Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc., are the property of Joss Whedon. The original plot is the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


Chapter 02

Los Angeles

Angel was sinking. He could pinpoint the exact moment when he began to come unhinged. It was the day he'd heard from Spike—of all people, Spike!—that Buffy was moving on.

You meant for her to move on, Angelus told him. You almost fucking threw her into the arms of other men.

Angel ignored the enraged demon inside his head. He'd been doing better at ignoring Angelus.

You keep telling that to yourself, boyo.

Angel never told anyone that he could hear Angelus inside his mind. It had taken a while for him to understand that what he was hearing was his demon counterpart after he'd been back from hell. In the beginning, the voice was only at the edge of his consciousness. After graduation—

You mean after we marked Buffy, Angelus interjected, correcting him.

After graduation, Angel began hearing Angelus quite clearly. And you haven't shut up since, Angel growled.

The laughter rolling inside his head was slightly bitter. Didn't do me any good, did it? You're still sitting here, drinking yourself into a stupor while out mate—our fucking MATE—is sleeping with some blood-bag.

She's not—

Oh, shove it. She is our mate, and you and I both know it.

Angel took another gulp of the whiskey he held in his hand. She was his lover and mate. For all intents and purposes, he'd married her in the vampire way the day he'd bitten her. He'd never meant to mark her, never meant to force such a bond on her. However, when he'd been poisoned and delusional and found himself with his teeth inside her neck, Angelus and he had been in complete agreement for the first—and probably the last—time, and he'd taken her as his eternal mate.

And now said eternal mate is calling to us, and you ignore her! Angelus roared in anger. If I'd been in control—

You'd what? Go back and kill some more fish? Angel sneered. That's all you've been able to do. The only reason you killed Jenny was because she was working on re-cursing me. You couldn't face loving Buffy, and you couldn't break her, so you tried to end the world.

Angelus was quiet, but Angel could feel his demon thinking, even if he couldn't hear the exact thoughts.

I didn't love her, Angelus finally said. He refused to bring up more painful memories that both he and the soul wanted buried. He'd wouldn't have usually done so—would have brought things up again and again, in fact—but these were too painful even for him, and he hated admitting to it.

Angel paused after brining the bottle of whiskey to his lips. Didn't? Past tense?

More silence. There was definitely something up with Angelus, but Angel found that he just didn't have the energy to care anymore. Spike's words about Buffy taking a lover to replace him had torn him apart nearly as much as the torture his grandchild had inflicted at the time.

Angel was trying to let her go. Lord knows that he had tried everything he could to stay in LA and let her live her life. He shouldn't care that she was moving on with another, that this man, this Parker was sharing her smiles, her life, and her bed.

But you do care, fucker.

So do you, Angelus.

Of course, I care, and I'll make sure to punish her as soon as I get my hands on her. AFTER I've killed the walking blood-bag for touching her.

You'll never get your hands on her, Angel vowed. I'd stake myself first. She should have a change to have a normal life, without me interfering in them.

He left to give her just that. He'd left to give her a chance at a normal life, or as normal a life as a Slayer's could be. He knew that he wasn't, couldn't, be a part of that. Hadn't that day proven it to him?

He wasn't normal, and Buffy wanted normal. She just didn't want to admit it. To herself or him.

So he was forced to be the one making the hard choices. He was wrong for Buffy.

Hadn't it been her own mother who told him that her daughter would be better off without Angel in her life?

He left because it was the right thing to do…for her.

No, it wasn't, Angelus said.

Angel didn't know if he, himself, could still answer "yes" to that question, and as the days went by, he was growing weaker and weaker in his resolve. With each passing week, he found himself with less reasons keeping him in L.A., and more reasons to go back to Sunnydale. With Angelus hounding him, it was getting harder to feel justified in his choice.

Angel had tried to make a life for himself in L.A., even though it was more as a result of coincidence than intent. He had met Doyle and Cordelia, and together they'd founded a business that had one goal—to help the helpless. It was meant to be a step toward redemption for him.

However, as quickly as his life had been created here in L.A., they'd gone downhill just as fast. Doyle was now dead, and Angel still couldn't help but wonder if he could have done something to prevent it.

