"Come on Cordy, where is it? Where is it?"
"Geez, have a little patience. You're going to make your face all wrinkly, which is so something you don't need, especially not in your all 'grr' face."
Angel clenched the phone a little tighter in his hand and felt his lips curl unhappily. He hadn't wanted to leave Connor, but Cordelia had had a vision and he had a job to do, never mind that he was still in the new-father camp and didn't want to leave his son for even a moment.
He'd been out on a diaper run when Cordelia had called. Now he was at a red-lighted intersection waiting impatiently for her to tell him who he was supposed to save.
"All right, here goes," she said. "Um, it's a demon bar called the Black Horse. I'm looking up the address right now. There's a young guy in there, about twenty-something, and he's going to be attacked by a bunch of vampires. I saw him sitting at the bar and them circling around him about to attack. You're gonna have to hurry."
"Don't bother looking up the address, I know where the Horse is. I'll be back soon." He hesitated for a second, biting his lip, then hurriedly said, "Make sure to sing Connor a song and don't forget Mr. Boo." Click, he hung up.
Being a parent was more fulfilling than he had ever thought it would be, but it was also a bit more embarrassing than he had been prepared for. He didn't mind seeming like an overprotective geek, but even he knew enough to feel a little uncomfortable. Still, Connor was the most important thing in his life and he wasn't going to relax his vigilance over his son, not even if it made him seem like an asshole.
The light changed and he sped out, glad of the lack of traffic. It meant he didn't have to think about how completely neurotic he was becoming. It was just that a little life depended on him for everything, and he didn't want to let Connor down.
The Black Horse was a real dive, looking more like someone's filthy basement than anywhere a person would want to drink. Angel had to wonder why a normal human would want to come here, but he knew that people were always doing dumb things without a reason. Like here he was trying to save the life of yet one more person that probably didn't even want to be saved.
He pushed the door open and sauntered into the place, putting out so many vampire "vibes" that none of the local demons would bother him. It was obvious that he was a Master, dominant to pretty much anything that wanted to come after him, and even if he couldn’t take the next monster that wanted him, he would go down fighting. No one wanted to mess with him, not smelling the way he did, of danger and soul. He would not back down, and a Master vampire that won't give in is a vampire that will kill any threat or die trying.
Angel flared his nostrils, scenting the vaguely putrid air, while at the same time scanning the place with his eyes. The sound of a human heartbeat pounded out its siren's song and his attention was drawn to a figure hunched at the bar. The only human in a place filled with demons and other things.
Angel shot the bartender a flat-eyed look, a silent warning the Qrual demon didn't even need to take out its third eye to recognize. The bartender nodded at him and grabbed up his filthy rag and came out from behind the bar to wipe down the tables, carefully not looking directly at the vampire.
There was always a grim sense of satisfaction in scaring the locals. A remnant of Angelus perhaps, delighting in being the meanest, toughest bastard around. The whole having a soul thing didn't exactly tamp down his delight in being a badass. It just made him better at hiding it.
He crossed the room to sit next to the man at the bar. Glanced at him out of the corner of his eye and found his attention caught despite himself, his throat going a little tight.
The man was young, though he had one of those faces that was hard to put an age to. When he was sixteen he probably looked to be in his twenties, and when he was forty, he would still look twenty. No matter how old he got, people were always going to be misreading his age, thinking him older or younger than he really was. But that didn't mean he would just disappear into a crowd, oh no.
He was attractive with dark brown hair and lightly tanned skin, every bit of his body screaming good health. He should have been just another brainless pretty boy, but the sullen quirk of his eyebrows and the vaguely sneering twist of his lips told another story, hinted at a temper barely held in check. Looking closer though, his eyes were filled with a silent pain that told of a past that wasn't exactly perfect joy. His life hadn't gone exactly the way he wanted it to, and maybe he was a bit bitter about it, but that only added spice to his beauty.
If he had still been Angelus, Angel knew that he would have wanted to possess this man. To either warp that beauty into his own toy, or crush it so no one else could ever have it. There was nothing like the delight of destroying something precious.
But he wasn't Angelus. He was here to save this man, to take him out of the darkness and knock him back into the light. There was something almost regretful about that.
* * *
Miles glanced at the man that had sat down almost too close next to him. "What?"
The guy smiled a little, being friendly, though it was obvious he was bad at it. "My name is Angel."
