Disclaimer: Michael and Clarissa belong to me; all other characters belong to and are copyrighted by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and WB. This fanfic was written for fun, is non-profit, and will never make me money, so please don't sue, I'm poor, blah, blah bitty blah. I've done some pictures of Clarissa and Michael, as well; they're here.
She stands alone in the room, shadows surrounding her; but where she stands, a light falls, in a rough halo. The single bulb illuminates a canvas resting on an easel; she gazes at the image critically, unsatisfied. A table beside the easel holds assorted tubes of oil paint and a Mason jar of water, as well as brushes of different lengths. Several long moments pass while she stares into the eyes of the image; then, with a sigh, she sets down the palette, focus lost.
Clarissa lifted her head slightly, allowing her preternatural senses to assess the loft around her. The flow of energy had changed subtly, and it only took a moment for her to smile and glance towards the darkest corner.
"You can come out now, Michael," she said with a smile. "I know you're there."
The blond vampire emerged from the shadows with a faint smile on his face and the usual lock of wavy hair fallen across one eye. "Took you long enough," he teased her lightly. "I've been standing there for ten minutes."
"Which was just about when I lost my concentration," she noted, giving him a perturbed glare that he calmly ignored as he approached the canvas she had been working on. As always, the barest hint of an accent colored her rich alto voice, but it was too subtle for Michael to guess at its ancestry. Still, he'd been doing so for the past seven years and would continue to guess until he'd figured it out.
He shrugged and gave the partially-painted canvas, which had been set on an easel, a critical gaze. "Someone you know?" he asked thoughtfully.
Clarissa removed her backwards baseball cap, ran paint-stained fingers through dark, straight hair, then replaced the cap. "Once," she said on a heavy sigh. "Long time ago."
Recognizing her mood, Michael didn't inquire further, but studied the face in the picture. The man was handsome enough - youthful in appearance, perhaps nineteen or twenty, with a broad brow; a wide face that dropped to a firm chin; dark brown hair, with long bangs that fell loosely over his forehead; sensitive, dark eyes that belied the initial gruff appearance. His clothes, sketched in with hurried brushstrokes, appeared to be in something of a late-nineteenth century European style: a black coat and waistcoat, white shirt, with ruffles at the collar and cuff. He reminded Michael of a guy from his high school days - when I was alive, he added with a mental sigh of resignation - a jock, on the football team, who'd also shown an unexpected flair for acting in his senior year. Something told him that the mystery man in Clarissa's portrait was similarly gifted with unexpected traits.
"You usually paint a lot more abstract," he finally commented when he thought that she'd calmed down. "What made you change your mind?"
The other vampire turned suddenly, walked towards the large window which had been Michael's point of entry. The sight of her small frame, silhouetted against the dark evening sky, brought an involuntary clench to Michael's throat, especially when she folded her arms around herself in such a lonely way.
"I dreamed about him," she said after a few quiet moments. "I had thought that he was part of my past, and that he'd trouble me no more. But all week he's been in my dreams. As if he's been trying to tell me something."
Michael stuck his hands in the pockets of his black duster and cautiously approached her, leaning on the opposite side of the window's frame. "What are the dreams about?"
"I see him with a blonde girl. He's different somehow, not the same as he was when I knew him. But then... he goes ugly, and hurts her. And he's the same as he was. Maybe worse."
"I think," Michael said, reaching for her hand, "that you need to tell me about this guy."
Buffy Summers yawned as she slipped back onto her seat at her favorite table of the Bronze. Sitting beside her, her best friend, Willow Rosenberg, gave her a curious look.
"Too many late nights?" Willow questioned, a hint of hope in her tone.
Buffy shook her head, then shrugged. "I guess. Too many nights waking up thinking there's someone outside my window watching me."
"Oh." Willow subsided, stirring her drink with the straw. Neither of the girls had to be reminded of the reasoning behind Buffy's fears. It wasn't any irrational teen's worry; for Buffy, also known to a select few as the Vampire Slayer, it was a logical extension of what could be considered a really bad breakup.
