And No Good Thing Ever Dies
Hope is a good thing,
UCLA: medical school; university campus; hospital; and, research center. Cordeliaís vision had specified the hospital, so Angel circled around until he located the main parking facility. He pulled into a spot away from the Emergency entrance, angled so he could see the comings and goings, but wouldnít himself be seen. The lot was bustling, as expected for a busy city hospital, but there was no evidence of any demon or vampire activity. Even the weather was cooperative, with clear skies, mild temperatures and little smog. Angel knew from past experience that looks were deceiving. Cordeliaís visions were never wrong. Sometimes they interpreted them incorrectly, but whatever vision Cordelia suffered through came to pass. He reminded himself about patience, and sat back to wait.
The dream had stolen precious sleep time and Angel found himself drowsing. Once opened to the memories, the dream invaded and played itself out on the stage of his subconscious mind. He tried viewing it with detachment, hoping to analyze it, to seek its meaning, but as soon as the dream unfolded, he was well and truly caught in the flow of images.
Fire resolving into auburn hair, water pooling into green eyes, screams becoming sirens, red engines doused in blood, blue white lightning, bright light, bright light--
Roused by an inexplicable sound that matched neither the dream, nor any waking action, Angel came awake with a start. He swept the parking lot with a panicked glance and searched for the source of the noise. The same ambulance was parked in front of the ER entrance, the red 54 on white ground standing out from his earlier inventory of the lotís inhabitants, but instead of the requisite attendants, four vampires were pulling the patient from the back of the vehicle. Pandemonium broke out in short order as doctors and other hospital personnel came to the defense of the patient and the ambulance attendants, who were already on the ground. As usually happened in times such as this, the action seemed to slow until movements stood out frame by frame, caught in a strobe effect spurred by vampire speed.
Angel leapt from the car. More personnel poured out of the entrance. He watched helplessly as a security guard fell to his knees, his throat slashed by nails sharpened like talons, his white shirt a field of blood. Less than a minute had passed before Angel reached the ambulance, but he forced himself to move even faster, joining the fray before yet another innocent fell prey to the vampires. He threw himself at the stairs and took two of the vampires down with him. Ejecting a stake from his left sleeve, he plunged the wooden spike into the chest of the larger opponent, then turned to the other even before the dust had dissipated. He plunged the same stake into the second vampireís chest, and followed through the ash to yet another vampire. His thrust was blocked by an arm of deeply corded muscle. The stake broke off in the burly vampireís hand. Angel parried the return blow just in time, dropped to his haunches and scissored the vampireís legs out from under him. The burly vamp hit the ground hard and Angel took full advantage. The stake in his right-hand sleeve found a home in his opponentís chest and his ashes were added to the pile at Angelís feet. For several minutes after that, there was no thinking as Angel thrust and parried, blocked and kicked, calling on all the skill he possessed. This group of vampires was determined to get into the hospital, but Angel was equally determined to keep them out. The outflow of humanity which poured down the stairs hindered the vampiresí progress; Angel took a second to thank the PTBs for small favors. Angel surveyed the battlefield through the thinning ranks of combatants, refugees and casualties. A few vampires hovered at the fringe of the battle zone, waiting for the best moment to move in for the kill. Of the demon, there was no evidence.
A doctor struggled in the midst of the fight, battered more by hospital staff, fleeing what they could only assume was a riot, than the vampires. That period of grace was about to end. Thrown to the ground, she lay stunned by the impact. Going for easy prey, another vampire appeared from nowhere to loom over her. Even as Angel moved to her aid, he filed her appearance in his subconscious. Wisps of rich auburn hair framed a heart-shaped face, fair skinned but splattered with sienna freckles. As Angel reached for a strangle hold, the attacking vampire, surprise in her eyes, exploded into a dense cloud of ash.
