Buffy followed solemnly behind her mother as they entered the square. The Market was in full swing. Everywhere she looked there were people milling about, sipping drinks and discussing prices. Men in chains stood in booths. Some were fully clothed, some half or fully nude. She didn’t turn away from nudity or the harsh environment. She saw similar sights every day in her own home.
She scowled and bit her lip. She wouldn’t cry. Not for the man being beaten on the side of the large tent they just passed or the ones who looked eager to be taken. She wouldn’t cry for what she couldn’t control. She wouldn’t cry for Xander who was sold two months before. After all, she had shed as many tears for her childhood friend as she possibly could. The only thing that kept her trailing behind her mother was Oz’s safety. She wouldn’t see him tossed aside too.
She shook her head at her mother time and time again as she pointed out potential sales. She didn’t want any of them. She wanted to go home and pretend this never happened, but still she followed.
Halfway through the market, one man caught her eye. He was leaning against the wall, staring off into the crowd, but didn’t appear to be focusing on anything. He was badly beaten - more harshly punished than anything she had ever seen. He wore clothes, a simple pair of pants and a shirt, but both were soaked with his blood. Breaths came shallowly from his open mouth even as she gasped in shock.
“What happened to you?” she asked, stepping closer. “I mean, why were you punished?”
His gaze traveled to her slowly and he focused on her with difficulty. He licked his dry lips and tried to speak, but couldn’t. She waited patiently, in gross curiosity until he forced a sound from his throat. “I disobeyed,” he said simply, sagging beneath the effort to answer.
“He’s worthless,” her mother barked, making her jump. “Look at him. He’s a mess. Don’t waste your time, Buffy. Let’s go.”
“But why was he beaten so badly?” Buffy murmured, unable to tear her eyes from the carnage. “What could he have possibly done to deserve this?”
“Your name,” Joyce demanded of him tersely.
“Angel,” he croaked. He took a deep, shuddering breath. “My name is Angel, madam.”
“The Angel?” she mused, looking at him more closely. He nodded and winced from the slight movement of his head.
“Mother, I choose him,” Buffy said quickly before she lost her nerve. She had heard of this Angel. If what they said about him was true, her virtue would be safe. He hadn’t forced himself on a girl of the house in which he served when he was ordered to, even when he was told he would be beaten until he obeyed, he still did not. Only the girl’s screams stopped him from being killed.
“He’s damaged,” Joyce huffed. “You’re nearly royalty, Buffy, I can’t buy you this disobedient, damaged man.”
“It’s my present, isn’t it?” Buffy demanded. “Shouldn’t I be able to choose the one I want?”
“You’re stalling,” Joyce accused. “You know he won’t be able to serve you for months or more!”
“He’s the one I want,” Buffy said, nodding her head with curt decisiveness.
Joyce looked at the hard set of her willful daughter’s jaw. As much as she didn’t want to purchase this beast for Buffy, it was preferable to the alternative. Buffy was seventeen and had yet to take a consort. It was absolutely unheard of, especially in their social circles. Joyce feared that if Buffy wasn’t brought to heel soon that she might do something seriously reckless, like spout her ridiculous views publicly. It would mean social ruin for the entire Summers clan. Men were beasts, put upon the earth to serve their mistresses. They were not equals and to even think such a thing was absurd.
“Fine,” Joyce snapped. She nodded to the trader, an unscrupulous woman named Gwen. “We’ll take this one,” Joyce told her.
As they made their way home, Buffy tried not to think about what she had just done. All her life, she had told herself she would not be like the other women of her station. She would not treat males like beasts of burden or pleasure. For years she had watched men she called friend or family traded as chattel. And yet, today, she had embarked on the long tradition of taking a slave. She felt sick with herself. Though she knew she would never use him the way her mother intended, the mere fact that she was paying the tradition lip service bothered her to the core.
But maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe if her purchasing him could spare his life, allow him respite from the punishment he had endured for months, then perhaps in the end it would be worth it. He deserved comfort; there was no doubt about that. He had once been one of the most highly prized studs in the land, but when the Rosenberg family purchased him for their daughter Willow, all that changed. Angel’s considerable charm and physical beauty could not temp the young woman into inviting him into her bed. It had been a disgrace, just as Joyce viewed Buffy’s chastity to be a disgrace. Sheila Rosenberg finally reached her limits, demanding that Angel service her daughter against Willow’s wishes. His refusal had led to the brutality Buffy had witnessed today. Now he was damaged goods, a warning to all other slaves.
When they arrived home, Buffy knew she was in trouble. Her mother had turned on her just outside the house and grabbed her arm, hauling her close.
“You will keep him in your room with you and he will stay by your side until you have been serviced,” she whispered in a harsh whisper.
“In my room?” Buffy sputtered. “But the servant’s quarters…”
“Are not where he will be staying. This disobedient thing will not move freely among the other slaves until I have proof that you’ve held up your end of the bargain. You will prove yourself, Buffy. You will not be allowed to keep up this ridiculous whining about men’s rights. You will obey within three months or I will sell Oz and we’ll try again.”
“Mother!” Buffy harshly whispered back. “You promised! You promised Oz would be safe if I did this today.”
“And he will,” Joyce said with a cold smile, “if you do as I ask.”
Angel stumbled inside the servant’s entrance where the two women had left him. He couldn’t think, could barely move. Just the act of getting to the door and getting inside the house took everything out of him. He crumpled against the wall just inside the hallway and began to slide down as he heard a concerned, male British voice, “Oh dear Lord! Angel?”
“Giles?” he rasped, struggling to focus on his oldest friend. As the blurry form of Giles rushed toward him, everything went black.
When he woke up, he was lying in a soft bed. Voices came in and out as he struggled to focus on what was being said. He had never been sick like this, never been beaten so badly he couldn’t carry out his duties. He feared that he would be punished or returned to that evil woman, Gwen, if he didn’t get up and going soon. Gwen had proven over the days he had spent with her that she was quite skilled with the disobedient. She loved the sound of a man’s scream of pain.
He had spent years being the most prized slave of them all. After he had serviced his first mistress, he never stood out in a slave market for sale again. He had been proud of that. One of the most denigrating experiences was standing on that sale line being touched, poked, prodded and caressed by women who looked him over like a piece of meat. He had been certain he would never be on that godforsaken sale line again. Before Willow, that is. Before her, he was traded between houses, given to visiting ladies for a single night, sold for exorbitant amounts of money. He was the most wanted male slave in the country - so coveted that he was very nearly not a slave at all. He had dressed in the finest clothes, slept in beds draped with silk and woke every morning in arms of a woman. There were many rich, powerful women who begged him to do things to them – women…who begged a slave for pleasure.
Willow had changed everything. He’d never forget that sweet little redhead as long as he lived. He expected that assignment to be like every other virgin he had been charged to deflower. He would be slow and patient, arouse her to a fever pitch until she begged him to take her purity. It was simple, or it had been so many times before. Willow was something entirely different.
It wasn’t that Willow was afraid. She wasn’t. She was simply unwilling. She refused to give up her body to someone she didn’t love because her parents thought she should be inside the social norms. She thought slavery in any form was horrifying and refused to use anyone in that way. She was one of the small groups of women in the world that thought what was happening was wrong.
“Mother says that women are goddesses who cannot soil their hands with work of any kind, who must be given endless pleasure,” Willow said, rolling her eyes, but Angel nodded solemnly.
“They are,” he said.
“No, they’re not,” Willow scoffed. “They’re so not. Women are people. Men are people. What’s the difference?”
“Women are…” Angel had said that day, foundering. Shaking his head, he started again, “They’re… bliss. Sacred, fragrant, soft. They’re the key to birth-“
“Pfft!” Willow snorted. “Like I could have a baby without a man? Come on, Angel. Surely, you don’t really believe that you aren’t as good as me?”
“I don’t,” he said, shaking his head.
Over the months that they were together, he never touched her. He slept on the floor beside her bed and kept other slaves from even looking in her direction. She didn’t want him and until she did, he kept his distance. For six months, they became close friends and constant companions, where she treated him as an equal for the first time in his life.
