Disclaimer: I don't own BTVS/ATS or X-Men.
Steam coiled from the engine, clouding the stout terminal beneath a freeway overpass. Thin stiletto heels clicked against the concrete as she descended from the train car. She glanced over her shoulder at the assembled patrons drifting in a mass toward the exit. If there was one thing she’d always hated, it was crowds. Swinging a small back bag over her shoulder, she stuffed her hands inside the pockets of her overcoat and sank in amongst them, pushing for the exit. Thankfully, no one took the stairs in this day and age. The seething sheep parted, giving her room to stumble up three flights of linoleum. At five minutes to midnight, the station was all but empty. A wet rat scrambled clumsily over the edge of a trash can. A janitor in stained grey overalls pushed a broom across the parquet floor. From her pocket, she pulled a scrap of torn white paper. An address, scribbled in red ink, directed her to a glassy office building in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.
“What makes this one different?” Lilah scowled, pouring another gulp of hot coffee down her throat.
“It isn’t about what makes her different,” Gavin muttered beside her. “It’s about what makes her similar.”
“I’m on some serious overtime here. Would you stop with the riddles?”
“Right. Look. She’s a troubled young woman, new to the big bad city. He’ll be drawn to her like a moth to a flame.”
“Gavin, you idiot! He’ll fix her up, turn her life around, and leave us stranded. Again! Working with you makes me miss that one-handed sad act…”
“He can’t fix this one. She’s a permanent offender.”
“What? She sell her soul or something?”
“I don’t think so. She was dealt the short end of the straw. Regardless, she’s destined for evil.”
“So what is she? Demon?”
“She’s what they call a “mutant”, a genetic human hybrid.”
“You said she came recommended?”
“George’s client used to work with her.”
“Well, I suppose it’s too late to send her packing. Give me a ring when she gets in. I want to meet her before we put her back out on the street.”
The deep pocket of her green overcoat began to ring. Though the sound was muffled, it echoed down the endless downtown streets, lined only by the sleeping homeless. A hand gloved in black calf’s skin dove into the pocket and removed the short, rectangular cell phone. The screen lit up as it continued to ring, flashing a number with a name beneath it. Her thumb flicked against a button, and the whole appliance shut off at once. A pair of brilliant green eyes turned back to the street, and a few tendrils of bright white hair curled around the collar of her coat. The city gaped open ahead of her.
A few blocks away, in a small alley behind Charlie’s Chinese Take-Out, an ounce of dust shot up from the street, and sprinkled the air. Angel bent down over the prone figure of a pale blonde, her arm seeped in a puddle of sewage.
“Hey…” he coaxed her, lifting her arm from the rank water. Her fingers were cold, her arm limp where it hung from his hand.
Angel dropped to his knees on the street, wrapping both hands around her shoulders. He flipped her over, knocking the back of her head forcefully against the pavement. A ghostly face stared vacantly up at him beneath a curtain of shimmering white blond hair. Two puncture holes in her neck detailed the matter of her death.
“Damn,” he hissed, standing abruptly upright. His head swam with the thought of failure. Angrily, he drove one outstretched leg into a heap of aluminum trash cans. Rats squealed as they ran for cover, disappearing into the damp moldy alley. “Damn it!”
“Don’t worry,” she frowned, staring down into the alley at the frightened noisemaker. “It gets easier.”
Angel stopped, whipping around to stare at the young woman blocking his exit. She stood slightly rigid under the pale orange glare of a dying street lamp. A wave of straight brown hair fell over her shoulders, while a streak of white framed the left side of her pretty face. She wore a thin wool cloak, as green as her emerald eyes, and a pair of skin-tight leather pants that reminded him, vaguely, of Faith.
“What does?” Angel growled, curling his hands into fists.
“Killing them,” she replied succinctly. Her gaze drifted down to the cold body in the middle of the alley.
“Who are you?” he snarled, stepping protectively in front of the corpse.
“Does it matter? I’m only trying to be supportive. At some point, you don’t even get angry anymore. You don’t really feel anything at all.” The twang of her Southern accent made it difficult to take her seriously. She was a self-professed murderer in the body of a young girl, barely over the age of sixteen. Still, the way her eyes stared, unwavering, seemed indicative of her honestly.