Angel shared that surprise. Stunned and distracted by the unexpected kill, he lost his focus. The female vampire had a partner, and she had that avenging set to her jaw. Pulling a small knife from an inside pocket, she feinted a thrust at Angelís heart. When he swung to the side, she turned her arm motion into a narrow arc that caught Angel across the ribs. The sadistic twist she gave to the thrust left multiple furrows. The knife had the feel of wood, and the wounds burned like garlic or holy water had been spread beneath his skin. Angelís inner demon surged past his defenses; even as he spun around to dispatch the female vamp, his brow grew pronounced, his fangs dropped into place and his eyes burnished golden. Ignoring the pain of the wounds, he gathered his flagging strength and drew on the demonís reserves. Allowing the demon to come to the fore, Angel fought hard, fell into the rhythm of the kill and sent the remaining vampires to join their brethren on the ground. On the edge of his vision, he could see many others were fleeing on foot, led by a diminutive figure, shapely yet shapeless, solid yet amorphous. He focused on the figure, but the outline shifted, like water tilted in a glass or the disjointed image of a reed in a stream. He followed the groupís flight until they were lost to his acute senses.
Free from danger, Angel turned his attention inward. His attempts to lock the vampire back into its cage failed. Successive tries failed just as spectacularly. The lack of control disturbed Angel, but he attributed the reason to the shallow but bloody wounds. Wounded or not, vamp face or human, the doctor needed assistance but he was wary of frightening her. Distant sirens made the prospect of his own flight tempting, and he straddled the line between the flight imperative and his calling as a protector of the innocent. Making the decision, Angel turned in her direction and advanced to help her. The doctor rose to her feet on her own before Angel could reach her. Though her moans were soft, there was genuine pain beneath the low sounds. The light hit her upturned face. Auburn hair rich in the sodium lamps, eyes green and sparkling, freckles across her pert nose, she was instantly recognizable. Angelís thoughts were jumbled. Lina! But she died in that fire. How could it be?
There was no recognition in her eyes. He was just another vampire, keeping to the shadows and well away from the business end of her makeshift stake: a Ticonderoga #2 pencil. She advanced a step and he backed away.
That stopped her. "What did you call me?"
"Li," he repeated.
"How do you know my..." The doctor reached up and felt her hospital badge. "Oh, good, youíre a slick one. Wonít help you." She raised the pencil. "I know how to put this to good use, as your dusty friend knows."
"Not my friend." He couldnít help the sudden smile, but a mouth full of fangs was not the image he wanted to project. He let his lips close. Angel angled back towards the convertible, and she followed as he hoped she would. He felt far too exposed in the harsh glow of the lights. And those sirens were now very close. Oh, Li, this bravery will get you killed.
After a few chary steps, Lina stopped. "I know what youíre doing. You think humans are as stupid as you monsters?"
That insult hurt. Her tongue had grown sharp. "Lina, donít you know me?"
"Vampires are not in my social circle," she told him with a haughtiness that rivaled Cordelia at her best.
"Not even one?" He studied her with a strange intensity, willing her to recognize him; she met his gaze and gave him a thorough once-over in return. Angel knew she was on the edge of recognition. When he saw he had her attention, he continued. "Alphabet City. Pediatrician. Forty stitches. Stretchies. Roof. Orion. Pooh Bear. Window seat full of stuffed pigs. Stop me when youíve heard enough." Still, she remained several feet away. They were starting to draw attention. The sirens were close enough for even her human hearing to pick up. "Itís Angel."
"Angel?" Lina took several steps towards him, the hand without the pencil raised to touch him. She shook herself free in time. "Oh, thatís a good one, too, but it wonít wash. Angel is dead." A hardness mixed with sadness comprised her tone.
"Iím right here, Li. If I were any other vampire, you think weíd still be talking?"
"Itís a trick." She thought for a moment. "If you are Angel, tell me something specific I said that first night."
Angel cast his mind back. "íIím like a vampire 7-11í. You had blood in the fridge. Clinic unit died a premature death on delivery day."
Her turn to be stunned. "Oh my God." She took another step forward. They were close enough for him to grab her, if he had hostile intentions. The demon was still at the surface, he was hungry and the vein in her throat loomed large and inviting. The knife wounds had released the demon, but Angel would ensure Lina would never be endangered by it. "Angel? How?"
He met her eyes. "Same as you, I guess. I thought the fire took you. The ceiling exploded just as I reached the clinic. I thought you had died. I couldnít get through the fire, Li."
"I had nightmares for so long after that," Lina admitted.
"Me too. Still do. I blamed myself for getting you killed."
"You saved me. Again."
"Itís getting to be a bad habit." A half-smile played about his lips, but Angel was still reluctant to bare his fangs.
Lina fiddled with the pencil. "Um..." She didnít quite know how to ask.
"You wonít need that, Li." Angel watched her accept his statement as fact. The easy belief stunned him.