One day, Willow and her mother got into a horrible fight when once again the morning showed no signs of Willow’s embarrassing virginity being removed.
“I’ve had enough! You will be serviced now, today!” Shelia screamed. It was two of his fellow slaves that beat him on Shelia’s command when he refused to service the girl. It wasn’t until he was on the floor, choking on his own blood that Willow, having begged for her mother to stop for what seemed like hours, finally threw herself on top of his damaged and bleeding body and sobbed, begging for his life, that the beating ended.
Now as he lay in the warm bed and struggled to remain conscious, he focused on the voice talking and tried to sit up in alarm when he realized the voice was female. He gut twisted in a tight knot as he thrashed to get up.
“Giles!” the girl shouted and suddenly hands were holding him down.
“Angel, it’s alright,” Giles said softly. “You’re safe.”
“No, I heard her,” Angel rasped, breathing as if he had just run a marathon. “I heard her.”
“It’s just Buffy,” Giles said, pushing him firmly against the bed. “Rest now. You’re safe.”
“Just Buffy,” He murmured as the world fell black again.
Angel woke to find himself in an empty room. His body ached all over, testimony to the vicious beating he had taken. He struggled to sit up, only to fall back to the bed again, grunting in pain. He breathed harshly from his efforts, wincing from too heavy breaths contracting his ribs. At least two of them were broken as far as he could tell.
Blearily, he focused on the room. The bed was not more than a narrow cot and in place of a dresser, a roughly made trunk sat in the corner of the room. A desk sat in the opposing corner. It was a rarity that any slave would have a piece of furniture as luxurious as a desk, but there was no mystery there for Angel. He made the desk for Giles himself more than five years ago as a gift. Giles was the father he never had and the mentor he needed to make it from the dirty orphanage steps to the silken beds of all his mistresses.
Unlike many slaves who grow up in the households of their parents and are sold later to neighboring estates, Angel was dropped on the doorstep of an orphanage only weeks after his birth. He stayed there, fighting for food and water with the other boys – as girls never would be subjected to a place such as that – until he was eighteen. Just as the other boys before him, he was tossed out into the street and was homeless for the first time.
He might have ended up in prison or executed at a very early age if he hadn’t been caught stealing. The home he had been stealing from belonged to one Eleanor Rayne, a very rich and powerful woman who surrounded herself with leagues of slaves to wait on her hand and foot. One of the slaves in question, Rupert Giles, caught Angel and rather than turn him in, Giles cleaned him up and bundled him into the fold. Angel hid there for months, blending in with the others, before Eleanor called for him, not even realizing she hadn’t purchased him at all.
Giles saved his life that day. While he moved from home to home, estate to estate, jumping from silken bed to silken bed, he found he had the means to acquire a few belongings and supplies, which were rarely offered to slaves of a lower caste. It was in that time, before he refused to defile Willow, that he built the desk for Giles, sent him books and eventually bookshelves. Those small tokens of appreciation were a fraction of what he wished he could give.
Now years later, he was even lower on the totem pole than he had been in that orphanage. His story of utter disobedience had traveled quickly far and wide. He was an example for other slaves that refused to obey.
Angel struggled to his feet, taking long moments to move his sluggish limbs, and stood on wobbly legs. His shirt hung in tatters on his arms and was still coated with his dried blood. With concentrated determination, he went to the trunk in the corner and borrowed a fresh shirt and pants from Giles.
He took his time cleaning and dressing, as even the smallest movement sent white-hot pain through his body. Even though he had been told time and time again, both from Mistress Rosenberg and from the evil, punishing Mistress Gwen, that he should feel ashamed for his disobedience, he felt as if his injuries were a badge of honor. He didn’t regret what he did.
Though it was dark and obviously late at night, he knew he had better figure out where he was supposed to serve. He vaguely remembered two women arguing over him, but the pain had taken all of his focus. He was sure he would be doing manual labor as he had before. He had no love for the fields or the burning sun. He remembered vividly working from dusk until dawn, sweating profusely and batting away insects. It was a far cry from the silken depths of Mistress Eleanor’s bed. But he knew he was lucky to be alive and for being such a shamefully disobedient slave, he was shocked that anyone bothered to buy him at all.
