Title: Nightwing/Angel: The Night Stalker
Author: Syl Francis
Email: efrancis@earthlink.net
Part: 1/1
Rating: R
Word count: 17,466

****

Summary: A psychotic killer who likes to collect souvenirs from his victims
terrorizes Bludhaven.

Warning: This work is rated [R] for mature language and situations! The subject
matter may be offensive and/or disturbing to some and is definitely *not*
recommended for younger readers! [Parental discretion!]

Disclaimer: Nightwing is owned by DC Comics and Time/Warner; Angel and Cordelia
are owned by Joss Whedon and 20th Century Fox; this is an original story that
does not intend to infringe on their copyright.

Constructive feedback is welcome!

Copyright 2000

****

Nightwing/Angel: The Night Stalker
by Syl Francis

****

Los Angeles: Angel Investigations [Saturday, 7:00 p.m. PST]

Cordelia shrieked and stumbled over the coffee table. The abrupt mental
flashes, combined with searing white-hot pain, were her late-friend Doyle's
legacy.

As she succumbed to the inevitable darkness that always overtook her, she
lashed out at Doyle.

"~Why couldn't you leave me your old Frank Sinatra records, you second-rate
demon loser?!~"

****

Bludhaven: Mealtide Park, Mealtide Island [Saturday, 11:00 p.m. EST]

They'd driven around for hours trying to find a private spot to park. Finally,
they crossed the Littleneck Narrows Bridge towards Mealtide Island. As they
passed by the Municipal Railyards, the abandoned rail cars stood out like
shadowy sentinels in the eerie moonlight.

"Greg, I don't like this area. It's scary." She glanced nervously around the
vacant Mealtide Park Beach. The lights of the city on the far side of the
Narrows River twinkled in the distance.

The lonely sounds of surf crashing on the rocky outcroppings known as Skirl
Rocks could be heard beyond the silent line of manmade dunes. The noisy summer
crowds were but a dim memory on this crisp November, moonlit evening.

"Hey, Cindy, don't worry," Greg said soothingly. "I'm here. I promise I'll
protect you." Greg's patience was about to pay off. He wasn't going to let the
gloomy ambience of the deserted beach ruin his plans. He opened the car door.

"Come on, Cin. I've got a blanket, hot soup and sandwiches in the trunk. A real
picnic." Greg smiled disarmingly at his date.

Cindy smiled back. Greg was so sweet. He was the nicest guy with whom she'd
ever gone out. Not like Tom or his horrid frat brothers...all they'd wanted
was--

Cindy couldn't go on. It was almost a year now since that awful night. It had
been a long road back for Cindy, suspicious of all men, looking for hidden
agendas in every "Hello," in every smile, in every second look.

But now, Cindy felt happy for the first time in a long time. Greg was so
different--older, more mature, charming, understanding. Like tonight. A picnic.
Cindy watched Greg as he carefully spread the blanket in a protected spot along
the dunes.

She suddenly recalled their accidental meeting and smiled at the memory. Who'da
thought it? Cindy asked herself facetiously. She'd been in the bookstore and
was about to reach for the last copy of Herodotus, when another hand beat her
to the punch...

****

The Royal Bookstore, Avalon Heights Section [Two nights ago: Thursday 7:00 p.m.
EST]

"Excuse me!" Cindy said annoyed. "I was about to get that copy!"

"Sorry, I got it first," replied an obnoxious voice.

Cindy turned to argue further, when she stopped short. The object of her ire
was staring openmouthed at her. The pleasant-looking older man blinked suddenly
as if realizing that he'd been staring.

"I beg your pardon," he stammered. "I-I didn't mean that...uh, I mean, I'm
sorry, I didn't realize that you were reaching for it." As he spoke, he
sheepishly handed Cindy the book. He continued to stare at her as if he
couldn't take his eyes off her.

Cindy began to feel a deep flush spread from her neck, up to her hairline.

"You're staring," she managed. He immediately dropped his eyes and quickly
looked away.

"I-I'm sorry, uh, miss...?" the question held a hopeful note. He suddenly
smiled shyly. "I, uh, I'm Greg...Greg Hopkins."

Cindy's instinct of self-preservation screamed at her to walk away. He's just
like all the others, her Voice of Reason screeched. *Walk away*! About to obey
her common sense, Cindy made the mistake of looking into his eyes.

"You have the most incredible hands," Greg was saying as if in awe. "So
slender...so lovely."

