Chapter 3 : A Death in the Family

Publish Date: 14 March 2002

The Vampire War Series
"Childe of the Blood"
-- A Death in the Family --

Angel was annoyed. It was the third night of the Hunt already, and he wanted to be out looking for prey. But dammit, he also wanted to wash his hair -- and buy a new shirt -- *and* pick up one of those giant fluffy bath sheets because he didn't like the scratchy little towels in the hotel...

Angel sighed. //Do other vampires worry about things like this?// he wondered. //Maybe it's just me...// He'd run out of shampoo and conditioner, and he was *not* going to use the stuff in the little courtesy bottles in the bathroom. He still wanted to go air-borne Hunting, but he didn't want to ruin one of his good shirts. He *really* wanted a nice *big* fluffy towel...

Giles had offered to go shopping for him, but Angel had politely declined. Back in England, he had servants who took care of this sort of thing, which was why he'd forgotten that he needed more shampoo and conditioner. But it didn't seem right to treat the Watcher as his personal shopping assistant, and he didn't trust the hotel staff to buy exactly what he wanted. He was very particular about what he put on his hair -- not to mention what he wore, even if he *was* going to destroy it by poking his wings through it the moment he put it on.

So, things being what they were, Angel went shopping.

He located the nearest mall -- which was open late in honour of some human holiday, or anniversary, or religious festival, or... well it was open -- he didn't care after that.

And now here he was, standing in line at the checkout with shampoo, conditioner, a new shirt, and a giant towel, waiting to pay for his items behind a human couple with a baby.

He was *supposed* to be a powerful vampire Prince. He *wanted* to be out Hunting. He *hated* standing in line. He was *fervently* glad nobody here knew who he was. He was *never* doing this again.

The baby was giving him funny looks.

As Angel stood there, wishing with all his might that the checkout operator would *hurry up*, he was unhappily assaulted by the familiar sound of people screaming.

//Oh no,// he thought with a sinking feeling, //Not again!//

---- oo00oo ----

William was running for his life. After escaping the hospital without being noticed, he'd headed here, to the inaugural opening of the newest and largest multi-level shopping mall in LA. It had originally been scheduled for opening by the fourth of July -- which would have made for some spectacular opening celebrations -- but bad management and contractual problems had held off the end of construction for well over three months. Rather than wait any longer, its financial backers had decided to open the now-complete mall in time for Halloween.

However, the nights of the annual vampire Hunt were not *usually* considered the ideal occasion for an opening celebration. To offset this 'minor problem', the mall's backers had 'themed' everything for vampires and 'All Hallows Eve'. They'd also promised some spectacular fireworks -- the ones they hadn't used on the fourth of July -- and, most especially, they'd advertised *huge* discounts and prizes for all kinds of items and competitions.

The place was packed -- which was exactly what William needed. Unfortunately, it was only open until 9:00 pm -- which was *not* what William needed.

But he figured it would do for a couple of hours until he worked out how to get to his next hideout without having all his blood sucked out through his jugular.

Then a vampire had picked up his 'scent'.

William had realised he was being followed pretty quickly. Years of living on London's streets -- at night -- had honed *that* skill to a sharp edge. But when he'd carefully checked out the shiny reflective surfaces around him, he couldn't spot whoever it was. A direct visual check had resulted in eye-contact with a man who didn't show up in mirrors.

In that instant, they both recognised exactly what the other one was.

William took off like his heels were on fire.

The vampire followed.

---- oo00oo ----

Curious, Angel leaned sideways and craned his neck trying to see what all the yelling was about. Unfortunately, everyone else was doing the same thing, so he didn't get much of a view.

Then his senses hit him with the knowledge that an actively marked human was rapidly approaching -- and so was another vampire somewhere behind him.

Angel's frustration hit an all time high.

Dammit, he was *not* going to stand in line like some stupid sheep for one second longer. He'd had enough -- he was going Hunting *right now*. He had no intention of stealing another vampire's prey, but having a Hunt run straight past him was just *too* much. It was like somebody eating steak while he was starving in front of them.

Angel dropped his purchases on the floor and angrily shouldered past the crowd of humans pressed up along the edge of the shops. Just as he reached the front of the human crush, he saw the running prey.

A young man with bleach-blonde hair ran past him, with a Master vampire seconds behind. Mesmerised, Angel watched as the vampire leapt and brought down his prey. Humans were screaming around him, but Angel's whole world had narrowed down to the marked human rapid pulse. Angel could hear his heartbeat -- smell his fear -- the scent of his sweat and the magic of the active mark... Angel frowned. The human wasn't gasping -- breathing heavily, yes -- but he had something in his mouth. That was stupid -- it had decreased the mortal's ability to breathe, and thus to run. Then Angel's eyes became focused on the throbbing vein in the human's exposed throat...

The other vampire clawed his way up the downed mortal and obscured Angel's view of the man's neck. Angel's attention immediately jumped to the prey's face, and he absently noted that the mortal was probably in his early twenties, and was reasonably good looking.

Suddenly, Angel was jerked from his frozen contemplation by a swift and savage movement from the prey, followed by what looked like... a kiss?!

The next thing Angel registered was the smoking remains of the other vampire's face as he rolled away screaming. The human swiftly followed, with a stake in his hand, and rolled on top of the vampire, skewering him through the heart. A silent puff of inky black dust, and the human was alone on the floor, in the middle of the mall, surrounded by horrified shoppers.

The blonde looked a bit stunned, but not very surprised by what had happened to the vampire.

//He's done this before!// Angel realised suddenly. //He's dusted *others*...//

And with shock, Angel realised something else. //That wasn't a 'kiss'...// -- the clever little mortal had spit out a mouthful of holy water!

Dangerous prey indeed.

---- oo00oo ----

Gasping, William lay atop a thin spread of black dust. "Well, I guess that makes three." he muttered to himself.

From behind him came a stranger's voice.

"Three?! You've actually dusted *three* of us already?"

William jumped and turned, scrambling backwards on the floor. He saw a tall, well-built man with black hair and glowing gold eyes standing by himself in the middle of the clear area that had been left by terrified shoppers.

//Wait a minute -- glowing gold eyes?!//

"Oh, shit!"

The vampire smirked at him.

---- oo00oo ----

Angel gave the human a whole three second's head start. He was *really* going to enjoy this. A Hunt -- a *real* Hunt, where the prey could be as dangerous as the predator. He wouldn't even use his full vampire speed to catch the man -- that would make it more... sporting.

---- oo00oo ----

William was in *really* big trouble. //Oh shit, oh, fuck. Think, think, think!// he told himself; and suddenly he had an idea -- if only he could stay ahead of the vampire long enough to get there.

---- oo00oo ----

The prey was very fast. Without the mouthful of water, he was running much more efficiently than he had before. He was also a fast thinker -- throwing people and objects behind him like turned earth after a plough. It was definitely slowing Angel down. It was also no longer fun.

//Dammit!// he thought after avoiding what seemed like the hundredth screaming shopper thrown in his path. //I'm really getting sick of this...//

Then the prey knocked over a stand of tennis balls in front of a sporting store. The bouncing green things went *everywhere* and by the time Angel managed to get across the minefield of fallen people, boxes, and whatever, the prey had gone down some escalators to the next floor.

