There's no dust in the air. That's a funny thing to say to oneself, at least that's the way Angel sees it. Everything in Montana is fluid, moist green earth, open space, reminding him of Ireland summers spent hiding in the woods to avoid chores and church. It's nothing like the Midwest with its dust bowls and spinning storms that swallow houses whole. This is both familiar and barren. One town every hundred miles or so, a half day's drive most of the time, that is if you can find a car that drives and a road that won't wash out. That vast in-between is the part Angel hates. He misses the city during those drives, too many thoughts of old friends and lovers to haunt him in the quiet spaces, voices whispering in his ears, telling him that there is no place far enough to escape the things he's done. He wishes he were in New York mostly, but somedays he misses London and Paris too, places bustling not just with life but vampires and humans, both just waiting for the night.
It's weeks before he finds a town he thinks he could like for a while, far enough from famine to have a sense of humor, not so far from poverty to forget that times are hard. It's full of rough men, forest workers, miners and firefighters. These are men that can hold a conversation, and when that palls, can fight as good as any. There's a lot of those fights, little else to do but prove who's the toughest, who's earned the dirt under their fingernails. Angel likes to watch, standing against the wall and knowing he could break any one of them in half before they landed a single punch. He's glad he's never had to, but still he watches, anticipating the night when they'll notice him gawking, call him out. Usually he walks away before too much blood has spilled, not able to trust himself when the scent of copper mixes with the soot and silver dust that covers most of everything here. The demon begs to stay, see one more man tumble to the street, and the struggle wears Angel's body thin.
It's never hard to find a bed, he's had more than a few offers from women of ill repute, but settles for a widow with a large house and little else. This is a depression, same as everywhere. If a house has an extra bed they'll gladly rent it out to any man who's willing to work in exchange. Actual cash money is hard to come by here, the men always seem to have a couple dimes to throw down for beer but IOU's and Forestry Notes pass for cash in most places. When Angel palms a small handful of dollar bills and hands three to the barkeeper telling him to keep the whiskey coming he thinks maybe his chance to show his strength has come. The whispers stop after a moment though and the looks on the faces of the men around him slowly melt from surprise to a sort of pained envy. Angel buys a round for the house and then abandons his drink, slowly walking back to the hostel just off Main Street. He can't help but look over his shoulder, expecting a mugging. It doesn't come, and he laughs. He knows he's not in New York now.
The house is quiet as Angel climbs the stairs to his room. He knows there's one other boarder staying here, one of the silver miners he thinks. Angel's only seen him the one time, late in the afternoon; the man had staggered in, clutching an arm to his side. Angel could smell the blood the man was able to hide from the mistress of the house, he was pretty sure there was a hint of gunpowder on his clothes that day, and Angel had smelled it in the halls for several after. He'd never seen more than a jacket hanging on a peg in the hall since that day and didn't think to ask the lady of the house. These are dangerous times he supposes, and Angel imagines he's not the only one who's not too keen on having his face known to every stranger in town.
The nights are long here, he tries to sleep but it still feels unnatural to be awake while the sun is up. During the day he spends hours with charcoal in hand, sketching scenes from memory, enough to fill a book of horrors. Each page carries a moment of hope, maybe if he gets the image out of his head it will stay gone. Yet the final stroke on each picture sears into him like the very moment his soul was returned, the faces on the paper accuse him, try him, and punish. He burns them all as the sun sets, lest someone find the story of his sins and wonder. The little stove in his room smokes and leaves the walls smelling of charred paper. He apologizes to the widow and offers her a few extra dollars for indulging his craft. He sketches her, generously removing a few years from her face with a rub of his finger. The peace offering is enough, she stops asking if she should have wood brought up for him.
It's only a few days before the hunger starts getting the better of him, the voices grow louder. His dreams are clouded with visions of the people he sees on the street each night and he finds himself wondering how many of the workers here go missing each year. Wonders how many are truly missed. The thoughts disgust him, soul or no, he'd be a fool to hunt in such a small town.
There's no icebox in his room and he doesn't imagine storing a meal in the old lady's would go over. He considers taking a job at the local butcher's, plenty of cattle coming through most days, he could drink cow's blood if he had to. He thinks he could at least. It's not the worst plan he's ever had, just not very appealing. Still, hunger drives a man, he laughs, a vampire to do strange things.
Deciding to give it one more night, see if a better alternative comes up, he heads towards the one tavern in town that somehow manages to stay open long after the sun goes down. Alcohol's a poor substitute for blood, the texture's all wrong, leaves him wanting, it just seems like the natural thing to do, join the working men at the bar. He likes the look of most of them; broad shoulders, longer hair than is fashionable. They remind Angel of a time not so long ago when he could have been one of them. He remembers what it was like being part of the world, a piece of that cycle. The food chain, he thinks with a sad laugh, hunger pains digging into his ribs with the movement.
