Chapter nine: Meeting with mister X

"Please, tell me you don't have anything to do with the thing that happened yesterday", Zack pleaded slamming his beer on the bar-table, scaring the crap out of Angel. She was sitting on a tall barstool holding a mug of beer in her hands staring the empty space in front of her trying to bury some ugly memories. Fighting crappy demons from past was what she did best, after all. "Angel…"

To that she gave a laugh in an icy tone. "Nice to meet you too, big brother." Raising her eyebrows indifferently she glanced at her companion and gulped down what was left of her beer. Zack shook his head in frustration and took a seat next to her trying to calm down his nerves. "You didn't do it, did you?" Usually he didn't bother asking her what was going on for he never got an answer but this was different. Now he needed to know.

"Have nothing to do with what?" Angel asked even though she knew exactly what it was that he was talking about. Okay, so maybe she had paid a visit to the east side of the town, so what? Big deal. It wasn't like the lady couldn't live without her little jewels and besides, she hadn't taken them all, just one of them. The big and rather expensive one maybe but… well. As said, the lady had more than one of those so no harm done.

"Don't play with me, Angel. I heard that someone stole Richardson's diamond necklace... and it's worth like thousands of dollars or more so..." Zack said lowering his voice to a level only she could hear. He was angry, but she didn't care - just smiled slyly. "So you're pointing the finger at me then." Should she have been insulted for getting the blame right away or hadn't she been careful enough? Had she really let a trace behind for him to track down? Big mistake.

"You did hear me, didn't you? Thousands I said."

"You said that, yeah", she stated and the smile on her lips only grew more malicious by every second, "but that's not what the guy who bought it said..."

Zack shook his head in disbelief. It was impossible what the girl could do in only few days. "I can't believe ya."

Was there something to believe? Angel ignored the tone of his voice by simply shrugging. It didn't concern her, she didn't care. "What I can't believe is that I only got ten grand! I mean can you believe that?" Why she felt the need to get under his skin was unknown to them both. It was just the way she was nowadays, bitchy beyond the limits for no obvious reason. Just because she could.

"No I don't", he said bluntly. Angel was never going to change was she?

"Well then we're stuck in the same boat here brother dear."

Time had truly shaped her into something new… almost scary. Every day they were forced to fear for her life and worry over her little mood changes. This was exactly why Zack had wanted them all to split when they had escaped from Manticore for the first time. This kind of crap was all it took to get caught, but yet he hadn't even considered leaving her behind to work it out on her own. "You promised you'd stop doing that... You looked me straight into my eyes and you promised!" he tried but the reply he got wasn't the one he wanted. "That hasn't stopped me before, Zack…"

Oh yes, he knew that. Had been stupid of him to wish things would change when Angel quite obviously wasn't ready to make it happen. "Yeah, we almost got killed last time you did it, remember? Why can't you keep your promises, Angel?"

Oh please, why did he have to sound like a worried big brother when he knew he had no reason to worry? She could take care of herself.

"And what the hell are you doing here anyway?"

Angel looked around and shrugged. She liked the place without knowing why. Maybe it just was dark enough for her… Blue atmosphere, sad music, drunken people… no one asking questions… or trying to kill her. It was like she hadn't even been there – no one noticed her. Except now. She glanced at him.

"What do ya think I'm doing here?" she answered with a question but didn't wait his answer. She simply wasn't ready to hear all that crap that he with no doubt would throw at her face if she gave him the chance. "Drinking", she started, "sitting, drinking, thinking, drinking, bitching, oh and did I say; drinking… and also getting myself so drunk that I don't know if it's day or night… ya know; the usual stuff. Why?"

"Stop that, Angel." Clear command, yes, but she wasn't in the mood to obey. She didn't have to obey anymore, did she? The new brave world with it's free will. People beating the living shit out of each others, stealing, betraying… the new brave world indeed.

"Stop what?" She questioned sarcastically as if she had had no clue.

"Angel… Don't use that tone with me, okay?" Examining her face, he couldn't believe this was the same passionate woman he had met months ago. This was someone else.

