Familiar Stranger

Familiar Stranger

There are certain things in life that you know are true, things that will never change. We call 'em corner stones; they're what we build our lives on.

Angelus was one of my corner stones. No matter what, the bastard was always going to be there. My Sire's sire, my teacher, my lover's love, he couldn't change. He was always going to be the same arrogant, smug, superior, condescending, psychotic, son of a bitch he'd always been. And no, I didn't like him, but hey, that was life. Angelus was always there; messing up my fun, pulling my girl's strings, disapproving of me, disciplining me, Angelus was always there… until he wasn't.

One night Angelus just wasn't there. Everything was normal, and then nothing was. Angelus was gone, Darla was in a snit to end all snits, Dru was in a dither and my whole world was turned on its ear.

Two years later Angelus is back; I thought everything would go back to how it used to be. I thought everything would be okay again. I was on top of the world, a Slayer's blood in my veins, Dru's praise and delighted cries in my ears, what could be wrong. 'Gelus even recognized me as a bloody equal that night. It was my night.

Don't think I haven't thought about that night pretty regularly in the seven plus decades since 'Gelus disappeared, never to be heard from again. I've analyzed every word, every look, everything that happened that night for clues of what was to come.

There was something wrong that night; I should have seen it right off. Angelus was always an exuberant killer, but not that night. Angelus was restrained, quiet, serious, hardly the same individual I'd known for the last twenty-six years. "I guess you're one of us now," he'd said, that should have tipped me off. Angelus had carefully cultivated my need for his approval. He'd never just fill it like that, it wasn't his style. Angelus liked need, in others anyway.

Still, I'd killed a Slayer that deserved some recognition. Well, I thought so, and accepted Angelus' praise at face value. I was an idiot. How many times had I seen him give Penn approval that never reaches his eyes? He used to watch Penn react to having his buttons pushed like a bloody student of the inhuman condition. Did it to all of us. Fixed up all these triggers in us and then sat back and watched us twitch like marionettes on his strings. My Angelus would never cut me loose of his ties, only he did. With one little phrase he raised me up from an impertinent fledgling to a master vampire.

A parting gift as it turned out. He just hands it to me, that thing I've wanted for so long and that he's always withheld. Angelus gifted me with his approved, not like I'd earned it, although I had, but like an apology for all the years he'd kept it from me. I'd liked to have suspect yet another of Angelus' mind games, but it wasn't. There might not have been a light of approval in his eyes, but there had been something even less expected; sorrow.

Angelus, trying to make things right, the Pope swearing a blue streak would have been less unusual.

Then he was gone again, like a shadow under the noon sun, never to be seen or heard from again… until tonight.

I might not have liked him, but I loved him, I loved to watch him. Angelus hated to fight. He was the puppet master, not the foot soldier, didn't like to dirty his hands. But when he was forced to it, more often than not by my indiscretions, he was beautiful.

I wonder if he ever noticed that I was most likely to get a mob after us when the moon was full and the sky was clear. Moonlight made his pale skin glow and when he fought Angelus was all beauty, fierce and cat-like, muscles flowing under satin skin, glistening blood on gleaming marble flesh, wild, living entirely in the moment.

When it came to a fight Darla looked to her own hide and damn the rest of us, but Angelus was too possessive a bastard to do that. No one touched what was his but him, and I loved belonging to him. He made me feel more safe and wanted than I'd ever been before or since. I was his, Dru may have made me, but he taught me, owned me. He owned her and all that was hers was his to do with as he pleased. Somehow he owned Darla as well.

Other vampires have minions, Angelus had family, slaves, three other master vampires bound to him with intangible cords stronger than steel. Cords forged of his touch, his words, his face, his body. We'd never have left him. Instead he left us. In heart and mind before his physical self was gone. Left a hole too big to ever be filled.

Seventy-eight years since I'd even seen him and I don't believe I'm seeing him now.

I'm riding high again. I'd another Slayer to mark on my record, her leather duster snug over my shoulders like a trophy of war. It still smells of her. Slayer's blood making Dru stronger than she's been since Prague, maybe this time it'll last and my Dru will be whole again.