Angel noticed that they'd arrived at an atrium -- a huge space that opened up the entire center of the mall. He didn't even bother with the escalator. He simply jumped over the railing, and landed on the floor below, near the atrium's edge. His legs took up the force of his landing, and he ended up down on one knee, swivelling his head to try and catch sight of the escaping prey.

Hearing was no good over the yelling and screaming -- not to mention the awful music being piped in from somewhere. Eyesight wasn't much better -- there was too much movement and too many flashing lights and advertisements to get a line-of-sight on one man. But he still had the 'scent' of the active mark, and his nostrils flared in sympathy as he tried to magically detect the direction in which his prey had run.

//There!// He found the trail. His eyes turned to follow the direction, and a little girl who'd been staring at him, gasped at the sight of his strange eyes. She was in his way, and he leapt over her without a second thought -- all his senses straining to catch a whiff of the actively marked human.

---- oo00oo ----

//Where is it? Where is it?!// William thought. //I bloody well *know* it's here somewhere!//

He was now in a large department store, and he couldn't find the friggin' department he needed!

//I don't have *time* to look up the damn information board!// he thought as he dashed past one. Then he saw an information desk staffed by an actual human being. He rushed over, knocked an older woman out of his way, and grabbed the information girl by the front of her dress. Pulling her close, he snarled "Where d'you keep your bloody perfumes?!"

"D-d-d-down..." the girl stammered. He let go of her and raced for the next set of escalators. He was half way down them when he heard the screaming start behind him.

---- oo00oo ----

Angel caught a brief glimpse of his prey as the mortal bolted down to the next level of the department store. He wondered whether the prey had a plan in mind -- *other* than reaching the ground floor and running out into the street.

But no, *this* prey was smart -- he was dangerous. Angel reminded himself to be careful and not to underestimate the blonde man.

He reached the lower floor and immediately scented his prey's location -- he was heading back towards the front of the store. Determined that *this* time he would have a *live* human under his fangs, Angel darted after him.

Upon later reflection, Angel felt he probably should have been more cautious.

---- oo00oo ----

William finally located what he wanted -- the Perfume Department! He'd always thought these places were overpowering at the *best* of times, but now he grabbed everything in sight, throwing bottles onto the floor left, right, and center. The smell was instantly overwhelming, even to *his* nose. What would it be like for a vampire, who had a *much* more acute sense of smell? Will was counting on it being worse than a skunk.

---- oo00oo ----

Angel ran headlong into the most god-awful stink he'd ever encountered in all his human and vampire years put together. By the time he realised what was in the air, his vampiric speed had already put him smack into the middle of it.

Oh, *fuck* it was bad! Angel was desperately trying to remind his undead body that it didn't *need* to breathe, but it was already too late -- he'd been wide open -- concentrating on the 'scent' of his prey -- and his sinuses were already full of the stuff. His eyes were watering profusely and he'd started sneezing convulsively as his abused airways tried desperately to clear themselves of the offensive chemicals. Of course, all that did, was suck more of the foul stink back *into* his lungs.

Suddenly something hard and heavy struck him from behind. He went down in a heap -- blind and still sneezing madly. He momentarily offered up silent thanks to his Sire for the gift of his wings -- in their compact state they acted like a pair of armoured bars down his back -- and without them, Angel was sure he would've had several broken ribs and more than a few cracked vertebrae.

Someone landed on top of him, and in a panic Angel realised that the hunter had just become the hunted!

Amazingly enough, a powerful sneeze probably saved him from being dusted, as his head was thrown forwards, and he forcefully head-butted the blonde prey. The human's grip loosened, and Angel wasted no time in grabbing whatever he could reach and flinging the mortal as far away as his strength would let him. After that, he concentrated on feeling his way blindly out of the stinking miasma, and back towards air that could be used to help flush out his lungs and sinuses.

By the time he managed to stop sneezing, and his eyes had stopped watering, it was too late.

The prey was long gone.

---- oo00oo ----

William limped along as swiftly as he could. He was pretty sure the vampire was in no shape to follow him, but that didn't mean some other bloodsucker wouldn't have a go in the meantime.

"Bloody hell, I hurt!" he moaned to himself. //I didn't know they were so *strong*.// he thought. Actually, he was pretty sure they *weren't* that strong -- at least the other three hadn't been. Maybe that last one was some kind of vampire 'superman'. "Just was I fuckin' need..." he cursed for a while, but didn't slow his pace.

He'd figured out where he was going next, and even had a few bottles of holy water and a couple of stakes left. He could, of course, detour to pick up more weapons from one of his hidden caches, but injured as he was, he felt too exposed to risk the extra time and distance. He could also feel a nasty headache developing, centred on the spot where the vampire had knocked into him -- and if his luck for tonight ran true, he was probably suffering from a minor concussion. On top of that, he'd been thrown half way across a department store. That had *really* hurt. He was just lucky he hadn't broken anything.

No, he had enough on him to defend himself if he really *had* to -- what he needed now was someplace to hole up and try to give his battered self a chance to start healing -- or at least to stop *hurting* so much. So Will headed straight for the place he'd decided on, and hoped like hell he made it there without any more vampires turning up.

---- oo00oo ----

Moaning softly, Angel dragged his pitiful undead body into his hotel suite and straight to the bathroom. Giles was asleep by the time he made it back, which was fine by him. He didn't want *anyone* he knew seeing him like this. For once he was grateful he *couldn't* see himself in the mirror.

Once he'd stopped sneezing, his eyes had begun to dry out. They presently felt like they'd moved to a desert and had forgotten to let the rest of him know. They were puffy and tender to the touch, and Angel suspected they were also a very unbecoming shade of red. He was *really* grateful he didn't have to breathe -- he had no idea what it would be like to actually inhale though his nose right now -- and he had absolutely no desire to find out.

He stripped off his clothes and put *all* of them into a garbage bag. Then he sealed it -- airtight, or so he hoped. Tomorrow, he was going to find some lowly hotel employee and send *them* shopping. If they bought him the wrong thing, he was going to go 'vampire' on them and terrify them into going back again and again until they got it right.

He never wanted to *look* at a department store again.

Then he filled the extra-large bathtub.

A shower just wasn't going to cut it. He needed to *completely* submerge himself and *soak* -- until the water turned cold.

When the tub was full, Angel gratefully sank himself into it, and then remained there -- completely underwater and unmoving. The heat and water pressure were a balm on his aching face and eyes, and he finally felt himself relaxing as the steamy water calmed and soothed his unhappy muscles.

Angel knew humans had things like 'heat packs' to simulate this sort of experience -- for when they got headaches or some such. He was, however, quite certain that there was no way something like that could possibly compare with the ability to submerge your entire head in wonderfully hot water and *keep* it there.

Bliss.

---- oo00oo ----

Will *really* needed aspirin. Or earplugs. Maybe both. Definitely both.

He was currently enjoying the hospitality of the US Postal Service. They ran all-night shifts in their sorting depots, and they certainly had enough people, lighting, machinery, and out-of-the-way places to hide, to satisfy Will's requirements for an acceptable bolt-hole.

But *god* -- the noise was *killing* him!

Okay -- maybe not killing him literally -- but hurting enough for him to risk being seen. In desperation, he sneaked down to the staff meeting room and stole the first aid box.

And while he was there...

//...Coffee...// he definitely needed coffee...

