She stalks into her crypt, her body vibrating with barely-contained fury. The Slayer owes The Initiative a debt of gratitude. Their little piece of technology is all that stands between her and a very messy death.
Sometimes she thinks she can hear the electric sparks and snaps of the chip as it warms to its task. Images of bloody slaughter flood her mind and she closes her eyes, as much to enjoy the rising tide of violence as to brace for the oncoming pain. She can't will it away. All she can do is ride it out - or stop planning the Slayer's brutal, ugly death.
She doesn't enjoy either of those options.
Something moves. She feels the movement, a whisper of air across her skin, and it freezes her in place. The Slayer's pathetic soldier left, but that doesn't mean she's safe from other men. Other humans.
"Who's there?" she calls, her words dripping with what she hopes is a dangerous amount of irritation.
"An old friend." The voice is cocksure, familiar. "Come to pay my…well, let's not kid. I've never had any respect, have I?"
He's right. He's never had any respect. Not for her, not for the order, and it barely matters that he is blood of her blood. She doesn't respect him either. But beyond that bond of blood, Spike reeks of Angelus and carried with that scent is fire and ash – a sure promise of pain that invests Spike with an authority that extends far beyond his own obvious power.
He's strong and she knows she's weak. She's living on scraps and Spike – well, he obviously isn't. So when he speaks, she has no choice but to listen.
She's tired of his story even before he's finished telling it. But he keeps talking, a litany of self-aggrandizement that she knows she can't take seriously and can't ignore. Spike likes to plant the seeds of truth deep. Somewhere in there, Darla knows she'll find the real story.
"So," she begins carefully, "you've reunited with Angelus? Thanks to this…law firm?"
"Yeah," Spike replies. "You know how he can't resist Dru's little lost girl bit."
"Mm-hmm," Darla murmurs, noncommittally. She knows that Angelus' weakness for Drusilla goes well beyond paternal sympathy. She also knows Spike won't enjoy hearing about that. "And so he's feeling a bit nostalgic? Wants to get back together and then what?"
"Be a family again." Spike turns to meet her gaze, his eyes narrow, calculating. "Wants his whirlwind back, or so he says."
She doesn't meet his gaze.
"Not interested," she tells him. "His soul's taken flight – so what? His Slayer will have the little witch cram it back down his throat soon enough and I'd rather not waste time traveling to L.A. just to fight for my life. I can do that here."
Spike laughs, a long low chuckle. "Bollocks. L.A.'s not the other side of the bloody universe, Darla. Word travels." He cocks his head, staring at her coldly. "Someone's been collared. "
"You know?" Her voice is quiet because she knows if she speaks too loudly, she'll lose the last shreds of her control. She can't risk losing a battle with Spike.
He knows. Everyone knows. She's a laughing stock. She was feared on three continents – the Master's beloved, Angelus' maker. Now she's dependent on the whims of a Slayer for her survival.
"Dru told us, actually. She said – " Spike pauses, lost in thought. "She said soldiers put funny little knick-knacks in your brain." He shrugs. "Anyways, Angelus figures he can snap enough necks at this Wolfram & Hart to get you fixed up proper. "
Fixed. That one word echoes in her ears later that night as she watches him stalk away, headed back towards Angelus and L.A. She's bloody from their battle and she knows that saving Tara will cost her more than that, eventually.
"He said they'd fix me," she tells Tara softly. "I think maybe it's too late for that."
When Tara's hand slides into hers, Darla doesn't shake it away.