The dark mood at the table was suddenly interrupted by a laughing voice - Xander Harris, who was grinning as he hopped onto a stool to face the girls. "Well, well, you'll never believe it."
"What?" Buffy was in the mood to be distracted. "Cordelia agree to be seen in public with you?"
Though even she thought the comeback was pretty lame, the look on Xander's face suggested that Buffy had spoiled his fun, and he stuck his tongue out at her. "Better yet, she actually agreed to go to a school dance with me."
The girls looked at each other, suitably impressed. Willow grinned mischievously. "How much did you pay her?"
She paid for that statement; within moments, Willow was caught in a headlock, Xander delivering a playful noogie, rumpling the girl's straight auburn tresses in the process. She shrieked with laughter, and Buffy smiled softly as she watched the two of them. A year ago, she never would have guessed that Willow, with her then-hopeless crush on Xander, would have had the guts to tease him about his current girlfriend. That's love for you. She sighed, glancing toward the stage, where Oz - Willow's boyfriend - was in the middle of a scathing guitar solo for his band, Dingoes Ate My Baby. Her heart sank suddenly as her eyes tracked towards the dark corner by the door, the one she'd always seen Angel standing in.
She tossed the napkin that she'd been playing with to the table and stood as Xander finally released Willow, who had gotten her revenge by tickling him. They had been friends since they were four, and she knew all his weak spots. The two sobered somewhat as they saw the serious look on Buffy's face.
"Leaving?" Willow asked, concerned.
Buffy ran a hand over her blond hair, her eyes dark with emotion. "Not a good night," she replied quietly, barely to be heard over the music. "I'm gonna go out and patrol for a bit, check in with Giles and call it a night."
"Want some help?" Xander raised an arm, flexing in what he considered to be a manly fashion. Willow spluttered with laughter, and Buffy waved at them as she walked away.
I am so not ready to see him again, was the thought that filled her mind the most. Her last encounter with Angel had been far from easy. Both of them had been overtaken by the ghosts of a long-dead teacher and student who, in 1955 - ancient history as far as Buffy was concerned - had carried out an illicit affair within the halls of Sunnydale High School. That same year, the student had killed the teacher when she'd tried to break up with him. A week ago, on the night of the Sadie Hawkins Dance - and, not coincidentally, the anniversary of the shooting - she had found herself alone in the school. With Angel.
Her dark love, who had lost his soul and nearly killed her since.
But that night, he hadn't been in control of himself. Nor had she. She had been possessed by James Stanley, the student, who couldn't let Grace Newman, the teacher, leave him. Angel - Angelus, she sharply reminded herself - had somehow fallen into the Grace role, and the logical part of her mind knew that the role reversal was what had broken the haunting and exorcised the spirits. She had 'shot' Angel - ANGELUS! - with a gun that only existed in memory, but whose effects were as real as the actual weapon. And Angel, being dead already, hadn't suffered from being shot, or from the subsequent two-story drop to the concrete stairs below.
Through their bodies, the spirits of James and Grace had reconciled. Had kissed. She and Angel were no more than vessels for the purpose, and she hadn't been aware of a single thing until the bright light shining overhead brought her back to herself.
She had been standing on the top tier of the music room, near an old record player that was still going on the classic "I Only Have Eyes For You". Angel's arms had been around her, his lips on hers; the kiss hadn't stopped, and it was only when it slowly ended, when their lips parted, that she looked up at him with tear-filled eyes - James' tears - and realized where they were.
"Angel?" she'd whispered in shock. For half a second she'd dared to hope - But his response had been shock, and then rage. He'd shoved her back against the table, disappearing down the tiers and out the door in an instant.
And she had been left to stand there and wonder what in the world had happened.
Later, as she'd curled up in a chair in Giles' office, they'd pieced it together. Still, she couldn't understand how Grace Newman had been able to forgive her own killer.
The cold voice brought her back to reality. She nearly jumped, all her instincts tingling at once. She'd been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn't noticed where she was going. Not that she'd had a destination in mind to begin with, if she was being honest.