Yeah, you could have died with him, Angelus said. At least that way, I wouldn't be stuck with you.

You've never been one for suicide, Angel retorted.

Angelus shrugged. Pretty sure I'd rather be in hell than here with you. Actually, I'd rather be fucking and turning a certain Vampire Slayer, if we're talking about my preferences. But you're somewhat reluctant to get yourself up and take back what is ours.

Angel decided that to continue this argument would leave him with nothing more than an even bigger headache than he was already sporting, so he tried to ignore Angelus.

Cordelia wasn't the easiest person to be around when he'd first met her in Sunnydale, but she'd proven that she was a loyal friend these past few months. Angel found that he liked the cocky, free-spirited, ex-Queen C. Despite liking her, however, he chose to escape her company—and Wesley's, for that matter—more and more often these days.

Wouldn't have minded fucking and feeding on her back then, but these days I'm a one-Slayer demon.

You would kill anyone close to me, Angel accused. Nothing's changed for you.

Oh, I'd kill Cordy in a heartbeat—her last, Angelus said, snickering at his own joke. Wouldn't touch her with a ten foot pole now, though, and you know it. Not everything remained the same.

Angel sighed. He knew. Once he and Angelus had marked Buffy, neither would look at another woman ever again, be her human or vampire.

That's right, Soul-Boy. Now why don't you get this fabulous ass of mine back to where our mate is so we can make sure that she never looks at any other male, either—hot blooded or otherwise?

It is better this way, Angel insisted. There is nothing I can offer her, and I wouldn't risk you coming out again.

Shutting Angelus out, Angel escaped the apartment into the night. He had no desire for anyone to see him, so he avoided going up to the office and used the alley exit instead. It wasn't the first time he'd gone roaming, and Angel suspected that it would remain a habit of his. Sometimes, his legs carried him so far that he was too far away from his apartment come dawn, so he would find a place to hide until the sun set once again. This time he was simply hoping to find something to beat to death, and if the Gods were kind, he'd find enough things to take his rage out on by the time the sun made its next appearance.

He knew what was happening that made him roam. Angelus had been taking advantage of his absentminded patrolling to lead his body toward Sunnydale. So far, Angel had been able to resist.

He didn't know how long he would last, though. It had been happening more frequently lately, and if that wasn't bad enough, the dreams were now coming over him during his waking hours as well as in his slumber. And even though each dream was like a knife sliding though his heart, Angel cherished each and every one of them.

He wished he could blame Angelus for them, but the tone of the dreams just wasn't his style. Usually, when Angelus though of Buffy, it was in the context of blood, gore, and sex.

She'd have made a great vampire. Angelus was practically licking his lips at the idea. Vicious, powerful…

She kicked your ass even without being a vampire herself, Angel reminded him as he made his way down yet another dark alley. You wouldn't stand a chance against her as a vampire. Besides, I'd never let that happen.

Yeah, yeah, Angelus waved him off. Heard that before. Doesn't stop me from fantasizing. And seeing as you're so fucking stubborn, fantasies are all I have. For now.

Angelus brought forth the memory of biting Buffy, drinking the delicious blood of a Slayer. They'd been lying between her thighs at the time, pressed hard against the heated juncture of her center as they drank from her, marking her forever. We made her come. Angelus purred at the memory, knowing that even though Angel would never admit it—the idiot—he'd enjoyed that moment as well. They climaxed immediately after her, following Buffy into the sweet oblivion, and if Angel hadn't come to his senses before Angelus…

Keep dreaming,Angel snarled and punched through a door to his right. It opened to an empty warehouse, and he walked in, sensing nothing and no one inside it. Never, he promised himself. He would never risk her life like that again.

The blood was so sweet, especially after we made her come,Angelus reminded him, unrepentant. He was going to break Soul-Boy. He had to. He could feel her soul crying out for her mate almost since the moment they'd marked her, and that call had increased into almost a shout in the months after their last departure.

Angelus could and did handle pain well. He knew more about pain than Angel would ever learn, no matter how long he lived. The pain of separation from his mate was new, though, and very much unwelcomed by the centuries-old demon. More than that, Angelus found there was nothing he could do against it, and that was even more infuriating than anything else.