And what was this? //Oh, thank-you Lord...// Someone had left a pair of earmuffs -- forgotten on the table.

And finally...

//Aahhh... aspirin....//

---- oo00oo ----

Angel finally emerged from the bath. He had no shampoo, no conditioner, a dinky little towel, and *all* the clothing he'd been wearing -- not just his shirt -- was now unfit to be anywhere near.

He didn't care.

He was finally feeling more like his usual self, //Thank-you vampire healing,// and his hungry demon was reasserting its desire to Hunt. Angel's rational side was counselling *against* going out again tonight, but the demon was arguing strongly.

Settling on a temporary compromise, Angel heated some blood from the fridge and gulped it down. He knew he must be getting desperate when the pig's blood still reminded him of human O positive.

Seriously considering the pros and cons of going out again, Angel took his nearly-empty cup and went to sit on the sofa. He was acutely aware of the fact that he'd only managed to drain two humans so far, while the last prey he'd chased had already dusted *three* Master vampires.

The *prey* had a higher kill rate than he did.

That was embarrassing.

Eventually, he realised that he wasn't going to be able to sleep tomorrow unless he managed to get at least *one* live human under his fangs tonight. With somewhat less enthusiasm than he should've had, Angel threw on some clothes and went back out onto the LA streets.

He didn't even consider heading for the roof.

If he tried flying tonight, he'd probably run into the side of a building.

---- oo00oo ----

It was an incredibly grateful William who sneaked back out of the Postal Depot the next morning, along with the last of the night-shift workers who were heading home for the day.

Day. Daylight.

He had survived the third night of the Hunt.

He was dead-dog tired, stiff, and sore. He needed to retrieve his backpack from a locker in the shopping mall, and then he needed to visit one of his hidden caches and stock up on weapons and holy water. He also needed food, and a secure place to spend the *fourth* night of the Hunt -- preferably somewhere he could turn into a damn fortress.

Only once he'd accomplished all *that*, was he going to be able to get the sleep he so desperately craved.

Oh, and he needed a shower -- he still smelled like a perfume factory.

---- oo00oo ----

"Angel. Angel!"

With a start, Angel awoke -- sitting up in shock as some vague sense of desperation and desire faded from his mind. Confused, he saw Giles standing at the foot of the bed, concern written on his face. "Uh... Giles?" he mumbled, "What's wrong?"

"You were having a nightmare," the Watcher replied, "...or 'daymare', if you prefer."

Well, that explained why Giles' was all the way down at the foot of the bed. No human in their right mind was going to get any closer than that, to a vampire who might wake up and instinctively attack any potential threat -- like a mortal hovering over them.

"I heard noises and came to investigate," Giles continued, "You were extremely agitated -- thrashing about -- and, er... growling." he continued to look worried. "Angel, I couldn't wake you." he said. "I was seriously considering the possibility of having to throw things at you, and I wasn't sure even *that* was going to work. Are you alright?"

//Am I?// The question disturbed Angel. He felt... bloated... sort of.

The second part of last night had been far more successful than Angel had anticipated. He'd Hunted -- and drained -- two prey in close succession.

After catching the first mortal completely unaware, he'd rendered the woman unconscious and then drained her to the last drop. The sensation of her heart pumping her living blood out to his waiting tongue had been exquisite. The influx of magical energy had likewise suffused him with an intense and delicate awareness of every sound, every smell, every touch on his skin -- he'd been hyper-aware, even for a vampire.

And just quietly -- in the back of his mind -- the knowledge that she hadn't suffered in her passing, as she would have with another vampire, was a small salve on his human conscience.

Angel hadn't even been even looking for a second kill when he'd stumbled upon the actively marked Chinese man. But he wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and he'd quickly repeated his earlier actions, carefully lowering the bloodless corpse to the street afterwards.

It wasn't until he was halfway back to the hotel that Angel wondered if perhaps he'd finally had enough -- or rather, too much -- of human blood.

He wasn't used to storing so much magical energy, and he felt.. overfull -- as if he'd reached or exceeded some capacity he hadn't known he had. He knew he would be able to cast any of the Greater Spells now -- and probably even several of them. Yet he felt... almost ill... except that it wasn't a physical discomfort. There was no part of himself he could point to and say 'that's what hurts'. It was an uncomfortable and vaguely disturbing sensation.

By the time Angel had reached his suite in the hotel, he'd felt as though he *should* have had a stomach-ache -- but didn't. The impression was so strong that he wondered whether he could sleep off the effects of having too much energy in his system the same way that way humans could sleep off the effects of drinking too much alcohol. With any luck the excess would just sort of... 'dribble' away as his body metabolised and stored what it could, and discarded what it couldn't.

His only other choice would have been to start casting spells in an effort to drain the excess energy. But he had so *much* magical energy in his system that he would've had to cast at least one fairly substantial spell -- which would require time to prepare -- or a large number of lesser spells -- which would take time to execute. Faced with the option of staying awake and working to expend the excess magical energy, or collapsing onto the bed and hoping for the best... well, it wasn't like the problem could actually *kill* him, was it?

Unfortunately, now that he'd *had* a few hours sleep, he wasn't so sure. Kill? No -- he was already dead; but *explode*? Maybe. As impossible as it *should* have been -- Angel could feel the faint stirrings of hunger building up again.

"Angel?" Giles voice registered in his ears. "Perhaps I should call --"

"No," Angel cut in. "I'm fine, really." The Watcher looked doubtful. Angel continued, "Look Giles, I've just had... a rough couple of nights. That's all."

The Watcher studied him closely. He obviously didn't like what he was seeing. "Angel, I really do think --" he began.

"I said *no*!" Angel savagely commanded.

Giles blinked. Angel felt as surprised as the mortal looked. Such an outburst wasn't like him at all.

"Yes, your Highness," Giles acknowledged softly, and turned to leave.

//Dammit!// Angel thought. "Giles, wait. I... I didn't mean it like that..." The Watcher had stopped and was looking at him. Angel felt about twelve inches tall and incredibly childish. "Alright," he conceded, "Alright, I'll call my Sire." Giles waited as Angel ran his fingers tiredly though his hair in defeat. Angel noticed the patient expectation. "Tonight!" he added in exasperation, "Just... just not *now* okay? Let me... I just want to *sleep* for now..."

Giles nodded. "I really do think you need to talk to him about whatever's happening to you," the Watcher replied, "You've been out of sorts for the last three nights." He paused, then added slowly, "Since the Hunt began, actually."

Angel growled. "*Tonight*, Watcher," he warned in a low voice. "Not now."

Giles simply nodded, knowing that Angel had reached the limit of his patience. Only a fool would push him further. The human accepted Angel's promise, and left the angry, tired, and unsettled vampire to his sleep.

Angel dropped back onto the bed, and let the dreams come again. A strange desperation haunted him, intimately tied to an intense desire for something he couldn't name -- but that he chased endlessly through the darkness. He slept restlessly -- and this time silently -- while in the other room, Giles worried for him.

---- oo00oo ----

It was sometime before noon, and William had just woken up. He was pretty much all set for tonight -- the fourth night of the Hunt -- and now he was ready for a decent feed and the chance to stock up on coffee and other stimulants before returning to his new bolt-hole for an afternoon siesta.

Learning from past mistakes, he also wanted to acquire an alarm clock of some type to make sure he didn't sleep past sunset.

