Deadboy and Zeppo
Rated TEEN















Angel stopped at the smell of vampire. Young vampire. He suppressed an urge to growl at an invader who would have the temerity to move in on his territory. Pushing his demon to the background, he moved closer and a second smell hit him. Cordelia. Damn.

Angel silently sped down the stairs of the Hyperion hoping to catch the intruder before the young vampire could hurt his seer. In the lobby, he froze as he tracked the scents back to the employee area. Cordy must not know that the intruder was vampire because her scent carried sadness and distress but absolutely no fear. Moving carefully Angel stalked down the service hallway and pushed through a door until he could hear the voices.


Angel had been willing to overlook the whole Harmony incident, but enough was enough. She couldn't keep talking to vampires. He paused to try and figure out who was in his kitchen with Cordelia.

"I just don't know what to do," a male voice said miserably.

"She really did go too far this time. But you know you can't stay here. If Gunn sees you…"

"Maybe that'd be best. I don't know where else to go." Angel stopped in confusion at the sound of a depressed fledge. This was making less sense all the time.

"You can't just give up."

"Yeah, actually I can. My sire gave up on me. Spike threatened to sell me to some Initiative scientists. Riley offered to have me chipped. Giles suggested staking me, and Buffy and Willow just wanted me gone, so I’m not really seeing a reason to keep going." Angel froze in horror of what those words implied. Cordelia clearly understood that she was playing hostess to a vampire, and his demon rattled its cage at the thought of punishing the creature who had stood between him and his prey at that hospital. The soul just wanted the fledge with its familiar voice to go away.

"They're just upset. But you have other reasons to live," Cordelia said in a voice far kinder than any Angel had ever heard before. Angel hesitated, not sure how to approach the whole situation without Angelus getting too involved. Maybe the boy had a soul; he certainly didn't sound like a typical fledge.

"The Babylon 5 plate collection doesn't seem all that important now, and once I ate my parents, the vengeance and gore and blood seemed… okay, it still seemed pretty damned satisfying…" So much for the soul theory. Angel didn't wait any longer; he threw himself through the swinging door. Since Cordy was the one closest to the door, he grabbed her and thrust her behind him as he challenged a game-faced Xander.

"Deadboy," Xander snarled through his fangs.

"Cordelia, get out to the lobby," Angel said as he watched the fledge wearing Xander Harris' body move to the center of the kitchen with far more grace than Xander had ever managed to use.

"If you think for one minute…" Cordelia started arguing, but Xander interrupted her.

"Cordy, just get out of here," he said as he dropped out of his crouch and stood with slumping shoulders and a hand braced on the stainless steel counter.

"Xander Harris…" Cordelia started.

"Cordy, please," Xander's demon face fell away, and the soft curves of Xander's human face turned to her with wide brown eyes. Angel could smell the fear, the outright terror, and his own demon reveled in the scent. The human this creature had once been had called Angel boy, had challenged him, had belittled him, and the demon demanded revenge so loudly that the soul couldn't even think straight around Xander. But Xander was dead, and the fledge who wore his face would soon follow. "It's just… Cordy if you have one ounce of love for the friend I used to be, just go."

"Angel," Cordy turned her steel-edged voice on him.

"Cordy, I won't stake him without talking to you about it first, so go back to the lobby." Reassured by his promise, Cordelia backed out of the kitchen.

"You two play nice!" she ordered right before going through the swinging doors, and Angel focused all his attention on the human-faced demon standing in his hotel.

"You seem to have changed teams," Angel said as he stepped forward, and Xander backed up even more quickly. The scent of fear drifted through the air, and Angel could see the white around Xander's knuckles that spoke of hunger and a need for blood.

"Yeah, so I guess this puts us on opposite sides again, huh?" Xander kept his human face in place, and Angel couldn't imagine the effort that required considering that Xander was so young that he still smelled of his own death. He smiled as fear now poured off the boy.

"You think showing me that face and cringing will save you?" Angel demanded. This wasn't Xander. This was a demon wearing Xander's body, but this demon had Xander's memories and would be a nice substitute for Angel to work out some of his aggressions toward the late Xander Harris.

"I'm not cringing," the demon growled back, his true face showing with a snap of fangs.

"You seem to have inherited Xander's stupidity coming here. You don't have a chance against me." Angel had expected the fledge to lunge into a surprise attack or drop to his knees in supplication or maybe even run for the door.

"I never expected to survive our little meeting, Deadboy," the fledge said as he again dropped into his human features.

"Then I won't disappoint you," Angel moved fast enough that the Xander-demon didn't even have time to retreat. Angel put his forearm on the demon's throat and slammed him back into the cupboard so hard that the impact of the demon's head against the metal reverberated through the room. One of Xander's hands grabbed his shoulder while the other ineffectually pulled down on the arm. Xander was such a young fledge that its instinct to breathe was still firmly implanted, and Angel watched the mad struggles subside as the vampire slowly realized that he couldn't suffocate.

"I only promised I wouldn't stake you," Angel said as he allowed his own demon to the front. His face ached with the shifting of bone and fangs dropped down. He started leaning in toward Xander's neck, using his arm to push the demon's chin up. While Angel had expected kicking and squirming and struggling, Xander simply tilted his head back and went still.

A small part of Angel started wondering at the strange behavior, but he had given his demon rein, and the sight of that vulnerable neck short-circuited all other thoughts as he drove long fangs into the fledge's flesh.

"Oh my god, Angel, let go of him right now." Cordy shrieked, and Angel threw himself backwards, only keeping one hand on Xander's chest, but Xander didn't even try to fight back.

"Cordelia, go watch the desk," Angel said slowly, struggling to bring his demon back under control. Whenever he allowed his violence to feed the demon, he always struggled to regain his balance, as if sanity were a balance beam he walked and the demon's madness threatened to tip him over the first time he lost control. This time Angel had to close his eyes and concentrate to put Angelus back in the box.

"Cordy, it's fine, just leave," Xander added quietly. Angel looked up toward Cordelia and was caught in the woman's accusatory glare. He glanced back toward Xander and could see why. The fledge's neck was badly torn and blood trickled down the front of his shirt and onto Angel's hand. Angel flashed on another image, the image of William struggling as Angelus had held him against the brick, William's blood dripping down. Boy had gotten a good horse killed, and William had come close to a final death that day. The taste of William's blood, the taste of Xander's blood, the taste of his own blood all mixed in his memories.

"Call Buffy. Tell her that…"

"I think she knows. She's the one who told Xander to head for the hills and not look back." Cordy stood with her arms crossed defiantly.

"Tell her that Spike got rid of the chip somehow," Angel said with clenched teeth and wished for not the first time that Cordelia would just listen.

"No. He didn't. God, I'd kill myself before I'd let fangless get a fang in me, and yeah me being dead does make that sound a little redundant." Angel could feel Xander press against his hand now as the fledge tried to step forward, but Angel's years and Xander's blood loss meant that he didn't have the strength to put up any significant fight. "Of course, if you want to kill him anyway, that's fine with me too since he tried to sell me."

"If not Spike…" Angel let his words trail off as he thought of his favorite childe pouting about her lost kitten.

"Dru," he said in a flat tone. The others kept encouraging him to be more human and show more emotion, but as he felt his demon anger rise, he knew they didn't really want to see this part of him.

"She said she had to punish Buffy for stealing Spike's eyes, and I'm hoping that was one of her crazy sayings because I don't think of Buffy as the eye-stealing kind."

"So she turned ye," Angel finished as he silently cursed his insane childe. Even his demon said that he'd gone a little far with her.

"Yeah. Turned me and dropped me on the slayer's lawn." Xander's struggles had stopped, and he leaned back into the wall and closed his eyes. "So let's just get this over with."

Angel had been looking around the kitchen but at those words his head snapped back to this fledge who didn't act like a fledge. Xander had tilted his head to the side so that the neck wound opened a little more and a trickle of fresh blood flowed over the tracks already drying against his pale skin.

"Angel, don't even think it mister," Cordy warned, but Xander just stood still as the smell of fear and blood and submission made Angel's demon crowd forward.

"Cordy, go get the chains." Angel blessed his luck when she turned and practically ran from the kitchen without argument. Xander simply opened his eyes a crack so that he watched from behind his lashes. Angel had a flash of William giving him that same sad, resigned expression after a beating, and Angel stepped back away from the fledge before he lost control.

"You, sit," Angel snapped in his deepest voice, and the fledge's legs went out from under him leaving him to slide down the wall to the floor. Angel looked down at the miserable and reeking fledge that was the newest member of the line of Aurelius and cursed his luck.

Angel paced the room from the boarded up window to the dusty bed. He would have thrown himself in the chair, but his demon raged inside, and he didn't have the strength to still it. Xander Harris. Angel could feel his fangs itching to drop as he considered the fledge who was currently washing layers of dirt off his body.

The water turned off with a screech of the pipes and Xander appeared in the doorway, his hands chained in front of him and a length of chain dangling to the floor. His face and chest were clean but his shoes still reeked of sewer and a long rust-colored stain down one leg of his jeans left Angel stone-faced in his attempts to quiet Angelus' hunger and rage. The boy who had challenged him could feed when Angelus couldn't. Angel nearly lost his silent battle.

"I told you to clean up," he snarled instead.

"Yeah, well this is as cleaned up as I'm getting as long as you're doing the chains thing, Deadboy."

Moving with inhuman speed, Angel grabbed Xander by the throat and pushed him back into the bathroom until the young vampire was bent backwards over the sink, the back of his head pushed against a mirror which reflected nothing.

"Don't call me that," he growled with a flash of fang.

"Yeah, right. Or what? You'll kill me? Let's be honest here because I'm thinking I really don't have a whole lot left other than honesty. You're going to kill me sooner or later anyway. Either you're going to get tired of having me around reminding you of what it means to be a vampire or you're just going to kill me because you always wanted to kill me... Xander... whatever. You wanted to kill whoever wore this face." Xander's babble stuttered to a stop even though he kept looking up angrily. Angel had to give the vampire some credit, it reeked of panic and fear, yet it refused to show that fear. He was surprised at how much like Xander the vampire who took his body had become.

"There are far more interesting things to do than dust you," Angel whispered, and Angelus celebrated in the back of his mind, sending images of Xander's broken body. "After all, I never did get to try out the chainsaw." Angel smirked as Xander paled and yellow bled into his eyes. The smell of terror intensified. "So, I told you to get cleaned up and you'll do it properly."

Angel reached down and grabbed Xander's legs, yanking them up so that Xander had to clutch at the counter as Angel ripped off both shoes before dropping Xander back down to the linoleum. Then he reached to Xander's waist and ripped the button and zipper open before yanking down on the denim.

"Should've known you'd be into the kinky sire stuff. Spike always said the stuff written in the watchers' journal was rot, but I knew you two always had a little too much significant eyeage going on when you were together." The room was stuffed with the dark scent of terror, and Angel ignored Xander's words as he turned the shower on and thrust the young vampire under the spray.

"Stay there," he snarled as he backed out of the bathroom, struggling to regain his balance on that edge of sanity which had been growing ever thinner lately. Doyle had told him that he would come closer to humanity by living among them, but lately he doubted. He turned his eyes upward as he resumed pacing the room and silently begged his friend to give him some sort of sign. He could feel his redemption slipping away like the sanity under his feet, but he couldn't seem to stop either.

And a dead Xander Harris in his shower, smelling of fear and submission and fresh blood... that wasn't helping matters. He stalked out of the unused room he had assigned to one newly turned fledge largely because of the huge iron ring set in the wall above the bed.

"Well?" Cordelia asked the minute he turned the corner into the main passage where he'd told her to wait. "He'd better not be washing down the drain as a pile of ash, Mister," she said both hands on her hips.

"He's taking a shower. I need to find him new pants," Angel said wearily as he moved down to the far end of the hall where his own rooms were.

"Someone lost their pants?" Angel nearly groaned as Wesley appeared at the top of the stairs. Ignoring the question he headed for his bedroom.

"Xander," Cordelia offered helpfully.

"Harris? Xander Harris is here?"

"Yep. Her Buffiness gave him the boot, and he showed up not long after sunset." Angel flinched at Cordy's casual dismissal of the pain this must have caused Buffy. He paused in the middle of the hallway caught between wanting to call her and offer his sympathy and being terrified of talking to her and the constant loss he felt at the sound of her voice. At one point he had hoped that his redemption would come in time for him to reclaim that love, but now he knew it would never happen.

"Angel? You okay?" Cordy asked, and Angel started moving again.

"Fine," he answered.

"Oh yeah, because you'd tell us if you weren't, right?" she sarcastically bit back.

"Not now."

"Whatever. I don't have time to deal with your issues right now. Is Xander going to be okay? The gaping neck wound was a little intense."

"He's fine," Angel answered at the same time Wesley exclaimed, "Oh Good Lord. Is he all right?" Angel ignored the conversation as he reached his room and started digging through his clothes. Xander was almost the same size, he could certainly roll a cuff up once or twice and wear any of Angel's pants. The problem was that Angel wanted to find a pair of pants that he wouldn't mind turning to dust with the fledge if the opportunity arose.

"He's not fine. He's whiter than you, and he wasn't walking all that well."

"Perhaps we should consider taking him to the hospital," Wesley suggested from the doorway. Cordelia's derisive snort should have clued him in, but Wesley continued. "Was he attacked near here? Perhaps we should call Gunn."

"He was attacked in the kitchen," Cordy offered as Angel pulled out a pair of stone washed jeans Cordelia had given him. Faded jeans really didn't fit in with his image of himself, but he could see Xander wearing them.

"What?! Was the hotel invaded?"

"Only by Mr. Attitude. If I hadn't walked in, Angel would have drained Xander." Cordy's words led Wesley to step back and begin radiating fear. Angel gritted his teeth as the sour odor stirred the demon that he had just quieted.

"Cordelia left out the part where Xander is already dead. She also left out the part where she invited a vampire into the hotel for a cup of blood and some kitchen conversation," Angel watched as the Wesley's wary stare transferred from him to Cordelia, but she stood there with her arms crossed, far more willing to endure the censure than Angel had been.

"He's a friend."

"He was a friend. He's now a vampire, and I thought you learned something from Harmony," Angel pointed out as he pushed past both of them to head back down the hall.

"Oh no. You do not just walk away from this, Angel. Xander was perfectly behaved down there and you are not going to kill him when he wants to die."

"Xander wants to die?" Wesley asked in a small, bewildered voice.

"So I should wait until he recovers and tries to kill us all before I do it?" Angel asked dryly as he turned around to face the two humans.

"I don't think Xander will..."

"And Buffy knows all this?" Wesley demanded.

"Stop interrupting," Cordy ordered with a backhanded slap to Wesley's arm. "And yes, Buffy knows this. She tossed him out after he got turned."

"But why didn't she give him his soul back?" Wesley asked with the pinched expression that meant confusion when he used it even though on any other person Angel would have guessed constipation.

"Good question," Cordelia answered. "I would have found out except that someone interrupted us."

"Cordy, he is not Xander Harris. He is a demon who is using Xander's body as a disguise, a hiding place. You can't treat him like Xander or expect him to act like Xander." Angel pointed out with a sigh. Sometimes he wished Doyle had chosen a different successor because every once in a while Angel had trouble dealing with her stubbornness. Hell, he usually had trouble dealing with her stubbornness.

"He has Xander's memories, and he has a lot more of Xander than I would expect. Most fledges are more into the mindless grrrrr, and he's still him. He has more personality than any fledge I've ever met, well except for Harmony. She was still pretty much Harmony, up to and including the betrayal because that is something Harmony would have done, even as a human. But Xander was never like that; he was always loyal."

"Who's loyal?" a deep voice asked, and Angel closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall as Gunn climbed the stairs three steps at a time. Angel silently sent a curse to the universe, and he could feel his demon mocking him from within. Being around humans wasn't helping him become more human, it was just making his fangs itch.

"Xander Harris, one of the slayer's friends," Wesley offered.

"And why are we talkin' about him?" Gunn asked as he leaned on the banister.

"We aren't," Angel added.

"He showed up here tonight," Cordelia said at the same time.

"Rather a vampire with his face showed up here tonight," Wesley corrected her, and Angel felt a moment of affection for Wes who had sided with him.

"Oh no. Girl, you are not taking in another stray vamp. We stake them, remember?"

"You are not staking Xander," Cordelia insisted, and Angel remained silent despite his own frustration with her plan. If he didn't stay silent, he was going to say something that she'd spend the next five years making him pay for. Angelus flailed at Angel's cowardice. This time the demon sent up images of Cordelia's broken and bleeding body.

"And how are you going to stop me?" Gunn said as he stepped forward, and Angel managed to avoid the cringe. He'd lived with Darla long enough to know how much damage a woman like this could do. Even Angelus avoided thinking about what Cordelia would be like as a vampire.

"Don't try it, mister." Cordelia narrowed her eyes and stepped forward so that she was chest to chest with Gunn, and as Angel expected Gunn immediately started backing away from that aggressive and yet intimate contact. And of course the minute Cordy had him in retreat, he was lost.

"Xander was a perfect gentleman downstairs just like he has always been, and while I don't suggest having him baby-sit any time in the near future, you are not going to pull a Buffy and drive him away with your threats. Because if he doesn't feel safe here, I will make sure you never feel safe again." Angel just watched as Gunn's resolved crumbled.

"Man, I am out of here. If you guys figure out which side you're on, you give me a call. Otherwise, don't ask me to play friendly with the enemy." Gunn gathered the remains of his manhood and retreated down the stairs muttering about crazy white people, and Angel had a near overwhelming urge to join him in retreat. The three remaining members of Angel Inc. stood at the top of the stairs in silence as Gunn stalked out the front door.

"He'll be back," Cordelia proclaimed when the door closed, and Angel just started down the hallway again. He considered telling Cordy to wait at the junction of the two hallways, but he suspected that he'd lose that fight, and he didn't feel like getting humiliated in front of Wesley. Instead he led the two humans toward the room where Xander waited.

Angel's stride broke as he considered Xander's words from earlier. Kinky sire stuff.

Angelus both sneered and celebrated at the though of being a sire to Xander Harris. He considered all the times he had William broken and begging and crawling on the floor. Angelus fairly purred at the equal parts admiration and fear his youngest had held for him. He remembered the devastated expression on William's face as he had shown the boy over and over that the only vampire rule that mattered was the one that said a vampire could do anything as long as he was strong enough to defend himself from the consequences.

Oh yes, Angelus admitted that siring Xander would be even more satisfying than killing him, but Angel shivered in revulsion. Time to dissuade the fledge of that thought. Well, just as soon as he got rid of the two humans following after him. He didn't want to have a clan discussion in front of people who weren't clan.


Angel had expected Xander to be on the bed, or maybe in the corner depending on how seriously he had taken Angel's threat. Instead as he walked in, the fledge was nowhere to be seen and the water was still running.

"Stay here, he's still in the shower," Angel said as he walked into the room and looked in the bathroom. Xander stood under the falling water with his head thrown back and his hair, longer than usual, guiding the water onto his back where it flowed down in sheets. Steam rose from the hot shower and clouds of vapor blurred the edges of Xander's body, drifting and thinning in places to reveal the pale skin.

Angel hadn't realized that the boy had so much muscle on him, but the water followed the contours of Xander's well defined back, dividing to flow over his smooth butt and then meandering down his legs. Angel watched the water trails dodge around leg hairs on those curved thighs.

"Well?" Cordelia's voice broke him out of his reverie, and Xander spun around so fast that he lost his footing on the tile and went down in a heap. Obviously the demon hadn't changed Xander that much.

"Hey, no free looks," Xander complained from the bottom of the shower as he brought his chained hands down to cover his privates. Angel flashed a bit of fang, and Xander pressed himself farther into the tile.

"Xander, are you okay?" Cordelia pressed by Angel to look in for herself, and Xander curled up so that his knees would provide some coverage.

"Fine, just not really into being the main attraction at a peep show. Peep show bad; giving the vamp some privacy good."

"Oh, please. Like you have anything I want to see anyway," Cordelia dismissed Xander's comment with a sniff once she had seen for herself that he was safe.

"Hey, I've got lots of good stuff to look at. Anya called me a Viking."

"Anya the demon?" Cordelia asked with a raised eyebrow, and Angel looked over in surprise.

"A demon?" he asked.

"Ex-demon," Xander corrected him, but when Angel shot him a dirty glance, he shrank back into himself even farther.

"What are you doing still in the shower anyway?" Cordelia asked as she left the bathroom and planted herself on the edge of the dusty chair.