"She needs you."

For a moment, Angel thought that it was Angelus speaking to him again.

Not me, this time, fucker.

Angel turned his head then and saw the demon that had brought him to the Slayer in the first place. "Get lost," he growled.

"If you don't go to her, she will be lost," Whistler replied calmly, using the opening Angel had created with his fist to enter the building. He leaned against one of the pillars, folded his arms across his chest, and stared at Angel with a pointed look. "She needs you," he repeated. "Even Angelus understands that."

"Get. Lost," Angel repeated through clenched teeth, accentuating each word. He'd had enough of the Powers That Be's meddling in his affairs. He might not know what he was going to do, but he certainly didn't want their advice on the matter. They'd torn him apart too many times for him to like listening to their messengers. Having them agreeing with his demon was just the icing on the shit cake.

Ooh, cursing Angel. I'm almost proud of you, Angelus mocked. Now, if you only had the brains to give me the reins…He chuckled at his own rhyming.

Never, Angel vowed.

"Don't need to get lost," Whistler replied, watching the struggle on the face of the chosen Champion in front of him. "You're lost enough for the both of us, and then some. When I brought you over to see her, I told you that you were meant to protect her. I said that you had to help her. Together you're strong, alone, she will die. Ringing any bells here?"

The vampire shot forward and pinned the little demon to the wall before the latter could blink. That sentence touched some of the most painful memories Angel carried with him. They were also fresher than others, causing him to be closer to the edge of his control. "Plenty, but I don't think you'd enjoy the reaction it brings out in me. I'm not your lapdog."

No, you leave that honor to misery and stupidity, Angelus quipped.

"She's dying, Angel," Whistler said with some difficulty, but he made no effort to release himself.

Told ya! Angelus said, just as angry himself. Maybe this time you'll actually listen.

You're wrong!Angel's face morphed into their true, demonic, form, his emotions running so high that he couldn't stop himself even if he wanted to—and he found that he didn't want to control himself if front of the Powers That Be's messenger. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"You should know, Angel. You've had the dreams."

Angel let Whistler go and turned to face away from him. He never mentioned the dreams to anyone, but it didn't surprise him that Whistler, as the delivery boy for the PTB's cryptic communication, was aware of them. He hated knowing this. Some of his dreams were so painfully erotic—constructed from both fantasies and memories of that day—that Angel couldn't stop his own body from responding even when he recalled them while awake.

He's not talking about those, and you know it. Angelus wanted to slap Angel. He's talking about the dreams where she's fading away, you daft idiot.

Their words brought back the images into the forefront of Angel's mind.

Angel was on the seashore, walking barefoot across the soft sand. The sun was just setting, allowing him to walk outside without fearing its deadly rays. He felt her before he saw her. She stood mere feet away from him, wearing a flimsy pink dress that clung to her body as the wind whipped her hair about her face. Buffy looked so thin and frail, and even though he knew her to be stronger than any other human, he found himself fearing that she'd succumb to the hale gusts.

Buffy turned to look at him, and he saw that her eyes were almost completely black. "Angel," she murmured.

He stood, frozen. The water of the ocean lapping at his feet were suddenly like manacles around his ankles, trapping him in his place.

"Buffy!" he cried out, reaching for her.

"Angel." This time the name was sighed in acceptance.

She closed her eyes and turned away from him. She took two steps that brought her to the edge of a cliff he hadn't noticed before.

"No!" he screamed as she spread her hands and dove over the edge. "Buffy!"

"Goodbye, my Angel," the wind carried her words to him.

He usually woke up at that point, panting for breath he didn't need, with his screaming her name still reverberating in the darkness of his bedroom. After the first few times, no one bothered to rush into his apartment to see what he was screaming about.

Her face in those dreams had always reflected the emptiness that Angel had felt every moment since walking away from her. He couldn't decide if his sub-conscience was reflecting his own emotions in her face or simply tormenting him with the memory of her pain and heartbreak that day in the sewers when he'd mustered up the courage to break up with her. Sometimes, in the early hours of the evening, as Angel dropped back on his pillows after waking up in terror, he wondered if her parting words were just the goodbye he had refused to give her. Angelus never believed that and kept calling him an ass—and several other superlatives of the same nature—for thinking it was that simple.

