, I suppose. So much what he doesn't need right now.

Luckily, or less so, if you look at the result, TPTB had seen it fit to send me a clue about just where this whole zapping-Darla-scenario took place. It has been nearly two years, but I certainly haven't forgotten where Dr. Melzer, he of the detachable limbs and the stalker attitude, had set up shop. It had been my first detective gig, in a way. So I went there, totally prepared to play reporter again, only this time with weapons in my handbag and a neat Dictaphone, too. Only instead of a nice lady prepared to gab about macho bosses I was met by this quiet looking, elderly gentleman doctor. Yes, I should have known better. But he reminded me of Giles ten years ahead, or maybe twenty, with his tic of polishing his glasses and his injecting "that is to say" in every other sentence and this reminded me of Sunnydale and Graduation, when I had been so sure that we were all immortal and none of us would ever die. Besides, there was still the Darla headache. So you see, it is really completely her fault.

Well, the short version is, I wasn't at my Oscar-winning best as the reporter, he suspected something, and when he was escorting me out of the door, I felt for the second time in the day what it was like to get zapped by a cattle stick, only this time on my own body. Lucky me.

I woke up here, and the only thing good about this place is that I don't smell it as a vampire would anymore. Otherwise it's a white-in-white cell, with a glass wall on one side and three bleached walls on the other, which is so last season's X-Files. Oh, and Darla, huddled in a corner, knees drawn up and completely ignoring me. Did I mention this entire situation is her fault yet?

I have to say the Queen of Evil doesn't look too good, though. Not in the sense that she's still short and blond and pale, and why couldn't Angel get his Oedipus complex on a redhead instead, because those are so much rarer, more in the sense of having several nasty-looking bruises and a really haggard face. And no clothes. She didn't look this bad when she was dying in the garden of the Hyperion, only she's a vampire again now, so "worn out" equals "hungry", and I checked my purse for crossbows and other useful stuff, since the welcome committee had seen it fit to deposit it with me in the cell. But no, the only thing they had left, besides, thank god, my Rado watch, my lipstick and powder and some floss, was the Dictaphone. Which at least gave me someone to talk to during the last thirty minutes, during which neither Darla nor whoever is keeping us both here showed the slightest inclination to tell me what the hell is going on. My headache isn't that strong anymore, by the way, but I'm still full of evil vibes coming from people who shall remain lifeless, so I really hope either an explanation or a stake is coming my way soon. Time to turn the tape.

Well, Dr. Not-so-Harmless has finally shown up. With two muscle guys in tow. Not that I'm against well-built men in principle - when they're sweet natured like Groo they're adorable, but these types look like your average thugs, which makes me wish that I had either Buffy's superpowers or my friends at my side. At least the nails are made up and hence good for scratching. But they stop in front of the glass. Much throat-clearing on the part of the good (ha!) Doctor.

"Now, Miss Chase, I want you to understand that you will contribute to the welfare of humanity here. Judging from your questions, you probably know that this type of Hostile has remarkable recuperative powers as far as torn tissue and broken bones are concerned, and is immune to age and, as far as I can ascertain, any kind of disease. Of course, there are the obvious downsides to this kind of metabolism."

"Yeah", I say, "like the bursting into flames thing, or the drinking blood thing, or the entire soulless killer thing."

"Please", he replies. "None of that metaphysical nonsense here. It is true, though, that these creatures seem to be entirely driven by instincts, though they are able to communicate verbally. Which is why I am trying to isolate the healing factor from whatever mutation changes your average homo sapiens into this."

He points at Darla, who still doesn't react. I sense scorn, though, and for once I'm totally with her. I'm also starting to have a vague inkling about what might be going on. Last year, when Willow helped me decrypt W & H's files, she gave me the short version of what was going on in Sunnydale, which included a secret government organisation doing experiments with vampires and demons. Apparently this guy is some sort of leftover and hasn't learned his lesson about technology and demons not mixing. I wasn't totally wrong about similarities to Giles, though. He loves to lecture.

"Since I unfortunately lost my previous working place and have to labour on my own now, it was difficult to isolate and trap a suitable Hostile, but at last, I succeeded. Alas, my attempts to inject what I believed to be the refined substance itself, extracted from the subject's blood, into the other subjects did not have the hoped-for results."