Only Dru's feeling good tonight, so girl's night out it is. She and the female minions have gone on a shopping/killing spree. No boys allowed. It's like playing dress up to her. Dru's happy, she'll pretend to be a part of this time, but it'll wear off. The voices will confront and confuse her again, it's only a matter of time, then she'll retreat to the familiarity of a time long past. My dark princess will need me again; it's only a matter of time. But not tonight, tonight I'm discarded like an old shoe.

So I went out to do a little celebratory mayhem on my own, heard fighting, was drawn to it. At first I didn't understand why what I was seeing just didn't make sense. A gang of humans beating on some down and out, nothing odd about that… till I recognized my Angelus as their victim.

He's on the ground, not even making an effort to fight back. His blood scent hangs thick in the air and I don't know what to do. He shouldn't be lying there, shouldn't need my help, but he isn't moving. His body jerks limply from their kicks, but no other impulses animate him.

I just stare until the leader of the gang waves the others off. He flips Angelus onto his back with a kick and cuts my Sire's cloths off. He starts carving something in Angelus' flesh and my immobility snaps. I'm in the middle of them with a roar and everyone I get my hands on dies. One or two managed to run and I'm left alone in a dirty New York ally with the tattered remnants of the man who once defined my world.

Awkwardly, I lift him from the ground into a fireman's carry. He's painfully thin and his weight means nothing to a vampire's strength, but he's still bulky, about half a foot taller than me, and not meant to be slender. I'm sure we make a ridiculous picture as I carry him to a cheap hotel. I don't want him back at the lair, not until I understand what's gone wrong.

Once we're in the room I strip down and put the both of us in the shower, holding him upright while the water rains down, washing away blood and filth. I work soap into his long hair, it's matted with stuff I don't want to identify. His body's covered with wounds and scars that should have healed except the demon's not strong enough to restore the perfection of his body so it only does a half-assed job of repairing the damage inflicted upon him. He needs blood, he's skin stretched taunt over bones. Torn, bruised skin over broken bones and it's been too long since Dru got hurt because I'm getting seriously turned on by his brokenness.

Being needed, it's like an addiction, someone else's weakness making you feel strong. Dru's looked to me for everything for almost twenty years now, but tonight she's feeling good and I'm left behind. But Angelus is here, and I can't keep my hands off him. He's hardly conscious, I don't think he even knows me, and it doesn't matter.

Now that he's clean I can recognize his smell and taste again. I can't help touching him, kissing him, tasting the blood still in his mouth, but he's not aware enough to be responsive. Both his eyes are swollen shut and his skin's so pale it's translucent. I'm fascinated by his bruises, they look three-dimensional and technicolor in contrast with the ghostliness of his coloring. The bruises are deep things, internal bleeding really, there's no surface blood to bruise with.

I pull him out of the shower and lay him on the bed while I dry off and call the management for some first aid supplies. The man at the desk tells me this ain't a room service type place. I promise money for compliance and a gruesome bloody death for obstinacy. He gets what I've asked for, brings it to the door and takes one look at 'Gelus lying naked and corpse like on the bed before leaving several shades paler than when he came.

I don't give a damn; he won't call the cops, not until morning anyway. Too much hourly business goes on here at night and this ain't Nevada, the cops would put a halt to that stuff if he called them. I can trust he won't call till morning and we'll be gone by then, or I'll have killed him.

Hell, I'll kill him anyway, 'Gelus needs the blood, but first things first. I start to work on fixing Angelus up. Pulling together the rents in his flesh, taping them in place before I bandage them, setting his bones, generally repairing everything I can.

He's restless under my touch, not really aware, but awake and uneasy. I begin purring, a low rumbling, completely inhuman sound. It soothes him same as it does Dru when the voices in her head become too much for her.

Once I've done all I can, I go for the hotel manager. The weasely little man starts when he sees me. His eyes widen with fear, getting that deer-in-the-headlights look. I'm death walking and he knows it. He doesn't bother to try to run as I come for him. I don't kill him, just pop him over the head, it's easier to get the blood out if the heart's still pumping.