"All I know is that she's getting over me," Angel said, his tone flat and emotionless. "She has a new man in her life."

Bullshit, with a capital B.Angelus growled inside his mind. You don't believe for a second that she could love this blood-bag, who, by the way, should be tortured and dead by now.

"You're an even bigger fool than I gave you credit!" Whistler felt like banging his head against the wall. Sometimes the two Champions were too stubborn for their own good. And sometimes, he though privately, the PTB screwed things up so much that it was nearly impossible for the situation to be repaired by mere mortals—or immortals, as the case were with Angel. "She's not getting over you, Angel. She's just about given up."

"Given up?" Angel turned to look at him, still in what Buffy called his "game face". He could not calm down enough to go back to his human appearance, not with Angelus bringing up the swan dive Buffy did in his dreams to the forefront of his mind. "Given up on what?"

"On everything," Whistler said quietly.

"Her friends won't let her." The statement came out much less confident than Angel would have liked it to be.

"They already have." Whistler sighed, seeing Angel's disbelief of that statement. He suspected that Angel might just kill Giles, Xander, and Willow—and perhaps several others, too—if he were to find out just how Buffy's friends had abandoned her. Whistler wanted to curse aloud. It was long past due for this warring in his mind, and he really wanted to just drag Angel by his ears to Sunnydale, but he was just the messenger, and there was all that crap about free will… "If you don't believe me, go look for yourself. Sunnydale is just a two-hour drive from here."

"Fuck off, Whistler. I'm not going back to Sunnydale. I'm needed here." Angel's tone was firm, but he knew that he was wavering. He didn't need to feel Angelus' glee to know that his resolve was crumbling. "My redemption is here."

Whistler felt like shouting and throwing something really heavy at the stubborn demon before him. He really wished he could tell him everything, but he physically couldn't, was, in fact, forbidden from doing so. Free will and destiny and prophecy be damned, he thought bitterly. "If Buffy gives up… If she gives up, she dies, Angel. And if she dies, so will you."

Before Angel could respond to that, Whistler was gone.

Well, are you going to go back for the car or are we stealing one again? Angelus demanded. He didn't know if Whistler meant a literal death for them in case of Buffy's demise, but he was sure as hell not going to put that one to the test. Losing a mate was something he'd obviously never experienced before, but he'd seen what it did to the surviving partner, and Angelus was not in the mood for more pain of this sort.

I'm not going anywhere, Angel thought stubbornly. For the rest of that evening, he either blocked or flat out ignored Angelus. All of the rage and desperation that had built inside him—both from his own emotions and his demon's—Angel channeled into destroying a nest of vampires he'd come across.

Shortly before dawn, Angel made it back to his apartment, bone-deep tired and weary. He took a short shower to wash away the dust and slid into his bed, ignoring the different aches in his body. He closed his eyes and tried to force himself into sleep. Occupying his thoughts with repeating old texts he'd read, Angel hoped to drown Angelus'—and his own—thoughts long enough for sleep to take over, seeking reprieve from reality for a few hours.

He received none. The dream began on the seashore, just as it always did. Like a broken record that could play only one song over and over, Angel watched the dream-Buffy turn to him and murmur his name. He felt his ankles shackled to the ground and heard his own cry of terror as she threw herself over the cliff's edge.

Angel didn't awake at that point, though. Unlike so many nights before, the dream continued on this time. He felt himself running to the edge of the cliff, falling to his knees as he saw the broken body of his love on the rocks below. Her eyes were still open, and he saw her lips move. In the weird way that dreams had about them, Angel heard her words, even though he knew them to be no more than a whisper that should have been drowned by the sound of the crashing waves around her.

"What has been written, can still be erased,

What has been remembered, removed without a trace.

What has been willingly given, denied and rejected,

What has been living, can become infected.

Will you come, my stranger?

Will you come, and help me fight?

Will you be there on time, my lovely danger?

Will you stand by my side?

Where I see nothing but darkness,

Will you show me the light?