And the fact that he'd been preoccupying her thoughts seemed to dictate that he would have to thereby appear. I have got to get a life in such a big way, she muttered to herself, staring at the vampire who was sitting on a bench before her, just outside the cemetery walls.
"Angel," she hissed, one hand automatically reaching for a stake.
"Fancy meeting you here," he said amiably, his dark eyes glittering. His posture was odd, casual, as if he wasn't prepared for a fight. And he was smiling. Oh god, his smile-- Dropped into a waiting stance, she stared at him, forcing down the anguish.
"Nothing fancy about it," she replied in a low tone. "We can make it sweet and simple."
"Just like you." His words made her recall, however involuntarily, the night after her seventeenth birthday - when he'd insulted her so horribly that she'd immediately hated him. His voice yanked her back to the present. "Just like so many I've devoured over the years. I'm having fun drawing this out, though."
"Yeah, you're quite the Van Gogh," she snorted. "Not."
He pulled one leg up onto the bench, leaning back in a semi-relaxed pose that didn't fool her in the least. "Aw, here I thought you didn't like me anymore. You certainly couldn't take your hands off me in the school there."
She could only glare at him. "I seem to recall someone else whose lips were locked even tighter than mine."
"You're a waste of time," he snarled, on his feet in an instant. Buffy bounced back, determined to keep space between them. "But don't worry, sweetheart. I'll make sure you don't suffer too much. I owe you that much, at least."
He turned suddenly, leapt onto the bench and over the cemetery wall. Buffy was after him like a shot, scrambling over the wall and landing lightly in the dirt on the other side, but Angelus was nowhere to be found.
"I'll get you, you bastard," she muttered. "And your little dog, too."
Drusilla was dreaming. It was the sound of her crying out in her sleep that had drawn her constant companion and guardian, Spike, into her room; although he found it somewhat distasteful among her dolls, decorations and the empty birdcage in the corner, he couldn't stay out when he heard the sound of her voice.
She had calmed down somewhat now, but he remained, seated quietly in his wheelchair, to watch her, and to ruminate on recent events. It hadn't been so long ago that he had been her protector, her guardian, her comforter, rather than the other way around.
And then Angel had come back and made it even worse.
Spike idly ran a finger over his fang teeth, feeling at the sharpness. It had been a while since he'd taken a human kill; since he'd been confined to the chair for some time, he'd had to resort to rats and other small animals, whose blood didn't satisfy near as much. But he'd recovered now, and the chair was merely a ruse to make Angelus think he was weak and helpless. For now, it amused him to lead his Sire on in this fashion. And if nothing else, it earned him points with Drusilla, who, despite her madness, was constant in her loyalty.
Or so he had thought. Ever since Angelus had become part of their lives again, her feelings seemed to have changed. Perhaps it was merely Angelus' constant attentions to her - there was a boy on the rebound, Spike added parenthetically to himself, if he'd ever seen one - but Dru certainly was devoted to the vampire who was her Sire as well as Spike's.
And Spike didn't like it. Not one bit.
Dru moaned softly, whimpering as if in fright. Spike abandoned the chair - unnecessary to pretend, right now, since Angelus was off trying to freak out the Slayer again - and rushed to her bedside, kneeling next to her. He knew perfectly well that she was strong, no longer in need of his aid, but he felt the need nonetheless to assure himself of her well-being.
Her eyes opened, but she didn't seem to see him as she sat up in bed. Her gown, deep red in hue, had twisted and wrinkled around her as she slept, the hem drawn up past her knees, but she ignored it; her dark eyes were fixed on a point somewhere past the walls of the room.
"They're coming," she said in her distinct Cockney accent. "The two. They're coming from the east, and they'll be the end of him."
"Who's coming, pet?" he queried, patiently, unsure if she could even hear him in this state.
"More like us. They're our Angel's worst nightmare," she replied clearly, then slumped back to the bed. The jolt seemed to awaken her from the dreamstate, and she blinked at him, her eyes losing the glazed look. "Spike?" she whispered in a faint version of her normal voice.
"I'm here, Dru," he promised, grasping her ice-cold hands tightly in his own.
