Summary: From victim to assailant. It's an intriguing transition, one that we make through the eyes of an unknown character. Then the camera turns and we view her through a very familiar pair of eyes.

Author's Note: Emily challenged me by showing me a plot flaw with the original For Marie. I reworked it expressly for her because it was one of her favorite pieces of Buffyverse fiction. I knew I could make it better. And I knew it would make her happy.

The funny: this dedication became for engrained in the piece that the Sunnydale Memorial Award I was given for it bears her name.

Even more funny: this was the seed the blossomed into Another Thirteen Steps. I caught the rewrite bug and just kept going. And as I look at Epitaph today, I'm tempted to edit it again. There are several things I don't care for now. But I realize that I'm flirting with Einstein's definition of insanity, so I'm going to abstain.

Date: July 2008.

Rating: FRM: Mature Audience: Parents Strongly Cautioned.

Word Count: 12,223 (excluding the lyrics).

Beta: Howard Russell & Em.

Pairing: Buffy/ Willow.

Disclaimer: Another day, another…they don't pay me anything at all. I just do this to amuse myself and you. That's what allows me and mine to slip under the radar while playing with characters created by those more fortunate than us.

Lyrics: Tool, Jambi.

Prayers of the Martyr

Here from the king's mountain view.
Here from the wild dream come true.

As I hurl myself forward, the sound of my footfalls echo in the valley. Chilly morning air caresses my skin. I breathe it in and the forest reveals itself to me. There are animals all around me, unseen, cowering cautiously, or chancing a peek at me as I rush past.

Another smell, familiar yet much sharper than I recall, hastens my pace. The scent is one I only noticed in passing as a human. It brought feelings, warm and soothing. It's a crisp, fresh odor, the scent of evaporating dew. Now it speaks of pain and death.

I move frantically, racing against the rising sun.

Feast like a sultan, I do
On treasures and flesh never few.

A morning bird senses it too. His sad lament serenades my progress.

I take a hasty glimpse at the sky through a break in the forest canopy. The faintest traces of light tinge the horizon a bluish grey, hinting at the coming dawn. There are so many things about this that are familiar yet completely alien to me. It strikes me that, as a person, I wouldn't have detected that scent for at least another half hour.

The forest thickens. I dodge to avoid a tree limb and miss. It catches me across the chest, scraping my leather. I kick off and twist, rolling down its length. After landing with grace I only dreamed of before, I continue without pause, ducking and weaving between trees.

If my heart beat, it would be racing. If I breathed, I would be panting. My body works with an unfathomable efficiency.

And I could be like this forever?

But I would wish it all, away
If I thought I'd lose you just one day.

A pale, drawn face flickers into view in my mind—a memory, twisted and cold. Those lips—her lips—tinged blue. Like magic she turns warm, alive, laughing…and I falter. Tripping, I catch myself and keep moving.

I can't imagine wanting to. The one who brought me to this had. Centuries of life with just one purpose: pain. I can't begin to wrap my mind around it. What would it be like?

I don't care.

Alone for an eternity, I'd rather die. Killing to live, making things like myself. Not killing, starving, fighting, struggling to avoid becoming what I loathe. It sounds like hell. I need to die.

The sky is growing dangerously bright. As I hurdle a creek cut into the valley floor, smoke wafts from my skin.

Uncomfortable only begins to describe how I am. My skin burns, feeling like it's cracking with every footfall. I'm starving, but I couldn't kill. I will not, regardless of what I am, cause someone else the pain I felt. The compulsion is so overwhelming I had to flee. I had to do this. I need to be alone.

I dart up a steep incline, remembering the day we walked through these woods. It was beautiful, she was beautiful. I must've lost track. It doesn't surprise me. I was pretty distracted. I just don't remember it being this far from the road, but I'm certain the cave's up here.

The light blinds me, I can barely see. It feels like a miracle when I spot the cave mouth. I make a mad dash to cover the final few meters. Diving, I tuck and roll into the cave, instantly feeling better as the damp cool air bathes my skin.

