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Live Like You Were Dying

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Title: Live Like You Were Dying
Fandom: Angel
Characters: Lindsey McDonald, Darla, Lilah Morgan
Word Count: 6,327
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Major Character Death
A/N: AU after Dear Boy
Summary: When Lindsey discovers Darla is dying, they have to make a decision on what to do.

I could hear her coming down the hall and rubbed my hand over my face. It had been a very long day in court, and I was not in the mood to exchange verbal blows with Lilah right now. She came into my office with that ‘I know something you don’t know’ smile on her face. That was never a good thing. I sat up straighter in my chair and set the papers I was holding on my desk. “What do you want, Lilah?”

“Now is that any way to be treating someone who has information for you?” She did a little mock pout at me and I snorted. The pout turned into a frown as she came across the room and then had the nerve to sit on the edge of my desk. What an arrogant bitch. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper. “Found this while I was researching last night. I thought you might be interested.”

I knew what her kind of research was. She was damn good at it too. Lilah could dig just about anything up on anyone who worked at the firm, no matter how far down it was buried. If upper management even knew about half of it, I was willing to bet that she would have an ‘accident’. The only reason I knew about it was because I’d hacked her computer. She shouldn’t have used her mother’s name as a password. It made it too easy.

Started to reach for it, and she pulled back. “What do I get for it?” I rolled my eyes and Lilah started to get off the desk, as if she was going to leave the room.

“What would you like for it?” We’d played this game before. It used to be more fun when the two of us were a lot closer. We both knew how to get under one another’s skin now, what really would hurt the most.

“Holland put you in charge of the Martin case. I want it.” Wait a second here. That was a very high profile thing. Whoever was in charge would get one hell of a bonus if they managed to have Mr. Martin found not guilty.

That piece of paper must have something important on it. I raised an eyebrow at her. “You tell me what this is about, and I’ll think about trading.”

A smile crossed her lips. Lilah knew I was hooked, all she had to do was reel my ass in. “Has to do with that blonde whore you’ve been helping to take care of.”

My reaction surprised both of us. I lunged across the desk, wrapping my hand around her wrist and squeezed until she gasped. “Her name is Darla. She’s not a whore, and as long as you are in my damn office, you won’t call her that. Do you understand me?” Lilah had a look on her face that was a cross between anger and fear. When she didn’t answer, I squeezed a bit harder, and this time she nodded.

I let go and Lilah rubbed her fingers over her wrist. I could already see a mark forming. “Here.” She pushed the paper across my desk and actually backed up a little. Now I didn’t want to know what was on it at all. If it was going to piss me off, she should probably get the fuck out of my office before I repeated my action, only this time it would be on her throat.

Opened the paper and read it three times, trying to make my brain wrap around it. “The Martin case is yours, see Greg about getting it put into your name.” Read it again and then looked at her. “You’re sure this is real?” I already knew it was, but I didn’t want to believe it.

“I double-checked a few sources, it’s very real. Sorry.” Sorry my ass. Lilah and Darla had never gotten along, they had similar personalities. Both were used to being alpha females, and when you put two of that type in a room together, that’s just asking for trouble.

She started to leave and turned back before going out the door. “Lindsey, I know you. Don’t do anything you’re going to regret, okay?” I gave her a very small smile. She shook her head and left.

I needed to confirm what I’d just read. When I was sure, things needed to be done. But judging by the information in the note, it was going to be too late to help Darla. Pulled my cell phone from my briefcase and dialed a number. “Doctor Logan? Lindsey McDonald. No, I’m fine. I was wondering if you could do a favor for me. Money is no option. Need you to make a house call and run a blood test on a friend of mine. I’d like you to do it tonight, if possible. It’s very important. Yes, that will work. How does an hour sound? Good, I’ll see you then.”

Hanging up, I slumped back in my chair. This was very bad. She’d been through enough already, Darla did not need something like this heaped on top of everything else. It just wasn’t very fair. She was very close to having a total breakdown. Hard enough dealing with being alive after all these years, but add in that soul that was slowly eating away at her, and it was enough to make anyone crazy.

I quickly finished the rest of my work and packed my things up. Darla was at my place. She’d been staying with me since I’d managed to convince Holland that it would be a good idea. Not only did she trust me, but felt safer with me than any of the other Wolfram and Hart staff. I needed to get there before the doctor did. Why did everything have to be so damn complicated? Couldn’t people just be allowed to live their lives without having to worry about shit like this?

