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Chapter Eight:

Setting---A warehouse in
Compton 11:10 pm

Shouts rang out, echoed off the vast walls of the warehouse. Bodies scattered, some running for weapons, others thrown out of the way as the vampire plowed his way through them.

Faith spun her leg out and caught Angelus in the jaw as he reached her. He reeled under the blow and then smiled, catching her with a lightening quick blow to her face with his fist.

Not to be outdone, Justine moved up beside Faith and struck at Angelus with her fists, battering at his face before he batted her away. She slid across the floor, bleeding from the nose and mouth.

Faith smirked at that and then dived back at Angelus, the tiny knife in her hands burying itself to the hilt in his flesh, right over his heart. Had it been a stake, he'd have been dust. As it was, he just pulled it out with a grimace and flung it across the room.

Faith winced as she saw the blade catch pink-haired Marie in the throat, dropping her to the dusty floor, sputum and blood dribbling out of her mouth, a bright red fountain spreading beneath her.

Angelus didn't stop to admire his work though, as he whirled and caught Faith in the breasts with the heel of one boot. Faith grunted under the blow and then flipped backward, hands meeting the floor and the toes of her steel-toed boots slamming into Angelus's nose. She heard the crunch of bone and felt the spray of borrowed blood hit her arms and face.

She landed on her feet and lashed back with her leg, dropping Angelus onto the ground. He rolled before she could spin and drop down onto him. Back on his feet within seconds, he dived in with his fists, pummeling her face with blow after blow. She felt her nose give and knew it was broken, but didn't have the luxury to think about it. A swift uppercut to his jaw knocked him backward and she spun for more momentum.

Instead of meeting the waiting chest of a stunned Angelus, she connected with Justine's back. The older woman grunted under the blow and Faith felt something crunch under her boot.

Everything slowed.

Justine's eyes clouded with pain and then closed, opened once more to stare at Faith as she half turned in place, mouth open in surprise. She hit her knees and her body shuddered. Then, she slumped, unmoving and still, on the floor.

Faith just stared, brown eyes horrified. What had she done?

"Wow, I know old habits die hard, but this..." Angelus nodded his head appreciatively at her. Faith felt bile rising in her throat.

Her vision blurred, the sounds of the other Hunter's voices roaring in her ears. Her mind narrowed on the blank eyes of the woman before her and the ghost of the feel of her spine crunching under foot.

And then, without thinking, she turned and fled.

She heard Angelus calling behind her, laughing, taunting or challenging her, she wasn't sure and didn't care. She slipped once, falling down on her hands and knees and staring for one moment at Marie's dead eyes. Blood was everywhere, all over her.

Faith knew she was screaming as she stood up and ran onward, the night opening up before her as she pushed past the startled recruits near the doors of the warehouse. She hit the street and ran and ran, all the way across the city and past freeways, shops and staring people.

She didn't know where she was going until she pulled to a stop before the Hyperion, chest heaving so hard she couldn't draw breath without a stabbing pain so steep she was blinded. She limped up the walkway without thinking and burst into the lobby, collapsing in a heap as soon as she reached its inner safety.

She passed out with a pair of strange brown eyes staring into hers, a drawling voice in her ears and gentle hands on her face.


Setting---The Hyperion Hotel,
11:30 pm

Fred stared at the walls, hands smudged with thick stripes of black marker, stringy brown hair draped over her eyes. She poked her tongue out of her mouth and peered at the dark scrawl on the walls.

"A place without walls is a paradise." She read out loud, drawling voice weary but happy. Happy because the voices had stopped and she wasn't kaplooey today. So much so that Lorne had removed the lock from the door. She could go downstairs if she wanted to.

Still, the freedom to traverse the many halls and floors of the hotel did little to comfort her. She knew that there were things out there, bad things beyond the scribbled door to her room that wanted to hurt her. They could hurt her, she knew. She felt it every time her head opened up and an army marched through.

"An army with boots made of rattlesnake teeth." Fred said, writing that below the last line she'd written. "It's all about teeth, sometimes. Everyone needs teeth. Everyone but birds but that's just their nature. And we shouldn't deny anyone their nature. It's unnatural. I wonder if birds like tacos?"

She stopped, realizing there was no one there to listen and besides, she had a feeling she was rambling. But she liked to ramble, it filled the silent spaces and made the world seem cozy and close.

"Honey? What are you doing?" Anne's voice was soft, gentle on her ears. Fred flinched and dropped the magic marker onto the floor.

"Oh, nothing. I'm fine. How is your stomach?" She giggled and corrected herself with a smile. "I mean your baby?"