"You're not my mother."

Yeah, well. "And I'm happy for that but ya know damn well that we were worried about you!"

"Yeah right", she snorted signaling the bartender to give her another round. He caught the hint as quickly as usual and soon she had a new glass of beer in her hands.

"I'm warning you Angel."

Lately, it was all he had done. It amused her, really. He had used to be this leader; in charge of everything. He had had control over the other X5s and he had had their respect… made her wonder. If they had seen him now, would they still have respected him? "Oh how many warnings are you gonna give me? Twenty?"

Zack was getting more and more irritated second by second and she was doing it on purpose. Trying to step on his toes with her words to make him fall. This was not the Angel he knew and this side or her he didn't really want to know either. He loved his sister of course, but hated what she had let herself turn into. Indifferent towards everything.

"You just disappeared like that... You are supposed to tell us if you go somewhere and you didn't, so I think I deserve some kind of an explanation instead of that shit, okay?"

Sorry. "Hate to disappoint you big brother but I don't got one. I did what I did, get over it", Angel threw sighing. He returned the sigh watching her gulping down the beer.

There had to be some reason behind this all. Some other than the usual one. "What the fuck is bugging you so badly that you had to do something like that… and then come all the way into this dump just so you can get yourself drunk?"

"Whaddaya care?"

Did she honestly have the guts to ask that question out loud when she knew the answer more than well? Oh man how badly did he want to smack her across the face right there and then? Was it all about her insecurity and incapability to let go; to move on? "I asked you a question. What are ya trying to prove now? What the fuck is it this time, Angel?" Maybe calmer approaching would've worked better but really, he was tired of trying to feed her broken trust when it was proved that nothing worked. Things weren't going to change until she was ready to take the first step and allow them to.

What was it this time? Good, what wasn't it? Angel closed her eyes just to breathe for a moment. It was absolutely -she felt like laughing it away- everything there was and all the time. 24/7. It had been over four, five, six maybe even seven months since Manticore had burned… She hadn't really kept track of time but no matter how much time had went by they were still running, running for their lives. They had to keep running or they'd have been caught and it was more than clear to her that those three transgenics – Krit, Syl and Zack, they'd die before going back. Angel wasn't too happy about the thought of going back there either, but she'd rather have been in Manticore than dead. It wasn't all that bad in there. At least she fitted in there.

Angel's smile was sad. So much had happened within those months they had been laying low and running away from the trouble. Although it seemed like trouble followed her like sharks followed sinking boat no matter what she did. Or didn't. She frowned. Now she was slowly starting to confuse herself as well and that was never good, now was it?


She took another deep breath. She could do nothing else but wonder if all those things had really happen? Yeah, Zack had gotten his memory back one memory at a time and his face had returned to normal… and without even realizing it, Angel had become friends with those three transgenics that had saved her… Yes, they had moved from one place to another at least thirty times … And Ben… She sighed again but this time the sigh sounded empty. He was gone.

Yeah, she had killed him.

She swallowed hard. The whole stupid car accident… the fact that the van had fell down off a bridge, it was all her fault. She could still remember how mad she had been at him and how scared she had been when she had realized that Ben was missing. Syl had pulled her from river but they couldn't find Ben anywhere; not him nor his body. That had given them hope, not that she personally would've wanted it. Now however, they were running out of hope.

"How did you know I was in here? Have you been sneaking around on me again or what?" She asked finally totally ignoring his question and her own thoughts. Damn, she needed something else to think.

"Well it wasn't too difficult you know… You've been missing for couple of days and... This is some sort of habit of yours." Why did he suddenly sound amused? "You mocking me?"

"Get a grip Angel. This is almost like second home to you!"

She didn't deny it; there was no point in trying. "Okay, so maybe you're right… So you knew I'd be here. Then why the hell did you come?" now she opened her eyes again and glanced at him as he drank his beer. "Why? To tell you the same I always do: You have to forget what happened, Angel."