I arrived at my apartment and Darla was sitting on the couch. It made me wonder for a moment if she had been waiting for me. “Darla, there’s a man coming here to do a test. He’s a doctor and a friend of mine. I trust him.”

She looked puzzled and wrapped her arms around herself. Darla didn’t have the usual lost look yet, but if she started to get worried, it would soon appear. “What’s wrong, Lindsey? Should I be worried?”

I sat down on the couch next to her. “Someone I work with came across this.” I handed her the note and watched as she read it. “We need to be sure so I can start trying to figure out what the options are. If that’s true, then we might have to leave L.A.. It won’t be safe here for you or for me if I go through with what I have in mind.”

Darla swallowed a couple of times. “Why would they let this happen?” I wasn’t sure which ‘they’ she meant. The Powers didn’t seem to give a shit about much, and in my mind they could be just as bad as the Senior Partners. She could also mean the firm, and they would let it happen because it would work to their advantage.

“They want to use you to get at Angel. If this is real, think about what they would want him to do.” I didn’t think he would do it though; he was too noble for that. He would rather let her pass on then take her soul away again.

She closed her eyes and leaned over, resting her head on my shoulder. “My dear boy wouldn’t do anything like that. You and I both know it. Which doesn’t leave me with very many choices, does it?”

“We’ll wait until we know what the doctor finds out, and then we can find out what the options are. Maybe there’s a treatment or a cure. It does explain how you’ve been feeling recently.” I reached out and let my finger run along her cheek.

“I was dying before, Lindsey. The Master spared me from that death by giving me a whole new life. I can remember the pain though. How it was eating away at my very bones. It’s not that bad yet. But it will be soon. What happens to me if I’m not useful to your firm any more?”

I knew exactly what would happen, I’d seen it before. “They’ll terminate the project.”

She laughed and it was bitter. “They brought me back just so I could suffer and die. What a wonderful group of people you work for!” I was going to say something about the Partners being demons, but held my tongue.

“You’re a means to an end for them. I don’t feel the same way they do. I’d risk anything to keep you safe.” It would not only mean the end of my career, but I’d never be safe again. There were things in place from the last time I’d almost walked away. I had made sure that if I ever needed to run, I could keep myself hidden.

Darla sat up and looked at me. Sometimes I thought she could see right to my core. “You really mean that.” It wasn’t a question, more of an amazed statement.

I was going to say something, but there was a knock at the door. Getting up, I walked over and looked through the peephole before letting him in. “Darla, this is Doctor Logan.” She stood up, looking at him warily before joining me. Without a word, Darla shoved the piece of paper into his hand. He read it and frowned.

He rooted around in his bag before finding what he needed. “I can do the test here. It shouldn’t take too long.” Turning to Darla, he gave her a very small smile. “I just need some of your blood. It shouldn’t hurt too much.” I saw the size of the needle he hand and couldn’t help the shudder that ran through me. Never did like needles.

We all walked over to the kitchen, where the table was large enough to hold his equipment and we would be able to sit down comfortably. Darla held onto my hand, squeezing it a bit tighter as the needle sank into her flesh. “After I get the result, we can discuss options. But, if it has progressed as far as this note says...” I didn’t like how that sounded.

He pulled away and put a bandage on Darla’s arm. “This will take a few minutes, it might be better if you leave the room while I work.” I nodded and we went back to the living room. Started to sit down on the couch, but she began to pace the floor. I moved over to where she was, debating on wrapping my arms around her slim body.

“It’s going to be bad, Lindsey. When I lay dying, they had gone so far as to give me the last rites. I don’t think I can go through that again, being all alone and in pain.” She stopped moving and I did end up wrapping my arms around her. Darla’s heart was pounding too hard in her chest. I’d seen her afraid before, but this was new. It was terror.

“I will promise you that if it comes down to that, you will not be alone. I’ve taken care of people before, I can do it again. My mother… it took a very long time and she didn’t want to be in one of those places.”

Darla pulled back a little and cupped my face with her hand. “You never cease to amaze me.” She opened her mouth, but before she could speak, the doctor came back into the room.

“I have the results.” He looked at us and sighed. “I think it would better if both of you sat down.”

“I’d rather stand.” I noticed Darla’s hands were shaking a little. The doctor nodded and looked at the floor for a moment. When they won’t look at you, it’s more than bad news.

