Your browser isn't running scripts, so you might have trouble with the Drop-Down menu at top right hand corner of page. You can get it at http://www.java.com/en/download/windows_ie.jsp"

 


RATING:  R but will eventually reach NC-17

WORDCOUNT:
DISCLAIMER: I don't own any part of Buffy et all, nor Angel the Series.
FEEDBACK: Oh please send me feedback
SPOILERS: Everything up to just before Faith killed the Mayor's assistant SUMMARY:  Angel is determined that Xander understands the truth about demon

A/N #1: Those of Buffyverse are naturally Joss' creations, however, any and all other characters mentioned are my own.

A/N #2:  This deviates greatly from Season 2.  Wesley took Faith away to continue her training as a Slayer; the Mayor-becoming-a-giant-snake never happened; graduation went off without a hitch; Angel still in town and hasn't left for L.A. 

BETA'D BY: Elaine (the Mighty)






The re-education of Xander Harris


by
Author





Part One



Xander cast a surreptitious look of mingled disgust and fury towards a certain overgelled headed vampire; he gave a resentful sniff at Mr. I-Loved-'The English Patient' broody vampire.  Deadboy apparently had only two expressions: Brood and Guilty-Brood.  It made the girls get weak in the knees and all ‘Poor Angel, come lay your brooding head in my lap while I stroke your fevered yet cool brow'.

Blech!  It was enough to make a guy sick.  He ignored the little voice that chimed softly ‘Or as jealous as hell'.  Because he wasn't jealous.  Almost really he wasn't, he assured himself stoutly.  Why should he be?  After all, he was all aliveness, was his malicious thought.  Anyway, Deadboy's 'supposed' woe-is-me? It was all just an act.

His mouth tightened in angry annoyance at the way Buffy was not-watching Deadboy. Despite her carefully disinterested expression, he could practically see the hearts and flowers in Buffy's eyes for the vampire's Anne Rice routine.   No matter what he ‘overheard' during the Buffster and Deadboy's little spat, he knew it was hurting her not to be close to Angel.  Not to ‘smother his pale, beautiful face in ravenous kisses as her heart beat furiously in her heaving bosom'.  Xander nastily mimicked one of the romance novels he had espied Joyce reading one day.

Buffy was still falling for that ol' Woe-is-Me look of Deadboy's, hook, line and sinker.  Willingly twisting like a fish out of water on his fishing pole.  Xander paused in his thoughts.  Fishing pole?  He gave himself a mental slap.  For gods' sakes man, snap out of the hyperbole!   His thoughts returned to the Buffy/Deadman situation.  Why did she hafta to fixate on a dead person?  It wasn't like there weren't plenty of available warm bodies around!

Not me of course, he assured himself hastily.  Almost really, I've learned my lesson about office romance.   Though it would've been nice just to be wanted, he thought wistfully. 

Anyway, if Buffy wasn't careful, the afterness was gonna be screams and lots of drinkage.  And not the good underage kinda drinkage.  It was the bloody kind that led to loss of life and possibly limbs.  The epitome of badness would be back.

While he was all for respecting the dead, however, a line needed to be drawn for those dead that were still running around.  Especially when they liked to kill and torture people.  Xander shivered; Psychoboy was definitely on his short list of people to avoid.  Demony-Angel was so not who he would like to see.  Except blowing in the wind, that is.

His teeth ground together; almost with an audible sound at the secretive look Buffy darted at the vampire.  Spiteful satisfaction was in equal measure at the minuscule flinch Angel made at the grinding sound of his teeth.

“Yo, Deadboy…” he threw out to the vampire.  He didn't care that his voice was overly loud in the hushed atmosphere of the living room.  All he wanted was for everybody to stop treating Broodboy like some kinda injured bird…demon, he hastily tacked on.  If he had to be the bad guy, then so be it.  He was strong, he could take it.  At least that's what he told himself with false bravado.

Because, hey, demon bad, human good.  Nobody could tell him different, he thought adamantly.

He gave a fulminating glare at the frown of displeasure on Buffy's face.  It was something that she should remember.  Who knew when Deadboy might get a happy and turn into Angelus, he thought with willful ignorance of the condition of Angel's curse.

Sighing, Angel looked up from the book he was studying to give the boy his full attention.  He knew nothing less would satisfy Xander.  The teen had an uncanny knack of knowing when he only had his partial attention.  The barbs grew even more astringent.

Ever since he came back from Hell, Xander had been on a non-stop campaign to make sure no one forgot the unique reign of terror Angelus brought to Sunnydale.  He was constantly surprised not to see billboards posted all over town.

“Yes, Xander…?” he inquired mildly.   A look of polite interest was in his eyes and face.  Which he knew annoyed the boy to no end.  But it was either that or allow his anger to show.  Which was not a good thing.   Demon anger and rage was too intense for mere humans to witness.   Besides it looked remarkably like Angelus' bad temper, he thought ruefully. 

Although, he should show a bit more gratitude towards the boy, Angel reflected.  It was Xander's view of him that kept him from forgetting exactly what he was.

Vampire…demon.

A monster.

When he had been cautiously admitted into their midst, for the first time in over eighty years he had felt something besides the guilt that drove him to find redemption.  He felt a tenuous connection with these oddly assorted people.  He grew careless and sloppy in an effort to hold on to the feeling.  Instead of keeping his usual careful distance between him and the rest of the world, he eagerly dragged himself closer.  And closer still. 

Wanting with every fiber of his being to allow their admiring eyes to warm his cold, dead heart.  He held the shield of their friendship, Buffy's love between him and the ruthless, deadly demon that lurked within.  Forgetting for one crucial moment, what he was and what he constantly fought to keep chained. 

Angelus. 

He hadn't counted on falling for a Slayer, the mortal enemy of his kind.   Almost, recklessly he allowed himself to fall into a trap of his own making.  As if he believed hard enough, his fantasy would become reality.  It was that glittering illusion that he was just another human that led to him making love to Buffy.  Led to him not telling the truth about what he truly was.

A vampire with a curse upon his soul.  One moment of perfect happiness and he would revert to his demonic self.   But then again, who knew sex equaled perfect happiness? 

All of them reflected back the image he presented to the world.  Even Rupert treated him with avuncular goodwill.  All of them, except the boy.  That angry, resentful boy.  Time and time again, he tried to make overtures, to convince the young man of his good intentions.  But Xander, in his jealous fury, refused to buy into the flawless image he presented; and with the tenacity of a pit bull, the boy stubbornly held on to his dislike. 

Xander had been and still was on a ledge by himself; steadfastededly refusing the dubious offers of safety his friends called to him.  Unknowing or uncaring of the truth, but still unwilling to relax his vigilance. 

And he had been right, Angel admitted ruefully to himself.  Eighty-some odd years of celibacy, and he let a slip of a girl make him forget himself.  Who now, after everything that passed between them, still regarded him with clear, loving eyes.

Angel came back to himself with a imperceptible start at the audible grinding sound of Xander's teeth.  He cursed himself for his inattention and making the situation even more tensed.  One thing the boy hated was being ignored.  He stifled a sigh.  If Xander wasn't careful, the teen was going to alienate the few friends he did have.  Though he wondered why he cared; Xander was only making a fool out of himself and he wasn't doing too much harm.  At least not yet.

He groaned silently as the scent of rage increased dramatically from the boy.  He slid a look at the seemingly oblivious Oz.  But when the small teenage boy looked at him, he could see the wolf sliding in the boy's dark stare.  They both looked away, uncomfortable at the evidence of their own inner beasts.

“Xander, we are soo not going to go there again…” Buffy said hastily.  There was a deepening frown on her face as she glanced between Angel and Xander.  She was getting increasingly tired of the little potshots that Xander kept taking at him.

"Never left the gate..." Oz wryly muttered under his breath.

“What…?” Xander questioned with a look of presumed innocence. 

“Just…don't…” she warned him uneasily, looking away from him.  Nervous about that dark glittering look in his eyes.

“Oh, you don't want me to remind Angel to pick up his supply of pig's blood?  Or that he needs to be back home, in his coffin, do you use coffins, by the way? before sunrise?  Or I thought I would let him know about the new church they're thinking about building a few blocks from his crypt? So you don't get all dusty by accident.”  There was a world of helpfulness in Xander's voice.  Totally at odds with the frustrated anger that was evident in his wide dark eyes.

“XANDER HARRIS…” Buffy growled.  Her eyes narrowed in rage at the meanness in her friend's remarks.  Why was he always doing the wordy fighting thing with Angel?  What was his problem?!

“Xander, stop….” Willow protested softly.  Her face was becoming strained at the resurgent of tension in the living room.   Why did everybody have to act all...macho?

“Thank you, Xander,”  Angel interjected quickly.   His voice was suitably grave, pretending the teen was sincere in trying to be helpful.  And stop the coming argument that he could see was building between the three teens.

Xander paid no attention to the vampire.  His hands were clenched in nervous, frustrated rage under the table as he glared at Buffy.  “NO…! You stop it!  You all stop pretending like things are normal!  That Deadboy is some kinda misunderstood…human!” The boy spat out venomously.  Why couldn't they SEE?!

“He's not human…and no matter how much you want him to be human,” this was directed at Buffy who flinched. “He's always going to be this great big, bloodsucking demon!  Demons are evil!  And…and…killers!  They can't be trusted and…” his insistent voice was cut off by the noisy slam of a large book on the table.  As one, they all jumped in surprise.

“SHUT UP….” Giles growled at the startled boy.  His mouth curled upwards in a manner that shocked the others into further silence.

“B…bu…but Giles,” Xander tried to protest.

“By god, if you don't stop your childish, immature prattling, I will find a way to shut you up!”  Xander's face turned a dead white to rival the paleness of the vampire at Giles' harsh words.

“Once again we are all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view,” Giles' voice was as dry as the Sahara Desert. His face hardened into a stern mask.  “I have sat here, day in, day out, listening with enormous patience, mind you, to your willingly ignorant ranting about the evils of demons.  I.  Have.  Had.  Enough.”

“We,” he gestured at the table,  Have had enough of your self-important speeches!  You know little to nothing about demons, save what I have taught you.  Yet you sit there, sprouting your nonsensical opinions as if they were a writ from God,” Giles thundered at the shaken boy.

“Your views are childish, juvenile and extremely bigoted.  One might even go so far as saying you are verging on Nazism,” Giles continued coldly.

Xander sat frozen in his seat; his eyes standing out in the paleness of his face like coals.  His chin quivered before firming.  Willow bit her lip and looked away at the suspicious glint of moisture in his big eyes.  She shook her head in dismay.  Bad mistake Giles.  Baaaad mistake!  Yelling at him like this, especially in front of everybody, was only going to make him more stubborn.

Giles knew his anger at the almost intolerable situation his Slayer was putting him through with Angel was causing him to lash out at the boy.  He knew it was unfair to unleash his temper on Xander, but he couldn't stop the horrible condemning words from spewing from his lips.  Even if some of them were true.

“You go on ad nauseam regarding the failings of Angel; so, pray tell me Xander,” now his voice held a silky menace that had the boy cowering down in his seat.  “Tell me, tell us, what good deeds have you done?  What sterling examples of selfless acts have you accomplished that even comes close to the good Angel has done, will do and is continuing to do?”

Everyone looked at Xander.  He gazed at them all with a stubborn, defiant expression on his face.  A set, mulish look that made Buffy try to angrily spring to her feet.  She was surprised at the iron grip on her arm, holding her in place.  Startled she glanced down at the thoughtful, distant expression on Angel's face.

As the vampire gazed at the boy, he wondered if anyone else noticed the bruised, wounded look in Xander's eyes at the vicious words coming from a man he revered.  A couple of glances at Buffy and Giles' angry faces gave him the answer.

Xander opened his mouth then closed it with a snap.  He looked away from the accusing faces of his friends.  They didn't understand!  Why were they so against him?  And what's up with Giles being Mr. Flip-Flop man?  Demons were supposed to be evil.   Angelus killed Ms. Calendar…and tortured him.  What the hell did they do practically every night?  Research demons!  And were they researching good demons?!  Oh, no, no, no... they were looking for ways to stop the BAD DEMONS!  How many times had they sat down and started looking for a bad human, huh?!  Huh?!  Zero...zilch…nada! 

He ignored the efforts of Gwendolyn Price, the Watcher seeking the glove of Myghlgon, the Coach that turned the swim team into mutant fish, Invisible Girl and the other humans to cause considerable harm to them and other Sunnydale natives.

“Nothing to say?  Why am I not surprised?” Giles stated sardonically.  His eyes frosted over.  “Now, here are the rules:  you can open your book and continue researching the demon, while remaining silent on the subject of Angel's supposedly evilness or you can remove yourself from this table and our lives.”

There was a hushed stillness.  Slowly Xander turned to look at him.  Despite himself, Giles flinched at the look that flashed in the boy's eyes.  A look that screamed a soul being destroyed by despair.  Was he being too harsh on the boy, he wondered uneasily?  He was not comforted by Buffy nodding in vigorous agreement with his decree.

“Yo…you can't mean that…!” Xander said slowly.  He was in a state of shock.  His frantic dark eyes searched the table for even one friendly face.  His eyes lingered longest on Willow's pale face.  She lowered her eyes, tacitly refusing to side with him.  Her head lowered, she didn't notice the frown deepening between Oz's brows at her lack of support.

“I…see,” the boy said quietly.  His shoulders slumped in angry defeat.  He was right!  He knew he was right about Deadboy.  Nobody could tell him different.  “I guess you don't really leave me with too many choices, huh, G-man?” Xander said bitterly.

Giles merely raised a brow, crossing his arms.  He waited impatiently for the boy to return to researching their latest demon.

The only sound in the room was the sound of a chair being pushed back from the table.  Grabbing his backpack from the floor, and with one painfilled look at the others around the table, Xander left.

The sound of the door clicking shut softly broke the silence in the room.

Seeing the shocked faces at the table, Angel shook his head.  Even Rupert should know by now how stubborn Xander could be.  He had remained silent throughout the Watcher's angry speech, wanting to know just how far the man would go.  Apparently all the way to the wall, he thought wryly.

“That was expected in a I-soooo-didn't-see-that-coming kinda way,” Oz remarked in the frozen silence that gripped the room.

“He…he…left,” Buffy squeaked.  Her voice rose in incredulity.  She continued staring at the swinging doors as if expecting Xander to come back through.  A mischievous smile on his face, exclaiming that it was all a joke.

“He…he…he'll be back,” Willow stuttered out.  Her face held a wide stare of horrified disbelief.

Giles sighed.  “Do settle down, please,” he pleaded wearily.  He was already over his ill-tempered outburst.  But that boy would try the patience of a saint!  “I'm quite sure that once Xander has had a few moments to think about the situation, he will return.  It's just been rather difficult for me to listen to his rather uninformed opinions any longer.”  He looked apologetically at the vampire.

Angel nodded sagely.  “I understand.  With his misguided outlook about demons and such there's no telling what he will grow up to be.”

“Quite so,” Giles said.  But there was a hard glint in the vampire's eyes that had him stirring uncomfortably.

“Yes.  Why, with those kinds of opinions floating around in his brain there's no end to the mischief he could get into, especially with demons."  Angel shook his head sorrowfully, but his eyes were cool and steady on the ex-Watcher.  "What he really needs to do is follow your example.  Perhaps if you could share a couple of tales of your own youthful days with him, I'm sure he'll come around in time.  Especially with such an exemplary fellow such as yourself to lead the way.  Why, he might even be encouraged to follow in your exact footsteps.  Maybe even become a Watcher...or something else.  What do you think, Rip… I mean, Rupert?”

Giles stilled; only the flashing of his eyes gave indication of his alive state as he deciphered Angel's soft words.  A hard, ugly look swam deep in his eyes that had Oz growling under his breath; a wolfish look flooding his eyes as he warily regarded the Librarian.

Willow and Buffy regarded each other with wide puzzled eyes, not understanding the new source of tension vibrating in the room.

Giles' eyes were distant, lost in his own troubled past.  The 'fun' he used to have with his mates in his wilder, younger days.  The things he and the others used to do for 'giggles'.  Dear Lord, they actually thought raising demons was a lark!  His jaw hardened. 

And still his past continued to affect his present.  The horrible memory of Elegyhon possessing Jenny was seared indelible in his soul; the sight of his Slayer strapped to a table while Ethan smirked and laughed burned an ineradicable imprint in the chaotic tapestry of his mind.

He had come to America to start over, to make a fresh start.  And that dreaded man followed him, bedeviling him.  Putting all that he had at risk. The life that he had, with painstaking care, built almost tumbled about his ears that fateful, eventful Halloween.  Ethan, with his maliciously crafted candy, had sent the adults of Sunnydale on a crazed whirlwind of youthful exuberance.

Giles contemplated the divergent paths both he and his former best friend had taken.   They had been so close, the best of friends.  There had been no one he trusted more than Eth.  They had each chosen a different path…but deep down, down where it mattered the most, he knew that he and Ethan were the same.  Cold and utterly ruthless in the pursuit of their goals.  However, their ways were vastly different.  Eth chose to walk a much darker, more insidious route.  A different path; one that gloried in chaos.  Cruel, malicious tricks and confusion brought Ethan the most profound joy.

While he chose the opposite path.  After Elegyhon, he had lost his taste for chaos and malicious pranks.

Touché…” A weary sigh escaped him.

“I've made a right muck of things, haven't I?” Giles said lightly, but there was a haunted look in his eyes.  "Despite my best efforts, I've become my father," he stated ruefully.  With a weary sigh, Giles took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly.

Angel shrugged, his eyes watchful.  “While I do appreciate your strong defense, I am quite capable of holding my own against Xander's slings and arrows.  He's only a kid, a teenager.  And like most teens, he seems to think he has all the answers.  So why should I even care what he thinks at this point in time?  He has time to grow and change; and understand how his actions today will resonate into his future.   Some day, when he's grown I'm quite sure that he'll look back and see just how woefully ignorant he used to be.”

"'When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things'," Angel quoted softly.

"1 Corinthian, 13:11," Giles replied distantly.  He met Angel's eyes squarely and straightened his shoulders.  There was a look of cool resolve about him that put Willow's famous Resolveface to shame.  His was the grownup, and inflexible version.  And much more effective.

“'Sides, land of the free and home of the brave, hurrah.  People are entitled to their opinions.  Got a piece of paper that says so,” Oz stated mildly, having decided to add a pithy comment.  He had slowly relaxed his guarded vigilance of the Watcher now that the moment had passed.

“Oh, yeah?  Show me…!” Buffy replied challengingly.  She glared at the laid-back werewolf and slumped in her seat with her arms crossed.  Uneasily aware that she was, perhaps, treading on shaky ground.  Now that it seemed both Giles AND Angel were trying to defend Xander.  It was sooo not fair for people to take a firm standish kinda position, then you find out you're on quicksand.

“Constitution…Bill of Rights.”  Oz smiled at the blank look on the tiny blonde's face.  Poor girl, she had better find herself a really REALLY rich man.

“Anyway, there's no way Xander could ever grow up to be a Watcher,” Buffy hastily switched the topic.  “He's not…I mean…he's just Xander,” she exclaimed triumphantly as if that was the clincher of her argument.

Giles raised a brow at her.  “Why not?  After all, I did,” he retorted calmly, shocking her into a brief silence.

“Well yeah…but you're smart and…and…all goody-goody and tweed wearing,” she replied weakly.

He cocked his head at her.  Slowly he removed his glasses then looked at her.  Just sat there and LOOKED at her.  Letting her see the deadly alter ego that lived in his soul. The beast called Ripper.  He smiled grimly, allowing her at last to see his full nature. 

