Disclaimer: not mine, Joss's - you know the drill.

Author's note: This is a filling-in-the-gap exercise, between the moment in BtVS season 2, Becoming, part 1, where Angel asserts to Whistler, "I want to be someone", and BtVS season 1, Welcome to the Hellmouth, where the two of them meet. What happened during that period of time which turned Angel from a brooding tramp into a brooding lean, mean, fighting machine? You're about to find out.


----

"Come on in." He stood on the threshold and met the demon's eyes with his own. "C'mon, I have to pay heating bills," Whistler prompted. "In. Now."

Slowly, reluctantly, Angel stepped through the doorway and Whistler closed the door behind him.

"Welcome to my place. Lounge, kitchen over there, bedroom, you'll have this couch. Okay?"

"It's … I …" Angel stammered, focusing on his hands. Really filthy fingernails, he noticed idly, one corner of his mind stacking the information away.

"Hungry?" Whistler shed his jacket and opened the fridge. "I got supplies. Pig okay?" He held up a plastic bag, bulging with red liquid. Angel averted his eyes. "Pig okay then. Hot? Cold? Somewhere in between? Come on, man, I'm a demon, not a vamp. Haven't a clue how you like this stuff."

"It'll … just …" Angel looked up, finally. "I'll take it as it comes."

Whistler threw the bag underarm and his guest caught it automatically and turned away. There was a sound of ripping plastic and then a mixture of swallowing and growling, and when Angel turned around again he was holding an empty bag.

"Thank you."

"Hey, no problem. Just, next time, go and get it yourself." Whistler adjusted his hat. "Right, now you are taking a shower. And I am burning those clothes - is that really an anorak? I always had you down as the kind of guy who liked to dress well."

Angel glanced down at his jacket. "I … once I did. But I'm not that person anymore."

"Man," said Whistler with emphasis, "that's a stupid way of talking. You're a good-looking guy. You want to impress that little Slayer, you need to change your wardrobe." He pushed open a door and beckoned for Angel to follow him. "I got you some stuff to start with. Just a shirt and pants. We can go and find you more tomorrow night." He held open another door. "Shower. Soap. Shampoo. Towels."

Angel stared in apparent confusion at the array of plastic bottles.

"Shower?" Whistler said.

"We only had baths," Angel returned.

"What, you haven't washed in a century? No wonder you smell so bad."

"No - I … that is …" the vampire shook his head. "You don't want to know. I turn the tap, is that it?"

"Just don't flood the place," Whistler said, and went out.

Angel stood alone in the bathroom and stared at the empty mirror for a moment, and then he went back into Whistler's astonishingly untidy bedroom and started to take off the anonymous, dirty, brown clothing he was wearing. Anorak, jumper, shirt, trousers; boots that showed his toes and socks that were barely holding together. Slowly Angel piled them up on the floor and stared down at himself, a pale, thin body that was still unblemished, unmarked. He vaguely remembered that he had had a tattoo marked on his shoulder, once, long ago, and he twisted to try and see it and failed.

He gave the clothes a last glance and went into the bathroom again, standing in the shower stall and carefully, cautiously turning the shining chrome tap. Water, steaming and strong, gushed out, and Angel switched it off again with a start. Then he tried again, and closed his eyes under the stream. Years of grime began to fall off. He reached for the soap and carefully, methodically washed himself from head to toe and then from toe to head before picking up a bottle of shampoo. It smelt of coconut and sunshine, its pale yellow colour reminding Angel of days gone by, and he squeezed some of the sticky gel on to his hand and massaged it into his tangled hair. It did not seem to have grown at all, the broken ends still brushing his shoulders as they had done for two and a half centuries. He washed greyish foam out and started again, and followed the shampoo with creamy conditioner, and then stood with water streaming down his face. He felt like he wanted to cry and laugh, scream, break something or kill someone. He did not know what had happened. But one image kept flickering across the jets of water; a girl with blonde hair and big, frightened eyes.

Eventually Angel turned off the shower and wrapped a towel around himself, revelling in the soft texture and clean smell. He dried himself slowly and carefully and after a moment to examine them, put on the clothes which Whistler had got him. The black shirt and black jeans turned out to be a perfect fit, and Angel's mouth turned downwards in a frown. What was controlling him?

He searched for, and eventually found, a comb in the bathroom, and began methodically to pull it through hair that had been tangled and knotted with grime and the blood of countless rodents for decades, the gentle teasing of the teeth soothing him. He dried his hair and combed it again and wondered whether to tie it back, fiddling unconsciously with the claddagh ring on his finger. In a second the feel of the cold metal on his skin threw all thoughts of hairstyle out of his mind. Angel gazed down at the ring, remembering a summer's day centuries before, and a rolling green meadow looking over the sea; a rug and a picnic basket and the auburn tresses of his sister.