“You have a strain of syphilis I haven’t seen before. It’s more primitive, but just as deadly if untreated.” They wouldn’t have had anything that could stop something like that in its tracks, not four hundred years ago. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it seems that the information you were given is correct. Had you come to me a few months ago, we might have been able to prevent it from getting worse, but at this stage...”

I moved a little closer to him, trying to ignore the sound of my blood pounding in my temples. “Is there anything we can do? Some kind of treatment we can use? Maybe there’s a new kind of drug that can counter this?”

“I’ll send someone over with a few things that should help to dull the pain. At the most, and I’m very sorry to tell you this, she only has a few months left to live.” Darla made a sound in her throat, but I kept my eyes on the doctor’s face. “When it gets this far along, it tends to settle in the heart and other internal organs. The damage can be quiet severe.”

I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to force myself to relax. “Thank you for coming. Can you have everything here by tomorrow morning? Any later than that and we might not be here. I’ll need as much as you can give. Again, the cost doesn’t matter.”

He went back to the kitchen and picked up his things before giving me a very grim smile and heading out the door. Darla started to fall, and I managed to get her over to the couch. “That’s it then. We don’t have any options.” She looked at me and I could see tears starting to form. That frightened me. She’d only cried a few times since being brought back, and those times had been when she was less than sane.

“We do have a couple of choices. If you want to return to who you were, I can make arrangements. The firm has been tracking Drusilla, and they were thinking about bringing her to LA. You won’t be alive, but you certainly won’t be dead.” She also wouldn’t be the same person who was sitting next to me right now.

“We could go see Angel, but I doubt very much that he’ll help with this. Even if he knows that you don’t have too much time left, he’d rather let you go with your soul in place.” He would rather let her suffer and die than give her a gift of eternal life. “Or...” She turned to look at me.

I rubbed my temple which had started to throb again. “I have a place in Montana. Got it the last time I was going to quit the firm. It’s more of a safe house. People inside of it can not be located by magic or powerful demons, like the Senior Partners. It’s fully warded and a rather nice place to live. If you don’t want to be turned again, and that choice is yours alone to make, I can take you there. If we run, they’ll chase us. Angel probably will too. I won’t promise that I’ll be able to keep you totally safe, but if they come I will fight until I don’t have any breath left in my body.”

She stared at me for a moment before sighing. “I need to think about this. Now that you know I’m sick, are you going to start sleeping on the couch like before?”

“Darlin’, you being sick doesn’t change a thing. We have to be doing something in order for me to catch it. As long as I’m just there with you, it won’t hurt.” I was just a body to cling to. Not that I minded, I liked having her arms around my frame, or the other way around. It didn’t matter. She would never see me the same way she saw Angel, but I was okay with that. As long as I could be there when she needed me, that’s what really counted.

Darla started to walk towards my bedroom and I followed, slowly starting to undo some of my clothing. “I just don’t think I can be alone tonight, Lindsey.”

“I understand.” I couldn’t tell her it would all be okay, because at the moment the future was totally uncertain. Whatever choice she made, I would work with her to make sure it happened. If she wanted to be a vampire again, so be it. If she wanted to get out of LA, I could do that too.

By the time I got to the doorway of my bedroom, I had taken off my jacket and tie, and I set them on the dresser. Kicked off my shoes and pulled off my socks. By now I was used to only having a single hand to do everything. I might even be better with my left now that I was with my right. It had taken a lot of practice, effort, and quite a lot of determination.

Pulling off my shirt, I tossed it into the hamper as I passed. That just left my pants and boxers. “I’m going to jump into the shower for a moment, and then I’ll be ready for bed. You know how I feel when I come home from that place.” Working at the firm made my skin seem to crawl lately. I usually felt dirty, tainted, and evil. Darla didn’t say anything and started to change into pajamas.

By the time I got out of the shower and put on some of my sleeping clothes, she had already tucked herself into the bed, but I could tell she wasn’t sleeping. I crawled under the covers and slowly pressed my chest against her back while wrapping my arms around her body. “You want to talk about it?”

“Not really. Can you just hold onto me while I sleep? I’ll let you know in the morning if I’ve come to a decision. This isn’t exactly a simple thing to decide on.” I knew that, and I wasn’t going to push.

“I’ll be right here if you need me.” I rested my chin on her shoulder, breathing in her scent. Sometimes she smelled like those apple candies my mother used to bring home from the corner store when we had a few extra dollars to spend. Her body slowly started to relax, and in a few minutes, she’d drifted off. It took me a while longer before I could follow suit.

