Chapter 3 – What's Inside?
"What The Hell!"
Cordelia quickly covered her mouth as she reconsidered her choice of words and how loud she spoke them. She didn't usually have a problem with using bad language, but given the current circumstances, she thought it best to watch her mouth.
Because inside that box, wasn't the newly minted lawyer in his early twenties that they had been searching for. Nor was it a slightly cocky teenager, who'd gotten an early admission into one of the top universities in the state, placing him on the watchlist of one very corrupt law firm.
No... inside that box was a small child, curled sleepily into a tiny ball.
"What went wrong, Wes? I thought we were getting Lindsey right before he signed his contract with Wolfram and Hart."
Angel gently lifted the child from the box causing him to wake slowly with a long-drawn-out yawn.
Much like the adult Lindsey, this younger version had a shoulder-length crop of brown curly hair that often got in the way of his bright blue eyes. He tried to swipe the strands away with his two small and clumsy hands, but they kept on jumping back again, like cute but annoying springy toys. Eventually, the little boy just gave up on his endeavour, choosing to investigate the large arms that carried him instead.
"Why is he a kid? Did we screw up somehow?" The vampire whispered as he tried not to jostle Lindsey too much on his walk over to the couch. There wasn't much of a need though, as the child was now fully awake and marvelling at his surroundings. His tiny mouth hung open, as he squirmed around trying to get a better view of... well everything.
"I don't know," the watcher responded truthfully. "Unless he was taken in by them as a child, I guess we must have messed up somehow. Nothing in my research suggested anything like this could happen, or else I might have not tried it."
The child seemed tired of being carried, as he pushed his way out of Angel's arms and pounced onto the next available cushion. He was kind of like a small kitten in a way, bouncing from one spot to another as he investigated this 'new place' with eager excitement.
Cordelia couldn't contain the small chuckle that escaped as she heard the kid yelp after slightly misjudging his jumping distance. He didn't seem to mind though as he just got up and carried on with his hunt for new things to discover. "He's kind of cute like this," she commented, softly smiling at the adorable display.
"Yeah, well don't get too attached," Angel replied with a small put-out huff. "Seriously Wesley, there has to be a way to fix this?"
"Not without putting him in the box again, and I don't want to put a child through that..."
The group turned away as they discussed their options, whilst Lindsey stayed on the couch bouncing a small ball of paper he'd found on the table.
He played there gleefully for a few minutes until he got distracted by someone new walking through the door, his keen eyes being the only ones to notice when the tall stranger paced into the room.
"Who are you?" Gunn asked the kid... toddler? (It was hard to tell he was so scrawny) as he hovered in the doorway.
"Lindsey," the kid smiled up at him, showing off his full set of baby teeth. "Who are you?" His bright eyes and innocent voice showed no coalition with the smart-mouthed twenty-something that they'd all been expecting.
Gunn ignored the child's question, as he slumped down onto a nearby chair. He instead, turned to face the others asking, "hey, what's with the kid? I thought we were getting the slimy lawyer back?" But he received no response.
"What's a lawyer, and why are they slimy?" Lindsey asked as jumped onto the new person's lap. He liked meeting new people, sometimes they were really nice and gave him candy or fruit.
"They're people that help get criminals out of trouble. And they're slimy because they make deals with demons."
The kid thought on that for a moment before declaring, "my daddy's a crim-i-nal," the word sounded disjointed on his small tongue as he tried to sound the word out. "At least, that's what Mrs Watkins calls 'im. But no one gets 'im out of trouble... maybe he should get a lawyer."
"Yeah, sure," Gunn mumbled under his breath. He didn't really care what the kid was saying, he only wanted to hear the other conversation.
The new person didn't look like he wanted to talk with him anymore, so Lindsey decided to go play by himself again.
Lindsey was feeling kind of itchy under his skin. Like sharp wiry hairs were lying just under the surface, waiting to push through. He'd felt this sensation before on many occasions and he knew what needed to be done... but he couldn't. Because if he did that, mama and daddy would be really mad, and they'd punish him.
'Oh, God! But it really itches. Maybe if no one sees me it will be alright. Those people ain't even lookin' at me.'
Angel, Wesley, Lourne and Cordelia were still deep in conversation, neither one of them acknowledging Gunn's presence at all. It would annoy him, but it wasn't like it was the first time, and he hadn't been that cooperative earlier, so what should he expect?
He continued to loiter at the edge of the group, listening to their discussion whilst also keeping a subtle watch over the kid.
"I don't know what you want me to do here, Angel. I told you already that the box is the only way."
"We can't put a child in that thing. It's evil, and that little boy doesn't deserve whatever punishment waits for him in there."
"I never said anything about putting the kid back in there, Cordelia. I'm pretty sure I made my stance on that matter quite clear already."
"Well, find a new way then. We need to get Lindsey back to normal."