Dressed in the uniform of the LA airport ground staff -- fake ID included (even if it didn't look much like him) -- Will was very carefully staying away from any part of the airport that included x-ray machines, sniffer dogs, or guards. It was a bit tricky at times, but he'd left the gun with his gear in an out-of-the-way area of the luggage-handling section, and he wasn't interested in bombing anything, so he wasn't trying to get access to anybody's luggage, and of course, he wasn't trying to get *onto* an aeroplane, so...

The bottom line was that he wasn't doing anything that might cause someone to be suspicious of him. It wasn't *easy*, but he managed.

And now he wanted food.

He got changed into his street clothes and used the travellers' showers to clean himself up. He'd done the same thing *before* falling asleep this morning, but his mind was *still* smelling perfume on him, even if his nose didn't agree.

After that, he left the airport and caught a bus back into the city. He debated a location for lunch, and eventually settled on a favourite cafe that he'd occasionally hung out in when he used to work for Eddie.

//God,// he thought, //When I *used* to work for Eddie! It seems like a bloody *lifetime* ago -- hard to believe it's only been four days,// and then he thought darkly, //or three nights, depending on how you count it.//

William ordered a lavish lunch and made arrangements for a take-away meal that he could pick up on his way out. The take-out was mostly cold food like sandwiches, which would keep until later tonight, when he was hungry again.

William was just settling down to his much-needed meal when two men walked up to his table. "Excuse me," the older one said in a calm voice, "but are you 'William' -- an English citizen who used to reside at the 'Rogues Gallery' nightclub?"

Will's heart dropped into his shoes. These two might just as well be screaming 'We're cops!' at the top of their lungs. Had the warehouse owner reported him to the coppers? Nobody could've connected him to the hospital, surely! The shopping mall? Oh, yeah -- plenty of people had seen him there. But he hadn't *done* anything! There was no law against running for your life from a vampire. //But,// he thought grimly, //there *are* laws about assaulting stupid shoppers, disturbing the peace, and destroying hundreds of dollars worth of perfume.// But then, of course, he was marked -- destined for death sometime in the next four nights. They couldn't *really* be worried about some bloke who hadn't killed anyone, and who was already on death row, could they?

"Er, sorry, mate," he replied calmly, "never heard of him."

The younger one pulled out his passport and opened it up to his photograph. "Then, this isn't you?" he asked cynically.

//Oh, shit,// William realised, //The *Melles* -- and that *bloody* camera! Oh, shit!//

William looked down at his lunch. He really *needed* to eat. No matter what else happened, he'd be dead for sure if he was fainting with hunger come nightfall. //Ah, fuckit,// he thought, //they already know it's me, and I'm *not* leaving all this food.// "Look cop... er, officers," he began, "see this?" and he pointed to the mark over his eyebrow. "This means I've had one hell of a night, alright? Can you at least wait until I've had *lunch*?"

Apparently not. Whatever the Melles had told the police, it had to have been a damn-sight worse than a stolen camera. The two policemen were *not* happy campers. William managed to grab a few mouthfuls of food before he was handcuffed and manhandled into a police car. He had briefly considered resisting arrest, but he was already bruised, hungry, and outnumbered -- and besides, they might have had backup.

No, it was better to co-operate and talk his way out of it. Whatever the Bitch and Co. had told the LA police, it was obviously a big fat lie. Not only would they die before admitting what had *really* happened, but not even LA cops would hound a condemned man over a camera that had been stolen from a rich family who could easily afford a hundred of the stupid things.

Will had expected something like this might happen, given how badly the Melles would want the film back. It only remained to be seen whether he was going to get back to his hideout at the airport before sunset -- and whether he'd be in any condition to care, by the time they let him go.

But given the serious look on the two coppers' faces, and the firm way they'd hauled him in -- arresting him, even! -- whatever the Melles had concocted must have been pretty bad.

If it came down to just his word against theirs, he knew who would be believed -- and it wasn't him.

---- oo00oo ----

Just over an hour later, William finally found out what the Melles had accused him of. He was sitting by himself in an interview room -- they couldn't put a marked human in a holding cell during the Hunt without starting a riot amongst the other prisoners -- when a suit walked in, looking grim. It turned out that the unhappy pencil-neck was his state appointed attorney.

"William -- may I call you William?" the man asked as he dropped a folder onto the table between them, "my name is Don Lanning. I'm your attorney."

"Nice to meet you. What the hell's goin' on?" Will didn't have time for chit-chat.

Don looked at him, obviously trying to decide whether William was faking the ignorance. Will decided to help him out. "No, I bloody *don't* have any idea why I'm here, and no, I'm not screwing you around. See this?" and he pointed to his mark once more, "It's active. I've got bigger problems than whatever's goin' on here, so I'd *really* like to get this sorted out -- *now* if at all possible."

The attorney paled a bit when Will pointed out his mark.

"They didn't tell you, huh?" Will wasn't surprised. Whatever was bad enough to get him arrested was obviously bad enough that the mark didn't mean much at the moment.

Lanning swallowed, and said, "Actually... I *did* know. It's just... well, I've never actually spoken to anyone in your... uh, situation." William just looked at him. The attorney suddenly seemed to realise he was being unprofessional, and then got down to business. "Do you know Lord and Lady Melles?" He started with the basics.

"Of course. Be a bit hard not to, seein' as how I lived with them as a little kid." That much was true -- no harm in admitting it.

The attorney looked surprised. "You lived in their house as a child?"

"Grew up there until I was old enough to take off. Got sick of bein' told how lucky I was to be treated like dirt." the Attorney looked unhappy again. "Look," Will demanded, "just tell me what they reckon' I've done, alright?"

"Lord and Lady Melles allege that you were a servant in their employ -- gaining their trust over the course of several years. Then they apparently caught you trying to steal Lady Melles' jewellery. They claim that they only hired you because you were marked, and they felt sorry for you. You were supposedly dismissed from their service over six months ago, at which time they offered to send you back to England. However, they further claim that you were enraged with the treatment you received, and made several threats against them, and against their son. It's alleged that you chose to remain in LA in order to carry out these threats. They say that their generosity even extended to having a very expensive medallion made for you, but that when it broke three days ago, you decided that you had nothing left to lose, and attempted to carry out those threats."

Lanning looked up from the papers on the table.

"Keep goin'," William said tightly. "What exactly do they reckon' I've done?"

The attorney pursed his lips and looked at William consideringly. After a moment, he turned back to the papers in front of him. "They allege that three days ago, you came to their house with a gun, threatened and imprisoned some of their staff, and then tried to murder them when they arrived home." Lanning finished.

//That's it?// Will thought. //Nothing about a camera? No stolen property?//

"William," the attorney began, "These are very serious allegations. If you really threatened these people, then the police have every right to hold you until a court hearing. You and I both know what *that* will mean after sunset tonight. You'll be confined in a locked room with *no weapons* and no chance to run or defend yourself." Lanning was once more looking grim. "Frankly, you don't have the *time* to wait for due process."

Will bit his lip and tried to think. "Can you speed it up for me?" he finally asked. "I mean -- if I can prove they're lying -- can you get me out *before* sunset?"

