"Cordelia has filled me in on the situation with Detective Lockley," Wesley said. "What assistance may I offer?"
Angel studied Wesley's eager face with some amusement before replying. "Monitor the police band for Kate's call sign. I want to be with her when she reaches the next crime scene. She's 1 Mary 5."
"1 Mary 5. Right. This is rather like one of your American cop shows. Quite exciting, actually."
Cordelia and Angel watched him dash off with matching looks of amusement and consternation. "We've created a monster," Cordelia said. "So, you decided not to wait for her to come to you."
"She won't, Cordelia. And I'm sure the perp's not a vampire. She'll be armed with a cross, trust it to do the job." Angel traced a cross shape against his cheek. "She'll be killed. I can't let that happen. I can't let the fact that meeting me has skewed her world picture enough to get her hurt --not if I can stop it."
"You won't, Angel. We'll help."
Angel and Cordelia joined Wesley in the basement apartment. They took turns listening to the police radio Angel had liberated from the precinct. Angel leaned forward when he heard Kate's call sign for the first time, but the communication was only a routine check-in with dispatch, a notification of her twenty and a request for any messages. The trio shared puzzled glances.
"Going home?" Cordelia guessed.
"Dinner break," Wesley suggested.
Angel countered them both, his tone grim with worry. Kate's location was in the range of the killer. "Hunting."
After several hours of waiting, and many false alarms, their patience was rewarded by Kate's call sign squawking from the police radio. Dispatch put through a message from one of Kate's eyes and ears on the street. The message was concise, containing only a number and a street name. Cordelia dragged out the Thomas Brothers' atlas of LA county. She flipped to the right map and showed Angel the coordinates. The address was in the beef-packing district on the edge of downtown.
Angel grabbed his black duster from the coat tree and headed to the carport. "All right. I'm going."
"You'll need a hand," Wesley offered.
"No. Stay here," Angel told him. "He'll be armed. It's not safe."
Wesley's indignant frown went unnoticed. "I can take care of myself, Angel. I've proved that."
"Wesley, please." Angel turned to face his new employee, backing up as he spoke. "One human is enough to look out for at any one time. OK?" Angel spun to face forward again, cutting off Wesley's protests.
Wes bristled at being dismissed so out of hand; he would not be left out of the action. He was not a rogue demon hunter for nothing. His manliness had just taken a bad blow, and in front of Cordelia no less. Wesley was a useful part of the team and he would show Angel whether he wanted that little bit of knowledge or not. "I will follow at a discreet distance, be there to offer aid to Angel should he need it." Wesley caught sight of Cordelia's doubtful, worried expression. "No, no, you can't deter me. It's my duty."
"OK, but it's your neck," she called after him.
A thick layer of dirt covered every surface of the abandoned building and rose up to float in the still air as Angel took each step. The stench of old blood and older meat permeated the plaster walls, the concrete floors and the wooden steps, odors not even time could dislodge. The gloom was complete but for a jagged hole in the roof that let in a shaft of wan moonlight. Age made gravity more effective, and the building creaked in tune with the low coos and flapping wings of pigeons nesting in the eaves. Sawdust and neglected gore made the floor gritty underfoot, like a large sheet of sandpaper. Wedged into the northeast corner were Klieg lights ringing a massive tester bed, sheets stiffened by dried blood. A single camera waited at the foot of the bed. A picture perfect movie setting by all Hollywood standards. Only the players were missing.
It hit him then. A full-blown solution. It happened that way sometimes, on a good day. Determined to help Kate whether she wanted it or or not, Angel hacked into the police database while waiting for his face to heal. Tips and techniques gleaned from watching Willow and Giles paid off. Angel was able to search through all of Kate's case files. One stood out in his memory. A producer of snuff films, Duncan Avery by name, had been caught in the act, a young man and woman dead in bed, yet entwined, cameras still rolling. Kate discharged her weapon, firing two shots that caught him across the throat when the producer tried to evade capture. As they took Avery away in the ambulance he called out threats to get his revenge when he was released.
That day had come, and it seemed until the producer took his revenge in person he killed Kate by proxy, sacrificing her effigy seven times over. Angel did the math: one for every year Duncan Avery had spent behind bars. The difference was this time the producer might make Kate the star of his twisted show. Angel would do his best to make sure this was one part Kate never played.