Gunn didn't know what all the fuss was about. The kid seemed pretty ok with the situation.
"Let's just drop him off at a police station and let them deal with it. Who knows, a new family might be able to raise him better so that he doesn't become an attorney for hellspawn."
It wasn't such a bad plan. The kid was kind of cute with that wide toothy grin, and cornflower eyes. He'd get adopted in no time. And not to mention the way he turns into a little white tiger cub, who could resist...
The little white tiger cub sat on the sofa, gnawing on the corner of a cushion.
It seemed pretty calm given that under ten seconds ago it was a normal human child... Ok not normal, normal people don't make deals with demons, fight vampires, and fall into magical de-ageing boxes... but still. WHAT THE HELL!
Gunn was still trying to process what it was he just witnessed.
Lindsey was just sitting there playing catch with himself, minding his own business. Then he started to look distracted like maybe he felt ill or something and didn't know what to do about it. He did go a bit pale all of a sudden, and he had goosebumps as if he was cold or scared. I thought he might be nervous, wondering where his parents went and who these strange people were. I mean, who could blame the kid? But then black and white fur started to poke through his skin, and his teeth grew large and pointy until they could barely fit in his mouth. I wondered if that would be the end of it, but the kid then sprouted a tail and his hands and feet turned into paws. Within seconds, the young kid had been switched with an equally young tiger.
If he hadn't seen it with his own two eyes, Gunn wouldn't have believed a word of it.
"Guys, I think you need to see this," He shouted, his eyes never leaving presence on the sofa.
"It's ok, we know about the kid that's what we're trying to sort out," Angel commented, finally taking notice of the other man in the room. But he didn't bother to look at Gunn or see who he was pointing to, thinking he knew the answer already.
"I ain't talkin' about the kid... well I am, but not in the way you think. Look." Holding up the small cub by the scruff of his neck, he shoved the creature into their faces.
"Where did you get a tiger cub from?" Wesley questioned as Angel exclaimed, "What have you done with Lindsey?"
"Oh my God! Did it eat Lindsey?" Lourne added, just to round things out.
"That's what I'm tryin' to tell you. This is Lindsey," he waved the animal in the air, not stopping even as it became rattled by the sudden movement. "I was just watching him play, then he turned into a tiger without warning."
Lindsey's head was bouncing all over the place, his soft blue eyes growing wide and dazed.
"Will stop shaking him about like that, your gonna make the poor thing sick," Cordelia chastised as she reached out for the cub, tucking the small creature into the crook of her arm like an infant. "Do you think we can turn him back, Wes?"
"Well, maybe. It could be that Lindsey controls the transformation; therefore, he can change himself back into a human whenever he feels ready."
The small voice that came from under her chin startled Cordelia, almost to the point of dropping the frail child that now lay in her arms.
"Oh my God, Lindsey, are you ok?"
"I'm fine, ma'am. Sorry if I scared y'all." He lowered his head as if he was expecting punishment of some kind. His small button nose gently rubbing against the smooth material of Cordelia's shirt as he sunk down in shame. "Mamma and Daddy always warned me not t' let the kitty out around people, but it itches so badly sometimes if I don't change."
"That's ok," The watcher quickly jumped to his defence. "We just weren't expecting it. You can shift in front of us if you need to, anytime. Can you control your transformations then, choose when they happen?"
"Sometimes, I'm gettin' better at it. But when I get scared or angry the kitty comes out without me tellin' it to. That's when I get in trouble."
"Who do you get in trouble with?" Angel asked.
"Mamma and Daddy. They don't like the kitty, say it's a demon that lives inside me. But they're wrong, I know they are."
"Wesley, I need you to find out what Lindsey is exactly. Once we know that, I think we'll find the answers to our other questions."
At Angel's instruction, the watcher left the others in order to start his research. That left Angel, Cordelia and Gunn (Lourne was sitting with Lindsey who was now watching cartoons in the living area) to discuss their current predicament.
"And what should we do with him in the meantime?" Cordelia questioned. They all knew her stance on the matter, not that anyone seemed to care.
"I still think sending him to a foster home is a sound plan," Gunn responded in a mocking tone, despite being truly serious about his suggestion.
"We can't do that. How do we explain the whole, turning into a tiger thing to them?"
"There's got to be a social system for supernatural creatures out there. I'm sure there are some demons that have to adopt to start a family. Little Lindsey will feel right at home."
"We're not sending him to live with demons, Gunn. We just went through hell trying to get him away from them." It was Angel who spoke up, ever the voice of reason when his own emotions were not around to cloud his judgement.
"Then what do you suggest?"
"We should keep him." Cordelia tried to argue, only to be cut off with a firm "Hell no!" From Gunn.
"We can't keep him, Cordelia." Angel chimed in with a much calmer tone.
"Why not? He wouldn't be the first stray you took in."
"Because he's a child, that takes a lot of responsibility."