So she would never forget just how untamed he truly was.

Buffy shivered at that look in his eyes.  She wondered resentfully if everybody ran around with two faces on.  The slightly built girl waved a hand weakly for Giles to put his glasses back on.  She had seen enough.

“I didn't always wear tweed,” he reminded her softly.  “There was a time when wearing leather jackets and jeans was quite commonplace for me.”

Buffy and Willow exchanged twin glances of patented disbelief.  However, they were willing to humor him.

“Actually Buffy's probably right,” Angel quietly interjected.  “He might not grow up.  He might just become dinner for a vampire tonight.”  His words fell like a anvil.  For a few seconds no one moved, frozen at the horrifying imagery.

“Buffy, Willow arm yourselves!  Willow, you're more familiar with his routes to and from home.  Oz, you're with me.  We'll take the conventional routes,” Giles barked orders out like a five-star general.  There was no question in his mind that his will would be obeyed.  Instantly.

“And me…?” the vampire requested softly.  Giles hesitated, all too aware of what initially sparked the child to leave.  Perhaps with Angel not here, maybe he could talk some sense into the boy.   Pray God that he was able to save Xander from treading some of the same cruel paths in life that he once had to face.

“Being as he seems to harbor such an intense hostility towards you, perhaps it would be best if you were not here when we brought him back,” the librarian said slowly, apologetically.  He searched the vampire's shadowed eyes for signs of resentment at being excluded.

But Angel just nodded with little expression.  Like an invisible elephant in the room, the knowledge that a lone Xander…out after dark…was a invitation to disaster sat heavily on their hearts.  It was in everyone's fearful eyes that they may not find him in time.

“Wait a minute!  What happened to giving him a little time to think things over?  To…to see the error of his ways?!” Buffy exclaimed with angry eyes.  She was still stewing over Xander's words about Angel.

Giles paused as did Willow and Angel.  She avoided their eyes, setting her mouth in a thin line.

“Buffy, while I do realize your grades were not the best but even you know that two wrongs do not make a right,” Giles said gently, but there was a certain hardness in his eyes.  “Despite his feelings for Angel, he has always stood by your side.  Ready and willing to aid you in your fight as the Slayer.”

She sighed.  “I know…but his attitude is so…” she searched for an accurate description of how negative about Angel, about demons in general Xander was.

“Deplorable?  Generally people with such extremist views are not just born that way,” Giles said quietly.  Circumstances, and other external events shape the way we think and behave.  What happens to one, may, for another individual cause quite a different outlook in life.”

She nodded, pretended to understand and gathered her weapons.  However, there was a grim look in her eyes that spoke of beating some sense into Xander's head.

Gathering his duster, Angel silently departed.  His body language declaring to all his casual disinterest in locating Xander.  But once outside the confines of the school, his casual manner fell away; and he began running.  Racing almost flat out, he traced the mingled scent of rage and despair that had wafted from the boy.  All the Scoobies scents were ineradicably branded in his olfactory senses.  He could track any one of them even if the scent was mixed with other pungent odors.

He paused at a corner.  Unknowingly presenting an odd sight as he sniffed the air like some kind of animal before darting off.  He slowed, becoming increasingly sure, though puzzled, of the direction the boy was heading.

It wasn't the Harris' household that Xander was heading towards.

Angel at last came to his objective.  He raised a brow in silent surprise.  Soooo, it was going to be like this?  Coming to a decision, he settled his duster over his body with a quick twist of broad shoulders.  Then, as if he didn't suspect a thing, he strode into the mansion.  His home.

Without missing a beat, he pretended as if he didn't know the boy was hiding in a shadowed alcove 10 feet from him.  Watching him.  Christ!  If he didn't know it then, he sure as hell knew it the second he walked into his house.  Could the boy breathe any louder?!

With a sigh, Angel went about preparing for the night.  Wondering how Xander really thought he could sneak into a vampire's home and remain undetected.  Both the racing heart and scents were a dead giveaway, Angel snorted as he stood under the hot, pulsating spray of the shower.  Rolling his head around on his shoulders, he let the hot water caress his skin like a benediction.  Warming him from the outside, in.  But this time he had no intention of falling into the heady illusion of being human. 

Willow's attempt to re-souling him didn't work like they thought.  It was a secret he kept to himself.  That his soul was permanently bound to this body.  There was no demon Angelus to worry, to strive to keep harnessed.  Soul and demon were now forever entwined.  As a consequence, he had to exercise even greater control over himself.   Either that, or he and Buffy would definitely be in a state of contention.  It was high time he left Sunnydale in her capable hands.  His redemption wasn't to be found fighting at her side.

Turning off the water, he stepped out of the shower to dry off.  That done, he donned a pair of black silk pajamas hanging behind the door.  Pausing briefly, haloed against the lighted bathroom, he made a tempting target.  But he had a feeling that idea wasn't going to work.  Xander was a little too clever to go for a seemingly easy kill.  The boy was like a wary animal, circling around.  Crouched and low to the ground he hunted his prey.  Unfortunately, Xander was young, inexperienced pup.  He had a tendency to prematurely spring for the attack.  Allowing his prey to escape.  Angel smirked.  Or worse yet, to turn around and attack him.

Clicking the lights off, Angel paused; listening to the silence of the mansion for a few seconds.  He hid a smile.

Closer.  The boy was closer.  Now to reel him in.

With a feigned weary sigh, he climbed into bed.  Settling himself against the cushions, he knew that one way or another, this one-sided battle between him and Xander would end.  Tonight.

Endless minutes later, Xander stole into the bedroom on silent feet.  His eyes, now accustomed to the darkness, fell on the vampire stretched out against the black silk of the bed.  The broad expanse of a pale chest drawing his eyes like a magnet.  Clutched tightly in one hand, he held a stake, in the other, a nice silver cross.

Resentfully he glared at the motionless vampire.  He was sooo tempted to drive a stake into Deadboy's unbeating heart.  But that would be murder.  He grinned wickedly.  Actually it wouldn't.  Be murder, that is.  You have to be alive for it to be murder.

‘Sides, he was going to provoke the vampire into attacking him.  Then he would be perfectly justified, he thought stoutly.  Defending himself from a dreaded vampire attack, he thought with a fatalistic morbid glee.  He frowned.  Although he had a feeling that it would take a lot for Buffy or Giles to buy his story, but maybe with some bruising, oooh, maybe even a tiny bite…and can you sound even stupider?  He angrily chided his overactive imagination.

It looked at him sheepishly. //“Oh, sorry 'bout that.  I was just getting into it, ya know?”//

//“I know, but it's that kinda fool talk that'll have Deadboy all over my ass,”// Xander replied sternly. 

//“Yeah, and we certainly don't want that, do we?”// it asked wryly with an amused tilt of it's head.  There was secretive laughter behind those dark eyes that made Xander squirm uneasily.  Did he know something that he wasn't telling himself?   Better yet, had he finally lost his marbles for even thinking that?

//“D'uh!”// the boy replied sarcastically and an expressive roll of his eyes.  //“You know, for somebody that's, well…me…I'm…you…just don't be so stupid!”//

In his distraction, he failed to notice the frown gathering on Angel's face.

The vampire peered through his lashes at the motionless boy.  He stifled a frustrated sigh at the blank look in Xander's eyes.  Then a positively evil idea took shape in his head.  Cautiously, he slipped out of the bed, sure that in his distraction, Xander wouldn't notice.  Circling around the boy, he simply waited.

Coming back to the matter at hand, Xander looked around for something to throw at Deadboy.  The hell he was going to chuck his only cross at the vampire. 

He frowned.  Something was out of place.

Okay, let's do a mental checklist.

Stake: Check

Cross: Check and double check!

Bed: Check

Sleeping vampire…he whimpered softly.  Not checked!  Not checked!  Argggh! Deadboy walking!  Deadboy walking!

“So, to what do I owe this visit…?” came a soft, silky voice from behind him.

“GAH!”  He whirled around in fright.  Xander clutched at his chest, his heart pounding at the fright he had received.  “Don't do that!” Xander yelled at the mildly amused vampire.  He sent a deadly glare at Deadboy, to show that he meant business.  “I am SO going to buy you a friggin' cow bell!”

“Uh, huh…”  Angel waited and when it seemed the boy wasn't planning on talking, at least anytime soon, he asked once again why was Xander at his home.  Late at night.  With a stake and a cross.

Xander looked at his hands and gasped with feigned shock. 

If he didn't know better, he would have thought the boy really didn't know how two such instruments appeared in his hands, Angel mused cynically. 

“I was…uhm…I was…coming to…to…to…ah….see you so that I can learn more about demons,” Xander said in a breathless rush.  Smugly he gave himself a mental pat on the back at his brilliant answer. 

Angel cocked a brow skeptically.  “Uh huh…”

“It's true!”  the boy said insistently.  “I…I…was…uhm…upset cuz of what Giles said.  Ya know, about me being a Nazi and a racist, cuz I am soooo not like that.  I know plenty of people that aren't white and I like them just fine,” he added firmly.  “I'm more of a speciest than a racist,” he announced proudly.  But at the look Angel gave him he deflated slightly. 

“Anyhow, I just wanted to know more, about demons; cuz, G-man is seriously pissed at me.”  He was mixing truth with half-truths with reckless abandon.  His mind was racing, trying to figure out an angle around the little pickle he got himself into.  Hmmm, pickles.  He felt his mouth water at the thought of a nice crunchy pickle.

“So you want to learn more about demons, do you?”  Angel said quietly.  His eyes were intent as he stared at the boy. 

Xander frowned when Deadboy took a step forward.  All of a sudden he was sure that visiting a vampire's lair was a really bad idea.  BAD! Carefully he took a step backwards.  Having no real desire to get that up close and personal with the vampire's space. 

Angel kept moving forward, backing the boy up until the back of Xander's knees hit the bed.  The boy wavered, wind milling his arms to stay upright.  Angel applied the gentlest of pressures with his fingertips.  With an angry cry, Xander toppled onto the bed.

“Dammit, Deadboy…!”

Angel smiled.  A dark, devilish Angelus smile that froze Xander on the bed like a terrified mouse.  And that's what he felt like, a mouse.  Guess who's the cat? He thought with hysterical wildness.  But he couldn't look away. 

Angel climbed on the bed and crawled up the boy's prone body.  Straddling the deceptively lanky body, he could hear Xander's heart racing.  The scent of fear that poured off the boy almost overpowered another scent.  It was very subtle, almost unnoticeable.  Angel drew back slightly to peer at the confused and terrified boy.  

Was this what was driving Xander to constantly attack him?  Some unconscious instinct to protect himself from feelings he was barely aware of? 

Drawing back even more, Angel's eyes were hard as he watched the boy shut his eyes hastily.  The breath coming from the youth was harsh ragged puffs.  Just shy of tears.

Xander felt the bed shake before he heard Angel's rough voice ordering him to get up.

Scrambling to his feet, he shivered at the dark look that was on the vampire's face.  He swallowed convulsively at the way Deadboy started pacing.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  And not once did Angel look away from him.

The teen eyed the exit longingly and wondered if he started, like maybe yesterday, would he make it before Deadboy hauled him back. 

Angel followed the boy's gaze and in a flash of prenatural speed, he was casually standing between Xander and freedom.

“So you want to learn more about demons, eh?”

The brunette human lifted his chin.  “That's what I said.”  He dared the other to call him a liar.

“You're lying…” Angel stated calmly, crossing his arms.  “Tell me the truth and I'll let you go.”

The boy drew back, a look of anger on his face.  His fear was forgotten in the wake of his anger.  “You'll let me go?  Who the hell do you think you are?  Buffy and the others will stake your ass before you even know it!” he exclaimed confidently.  But he was shaken by the slow way Angel shook his head.  That and the look of mocking pity in the vampire's eyes.

“Actually, what they are doing is looking frantically for you.  They figure they will either find you alive…” he trailed off deliberately.

“Or what…?” 

“Or dead…” Angel shrugged carelessly.  His eyes never left the boy's slowly whitening face.  “But either way, I was not involved,” he added.  His face glowed with a feigned look of virtuous innocence; slowly the shining look faded, darkened.  “Giles even apologized to me for your bad behavior before he sent me home.”   And his smile was like the slash of a blade.

Xander deciphered Angel's words.  That predatory smile on the vampire's face.

That smile... 

Hungry and alarmingly full of sharp, jagged teeth.

Oh shit!  They brought back the wrong demon! 

Self-preservation kicked in and he took off like a shot.  He ran desperately through the other door.  Where he was going, it didn't matter.  As long as 'here' didn't have an Angelus.

"Xanderrrrrrr...."

He ignored the hollow calling, and especially the mocking laughter that followed.  He wasn't that stupid.  An Angelus wanting to play games was bad news.  The vampire just didn't quite grasp the rules about NOT killing your opponents.  Which made having him at a party a real downer.

Xander ran up the stairs and down a short hallway.  He looked frantically back and forth, and ahead.  Panic nearly shortening out his brain.

"Think! Which way to go?  Which way?" he whispered to himself in worried frustration.

"Go left; it's safer..."

"Thanks..." he took the whispered advice and whirled to his left.  Two steps and Xander came to an abrupt halt.  He didn't bother turning around.  He knew who would be behind him.

"So, where's your witty little comments now, my little Nazi?"  Angel purred softly in the boy's ear.

Unexpectedly, Xander was seized by an intense rage.  He whirled around and glared defiantly at the vampire.  "Get this straight...I am not a fuckin' Nazi!  I just don't like demons!" he snarled.  His rage soared higher at the disbelieving smirk on the vampire's face.

"You are a Nazi...you're also a little bigot.  You sprout your ignorant little opinions about demons; but you don't know the first thing about us.  About me."  Now Angel lost his smile.

"I know enough about demons not to trust the bloodsucking, murdering bastards!" Xander spat.  His hands were clenched in fists of pure adrenaline.  Secretly he was amazed that he was still alive.  Last time he faced off against Angelus, he had the added protection of orderlies and policemen holding the vampire from ripping out his spine.

Angel shook his head in amazement, a half-smile on his face.  "You know, sometimes you got to admire people like you.  You are a man who always sticks by his convictions.  You'll remain a fool no matter how much you get laughed at for them."

The young man flushed; his jaw tightening angrily but he withheld comment.  Unwilling to push the boundaries of his miraculous state of aliveness any further with Angelus.

Angel lost his smile.  "You don't know a damn thing about me," he replied quietly.  Coming to an abrupt decision Angel punched the boy in the jaw.  Catching the now unconscious figure, he easily shifted the limp body higher in his arms.  "But you will by the time I'm finished with you.  And who knows?  We both might learn a thing or two," he muttered to his unconscious burden.

Xander came to with a low moan of pain.  He didn't know why, but he had a feeling that a demon was to blame.  Maybe one of those little tiny ones.  He had a sneaking suspicion that if he moved, the little evil dude drilling a hole in his head would get even more vicious.  So, let's recap: moving, not of the good; laying still…good.  He figured if he stayed still long enough, maybe the Evil Demon of Torment and Pain would lose interest.

Unfortunately, his natural impatience got the best of him.  Struggling to sit up, he found his hands bound together.  He really started to panic when he realized he was also blind!  His bound hands instinctively came up, feeling his face.  At the touch of the cloth around his eyes, he relaxed.  Whew!  That's a relief.  Not blind, just blindfolded.  And where he previously thought he knew Dread and Panic, now he was meeting their really big brothers...Sheer Terror and Abject Fear, he gibbered to himself.

“Wha…?” He froze, hearing little rustling noises several feet away from him.  In a flash, it all came back to him why his head was hurting.  Horror bloomed in his heart and he couldn't restrain his frantic struggles to be free.

Angel looked up from the large packs he had already carried over to the other side.  Briefly he calculated whether or not to simply ignore the boy for the time being but regretfully decided that if he did the little nutcase would roll off the ledge.  Which would cause trouble and make more work for him.  And he wondered why he was even bothering trying to instill some common sense into the boy.

It was just something about the blind, unwavering belief in what the boy presumed to know that got to him.  He simply couldn't bear to let that kind of ignorance go unchecked.  After this adventure, if Xander still believed in the inherent evilness of demons then at least he had tried to open the boy's eyes to reality. 

Stifling a sigh at the way the boy was wiggling closer to the edge, Angel swiftly crossed the natural stony walkway.  A tiny smirk crossed his face at what Xander would soon be experiencing.   But the boy brought this on himself, he assured himself solemnly.

“So, you're awake….” Was the first thing that let Xander know he was still in Angelus' insanely, evil hands.  For that matter, Angelus' whole body was evil!

“You suma…” his vicious tirade was abruptly checked by a sharp tap on his cheek.

“We'll be a-havin' none of that,” Angel admonished the boy with a unseen smile.  “On yer feet, m' foine boyo…” With rough joviality he hauled the boy to his feet.  He steadied him with a hand to the boy's shoulder; letting the youth fall heavily to the ground when the teen angrily shrugged him off.

“Ommpf!”  Xander cried out when his knee connected painfully with something hard.  Probably Angelus' head, he thought resentfully as the waves of pain ebbed.

“You are sooo gonna get your ass kicked THEN staked when Buffy finds you,” he threatened breathlessly as he was jerked to his feet again.

Angel cocked his head.  “Now why would she do that?”  His voice held only genial goodwill.  “After I went to all the trouble of writing Giles that I, being the kind and generous person that I am, magnanimously extended my hand in friendship to you.   We are on an adventure!  But, oh my, I do believe you've graduated from high school!  I think it'll be quite a while before anyone really grows worried about you.”

He snickered as the smell of fear increased in the boy.  When the young decide to enter adulthood, they had better be prepared to accept the consequences.

Xander swallowed hard.  His heart was thumping so hard in his chest he was halfway expecting it to pop out; thus, saving Angelus the trouble of ripping it out.  Boy this was one time that he hated being proven right!   Choking down his fear, he lifted his chin; resolved to meet his fate like a man.  Even if he wanted to bawl his eyes out like a baby.

Angel chuckled softly.  The boy was brave, yet foolhardy, however, Xander had a small amount of courage.

"Relax...I have no intention of killing you," he said soothingly.

"You're not?!" The teen squeaked in astonishment.  Clearing his throat, Xander affected a casual, manly tone.  "You're not?  Then what's with the blindfold and tying of the hands?"

"Oh, it's not that I don't trust you..." Angel paused as he really thought about what he was saying.  "What I am stupid?  Of course, I don't trust you!  First chance you get, you'll be trying to escape."

"Uhm, excuse me for pointing this out, but that's what a prisoner is supposed to do.  I'm sure it's in a rulebook at Giles' place.  I know!  Let's go check it out!" Xander announced brightly.  His words were accompanied by a wide, cheerful grin.

Angel laughed loudly.  He was surprised at the dark pleasure he was finding in the boy's company.  Twisted, sure, but a demon has to get his jollies somewhere.

"C'mon, you.  Since you said you wanted to learn more about demons, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to teach you."

"Blindfolding and tying my hands is not how I imagined it," Xander muttered.  He walked blindly forward at Angel's urging.  "Dude, I'm not feeling the love and trust.” He shook his head with feigned sadness at the lack of faith from Angel.

Angel paused just before the narrow walkway.  Perforce, so did Xander.  "Listen to me closely.  The reason why you're blindfolded is because I don't want you to see where we're going.  Just in case you decide to make a return trip back here," he said with a rumble of menace in his voice.  There was a dark promise of pain, and blood, in his tone.  "So we're going to do this my way."