The attorney looked surprised. "Young man," he said confidently, "if you can give me the least bit of evidence to prove that *anything* they've claimed is a lie, I'll have you out of here so fast, your head will spin." He paused, then added, "Your... ah, 'situation'," and he glanced at the mark on Will's forehead again, "will let me get away with a hell of a lot if there's the least chance that these 'people' are lying."

For the second time Lanning let his professional mask slip, and Will heard the tiniest bit of dislike creep into the attorney's voice. Will grinned evilly. "You've *met* the Melles, 'aven't you?"

"Let's just say," Lanning replied cautiously, "that they haven't been interested in winning friends at *all* levels of society."

"You mean they're stuck up ponces who treat regular folk like scum."

Lanning frowned, his professional mask back in place. "Such comments are hardly helpful to your case, William."

"Yeah, well," he replied, "my 'case' is about to get a whole lot better."

---- oo00oo ----

Three and a half hours later, William was sucking on a cigarette and shaking hands with his mate 'Don' outside the police station.

William's first suggestion had been that Don ask the Melles' accountant for his pay records. If he'd *ever* been a servant in their employ, then he would've been paid, right? So where were the records? The next thing he'd asked was why -- if he'd supposedly left the Melles' employ -- did they still have his passport? The third question was, what did they claim he'd been employed *as*?

It turned out that they'd well and truly shot themselves in the foot when the Melles' attorney -- looking outraged at having to defend his clients' honesty -- reported that William was alleged to have been a valet for 'dear Jonathan'.

Will knew there *had* been a valet for a while -- one who *had* been dismissed for stealing -- and as he suspected they might, the Melles were trying to claim that *William* had been that valet.

The job would have given him access to Lady Melles' rooms -- and her jewellery -- in the upstairs part of the house. The valet's employment and subsequent dismissal for stealing, were common knowledge among the Melles' employees. However, the *genuine* ex-valet back in England, had a police record a mile long. He was easy to track, and didn't look a bit like William. Furthermore, *Jason Ryan's* name -- and not Will's -- was all over the employment records. The last straw, as far as the LA prosecutor was concerned, was when they found out that one of the things Jason Ryan had subsequently been convicted of, was a confidence scam involving mail fraud. William had calmly pointed out that he couldn't *read*, let alone write letters. "Just ask Eddie," he said, "it used to drive him bonkers that I couldn't write down what happened after a bust-up. The insurance always wanted a *written* report, y'know?"

All in all, it was a pretty piss-poor job of trying to frame him. The coppers were now rather irate about the whole mess, and Don had promised that -- influential or not -- the Melles *would* be hearing from the state prosecutor with regard to 'malicious complaints', 'slander', and 'wasting the court's time' in the very near future.

"Don't bother, mate," William had replied, "They'll claim it was all a big mistake, apologise, and then have some of their big-shot friends lean on some of *your* people. The whole thing will be dropped like a hot potato." Then he'd casually added, "After all, it's not as if I'm anybody important."

Don had winced at that. As a public defender he *despised* that attitude in legal circles, and although he knew Will was probably right, he didn't have to like it. "Well," he commented, "at least you still have *some* daylight left. Good luck, William."

//And *good* luck --// William reflected, //-- is exactly what I've had.//

It was only about five o'clock in the afternoon -- he still had enough time to grab a snack for later tonight, and then get himself out to the airport. Don had made sure he'd been given plenty of food, after finding out that Will hadn't eaten since the previous night. William hadn't even been roughed up or knocked about, so his injuries were no worse than when he'd woken up that morning.

Aside from the lack of sleep, William hadn't really suffered from the Melles' vindictiveness at all. He'd probably have to take his coffee intravenously to stay awake tonight, but what the hell -- he'd still gotten off lightly -- and now he wouldn't have to worry about the cops anymore. It would be a cold day in hell before they'd believe anything the Melles told them again.

But the fact that it had all been so *clumsy* -- such an *obvious* set-up -- made William very nervous. The Bitch and Co. just weren't that *stupid*.

The only point in the whole mess that had bothered him at all, was when Don had asked him *why* he'd lived with the Melles as a boy, and also why they disliked him enough to do something like this to him. William hardly wanted to explain that he'd lived in their house because they'd bought him from his mother. He especially didn't want it to come out that he was a Substitute. After all, Don had already stated that the only reason William was being released so quickly, was because he was marked. If they knew he wasn't *really* marked...

So he'd fed Don a line about being the orphan of a woman who'd once worked for the Melles. The other servants had taken him in after she died, and the Melles hadn't objected. But he'd got into a row with Lady Melles at a young age and they'd parted ways as soon a William was old enough. William had left England to 'see the world' and -- by sheer bad luck -- had ended up in LA at the same time as the Melles. He'd met up with a mate who still worked for them, and had gone to visit friends among the rest of the servants. When the Melles had found out about him, they'd sworn that he was following them with evil intent, and had confiscated his bag -- with his passport in it -- on the pretext that he was stealing stuff from them.

In short, William told Don that the Melles had become quite paranoid about him, and could not be considered rational where he was concerned.

As stories went, it had just enough truth in it for William to sound convincing, and since Don now *knew* that the Melles were liars, he didn't look too closely at William's half-truths.

And now Will was free to go -- no more arrest, no more trouble.

But it had been so *sloppy*! *Why* had the Melles done such a crap job of framing him?

The answer came to him very clearly when, as he was passing an empty side-street, several men jumped him, and knocked him unconscious.

The Melles had used the police to *find* him.

---- oo00oo ----

William was dragged back to consciousness by a bucket of cold water thrown over him. He spluttered and moaned, and tried to bring his blurry vision back into focus. A meaty hand grabbed his chin and a pale blobby-looking face appeared in front of him "Where is it?!" the face yelled, "Where's the camera, you little shit?!"

"Don' know," he mumbled. "Got rid 'f it."

"Liar!" and he was punched solidly in the gut.

William fell to the floor, dragging the chair he was tied to down with him. Distantly, he heard a new voice saying, "Go easy Spike, he can't tell us *anything* if he's out cold again -- and if you kill him, the mark'll be *your* problem, not ours."

Strange hands lifted William and the chair upright again. "Bugger off, Beanpole -- I know what I'm doin'. He won't die unless I *want* him to die."

"Fine, it's your funeral," the second voice snapped, "and don't call me, Beanpole!"

"Guys, guys!" a third voice was added to the argument, "let me remind you that unless we get that *camera* back, we don't get *PAID*! So, can we move this along, please? I am *not* gonna be here with this asshole after sunset."

There was some grumbling in the background, and when William finally managed to get his eyesight working again, he vaguely wished he hadn't.

'Spike' -- the guy who'd hit him -- was *huge*. He looked like a professional weight lifter -- or maybe a boxer. A second man, standing on William's left, looked like he was in the process of starving to death. //That would be 'Beanpole',// he guessed. The incredibly skinny guy held himself like a knife fighter. The third man, who'd been so concerned about getting paid, was standing behind 'Spike', with an impatient look on his face.

They were obviously hired muscle who would be only too happy to beat the shit out of him before leaving him tied up in the empty room for a vampire to find. Now that he'd seen them, they wouldn't want him to survive to identify them. Their only concern would be with making his final hours a living hell until he told them where the camera was.

No matter what he did or didn't say, William knew he was a dead man.