"It sounded better than the other option Angel gave me," Xander practically shouted out the door, and Angel dropped the jeans on the edge of the sink before retreating. He really didn't need to see Xander unfold that strong body, and he really, really didn't need to see exactly why a demon would have referred to Xander as being a Viking, despite the fact that Angel agreed with the assessment from the glance he caught: well formed cock, heavy balls.

"And what option was that?" Cordelia asked in a bored tone of voice, and Angel suddenly realized what choice he had given Xander. He prayed that the boy had an ounce of discretion. Actually an ounce of self-preservation would work because if he told Cordelia the truth, Angel would turn him to dust.

"Angel offered to try out a chainsaw on my hide," Xander called out. Angel suppressed a groan as he realized that Xander never had discretion or self-preservation. He couldn't expect the demon that was using Xander's memories to be any better. Right now though he had bigger worries, like the glare of death Cordelia was aiming at his forehead and the shocked gasp from the doorway where Wesley hovered uncertainly.

When Xander appeared at the door to the bathroom with his hair still dripping down making dark stains at the waistband of his jeans, his eyes went instantly to Cordy. At that moment, Angel realized that Xander's words had been intentionally designed to anger Cordy. Angel turned to face the fledge, and fear caused Xander to drop his eyes to the floor instantly.

"Cordelia, Wesley. Go do something downstairs," Angel said quietly.

"I'd rather stay," Cordelia said just as quietly. Angel closed his eyes briefly as he struggled to not lose his temper.

"Cordy, go downstairs."

"Look, I hate to point this out to you but..."

"Cordy, please," Xander said from the far side of the room where he now had his back against the wall. He moved his chained hands up and down nervously as if he didn't know what to do with his hands since he couldn't cross his arms.

"Xander, you're the one who just said he threatened you with a chainsaw. You really think I trust him now?"

"Cordy, just go away. I'm hungry and I don't like you being around when I'm hungry," Xander said with a flash of game face, and the sight shut Cordelia up when nothing else could have.

"Oh god, Xander," she breathed with a shaky voice as if she had just noticed that he was dead. Her eyes brightened with tears, and Angel knew he should do something, say something, offer some sort of comfort. Instead he stood awkwardly as Cordelia stared at the young vampire. For his part, Xander stared at the floor as if he had discovered the meaning of life in the rust and olive green carpeting. Xander shrugged once as if it didn't matter. However, he smelled of such misery that Angel had to wonder just how wrong the turning had gone this time.

"Cordelia, go down to Ondary's place and ask for some fresh blood. I'm about out, and Xander is going to need more than I have." Angel expected some sort of response, but Cordy just slowly stood, shining eyes focused on the miserable vampire against the far wall as she quietly left the room.

"She'll be a while," Angel said as he walked over to the door and closed it to give them some privacy. Wesley had retreated with Cordelia, but Xander just shrugged again.

"How long has it been since you fed?" Angel asked. He really didn't want to know, and he definitely didn't want to discuss the topic in general, but Xander really did look far more pale than was normal for even a vampire.

"Cordy gave me a mug full downstairs," Xander said with a quick glance upward. Angel could feel Angelus' smug satisfaction at the fledge's clear terror. Every time Angel moved, he could see Xander's body twitch in response. The demon remembered how that felt, to have a fledge, a childe, a minion, who lived and died by your word.

He remembered Dru's quiet cries and calls for 'Daddy.' He remembered William's pathetic struggles to impress Angelus and claim Dru. He remembered Penn's total devotion. All of them had looked to Angelus as the source of life and death, and the power had fed his demon. Now Xander's fear fed Angelus' struggles, and Angel snarled as he fought to regain control. Unfortunately, his snarl sent Xander sliding backwards along the wall, and Angelus practically roared his approval.

"Stop flinching from me like I'm about to eviscerate you," Angel snapped as he turned his back on Xander.

"So then, evisceration is off the torture checklist. I'm thinking that just leaves about, oh, five million other things I really don't want to learn about." Xander's words were so close to what Angel would expect from the human Xander that they caught him off guard and he turned and stood staring for several seconds at the creature who was and wasn't Xander Harris. He stared for so long that Xander flinched back farther, and Angel turned and faced the door again as he battled Angelus over the right to beat Xander into submission. Of course, it wouldn't take much beating to achieve that goal right now.

"Oh for god's sake," Angel exclaimed as struggled for control. He closed his eyes and chanted a quick mantra about patience and virtue. Behind him, the soft clinking of chains reminded him that he wasn't alone, and his current problem wouldn't just go away. "Get on the bed," Angel ordered unemotionally. The smell of fear doubled.

"Don't really swing that way, Deadboy," Xander answered, and Angel turned with a snarl.

"I told you not to call me that," he snapped, realizing he was in game face only when he sliced his own lip and tasted his own blood. Xander stood with one shoulder to the wall, flinching.

"Whatever. Look, just finish this... unless you're scared of Cordelia." Xander looked up defiantly with gold eyes, and Angel closed the distance, slamming his own body into Xander. Angel heard as well as felt the dull cracking when a rib didn't stand up to the assault and Xander gasped an unnecessary breath. Angel pulled back and looked at Xander who continued to stand although now he leaned into the wall for support and wore his true face.

"Xander," Angel said, horrified at his own actions.

"Just get it over," Xander said as the demon features fell away and he dropped the side of his head to the wall tiredly. "Finish it." Xander's neck arched invitingly, and Angel stared at the smooth skin, the curve where neck and shoulder met, the cord of muscle that stretched just below the surface of the skin. And all the time, the boy stayed in human face. Angel remembered how William would sometimes have trouble staying in game face. He remembered how he had made fun of the demon for that, but now it just made Xander look sadder. Angel was caught between's his soul's guilt, and Angelus' disgust for something so weak.

"I don't want..." Angel stopped as he tried to express what he didn't want. He didn't want Xander Harris anywhere near him, dead or alive. He didn't want Xander Harris' dead body walking around to upset Buffy and make Cordy look at Angel with condemning eyes. He didn't want to think that one more person he had once vowed to protect was dead.

"You don't want to drain me to the edge of final death and chain me up and break my ribs? Little late, Deadboy." Xander's quiet, breathy, sarcastic words brought another stab of rage from Angelus, but Angel stopped it this time.

"You're trying to get me to kill you," he accused Xander who was now slowly sliding down the wall to the floor with little gasping whines of pain.

"Took ya long enough. I think you've been using too much hair gel lately--it's sunk into your brain."

Angel stepped forward and glared down at the huddled and broken Xander, his chained hands pulled up against his chest. This creature wasn't Xander, but it was all that was left of the white knight who had stood up to Angelus and in many ways was still standing up to Angelus. Angel pressed his eyes closed for a moment as he considered his options. His conscience vetoed killing Xander or even allowing the fledge to kill himself. Angel opened his eyes and looked as Xander trembled at his feet, and he realized obstacle number one was getting Xander to fight for life. Angel didn't think he could keep distracting Angelus if the fledge continued to try and trigger Angelus' rage.

"Are you sure that's what you want, to die? You want to turn to dust? You want to go back to hell where you belong?" Angel practically purred the words, his voice soft and evil. He bent down and put a hand on Xander's shoulder where the flesh was cold under his hand. Cold and trembling.

"Tell me you want to die, Xander," he murmured in a voice that could both soothe a raving Drusilla and drive terror into a mortal like a nail through flesh.

"Just fucking finish it," Xander snarled in a toneless and flat voice.

"Say it," Angel ordered softly. He could smell terror flowing from the miserable figure, and he wouldn't be smelling terror if this creature really wanted to die. He needed Xander to face the fact that he didn't want to die, and somewhere down in his mind Angelus scoffed at the idea of trying to help Xander.

"Why? So you can get your jollies off it? I hate to point it out, Deadboy, but I don't like you. I'm really not going to have my last act be something that makes you happy. Besides, a happy Deadboy is a psychotic Deadboy, and I don't want that on my..." Xander stopped, his words cut off in the middle of the sentence as though by a knife.

"On your what? Your conscience?" Angel watched Xander seem to sink in on himself as though he'd been caught doing something bad. He crouched down and looked at the miserable fledge huddled on his floor. "Oh what has Dru done this time?" Angel asked as he reached over to gather Xander up. Considering Xander's size, he was far too light. He needed a lot of blood.

"Pretty bad," Xander admitted with a shrug. Angel deposited the man in the middle of the bed and pulled a padlock out of his pocket. The dangling chain was long enough for him to give Xander plenty of slack, but Xander still scooted as close to the wall as he could get, sitting on the musty pillows.

"So, how long has it been since you truly fed?" Angel started again.

"I ate the couple whose car I stole coming down from Sunnydale. Ate the Harrises a few days ago." The emotionless words startled Angel. "Didn't really feel much like eating anyone else."

"Is that why you came here? Did you know something was wrong?" Angel backed away and crossed his arms as he tried to refrain from killing the sad creature on the bed.

"Spike mentioned something early on. Said I was worse than he'd been and that Angelus would have snapped my neck."

"I'm not Angelus," Angel pointed out. Angelus had almost completely withdrawn in frustration at having come so close to killing the boy only to be thwarted, and now Angel found he could think a little more clearly.

"Oh, come on, Deadboy. You always went a little Angelusy around Xander, and we both know it."

"I..." Angel stopped as he considered the past they had shared. "Maybe," he admitted. "The lap dance Buffy did with you and the whole 'Deadboy' thing aggravated me. I probably shouldn't have taken the name calling so seriously."

"It'd be nice if you had decided that before starting in on the rib breakage," Xander pointed out. "But I get the name thing. Cordy used to call me the Zeppo, and that pretty much still fuels my nightmares." Xander paused. "She used to call Xander the Zeppo of the group," he corrected himself.

"You don't think of yourself as Xander?" Angel asked as he moved to the other side of the room. Angelus stirred a little at the way Xander followed him, the way he shifted his body to face Angel, the sharp fear still leaking from him in wisps of scent.

"Had it pointed out many, many times that I'm not Xander."

"Buffy?" Angel asked, and Xander physically flinched.

"Among others. They all had their go."

"That's why they didn't try to give you a soul," Angel said as he imagined how the others would have reacted.

"Giles pointed out that giving a vampire a soul is a curse. Said that the real Xander earned his reward and his soul shouldn't be pulled back and magically connected to a demon. Said that Xander didn't deserve to have his soul tainted." Xander shrugged again as though it meant nothing to him.

"So you came looking for me," Angel said.

"Came looking to die, and I just figured you were the fastest form of death around considering that I'm afraid of fire, so the whole morning walk thing kinda freaked me out. After you sent Buffy the immolation-o-gram I wouldn't even go near a lighter for a month." Angel wondered if Xander even realized how he embraced his human memories one minute and rejected them the next. Whether Buffy understood it or not, a lot of Xander Harris was still in the suffering creature who sat on the bed in front of him, and Angel made a decision.

"While you're in my hotel, you will not hunt."

"Hard to hunt chained to a wall, and trust me, I'm not stupid enough to go for Cordy even as a vampire. I mean, I'm stupid, but I'm not that stupid." Angel turned and started for the door.

"Angel?" Xander's voice made him stop and turn back.

"What's wrong with me?" Xander asked in such a small, defeated voice, that Angelus stirred with a need to taunt and Angel just wanted to offer some words of solace even if they were empty. He compromised.

"I really don't know. When Dru makes a vampire she..." Angel struggled to explain the results of Dru's various attempts. "Normally the person influences the demon who takes over the body. When Dru turns someone, something of the actual person is left behind."

"You mean I'm still Xander?" Angel thought back to Dalton, how the vampire could never hunt after his turning. He would feed from others' victims. In life, he'd lived for his books, and in death he'd been the same. Angel remembered how Dalton had burned, his own humanity turned to flame at the touch of the Judge.

"I don't know," Angel said as he left the room and started down the hallway.

"Angel?" Wesley asked in a firmer tone than Angel usually heard from the former watcher. Ever since he had fed a large number of Wolfram and Hart lawyers to Dru and Darla, the others had spent more time edging around him, avoiding him. He had even considered kicking them out to keep them away from his growing madness, but Doyle had told him that his redemption would come from living among humans, and he wasn't ready to give up on that goal.

However, where Cordelia and Gunn and Lorne had grown more suspicious and cautious, Wesley was becoming more assertive. Normally Angel would support Wesley's new attitude, but his demon's aggravation and Xander's presence left him very little energy to deal with the man's new determination.

"Wesley," Angel replied in a non-committal tone as he got to the bottom step and passed the man on his way to the kitchen.

"Angel, I'm sure you understand the source of our concerns."

"Our?" Angel asked as he went through the doors to the service areas of the hotel with Wesley tagging close behind.

"Fine then. I'm sure you can understand the source of my concern. The Aurelius family ties still seem to exert some influence over you if the recent incident with Darla is anything to judge by."

"I set fire to Darla and Dru," Angel pointed out as he reached the refrigerator and opened the heavy steel doors.

"You didn't stake them," Wesley countered, and Angel really didn't have an answer for that, so he remained silent as he pulled out the two remaining bags of blood and emptied them into a pan.

"And now your behavior around Xander is rather alarming." Wesley continued despite the fact that Angel kept his back to the man and swirled the slowly warming blood. "You must admit that your attitude toward Xander is a little disturbing. I mean, Cordelia said that you actually attempted to drain him."

"Are you upset that I attacked him or upset that I haven't staked him yet?" Angel asked as he started swirling faster. From the moment of silence, Wesley didn't have an answer. The only sound was the bottom of the pan scraping over the metal burner as Angel warmed the blood.

"I just don't like how his presence is affecting your mood," Wesley finally offered, and Angel stopped a moment as he considered that. They had no idea how close he was edging toward insanity, so he doubted Xander affected his mood as much as he just made it harder to hide his feelings. Angelus sent up another flare of resentment at having to answer to humans, and Angel returned his concentration to the blood.

"I'm fine."

"I hate to echo Cordelia, but I do agree that you have a history of hiding your problems. For example, none of us knew you were frustrated enough to condone a mass slaughter."

"Wesley," Angel growled in frustration, and he could hear the man physically back up. However, while the Wesley of Sunnydale would have fled in fear, this Wesley held his ground. Or at least he did once he had about ten feet of space and a stainless steel counter between the two of them.

"Angel, Xander is weaker than the fledge that I had to fight while training to be a watcher. If you unchained him, would he even be strong enough to defend himself or hunt?" Wesley's voice dripped with condemnation, and Angel struck out verbally.

"You want him to hunt?" Angel asked as he switched the stove off and reached for a large mug.

"What? No, of course not. That's not my point."

"Then what is your point, Wesley?" Angel demanded. He also started asking himself why he hadn't just kicked his human employees out when he had first considered it. When he'd bought the hotel and evicted the resident demon, he hadn't told them about the place or his past with it. He'd tried to leave them with the office while he moved to the hotel, but it had taken them two days to find him, and then Cordelia had announced that it was foolish to pay rent on both places, and Angel had been forced to stand back while the privacy he had carefully set up had been chipped away one piece at a time as phones and mail delivery and e-mail invaded his new space. Now he couldn't move without tripping over a human with a point.

"My point is that your treatment of him is..." Wesley stopped as Angel brought the cup up to his lips and started drinking. "Good lord. I thought you were fixing that for..." Wesley stopped again, and Angel fought down the image of ripping out the watcher's tongue so that he would be speechless from now on. He could feel Angelus' glee at the thought of actually doing it.

"Wesley, just say it," Angel finally sighed when the man stood opening and closing his mouth several times.

"You bastard. Xander is up there starving if his colour and his general weakness is any indication, and you stand there and drink the rest of the blood."

"Cordelia is bringing more," Angel pointed out after he drained the last of the blood. Three steps took him to the sink where he rinsed out the pan and the mug.

"That is not the point," Wesley snapped, and Angel felt his demon rise as he stared back. He hadn't even realized that his eyes were changing until Wesley backed up again. "Hunting vampires is not the same as chaining them to the wall and making them suffer," Wesley insisted with a stubborn expression. Angel resisted an urge to snarl and instead just started back toward the front counter.

"Angel?" Wesley followed, and Angel considered just coming out and telling the man that he was acting like a sycophantic minion. Of course Angelus actually enjoyed Wesley's diffident attitude on most days, but today wasn't one of those days. Today Angelus wanted to go upstairs and either kill the cringing thing that had invaded his territory or at the very least dominate him into submission and enjoy the feeling of Xander's servile terror.

Once he reached the front, Angel pulled a ceramic pitcher from underneath the counter before grabbing some paper towels and wiping the inside.

"Angel? Are we going to discuss this?"

"No," Angel answered as he dropped the used paper towels in the garbage.

"So what exactly are your plans for Xander Harris?"

"That's really not your business, Wes."

"I am a part of Angel Investigation, and since this affects all of us, I think it is my business." Wesley's voice now had a faint threadiness to it that revealed his nervousness, but Angel was impressed that the man was actually sticking to his guns.

"This is clan business," Angel corrected him, cocking his head to listen to Cordy's stream of complaints as the young woman approached the front door. "And Cordelia is back."

"This isn't over," Wesley promised, but Angel ignored the man in order to meet Cordelia at the door. She backed her way into the lobby dragging a huge cooler along the ground.

"How much did you get?" Angel asked in shock as he looked at the huge cooler. Striding over, he grabbed the handle to pick it up, and quickly slipped his second arm under the bottom just in case the handle broke under the heavy weight.

"I told Ondary that you had a fledge here who was nearly your size but about a cup short of turning to dust."

"Vampires can't starve to death," Angel corrected her. "Their brains just rot from the lack of blood, and they go insane." After putting the cooler on the counter, Angel turned around to find both Cordelia and Wesley gazing at him in abject horror. "What?"

"Okay, mister. I just spend 20 minutes watching Ondary drain the blood fresh from a cow so it would have more punch, so you'd better start feeding Xander. He wasn't that many brains cells ahead of insane to start with, and if you drive him over the edge, I will make you sorry."

"I'm not planning on starving him," Angel said as he took a knife from his belt and cut his own wrist. He angled his arm so that a full cup of his own blood drained into the white ceramic pitcher. Angel licked his wound closed as he flipped open the plastic lid on the cooler. Inside quickly cooling blood lay in neat packets. He grabbed three of them and cut the tops, allowing the still-warm liquid to mix with his own blood.

"Can you take this up for him before it cools?" Angel asked as he handed Cordelia the near full pitcher of blood. He grabbed another packet and punctured it with the knife before drinking it straight from the plastic container.

"Maybe I'd better go with you," Wesley commented as he picked up a crossbow from his desk behind the counter. He followed Cordy as she started across the lobby, but from the glare he directed over his shoulder toward Angel, he wasn't ready to let the topic entirely drop.

"I'll store some of this and start heating the rest for Xander," Angel said as he picked up the cooler and headed for the back. He knew he was taking a risk trusting Xander when the fledge was so hungry, but he needed to know how far Xander's streak of humanity actually went. Besides, if someone had to turn the vampire to dust, Wesley had a better chance of surviving Cordy's anger than he did.

Angel ignored the taunts of cowardice from his own mind as he went in back to find a larger pan and another pitcher.

Pouring the now tepid blood into the pan, Angel admitted to himself that he almost hoped Xander would lose control and throw himself at the fresh blood. He started stacking the extra blood in the large refrigerator as he imagined the scene. Cordelia would scream and drop the blood, and the smell of that much fresh blood would distract Xander even if Cordy was within range of the chained fledge. Wesley might have the mannerisms of a geek, but he had a core of steel, and Angel knew the man wouldn't miss with the crossbow. The fledge wearing Xander Harris' face would drift down particle by particle, his ashes coating the bed and drifting into the spilled blood, and that would be the end. Then maybe things would get back to normal.

Angel found himself surprised by the jolt of anger he felt at the image. The boy had been an idiot on so many occasions that Angel couldn't even count them, but despite getting threatened, broken, strangled, beaten, caged, chained and generally terrorized, he had always gotten back up and jumped in the fight again.

Angel compared that to his own past. Darla had forced him to choose between his soul and his clan, and he'd spent the next hundred years slinking down alleys and trying to come up with the nerve to walk into the morning sun. The only reason he hadn't was his own Catholic upbringing and a fear of hell. Of course that fear had turned out to be thoroughly justified, and Xander had his part in that discovery too.

Angel took the warm blood from the pan and repeated the process of cutting his own wrist before he added the cow blood to the second pitcher. Angelus admired the boy's persistence and Angel had to admit that he envied how the boy had unerringly tried to do the right thing. But at the same time, Angelus hated the weakness Dru's childer so often suffered, and Angel resented the universe for sticking him with his least favorite citizen of Sunnydale. Now if this had happened to Willow... Angel stopped as his imagination provided an image of a vampire Willow spread out on black silk, and Angelus added his own touch with bloody fang wounds decorating her neck and thighs.