"Because you're bigger and stronger, huh?" Xander said bitterly.  Cursing the cruelness of fate that had him still a teen.  And weaker than a vampire.  Though he had to admit even if he was an adult, he would still be weaker than a vampire.

"And what is your way, oh mighty one?" This was said with every ounce of sarcasm.   Angel briefly noted that if there was a class called Sarcasm, that would be the one that Xander would score straight A's.  Hell, the boy would probably end up teaching it halfway through the course.

"You stay tied up and blindfolded until we get to where we're going."  With that, before Xander could squawk in protest, he found himself sailing through the air.  He let out a 'omph' when he landed on a broad shoulder.

Fuming at the indignity of being carried like a sack of potatoes, he began squirming.  "Xander, just so you know, there's a 50-ft drop below us," Angel said conversationally as he walked the narrow path with consummate ease.  "And if I even think I'm about to fall, guess what I'm gonna do?”

“Uhm, toss me to safety just before you plunge to a long and potential painfully death?” Xander said hesitantly.

Angel snorted.  “In your dreams, boy.  I'm tossing you over and saving myself." 

“Selfish!  That's what you are!  Pure selfish!  I'm shocked…”

“…and appalled, no doubt,” Angel muttered wryly as he navigated the treacherous path to safety.   Despite his blithe words to the boy, he was really taking both their lives in his hands.  It was difficult enough without Xander's unbalanced weight on his shoulder.

“Yes…that's what I am, appalled!  Shocked and appalled at your callous indifference to my life,” Xander finished grandly.  Seconds later, he gasped as he found himself twisted about and set on his feet.

“A little warning next time would be great,” he grated out.

“Here…carry this!”

Xander stumbled with a low grunt of surprise.   He almost fell to his knees as a heavy sack thumped against his side, while the strap stained against his neck.

“What the hell do I look like?!  Your personal ass?”  he snapped angrily.

Angel paused as he thought about the question.  He shook his head rapidly to clear the erotic pictures that he just knew came from deep in his subconscious.  DEEP in his deranged, clearly unbalanced subconscious. 

“Dead…Angelus?…Angelus?  Yo…you…still here?” Xander asked nervously.  His heart beginning to race at the thought of being left alone.  Tied and blindfolded.

“ANG…umph!”  A broad palm covered his mouth.  He almost bit it in a fit of panic.

“Will you please be quiet?  Sheesh!” Angel exclaimed in annoyance.   Then he made a face and hurriedly withdrew his now wet hand.  “Ugh!”

“That's what you get for scaring me!” The lanky teen smirked with false bravado.  But at the low, rumbling growl, Xander stilled.  Fear once again blossoming in him.

“A…A…Angelus?” he squeaked out.  He yelled when he was grabbed roughly and turned about. 

“C'mon, you little idiot…” came Angel's long-suffering sigh.

He grabbed the other four bags and made suitable adjustments to the distribution and position of the duffle bags.  It wasn't the heaviness that made carrying them awkward, it was the sheer size.  That, and having to guide the annoying boy through the labyrinth of the underground tunnels and caves.  Listening to a litany of grievances from Xander, he mused that maybe it would be simply easier to snap the little pisser's neck rather than endure another minute of complaints.

But for the most part, he managed to ignore the long list of his alleged sins by concentrating on what he had in store for the boy.  A dark smile, reminiscent of Angelus, spread across his face.  Had Xander seen that smile he would had saved the vampire the trouble of killing him by having a heart attack.

Three long hours later an exhausted Xander arrived at the mysterious location that Angel had patiently guided them.  The youth was so tired and in so much pain, he didn't even have the strength to whine about the hardness of the ground when they stopped.  He simply collapsed and prayed that Angelus was lost.  At least that way he'll at least get a chance to rest.  Because resting was like milk, it built healthy bones and it was good for whatever ailed you, the boy thought with whimsical mad humor. 

But to his horror, he heard Psychoboy utter the dreaded words.  "We're here."

Angel smirked at the whimper his words caused Xander.  Stooping, he removed the blindfold and untied the teenager's hands.  He felt a brief sympathy at the exhausted look on Xander's face.  But he hardened his heart.  The little squawk box brought this on himself.  Either the boy learned or he didn't.

Xander blinked dumbly up at Angelus.  He swung his head right and left.  Gasping softly as phosphorous lichen lit the tunnel they were in with an eerie glow.

Standing up, Angel strode to a massive circular opening.  Grasping the iron handle, the vampire exerted tremendous strength.  With a muted groaning sound, the door slowly swung open.  It was pitch black inside.

Xander had a bad feeling.  A feeling that was reinforced by Demonboy gesturing him into the inky blackness.  Grumbling, the boy painfully got to his feet.  Gritting his teeth at the throbbing that was going on in his knees, he hobbled to the entrance and peered in.  Hoping that it was his imagination that was making it seem so dark.

Nope...imagination was right on the money, he thought unhappily.  With a fearful glance at Psycho-Bob, Xander warily stepped through.  He was halfway expecting to be sealed inside with only himself for company, which in light, or dark as the case may be, of who was with him wasn't such a bad idea. 

But once the heavy door was shut, he decided that even Evil unDead Guy was better than nobody.  He jumped and shouted in alarm when he felt a cool hand grasp his.

"This way..."

"Dea...I mean Angelus...I'm not a vampire, and not that being a vampire is necessarily a bad thing," he hastily tacked on, just in case.  "But not a vampire here!  So, no 'see-ee in the dark-ee'? I ain't got that 'seeing in pitch-blackness-vision', ya know?  And considering I've been known to trip over a speck of dust, I'm seeing a definite problem with 'this way'."

Angel chuckled as he urged the nervously chattering boy forward.  "Don't worry, there's nothing for you to trip over.  And by the way, I'm not Angelus."  He nodded casually to the four sentries and one of the runners.  He knew the other runner had already raced ahead to warn the others.   These particular sentries had a vision that pierced the dark like it was daytime.

The sentries regard the oblivious human with disapproving eyes before looking away.  Wasn't their problem.

Angel grinned guiltily as they walked past the demons.  They were getting resigned to him swelling their little community.  Fortunately, he had no intention of leaving the boy down here, he thought virtuously.

"Now where are we going?" Xander huffed out as they came to a lit corridor.  Though he had moved a little more briskly once his mind was convinced that the muting of the darkness was because of the light.  Sweet, sweet light!  O wonderful blessed light!  However, his resentment at his traveling companion was growing by leaps and bounds.  Ha!  His resentment would win Gold in the Olympics for Leaping and Bounding.

“And, being a straightforward guy myself, I'm really not liking this cryptic-guy routine that you used to run on the Buffynator.  This Captain Nemo Undercave adventure is so not my thing.  Would it kill you to at least give…me…a…” Xander trailed off as they rounded another corner.  And laid out before his wondering eyes was a softly illuminated, sprawling little community.  It was even bustling!  Not that fake, ‘Oh, I got to get somewhere in a real hurry so get the hell outta my way, buster' but a more ‘Time's awasting; I hafta hurry but before I go, let me tell you…' bustling.

“Holy Batman…people!” Xander exclaimed in real delight.  He wasn't close enough to tell what they were wearing or anything but what the heck…they gotta be better than being around Deadboy.

Angel's mouth twitched at the eagerness on the boy's face.  He knew what the boy thought; however, he wasn't in any hurry to disillusion Xander.  At least not yet. 

“I'm not holy nor Batman either,” he said with a hint of laughter in his voice.  That brought the teen out of his happy daze.  Xander darted a sharp look at the vampire.  Did Deadboy make a joke?  Nahhhh, he resolutely decided to ignore Sharptooth.  Besides, there were people down there.  People that would undoubtedly help…and by this time they were closer.  And Xander saw exactly what kind of people were milling around in the large area. 

His happy mood soured.  Oh, they were people alright.  Demon people was more like it.

His breath started coming faster as they walked among the demons.  Xander swiftly lowered his eyes and head, to avoid making eye contact with the beings.   His curiosity was driving him crazy, however, at the warm effusive greetings that Angel was getting.  He was even more surprised to see humans coming up to greet the vampire with cheerful enthusiasm.  They actually acted like they *liked * Deadboy.  Which had to be a mistake because the only humans Fangface knew was the Scoobies. 

His bewilderment was rapidly being eclipsed by the monumental anger overtaking him; apparently Deadboy was hiding the fact that he had other friends.   What…all of a sudden the Scoobies weren't good enough for him? 

The sheer illogical nature of his anger totally escaped him.

Angel greeted his friends with a smile and a wave of his hand.  But he kept moving steadily towards his rooms allocated to him.  Space down here was at a premium.  Those that eschewed electricity took up residence along the outer rim of the small community, leaving others to enjoy the comforts of the large generator in the center of the social group.

Willingly, he allowed others to take the bags of food he had brought down.  He helped Xander remove his, and gave that one to a burly human male with a smile of thanks.  A ritual, sure, but it made him feel connected to this distaff group.  No one asked for much down here; they were proud and very much self-sufficient.  But it was the little things that meant so much to them.  Spices, sugars, salt, pepper and lots of can goods.  Things that would last.  Things that allowed them to remain safely hidden from the prying eyes of the world above.

Without touching the boy, Angel urged him onwards.   He was aware of the waves of confusion from Xander, but he ignored it.  If the boy wanted to know, he needed to learn how to ask.

His curiosity becoming unbearable, Xander finally gave it.  “Where are we?  What is this place?”  he blurted out.

Angel slowed his steps to allow the boy to catch up.  "Well, ain't you gonna answer me?!  You're Mr. Oh, I have all the answers guy!  So what's your answer?"  Xander said sharply.  His face was screwed up in distaste at all the demons around him.  He was having a hard time managing his fear.  But he stopped abruptly, his attention riveted on a bunch of small figures charging at them.  Angel continued walking, unperturbed.  He knew what caught the boy's attention.

"N'gel! N'gel!" With screams, hoots and wailing cries, several of the children ran towards him.  The adults around smiled fondly at the earsplitting noise from the horde of children. 

It was a little game for the kids.  First one to make it to the vampire, got to ride his shoulders.

Triumphantly, Jorel reached the tall demon; he latched on to Angel's hand with all four tentacles.  But the little T'chle demon didn't immediately swarm up to the high prize of the Bigger's shoulders.  With a sharp, toothy grin, he waited until his shy friend Noranda, lurched her way through the milling crowd.  Laughing excitedly, they parted and urged the lame girl through.

"Here!  Norry, see I saved him just for you," the little boy said self-importantly to the gentle child.  As if he was the only one involved.  He ignored his buddies' glares and basked in the warmth of her wide, luminous eyes.  He blushed, three tentacles slipping off Angel to knot up behind the boy's head.  Resolutely he ignored the hooting, and mocking comments from his mates.  So what?  They were just jealous!

"Thank you..."

Norry beamed up at Angel, her eyes wide with pleasure at this treasured event.  Her face deepened its fuchsia hue, showing the others how much this meant to her.  Bright yellow quills jutted out stiffly on her head, betraying her excitement.

Jorel shuffled his taloned feet uncomfortably.  Looking all the world like a boy on his first date.

"Aw, weren't nothing," he claimed with modest pride.  Puffing his chest out, he strutted in place.  "Alls I had ta do was beat them fu..." he caught Angel's warning eye, "...slow pokes.  Git on, 'fore the Bigger changes his mind." 

Glumly he knew he was going to fuckin' get his ass reamed by the sunamabitches he called friends after this.  Bunch of shitheads, they were!

Norry smiled up at Angel again, and lifted her arms.  Once perched on his shoulders, she gasped in delight.  She surveyed the others from her exalted position with imperious pride.  But the Bigger behind Angel confused her.  She wanted a better look.  Turning her head around on her shoulders, she peered down at the startled human.  Giving him her best smile, she greeted him cheerfully, a shy softness in her eyes.

"Hi..."

Blinking Xander stammered a hello of his own.  It wasn't everyday that he saw a demon turn their head like some kinda frickin' giant owl.

Carefully, Angel strolled with the tiny child balanced atop his shoulders.  Someday, he hoped to find her mother and rip the muscles out of her leg.  The fact that the greedy bitch only gave birth to Noranda for the child's valuable body parts simply added more pain to what he planned to do to the bitch.  

Prepubescent Zenan muscles were a hot commodity on the black market.  The younger, the better.  And fresher parts, paid really good.

He'll find her, he thought with cold finality.  And she would pay.  For every painfilled day Norry spent, the bitch would pay.

Xander didn't have time to escape.  All the rest of the children surrounded him, as the next tallest Bigger for a ride.  They were all clamoring at him, jumping up and down.  Strangely uncomfortable, Xander ignored their pleading faces and hurried after Angel.  He hovered behind the vampire when the dark haired demon came to a halt.  His mind was fragmenting under discomfited thoughts while Angel spoke casually to a small party of men.  Sulking, the children left the Biggers to talk.  

Beyond offhandedly mentioning Xander's name and that the boy would be staying with him, he did little to assuage the wild curiosity raging in the cave dwellers' eyes.  Sometimes he enjoyed being the mysterious visitor.  Being cryptic guy was fun.

Handing Norry off to her adopted human father, Angel, with a jerk of his head, signaled Xander to move.  He could feel the confusion the boy was suffering as people, human and demon alike, cheerfully hailed him with pleased looks.  But to his surprise, Xander didn't immediately plague him for answers.  There were days, he got the annoying feeling that the boy thought responding to his demands for answers was his god given right as a human.  Both Buffy and Xander acted as if they were entitled to answers.  Buffy, as her status as a Slayer; Xander, as an inalienable right as a human.  Willow, he privately felt, was too shy and timid to demand.  But her silentness evoked a demand of its own.  

But sometimes, giving them answers wasn't the best idea.  Having them, more importantly, research and struggle diligently for the answers gave the Scoobies a keen understanding of the nature of the problem.  Otherwise, the Slayerettes would get their collective asses kicked. 

Clever Giles.  He thoroughly approved of the way the man forced them to sit and look through the tomes for the solution to whatever problem they were facing instead of simply giving them the answers. 

Wading through the many books had an added bonus of allowing snippets of information to secret themselves into the teens' head without their knowing.  Additional knowledge that they could use at will later in the future.

Finally the two men reached Angel's quarters.  Pulling aside the door, the vampire silently gestured the boy into the snug dwelling.

Taking a deep breath for courage, Xander stepped into the...bedroom?  He looked around in confusion.  Because that's what it was.  A bedroom.  Table with two chairs sat against one wall and crowed along, was a dresser.  A large comfortable bed, a nightstand with a lantern sat flush against the wall.  A pillow covered trunk, that apparently served as additional seating, sat at the foot of the bed, several feet from a fireplace.  Xander's wondering eyes took in the room's furnishing.  Long planks, anchored in walls held a vast collection of books. 

He gave a long look at a darken archway, then looked away.  Briefly he wondered where it led to, but felt it good manners to compliment Deadboy and get the hell out of Demoncentral. 

"Nice place; can I go home now that I know lots of much fascinating things about demons?" He tried to inject as much sincerity into his voice as possible, cuz God knows he wanted to be HOME!

Angel smiled calmly.  "I told you, you're here to learn about demons.  And right now, you don't know a damn thing, little man."

Xander flushed at the mocking tone from the vampire.  He was also nervously aware that this Deadboy was a lot different from the one he was used to.  For one thing, this Deadboy was hitting back. 

His eyes narrowed; there had to be a way out of this.  When Deadboy slept he would sneak out.  Somebody down here was bound to help him if he claimed the vampire was going to kill him.  Somebody human, that is.  But the foundations of his world had been rocked by the sight of the children.  Some of them looked normal enough to pass as humans.

Angel, watching the boy closely, saw the confusion flare in those dark eyes.  "You didn't know that some demons could have children, did you?  Vampires are one of the few that can't reproduce biologically.  But the humans that are Turned are considered our children.  We call them 'childers'.  You didn't know that either.  Wouldn't you like to know more, more than Willow, more than Buffy?  Just imagine, you knowing more than even Giles about demons."  Angel's voice was softly persuasive.

Xander wavered; his mind awash with the possibility of finally having something that none of the others had.  Willow with her techno-knowledge; Buffy with her Slayer strength; and Giles with his book learning.  But he...Xander Harris, the Zeppo would have the best knowledge of all.  First hand knowledge.  Finally he could prove to everybody that demons were bad.  Evil.

He frowned, unsure of himself now that he had seen the kids.   Cuz, unless he missed his guess, there wasn't a whole lot of evil in those kids.  Just the ordinary, run-of-the-mill kinda evil that was in all kids.

But evil was evil, he hastily assured himself.  There was no telling that they wouldn't grow up to be much bigger evil. 

//"And there's no telling how you will grow to be as well,"// whispered a sly voice in his head.  A brief image of his father, drunk as usual; red-faced and screaming at his mother flashed in his mind.  He flinched instinctively from the memory, instantly decrying the momentary thought.  He was NOTHING like his father!  Nor would he ever be! 

"Fine, then!"  Xander snapped.  Irritated beyond measure at the unfairness of what was happening.  He crossed his arms and glared at the vampire.  "But I'm warning you, I know all I want to know about demons," he declared stubbornly.

Angel just smiled.

So began Xander's education about demons. 





Part Two



Several painful weeks later, the boy ruefully admitted that he learned that teenaged males, demon or human, were a rowdy bunch. He winced as he touched the painful swelling under his eye; trying to avoid a head butt, he wound up with a black-eye.

Damn. Why the hell was he on kitchen duty anyway?! The food was nasty, anyhow, was his spiteful thought.

"Liar, liar, pants on fire!" chanted a small voice.

Well, those stupid boys were deliberately picking on him just because he was human. Xander paused, remembering that it was a human that gave him the shiner. Well, just because he didn't live permanently in this stinking cesspit that they called a home.

"Oh, I don't know, they seem my kinda folks. What with all the hating and glaring at you. Hmmm, let me think...who do they remind me of?" his inner self mockingly pondered.

Xander frowned uncertainly. I don't sound or act like that, he protested. Do I? But there was silence. Shaken, he headed to the bathroom to wash up and get ready for supper and bed. He sighed as he shucked his borrowed clothing. And their sleeping arrangement was another part of the stupid re-education plan of Deadboy's that he was so hating.

Standing under the water he thought about the one of the human boys that he had met. A older, very blonde boy named Skoal. He smirked maliciously, though anybody with hair that blonde obviously used industrial strength bleach. While not quite as extreme as Spike's unnaturally white-gold hair, but Skoal came awfully close. He frowned, thinking about the older boy.

Every time he saw the other boy, he felt this skittering of…fear? he turned the word over in his mind, struggling to figure out why he was so uneasy around Skoal. It wasn't fear...it the same feeling that of wrongness he had felt the first time Angelus showed up at the school. It looked like Angel, sounded like him so by all rights there was no reason why he should have felt so much fear when Willow started walking towards the vampire. No reason at all, just some unnamable emotion that almost that froze him in place.

That was almost how he felt when he looked at Skoal. There was something really…off. And it was really weirding him out that he couldn't quite figure it out why. It wasn't like Skoal was some crazy, deranged vampire demon that had a hardon for causing pain and suffering, and incidentally, sucking the world into hell.

Xander shook his head in confusion. Suddenly, he recalled hearing a couple of demons talking quietly about the older blonde. It sounded as if they were making bets about whether he was going to go postal about something. There was laughter, then mumbling from one of them, then something about Skoal being a half-breed sore loser…? Were they were saying that Skoal is half-human? If that's the case, wonder what kinda of demon half is he, Xander mused idly. Maybe that was why he was tweaking out. Then he shrugged and shook his head, deciding to forget all about Skoal. ‘Sides, Angel would be back soon and got testy when his shower was delayed.

