It's that time of the week again - a new episode for Phantasmagoria. This week, it's The Pack. As an episode, it isn't very Angel-ly, so we work with what we have... :~))
This is a little strange, but it's quite short, at about 2,000 words.
Author : Jo
Feedback : Pretty please. At LJ or to firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating : General
Summary : We don’t see Angel in ‘The Pack’. What’s he doing?
Her nostrils are thick with the scent of Meat. Of Blood, and Flesh, and Bone. Yet she hasn’t eaten, and she’s ravenous. The other members of the Pack didn’t allow her in to feed, and she could only watch them at the Kill, knowing she’d be allowed to lick up the scraps when they’d gorged their fill.
But Men had come before the Kill was eaten, and they’d taken away the Meat and they’d taken away the rest of her pack. She huddles further into the den, as the pictures flicker through her mind once again.
The Man had fallen (fallen or been pushed, and she doesn’t care which) into their new territory. It’s a small, hard, inadequate territory, but it’s all they have, now, in this strange New World. Her eldest daughter, as alpha female, was the first to feed, tearing at the tender belly flesh, and then the rest of them, heedless of the screams of the Kill.
Not so long ago, she would have been the first, but things have changed in the pack. Something has happened to the bones in her hips. She doesn’t have the word for arthritis, but she understands very well the splinter-sharp fire. Hyaenas can always sense weakness, and attack it, even in one of their own. Now that she’s crippled, and can’t hunt, can’t run for the prey, can’t pull it down, can only feed on the dead, she’s bottom of the hierarchy. There lies starvation.
Or, at least, she would have starved, out on her own home plains. Here, her inevitable death might have taken longer, because there’s so far been enough food to go round. That was until today. Until the pack ate the Kill, while she tried to snatch a mouthful of flesh, of guts, of bone, of anything, but was driven away by the teeth of her family.
Before they could finish, the Men came and attacked the pack with sticks of blue lightning, and took the lifeless bodies of her family away with them. She’d stayed unseen, cowering in the shadows of the rocks-that-aren’t-rocks. Now, she’s alone, as she has never been alone in all her life, and the mouth-watering aroma of blood still surrounds her. There’s no food, though. The Men took every scrap away with them.
A new scent makes her look up, from the shadows of the den. A Man is standing silently, looking down into the darkness of the pit. No. Not a Man. Ever since she was brought to this place, she’s scented these on the night winds as they stalked their prey. She’s never seen one of them, but her heritage tells her what he is. Only one of his kind would be able to approach so close to her, yet remain unheard. Afraid, she shrinks further back into the rocks-not-rocks.
He stands unmoving for a few minutes, looking down, and then suddenly he leaps over the barrier and lands lightly, without a stumble, just a few yards from her. He makes no move to come closer, but she’s sure that he can see her. He smells of death and temptation. His own scent is mixed with that of his last Kills. She doesn’t know the word, but he’s been killing the beasts that this place has instead of the antelopes she knows so well. She can smell the blood and the flesh and the bone clearly, exactly the scent that comes to her sometimes, on the wind from the mountains, when the big cats are about.
Angel’s been hunting deer.
He leans back against the rough stone wall and gracefully slides down, until he’s sitting with his arms wrapped around his knees.
“You might as well be fangless, too, hadn’t you?” he says into the darkness, but she knows that it’s to her. She cocks her head a little, but she doesn’t move into view.
He leans his head back against the wall. “Not part of the pack any more, are you. Wouldn’t they let you feed? No, I don’t suppose they would. They’d have killed you eventually, you know.”
He falls silent, but she makes no sound. She can’t understand human words, of course, but she’s a predator. She understands body language very well. The tone of his voice, the variation in his scent, the shift of his muscles, all these are pictures to her. She knows that there’s something that he believes links the two of them, and she’s got a good idea what that is.
At last he says, “They’re trying to get all the other body parts out of your pack, so that they’ve got as much of him as possible to bury. Or maybe to burn. If Giles were involved, I’d think he was doing it to be on the safe side, but I don’t suppose these people know anything about things like this. I guess they’re only doing it because of the human need for closure, for a body to bury…”
There’s a silence again, which she refuses to fill. She wonders whether he’s getting ready to kill her.
He turns his head in her direction. “At least you were still part of your family, even though you were… different. How will you manage without them? What would be the kindest thing?”
Now she knows he’s getting ready to kill her, and her lips curl into a snarl. The warning growl resonates in her chest, but it’s overshadowed by his, in reply. She cowers back again, making sure that her vulnerable hindquarters are backed into a corner. Her jaws and teeth, strong enough to break the largest bones, are her only real defence, but they may not be enough against this.