I clamber to my feet and shy away from the light. It hurts. Funny, most of what I know about what I am now comes from watching movies. Marie had insisted they were a waste of time. I would've never guessed how accurate they were. Though, something's lost in the translation. I crouch down and move deeper into the small cavern.

My face tingles, feeling numb and distant as it shifts back to normal. All of these strange sensations…

The devil and his had me down,
In love with the dark side I've found

Bathed in darkness, I collapse to the floor, rolling onto my back. All the pain, all the anguish, there's something seductive about it. I refuse to be seduced. I am an Oxford educated woman. Yet in all those years of strict academia I never experienced anything as difficult as this. I could so easily let go, yield to the monster and become a thing—an instrument of pain. It would be so simple.

The conflict, the struggle, weighs heavily on me and again I see her face. I clench my eyes closed. Fragments of memory flitter through my mind, pieces of a life, a life cut short by—

Tears well up behind closed lids, seeping out to trickle into my ears, and I shudder.

By me, by the weakness I'm feeling, by the hunger, by this irresistible desire to destroy.

I am not an animal. I will not let it win.

As I wrestle with these desires—desires I can do nothing about—her face transforms in my mind. The quiet young girl I met as a teenager, becomes seasoned and even more beautiful. There was this elegance about her. For all her quirks she became lovelier still—not in spite of, but because of. The face greys. I kneel over her in the alley. The glimmer is gone from her eyes; they're cold and vacant…lifeless.

No matter what I try, I cannot strike the sensations—the images—from my mind. I can't. I lived here for weeks after she died. I couldn't shake these memories.

If I'd just been a few minutes earlier, I might've saved her. Instead of lying on the floor of this cave, I would be at home with her in our bed where I belong. The failure eats at me like a cancer.

I don't belong here. I don't belong there either. I'm stuck, trapped in a moment.

I am obsolete.

Dabblin' all the way down,
Up to my neck soon to drown.

I am obsessed.

Angrily, I rub at the tears, trying to blot them away. It's hopeless, I'm a sodden mess.

I'm utterly useless—an incongruence—I don't fit—a tin man amongst a host of terminators, searching desperately for my heart.

A bitter laugh shakes free. Vampires can cry? What a completely useless skill for a fiend, for a monster, a murderer… I wonder if the piece of shit that took her from me grieves for anything.

Her face—the scene—it doesn't fade, I relive those moments over and over. The horror and confusion still fresh. The idea that someone could bleed to death without leaving a single drop of blood behind boggles the mind. Or rather it boggled my mind. I couldn't let it rest. I had to understand why. Others might've walked away, they might've accepted it and moved on, but the details ate at me. In the end they consumed me.

I lived here while I searched for the truth. Living is a laughable thing to call this…any of this.

If only I had said 'no'—that one little word—I could've avoided all this horror with one simple word. The thing is, Marie was the adventurous one. She craved new experiences. And me, the writer—I snicker—I was just as happy curled up with a good book. It was the ideal balance, perfect symmetry. She encouraged me to try new things. I almost never used that word. She was my muse. It seemed foolish to say 'no' to my muse. So I went. I stepped into darkness.

Now I've become darkness. But I am a different kind of darkness. I won't be the same. I will not embrace what I am. I will not become sadistic, heartless, vacant…like the others of my kind.

I relax, giving in to the fatigue. I'm bathed in a cold light.

I have become grey.

But you changed that all for me,
Lifted me up, turned me 'round.

I lay suspended in a semi-lucid dream.

My hands on my thighs, I lean, propping myself up. I'm breathing so hard, my head feels like it may explode. I hear the hammering of my heart, thudding inside my bloated skull. Trembling, I want to run, but instead I peer down at my quarry. I should be feeling elated, the mighty hunter that tricked the fiend. I'm not. I know what needs to come next.

Is this really what I want? If there are doubts, if I don't know, if I really don't understand, am I willing to throw it all away? I could walk away. He's down for the count. He never knew what hit him. I used enough amperage to stun an elephant. I wipe my brow with my shoulder.

Yes…I have nothing left to live for. Every ounce of meaning was stolen in one brutal act. An act committed by one just like him. If I die here tonight, no one will mourn the loss. If I live, the misery will persist. It seems like a coward's answer, but it's my regrettable truth.