---- oo00oo ----

Angel awoke at dusk, feeling better, but still odd -- as if his skin was just a bit too tight for him. Either the magic was starting to settle, or he was getting used to it -- one or the other. He took a shower, cursing himself for being such a wuss that he would take any opportunity to delay facing Giles and the promised 'phone call to his Sire. Then he took three times longer than usual to get dressed.

Finally, he couldn't put it off any longer, and he went out to face the Watcher. He was going to have to explain to his Sire that he'd been Hunting humans, and since the 'phone couldn't convey his own voice, it would be Giles who had to relay his words through the infernal thing, to his Sire. Similarly, there would be another human in England relaying his Sire's words back through the 'phone system to him.

Giles was going to know about the humans he'd killed.

While Angel wasn't *ashamed* of what he'd done, he also wasn't looking forward to the Watcher's reaction. Irritating as the mortal could sometimes be, Angel still liked the man and considered him a friend. He didn't want to see the disappointment in his friend's face when Giles was forcefully reminded of the fact that Angel *wasn't* simply a human soul in a vampire's body -- he was also a demon -- and as *much* a vampire as any of the unsouled variety.

But Angel could still feel a simmering hunger burning in his gut -- and it was growing stronger as the darkness outside deepened. He knew something was wrong -- *very* wrong, and he ruefully admitted that the mortal was right -- he really *did* need to talk to his Sire. So he pulled himself together, braced himself for the worst, and went to find Giles.

The Watcher was waiting for him, and scrutinised him carefully before saying with satisfaction, "Good evening, Angel. I'm pleased to see you looking so much better. Do you *feel* any better?"

Angel mouthed some vague reassurance. He was all set to bring up the dreaded 'phone call, when Giles continued. "I debated whether I should deliver this message, but since you seem so improved, I shall leave it up to you as to how to respond," and Giles waved a piece of notepaper at him. "It appears that the local law enforcement people would like to ask you further questions regarding the obnoxious 'Lord Melles'."

Angel was surprised. "Not about the Minion?" he queried. Giles shook his head. "Did they say why?"

"Not a word," Giles replied. "Although I gather that they are no more impressed with this 'Melles' character than you were."

"Curious," Angel murmured.

"Are you be going to see them?" Giles asked.

Angel really *was* curious, so he decided, "Yes, I think I will."

"You won't *fly* will you?" asked an anxious Watcher. "I know you *look* better, but still..."

"Don't worry 'Mother'," Angel assured him, "I won't jump off any buildings tonight, I promise."

"Then I'll call a taxi for you."

As he was on his way out the door, Giles called after him, "Oh, and Angel?" The vampire Prince paused and looked back. "We *will* be making that 'phone call when you get back."

Angel acknowledged the truth of Giles' words with a wry smile. Then he went to meet the taxi.

---- oo00oo ----

William was currently lying on the floor of an empty room with a broken leg, two black eyes, a *whole* lot of bruises, and a swathe of minor but painful knife wounds. Hed been right about 'Beanpole' -- he was definitely a knife-fighter, and he'd wielded all his skill on Will's broken body, leaving painful but non-lethal cuts and incisions all over him. Particularly on his hands and feet.

William had told them what he'd done with the camera some time ago. They'd only believed him after he'd passed out a couple of times from the pain. They hadn't asked about the film, and Will surmised that the Melles didn't want these Neanderthals thinking that there might be something valuable *in* the camera -- so they'd probably only been told about the camera itself.

Will had hoped they might simply leave him tied to the chair with a few bruises, and abandon him when the sun went down. Most people would have assumed that would be enough to ensure his death -- and really, it probably would have been. But Will *might* have gotten away, if that had been *all* they'd done. He would've had a *chance* -- however slim.

But he didn't take into account how much 'Spike' loved his job. Once they believed Will's story, the other two had left to visit the cafe where he'd abandoned the camera. They were hopeful that they could bribe or intimidate someone into giving them a clue as to its current location.

'Spike' on the other hand, had gagged William to keep him from disturbing the neighbours, and then stayed to enjoy himself. 'Spike' was also the one who'd broken his leg. By the time the bastard was finished, William had the man's name and face engraved upon his very soul -- which somehow made him feel even more violated than the all the physical damage he'd endured.

It had been a *very* long time until nightfall.

---- oo00oo ----

The moment Angel walked into the police station, he knew that the escaped prey from the shopping mall had been there. His 'scent' -- hours old though it was -- was unmistakable. He'd been *here* -- and Angel could follow the faint magical marker right back to him! In that instant, Angel's hunger all but overwhelmed him. Only an iron-willed resolve *not* to lose complete control allowed him to answer the human police officers' questions in a civilised manner. Even so, they were obviously nervous around him, and he knew he was being a bit abrupt with his answers.

No, he told them -- he'd never met the Melles boy before. Yes, he said 'boy' -- the so-called 'Lord' couldn't have been twenty, if that. No, he didn't believe he'd met the *real* Lord Melles, and no, he'd never heard of someone named 'William'.

They didn't keep him long, and Angel was only too happy to escape back onto the street. Some part of him *knew* that going Hunting while he *already* had too much energy in his system was monumentally stupid -- but another, louder, part of him was screaming at him to go Hunting for *his* escaped prey.

The screaming won out over intelligence and caution, and Angel abandoned any pretence of rationality. It was the most primitive and base part of his demon that surged to the fore and tracked the prey's trail with dogged determination.

The 'scent' wavered in and out, but eventually Angel came to a run-down apartment building, and then finally, to a door.

The prey was on the other side.

Mindful of the fact that he'd almost been dusted the last time he'd underestimated this mortal, Angel broke the lock and swung the door open while prudently crouched down against the outside wall. When nothing happened, he remained on the floor and cautiously peered around the open doorway.

What he saw shocked him.

The prey -- *his* prey -- the exciting and dangerous prey who'd dusted three Master vampires, and had nearly added Angel to the list -- was lying on the floor on his side, gagged and tied to a chair. He had obviously been attacked and beaten to within an inch of his life.

Angel was overcome by a sudden bout of blind rage. Who had *dared* to do this to such beautiful prey?! Who had taken what belonged to *Angel* and abused it so badly?! Who had *dared* to interfere with *his* Hunt in such a way?! This prey was supposed to have been the greatest Hunt of Angel's unlife! But now...

The rage drained away as abruptly as it had arrived. Angel walked silently into the room, visually taking in all the damage that had been done to the young mortal.

As he entered the man's field of vision, he heard the human's heart speed up -- but only a little, and too soon it dropped back to its previous sluggish rate. Angel nearly cried. Where was the *fire* -- the will to live that had so impressed him at the shopping mall?

Slowly, Angel knelt down and removed the gag from the man's mouth. He didn't say anything, and the mortal didn't even acknowledge his presence. Then Angel set about untying him from the chair. He noted the broken leg, and was careful not to bump it any more than he had to. The blonde man must have been in agony, but there was still no response from him.

It was as if he was already dead.

Angel knew he couldn't save the mortal's life. If he took the human to a hospital, they probably wouldn't accept him -- not with the mark on him -- and it didn't matter anyway, because some other vampire would inevitably come for him before the end of the Hunt.

He couldn't protect the human personally -- that was against Vampire Law -- against his own *Sire's* Law. The blonde was 'prey', and as damaged as the human was, there was no chance he would survive until the last night of the Hunt. Only death would free him from the mark now. There was nothing Angel could do except release the human from his pain by killing him.

