Stolen

Author ~ Sophia Jirafe ~ website ~ journal
Rating ~ PG for mild language
Timeline ~ Early S5


Challenge:
Story written for ~ Chrislee
Required character ~ Angel
Genre ~ Dark
One other requirement ~A Secret Revealed
Two restrictions (optional) ~ None
Spoiler level ~ S5-aired
Rating level ~ NC-17

Stolen

Mr. Mayhew leaves the garage light on Tuesday nights. This is because on Tuesdays his son plays soccer at the regional park until it's too dark to see, then comes home covered in dirt and grass, with muddy kick-marks on his shins. The boy enters through the small side door, not using the large motorized door because his little sister is already asleep above, and strips down to his boxers. He used to leave his filthy clothes in a heap next to the washer, but now he throws them in with too much soap and too little fabric softener.

Maybe they teased him about it; maybe they sat down and talked to him seriously about taking responsibility for himself; maybe he just figured it out on his own. Whatever it was, now he sits on the steps and reads one of his father's Tom Clancy novels from the shelves over the tool bench while the washer churns, waiting to put his clothes into the dryer so he can go upstairs and use the computer in his room.

His room is in the back of the house, between two others (one of them is a bathroom, I think), and there's only one small window, high and screened. All I can ever see through it is a blue, flickering glow, against which I make out his sloppy silhouette. Digital rings and beeps drift out his open window in a regular pattern, though I can't quite figure out what he's doing, but he seems to be amused, laughing often and typing rapidly. He stays up until it's nearly light out, and so I've never seen him go to bed.

He's nearly nocturnal these days, and I clutch at this fact, making it into some shared, false secret. As if the habits of his last boyhood summer had anything to do with who I am.

***

He's good at soccer, the Mayhew boy. He darts down the field, kicking up clods of mud, thick and laced with the strong green grass, while his friends chase after him, lagging behind with exasperated grins. He can run circles around all of them, and does; he's not old enough yet to realize the difference between pride and ego, and they're not old enough yet to do anything but admire the prince in their midst, to bask in the palpable glow of power and strength that surrounds him. One of the boys referees a children's team on the weekends, and has the keys to the box that powers the tall floodlights that ring the field, and so they run illuminated in the blue-white light, like the stars they dream of being.

He runs circles around them, feints left and runs right, kicks the ball far downfield and catches up before anyone else can, covered in sweat and dirt and glory. He cheers for himself when he scores a goal against the clumsy keeper, who makes a half-hearted dive at the spinning fury of a ball kicked through his grasping hands, and turns a perfect handspring, throwing off moisture and bits of grass that shine in the unearthly light. There is no score kept, but he is the winner.

They know I watch the games at night, sitting on a bench tucked back in the thick woods around the field, but it doesn't worry them. They're strong and fast, sure they can outrun any danger, and besides, they think I'm some sort of sports agent. He's already been placed on the varsity team for the fall term at UCLA, but I hear them talking about me ("The Quakes?" "Nah, they don't take under 20"), and they all show off when I show up, heading the ball to each other, trying long-shot kicks that always fall short of their marks.

Only he is indifferent, never looking my way except as they leave the field, and then with a sort of sharp, fierce caution that gives me a tight, knotted-up feeling that won't quite go away, even when I remember all of Lilah's promises. I've learned to be careful about what I've wished for, and the fear in his eyes terrifies me.

***

Weekends he scoops ice cream with two of his friends, making wrong change and having food fights after they lock up, flinging scoops at each other from behind the padded fiberglass booths. They all hang over the pretty girls who come in after the movies let out next door, giving them fudge and cherries for free, showing off by sliding sundaes down the long marble counter. One girl in a drooping halter top can tie a cherry stem in a knot with her tongue, and I think the three boys might simultaneously pass out with lust. Later that night one of his friends takes her home, the blond one with the black tribal tattoo on his bicep and a wood-paneled station wagon in the parking lot, but he rides his bike alone up the winding hills to his house.

I venture in one night just before closing, wearing a new green silk suit Lorne had his people buy me, hiding behind wraparound Ray Bans and slicked-down hair. I wonder, my stomach twisting, what I'll say to him, but he's down at the other end of the counter with a woman who's holding her toddler son up to the glass counter, and his bleached-blond friend helps me instead.

"Man, you look too cold for ice cream," he says. "What's up with the suit?"