Angel tightened his hold on the pitcher as he crossed the lobby and started climbing the stairs. Maybe he really did need to get Wesley and Cordelia away from him. Every day he felt like he was sliding closer to the abyss where Angelus waited with that damn smug smile. Angel turned the corner to the hall that led to Xander's room. Wesley stood in the hallway, facing the far end and a good eight feet past the open door. Angel stepped closer, and he heard Xander.

Looking in the open door, Angel saw a strange tableau. The empty pitcher tilted precariously on the end table, the handle balanced awkwardly against the lamp. The dusty bedspread had been kicked to the floor at the foot of the bed, and Cordelia sat on the bed with Xander curled in her lap. His arms circled her waist as she bent over him with her small hands rubbing soothingly over broad shoulders. Xander's back heaved with sobs, and the fledge made distressed sounds somewhere between crying and growling.

Angel looked at the miserable figure and flashed to a memory of William curled in the corner hugging himself as Angelus had made the young fledge watch his own games with Drusilla. With every fall of the whip, Drusilla had screamed her pleasure, and William had given another sob. A wave of guilt washed over Angel as he once again faced the fact that he had driven William into becoming Spike. Every kill on Spike's impressive list was at Angelus' doorstep.

Stepping into the room, Angel did what he had never done for William. He started the purr low and soft, a sound to entice a lover or soothe a childe. Cordelia turned and looked at him with swollen red eyes, and Angel nodded slightly even as Xander scrambled away. Ignoring Xander's sudden fear, Angel continued purring as he moved toward the bed. He deposited his full pitcher next to the empty one which clattered down onto its side allowing a couple of drops of blood to drip onto the wood.

Angel held out a hand for Cordelia, helping her off the bed as he took Cordy's spot. At first Xander scooted as far away as he could as he struggled to stop his ragged breathing, but Angel continued his soothing purr as he touched Xander's shoulder. The skin was warmer now, the flesh firmer even though Xander still didn't have enough blood in him to give him any color. Angel pulled Xander toward him. At first the fledge resisted, but without warning, Xander surrendered and buried his face in Angel's thigh just as he had hidden in Cordelia's lap.

Angel soothed the crying fledge despite Angelus sneering at him in the back of his mind. Reaching down to rip his own wrist open with fangs, Angel offered Xander sire's blood fresh from the source.

"Drink," Angel said, and Xander didn't need a second invitation. Not only did Xander begin pulling at the wound, but he also sunk his own fangs deep into Angel's flesh, and Angel groaned at the feeling of having another feed from him.




Evening hadn't yet fallen when Angel woke with the dry smell of dust and the bitter smell of stale blood and the earthy scent of vampire assaulting him. For a moment he couldn't even figure out why he had a heavy weight anchoring his left side, but then he looked down at the curly, dark hair and pale flesh curled up against his own red shirt. Xander's fingers tangled with the fabric of his hem, and Angel reached down and slowly uncurled Xander's fingers. The fledge was tired and still recovering from the near starvation levels of blood Giles had provided and the emotion of facing his former friends.

Angel could feel Angelus' heavy anger at Giles' treatment of Xander, but he also knew that Giles didn't know how to care for a fledge. Spike could have told them they were starving Xander, but Angel doubted Spike wanted Xander around at all. Once Spike overcame of his own strangeness, he resented any reminders of his young life. And Xander certainly did remind Angel of the young William. His humanity was still draped around him, except in Xander's case even more so.

Angel brushed curls away from a face indistinguishable from the real Xander Harris. Drusilla had created her most human childe with this one. He had thought Dalton was the height of her madness, but Xander exceeded even that bookish vampire. He had cried about his parents even as he had snarled his fury with their neglectful care and their drinking. Angel could identify considering his own issues with his father.

Angel reconsidered that thought. His anger at his father had taken on demonic proportions, including killing not just his father but about half the village where they had lived. Angelus had killed Kathy, but at least his little sister had died quickly, and not all the people of his village had enjoyed that blessing. However, Xander's vengeance had been limited to the people who had actually hurt him in life. But then again, Xander had killed to get the car to come to L.A. He'd killed quietly and efficiently and without remorse. Angel considered Xander's beautiful, childlike face. He'd killed without a second thought, but he hadn't let his prey suffer, choosing instead to kill and drink from dead bodies. He was an enigma. And considering the emotional pain Xander had suffered at home, he was surprised that Xander's parents had earned a quick and quiet death.

Back in Sunnydale, Angel had once or twice thought it strange that Xander could be out half the night without anyone commenting. Buffy would have to sneak out or lie. Xander's parents never commented. He should have realized. If Angel had known how much Xander had suffered.... he thought about that for a moment. He probably wouldn't have done anything. While he knew how to deal with an insane slayer strangling the boy, he wouldn't have known what to do about a father who regularly introduced Xander as the poster child for abortion. From what he could tell from Xander's fragments of stories, Tony Harris had found the drunken joke amusing no matter how many times he told it.

It took several minutes of looking down at his newest childe before Angel realized he didn't feel Angelus threatening to strip his sanity. Angelus certainly sent up suggestions about the best way to remind a childe of his place, but as long as Xander was willing to submit, he was willing to live without the more sadistic games. Angelus had enjoyed William's loyalty and submission just as much as he had enjoyed William's pain and humiliation, so having even part of that joy back had quieted the demon's complaints.

Well, it had quieted most of the demon's complaints. Xander had fed heavily, and Angel could feel hunger twisting his guts. He slowly slid out of the bed without waking Xander who clearly needed more sleep. Angel picked up both empty pitchers now crusted with dried blood before heading out the door.

Angel's demon growled its hunger as he headed toward the kitchen despite having consumed the entire pitcher of blood he had brought up for Xander. He hadn't had so much blood since... since Sunnydale and the whole reign of terror. However, back then, he hadn't been trying to feed a starving fledge back to health. He needed blood.

"So, does this make you his sire?" an English voice asked from behind him on the stair, and Angel just continued to descend. "The watcher's diaries are rather vague on the exact nature of siring a fledge; in fact, the relationships between you, Dru, and Spike have spawned dozens of papers on the subject. When Spike publicly claimed you as sire in Sunnydale, there were quite a few teachers at the watcher academy with egg on their faces.

Angel really had no interest in what the watchers thought or who was caught off guard by Spike's comment. Drusilla had made Spike, but he was Spike's sire. He'd taught the boy to hunt. He had raped and fed beside William. The two of them had fought countless battles side by side, and he had to admit that a small part of him missed that. However, he didn't think either Wesley or Cordelia would sleep any better for knowing how much he missed certain parts of his past. So he didn't give any answer at all.
"So, what exactly is his place in the organization?" Wesley just kept talking and following until Angel had to push down the demon's frustration. "I mean, is he going to be going out on calls with you? Might I show up one night and find him minding the phones? Is he to be trusted and given full access to the hotel or will he be spending his free time chained to the wall in his room?"

"Enough, Wesley."

"No, quite frankly, it's not enough. You have been acting on impulses that the rest of us cannot even understand and you refuse to explain yourself or even give us any reason to trust that you still have full control of your faculties. I am reasonable in asking what exactly you mean to do with Xander."

"I vote stake him," a deep voice said from the doorway, and Angel felt Angelus rise up in fury at the suggestion. Angelus might maim or even kill his underlings, but no one else had a right to suggest the same. Gunn's off-handed remark had stirred Angelus back into motion. The moment of quiet sanity he'd enjoyed since waking up ended, and again the demon stalked his mind seeking any crack that would allow his rage to escape.

"You won't touch him," Angel curtly ordered as he continued toward the kitchen. If he had to deal with Wes in an aggressive mood and Gunn in a staking mood, he definitely needed blood. Maybe Gunn recognized the danger because he followed silently until Angel had heated his mug.

"So, I take it he's your homeboy now." Gunn leaned against a counter and watched with sharp eyes. Angel also didn't miss the way Gunn's hand stayed near the waistband of his jeans. Angel felt both his own frustration at having to constantly prove himself and Angelus' cold rage at a human who had the nerve to issue such a challenge.

"I'm not evil, Gunn."

"Really? 'Cause I heard you spent the night sleeping with the monster you got chained upstairs." Gunn's words made Wesley flush, and Angel didn't have to ask where Gunn had gotten his information.

"He needed to talk. Vampires aren't by nature solitary, and he needed to have someone there. I didn't do anything that would make Wes blush, and I didn't lose my soul." Angel glared at both men, and he could feel Angelus' swirling rage making suggestions about more effective ways of making them go away.

"Funny enough, it's getting harder to tell since the lawyer buffet," Gunn shot back. "So what's the deal with the dead Zeppo?"

"Don't call him that," Angel snapped before he could fully regain control of his temper, and Wesley's eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hairline. However, Wesley's voice was clear and calm despite the rising smell of salt-sweetened panic.

"Since I know that you had very little patience for Xander while he was in Sunnydale, I'm assuming that last night changed things between you," Wesley observed quietly, and Angel sighed in frustration. He didn't want to have this discussion with these two men, especially since what he was feeling right now had nothing to do with his redemption. What he was feeling had to do with his vampire nature: the need to feel his childe submit, the need to feel his childe feed, the need to make his childe beg. Angel pushed those thoughts aside and tried to find an explanation that wouldn't horrify either these two men or Angel himself. He wasn't Angelus and he wouldn't allow Angelus' needs to control his life.

"He's helpless. He may not have a soul, but his turning didn't go right, and he isn't a mindless killer."

"Didn't go right?" Wesley stepped forward in curiosity, and Angel was caught between not wanting to have this discussion and being grateful that Wesley's attention was off his own relationship with Xander.

"Dru's childer are sometimes more human than they should be." Angel froze when he realized his mistake. He thought about explaining that he wasn't suggesting that mindless and vicious killing was right, but instead he remained silent and hoped they missed the implication of that 'should be'. He could hear Angelus' quiet laugh echoing in the corners of his mind, and Gunn's sideways glance suggested that he had caught the slip. However, Wesley seemed too distracted to notice it.

"How exactly do you turn a vampire 'wrong'?" he asked.

"I have no idea," Angel admitted in a tired voice. "I would sometimes watch while she turned a minion, but when I was watching, she would create normal vampires. But if I wasn't watching her..." Angel thought again of Dalton who was so human Darla wanted to snap his neck. Only Drusilla's whispers of stars and prophesies had kept the vampire unalive. "She sometimes created vampires who still retained their humanity," Angel finally concluded.

"You mean they kept their souls?" Gunn demanded sharply.

"No." Angel quickly added. "They didn't care about right or wrong in general, but they cared about whatever they cared about in life." For some reason, Angel didn't want to share the pieces of Xander he'd learned while soothing the crying fledge. Even Angelus had taken those shared pieces of Xander's pain as an offering. The demon didn't feel sorry for Xander, but he took Xander's willingness to endure and share the agony as a childe's submission to his sire. However, Angel wasn't sure how else to explain how Dru's childer differed from a typical vampire.

"Xander killed his parents because they had abused him. He doesn't feel guilty about killing them, but he still cried because now that they're dead, they won't ever apologize to him or try and make up for what they did. He didn't torture them because some part of him still saw them as his parents. Xander won't kill his friends from Sunnydale. He had a chance to kill Giles and even though he was hungry, he didn't." Angel could see Gunn's suspicions as clearly as if they were written in bold block letters on his head. Wes just seemed slightly bewildered. Angel couldn't blame the man since he'd felt pretty much the same way the first time he'd met Dalton.

Angel thought out how to explain the rest. He couldn't in good conscience allow his people to trust Xander or think of Xander as human. "However, he doesn't have a soul. So Cordy is safe around him because the human Xander cared about her. He might leave you two alone because killing you would hurt Cordy. However, he doesn't have the same idea of right and wrong, so if he's hungry, he'll kill a stranger on the street and not feel any remorse at all."

Angel watched as Gunn's body relaxed somewhat. Strange, Gunn was more comfortable now that Angel had admitted Xander was still a cold-blooded killer. On the other hand, Wes looked shocked and confused.

"But if he is capable of caring for humans, how can he just kill?"

"He's capable of caring for individuals… he doesn't feel any responsibility towards humans in general. Wes, he's not human."

"There is nothing in the Watcher's Diaries that…." Wesley's words were cut off by Angel's angry growl.

"And there won't be. Xander is not a test subject, and if watcher mercenaries show up here to drag him off, they won't survive the attack." Angel slammed his empty mug down on the counter. Immediately he focused all his attention inward as he struggled to force Angelus back. His demon finally had something that would make a demon happy: a childe who turned to him for life and death; a childe who writhed in pain and showed all that pain to his sire; a childe who clung to him in need while still being a dangerous killer. It was like having William back again, and Angelus had enjoyed his boy more than he had ever let on.

"Angel?" Wes asked in a sharp, high voice.

"Just… just don't put me in that position, Wes. He's helpless and chained and afraid, and I won't let him be turned into a guinea pig."

"The way the government turned Bleached Wonder Boy into an experiment?" Gunn demanded, his hand once more suspiciously close to the back of his pants. Angel slipped into his expressionless mask as he tried to process Angelus' rage fast enough to avoid saying something stupid.

"William, the human part of Spike, is gone. What he does with his life or what other people do to him isn't my concern," Angel lied. "However, Xander still has much of his humanity, so much so that he can't defend himself the way a normal vampire could. I won't let some sadists take him."

"Right. Considering my own exile from the Council came with some angry words, I doubt they truly want to hear any of my observations anyway." Wesley turned and started walking out of the kitchen. Angel could smell the near terror levels of fear coming from Wes after his own declaration that he would kill to defend Xander, but the man walked slowly and steadily, never looking back.

"Yeah, just keep that undead thing away from me," Gunn added as he followed Wesley although he managed to take a more winding path that allowed him to keep an eye on Angel most of the way to the door. Angel sighed and washed out his mug before putting it on the counter to dry. He reconsidered his earlier idea about getting his humans as far away as he could. Ever since Darla had started sending him dreams, he was finding it harder and harder to hold back on his instincts. She had stirred the demon, and he didn't want to spend the next hundred years lurking back alleys as he tried to get Angelus to give up on the struggle for control.

Angelus snarled angrily at the thought of those years of despair, and Angel wondered whether he was going to have a choice. Maybe he just needed to leave. Of course leaving would mean leaving Xander since his very presence made Angelus stir, but Cordy would take care of him. He'd protect her, and if she asked him to not kill, he wouldn't. Or at least he wouldn't kill openly or anywhere that Cordy would find out. And his redemption was truly slipping away with that thought.

Angel walked out into the lobby and considered his plan. He needed to find a place as far away from humans as possible. Maybe he could work on his redemption later when he'd gotten control back from Angelus. The lobby was empty, and Angel allowed his thoughts to drift to Buffy. He ached with a need to be with her, but with Angelus so near the surface, he didn't even trust himself to call her on the phone and tell her he was leaving. Maybe he could send her a letter.

A commotion at the door caught his attention, and Angel strode across the lobby, anxious to take care of it so that he could act on his newly formed plan. Opening the door, he could see Gunn struggling with two men as a few dying rays of the sun scattered light across the courtyard. The two men were huge and one had Gunn's arms jerked up behind his back.

Ignoring the random patches of fading light, Angel rushed out and grabbed the second man who had poised his arm to punch Gunn again. Using more of his vampire strength than he intended, Angel ripped the man away from Gunn and tossed him across the courtyard. Angel reached out to pull Gunn away from the second man when he felt a bolt of heat and a sharp stabbing pain rip through his back. Angel fell to his knees with a howl.

He distantly realized Gunn was fighting to get to him, and he pushed himself back up to his feet, game face showing. Turning around, he found himself confronted by a dozen men in suits. Angel snarled and reached out toward one and a second burning pain hit him, this time in the thigh. Angel's leg collapsed at the electricity of the tazer ran through his muscle.

Reaching down to pull the tazer wires out, Angel felt a third and fourth strikes, one in his arm, and the second in his chest. Unable to fight off the pain or reclaim control of his trembling muscles, Angel sank down into the darkness of unconsciousness.

Xander woke slowly, trying to figure out why he felt so different. The obvious answer--that he was a vampire now--he pushed away since he'd had nearly a month to get used to that. He noticed that the burning hunger had gone, and that was quickly followed by a memory of feeding from Angel's arm.

Xander wished he could see in a mirror because he really was curious about whether he could still blush. He'd come to say goodbye to Cordy and get a nice quick staking, but instead he had ended up crying in Deadboy's arms and really, was there anything more embarrassing in all the world? Okay, it wasn't quite as embarrassing as if he had broken down in Spike's arms, but it came close.

Xander pushed himself up on his still manacled arms and he tried to remember just how much of an idiot he'd made of himself the night before. Of course, Angel was used to him being an idiot so at least he didn't have far to fall in the older vampire's eyes. Xander physically jerked at the thought of falling in his sire's eyes at all.

"Oh no. No no no. Come on, how much Xander hateage can one universe have?" Xander asked the ceiling as he fell back against the pillows and considered his current feelings for Angel. The slight contempt was still there, and he still had a whole studio audience of insecurities about being inferior. However, the first casual thought of letting Angel down had crashed into him like a wave... a tidal wave... a fucking tsunami.

Xander recognized the feelings as the same he had earlier felt when Spike would sneak into the bathroom and point out how much Dru hated him. The punk vampire would whisper to him about how Dru had left him on the watcher's lawn to get staked, about how he wasn't even good enough to be a minion to the dark princess. Xander had been chained in the bathtub where Spike had once lived, unable to strike back at those hateful words or escape them. Xander had learned to put on a good enough face to fool the others into thinking he wasn't bothered when Spike would make comments about Xander's missing sire, but Spike's knowing, cruel grin had revealed the other vampire's glee at hurting him. Now all those fears and desperate longings were tied up in Angel.

Xander took several deep unnecessary breaths as he tried to remember how much he had revealed. He'd told Angel about his parents and the young couple whose car he'd stolen. If Xander was going to be perfectly honest with himself, he was surprised to still be the moving and un-dusty version of dead after that confession. The fact that Angel had responded with purring and touching and holding left him teetering between a burning need to find his sire and a general humiliation that left him never wanting to face anyone again.

He glanced toward the curtained window, and the light was no longer creeping in at the edges, so Xander figured it was night and Angel must already be up and working. He pulled idly at the chains, not really expecting to be able to break them, but he'd seen enough spy shows to know that when you woke up chained you were supposed to pull the chains. It was like a rule or something. He gave the chains a second pull just because he had nothing else to do.

Using that theory, Xander sat up so that he leaned against the wall and randomly pulled at the chains as he waited for his sire to come back. Sire. Xander rolled that word around in his head as he listened to the various footsteps downstairs. He had no idea how Angel had done it, but Xander could feel the need to please Angel rising up on the ashes of his need to please Dru. Okay, ashes might be a little strong since he still felt the slightest urge to cry at the fact that Dru hadn't wanted him, but he'd been feeling that same rejection from women for so long that he should be used to it by now. The need to please Angel... now that was new.

Footsteps came down the hall, and Xander tried to decide if Angel was in the group hurrying toward his room. He hadn't yet decided when the bedroom door flew open and Cordy, Wes, and some bald, black guy came though it.

Xander barely stopped himself from snarling when the black guy pointed a crossbow straight at him. Gunn. Xander remembered Willow telling him about Gunn, the pseudo gang member who killed vamps. If Cordy hadn't been in the room, Xander truly would have vamped out.

"We have a slight problem," Cordelia exclaimed breathlessly as she stood at the side of the bed closest to the door.

"Slight as in Snyder in the hallway or slight as in invi-girl?" Xander asked without taking his eyes off Gunn. Gunn returned his glare, and Xander could smell small wisps of fear that he was almost sure came from the man. Somehow the fact that Gunn was scared of him made him feel a whole lot better.

"Slight as in Willow's boyfriend who clanked." Cordelia's words distracted Xander from glaring at Gunn, and he turned his attention to Cordy. Clanking boyfriend bad was really, really bad.

"What's up?" he asked. Earlier he hadn't minded the chains. Of course at the time he thought he was about to become dust and they wouldn't really matter, but now the idea of clanking boyfriend bad made him rise to one knee and eye the wall where the manacles attached. If there was clanking boyfriend bad in the hotel, he didn't want to lie here helpless, and Xander realized that for the first time in a month, he care about living. Unliving. Whatever.