Where I can see only hallows,

Will you show me the night?"

Then her eyes closed, and her body went limp. The rocks beneath her pink dress were suddenly covered with the darkness of her blood spilling over them.

"No!"

Angel didn't know if it was Cordelia's scream or his own terror that had awakened him, but as he shot up in his bed, he found himself staring into the seer's terrified face.

It took him another moment to comprehend that she was speaking to him. "Uh…?"

"Damn it! Wake up!" She tried shaking him, but he was much too strong for her to make him even budge an inch. "Vision. Buffy! God, those bastards!"

Angel, shaken to the core by his dream, watched as Cordelia began to pace his room and rant.

"You have to go there, Angel, and you have to make them pay, and I mean pay with a capital P. God, I wish I could find brain-bleach. I never wanted to see her—anyone—like that." She shuddered, and his whole being froze at the sight of genuine fear in her eyes. Then, her fear turned into fury. "What those bastards did to her is inhumane, and I don't care that they're humans! They don't deserve to be treated as humans, and, by God, I wish you'd just drain them. After you give them a glimpse of Angelus' idea of torture, that is!"

Caring not for propriety at that moment, Angel tossed the sheets away, stood up from the bed, and went to find something for him to wear. He was shocked by the idea of Cordelia wishing for Angelus.

When she paused to take a breath, he asked, "What are you talking about, Cordy? Who did what to Buffy?"

Even through her disgust and fear, Cordelia took a moment to give him an appreciative glance before he pulled on a pair of briefs followed by black leather pants. She truly cared not for Angelus to make another appearance, but she could silently admit that she liked seeing Angel in leather, which was usually Angelus' favorite attire. Now, if she could only convince Angel to add some color to his shirts instead of the blacks he insisted on wearing… Oh, well, she sighed. There were more important things to worry about at the moment than Angel's choice of attire. "I don't know who. They looked like some kind of doctors. Maybe scientists? I don't know. They wore white coats with badges on them, but I couldn't really see what was written on them."

"Doctors? Was Buffy hurt?"

"She was, but they weren't helping her." Cordelia felt dirty just recalling what she saw, but she knew that he needed to know every detail so he could help. "They were hurting her, Angel. They were either putting something in her or taking something out, I couldn't be sure, but they were not gentle about it, and they didn't seem to care if she was in pain."

"What do you mean putting something in her or taking something out? Inside where?" He slid a black t-shirt over his head, grabbed a black button-up, and began fastening the buttons.

Cordelia laid her hand on her lower abdomen, unable to say the words. She saw understanding spread across his face followed by ice-cold anger. She shivered a little when his eyes turned golden, despite knowing it was in response to his emotions. "They were also injecting her with something. There were bruises all over her body, Angel, and I could almost feel her pain."

Angel heard Angelus roar with rage and gut-wrenching worry, but he forced himself to remain in control as he approached Cordelia and gently rubbed her shoulders. There were tears in her eyes. "Sit down," he told her in an even tone. "Now, tell me everything you remember from the very beginning of the vision."

She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. "At first I saw Buffy fighting. I couldn't really see the demon. It felt like the demon was irrelevant. The room was barely lit, but I got the sense that someone was watching the fight. Once she killed the demon, I saw Buffy falling to the ground. It was like someone knocked her out, but I didn't see anyone touching her.

"Next, I saw her on a gurney, her wrists tied to its sides, and she was wearing a hospital gown. There were bruises all over her face and arms, and there was someone injecting a needle into her thigh. Then, I saw a woman in a white lab coat enter the room. The woman was holding a syringe in her hand and she was smiling." Cordelia shuddered, recalling that smile caused a chill to run down her back even now.

Angel sat down next to her and placed his hand on her shoulder, silently encouraging her to continue.

"The woman lifted and spread Buffy's legs on the gurney, and then she shoved the syringe she was holding between them." She felt the bile rise inside her and fought to swallow it. "I don't know what she was doing, but she seemed very pleased with herself when she turned to someone behind her and nodded to him before walking out of the room."