It was so easy for him to say. She had had something he had never experienced. It was one thing for him to still cherish his feelings towards Max but Angel; she had a child. A beautiful baby boy that had lit her whole word with only one smile. Maybe he thought it was about Ben, but it wasn't. "Why do you think I haven't got through it already?" She asked suddenly though she knew he wouldn't buy it. Heck, even she heard it from her own voice. A lie.

"I'm not stupid Angel", his voice was deep – deeper than usually. "and neither are you. You can't torture yourself anymore, it's not healthy and it definitely ain't safe. It's all over, forgiven and forgotten", he continued after finishing the drink

"Forgiven?" The word was spat out like a deadly virus, "Forgotten, huh? Well it's good you've forgotten. Maybe you can then tell me how the fuck can I forget it all too? Forget my life?"

"Angel listen to me…" He put the glass down on the table moving his hands to turn her around on her seat to face him completely.

"No you listen to me!" Now Angel was more than furious. What the hell was Zack thinking? That she could just get on with her life after all that… after the lost of her son and...

"It was my fault", she said refusing to finish up her thought. "They killed Michael because of me and Ben, he died cause of me… so it's not easy to put it behind me, ya know? Not that I care about that bitch being killed… He deserved it…" That was a lie and they both knew it. "…but something could have happened to you guys too", Angel claimed and Zack nodded which surprised her because she had thought Zack would try to make her think otherwise.

"Okay, I'm not gonna lie to you, Angel – if that's why you look so surprised… so I admit that", he said with a shrug. "You're right, the accident was your fault but you can't let it rule you anymore. And even you know there's no way you could've changed Michael, ya know what I'm saying, don't ya? You have to start living again; but not like this… not in this dump, Angel. We need your help, not your absence you know; and I'd say this is definitely the absence.'"

She looked away. "I'm just messing things up."

"Self-pity? Great…" Man, wasn't this just awesome. He rolled his eyes blowing the air out of his lungs trying so hard not to scream out his frustration. There where days he truly questioned not only his own training but Angel's too… A transgenic dwelling in self-pit was just what they needed, huh?

"So what? I'm still messing things up."

Was it her lifework to irritate him? "Well, that's also true, you usually are the one who puts us into trouble but you know what, Angel?"

"No", she said without hesitating. She did not want ti hear it – whatever he was about to say, she did not want hear it.

"Well we do - we know that you don't do it on purpose, ok? You also clean your own mess, so don't be so hard on yourself."

Oh yeah, that'll change everything, right? "Jeez, that makes it all better-" a familiar face on TV screen above the bar interrupted her sarcastic sentence. "Turn up the volume!" Angel yelled to the bartender who did as she requested with somewhat bored face.

"…This is an Eyes Only streaming freedom video bulletin. The cable hack will last exactly sixty seconds. It cannot be traced, it cannot be stopped, and it is the only free voice left in this city…"

"Oh, not that bastard again! I can't stand those freak speeches this fuck always keeps!" Somebody made a noise Angel most definitely didn't want to hear. "Hey, shut the fuck up!" She yelled to the man sitting next to Zack. "Whatever, cutie", he snorted to her and for that, he got very angry look from both of them.

"Lately every crime, every act of violence committed on our city streets is being blamed on transgenics..."

"Doesn't that motherfucker ever get tired of that transgenic crap! So what if they are in Seattle? We ain't! Like we care what he thinks about them!" some man yelled behind them.

That's it. Enough is enough, Angel thought as she looked over her shoulder to find out who it was that was disturbing her.

"Yeah, screw those bitches! Until they come into my sight I don't give a fuck about them!"

Guess what asshole? There was one reporting to duty. "Hey what the hell did I just tell ya?" Angel interrupted his croaking with a voice so cold that for a moment even Zack looked at her in concern. Angel was gonna put up a fight and he wasn't too happy 'bout it. Hell, that usually meant broken bones, crying, screaming, a lot of blood and… cops. Yeah, he sighed silently, definitely the cops.

"Why don't you just be a good little girl and shut the hell up?"