"Angel. He's missing." Cordy's words were soft, but Xander felt them like a cold knife. He tried to quiet his own need to growl and snap at the news since he didn't think these three would be impressed.

"How long?" Xander asked after just a moment.

"A van pulled up in front of the hotel and a group what we assume to be humans tazered him and pulled him in just a few minutes ago," Wesley offered.

"And what we should be doing is trying to find that van not standing here with walking corpse boy while Angel gets dragged farther away," Gunn put in, and Xander had to fight against his game face.

"Xander could be a great assistance. Since he has fed on Angel's blood, he should be able to track his scent rather effectively."

"Xander? Will you help?" Cordy stepped forward and now Xander spotted the key in her hand.

"You trust me to help?" Xander asked in amazement. He'd begged Buffy to let him help, to let him prove himself the way Spike had. The conversation hadn't ended well what with Riley offering to track down the doctor who had implanted the chip in Spike and Willow crying and Spike smiling arrogantly enough that Xander knew the vampire would be back to make fun of him late at night when no one else was around. Xander shook his head to clear the memory and force back the demon face.

"Hell, no. We just don't have any better alternatives. But don't go trying to pass yourself off as some do-gooder because I'm not buying," Gunn immediately snapped. "And if you get those teeth anywhere near any of us, I will stake your sorry ass."

"I'm not a do-gooder," Xander snarled, and this time he allowed his fangs to show and a bit of yellow to leech into his eye color. "I'm not about to kill Cordy or Wes, and I'll give you a temporary pass because those two like you. But if humans took Angel, they aren't going to survive the mistake."

"Xander!" Cordelia gasped, and she stopped dead just out of his range.

"Cordy, I don't have a soul. I may have pieces of my humanity left, pieces that love you and want to curl up and die because Willow turned on me and even pieces that make me fall down and go boom in the shower. That doesn't make me human. It just makes me a demon with serious screw loosage." For a moment Xander thought he'd lost his chance to get free, but Cordelia nodded and moved forward. Xander held out his hands, and she unlocked each cuff with a dull snick of metal.

"Where'd they grab him?"

"Out front," Wesley offered, and Xander pushed himself off the bed and headed for the door. Gunn didn't move, his crossbow still aimed unerringly at Xander's heart. Xander snarled his frustration.

"Might want to get dressed there, Zeppo. Half naked vamps attract a lot of attention." Xander shot Cordy an angry glance and she had the decency to duck her head at having told the black man the nickname.

"Don't even try and make her feel guilty," Gunn ordered.

"Oh, please, Cordy has about as much guilt as I do," Xander dryly commented. "Angel sucks up all the guilt around him like some sort of black hole of guilt." Xander looked down and realized that bare-chested and barefoot was not a good way to start a rescue mission. "Um, does anyone have any clothes I can wear?"

"I'll show you Angel's closet. And if you meant that guilt comment as an insult, you'll pay for that mister," Cordelia huffed as she walked out of the room. Gunn lowered the crossbow to point at the floor although he didn't put it down, and Xander followed Cordelia into the hall. His back itched at the thought that someone who wanted to kill him was at his back with a sharp wooden weapon, but then he'd been ignoring that little voice that told him he was doing something stupid for a long time now.

"So, I have to wonder if Angel is now your sire." Wesley commented, and Xander lost a half step in the hall. Had Angel denied being his sire? Xander's mind ran circles as he tried to figure that one out. Before anyone could notice he was being stranger than usual, Xander picked up his pace again as he followed Cordelia to Angel's room.

"I'm kinda new to this vamp deal, Wes. You probably need to ask Angel that," Xander hedged. The words tried to stick in his throat, but he gave a casual shrug as if being rejected by a second sire meant nothing. He thought being raised by the Harrises had prepared him for being ignored and rejected, but the Harrises had nothing on the Aurelius. Xander was starting to understand why Spike was such a pain in the ass considering his family. Cordy pushed open a door, and Xander followed her quickly hoping to escape more difficult questions.

Inside the room, Xander could smell Angel-sire scent everywhere. The odor clung to the bed in a cloud, and Xander breathed deeply. Cordy was pulling shirts out of the closet, and Xander grabbed a green one based strictly on smell of Angel that still lingered in the fabric. Behind him, Gunn made some comment that he didn't truly hear, but the sarcastic tone came through loud and clear. Xander turned and flashed a game-faced snarl as he slipped his arms into the sleeves of his borrowed shirt.

"Xander!" Cordy backhanded him across his arm, and Xander dropped back into his human mask before ducking his head.

"Sorry," he offered as Cordy turned to the problem of shoes.

"Don't growl at Gunn," she sniffed as she offered boots that were at least two sizes too large.

"Um, Cord? Little big for me," Xander said as he lifted the boots slightly.

"Is that what you told Angel last night?" Gunn asked from his place leaning against the door frame, and it took Xander several seconds to connect the idea of shoe size and penis size and Angel sharing his bed the previous evening. When he finally did make the connection, Xander flashed a little fang without going into game face and growled an answer.

"You only have a temporary pass with me what with the whole Cordelia friend package, so I wouldn't push it if I were you," Xander pointed out in a flat tone of voice that would have warned his friends that he was dangerously angry. Gunn wasn't one of his friends, and Gunn didn't take the warning.

"I'm not afraid of any vamp. Really not afraid of some half starved fledge." Gunn's casual answer angered Xander to the core of his being. The man in front of him was a human, an animal barely evolved past crawling in the swamp. Xander was a demon. He belonged to a race that had ruled earth before humans had crawled out of the mire, and he could feel the ancient demonic powers flowing through him. And still, this animal threatened him. Xander slipped into game face before even realizing it, and he stepped forward intent on stopping such insolence.

Gunn swung his crossbow up, and Xander lunged. With one hand he hit the crossbow so hard that the front curve snapped and the weapon flew from Gunn's grasp. With his other hand, he grabbed Gunn by the neck and pushed the man back and out of the room until he had him up against the wall.

"Xander!!" a female voice broke through his rage, and Xander glanced over at the familiar and shocked face. For a half second he saw another animal throwing herself against his strength, and then he blinked at the image became Cordelia pulling against the arm he was using to hold Gunn. "Let him go mister or I swear I'll make you the sorriest vamp on the planet. You'll have more to brood about than Angel." Despite the threat, Xander felt a surge of affection rise for the woman who had given him some of his greatest and most humiliating moments. He released Gunn and let Cordelia pull him back a few feet.

"You better watch your back there, Zeppo." Gunn did a good imitation of a vampire snarl as he rubbed his neck.

"I'm not the one who needs to worry," Xander offered quietly and the hall became silent.

"Yes, well, I think right now we need to focus on the common goal of getting Angel back. Perhaps these other conflicts can wait until..."

"Right. We'll get Angel back and then I'm out of here." Xander turned back to Angel's room and started opening drawer after drawer in search of socks to make the large boots wearable.

"Xander?" Cordy stood at the doorway, and for the first time, Xander saw faint traces of the fear and doubt he'd seen in Willow's eyes.

"I made a mistake coming here," Xander said. He'd made more mistakes than that, but coming to LA was the mistake he was willing to admit to. "I'll help you find Angel and then I'll leave." Xander silently added a lot more to that comment in his head. He'd leave before the doubt and fear pushed out all other emotions in Cordelia's eyes. He'd leave before he killed Gunn and earned a stake in the heart. He'd leave before he had another sire knock him unconscious and leave him outside to wait for sunrise. Maybe it was time to work on the whole fear of fire thing.

Xander found the socks and pulled out three heavy pairs before sitting on the bed and using vamp speed to pull on socks and the oversized boots. Good enough fit for him to start tracking.

"Where did you last see him?"

"On the street just outside of the courtyard," Wesley answered, and Xander walked out of the room. In the hall he passed Gunn who now held half the broken crossbow in a fist, clearly prepared to stake him. Xander snorted his disgust for the human as he hurried down the stairs and out the door.

In the small courtyard, the smell of fear and electricity lingered in the stone, a strange contrast against the sweet night-blooming jasmine. Xander walked to the center of the unsettling scents. Ozone from an electrical discharge. Sire scent. Humans, at least two he could identify. Fear. Adrenaline. Xander started walking toward the gate, following the scents.

At the street, the trail ended in a stream of diesel and gasoline and oil and asphalt, but not before Xander got an indication of direction. Knowing he had almost no chance of finding anything and knowing that Angel might already be dead and even knowing that finding Angel meant being rejected in person, Xander still started walking. It was all he could do, and he had never learned how to give up.

"Where are you going?" Wesley asked as he followed.

"I have no idea," Xander admitted as he kept walking down the dark sidewalk. There was no scent trail at all to follow now, and Xander knew he might as well be looking for a literal needle in a haystack.

"Can you follow the trail?" Wes squinted down the darkened street.


"Then... why?" Wesley followed Xander for a couple of hundred feet before Xander answered. Glancing back, he could see Cordy and Gunn still standing back by the hotel, and Xander struggled for an answer that he didn't have. Then again, he was never answer-boy. That was Giles' job description. Or sometimes Oz's. Oz could give some good answers when he actually got around to talking.

"I don't know what else to do," Xander finally admitted.

"Come back to the hotel then," Wesley's hand landed on his arm, and Xander allowed the man to stop him. Looking into Wes' eyes, Xander could see the caution, the worry that one wrong move could mean Xander killing him. Xander had no idea why that look bothered him, but it did.

"I don't belong there, Wes. If Angel's out there, I'll find him and send him home. If not..." Xander didn't answer that question. Really, in the end his future wouldn't change whether or not he found Angel, but he didn't want to think that his sire might turn to dust before him. "Just go back and take care of Cordy for me," Xander finally finished.

"Xander," Wes said uncertainly.

"Wes. Go back." Xander insisted. They stood under the light of a yellow streetlamp staring into each other's eyes, and Xander could feel Wes's hand on his arm pulling him back toward the hotel. However, Wes didn't have the strength to budge him, and the man eventually let his hand fall down to his side. "Please," Xander added. Wesley's shoulders dropped as he took a step backwards towards the Hyperion. Xander turned away from the human and started walking.

Xander leaned against the cement brick of a wall and let his eyes fall closed. He had no idea where to go from here. The faint scent of his sire had faded within a hundred yards of the hotel and now he was just wandering the street aimlessly. Tilting his head up slightly, Xander opened his mouth so that he could better scent the air even though, as expected, he didn't find anything at all. In a city this size, he could wander the streets for months without finding Angel, and that was assuming Angel was alive and still in the city.

Xander shivered at the idea that his sire could be dead or imprisoned somewhere that Xander would never find him. He breathed deeply and categorized the various smells: rotting food, car fumes, sewer water, dog feces, human body odor, ashes, smog, a Pylean demon, drying paint, musty paper.

The only conclusion Xander reached was that he hated L.A. as a vampire even more than he had hated it as a human. He rubbed his nose to try and ease the stinging, sharp smell of garbage, but absolutely nothing in the air told him where to look for his sire. Xander was about to push off from the wall to continue the search when a body hit his, shoving him toward an alley.

Another fledge might have gone into game face, but Xander found his instincts in that matter were a little less than vampirely, which had at one point in the recent past led to a round of taunt the vampire from Spike. Now it allowed him to keep his human mask in place as three teenagers shoved him into the alley.

"Hand over your wallet and you won't get hurt," the tallest teen, a Hispanic boy with long stringy hair, hissed his order. Xander smiled slowly even though the shortest had a dull knife pushing into his stomach. The thought of these three threatening him was so ludicrous that it approached amusing. Oh hell, it was amusing. Xander breathed deeply, enjoying the smell of aggression and fear that drifted of their bodies.

"Small problem. Don't have one," Xander shrugged as he arranged his features into helpless submission. The couple in the car he had killed out of need and hunger. Right now he didn't need anything from these three, and he wasn't particularly hungry yet, but they had sealed their fate when they had challenged him. They were vermin trying to challenge his superior strength, and Xander loved the feeling of knowing that he wasn't the one in danger here. They were the Zeppos in this alley, and he was just about to make their final lesson a memorable one.

"Don't fuck with us," the tall one hissed in a thick accent, and Xander held up his hands as if in surrender.

"Not fucking with you. Not fucking you either considering how you smell, but most definitely not fucking with you." The comment caught the three so off guard that the one with the knife backed off a half step. Xander took that moment since he really didn't want to see Angel's shirt ruined by a knife thrust. He reached out and grabbed the short one's knife hand, yanking as hard as he could. With his vampire strength, that was hard enough that the boy's feet lost contact with the ground a half second before his face made contact with the concrete wall with a squishing thud.

"Ew," Xander complained sarcastically as he gave a sly smile. Turning his head to the two remaining attackers, he watched as they stood helpless with shock.

"Fucking assh..." The tall one didn't get any farther since Xander's fist drove his nose back and into his brain. Xander could feel the bone and cartilage yield under the force of his hand, and the sheer power exhilarated him.

"Oh man, just... you know, we only wanted...." The last gang member was reduced to random babbling, and Xander remembered what that had felt like. He remembered babbling when Dru had appeared in the hallway of his apartment building gliding toward him seductively. He remembered the terror of knowing that his life and death was totally out of his control. The gang member had backed himself into a blue dumpster that smelled of rotting lettuce, and Xander stalked forward.

By now his human self would have been running, screaming for help. Hell, his human self had run screaming from Dru, nearly breaking his neck on the stairs, and then a skank-faced minion and appeared below him.

He had crashed into the vamp, rolling them both down a flight of stairs with the vamp on the bottom and taking most of the heavy blows. Xander had slammed into the wall at the bottom and had been stunned enough to lay there struggling for breath for a moment. He had gotten up to run again, but he had been just a little too slow. Still, he had died doing everything he could to escape.

"God, you really are pathetic. You're just standing here waiting to die," Xander said as he let his hands fall on the metal dumpster on either side of the teenager's head. The dull metallic thud made the would-be mugger flinch. "So weak. So pathetically and humiliatingly weak." Xander lowered his head to scent the wonderful fear that flowed off the body trapped between him and the dumpster. Xander was about to bite when another smell hit him like needles in his nose. Sneezing, Xander backed off a step and considered the shaking creature with urine flowing down its leg.

"You're too pathetic to even bother with," he said with a sneer. The boy stood trembling, and Xander turned his back to consider the first two attackers. A scrambling noise behind him told him that the boy with the weak bladder had run for it, but he didn't care. He wasn't about to eat something that smelled like that.

The first gangster lay in a pool of fresh blood that seeped from a cracked skull. Snarling at the wasted blood that now pooled on the dirty pavement, Xander grabbed the second gangster, the one he punched, and sunk his teeth into the neck. Without the heart to pump blood up to him, he had trouble pulling enough blood from the body to truly satisfy him; however, he drew a pint or two into his mouth before dropping the body on the pavement again.

Xander checked his shirt and pants to make sure he was still respectable looking before stepping out of the alley and picking a direction. A car passed on the street, even in this bad neighborhood, even at this late hour. Humans, going on their lives without ever knowing they passed a demon. Well, most humans did. Xander wondered if Willow and Cordy would have a problem with him feeding on the gang member, not that either woman would ever find out. No, Xander thought he had seen the last of his former friends. They were right. He wasn't Xander and he wouldn't become Xander even to earn their trust.

Xander set a strong walking pace down the street as he continued searching for the scent of his sire. He wasn't really anything. He wasn't Xander, he wasn't a minion, he wasn't a childe, he wasn't a normal vampire, but he didn't have a soul. Hell, he didn't even have a chip that bought him a ticket into... well, Spike wasn't exactly in Buffy's good graces, but the chip had earned him a place in the Scooby gang. And he refused to start brooding about that. Buffy could have Spike with all his sire-issues. It wasn't like it was Xander's fault that Dru had eaten him without ever looking Spike up for a quick roll in the sack.

Xander froze as a particular scent drifted by him. He tasted the air, certain that he had made a mistake, but he found the scent again. Xander turned around and scanned the street behind him. A broken street light left a large section of the street dark, and Xander closed his eyes for a moment before pulling up his demon vision. With his true eyes, he could spot movement far quicker and the dark didn't bother him at all. His search didn't discover anything more interesting than the sharp-edged outline of two cars and one van parked along the street and a cat walking a fire escape.

Tilting his head, he again found the smell of the human who had invaded the hotel courtyard teasing his nose. He could smell the prey, but he couldn't see it. Xander started wandering back the way he came, walking into the wind so that he could find the source of that smell. A low growl rumbled from his throat, and he knew he should stop before the prey went running the other direction, but he couldn't quite seem to find the off switch.

After passing one car, Xander focused on the van. Suddenly, the side-panel door slid open and four men in suits jumped out. Xander went into full game face and leapt forward before his brain could point out that men trying to jump a vampire could possibly know about vampires and might just be prepared.

Xander felt the burning pain slash into his chest as the tazer's wires hit him. He immediately tore them out and reached forward to grab his attacker, a white man old enough to have small wrinkles at the edges of his eyes. Xander's hand closed around the man's suit jacket, and instantly his hand felt as though it was dipped in fire. Xander screamed in pain and anger before slamming the human into the side of the van with a satisfying ring of bone against metal.

A burning pain traveled from his leg up to his chest, making Xander fall forward so that his forearms left two long dents in the side of the van. Reaching back, he ripped the new tazer wires from his body and tried to turn; however, his feet became tangled in the body at his feet. Oversized shoes and Zeppo instincts overcame the demon's advantages, and Xander fell to the concrete sidewalk on one knee hard enough that he could smell his own blood almost instantly.

Another man in a suit, this time a black man with sharp eyes, hit him with another tazer, and Xander struggled to his feet. Xander took the hit in the arm, and his whole body shook in pain. The hand that had touched the first attacker still burned, and his knee felt like he just might have broken it.

Xander snarled his frustration and leaped onto the roof of the van in one move… of course the landing made his knee hurt so bad that he immediately collapsed, but he escaped the tazers. After sliding down the front of the van and over the hood, Xander took several running steps away from the attackers when the black man shouted something that made Xander pause.

"Angel!" the deep rumbling voice of the human called, and Xander stopped right in the middle of the street. A passing driver laid on his horn as he swerved to avoid hitting Xander, but Xander ignored that annoyance as he watched the three remaining suits take defensive positions. A fifth man had come out of the van and knelt next to the injured man whose heartbeat Xander could hear stuttering. He smiled at the evidence that at least one of the humans would pay for the attack.

Xander stood waiting as the three approached, his instinct to attack or flee rising with every inch closer.

"Where is he?" Xander demanded.

"He's with our colleagues," the spokesman announced, and Xander started walking backwards as the men tried to get within range of the tazers.

"Let him go," Xander snarled about two seconds before his brain could point out his stupidity in even making the demand. Yeah, guys with suits in unmarked vans. Xander watched Le Femme Nikita. He knew things. He didn't expect people who kidnapped 250 year old Master Vampires to be intimidated by him.

"Can't do that," the man admitted with a shrug. "We have a little job for him, but he isn't as cooperative as we would hope. If he's not helpful…" the man's words trailed off, and he gave a small indifferent shrug.

"Job?" Xander pressed. He stopped backing up when he reached the far sidewalk, and the three stooges stopped trying to surround him. Xander idly wondered if they didn't want to get too far from the van or if they were waiting for some backup.

"We need some help with a security issue, only Angel is not very helpful."

"You want him to kill someone," Xander clarified. Sometimes he missed things, and he couldn't afford to misunderstand now.


"He won't kill."

"Then he'll die." The man spoke as if killing Angel was no more important than smashing a bug, and Xander snarled his response with his fangs showing. "Of course we might still make a deal," the spokesman suggested.

"You want me to kill," Xander said. He usually was the last to catch on, but this guy was putting the dots pretty close together.

"It would certainly suggest that Angel still had value. Of course, perhaps, like him, you value human life too much to make such a trade."

"I'd kill a hundred humans for him," Xander answered honestly, and he had to suppress the groan of frustration that attempted to escape right after. Nice. He had just given these guys reason to keep Angel hostage. He should just write 'sucker for hire' on his forehead for telling them just how much leverage they held over him as long as they had Angel. Then again, killing a hundred humans took time, especially if these guys wanted a hundred specific humans dead. Xander decided he couldn't take those words back, so he could only hope they made Angel's situation better rather than worse. Maybe Wesley and Cordy could find Angel if he just bought some time. He knew in that moment what he had to do.

"Well that might be a deal our employers would consider," the spokesman said with false sincerity and a wave of his hand. Xander didn't back up this time as the two suited men flanked him. He shifted back into his human face to avoid possible tongue damage and waited with his eyes locked on the spokesman.