"Why aren't you in your pretty chair?" she asked. He only shook his head and smiled.
"You're having a dream, love."
"Oh. It's a nice dream," she calmly replied, even as her eyes began to flutter closed again. "There are birds, and trees..."
As she sank back into sleep, Spike released her hands and returned to the chair, heaving a breathless sigh of relief. He trusted Dru, but he couldn't be sure that she would babble something in a vision, something that Angelus might overhear. For now, it was best to play up the illusion that he was still injured.
So there were two vampires traveling to Sunnydale. Interesting news. He wondered if they would merely be fodder for the Slayer, or if they were here for a purpose. Perhaps, if they weren't killed too quickly, they could be of some use to him. Unknown faces, surely eager to help one who would soon be Master...
A smile that had nothing pleasant in it began to cross his face.
The road trip lasted three nights, and by the time Michael finally drove into the parking lot of the Super 8 Motel on the outskirts of Sunnydale, he was more than a little relieved to hear Clarissa say, "This is it. End of the road."
The journey had not been a pleasant one; in fact, neither of them had fed since leaving Chicago, a fact Michael was sorely aware of now. He was hard pressed to restrain himself when the pretty young clerk behind the counter gave him a wink and a smile as she handed over the keycard; but years of experience and training - not to mention a strong sense of self-preservation - kept him from doing more than returning her smile.
As he returned to the car to drive around to the far side of the building, Clarissa gave him a weak smile; it was obvious that she, too, was feeling the hunger. He had deferred to her decision, back in Chicago, that they restrain from hunting until they reached their destination. Of course, if he'd only known then that they wouldn't eat again until they practically drove off the end of the road into the ocean--
With a sigh, he parked the car before the door of Unit 27 and handed Clarissa the keycard. She glanced at him with a questioning look. "Not coming in?"
He shook his head. "I'm a bit hungry."
"Then I'll come with you," she instantly replied, causing him to raise an eyebrow at her. She usually wasn't this clingy. Then again, being in the vicinity of the one whom they sought could be freaking her out; he wouldn't have been surprised if that was the case.
"Sure," he nodded, and got out of the car. "But we should probably split up, until we've got an idea of what this place is like."
Clarissa nodded, distantly. She glanced around, then suddenly darted off to the staircase that led to the upper story of the building. Michael stared at her in confusion. Within moments, she returned, strolling slowly, a small burden in her arms. As she came back up to him, he could see that she held a mangy, scrawny feline who was doing its best to get away from her.
"Appetizer?" she offered, but he shook his head. He'd never had a taste for animals.
"I'll survive. You need it more than I do."
With a shrug, she quickly drained the beast and tossed the carcass over her shoulder. It landed neatly in the dumpster, at which he would swear she hadn't even aimed. Sometimes she still managed to mess with his head, even after seven years together.
"I feel better now," she commented drily, giving him a sweet smile. "I'll see you back here, before sunrise?"
He nodded quickly and walked away. Lack of blood was making him short-tempered, and he felt the need to pick a fight with her for no real reason. Perhaps the way she'd killed the cat - quickly, in full view of anyone who could have driven by. Though no one had, it still rankled under his skin.
The whole trip was making him uneasy. From the moment she'd suggested it, he'd had no choice but to agree to come - after all, she'd probably have just left without him, and since she didn't know how to drive, it would have taken her a lot longer - but he still felt as if he'd been coerced into it.
And then she'd done magic, to determine their direction. Magic. How did she know magic? He'd watched uneasily as she'd filled a silver bowl with water. Sitting in a patch of moonlight, she'd surrounded herself with lit candles, and stared into the bowl for so long that he'd begun to think that she'd fallen asleep. When she did come out of her trance, it was with a muted gasp. Her eyes had flown up to his, and he'd seen fear in her face.
But she had figured out where they had to go. They'd hopped in the car that night, driving to the west, checked into cheap motels before the sun rose every morning. Despite the heavy curtains that most places provided, they still hadn't felt safe, and so had ended up curling up in the bathroom together, door locked from the inside. Uncomfortable, but better than being fried by sunlight.