Lina stuck the pencil back behind the scrunchie holding her ponytail in place. "So, whatís with the scary face?"
Angel looked troubled. "I donít know. I canít put it away."
Lina gave Angel a cursory examination. "Youíre wounded." She smiled ruefully. "Seems I tell you that whenever we meet." She started to take a closer look, but Angel backed away. "Hey!"
"Itís kind of public here." He directed her attention to their surroundings.
"OK. Letís go to your place." The doctor patted her ubiquitous messenger bag. "I have everything I need." Angel only stared at her. "No? I canít go to your place? You donít have a place?" When he shook his head, she asked, "Is this that whole macho thing again that you donít need help?"
"No, thatís not it. Youíre just going to get in the car with me, Li?" Like this, he added to himself.
"Yes, just like that," she replied, as if she had read his mind. "Letís go. Timeís awastiní, and the earth only moves in one direction."
Angel shook his head in bemusement, but led the way to the Plymouth without another word, keeping to the shadows to hide his appearance as much as possible. He opened the door for her, saw her settled then closed her in and went around to the driverís side. Angel gave a fleeting thought to raising the top on the convertible, but he didnít want to waste time with the police so close. The engine turned over on the first shot and Angel slammed the car into gear. They had barely reached one of the many driveways that led to the street when their way was blocked by a sedan. A flashing light marked it as a police vehicle. Angel again fought the instinct to run, and only mastered it when he recognized Kate in the driverís seat. She gestured him to follow. A few minutes later, she pulled out of the traffic pattern into a quiet side street. Kate emerged from the car, hand on her revolver. She was alone.
Angel felt her eyes rake over him, taking his full measure before giving Lina the same treatment. Kate narrowed her eyes in assessment, trying to fit all the pieces into the puzzle. Here was Angel, obviously a vampire, yet what appeared to be a human woman sat beside him under no apparent duress. Angel acted to distract Kate from Lina, a reflexively protective gesture that Lina might give him hell for later.
"Was I speeding, officer?"
"How many centuries have you spent perfecting that innocent look, Ďcause it still needs work. Maybe if you put the Lost Boys face away."
Angel felt Lina shift next to him. The expression he caught out of the corner of his eye matched Kateís in intensity as Lina tried to put the puzzle together from the opposite direction.
"Involving more innocents in your crusade?"
Lina spoke over the cryptic answer Angel would have made. "Iím an old friend."
"Oh? How old?" Hostility dripped from each word. "Is there a vampire convention in town?"
"Sheís a doctor, Kate."
"Iíve been called a vampire at times, though, by agitated parents. Iím Lina Russo, pediatric specialist in immuno-deficiencies." Lina gave Kate a direct look that was anything but friendly; her tone of voice matched the expression on her face. "I wonít even try to ascertain why you are so hostile, but you can serve your city better back there than standing here harassing innocent citizens. Angel was wounded saving lives - doing your job. Now let me do mine and see to his care."
"Innocent," Kate scoffed. She dismissed Lina and fixed Angel with a piercing look. "You are always in the midst of carnage." Kate backed away, but delivered a last warning. "Just one more incident, Angel. Donít push your luck." Kate scrutinized Lina again before getting into her car. "And, Doctor? I think heís just a bit too old for a pediatrician."
Lina seemed on the verge of a boil-over, so Angel lost no time in blending into the traffic pattern. Many more police vehicles screamed past them as they turned back onto the main road. The last thing Angel needed was a confrontation with the police in his present condition. Actually, the last thing Angel needed - that confrontation with Kate - had already happened, so the night had to get better. Lina hadnít begun to question him about the incident, but he knew from past experience that the grace period wouldnít last. Angel was still trying to put together a story when she broke the silence.
"Still quiet, I see."
Chastised but relieved, he asked, "Um, how have you been?"
"I was in bad condition for a while, but I recovered with a little help from my friends. You?"
"About the same."
Lina pulled up a knee so she could face him. "Ah-hah. Why do I get the idea thereís a lot more to the story?"
He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. The intermittent streetlamps played light and shadow across her face, but he could see her even in the dark patches. Angel cleared his throat but nothing would come out. All he could think was, Sheís alive. And even ten years later, sheís still beautiful. Still my friend.