"Low metabolism," I tell him, my eyes seeking the boy at the end of the counter. I *am* cold, I'm always cold, but this summer it seems to have crept deeper into my bones. Living on the edges of someone else's world will do that.

"Whatcha want then?" the blond boy drawls. I have been so anxious, sitting outside in the Viper, over what I might say to him, that the fact that I'm purchasing something has slipped my mind.

"Huh?" I say. He follows my gaze down the counter, and frowns with uncomprehension.

"What kinda ice cream do you want, mister? It's banana split week -- three scoops for the price of two."

"Three scoops of what?" I ask, still staring. He's giving the little boy a tiny pink spoonful of something blue, and the tender look on his face is nothing I've ever seen before on him. The hard, mean face of a hard, mean young man is just a bad dream to this boy, with his mindless content.

"Dude, *ice cream*" says the kid behind the register, and I snap back, feeling like the world's biggest, oldest moron.

"Vanilla," I tell him. "One scoop. In a cup."

***

Their seven month anniversary falls on the Fourth of July, and he borrows his father's Jeep to take her to a French restaurant in the city. Wolfram and Hart has a few cameras already in place, left over from a tense little business lunch with two Fyarl lords a couple of months back, and I watch him in black and white from the high-tech security room off my office that even Harmony doesn't know about, outfitted like an CIA agent's dream. Three cameras, three angles, three screens, and on each one he's tense and nervous, twisting his hands under the spotless table linen, and then rubbing them on his wrinkled khakis.

She's pretty in a shallow way, wearing the sort of cheap, flimsy synthetic garments so popular with girls her age, a thin dress in an ugly flower print, her eyes heavily made-up and her lips shiny with gloss, but I know why he cares for her. She gives off that unmistakable, irresistible aura of *youth* -- callow, self-absorbed, beautiful youth -- that is an aphrodisiac in itself. I should know; I loved my own sweet blonde narcissist once upon a time.

They eat in near silence, dabbing at their mouths with too-big napkins, spilling the rich sauces on their clothes, cringing from the waiters. They are such children in this opulent atmosphere, wanting to belong but afraid to presume, that my heart breaks for them both. My years, always such a heavy weight, have never felt like such a blessing in the face of their shy, stumbling journey to adulthood.

I understand the hand-twisting when I see him, from a high-resolution satellite camera, pull out a tiny diamond pendant in the car after parking on a wooded hill, and more so when their eager backseat gropings turn into something more intimate. He's growing up, or he thinks he is.

I want to tell him that what he does isn't what he is, that a necklace and a few moments of pleasure won't change him from child to man, but I've given up the right to say those things to him. I've given up the rights to everything; even these few moments of one-sided closeness are stolen from him. That's how I live now. Everything I have is stolen.

***

One night in August Mr. Mayhew and his son sit on the back deck, toasting marshmallows and their toes in the red embers of the barbeque pit. They talk about medical school, summer jobs, the Dodgers' string of losses, the latest BMW coupe, try to pick out constellations over the dark smudge of trees below them, try to remember where it was they had their first camping trip. He doesn't tell Mr. Mayhew that he lost his virginity two weeks ago; Mr. Mayhew doesn't tell him about the packet of condoms I saw him dig out from between the Jeep's front seats last night. Their talk is slow, idle, full of ease and comfort, full of lies.

I can't be this angry, I think to myself, crouched behind a few scraggly bushes on the hill above them. I chose to keep the memories; I chose to carry this pain for the sake of something bigger, something meaningful I can't even remember now. Was it pride? Did I want to punish myself for everything I'd done to him, down to his conception? Or did I just think it was going to be easier than this?

Mr. Mayhew reaches out to punch his son on the shoulder, roughly, and his son punches back, rougher. I hate the man so much at this moment that it's like having the demon loose again, dozens of torture scenes, murder weapons flitting through my mind. Blood and fire, metal and knives, my hands on his neck and *how dare you touch my son, how dare you think he's yours?*

A handful of sharp twigs cracks in my hand, twigs I didn't realize I was clutching. Neither of them looks up; deer are common here. I look at the handful of broken green wood, and dots of dark blood ooze up slowly around the tiny splinters that prickle in my skin. I think I'm starting to lose it.

They're playing a game now, seeing who can hold his marshmallow closest to the flame without actually touching it, and the aching envy of this silly, perfect moment rises like bile in my throat. Mr. Mayhew distracts him with some teasing jibe I can't quite hear and he loses, just brushing the fire. The marshmallow combusts immediately, red flames licking in a quick, intense burst, and then there is only the blackened, charred lump left behind, rammed on the bent metal hanger.