Angel entered the room with a slight creak of the door. Two plates, one of food; one of dessert was balanced precariously in one hand. The other grasped a mug of juice for Xander. Hearing the water running in the bath, he set one plate and cup on the tiny table. Then secreted the second plate in the dresser atop the clothing and removed a set of silk pajamas from the drawer. The only real luxury item that he allowed himself down here. That and the best styling gel. Hearing the water in the bathroom cease, he hurried to lock and bolt the door before waiting for his turn in the shower.

Exiting the bath, Xander frowned unhappily at the sight of the vampire; his look becoming even more morose at the bolted door. Only somebody pure of heart could unbolt that damn door. That or somebody waaaaay stronger than him.

This is no way to treat a prisoner, was his indignant thought. With angry eyes he headed for his dinner. Xander halted abruptly at the suspicious lack of something vital missing from the table. He drew in a breath of pure wrath.

"Where's my dessert? It's chocolate cake today!"

Angel smiled blandly. "I don't know what you're talking about." With careful nonchalance he sauntered towards the bathroom; turning a blind eye to the livid black eye the boy was sporting.

"Yeah right, you big, fat-chocolate-cake-stealing bastard! I work in the damn kitchen, remember?! Where's my damn slice of cake?!"

The vampire merely smirked nastily before ducking into the bathroom to wash off the grit and dust. He and the others of Undervale were expanding the underground living area, laboriously creating additional quarters for the growing community.

Once in the shower, Angel allowed his smile to broaden into an amused grin. Xander and chocolate went together like...like...little boys and puppies. Idly he wondered how long it would take the boy to find the piece of cake he hid in the dresser.

Angel lost his amused expression and he sighed. He heard about the fight in the kitchen. It seemed like every week the boy was coming back to their quarters bruised or with some painful scratches peppering his body. But the teen was learning. Holding his tongue and keeping his opinions to himself. To Xander's credit, the fight today wasn't started by his sarcastic bon wits. Rather it was his very lack of reaction that spurred the other boys to attack him.

Standing under the hot cascading water; feeling his soreness easing from his muscles, Angel frowned thoughtfully. He wondered if his careful non-interference was perceived by the others as indifference to Xander's well-being. Tacitly encouraging the rowdy bunch of young men to 'teach the dumb kid a lesson'?

But he could see the thoughtful look settling on Xander's face. There was a look of self-awareness developing behind those glaring eyes. Now the boy was the outsider, the unwanted one.

His thoughts turned to another youth. It was funny how Xander and Skoal reactions were decidedly different. The two young men were almost polar opposites in personality and appearance. Skoal was slender, underground pale, with neat blonde hair and green eyes. He looked as if he belonged dancing outside, under the sky. He had an almost delicate, elfin beauty. He was almost always calm, quiet and in control. Except when he got angry. Then there was something…demonic about the extreme aggression he showed.

While Xander, on the other hand, was bigger than Skoal. His taller frame was stretched, giving him the appearance of being less substantial than he really was. Yet there was a definite sturdiness to the boy. Bend him, twist him…somehow he would snap back into shape. Dark, shaggy hair that looked perpetually disheveled, wide dark eyes hinting at vulnerability that was almost covered by the air of bravado and wise-ass remarks. Yet still, there was an almost infectious, bouncing energy about Xander that made you smile despite yourself.

He sighed. Those two could really teach each other something. Calmness and patience from one; zestful enthusiasm from the other. Maybe he would have a quiet talk with the Skoal about Xander.

Another thought made him frown uneasily. An exaggerated tale was circulating of Xander's status as a Slayerette; a wanton killer of demons. Though how that particular tale wound its way down here, Angel had yet to figure out. But that fact was just one more thing that convinced some of the adolescents to standfast in their narrow view of Xander. That, and envy of the boy's seemingly normal life above ground.

An experience that very few of the youths had ever had.

Angel brooded for a few moments as he shut off the water and stepped out of the rough-hewed shower, nodding decisively. He would give the situation a few more days to resolve itself before he went down there breaking heads. While he knew Mama JessiKa, the head cook, would stop things before they escalated to something more serious, Xander was his responsibility. He was the one that virtually threw the boy in this mess. Although he had to admit, not much escaped JessiKa's eagle eyes; nor did she take any shit from anyone. Especially not in her Kitchen. That tiny, imperious old demon ran the vast kitchens and dining room with a fist of steel. Every undercook in the four enclaves walked on eggshells around her, and kowtowed shamelessly to the old bat.

While officially the seven Council Elders ran Undervale; unofficially, it was JessiKa that undisputedly shaped policy in the community. Not even the Elders would dare to tangle with her, especially not in the Kitchen. Or outside the kitchen, for that matter. The old demon had over forty kids; her kids had even more kids and her grandchildren had kids in their teens. And it was an army welded ruthlessly by one tiny old female. JessiKa the Terror, they called her affectionately, but with utmost sincerity.

Besides, the dining room was THE central gathering place for the entire underground community. And if you didn't want your food burned to a crisp, or undercooked you watched your step around Mama JessiKa.

To his amused disbelief, she actually liked Xander! Though she confided that the boy needed an old-fashion foot up his ass, but deep down she felt that he was a good boy. Misguided, true, dumb, yeah he was that alright. But a hard kick in the pants should straighten him out. That and a nice 'fuck him to a screaming frenzy' should do the trick, she had nodded sagely and slithered back to her domain before a dumbstruck Angel could sputter a horrified denial.

Xander, hearing the water stop, knew he had only a few precious minutes left. He hurriedly gobbled down the last bite of the huge slice of chocolate cake he just 'happened' to find in the dresser. The fact that he systematically tore apart the room looking for it was beside the point. If it was Deadboy's he was spitefully glad to be eating it. If it was for someone else then Fangface shoulda known better than to bring it in the room.

He jumped into the bed and pulled the covers over him. He was rigid, denying fiercely the shuddery feeling in the pit of his stomach. He stretched out on his side, with his back to the room. Xander eyed the stone wall, listening for the subtle clues that Deadboy had exited the bathroom.

Coming into the room, Angel ignored the boy lying tense and unnaturally still in the bed. Crouching, he quickly built up a fire in the hearth; it was for Xander's benefit since he wasn't really affected by the coldness that would invade the caves when night fell topside.

Satisfied, he grabbed the book he had been reading for the past couple of nights. One hour, then he would go to bed.

Settling on the trunk, he began to read aloud. He had started this in an unsubtle effort to show Xander who was in charge. However, to his amused wonder, he could feel the silent attention the boy gave him. Despite Xander's vocal, resentful muttering about a certain vampire shutting the hell up and letting people get to sleep, the boy listened.

He knew, they both knew the truth. But it was easier to pretend. And it allowed the boy some measure of dignity. He wasn't really interested in grinding all of Xander's pride in the dust, just enough so that the boy didn't try to run roughshod over him.

Xander reclined on the bed; gradually relaxing as he listened to Deadboy quiet voice. He began visualizing the images as the scenes Angel's voice evoked. For the past three nights, Othello was the book of choice.

And at first, he had been impressed with that dude, Iago's way with words. But slowly he started feeling uncomfortable, growing angry and disgusted at how the man was playing his supposed friends. Lying, whispering one thing to one, then running back to the other and pretending he was their friend. And he was becoming aware of the too many parallels between him and good ol' Iago. It was not in a good, 'Ohhhh, I wanna be just like him!' kinda way. More like, 'Ewwww, what crawled up your ass and died?!'

He had tried arguing with himself that what he did was for the good of everybody; but for some reason that no longer brought him any measure of comfort.

Angel closed the book with a sigh, followed by a yawn. Getting up, he wearily stretched his massive frame. Instantly, tension filled the room. Walking around the foot of the bed, he climbed in and settled beside the now rigid boy with another yawn. Maybe in a couple of months, they'll have 40 additional quarters for the growing community, he thought with a weary sigh about the work he did during the day.

"I don't suppose there's any chance of me getting my own room anytime soon?" Xander asked miserably, with little hope of getting a positive answer. It was the same question he had been asking since day one. Actually demanded, ranted and raved on day one about sleeping with the dead. It just wasn't something he was into; Deadboy should have kidnapped Buffy instead. For that witty, snide remark, he received a hard blow that knocked him into the wall.

He learned quickly to leave Buffy out of any arguments that he had with the vampire. Once again, he was absolutely certain that he really wasn't liking this version of Deadboy; for one thing, Angel was hitting back.

Literally.

"You'll simply try to escape and get yourself in trouble," Angel replied mildly. He felt a faint amusement at the boy's ingenious methods of escape. All unbeknownst to Xander, he was entertaining quite a few of the community, especially the guards. Though Angel had his suspicions that the guards were deliberately allowing Xander to make considerable progress before hauling him back. The teen found some amazingly loose security holes in the community's perimeter; faulty equipment that permitted one very determined teen to try to wiggle his way to freedom.

Xander provided a source of excitement for the guards chosen to hunt the boy. Several had already propositioned him about keeping the boy 'prisoner' when he returned to the surface.

With a straight and solemn face, he gravely declined their generous offer.

"Angel...?

"Hmmm...?

Xander hesitated but forced himself to ask the question buzzing around in his mind. "That Iago...do you think he was a bad man? I mean, maybe he had a reason for acting the way he did, ya know? Sorta misunderstood and all." He waited anxiously for the reply.

"Besides jealousy and spite?" Angel affected only mild interest in the topic of conversation. All he wanted to do was get some shut-eye. Four or five of them if he could manage it.

"NO! I mean...he was...he was..." Xander fumbled, trying to find something to justify the character's undisputedly lack of morals.

Angel stared up at the ceiling, very much NOT sleepy now. There was something strained in the boy's voice. Some depth of emotion that hinted at some painful feeling.

"Iago could have been jealous of Othello's good fortune at marrying the fair Desdemona. Othello was everything he wasn't; strong, brave and very much well liked. Plus there was the fact that Othello was a Moor," Angel said matter-a-factly. He was wide awake now.

Xander frowned, puzzled at the unfamiliar term. "What's a Moor?"

"Back during the time this play was written, a Moor was often used as a derogatory name for a black person."

"Sooooo, Iago was a racist...?" Xander said slowly. Then his eyes widened, a connection leaping in his mind. He gasped softly and swallowed hard.

Angel paused; he heard that soft sound and wondered. "I don't think Iago's motives were that simple. It could have been part of it; but remember, Iago had already said that he hated Othello in the first Scene. Then later when he was passed over for an important assignment. He was more envious and jealous of Othello than anything. He used Othello's race to try to turn others against the man. Even Desdemona's own father. Iago felt that he was superior to everyone. And while everyone believed him honest and caring of the welfare of others, Iago was only interested in himself. He was motivated by a selfish desire; everything and everyone came second to his wants and needs."

Slowly Xander relaxed as he absorbed Angel's words. Iago was selfish; he didn't care about anybody.

Angel studied the back of the boy's head. "But it was his jealousy, spite and lies that ultimately lead to Desdemona's death."

Xander went rigid beside him. And long after Angel had fell asleep the teen's mind churned in vicious circles of doubt and self-disgust.

A few days later, standing in the shadows, a young blond male watched the dark-haired human with cold, blank eyes. All thoughts about the boy hidden behind a carefully neutral expression. Despite his bland exterior, Skoal was livid. Despite his best efforts, the blonde still hadn't found a way to permanently rid himself of the stupid, idiotic human. Somebody was always interfering. Either that old bitch JessiKa or those fuckin' guards coming along to rescue Xander. But he had faith; eventually he would find a way to get rid of the human, either fatally or otherwise. Because until that dumb fuck was out of the picture, his Angel wasn't having nothing to do with him.

He easily dismissed the various rumors floating around about Angel and the human. He sneered. That lunkheaded boy was as blind as a bat and unappreciative of the singular beauty of the vampire demon. Besides, Xander had far too much of a hostile attitude towards Angel for anybody to believe they were lovers.

Perhaps if he was to pretend to be the kid's friend he could get sufficient ammunition to stir the others up to a nice little bloodlust fury. If not, he was clever; he could concoct something suitable. Pushing off from the wall, Skoal formed his lips into a friendly smile. He was rather confident that along with his beauty and charm, the boy would be a pushover. He sauntered to where the human was busy sweeping up debris deliberately created by the other rowdy group of teenaged humans and demons.

Xander looked up, startled at hearing his name spoken. Instinctively, he clutched the broom handle tighter. For what, he didn't know. Those fuckin' bastards still always managed to whoop his ass, was his bitter thought.

But at the sight of the half-human blonde coming towards him, instead of feeling more secure, his wariness increased. There was something just not right about the older boy. He wasn't exactly sure what it was, but he didn't survive Sunnydale nights all these years without trusting his instincts. And his instincts were screaming to stay away from Skoal. Like, half a world away would be of the good. Why take chances, ya know?

Xander's eyes narrowed; a mistrustful expression on his face as the elegant demi-human halted in front of him. Grudgingly he conceded that Skoal was beautiful, though in a unmanly kinda way, he hastily tacked on. Long blonde hair, not just skinny but he was one of those girly words...like willowy or slender. Flawless skin, and Xander spitefully told himself that the older boy probably used some kinda flowery lotion to keep his skin looking like that. And he obviously had connections ‘cuz the girly-man clothes emphasized the length of his long, slender legs and arms.

But it was those vivid bottle-green eyes that riveted his attention. He always had this nagging feeling of familiarity each time he saw Skoal's eyes. Somewhere, he had seen somebody with the exact same eyes.

“Yeah…?” he asked grudgingly. He kept a death grip on his broom, determined to get a couple of licks in before it was taken from him and used on his back. He became instantly even more suspicious when the blonde dude's smile widened. Warm sympathy fairly radiating from the guy. Trickery! Trickery! Trickery! Especially not with all the other little assholes trying to jump him almost every chance they got. Like overly pretty Skoal would be any different, huh?

“I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot.” The blonde paused, gauging the success of his opening remark. “I'm Skoal by the way,” he offered with an amused condescending smile.

“I know…now what do you want?” Xander asked impatiently. He wasn't falling for THAT trick. And he was sure it was only a trick.

Skoal's eyes narrowed fractionally; his pleasant smile never wavered. “As I said, I believe we got off on the wrong foot,” he said mildly. “So being a good ‘friend' of Angel's I simply thought I would make amends for my, for our, discourtesy.”

Xander snorted. There was a sullen look on his face. “Well, if you're a friend of Angel's then I just know we are so not gonna get along,” he stated firmly. But his eyes were still wary; the sense of familiarity about the blonde half-demon was driving him bonkers.

Skoal smiled sweetly, but there was a malicious glitter in his widening eyes. “Actually Angel and I are a little more than just…friends.” And there was something in his tone that had Xander floundering, quite sure that the other boy wasn't implying what he was implying because that would imply that…ewwww.

“Uhm, you mean you guys are like buddies? Compadres? Really good friends? Sharing secrets and braiding each other's hair kinda stuff?” His voice was uncertain. Though he had a sinking feeling that what Skoal was implying was so not what he wanted to think about. Not thinking here, he stated firmly to himself. Because I'm not gonna be doing that Larry thing again. Once was enough. Besides, I'm sleeping with the dead guy. I mean, not sleeping as in…in…SLEEPING but sleeping as in that's all we do. Sleep. Snoring and all.

“No…” Skoal drawled, his smile glittering and bright.

But Xander recovered swiftly. Scowling, he snorted. “Ha! For a minute you almost had me going there! Cuz, Deadboy's straighter than an arrow! Probably straighter, ya know,” he claimed insistently. “After all, he was dating one of my best friends. I'm sure you've heard of her. Sometimes she just goes by the title of…Slayer. Sweet gal but a short temper. She gets a hardon for bad, evil demons.” And he looked pointedly at the blonde half-breed, his meaning unmistakable.

“'Sides, I know you're lying because like hey, no Angelus. See, that's what happens when Ol' Fangs and Ridges gets a happy. Or maybe you didn't know about that little curse on his soul.” Xander was wildly triumphant; at last he had surer ground to stand on.

He shook his head with mock sympathy and feigned a dramatic shiver of dread. “Dude, I wouldn't wanna be you when Deadboy finds out you're spending rumors about him being down with the alternative lifestyle. Which will be about five seconds after I see him tonight.” He wore a look of demented glee at the thought of a two for one payback. Sweet!

Skoal had remained silent throughout Xander's incongruous defense of the vampire. A brow arched in amused contempt. “Perhaps you were unaware that Angel's curse parameters had been fulfilled when he fucked your precious Buffy," he sneered with haughty superiority. "He had his moment of happiness. And considering how long he had been without sex, I would presume that any willing body would have given him a perfect moment of happiness when he came. Don't you know, while you can have many moments of intense happiness, you only get ONE perfect moment of happiness? Otherwise how could you possibly tell your times of happiness apart?” He shrugged as if it didn't matter one way or the other to him. His lips curled upwards in honest amusement at the horrified look on the boy's face. “And I can assure you, that Angel's soul is very, very secure.” With that parting remark, he turned and sauntered away. Leaving a very nervous and uneasy human struck silent.

Later that evening, Angel was reclining on the bed. A good book in one hand; a glass of port in the other. The soothing sounds of one of his favorite compositions played in the background on a portable CD player. He was enjoying his time of peace and tranquility.

He started, sloshing port down his shirt when the door opened noisily. Looking up, he regarded a breathless, goggled eyed Xander in the doorway. At the sight of the fresh bruises darkening the boy's arms and face, he wondered if perhaps now would be a good time to remove Xander from the Kitchen. He didn't want the boy dead; he just wanted the young man to acknowledge that good demons existed. Just like good and evil existed in humankind, the same was true for demons.

"Deadboy," Angel hid a wince at that stupid nickname. Of course, Xander had to say it again almost as if he could read the vampire's mind. "Deadboy..." Xander solemnly began and paused. He pushed the door partially shut with his foot as he tried to figure out a way to make sure HE was in the line of fire when Fangface went off on Skoal. The teen didn't exactly want the other kid beaten to death; just beaten old school style. He firmed his resolve. After all, Skoal had this coming to him. The Atomic blonde shouldn't go around spreading rumors about dead people.

"Xander..." Angel drawled with a raised brow. He sat up slowly; a little perturbed at the odd expression the boy was wearing. Besides that, Xander was ignoring his dinner on the table. That was indeed cause for some alarm. Slipping a bookmark in his book, he placed it gently on the nightstand before getting to his feet.

"Deadboy," Xander said again. Eyeing the vampire, he fidgeted nervously with the frayed edge of his loose blue tunic. "I...I don't know how to tell you this..." he paused again, his nervousness gone and good humor restored at the thought of the vampire dying of shock. "Actually I do; and I'm enjoying every minute of it."

"Anyway, you probably don't know him, but there's this demon dude, that works in the kitchen with me though personally, I ain't seen him lift a finger to do anything. I mean, all the rest of us work our fingers to the bone, but HE just swans around like he'll die if he gets his precious hands wet. God forbid he gets a speck of dirt on him." Becoming aware of the darkening look of impatience on Angel's face, Xander hurried back to his original topic. "So, this Skoal...well he's going around, at the top of his lungs," he stressed, "Telling everybody that you and him are doing the nasty." Eagerly he watched the vampire, gleefully waiting for the loud explosion of rage he was sure to come.