"Wait a minute", I interrupt. "You mean you put Darla's blood into other people? What are you, insane? Aren't there enough vampires running around?"

He remains unflustered. "I prefer not to use that term. It is unscientific. But to answer your question, in some cases, nothing happened at all, but those subjects reacted as if exposed to an addictive drug. They demanded more, and when not getting it, had to be subdued since they turned violent not just against others, but against their own body, down to self- mutilation and the consumption of their own blood. It really was rather sad. The subjects exposed to a greater dose did change, but seemed unable to control their mutation in the way the original carrier" - again with the pointing, who does he think I think he means anyway? - can. They kept shifting, were unreceptive to verbal commands or any kind of verbal stimulation and, though I had thought it to be extinct from the substance as given, showed the same kind of greed for blood and the taking of animal life, and the same extremely allergic reaction to direct sunlight. As opposed to the Hostile, they even showed themselves unable to consume blood when it was given. They ultimately had to be terminated. So you see the only way left for me."

"Sure", I reply. "Join the other mass murderers in jail, why don't you." I feel sick, and this time I know it is me, not Darla. At least I can see sense in the vision now. I don't even want to guess how many people he killed with his "experiments".

"You are so young", he drones on. "You have not learned yet that for the greater good, some lives have to be sacrificed. Just think of the results. If I can get what I want, AIDS won't be a problem anymore. Cancer, any kind of cancer, will be able to be beaten. Why, immortality itself might be available for everyone in the long run. Is this not worth sacrificing your life for? Believe me, there are enough people, sick and desperate people without the means to even get what insufficient medicine is available right now, who were grateful for the chance. As, I trust, you will be, in the end."

That does it. As the last sentence sinks in, he's coming close to overtaking Darla in my private Whom To Kill When I Get The Chance list.

"You. you."

"I'm giving you the chance to become immortal and to help cure humanity of its ills", he beams, looking just like the Mayor during his endless Graduation speech. "Obviously, there have been some details I have missed about the transformation process. So I have decided to observe its every stage as it proceeds when done naturally. However, the Hostile so far has refused to cooperate. Now, your little charade earlier on indicates to me you are acquainted with her. You even mentioned her name just now. What was it, Dora, Deanna?"

"Darla", I whisper, feeling sicker by the second and trying to think of a way, any way, to get out of this cell.

He nods eagerly. "Forgive an old man his weaknesses. Darla, of course. Well", he continues, addressing her now, trying out the name as if it is a ripe plum rolling in his mouth, "Darla, you might reconsider your decision now, since I have provided you with a companion more to, forgive the pun, your taste."

I'm not scared, I'm not scared, I'm not the slightest bit scared. I've been in worse situations. Really I have.

"Mister, she hates me. I hate her, for that matter. If she wouldn't change your volunteers, you can bet she won't vamp me."

"We'll see", he smiles. "In the past it has proved counterproductive to withdraw her supply of blood in order to get her to cooperate, since it just resulted in her killing, but not turning, the test subjects. However, you've been here for a longer time than she ever left anyone else alive when not restrained by force, which is quite promising really, from my perspective. Still, since you did not volunteer, I do feel responsible to prove to you I am doing this with as little cruelty as is possible, and only for the greater good. So I pointed out to her I would, regretfully, have to terminate her if she should kill you instead of giving you her kind of immortality. It would be very inconvenient to trap another Hostile with only Larry, Bob and Alex here to help, true - but not impossible."

I look at Darla, who continues to radiate scorn and, though it's getting harder for me now to sense this, that black cloud of rage and despair which almost suffocated her in my vision. So the alternatives are becoming a soulless bloodsucker or getting killed by a depressed vamp who chooses suicide as her method of getting out of here. Great. Just great. And then the Jekyll Wannabe here drags in a new vamp, with new "volunteers". No way. And if it's the last thing I'll do, I'll stop him.

"I'll leave you to yourselves now", he says. "That is to say, I'll turn the intercom down, to allow you some privacy."

"Privacy. Right. That's why Darla has her clothes off, I guess."

"She is a Hostile", he answers, sounding slightly astonished at the comment. For a change, he's pointing to the ceiling now, where I can see what looks like eye of a camera now. Which probably calls for a cheap joke about me planning to die for the camera anyway, but I don't care. I have other problems right now.

