Angel and Xander have just fought off an attack at T's club, and now Angel wants to save this young man from becoming one more of Spike's victims.
“You wanted something?” Xander asked in an exasperated tone and Angel guessed that he had once again transgressed some human rule of conversation. He missed Cordelia’s ability to fill the awkward silences so that he didn’t have to talk. Then again, the boy had actually spoken out, and spoken somewhat disrespectfully, something that his own pets never would have done unless they had reached the point of desperation and wanted to die.
“Spike’s not treating you like a pet, is he?” Angel studied the tense frame as the teenager pressed into the table as though seeking some escape. Angel found that amusing since the boy apparently gave himself rather willingly to William if he was smelling the signs right.
“He isn’t treating me like Cassidy did, but then Cassidy’s dust, so he isn’t treating me like anything these days.” Xander casually shrugged, and Angel found himself temporarily speechless. How could this human speak so easily of killing his own master? Angel still couldn’t even think Darla’s name without tasting the ash and feeling the utter dismay in his gut. Of course, Angelus’ wails didn’t help either.
“This isn’t a joke,” Angel finally settled on.
“It’s my life, which implies it is a joke, actually.” The boy said this with such somber conviction that Angel nearly flinched. A dozen pets he’d taken and used and broken with utter disregard for their humanity. The lucky ones had died early at Dru’s fangs; the unlucky ones had lived. He heard this tone and wondered how much more it would take to break the boy. He couldn’t allow another human to suffer the way Dru had or the others had. He wouldn’t allow William to take the lessons he learned at his sire’s feet and break a young man who fought to protect his neighborhood so hard for so long. Gunn had told him of Xander’s endless loyalty and the way the boy threw himself into the fight, and Angel understood just how much determination that must have taken. Angel was the only one who understood because he too had a soul that tried to do the right thing with a demon constantly shrieking in the background. He’d save this boy before William could break the fragile spirit.
“He could hurt you,” Angel began, relying on the human logic, not wanting to resort to dominating the demon in Xander. When the demon and the soul wanted different things, it would eventually break the human, just as it broke Dru, so he had to make the soul accept him before he could take the demon.
“He could, but he treats me better than my own parents do.” Angel stopped, unsure what tactic to take with that new information. Could the boy’s parents have caused the damage he could hear in each soft-spoken word? Lord above knows that his own father left him with marks on his soul that he would never overcome. Of course, it wouldn’t matter who damaged him because Angel could protect Xander from William and from his own parents. He had money, money that he rarely used because it came from death and torture, but he had money.
“He’s a demon,” Angel said, still hoping to convince the human.
“So are you,” Xander snapped back, almost angry now.
“A soul-less demon,” Angel replied, hoping that Xander would see the logic in what he was about to propose. When Xander refused to reply, he continued. “You don’t know what he’s really like,” Angel said softly. He remembered the brutality that William could inflict on a human body, but he also remembered that he had taught the young vampire everything he knew. He’d taught him where to cut a body so that it didn’t bleed out too fast. He’d taught him how to keep a torture victim from retreating into his own mind. He’d taught him to be vicious and cold, just like Angelus. Angelus had reveled in the sight of William trembling for love and acceptance like a kicked puppy at his feet.
“I have an idea; I’m really not as stupid as I look. I know about his whole penchant for grooms although really that’s your fault since you always went for the brides. I know about dragging people back to the lair so that Dru could play with them both before and after they died, and can I just say ewww here. I know how he kills; I know where his name comes from; I see what he is.”
Once again, Angel found himself speechless. He’d assumed that William had deceived the boy, tricked him into believing some fairy tale. Yet the boy obviously knew the truth and still angrily glared at him, defiant and loyal to William. Angel could feel Angelus stirring within him, the familiar rage boiling within. Angelus had always been so hateful toward William. Instead of being the proper fledge, the young Victorian had kept so much of himself after the turning that Angelus had taken to humiliation and mental tricks to make William feel weak, and Angelus had reveled in how strong it made him feel to cow such a determined spirit. Now William had managed to have something that Angelus always wanted but never possessed: a perfectly loyal pet. Drusilla was as close as Angelus ever came, and even she was loyal only as far as she was sane. She would wander from one to another unaware of her sire as long as the stars held her in thrall.