"And I care why?" Miles' voice came out dry, a little raspy. He lifted his whiskey and swallowed the last of it, then glanced around for the bartender, but the guy had disappeared somewhere. He pushed his glass a little away from him, hinting for a refill.
"Why'd you come into a place like this?" Angel asked.
Miles rolled his eyes. "Thirsty. I came in here for a drink, not a date, so back off."
It was kind of funny how flustered the guy got. "What? No, no, I'm not trying to pick you up." He waved his hands around, almost hitting Miles on the arm. "I'm... I'm here to save you. That's what I do. Save people, you know. Hero stuff for hire."
"I don't need saving," Miles said, giving the guy a hard look. "If you're trying to convert me, I'm not interested, and if you're serious about the superhero thing, if you voluntarily sign in you won't have so much trouble in the psych-ward. Why don't you go get yourself some help, Superman?"
"You don't understand, really. My secretary--Cordelia--she has Visions, and she Saw you being attacked by v... a gang. I'm here to protect you."
"Man, you seriously need to have your brain examined. Go bother someone else, I don't need the trouble now. Once I finish my next drink, I'm out of here and you can try and save whoever comes in next." He purposely turned so his back was a little to the guy. He really didn't need this shit now. He was already in kind of a dark place in his head. There was no way he was going to let some crazy take a smack at fucking his head up even more.
There was already too much crap in his brain. He could tell that he was too close to the breaking point, when he would go on some rampage and people were going to get hurt. He didn't need to be bothered by some jerk with a hero-complex that couldn't take no for an answer.
Miles' attention was caught when the door opened and a crowd of raucous people tumbled in, talking loudly and hitting each other with smacks of leather and flesh. He didn't turn around, but he hunched his shoulders more. Years of fighting had taught him when trouble was coming at his back, and even if it couldn’t kill him, there were ways for him to feel the pain.
"Hey, what's the blood-bag doing in here? Did somebody order takeout?" Laugh, laugh.
"He's not paying any attention to us, just showin' off that tasty neck. Think he wants it?"
"Oh yeah, and I wanna give it to him." Laugh, laugh.
A hand fell on Miles' shoulder and spun him around to look into five leering faces. "Hey, blood-bag, thanks for coming onto our turf. We were feeling kind of hungry," the obvious leader said.
Miles held his hands palm out at about chest height. "Look, I don't want any trouble. Why don't you go bother somebody else?"
The man's face twisted a little in what was supposed to be thought, then he shook his head. "Nope, don't think so. Just smelling you has gotten me all hungry, and I want to eat." His face suddenly morphed into a hideous visage, all yellow eyes and ridged forehead, like a badly made up Klingon.
"Dammit, vampires?" Miles turned his head to look at Angel. "Why the hell didn't you tell me it was a bunch of vampires? I probably would have listened to you then."
Angel looked surprised. "You know about vampires?"
"Duh. If you get around as much as I have you pretty much see a bit of everything." He glared at the vampires in front of him. "You really don’t want to do this."
"Oh, but I think we do," the leader said, lunging forward with his teeth bared.
His face smoothing out into a mask of non-expression, Miles hooked his stool with his right foot and hopped to the floor with his left. He swung his right leg hard, snapping his foot into a point and flinging the metal barstool off it. The stool struck the vampire in the face, barely slowing him, but giving Miles time to make his next move.
He leapt up onto the bar and used it as a launching pad, springing into the air in a perfect flip over the vampires' heads. He landed behind them and quickly began to lash out with punches and kicks, a part of him liking the solid impact of his fists and feet against flesh. He might decry the idea of war, but he couldn't help it that his body liked to fight. He had killed people, always in the name of some just cause or other, but in the end it was all about the fact that a part of him enjoyed the violence. It was only while fighting that he ever felt truly alive. The rest of him had died a long time ago.
Fighting made his heart beat faster and the adrenaline flow through him. For a little while, it let him pretend that he was still the man he used to be, the person he had never really wanted to leave behind.
When you decide you love someone enough to grow old with them, staying young forever while their hair turns grey and their face gets wrinkled is like a betrayal of every promise made. He hadn't asked for this to happen to him, and he would give it back if he could. Humans just weren't meant to last forever as unchanging monuments. He had nothing to show for all the years he'd lived, because his face was still as wide and blank as it had always been.