"Don't worry, Miss Chase", he says. "You are always watched. As soon as she starts the procedure, we'll come down and be with you during the entire time. Meanwhile, I'm sorry that I cannot provide more comfort, but furniture might prove to be in the way of scientific observation. I hope, for all of us, that the time you spend waiting will be as short as possible."

Did I mention this is entirely her fault?

I wonder whether I should speak any kind of last wishes on my Dictaphone. But that's loser talk. Okay, so this is a really bad situation and I feel like a baby in a pool with a piranha, but you know what? I've faced worse. When I was so without hope that I was ready to give Russell Winters whatever he wanted, that was worse. When I had the entire horror of Los Angeles running amuck in my brain and couldn't do anything to stop any of it, that was worse. When Angel fired us and went crazy, that was much, much worse. Breathe, Cordy. Deal. Eventually, Lorne will tell the guys where I went to, sooner rather than later, perhaps as soon as one of them stops by my apartment. They'll come for me. They even crossed dimensions, what's one measly secret lab? So basically, all I have to do is to ensure that until they show up, Darla doesn't a) vamp me or b) kill me.

Except that anything could happen before they arrive. For one thing, Dr. What's-His-Name could decide to try another of his Darla-blood concoctions on me if it doesn't look like there's progress to be had otherwise. And besides, it feels good to give jerks their comeuppance instead of waiting for the guys to do so. Too bad nobody made a recording of my Highlander act in Pylea.

And lastly, being in the same room with a naked, brooding Darla while all kinds of weird echoes are still buzzing in my head is freaking me out. So - there's only one thing for it, I suppose. Conversation time. Just watch me. I've got experience in motivating the Undead.

"So", I start, "seems that Thelma and Louise thing with Dru didn't work out for you, Darla, since you're here and she's not. I'd say Angel sends his regards, except he doesn't, because thankfully he hasn't mentioned your name in recent months and seems to have forgotten all about you."

Yup, that does the trick, alright. Now she's looking at me for the first time. Glaring, is more like it. No game face, though, which is kind of reassuring, except I suddenly recall Harmony who didn't need a game face at all when she was lying and planning my imminent demise. But I won't think about stupid poor Harm now, and ignore the queasy feeling in my stomach which came from mentioning Angel.

"You know, what with you terrorising the world for centuries, I'd have thought you'd have found a way out of this dump much sooner. I mean, the head guy is clearly nearly as nuts as Drusilla, and the thugs seem to be of the usual none-too-bright type. What kind of loser vampire are you anyway?"

"Getting staked looks better and better", she says in a weary tone, with that whispery voice of hers which always gets on my nerves, "when coupled with the prospect of you finally shutting up."

And then, suddenly, without warning, she goes from huddling apathetic in a corner to being right next to me, with a hand around my throat and the other pressing my shoulders down to the ground. "You don't want to get staked", I croak as best I can. "Not after the fuss you made about dying."

She smiles, looking for all the world like a cat who has just eaten the canary. "He only said I wasn't to kill you. Nothing was ever said about ripping out your tongue."

True. Bad miscalculation on my part. Damn. Damn, damn, damn.

I try to throw her off, but wouldn't you know it, haggard-looking or not, Darla still has got her vampire strength and easily holds me down. Now she runs a finger across my lips. Add to this the fact she's practically lying on top of me, which feels cold and hard and smooth and totally wrong, and the urge to scream was never stronger. But I have second thoughts about opening my mouth now.

"There are actually ten different ways to destroy a human's ability to speak", she murmurs. "My boy used to excel at them all. He even came up with a number eleven. One doesn't even need one's hands for that one. Shall I demonstrate?"

If there's one thing I learned during my rule as teen queen in Sunnydale High, it's that you never let the other girl know you're intimidated, no matter what she threatens. Otherwise, you're history. So, despite fearing for my life and one particular limb, I get out: "No thank you. Gross much?"

She actually laughs. "You must be praying each day he remains attached to that soul of his."

"I've got other things to do with my days. Some of us have a life, you know?"

"You do?" she replies, and fakes amazement rather well. She'd be a hit in my acting class. "And here I thought you do nothing but nag and complain. That's what it looked like in his dreams, anyway."