Dressed in his usual black ensemble, Angel was barely discernible by the human eye. He moved further into the gloom, merging with the deepest shadows and waited with the stillness of a predator. If luck was running in his favor, Kate needn't be involved in the collar until after it was buttoned down. With a mental groan, Angel realized he'd picked up more than just computer skills from the Slayer and her cadre. Buffy had left yet another indelible mark on him: he was punning while waiting to take on the big bad. He shook off the odd mix of joy and pathos and knuckled down. Now was not the time to lose concentration, not when lives hung in the balance.
A sound, so soft Angel thought he imagined it, caught his attention. He listened more intently and the sound repeated. The cadence was the familiar patter of footsteps, but so quiet that Angel almost missed the sound beneath the ambient noise of the city. The perp had arrived and was moving as silently as Angel could. Jail was known to teach cons a nice set of survival skills, but this noiseless footstep was beyond a human's ability to learn.
The perp was a vampire. Angel's theory had been way off the mark, and that mistake disturbed him. He was so sure the perp was human. No matter now. Angel could take care of this killer without remorse, and with no regard for his methods. The demon pressed against his restraints but Angel held it in check for just the right moment.
As Angel was about to step from the shadows to confront the vampire, another set of footsteps came to his ear. These were normal and human, each footfall a sharp slap of leather against concrete. Wesley came into view a second later, limned by the shaft of moonlight coming through the hole in the roof. He had a small crossbow in his hands, an arrow in the firing position. Angel watched the other vampire pivot to keep Wesley in sight. So much for Angel's plan to take down the perp without putting any humans in danger.
Wesley moved further into the center of the cavernous room. He was moving stealthily, trying to glance in every direction at once. His grip on the crossbow never faltered, and he handled it with the same comfort and familiarity Angel had noted when the weapon was wielded against him not so long ago. Another face appeared in the gloom, just coming to the top of the stairwell behind Wesley. The vampire had an accomplice.
Angel slipped out of his place in the deep shadows though he hugged the line of darkness, trying to remain unseen for as long as possible. Surprise might be the edge in dealing with the two perps with a minimum of danger. Angel caught the handle of a discarded butcher knife with the toe of his boot, and it went skidding across the floor. His presence betrayed, Angel dashed out into the light, grabbing Wesley by the scruff of his neck only moments before the vampire could seize him as a shield. Wesley went sprawling, the impact with the concrete floor jarring the crossbow from his nerveless fingers. The vampire rushed in, a stake raised high, as if he were expecting another vampire as his prey for that night's activities. Angel met his attack head on, gripping the hand that held the stake and twisting until he surpassed even a vampire's threshold of pain. The stake went skittering away, rolling to a halt near Wesley's outstretched hand. Angel manuevered the vampire until his back was to Wesley, hoping Wesley had regained enough of his senses to use the stake so near to hand.
Wesley climbed to his feet, steadying himself against a square column, then pushed off to gain some momentum. The noise of his approach hidden beneath the vampire's snarls, Wesley raised the stake and bought it to bear in a practiced move. Just as the stake penetrated the vampire's back, the other man emerged from the stairway. A gun glinted in his fist seconds before a sharp report announced a bullet being fired. Amidst the dusty remains of the vampire, Wesley threw up his hands in a futile attempt to protect his face, but Angel was there to push him to safety.
The bullet tore through Angel's shoulder, spinning him halfway around until he could check his momentum. Two more shots followed. Wesley rolled away, but one bullet lodged itself into the concrete not more than a foot from Wesley's head. The resultant shrapnel caught Wesley across the temple, opening a gash that gushed blood. The other bullet found a place in Angel's gut, and the fiery pain broke Angel's control over the demon. His fangs descended, his brow extended and his eyes turned the color of a feral mountain lion. A growl broke free from his throat as he lunged at Duncan Avery. His first order of business was to tear the gun from the producer's grasp. The human was strong, and the struggle for possession of the weapon went on longer than Angel wanted or needed. Another bullet clipped Angel in almost a carbon copy of Wesley's wound; blood streamed down Angel's face and dripped into his open collar. Anger gave Angel extra strength. He twisted the gun, hearing bones crack in Avery's hand. With a guttural cry, the producer surrendered the weapon and Angel tossed it into a dark corner.
Blinded by pain, Avery was easy to subdue. The demon wanted a death, but Angel clamped down, denying his darker half the pleasure of a kill. Instead, he compromised. Wanting to inflict more pain, he pushed Avery to the floor and kept him there with a knee planted in the small of his back. Angel pulled the producer's arms up onto his shoulder blades with one hand, applying enough pressure to drag strangled curses from his defeated opponent.