Restless." Anne answered, crossing the room and crouched down heavily next to her. She read the newest passage on the walls and shook her head. "You have a way with words, Fred."

"What's it like to be pregnant?" Fred's eyes sparkled and Anne couldn't help but smile for the sanity in the dark brown orbs. Days like these were rare and fleeting and she was learning to cherish them.

"It's interesting. Kind of special, like I'm doing something no one has ever done before, even though I know women have been doing it since, well, since women have been doing it." Anne laughed and patted her stomach happily. Fred lifted a markered hand and rubbed over the equator of her skin, mouth opening with surprise as she felt a strong kick under the skin.

"He's going to be just like Charles." Her voice was wistful and far away for one moment. Anne felt uncomfortable suddenly. She knew about Fred and Gunn's past and didn't begrudge them the bond they still had between them, but sometimes she wished things were different.

Her mind flashed back to the days when she was part of Justine's band of vampire killers, joining the ranks because she couldn't go on watching her kids become part of the undead of the city. It was no longer enough for her to watch and keep the home fires burning when so many innocent children failed to come in off the streets night after night. Once there, she'd been surprised to see a familiar face. Charles Gunn was quieter than he had been before, edgier and not prone to trust anyone, including her. Slowly though, she'd gotten the story out of him.

Of Angel and Cordelia. Of Wesley's betrayal and Connor. And especially Fred. It was the pain of slowly losing Fred that had driven him to joining up with Justine. And it was the very thing that had driven her away. She'd gotten the story one night on the rooftop of the Hunter's warehouse and had cried with him and the pain he'd felt. When things had gone to hell at Angel Investigations, Charles had tried to keep the agency open, but Fred had spiraled into madness far quicker than he'd been prepared for. He'd felt he was ineffectual and had joined with Justine in order to find the mission he so desperately needed.

The only problem was, he hadn't told Fred where he was going every night. And finally, Fred had a vision that had sent everything crashing down. She found out about his betrayal with the one person she hated indefinitely. Fred was a forgiving soul, but that was too much for her to handle. The classic big blowout had been unrepairable and they'd parted on bad terms.

Immediately, Gunn had felt bad, but he refused to crawl back to her. He felt that he was right and that Justine's fight was the good fight. Anne hadn't been so sure; right from the start she'd been uneasy with Justine and her ways. Charles too, though he was loathe to admit it. It took nearly a year for them both to see the light. That and a mysterious rescue by Wesley and Lorne that had resulted in a new mission being presented to them. Walls had been mended, revelations had been laid bare and Anne had been along for the ride and wrapped up in a secure blanket of belonging she'd never felt in all her years of searching. And in that time, something had happened between her and Charles. It wasn't anything that either had been looking for, but it happened and it was strong.

And, despite Anne's initial fear and jealous feelings, Gunn hadn't tried to rekindle his relationship with Fred once he was back on friendly terms with her. Despite lingering feelings, Anne knew that Charles loved her and had proven it when he'd asked her to marry him, in front of every member of the newly renamed Connor Investigations team. Still, she wondered what they really felt and if they both longed for the past.

"Probably, from the way he kicks. Or her." Anne said, forcing herself out of her thoughts of the past. Fred smiled and tilted her head, appraising Anne's face and body. Then she turned to the wall and picked up the magic marker, drawing a stick figure with a smile and big round belly. Anne laughed. "Cute."

"Isn't she, though? How's my kitten?" Lorne strolled into the room, smiling wide enough to break his face. Anne returned the expression and was pleased to see the green demon so happy. Apparently, Fred's good days were Lorne's good days too.

"Meow." Fred answered, turning her pixie face up for a quick, friendly kiss from Lorne. Anne marveled at the ease with which they spoke to one another. Then again, she wasn't surprised. Lorne had been the only one to stay in the hotel with her after Gunn had left. They were best friends and Lorne was her unofficial keeper, being the only person she'd listen to while in the grip of a vision.

And Anne had her suspicions that the feelings Lorne had for Fred were anything but friendly. She saw the longing look in his eyes as he settled down next to the Seer and took her hands in his, reading the new passages on the walls with an expression that spoke volumes to anyone who knew him.

Anne wondered if Fred had a clue. Probably not.

"An army with boots made of rattlesnake teeth? Very eloquent, kitten." Lorne commented, not dropping her hand.

"Thank you...I....I..." Fred's voice trailed off suddenly and she stuttered, eyes focusing and refocusing.

"Fred?" Lorne knew that look and felt fear threading it's way his spine. He grabbed for her just as the vision hit.

Her body spasmed, her back arched and she strangled a scream, fingers made into claws as she scraped at the air, looking for a handhold and finding molten pain. Lorne tucked himself around her and held on tight, eyes squeezed shut and fingers bruising as he tried to hold onto the flailing girl.