That bitch. Of course she could be lying, but I can't help remembering what Angel said about not telling me and Wesley he'd sent Gunn looking for Darla, and what Gunn said after Angel fired us.

Angel was my first true friend, the first person who liked me for myself, not because of my status, or because of raging hormones, who knew everything about me and accepted me nonetheless. He was my hero, too, though I wasn't as obvious about it as Wesley was. When he went crazy - I'm always saying "when he went crazy" because I can't explain it otherwise - it was like none of that had been true, or mattered. I won't ever, ever forget how he looked like when he said "Don't make me move you." He would have killed me at that moment. For nothing more than a book. Then he came back, and was Angel again, and ever since I've been telling myself it had been a combination of too much brooding, Darla-induced madness and vampire stuff, and had nothing to do with the Angel who used to be my friend and now is again.

I'm still searching for a retort and trying not to think of Angel seeing me as a whining hag, not to mention of Angel finding some completely gross way to rip somebody's tongue off, when Darla suddenly lets me go and moves away again, not away enough though, not nearly enough.

"Consider my letting you live as my way of thanking you. I'm grateful, really. If you had actually been supportive while Angel was trying to save my soul, I might still be a pathetic, dying human. Hell, I might even be dead."

Not true, I think, staring at her lying face, calm now, with a faint trace of amusement left, not true, not true, not true. I'm not letting her getting away with this.

"You didn't deserve being saved, and if I did anything wrong, it was not talking to him earlier about how wrong it all was, this obsession with you when all you had ever done was be an evil mass murderer for centuries and take his soul away!"

She seems unfazed. Not a bit of brooding left anymore, though. Instead, her eyes have that evil sparkle like polished glass when it's pretending to be diamonds and you pay without thinking. Congratulations, Cor. You wanted to get her out of her funk so she'd contribute something to the Big Jailbreak, and you're into a verbal hack' n slash instead of planning. Focus. But no way I'm letting her put such things in my mind. It's enough that I've got these damn echoes of her rolling around in me.

"Honey, I'm not complaining", she replies, lying down and stretching a bit as if we were on the beach and not in a horrible cell whose whiteness is starting to make my eyes itch in a major way. "As I said, I'm grateful. But then, I never claimed to be in the business of saving souls and, how did your other friend put it, fighting the good fight to begin with. That's your prerogative."

Now I have this urge to throttle her stronger than ever, because in addition to all the other mess she's caused, she's making me. no way she's making me feel guilty! No way!

It's just that. well, technically, I suppose, she was a soul in need of saving when she was human. But Wesley and I never saw her like that. She was just this bitch who made our friend shut himself away from us and should have died a long time ago. And besides, she didn't even want to be saved. She couldn't have been saved. There's no way that it could have been different, even if we'd played nice with her and given Angel the feeling we were all on the Save-Darla-train together. Except perhaps then he'd have talked with us some more when it all went to hell.

Stop it. Stop it right here. She's the one who slaughtered humans for four hundred years, made Angel into a soulless fiend and messed with his mind when he wasn't anymore, and she's making me feel guilty? I open my mouth to say it aloud, and close it again, because there's this tiny voice, that voice sounding much like her own, whispering in the back of my head, hypocrite, hypocrite. Suddenly I think of Harmony again, and how I wanted her to be saved even though I knew she must have killed many times since Graduation and didn't have a soul anymore. Even though she had stabbed me in the back when I entered the A.X. era. Because I had known Harmony since forever, longer than Xander and Willow even. Because she was fun and old times and the feeling of being Queen of the World. Because I could easily have been her, if events had gone a bit differently. Because I could even understand why she turned against me A.X., poor sheep, because in a way, I had turned against her first. I had deserted the cause, I had gone over to the other side and hung out with the losers. I should have killed her, I know I should have, but I just couldn't, and Angel understood why as he was standing behind me, when I saw her that last time.

He didn't say a word. He didn't need to.

"Did you." I start, and can't believe this is my voice coming out of my mouth. It sounds so hesitant, and small. Not like me at all. But I have to ask. "Did you. did you want to be saved - that last night?"