Cindy flushed, not taking her eyes off his. He had the warmest, kindest brown
eyes she'd ever seen. Even now they were smiling gently, pleadingly, asking to
be forgiven. Cindy was completely won over...

****

Cindy smiled at the recollection. Greg invited her for a cup of coffee at a
nearby coffee shop. This led to an hours long debate over their favorite
authors...

"Are you kidding?" she'd asked laughing. "Mary Shelley?"

"I think _Frankenstein_ is simply one of the most sensuous novels ever
written," Greg insisted smiling. "Can you imagine? The power of life and death.
The power of creation!"

Before they knew it, the coffee shop was closing. Greg and Cindy agreed to meet
the next day for lunch. Lunch led to dinner.

Dinner led to tonight...

Greg looked up and caught Cindy staring at him. He flashed her one of his
charming and warm smiles, the kind that made her feel as if she were the only
person in the world who mattered to him.

Neither Tom nor any of his jock-strap frat buddies would have ever thought to
romance a girl before trying to rip off her clothes, Cindy thought bitterly.
No, their mindset was closer to drugging a girl's drink, then raping her while
she lay unconscious and helpless.

Cindy hugged herself against the sudden chill from the shore. The memory
indelibly seared itself into her psyche, a bitter reminder of her suffering at
the hands of men. She swallowed, watching Greg. She felt a sudden warmth
suffuse her. In another few minutes, she would be within the safe protection of
Greg's arms. She smiled in anticipation...

Thirty minutes later Cindy was running for her life! She stumbled helplessly
across the beach, sobbing in terror. Greg followed at a short distance in slow
measured steps, apologizing guilelessly, his tone hurt.

"Cindy! Cindy! Please, don't be that way! Whatever I did, I apologize. Honest,
I'm sorry!"

"Stay away from me," Cindy sobbed. "Please! Leave me alone!"

Cindy looked over her shoulder. Greg was gone! Where was he? She cried out in a
panic and began running faster around the dunes. As she rounded an especially
large one, Cindy stumbled straight into Greg's arms.

The knife flashed briefly in the silvery moonlight.

****

Los Angeles: Angel Investigations [Saturday 7:45 p.m. PST]

The cold, wet cloth on her forehead brought her instantly to consciousness. As
her eyes snapped open, Cordelia yanked the wet towel off her forehead. She
glared daggers at the dark, brooding young man who sat over her.

"Could you maybe use something colder or wetter...? Hello...? Unlike you,
Angel, I don't happen to be dead! I can actually *feel* sub-zero temperatures!"

A slight look of amusement flitted across his eyes. Concern was replaced by
relief.

"What did you see?" he asked simply.

Cordelia's annoyance was quickly supplanted by fear, mingled with sadness. She
swallowed.

"The Night Stalker..." she said in a soft voice. "He's back..."

****

Bludhaven: Warehouse District along "The Spine" [Sunday 12:05 a.m. EST]

Materializing out of the deep shadows, the dark figure made his way silently
across the myriad rooftops that made up Bludhaven's seedy warehouse district.
Stopping at one in particular, he crossed quickly to the camouflaged entrance.

Uncovering a hidden panel, he punched in his passcode. In seconds, an
electronic voice in his ear receiver asked for a retinal scan. Temporarily
disabling the opaque setting of his mask, Nightwing allowed the building's
security to scan his eyes.

After all, he'd set up the security measures himself. The 'voice' in his ear
receiver said, "Cleared for entry," and the secret door slid open. Entering the
elevator that led to his warehouse lair, the young vigilante spoke briefly,
"Down."

Immediately, the outer door slid shut, and Nightwing was sent plummeting to the
warehouse sub-basement. The door opened automatically when it reached the sub-
level. Nightwing smirked.

Batman hadn't been entirely pleased with the setup. He worried that by being
headquartered in the middle of the warehouse district, his former ward was
leaving himself unnecessarily open to possible attack. But Nightwing had
persisted. This was *his* town. And he did things *his* way.

As these thoughts flashed unbidden through his mind, Nightwing felt a momentary
stab of guilt. To Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson would always be the little boy he
took in all those years ago. Nightwing's features softened briefly.

"When I'm fifty, he'll still be looking over my shoulder," he mused. Shaking
the feeling, he got back to business. The open bay held a single metal chassis
on jack stands. Overhead a ceiling-mounted crane held several different body
styles for his special car. The skeletal vehicle bodies were hanging from heavy
grapplers, ready to be dropped onto the waiting chassis.