He pops it into his mouth as his father grimaces.

"I like 'em burnt," he says.

***

I'm not getting any sleep at all anymore. The work is day-work now, and I sit at my desk with all that strange, blinding sunlight flooding my eyes, trying to make sense of the reports I get from Fred's lab, Wes's library, Gunn and Lorne's meetings. Everyone *wants* something from me all day long, from Harmony's demanding pages to the mail guy who still thinks I actually have letters to send, and my head spins from the strange new words, the new way of being myself. A tyrant on eggshells, the boss who's only a middleman, the great compromiser. It's not me.

And at night, when they fall asleep on their mystical texts, their legal briefings, their test tubes, I'm driving through the hills again, the Viper purring around the curves as I ponder my destination. Not soccer night, not ice cream night, and I think the girlfriend's still out of town. Maybe the cave, then.

I swing by the house and the Jeep is gone, so I take the narrow little track towards the coast. A few miles out I park under a big oak, shrugging on my coat despite the warm night. Black is better camouflage. I creep down the crumbling hillside, skirting around the outcropping from which their voices drift down, and wedge myself right beneath the cave, just barely fitting into the rocky crevice.

They've been there a while, and their voices are slow and sleepy with the pot. I sniff; it's good stuff tonight, not the usual five dollar skunkweed the blonde boy brings. I hear the click of the lighter as they pass the pipe, the clink of beer bottles, the creak of the springs in the old, green, velvet-covered couch they've dragged out here from the dumps down the hill.

"It's like...I know I love her, but what does that mean?" he says.

"It means you get to fuck her," the other boy snickers.

"Yeah, but what's the *fucking* mean?" he presses. "Like, if we love each other, and we're fucking, is that it? Aren't we supposed to do something else?"

"Sixty-nine, man," his friend advises. "Only make sure she's on top -- Angela totally choked this one time and it was *nasty*, man."

"Shit," he says, and I hear the flare of the lighter again. They're silent.

"No, it's not like just the fucking," he says, letting out a long breath. "It's like, I love her, but I don't really *know* her. Like, I know Tracy at school, but I don't really *know* her."

"What about Tracy in bed?"

"Yeah, I know her too. I know her a lot."

They laugh together, sounding strangely like children.

"But seriously man. Seriously. *Seriously.* Sometimes we're fucking, and like, I say I love her, and she says she loves me too, but it's total bullshit. We're just saying it 'cause that's what you say."

"You don't have to. Angela usually just talks dirty."


"No shit, really? Like, what does she say?"

"Can't tell you, man. She'd have my balls."

"She's already got your balls, man."

They laugh again, but it's snickering, horse-like laughter. I've heard enough.

"But really, I love her," he says as I start to crawl out from under them. "Like, a lot. I'd do anything for her. But I wouldn't die for her. And I think that, like, to really *love* someone, you'd have to want to give up everything for them just to make them happy."

I freeze. They're silent.

"That's heavy, man," his friend says after a moment.

"Yeah," he answers. "I also think you have to give blowjobs like, more than once a month."

They both explode in laughter, and under cover of their mirth I climb back up the hill.

***

Move-in day, and he's taking it pretty well. His mother's a wreck, his sister clinging to his legs, his father stern yet smiling as they hug him goodbye on the lawn in front of the dorms.

"I'm only an hour away," he keeps saying.

"Yes, you can visit him any time," he father adds.

"No you can't," he says quickly. "Call first, Mom."

"But it won't be the same," she sighs.

"That's the point," he says.

"Do I get your room now?" his sister asks.

"No," he says at the same time as his mother.

"Call me after your first class," she says.

"My first class is at seven in the morning," he tells her.

"Call me after your second class."

"My second class is karate, Mom, I'll want a shower afterwards."

"Call me before you go to bed at night."

"Sure, Mom."

He manages to shake them at last, telling them the dining hall will be closing soon, and they watch him disappear into the night with a couple of dormates he's befriended already. His mother wipes away more than a few tears, and they get into the new Landrover, bought to replace the Jeep sitting in the dorm parking lot.

