“It says he’s a vampire with a soul,” Rogue frowned, turning the pages of a bound file folder. A cellular phone sat on the small wicker table in front of her, beside a to-go cup of frosty iced coffee. Her features worked into an annoyed sneer as she glanced sideways, releasing a chunk of white hair from her ear. The earpiece drifted beneath a brunette veil.
“No, I haven’t made contact with--” she lied subtly, sucking coffee from a stout green straw. “Well I had to check in first, didn’t I?”
“Sorry. Look, I got the payment. I’ll head over there soon. The sun’s still up. He’ll be in his coffin, sleeping the day away. It’ll be a piece of cake.”
On the table, the phone vibrated and the screen came to life, revealing another call. A name flashed under several small digital numbers. Breath caught in her lungs, and for a moment, she lost all ability to think.
“I’ve gotta…” she muttered, flicking the small acceptance decal. The irritating voice of her boss disappeared, and a gruff male voice replaced it.
“Where the hell are you? Look, I’m…no, forget it, I ain’t sorry. Where the fuck are you?!”
“I’m not coming back,” she replied meekly, closing the file as she spoke.
“Bull. You’re coming back. You have to come back.”
“At least I’m getting paid now, paid to hurt people. I’ll get used it. It won’t be hard.”
“Rogue-don’t. Look, I’m worried about you. We need you here. I...I need you,”
“Stop. Just don’t, okay?” The angry Southern drawl broke into a whimpering plea. “What happened before-I can’t let it happen again. Maybe this job’ll dull me down a bit. I can’t be with anyone. Gotta get used to that is all.”
“I’m okay, Rogue. You can’t hurt me.”
“You’re lying. I saw you drop…like a stone. I felt you…felt you die in my hands. It can’t happen again.”
His voice cut off suddenly as she pounded her fist against the small cellular device. Her gloved hands fixed around the file, and she took another sip, a steadying sip, from the coffee. Chunks of ice clinked against one another. The cup splattered inside the trash can. Warmth filtered through her dark overcoat as Rogue stepped back out into the bright afternoon sun, down the street to the Hyperion.
“So you’re saying she turned into a vampire?” Wesley asked, furrowing his brow.
“And then she escaped from the room into the sunny California morning?” Cordelia blinked, confused.
“It isn’t fascinating, Wes. It’s weird. How the hell did she become a vampire? Angel isn’t all evil—you aren’t right? You didn’t fall down on top of her and somehow experience perfect if very brief happiness, did you?”
“And therefore, you totally didn’t bite her! Unless-ooh, maybe she was already a vampire!”
“I think you’re missing the vital piece of daylight walking information…” Gunn interjected.
“I dunno…maybe she, um, carries an umbrella!”
“She smelled human when I met her,” Angel sighed as he slouched onto the lobby sofa. “Hell, she smelled human when she woke up this morning.”
“Wait—Wes, didn’t you say something about um…abilities, or something?”
“Oh, yes, right!” Wes fumbled with his glasses and picked up the pages he’d printed from the computer. “Rogue, or Marie, is what is called a ‘mutant’.”
“I’m familiar,” Angel grunted.
“Familiar? With ‘mutant’ people? Ever thought about writing a book? Like Forrest Gump, with um, demons and stuff…”
“They’re human, but have special abilities. Authorities often mistake them for demons, but they’re definitely human-they have souls. Some of them have jobs. A few are even heroes.”
“No. They’re usually not looking for redemption. The few heroes I’ve met are actually the genuine variety-good people trying to do good things for others, for no other reason than because it’s the right thing to do. But this girl…”
“Not the hero type?”
“Based on the eight words I exchanged with her in the alley last night? I don’t think so.”
“Do we hunt?” Gunn grinned, picking up an axe. “I could really go for a good kill.”
“We don’t kill humans, mutant or otherwise. But something tells me she’ll be back,”
“Why? Why not just run for it?”
“She needs the practice.”
The afternoon sun case a hazy glow on the tiled floor of the Hyperion lobby. Rogue stepped timidly inside, her eyes darting from left to right. The lobby had emptied, and the front desk had been abandoned. A piece of folded paper sat over the call bell. In Cordelia’s cutesy handwriting, the note read “Out to lunch. For emergencies, please call us at 555-5121. Help yourself to a donut while you wait, or leave your card and we’ll call you back.”
Rogue popped open the donut box and lifted a rainbow sprinkled pastry from the sticky wax paper. She tried to recall that last thing she’d eaten. Two days prior, she’d tossed half of a refried-bean burrito into a dumpster. Remembering the rancid taste of old cheese and slightly off bean paste, she gagged on the chunk of sugary bread rolling over her tongue. Suddenly she knew why she hadn’t eaten since. The taste of vomit was still fresh on her tongue.
“I knew you’d be back,” Angel grunted as he descended the stairs.