Anne moved out of the way of a bare, deadly foot, eyes wide. "Charles! Wesley!"

"She's not broken! She's not broken! Don't run! Don't run! You're all bloody! Oh God, he's all dim!" Fred screamed out her vision; Anne mentally filed it away. They'd deal with it after they dealt with her.

Almost immediately, Charles showed at the door, hypodermic in his hands and a worried, haggard expression on his face.

"Where's Wesley?" Anne asked, backing up against the wall and trying to ignore the flailing couple on the floor before her.

"I don't know." Came Charles's terse answer as he tapped the needle to get rid of the bubbles. Then, with gritted teeth, he fell to his knees, reaching for Fred's thin arm.

"NO! It's not right! You're not a killer!" Fred screamed to someone only she could see. Then, before Charles could blink, she kicked him in the face and rolled out of Lorne's grip.

She tore off through the open door, past a stunned Anne and down into the hallway. Lorne was up in a moment, running after her; Charles a second later, lip split from where she had kicked him.

Anne followed them as fast as she could, taking the stairs slowly. As she reached the bottom, she stopped, eyes widening at the sight before her.

"It's okay, you're not dead. Not a killer. He's all dim and he's waiting for you. Please, you gotta wake up..." Fred cooed to the fallen girl on the lobby steps.

Anne recognized her immediately.

Faith stirred and then was still, Fred still hovering over her, whispering soft words that only made sense to herself.

Anne's eyes widened. The Slayer was covered in blood.

"Where the hell is Wesley?" Lorne asked, holding onto Fred's hands as she tried to wipe the blood off of Faith's pale face.

They all looked around at each other. No one knew.



Setting---401 W. Blaine Street, Apt. 3b, Torrance, 10:00 pm.

"DO IT!"

"Too soon...I musn't..." A thick, Spanish accented voice trailed off, thick gray eyebrows drawn up in concern.

"I'll pay you double. Do it."


"DO IT!"

Julio stared at the desperate man before him, hands twitching. He'd changed considerably since the first time he'd walked into his little apartment asking for his help. Help wasn't exactly what he'd found and the evidence was obvious in the haggard appearance and dulled eyes.

The sessions had started nearly a year and a half ago, monthly at first. Within the past three months, he'd been coming to him bi-monthly, despite Julio's warnings that it wasn't good for him. Obviously, that didn't matter to the man before him, nor did the fact that he had just bumped the sessions from bi-monthly to bi-weekly.

"You're not strong enough yet. Please, let more time pass and then I will--"

"Triple. Do it now."

Julio gave up. After all, what was it his concern what this man was going to do with all that stored energy? It was his life to gamble with and none of Julio's business. Still, it wasn't right and he knew it.

"Fine. Sit. Relax your mind." Julio sighed heavily, sitting down in front of him. It didn't take long for him to sense the calmness of the other man's mind. Working with him for so long had given him a good feel of his state of mind and he quickly did what he was being paid for.

Closing his beady brown eyes, he Saw what the other man wanted him to take. Thick, roiling white energy flowed out from beneath the younger man's skin, centering in his heart and spiking out beyond. It was weaker than last week; understandably; he'd taken all the stored energy last time and his body had yet to replenish itself. With a sigh, Julio Reached and wrapped a mental whisp around a spiky strand of energy, pulling it with all his might. It unraveled slowly, like thread off a spool; the center slowly dimming in brightness as it was emptied.

Almost to the end of the thread, Julio stopped. A glowing, pulsing nebula still sparkled from the heart of the man before him, but it was small and wavering. He couldn't take any more or he'd be committing murder. Slowly, he disengaged himself from the man's energy web and turned his attention to the focus-stone sitting between them.

A year and a half had taken the gleaming stone of obsidian and filled its vast chasm with energy, stored and preserved for the day when it would be needed. He'd chosen obsidian for its special properties, including the huge energy chamber that was meant for the kind of spell his client needed it for.

Now, with a twist, Julio opened the magickal plug that held all the stored energy in place and threaded the ends of the white energy he Held in his hands into it. Slowly it siphoned into the stone, melding and absorbing into the other energies with ease. Soon, all the energy was safely inside and Julio closed his empty hands.

Then, with another twist, he closed the stone and withdrew from the man's energy field. It was over.

Opening his eyes once more, he felt his stomach drop as he saw the sad wreck before him.

Wesley Wyndham-Pryce wavered from his perch on the floor, eyes rolling up in his head, mouth slack. He passed out in seconds.

"I told you it was too much." Julio said sadly, staring at the still form on his floor.

Chapter 9