If this guy had known her at all, he wouldn't have said that. Angel was getting pissed off, which was nothing new but she just couldn't help that every time she heard someone talking like that about Eyes Only… or worse, bout transgenics, making fun of them or mocking them, she totally lost her temper. No one was allowed to talk about her family that way and she was gonna make sure that this man would remember it for the rest of his miserable life!

Drinking his beer the man turned to look at her in the eyes and slammed his empty mug on the table as he got up from the stool. "You said something, cutie?" Cutie? How goddamn original was he?

"Yea, I said something you big ugly bald bonehead. You wanna find out exactly what it was?"

Her eyes narrowed as the man came slowly closer and without her even noticing, she crinkled her nose as she got up. The man was big, a lot bigger than she was but the size of her opponent had never been an obstacle. After all, she had beaten up a lot bigger guys before, so this one she wouldn't even notice.

"Don't do it", Zack warned her quietly but was completely ignored. There was the kind of sparkle in her eyes he had seen too many times already. He didn't even try to change her mind, just swung his hand as if he didn't care anymore. Honestly, he didn't. It wasn't like they could stay there after it anyway so what the hell. "Okay then, go ahead…" he sighed quirking his eyebrow. "This is gonna get interesting", he continued lowering his voice again. Things could easily get really ugly… when he saw the bartender reaching out to the phone to call no other than the police, he ordered some scotch. It gave the bartender something to do and anyway, he had a feeling he'd needed it soon.

"Oh, little lady here has something to say?" The man mocked again. Gods, he thought he was such a strong stud, didn't he? Guys, always overestimating themselves. "Yeah, you show her, Duke!" some other guy laughed which only made Angel smile. What weak stupid creatures humans were.

"Don't believe the hype. This has been an Eyes Only streaming freedom video bulletin. Peace. Out."

She glanced to the TV-screen. "Darn… Now I missed my favorite show… So I'm really pissed off at the time so if I were you, I wouldn't wanna come any closer", she said blinking her eyes and tilted her head to one side trying – no not trying but looking as innocent and sweet as she possible could. Pretending was part of the training, after all. The man called Duke gave a short, nervous laugh rubbing his chin and this reaction amused her. Men… they fell for it every single time! Millions of years of evolution and they still didn't get it.

"Oh, why not, sweetheart? Beautiful girl like you… Are you teasing your daddy by coming here after bedtime? Well, I'm sorry, sweet face, but I think that someone has to give you a little lesson", he barked with laughter and continued, "and I would be more than happy to give you a little spanking on the ass."

The only thing Angel felt appropriate to do was roll her eyes in disgust. "You would, huh? Funny thing is it ain't gonna be me who's about to get a lesson here."

"Oh, really?"

She nodded matter-of-factly. "Really."

It was over faster than usually. It wasn't like she had to do anything 'cause only with one strong kick directed to somewhere near his head, he collapsed onto the floor breaking the chair behind him while doing so. No one didn't say a word nor tried to attack her and those whose had stood up minute ago, sat down again like they hadn't seen anything. Fools, their never stood up for each other.

"Well that was fast", Zack noted standing up. Quickly he drank his scotch and peered at the people around them. As always, everyone seemed to be busy with talking and drinking but he knew that they were only covering their asses so they wouldn't get into the fire line.

"True… Typical man", Angel sighed wiping her hands together and turned towards him tossing her hair over her shoulder. Zack shook his finger at her as a warning but the corner of his mouth quirked up into a small smile. "Oh no lady, let's not go there, okay?" She only shrugged letting him continue, "maybe we gotta go somewhere... like the fuck away from here before the police bust in. That ain't gonna be pretty."

"Yea", Angel agreed, "it's probably a good idea." Blazing always was.

He scanned the area around them trying to find a safe way out. There. "Damn right it's a good idea - it's a goddamn excellent idea as a matter of a fact! Come on… to the backdoor." He pushed her back with his hand forcing her to pick up her pace. "Go, go, go!" Zack rushed her as she slowly walked through the bar towards the exit.

Cold air hit against Angel's face the minute she stepped into the alley behind the bar. There was nothing there other than two big trash bins and the awful smell of rotting garbage floating above them, but they both just shut it out of their minds – out of their noses.