Nightwing was very proud of his car. He'd engineered it himself. But tonight,
he wasn't going to use it. He pressed a button on a wall-mounted control box.

Instantly, the overhead crane began moving. Soon, the single red-filtered bulb
that provided the only lighting to the cavernous room caught a momentary glint
off the handlebars of a sleek, black motorcycle.

Nightwing stood back and took a moment to admire it. He smiled to himself. This
had been his old Robin cycle, which he'd recently converted for use as
Nightwing. Besides upgrading its horsepower and electronics, Nightwing gave it
a new paint job, jet-black with midnight blue trim.

He pressed the 'down' button on the crane's wall-mounted controls. The 'Wing
cycle was slowly lowered. When it reached the floor, Nightwing disconnected the
grapplers and walked the bike towards a line of shelves along the wall.

There was a lot to be said about externals. How did that guy on _Saturday Night
Live_ put it? "It's not who you are, it's how you *look*!"

Nightwing hopped onboard, donned his helmet, and gunned his motorcycle to life.

"That's right, baby! So, let's go *look* for some bad guys!" Nightwing punned.

Pressing a hidden control on his gauntlet, the shelves slowly slid over on
smooth tracks, revealing a hidden tunnel. As he rode through the abandoned
sewer line, Nightwing soon saw the dim light up ahead warning that he was about
to reach the tunnel's end.

Nearing the concrete wall that was apparently blocking his exit, instead of
slowing down, the young daredevil revved the motorcycle to even higher rpms. He
drove straight for the wall, seemingly on a suicidal run.

At the last moment, the hologram dissolved and Nightwing flew into an abandoned
culvert. Not looking back, he knew that the hologram was back in place.

Aiming towards a slight incline in the culvert, he sent his bike flying over
the side. Landing on the back wheel, Nightwing easily maneuvered the bike until
he was able to bring the front end down safely. Grinning fiercely, he roared
off into the moonlit night.

****

Municipal Railyards, Mealtide Island [Sunday 12:35 a.m. EST]

"What do we have?" The detective on duty sounded tired.

"Dead girl," came the equally exhausted response. "Carved up pretty bad. Just
like the others, Steve."

"Kee-rist!" Detective Steve Fontana was not happy. "What number is this, Rudy?"

"Number three," his partner, Detective Joseph "Rudy" Reuters, replied.
"According to his calling card anyway." The two veteran officers gave each
other knowing looks.

"Kee-rist!" repeated Fontana. "The captain's gonna hit the fan. There goes my
vacation."

"Why's that?" asked Reuters.

"You know how MacCauley gets when we have crazy, wacko killers on the loose.
Nobody but nobody gets released from duty."

"Yeah," replied Reuters, unhappily. "The boss himself usually goes crazy, wacko
and ends up taking it out on the Violent Crimes task force."

"Bludhaven's beginning to look more like Gotham City," Fontana growled.

"Yeah, I even heard we have our very own vigilante, superhero now. Supposedly
he's here to 'clean up' the town of graft and corruption," Reuters said
derisively.

"Well, if this vigilante *does* exist," Fontana shrugged, "maybe he has a
point. Hell, half of city hall is on the take, and the other half's..." Fontana
stopped. "Never mind."

"Hey, partner, not so loud," warned Reuters. "I mean, half the force--"

"--You mean *more* than half--" interrupted Fontana bitterly.

"Yeah, well. Loose lips sink ships and all that jazz," Reuters reminded him.

"Yeah, I know, Rudy, but it sure makes our job that much harder, don't it?"

Reuters nodded. Fontana grimaced, shrugging at the impossibility of their task.
At least their boss was an honest cop. And Rudy...Fontana trusted him with his
life.

"Okay, partner. Finish up here. I'll get on the horn and call the CO." Fontana
shook his head. "My wife's gonna kill me." She'd been planning their vacation
for weeks now.

****

Fireflaught Mount, Mealtide Island, elevation 873 ft. [Same Date/Time]

Nightwing watched from Fireflaught Mount, at a relatively safe distance. His
telescopic Starlite scope gave him a perfect view of the crime scene.

"Another one," he muttered.