Striding across the car park, I hit the button and unlock the Aston. When I slide into the leather seat, it turns hard and cold underneath me. I blink my eyes and my surroundings change. It's disorienting, not to mention nauseating. It's a harsh reminder that this is not just a memory, it's a nightmare.

I reel to catch up with what I'm seeing. My vision blurs, faintness threatens to claim me. I peer muzzily at the white tile floor. The grout fills with pooling blood, overflowing and flooding out. I panic, gulping frantically for air.

His laughter echoes in the tiny room.

The reality hits me: I allowed him to feed. I did this to myself. The monster used the advantage. I will die if I don't do something this instant.

Desperation takes over, instinct maybe…I don't know. I seize the razor I used to cut my wrist and slash his leg. He screams angrily and I fall forward at his feet.

I can't see. Flailing my arm I find something solid and latch on. I pull and it moves toward me, or I toward it—which I'm uncertain—but it has to be him.

I fight back the haze. Hugging his leg, I search for the wound. When I find it, I drink.

In the blackness, she joins me.

So I, I would wish this all away.

He's not laughing now.

It's my first coherent though—the first thing that hits my addled brain.

The stench of old blood hangs in the air. The room smells like a slaughterhouse. As I roll onto my back, my bare skin sticks to the floor, pulling uncomfortably.

Nausea grips me. My head falls to the side and I retch. The sickening, salty, copper taste blends with the sourness of vomit.

I open my eyes. Blurred shapes, fuzzy and distorted…I struggle to focus.

His voice rings in my ears, "Release me," cutting into my mind.

I clench my eyes tight and he repeats his demand. It's all I can do not to leap to my feet. Instead I remain on the cold, disgusting floor. As protests go, it's pathetic.

She comes to my rescue. The last thing I want to see is her face, cold and dead, but it's exactly what I do see. The vision hangs in my mind, haunting me again. It shouldn't surprise me. Every moment of rest I've had has been consumed by this—by her—but in this moment it carries a different meaning. I don't feel desperate, useless, hopeless, impotent… I feel furious.

I'm shaking. When I finally open my eyes, I can see. I've never been sorrier of that fact in my life. The first thing I see, the first new sight of my unlife is his scrotum. He's still bound and naked, hanging on the Saint Andrew's cross where I put him.

I was loathe to rip his clothing off. It seemed the thing to do. The act confused him. It also guaranteed that if I became disoriented, no barriers would stand in my way. I hoped to leave his underwear intact, but it was my 'lucky' day: he wasn't wearing any.

I clamp my eyes shut in revulsion. Vomiting again seems like the proper reaction.

He barks his command and this time I roll to my knees. Forcing focus, I open my eyes and scan the blood-coated tile. Much of the blood is brown and sickly, only where I was lying is it a congealing, dark-crimson puddle. My gaze fixes on the straight razor. I take it in my hand and clamber to my feet, slipping on the slick floor.

When I manage to right myself, I look up. He's glaring at me triumphantly.

Drawing the razor back, I know what he wants. He wills me to cut the heavy leather bonds holding him to the cross.

I focus on her face and swing the blade, struggling to direct it at my target not his.

The room fills with his piercing wail. Anguish breaks his hold on me.

I glance down at the tile. The fourth thing I see is the same as the first, but less attached.

A wicked little giggle slips out as I turn my back on him and strut out of the room.

I need a shower.

I can almost feel the heat bathing my skin as I drift in the grey. I fixate on the drain, watching the pink water swirl around it.

Hands caress my sides, trailing leisurely onto my stomach. My breath hastens. I can see there's no one there, but I feel—I feel her body pressed against my back. I close my eyes, willing the delusion to continue. She turns me and bright blue eyes gaze into mine. The corners of her eyes crinkle with mischief.

There is no rest for me here, no peace, nothing soothing.

As her eyes gradually cloud, turning dull and milky, the hands touching me become dry and rough, grating my skin. The shower fills with the sickeningly sweet scent of decay.

I scream.

Pray like a martyr dusk to dawn,
Beg like a hooker all night long.

The taste of ash fills my mouth.