There's not much activity in the place, the usual card game in the back seems slow tonight, none of the players are smiling, which means no one's coming out ahead big. Even the whores are a little more sublime tonight, fewer petticoats showing. Angel passes a couple coins to the barkeeper, taking another shot of whiskey. It's a bitter Canadian batch, it doesn't have the sting of the local fermentations, but it still makes the eyes open a little wider as it goes down.
"You found work yet?" The barkeep asks, he always tries to make conversation. Angel hasn't decided if he likes it or not.
"Haven't found a calling yet." Angel laughs, letting a bit of the Irish slip into his voice, testing the waters. He gets no reaction. In a place like this white is white. He gauges the man behind the bar to be a Scot, close enough to kin to hold his interest, though he's never offered up his name. Neither has Angel. There are a lot of men here with no names.
"They'll be looking for a new lode spotter come morning," the man says, leaning in conspiratorially.
"Only accident was that the bullet didn't finish him off two days ago."
The men here are hard, Angel thinks again. "He must have been well liked," Angel muses, looking at the sullen faces around the room.
"Cap Hardigan wasn't liked by his own mother, the girls'll be mourning the loss of Kate today." The bartender is quiet now, wiping at the counter absently.
"Guess their line of work," Angel stops, not wanting to make light of the diseases that ravage women who make a living on their backs. He'd seen it enough in his youth, and seen it a lot more during his time with Darla. She sought those girls out with a sort of vengeance. He was never sure if her intent was to punish or release, but then those lines were often blurred with his sire.
"Weren't what you're thinking that took her," a voice behind Angel says. "We're clean as can be expected with the raff that comes through these parts."
She's got a worn look to her, as Angel turns around he sees the lines others might miss, but he imagines she still passes for beautiful. She wears the rouge of her profession and colors he thinks would make the old lady back at the hostel turn her head, but there's something about her. A presence Angel can't quite name until he sees a glint of silver and crow feather peek out from under the ruffles at her wrist. He's not sure if she's Flathead or Blackfeet, and doesn't dare ask in a place like this. Most of the men probably don't notice, or don't say anything, but if she were a shade darker and didn't have blue eyes they'd never let her peddle her wares inside these walls.
"I wasn't accusing," Angel says quietly, not wanting to make a scene.
"Didn't figure you were," she says, all sad smile and nodding head. Angel follows her outside, he knows a woman with a story to tell when he sees one. She pulls her shawl over her shoulders, looking dead calm as they pass though the swinging doors of the tavern. They've barely stepped onto the pine boardwalk before she grabs his arm and pulls him to the side of the building, a knife at his throat.
"Whoa," Angel gasps as splinters gouge into his back. He could disarm her in a flash, but doesn't want to give anything away just yet. He waits for her to speak, watches the shawl slip from her body to the dirt below.
"I see you in here," she says, "coming in every night, staring us up. If I find you're the one who's done this they'll never find enough of you to piece back together."
"Done what?" Angel asks calmly. "I seen things," she says, releasing him, running a hand through her long hair, careful to not pull the barrettes out of place. "I lived up in Boston for a spell, seen girls found in the trash, no one ever looking for their names. I won't see that happen here. This is a good town, the men take care of us and treat us good as can be expected."
"It's a nice..." She cuts him off with a slap, knifepoint at his chest.
"It was a nice place. I seen you here for a week, one week and there's been a man shot and poor Kate..." She turns ashen, maybe the horrors here are what let her pass for white.
"They call me Margaret."
"You can't." She says firmly.
"Fine," Angel smiles, he likes her, likes most strong women, "I didn't have anything to do with either of those murders, but if you'd like I'll see what I can find out."
"I didn't pull you out here to ask for help. I pulled you out to warn you, get out of town before I start pointing these boys' suspicions in your direction."
"I'll try to stay out of your way ma'am." He doesn't think she has any more threats to add, but gives her a moment to decide. When none come he leans over to pick the shawl up, dusting it off a bit before handing it over. She takes it with a glare that he thinks could kill a man, and then she's gone.
Angel turns back onto the boardwalk and takes a step inside the bar. Resuming his spot and taking his glass in hand, he forces a smile in the bartender's direction.
"What'd Margaret want with you?"
"Offered me a job."
"Really? Why's that?" The man asks, wondering what the joke is.
"Seems I'm so fresh off the boat my system hasn't adjusted to the time. I'm not good for much but night work, and it turns out that nights are a profitable time for some." Angel downs the rest of his drink, lays another dime on the counter, and leaves the man laughing.