I haul the manager's unconscious body back to the room I rented from him and dump him on the bed beside 'Gelus, who's too far gone to even reach for the man. I open the big vein in the man's wrist and hold it too 'Gelus' mouth. For a moment he drinks then he pulls away. I don't understand, he should be ravenous for the blood, but he's fighting the urge to feed. What's happened to him?

'Gelus needs the blood badly. I force the manager's arm back to his mouth and after a moment he feeds, silent tears trickling down his cheeks. I want to cry myself; this is wrong, wrong, wrong! Where's the person I'd known, the one who shaped my world?

Once it's done I toss the drained husk aside. Angelus is still crying silently, his eyes are open now, but unfocused, pools of black misery that don't have even a flicker of recognition in them. The silence is unnerving, another symptom of how wrong everything is.

Angelus loved the sound of his own voice; he could talk forever in that soft Irish brogue of his that was as much of an affection as my own accent. He could fit seamlessly into the upper class of dozens of countries, if he wanted they'd think he was one of their own. It added to the range of games he could play with them, but when the games were put away and the killing time was at hand the lilt would creep back into his voice, an unspoken declaration of who he was where my rough speech covers the genteel origin I strive to forget.

But Angelus is silent, not a word, not a sound since I found him. I can't even be sure that it's not a physical injury that's robbed him of his voice. I think that would be easier to take rather than having his silence be caused by an internal change. I suspect that it's the later though.

I curl up beside him, patiently untangling his long dark hair with my fingers, still purring. He presses against me and I kiss his shoulder softly. I'm scared, but I'm a master vampire, we don't show fear. Not even when it's strangling you. I can't show fear; Angelus needs to feel protected and cared for. He made me feel that once, now he needs it, he's so lost. It takes time and patience, but gradually he falls into true sleep.

I watch him for hours as his injuries fade and his appearance becomes more familiar, but that's all that's familiar. Even his sleep patterns have changed. His body curls inward protecting itself from potential harm and he unconsciously seeks the comfort I offer. When I knew him before, Angelus slept with limbs flung to the four winds. More often than not he kicked his lovers completely out of the bed.

There's nothing left of the Angelus I knew and that's more terrifying than him being dead. I understand dead, I don't understand changed. We are eternal, we don't change, but he's changed almost beyond recognition. I can't take him back to Dru like this; Dru doesn't take well to change. Who am I kidding? I can't handle this change. I can't handle the man who was very nearly a god to me being more helpless than the rawest fledging. I just can't… but I can't leave him either.

I want to protect him, to make him better, to have Angelus back, but I can't take him to the lair with him like this. He won't fight. He doesn't want to feed. He's damaged inside and I don't know that he would ever heal. I can barely protect Dru, and her weakness is only in her body. Vampires don't tolerate weakness, it frightens us, and we don't like to be scared. I don't know what happened to 'Gelus, but if it can happen to him, it can happen to any of us. That possibility would terrify any other vampire. They'll kill him so they don't have to think about what he's become. Angelus barely survived a bunch of humans tonight, how long will he last if I take him back to the lair?

I won't leave him… I can't leave Dru. We'll have to get rid of the minions. It'll be just the three of us. I can do this, I've had to dispose of the minions before, when they started realizing Dru isn't healing right. I won't be able to make any to replace them, it won't be safe for Angelus, but it'll be okay. Dru was better tonight, it was Slayer's blood, she'll stay better this time, I know it. She loves 'Gelus, she'll find a way to deal with the changes. We can do this.

I put the corpse back in its office and head back to the lair before the dawn. I'll kill off the minions today, then Dru and I can come back for Angelus. I'll make him better; I made Dru better didn't I?

"It's too late," Dru said as soon as I explained my plan. "My Angel is all gone again."

I didn't believe her, I destroyed the minions and returned to the hotel where I'd left Angelus the night before, but he was gone. I search for weeks, until Dru began getting sicker again.

Then I found a new minion, Dalton. He's very well read, he said he's heard of a book that might contain a cure for Dru, it was in Germany. I can stay and search for Angelus while Dru wastes away or we can leave for Germany and maybe find a cure for her.