- Happy Birthday, Liam. Rosemary held out a box wrapped in silk and ribbons and smiled her angelic smile back at him. Go on, open it.

- You spoil me, Rosie. He grinned cheerfully back and pulled off the wrapping, and opened the box. Oh, sister. Thank you, darlin'.

- I thought you probably wouldn't find a girl soon enough to give you one, and in any case I love you more than any other girl could.

- Sure you do. He leant over and kissed her on the cheek. I'll let you know when I find someone I can turn it for.

Rosie slipped the silver ring on his finger.

- I'm sure I'll love her.


Angel, his eyes filling with tears, took the ring off and slowly turned it round. With the heart facing inwards he put it back on.

"You'd love her, Rosie," he whispered to himself.

"You finished?" Whistler leant on the doorway, watching Angel. "Hell, that's a difference. Slayer might look at you now. Still … the hair doesn't do anything for ya."

Angel put a hand up and felt his damp locks.

"Thought about having it shorter?" Whistler suggested. "Short's fashionable these days. I could call a barber for you." Angel stared blankly at him. "Have it cut?" the demon repeated. "Gee, you're dazed, ain't you? Not really with it?"

"I … I've been alone a long time," Angel said. "If you think … I mean, do what you want. It's your place. Please. Don't mind me."

Whistler shook his head and clicked his tongue between his teeth. "That's not the way it works, son. Deal is, I find you and help you get back on those feet of yours. Not that I do everything for you. You gotta learn to look after yourself again."

Angel stared at him. "I never looked after myself," he said. "I … there were people around …"

"But you told them what to do, right? Where to go, who to kill? You sure as hell didn't get that reputation for nothing, Angelus. Tell yourself what to do."

"Angel. It's Angel."

"There. That's a good start." Whistler straightened up. "Haircut?"

* * *

The hairdresser took off his coat and set down a metal case, flicking it open expertly.

"Where's the customer, Whist?"

"Hiding in the bedroom," Whistler said resignedly. "He's kind of shy."

"Odd for you to get a shy client," the hairdresser commented.

"Pro bono. Powers."

"Oh, gee. That sucks. What's the deal?"

"You heard of Angelus?"

"Oooh." The hairdresser nodded, enthusiastically. "Big-shot vamp in Europe."

"He's the one hiding in the bedroom," said Whistler, and watched his visitor's reaction.

The hairdresser stood up from checking his case, eyebrows raised, and shook his head. "Man, I don't do vampires. That whole reflection thing - it just doesn't work. You try cutting someone's hair when you can't see the effect. No way." He paused. "And I want to stay alive - I'm doing Bette Davis this evening."

"He won't bite," Whistler reassured. "He's a wreck. Got ensouled a century ago and since then he's been moping around Manhattan. He won't be the one to bite, but I'll get annoyed if you don't do this. You owe me a favour."

"You'll owe me a bigger one," the hairdresser grumbled. "Angelus, man. C'mon!"

"He's quite good-looking," Whistler added, lightly.

The hairdresser looked at the demon for a moment, and then shrugged. "You got me. But now you owe me. Where is he?"

Angel was fiddling with his ring again but looked up as Whistler and the hairdresser came in and switched the light on.

"Image change," said Whistler.

"I … are you sure this is a good idea?" asked Angel.

"Hey, I can understand you not appreciating Whistler's style sense," the hairdresser said, "but those ends have got to be split. How long since you had it cut?"

"It never needed cutting," Angel said. "It's always been like this."

The hairdresser rolled his eyes and then rolled up his sleeves. "All right. Now I'm not going to sit you in front of a mirror because I hate looking at nothing. Grab a chair, under the light."

He pulled out scissors and a comb and draped a towel around Angel's shoulders.

"I'm Ken."

"Angel."

"So I heard. Now, let's have a look …" Ken picked up the ends of Angel's hair and examined them. "Hmmm. Like the colour. Nice. But this stuff is dry. What've you been using?"

"Using?"

"Shampoo? Treatment? Conditioner?"

"I used to wash it with soap."

"Ruins the hair, man. Ruins it."

"There wasn't anything else."

"This is the twentieth century. Now, I'm going to cut it short, and what do you think about a little texture on top? Perhaps some gel and you can style it - can you style it?"

"I don't know."

Ken sighed theatrically and started snipping the length off the back. "Okay. Leave it to me. Been in LA long?"

"Two nights."

"Been in the States long?"

"Eighty years."

"Guessed it was a while. The accent. Lack of an accent. Where're you from originally? I must have read it somewhere."