Angel felt his stomach tighten with worry and disgust. Angelus was chomping at the bit for them to get moving so he could kill the bastards who dared hurt Buffy, but Angel knew that he needed more information first. "Can you describe the woman's face? The one that was holding the syringe?"

Cordelia was shaking her head before he finished his question. "All I can tell you is that I think she's human. All of them, the sons of bitches," she spat. "I got the impression that she was somehow in charge, but I didn't see her face. Angel, I know I was never a big supporter of Buffy, but she needs help. She needs us." You, she wanted to say. Buffy needed Angel, and Cordelia was slowly coming to terms with that.

Sighing, Angel nodded and stood up again. He pulled on a pair of black boots, put on his long duster, and pulled up a duffle bag from the closet. Throwing the bag on his bed, he turned back to pull several sets of clothes. "Call Giles. We're going to need more information before we go..." His voice trailed off when he saw her expression. "What?"

"I called Giles as soon as I came out of the vision," she replied. "When he didn't pick up, I tried Willow, and she said that, and I'm quoting her here, thank you for calling, but they were currently trying to do what I told them to do and keep Buffy from slipping out to meet you, and then she—Willow—just hung up on me." Cordelia saw his bewildered expression and nodded. "I'm drawing a blank here as well. I think something weird is going on in Sunnydale. Which, I'll admit, isn't all that unusual for Sunny-hell, but still. And I don't like it."

"Neither do I," he agreed. He threw several stakes, a dagger, and a couple of knives inside the bag. "I'm assuming that you never asked them to keep Buffy from meeting me."

Cordelia rolled her eyes at him. "Like, duh! I know you haven't been back to Sunnydale since you left. First, you've been way too busy beating up every demon and vampire you could find, and second…" She gave him a small smiled and shrugged. "Well, I don't think you'd go without telling me or Wesley. You wouldn't disappear and have us worry about you if you could help it. Besides, even if I did think you were sneaking back to Sunny-hell, I'd be all over your ass way before I'd consider calling the Scooby-gang."

Angel felt the ice inside him melt just a little bit. Cordelia was proving to be a true friend to him. Despite her bravado, he knew that she had done a lot of growing up since they'd first met in Los Angeles. "I wouldn't," he agreed. Then, his voice turned hard, and his eyes turned the yellow color of his demon once again. "I would, however, like to know what the hell is going on in Sunnydale."

"Likewise," Cordelia agreed. "This being about half past noon, we're going to have to wait till sundown before we can leave."

Realizing that he hadn't even taken the sun into account, Angel cursed under his breath even as he zipped up the bag. "Fine, go get Wesley. I'll be right up. We'll try to see what we can find out about these doctors. As soon as the sun sets, I'm out of here."

"Got it." Cordelia jumped to her feet. "And it's we're out of here at sunset. We're coming with you, Angel. And no arguing! You'll need us. I suspect that Buffy's friends have done what they do best in this kind of situation."

"This kind of situation?" Angel asked, not quite following her train of thought.

"Everything is fine and dandy as long as Buffy is doing what they all think she should be doing, but as soon as she does something not to their liking—like, say, contacting her ex-boyfriend, who also happens to be a vampire they'd very much prefer to see at the pointy end of a stake than with their Slayer—they turn on her faster than a New York minute." Cordelia shrugged, trying to hide her own shame, knowing she'd done exactly that to Buffy several times in the past. Worse, she knew that up until not that long ago, she still would have acted the same.

"Well, they do have a reason to worry ab—"

"Yeah, well, maybe they have a reason not to like your better-dressing less-soulful twin," Cordelia cut him off, "but I've seen them do that even when it didn't involve you and Angelus."

Angel sighed. He'd known Buffy's friends were giving her a hard time because of her relationship with him since they moment they'd found out he wasn't human. It was one of the reasons he thought leaving her would be for the best. He'd thought it would allow her to rebuild her ties with them and with her Watcher without split loyalties getting in the way.

Cordelia was halfway up the stairs to the office when she called back, "I'll go get Wesley. We'll meet you in the office in ten minutes."