"That wasn't too smart, Angel. Glad it wasn't a bigger fight."

She almost chuckled. "Fight? You call that a fight?"


"Okay, okay." Hands raised to the air, she gave defeated sigh, "just don't give me that pathetic look! I know it was stupid but I couldn't help it! You know me... That idiot was mocking us without a reason!"

"Yea, and now he has a reason."

"Good for him!" Angel snapped. How could he ignore that bastard's words like that? Ignore his attitude? Didn't he care how ordinary people saw them? Probably not. "Now you say: 'Let's just go find the kids and let them know we have to leave somewhere.' That is what you came to tell me, wasn't it? That they are onto us again?" Angel asked coldly. Zack nodded once biting his bottom lip. He smiled slightly but only to calm her down.

"Okay, you caught me on this one."

"What do ya mean by 'on this one?' I always get you Zackie. So, tell me", Angel replied rolling her eyes and hopped onto the big trash bin. "Come on… We really should get the hell away from this place… so shall we go?" Zack suggested politely but Angel shook her head. No way.

"Nope, see we ain't going nowhere till I hear what you have to say… then we can go home… if that place can be called home. Besides, I don't wanna freak out Syl, so spit it out already. Don't wanna sit here all night 'cuz this thing is like freezing… my ass is getting kinda cold, ya know."

He should've known Angel wasn't going to make it easy for him. Zack leaned his back against the dirty wall and crossed his arms. The smile was gone.

"Fine… But you ain't gonna like this…"

"I know", she sighed shrugging. What were the odds of her ever liking his words? "Believe me, I know. What is it?"

By the look on his face, it was something worse than just having to move out again and change the location. It was something she definitely wouldn't like, wasn't it? "I wanna… I wanna go back to Seattle." His voice was as steely as always but this time Angel's brain didn't read his words as fast as usually.

Oh for the love of God…

"Okay, I don't like this… can we hit the rewind here? Or press the fucking pause button? 'Cuz I think I've missed something here…" She was stepping over the edge for sure. "You? Seattle? Back? Hmm... Now why is it that I don't wanna hear those words in the same sentence?"

"This ain't funny."

"No, it isn't", she snapped. It was as funny as sitting on a cold trash bin was. "You – Zack, wanna go back to Seattle?" Zack confirmed it by nodding again. "Wait a minute here, okay?" Angel's hand moved rapidly in the air to every direction possible. "Just wait a minute - you were the one who kept saying 'no' when Syl wanted to go back, am I right?"

Zack nodded again. "I thought so too." She glared at him. "You told us that it would be too dangerous. So what the hell has changed?" But it wasn't the question she really wanted to be answered… "Why? Why do ya do this now?"

Oh boy… she was not gonna like what he was about to tell her. Not one bit. Zack could actually imagine her giving him a nice little kick to his groin… Even the thought of it hurt but what options did he have? If he got out of this one alive, telling the news to Syl and Krit would be the easiest thing on earth.

"I have a reason to believe that Max is in serious danger and I feel like we need to go help her. They really got onto her this time… And she did the same for us and she would do it again."

Oh my god! She couldn't believe what he was saying. "Feel? Okay… You have a reason, huh?" Angel's eyes were on fire and the rage within her made her body tremble. "I don't wanna know what that reason is, I don't care and I so don't wanna go back to Seattle… The most important thing is: I don't wanna save that bitch's ass, okay?" Everytime something went wrong in her life, it had to be about Max, huh? There was just no fucking way for her to get rid of her twin sister's presence was there? "So you guys go ahead but I ain't coming with ya if you're asking me to", Angel stated her opinion and Zack ran his hand through his hair looking frustrated.

There was no reason good enough that would get her go back to Seattle, he knew that. And if Zack suggested going just 'cause he "had a reason" to believe Max was in danger, that didn't make it any different. So what if she was in danger? Hello? So were they! Max had ruined her life once and there where no chance in hell that Angel would let that happen again! No way, no how. Besides, Max was an X5 like they – of course she was in danger. Only a self-destructive idiot would've stayed in Seattle after everything… and guess what? Max had. Wasn't her fault Max lacked in intelligence.