5...4...3...2...1...uhm...0...-1...-2. Xander eyed Angel in confusion when the other didn't respond other than an exasperated roll of his eyes.

"Uhm...Deadboy, did you hear what I said or did your vampiric hearing go on the blink? I said..."

"I heard what you said," Angel replied. Sighing, he sat back down and picked up his book. For this, I had to stop reading? Maybe I can psyche myself back to mellow and tranquil land, he thought hopefully. And not for the first time, he wondered if the boy was going to get the best of him in this battle of wills. Simply by being more obstinate than he. Xander had an uncanny knack for instigating confusion and creating chaos in his otherwise orderly life. He always felt like he was on one of those crazy roller coaster rides around the boy; while it was strangely exhilarating, it wasn't for him.

He was a good vampire now; or at least he was trying to be good. But THAT BOY somehow made him feel a wild rush of emotions. Managing to bring out the demon in him. Raising the book to eye level, he tried determinedly to ignore the now fuming boy.

He found himself with newfound respect for Giles' even disposition. That man had to have the patience of a saint in dealing with not only Xander, but Buffy and Willow for the past few years.

Angel was abruptly reminded of the matters at hand with Xander's impatient, "Well?! Don't you hear me talking?!"

"I don't mind you talking so long as you don't mind that I'm not listening," he retorted with forced pleasantness.

But he was startled when the teen stalked over to the side of the bed and stood looming over him. Now he was annoyed; especially at that look of suppressed fury on the boy's face.

"What?" His voice was curt when he answered from behind the false safety of his book. Giving the clueless human the first clue that maybe he should back off now. Unfortunately, Xander didn't notice the early warning signs.

"Well, where's the BOOM? The gnashing of teeth, or in your case, the gnashing of fangs? Where's the jumping up with angry cries of outrage and denial, the manly indignation?! Which should be followed up by a furious chase and all around beat down on the dastardly Skoal? And being the good roommate slash prisoner that I am, I feel it would be my civic duty to guide you to this impudent lying fellow," he added generously. "For that matter, I'll even hold your duster for you."

Angel blinked. A hidden gleam of bitter amusement flickered in his eyes. When he lowered the book, he presented only a cool, bland exterior as he calmly waited for Xander to figure things out.

"Unless..." the boy's voice trailed off as dreadful suspicion reared it's ugly head again. Slowly he backed away. A vision of Larry confessing that he was gay flashing through his mind.

Angel couldn't help the harsh chuckle that escaped him at the kid's horrified look. One more thing for the boy to despise him for.

"Unless what?" In the blink of an eye, the vampire was standing in front of the startled youth. Angel smiled coldly. "Well, set your tiny, homophobic mind at ease, little boy. I'm not fuckin' Skoal." He watched relief blossom on Xander' face with close attention.

"Good...that's good," the teen managed to reply weakly. That look in Deadboy's eyes was setting off all the alarms in his body. Bypassing his brain, his feet knew enough to be prepared top speed flight. Far, far away. In a distant galaxy, he thought hysterically.

"But I was about two months ago," Angel said softly, cold fury burning at the look of nervous dread gathering in the boy's eyes.

"B…bu...bu...Buffy...Darla...Drusilla," Xander stammered. His eyes were riveted on the hardening look on Deadboy's face. He tried out a nervous, 'Hey dude, I'm just an idiot, don't mind me' look on Angel. But the vampire wasn't buying it.

The young man abruptly decided that what Angel did in his own bed was none of his business. Not unless it happened to be him in the bed, then it was his business to scream like a girl and defend his honor, he tacked on hastily.

"...and Spike and Penn and oh, yes, I even gave it up for the Master sometimes," Angel said mildly. But there was a dangerous light growing in his eyes. Now he was within touching distance of the boy; though Xander didn't know how Deadboy accomplished that particular feat, considering just how carefully he was watching the vampire for just such a move.

"Spike?! You fucked...no, no...I don't wanna know anything else!" Xander exclaimed squeakily. He wanted to put his hands over his ears, but that would be kinda like leaving him wide open to get a good smacking. That would hurt. Big time.

"What...don't you think my childer are beautiful? I do. That's mainly why they were Turned, for their beauty. I think I outdid myself, however, with Spike. All that beauty and passion contained within that lean, sleek body. There were many days when I was so overcome with desire for him that I couldn't wait for a bed or privacy. We would fuck right in front of the girls. Again and again. And again." He shivered dramatically; his voice a husky purr in the room.

Angel lost his easy smile; dark menace glittered brightly in his amber gaze, in his fearsome toothed smile. "Or do you tell yourself it was only Dru that you ever found mildly attractive?"

Xander gasped then angrily sputtered a denial, his face paling almost to match the colorless state of the vampire. But Angel wasn't listening. He had had enough of the foolish, impudent boy daring to judge HIM! Looking at him as if he was beneath contempt, that look of disgust as if he was something foul and unclean. He, that existed before the boy's great-great-grandfather was a gleam in the undoubtedly slatternly woman that gave birth to the inbred yokels. He was descended from one of the noblest houses among the nosterfu.

He was a Master in the Order of Aurelius. And it was about time to show the silly boy just who the hell he was dealing with. He was tired of trying to get Xander to see beyond the narrow confines of the boy's tiny little world. So many times he held open the door, only to have it slammed rudely in his face.

Evil wasn't Black or White, demon or human.

Evil just...was.

The dark-haired vampire smiled queerly; he stroked the boy's cheek. "Do you remember what Dru called you? Her Dark Kitten...I wonder if I stroke you, would you purr for me?"

Before Xander had time to yell, he found himself soaring dizzily through the air. He landed on the bed with a muffled grunt; the wind knocked out of him. Fear and alarm screaming like an out of tune chorus; his only thought to scramble off the bed and find a safe spot to hide. When in fear for your life, hiding always worked. With that in mind, he tried to move. But a much heavier body was abruptly covering him, squishing him into the soft giving mattress; his hands grasped and anchored above his head.

The vampire angled his body across the writhing one of the mortal; effortlessly riding out the jerking and squirming movements as Xander tried futilely to free himself. Angel smiled coldly down into the rage-congested face.

Terrified, the boy struggled instinctively. Fear giving him unknown strength; he tried to escape a dangerously unstable vampire. But his best was no match for an enraged Master vampire, one that had been pushed too far. Angel held him to the bed with easy strength.

"Purr for me, little kitten..." Angel murmured softly. He eyed the boy's lips with narrowed, focus intensity.

"Angel, noo...umpf," Xander started to yell, but found his mouth ruthlessly seized and a tongue thrusting in his mouth. He tried to bite the unauthorized intruder. Angel was too quick for him and unfortunately he wound up biting his own tongue. Yelping in shock, he was momentarily stunned by the mind-numbing ripple of pain that arched through him. Xander whimpered as he tasted the sweet coppery tang of his blood.

Probing the interior of the boy's mouth, Angel froze as lightening flared through his body. The intoxicating taste of Xander's blood flowed across the highly sensitize buds of his tongue like a heated rush. Raising his head, he became very still as he stared down at the young man.

Dangerously so.

Xander scowled furiously up at the pale visage above him; his breath ragged and out of control from the harsh kiss. He blinked rapidly, trying to control his desire to cry.

"You fuckin' bastard!" Xander spat out weakly. Silently, he stridently denied the shocked awareness that made his dick stir. He arched upward, trying to throw the vampire off of him. And if sheer will was enough, Angel would have been thrown clear to China, but Xander knew he needed strength and power. Something he was sorely lacking. "Get the hell off me!" Then he trembled, growing even more alarmed at the arrested look in Deadboy's eyes.

"Sweet...tasty..." was all the warning he got before cool lips were covering his mouth again.

While the first taste of the boy's mouth was erotically tempting, it was the blood that captured his attention and defused much of his anger. The sweet taste had him feeling the most primal urge to conquer. To Claim.

Xander's mouth was so ripe, yet so arousing in its innocence. Wet, and scorching hot; the boy's taste was spiced with anger, the body stiff with outrage. Intoxicating.

Forgetting his wrath, all Angel wanted now was more. More of the scorching heat. He wanted to taste more of the almost virginal sensuality that lurked in Xander's body. He heard the slight gasp from the boy when he teased the softly parted lips. He could taste the tantalizing passion that lay hidden, almost dormant within the boy's warm succulent interior. Unleashing it suddenly became his obsession.

Xander never stood a chance.

Angel invaded the torrid heat, dipping then retreating quickly when vicious teeth attempted to sever the probing muscle. Time and again, he stole into the sultry mouth, stealing the very breath from the boy's lungs. Under his rough tutelage, lips parted helplessly for him. He swallowed the low moan the boy made when he nibbled at the sweetly tempting lower lip, teasing Xander's mouth with his before leisurely exploring the humid depths. He caressed the warm tongue, the roof of the soft mouth. Taking his time to thoroughly map the contours of the smoldering heat.

A razor-sharp phenomenon swept through Xander; his astonished gasp was muffled by Angel's mouth. His stomach clenched with agonizing pressure, a pleasurable ache that shot straight to his stirring shaft. God, he hated Deadboy!

He bit at the lips nipping at him; helplessly he tried to evade the sleek wet tongue that was doing a credible imitation of 'Hail the Mighty Conqueror '. He had to fight Angel; even in the midst of the way those provocative kisses set his pulse to racing and his cock to throbbing. He had to fight himself. Struggle against the sexual feelings that sent his mind reeling. Xander tried to hold on, tried to fight. He held on to Angel, and felt the power in the big hands that cradled his head. Hands that could crush him like an egg; hands that held him tenderly, like something precious.

Hands that held him as if he was something to be treasured; something beautiful. He trembled at the thought.

Angel was so strong and felt so...so...good against him. Cajoling him, coaxing him with seductive kisses, he was battling against himself with the force of this tempting need. He groaned at the steadily increasing pressure until he was blindly following Angel's lips. Desperately. Needy. Greedy for more of the incredible sensation. Whispering Angel's name like a mantra; pleading for more as fiery sensation shook his body.

He saw it; and knew it. Vaguely he even understood what was happening. But it was two against his one. His body and Deadboy were ganging up on him.

Xander moaned as he felt himself sinking, wallowing in the turbulent sea of desire washing over him. He was going under, drowning. All because of the softly suckling pull on his tongue and his body's traitorous response to that moment of tenderness. He felt himself giving in to the carnal seduction as Angel relentlessly stroked the fires to a raging inferno. He couldn't-- he just couldn't let Angel do this to him. He wasn't gay!

The young man cried out at the sharp flare of arousal burned steadily, consuming his denial like a wildfire. His back arched; his nipples puckering and stiff against Angel's hard chest. No longer sure if he wanted to get away from the pleasure that was slowly devouring him. He felt a broad cool hand on his back, hard and rough, supporting his spine while Angel continued to suckle on his tongue.

There was nothing gentle now about the kiss; Angel was bent on subjugating him and nothing less than his complete surrender would do. His hands, encased in the cool manacles of Angel's hands, flexed in the tight grip. He was pressed down into the mattress as the vampire conquered his lips, his tongue, the whole luscious inner recesses of his mouth and made him a slave to pleasure.

Angel had experience on his side, years and years of experience. He was too subtle for the boy to fight. It was like battling air. Fighting a war against your shadow. There was no way of winning. And so Xander surrendered with a soft mewling cry of need.

Angel lightly licked the lushly swollen lips, absorbing the taste and smell of the boy, deliberately imprinting Xander with the flavor and scent of his own body.

"Shhh, baby...I won't hurt you. I won't hurt you, no matter what. Just...just kiss me. Kiss me back, yes, like that...that's it, little kitten...suck my tongue, play with me. Taste me..." Angel moaned throatily into the boy's sweet tempting mouth.

To his aroused pleasure Xander finally did. Timidly, a moist tongue caressed his before darting back behind warm tender lips; again came the shy touch. Longer now, was the caress. Growing bolder, daringly the boy thrust into the cool interior of the vampire's mouth. Mapping the soft delicate tissues with a hesitant sweep of his tongue.

Angel freed the boy's hands. Bracing himself on bent arms on either side of Xander's head, he fisted his hand in soft tumbled locks of silky hair. Taking control over the sensual, heated mating of their mouths.

His mouth hovered over Xander's for one long breathtaking moment before he crushed his lips over the mortal's again. Once more seeking to imprint the boy with his growing need and urgent desire. He could play the seducer and lover if there was no other course for him. For them. At last acknowledging the burning sense of recognition he felt, now that he had tasted the youthful near innocence hidden within the boy supple frame.

He knew there was no way Xander could or would try to refuse him now; he was caught, just like the boy, in the sticky strands desire from the web he had carelessly spun. They were both prisoners

Willing. Hungry. Insatiable prisoners.

This spontaneous, unlikely, passion was lit like a long-burning fuse between them. There should have been signs saying 'To be lit with great care and undertaking'. Because there would be fireworks; there would be an earth shattering explosion. It would finally come. Xander would at last have his explosion. Just not the one he was expecting.

This young, untutored boy had an artless, yet eager enthusiasm for carnal pleasures. Xander had an incredible, amorous instinct for all the right moves. Those muffled, little sounds of pleasure, those expressive sounds set him on fire. Incited him to greater excesses.

Possession was everything; possession was nine-tenths of the law, they said. And he possessed this guileless, yet seductive creature now. Angel plundered Xander's mouth with a ravenous thoroughness that made the boy arch against him wantonly; made the eager youth seek his tongue with a wild hunger that was growing even greater than his own.

He released the ardent lips; and simple male pleasure seared through him at the passionately swollen fullness before he dipped his head again. Capturing the hungry mouth again, his greedy kisses were that of a voluptuous, hard-driving male statement of overwhelming need and desire. Pursuit and capture. Hunter and quarry.

The effect on Xander was swift and immediate. He was left breathless, mutely begging with his entire body for more of Angel's lips. And still more, deeper and more heated, more demanding. More lusty. Just more.

His hands free, but still his body was restrained by the bulk of the man above him, and his mouth---ooooh, his mouth; he was being ravished within a inch of his life. Kissing Ampata was fun; kissing Cordy and later on, Willow was even cooler. But this...this wasn't kissing, because he at last recognized the rhythmic thrusting pattern of Angel's tongue. Without words, teaching him what he had yet so far only fumblingly experienced with Faith...the age-old art of sex. His body tightened with a painful pressure; tension humming so loud he thought Angel could surely hear it. He gave in to the mindless pleasure, to the need that made his body shout a chorus of 'Halleluiah'

Angel pressed harder, demandingly at the boy. Every movement of his mouth and tongue a silent command to surrender. He ate voraciously from the lush, trembling lips, nipping, licking with greedily sweeps of his tongue, drinking avidly from the intoxicating heat.

He moved his caresses down the arched, proffered neck, laving softly behind the soft shell of the warm ear. Licking, outlining the swirls and hollows within. Feeling the shudders of fitful need from the wantonly sleek body pressing against him. Coming back to Xander's mouth, he gently slid his tongue deep within, found the sleek muscle hiding and began sweetly to encourage it out to play. Sucking gently on it, so softly, so intensely that Xander was caught off-balance, floundering as his last remaining defenses came crashing down. His body felt boneless as a whole new range of arousing sensation rampaged through him. Something shifted, uncoiled in his stomach, stretching, reaching out for that something Angel was promising with every cajoling movement of his body.

No fight was left in him. He felt like he was burning up; there was liquid fire racing in his veins instead of blood. Clearly his body liked the feeling of having the vampire pressing against him. His lips gloried in the ravenous attention the vampire lavished on him. While he knew it was dangerous to feel this way about Angel, he yearned to feel more, to know more of this man's touch. His cock twitched, swelled to a painful aching state. His nipples, heated to a throbbing ache by the rhythmic brushing of Angel's chest, felt like two hard pebbles. His dick just wanted to get Full Monty. Experimentally, he deliberately writhed in the consuming embrace. Trying to get closer to the cool burning fire that was Angel.

Raising his head at the innocent sensual movement, Angel looked down into the feverish, bright eyes of the boy.

His boy.

Xander was like a child fascinated by fire; all smoldering heat and latent sensuality. The boy had no idea of a demon's desire weighed against his ripe, all too alluring body. Angel wanted to rip away the clothes that kept him from seeing all of the boy in his naked glory. He wanted to take him, naked and moaning to the floor, and fuck him like there was no tomorrow. Ride the boy to a scratching, biting, screaming white froth of sheer ecstasy. And when they came, take him again and again. Slake his desire in the silken, grasping core until he was drained. He wanted to see the boy lying sated, a lecherous smile of pure satisfaction on his face and sprawled with lewd abandon in a thick coating of his cum.

But for now, the hot honey of Xander's mouth would assuage his needs; and he took full advantage of the willing mouth with savage, ferocious desire. The rapacious drive of his hunger urging him on, he invaded the near virginal, permissive mouth with all the exquisite skill and experience at his command. Sucking at the carnal muscle the way he wanted to suckle at another, more potent, part of the boy's aroused body.

"Sugar...pure sugar," Angel muttered hoarsely between plundering Xander's mouth for more of the ambrosia nectar he found within. "The gods envy me..."

The wet, voracious violence of Angel's kisses goaded him, challenged him. Commanded him to open his mouth and deepen the endlessly, seductive kisses. So he did. With an aching cry of need, Xander opened wider and gave his tongue willingly to Angel to taste and explore. To suckle in a swirl of hedonistic caresses.

Previously he had known nothing of men's kisses; he didn't WANT to know. Now he knew almost everything or at least he would soon. And he wanted to know everything. And he wanted MORE. It was if his mind had simply disconnected from the avarice needs of his body. All it wanted, all HE wanted was to keep Angel's lips pressed against his. To feel those deep hard kisses possessing his mouth.

And hands...

Omigawd, hands! He moaned at the feeling of a pair of cool, slightly rough hands sweeping under his shirt, fingering the hardened peaks of his nipples. He arched and squirmed at the electrifying touch that scorched a blazing path from his nipples to his dick.

Long, tapered fingers fondled his stiff nips with a delicate, yet a commanding touch. Angel's skill was so much, that he knew with a certainty the exact place to arouse the boy even further and reduce Xander to a mindless, writhing package of desire. He pulled the wiggling bundle of heat further into his greedy kiss, further into a world where nothing existed but the need for a mind-shattering release. A back-arching, gut-wrenching, screaming-til-you're-raw release.

Hot, wet honey-kisses; deep, voracious ,wet taste of tongue; a warm, hungry body that squirmed and wriggled with a pure wanton instinctual need to entice more of the thick, luscious kisses. Xander begged for more with every lewd shimmy of his body. Arching against Angel, he simmered with dizzying excitement and need.

He didn't need anything more, just that endless mouth kissing him, overpowering him, thrusting deep within, feeling him, tasting him with a rapacious desire. As if Angel would never know the touch of another's lips again. A kiss before dying.

Angel played with Xander's lips, loving the pliant yet masculine-y, hard softness of them. He loved the succulently wet, firm seeking tip of the boy's tongue caressing his mouth, begging for his.

"Sweet...so sweet..." he groaned throatily, hungrily dipping into the ardent warmth. Their tongues twinned sinuously around each other; mating with the greedy frenzy of pure lust. "My sweet boy..."

"Yours..." came the panting moan before their mouths connected again, with a heady, ravenous fervor.

The ripping sound of Xander's shirt sounded loud in the room. It was followed by Angel's shirt ripping as well. But neither man noticed as they gazed intently upon each other's naked flesh. Then fell upon each other, lips consuming one another as their bared chests touched for the first time. Xander felt like a bolt of lightening had struck him, and he convulsed with a soft keening cry of scorching, aching need. Angel moaned at the sizzling contact of flesh against flesh.