Angel stole a glance at his employee. Wesley had managed to rise to a sitting position. He leaned against the column, a handkerchief pressed to the bloody scalp wound. Moving his head as if it would fall off his neck, he nodded to Angel's inquiring look after his health. His face ashen against the bright red of his blood, Wesley looked about ready to pass out, but Angel took the man at his word that he would be all right until they could leave.
That was the scene as Kate climbed the stairs, her blond hair visible just over the edge of the floor. Her scent was a powerful draw in Angel's weakened state and he fought hard for restraint. After a first unsuccessful try, Angel forced the demon down; his face morphed back to human. Still floating in a haze of pain, Angel doubted his transformation and reached his free hand to his face. Catching Wesley's eye again, he was assured by a minimal nod. Angel jerked his chin towards the shadows, and Wesley moved to comply. It was a slow and painful process, but he sidled away and was soon hidden from human eyes.
Angel rose to his full height and turned to face Kate, who had emerged from the stairwell, her gun drawn. She surveyed the crime scene, giving a terse report to her backups elsewhere in the building through her hand-held radio. The moans coming from Duncan Avery had petered out, but Angel knew he still lived by the faint sound of his heartbeat. Kate had no such assurance.
Taking note of the ash outline, heavier than the surrounding dust, she deliberately smeared it so it no longer had the shape of a man. With an eye for Angel, she bent over to feel for a pulse. Satisfied, she knelt by Avery's side and pulled cuffs from her jacket pocket, fixing them in place on the perp's wrists. His left hand was swollen and discolored, his face was the same color as the dust in which he was lying and his breathing was thready, but he'd live. As Kate stood, her cross tumbled free of her sweater, though it remained hidden in the lapel of her jacket. Kate radioed for the paramedics before turning her attention back to Angel.
"You sound surprised, Kate."
"I guess you were right. The perp was human."
Angel toed the scattered pile of ash. "We were both right."
Noise on the stairs prompted quickly voiced questions. "Was he the only human? Where's his weapon?"
Angel nodded, then pointed, moving in the general direction he had last seen the gun. Kate stepped forward to follow Angel to the weapon. The moonlight glinted off her cross as it slipped free of its hiding place. Angel flinched and came to a sudden halt. Kate turned to see why Angel stopped. His eyes appeared fixated on her throat. Raising her hand to her neck, Kate felt the chain and then the small gold crucifix she always wore.
Angel felt the assessing pressure of her gaze as she studied his wounds. His face was a bloody mess and the careful way he carried himself communicated the presence of other, more serious, injuries . Angel watched as Kate very deliberately dropped the cross inside her sweater. "You'll be all right?" He nodded. As the first paramedic clambered up the stairs, she leaned towards him and whispered, "You should go." Angel backed away, fading into the shadows in the blink of an eye.
TThe trip back to the office left Wesley and Angel the worse for wear. Wesley wedged himself against the door in an effort to keep his head and other body parts from jouncing around, or out of the car completely. Angel drove like a demon possessed and was determined to break the land speed record. The top was down, and the wind kept the blood smell at a minimum, even though Wesley had long since surrendered his hold on the hanky he used to staunch his wound. Angel had two bullets in him and he had lost enough blood to bring on some intense hunger pangs. Wesley was the closest meal until Angel could get to the butcher shop shakes in his refrigerator.
Cordelia clucked over both Angel and Wesley when they arrived at the office. Angel left Wesley in her capable hands and sought the sanctuary of his apartment. He gulped the blood right from container, damn the mental picture. The blood dulled the fiery pain to a distant ache, enough that he felt safe to be around his friends. Angel went into the bathroom and stripped off his shirt. There were two large holes and enough blood to stiffen the silk and adhere it to his skin. He washed away as much of the dried blood as he could in consideration of Cordelia, pulled a fresh shirt from the armoire, then draped a towel around his shoulders.
Angel climbed the stairs in time to witness a dressing down in the best Cordelian style. Wesley was incapable of defending himself, and sat dazed beneath the expert tongue-lashing. Angel was glad he wasn't Cordelia's target. That she remedied soon enough, keeping up a monolgue that never repeated all the while she was digging bullets out of his anatomy.
"She's really quite impressive," Wes commented aside.
"I've always thought so," Angel replied, wincing as Cordelia pulled the last bullet from his body. "Ouch!"
"Well, keep still."
"I wasn't moving."