It's been a ten days since he ate. No amount of alcohol is going to quench the thirst now, he needs blood. There's no way to get to the butcher's during the day, and he'll be long gone by nightfall. Angel thinks of asking the miner to bring him back a pint, but he's yet to see the man again. He's running out of options and thinks he won't be finding more here in this room. The walls seem to cave in during the day, reminding him just how vulnerable he truly is. Thirty years and he still hasn't figured out why he keeps trying to live amongst them. Never lasts more than a few months, weeks when it's like this, no way to get an easy meal, barely a way to get a hard one.
The sun can't vacate the sky soon enough. He decides that in town isn't the best place to be tonight, not with the hunger burning so bad. Best to just drive, he'll kill if he has to, better to make sure that livestock is the only option when it happens.
The drive out of town is slow, he waves to Margaret as she leans out a window showing him a less than ladylike gesture. Nice town, he thinks, and really it is, or maybe it could be. Angel turns the car north, towards the reservations, it's a bold move, of course most men would call it more daft than brave. He's heard the rumors ever since he arrived; go too far up the road and you might not be heard from again. Not always such a bad prospect he muses, sometimes it's nice to be unseen.
It takes a couple hours on the road to relax him. Far enough from civilization that every breath doesn't carry some reminder of their presence, no blood, fear, rage. The road is nothing but moonlight and the occasional spine jolting rut. In another hour though, the signs are returning, there's barbed wire lining the roads now, shouldn't be hard to spot a stray heifer. At least that's the plan until he sees the signs telling him he's already reached the reservation. Even those looking at immortality would think twice about going further. These aren't peaceably displaced people. These are a people forced to live with those who had been their enemies for centuries. He thinks of the English living as kings in Galway, and knows it's an unbearable situation. He doesn't want to be in the middle of it, but the hunger spurs him on.
He'll drive another half hour, still plenty of time to get back to town before dawn. He follows a wide curve around a hillside field, it's dark but he thinks he sees a glint of spotted hide not too far from the road. Now or never he decides.
Angel pulls the car to the side, trying to get as far off as possible. There's nowhere to hide it or himself, hopefully it's late enough that no one will be passing by. Jumping the barbed wire is easy, it's the moisture covering the hill that makes climbing difficult. His shoes slip on the long grass and he wishes he'd thought to grab a pair of boots. The cows are asleep when he finally reaches them, he's thankful to find one a few hundred yards off the main herd. With a quick jump up the hill he dives at the animal and tips it on it's side. He can't help but laugh at the rush of it, no different now than when he was a boy and pulled the same trick. Of course the intent then was nothing like now. He pulls a knife from his belt and slices the animal's throat as fast as he can. The beast barely has time to bleat before its blood is spilling over the ground, pooling black in the moonlight.
Forming his hands into a cup Angel lets them fill with blood, pressing the hot liquid to his lips. The taste is foul, thicker than he expects, but the tang is the same as human. His body flutters as his mouth fills again and again, he gulps and moans, stomach roiling as it contracts. By the time the blood has stopped flowing from the cow, Angel is panting, his head spinning as his demon is pacified.
He collapses onto the grass and lies for several minutes as the blood courses through his body. His clothes are damp when he finally has the strength to stand, but he enjoys the feeling. His skin crawls with each sensation and for the first time in weeks he feels alive, yet as if in a dream. His only regret is that he didn't bring along a few jars to capture the blood that trickles from the gaping wound at the animal's throat. Reminding himself that he'd have nowhere to store it he abandons the thought and starts back towards his car.
He's almost made it back down the hill when a flash of light catches his eye. Angel tries to scramble back up the hill towards a small grouping of trees, but before he can turn he is slipping on the dew and sliding down the slope and right into the fence. Twisted wire slices into his sides and arms and he struggles to get up. His hands still slick with blood offer no help as he tries to free himself from the barbed wire. Making a conscious effort to be still and focus on where he's pinned, he almost has it figured out when a shout makes him jolt upright, ripping a new gash into his leg and sending shots of pain throughout his body.
The last thing he sees before the world goes black is the butt of a revolver.
The floor is cold and dark, with only the faintest light coming from somewhere far down the hall. Angel's hands are bound behind him, rope cutting into already torn flesh as he struggles to sit upright. Not so much as a bench dots the cell, and the thin bars could probably be bent without too much effort, at least if he hadn't been beaten unconscious so recently. Rolling over to see if there is anyone watching, Angel is annoyed to find himself alone.
"Hey," he shouts towards the light. "Don't I get my phone call?"
"T'ain't no phone up these parts," a man laughs from an unseen corner.
Angel turns further, desperate to sit up, and see where the man is hiding that he couldn't sense him. The room still feels empty, whoever the stranger is he's good at staying silent until he's ready to be heard.