He takes a deep breath, and she realises that this is his first since he dropped down into her world.
“No, you aren’t like the others, are you?”
The tone is conversational, but she doesn’t underestimate the importance of his question. Something in her wishes she could answer in words that he could understand. Then she remembers that he is an even better predator than she is, and he has his own means of understanding his prey.
No, she isn’t like the others, although she’s no idea how he knows. They had it from their father. It’s a difference of… she doesn’t have the concept of spirit, but it’s what she means. She remembers him well, such a strong male, before the lions got him. She had her choice of mates, but there was always something dark about him, dark and dangerous, and that was what attracted her. The children had that same darkness, and she supposes that was why they could share their spirits with Men. They did it in the local villages, did it too often, she thinks, until they were feared more than they were venerated. Perhaps that was why they were hunted to desperation, why she was injured, and now has fire in her hip, why they are here in this dreadful captivity. Why her children are now dead.
He’s wrong. They were the ones who were different. She’s just a hyaena.
His gaze seems to pierce the darkness around her, to see straight through her to whatever makes her what she is.
“I know what that’s like.”
She dares to sniff the air, to take a lungful of his scent. He is different from the others. Not just the difference of one individual to another. It’s something more than that. More...human. She doesn’t understand it, but she knows it’s important.
He rests his forehead on his knees, and she creeps forward, still on her belly, to see better. When he lifts his head again, he doesn’t look at her.
“I’m a vampire, and I’m in love with the Slayer. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?”
She cocks an ear and thinks about her mate.
“At least, part of me is. The other part wants to give her death, to feed on her and watch the life draining from her, and that would be just the beginning. Is that love?”
His head sinks lower, until his cheek is against the side of his knee. “I almost walked away from her today… I still should… It can’t ever be anything. And she’d kill me if she knew what I am. All the things I’ve done.”
There’s that silence again.
“It isn’t hard, choosing. I’ve been doing that for a hundred years. And that old goat should have been dusted years ago. But it’s hard, standing between her and… them. Buffy. Darla…”
Too swiftly for her to see, he rises to his feet and then he’s leaning into the den and has her by the scruff. Before she knows it, she’s dangling helplessly from his fist, her back curved and her hind legs drawn up against her belly, as impotent as a cub. She’s a very large female, larger than most. She weighs nearly two hundred pounds, but he holds her with no more effort than if she were a newborn.
“What about you? You’re a killer, too. Should you live? They’ll remember to do a head count soon, and then they’ll come back for you.”
She’s very frightened now, and she whimpers. His stare is searching, and hard. Then, in one graceful movement, he carries her out of the pit, and they’re standing behind the barrier. Yellow tape flutters around them, and the floor is still marked with red ochre symbols, the colour of blood. She knows what they are. They need a predatory act to give them life and power. If he kills her here, would the ritual be satisfied? Would she be absorbed into him, and live through him? Would he become her?
He doesn’t put her down. She turns frightened eyes to his, and he reaches out and grasps her muzzle in his free hand. Despite the enormous strength of her jaws, she can’t break his hold, no matter how hard she struggles. In her desperation, she almost misses his whisper.
“Does everything deserve a second chance? Do you? Do I?”
Then he shakes her, and she stops struggling.
“Stay out of sight. There are plenty of dead things out there for you. Don’t make me have to come and kill you.” He turns to face the surrounding mountains. “There’s the carcass of a deer up on that slope. Take it. Remember what I said.”
He puts her down, more gently than she would have expected, and she sets off at a painful run. At the door, she hesitates and looks back. He’s still standing in the same spot, and she wonders whether there is any magical significance to an act of kindness on those symbols. Then she’s off, making the best speed that she can.
She wonders whether things would have been different, if she’d chosen a different mate, or if she’d taken her pack away from the treacherous villages. She’s lost and alone, now, and doesn’t know how she will survive. And she wonders what He would be like, if he went back to his pack, back to the other vampires in this place. She’d like to know whether he is asking himself that.
Behind her, Angel strolls out of the Hyena House, glad to get away from the stink of magic and the temptation of blood. He only came here to test himself, to see whether he could stand the scent of a human kill, and not show his true face. Whether he could be around Buffy and not give himself away. He wonders how many mistakes he’s going to make in the conflict between the Slayer and everything that he is. And he wonders whether he’s ever going to kiss her.
Hope you enjoy it.