"Galway. Ireland."

Hair fell to the floor. "Ireland. Beautiful country, I hear."

Angel smiled shortly. "It is."

"And you've been to Europe. I remember reading that. Paris, Prague, Italy … you must've seen everything."

"You read about me?"

Ken moved around to Angel's side and cut off chunks of hair. "I do a bit of work for Whistler when he has a client. I'm good at shaping around horns and bumpy scalps. In this business it helps to know stuff. I've read the major volumes; Goodstow's Demon Compendium, the Encyclopaedia of the Underworld, Vampires of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, so on. You were in a few. Man, you were big."

"I was a devil," Angel said bitterly.

"Hell, you're a vamp."

"That doesn't excuse what I did."

Ken cut hair in silence for a while. "Ya know, I met a good few humans who did some pretty bad stuff. They never had your excuse. You gotta stop feeling guilty."

"But every time I close my eyes I hear them all screaming," Angel said. "I can't atone for that."

"I'm just going to put some gel in," Ken said, changing the subject. "This stuff." He displayed a round tin. "You should probably get some. I've cut it short so it'll stand up on top if you gel it." He got to work, practised fingers teasing dark hair on end. "There." He turned. "Hey, Whist. Come and have a look."

Whistler came in and together they scrutinised Angel, and finally the demon nodded.

"You might find that Slayer'll talk to you. Nice job, Ken."

"Thanks." Ken packed his things away and held out his hand to Angel. "Sorry you can't see yourself, man. Hey, and good luck."

After a pause, Angel took the outstretched hand and carefully shook it. "Thank you."

* * *

Angel lay awake on Whistler's couch, the curtains closed, unable to sleep. He turned and rearranged the blankets, and then turned again, and finally swung his legs over the edge of the couch and buried his face in his hands. He tried to close his ears to the faint voices in his mind, but failed, and stood up looking longingly at the curtains. For a second all he wanted was to tear them down and stand in the glorious Californian sunshine, and wash himself away; but he remembered the Slayer and turned away to the kitchen.

The fridge was humming to itself, merrily, and Angel stared at it and then opened it slowly. The row of glistening plastic bags of blood met his eyes, and he bent, hypnotised, and picked one up. In his hand it moved gently, beguilingly, and he raised it to his mouth, bit off the corner, and swallowed. It was cold and glutinous, but it was human, and the taste of life ran down his throat easily, spilling into starved veins.

Angel finished the bag and put it in the bin and turned away. And then, as if drawn, he opened the fridge again and took out another bag. Another, and another, followed the first too, and now he was drinking quickly and his features had changed. He drank more and more, and then he reached in and there was nothing left.

He slammed the door shut so hard the noise ricocheted through the apartment, and turned in a blind, blood-red haze, hitting the table. It smashed under his kicks and fists into a thousand tiny pieces.

"Hey!" Whistler's voice pressed at the edge of Angel's conscience. "Hey! That's my ..." The demon ducked to avoid a piece of flying plate. "Angel. Angelus! Stop it."

Angel turned, the haze still heavy, hearing not the words but a heartbeat. Fangs bared, he moved towards Whistler, who took a step backwards and held out his hands.

"Gee … hey man, stop that. Calm down."

Angel let out a low growl. Whistler backed up against the door.

"I'm a demon. I'm not good to eat. Honest. Best staying away from me." Angel was within touching distance, and Whistler looked around frantically for something to hit him with. The yellow eyes stared at him, and then he felt a grip on his arm and closed his eyes. There was a sharp prick on his neck, and he cursed the Powers That Be heartily.

Then the pressure was gone, and Angel was curled up on the floor shaking silently. Whistler took out a handkerchief and pressed it against the wound on his neck before crossing to the kitchen and taking in the empty bags with a glance. He went back to Angel.

"Angel. Get a grip."

There was no answer. The vampire rocked, his head covered by his arms. Whistler took his wrists and forced the arms away from Angel's head.

"Angel, shut up and look at me." Two brown eyes stared up at him for a moment and then dropped again. "You're okay. I'm okay, thank God. We're all okay here. So you flipped. They said this might happen."

"I was so hungry." The words were almost inaudible. "I was so hungry."

"Well, it's been a while since you fed properly."

"I just wanted … I wanted to kill something. Anything."

"You killed the table, if that helps," Whistler commented. "Very efficiently."

"I wanted to kill you."

"Newsflash, buddy; I'm an immortal demon. You ain't gonna kill me easily." He refrained from mentioning that having his blood drained would have killed him quite well enough. "Sit up and stop that shaking, you're like a big kid. Want some water?"