I'll come back for Angelus once Dru's cured.

Sunnydale 1997

I turn and I see him. He's whole, standing tall and confident, like nothing was ever wrong. There's a human boy standing beside him, but 'Gelus always did love to play with his food, so I ignore the boy. "Angelus!" I cry welcomingly.

"Spike!" he greets me like he's only been gone for a weekend.

He's back! He's really back, my sire, my dark Angel! "I'll be damned!" I say hugging him, trying to be causal. I'm a master vampire, I'm not going to bounce around like a five year old.

"I taught you to always guard your perimeter. Tsk, tsk, tsk. You should have someone out there." That's just like my 'Gelus, he hasn't been back for five minutes and he's already criticizing me. He's really back. Maybe that night in New York was just some sort of nightmare.

"I did. I'm surrounded by idiots. What's new with you?" I justify.

Angelus gets this look in his eyes as he says, "Everything."

Suddenly I'm feeling suspicious again, something's not right. I test him. "Yeah. Come up against this Slayer yet?" I ask.

"She's cute. Not too bright, though," Angelus replies. "Gave the puppy dog 'I'm all tortured' act. Keeps her off my back when I feed!"

Wrong answer, I think. When was 'Gelus ever happy to just have the Slayer off his back. He'd either kill her, which he hasn't done, or have some elaborate game going on, and if that's the case he'd be beating me black and blue right now for interfering. It wouldn't matter that I didn't know; Angelus isn't a big fan of fairness. Unless… maybe he's tired of his game and ready for the kill. This could be fun. "People still fall for that Anne Rice routine," I comment, I'm still testing him. Angelus wouldn't like me saying that someone else already thought up his game. "What a world!"

"I knew you were lying," the boy exclaims, he smells of determination and terror with anger rising. "Undead liar guy."

Now's when 'Gelus will explain the facts of life to the boy. He's obviously part of Angelus' game, and the game's over. All of the boy's pretty illusions are about to be shattered. I can already hear the playful lilt in 'Gelus' voice as he explains the reality of monsters and that in giving him his trust, the boy has forfeited his life. Except it's not happening, instead Angelus just offers me a bite, like he wants to get this over with. That's not my Angelus, he loves to draw things out.

"I haven't seen you in the killing fields for an age," I say, now I'm sure something's wrong. He wasn't acting tortured in New York, he was, and I can still see sorrow in his eyes. Everything he's said today has been a lie.

"I'm not much for company," he replies and it's the truth, only it's not the whole truth and what he isn't saying is more important.

"No, you never were," I admit, but I haven't bought his story. Something's wrong and I want to know what. "So, why're you so scared of this Slayer?"

"Scared?" he asked, he should have taken off my head for suggesting that.

"Yeah. Time was you would've taken her out in a heartbeat. Now look at you. I bet this, uh, tortured thing is an act, right? You're not... housebroken?" I know I'm being insulting now, lets just see how far I can push before he hurts me.

"I saw her kill the Master. Hey, you think you can take her alone? Be my guest. I'll just feed and run." He's still talking and I'm still standing, he's not my Angelus, he's lying. He's proud that she killed the Master, I can see it, just like I can see he it's killing him to scared that damn boy.

"Don't be silly! We're all friends," I say, closing with him. "We'll do it together. Let's drink to it."

Then I hit him, I'm tired of lies, tired of games. He's protecting the Slayer and the boy, not me. I'm not his anymore. Whatever's in his skin doesn't recognize me as his, I'm his enemy that's all. "You think you can fool me?!" I cry, betrayed. "You were my Sire, man! You were my… Yoda!"

"Things changes," Angelus replies, as if that weren't the biggest betrayal of all.

"Not us! Not demons! Man I can't believe this. You Uncle Tom!" Is this what humans feel when they encounter one of us who they'd known before the change? It's awful, I can see my Angelus, but when I look in his eyes I see a hostile stranger. We were family, and now we're enemies. I built my reality on his always being the same, and now it's falling to pieces around me. There's no worse betrayal in all the world than this moment.