“I think it helps that I remember them,” she continued, stepping toward him. “I can feel every one of them, hear their last words, their last thoughts.”
“It’s called a soul. That’s guilt you’re feeling.”
“You don’t understand,” she sighed, removing her hands from the pockets of her coat. She’d been wearing gloves only moments ago. The smell of leather lingered, and the imprint of stitching wrapped around her fingers. “They’re actually a part of me.”
Before he had time to react, she grazed her fingers against his hand. A shock of pain rippled through him, stinging up his arm and down the barrel of his chest. As he stood stock still, reacting to her touch, the girl’s silky fingers rose to his face, cupping his cheek. Streams of heat boiled through his aged, empty veins. His eyes stared vacantly at her, seeing her reaction but not comprehending. A violent scream echoed from the tight walls, and what seemed like minutes later, she opened her mouth to let the noise escape. His knees collapsed, shoving him to the ground as though weighed down. Darkness seeped in around his corneas, and the world turned an inky, sinking black.
He coughed as his eyes shot open, awakened from a perpetual nightmare. Dizziness spun the rotten asphalt beneath his heavy limbs, making it difficult to stand. He wobbled for a moment on his feet, and his eyes drifted toward the sky. It was close to dawn, and already the edges of the sky had turned a watery shade of violet. A few inches away from where he’d fallen, his attacker had curled up in a fetal position. Her bare hands had curled into tight fists, and her eyes were squeezed shut as though in pain. Angel stooped with effort and slid an arm beneath her body. It fell limply where unsupported. Whoever she was, and whatever she’d done to him, he’d have to discover later. Tossing the surprisingly light girl over his shoulder, he stepped out into the street and kicked aside an off-kilter manhole cover.
“Wes? Are there any jellies left?” Cordelia sighed as she stared into the box of donuts left open on the front desk.
“I think Fred ate the last one,” Gunn frowned, looking up the empty front stairs. A drop of green gel slid from his sleeve and onto the floor.
“Great. That’s great. I spend all night up fighting a weird bile-spitting demon with you two, and all I get for my efforts is a rainbow sprinkled plain donut? Life is so unfair.”
“And by fighting,” Wes muttered, wiping more of the green mucus from his glasses. “You mean screaming and pointing while Gunn filleted it with a battle axe?”
“Hey bucko, if I hadn’t screamed and pointed, you might not have seen it!”
“Right,” Gunn smirked, looking up as Angel emerged from the elevator. He’d slung the girl over both arms, but she still remained limp. In the fresh gleam of the hotel lamps, she looked sickly and sallow.
“Oh look, a new case,” Cordelia groaned with fake cheerfulness. “And I didn’t even have to get a side-splitting headache.”
“I can’t tell if you’re happy or sad about that,” Angel grunted, setting the girl down on the sofa.
“Well, I like to be involved. And Miss Crazy in the Batcave upstairs took the last jelly!”
“Miss Crazy what…oh, Fred,”
“Anyway, who’s this?”
“I don’t know. I met her in an alley last night. She smells human…but she did something to me.”
“Did something?” Cordelia raised an eyebrow.
“She touched me and I…I fainted.”
“Sorry bro, did you say fainted?” Gunn grinned mockingly.
“How curious,” Wes added, staring down at her. “And human, you say?”
“Well, I’ll see what I can dig up based on her looks. How old would you say she is? Sixteen?”
“Eighteen,” Cordelia grimaced. “A woman can just tell.”
“I’m going to take her upstairs, keep an eye on her until she comes out of it.”
“You sure, man?” Gunn frowned. “Don’t want her voodooing you again.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Cordelia slumped over her desk, turning the pages of an old issue of Cosmo. Across from her, Wesley’s office door hung open.
“Yes! I think I’ve found it…or her, rather.”
“Huh?” Cordelia blinked, lifting her eyes to stare at him.
“The girl upstairs, the girl Angel found.”
“I believe you mean the girl Angel was attacked by, the girl who is sleeping upstairs in a much too comfortable bed.”
“Come here, tell me if you don’t see the resemblance,”
Cordelia stared at the computer screen over Wesley’s shoulder. The chipper green eyes of a young teenager gazed back out at her. The picture was a few years old, and revealed a much happier schoolgirl smiling for her yearbook portrait. Wavy brown hair framed her rosy cheeks and perky smile.