Choking, I spring to my feet.

My head collides with the rough stone of the cavern ceiling.

I'm knocked to my knees. I catch my head in my hands to steady myself.

The leather I wear is soaked, it clings and scratches, drawing in like a vice. It cuts into me as I tremble. I comprehend and the illusion is shattered. It wasn't some phantasmal creature, just my own clothing wet from the dank cave floor.

All of this, as unpleasant as it is, takes a backseat to the gnawing hunger. I am ravenous.

My body racks as I sob.

I gasp, drawing in the humid air of the cave. I know I don't need to breathe, but there's something calming about the act. Earthy smells, like a freshly dug grave.

I was never buried. I watched them bury her. I selected the coffin, the headstone, the plot, but I will never be buried.

Sobered by the thought, I open my eyes and rise tentatively to my feet.

It's time.

I know the sun has gone down from the smells drifting in from outside.

Stooping to avoid the low ceiling, I sprint to the cave mouth and jump. The ground rushes beneath me as I plummet in a sweeping arc. I touch down, crouch, roll, and spring to my feet again.

Retracing my steps, I make my way back to the clearing. Good, it's still here. I don't like leaving this thing out, but I didn't have much choice. The stick I put under the sidestand was even effective. I was afraid I'd find her on her side. I suppose it doesn't matter.

I stoop to glance at my face in the rearview mirror. It takes me a moment to understand why I don't see my reflection, then I just feel stupid. Shaking my head, I reach into the pocket of my damp leathers, searching for the key. When I have it, I toss my leg over the machine. As I flip the sidestand up, my left hand inserts and turns the key, while my right reflexively hits the starter. The MV spins to life.

I waste no time getting on the road. I have things to do. The first thing is to say good bye.

The machine serenades me, lulling me into a state as close to peace as I've known since—yet I still see her face. The countryside sweeps past, soon replaced by suburban sprawl.

I travel a path recently made so familiar. I know exactly where I'm going. It's second nature. I let the machine do the work, giving a gentle hint now and then. Time dissolves and I find myself in the cemetery. I intuitively follow the narrow, cobbled roads and park.

After making the short walk, I kneel at her headstone. My name is engraved next to hers in the granite. I will never lay here; it feels wrong—like somehow I'm leaving her alone. The rational part of my mind dismisses this as foolishness, but my heart—my heart protests.

I whisper, "Forgive me," knowing all the while how silly it is.

I'm not sure I can do this. What I want right now, more than anything else, is rest. I'm so tired. All I want is to lie down on the fresh sod and wait for dawn.

Giving in, I curl up next to our headstone.

I'm twice the failure.

Tempted the devil with my song,
And got what I wanted all along.

Fetal and weeping, I lay on the damp, chilly grass.

Any desire to move I might've found is shoved aside by my reverie. It feels like a gift. The nightmare fades, giving way to memories of our trip to London, the wedding and our honeymoon.

I relive those days in a blink, or maybe a night—I have no concept of time.

They're tainted. For all the happiness those memories hold, sorrow surrounds them now. The joy has been stripped away, replaced by lament.

There's no peace for me here.

Distant movement causes me to stir. I push myself to my knees, facing the headstone. Kissing my palm, I press it to the granite and murmur, "Thank you." As the air fills with cold laughter, I delicately trace the engraving with my index finger.

I should be worried, but I'm not. There's nothing more liberating than losing everything.

They close the distance as I gaze intently at the final date. I should leave instruction for this to be updated. My date of death should be added to this monument.

Where there was one, there are now two. As they move closer, I sense a third. I'm outnumbered. One of them is old. How I know that, I'm not sure, but I sense it. Now I'm outnumbered and out classed. I should feel panicked. I should be trembling. There should be some sense of dread.

I still don't care.

But I—
I would.

I'm hungry.

They surround me. The leader looks down at me over the top of our headstone and drawls, "Well, aren't you a pretty thing?"

The other two seize my arms, lifting me to my feet. When they drag me back to make room for their leader, I'm grateful. I watch the ground pass under my feet. I don't want to fight on her grave.