He didn't bother answering, knowing she wouldn't hear him. Instead, he picked the duffle bag up and carried it to his car in the underground parking. Closing the trunk, he went up the stairs and headed into the office. He stopped by his apartment to pick up another bag. This one would hold the broadsword he favored, along with several more weapons for Cordelia and Wesley. It would be good having them with him in Sunnydale. In the past few months, he'd come to appreciate them more that he thought he would.

Especially Cordelia, Angelus added with a smirk.

Yeah, especially Cordy.

The office was empty when Angel walked in. He could sense both Cordelia and Wesley on the floor above him and knew that they would be down shortly. Cordelia knew him well enough to have taken his desire to leave as soon as was possible to heart, so she would have sent Wesley packing before going to do so herself. She probably understood he would leave them to take the bus to Sunnydale if they weren't ready to go as soon as the sun was down. When it came to Buffy, he was barely hanging on to the edge of his control. He wanted to be out the door at the first possible moment.

So now you're rushing. Angelus gave him a mental eye roll. He'd been surprisingly quiet during the conversation with Cordelia. What? You'd rather be listening to me making plans to skin those idiots alive? I never liked them too much, especially that pathetic excuse for a male, Xander.

No, I really wouldn't,Angel admitted reluctantly.

Thought so. Now, get a move on it. I want to know who these doctors are and what they want with Buffy. Then, I want to find them and torture them.

Picking up the broadsword, a cross bow, and several more weapons, Angel threw them inside the bag and placed it next to the large desk. He would pack into it any books they thought to be relevant before they left. There was just one more thing he wanted to do, a phone call he needed to make, before he could dive into research.

Angel knew that they would need a place to stay in Sunnydale, and while the small town did have a motel within its city limits, they would all be much more comfortable staying at the mansion. No prying eyes and curious management there.

During his time away from Sunnydale, Angel had had a cleaning service come in once a month. That service, however, was instructed to keep only the first floor of the four-story building clean. All of the upstairs rooms have been closed down. The service company was owned by a demon Angel had helped out of a tight situation way back when, so he felt comfortable using them. Once Angel made the call and asked for the rooms to be cleaned and aired, the service would send someone over and ask no pesky questions nor pry into his affairs.

Angel finished the phone call just in time to look up and see the latest addition to his team, Charles Gunn, strolling inside the offices of Angel Investigations.

"Hey, Angel". Noticing that Angel had just finished the call, Gunn smiled. "Where's Cordy? I thought it was her job to answer the phone."

The smile on his face was erased as soon as he was close enough to see the expression on the vampire's face.

"Cordelia had a vision regarding possible trouble in Sunnydale," Angel said, gritting his teeth to control his rage and keep his face in its human façade. Angelus was still working out different torture methods he would like to use on those doctors, which wasn't helping Angel to keep himself calm and in check. "We leave as soon as the sun sets. Until then, we're looking into anything that would use humans or human-looking demons that like to experiment on the supernatural."

There was very little that could send Angel into such a tailspin, Gunn Thought. Even less that could have him running to Sunnydale as if the devil himself was chasing him. Wesley and Cordelia had given him the highlights on the Buffy and Angel saga a while ago—and if that was the short version, Gunn definitely didn't want to think how long the Director's Cut on that story would be—so Gunn thought it was a safe bet that this trouble, whatever it was, revolved around the Slayer. "Doesn't ring any bells. Want me to take over patrol tonight?"

Gunn was not one for research, Angel knew, so he nodded. "I'd appreciate that. Can you also drop by Lorne's and ask him if he'd heard anything stirring trouble lately?"

"Will do," Gunn said as he turned on his heel. "Will call as soon as I have news."

"Okay." Angel turned toward the library.

"Angel?" Gunn paused before opening the door and waited until the souled vampire turned back and looked at him. "If you need me to come to Sunnydale, just say the word."

Angel nodded, knowing that the young fighter would be an asset. "Thank you. I don't know yet if I'll need you there or need you to take over here, but I appreciate the offer."

It was slightly disconcerting to find out just how good and loyal a group of friends he had gathered without him noticing, Angel thought as he watched Gunn walk out. He knew that things were better between him and the street kid that nearly got himself killed as an amateur demon-hunter, but he was still pleasantly surprised by the offer of help.


Thank you for reading,

Alley Cat