"Yes." Angel half sat up, his head still bowed. "Yes. Please."

Whistler fetched him a glass of water, and Angel drank it and gave it back to him and hugged his knees to his chest. The demon stared down at his guest.

"You wanna see someone? Talk to someone?"

"I want to kill something," Angel said. "I've got … I'm scared if I don't then I'll lose." Whistler scratched his head and wondered what the translation was. "I've been alone, I stayed away from people, because I can't control it."

"The demon?"

Angel nodded, still shaking.

Going to the window, Whistler twitched the curtain aside and checked the light, and turned back to the vampire.

"You'll have to wait, it's still light. How's about we decide on a training programme for you? I can't see you killing anything just now." He found a pad and a pen and sat on the sofa. "I've been told to get you into shape in a month. So we have seven nights a week, and the daytime if I can get you out and about. You'll need some sort of martial art. Fencing. Go to the gym, get some muscle on you. And there's this thing called t'ai chi … someone said it was good for self-control."

"It's a Chinese art," Angel said unexpectedly. "I … I tried it a little, just after … after the curse. It might help."

Whistler made a note. "I got some friends who can help out with the other stuff. We'll go tonight and see people. Now, if you take sleeping pills can you sleep?"

* * *

The hall was long and dark, lit only with one fluorescent tube hanging high overhead. A smell of sweat and wax filled the air, and the only sound was that of Angel and Whistler's footsteps on the wooden floorboards. They paused outside a door, and Whistler knocked sharply.

A slim, slight man came out into the big hall, grinning broadly. "Whistler!"

"Hey, Ralph." The man and the demon shook hands. "Angel, this is Ralph. He teaches fencing. A little for the movies, a lot for competition. Ralph, Angel. He needs to learn to fence and use a quarterstaff as quickly as possible."

Ralph held out his hand and Angel took it briefly. "Have you fenced before?" the man asked.

"A little."

"Epée? Sabre?"

"Epée, and I had a little broadsword experience," Angel said. "It's been a while. I don't really remember."

The fencing master gave Angel a sharp look but simply nodded, and turned to the wall where he unlocked a case and drew out a long, thin sword and passed it to Angel. A padded top and a helmet followed the sword, and while Angel put them on Ralph kitted himself out too and selected a sword for himself.

Whistler leant against the wall and watched as Ralph grasped the hilt of his sword, and, after a pause, Angel followed suit. Then the fencing master attacked, suddenly and sharply. Angel reacted just quickly enough to miss the blow and to parry the next. Ralph moved gracefully, the sword nothing more than an extension of his arm; Angel seemed awkward under the padding and the mask. After five minutes, Ralph stopped and stood back, breathing a little hard.

"Good. Good. There's potential, definitely. You move quickly, which is good. Any questions?"

"Can I … can I take off this mask?" Angel asked. "I can't see properly. I never used to use … this padding, it feels strange."

Ralph nodded. "It's your call. It's risky, though; if I touch you."

"It doesn't matter." Angel unbuckled the protection and put it carefully on the ground, and they began again. This time, Whistler watched the concentration on the vampire's face, and the increasing confidence as he parried and lunged, his movements ever quicker and stronger under the comments of the teacher. Eventually Ralph lowered his blade and took off his own mask, nodding.

"Very good. How many lessons do you want a week?"

Angel looked at Whistler.

"Two?" the demon suggested.

"I'll have to go and have a look in my diary," Ralph said. "Whistler?"

"Wait here," Whistler said to Angel, who nodded silently; and he followed Ralph into his little office.

The master pulled out a book and opened it, eyeing Whistler as he did so. "You're not telling me everything. I know you better than you think. Is this one of your protégés?"

"He was forced on me," Whistler protested. "Yeah."

"And he's not human, is he? Or at any rate, not entirely. He moves too fast. Look at me. I'm dripping here, but he barely broke a sweat."

"Vampire," Whistler confessed. "Of the cursed variety."

Ralph nodded. "I thought so. Angel … Angelus. Hence the broadsword comment. Interesting. Then I take it you want lessons at night?"

By three in the morning, they had visited all of Whistler's contacts and arranged lessons or training sessions. Before going back to the demon's apartment, they paused at a gloomy cellar bar where Whistler ordered a beer and a pint of O+, pushing the latter in front of his companion. "That's all you're getting. They won't allow breakages in here, it's a neutral bar. How're you feeling?"

Angel gripped the glass but did not lift it. "Tired. That's not unusual."

"Give it time, man. You've not eaten properly for years. With a bit of time and some training you'll be feeling better in a coupla weeks." Whistler raised his glass. "Cheers."

Angel nodded, and picked up his own drink. "Slàinte."