Silently, Angel gathered the man up into his arms, holding him gently. He buried his face into the mortal's neck and tried to find it within himself to drain just one more human -- one *last* human. Angel knew he would not be Hunting any more of them after this.

Sometime later, Angel realised that he was clutching the human tightly, and rocking back and forth as if holding a child. At the same moment, he became aware that the human was *reacting* to him.

Momentarily confused, Angel drew back and looked down at the man in his arms. The mortal was... well, he was *wriggling*... or 'squirming' perhaps. But whatever you called it, it was definitely quite... sexual. Wait -- was the man actually...?

Shocked, Angel realised that the semi-conscious human was both aroused and erect. //He's been hurt *this* badly, and he's *excited* about it?!// This was bizarre. //Why in the world...//

Oh.

OH!

The mortal's reaction reminded Angel of what it was like to be a new-born Childe in his Sire's arms -- *both* times he'd been a Childe, it had been the same. It wouldn't have mattered how much pain *he* was in either -- he would still have responded.

Angel was currently carrying enough magical energy for several massively powerful spells.

Or enough to create a single Childe.

He was 'leaking' minute amounts of magical energy into the human -- and the semi-conscious mortal was responding to it the way a Childe would. The way *his* Childe would.

And then Angel knew what he was going to do.

Carefully, he picked up the injured human. He was *not* going to create his first Childe on the floor of some run-down old apartment block. This would be special -- and very private. Angel needed somewhere better.

*Now* the vampire Prince was focused and in control. He knew what he was doing, and both his demon and his soul were in perfect accord. His every move had *purpose*, and it *felt* like he was doing the right thing.

Angel headed for the roof.

He flew swiftly, cutting easily through the light wind. The human was still barely awake, but instinctively turned in towards Angel's chest at the awareness of the vast empty spaces below them. Angel smiled -- pleased at his soon-to-be Childe's response.

They reached the hotel roof without incident, and Angel carefully descended -- not to the top floor -- but to the floor below. He used his vampire hearing to avoid Giles as he slipped past the door of the occupied suite, and into the stairwell. In his desire for privacy, Angel had booked out the entire top *two* floors of the hotel -- so the lower floor was empty, and perfect for his current needs.

Carefully, he used his strength to break into an empty suite on the *opposite* side of the hotel from the suite Giles was in. Then he carried his precious burden into the bedroom and laid him gently down onto the large bed.

Carefully, Angel stripped the young man of his ripped and bloodied clothes. Not knowing whether they were of any sentimental value, Angel threw them into a corner of the room. Naked, the blonde's body showed the bruises and wounds of his ordeal, but beneath that -- obvious to Angel's vampire senses -- were older signs that spoke eloquently of the shape of the mortal's life.

//He hasn't had it easy...// was Angel's first thought. The scars and the lean hardness spoke of a similarly hard life. There was the faint smell of cigarettes, and a sense of... aloneness -- neglect? -- tinging the human's aura. //But I'll fix *that*,// Angel thought with satisfaction.

//I'll fix *everything*...//

And so he got to work.

The first thing was to repair the immediate physical damage. Normally, he would've had to resort to complicated spells -- ones he was only vaguely familiar with -- but Angel didn't need to bother with those *now*. All he really needed, was a preliminary magical connection to the mortal -- one that he could expand into an initial physical connection as well. Since making a Childe would naturally involve such a bond, he could start creating his Childe right away.

Angel stripped off his own clothes and lay down carefully beside the naked mortal. He maneouvered himself closer until he was partially atop the man's left side -- away from the broken leg. The human's breathing hitched a little, and Angel wondered just how 'aware' the blonde was of what was happening to him.

Angel brushed his hand from the man's shoulder down to his thigh, making soothing noises and trying to re-kindle the human's sexual response. After a few minutes, he had the physical reaction he was looking for, and he carefully encouraged it with soft kisses on the mortal's neck, and deft caresses over his body. Concentrating, Angel's mind sought out the trickle of magic, and followed the path it took over to the human's body.

There! He had it! And with a shock, Angel realised that the human was a Substitute! The 'scent' of the mark had been hiding the underlying magic that bound it to a human who was *not* born to it. But with Angel's awareness focused so closely *into* the mortal's body, the fact that this *was* a Substitute lying beside him, was blindingly obvious.

//I could break the spell...// Angel thought. As Giles had reminded him only recently, Substitutes were pampered and spoiled all their lives. There was no way the man next to him could ever have led such a life. Something was *very* wrong. And yet... Should he stop? *Could* he stop? There was already a tiny connection between them, and the human was responding as if he was already Angel's Childe. He'd obviously been left for dead by whoever had attacked him. If Angel hadn't claimed him, another vampire would most certainly have killed him before dawn.

All things considered, Angel was reasonably certain he could provide a far better life -- or unlife -- than anything the lean and bruised mortal might have had before. But *should* he do it -- should he *kill* the mortal and turn him into a vampire?

Substitution was legal under Vampire Law. So, unless the spell had been cast illegally -- which was highly unlikely given the tiny number of Mages who were permitted to learn it -- then breaking it would be breaking his Sire's Law -- something Angel was extremely loathe to do.

Bottom line -- Angel *wanted* to do it. He *wanted* a Childe -- and he wanted *this* mortal to be that Childe. Whatever had happened in the human's life to bring him to this point, the fact remained that he was only still alive because Angel had been the one to find him, and because Angel had decided to make him into a Childe. Any other circumstance, including Angel's initial decision to simply drain the mortal's blood, would *not* have saved him. *Only* Angel's desire to create a Childe had led him to follow his 'leaking' magic across into the mortal's body, thus revealing the Substitution spell.

Decision made, Angel deftly recaptured his awareness of the magical line into the mortal's body. He strengthened the fledgling pathway, deliberately shoring it up and anchoring it within the human's flesh and bone. He now had a preliminary magical bond to the human. This would *not* be the final and *full* magical linkage that Angel needed, but it was more than enough for the *beginning* of the creation process. Next, he needed to establish a preliminary *physical* connection as well.

The fastest way to achieve the physical link, was also the easiest.

Angel sank his fangs into the human's neck.

It was the hardest thing Angel could ever remember doing -- *not* draining the mortal dry in minutes. Instead, he held back, determinedly *preventing* all but the smallest amount of blood from flowing out into this mouth. The transfer of the human's blood -- even that tiny amount -- kick-started the generation of magical energy within Angel's body. The magic *burned* within him. The accumulated reservoir roiled, and raged to get out.

Angel needed to speed this up -- while he could still control it.

The human was making needy sounds, mixed with gasps of pain and fear. Angel found the combination oddly erotic -- but then again, he was in the process of creating a Childe -- he was naturally going to think *everything* about this man was incredibly erotic until his Childe was no longer dependant on Angel's blood and magic to sustain him.

Creating a Childe was as binding on the Sire as it was on the Childe, and through his arousal, Angel finally understood why some Master vampires might *want* to create Childer. The *power* he would have over this vulnerable vampire-child was as intoxicating as the physical responses it called forth from his body. This would be *his* Childe.

Possessiveness swept him, and Angel moved over to lie completely atop the human's body. He kept his fangs embedded deeply in the exposed throat. The human whimpered in pain as Angel pressed against his broken leg.