Hungrily, Xander demanded more of Angel's mouth, his tongue, his everything. He undulated wildly, rubbing his nipples against the sleek, muscular chest above. Groaning at the electrifying sensation that pulsed straight to his stiff cock.

Angel pulled away from the all-consuming mouth. One hand, then his mouth began playing a delightful game of torment with Xander's already tight nipples. The boy arched upwards with a short scream of ecstasy when a spasm of glittery pleasure shot through him.

Now Xander's hands were on the move. Playing all over the sleekly, arched back, sliding down, all the way down to feel the smooth flex of muscles sliding under the silky cool skin. His questing, feverish hands traced the hard ridge of Angel's spine, and the sensual male dip that effortlessly led his curious fingers to the curve of the vampire's hard cloth-covered ass. His hands roamed restlessly up and down the shifting, flexing back, then back up to grip the hard muscles of Angel's arms. He felt teeth nip gently, greedily at his lower lip, and long fingers twist and flex in his hair. Grabbing handfuls of Angel's hair, he dragged those cool, devouring lips back to his.

The boy was totally his now.

Angel's fingers and urgent mouth, exploring every inch of Xander that he could reach. That gave him proof beyond a shadow of a doubt. He held the silken head still with both hands as he ravaged for the sweetness within. With one hand at just the right angle, he delved even more deeply into the soft, erotic wetness. Tasting and feeling the plush contour of the licentious interior. He was so insensate with the sensual feel of Xander's response that he could think of nothing else than slaking his thirst in the boy's sleek, virginal molten sheath.

Angel was poised to settle himself over the wantonly squirming body. To give them both the release they were seeking...

"Uhm...Angel...ah...Xander...I...ah...just wanted to let you know that the door was open," came an embarrassed voice from the doorway.

The voice was like a dash of icy cold water on the two aroused men. Angel froze, staring down into Xander's lustfilled eyes. Seeing the fog of lust clear, and realization of who and what they were doing fill the boy. With a mortified, choked cry, Xander scrambled from under him and vanished into the bathroom. Seconds later the sound of the shower could be heard.

And very sharp vampire ears caught the sound of crying under the pounding noise of the shower.

Angel groaned and sat up with a sigh. Christ on a fuckin' stick! What the hell was wrong with him? That was Xander he was getting ready to fuck! Angry and frustrated he ran his fingers through his hair.

Looking up, he silently groaned again at the sight of Tosh. That demon had to be the biggest gossiper.

He made short work out of getting rid of Tosh. Glumly he knew by morning it would be all over the community.

Shit!

Hesitantly, he approached the doorway. Only a thin dark curtain provided an air of privacy between the two rooms.

"Xander...? You can come out now, Tosh is gone," Angel called softly into the warm interior. There was no answer; not that he expected there to be one. But you never knew with the boy which way he would jump.

"Xander...I'm coming in. If you don't want me to come in, you better speak now or forever hold your peace," Angel warned softly; again there was no answer, but the heartbeat he heard increased dramatically.

Stepping into the tropical, warm bath, he frowned, glancing around at the enclosed space. There were not many places that the boy could hide, especially not in a room this size. Ignoring for now the running shower that filled the bathroom with billows of steam, Angel peered around, half expecting the kid to come out swinging at him. Which was probably more than he deserved, he thought with a wince. He had no business touching Xander like that. But damn, that boy was going to make somebody one lucky sonofabitch, he thought enviously.

"Xander...please come out. Would it help if I said I'm sorry?"

"no..." said a tremulous, shaky voice. It came from the roughly mined cabinets. Walking carefully, Angel crouched and was able to make out the boy burrowed in the tiny space. Xander was looking back at him, warily like a terrified animal brought to bay. Eyes glittering with suspicious moisture, a faint shuddering gasp as the boy tried to control his incept tears.

"Xander...please come out. We need to talk," Angel said gently. If anything, Xander's eyes got bigger and he hastily shook his head as he tried to retreat further into the shallow space.

Angel sighed; reaching out he pulled the wildly struggling boy effortlessly from within the storage recess. Allowing Xander to beat him furiously about his head and shoulders in a vain attempt to get free, he settled to the floor against the wall and pulled the boy into his lap.

"Shhh, I'm not going to hurt. Shhh, shhhh...settle down..." he said soothingly as he rocked the distressed teen in his arms. Exhausted by his futile efforts to get away, Xander collapsed against Angel, hiding his face in the cool crook of the vampire's neck.

"Shhhh, shhhh, I'm sorry...I'm so sorry," Angel whispered softly as he felt hot burning tears against his skin. He rubbed Xander's back, his touch tender and comforting.

There was a choked, mumble of words from the vicinity of his neck. He listened carefully.

"Yes, I know I should be sorry; and that you're not gay."

He listened sympathetically, and despite the seriousness of the boy's distraught state, his lips twitched in a smile.

"Yes, I am an agent of Satan. But my duties are largely ceremonial,” he said solemnly. But at the weak punch this received, he continued gravely, “Yes, I am a bad, evil vampire that needs to go to anger management classes."

Another shaky, rasp of words. "Yes, you did indeed mention that you weren't gay. And yes, it was all my fault. I did take advantage of you and I even made you forget to eat,” Angel responded comfortingly.

He paused and listened. "No! I swear I'm not laughing at you!"

Angel listened further to the watery choked words. "Yes, when we get back to the surface you can tell everybody what a evil, wicked vampire I am and that you were right all along about me,” he replied soothingly.

Xander rested wearily in the vampire's restful embrace. The warmth of the bathroom was acting on him like a sauna. The stress and confusion he was feeling, the jangling of his nerves from the mind blowing experience with Angel combined with the extensive crying that he had done was leaving him languid and drowsy.

At least until Deadboy whispered those fateful words, "Let's go to bed."

Then he was wide awake. Wiiiiiiddddde awake. Stiffening he pushed against the confining arms.

"Xander, stop," Angel ordered firmly. "We both need to sleep. Tomorrow, I'm back at the Southern corridor with the others; and you're back in the Kitchens. We need rest. Nothing is going to happen other than we both get into the bed and go to sleep."

More to the point, he just wanted the boy to stop wiggling in his lap. As a very predictable reaction was starting to stir. He was still very much on edge. Frustrated sexual energy was burning sweetly in his veins from the delicious morsel of the boy's too provocative body.

"C...ca...can I s...s...sleep on the f...floor?"

"No..." came the quiet, inflexible response. "Xander, I promise you, what happened in there won't happen again tonight. As Master of the Order of Aurelius, I give you my solemn word that you may sleep without fear of me tonight." He vowed carefully; he hoped the boy wouldn't pick up on his meticulously chosen words.

"You promise...?" Xander lifted his head high enough to gaze at the vampire with wet, suspicious eyes.

"I promise," Angel replied softly, his eyes gentle. "I know you don't think much of me, but I give you my word of honor. In my day, that generally used to be sufficient between gentlemen."

The boy thought for a few moments, then nodded his tousled head dubiously. Blushing, he now noticed exactly where he was sitting and hastily escaped Angel's lap. Clambering to his feet, the boy dithered anxiously for a few seconds before darting out the bathroom.

"See if you can eat some of your dinner," Angel called after the fleeing figure. "I don't want you to go to work hungry tomorrow morning!"

He stayed in the bathroom long enough to give the boy some privacy and him time to composed himself. Shutting off the shower, he exited the bath.

Only to meet a pair of wide, brown eyes watching him with wary intensity. Did the boy actually think he was going to leap across the room and attack him? Probably. He already did it once. But Christ Almighty that boy was delicious!

Carefully keeping his amusement hidden, he went around and blew out the lanterns that lit the room with a warm glow. Tonight, he chose to forgo the warmth of a fire, deciding that the hot air from the bathroom would be sufficient.

In the darkness he retrieved and changed into his pajamas. Climbing into bed, he was a bit taken aback and amused at the thick pillow wedged between him and Xander. If the boy slept like he had been, Angel was sure he would wake up with the boy sprawled all over him.





Part Three



Waking up was hard…almost as difficult as falling asleep. He had laid, stiff with apprehension that Deadboy would try to molest him in his sleep. But at last, his body had given up and firmly insisted upon sleep.

Coming awake, he insisted that it was relief that he felt that Brood ‘n' Stuff was gone. Though he was a bit alarmed at the sight of the pillow barrier between him and the other side of the bed now lying at the foot of the bed. Shrugging the inconsistency away, he stumbled into the bathroom and performed his morning ablutions.

Traveling through the corridors, Xander knew word of his kissage with Deadboy had apparently been making the rounds. One would even go so far as to say that it was spreading like a bushfire, that is if there were any bushes to burn down here. What the hell…did people have nothing better to do than sit around gossiping about other people, he thought aggrievedly? Don't they have children to feed, houses to clean, jobs to go to?! Jiminy Cricket!

He grit his teeth at the looks of suppressed amusement on everyone's faces and hurried faster to the sanctuary of the Kitchen. Damn that evil, vicious bastard! This was all Deadboy's fault. He must have used some kinda vampire power on me that got me to respond. And…and that's why I went along…because…cuz…I couldn't resist! Yeah, that's it! I couldn't resist. He must have done something to my willpower, that's the only reason why I responded. Cause, I'm not gay!

He was so furious all he wanted to do was punch something or somebody. A beautiful image of Angel clutching a bloody nose swam through his mind. While not as good as the real thing would be, it would do for now.

Then he paused at the sight of a demon easily picking a crying boy off the hard sandy ground. Huge hands with four-inch talons gripped the kid with incredible gentleness as it licked the tears from the scrunched-up face. Forcing watery giggles from the boy as the warm tongue bathed his face. Tears past, the demon rumbled something softly and whatever was said made a wobbly, yet trusting smile light the boy's face. And setting him back on the ground, the demon gave the child a little push towards the boy's worried mother before turning and loping off. It was a little human child. It was an all too familiar sight that was repeated in some variation during his sojourn in Undervale. Demons helping humans; humans helping demons. Everyone working together for a common good.

It was just plain WRONG!

Every time he saw a similar scene repeated, it shook the core of his belief that demons were evil and humans were better off with them dead. But it was getting increasingly difficult to justify his beliefs when he saw a couple of demons, on all fours, giving piggyback rides to a bunch of gleeful little kids. Or a bunch of kids rushing through the halls in a screaming, laughing fit, gamely pursuing a fleet footed demon that wore a look of feigned fear on its face.

This wasn't fair! Demons were supposed to be all demony evil and vicious...and... and…just plain bad news! It was supposed to be when you saw a demon coming, it was all 'Omigawd! Horrors! Grab the women and children and run for your lives!' not 'Hey, Samdon, you got a cup of sugar I could borrow; by the way, guess who I saw kissing that hairy old Tron demon by the...' It was written somewhere in a book or...or...or something. Xander sighed, unfortunately these demons apparently hadn't read that particular book.

Only a stubborn person could continue believing that demons were evil. For once, Xander didn't take comfort in the fact that he was known for his stubborn nature.

Reaching the Kitchens, he groaned at the sight of his usual group of hecklers. By the smirks on their faces, clearly they had heard the ‘good' news. Just what he needed, he grumbled sourly to himself. Then squaring his shoulders, he resolutely marched past them. Chanting silently “This is like junior high. So just ignore them. Xander Harris is far superior than these insignificant mortals.”

Ignoring the smirking face, he grabbed a large bin. Manhandling it into place, he began unpacking the various foodstuffs. Looking neither to the left or right, Xander managed to continue this way throughout most of the day. Though at some of the obvious whispers, his face did color, but otherwise, he kept a hold of his shaky temper.

Jesse, the old cook, nodded her head approvingly at how the boy was handling the gossip and loud whispers. She saw the glitter of humiliation in his tear bright eyes, as well as the rage in the clenched jaw. But the kid held his tongue. Though in her opinion, it would have been better to just haul off and punch a couple of the whippersnappers and be done with it. Which would have gotten his ass kicked, but at least he would have gotten a couple of licks in.

Then her eyes focused on the Three Little Pigs, as she liked to call the three Jend demons. Those particular demons have an unfortunate tendency to resemble hogs. Much like their porcine counterparts, the young of the Jend species had very little intelligence. And these boys were a few peas short of a casserole, she thought in disgust.

Her mouth tightened at the sight of Skoal. She knew he was only gonna make trouble; was Xander strong enough to withstand retaliating? That's all they wanted. For Xander to strike back at them in some way that would give them a clear reason to justify an attack.

So far, the boy hadn't given them a reason. At least, not yet. But with that ugly rumor about Xander and Angel doing the horizontal mombo, she didn't quite figure that Xander would hold his tongue. She didn't believe Angel wasn't foolish enough to get involved with another human. He needed to be with his own kind…a demon or even a half-demon. Though young, at least Skoal understood what being a demon meant. She frowned to herself and mused silently, wonder what kinda demon father did he have? Oh well, she shrugged already forgetting the question.

After that little nasty thing with the Slayer, he shoulda learned something. Now that had been a disaster from the word 'Go'. What the hell was her boy THINKING? Then she chuckled lewdly. She had a feeling it wasn't exactly with his head, or at least not the head that was atop his shoulders. Her shoulders shook with stifled amusement. Finally she regained control of herself. She watched the kids for a little while longer, just to be on the safe side. Well, wasn't like she could stand here all day and keep an eye on the little buggers. There were starving people to feed. Turning away, she shuffled back into the Kitchen proper to resume her reign of terror over her menial assistants.

Hidden in the shadows, Skoal watched her go, icy satisfaction in his eyes. While his eyes were cold, he burned with a white-hot rage. Lurking deep within his frozen eyes, glowed a hellish fury of a man whose plans had been overset. At this moment, all he wanted to do was pound the little twerp's face into an unrecognizable pulp.

This morning, several of his 'friends' couldn't wait to tell him the news. Looking at him with sly expressions, pretending that they gave a damn about him. They were all hoping to see some kind of reaction from him. But he was not so stupid as to let them see he was fucking livid.

Affecting bored disinterest, he merely drawled that no matter who Angel bedded, his vampire always came back to him. Calmly, he chatted with them long enough for them to believe he wasn't phased by Angel's straying. Sauntering off, and finally in his own quarters, far away from their prying eyes, his wrath showed.

With a growl of animalistic rage, he trashed his room. Growls and snarls of seething fury sounded in the room along with the ripping of clothes, the crashing of furniture. Gone was the coolly, elegant young man; now his face was twisted in a look of bestial rage.

It was all a lie. No one other than he, needed to know that Angel only considered him a friend. All they needed to see was he didn't give a damn, and know that after Xander was gone, he would resume his rightful place in Angel's bed.

It was a careful piece of fiction that afforded him that extra bit of protection in the mixed group of humans and demons. Between losing a lover at such an early age, and then snagging Angel who was a respected member of the underground community, he almost had everything he wanted. While Angel was not a Council Member, he was still a very highly regarded demon.

By meticulously dropping little hints and carefully allowing himself to be seen furtively outside Angel's quarters at odd hours, people just naturally jumped to conclusion that he and Angel were still seeing each other. No one knew that Angel had ended things between them months ago. And if he had anything to say about it, no one would ever know.

There was nothing overt that could be traced back to him. When questioned about his relationship with Angel, he adverted his eyes and vehemently denied being involved with the vampire.

Skoal smirked.

It wasn't his fault that nobody believed him. Every freaking person would go away with a sly look in their eyes, congratulating themselves on being in the ‘know' about the secret romance. Swearing that they would let everyone know that he and Angel were NOT a couple. Wink, wink; nod, nod.

And the rumors grew. Angel and Skoal were having a torrid affair but wanted to keep it secret.

‘Sides, it wasn't like anyone wanted to believe the truth anyhow. He had found that people believed what they wanted to believe. The truth didn't matter, it was boring. It was the lies that they found more entertaining.

All his painstaking plans were geared invigling his way back into Angel's bed rather than just in the sordid imagination of community. But that stupid kid had to come along and ruin shit!

One minute, a raging creature, the next, an in control Skoal stood among the wreckage. His entire demeanor changed with an eerie abruptness, becoming smooth and calmly self-possessed. It was as if the last fifteen minutes never took place. But his eyes and the destruction of the room told their own story. There was a frozen, soulless look in his eyes. A look only one other being had ever seen and had paid the price for crossing him.

Had Xander seen Skoal's glittering eyes, he would have instantly remembered where he had seen those eyes. Casually walking to the unbroken mirror, Skoal practiced a few, disarmingly sweet expressions. Just for effect, he tried out a hurt, yet brave, trembling smile for good measure. Every now and then it would work on Angel; not enough for his liking, Skoal thought ruefully. He wanted Consort status from the beautiful vampire. That way nobody could ever force him to leave this place. This was his home and he was terrified of being exiled from this place. He had a place among the half-bloods that he carved for himself just by being himself.

While it was true that up above, among humans he could pass unnoticed, but eventually his true nature would come out. It was the only place where he felt in control; could be himself, despite the lies he told. Lies that he was half-way on the verge of believing himself.

This was his home; and he would allow nothing to get in his way. He would become Angel's Consort.

And he would allow no one to stop him.

Ignoring the trashed room, the psychotic blonde left his quarters and strolled to the Kitchens. A tiny smile curved his lips at the sight of the three Jend brothers harassing the useless boy. The icy blonde swept calculating eyes over the rumpled, ill-dressed form of his would-be competition; he nearly laughed at the thought of being afraid of losing to that piece of flotsam.

Xander was a clumsy, ignorant and opinionated little piece of shit. Angel needed someone more like...me, he thought with vast assurance. Cool, calm and agreeable. I know how to please him and take care of his needs. Angel needs piece and tranquility in his life, not senseless arguments and contention. Most importantly, Angel didn't need a babbling idiot that was in love with his own voice.

So until Angel also came to that simple realization, it would be best to remove Xander from under the vampire. Not that he believed Angel would be tempted; but why take chances.

Besides, without the fool around, Angel could concentrate on more important matters. Namely him.

Skoal got busy. Long experience taught him how to avoid working, while giving the appearance of actually being hard at work. Circulating among the young males he carefully dropped a word here, and a word there. All with an arched, yet knowing look in his eyes. Taken separately it meant nothing, but put together and allowed to simmer and stir....

Later that afternoon, Xander found himself the recipient of the majority of the eyes in the small break room. Setting his utensils down carefully, he eyed the hostile youths with definite misgiving. On a scale of 1 to 10 on his freak-meter, he would say that this would be a 6, but subject to change at a moment's notice.

He sighed as a couple of the boys 'casually' sauntered over to block his exit. Great...just fuckin' great! Those knuckleheads were prime examples of how dinosaurs survived for millions of years with walnut sized brains.

"Guess what little interesting rumor I heard?" Sam inquired in a remarkably loud voice. An expression of sly cunning sat oddly on his porcine face.

"What? What?! Tell us!" As expected, his younger brother chimed in with false enthusiasm. He, like his brothers, had an unfortunate tendency to snuffle when they became overly excited.

Like now.

Despite the angry humiliation that churned his stomach, Xander felt his lips twitch at the piggish sound Chusk made.

Sam's little black eyes narrowed furiously at the smirk on the dumb kid's face. But see if he'll be laughing once I spill the beans about him and Angel. The lying hypocrite! Running here with his nose in the air, like we stink or something. And all this time, he's been fucking Angel, he thought indignantly.