He was tired of living when he was fifty, yet here he was still around, unable to lay his head down and rest. He just couldn't die, and he fucking hated it.
Sometimes he looked around at all the normal people going about their daily lives and was just so damn resentful he didn't even have the words to describe it. The bitterness just welled up in him and if he could have killed them all, in those moments he probably would have. They got to stop fucking living. They had the power to end their meaningless little lives. They weren't forced to last forever when all they wanted to do was sleep. It just wasn't fair.
About the only people he thought might feel the same as him were vampires, but they were all assholes. Controlled by their demons, their sole existence was bundled up in the feed and kill. They never got tired of living, not as long as they got to torture and maim and there were throats to rip out. They were constantly amused, and a part of him envied them that.
He didn't have anything to thrill at. He just had endless days of normalcy. All of the pains and aggravations of being normal, but without the fear of getting hurt or dying, there was nothing to really motivate him to try anything. It was just an endless expanse of same-kind-of days. And he hated it, always had.
He wasn't Jesse, to constantly be caught up in the moment, with the attention span of the average gnat. He didn't have some strange wide-eyed passion for the future and new technologies. He was basically just an eighteenth-century man plunged out of his depth and desperate for things to go back to the way they were supposed to be. Driving horse-drawn carriages instead of cars. Being poor and not caring about it because everyone around him was too. Farming with a single-blade plow while wearing clothes made from rough, homespun cloth. Standing in the middle of a field or forest and knowing that there was no other human for twenty miles around. Going to the store was a treat worth getting dressed up for, because there was no TV to bring entertainment right into his home. Dancing with his mother while his brother played a penny whistle and Tuck squeezed the accordion. Looking out at the world and knowing that everything was all new, untouched by him or anyone else.
He missed the days when he was young, back when he was as fragile as any other human being. He missed knowing that he could be broken, because now that he was invulnerable... he couldn't really believe that he was human anymore.
* * *
Angel had never seen anything like it before. The guy was just so unassuming, then BAM! Stools were flying around and fists and feet were striking vampires with amazing speed, then there were "poofs" of disintegrating vampires turning to dust. It was pretty awesome.
For a vampire, dusting ten other vampires was a feat to work at. But for what smelled like a normal human... it should have been the impossible.
This is the guy I'm supposed to rescue? Angel thought disbelievingly.
The guy didn't need any help kicking ass. He was killing vampires with a serious aplomb. It was like something out of an action movie... or maybe a page out of Angel's autobiography.
He couldn't imagine why the Powers That Be had sent him here. There wasn't anything he could do. The man was taking care of everything for himself.
Fourteen vampires killed in as many minutes. A Slayer couldn’t have done much better.
With a last "poof," the guy panted to a stop and stood there breathing deeply, his chest pumping like billows. He turned to look at Angel. "Why the hell didn't you tell me there were fucking vampires after me? I really hate having to kill like that," he growled.
Angel stood there blank faced, wearing what might have been confused as his usual "brooding" expression. "Most normal people typically don't believe in the existence of vampires, and when you tell them that a horde of bloodsucking demons are coming to get them, they tend to assume that you're crazy. I didn't want you to discount everything I had to say because you thought I was insane, so instead I tried the old 'it's a rampaging gang hopped up on PCP' excuse." He shrugged.
"Well, I suppose I should thank you anyway just for trying, even though the warning was a little late and I didn't listen to you anyway. My name is Miles Tuck." He moved his erstwhile stake to his left hand and offered his right.
Angel looked at the hand. It was coated in dust, but there was no sign that he had been punching vampires just minutes before. Even Buffy, with her Slayer strength, got scraped knuckles after a night of vampire beating, but this guy's hand was completely unmarked.
Angel took the hand, noting that it was warm, so he wasn't dealing with some kind of living-dead creature. He cocked his head. "I already told you I'm Angel. Why don't you come back to the office with me, if you don't have anywhere else to be? There's some things we should probably talk about."
Miles smiled, but it didn't touch his eyes, which remained hard. "I think I will go back with you. I don't really have anywhere to be, not until next week."
They stood there for a long moment looking at each other. There was a lot they could have said, but they didn't. Angel could have revealed that he was a vampire with a soul and a mission from the Powers That Be, or Miles could have said that he was an unaging human that probably couldn't ever be killed. There really was a lot they could say, but neither even tried.
Angel started walking toward the door and Miles followed after him, unspeaking.