"Right," Angel says, nodding to himself, "and how many days a week does the judge come up here?"
"No judges either." The voice answers. "Not for the likes of you at least."
"You'll forgive the pun, but you were caught red handed." The man speaks softer now. "They'll be coming for you in an hour or so."
"Them who's áápotskina you killed. The siksiá won't take it light that you wasted it so."
"I didn't mean to." There's no way to explain and he thinks maybe he shouldn't try.
"Not much of a cattle rustler are you?"
"Hard to talk to a man who might just be a voice in my head," Angel says, finally finding the strength to sit up against the stone wall of his cell. "Might just be hallucinating."
"Don't much go for that 'round here," the man laughs again, a little too jolly for their surroundings.
"Aren't too many places that do." Angel still isn't sure where the man is, the only other cell sits across from him, empty. "So, I don't suppose you'd be willing to help me out here, I mean before the lynch mob arrives."
The laughter is hollow and knowing when it hits his ears. "Lynch," the laughter grows louder. "Where d'ya think you are son? This ain't no Macon county."
"Clearly not," Angel agrees, deciding it best to focus on his surroundings and not his taunter.
The man falls mostly silent, the occasional sound of a chair rocking and a soft chuckle echoing over the stone walls, making Angel even more tense. He tries to clear his head of the splitting pain, but the fact that his unwelcome visitor seems to take a sadistic pleasure in his predicament only fuels the throbbing. There are no windows in the cell but Angel can sense the coming dawn, not more than a few hours off. He becomes impatient knowing there is no chance of escape unless his captors show up soon.
There's temptation to thank them when he is finally pulled from the ground. Despite the rough handling and threats of which he only understands half, at least they are taking him outside. The sky isn't as pale as he expects, which works in his favor unless they are planning to torture him til daylight.
"I can pay for the cow, I was just…" The word desperate dies in his throat as one of his jailers cuffs him across the windpipe.
"You'll pay," another laughs before knocking his legs out from under him.
The ground is becoming a familiar playground tonight, and from his low vantagepoint, Angel counts at least ten pairs of feet. Too many to fight his way through bound and battered, so he waits to see what their plan is. In the interim he makes a show of taking in deep breaths, adding a wheeze here and there. Can't hurt to make them believe he's human, he even manages to plead for his life a few times as boots connect with his ribs.
It does him no good. Within moments of being dragged into the backseat of a dirt covered Buick the trees outside the windows are so dense he sees no stars at all. Images begin dancing in his head of a shallow grave. Angel knows the men are thinking the same thing when they pull him from the car and bind him to the nearest tree, hands still at his back, twisting into the jagged sap covered trunk. They form a half circle in front of him, a low chanting coming from their lips, an almost joyful noise, Angel thinks. The thought barely has time to register before three of the men pull ancient looking six shooters from their belts and aim.
The sun beats hot on the forest canopy and Angel knows that much more than a faint breeze and all future generations would find would be a smattering of blood covered rope tied to a Douglas Fir. As pain sears through his shoulders and side Angel can't help but smile; at least it isn't raining.
He isn't sure how he managed to avoid flashing his demon at his would be killers, self-preservation he imagines. "Could use a little of that preservation now," he says to no one in particular. It's hard going looking over his body without actually being able to bend or pivot his head much thanks to the bullets that passed through his neck and shoulders. He can feel at least one bullet in his side, another must have cracked his sternum he thinks as he flexes the muscles in his chest, hoping it will be enough to break the ropes.
"So much for getting any blood," he muses, suddenly unsure if he is trying to comfort himself or the various birds that seem intent on watching his long-awaited death scene.
Even though the sun's rays can't really break through the remnants of cloud cover and thick green boughs the demon within him quakes at his situation. Vampires lost in the forest during day rarely survive til nightfall and when riddled with lead and bound by an excessive amount of rope, it seems even less likely. The pain is such that the temptation to pass out again is at the forefront of every thought. As blood curls down his limbs soaking through his clothes his already weak body begs to sleep. Angel knows that the last bit of preservation can't let him close his eyes again, he flinches as little dots of sky begin to show through the trees. Once the morning is gone the clouds won't be long to follow. The exodus of morn shall be the death of man.
Suddenly an even more frightening thought than death crosses Angel's mind; he is beginning to think in prose, and that is never a good thing. It isn't long before prose becomes a drifting of memory and guilt, he imagines the dead watching and waiting for him to join them once again. Torments for the soul dance through his brain and whisper in tune with the vultures overhead. He thinks they mean to take him, and can even hear the ground snap and crackle as their footsteps become flesh and reach ever closer to his captive body. A hand reaches out for him, black shadows coursing in front of his eyes and blotting out the sun. His body reacts the only way it knows, becoming the demon, fighting against jagged rope and bubbled bark, tearing at his clothes in a mad struggle to be free. The air is filled with screams and a desperate scuffling of feet backing away just as he opens his eyes, heavy lidded behind ridged brow.