"Your lips were," Cordelia told Angel.
"And really quite cheeky, too," Wes added.
Cordelia turned her attention his way. "It's a good thing nothing important was hurt, Wesley." A sweet smile belied the icy stare.
"Yes. My lucky day, really, since I have to rely on your gentle ministrations." Wes was learning to give as good as he got.
Angel snorted, failing to keep a short laugh at bay. He arranged his face into sober lines that couldn't quite hide the smile in his eyes.
"I could say the same to you, Broody Boy, but you know how I hate to repeat myself."
Angel tried to look repentent but failed miserably. Wesley was the first to break into laughter, then Angel gave in and Cordelia was the last to join the merriment. Each one's laughter fed the other and soon Wes had his glasses off and was wiping the tears from his eyes, Angel had a hand over his gut wound while he tried to still his laughter and Cordelia covered her face with both hands to block out the sight of her colleagues. Shared laughter in the aftermath of suffering.
Once the laughter died down, Cordelia turned her attention back to Angel's wounds. She was applying a final piece of tape to the bandage on Angel's abdomen as the door to the outer office opened and closed. Cordy leaned back and, spying Kate, beckoned her in.
The detective gave them all the once-over, taking in the matching bandages on the two men's heads, and the two large bandages on Angel's shoulder and abdomen. The patch-up job was as good as the emergency room could provide. Triage was the last skill Kate would have attributed to Cordelia. Kate looked down on Cordelia with genuine surprise and admiration for her handiwork.
"You're very good at that," Kate praised Cordelia.
Cordelia rolled her eyes and Angel was sure he was the only one to hear her mumble, "Florence Nightingvamp, that's my trademark role these days." Standing to greet Kate, Cordy explained in one long-suffering word. "Practice." She gave Kate a measuring glance in return. "I hope you're in one piece. The peroxide ruined my manicure, and besides the first-aid kit's fresh out of bandages."
"I'm fine," Kate assured her, not knowing what else to say.
"Good. I'll just leave you to your detective talk."
Cordelia helped Wesley to stand, intending to give Angel and Kate some privacy by going into the outer office. Still woozy from loss of blood, Wesley's knees buckled and he and Cordy would have landed on the floor in a heap if Angel hadn't surged off the chair to catch both their arms.
"Whoop! Thanks, boss. Change of plan, English."
Cordelia turned Wesley around and poured him into the elevator. Propping him into the corner, she clanged the gate home and worked the controls. Kate caught a wave as they slid out of sight.
Angel draped the towel over the back of his chair and shrugged into the fresh shirt, wincing a bit as the movement tugged at the wounds. Still a little shaky himself, Angel hitched his hip on the edge of the desk. He gestured Kate to a chair, which she declined with a shake of her head.
"I won't be here that long," she said. "Seems I'm making a habit out of coming to thank you for saving my life."
"We have to stop meeting like this," Angel jested, some of his good mood remaining.
"Too much wear and tear," Kate agreed in kind, pointing in the general direction of his wounds. "So, where did she learn this skill set?"
"Sunnydale offered more education than your average southern California high school. Battling evil is an extra-curricula activity when you live on the Hellmouth."
"Hellmouth?" Kate stopped Angel from speaking, her hands forming a boundary to keep out the words she didn't want to hear. "No, no, don't explain. I have enough nightmares."
Angel met that comment with his customary taciturn expression, the remaining dregs of his humor crushed by remorse. Angel knew full well he was the star of a good number of Kate's nightmares, but he didn't know how to end the run. Their lives were intertwined in a Gordian knot of complexity. Angel had a gut feeling that matters would only get worse.
Taking a deep breath, Kate rushed through her next words. "Anyway, I just stopped by to give you this. My way of saying thanks."
The detective pulled a bulky rectangular package from her jacket pocket; it was a little worse for wear. She offered it to Angel, who began to open it. Over the crinkling of paper, Kate's radio squawked her call sign. "I have to go."
Angel walked Kate to the door, the package forgotten on his desk. She turned and regarded him with a frank, steady gaze that he felt compelled to meet eye to eye. "Angel, thank you. But please, let's change that V on your chest to something other than vampire and vigilante."
Kate moved through the door and Angel closed it behind her. He wandered back into his office and picked up the discarded package. A paperback emerged from the wrapping, and Angel smiled. He flipped open the cover of the latest Ludlum thriller to find a dedication written in a firm hand. "To Angel, I hope the suspense won't kill you. Thanks again, Kate."
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