His chest puffed out proudly at the rapt attention he was receiving. However, he was dismayed to see Youst and his crew ignoring him. That group of boys surrounding the quill-headed young demon was where he wanted to be. The gang he wanted to run with. Today he felt he had a chance to join, to be one of them. Xander's humiliation was his entree into that select group.

"Well, apparently our boy here," he gestured contemptuously at Xander's frozen face, "Despite his words, just loves to get himself dicked-down by a demon. I heard that he was on his back screaming for more of Angel's cock last night! His mouth says 'no' but his ass says 'come and get it'!" Sam jeered at the human's white face. He was flushed with victory at the mocking laughter that followed. Sam's smile grew.

Xander's lips tightened, but he didn't say anything. 'Sides, what could he say? People always wanted to believe the worst of others anyway. Made them feel all better 'bout themselves, he snorted silently. Unaware of the irony of his angry thought.

Getting up, he strode determinedly for the door, his cheeks at first a fiery red, then a bloodless color.

Youst regarded the human with a cool, sidelong glance. Like the others, he didn't care for the uppity human. Especially not with the boy acting like demons were the shit he wiped off his ass. But his mother had taught him to fight fair, and he held himself aloof from the game of 'Give Xander a hard time'. 'Sides, the kid had some surprising moves, he thought in grudging admiration. The human generally was able to hold his own against two attackers.

The quill-headed demon's expression didn't change one bit when he saw Skoal strolling around the room. But his mind was racing, pondering the look of unconcern on the other boy's face. He put two and two together; and he couldn't help but cynically wonder just what stake the blonde half-demon had in all this. There was something he never quite trusted about Skoal. At first he used to feel guilty about not liking the other.

Fortunately he grew out of it. Now he cheerfully, and enthusiatically hated Skoal's guts.

His older brother was part of the patrol that had initally found Skoal. The boy apparently had been wandering lost, and practically out of his mind in the caves. Sometimes, Youst had the uncharitable feeling they should have left him to die. But they took pity on the dangerously dehydrated, emaciated figure and brought him back to Undervale.

Maybe it was because he knew his older brother, Mely was in love with the leader of the patrol. But Sandon, a large, powerfully built horned demon, took one look at Skoal and fell hard. Maybe that was why he didn't like Skoal. He paused in thought. Nah, the little bastard was a twisted little shithead, that's why he didn't like him.

But he felt sad for Sandon though. The leader of the patrol was a close and good friend of the family. And that large, fierce demon really loved Skoal. Sandon had visited the recovering Skoal almost every day. Bringing him presents and trying his damnedest to make the boy laugh.

It was a shame that Sandon only lived for a few short months after those two moved in together. It still boggled his mind how fucking intense the fire was that nearly consumed Sandon and Skoal's living quarters. It was still a mystery how the fuck it started. Not that anybody cared then how it started, putting it out consumed all their interest.

Even Angel, who had only just arrived in Underdale, tried. But it was no use. And it wasn't until the saw the bones, that they realized someone had been trapped inside. A quick, horrifying headcount was immediate. The only one missing was…Sandon.

Skoal was nearly hysterical with grief. They even had to sedate him. Afterwards, he walked around like some tragic, inconsolable ghost. It was enough to tug on the heartstrings. Youst mouth twisted sourly.

Only Angel seemed to be able to bring a smile to the wan looking young man.

Only Angel.

THAT'S when he first started disliking Skoal. Only three weeks after his lover's death, it was nauseating sick to see him cozening up to Angel. Sure he wanted some comfort, but still…it was disgusting to see him giving Angel that ‘poor little me, don't you just want to hug me?' shadow of a smile. Batting those green eyes, looking all helpless and lost.

Of course Angel ate it up! By that time, everybody knew the vampire was, like, uber-protective.

Bitch, was the only nasty word Youst could think of to describe Skoal. It was a horrible and uncharitable, but he didn't care. Though he did feel guilty about disrespecting the word ‘bitch' by calling Skoal that.

Xander paused several feet from the door. He eyed the red-haired human and demon boys blocking the way out. "Excuse me, but you're in front of the door. The door that I want to make an exit," he said with frigid politeness. They just grinned nastily at him. As far as the humans were concerned, Xander was giving them a bad name with his attitude.

"Are you leaving so soon?"

Xander eyed the elder brother with a cold look. "I'm busy now. Can I ignore you some other time?" he said with cool unconcern.

“C'mon, why don't you stay and tell me, tell all of us about us low down-stinking demons. About how the only good demon is a dead demon?!" Chamd, brother to Sam and Chusk, growled. His blue eyes were steadily darkening to a dark red color.

There was an angry muttering from the various demons and humans in the room as Xander whirled around in shock. "I NEVER said that! I so would not have said that! If it wasn't for you saying that, it wouldna been even said!" 'Course, he didn't bother saying that he thought it. He had the feeling that it would just spark more madness that would result in his getting kung fu-ed.

For a moment Chamd looked startled; his eyes sought Skoal's blank gaze before dismissing the confusing thought. "Yeah, but I bet you thought it, didn't you?" he shot back as he rallied himself.

"Oh, what are you? The Thought Police?!" Xander sniped back.

Chamd eyes narrowed furiously. "You're trying to make a fool outta me?"

Xander gave him a haughty glare. "I don't think you need my help; you're doing just fine on your own!"

Chamd growled at the sudden laughter that greeted Xander's witticism. He stepped forward, his hands clenching into fists.

“Leave him alone,” came a smooth baritone voice from the side. The crowd parted, allowing Youst and his cohorts to step through. The quills on Youst's head quivered and rustled.

“I don't need your help…!” Xander spat in angry annoyance. His hands were clenched in tight fists.

Youst gave him a polite stare. “I'm sorry, are you thinking I am helping you?”

Xander faltered, his brow furrowing as he tried to think of a reply.

“What's it to you…?” Chamd growled. His little piggy eyes were narrowed to almost imperceptible slits of fury.

The other gave him a sunny smile. “Nothing…it's just that I got a feeling that if you hurt Angel's boy, you're gonna get a new asshole ripped.” He thought for a few minutes. “On second thought, go ahead! Beat the boy to a pulp!” Youst grinned cheerfully at the uncertain look that suddenly appeared on the three Jends' faces.

Xander sputtered an angry denial about being Angel's ‘boy'. They ignored him. Sam blinked as he studied the kid. “Well, Angel never did anything when Skoal got his ass kicked,” he protested. He didn't see the fury that briefly flashed in the blonde's eyes. But Youst did and smirked nastily.

“Yeah, but Skoal is not Xander,” he gravely pointed out, struggling to hold his laughter in check at the stricken look on the idiots' faces. Angel probably be cheering them on if someone beat up the kid rather than getting all fangy. ‘Sides, he didn't believe for one minute that Angel was screwing the boy.

People were so gullible; always ready to believe the craziest nonsense…

Suddenly the floor shifted gently underfoot. Dust fell softly around the abruptly frozen room. Uneasily they looked around, glancing about with frightened eyes.

This time when the tremor hit, it staggered those standing; it was accompanied by a loud muffled sound.

"What the fu...?"

"The mines...?" guessed one of the girls in the sudden quiet in the room. Horrified realization had them jumping to their feet. They raced headlong towards the new living quarters that were being created.

Animosity was forgotten; only fear held their hearts. Just about all of them had someone working in the mines: brothers, fathers, mothers, sisters and cousins.

Fear clutched at Xander's chest before he angrily dismissed it. Why should he be scared? But he ran along with the others, joining another crowd of racing figures as they made their frantic way to the mines.

Several minutes later, they came in sight of the work area. Hearts going cold at the awful sight of so many staggering people. Blood was everywhere.

"omigawd..." Xander half-whispered. His eyes were wide as he gazed in sick disbelief at a demon that lurched past him, clutching the mangled remnants of an arm. Looking at the rocky wall that obscured what used to be an entrance he breathed softly at the magnitude of the cave in.

"WE NEED MORE HELP OVER HERE!" Came a harsh cry. An enormous burly demon glared, then gestured to the group of young people that had appeared. "You kids over there, stop gaping and start helping clear some of these damn rocks! There's people still on the other fuckin' side!"

They scrambled to obey.

When Xander tried to move, he found his arm caught in a vise-like grip. Startled he looked down, then up into Angel's bloody and battered face. A shallow gash at the vampire's temple oozed a dirty trail down the pale dusty face.

"Not you," Angel said in a raspy voice to the young man. He swayed slightly, blinking rapidly to clear the dust from his eyes. Only his vampire reflexes had saved him from being crushed under the falling rocks; he only managed to save one of his workmates. He was tired, hurt and short-tempered. "Go back to our quarters and wait for me there. Or better yet, get back to the Kitchen. Foods gonna be needed by the time this is over," he ordered in a grim, husky tone. Putting the boy from his mind, he turned to go back to removing the rocks from the cave in.

Xander looked at Angel's back in astonishment. Sure, he didn't have a demon's strength and all, but he could pick up a couple of the rocks. The small ones, of course. He gave a quick look around at the yelling, frantically moving people. They needed every hand they could get to clear the rubble.

"Angel, I can help..." he protested as he stumbled after the vampire. "I mean, I'm no Buffy, with all the supernatural strength and stuff. As well as the usual assortment of girly parts but..." However, he drew back in alarm when Angel whirled around in full demonface.

Pain, and a sense of unreality led Angel to snap at the boy with the real reason why he wanted Xander far away from the cave in. "Your kind of help the injured and defenseless don't need," he growled. He gave the frozen boy a burning look; warning Xander to stay the hell away before he resumed his trek back to the largest concentration of stones.

The young man stood gaping in disbelief for a few minutes. Struggling to make sense of what Deadboy had said. That he...that Angel actually believed he would kill an injured demon? What kinda person did the vampire think he was?!

"Somebody that would cheerfully stomp on a demon while it's down?" suggested a dark inner voice.

The hell I would, he thought in shock.

"And this from a person that lied to his best friend to get her to kill her lover," scoffed the cold mocking voice. "The hell you wouldn't!"

NO! Xander protested, his stomach churned uneasily. Unseeingly, he ran past the yelling people who had joined in the rescue. He ran, racing away from the screaming and pitiful moaning that sounded like the pits of hell.

Reaching their quarters, he sat still and trembling; hunching over protectively though from what, he didn't know. If I hadn't lied to Buffy, she would have hesitated. Just like she always hesitated to kill Angelus, he insisted. We could have all died while she dithered about killing him.

"And the fact you got rid of your rival for her affections didn't hurt none," his subconscious added slyly.

"That's not why I did it!" Xander shouted aloud. He sprang agitatedly from the bed and paced back and forth. "That's not the way it happened," he whispered to himself. He wrapped his arms about his middle he came to a stop in the center of the room.

"It's not..."

But there was no reply to his words.

Abruptly, he whirled around. Hurriedly, the young man gathered a few items that he had managed to accumulate in the weeks he had languished underground.

He was leaving, he thought confusedly. Being underground put oogly-booglies in a person's mind. Made them think right was wrong; black was white and white was black. This was the perfect opportunity to do his own rescue...of himself. With everybody rushing to help, he had a chance to escape in the confusion. Besides, his help was NOT needed, he thought bitterly. He was bewildered at the rush of hurt feelings that welled inside him at how very apparent he was not wanted.

Easing out of the room, Xander casually strolled as if nothing was wrong. He knew where the least dangerous place to escape was to cross the center square and navigate into the tunnels. He couldn't be that far down, and he had been studying the various codes written on the wall so he was reasonably sure he could find his way...

...and he paused. The large square was filling rapidly with shouting, gesturing people. As well as pallets of moaning and crying figures.

"Okay, just stay calm and focused. Don't look around; pretend as if you have every right to be here," he whispered nervously, clutching his cloth bag of possessions. He picked his way carefully through the wounded figures. Trying very hard not to look too closely at the bloody and mangled body parts.

"wa...water....water..." came a raspy moan from his right. Admonishing himself not to look, Xander looked anyway. "please..." The weak whisper drifted to his ears from the injured demon.

"Help me..." a voice cried from his left. And as if that was a signal, a chorus of moaning pleas for help, for their loved ones, for water, for all sorts of things came from all around him.

He ignored them as he fixed his eye on the beckoning exit; and he sighed...

Five painful hours later, Angel stumbled back to his quarters. "Xander...?" he called huskily. Only silence greeted his return; he already knew the sullen boy wasn't in the Kitchens. Cursing under his breath, he belatedly noticed several of Xander's possessions were missing from the room. With a weary sigh, he turned back around to search for Xander. He just hoped the boy hadn't gotten too far. This time he would be the only one searching for the stubborn, irascible teen. All the sentries and guards were just as bone weary as he. More than likely they would urge the kid on rather than get up.

Entering the large makeshift emergency ward, Angel halted a speeding demon loaded down with what seemed like bandages and bottles of medicines.

"Have you seen a tall, brown-eyed human boy? Goes by the name of Xander?" He asked with little hope of a positive answer.

"Xander?" The green, horned creature chirped with a birdlike twist of its' head.

"Yeah..." Angel felt a stirring of hope that maybe, just maybe it had seen the direction the boy had gone. He was unsure why he was even wasting time trying to find Xander. The best thing all around to do would be to let the boy go. Xander wasn't going to change. Especially not after last night. The boy had even more reason to hate him, hate demons, now that his hidden desires had been brought to the surface.

"I think Dr. Adams had him over there," it said, pointing with one of its' second pair of arms over Angel's right shoulder. "Xan and Thom were sewing and patching up the noncritical."

Angel raised his brows in confusion, then understood. "No, I think maybe we're talking about two different humans. My human is about so tall," he held a hand a few inches lower than his height, "Dark brown hair and big brown eyes. He talks a lot too."

The demon's neck scales raised and lowered as it thought. "Well, go ask that other Xander. Maybe he knows your Xander." With that, it darted away before Angel could protest that Xander didn't belong to him.

Sighing, Angel headed in the direction the demon had pointed. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the hulking forms of the three Nestor demons stepping carefully over the bodies lying on the pallets. He shook his head sadly. Their precious only daughter was missing from their quarters. There was going to be hell to pay when they found her. Whoever allowed the child to escape was going to die, or get a serious ass kick...he frowned as Xander's scent came wafting tantalizingly across his senses. But overlaying it was a multitude of other odors. Blood, urine, pain, fear...death.

He hurried faster, his tiredness vanishing. Rounding a corner, he halted at the sight of Xander sitting calmly on the ground in the shadows of the hallway.

"Xander..." Angel breathed in relief. He walked over to the boy and crouched beside the boy. Slowly a puzzled sensation tugged at him. There was something wrong with the way Xander was smelling.

Xander turned his head tiredly at the sound of his name. "Angel...." Full lips turned upwards in a quirky smile. Heavy-lidded eyes blinked wearily up at the sight of a confused looking vampire. "Kinda figured you would find me sooner or later. Glad it's sooner, and not the later cuz later would've been too late." The boy said in a husky voice. His eyes closed; and he inhaled slowly. Exhaling softly, he released the breath he had been holding. Opening his eyes, he caught the worried look in Angel's gaze. He smiled at the frown of confusion on Deadboy's face. His smile faded, a look of self-contempt pulling at his face.

Gazing soberly up a the vampire, Xander said, "I've been a fool, ya know? That's what you been trying to show me. Giles was right about me, I was acting like some kinda bigoted Nazi-wanna be jerk." He looked away from the blank look that descended on Angel's face. He stared at the wall in front of him, his hands tightening slightly on the burden on his stomach.

"All my life, people kinda looked down on me. 'There goes that Harris boy; his daddy is an alky'. Hell, even my own family looked down on me! I was the low man on the totem pole of life. I was nobody special; I wasn't like Willow and Jesse. Willow was smart; so was Jesse. They were gonna go places, places that I could only dream about. Me...I was the dumb one in the bunch. The useless idiot that was good for nothing but a quick joke, and stupid remarks. Then the great and glorious and most beautiful Buffy came along and opened my eyes to the demony world. And I lost Jesse to it." He breathed slowly, blinking at the tearing pain in his chest.

Angel looked down rapidly at the unmistakable scent of pain. A look came over his face at the dark bundle in Xander's lap; there was a weird odor coming from it. It smelled like the boy...but not.

Xander continued. "I had a really valid reason to hate demons because of that; I also had something to look down on. Demons...they were evil. And when I first met you, I kinda liked you, in a friendly competitive way. You were older, stronger and you fought demons too. I figured that I could learn something from you, ya know? Then I found out you were a demon too. And I felt you lied to me, to us...just to get on our good side. Or more to the point, just so Buffy wouldn't stake your brooding ass."

"Xander, what did you do to yourself?" Angel asked gently. He tried to touch the bundle in the boy's lap, but found his hand restrained. He hissed in surprise and sprang to his feet. Seeing the Nestor demons, he stood protectively in front of Xander.

The boy didn't notice the tense face off, caught up in his tale. "Demons were supposed to be bad and evil. All the demons that I knew, which admittedly wasn't a lot, tried to kill me. Tried to kill us. Why couldn't they just sit down and have a nice cup of coffee or something? Chill out...but nooo, they were always with the killing, ya know? Anyway, I had a feeling you were hiding something else from the rest of us, something even more freak-deaky than being a vampire and all soul-ly. So, I couldn't trust you. That and the fact that you were hogging all the girls' attention, especially Buffy's, sorta put a cap on my non-liking you."

The male Nestor crouched warily to Xander's level. Moving slowly to show he was no threat, he stretched out a hand and touched the bundle in Xander's lap.

"Human...what have you done?" Blazeroot rumbled out in shocked disbelief.

Xander blinked, a feeling of joy and recognition surging through him at the sight of the broad, catlike face. One word came to his mind: Father. He focused on the narrowed eyes of the large furry demon. "She was hurt and dying," he said simply. "I couldn't take it anymore. There were too many hurt; so much blood and death. She's just a baby and deserves a chance."

By now, the corridor was filling with people. Everyone drawn to the strange, uniqueness that was in the air.

Angel growled, his demon slipping out. "What's wrong? Who's this 'she' he's talking about?" Squatting back down, he stroked the dirty sweaty hair from Xander's face, blinking at the cloudy gaze that peered up at him.

"This she..." the boy whispered and stroked a weak hand over the bundle in his lap. It quivered, then settled more firmly against him. Xander whined softly at the resurgence of pain, his eyes becoming blind to everything as he struggled to simply breathe. When it was over, he silently soothed the terrified child, gently brushing aside her wordless apology. "Her name, I think, is Misty."

Angel looked down in horror at the creature. "Well, get her off of him," he demanded to the Blazeroot. "She's your daughter, now get her off of him or I will!" There was a certain iron inflexibility in his voice that warned the Nestors that he meant what he said.

"No...you remove her, she'll die," Xander said quietly. "And stop yelling, you're scaring her." He added with an annoyed look at the astonished vampire.

Tanglefoot stepped forward and crouched beside her first mate. She peered at the frail looking human and frowned. "Human, while your efforts are appreciated more than you know, you should not have done such a thing," she said with distant emotion. Not one whiff of her enormous fear leaked out; even her tail was still, coiled around her massive leg.

Shimmer-of-Mist-on-Water was their only daughter child. And heir to ancient lineage. This was the main reason why they had retreated below ground during her pregnancy, to protect their family clan from the enemies that sought to replace the line of Thronrom with another. One more short month and all would have been safe. Her family safe; the line of Thronrom would have a female invested as Virgin Mother.

Her eyes rested painfully on the place where Shimmer-of-Mist-on-Water's legs should have been. Involuntarily, her tail uncoiled and slapped the ground lightening fast before recoiling around her leg.