The monsters have retreated and left only a woman cowering at his feet. The demon retreats and Angel cannot help but smile as he slips into unconsciousness again, the gods have sent a familiar warrior to watch over him, her foreign shouts keeping the monsters at bay.
When his eyes finally open again there is a moment of panic even worse than awakening tied to a tree, he's surrounded by humans, crying women in various states of undress and finery. Most are sitting in chairs or on the divan, huddling together, trying to keep each other from shaking, but it's not the women in the room that Angel is paying attention to. When a particularly plump red head walks past the bed, in a hurry to answer the never quiet bell downstairs, the air she stirs brings with it a sickly sweet aroma. Someone in this house will die tonight if she isn't already gone. There is so much blood that Angel, still half in a delirium, expects to see a rising tide of crimson burst through the entryway and soak him through. He doesn't have to see her to know it wasn't gun or man that did her in.
The monsters have followed him from the woods to city, and from his vantage point, just inside the window Margaret had bid him such a fond adieu from a day earlier, Angel can tell the natives won't be letting a second death go unanswered.
"All of you, out of here," Margaret shouts, pulling the ladies of the house up from their chairs, patting them on their well padded rears as they shuffle out of the room, a few casting raised eyebrows in Angel's direction. "There's still gents downstairs," she whispers to one of the fully-clothed girls, "Sarah and Eleanor should do 'em fine."
Shutting the door behind her, waiting a second before turning towards the bed, Margaret's shoulders give a little shake. Angel thinks she may be fighting back tears, but then what he knows of this woman, he thinks maybe she's just steeling herself before attacking him.
"My uncle came into town late last night," she says, grabbing a sopping rag from a bowl of pink-tinted water. "He never comes down from his place anymore. Says he doesn't like the folks what come west to escape whatever trouble's chasing them."
Her stare is pointed, the accusation burning into Angel's skin even as she squeezes the rag over one of the numerous bullet holes, sending a cold stream of water over his bare chest.
"Sounds like a smart man," Angel says, shivering at the touch of the rag.
"I take him the things he needs a couple times a week, he keeps an eye on my brothers for me, I get the easier job," she continues.
The touch on his shoulder loses any semblance of gentle as she punctuates her words by jabbing the cloth into a wound. "Family's never easy," Angel manages to stammer out between bursts of pain.
"No I don't suppose it is," she says, grabbing a pair of ancient looking bullet extractors from the nightstand and plunging them into the bullethole without warning. "So, uncle knocks on my door," she says, concentrating on her task, never looking at her charge's face, "says my brothers killed a man."
"Me," Angel says, guessing he knows the rest of the tale.
"Not the first time I've got that knock," she says, weary sigh melding into a grunt as she twists the pliers-like vice until it grips the bullet. "Thing is," she says, dropping the bullet into a porcelain dish, "the man at the other end of the gun doesn't usually keep screaming after he's filled with this much lead."
"Not surprising," Angel agrees, still unsure why she's cleaning up his wounds.
"I know what you are," she states flatly, moving on to the next wound. "And if I didn't before, Lillian sure showed me."
"She'd be the one that keeps making you wrinkle your nose and lick your lips like that."
"I didn't realize…" Suddenly conscious of the wet film covering his lips, Angel can't help but look away. "I'm sorry, I've lost a lot of blood, I'm thirsty."
"Reckon you are, but that's not all your blood is it," she asks, eyes darting to his trousers.
"And if someone else hadn't got to Lil' first that would be hers mixed there, wouldn't it?"
"I don't," her stare tells him there's no point trying to sugarcoat the fact that he's a vampire, "I don't feed on humans."
"Right, I'm not a bloodsucking demon my boyfriend is. You think it's the first time I've heard that line."
"I haven't in…Wait," Angel says, placing a hand on her wrist as she reaches into the bowl for another rag, "my what?"
"The one that killed Lil' last night. Your kind travels in groups right? Never seen a vampire in this town before, been here for near a decade, never once seen one til tonight, and then I see two. I know you aren't going to tell me that it's a coincidence."
"You saw who killed her?"
"Why do you think I came after you? There ain't a one of these boys that can kill a vampire, Na'pi knows they sure tried last night, and look at you. You'll be fine by nightfall."
"I wouldn't go so far as to say that," Angel says, wincing as he releases her arm. "You need to tell me about the vampire you saw last night, I can't fight him if I don't know what I'm looking for."
"You don't know?"
"You saw me come into town alone, hell your brothers probably have my car," Angel says with a sigh. "You know I did or I'm guessing you wouldn't have gone through all the trouble of bringing me back here. Tell me what he looked like."
