Okay, blame this one on Tina, Leslie, and of course Lizbet. [g]
Standard disclaimers apply.
"...we find thee guilty of willfully destroying the lives and souls of mortals. How dost thou respond, Vampyre?"
The demon who went by the name of Angelus bared his teeth silently. He had given up struggling long ago--not even vampire strength could stand against guards holding wooden crosses--but he'd be damned twice over if he would show them submission. They would die, all of them, he knew they would. If they managed to kill him, then Darla would avenge him before the sun had risen twice.
A tremor of regret slid through him at the thought of Darla. His master and his mistress, for these last hundred years. He wondered if she would miss him; probably not. Then he forced his attention back to the Romany tribunal.
"We have devised a suitable punishment for thee, Vampyre."
He raised his chin. Even a demon could face death with dignity.
"For the killing of our clan's daughter, Mara, we give you the punishment of...humanity."
Angelus stared at them blankly for a moment, then began struggling in earnest, but it was too late. A hundred years' worth of sins, or remorse, of feeling poured into him in a moment.
The creature once known as Angelus staggered wearily down an alley. He didn't know what town he was in, what country he was in. A day before, an hour before, it hadn't mattered. Now he was afraid to ask.
People walked past him, giving him as much room as possible. He wondered why they were staring at him like that. Did it show, somewhere on his face? Did they know he was an animal?
Even animals must feed. He must feed. But not even his grinding hunger could make him approach a human, not now.
As he rounded a corner, he saw it--a wounded cat lying against the wall. Most likely thrown there. It was nursing what was probably a broken leg. *Food,* his mind told him. *Blood.* He approached the cat warily...it looked up at him, blinked once, and then began to purr. He nearly laughed. "No. No, God, please..."
He staggered and fell, but no one approached to help.
He finally pulled himself to the wall near the cat and lay there, gripping the cobblestones and trying to feel something besides pain. "I can't..." he muttered hoarsely. "It hurts..." He choked in breath he couldn't feel for a sob he felt too much.
Hours later, something made him raise his head. It wasn't a noise, exactly, but something he felt instinctively, the way he had always known another vampire was there.
He knew as soon as he saw the girl that she was the one. She was tall and lean, with cropped black hair and dark eyes, and the way she stood might have told him who she was anyway. Not many women, in this time, looked so completely unafraid of anything.
"Slayer," he murmured softly. So this was to be his destiny, to receive a soul and then to die. Perhaps he would be saved one or two of Hell's torments for his repentance.
The Slayer looked down at him, and her confidence was replaced by confusion. "You are a vampire," she said clearly.
She was still looking at him, puzzled. He realized belatedly that the weight on his chest was not his own hunger but the cat. It had settled in under his chin to sleep. He raised a shaking hand to stroke its gray fur. "It's still purring," he said with wonder.
She shook her head slowly. "Something's wrong. You're...different."
"No," he said flatly. "I'm still a demon."
"I've never seen an animal trust a demon before."
"Kill me," he said, almost desperately.
Her eyes gleamed with what might be amusement. "No one's ever asked me to do that before." She kept those cool, measuring eyes on him one moment longer, then nodded her head decisively and moved off.
He groaned softly. So she would just leave him there? Very well, then. The sun's first rays would kill him. He began to lay back--
Something landed next to his head. He jerked around, dislodging the cat, who meowed. "What the--"
Two more dead rats landed next to his head. The Slayer stepped out of the shadows. "They're not much," she said simply, "but they're food."
He just stared at her.
"I know you're hungry. Eat!"
He reached one trembling hand for the nearest rat. To his surprise, the cat didn't run when he turned vampire and attacked the rat; it just looked at him with mild curiosity.
When he'd drained all three rats, he looked back up at the Slayer. "I don't understand."
"Neither do I. But I know enough of destiny to see that I should let you live."
Destiny. The word echoed in his mind. It made some sort of twisted sense; strengthened him, somehow. He pulled himself to his feet, still cradling the cat, and looked down on her. "You won't regret it."
"No." She smiled, briefly, and his heart turned over. Then the sense of another vampire flashed into his mind--and, he saw, hers too--and they both turned to face the demon approaching from the darkness.
"Who are you?" the vampire said, flashing its fangs at the pair.
"The Slayer," she said simply, moving into a fighting stance.
He set the cat down carefully and moved to stand behind her.
"And you?" the vampire asked scornfully in his direction.
He started to reply with his old name, but...
"Angel." He managed a cocky grin--his first real smile in a hundred years. "Just call me Angel."
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