"Hurt him, and you're the one I'll find," Xander promised as the electricity ripped into him from both sides, and he went down right on his injured knee. Oh yeah, the universe hated Xander Harris, he thought as darkness stole in and replaced the burning pain.


Angel closed his eyes and indulged in a long debate with Angelus. If he tried doing this at the hotel, Cordy would accuse him of brooding or Wesley would start nervously polishing crosses and wooden stakes while smelling of fear. Being kidnapped was almost worth the privacy. Well, as much privacy as a narrow prison cell with one entire short wall covered in a one-way mirror could provide. Angel would have considered the mirror a tactical error except that the chain attaching his ankle to the wall didn't reach far enough for him to break it. And the mirror had steel rods embedded in a grid pattern. And a half dozen of guards waited on the other side. He hated the military. Then again, he had to love their stupidity at thinking a one way mirror worked to fool demon eyes.

Resting his head against the cold white brick, he lay on a bunk and listened as Angelus whispered to him about the need to save himself. After all, Mugabe was a torturer, a man who promised to help the people of Zimbabwe only to grab power for himself. Some would call executing him a righteous act. Angel's life was worth more than Mugabe's. One little assassination wouldn't damage his redemption. That one made Angel snort. He wasn't sure he even had a chance at redemption any more.

Angel was grateful that his captors had left him chained in the cell so that he didn't have a chance to cave in. Angelus persuasively argued that killing one dictator in the name of democracy was a small price to pay in order to keep his own life. But thinking like that had led to the incident with Dru and Darla and a room full of lawyers, and from the others' reactions, Angel had no doubt that his moral logic had failed there.

He remembered closing the doors and hearing the first scream as one of the vampiresses had ripped into a victim. He remembered Angelus' answering growl as the urge to join his clan nearly overwhelmed him. Images of evil lawyers draped over the furniture in lifeless sprawls, blood dripping from torn necks and open eyes staring into nothingness rose from Angelus, half memory of his own kills and half imagination as he put the faces of his enemies on the bodies he imagined littering that room.

Angel shivered as his body reacted to the idea of his enemies dead at his feet, and Angelus pushed against his poorly balanced sanity. A laugh echoed in his mind as Angelus asserted himself, pointing out that Angel grew weaker by the day. Sending a quick prayer up to Doyle, Angel closed his eyes and tried to just rest. Sooner or later they would make a mistake, and he would be there to take advantage of it. If he wasn't already so close to the edge, he would have agreed to the assassination and then double-crossed the bastards. The problem was that he wasn't sure he could stop himself from killing once the words passed his lips. Part of him wanted the kill. Part of him resented missing the lawyers' massacre.

Angel had been staring at the insides of his own eyelids for a good hour when he heard the lock turn. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he waited to find out their latest offer. Hopefully it would be something slightly less pathetic than the IRS threat against his agency.

Angel wasn't prepared for the sight at the door as two uniformed men dropped a shackled and unconscious Xander Harris on the ground before stepping over his body and pointing tazers at him.

"Move to the far side of the room, please," an officer standing behind the two soldiers ordered. Angel hadn't realized he'd gone into game face until he growled. He found the officer's unctuous attitude with his empty pleases far more annoying than outright aggression. It reminded him of Angelus' constant good humor. However, he couldn't do anything without getting tazered back into unconsciousness, so he stood from the military cot and walked toward the one-way mirror until he ran out of chain.

"Turn around and put your hands behind your head, please," the short brown-haired officer asked in that same overly polite voice. Angel did as he was ordered with Angelus providing a running commentary in his head…. 'pathetic humans… no right to order us around… necks would snap like dry twigs under our feet.' Using the mirror, Angel had an uninterrupted view as one soldier dragged an invisible Xander far enough into the room to chain the fledge's ankle to the ring on the opposite side of the room from Angel's ring and bunk. It looked like he was getting a roommate. From the soldier's movements, Angel could tell he was unlocking the cuffs around Xander's wrists. Angel would have made his move and hoped that these men had the key to unlock the chains except that they moved with a precision that ensured that at least two tazers had a clear shot at his unprotected back at any time. Angel had to suppress a growl of frustration, but there really wasn't much else he could do.

The soldiers finished and left Angel alone with the badly damaged Xander. Angel could smell the fledge's blood—his sire's blood—coming from the body as he walked over and easily shifted Xander to the second cot.

"He would seem to be rather special to you," a disembodied voice commented over a hidden loudspeaker in the ceiling. Angel didn't respond to the voice although he did slip into demon vision just long enough to get a good look at the man behind the one-way mirror.

"He traded himself for you," the voice continued, and that made Angel glance up at the mirror.

"Unlikely," Angel said as he crossed his arms and stared back at the man who thought he was safe from Angel's scrutiny.

"Oh, I assure you, he did. When we told him you were uncooperative and therefore unnecessary, he offered to kill a hundred humans for us to keep you safe. Does this surprise you?"

Angel kept his features neutral even though inside he was more than surprised; he was astonished. He knew that the infusion of sire's blood from an older vampire in the line could sometimes turn a fledge to a new master, but the one time he had tried it, his efforts had mixed results. William had reacted to his blood as sire's blood, and he had used his connection to demand a sire's right to respect and obedience, but he had never managed to wrest William completely away from Dru. While Angel had hoped that feeding Xander would give him enough control over the fledge to keep Xander from killing indiscriminately, it seemed that the fledge had accepted him as full sire. Only the minion or childe of a Master Vampire would offer its own life for its master. He wasn't sure he even wanted that kind of devotion from Xander Harris.

"Fledges sometimes show loyalty to older vampires in the line. I'm surprised Xander feels that way toward me since we have hated each other quite effectively for quite a long time now," Angel hedged.

"So the elder feels no loyalty in return?" the voice asked, curious now. Angel considered his answer for a brief moment, well aware that the chess game had begun now that Xander had put himself in the middle of it. Outright refusal wasn't really an option now.

"Normally, no. The loyalty in a clan is about dominance and power. As a fledge, he has none."

"'Normally' implied you do have some feelings then."

Angel paused as he phrased his answer in his head before saying it out loud. He certainly didn't want to announce that he would kill a hundred humans for Xander, and Angel didn't even know what was in the fledge's head to make such a ridiculous statement. Obviously Xander's ability to speak without thinking had survived his death.

"Guilt," Angel finally said. "As a human, Xander was someone I had reason to admire from time to time." An image of Xander breathing life into Buffy flashed in his mind.

"So his continued existence is something that you value." Angel saw that trap entirely too easily. This man was either new or exceptionally incompetent.

"I wanted to stake him. I think I owe him a clean death." Angel couched his words so that Xander would hold enough value to avoid killing outright but not so much that the military would make excessive demands.

"I have to say, you are somewhat of an enigma. You will clearly allow your human companions to die in the name of your cause, you seem to hold no value for your own family members, and you appear unimpressed with threats against your own person."

"Family?" Angel narrowed his eyes.

"Oh yes, we have been listening in on the conversations within the hotel. We are well aware that your childe Drusilla created and then abandoned him." Angel turned his back to the mirror as Angelus lunged madly out of control, threatening to strip his control at the idea that these people had invaded his territory. "We had been considering using your first seer as leverage, but your willingness to let him die was unexpected." The words caused Angelus to roar in fury even louder as Angel struggled to hold on to his balance. Angelus considered Angel's humans to be property, his to keep or break or disregard as he saw fit, but Doyle's death at the hands of another left Angelus swearing for vengeance. Now those curses returned to echo in Angel's ears until he could hardly hear the voice from the ceiling.

"Our intelligence suggests that a young vampire might not be capable of carrying out this plan, so I guess we will have to see how far your guilt goes. The death he would suffer in here if you fail would be far from clean." The voice droned on, but Angel ignored the words as he fought to regain control. If he said the words, he didn't know if he could keep himself from actually killing, but the thought of these people torturing his childe ripped at his sanity as nothing had since Doyle's death. Angel stood stoic and silent as he tried to regain his balance while the officer babbled on. The man knew nothing of intimidation tactics.

Angel glanced down as Xander moaned his way to consciousness one inch at a time.

"One… Mugabe only." Angel paused. "And only because he already deserves to die, so don't expect me to cooperate beyond the one assassination."

"In fifty years, we have only required your special services twice. I assure you that we would much rather hold you in reserve for the most serious situations than betray your trust in our agreements." Angel didn't even bother to answer that as he sat on his own bunk on the opposite wall from the bunk where he'd laid Xander. The speaker went silent, and Angelus' chuckle rolled through Angel's mind at the confusion the men behind mirror expressed when the microphone was off. Angel wasn't entirely sure what the relationship was between this government group that had now twice kidnapped him and the group that had chipped Spike; however, if the Sunnydale group was as stupid as these guys, Angel could understand how Spike escaped.

"Angel?" Xander rocked slightly on the cot. If Angel had doubts about Xander's loyalty, that word answered them. Only Penn had ever woken up searching for him like that, with desperation in his voice. Angel gritted his teeth in frustration. There was no moral high ground here; no way to do the right thing. The beast in front of him was a monster who had killed one dorky but brave and loyal human. But staking the monster meant destroying the last remnants of that same human. And Angelus growled fiercely at losing the childe that was his last link to his vampire nature.

"Angel?" Xander's voice was more desperate now as the fledge fought back the darkness, a hand twitching spastically. Angel wanted to reassure Xander, but he would not put the vampire in even more danger by admitting to the Demon Research Initiative that he cared.

"Angel?" Xander nearly shouted as he sat up on the bunk, the chain around his ankle jingling like demented Christmas bells.

"Right here," Angel pointed out dryly. Yellowish brown eyes searched for him, and when Angel looked back impassively, those eyes fell to the ground.

"I didn't…" Xander stopped.

"You didn't expect to see me. You didn't think you'd have to look at me and explain how you could offer to slaughter humans for me," Angel guessed. The frowning wince told him just how accurate a guess he had made. "A hundred humans?" Angel asked calmly, and Xander brought his knees up to his chest, the heels of his feet catching on the edge of the bunk as he pressed back into the wall.

"Do you think I want humans killed for me?" Those large eyes closed and Angel could smell the misery floating off the huddled boy in waves. For Xander's sake and for the sake of the people even now listening on the other side of the glass, Angel had to make this lesson clear.

"I won't risk my redemption for you. Would you put another hundred lives at my feet?" Angel stood and covered the narrow space between the bunks in four steps. The room might be long, but the bunks stood close to each other in the narrow space. Angel expected some answer since no vampire could understand the concept of human life having worth, but Xander just buried his face in his knees.

"Xander, you have to understand something," Angel said as he reached down and grabbed a fistful of curling brown hair, pulling up so he could make eye contact. "I will not have you kill for me. Not ever." Angel allowed his game face forward as he put on his show for both the observers and the fledge.

"I'm…" Xander stopped, and considering that the human had always been able to babble inappropriately, Angel was glad to see the demon wasn't exactly like the dead boy.

"You're what? Sorry? Angry? Pathetic?" Angel almost stopped when he saw the physical flinch at the last word. He let go of the hair, and Xander pressed his face to his knees again. Angel considered stopping, and then whispers from behind the mirror suggested that taking the fledge was a bad idea. A muttered conference now suggested that Xander was worthless as collateral, and Angel couldn't allow that either.

"Xander," he said again, far softer this time as he turned the hard grip on the hair to a soothing circle motion. "I'm going to kill a man, a dictator. When that's over, I'm going to come back for you, and we're going to settle some things." Angel left his words ambiguous. He knew the military officers would assume the settling included dust, and he could only hope that Xander's demon heard the sire tones and understood that Angel planned to lay down the law for the fledge. Xander flinched, but then Angel remembered Angelus flinching when Darla would threaten to settle some issue between them. She had given Angelus more freedom than most childer, but when she had been unhappy, Angelus had paid the price.

Xander looked up at him with eyes that now showed only dark brown, and Xander continued to hug his legs. Angelus was caught between wanting to take the childe and fuck him into a better mood or beat him senseless for his bad attitude. Angel just sighed with a desire to escape, but the military would let him out when they wanted and not before.

"The deaths would have been at my feet, not yours," Xander whispered even as his body leaned into Angel's touch.

"And I don't want that either. I know you care about humans or you would have eaten Cordelia after the number of times she publicly humiliated you," Angel pointed out, and Xander shrugged. Angel rubbed a soft curl between his thumb and forefinger remembering how it felt to have William at his feet looking up at him adoringly.

"I care about Cordelia, not people," Xander said in a small voice as if even he didn't understand the logic of that. It made more sense to Angel than it would to any other vampire with the possible exceptions of Spike who would deny understanding it and Dalton who had died for his humanity.

"Your demon sees people as animals, food," Angel explained. "But you still have enough humanity in you to fight against that belief." For a long moment Xander looked up at him, the gentle rocking back and forth on the cot ended so that Xander's body was inhumanly still. Angel waited for some sort of reaction, but he hadn't been prepared for the smile that Xander tried to hide by burying his face in his knees.

He might have even thought he had misinterpreted the expression except Xander started laughing, a high hysterical sound that made his shoulders shake. Angel backed away a step and crossed his arms as Angelus growled in frustration. Before Xander could get enough control to look up, Angel was almost ready to give in to Angelus' suggestion of beating the impertinence out of the boy.

"I don't have demon and human parts," Xander said in a more serious tone, his laughter dying the minute he had seen Angel's glower.

"I know you don't have a soul, but Dru left pieces of your humanity in place, many too many pieces for you to function normally."

"Oh, I function fine. The gang member I ate died without ever knowing my whole vamp disability, and I know I was classified learning disabled in school and all, but I really thought I would be able to give up the extra special label when I died. It's a little unfair." Xander paused. "At least they don't have short busses for vamps." Angel opened his mouth to respond, but he didn't even have an answer for any part of that.

"I like Cordelia, so I won't hurt her, but it doesn't mean I won't hurt other people because in general, other people are big on the annoying me scale. And since I seem to be big on the annoyage myself, that actually seems fair, but you go right ahead and lie to yourself about how you have the soul on one shoulder and the demon on the other. It's still all just you," Xander finished with a shrug.

"Xander, it's not that way for me," Angel started, wanting to make his childe understand his soul, but not really knowing the words to explain his dilemma.

"Oh, please. You keep saying that you want to be human, but from what I saw, Deadboy, you weren't working for human-status, you were trying for angelic what with the whole being perfect thing you had going on. You never let yourself get angry or frustrated or just have a pissy day. You took every evil thought you ever had and you stuck it in a corner and slapped an Angelus label on it."

"Don't talk about what you don't understand," Angel snarled, and he curled his hand around Xander's throat and slammed the back of Xander's head into the white-washed brick hard enough that Xander gasped for breath.

"You gave your fears a name. It's like a five year old with closet monster issues," Xander hissed out, his fangs dropping even though he didn't go into game face.

"That's not it." Angel gave a tighter squeeze before dropping Xander back on his bed and retreating to his side of the room before he ripped the fledge's head off.

"Spike and Dru, they called you Angel. They didn't have a different name for the demon, did they? Angelus… it's just another word for Angel."

Angel stood with his back to Xander as he stared at the wall in front of him.

"And when you found out about the whole 'kick his ass' comment, you didn't even yell. You got this whole patient, 'I deserved it' expression. A human would have been screaming and yelling and possibly doing some arm breakage, not that I'm encouraging any more breaking of bones, but you aren't anywhere near human."

"Stop," Angel snarled, spinning around in game face, and this time Xander had the common sense to stop talking. "I have lived with my soul and my demon for a hundred years. You know nothing. You have judged me since the day I took Buffy away from you. You just can't stand that I got there first, and you're determined to make my life as miserable as yours because of it." Angel stood burning with a need to beat the fledge until its flesh turned white and blood ran in rivers to the floor. Suddenly another image came to mind: a human Xander standing guard in the hospital stinking of fear and facing down Angelus who had just said pretty much the same thing. Xander's voice broke into his shocked moment of reflection.

"See, that's human: jealous, angry, petty, threatening, and totally wrong. Of course that also sounded a lot like Angelus, so what do I know?" Xander dropped his head back to his knees, and Angel was left trembling in rage and unwilling to indulge in the dark fantasies that rippled through his thoughts.

"I know how to do totally wrong, Xander," Angel said quietly. "I'm about to do something totally wrong because you put me in this position." Xander looked up with eyes that seemed suddenly devoid of any expression at all. Angel waited for the response, but instead Xander just sat on his bunk and stared at Angel with large eyes that followed every move as Angel paced off his energy.

A key turned in the lock, and Angel pushed Angelus' rage down to the back of his mind as he concentrated on finding a way out of this situation without getting anyone else killed. Angel just hoped that he could keep Mugabe on the alive and breathing list as well because if it came down to a choice, he would rather protect his annoying childe, at least long enough to beat some sense into him.



Angel sat in an uncomfortable motel chair doing his best impression of a statue with his arms crossed and his eyes staring blankly ahead at the atrocious green wallpaper. He concentrated on using all of Angelus' planning and tactical knowledge to find a way out of this mess. Of course, he also enjoyed the fact that the longer he sat, the more uncomfortable the four soldiers became. Where they squirmed and blinked and shifted and breathed, Angel remained perfectly still, a reminder of the fact that he wasn't human.

Wasn't human.

Angel felt Angelus' gleeful laugh at that irony. Instead of trying to imitate humanity, Angel was intentionally flaunting his demon status in front of the soldiers who supposedly provided backup for his mission.

As much as Angel tried to forget Xander's words, they kept seeping into the edges of his consciousness. He wasn't trying to be perfect, he was just trying to be a decent human being, and Xander didn't understand how the soul and the demon trapped him. He listened to Angelus' laugh echo through his mind.

Dios, que salva el metal, salva la escoria… ya todo esta.

The lines of poetry flowed into his memory from some book he had long ago forgotten the title of.

God, who saves the metal, saves the dross… everything is there.

He was the metal. He had survived a century of Angelus' hunger and anger and hatred, and he still held a steely control. The idea that god would save Angelus, the dross, the waste, the ugly byproduct of some mistake, Angel concentrated on the patterned wall paper as he tried to push that thought away.

Xander and that long-forgotten poet were wrong. Angelus was the monster who needed to be destroyed if Angel was going to save himself. Angel never would have committed the atrocities that Angelus had committed.

One of the soldiers clicked the television on and the early news anchor announced a fatal car accident with no more emotion than the weatherman offered when predicting rain. As the demon, before the soul, he wouldn’t have even noticed that, but now Angel could feel bad for some random soul killed by a drunk driver. He had a conscience. He wasn't Angelus.

"Man, they need to execute a few of those drunk drivers, that'd make people sit up and take notice," one of the soldiers announced a little too loudly with a nervous laugh on the end. Angelus chuckled at making combat-trained men so nervous.

"Except you might be the one swinging. I seem to remember seeing you weave to the car a time or two after poker night."

"Man, I am never too messed up to drive after poker, but someone who hits a mom in a mini-van deserves to get fried." Angel didn't move, but these men's willingness to discuss death so callously made Angelus stir under the restraints of the soul.

"Hope the little girl makes it," the third offered. Angel forced himself to concentrate on the wallpaper and not the conversation or Angelus or the damn poem or even the memory of Xander's laughter. For once he wished Cordy would show up to complain about not making enough money or Wes would come in babbling excitedly about some 2,000 year old scroll. Neither happened, so Angel found himself trapped with his own thoughts.

Angelus considered people animals. He ate and raped and killed with no more thought than a butcher gave his pigs. Of course, the butcher never sought out certain pigs, playing with them until they begged for mercy just to feel more powerful. The image of Kathy, his little sister, opening the door and smiling at him floated to the surface, and Angel had to suppress a sob.

Angelus had snapped her neck cleanly, letting her body fall to the floor near the door she had just invited him to enter. Kathy never knew her mistake or watched their parents die, but Angel remembered the joy that had risen at feeling his sister's neck snap, that joy had belonged to Angelus. Angel hadn't been there to cry out or protect his sister, and Xander couldn't know what it felt like to remember how your sister's neck felt as it broke.

Xander was wrong. Angelus existed separate from him because he loved the sister Angelus had killed. He had never wanted to hurt her, not really. Angel's fingers closed on his upper arms until he could feel bruising start to set in. A memory: he'd been 16 and Kathy nine. Their mother had copied bible verses onto strips of paper for Kathy to memorize and Angel had slipped them out of Kathy's keepsake box, carefully imitating their mother's handwriting as he copied blasphemous versions of the verses onto new strips. He wanted her to get in trouble, their perfect child, the one who never made mistakes, the one who wasn't him.