"It was dark, didn't see much. Smaller than you, hair a little lighter."
"That could be half the guys in town. Was there anything else, did you hear him talk?"
"Wouldn't call it talking," she says, her hands shaking as she wrings the cloth out for the umpteenth time and grabs the extractor, leaning over Angel's chest, eyes darting over the holes, debating which is worse.
"Margaret, the sun will be down in a few hours, and I might only get one chance. I need you to tell me everything you remember."
"Lil' and I were going down to Camden's, just after you left the Widow's place I guess. I went in to see who was in town, and not seeing anyone worth a toss I went right back out the door, and when I come out Lil' was gone. So I went 'round to the store and there he was. He kind of crouched down, looked like he was sitting right on the air, comfortable as Sunday dinner. Poor Lillian just stared at me, her throat was torn so wide open she couldn't breathe, just kind of mouthed at me as he bit into her again and again." Her hands stilled, laying flat on Angel's chest, wild pulse sending vibrations through his body. "He never even looked at me. Just kept on…I couldn't even scream. I've never had a power come over me like that."
"You think he did a spell?" "No, nothing like that. I was so afeared of him, the way he whispered at her as he fed on her, calling her love and pet names you'd expect a man to give his kin. Here he is murdering her square in the middle of Main Street and he's got time to talk to her like that." She stood suddenly, nearly knocking the blood-soaked bowl to the ground as she stepped away from Angel.
"You don't have to be afraid of me, I'm not him."
"You're the same. You may house in town and dress real nice, but you're still a monster. Iffin I didn't need to protect these girls here, you'd be dead soon as I found a way."
"I believe I would, but that's not going to happen today. We're going to find it and stop it from killing anyone else."
"We have a hard enough time with these bastard men killing each other over poker games and keen jobs. We don't need this sort of trouble." Her words catch in her throat. "You know the Siksika don't have a word for vampire?" she says as she sits on the bed and grabs the bullet extractor again, "why couldn't you just stay away?"
Angel closes his eyes, wishing he could block the sadness out with the movement, but knowing the pain was only beginning.
"How far to your uncle's place?" Angel asks, hunting for a pocket that won't allow a hidden stake to press on a wound.
"It's about four miles up the east side of town, but you'll have to go on foot." Looking over the hole-ridden vampire and shaking her head, Margaret reaches into a bureau pulling out a heavier coat with large loose pockets. "Try that."
"Thanks," Angel says, staring disdainfully at the remnants of his overcoat.
"So how do you expect to get this other," she pauses, lowering her voice as she says the word vampire, "to chase you that far?"
"I don't," Angel says, taking an unsure step on his heavily bandaged legs. "I expect him to carry me there."
"You think you can do that?"
"I do, but I'm afraid I have to ask you for one more thing before I go," Angel says, looking at the floor, "and I'm afraid you're not going to want to give it to me."
The streets are quieter than Angel has seen them since arriving. The tavern is full, like most nights, but there's no music coming from within. The few younger men that usually mull around the library steps are gone as well. Angel is sure they have no idea what happened on the reservation, as most of the residents wouldn't care, but he's just as sure they all know something of Lillian's fate. Pulling the collar of the coat up around his ears and his hat down lower than usual, Angel tries to stick to shadows. No need to raise alarm with his limping gait and battered face.
It doesn't take long before the smell he's been searching the night for drifts up the street. Keeping his hands buried in his pockets Angel walks slowly towards the alley a few paces from the butcher's. The air is dense with death, he's almost surprised to find a man's blood mixed with the overwhelming smell of cattle. He's expecting it to be another one of the town's women in the demon's grasp, but that isn't the biggest surprise his senses give him. There's something more in the air. A scent that nearly sends him running for his room filled with charred paper and used charcoals. The need to check the pages, to make sure the images haven't simply evaporated into the air and become whole, because here in front of him, is yet another sin come to life.
It's too late to turn back, the demon has caught Angel's scent as the cold night air swirls between them. Angel pulls his hands from his pockets, gasping as blood drips from his fingertips, scenting the air ever more. Sliding a coated finger between his lips before he turns the corner, painting his teeth and tongue crimson, Angel feels the change come, just as a pair of golden eyes lock with his own.
"That smells familiar," the demon says as the dead man falls to the dirt road beneath.
"Rumor has it a pair of sisters will be buried tomorrow," Angel says, still walking towards the alley and out of sight of those that might come out of the tavern.
"Well now, that's a bit of a shame isn't it. Nice place like this suffering such a bleedin' tragedy." The words are wary, like part of a conversation picked up after a long pause. "Wouldn't you say so, Angelus."