The two males, much smaller than the female, entwined their tails in a mute bid for support. They would not weaken their wife's status in front of non-family by seeking her comfort. It would shame her to be thought so emotional.

Angel looked at Xander's shadowed eyes, he knew something was wrong. What it was, he didn't know. "Get her off!" he shouted and surged to his feet.

"No..." came the calm response from his feet. "And I told you to stop yelling," he growled softly. Sighing he tugged at Angel's pants leg, urging the vampire back down. "Angel, listen to me...it's okay. I'm not afraid," he whispered softly to the angry demon. "Do you hear me? I'm not afraid..." He smiled painfully. "All my life, I've been afraid that I would die without doing something important in my life. Saving Misty, is important. I had a good run; met some interesting people. People that cared enough about me to give me a hard kick in my ass to straighten me out." He nudged Angel's shoulder with his own.

"I..." Angel broke off; he didn't know what to say.

"She's only a baby," then Xander smiled; his expression turning inward. "Yes, you are, so hush."

The Nestors blinked. "You...you can hear her?" Echo-in-the-darkness growled softly.

Xander blinked. "Of course," he paused as if listening. "She says that she's sorry and she's scared. She didn't mean to runaway or attach herself to me." His expression turned within. "It's okay, babygirl, nobody's blaming you."

Blazeroot jumped to his feet and hurried away. Returning swiftly, he towed a demon healer and Dr. Adams, one of the few human doctors below, along with him.

"See, this is what I was talking about," he rumbled out, pointing to Xander on the ground.

Dr. Adams pulled roughly away, and irritably settled his stretched clothes over his bony shoulders. Glaring at the demon that manhandled him, he was happy to see Blazeroot look away. Turning his attention down to the boy, he raised his brows in astonishment. He recognized the young man as the one he found wandering through the maze of injured, giving aid where he could.

"Xander? Didn't I tell you not to try to take on a demon that's injured; but to come get me?" he said sternly to the sheepish boy. He glared imperiously at the vampire crouched at the youth's side; he was growling and snapping at anybody that got to close to Xander.

"Now what seems to be the trouble?" he said briskly. Calmly he ignored the warning growl from the vampire as he settled on the other side of the boy, he had years of practice at ignoring possessive mates and anxious family members.

"Nestors, when injured, can attach themselves to the body of a lower form of life, usually an animal, and re-grow damaged or amputated limbs." Echo-in-Darkness explained diffidently. He gestured at Xander. "I've never heard of anyone attaching themselves to a sentient being like a human."

The healer and Adams looked interested, then more practical matters asserted themselves. "Why don't we get him some place more comfortable then you can explain matters."

When Blazeroot stepped forward to get Xander, Angel growled savagely. Xander looked up at the fearsome face in surprise and fear. He was startled at the gentleness in the way Angel picked him up.

Striding through the gawkers, Angel headed for their quarters. He could feel the questioning look the boy was giving him, but he wasn't in any mood to answer questions. Not that he had any answers to give anyway, he thought ruefully.

Laying the boy carefully on the bed, he stepped back and sat on the bed to face the healer and doctor.

Everyone looked at the Nestors. Of all the various demons that made Underdale home, Nestors were the most enigmatic. They seemed to make a virtue out of secrecy.

The males regarded the human that was trying to save their child. They looked at their wife. It was her decision to reveal more about Nestor biological functions than they.

Tanglefoot studied the rock-hewn quarters as she deliberated on what and how much to reveal about their people. But this was her only daughter, she argued with her duties as a Matriarch. This was the only female to be born in the pride since she went from Virgin to Mother, then to Matriarch three hundred years ago. She was already on her third pair of husbands! Even without Shimmer-of-Mist-on-Water being her heir, and the last child of her life, she brought joy and laughter back into the Pride. Mischievous and playfully daring, Shimmer-of-Mist-on-Water was a trial, but she was one that they gladly endured.

Tanglefoot slid a glance at her husbands, at young Echo-in-Darkness. Her daughter was the first, and more than likely the last child of his life. He was too young to conceal the nervous anxiety that gripped her. His neck ring had darkened to a near purple.

She could not do this to him. There was a way, that would satisfy the proprieties and not put her at odds with her fellow Matriarchs.

Blazeroot relaxed imperceptibly. Deliberately he turned and in an unprecedented show of affection, he began grooming and nuzzling his much younger husband. He acted as if they were in the privacy of their pride.

Startled, Echo-in-Darkness froze, not knowing what to do or how to act. And once again, he cursed his too youthful state. His fathers and older brothers all cautioned him about bonding into the pride of Thronrom. They even warned him about falling in love with Blazeroot. The older Nestor even had sons his age and older. But how could he not love the much older male? All he saw was the surety and self-possession that came with age; the subtle look of wry amusement in the luminous red eyes. There was so much intelligence that shimmered in the broad face.

The older male was indeed handsome in his maturity, but it was the careful and attentive way Blazeroot courted him., that won his heart. For the first time in his life, he felt like someone was truly listening to him. Blazeroot encouraged him in his ideas, he didn't make fun of his fanciful ideas, or pretended that he was interested. He never talked down to him or tried to ply him with outlandish gifts to win his favor. The presents he received showed thoughtful intent.

So he chose; and despite the much younger males that vied for his attention, he chose Blazeroot. Although it caused an uproar in the house, he stood shakily firm in his intent to wed Blazeroot.

Nervous and unsure, he entered the pride of Thronrom. A scared, gawky youth hiding timidly behind his husband's bulkier frame. Tanglefoot had to coax him from Blazeroot's side. And glancing into her quiet grave eyes, he lost his heart for a second time. By all, he was treated with gentle affection; but most importantly, Tanglefoot and Blazeroot gave him love, respect. And freedom. He was allowed to find his own way and path. They even supported him if what he wanted was contrary to what they believed was best for him. If he succeeded, they praised him; if he failed, they helped him up and encouraged him to try again until he did succeed.

Under their loving tutelage he grew; and when he, in his eager innocence was unduly emotional and affectionate in public, they subtly corrected him to the proper behavior of Nestors. But in private, among family, he could be as wild and exuberant as he wanted. In fact, they both encouraged him, and loved him all the more.

Now, Blazeroot was playing with him; touching him in PUBLIC! And as soon as he regained control of his inappropriate bodily responses he would definitely scold his husband. To his embarrassed horror, a faint chirp slipped from his lips. Straightening hurriedly, he tried to assume a more dignified mien. One suitable for a Second Husband to a Matriarch. Squirming, he slapped Blazeroot's encroaching hands, his neckring becoming a pale lavender in arousal.

*"S'okay….”* Tanglefoot said soothingly to him; and he stilled looking at her in numb amazement that she approved of Blazeroot behaving so scandalously in public. Like they were among family. Distracted, he failed to capture the sly hand that slid through the fur between his legs. With a heartfelt moan, his arousal singing in his veins, he turned and slid into his husband's arms, seeking comfort.

Angel and the others looked on in wary fascination at the entwined pair. Xander's eyes grew larger when the two males tumbled to the floor. Still rubbing against each other. He flushed, feeling a certain someone's interest peeking.

“HEY! There's kids present, ya know!” He yelled furiously to the duo. They took no notice of him. And while he wasn't exactly positive what they were doing, he had his suspicions, he thought darkly. He heard a faint mental giggle.

Tanglefoot regarded her First Husband with loving eyes. He was a good male; one she respected above all. He was always careful to hide the tenderness of his heart; always careful to project a solemn dignity as First Husband to the Matriarch of Thronrom. Now abandoning all that to comfort Echo in Darkness. One of the reasons why she had persuaded her then First Husband to take the old-beyond-his years Blazeroot as a mate. Now he was First Husband, and one of the few, male or female that she had ever allowed within her heart.

Turning back to the goggling watchers, she regarded the young human that offered shelter to her daughter. She hid a pained wince at all the unvoiced taboos she intended to break this moment. But to save her daughter, she would defy the Great Matriarch herself.

"You already know that Nestors have the ability to regenerate damaged and/or missing limbs in times of extreme circumstances," she began abruptly. Choosing her words with utmost care, she continued. "Typically, we would attach ourselves to a small or large animal with little intelligence. Something along the lines of a dog. A Gold Retrieve?" she asked uncertainly. The doctor brusquely motioned her to go on. "When we link to such an animal, we extrude runners such as these." She slid aside a small chest plate. Inside was a white mass. Reaching out, she touched the outer edges and suddenly the mass shifted; hundreds of hairlike filaments emerged from the opening and writhed blindly before retreating and resuming their dormant state. “Children, like Shimmer-of-Mist-on-Water, however, have small hooks on the ends of their elbows that allow them to fasten themselves on an animal to prevent it from escaping.”

"And these runners enable a damaged Nestor to allow his or her body to rest while limbs are healed or regenerated. Our bodies go into a dormant state; the host's body is used to maintain activity in the brain. So, while damaged body parts are being regrown, a Nestors' body does nothing but conserve energy."

Angel was frowning; his hand unconsciously seeking Xander's to reassure the boy. "But how do you regrow the limb if your body..." His eyes widened then narrowed to icy slits. "I want Shimmer or Misty or whatever the hell her name is, off Xander...NOW!" His voice was deadly quiet. There was a hint of growl, just enough to know that a hellish fury was approaching rapidly. He was no doctor or healer but he knew that energy to rebuild limbs had to come from somewhere.

Dr. Adams, with a quick look at the puzzled Xander, glared at the large female. "Look, while I ain't without some sympathy for your problem, there ain't no way I'm gonna go 'long with this cockamamie idea!" he snapped.

Tanglefoot tried again to explain. "You can't remove her..."

"Watch me!" Angel growled, surging to his feet. To his surprise, he felt a warm hand clasp his. Startled, he looked down into a pair of amused, yet resigned brown eyes. The youthful gleam of mischief, that so characterized the boy, sparkled dully in the shimmering pools. Muted, but still there.

"Deadboy, Angel…stop it..." Xander looked down, away from the disbelief in the vampire's gaze. "You...you...remember Iago? Well, I got to wondering, and I wondered if...if...he had a chance, if he had an...an opportunity to change...you know, stop being such a badass. Would he take it? If somebody held up a....a....mirror to his face, showing him exactly what he looked like, would he like who he saw? 'Cuz of him lying to his 'friend', his friend kill her boy...I mean, his own wife. 'Cuz of him, all because he was jealous and spiteful. If he had been a real friend he would have been happy for her." Xander whispered, lost in his own dismal thoughts.

Angel stilled, his eyes brightening to a soft gold; carefully he sat. Somehow he knew they weren't talking about Othello. With a crooked finger, he gently lifted the boy's chin. Tilting the shamefilled face, he gazed into the miserable brown eyes. "And if Othello had trusted his wife a hell of a lot more and Iago's lies a lot less, his wife would have lived. Jealousy and spite lurks in the hearts of every demon and every human. It's how we choose to act on these feelings that causes the problem. A life ruled by jealousy and spite is no life at all. They are wasted emotions that twist a person's character out of all proportion."

Xander swallowed, caught in the mesmerizing eyes. "But what if you killed somebody cuz you were jealous of them? Because he was everything you knew deep down you could never be? What do you do? How can you make every thing right after that?" His eyes were painfully bright as he fought back tears.

"Killing yourself is not the answer," Angel replied softly. He picked up Xander's hands, lying limp and fragile on the bed.

The boy gave him a wobbly, tremulous smile. "That would be suicide, and I ain't that Buffyish." His smile faded at the stern look Angel gave him. He looked at the protruding lump on his stomach. "But an eye for an eye..." he looked up, gazing intently at Angel, "...a life for a life."

"I didn't have a life," Angel protested. "That's why you called me Deadboy! Remember?"

Xander tried to tug his hands back, but very little strength was left in his limbs. "My choice," he said quietly, a note of firm conviction in his voice. A solemn, resolved face of a man knowingly marching to his death. "I kinda always figured, ya know, that I wouldn't survive to my 21st birthday, anyhow. Either the vamps would get me or Buffy wouldn't be able to save the world again."

He looked away from the now angry vampire; though why Angel would be all ripple-y considering the bad blood between them. Not that his blood was bad, in fact he was pretty sure he tasted quite delicious. And can you get more avoid-y, he rebuked himself tiredly.

"My decision; my choice," he repeated softly. "Ya know, I used to think being an adult would be the coolest thing. It would be a snap. You got to do all those wonderful things that adults like to do, that everybody gives non-adultlike people the evil eye. I always thought that there was this big conspiracy...that the adults wanted to hog all the cool stuff for themselves, and not share with the new adults. But that's not what adulthood is about. It's about standing up for yourself; for those weaker than you. It's about knowing when to shut the hell up and listen without judging; listening instead of thinking you have all the answers when you really don't know Jack. Being an adult is about being strong enough to admit when you're wrong and brave enough to accept the punishment as the consequence of your actions." He paused, falling into a grave reverie.

"Being an adult sucks." Xander claimed with the wisdom of Solomon. He scowled fiercely at Angel when the vampire began to laugh.

Despite his real amusement, Angel vowed, that come hell or high water, he intended to see the boy survive.

Tanglefoot relaxed at the sound of the vampire's laughter. There was hope. "No Nestor has ever had a truly intelligent being as a host," she offered.

"Ha!...take that Principal Snyder," Xander muttered under his breath.

"This means what?" Jolanda, the healer, said rapidly. Her tail rippling in agitation.

"Animals are smaller and less able to reason. They also generally don't have such strong wills to survive unlike humans. Their organs are smaller oftentimes. This makes it easier to access and remove what we need. There's also the fact that my daughter is not an adult. By rights the boy should be unconscious and unable to move or speak. Yet I saw him move, and he's obviously conscious and talking with Shimmer-of-Mist-on-Water. She is but a child, with little control over her instincts. However, if we can keep him healthy and well fed, she will not be able to siphon all that he needs to maintain his life."

Xander immediately felt his spirits lift at the news. Good news indeed! He wouldn't hafta die and...best of all, they had to feed him!

"I know little about humans. Only that they come in many different shades of pink. They are also strangely...difficult to deal with. That is why I speak so frankly before you," she bowed slightly to the two healers, then deeper to Angel. Acknowledging his claim to the human's body. It was he that she sought to convince of the safety of this unorthodox idea.

"That is why I speak to you as I would," she hesitated then took the plunge, "Embraced of the Family Draken-dal."

Angel nearly fell off the bed in shock; he saw Jolanda's knees buckle before she caught herself. The two demons glanced at each other, then at the hulking Nestors.

Seeing the looks on their faces, and correctly interpreting them as stunned amazement, Tanglefoot rushed into speech again, with uncharacteristic nervousness. "While unusual," she paused, "Frankly, it's unheard of for Nestors to Embrace nonNestors into the family. But I'm a Matriarch, it's time for us to stop wallowing in the past. We need to try and...and learn new ways...and other things," she added vaguely.

"And to save your daughter, you're willing to accept two humans, and two nonNestor demons into your midst?" Angel guessed shrewdly.

"To save her, I would challenge the Revered Mother herself," Tanglefoot replied evenly. She would not lower herself to begging, but her next words were close. "Shimmer-of-Mist-on-Water is my only surviving daughter."

Angel's attention was caught. "You have another daughter?" He casually maintained a soothing stroking motion on the bemused boy's hand.

"Yes," came a quiet rumble. Blazeroot rose smoothly to his feet, having reduced Echo-in-Darkness to a sated calmness. "Family Draken-dal had two female children before. Tragically they are dead."

"How did they die?" Xander said softly, feeling strangely tearful all of a sudden. Then he remembered his little passenger and mentally he picked her up and rocked the child soothingly.

"They were murdered," Blazeroot announced blandly. But his eyes glowed with an eerie coldness.

"What?!" came from the other's mouth.

Blazeroot looked about the room. "Did you not think it odd for a Matriarch of Tanglefoot's standing to be below ground? While going underground, truly under the fertile earth to give birth is one of our most sacred and revered traditions, it is one that has been out of favor among the more progressive and modern Mothers of the various clans. My Lady Tanglefoot gave birth to two daughters before Shimmer-of-Mist-on-Water, each more than 90 years apart. The first, Mossy-Field of Gold 'accidentally' fell and broke her neck while playing with friends. She was mourned, but life goes on and time passed. I was brought into the clan as Second Husband to the new First Husband. In time, we had Silent Hill covered in white. The Family celebrated the new arrival of an Heir since Tanglefoot was moving passed her prime to bear children."

He paused to restrain the rage that still gripped him to this day. Blazeroot felt a broad palm cup his shoulder and leaned gratefully into Tanglefoot's comforting support. "I found her dead in her niche on what was to be her fifth natal day. It looked natural. That she had succumbed to a childish ailment that so often gripped our children. Unfortunately for her killers, our daughter had been examined by our healer. No diseases of any kind was present," Tanglefoot took over the narrative. Her voice was perfectly even, but the room felt darker. Death flowed just below the surface of her calm exterior.

Seething rage had gripped the Draken-dal's Family. For months the males had raged, their pain and raw emotions visibly public, while the females silently grieved. It had been months fraught with internal fighting. At first it was whispers, then audible that Matriarch Tanglefoot was incapable of controlling her Family. Perhaps, it was butted about with seemingly carelessness, it was time for a calm Matriarch?

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed. Staunch defenders pointed out that a daughter had been murdered. Not just any daughter, but the heir had been murdered! And Blazeroot, young though he was, assumed control of the males. But there was a grim coldness that followed in the wake of the young male. His daughter was dead by unnatural means. It had taken him five years of painstaking work to uncover the truth.

And he found Grassbriar's tracks circling around the kill of Family Draken-dal.

Grassbriar. The serene, calm Mother to Family Harkon-dal. They were Second to the Thronrom Pride's in line of succession...and who's name had been coincidentally brought up as the proposed new Matriarch of Thronrom Pride. However, he had no direct evidence that she had a claw in his daughter's death. Still, his quiet words to Tanglefoot was heeded.

Dr. Adams raised brushy salt-n-pepper brows then lowered them in an angry scowl; with a careful expression of disinterest, he said, "One of my patients said he saw a Nestor doing something just minutes before the cave-in."

The female Nestor glanced at Blazeroot who shook his head. "None of our Family was involved in the mining of new quarters."

Angel's brows rose. "Interesting..." he murmured making the correct conclusion.

Letting out a piercing whistle, Tanglefoot summoned her guards. The door opened, and scuttling on the ceiling came five insect-live creatures.

Dual emotions raced through Xander at the sight of the guards: fear and joy. Thankfully he was too weak to clap his hands and giggle like some kinda little girl. But he couldn't stop the small chirp that slipped past his lips.

Immediately, one paused and cocked its' head at him. Dropping from the ceiling, it walked carefully towards him. Angel tensed at the creature; but other than a quick head-to-toe look, it ignored him. Tilting its' head left, then right, it chirped back at the human. Reaching a pincher into a pouch around its' abdomen, it withdrew a small object and shoved it between Xander's surprised lips.

His eyes unfocused at the familiar taste; he chewed vigorously trying to avoid Angel's determined clutch at his mouth.

"Cho'late..." he managed to slur out. He kept a wary eye on the vampire and swallowed.

Angel paused; his eyes fixed on the boy's blissful face and he smiled. Trust Xander to find someone to feed him chocolate.

Turned back to the other, he voiced his concern. "So, all we need to do is stuff Xander with food and everything'll be okay?" he asked doubtfully. He shook his head. "Pardon me if I think that's just too simple for the Hellmouth."





Next






Feed the Author

Visit the Author's
 Website

The Spander Files