The Night Stalker had been terrorizing Bludhaven for several weeks now. And
before that, according to Oracle, he or someone very much like him, left a
bloody trail that crossed the country all the way from the West Coast. As near
as Nightwing could figure, Bludhaven was the first city in which the Night
Stalker decided to take up permanent residence.

"Lucky us." Nightwing adjusted his scope's audio pick-up to tap in on Fontana's
radio communication. The lead detective's voice came over Nightwing's earphones
clearly.

"Yes, sir. Another one. Number three. Yeah, carved up just like the others.
Gutted...again, like the others." He paused. "And boss, he took a couple of
extra souvenirs."

"What now?" Nightwing mused. "If he follows his usual pattern, then he's taken
one of the victim's organs. Possibly the liver. More likely the heart, this
time."

Nightwing listened in on the detective's conversation. He felt something cold
grip him. This was bad. This was worse than bad. This was becoming a living
nightmare.

This time around the Night Stalker cut off and took the victim's hands.

****

Somewhere over the Rocky Mountains [Saturday 11:30 p.m. MST]

Cordelia slept fitfully. She'd never been comfortable on planes. Too many of
them seemed to fall out of the sky. And their destination wasn't exactly on her
'A-list' of places to visit.

Bludhaven? Come on! She might as well be going to Newark. *Nobody* went to
Bludhaven. They probably didn't even have a decent mall, either. And Angel told
her that Buffy had chased a couple of vampires there a few months ago. That
*definitely* made it a place to avoid.

If vampires were moving in, then the seedy Bludhaven neighborhoods were
*really* starting to go down!

Giving up on any chance of sleep, Cordelia straightened her seat and grabbed an
in-flight magazine. She glanced over at Angel, who was sitting by the window,
his finely chiseled good looks outlined against the sprawling lights of the
city below. As usual, he was being Mister Gloom.

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia let out a long sigh and settled down for a long,
silent cross-country flight.

****

Bludhaven: Avalon Heights Apartments, Avalon Heights Section [Sunday 3:25 a.m.
EST]

The last of Bludhaven's Finest finally left. Nightwing hung back while Fontana
and Reuters questioned the grief-stricken young woman. She'd been completely
torn by the news of the murder of her friend. Nightwing listened while the
hapless homicide detectives spoke with her. Their clumsy efforts to offer
sympathy had been lost on the brokenhearted girl.

Now it was his turn.

"Care to talk to me about Cindy?"

The quiet voice startled Jenny. She gave a short scream and dropped her teacup
in fright. It shattered into a thousand pieces.

"Who's there?" she gasped. She reached for a butter knife. "I'm armed! I'm
warning you! Stay away!"

"Relax, Jenny. I won't hurt you." With that Nightwing stepped into the small
circle of light afforded by the single night light in the tiny kitchen. "I'm
sorry I frightened you."

Jenny cowered at the far corner of the kitchen, against the counter. She still
held her dull table knife in a warding position.

"Please...who are you? What do you want?" Jenny whispered in a terrified voice.
"I'm warning you...I-I know tae kwon do!"

Nightwing gallantly didn't smirk at her threat. Instead, he maintained a
respectful distance and attempted to seem as non-threatening as possible.

"Please, Jenny. I'm a friend. I'm called Nightwing, and I'm one of the good
guys."

"Are-are you one of those costumed vigilantes?" she asked doubtfully. "Like a
superhero, or something?"

"Or something," Nightwing smiled. "I'm trying to catch Cindy's killer, Jenny.
And I need your help."

Jenny's eyes suddenly widened in terror.

"What-what can *I* do? How can *I* help? I don't know anything!"

Nightwing made calming gestures with his hands. Finally, Jenny quieted down
sufficiently to listen. "Please, why don't you sit down, Jenny?" he asked
soothingly. "You look exhausted. Here, I'll make you a cup of tea."

Jenny looked at him in surprise. Finally, she nodded and took him up on his
offer.

A few minutes later, the two young people were sitting at the tiny kitchen
table sipping hot tea and nibbling on pecan shortbread. If the scene hadn't
been infused with a surrealistic air, it would have seemed ludicrous.

"So you're 'Nightwing', you said?" Jenny asked tentatively by way of small
talk. Nightwing nodded.

"I'm sorry about Cindy," he offered gently. At the mention of her childhood
friend, Jenny felt the tears start. Nightwing handed her a napkin. His kind
gesture only made her cry even more. Finally, the storm passed.