When I woke up the next morning, Darla wasn’t in the bed. When I pulled some clothing on, I looked for her in the apartment, but she was gone. That worried me, especially after the news she’d received last night. I could call the office and see if someone had tailed her, but maybe she just wanted to be alone and think for a while.

Made myself breakfast and sat back in the chair. If I knew I was going to die soon, would I want to be turned? Become someone I wasn’t for hundreds of years? No soul, not caring about right or wrong, and doing whatever I wanted during the dark of night. It did have a few perk, I’ll admit that. But overall, I wasn’t sure if that’s what I’d want. I liked the daylight and how the world was when the sun was out. Enjoyed the way it felt on my face on a summer’s day. To never be able to do that again, it would hurt inside.

The door opened and I turned to see Darla come in. She’d been crying and her shirt was torn. I quickly got up and went to her. “What happened? Who did this to you?” I would go and hunt them down, make them pay for it.

“Angelus, Angel, he didn’t believe me. He said it was just another trick from your firm to get at him.” A growl escaped me before I could keep it inside. Darla pressed herself against me, wrapping an arm around my neck and sobbed. I held onto her until her frail body stopped shaking, rubbing my hand in slow circles on her back.

“It’ll be okay. He shouldn’t have done that. Angel doesn’t know you any more; he’s only remembering who you used to be.” Bastard vampire, how dare he scare her like this! “Did you ask him to do it? Is that why it got ugly?”

A shudder ran through her and I rested my forehead against hers. “If his friends wouldn’t have been there to pull him off, I don’t think I would have made it back.” He’d been pushed very close to the edge, and Angelus wasn’t just lurking in the depths any more, he was starting to make himself known. Holland would be pleased. They wanted him dark, but deep down I knew they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Darla had told me stories that made those horror movies look tame.

When she’d finally begun to calm down, we sat on the couch. I wiped at the streaks left by her tears. “Do you want me to see about having Drusilla brought in?” If she’d gone to him, then maybe she wanted to shed this mortal coil, live forever. I didn’t trust a random vampire to do it, but family was something else.

“No, don’t do that. I did a lot of thinking on the way back here. It felt good to walk in the sun. Hundreds of years of nothing but darkness, and now I can experience the day. Nothing is what it was. My senses are duller, but I like it. You said something about Montana. Are you still up for something like that?” She gave me a very small smile.

I matched it with one of my own. “If you’re absolutely sure, we can leave in an hour. It’ll take a couple of days in my truck, and we might be followed, but once we get there, they can’t hurt us. He would need permission and the wards would keep the firm away.”

Darla bit her lip and then nodded. “Let’s go for it. I’d like a chance to live before I die. I wouldn’t be a project for a law firm or an obsession of an old lover. I could be me.” The way she said that made my stomach tingle. This was the first time she had thought of herself this way, at least around me.

There was a knock at the door, and I walked over to it slowly, picking up the bat that I kept against the wall in case of problems. Looked through the peep hole and set it down again. “It’s the doctor’s assistant.” I opened the door and let him in. He handed me a note which I quickly read. “Tell him thanks and that I owe him one.” Not that he would ever have a chance to call it in.

I went to my room and pulled out a small box from under the bed, quickly counting out the money. When I came back, Darla had read the note and there was a real smile on her face. I paid the assistant and he left. “Your friend is a good man, Lindsey.” She clutched the bag to her chest before taking it to the kitchen.

“Pack any clothing you want in one of the suitcases in my closet. We can always buy more. I don’t trust banks; most of my money is hidden here.” Never trusted banks, not after what had happened to my childhood home. “I’ll start grabbing things and setting them by the door. Anything you want or need, get it now, we won’t be coming back.” Probably would never be in LA again.

We got to work, throwing various things into boxes and bags. The place in Montana was fixed up with the bare essentials at the moment. I left all my suits and expensive clothing. They wouldn’t do me any good out there. I did take my guitar, even if I could never play it again. Maybe I could learn how to play one-handed. We even ended up with an entire suitcase packed with cash. Darla had raised an eyebrow and I made some comment about how evil pays very well.

Five or six trips later, my truck was packed. I grabbed a cooler and stuffed it full of snacks for the two of us. I didn’t want to stop driving until we were very far from this city. If they came for us, they would try and catch us in the dark. I wasn’t even sure if she could drive a car, but I think she could figure it out. Took one more look around my apartment.