He never told us just what happened after they had left the hotel together. I first thought she had lured him into a trap, just as I had suspected she would, then he mumbled something about Drusilla and that Darla had not wanted to drink, but ultimately had done so, and later we figured out that Lawyer Boy, he with the trampoline conscience, had somehow orchestrated the whole thing. I had thought that Angel must have had delusions about Darla not wanting to be vamped anymore. In my opinion, it had been more likely that she had planned this whole thing with Dru and the lawyers in advance. Still. why then had she killed the lawyers? She hadn't gone after Angel once she was vamped, as I had been so sure she would, she had gone after everyone's favourite law firm.

"I'm not talking about that night", she replies, her voice cold, all traces of amusement vanished. "And certainly not with you. Whatever delusions my soul had forced upon me are none of your business."

I remember that overwhelming feeling of loss from my vision, and with a scarring clarity I'm certain. There had been a chance. She could have been saved. But she wasn't, and now she'll never be.

Okay, focus. You're not Angel, and guilty brooding won't help now. Certainly not about Darla, who just a few minutes ago threatened to get creative with your tongue, and not in a come-on kind of way. Or was it? How do I know what amounts to a pass from a vampire? I definitely blew it with Harmony, which was so embarrassing when talking to Willow. Okay, so much not the issue now. FOCUS!

"Fine by me", I say briskly, in my best take-charge-mode. "I'd rather talk about other things, too. Such as getting the hell out of here."

"Do enlighten me." That sounds more taunting than hostile, and I detect a trace of interest, too.

"Well", I start, and flounder. "How about. we make eyes at the guards? It always works in the movies. And you're already naked, though you obviously have been for quite a while and it didn't do anything to their libido, which is really not surprising because if you ask me, short and blond is totally passé. But I'm willing to help here. So, we lure them in, and you knock them out, and we escape."

She gives me a disbelieving look. "It never fails to amaze me", she says, "how long humans with an obvious lack of intelligence manage to survive."

Bitch. I'll stake her once we get out of here, I swear I will.

"Hey, I didn't hear any useful suggestions from you so far. By the way, how many centuries did you need to learn to speak all these three syllable words without stuttering, and why didn't you get rid of that fake Marilyn Monroe voice once the 50s were over?"

"Let me put this in a simple way. We're watched. The entire time. Probably audiorecorded, too, or did you really believe the good doctor when he said he'd give us some privacy? So even if some of the guards were idiotic enough to fall for such a play, they certainly won't do it now."

"Great", I shoot back, refusing to feel stupid as well as guilty. "So what - we sit here like ducks until you decide to make me one of the undead, thus ruining my complexion forever?"

Suddenly she's here again, right on top of me, and I try to get one of my knees up, which is more of a guy thing to do but hey, whatever helps.

"Not much complexion to ruin", she says, and follows this by licking at my cheek. This is too much. The prospect of being drained almost seems appealing compared to getting ravaged by Angel's ex.

"Yuck! Personal bubble! Get off me!"

"Listen, you little fool", she whispers, holding me down, "do you want to escape or not?"

Not when it involves creepy vampire mating rituals, I open my mouth to protest, when it occurs to me that a) she might be right about this place being bugged, and b) due to invading my personal space in a serious manner, she was able to speak low enough that it's probably inaudible to anyone but me.

"Live or die, child", she says, louder, "you decide."

I nod, which I hope she doesn't actually take as consent to either kind of vampire stuff, because no way am I going to drink her blood or do anything else in the way of exchange of fluids. She's looking amused again.

"Let's see how you act the part", she whispers in my ear while pulling me up to a sitting position. Okay, I get it. At least I hope I do. Her face changes, and may I add that, loss of soul and psycho killer attitude aside, not to mention difficulty of personal grooming due to lack of a reflection, this whole game face thing would be such a turn-off even if I had ever considered becoming a vampire?

Then I feel this cold prick at my neck, and I think, damn, damn, damn, she does get thorough with it. It's such a weird, drowsy sensation, getting drained. I sometimes wondered whether it would be like sex, but it's not like sex at all, it's like falling into running water which carries you elsewhere, no matter whether you want to get on shore again, and I concentrate on keeping my mouth shut because at least I won't drink in the end like she did, and then I suddenly realise she's not drinking from me any more. Her mouth is still on my throat, though. It hits me, and I'm dizzy with relief. She just drank a bit, enough so she'd have blood on her mouth, and then she stopped, but she wants to make it look like she takes everything, and the only reason for her to do that is so I can be strong enough and alert enough to help escaping. So I did get it right the first time. I'm trying to relax, getting rid of all the tension in my body the way my teacher showed me in the acting class, so it looks the real thing.