"I owe her nothing", Angel snarled through gritted teeth after a brief moment of silence. This was one of those moments she was craving for a cigarette even though she didn't smoke. At least not that often.

"Wrong, Angie. Dead wrong. You owe her everything. You owe her your life!"

Say that again and I'll kill you. "Can't believe you just said that", Angel whispered and dropped herself down with vacant look in her eyes. Did he even have a clue how much those words hurt her? Apparently he did because when she turned around, ready to head somewhere else – it didn't matter where - soft voice stopped her.

"I'm sorry, Angel, I really am." He turned her around gently. "You come or not – that's your decision but I'm going and somehow I have a feeling that Krit and Syl are gonna agree with me… for once."

Yeah, she had that same feeling. "I know", she said and took a deep breath. "I have to think... I mean it's Seattle... ya know... Give me some time… You go home and I'll catch up you guys later. When are you planning to leave?"

Alright, compromise, that was something. "Okay, Angel, okay. I give ya one hour, Angie, that's it. Then we'll be outta here, okay? Only one hour, no more, no less so be good and think fast."

An hour. One lousy hour to decide what to do with her life? Angel turned around without saying a word and walked through the alley to the empty street. She didn't see anyone and the only sound she heard was her own footsteps against the pitch black asphalt. Why did it have to go like this? Every time that they settled down, something came up. And if it wasn't Manticore, police or that new cult that was chasing them… of course it had to be Max then. Why in earth should I help Max? She asked from herself. The simple answer was: for no reason at all.

"Hi there", a voice said making Angel freeze. Little farther away there was a man standing in the middle of the street facing her. Angel narrowed her eyes to a man who was wearing a long black coat and same color suit which gave him away; he wasn't from around there and that made him the enemy. Even from there she could see the same cold theme in his eyes which now was on hers too.

"What do you want?" she immediately questioned with a strong voice against all regulations of Manticore. Never make the first move when you're exposed which she felt she was. Who the hell was this guy and what on earth would a guy looking like that do in there unless… Is he one them? Is he one of those Manticore bitches?

He moved, started walking closer to her and though all she wanted to do was run, she knew she couldn't. Never show your weakness! And hell, running from a battle was not her thing.

"I want you to come with me." His voice was low, commanding, and… calm.

Suddenly Angel wanted to laugh. He had to be kidding!

"Didn't you mother teach you that you can want whatever you want but that doesn't mean you'll get it."

"Well, I at least had a real mother."

Now her face became serious again. What had he meant by that? Angel tried to study his face but there were absolutely no trace of emotion anywhere.

"Oh, and I didn't?" Technically… she didn't.

"Well, of course you had a birthmother – we all do but I doubt that you X5s had a lot of time to play with your mother, or did you?" He sounded amused like he had known who she was. And what she was. Did he?

Well, the guy here is talking about X5 so… Angel sighed before she opened her mouth to a new question. "Who are you?"

"You don't have to know that. It's enough that I know everything about you, 453", he said not caring to answer her question. Automatically she glanced around them to make sure no one else was hearing it. Further exposure was not needed and definitely not wanted.

"I don't know how you know my... name but-"

"You mean your designation, don't you?" he interrupted her smiling like a little selfish boy.

"Whatever you choose to call it -", she spit back rolling her eyes. The guy was obviously playing with fire. " – is fine by me but you don't seem to know anything else like with whom you're dealing with here", Angel started with a defiant tone when she suddenly couldn't go on. Something had pricked the skin of her neck and now it felt like the world around her was spinning wildly.

"Okay, guys, put her into the car."

Into the car? What car? And guys? What guys? What was that thing she was feeling? Hot, itching feeling crawled up and down her body making all her strength vanish into the air.

"What... did... you... do... to... me?" Angel gasped as she fell down on her knees looking at him with confused eyes. Suddenly she felt two pair of hands grabbing her arms and dragging her to...

Everything went black.