Angel could admit that his soul had a slightly different reaction: jealousy. When he’d regained his soul and returned to his family in China, the sight of William had nearly made him turn around and hide. William had controlled the demon where the demon controlled Angelus. But this human boy, this Xander, he couldn’t be left with William because no matter how much control William had, and Angel admitted that his childe had shown great control in not turning the boy already, eventually William would follow the demon’s instincts and make Xander his own childe, and one more innocent life would end because of the chain of event he had set into motion.
“And do you see how much you’ve changed? Do you see what you’ve become in one week? How much of you will be left in another week or a month or a year?” Angel stepped forward, and he could feel his own demon react to Xander’s presence in a way it had never reacted to any other pet, and Angel had found and rescued a number of pets in his time in L.A. Xander’s eyes began to flash with yellow flecks, and Angel had to restrain his demon’s urge to force the boy to submit.
“You don’t know who I was a week ago or even four years ago before Cassidy,” Xander snapped, and Angelus roared at the challenge. Angel gritted his teeth and continued with his attempt to reach Xander through human logic.
“I’ve talked to Gunn; I have a pretty good idea who you were a week ago, and the man Gunn described is not the same man I saw out there on that floor.”
“Gunn? What, did he tell you what a loser I was? He describe how I got Frederick killed? He tell the story about how I dropped the stake when I tried to dust that old-man vamp? That’s one of his favorites.” The yellow disappeared now, and Angel could see the pain-filled brown eyes that looked back at him with such anguish and still such determination that Angel couldn’t believe William hadn’t turned such a human.
“He told me you were a moral man who would do anything to protect his friends, to protect innocents.” Angel stood in the middle of the room unwilling to move as he fought an internal struggle as Angelus struggled for dominance. Images of pushing the boy down of taking him, of draining him, of turning him filled Angel’s mind until he shook his head and crossed his arms in defiance of the demon. Angelus finally stilled.
“I haven’t changed that much then,” the boy waved toward the site of their fight. “Carlos begged me to leave, but I wouldn’t walk away from this.”
“But the man Gunn described wasn't fighting out there on the floor tonight.” Angel pointed out. He’d seen a demon fighting on that floor, a vampire’s speed and agility inside a body with a beating heart. When he’d walked up behind Xander, he’d had no fears because his own vampire reflexes would easily outmaneuver any human reaction. Instead, he’d been faced with the instant response of a vampire, and he’d barely deflected the blow. Angelus still grumbled about the fact that he had nearly been dust at the hands of a child even though the humanity of that child was certainly in question.
“So we’re back to the whole it can't be me if I'm not a big loser thing. I *can* take care of myself.” The boy’s arms crossed, and Angel could see his pain. Angelus would have taken that fear, that pain, and used it to twist Xander into a loyal childe, but Angel didn’t know how to deal with it, how to help Xander overcome both the damage of his past and the damage William had done by taking the boy to his bed.
“You can’t, not against Spike. I can protect you,” Angel promised.
“Don’t really feeling like trading up, thanks,” Angelus roared in triumph at the fact that the boy acknowledged his superiority to William even as he growled at the boy’s unwillingness to submit. Angel just sighed. So the boy wouldn’t submit to a new master, one that would make sure he went to school and got a respectable job and led a normal life. Well, he just had to find an alternative the boy would accept.
“I could get you a ticket to some place where vamps wouldn’t be likely to find you, where you could be independent. Montana maybe, went through there once and didn’t find a vamp in the whole state.”