"I'm sorry, about this," Jenny apologized. "I hate weepy women." Nightwing
didn't reply to that. Rather, he allowed her enough time to collect herself.
"Okay, what can I do for you, Nightwing?" she asked, sniffling and dabbing at
her eyes. "How can I help?"

"Just tell me about her," Nightwing said. "Tell me about Cindy Matthews..."

For the next two hours, Jenny did just that. She talked about the kind of girl
Cindy had been. About her friends. Her interests. What she did for fun and
relaxation. Jenny told him about the bookstore where Cindy worked. How much her
coworkers loved her. How much she'd be missed.

Finally, Jenny told him about the previous year, and the frat party that had
gone bad. How beautiful, vivacious Cindy had almost disappeared within herself.
How she'd fought to slowly emerge from her long, painful withdrawal.

After Jenny was finished, Nightwing felt he knew the dead girl a little better.
She was no longer a nonentity. Cindy had become a person.

Nightwing stood.

"Jenny, I want to thank you. You've been a big help tonight." As he turned to
go, Nightwing paused and looked as if he'd just thought of another question.
"Did Cindy have a boyfriend or anyone special in her life?"

Jenny shook her head, while shrugging her shoulders. She held her arms out,
hands spread. She dropped them slowly to her side.

"I wish I knew, Nightwing," Jenny said helplessly. "But these past few days
Cindy suddenly became very close-mouthed. I suspected that she'd met someone,
but she wouldn't talk about it."

"What made you think that she'd met someone?" Nightwing asked.

Jenny smiled teasingly. "Really, Nightwing. Some things a girl just knows.
Cindy was absolutely glowing. Oh, she'd met someone, all right. And she wasn't
about to share him just yet." Jenny's smile fell. "You don't think--? You don't
suppose that--?" She couldn't go on.

"--That this special someone could be the Night Stalker?" finished Nightwing.
At Jenny's look of fright, Nightwing knew that he didn't have to answer his own
question.

****

Place/Date/Time: Unknown

Cordelia found herself at a lone corner table in a cheesy diner. She was a bit
confused, since she thought that she'd gone to bed in her room at the Bludhaven
Ritz. She'd been exhausted when they'd finally landed. It was close to sunrise,
so Angel had to leave as soon as they arrived.

She'd been forced to collect their luggage by herself. Typical, she'd groused.
Even dead, men were useless. It had been almost two hours before she'd finally
unlocked the door to her hotel room, kicked off her shoes, and collapsed on the
double bed.

~So, how'd I get here?~ Cordelia looked around the place. ~What a dump,~ she
thought disgustedly. ~Hey! What's going on? Why am I here? Oh, I get it. This
is one of those vision-thingies, isn't it? Or...?~ She paused, uncertain. ~Am I
having a dream?~

She looked across the room. And that's when she saw him. She'd never seen him
face to face before, but she recognized him nevertheless.

~Maybe it's the icky stamp of 'Hey! I'm a killer!' that's written all over him.
Jeez...can't any of these redneck trucker types see that? Hey! He's the one!
He's the Night Stalker! Somebody call the cops!~ She smiled to herself. ~There
that was easy! Good...I have an interview tomorrow. If I get on a plane now, I
should just make it.~

Cordelia looked around. No one was paying attention to her. Her eyes were drawn
to back to him.

He stood at the entranceway calmly surveying the main dining area of the truck
stop he'd spotted off the last exit on US 61. He grinned to himself. The kid at
the last rest stop had felt good. As the knife went in and out, he'd known that
his choice had been the right one.

In and out.

Fast and clean...

Cordelia thought she was going to be sick. Come to think of it, the smell of
greasy cooking coming from the truck stop kitchen had already made her feel
that way.

~Why can't mean and horrible killers ever operate out of Paris or Monte Carlo?~
she sighed wistfully. ~Come to think of it, why can't I *wake up* from this
*stupid* vision?~

She suddenly felt his need...

His need for collecting keepsakes in order to revisit the 'kill' again and
again.

At the moment, his need was temporarily satiated by having taken the dead kid's
motorcycle. But he knew that soon, he'd have to go out on the hunt again.

~Okay, already!~ Cordelia cried out. ~I get it! He's the Night Stalker! Time to
wake up!~

He sat next to her...Or was he sitting on top of her? Or was *she* on top of
him?