"Plus, he's evil," Gunn added, sending a harsh glare in the young cub's direction. He didn't care what the circumstances were, there was no way he'd ever be on the same side as an evil lawyer, No Way.
"He's not evil, and where else is he going to go? We need to make sure Wolfram and Hart don't get their hands on him again."
"Find anything, Wes?"
"Actually, I have. Come take look at this." Angel walked into the watcher's office, signalling Cordelia to follow after him. "I'm pretty sure that our Lindsey is a type of Lycanthrope, or in layman's terms, a werecat." He lifted an old book bound in dark leather in front of the pairs' faces. It was written in some language completely foreign to them both, but the accompanying picture clearly depicted a man turning into a panther.
"So, he's like Willow's friend, the one that turns into a wolf during the full moon?" Cordelia asked, thinking she kind of understood where Wesley was going with this.
"Not exactly... It seems, that despite the similar names, werecats are very different to their wolfen counterparts, in quite a few areas. The first being that they can change whenever they choose, they don't have to wait for the full moon, nor do they have to change during it."
"How did Lindsey become a... Lycanthrope? I didn't see any scratch marks on him." And Angel had managed to get quite a look when he struggled to get the boy into one of his (way too big) undershirts, as well as noticing how skinny and undernourished the child was.
"That's another difference in lore. Werecats are not made, they're born. It's a trait passed down through blood, but it doesn't manifest very often. In fact, the last known case was over a hundred and fifty years ago."
"So, is this why Wolfram and Hart came after him? Because he's so rare."
"Most probably. I'm still trying to sort fact from fiction, but what I've read so far suggests that little Lindsey over there may have some serious magical power."
"Yes. In fact, according to some historical texts I found, Lycanthropes go all the way back to the Egyptian Pharos. Many of the greatest rulers at that time apparently owned their own werecat, who helped them achieve their power and success."
"So, we really don't want Manners getting his hands back on Lindsey then." Cordelia pondered, a small moment of glee passing over her lips.
"I'm sorry we don't have anything in your size. Cordelia is going to pick you something up tomorrow morning." Angel apologized as he tried to wrap the cotton shirt in a way that didn't get the boy's legs all tangled.
It was getting late, so the rest of the team had been sent home whilst their leader tried to get the kid settled into bed. Right now, he was tucked under a blanket as he happily sipped on a small glass of milk.
'It had been a strange afternoon' Angel pondered, not just the magical de-aging or even the lycanthrope thing, but also how calm Lindsey was despite all this. 'Shouldn't he be crying or asking where his parents are?'
"You don't seem all that alarmed, to say that you just woke up here with a bunch of strangers looking over you?"
Lindsey shrugged at the statement, reaching over to put his now empty cup on the side table. "It's not the first time."
Again the kid answered with a shrug before adding, "Mamma an' Daddy get in trouble a lot, so Ms Casey takes me to stay in new places, sometimes while I'm still sleepin'."
"Is that right? What kind of trouble do your parents get into?"
"They take things that don't belong to 'em. Which is bad so they have to be punished for it."
Angel was shocked, he hadn't expected the child to be so articulate. Looking at him, you would assume Lindsey was about three years old, four at a push, but the way he spoke made him seem so much older. Yeah, the lawyer was clever, his strict attention to detail and strong strategist mind was often the reason he won some of the most impossible-looking cases, but still...
"Can I ask you how old you are, Lindsey?"
Tired eyes gleamed up at Angel as the kid stretched out his hand. "I'm five years old, that makes me a big boy."
"Does it now."
Well, that answered that then. He's just small for his age, and the previous observation of undernourishment was probably another contributing factor. It made Angel think back to the conversation he had with the young lawyer, where he spoke about how poor his family was and the struggles they faced. And now he felt guilty about the way he blew the guy off and acted like his troubles were nothing.
None of this explained how Wolfram and Hart got involved though.
"Lindsey, have you seen anyone new around lately, a man in a suit talking to your parents or Ms Casey?"
The kid nodded solemnly, pulling himself further under the blanket as if he was hiding. "Yeah... Mamma an' Daddy said they were gonna sell me to 'im. Said that they were gonna be rich an' never have to see my ugly demon face ever again. Are you goin' to take me to 'im, the scary man with the weird smile?"
"Oh, no. We actually..." Think you idiot, "brought you instead. We don't like that man either, so we wanted to get you away from him. Make sure you and your kitty are safe."
"Does that mean I live here now?"
"Because I likes this place, it's big and warm and Miss Delia gave me soup." Large blue eyes beamed out from under those messy brown curls that really needed a trim.
How was he supposed to say no to that face?
"We'll talk about it in the morning. For now, I think it's time you get some sleep." Angel avoided, as he made sure the kid was fully tucked in and comfortable.
He was just turning away ready to hit the light switch, when a small voice mumbled, "goodnight Mr. Angel. Thank you for savin' me."