"Hmmmm. Well, I could always fill a silence." Lina sat back, slipped off her clogs and put her bare feet on the dashboard. "After you disappeared, I went into a bit of a spiral. I can tell you, I doubted my sanity for a while - my friends did, too. But I had work, and the damage to my building wasnít that extensive. I remodeled, and stayed there for many more years. I still own the building, but I lease it to another group of doctors. That area needs a clinic."
"Why are you here in L.A.?"
"Family, mainly, and to consult on a series of strange cases."
"Youíre licensed here?"
"Yes, for about three months now. Iím thinking of settling out here. I havenít decided."
"Youíll miss New York." It wasnít a question.
"Maybe. There are a lot of memories I wonít."
"I hear that," Angel muttered, but didnít elaborate when she glanced over. "So, whatís the strange case?"
"Several children have developed immuno-deficiencies."
"But thatís nothing new, right?"
Lina grimaced. "Unfortunately, no. But the diseases the children have contracted are treatable with current drug therapies. Yet not one has responded positively. Itís as if their immune systems have...forgotten how to fight the invading virus." Her frustration was evident in the tone of her voice. "Iíve set the problem to percolate in the back of my mind. Do a lot of good thinking back there." Lina leaned back and let her eyes roam over the unobstructed view of the sky. "A convertible is a strange choice for a vampire," she observed.
"So Iíve been told, but I got a good deal." Angel turned half towards Lina and gave her a wink. "And itís all about the ride."
Lina responded to that sentiment with a chuckle, low and warm in her throat. "True, my friend, very true."
Angelís attention was drawn back to the road as he hit a pothole. He grimaced in pain, his lips drawing back from his fangs, as his wounds were jarred. A hot/cold sensation washed over his torso; the cuts had reopened. Linaís features were painted by a worried frown as she turned her head in his direction. Misinterpreting her worry as fear, Angel rushed to assure her, "Itís all right, Li, weíll be there in a few minutes." Her only reaction was a little shake of her head and pat on his arm.
In the near silence of the early morning streets, the sudden chirrup of a cell phone was startling. Lina felt in her bag for her phone, but Angel had already fished his out and jammed it between his ear and shoulder.
"Yeah?" Angel noted Linaís shift of attention but he had to concentrate to hear Wesley over the wind shear and the ambient traffic noise. The small snippets of the conversation Lina would be able to hear would make little sense but heíd explain it all after the case was over. Safer for all concerned. "What do you have for me?" Angel fidgeted, short on patience, as Wes filled him in on the details he and Cordelia had researched. Angel had the distinct impression Wes was irritated in some way. Probably meant Cordelia had found the key clue, or even the demon itself. Angelís guess paid off as he caught Cordeliaís name before she took over the narration. "Yes, yes, Iím listening," Angel said into the receiver. "Iím on my way in, and I have company. Weíll finish this later, Iím heading onto the Freeway." Just before he disconnected, he told her, "Um, good work." He clicked off, Cordelia in mid-sentence. Another action for which he was sure to catch some hell.
Angel stuffed the phone away. Lina looked at him with a good measure of interest, but she said nothing and he wasnít one to volunteer. Slipping back into that laconic frame of mind was the path of least resistance.
The rest of the ride was uneventful and quiet, as Angel paid closer attention to the road and Lina took in the sights. It said something about L. A. that a vampire in full demon face garnered no more attention than a few startled glances. The people of Los Angeles mirrored the people in New York: they knew how to see only what they wanted to see and nothing more.
Angel pulled into the underground garage not more than ten minutes later. Lina climbed out of the car but waited for Angel to lead the way inside. He pushed aside the sliding door and ushered her into his living quarters. The entrance was dark except for a small lamp which sat on a table beside the door. Making herself at home, Lina lifted the messenger bag free of her shoulders and slipped out of her red clogs. She shucked her jacket and left the pile of her belongings to the side of the door. It seemed her whole body sighed in relief.
"Doctor time. Take your coat and shirt off." She interrupted him before he could protest. "No arguments. I saw that grimace of pain when you hit the pothole. Off!"
Lina bent to root around in her messenger bag and came out with a full medical kit. By the time the doctor stood and turned to her patient, Angel had his coat and shirt off as directed. Lina nodded in satisfaction. "Bathroom."