Believe me, it isn't easy. I remember Kevin and his pals lying there, with their throats torn out, when Willow and I found them that day we had our first apocalypse in Sunnydale which Buffy stopped. Darla did stuff like this hundreds of times, thousands of times. She'd do it to me in a heartbeat if she didn't think I'd be more useful alive. And, unwanted, the image comes to be again, the most hurtful of all: Angel staring at me with eyes cold as ice and his face set in stone.

Don't make me move you.

I don't know who you are anymore!

I'm a vampire. Look it up.

It was her fault, I think, trying to cling to my mantra and clinging to Darla at the same time since this is what drained victims who are about to be vamped are supposed to do, but I can't believe it anymore, not completely anyway. It was also his fault, and yes, in a small way which I'll think about on some other time, it might have been my fault as well.

Darla rears her head and pulls me back a little. I try to look dazed and unfocused. She raises one hand. I must have looked slightly panicked when she brings it in the proximity of her breasts, because the skin around her yellowish demon eyes crinkles, as if she's laughing at me. Then she lays me down, raises her other arm, and tears open her wrist. A thin red line appears, and she presses it on my mouth.

Now how to look like I'm drinking while I'm not drinking, that's the question. Make swallowing motions with your tongue, suck your cheeks in, try to keep your lips somehow closed, and wouldn't you know it, Darla is lying on top of me again, only this time I can see the sense in it because that way she's obscuring the view for the camera. Still, I continue with my fake drinking, when the inevitable happens and something of the yucky stuff gets on my tongue. Can't be much, just a drop or so, because Darla's wrist is rapidly healing, and I'm nowhere near death, so please, please don't let it count, don't let it work! But there it is, and the taste isn't awful as I thought it would be, it's like that time Devon wanted to smoke pot to impress me with how cool he was and I inhaled before declaring that smoking of any kind would totally ruin my teeth, it's like fighting with the others on Graduation Day, fighting a vampire and winning, staking him in a rush of adrenaline, only ten times more so and what a rush and I DON'T WANT THIS!

Darla pulls her wrist away, and I close my eyes, trying to look as dead as possible. I hear her voice, sounding louder than ever I heard her, except it's probably the adrenaline and those one or two drops of Darla blood I got in my system which I won't think about until we're out of here.

"If you want a close-up for the next part", she says, mockingly, "you better get in here." She might me pointing at me as well to get the message through, I don't know, I keep my eyes closed.

In any case, the voice of Dr. Whoever is sounding through the intercom. He probably came running when he saw Darla start the vamping business. Just wait till I get my hands on you, little man.

"Then go back to the wall", he says, "and stay there. We don't want any unpleasant surprises, understood? You've been a good girl, but we'll separate you now, to observe her without any interference."

Darla moves away. It's then that I become aware there's something in my hand - the handle of my handbag, of all the things. Well, it's not a book, but it's better than nothing. Sure enough, footsteps come in, probably the thugs by the sound of them. One of them touches my arm, probably to lift me up. That's my signal. I give him the best handbag-whop you've ever seen, and demonstrate what I picked up from fighting with the boys. Which probably would have made me last two minutes or so, since now that I've opened my eyes again, I see they're trying to get at these electrical zappy things they carry, but for Darla. Not because she's helping me, mind you. Not by a long shot. Does she throw herself on the thugs? Pull at least one of them away from me to knock him unconscious as in my original suggestion and the spirit of teamwork?

Not a bit. Instead, the moment they started to pick me up and I started with the handbag-whopping, she's outta there in a flash and at the Doctor's throat. He's got something in his hand which must be the remote control to open and close the cell, which he's pressing now.

Too late to help him, but just for the record, woosh goes the door which by the way can't be just glass, otherwise Darla would have tried to break out much earlier. One of the thugs tries to rush after Darla, and this way demonstrates that said door must be electrically charged as well, and at a high voltage, too. Down he goes. The rest of us stare at the Doctor and Darla, who are locked together in a parody of the clinch she held me in earlier.