That would never do. *His* Childe would be *perfect*. Angel growled deep in his chest and opened up the magical connection at the same time as he allowed a small increase in the flow of blood from the human to himself. Energy rippled outward, and he struggled for a moment to bend it to his will.

Angel was instantly aware of every physical aspect of both himself and his chosen human. The still-living mortal was radiating heat up to him, while his own cool flesh was pressing down. There was such *disparity* between the two of them -- but not for long.

Awareness rushed into Angel's mind, of the places that were *wrong* in his soon-to-be Childe's body. He instantly directed energy into those areas, healing, strengthening, and then... improving. It wasn't enough that Angel's new Childe should be perfectly healthy -- he could be *better*.

He could be like *Angel*.

When the mortal's body was no longer in pain of any kind, Angel knew it was time to release the preliminary connections and open up the *full* physical and magical linkage between them. He needed the combined bond to be at its maximum strength. He was going to be feeding a *lot* of energy into the body beneath him, and without a *full* connection, the linkage would be burned out in seconds.

The mortal was certainly co-operating.

Now that the pain of his various injuries was gone, the human was responding to Angel's touch like a cat in heat. Completing the full physical link was *not* going to be a problem. Delicately, Angel removed his fangs from the man's neck -- partially sealing the wounds with a touch of magic. The human groaned at the loss of sensation.

Angel was smugly pleased -- for the blonde to protest the loss of Angel's fangs, meant that he *had* to be dimly sensing the fact that his blood was generating some of the magic that felt so *good* as it flowed from Angel's body. There was a fledgling Sire/Childe bond already!

It also meant that the blonde man's body was accepting the changes like a sponge -- soaking up the magic as fast as Angel was supplying it.

Oh, this was *very* good!

On some deeply primitive level, the mortal was *accepting* what Angel offered. He was not consciously aware of it, of course -- they were far enough along in the creation process that the mortal's thought processes were being partially suppressed by Angel's power.

The suppression itself was an instinctive reaction from both of them. For the human, it protected the mortal's mind from the radical and fundamentally unnatural changes that his body and brain were undergoing, thus preventing mental shock and possibly even madness. For Angel, it ensured that the vampire prince didn't have to worry about the mortal struggling, or resisting, particularly when the moment came for Angel to finish the process, and kill him.

But they still had a long way to go before they reached *that* stage. First, Angel needed to open the *full* connection between them so that he could pour *all* his power across it at a rate that would let him complete the changes before they could destroy the mortal. Once begun, the alterations would quickly cause imbalances, which could not be stopped. Instead, Angel would have to keep *ahead* of them, changing things faster than the imbalances could destroy them. Only when the changes were finally complete would the problem disappear. But the connection *had* to be strong enough to withstand the sheer volume of energy that was required.

This time, Angel would start with the *physical* connection.

The vampire reached down and spread his chosen mortal's legs open. Carefully, he used his fingers to stretch the inner and outer rings of muscle that guarded the entrance to the aroused and writhing body beneath him. There was no lubricant, and this *was* going to hurt -- but once the *full* connection was formed, it would hardly make a difference. The pleasure of the magic, combined with the massive alterations being made, would ensure no lingering harm was done.

The human was reaching for himself, instinctively trying to achieve orgasm, so Angel leaned across and pinned his arms -- using one hand and a shoulder to block the man's attempts. //Not yet, little one,// he thought fondly, and then he guided his own erection to the opening below. He pushed forwards and the mortal whimpered. With a little wriggling, and a *lot* of control on Angel's part, he was soon seated firmly within the human's body.

//He's so *hot*,// Angel moaned to himself. If he hadn't been dead already, Angel almost believed that having to keep control like this, would surely be killing him! //But you'll be cool soon,// he promised the human. //Beautifully cool, and *strong*, and fast...//

With the first part of the full physical connection made, Angel now needed the first part of the full magical link. Manoeuvring the mortal's legs up and out of the way, let Angel have deeper access to his body, and also allowed him to look down on the human's face. Angel raised his own wrist, and in a savage motion, tore open the cool veins. He partially filled his mouth with his own blood, and then bent down to kiss the human beneath him.

He'd once witnessed this mortal spit a mouthful of holy water onto a Hunting vampire. In a strange reversal, Angel now used his own mouth to deliver his blood into the body of his chosen human. The mortal resisted for a moment, but Angel's tongue coaxed itself in. Reflexively, the human swallowed, and once Angel's blood was safely in his stomach, it worked its own magic -- opening up a connection of power *from* Angel *to* the human -- the *reverse* of the flow that existed when Angel used his fangs on a human throat.

Angel's blood also served to trigger the human's thirst. No further kisses would be needed to encourage the mortal to drink. Angel drew back and offered his bloody wrist to the crimson-stained lips. The human brought both hands up to grab his arm, and desperately clasped the offered wrist to his mouth -- licking and sucking in an attempt to drain as much blood as possible. But without fangs, he was limited in this ability, and would be unable to drain Angel's blood any faster than his still-living body could handle.

Angel chuckled at the human's enthusiasm -- until the mortal shifted on the bed under him, and he was reminded of exactly *where* a certain very erect portion of his anatomy was currently residing. He gasped at the sensation, and flexed his hips in appreciation.

Angel couldn't wait any longer. Everything was set -- he just needed to complete the final part of the fully combined linkage.

With a deep-chested growl he did so -- sinking his fangs as deeply and as fully as he could, into the mortal's throat.

At that moment, the linkage flared into life -- magic flowing from Angel to the human, and back again, as the circle was completed. Huge amounts of power roared across the link into the human's body. With a fierce joy, Angel let go of all the stored magic he had accumulated. Seemingly *tiny* amounts of it flowed back to him, carrying information across the circuit -- relaying the state of the mortal's ongoing change in a never-ending flow of continuous updates.

Angel was now hardly more conscious than the human beneath him. His overtaxed mind was awash with sensation and imagery. It was all Angel could do to keep track of what was happening to the *mortal*, let alone what was happening to himself.

He was vaguely aware of purely physical pleasure as he moved against, and within, the mortal's body. He was far *more* aware of the mortal's ecstasy as he forced magic across the linkage. In a rush, Angel created impossible changes, while at the same time opening them both up to the bond that would forever bind them together.

The most complicated thought Angel could later recall, was actually very simple -- 'Be like *this*' he had commanded, as he forced the image of his own body's systems onto the fluid and incomplete pattern of the human's new metabolism.

All to abruptly, Angel felt the human's heart falter -- and realised that it was nearly time. With a final burst of energy, Angel sealed the Sire/Childe bond between them and forced it into dormancy -- ready to re-emerge when the new-born vampire finally awoke. Then he pinched off the magical linkage, ending the massive drain on his own reserves, and focused his mind on the purely physical pleasure of orgasm. As the human approached his climax, Angel ceased the drain of blood from the dying veins for a few moments.

What little blood was left, was still enough to allow the mortal his release, and the faint spasm of muscle around his own member was enough to trigger Angel's climax too. Greedily, he pulled the last of the mortal's blood from the warm veins, even as he emptied his cool seed into the dying body.

Exhausted and shaking, Angel pulled away from the unconscious human, just in time to hear the last beat of the man's heart.

Slowly, the mark on the mortal's forehead faded from view.

He was dead.

Angel had killed him.

---- oo00oo ----

End Part III