The leader strides around the grave and faces me. Reaching out, he unzips my jacket. His eyes fill with lust. Men are so predictable. I suppose they plan to rape me.

"Very nice," he purrs, tracing a line down the center of my chest with his fingertips.

His touch makes my skin crawl. I feel like a piece of meat and it fills me with disgust.

When I don't flinch as he reaches to unsnap my leather pants, he relaxes, obviously considering me an easy mark. I guess I seem too broken to care. I'm the perfect victim in his eyes. That's fine. I'll be his victim for a few more seconds.

I wait for him to reach inside, then I spring with all my might. Pushing myself forward in an arc, I pivot on my captive arms. As I flip, I kick him in the chest and under the chin. When my feet touch down, I bring my hands to meet in front of me. His minions crash into each other and crumple to the ground.

The leader staggers backwards and hisses, "Kitten has some fight left in her after all," rubbing his scruffy chin with the back of his hand.

I smell his blood and it fills me with lust.

If I could,
I would.

Catching the headstone behind me like a pommel horse, I vault it and land.

As I fasten my pants, his minions rise and he charges me. I've made him mad. Pity that.

I dodge when he swings his fist. Grabbing his wrist and shoulder, I bring his arm across my chest. It snaps at the elbow and I send him spinning to the ground.

One of the minions advances, snapping a kick at my face. I bring my arms up and block the blow. As I push, he's caught off-balance. He teeters and falls over backwards. The move was showy and stupid. I demonstrate how stupid as he falls, by punching his groin. Protecting those—it's important. He tucks into a ball on the ground, sobbing and trembling.

The second minion hits me. Pain grips my stomach as the leader clutches his arm and rises. Another blow to my side drops me to my knees. I focus on the second minion, watching his follow through. He just punched my side. His weight shifts. I see it coming. His leg comes up to deliver a snapping kick to my chin. I fall back, catching his leg as it whizzes past my face. The weight of my falling body on his leg drags him to the ground beside me.

I roll, putting all my weight behind the punch. It lands in the middle of his abdomen. I didn't aim, but that's as good a place as any. He groans and folds as I roll across him onto my back.

Kicking my legs, I leap to my feet. The leader is on me now. His right arm hangs limp at his side. He spins into a low sweeping kick. I jump to avoid it. The momentum turns his back to me.

As I land, I seize him.

Wish it away,
Wish it away.

Starved, I bury my face in his neck and bite down.

I don't even know when my face changed. I'm just happy it did. My mouth fills with blood. Shifting my bite, I suckle the wound.

It's glorious. The blood lust takes me. He thrashes around. My body is bludgeoned, but I'm so hungry—so aroused I don't care. Nothing matters but the blood.

Spinning, weaving, swaying with him, I'm a passenger. I vacantly watch the terrain pass by. His minions are on their feet. I catch sight of one of them. He has a piece of wood in his hand.

The leader is grunting. His head shakes 'no.' My horror movie background fills in: wood is bad. I don't know how true it is, but it seems to fit.

When the minion rushes us, hoping to plant the stake in my back, I kick off, spinning us.

The leader turns to ashes in my mouth.

I exhale, breathing out what looks like a cloud of smoke.

The minion's eyes grow wide as saucers.

He ruined my meal. I'm done playing.

Driving my fist into his face, I send him failing over a gravestone. A crack accompanies my action. I shake my hand out. It's not broken so it must've been his face.

The stake and he part company as he flies. I go for the stake.

Just left of the sternum, about a hand's breadth down from the collarbone, this is the target. At least I assume it is. It's not like 'Dance of the Damned' was a documentary.

He's on his hands and knees, clumsily trying to rise. I descend on him. The entire encounter is two moves. As I snap a kick under his jaw, sending him sprawling, my stake finds his heart. Theory tested, he flashes, turns to ash and crumbles into the grass.

His friend grabs my shoulder, spinning me. If he had pushed, I'd be down, but this one just isn't very bright. The spin just carries my weapon right where it needs to be. I guide the motion and he disintegrates over the other remains.

I like the instant cremation. It's really efficient.

After slipping the stake into my pocket, I zip my jacket, covering my bare chest.