"Look", says the Doctor, sounding as if he's getting his throat crushed any minute now, "you won't be able to escape anyway if you kill me. The door upstairs is locked with an alarm system, and you don't know the code. Besides, it's daytime."

"No, it isn't", Darla returns. "You were good enough to leave our girl here with her watch. And I don't have any intention of killing you. Yet. Someone so desperate for immortality should be rewarded."

"You mean.?" begins the idiot and actually sounds hopeful.

"I have no intention to play lab rat for you any longer, but take me through the exit, and you'll be able to use yourself as the, how did you put it? Primal carrier. If, on the other hand, you insist on being obstructive, I won't kill you, either. I'll just show you how many limbs the human body can actually survive without, starting with fingers which I'm told are quite essential to a career in research."

There are a number of comments I could make right now, starting with pointing out to the guy that this woman hates him, which I happen to know since I was forced to share her feelings long before he gave me reason to do so for myself. That she probably planned his bloody demise ever since he captured her. That he's doomed as soon as he opens the door. That even if she were to keep her word, he won't be interested in doing any kind of research once he's a vampire.

But I don't say any of this. For one thing, if he refuses, I have no doubt Darla will go through with her threat, and even though I loathe him, I don't want to be present when she breaks him into little pieces right here. Then there is a part of me, a dark part, which says he deserves to die. For all the people he killed with his insane experiments after putting them through hell first. I hate that part, but I know it's there. I wonder whether Angel felt something like this when he locked up the lawyers with Darla and Drusilla. Lastly, there's the part of me which is called "Self- Preservation". I'm not unaware of the fact that Darla is outside of the cell now, and I'm inside, that she has no more need of my help and no more reason to keep me alive. Discreetly, while Darla is still focused on the doctor, I kneel down beside the unconscious guard and get his electrical thing. The other guard has stopped paying any attention to me and is just staring at the two outside.

The doctor clears his throat. "Very well then", he says. "For the greater good, I suppose I must. Lead on."

At which point, or the first time, his sidekick opens his mouth. "Hey, what about us?" he protests. "We're still locked in here with the other bitch!"

"But she's not dangerous, Larry", the doctor explains, sounding for all the world like patient teacher. "It should be obvious by now they faked the transformation process."

Darla smiles at me, letting go of her game face. For some reason, that's not comforting in the least. It's a thin smile, pointed, like a knife.

"Oh, I wouldn't say she's harmless", she throws in. "You could die of boredom at her rants. But if I were you, I'd make nice with her. Her bunch of rescuing heroes will probably arrive quite soon, and at least one of them is inclined to vengefulness if his property is molested."

Well, duh! I realise a couple of things more. The fact that I could be rescued by Angel and the guys at any time must have occurred to Darla earlier, together with the fact she didn't want to be there when that happened. Now Angel might have hesitated to kill her before, but not if she had done anything to me, and Gunn and Wesley wouldn't hesitate anyway. That's why she has left me alive so far and was in something of a hurry to get out. Encouraged by this and the fact I'm now holding a weapon in my hand, even if I'm not completely sure how it works, I speak up, because there's one thing I'm still not quite clear on. And, I discover with a relieved joy, in no way am I feeling leftover Darla emotions anymore. I'm perfectly alone in my head.

"Does that mean you aren't going to kill me any time soon?"

"Oh, I wouldn't say that", Darla replies, moving the doctor to march on and not even looking back at me. How she manages to make that whispery voice of hers audible across the floor if she wants to I don't know. Must be that diaphragm talking technique my teacher talked about. "But I'll certainly let you think about it first. And I'll choose a more stylish environment." She and Doctor Doomed have reached the stairs when she does turn her head and I can see she's licking her teeth. "Thanks for the taste, though", she ends. "And give my boy my regards. At least now I know why those fantasies about the various ways to kill you excite him so much."

And she's gone.

I'm left with an unconscious thug, another thug who is looking at me worriedly, still in a cell, with plenty of spare time at my hand to wonder whether she was kidding or not until the guys arrive. About everything. I'll probably keep wondering afterwards, too. That bitch. And she got the last word, too. God, I hate her.

Did I mention that this is completely her fault?