“I’ll drive until I get tired, and then we can switch. You rest if you need to, okay?” She nodded, but her eyes had a sparkle that I hadn’t seen before. It would be an adventure. We were out to tell the entire world to fuck off and leave us the hell alone so we could live our lives the way we felt. Stepped on the gas and hit the highway, quickly leaving LA behind.

I felt as if a big weight had been lifted from both our shoulders the further we got from LA. Darla was actually smiling now, and I couldn’t help but do the same. I knew that the firm would probably send someone after us, they hate having loose ends, but I would see to any problems that might pop up. Might only have one hand, but I was still very good with a knife or a sword. I’d been practicing my ass off since I never knew when something like that could come in handy. Plus there was a shotgun behind the seat of the truck.

As we drove, Darla started to tell me about things that she’d done in the past. Not the morbid tales of bloodlust and murder, but the fun things they had done. She and Angelus had gone to one of those World’s Fairs. I laughed when she told me about how Spike had carried Drusilla up to the top of the Eiffel Tower in the dead of night just so she could see the stars up close. I wondered what it would be like to live so long, see so much. She was telling me about things I could only read in books now. Some events were so old they weren’t even mentioned any longer.

When we stopped at a diner, it was my turn to talk. Over apple pie and ice cream, I told her about how I’d grown up. It had been a very hard life, losing two siblings when I was so young, helping to take care of the rest of them while my mother worked two jobs to try and keep us in food and clothes. My father had been useless once the plant was closed down. After he was laid off, we lost the house, and then things went from bad to worse for a while. You might think that there’s nothing worse than being dirt poor, but we found out there was.

“They don’t know what I did for a living. How was I supposed to tell my siblings that the monsters from the movies were real, and I worked for them? They would never understand. I sent money as often as I could. Evil pays very well, and I didn’t need to spend it all on myself. Put two of them through college and helped my sister get her restaurant outside of Vegas.”

I finished my food and sat back. “Tried to tell Angel about myself once, but he didn’t care. That was even before he chopped off my hand.” I ran my fingers over the fake one without even thinking about it. Darla reached out and wrapped her hand around mine, giving me a small smile.

“You’re a good man, Lindsey. Don’t ever think otherwise. What you’re doing for me, what you’ve done for others in the past, it helps to show that he was wrong about you. Come on, let’s hit the road. There was a sign for one of those scenic overlooks, and it should be breathtaking as the sun sets.”

What Darla said made me feel very good inside. Someone actually cared about me, and she listened to what I had to say. I tossed the money for the bill on the table and followed her out the front door.

Only took a few minutes to get to the spot that had been listed on the sign. I parked the truck as close to the edge as we could get then the two of us go out and leaned against the door. We’d reached the point where city lights didn’t interfere with the natural surroundings, and it was a gorgeous sight to behold. The colors blended together in a perfect harmony of orange, pink, and a little purple. I leaned over and whispered about how it looked like rainbow sherbet and she giggled.

Then the stars started to come out. Being out in an open space like this, looking up at the stars, it reminds you of what a tiny little part you play in the whole scheme of things. Millions of stars, some we couldn’t even see, lit the heavens. I pointed out a few constellations that I could remember, and then made some up. “That one over there is Bob the goat-boy.” She snorted, wrapping her arm around my waist. “His mother always told him that his father had been a horny old goat, and judging by how he looked, that had to be true.”

By now I was chuckling too, and when our eyes met, we both burst into laughter. It felt good to laugh. Happiness had been in short supply back in LA. But out here, we could be ourselves, let any masks fall away. “Okay goat-boy; let’s find a hotel for the night. We’ve still got a long way to go until we reach Montana.”

We drove for a bit longer, and by the time I’d found a motel that didn’t look like the one from Psycho, Darla had fallen asleep. I snuck out of the truck quietly, arranging the room. When I came back, I opened the passenger side of the truck and carried her inside of the motel. She opened her eyes and looked at me. “You know, I could have walked.”

“I know, I just didn’t want to wake you. You looked very peaceful.” I set her down on the bed gently and kicked off my boots. “Did you want anything from the truck, or can I call it a night?”

Darla took off her shoes and stripped down to her underwear. “You should get our bags, and then we can change before heading out tomorrow.” She pulled back the covers on the bed and snuggled up against the pillows. I gave her a grin and did what she asked.

Coming back in, I pulled off my clothes until all I had left were my boxers and crawled into the bed with her. Wrapped myself around her body and sighed. “I haven’t had this much fun in years.” I set my chin on her shoulder and her hand came up and touched my face.