"Yes, it is," Angel continues, now face to face with Spike and the past he had tried so hard to run from. "He's an awfully big meal for one," he says, nodding towards the body at Spike's feet and then looking around the alley, "Drusilla here with you?"
"Nah, left her just north of LA, some new town that Batface is in love with, got your whole gang out there. Figured we could ride back together once I found you."
"You were looking for me?" Angel isn't sure if he should believe Spike, but Margaret's words ring in his ears; two vampires in one town can't be coincidence.
"Why else would I come here? You think I like having this grit between my teeth," spitting for emphasis, Spike lets his human features reemerge, prompting Angel to do the same. "Lost you in Chicago. Thought we might catch up with you in Mexico, but then Darla got called off."
"And nothin', weren't me looking for you it was her, so me and Dru spent a couple years inspecting the ruins. I mean those Aztecs really knew how to kill somebody. Ingenious, those temples where the blood runs down the stairs." Suddenly looking distracted, Spike pulls a pack of cigarettes from his coat and offers one to Angel as he slides one between his lips and struggles with a match.
Taking the cigarette and cupping his hands over the flame to light the tip, Angel struggles to remember why he's here. To Spike thirty years seems like a blink, like he's been expecting Angel to join them any minute. For Angel it's the moment he's been dreading for decades, and yet here they are as though they'd never parted. Sharing a smoke over dinner, chatting away the night.
It's only when a scuffling of feet on the boardwalk catches his attention that he nudges Spike into helping pull the dead man's body further into the shadows before heading towards the forest that never seems but a stone's throw from the street.
"Where we going," Spike asks, cocking his head to the side when he notices Angel's limp.
"Home, unless you're in the mood for a fight," Angel says, falsely bracing himself into a boxer's stance despite the river of fire it sends through his chest. "They'll be looking for us tonight."
"Home it is then," Spike says, following Angel at an arm's length.
"You gonna make it?" Spike asks, half-pushing Angel up the slope of the hill.
"Just a little further," Angel says, brushing Spike's hands from his hip, "See, right over there."
"'Bout time. Thought you said it was a cabin," Spike says, peering at the red roof peering out between moonlit trees. "That looks more like a palace for Montana."
"So it's a big cabin," Angel says, also impressed with the size of what he was expecting to be more longhouse than brickhouse. "At least it's not in the middle of town."
"Like where the food is," Spike says, more than a hint of annoyance in his voice.
"I think you've caused enough of a stir for one night," Angel says, "last thing I need is a mob hunting us."
"You mean another mob?" Spike says, putting his hand back on Angel's hip and squeezing at the thick bandaging as they reach the house.
"Well, yeah," Angel says glaring at Spike until he releases his grip. "Funny how I can spend two years in Montana without a fight, you're here a few days and I end up getting shot."
"What's a bullet or two…"
"You're not my friend, Spike," Angel says, opening the door quietly. With a quick glance inside, assuring Margaret had time to warn her uncle that he might be safer in town, Angel ushers Spike out of the cold. Only after the door clasps behind and he sees the roaring fire in the hearth does it occur to Angel that there was no barrier.
"Now that hurts," Spike says, pouting as he inspects the room and talks mostly to himself. "I've always been a good mate…"
"The man in the alley," Angel asks, wishing he had the power to shut up, "was he native?"
"How the bloody hell should I know? Not like they come with signs. He was heading for the whorehouse, looked filthy, figured no one would miss him. Much," Spike grins.
"No, nobody I guess," Angel says, falling into a chair and tossing his hat to the floor before running his hands through his hair.
"Nothing, forget it."
"So what now?" Spike asks, stripping his coat off and pacing in front of the fire.
"We'll wait til tomorrow night and then you'll go."
"What d'ya mean, I'll go," Spike asks, no longer interested in the room, "mean you're not coming with me?"
"Just tell Darla you couldn't find me."
"After all this?" His voice incredulous, Spike's arms flail, pointing to the sun beginning to shine through the windows and then to the bruises covering the side of Angel's cheek.
"What will it take for you to just leave?" Angel asks, unable to stop an exhausted sigh from escaping his lips.
"Same thing it always takes," Spike says, a flash of teeth still tinted red, "bribe me."
"I don't have anything to give you, nothing you need at least," Angel says, standing up and rummaging through a few drawers until he finds a rag.
"Don't really believe that do you?"
Angel wants to run, but there's nowhere left to go, anywhere outside these four walls and they would be dust. He supposes it's a fitting end to their game, they've crossed continents half a dozen times, never sure if it's the find or the loss that they seek. Angel marvels at their unlikely finishing point, a dust-covered cabin in the hills of Montana.
"Spike," Angel says, a warning to keep his distance when Spike's stance turns predatory and his lids go half-mast.