“I don’t need saving,” Xander interrupted, and the gold flecks had returned to the eyes. Angel wondered briefly just how far this aberration went. The boy moved like a demon, had demon eyes, what other parts of the boy’s humanity were being worn away by the strength of the demon within him? Angel focused on Xander, trying to stare him down the way two vampires would often do to establish dominance. The boy glared back, but his body language screamed his panic and his scent had shifted toward fear so Angel looked away.
“You really aren’t a normal pet,” Angel sighed, unsure what to do with such a recalcitrant pet. He couldn’t convince the human to go along with him, so maybe he did just need to dominate the demon and force Xander for his own good.
“Hey! Getting sick of the complaints. In fact, I seem to remember telling someone that I would stake you next time you called me strange. ‘Course I kinda did stake you so maybe we can call it even.” Angel recognized the humor as the boy’s attempt to deal with his own fear, but he ignored the boy’s discomfort and his own guilt as he stepped up to Xander, chest to chest so that he could look down at the human eyes wide with dismay.
“And if I said you were leaving tonight?” Angel used his deep sire’s voice, allowing his eyes to take demonic form as he used his demon to call on Xander’s demon. As Spike’s sire, it was his right to take what the younger vampire failed to protect, and he waited for the submission. Instead, he got anger and a flash of yellow eyes as Xander looked up at him without breaking eye contact.
“I’d answer, ‘Over your dust,’ Deadboy, so let’s not go there.” Angel threw himself backwards in an attempt to not throw himself onto the boy and force the submission that should be his. He retreated all the way to the far wall before he trusted himself to turn and look at Xander who had started to speak again.
“Just because you hate Spike doesn’t mean he’s all evil, and being that he’s a soulless demon that sounds really stupid, but it isn’t nearly as stupid as you might think,” Xander continued.
Oh Angel knew that very well. Spike was evil in that he never thought of anyone except himself, but no matter how much Angelus tempted him with offers of camaraderie or taunted him with accusations of weakness, Angelus could never get Spike to enjoy the act of torture and torment the way most demons did.
“I don’t hate William. I hate what I did to him,” Angel whispered, amazed that he would confess such a thing, but maybe the boy would listen if he could only show Xander that he wasn’t doing this out of hatred for William. Angelus loved William as a favorite playtoy and source of torment. Angel tried not to think of William, but when he did hatred wasn’t the first emotion on the list.
“You mean the whole sire-punishing-torture thing or the whole getting a soul and abandoning him to Darla thing?” Xander demanded, and Angel felt rage that such an infant could so casually dismiss one of the greatest pains of his life. The boy’s hiss of fear reminded him to control his features and he quickly shook off the feeling.
“He told you,” Angel said, humiliated that one more human understood the depths of his demon’s depravity.
“Then you know why he hates me. Even after Dru turned him he had humanity left in him, and that infuriated me. I turned him into the monster he is today, and don’t ever forget that he is a monster who has tortured and raped and enjoyed every minute.” Angel tried once again to help Xander see the truth.
“He has that in him, but he’s more than that,” the boy insisted with that same determined look he had used when he refused to submit to Angel’s demon.
“I wish I could believe you. There are days I wish I had William back.” Angel thought of what could have been if he hadn’t broken William and helped created Spike, the slayer of slayers. He’d turned the young vampire hard, and that was why he couldn’t bear to even say the name Spike. If he could have taken young William and taught him differently, he wouldn’t have been good certainly, but he would never have become evil. Angel still remembered the young blonde crying when he had tried to save his dying mother. Angelus had seen it as a sign of weakness and had brought Darla and Dru out to make fun of the pathetic fledge. That had really been the end of William and the beginning of Spike.
“Wait here,” Xander commanded and then raced off. Angel took a step forward to follow, but his sense told him they were alone and the boy was safe, so he settled back to wait for this most surprising human to return. Before long the boy came back holding onto a stack of disks which Angel accepted only because Xander thrust them into his hands without warning.