I wander back to the Viper, parked in the handicapped spot with the new blue plaque Harmony gave me last week ("I can't steal a space from handicapped people! They're -- handicapped!" "You never know when you might need it in an emergency, Boss. What if there was a fire?" "I'm flammable, Harmony."), flipping through the brochure I got wandering around at orientation earlier in the evening. It's full of sunny-faced young men and women, cheerfully doing clean-cut college things, like holding books and leaning on walls, and I can't even imagine what it would feel like to be so damn young, thinking your life was laid out for you on rails of privilege and happiness.

"Bit broodier than usual tonight," Spike says.

I jump about six miles up, jerking my head to look at him in the passenger seat.

"Don't fucking DO that," I snarl.

"What?" he asks.

"Sit in my car," I say.

"Oh. I thought it was the ghostly appearance of my hallowed presence that bothered you," he replies, going translucent.

"No, I kind of prefer you see-through," I tell him. "It's the part where you're in my car that pisses me off."

"Whatcha gonna do 'bout it?" he asks, stretching his arms up, and he reminds me suddenly of the blonde boy at the ice cream parlor.

"Drive out of city limits," I answer, reaching for the keys.

"What, and miss your little boy going to bed? Don't think so, mate."

My blood would go cold, if it weren't already, well, cold.

"Who?" I ask.

"Oh, *Angel*, honestly, don't ever try to lie. You just embarrass the both of us," he says, rolling his eyes.

"I'm not lying," I say. "I'm just -- confused."

"Well, there's something new," he snorts. "Like you're not confused on a daily basis -- which foot does this left shoe go on, I wonder? Should I go for brooding or merely pained today? How d'you work this elevator thing again?"

His dopey impression of me irritates me into doing something stupid, and I reach for his throat before I think.

"Right -- that's it!" he crows, laughing. "Throttle the ghost -- that'll prove your towering intelligence!"

"Spike, shut the hell up and go home," I sigh, jerking my hand back.

"And where would that be mate?" he asks. "Fires of hell?"

"If you like," I mutter.

"I *don’t'* like, thank you," he says. "But I *would* like to know who this young scrap o' manhood is you've been chasing around for the past few months. Unrequited love, is it?"

I clench my jaw, but manage to stop from answering.

"Come on," he pushes. He frowns for a minute, concentrating, then solidifies enough to recline his seat. He folds his arms behind his head and turns to look at me with those maddening blue eyes. "You can tell your ol' pal Spike about it. Not the first tender young boy the very manly Angel has deflowered."

The rage fills me again, and I take a swing at his more-solid form, which he dissolves before I can touch him.

"It's not like I haven't been *watching* you, mate," he says. "Mooning over surveillance cameras, driving off at all hours of the night, coming home with that lovelorn look on your face. It's touching, that's what it is. Reminds me of the good old -- or rather, bad old days. Just tell me who he is, and I promise to flit home like a good Casper."

"Spike," I say, then let it trail off. "He's no one. He's just a -- just a kid I did something for once. So I check up on him sometimes."

"If by sometimes you mean 'every night,' sure," he says. "And I wear a nightie to bed."

"You don't?" I ask.

He looks at me. "You wish."

We're both quiet for a second. I look down to see I'm still clutching the stupid brochure, and sigh, tossing it aside onto Spike, who lets it slide through him onto the leather seat, giving me a dirty look.

"Angel, come on," he wheedles at last. "Who is he? Some demon prince in disguise? A werewolf? Your long-lost lovechild with Barbara Streisand?"

I tense up at that, and he sees it. He frowns, his mouth open, then begins to chuckle disbelievingly.

"*That's* it?" he laughs. "That's what he is?"

"Yeah," I say in a low voice, closing my eyes. He's just an impotent ghost; what can it matter?

"So why the big trouble to keep it secret?" he asks.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," I answer.

" 'Try me' said the vampire ghost," he says.

"There were -- problems. Big problems. Some of them were my fault, some of them were ... other people's. Things didn't go down the way they should have, and he was just on this -- slide to worse things. So I did what I had to."

"Which was...?" he prompts.

"I erased him from this world's memories. I gave him a new life. That family -- it's not his. None of his memories are real. And I'm the only one who remembers him at all, the way he was."

"Wow," he says after a moment. "And all this just for some demon prince? Who's his father, king of a hell dimension?"

I look at him sharply, certain he's teasing, but he goes on.

"And what did the demon spawn *do* to warrant the intervention of the mighty champion Angel? Kick a puppy?"

"Yeah," I say. Something cold floods me, and I can't tell if it's relief or regret. "Two puppies."

"Aww," he says, making a face. "That must have just eaten you up inside."

"It did," I say.



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