He opened the door and stumbled back, nearly falling, when he saw a petite blonde girl sitting on the dirty floor outside of the door whispering with a red haired slave. They both looked up expectantly.
“I’m s-sorry,” he stammered out and began to retreat.
“Wait,” she called out. Strangely, it sounded more like a request than an order. Perplexed, he turned around and faced her.
“Yes Mistress?” he asked, keeping his eyes carefully averted from her beauty.
“No, I’m just Buffy,” she scoffed. “Don’t look down. I’m not my mother.”
Angel raised his eyes to look at her. She was utterly beautiful and seemed unaffected by being in the slaves’ quarters. Just by her clothes, he knew she wasn’t a servant but a member of the household. The red headed male slave, stood and reached out, helping her to her feet. Angel eyed the action with confusion. It wasn’t a gesture of servitude; it was one person helping another person.
“This is Oz,” Buffy said, nodding to her companion. “Oz this is Angel.”
Oz nodded without speaking and Angel nodded back.
“Are you okay?” Buffy said quietly.
“Yes Mistress,” he managed hoarsely.
“Seriously, I’m just Buffy,” she said. “No ‘Mistress’ required unless my Mom’s around, okay?”
“Good,” she said, flashing him a smile. “I have to get back to my room before she finds me in the slaves’ quarters again. Oz, can you show Angel where he can get something to eat?”
“Sure,” Oz said nodding. She started to move away when Oz, much to the shock of Angel, placed a hand on her shoulder without invitation. She turned around with a questioning look.
“Thank you, Buffy,” he said quietly. Without preamble, she threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly.
“I’ll protect you, Oz,” she whispered fiercely. “I won’t fail you like I did with Xander.”
“You didn’t fail,” he protested, but she shook her head sadly and hurried away.
Angel was in a whirlwind of confusion. In the kitchen, Oz gave him leftovers from that evening’s dinner and said little. By a glance at the clock, he realized that it was only ten in the evening and not the middle of the night, as he had suspected. Nearly starved in the weeks he was with Gwen, he ravenously tore through a plate of food.
When he was finally finished eating, he looked up at Oz, who sat on the other side of the table, idly flipping through a book.
“The mistress treats you like you’re her friend,” Angel commented, carrying his plate to the kitchen sink. The way Buffy had treated Oz was similar to the way Willow had treated him. As much as it should have given him a sort of hope for the future, it sent an alarm through him.
“She is my friend,” Oz answered, closing his book and looking up. “We’ve been here together since we were children. She’s not the mistress to me. She’s always just been Buffy. Her mother is the mistress here.”
“And her mother allows you to be friends?” Angel asked, lowering himself painfully back into his chair.
“At first she did, thinking Buffy would take me into her bed when she was of age,” Oz answered. “But she didn’t. She asks nothing of slaves and refuses to give herself to any man she doesn’t love. She is an innocent.”
“Like Willow,” Angel groaned, putting his head in his hands. As much as he hated to even think it, it had been easier when he served merely as a slave. The cost of freedom was so very high.
“Yes,” Oz answered simply, having heard the story just as everyone else had.
Almost afraid to voice the words, Angel looked back up at Oz, “And where am I to serve?”
“You’ll be serving Buffy,” Oz said quietly.
“And I was chosen, not despite my treatment of Willow, but because of it?”
“Yeah.” Oz watched him for a few minutes and then stood up. “Follow me. I’ll take you to Buffy’s room.”
“Right now?” Angel asked, standing slowly. He felt marginally better now that he’d eaten, but with the extent of his injuries, he wasn’t sure what duties he was capable of at this moment. Not that he could argue. Anything was better than being back on the slave market.
“Mistress has given orders,” Oz said, heading out of the kitchen. “You’re to attend to Buffy at all times. You’ll be sleeping in her room.”
“Wait,” Angel said, grabbing Oz’s arm so that he stopped and looked back. “Sleep in her room? Every night?”
With a nod, Oz led him down the hall.