“Thank you Lindsey, for everything you’ve done. I think I would have lost myself somewhere along the way if you hadn’t been there, came very close a few times. It was very hard adjusting to being in the world again. But you being there helped.”

Leaning in, I kissed her cheek softly. “I’ll always be here for you, darlin’.” Heard her murmur something, but it was too quiet for me to hear. Closing my eyes, I let sleep slowly overtake me.

I don’t know what she was expecting when we reached my place in Montana, but her eyes got huge as I drove up the dirt road. “All this is yours?” Chuckling, I parked the truck in front of the house.

“Told you, evil pays very well. I was Wolfram and Hart’s golden boy which earned me a lot of bonuses. House isn’t in my real name of course, since they could trace it, but it is mine. Now it’s yours too.” I led her around to the back of the house and started to point things out. “There’s twenty acres, and it includes the lake behind the house plus part of the woods. There’s a barn so I figured I could have a couple of horses.”

It looked even better than what I’d hoped for. I’d made the arrangements, instructed on how the house should be built, had it warded to the rafters, but had only see it in pictures until now. It was perfect. “There are wards built into the walls for protection from demons and anything else that might want to do us harm. Even the fence line is rigged up. Something nonhuman tries to come in, they are going to get a zap they won’t soon forget. It can be disabled by a couple words, but I think I’ll leave it up for now.”

She turned to me with a huge smile. “This is just wonderful, Lindsey. Let’s go get our things and check the inside of the house out.” Darla gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and hurried back to the truck. I stood there for a moment, rubbing my fingers over the place her lips had touched.

...

Darla lasted a lot longer than either of us thought she was going to. I think it was because she’d finally had a chance to be herself and just enjoy what the world had to offer. We’d go horseback riding, swim in the lake, wander the woods, or sit below the big apple tree in the back and just talk. We talked so much, you would think we’d run out of things to say, but we never did.

But she got sick, and it slowly grew worse. I’d set up a bed for her in front of the big windows that opened out to the back yard so she could still see it if she wasn’t feeling strong enough to walk. The pills the doctor had given us worked for a while, but even those stopped dulling the pain entirely.

I took care of her the best I could. She refused to go to a hospital or have a doctor brought in. “I’m dying Lindsey, they can’t change it. As long as I’m here, in this place, I’m still living.” I’d help to make her as comfortable as possible.

We both knew when the time had come and I sat with her on the bed, holding onto Darla’s hand. Wiped the sweat from her forehead with a cool cloth and listened while she told me about the one thing she remembered doing the last time she’d been human. All the rest had been forgotten. “I remember making bread with my mother in the kitchen of our home. It wasn’t even a flavor of bread I liked, and I dropped the dough on purpose. She never found out about it.” I’ll bet she didn’t have any of the loaf that night at supper.

Darla gasped, and her breathing grew labored. “I made the right choice, Lindsey. Wanted to live and you gave me that chance. Thank you for being here with me. I wrote a letter for Angel, can you send it to him? He’ll want to have it.”

“Sure, I’ll put it in the mail for you. Just relax. Look, the sun is about to set.” She turned her gaze out the window and we watched as the sky began to grow colorful. By the time the stars had begun to shine, she had faded away. I pressed my head against the mattress and wept.

...

Darla had given me very specific instructions on how she wanted to be buried. No cremation, she’d already been dust once, and it reminded her too much of how vampires met their fate. I could choose the wording on the tombstone, but it couldn’t have any crosses, and she got to pick out the location. She’d chosen the spot under the apple tree where we’d spent so many afternoons just talking.

I made the arrangements and the men from the funeral home did exactly as I asked. Give people enough money and they’ll bend over backwards to please you. She’d also asked for no funeral service, just any words that I could come up with at the graveside.

Sat down at the head of the grave and ran my fingers over the letters on the tombstone. I think she would have liked it. Darla: she got a second chance on life and took it. I still couldn’t play my guitar, so I sang a song I’d written about her. She’d loved it the first time I’d sung the words, clapping her hands in time with the beat. No one had done something like that for her. She had told me it was better than the painting Angelus had ordered, which made me feel very good inside.

“I hope you rest well, darlin’. I miss you like crazy, but I know you are finally in a better place.” Safe from law firms, vampire boyfriends, and all the other troubles in the world. I pressed my lips against the marble for a moment, and then stood up. Wiping the tears from my eyes, I slowly headed back to the house.