I glance over my shoulder at her grave and murmur, "Goodbye."

If I wasn't dead before, I am now.

Wish it all away.
I wanna wish it all away.

Without looking back, I make my way to the MV and ride away.

None of us have any idea what to believe about the afterlife. Up until recently any thought of life after death seemed like wistful fancy to me, pretty stories created to stave off the fear of uncertainty. Now I don't know. There's one thing I do know: girls like myself—there's no Heaven for us. I'd like to think now that Heaven might exist for Marie. It would give me some peace, though I'll never see her there.

I turn the MV toward the heart of the city. It's time to end this.

When I showed my 'sire' her picture, I could tell that he knew. Though, that term for him, is utterly laughable. He was more of a blood donor than a 'sire.' 'Assailant' to 'victim' wasn't an easy transition for him, but he acquitted himself nicely once I got out the cutting torch. He finally divulged that the one I seek is called 'Kaba.'

Raising my left hand from the clip-on, I wipe the corners of my eyes. I need to get a grip. If this thing is as old as he said, I might not survive.

Hitting the slip road, I come dangerously close to the literal interpretation of that turn of phrase. Somehow I manage to correct. I'm not even sure what I did, or how I saved it. All I do know is that drifting across the margin is markedly bad. Run-off strip on a bike leaned over at greater than forty-five degrees—

If I had a heart, it'd be trying to escape my chest.

I'm panting like a dog, but I have no need of breath. I catch myself and stop.

As I steady myself and merge onto the motorway, it occurs to me that this is part of the problem. The idea feels like a revelation, but honestly it's just a fleeting whim. I feel so disconnected from everything I was. A large part of that isolation is the lack of physical reaction. Before, when I became anxious my palms would sweat, my breath would hasten, and my heart would hammer. Now all I have left—all that remains—is the ability to unconsciously breathe. But the intake of air has no effect on me physically, so the act is pointless—it carries no meaning, it is hollow—I am hollow.

But I now carry a greater understanding of the monster. Something changed when I fed on him. I see how easy it would be to fall—to spring the trap, to become like them.

I could become that, but I won't. I could be cold, but I won't.

I cling to the last fragments of remorse I feel for failing her—the fleeting feelings of grief. They are priceless, the sum of my deteriorating humanity.

Crouching down, I hug the fuel tank with my knees and focus on the road. This is like living inside an envelope—in a bubble—more disconnection. The world around me blurs by, but my eyes are fixed at the limits of the headlamps. Everything outside the envelope is grey, inconsequential, the things that matter are right in front of my face. They call this tunnel vision. It's an apt description. The missing impressions are: the wind buffeting your body, the noise, the low harmonic vibration of the machine, the occasional pop of an insect that you randomly collide with…

Fixing my will on the pieces, I open the MV up.

I really want to be back at the cemetery lying on her grave. The idea of failing—the idea that this thing might win scares the crap outta me, but he needs to pay. The alternative—I'm not even sure what that is. If I stop to consider that most of the horror movie clichés appear to be true, then it might mean my enslavement—I can't even consider that.

I have to focus on doing the job. I have a deadline to meet. I won't fail.

I blink, clenching my eyes momentarily, the skin of my temples parched and drawn from the tears. I'm sure I look just charming between the blood, tears, dirt, and ash.

Downshifting, I sit up and shift my weight to steer the machine onto the slip road.

Focus, just do the job…

I won't fail. Just keep saying that. It'll be fine.

I pull to the intersection and turn right.

Two cross streets blur by and I go numb.

Pulling into an alley, I cut across to the next intersection and enter a multi-story car park. After taking a ticket, I ride past the attendant and park.

I exit the car park and set off for the club. This part of town isn't that bad, there are worse neighborhoods. The street is lined with pubs and dance clubs. The din of the music changes with each new façade. People move from pub to pub. There's the occasional drunkard, but that's to be expected.

Turning, I take a breath and pull open the black door of the Oktober Rust. The drone of the music pours through the opening and I step inside.

I block out the noise, the harsh light, the people, and the sharp smells and make my way to the bar.

No prize that could hold sway,
Or justify my giving away my center.