“Spike and I have a bit of a musical war going on; don’t really agree on the definition of good music.” Xander shrugged and gave a little laugh, but Angel could only stand there and struggle to try and figure out this new turn of conversation. “If you could hold on to these, it’ll drive Spike crazy trying to find them. Just please, promise you won’t scratch them until he comes for them.” Angel looked down at the bundle of discs for several seconds before he gave Xander a calculating stare.
“I’ll keep them safe," he promised with a smile. He could suddenly see Xander’s logic as clearly as if he had written it on a wall, and it made him somehow grateful that the boy wanted to help Angel mend fences, even if there wasn’t any real chance. One conversation while retrieving music wouldn’t heal the wounds between him and his childe.
"So, you don’t like pointless screaming either?” He asked as he studied the titled on the CD’s.
“No, not really…how do you know his musical tastes?” Xander suddenly asked, suspicious, and Angel had to give the boy credit. He might babble some, but one couldn’t make a slip around him without getting caught.
“He’s my childe; I may have checked on him once or twice,” he admitted, wishing that Xander wasn’t smart enough to understand the pain behind that statement, but from the expression on Xander’s face, the boy understood all too much.
"Then you know he's not a monster, not like the vamps out there,” Xander quickly pointed out, and Angel had to admire the way the boy pushed his advantage.
"I know Spike forms attachments. I know what he's willing to do to keep those attachments. It doesn't mean you're safe." Angel sighed as he tried to find a way to explain William’s unique psychology.
"I've never been safe, and I probably won't ever be, but being with Spike doesn't feel nearly as dangerous as some things I've done…like in 11th grade, I goosed Mrs. Kerpel when we were on this field trip. That was pretty darn dangerous." Angel watched sadly as the boy used humor once again to avoid saying something meaningful.
"I don't trust him." Angel said, hoping that he could just get Xander to not trust blindly.
"Then talk to him; don't just issue random threats, show him that the Angelus who cared about him is still down in there somewhere." Angel looked up at that comment, and realized that for all the boy’s intelligence he had not quite gotten it right. But perhaps because the boy had come so close or perhaps because the boy smelled of family or perhaps because he just needed to admit it, Angel found himself telling the truth.
"That's not it." He struggled to find the words, and the boy just waited, watching with large curious eyes. "Angelus hated him for being too human, too soft, too weak. Angelus humiliated him, took everything away from him and drove him to become harder. Angelus created Spike." Angel closed his eyes and turned his back, but he could feel Xander step closer. The scent of Xander nearly drove Angel to grab the boy, but he kept his eyes closed as he continued, struggling to control this need to have the human, a need he hadn’t felt in over a century.
"And I hated him too at first. When I was turned, I destroyed my family; he tried to save what was left of his. I obliterated everything in my path; he tried to create this fairy-tale relationship with Dru." Angel lost words as he couldn’t think of any dark enough to express his guilt, his shame.
"You were jealous of him," Xander said, and Angel turned to look at the boy who understood what others didn’t.
"I know how different Spike is, but I also know how dangerous he is. Stay with me," Angel could feel his demon yearning for the boy, and he struggled to not grab the boy even as he reached out with his own demon to bring the boy into his arms. For one second, Angel thought he’d succeeded and the boy took a half step forward, but just as Angel went to open his arms, Xander froze and then began to back up.
"I can't. I want Spike," the boy pleaded, and Angel knew that he couldn’t even have Xander as long as William lived, not without pulling Xander into the same madness that had torn Dru mind to pieces. When William finally turned the human, Angel made a silent vow to find the young fledge, and if he had as much spirit as this human boy or as much spirit has his own lost William, he would take the fledge for his own. Willing to wait now that he had a plan, Angel nodded.
"If you need me…" Angel stopped as a familiar smell crept into his awareness, followed shortly thereafter by a mighty crash. Angel sighed as he realized that now he had to face his angry childe who would surely understand what he had tried to just do.