They'd left Nevada behind only a couple of hours ago, as soon as the sun had set that evening; Michael had ruminated mirthlessly that he was probably seeing more of the country now than he ever would have if he'd remained mortal. It was only midnight now; they still had a few hours before they had to worry about sun-guarding the room for several days' stay.
His quick pace slowed as his thoughts turned towards the present, and the sharp tugging in his veins reminded him of his hunger. Without a thought, he shifted into what he liked to call 'hunter mode': his senses went on the alert for likely victims. It wasn't his style, or his taste, to kill when feeding; he'd long ago developed a talent for taking small amounts of blood from several people. Clarissa had often complained that his methods were more likely to make the wrong folks aware of their existence, but Michael had discovered that if he dragged an eyetooth over his tongue and laved the puncture wounds with his own blood and saliva, they invariably closed instantly. The only sign of his passing was the slightest of bruising and a vague memory of a tall, blonde stranger in black. No muss, no fuss - and no bodies to deal with.
Sunnydale at night was probably not that different from Sunnydale during the day. It was a smaller town than he was used to; the streets weren't as crowded, and the people appeared more youthful, more energetic, than the busy, careworn residents of his hometown. Still, there were more than enough to serve his current purpose; and as a long-legged brunette passed him, blatantly eyeing his body from head to toe, he decided, with a mental chuckle, that he could learn to like it here.
He had just finished licking the puncture holes in his last victim's neck clean when he felt a hand grip his shoulder and swing him around. Involuntarily, he dropped the old man - not how he'd planned to, but his attacker gave him little choice - and he barely had a glimpse of light blond hair and a fierce look in green eyes before he found himself being kicked - hard - in the stomach. Not surprisingly, he staggered backward, towards the mouth of the alley. One hand went to his stomach. Though he hadn't had the air knocked out of him, the shock of being attacked was still more than a little unpleasant, and his brain wasn't working quickly enough to cope. It didn't help that he was sated, either, while the blood hadn't been absorbed into his system yet.
"Uh-uh, you're not getting away that easy," the girl said. Somehow, seemingly out of thin air, she'd produced a sharpened length of wood and raised it with a practiced hand.
A Hunter, Michael's brain whispered fiercely at him. He stared at her. She was hardly more than a child; she couldn't have been more than seventeen years old. Yet the ferocity of her gaze was that of a trained killer.
"Look," he began, and got no more out. She was rushing towards him at an almost unbelievable speed, the stake raised at killing level.
But she was not the only one with speed. Michael side-stepped her with his own practiced ease, and darted back down into the alley.
It wasn't blind; he'd checked that before he'd even taken his first victim. The pain in his midriff had dissipated, and as he pelted around the corner and towards the side street, he tried to figure out just what the hell was going on, and how in the world he was going to warn Clarissa. Unless...
The thought didn't even have a chance to finish itself; he felt a pair of boots plant themselves in the middle of his back, and he was down, sprawling in a pile of old newspapers. That hand grabbed him again, yanking him to his back, and the girl sprang onto him as agile as any feline he'd ever met.
Michael was scared; he wasn't afraid to admit it. He'd never been so close to death in the eleven years since he'd become a vampire; not even that encounter in New Orleans with the werewolf had brought him so close to the abyss. And it was as much the matter-of-fact look in the girl's eyes as she set the stake above his heart as the stake itself that made him twitch in abject fright.
The motion caused a few errant blonde tresses to fall away from his face, revealing, in the process, the silver cross dangling from his left ear. He'd forgotten it was there, so used to it was he, but it obviously gave the girl a start. Her eyes went wide, and then she stared at him.
"Look," he began again, trying to take advantage of her momentary confusion. "I think if you'll just let me--"
He jerked upward suddenly, knocking his attacker off-balance. As she scrambled to her feet, however, she realized that he seemed to have forgotten her presence entirely. He was staring towards the side street, scrambling to his feet in harsh, jerky movements. A moment longer, while he radiated desperate intensity, and then he was breathing a name.
With that, he took off, and the confused Slayer stared after him a moment before giving chase.
this page last updated on 18 january 2003