After ordering a martini, I scan the crowd. So many victims… Their sweat, blood, sex…I smell it all. The perfume is intoxicating. I feel ravenous again.

My gaze fixes on a young blonde woman in her early twenties—absolutely gorgeous. She sits alone in a dark corner. Her heart is broken, it shows in her every mannerism. The desire to take her—to end her pain—it's so compelling. I imagine the feel of her skin under my fingertips, the taste of her salt in my mouth. Lust…I lick my lips, tasting the remnants of blood.

The barman breaks my reverie by delivering my drink. I thank him and pay up. There's no way he understands how grateful I actually am.

I'm losing it.

Swirling the olive around, I stare into my drink.

"Lovely, isn't she?" A chill runs down my spine as cool breath tickles my ear. I suppress the reaction and the hushed male voice continues, "Tragic, beautiful…what could cause such a creature so much pain?"

Ignoring the whispering stranger, I take a sip of my drink. As my glass touches the bar, he purrs, "We could take her—end her suffering—share her flesh."

I turn. His face is inches from my own. Curbing the impulse to leap away, I slide back, putting a comfortable distance between us. I want to be sick—my reaction is so unfamiliar to me—it doesn't feel like me. I'm attracted. I want to be repulsed, but my body says otherwise.

I scan his face, the smooth ruddy skin, stretching over a handsome, chiseled bone structure. There's something vaguely regal about his appearance. Long, loosely-curled black hair frames his face. His unforgiving eyes are dark and cold. As my gaze fixes on the tribal tattoo that wraps around his neck, I struggle to keep my expression neutral.

My mouth turns pasty and dry. I reach for my drink and take a sip before murmuring, "I'd rather just have you." The words make my skin crawl. I loathe him. I'm attracted, but in the same breath I hate him with every fiber of my being. The conflict is almost crippling.

Smiling, he moves away. It confuses me until I see where he's going. He approaches her. I nurse my drink and watch him work. I imagine that this girl is Marie. The effect he has is startling. Within minutes her sorrow fades. She smiles and flirts with him.

I can feel her arousal and the lust—the lust is unbearable. The animal says, 'join them, fuck her, taste her…make her yours. Her fate is sealed. She will die in spite of anything you do.'

I refuse to accept that.

She takes his hand. As they slip out the back door of the club together, I pound the rest of my drink and rush to join them. It's not until the door closes that I realize what I've done. I glance over where they're standing. Her arms are around his neck. They're kissing. My gaze drifts reluctantly down their bodies. He fondles her breasts, she cups his ass. They are writhing, grinding against each other.

I stare at the ground. They found her right there. When I look up for an instant I see Marie.

As the vampire lifts her skirt up, the pieces fall into place. It was obvious from the condition of the body that Marie had been assaulted, yet there were no signs of a struggle.

When they did the rape kit on her, the results that came back were unusual. It caused the police to suspect that we were somehow at fault. The semen samples were all dead. They insisted that semen lives inside the body after death for at least twenty-four hours.

There were insinuations made that our lifestyle was to blame. It was something I couldn't resolve—like pouring salt in an open wound. Above all, it made me furious.

I can't watch this.

So if I could I'd wish it all away,
If I thought tomorrow, they'd take you away.

Yet I stand transfixed, horrified… The urge to run is so strong.

Something moves me. I have no idea what part of my will is responsible, but I stride over to them. It scares me. I may be losing the fight.

As I trail my hand up the inside of her thigh, I whisper, "I have a room."

It works. I set off down the alley and they follow. We emerge on a main thoroughfare. Her scent drives me insane as we walk back to the hotel. We enter the lobby and I move with purpose to the lift. This is more than I can stand. The need grows as we pile into the confined space. I can practically taste her. I stab the button for the eighth story.

When the doors slide back, I pull the keycard out of my pocket and turn down the hall. Moments later we are alone in the penthouse suite. The room is beautiful. I want to indulge, but something inside reminds me. I booked this room for the extra space and because there's a level of respect from the staff that comes with it. That and there's a service elevator two doors down. It's perfect.