“Wow, talk about a total personality reversal. Maybe she’s possessed.”
“It helps if you read the text,”
“Let’s see. Marie D’Ancanto, code name Rogue, was last seen in New York. She disappeared two years ago during a skirmish with a known assassin, code name Mystique. Wait, what the hell is a code name?”
“I think it’s like…like ‘Gunn’, something you associate with fear.”
“Listen, it gets better. This is an actual file from the people she used to work for. It says she’s a genetic human hybrid called a ‘mutant.’”
“So not a really crafty demon, then, eh? Gunn owes me five bucks.”
“Cordy! Pay attention. I’d never heard of a ‘mutant’ before, so I cross-referenced the word. It turns out that a ‘mutant’ is a term for human beings that have special supernatural powers. This girl, Marie or Rogue, has the ability to drain the life force, memories, and abilities of other people. It says that when she touches another person, skin to skin, she can temporarily take away any supernatural abilities that her victim has, but she can also take away their memories and store them in her mind permanently. She’s also been known to kill victims.”
“Great. That’s just great.”
“Do you want to run upstairs and tell him?”
“And be killed by an eighteen year old girl? Are you nuts?”
“Well someone has to! He’s not going to find this out on his own!”
On the sixth floor of the Hyperion Hotel, behind the locked door of room 623, the girl stirred. Angel looked up from the book open in his lap to watch her. His fingers smoothed over the dusty page. Her fingers unclenched and dove suddenly into the pockets of her jacket. She sat up with a jolt, and with a gloved hand, pushed strands of thick brown hair from her face. The book dropped from Angel’s lap as he stood, staring into the contorted demonic face. Her once green eyes glowed hellish yellow. Two pronged teeth peeked from beneath a curling upper lip. The attractive if sickly face had reformed into the menacing snarl of a vampire.
“What?! Why are you staring at me?!” Her voice was high and squeaky as though frightened and unaware.
“Who are you?” Angel growled, making a grab for her arm.
“Don’t touch me!” the girl screamed back at him, pulling back with such force that she stumbled backward off the bed and rolled onto the floor. Her gloved hands rose to her face, tracing the lines of the demon pushing out from within. “What did you do to me?!”
“What did I do to YOU? What did you do to me?!”
“She told me to practice! I was just trying to practice,” she choked, getting to her feet. The demon facade was gone, and a tear-streaked child’s face looked up at him. “You…you already knew how easy it was… I can see what you’ve done. I can feel it.”
“Practice...? Practice killing?”
“I have to go. I have work to do.” The window beside the bed shattered as she thrust her elbow against the glass. Light streamed in, casting her shadow upon the floor. Angel blinked, watching her not burst into flame as she jumped out into the morning and disappeared down the fire escape.
“Ms. Morgan, I have a young woman here to see you. Should I push back your ten o’clock?”
“Show her in. And get me a cup of coffee.” Lilah smiled, touching the button on her intercom. The door to her office swung open, and an attractive young girl stepped inside. Her hands shook slightly as she sat down in one of the straight backed chairs in front of Lilah’s desk.
“Can my secretary get you anything? Coffee? Tea?”
“Wonderful. Gavin tells me a lot about you, Marie.”
“It’s Rogue,” she replied flatly.
“Oh, I apologize.”
“It’s fine. Look, whoever hired me told me cash up front.”
“Well, I don’t know. This is a major assignment. I want to know that the job will be done properly.”
Across the desk, Rogue fidgeted with the fingers of her glove. The hand, as soft and smooth as woven silk, trembled. She reached out across the desk, holding out her hand as though she meant to shake on the deal. Lilah sat back suddenly in her chair, thrusting her hands into her lap.
“It’s just a demonstration, sugar. I know when to let go.”
“That’s fine. I trust you.” Lilah retrieved the telephone handset and punched a number into the console. She muttered into the receiver and dropped it back on the hook. “My secretary will have your fee waiting for you as you leave.”
“And the assignment?”
“His name is Angel,” Lilah frowned, sliding a piece of glossy paper across the table. Rogue lifted the sheet from the desk, staring at the gray tone picture.