Angelus laughed wildly, and Angel could feel his world tilting off balance so badly that he grabbed the arms of the chair. His sudden movement made the four men jump for weapons, but Angel ignored them as he felt his balance sliding out from under him. No. Not again. He didn't know where the perfect happiness had come from, but he wouldn't yield, not again. He gasped for air as he pushed out of the chair, stumbling to the wall that he had stared at for so many hours.

No. Kathy hadn't died because of his jealousy. It wasn't his fault. But if it wasn't his fault, why did the guilt of it eat his soul? Why wouldn't the universe forgive him when it was the demon's fault? Angel's shoulder hit the wall as it suddenly occurred to him that his demon wanted blood and violence and Darla and childer, but not revenge.

The revenge… that had come from him. His jealousy of Kathy, his hatred toward his father, his anger toward his mother. In Sunnydale, the demon just wanted to feed; he wanted to prove that he wasn't worthless. His insecurities had led Angelus to open the portal. His fault. Angel sank to the ground as he realized that Xander had been right. His demon wanted many things, but the torture and the mind games had been the demon's way of trying to please Liam. He wanted to get back at Buffy for being the champion that he wasn't. He wanted to strike out at Giles because Buffy turned to him for advice even though Angel was far older.

"Oh god," Angel whispered as he finally lost the balance that he had held for so long. He fell straight into the truth as he remembered Darla's words, something about the person informing the demon, leading the demon on a certain path. He had led his demon to this path. Angel blinked as he suddenly recognized the laughter in his head as his own, the same small voice that had suggested he follow Darla and rut like an animal on the street. The same voice that had told him the he couldn’t please his father so he might as well please himself with every tavern wench in town.

"God," Angel whispered again, this time he wasn't sure whether it was profanity or a prayer.

He looked up to see four combat trained soldiers with tazers pointed at him as he sat on the floor. Angel thought quickly since he wasn't going to discuss the truth with them. He needed a lie that would make his position stronger rather than the truth which would make them doubt his sanity. He already doubted it enough for everyone involved.

"One of my childer," he lied as he pushed himself up off the floor. "One is dead, dusted." Let the morons worry about imaginary vampire telepathy for a while. "Leave me alone until sunset," Angel ordered as he went into the bathroom and closed the door. With the water running, he allowed himself to finally cry.




Angel heard the men debating who was going to get him, and he stood up from the toilet seat and stretched. What was past was past, but he needed to try and get himself and Xander out of their current mess before he had more deaths on his hands. Step one in taking power was to act like you already had the power.

Throwing the door open, Angel strode into the room and went straight to the window where he pushed the curtain back.

"Sun's low enough. We need to get a good look at mansion security, so I'm going to recon the house itself. You," Angel pointed at one of the stunned guards. "Lose the combat boots and watch the front entrance. I want to know the guards' movement. Do they stay inside, do rounds, play cards? And time them. I want to know how long it takes them to take a coffee break or pee or walk a round."

The man opened his mouth as if to protest, and Angel kept right on talking. They had all been in the same room when a voice had assigned the team as "back up," so Angel knew the chain of command was fuzzy at best.

"You and you," Angel pointed out two others. You're going to take up position on the roof of the museum on one side and the light tower on the other. Watch side entrances, record any security light, monitor for electrical surges, keep an eye out for any possible movement at the back or side entrances."

"You," Angel pointed at the fourth. "You're the electronics expert."

"Yes, sir." The blond man shot a confused look over to another man, but when the squad's commander failed to contradict Angel's plan, the blond looked back to Angel and nodded more confidently. "Security systems, phone systems, computer systems. If it uses electricity, I can figure it out, sir."

"Good, you're with me. We're going to figure out how tight security really is."

"I thought you were going to kill Mugabe," the squad's leader injected, and Angel looked over at the man with grey just starting to pepper his temples and a receding hairline.

"Do you go in without intelligence or a plan for escaping after an assassination?" Angel asked, and the man, who equaled Angel in size if not strength, relented.

"No. I don't send my men in without backup, either." At this, the leader nodded toward the blond.

"He's the safest one because I'm his back up. The rest of you are on your own to avoid getting spotted by mansions security. I assume they have a policy of not shooting observers, but you never know."

"My men can take care of themselves."

"I hope so because the kid's the only one I'm looking after," Angel shot back before heading for the door. "I want to get this done and over early enough to compare notes before you head for your bunks, so let's get moving."

Angel walked out the door and watched the traffic pass on by the hotel. They were only a ten minute drive from the upscale neighborhood where Mugabe was saying while in L.A. Angel had already seen the plans for the impressive four story building as well as the surrounding area. Two sides were equally impressive mansions, behind the mansion was the museum where either Frick or Frack would set up watch. The tower where the other one would wait was a half block away, and the third would have to find some sort of cover on the street to watch the front. Angel got into the backseat of the Hummer without making any further comments, forcing the four member "back up" team to follow.

When the leader parked the car, the men fell into place quickly, gathering equipment and heading for their assigned posts. When the others left, the blond stood with two laptops and a bag nervously shifting from one foot to the other.

"Here," Angel held out a hand.

"I have it, sir."

"And I'm a lot stronger. Save your strength for when you need it," Angel insisted as he took the two laptops by their straps and pulled them off the man's shoulder.

"What's your name?" Angel finally asked. If the guy had the guts to follow him and, more importantly, look him in the eye, Angel figured he could at least know the man's name.

"Clark, sir. Tom Clark, lieutenant."

"Nice to meet you," Angel offered before turning and started a fast trot to a wooded area between the museum and the back of the mansion's property. Dropping into a crouch beside the fence, he felt Clark bump him.

"Sir?" the man whispered softly.

"Yes?" Angel asked as he considered his options. The whine of electricity told him the fence had alarms.

"Are you." The voice stopped nervously. "Can I trust you to back me up?" Angel turned and considered the kid who had the nerve to ask that knowing it was too late for him if Angel planned on betraying them.

"You'll be fine," Angel promised. "Can these things take a fall?" he asked patting the computer cases. The kid nodded, and Angel leapt straight up into a tree. Below he heard a gasp. He quickly tossed his two computers clear of the fence.

"Bag," he called and Clark tossed up the bag for Angel.

"You." Angel held his hand down, and after a brief hesitation Clark jumped for it, and Angel pulled him up to the branch which creaked ominously but held. "I need to get you over that fence," Angel said. All you have to do is fall without breaking your ankle. Can you do that?" Angel could hear the heart beat faster.

"Yes, sir. I had paratrooper training."

"Same thing," Angel said as he grabbed the man around the waist and physically tossed him over the fence. The man rolled and got to his feet before Angel even hit the ground. "Mansion's that way," Angel said as he picked up the two lap tops and started running.

Angel's first order of business was to get Clark set up in the basement utility room with the security panel. For a man with as many enemies as Mugabe, it was exceptionally simple. Promising to come back immediately if anyone came downstairs, Angel made his way to the main rooms. This place had entirely too many people, but he was searching for one thing. Angel smiled as he heard the whine of multiple monitors in one room. He'd seen the cameras easily enough and avoided them with little effort, but now he needed to make an impression.

Angel slid from one room to another as he closed in on the security station ready to change the deal. Now he just needed to find someone in power to negotiate

~ ~ ~ ~

"Two days," Angel said firmly.

"And will this ensure the President's safety?" the large guard asked in an African accent. He'd given up on the gun after Angel had shown his game face, but his hand was still wrapped tightly around the back of a wooden chair, no doubt ready to break it and use it as a weapon.

"If I can work this right, they'll be afraid to try anything else," Angel said smugly. "But you hurt these guys and the deal's off. I'll hunt you and your entire family down."

"And I should trust an obayifo, a vampire?"

"I'm the one offering to surrender. I'm the one who has to show trust here, but I also know that if this doesn't work, they're going to send someone or something else in here." The large man studied Angel's face for several minutes before answering.

"Deal." The man held out his hand. "I am Tatenda."

"Angel." He shook the man's hand briefly. When a soldier came in carrying a rope, Angel didn't comment as his hands were tied tightly behind his back and a guard led him to another room. A second guard came in through another door holding a crude stake, obviously just recently made. Knowing that he had no choice but to follow through with the insane plan, Angel let the first guard push him down to his knees. When the second guard walked behind him and pressed the tip of the stake to Angel's back, he took a deep breath and prayed that the plan didn't end with four bodies plus a pile of dust.

Angel was still kneeling on the floor when Clark came in under guard.

"Sir?" Clark asked, and Angel flinched at the man trusting him even now, but this was part of the plan.

"They spotted your buddy in the tower, had everyone ready. They took me out as I came in through the kitchens," Angel lied, putting the blame on the unit's leader rather than the young men he commanded. It was a small concession to his guilt, but at least it was something. "You okay?" he asked as a soldier tied the kid's hands behind his back and pushed him to his knees.

"Yes, sir," he said stoically with a steady voice despite the racing heart that Angel could hear. That was an end to the conversation until more guards appeared with the last three members of the team. Each had his gear stripped and his hands tied behind his back.

"What the fuck?" the leader of the team demanded when he spotted Angel kneeling on the floor with Clark. The guards forced the remaining three members to their knees.

"Told you to not get seen," Angel snapped back as he allowed the yellow to bleed into his eyes. The man's gaze went from Clark to Angel to the guard holding a stake at Angel's back.

"We weren't spotted, you tripped an alarm," the man hissed. At that point Tatenda made his appearance. Dressed in his formal uniform with a baton in his hand, he caught the attention of everyone in the room.

"I beg to differ. Surely you don't think we would not notice armed soldiers running across our land? Did you think you would not be seen climbing into a position from which you could shoot at our beloved President?" Tatenda waited but no one was offering any answers.

"Names." Tatenda demanded, and everyone remained silent. "Very well, but you will not be released until your government accounts for your actions," Tatenda said quietly. Take the humans to the basement cells. We will find some place more secure for the obayifo."

Clark looked over in near panic, and Angel felt guilt rip through him. The kid was going to have a terrifying and helpless two days, and Angel couldn’t blame Angelus for that. He was doing the damage to this wide-eyed kid who probably grew up in some Midwest state with a lot of corn. But Angel couldn't come up with a plan that had less evil and guilt, and so this it.

At a signal, the guards pulled the other four men out of the room. Angel waited until the sounds of the prisoners had faded from even his hearing.

"So, this is where I find out if you're good for your word," Angel said, not even trying to stand up. Tatenda walked over and let the baton rest on Angel's shoulder.

"You would stop your own government."


"For what reason?"

"Because it suits my purposes," Angel answered honestly, and again the man simply stared until Angel wondered if he didn't have some mystical power of his own.

"A fair answer," Tatenda walked away with a wave of his hand, and Angel felt a pull at his arm that helped him up. A knife sliced through the ropes, and Angel nodded to the guards as he headed out to finish his plan.

The evening of day one had Angel waiting outside the concrete and steel building where the government still held Xander. If Tatenda was holding to the plan, the President's staff would have lodged a complaint with the police about five mysterious trespassers, just enough to get the government's attention. Hopefully enough to keep the man with the voice from torturing Xander.

Studying the faces of each person coming and going, Angel finally spotted the man who had hidden behind one-way mirrors convinced that he had fooled his demon prisoners. Angel put his stolen car into gear and slid into traffic behind the brown sedan determined to find where his enemy lived. Attacking inside another's territory where they believed themselves safe always made the prey more vulnerable.

Angel maneuvered the car carefully through traffic, keeping back far enough to avoid suspicion as the man headed for an upscale suburban area. The streets narrowed and traffic thinned as Angel followed the car into a new subdivision with large white houses and manicured lawns. Some homes were wood and some stone, but they all had the same windows, the same red tile roofs, the same trimmed lawn. When the prey pulled into a garage, Angel scanned the area noticing a small bike leaning against the bushes and the upstairs window with the football curtains. Angel sat and watched as the garage door slid down. He knew where and he knew how much this man had to lose. Now he just had to find a way of saving Xander without losing himself.

The evening of day two found Angel parked in another stolen car outside the man's house before sunset had fully fallen. Taking a note from his hyperactive childe, he'd painted the windows black and set off in the light of day with a red Frisbee in the seat next to his.

Now he watched as the sunlight turned a pale red right before fading to dusk. If he did this too late, the family would certainly be suspicious. Children didn't play Frisbee at night.

Angel scanned the houses for watchers before leaping to the top of the brick wall separating the houses. Taking aim, he let the red disk fly toward the officer's house. As Angel had intended, the toy caught on the striped fabric stretched over the windows to provide shade on the west side. Smiling triumphantly, Angel jumped down and headed for their front door.

Angel rang the doorbell. A boy of ten or twelve with freckles and a striped shirt opened the door while still yelling over his shoulder. "Mom said it's my turn."

"Is your mom home?" Angel asked in a tone that he hoped came across as borderline bored and annoyed. His acting skills didn't impress the boy who walked away with the door hanging open.

"Maaa-uuum. It's for you!" Angel nearly growled at the sight of the open, unguarded door, but there wasn't much else he could do without an invitation.

"Can I help you?" an older woman with thick legs and hair hanging out of a sloppy pony tail asked as she walked down the stairs. Story time. Angel just hoped these people were as anti-social as most humans these days.

"I'm baby-sitting for my nephews in the house behind here," Angel waved vaguely in the direction of the three properties behind this house, "and a gust of wind put my nephew's Frisbee onto one of your window shades.

"Oh," the woman looked faintly distracted, and Angel thought he had failed until he noticed she had her head tilted toward the other room. "Jess, you let your brother play or I will make you sorry!" she suddenly yelled loud enough to make Angel jump. "Sorry, you know kids," the woman offered, and Angel nodded sagely despite the fact that he hadn't been around a child since… he wasn't even going to think about that right now.

"If you don't mind me crawling onto a window sill, I'll just grab the Frisbee and get out of your way," Angel suggested.

"Oh, of course, come in. Do you know which window?"

Angel crossed the threshold with a smile. "The second floor on the north end." He followed the woman up the stairs to rescue the Frisbee he'd thrown.


That night, Angel used the rough edges of the brick façade to climb to the roof. Crouching in the moonlight, he listened to the faint crackling of electrical wires that ran along the eves. As he walked toward the center of the roof over the round clay tiles, the sounds faded, and Angel smiled. Humans tended to prepare for human intruders.

One by one, Angel ripped the red clay tiles from the roof, setting them to one side. The weatherproofing fabric ripped away cleanly leaving just plain boards between him and his ultimate goal. Angel listened to the sounds of passing traffic on the highway and waited patiently. Soon enough a truck came rumbling by, and Angel drove his fist down through the boards cleanly. The sound boomed in his ears, but hopefully the homeowners would either sleep through the sound or blame it on the passing truck.

Carefully pulling at the edge of each board, Angel created a fairly large hole in the roof before using his demon vision to search the darkness below. The attic wasn't a usable space with only four or five feet between the roof and the floor at the highest point. Aiming for one of the large beams that ran the length of the house, Angel dropped into the dusty, dark space soundlessly.

From here, he could track the heartbeats below him. Three hearts beat softly at one end of the house: children. He focused on the two stronger heartbeats, moving through the attic until he was above them. Since he didn't want to come crashing down, he backtracked some distance and then tore through the ceiling as if it were tissue paper. Bathroom. Angel looked at the palatial room with the sunken tub and glass enclosed shower and large terra cotta tile and rolled his eyes. Some humans were obsessive about their bodies. The hole, luckily, was close enough to the vanity to use it as a ladder, and for that Angel was grateful.

He dropped down and now and carefully eased the bathroom door open. He could see his interrogator's face, slack with sleep as the man lay in bed. On the far side, Angel could smell a woman even if he couldn't see her. He could knock her out, but the man would probably feel a need to get revenge for any actual violence, and Angel didn't want to start a feud. The trick was to make the man submit without taking away so much of the man's dignity that he felt the need to strike back. His plan finalized, Angel slid into the room and knelt by the bed.

Keeping his touches light, he untangled the sheet so that the man lay exposed in his underwear. Angel rumbled a low soothing purr as he worked one hand under the man's knees and the second under his shoulders. Just when he thought he'd never get that second hand under officer's upper body, the man mumbled and rolled right into Angel, and Angel sent a quick prayer up to whomever might be listening. Lifting carefully, Angel carried the man to the bathroom and settled him down in the huge tub.

Almost immediately the officer started turning restlessly, and when Angel pressed a hand over the man's mouth, the body jerked violently into awareness. Angel smiled down with his game face, his free hand making a "shh" gesture against his lips. When the man's eyes darted frantically toward the bedroom, Angel shook his head before whispering.

"I didn't touch her or anyone else, but you and I need to speak." Angel waited until the man nodded and then removed his hand.

"How did you…" the man's question ended when he saw the hole in the bathroom ceiling.

"Man-made structures generally don't keep demons out very effectively," Angel shrugged. "Sorry about the ceiling, charge the military for the repair. And you might want to call someone for the roof before you get rain," Angel added, and he could almost feel the confusion and panic building in his captive. Where this man had immediately told Angel why he'd been kidnapped and what he was expected to do, Angel was content to sit on the edge of the bathtub and let the man's imagination go to work. It took several minutes for the man to finally give in and ask the obvious question.

"You, the team, you were captured,"

"Thanks to your incompetent staff, yes. However, man-made structures don't keep demons in any more than they work to keep them out." Angel nodded at the ceiling again. "Of course, this posed a problem since I didn't think you'd just ignore the failed assassination and the missing team. I did consider killing as many of you as I could find and changing identities." Angel let silence descend again; it was the best friend of any interrogator or torturer.

"You don't… the research shows that you don't kill."

"I do kill, I just don't randomly attack humans for no reason," Angel corrected him. "After all, I arranged for a rather bloody reception at Wolfram and Hart." Angel returned to silence as the man's heart rate accelerated to dangerous speeds.

"My wife and kids have nothing to do with this," the man pleaded.

"Funny, my humans and family don't either," Angel pointed out, and the threat obviously reached home because the heart sped up even more until a heart attack was a very real possibility.

"You have no idea what it means to threaten a demon," Angel remarked as though commenting on the weather.

"I was ordered to bring you in. The briefing in the file said that you helped before. The plan went without a hitch."

"Last time, on the sub, William the Bloody came to help. I turned your man Lawson," Angel corrected him mildly.

"That isn't in the file. You aren't even connected with any other va…." Angel held up a hand to stop the man mid-word. It was time to blend a few lies in with his truth.

"This time Dru and Darla both offered to eat your eyes. William is a little put out with me since I didn't help with his chip problem, but he would come if I called for him. The Hellmouth is ruled by Aurelius, and thousands of minions in this state call me the Master of the Line." Stopping to let that information sink in, Angel allowed his human face to return as he leaned back against the cool tiles. Just when the man started breathing a little easier, Angel dropped his next verbal bomb.

"I could have called all of them to my side, even from inside your prison. And if I die, my childer will come to find out why." Now Angel was lying outright, but with the lies and truth woven together, this guy was never going to be able to untangle the two. "You are trying to judge me by human standards, but I'm not human," Angel pointed out as he leaned down into the officer's clammy, pale face. When he was in inch from the other man, Angel shifted his features and smiled to show his teeth. "I know your scent, my clan knows your scent, and don't forget that."

"I can't just…" the man's eyes darted to the bedroom again, and Angel sat up slowly as he let the vampire features fade away. The man was almost ready for the deal. Angel repositioned himself with one leg inside the bathtub pressing against the man's thigh in a seemingly harmless touch. It would have been harmless except that the man couldn't really move away, and Angel knew that simple touch reminded him of just how helpless he was. Now the tortures were all in the man's head where he had no defenses.

"Look, I can't tell my superiors that I decided to just back out. I argued for bringing you in." Angel narrowed his eyes at that confession, and the man swallowed nervously.

"You're going to tell them that Mugabe has vampire guards, at least one. One of the officers is some sort of demon or a seer. I can't take him out. Then you're going to tell them that you have a better deal," Angel stopped again. He needed to make the man desperate for any lifeline out of this disaster. It took less time than he expected.

"Well, what is it?" The man pushed himself up a bit in the tub, unconsciously mirroring the rising hope in his soul.

"I'll do independent contract work for you the same as I would do for any other client. So, if you have a rescue mission, you come to my hotel and offer to pay for my services. As a gesture of good faith, I'll get your team out of the mansion for free, I owe Clark that." Angel stopped there. He needed for this officer to see the value of it, and he knew if he tried arguing in favor of the solution, the other man would find a dozen holes in the offer. However, any lifeline looked good when trapped in the bathroom by a vicious monster. Angel needed to remind him of that. "Otherwise, I'll have to make other plans," he growled.