I watch as he turns her to face me. The faint sound of tearing fabric is followed closely by the flimsy garment hitting the floor. She meets my eyes. I scan her modest form and swallow thickly. She's—

Her bra hits the ground, followed by pieces of her thong. My gaze fixes on her throat. I watch her pulse point throb, excited and fast. She's also as close to perfect as any woman I've experienced, except…

You, my piece of mind, my all, my center,
Just trying to hold on one more day.

Marie's reproachful face moves to the forefront of my mind and I mumble, "I need a shower." It's the truth. I want to—

The real truth is that if I'm here for another instant it'll be…regrettable.

Turning my back on them, I force myself to march, damning every step.

I hope she survives.

Breathing, I stifle the impulse. I'm such an amateur. My leathers hit the floor and I turn on the shower. I actually need this. I need the head space as much as I need to be clean. I step into the spray. But I have to be quick. If I wait too long, he'll finish her. I can't let that happen.

I lather up a flannel and absently run it over my skin. What changed? I remember this strong attraction in the bar. I wanted him. Maybe proximity, or it might have something to do with focus? He is obviously controlling her. Maybe that limits him? It doesn't matter. Tossing the cloth aside, I rinse, turn off the shower, and step out.

My head feels clearer. I grab a towel and quickly dry off. When I'm done, I open the middle drawer in the vanity and lift the hand towels aside. My hand closes around the grip of a gun and I move toward the door.

Damn my eyes!
If they should compromise the fulcrum.

What I see startles me. I watch, unnoticed, as he fucks her. She's really into it, or at least she believes she is. You'd think they were making love, missionary position and everything—like newlyweds. It's his face that catches my eye first, though. It's not the face I saw in the bar. It's bestial. His nose is shrunken and deformed and his pointed ears peek out through the long locks of dark hair. The bone structure is sharper too, much heavier than I recall. It's shocking. Then I notice his hands. They're cloven like hooves.

I see his true face and step from the bathroom. If I lacked reason before—and I didn't—this is certainly a thing I can hate.

Raising the gun, I aim and he stops, turning to face me. His face doesn't change. I half expected it to.

He meets my gaze and asks calmly, "What do you think you're doing, child?"

I just tilt my head and stare at him. Pulling the trigger—it would be useful right about now. My finger twitches against the trigger strap. I wish I could, but I can't.

A cruel grin flashes across his features and looks down at the blonde. As he strokes her hair, he murmurs, "For over one-thousand of your years I have been bringing peace to forsaken women. Showing them love, then giving them peace. They sustain me and I release them." His attention turns back to me. "What do you plan to prove with that trinket?"

It takes me a moment to recover. When I do, I realize my jaw has fallen open. I clamp it shut and he moves. It's unlike anything I've ever witnessed. He's on me before I can blink. Then he falls, knocking me to the ground. I'm dumbfounded.

When I roll him aside, I see the dart hanging from his chest. I don't even know where the gun went. I felt him tear it from my grip. Worse I don't recall firing it, but the pad of my right index finger hurts, so I can assume I did. I look down at myself, thinking how lucky I am. When I see the blood, I don't feel lucky anymore. His last act was to cut two deep gouges from my collarbone to my hip.

I need to make certain that was his last act. Rising painfully to my feet, I meet the girl's eyes. I don't need to see my face to know how I look. I'm a monster, he's a monster and she's horrified.

"Go," I rasp and step into the bathroom to get her a robe. When I return, she's gone. I tried.

I need to hurry; there are no guarantees how long he'll be down. I go to the dresser, pulling out two heavy tarps and spread them in the center of the room, one atop the other. Then I move him onto them.

Opening a box of heavy bin bags, I take a skinning knife from the drawer and set to work. The first thing I do to the body is field dress it, piling all of his abdominal organs into a bin bag. It surprises me that he doesn't flinch while I work. When I'm done eviscerating him, I pack the cavity with heavy rock salt and sew him shut. I do the same to his mouth. He has nothing to say that I want to hear.

And now for the truly gruesome part…

I need to keep moving. I don't want to think. If I think, I'll have to consider why he was interested in Marie.

He might've been lying. He is, after all a fiend.

A soon-to-be-expired fiend.