"Do you have any idea how hard it was to find you? What I went through?"
"You killed three people, how hard is that?"
"That was just here. We've been following you for, shit, forever, and now you want to play mountain man? Tell me that's not it," Spike's eyes darted frantically around the room, trying to see if he was missing something. "There's something valuable here, book of spells, girl, boy? It can't just be the big useless forest!" he mutters before collapsing into the chair Angel had abandoned. "After all this, but I came for you…"
"And once again I have to clean up your mess! Literally!" Angel says, wiping the dried blood that remains on his hands and holding it up as evidence before throwing the bloodied rag into the fire. "I've been done cleaning up after you for years."
"I was made to pick up the pieces," Spike sneers, "or have you white-washed that too."
"You were made to alleviate boredom," Angel says in kind.
"Some things never change then."
The look on Spike's face is less rage and hunger than Angel expects, almost needy, like he's waiting for Angel to argue, but there's nothing left to say. All that remains is a sun too bright for escape and blood tinged smoke billowing from the fire.
"You're leaving as soon as the sun sets," Angel says, pulling Spike from the chair, unable to take his muttering any longer.
"I am," Spike answers, more question than statement.
"You'll tell Darla I'm on my way, had loose ends to tie up."
"I will," Spike answers again, the same tone in his voice.
"And when I'm ready, I'll be there."
"You promise," Spike answers once last time, eyes wet with anticipation.
"I promise," Angel answers with a kiss.
He can't remember the last time he held another man, or woman for that matter. As the kiss deepens and Spike's hands begin pulling at clothing still damp from the dew settling in, he decides it isn't important. No one could be expected to bear all he's done and not need this release. After all, this isn't just his depression anymore.
Angel wants to devour Spike, to bury all the hunger pangs and regret under his kiss. He tries to focus on the begging words that meet his ears each time his hands disconnect with Spike's skin. Every little loss of contact feels like a decade of wandering alone, looking for the very trio that was hunting for him. He wonders how many times they had crossed paths unaware, or maybe he was aware and just couldn't stop moving long enough to see them standing behind him. He knows now that Spike has found him he'll never be able to avoid them again. If Darla is here she won't let him rest, and rightly so, he thinks.
Pressing his back against the wall for support, kiss raging on, Angel pushes the thought away. Let her try to find him, let Spike go back and spin the lies he tells so well. Let the soul be his torture and theirs. For now he just wants Spike's moans to block out the voices and the guilt, even for a little while. He'll be safe as long as the sun shines and Spike stays on his knees.
The fire is scalding against naked skin, the windows finding rapid cover under steam and soot, sending thin streams of diffused light over the animal skin rugs that line the cabin floor. Angel grasps at the body beside him, rolling Spike over until he acts like a shield from the heat of the flames. His mind races, trying to decide where he slipped up, just when he moved far enough into the world to be found again. He wants to curse the mistake, but as Spike begins suckling at his neck, tracing fingers over the torn flesh of his chest and abdomen before curling around his cock, Angel simply can't find a reason to be sorry.
He leans up, meeting Spike's lips again, pushing back the desire to bite, knowing that if he tastes Spike's blood it will be too much, a door to memories he dares not revisit. This is so unlike the notebooks he's thrown into the fire. When Spike walks out the door this time, the image will remain, no throwing this picture to the flames unless Angel goes with it. Angel's mind is filled with Spike; his pale skin, artificial heat racing over his body, straddling above, lowering himself to run circles over Angel's nipples, guiding Angel's cock to a long-forgotten home, until he nearly weeps at the connection.
He's sorry for the deception and wonders how much of Spike's bravado is real and how much feigned. It may have been the girls sending him here, but it's not Darla begging for him now. This is all Spike, and Angel almost feels sorry for him, sorry he'll leave thinking it isn't forever. Angel lifts his hips and thrusts harder, pulling Spike into another kiss before forcing him to the rug beneath, driving harder within. This is the goodbye he wished he'd been strong enough to give all those years ago, one laced with the faintest bit of hope. As Spike reaches his climax his lips curl, urging Angel to do the same. Angel rolls them once again, sitting Spike on top, watching as he glides up and down his cock so effortlessly.
Angel is mesmerized by the look in Spike's eyes. He doesn't dare ask what really brought Spike here, whether it was good old-fashioned tracking or a vision from Dru that sent him to the forest. Angel guesses he will never know, but as he watches Spike now, almost gleeful smile on his lips as he leans in for yet another kiss, pressing himself so close to Angel's chest they may as well be one, he's glad to be found. He's glad to have his name whispered into the mid day air. Knowing that when the voices of the dead return and he is forced to rejoin the living breathing cityscape, he'll always look back on his time in Montana with a smile of his own, even though he was a little depressed there.
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