"I might…" the man swallowed, "be able to get them to go for that deal." He looked straight at Angel. "Is the deal legit?"

"I work for a living. I take the clients that come to my door," Angel pointed out. He wanted to ask about Xander, but he didn't dare until the deal was done. He couldn’t let these people see Xander as a valuable pawn or neither of them would be safe again.

"Rescue work only?" the man asked in a more challenging voice, and Angel knew he had the fish on the line.

"Rescue work only," he answered flatly. Angel knew this type. Given a day or two, this guy was going to start thinking the deal had been his idea. Part of Angel rankled at having to put up with such an officious ass, but hopefully some flunky would be sent with any job requests, leaving Angel free to hate the man from a safe distance.

"Deal." The man pushed himself up so he sat on the edge of the tub even with Angel.

"Nice doing business," Angel answered as he stood to take one last look down at the officer. "Is Xander still alive?"

"Yeah, he's back at base. Do we need to go get him to make this happen?" Angel could see the gears practically turning in the man's head.

"No, I'll stop by after sunset in the next day or two, and I expect to find him undamaged." Angel watched as the man deflated, the last possible bit of leverage yanked out from under him. Angel gave a small nod and then showed off by jumping from the floor straight through the hole and to the rafters above with only a small thud. Racing through the attic, Angel went up through the roof and out into the night.

"It looks like we're not going to get to torture you after all. Your sire showed up last night," the voice announced from the ceiling, and Xander kept his face toward the wall as he tried to recapture his dream. Willow had been sitting on the floor with her legs draped over his while Buffy tried to steal the popcorn bowl Xander was valiantly defending. It had been a good moment until the voice had interrupted.

Part of Xander was relieved to hear that Angel was alive and well, and part really resented losing a moment of peace just to face the same white-brick wall. The door opened, and Xander ignored it. The first day they had tried ordering him to the back of the room, but Xander just lay on the bunk until they just tazered him into oblivion. Now they didn't bother with the orders or tazers, and he didn't bother getting up. He could smell the blood, but he also didn't bother turning around to get it. It seemed pointless to feed when he was just going to end up dust. Hell, he didn't want to feed and that really was proof that he was as much a failure in the vampire department as he had been in the vampire hunter department.

"He'll be doing some work for us," the voice continued when Xander remained motionless and silent. The person who brought the blood retreated leaving the scent which both tempted and nauseated Xander. He ignored it.

"I do hope we can work together." Xander resisted an urge to laugh at that. His two futures consisted of getting staked by his sire or having to walk into the sun on his own, and pathetically enough, he didn't know whether Angel liked him well enough to do the staking.

Xander shifted his arm so that he could use it as a pillow. When he'd laughed at Angel, he'd seen his own death approaching. He really thought Angel would end it right there, but Xander understood. He might not be good with the making of the plans, but he understood that these people wouldn't let Angel out of the building without thinking they had leverage. Angel let them believe they had it.

Every hour since Angel had walked out the door Xander had waited for them to tell him that Angel had broken the deal and that Xander would pay the price. Hell, Xander was prepared to pay the price since it bought his sire's freedom and now Buffy or Willow wouldn't have to stake him. He just wished he could pay it and get it over with. But if Angel was back, maybe he'd just get a quick staking.

The voice didn't say any more, and Xander let himself drift back to sleep. It was getting easier to just sleep all day, to slide into his dreams, this time chasing a running gang member through dirty back alleys that managed not to stink. The man was huge and kept throwing empty garbage cans in his way so that Xander had to go bounding over them, feeling his demonic strength gather under him as he leapt into the air in pursuit.


Xander could tell the blood was gone the moment he woke up again. "Time for you to go, Mr. Harris," the voice from the ceiling said, and Xander realized that the pop from the intercom switching on had woken him. He sat up this time and stretched his muscles before studying his hands. The knuckles were white and the skin was a little wrinkled like he had been soaking in water. He needed blood.

"I must say you have been a most cooperative guest and rather low maintenance." The voice sounded self-satisfied, smug, downright happy. Xander let his fangs drop as he imagined the joy of breaking the man's neck. "If you would follow the guards' instructions, we will get you back to your sire very shortly."

The door opened and two guards appeared with tazers, an officer following behind. "Walk to the back of the room and face the mirror," the officer ordered, and Xander considered his options. He could be taken to Angel in chains or unconscious.

Alive and conscious, he would have to see his sire's eyes. He had fucked up and put Angel in a situation where Angel had to kill for him, and while Xander didn't give a rat's ass about some random human, he knew that Angel would suffer for that death. He didn't understand why Angel had killed instead of just taking off, but he didn't understand a lot of things: nuclear energy, alternate dimensions, Abba. But no matter how hard he tried to avoid it, he did understand one thing. He had hurt his sire. He actually wished Angel had just broken the deal because Xander would rather face torture than look at Angel now.

Unconscious he wouldn't have to see Angel's pain. Besides, if Angel got to stake him while he was up and talking and sounding like Xander Harris who had sent him to hell, Angel might actually have that moment of perfect happiness. For Cordy and Willow and Buffy, maybe it'd be safer to avoid letting Angel have that much joy. The broody one would get enough happiness out of staking Xander's unconscious form, so maybe that would balance out the extra guilt.

Xander didn't move.

"You will follow orders or I will order the guards to tazer you," the officer snapped.

"So tazer me. Afraid they can't hit at this range?" Xander replied. He'd gone through life poking at bullies, so he might as well go out the same.

"This is your last warning."

"You guys are slow on the uptake, anyone ever tell you that? I'm not moving." Xander closed his eyes. When the waves of pain hit him, he allowed them to push him into a nothingness that would hopefully last forever. The other option was hell, and Xander really didn't want to go there if he had any choice in the matter.


"Go gcreime an diabhal do chroí," hissed a voice from the other end of a long tunnel.

"He refused to follow simple directions; my men had no choice," a second familiar voice answered in a tone that fell somewhere between soothing and aggravated.

"And what about feeding him? Didn't you have a choice in that? I asked for him back unmarked, and you hand over a fledge that clearly hasn't fed, is unconscious, and is still in the same blood-stained jeans he had on five days ago."

Xander listened to Angel's voice as he tried to sort out whether he was awake or dreaming. Angel sounding almost concerned and his own unmoving body suggested dream, but the hard tiles under his cheek suggested real.

"Since you plan on giving him a quick death, his physical state wouldn't seem to be an issue," the second person answered, and now Xander recognized the voice from the ceiling, only it sounded like that voice was coming from a person instead of the ceiling this time. Struggling to regain control, Xander started bending his fingers.

"You made promises, and my main concern is that you don't seem to hold your end of the bargain up very well. When we make a deal, I expect to you follow through. If you ever fail this badly again, I will reconsider the terms of our agreement." Angel's strong hands closed over his arms and pulled him up and then Xander found himself draped over Angel's shoulder like some damsel in distress.

Since Xander couldn't get control of his body, he could only dangle helplessly with his hands swaying near the back of Angel's legs as he made silent complaints about Angel damaging his male ego with the whole girlish approach to rescue… not that Angel was being girlish, but Xander was sort of girlishly thrown over Angel's shoulder. Xander twitched his fingers again and tried to grab hold of something for support as Angel turned so fast that Xander had an image of himself flying off in the opposite direction. However Angel's arm wrapped tightly around his upper legs held him in place.

By the time Xander got his eyes open and his hands making meaningful movement, Angel was dropping him into the passenger side of the convertible. He considered calling for his sire, but he didn't think he really had a right to call Angel that anymore.

"Deadboy?" Xander called.

"Don't call me that," Angel ordered tightly as he pulled the seatbelt around Xander and clicked it in. Xander felt a bubble of hysteria rise. Nice, the vamp who was about to kill him didn't want him to get an owie if there was an accident. Xander turned his head to look away as Angel slid into the driver's seat, and he could see several men standing on the inside of a glass wall. One was the officer who ordered the guards to tazer him. One of the others must be the voice from the ceiling. Xander concentrated and went into game face just as Angel pulled the car away from the curb. He barely had time to see two of the men step back startled, and that felt at least a little good.

Xander allowed his human face to surface again. It was just easier for him. Watching the traffic flow by, Xander tried to ignore the silent condemnation from within the car. The tingling effects of the electricity lingered far longer this time than last, and Xander slowly worked each limb as he tried to regain enough control that Angel would let him walk once the car stopped. At least, Xander assumed he would get out of the car since he didn't think Angel wanted a dusty mess inside the car.

They passed a park with a large stand of trees, and Xander found himself wishing Angel would stop there. Jesse had drifted to the ground in the middle of a crowd at the Bronze, and Xander had seen his best friend's ashes stomped underfoot like common dirt. He would have liked his ashes to have ended up somewhere a little better.

Even though Xander was trying to figure out where they were going, he didn't actually make the connection until he saw the old building around the corner. The hotel. Xander closed his eyes and just hoped Cordy was gone because she couldn’t save him this time. He had proved that he was an idiot when it came to plans although technically Angel should have already known that. He had cost Angel some of those redemption points the broody one kept trying to save up, and even worse, he had accused Angel of lying about the whole demon-soul thing. Xander realized now that he had just made assumptions without talking to Angel, which really, not surprising. Angel wasn't one for the talking. And then there was the whole thing where the guy in the lobby said that Angel's goal had been to give him a quick death. Really, it was about the most Xander could expect at this point.

Angel pulled the car to the curb, and Xander reached down and unbuckled the seatbelt before getting out. He stood next to the car, waiting for some sort of orders, but Angel had reached a new level of brood. Xander ducked his head as Angel came around to stand next to him. The vampire opened his mouth only to shut it again, and then a look of loss came over the face that Xander had always accused of being incapable of actually expressing emotion. Xander bit his tongue to avoid nervously blurting some comment about Angel's face splitting.

"Come on then," Angel finally said as he headed into the hotel, and Xander followed. The sire scent in the lobby made Xander cringe. This was Angel's home, his territory. Part of Xander's demon uncurled and practically purred at being inside sire's territory, but for the most part, it just hurt. One more place he didn't really fit. He should be used to it by now. Xander wondered whether he'd fit in hell, but he somehow doubted it.

"Xander!" Cordelia practically shrieked as she threw herself into his arms. Xander looked at the curve of the neck pressed into his face as she allowed her own head to rest on his shoulder. For a second, it smelled like food, like chocolate and steak and Twinkies all rolled up in one. He blinked, and she was Cordelia again. Cordelia who could eviscerate a man with her words and leave him feeling guilty that she got her hands dirty doing it.

"I need to get some blood," Angel said as he disappeared into the back, and Xander knew he needed to say goodbye.

"Cordy," he said softly, trying not to hear her heart pounding as it moved her blood around her delicious body.

"Xander, you look horrible, and I swear, if Angel didn't tell those guys off, you just let me know. I will march down there and tell them exactly what I think about them pulling all this cloak and dagger shit in my town. If they think Angel is scary, they should meet the woman who scares him into handing over his wallet." Cordy's words made Xander smile, and suddenly he didn't even have to ignore her heartbeat because he knew he'd starve himself to dust before eating her.

"Cordy, I’m fine. Doing okay except for the obvious dead issue."

"Mister, if you disappear on us like that again, the dead issue will be the least of your worries." She stepped back and hit him for good measure.

"Cordy," Xander tried again.

"Because you do not know how pissed I was when Wesley came back and said you had decided to aimlessly wander the streets."


"I mean, I know you have a reputation for doing the dumbest thing possible while you were in Sunnydale, but this is a new town, and you need to make changes in your image. Consider this a second chance at developing some long missing cool."

"Could I get a word in?" Xander finally raised his voice in frustration.

"No. You have that tone that tells me you're going to say something I don't like, so I'm ignoring you."

"Cordy," Xander started again as he pulled her to the round couch and sat down. She sat down close enough that their legs were pressed up against each other, and Xander blinked rapidly. "I can't stay here," he started slowly.

"Angel is a brooding bastard at times, but he's been better lately and he needs us around to kick his ass when he does the whole brood fest."

"I'll leave the Angel ass kicking to you," Xander smiled. "Not a better girl in the world for it." He was rewarded with one of Cordelia's best smiles. "But he can't have me around. It's…"

"He won't hold Sunnydale against you," she said quietly.

"I know. It's just that…" Xander had never felt so helpless with words. He could usually find lots of words to come out his mouth, they were never the right ones, but they were words. Now he couldn't seem to get his thoughts together enough to even babble. "He's my sire, and I don't want to hurt him, but being here hurts him. I can't do it to him."

"Oh Xander. It's a vampire thing. Maybe we could get Wesley to fix it and then you can go back to annoying him cheerfully."

"I don't want it fixed," Xander admitted. "He's all I have left."

"You have me," Cordelia said quietly, and Xander nearly kicked himself as he watched the tears gather in her eyes. Great plan, Zeppo.

"It's not the same as before. Hell, before wasn't 'before' after the whole Willow thing, and that made more sense in my head before I actually said it."

"I know what you mean," Cordy promised as she turned away and gave the corner of her eye a quick swipe with the back of her hand. "I'm not enough for you any more."

"I'm a vampire. Vamps have other vampires. Well, except Angel, and he needs to live alone because he can't be a vamp, and when I’m around… it's not good for him."

"He's been better since you came. He was really going off the deep end for a while, and I thought I was going to have to beat him senseless with my handbag."

"Wouldn't have worked, his hair gel is thick enough to deflect your biggest Prada." Xander teased back without really any energy.

"You really won't stay?"


"So, where are you going?" Xander closed his eyes as he tried to come up with a lie fast enough, and he'd had a lie all prepared so why couldn't he remember it now?

"Xander?!" Cordelia's voice was sharp now.

"I can't do the whole vampire gang, Cordy. I really don't want to have you stake me for eating some tourist. And the clan… let's just say the Aurelius clan has issues. Worse than the Harris clan, and I've had enough of dysfunctional families."

"But, you can't mean..."

"Cordy, I don't want to be alone. I can't do it. Please, understand. I don't fit in. If Angel won't…" Xander's voice broke as he tried to say the word. "If he won't, I'll just have to walk in the sun, and you know how I was after the whole immolation o'gram. So, just don't get mad at him because it's what I want." Xander had expected screaming, hitting, some threatening. Instead Cordelia started crying silently. Her body jerked with the sobs and then Xander found her pressed to his chest, hot tears falling on his neck.

"Cordy? Xander?" Angel came out with his skin flushed pink from feeding. Xander gently pushed Cordelia away as he stood. He thought as a vampire he'd be fearless, and in that alley he'd felt pretty damn fearless, but now fear tightened around his chest until he physically ached.

"Can we go upstairs?" Xander asked quietly.

"Yeah. We need to talk," Angel answered, and Xander bit his lip to keep silent as he waited for Angel to start up the stairs. As he started to follow, a warm hand grabbed his for a moment before Cordelia got up and fled out the front doors of the hotel.

"Just do it and get it over with, Deadboy," Xander announced when Angel stopped at the top of the stairs. And for the second time that night, Angel actually registered an emotion, this time surprise.

"Are you talking about my indecision about which of our rooms to use or something else?" The voice was almost Angelus-like in its humor, and Xander suppressed a shiver. Reminding himself that there were worse things than death, he ducked his head submissively and waited in silence.

"I'll assume you meant the rooms then," Angel said as he headed off toward his own room. Xander followed.

"Get out of those jeans," Angel ordered as he went into his bedroom and then opened the bathroom door in a clear invitation. Xander didn't comment since he really didn't want a return of the whole rib-breakage mood. In reality, he was glad to get out of the jeans which had stiffened with dried blood and smelled of rot. His knee hadn't been broken, but it had sure bled like hell.

Xander had to peel the fabric away from his lower leg as he toed off the borrowed boots. That left him a problem with the borrowed socks, and Xander sat on the toilet to basically pry them off his feet. When he finished, he sat on the toilet naked and waiting and really hoping that the unexpected return of Angel's humor wasn't some really, really bad omen.

"The next step would be the shower," Angel said from the doorway, and Xander looked up to see Angel standing there naked. He remembered his panic that first night when he thought Angel was going to rape him, but now Xander just hoped this wasn't some sort of tease. When he looked at Angel's soft cock and heavy, low balls, he wanted to touch and explore and wow a cock really did look different with the foreskin still on it, he realized. Angel continued to stand there, and Xander become conscious of the fact that Angel had ordered him into the shower and instead he was sitting on a toilet staring at Angel.

Xander scrambled to get into shower, nearly burning himself as he turned the knob too quickly.

"Slow down, it's okay, Xander." Angel said softly, a faint Irish accent shading each sound. Pieces clicked together in Xander's head.

"Right, so you laughing plus you with the Riverdance voice equals you soulless. Is that why you were okay with the whole killing plan?" Xander watched as Angel froze still one step outside the shower. The water ran down his body and warmed him even though the thought of being trapped with Angelus left him shivering. Funny enough, he still felt the desire to touch even though he suspected that touching now just might include that chainsaw.

"You think I don't have a soul now?"

"Not that it matters. I figure Angelus hates me about as much as Angel, so how's this going to play out because if I get a vote I'm going with a 'no' on the chainsaw." Xander wrapped his arms around his stomach and waited. Not really much else he could do now, but he did wish he'd noticed in time to warn Cordelia.

"Xander, I still have my soul," Angel stepped forward, and Xander just waited. He didn't have an answer for such an obvious lie, so he just kept quiet. It was a skill he was finally starting to learn although a little late to do much good.

"Xander, look at me," Angel's voice commanded, and Xander found himself looking despite himself.

"I still have my soul. My soul has just learned a little about being human." Xander wasn't aware of breathing until he suddenly stopped doing it. Okay, the clickage in his head just might have been completely and utterly wrong because that was not an Angelus face. Of course, that looked mildly lusty, which technically wasn't an Angel face either. Angel reached over and wrapped a hand around Xander's wrist, pulling Xander's arm free so that Angel's second hand reached in and touched Xander's stomach. Xander trembled.

"Someone put me in the position of having to make a bad choice and a worse choice, and I found out that the world didn't end if I wasn't perfect." Xander started breathing again, panting in fact, as Angel's fingers splayed out over his chest. Bringing his own hand up, Xander's fingers hovered mere centimeters away from Angel's arm. Angel chuckled.

"Looking for permission?" Angel asked.

"Sire." Xander whispered the word softly and uncertainly.

"Go on then, boy." Angel's words freed his hand, and Xander allowed his fingers to slide up the curve of Angel's arm. Angel moved forward so that he stood under the spray, their bodies pressed together, and Xander's hand explored the strong shoulder and wide back. His other wrist was still held within Angel's grip, so Xander's explorations were limited. With his free hand, he moved down over the curve of Angel's back and the swell of his ass. If he only had one night left on earth, this is how he wanted to spend it.

"Xander, I don't know how much humanity and how much vampire you have. What do you want?" Xander ducked his head. He was afraid to say anything that might ruin this perfect mood.

"Childe," Angel growled in frustration, and Xander trembled in anticipation, his demonic face rippling to the front.

"Whatever you want, sire," Xander offered, his cock throbbing with need. Angel's hand slid up his back, leaving a trail of shivering flesh before fingers tangled with his hair and pulled his forehead to Angel's shoulder.

"You're sure about that, Xander? Just because I have a soul doesn't mean I don't feel the needs, the urges. Are you sure you want to give me that kind of permission?" Angel chuckled lowly as he whispered in Xander's ear. Xander spread his legs a little and pressed his cock into Angel's hip in invitation. As Angel shifted, Xander could feel his sire's hard cock pressing into his flesh, and he could feel dull teeth now teasing the skin of his neck and shoulder.

"I need you," Xander admitted. Dru had never held him, never wanted him or smelled of heavy lust around him. Dru never asked his opinion or his permission for anything. For this moment of knowing that Angel wanted him, Xander would sacrifice anything.

Angel's hands grabbed his upper arms and slammed him back into the cold tile. Despite gasping in shock, Xander wrapped a leg around Angel's knees and just pulled his sire closer. "Is this what you want, Xander? I won't hurt you. I carry around too much guilt for my childer now. You have to tell me what you want, Xander."

"I want you," Xander said. "I want to know I make you happy, but not too happy because you and happiness is not of the good," Xander suddenly corrected himself. He didn't want to be caught between his sire and the humans Xander still cared for if Angelus came out to play.

"I'm not going to lose my soul," Angel said far more confidently than Xander expected. Then again, how could he give Angel perfect happiness?

"Um, not trying to ruin the mood here, but..."