“I have a…I have a case,” Rogue stuttered, turning to face him. The donut dropped from her gloved fingers and back into the box. Hastily, she rubbed crumbs onto the leg of her slick leather pants.
“Good thing you knew where to find a detective.”
“You were recommended. If I’d known it was you last night…”
“You wouldn’t have admitted to being a murderer?”
“Who said anything about murder?” Rogue squeaked defensively.
“You did. Last night. ‘Killing gets easier’ right?”
“I was just trying to give you some advice, alright? But obviously, you don’t need it. You know everything there is to know about killin’ a lot of innocent people.”
“And I know everything there is to know about feeling guilt for what I’ve done. Did you see that part too? Did you feel it?”
“I didn’t come here for a lecture, okay? I’m tellin’ you I have a case for you to solve.”
“Tell me when it started,” Angel sighed. He walked slowly across the floor and leaned back against the front desk. His arms crossed over his chest and he stood back to listen.
“What’re you talkin’ about?”
“Last night, you touched me. You took a piece of me with you-you took my memories, my demonic possession, a part of my life. You attempted to kill me—though not for any particular reason. And now you’re back. I have a file on you—your ability, your genetic mutation, but I’ve met mutants before. It doesn’t present itself until sometime in your life when you’re in a heightened physical and emotional state. Tell me when it started.”
“You don’t have the right to—“
“You know everything about me…”
“Bits and pieces. I can’t sort your life out from the—“
“Tell me when it started, Rogue.”
She floundered, stumbling backward from him toward the roundabout velvet sofa in the center of the room. Her knees smacked harshly against the seat and she crashed against it. The phone in her pocket bounced upward and onto the floor. Immediately the screen lit up and began to vibrate insistently. The Wolfram and Hart file slid sideways from the inside of her coat, spilling sheets of intelligence all over the sofa cushion. Rogue stared, entranced, at the stubby ringing device, but she made no move to reach for it. Angel watched from across the room, silent and steady.
“I was sixteen,” she whispered in a voice suddenly hoarse, nostalgic. “My boyfriend, Bobby—he was kissin’ me. I put him in a coma. Never did wake up. His memories, his whole life, it was in my head. I went crazy with it, couldn’t stand it. He’s still in there, somewhere. Beneath the rest of them.”
She let out a deep breath and stretched out her foot to retrieve the phone.
“I didn’t know it at first. I didn’t know it was me that did it. But whenever I touch someone, skin to skin, I hurt them. Sometimes I kill them. I can’t touch anyone. I can’t have a boyfriend, someone to love me. My parents—they freaked. They pretty much disowned me, threw me out. So then I had no one. I got started up with this group of people. They said mutants were different, better than regular people. And I believed them. I did some work for them, used my ability to hurt people. I didn’t like it, but whoever really does? Yanno? But then, somethin’ changed. I met someone.”
“I guess. He looked out for me when I joined the other side, the good side. We had a relationship of sorts. I mean, we love…we loved each other. But what could we do about it? Nothin’. I can’t touch him, can’t show him I love him,”
“You said you couldn’t sort out my memories from the…”
“It’s like a din in my head. They’re all in there.”
“There was a woman I loved…a woman I still love. And we can’t ever be together.”
“Buffy.” Angel stared, questioning. “Sometimes I get the pieces and bits.”
“I understand what it’s like, to be separated from the people you love. But that doesn’t mean you turn to evil. Killing doesn’t make the pain go away. It makes it worse.”
“It’s the only thing I’m good for. I suck the power out of other people. I’m made up of alla them! I don’t even know how much of me is me anymore!”
“And you think adding to that is going to make it better?” Angel growled incredulously.
“I don’t…I don’t know.”
“This person you love—he’s working for the other side,”
“Maybe you should take his example.”
“I’m afraid to go back. I hurt him…it was why I left. If I go back—“
“Rogue, you need to find your path. You have to use your ability to help people, people who aren’t as strong as you. You need to get back home.”
The young woman rose unsteadily to her feet. The phone she dropped comfortably into her pocket. The file she left abandoned on the sofa. Removing a thin leather glove from one hand, she pushed a few tendrils of stark white from her cheek. Her emerald green eyes glittered in the bright indirect sunlight that filled the Hyperion lobby.
“If I wanted to, I could kill you and everyone you love,” she said matter-of-factly, her Southern twang filling the disturbing words with a sense of gaiety.
“I’d do everything in my power to protect them. I’d die for them.”
“I get that.” She bent out over the sofa and retrieved the partially empty file. “You should know that they hired me, these Wolfram and Hart guys. Paid in advance too. That’ll help me get back to New York.”
“They really don’t know how to pick assassins.” Angel smirked.
“Angel?” she asked, looking over her shoulder as she stood in front of the front doors. He looked up from the folder, addressing her in silence.
“Did you touch her once?”
“Once,” he murmured.
“Maybe…maybe that’s all we really need.”