Angel knew better than to argue with that tone, so he led her to the bathroom without a word. He flipped on the overhead light, then hitched a hip against the vanity to give Lina a clear view. She turned on the tap and grabbed a washcloth from the rack next to the sink. She saturated the rag in hot water and placed it over the wounds. Angel sucked a breath in through his fangs and stiffened but remained otherwise silent and still. Lina laved the wounds until she was satisfied that she had cleansed away all the dried blood. "These arenít that deep, Angel, but they seem resistant to healing."
Angel examined the wounds himself. "They should have closed over by now, Li. The knife was wood, and it may have been coated with holy water or garlic."
"Hmmm, specific allergy," she muttered to herself. Though Angel knew she couldnít be sure the normal procedures applied, he watched as Lina did what came naturally to her, what she had done for him a decade earlier. Lina dug around in the kit and brought out a large wrapped square, which she ripped open to reveal a gauze pad. She soaked it with peroxide, and slapped it against the slashes. The antiseptic didnít have the required result so Lina tipped the bottle directly onto the wounds, using the gauze to capture the excess. Lina glanced up to catch Angelís grimace. "Sorry, I know it smarts but I want to get any lingering trace of holy water or garlic oil left in the cuts."
"Do what you have to, Lina." Angel shifted a bit. "They feel better."
She stayed his movement with a light touch. "Not done yet." Reaching into the kit yet again, Lina pulled out a metallic tube labeled Bacitracin zinc ointment. She dabbed a liberal amount into and over the wound, then covered it with another square of gauze. "Hold this," she directed. Angel complied and Lina fetched out some surgical tape. She secured the gauze in place and declared herself done. "OK, now scoot." At Angelís bemused expression, Lina clarified, "I have some business of my own." She made a shooing gesture.
"Oh, um, sorry." He gave her a direct look and held it. "Thank you, Lina." The hand she placed on his was warm and soft, yet strong and capable. God, she was beautiful, and her scent brought back so many memories. She had given him hope when it was a scarce commodity.
Stepping away from her was difficult, but she was waiting for him to give her the privacy she had requested. The need to hold her was overwhelming, but he had a fear he was looking more like a fool each second he lingered. He had a bigger fear sheíd reject any overt show of affection. Angel swallowed and thanked her again, before spinning on his heel and leaving the bathroom to Lina.
The first thing Angel did was feed. He walked straight from the bathroom to the old Philco in the corner and reached in to pull out a bag from the vegetable drawer. His hunger had gone beyond his normal diet of pigís blood, though Angel didnít fully understand the inexplicable need that twisted his stomach. With Lina in his apartment and Cordelia and Wesley upstairs, Angel wasnít taking any chances. If he concentrated, Angel could hear splashing sounds from the bathroom, and light footsteps and low conversation from the office above him. Live prey, the demon whispered into his brain.
The donor bag squelched in his hands, the blood undulating within the plastic confines. A low growl worked its way up from Angelís stomach to throat, and he pierced the bag with his fangs. Blood poured into his mouth, and down his chin, but all he cared about was sating the hunger. The demon quieted but still would not submerge. When the bag was drained, Angel threw it in a bin next to the stove, then wet a dishcloth at the kitchen sink. He washed his face as if he could somehow scrub away the vampire features, but when he hung the rag over the faucet and felt his brow, it was still distended, and his tongue encountered fangs, not normal human incisors. With a frustrated sigh, he strode into his bedroom and drew a clean pullover from the armoire. The stretch to put his arms into the sleeves and lift it over his head tugged at the bandage, but that was the only discomfort coming from his stomach. The hunger had faded to a muted desire that he was used to ignoring, and the cuts were well on the way to healing, but he still could not force the vampire face away. Angel wanted to go to Lina, but he stood rooted to the spot in indecision, the second time that night. Now that the adrenaline had worn off from the fight, a fear of him might take over. Angel couldnít bear her fear of him, but he had to see her, touch her, assure himself she was real and alive and only steps away. He squeezed his eyes shut for a fleeting moment and let that feeling come over him, let himself drown in his imagination. He could so easily fall in love with her again, if he hadnít already. And there wasnít a damn thing he could do about it. Love never gave you a choice, or so Buffy once told him.
Angel reached the bathroom just as Lina opened the door. The soft gray pullover was an unconscious choice, but from the look on Linaís face, she shared the memory of a similar garment. Their eyes met, and Angel could hear Linaís heartbeat increase in speed. Her hair was loose and it seemed to dance around her face even though she had frozen a step outside the bathroom.
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