"I've given up on perfect happiness. It's a myth. The only way for me to feel perfect happiness is if I lie to myself about who I am and what I want, and I think I've done enough of that already. This isn't perfect, but that doesn't mean it can't be good," Angel pointed out before lowering his head to Xander's neck, and now sharp vampire teeth nipped the flesh.

Xander grabbed at Angel's shoulders and hissed in desire as he could feel Angel pulling his blood from him until only Angel's hands around his waist held him upright. When Angel pulled back, his mouth red with Xander's blood and his face flushed with feeding and the heat of the shower, Xander didn't even care if Angel staked him because it would be worth it. Angel lifted him and carrying him to the bed, dropping him onto the mattress where the water dripping from his chilled body created an instant wet spot.

"Sire." Xander offered a word of worship as he tried to hold on to Angel's arm as the older vampire stood up.

"Hush, Childe," Angel said as he stepped away. Xander watched as Angel pulled something from a bedside drawer before lying down next to Xander. Everywhere that flesh met flesh, Xander felt his body tingle with a desire so strong that it made him twitch with need.

"Deadboy, if you don't do something." Xander froze when Angel growled a warning. Of course the large hand that now traveled slow arcs from his shoulder over his chest down his hip and leg also distracted him. On the next pass, Xander tried to roll into the touch, but Angel just raised his hand so that Xander lost that delicious touch. Xander had never felt such intense need and weakness all at once. He didn't even have enough blood for an erection, but he felt an almost overwhelming need to come even without one.

"Vampires are about submission and dominance. I thought with Buffy I could ignore those needs, and for one moment I did, but even if Angelus hadn't returned, I would have felt this need. But I won't hurt you Xander. I want this. I can feel you tremble with need. Even before you yielded to me as your sire, I wanted this, but I won't hurt you."

Xander pushed himself up on one elbow, his muscles trembling with bloodloss and lust as he stopped Angel's words with a stolen kiss. He might have initiated it, but Angel soon took control, and Xander groaned helplessly as Angel's heavy frame pinned him to the damp mattress.

"Drink," Angel ordered right before he drove his teeth into Xander's neck for the second time. Xander shivered as he brought his own teeth to Angel's neck and bit down. The sire's blood made his cock fill, and Angel reached between their bodies to grab both their cocks together as Xander clawed at his sire's back.


Xander lay diagonally across the bed on his stomach, and Angel traced a finger up the back of his childe's thigh where a series of bites decorated the flesh. The ghastly white of starvation had been replaced with the more normal tones of a fledge, and the bites from the previous night had already faded to faint bruises despite the fact that Angel had allowed his teeth to tear the flesh. Angel used his demon vision to examine the fading marks and trace the veins traveling under the surface of the skin.

Xander moaned without regaining consciousness, and Angel smiled. While he had whipped Dru into unconsciousness many times, driving Xander into oblivion through multiple orgasms had been a special treat. The boy had reacted to every touch and bite with appreciative moans and cries and when Angel had finally allowed the boy some initiative, he had been floored with Xander's enthusiastic explorations. Not even Dru had made him feel so satisfied.

Xander threw out an arm and stirred restlessly as Angel continued to explore his childe's body with a single finger.

Five days. For five days he had not walked the balance beam in his mind, and he still couldn't figure out how Xander's words had managed to cut through to him. He had loved Doyle as a brother, but when Doyle had told him basically the same thing, Angel had ignored the man. He had talked to people more and let them physically close to him, but he had kept that emotional distance. He had still tried to be perfect. How funny that Xander Harris' words had reached him where Doyle's had not.

He knew full well that things were not going to be perfect. Despite the fact that he had promised himself to give up the guilt, he did feel guilty that he was benefiting from Xander's death because he had respected the annoying human. He worried about hurting Buffy. She wouldn't understand why he could start rebuilding a life with Cordelia and Wesley and Xander when he couldn't build one with her. But no matter how much he loved her, and he always would, he couldn't live with someone who saw him as the dark savior of her fantasies. It was just a little too easy to lie to himself when he was with her.

And then there were the inevitable problems when Buffy and Willow found out Xander had come to L.A. Angel knew how much the two girls had loved Xander, and knowing that Xander's demon was in Angel's bed might create more problems than the Demon Initiative had. Oh, it was hard to have a perfect moment with the clouds of guilt and fear circling, but Angel let himself have at least a good moment as Xander's fingers curled around his arm.

"Sire," Xander whispered, and no matter how many times the boy said that word, Angel still felt the pull. Xander looked to him for protection and life, and Angel could admit now that the need to dominate Xander came from both a demonic sense of clan and power as well as his own past. He remembered the joy of holding down a bar maid as she wiggled in mock protest. He'd loved those games because his lack of control in his father's house had left him seeking power elsewhere.

"Here, boy," Angel whispered, and the hand on his arm tightened as Xander opened large brown eyes. Angel's own body was draped over Xander's back, and Angel made no move to get up.

"Thank you." Xander whispered reverently, and Angel frowned at the tone.

"I enjoyed it too," Angel pointed out as he tried to decipher the look on Xander's face. The adoration and lust and need from the previous night had been erased from Xander's face, and Angel found himself resenting the sad, closed expression that had taken their place.

"Angel?" Xander asked in a small voice.

"Xander?" Angel returned in the same tone, unable to understand the sudden change after last night, but certainly not pleased.

"Do you..." the boy's voice stuttered, "will you just finish it before I say something really stupid that ruins this whole not hating each other moment?" Xander's words tumbled out, making Angel roll to one side and half sit up. The fledge pulled back the hand that had reached out to his sire even in sleep, and Angel could feel his anger gnaw at the edges of his control.

"Finish... Xander, do you really think I'd stake you?" Angel demanded angrily. Xander hunched his shoulders unhappily.

"Kinda hoping because I still have the whole fear of fire thing going, so walking in the sun is not high on my list of wanna-do's," Xander said to the pillow.

Angel growled and rolled Xander over so that he was lying face up on the bed still pinned beneath Angel. As he looked down at Xander's hunched form, he realized that Xander did in fact expect to die. Then again, after the stories Xander had told of his parents, Xander had always been hurt by the people he loved. Even the Scoobies who had loved him unconditionally had unintentionally hurt him in ways that had surprised Angel. So of course the demon would expect the same.

"You will not walk in the sun," Angel ordered in his strongest sire voice.

"Look Deadboy, we both know this thing is a really, really bad idea what with me not having a soul and all, and even Cordy understands that it's just better to have a quick end."

"Mother of God. Please tell me you did not tell Cordy I was going to stake you," Angel begged. He didn't have the energy to deal with Cordelia and there would come a time when the woman had enough clothes that throwing a credit card at her would no longer work as a form of self-defense.

"Um, I didn't tell Cordy you were going to stake me," Xander said in a tone of voice that made it perfectly clear that he had told her exactly that.

"Wonderful," Angel complained in a sarcastic tone that made Xander flinch. "That's going to be a fun conversation." Oh yeah, the idea of a perfect moment was sliding farther away by the second. "Xander, get this through your head: I am not going to *ever *stake you."


"One more word, and you're going to find out how I taught William to be more careful with the horses," Angel threatened, and Xander stopped talking immediately. However, the eyes still had the guarded sadness that made Angel wonder how much of this pain Xander had carried in life. He took a breath as he realized that he had to either convince Xander that he was needed or risk the idiot running into the sun in some misguided attempt to do what he thought his sire wanted.

"I have spent the last century trying to deny myself every pleasure, and maybe I've decided to change my policy. I want family. I want childer, and Dru and Spike just don't fit into my life now. You are the only family I have or want, and if you destroy yourself, I will follow you to Hell and made you sorry you ever rose from your grave," Angel growled menacingly. Xander looked up and a crooked smile slowly appeared.

"You want me to stay?"

"I think I just said that," Angel pointed out.

"Yeah, I thought so, but sometimes I'm not quick-to-catch-on guy. Just thought I'd check." Angel looked down in confusion as Xander's eyes darted off to the side. Suddenly Angel realized why Xander had asked.

"Xander, if you need to hear me say it, you just need to ask," Angel offered. Xander was giving Angel the power and control he had always longed for in a relationship; the least Angel could do was offer Xander something in return.

"I need to hear you say it," Xander admitted with an indifferent shrug. Angel reached out and cupped Xander's face as he forced his childe's head up so that he could look Xander in the eye.

"You're mine, Xander, and I will never let you go. You won't ever leave me or kill yourself because you belong to me." Angel could feel the tremors go through the body beneath him, and yellow bled into the dark brown eyes watching him. For not the first time Angel considered that demons would be better off possessing creatures with fewer hang-ups than humans.

"Even when I have one of those days when my powers of annoyance are, you know, really annoying?" Xander asked, but now his expression held a wonder that reminded Angel of young William.

"I didn't say I wouldn't beat you senseless," Angel shot back, but he lightened his words with a smile.

"That'd take about two hits," Xander returned quickly as Angel got up off the bed and started searching for clothing.

"Yeah, well you never did have the sense god gave a goose."

"Hey, I've met a few geese at the school zoo field trip, and they do pretty well for themselves. I mean, have you ever tried to pull a goose's tail?"

Angel stopped in the middle of pulling up his pants and looked over at his childe. "No, Xander, I don't think I ever have." He threw a pair of black pants at Xander who put them on.

"Don't try. They've got a nasty bite, and the embarrassing pictures people will get of you running away from a bird? So not worth it."

"I'll keep that in mind," Angel said as he fought the urge to laugh. Dru had truly created the most human vampire Angel had ever met.

"You know, I really thought I was coming here to die. I'm kinda glad I'm not all dusty since you turned out to be less of a pain in the ass than I expected, Deadboy," Xander offered as he caught a shirt Angel threw his way.

"I have to admit that I'm glad you came to LA. I'm still a little confused about why Dru turned you only to leave you, but that's Dru." Angel shrugged at the insanity of his strangest creation. He thought that he could totally own her by driving her mad, but in some ways Dru had never been his because of her insanity.

"Tell me about it. She babbled about people in the stars the whole time that minion of hers was holding me down. Stars, blah, blah, blah…. Brother with the kiss, blah, blah, blah…. Green eyes, blah, blah, blah." Xander's words made Angel freeze mid-step as he walked toward the door. He slowly turned as the words triggered a memory.

"Xander, tell me everything she said."

Now Xander stopped walking and cocked his head slightly in confusion. "She said so much, the talkage and the pettage and the near heart-attack level fear went on for a while before she actually got around to biting me."

"Tell me as many phrases as you can remember." Angel watched as Xander's confusion grew even greater before he closed his eyes in concentration as he attempted to obey.

"She said Buffy had been bad and had stolen Spike's eyes. She said she wanted to steal Spike's eyes back. She talked about her brother in the sky who listened to the stars with her. She muttered on about him dancing in the stars after the world went dark. She absolutely ranted about naughty dolls who didn't like their dresses." Xander paused and wrinkles appeared in his forehead. "She talked about a lost kitten and green eyes and a fire that was burning a mountain." Xander now opened his eyes, but Angel could tell that the fledge was seeing Drusilla's face in his memory.

"She said that her brother with green eyes was calling." Xander laughed a little. "I told her I could get her a good package on a cell phone so she could call back because I was working at this place that sold these really cheap…." Xander glanced over and then laughed a little nervously, "And that's totally off topic. Okay, Drusilla. She said kittens could see in the dark and her brother told her to make the kitten new and sunshine made her skin giggle and puppies sometimes peed on the floor and that I was a bad little boy. I'm sorry, that's really all I remember since I was focusing more on the panicking than the listening."

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and all the saints in heaven," Angel whispered softly, the words coming easily to his lips even though he hadn't used that phrase in quite a few decades.

"Did any of that made sense to you? 'Cause I have to say I think she's battier than a fruit loop." Xander looked at him curiously, and Angel struggled with how much to explain. Should his redemption come at the cost of another life? Could it?

"Dru had a vision."

"Yeah, she gets those a lot. They have medicine for that now."

"She has real visions, just like Cordy, just like Doyle used to."


"He…" Angel stopped. "He's the one who convinced me I couldn't keep trying to live separate from humans. He's dead."

"Okay, and this is me being even more confused," Xander admitted.

"Dru is a seer and so was Doyle, so he's a brother of sorts to her. Doyle also has green eyes and since he died saving others, I imagine he is dancing in the stars after his world went dark. I definitely know he listened to the stars since that's Dru's description of a vision."

"This is starting to sound like that poetry class in school that I always hated because I couldn't get the right answers out of the poem. So tell me, where do bad dolls that hate their dresses come into this?"

"I have no idea," Angel admitted. "But I think Doyle asked Dru to turn you."

"Whoa, you mean the Powers That Be stuck their fingers in my life? I'm not liking that idea. Demon here, don't really want the powers of light interested in me."

"But you aren't completely a demon. Dru left you your humanity, and no offense Xander, but you're still pretty much you, including the fact that you only care about the people who you consider friends. You had a..." Angel struggled to explain what he had seen in the human Xander, "a coldness towards other people."

"Okay, that's kinda true. I had a mean streak that Willow always used to ignore. But I'm still not getting why one of your dead friends would send crazy girl after me." Angel glanced at Xander sharply, surprised to see the fledge had given up Dru as a sire so completely.

"Simple, kittens can see in the dark." Angel offered with a shrug of his own as he opened his bedroom door. He could hear Cordelia slamming things around the office, a sure sign she was either hurting or homicidally angry.

"Either that's not simple or I'm not that bright." Xander gave a small laugh. "Maybe both."

"Maybe I just need to listen to my childe a little more often," Angel translated as he threw his arm around Xander's shoulders and started walking again.

"I don't know if I can handle being listened to. I've spent 19 years getting ignored, Deadboy."

"If you don't stop calling me Deadboy, I'm going to let Gunn call you Zeppo for the next decade or so," Angel threatened.

"That's okay," Xander answered amicably. "Gunn calls me names for the same reason I called you Deadboy back in Sunnydale."

"To annoy the unlife out of me?"

"Um, yeah. Well, that and to try and make you seem smaller so that I didn't feel like pissing my pants every time you snuck up behind me with your whole dead creepage thing."

"I don't sneak *or* creep," Angel said. Xander looked over and Angel tried to suppress his smile. "I just lurk really quietly."

"Okay, if that's your attempt at humor, you're pathetic."

"I'm two hundred years out of practice," Angel pointed out with a shrug.

"Okay, maybe I'll cut you some slack for that, Deadboy."

"Watch it, Zeppo. Have some respect for your sire."

Xander smiled as Angel let go of his shoulders long enough to cuff him upside the head gently.

"Whatever," he answered.

"God, you've been hanging out with Gunn too much," Angel complained, and Xander gave a little laugh. "We've got cases waiting, so it's time to get back to work, Kitten."

"Okay, I officially hate that nickname more than Zeppo." Xander put an elbow in Angel's stomach just hard enough to register his annoyance.

"Whatever," Angel answered right back as he steered his childe toward the stairs. It was time to start a new life. Angel sent up a quick prayer that Xander's soul had found peace and a quick thanks to Doyle for helping him see the true path to redemption.

Okay, I'm done with these characters, so I have a couple of challenges out there for Xangel writers (or people who I might tempt into the slashy goodness of Xangel.)

1. Scoobies. Willow calls Angel Inc to ask for help in the latest hellmouthy goodness, and who should answer the phone but Xander. When Angel has to go back to Sunnydale, how do the Scoobies and Spike handle Xander's new place in Angel's life?

Click Here to read Tenth Muse's response to this challenge:
  Anatomy of a Song


2. Lawson. The fledge Angel turned on that submarine in "Why We Fight" comes back for revenge early. The difference now is that Angel realizes that HE made one of those strange human vampires. This time, Angel can't help his childe commit suicide so he decides to give Lawson a mission worth living for.






Sibling Rivalry
Rated TEEN
Written for Redrayne717


Angel could have beaten his head against a brick wall as he listened to the familiar fight.

"Bloody hell, I'm going to rip you limb from limb."

"Just try, blondie bear," Xander sing-songed the hated nickname.

"Don't go there," Spike snapped back, his yellowed eyes shining in the dark.

"Oooo, scary monster. Oh, wait, I can do that too," Xander smirked and then flashed into his own game face and staring back in challenge.

"Ya really are a retard if you think you're winnin' this one."

"You may think I'm one but I'm really one. Wait. That came out wrong," Xander stumbled over the words. "You're one. You're really one, as in a retard, even though that's not a very nice thing to say."

Spike would have answered but he was too busy laughing so hard that his breath came in strangled snorts, and he nearly toppled backwards off the arm of the chair where he perched with the game controller in hand.

"If you two don't stop fighting, I'm going to--" Angel left his threat hanging in the air as he stood in the doorway to the game room wearing just his pajama bottoms and a fierce scowl.

"As the boy would say, chill out, Peaches," Spike smirked as he sat up and hit the unpause button while Xander was temporarily distracted by the sight of curving sire muscles and a strong sire chest. Angel looked down at the boy and felt that surge of possessiveness and power from his demon even as his soul felt something closer to love. A series of musical beeps announced that the game had a winner.

"Hell, yes!" Spike crowed as his pixilated warrior completed his threat by pulling the limbs off Xander's troll.

"Hey no fair! That so does not count."

"Bloody hell, we're demons--fair isn't in our vocabulary."

"It is in mine, and that... that is so not fair!" Xander snarled as he stood up and stepped right into Spike's personal space so that he could glower down at the blond who now sprawled across the arm and over the back of the overstuffed red chair.

"Cry me a soddin' river," Spike growled.

"Did I not just tell you to stop fighting?" Angel demanded stepping into the room with his own eyes beginning to swirl with yellow. Since Xander was closest, Angel's fingers wrapped around the back of his youngest childe's neck, pulling him away.

"Angel!" Xander cried out even as his body followed without protest, his hand coming up to rest on the small of Angel's back as Angel moved him into a headlock. "It's Spike's fault!"

"I don't care whose fault it is or who started it. I'm ending it, and I'm ending it right now." Angel turned toward the door, dragging his youngest childe, although Xander's slowness came from clumsy feet rather than reluctance. "Coming Spike?" Angel asked at the door. For a brief moment Spike remained sprawled, watching with yellow eyes and a stunned expression.

"Yeah, better 'n playing this rot, anyway," Spike said casually as he pushed himself up and went to follow.

"Oh, boyo. If you aren't sure, it's been too long," Angel said as he gave his older childe a prurient look.

Spike just snorted. "Feelin' a bit sure of yourself, aren't you?" he asked as he glided by on his way down the hall to Angel's bedroom. For one second, Angel felt cold rage wash through him, until he recognized the sashay of Spike's rolling gait, the invitation in the hips. Then he smiled.

"Xander," Angel said softly, "Spike and I may get a little rough, but I don't want you to think I would ever hurt him." Angel let his youngest up, and Xander stood, his hair ruffled from being manhandled and his eyes still flashing with sparks of yellow. "I don't want you to think I would hurt you."

Angel recognized that sudden closed expression, the one that made Angelus want to beat the insecurities out of Xander and that made Angel want to beat the people who put the insecurities in his childe in the first place. He sighed at seeing that expression again after so many years.

"What thought is running through that brain of yours, boy?" Angel demanded, and Xander's eyes slid off to the side, exploring the pattern on the wallpaper.

"I just." Xander stopped.

"Childe, say it," Angel demanded in his strongest voice.

"I wish I was good enough to fight with," Xander blurted, and then blushed. Angel hadn't realized a vampire could blush before he met Xander. He reached up and cupped Xander's chin, pulling his head up so Angel could look straight into the now-brown eyes.

"My soul... it sometimes means I don't see things. I forget you don't have a soul," Angel said as he looked into eyes that now stared at his chin, refusing to meet his gaze. "I didn't think you would want to fight; I forgot you're a demon," Angel admitted, and now Xander glanced up.

"You don't think I'm..." Xander stopped.

"I think you're a strong vampire, a worthy childe who would make a dangerous enemy," Angel answered the unspoken question, and Xander's eyes flashed yellow. Angel felt a stab of guilt at that expression. If he let his demon, and Xander's demon, have their way, he would have to suffer the guilt of seeing Xander's skin bruised and torn, the younger vampire lying half-drained and helpless, but if he didn't, he risked his childe's self esteem. Xander brought joy into his life and taught him to avoid insanity, but Angel never had to fear perfect happiness.

"Go on then, boy, get in that room," Angel ordered as he released Xander's face and slapped his hip. Xander flashed him a smile with more than a little fang before he hurried down the hall to the bedroom door where Spike had already disappeared. Angel watched him go and collected his thoughts for a moment before following after. It was time to show his boys who was in charge in this hotel. And despite that little nagging twinge of guilt, Angel intended to enjoy the lesson.

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