~Oh, ewwww...!~ She cringed, feeling little creepy, tingly things crawling
throughout her body! ~This is the part I *really* hate! Doyle, if you weren't
dead already, I'd *kill* you for doing this to me!~

She felt him inside her head, inside her body. She fought to keep herself
separate, to maintain her own identity. However, try as she might, she found
herself suddenly seeing through his eyes...touching with his hands...hearing
with his ears. She felt herself yearning with his black soul...

He had a clear view of the dining room. He took in the rough-looking, trucker
customers. Mostly males in their mid to late thirties and forties. None of them
looked like candidates. He couldn't risk his target putting up a struggle and
possibly escaping. As his eyes scanned the room, he suddenly saw her.

She looked mousy, he noted dismissively at first. Then he saw her smile. The
change was as dramatic as it was instantaneous. Her entire being seemed to be
bubbling over with effervescence. Unable to contain her merriment, her smile
broadened until she let out a soft laugh.

He turned towards the almost musical tone. It was a pleasant and sweet sound,
drawing him towards her.

"Come on Christin," one of the truckers teased. "When are you going to say
'yes' and marry me?"

"Why tonight, of course, Marty!" Christin said laughing. "But what will your
*wife* say?"

The others at the table burst into good-natured laughter. Marty smiled
sheepishly. Christin leaned down and gave him a lighthearted peck on the cheek.
With a friendly wave, she headed back behind the counter and her next customer.

"Bonny!" she called. A tightly-netted dark head popped out of the short order
window, a young, African-American woman wearing too much make-up.

"Yeah?"

"D'you have my next order?" Christin asked. "Table four-three."

"Coming right up!" Bonny replied, abruptly.

The hunter waited patiently. His new prize would be over in a second. And when
she asked him for his order, he'd turn on the charm. He studied her carefully,
noting the reddish highlights of her hair, clear skin, and slightly upturned
nose.

She'd make a perfect specimen, he thought. Yes, he knew exactly where he'd keep
her...

Cordelia woke with a scream!

****

Bludhaven: Unknown location [Friday 11:45 p.m. EST]

He looked down at her lifeless body. It had been so beautiful. Christin
remained aware almost until the end. Her eyes, her attractive blue eyes looked
up him, the shock and terror indelibly imprinted on her face. He'd loved her
eyes; they were like a window into her soul.

As he'd sliced her open, her muffled screams died slowly. However, her eyes
kept looking at him, accusing him, clearly not understanding why. She had been
so kind and loving. She'd told him that she liked to feed the stray cats in her
apartment complex. Who would feed them now?

A golden glint caught his attention. He bent down and picked out a small gold
crucifix from the bloody gore around what had been her lovely neck. He knew
right away what he'd keep--the crucifix...*and* her beautiful eyes.

Afterwards, he beheld his gruesome twin trophies floating in their new
formaldehyde-home. He turned the glass jar this way and that, enjoying how
Christin's eyes seemed to follow him. He smiled. This one had been the best so
far. He knew that he'd be visiting Christin for several weeks to come.

Placing the jar lovingly on its special place on the shelf, he stepped back to
admire his souvenirs. Glancing down, he caught the crucifix that was now
dangling from his own neck. He felt suddenly aroused at the thought that the
crucifix had recently hung around *her* neck and now hung around his. He
giggled suddenly.

About to leave, he remembered the stray cats. Christin would be very unhappy if
they went hungry. Smiling to himself, he looked down upon her, and taking his
special scalpel, he lowered himself to where she lay.

Giggling suddenly, he decided that Christin would feed the cats one final
time...

****

Caernaervon Apartments, Caernaervon Heights Section [Saturday 2:35 a.m. EST]

The fourth murder had been particularly gruesome. Her eyes...! Nightwing
swallowed. He thought he'd seen it all, but privately admitted that perhaps he
needed to shelve his pride and ask Batman for help. As he swung across the
stormy Bludhaven skyline, he went over his interview with Christin's best
friend, Bonny...

He'd interviewed Christin's coworkers and family extensively, but came up with
a blank. One girlfriend, Bonny Engler, said that she believed Christin had
recently met someone.

"All the usual signs were there that she had a new man in her life, but
Christin wasn't talking."

"What kind of 'signs'?" Nightwing asked.

"She began wearing expensive perfumes, and became a bit more self-conscious
about her personal appearance. You've gotta understand...a girl doesn't make a
lot of money waiting tables. So, Christin rarely splurged on herself..."

****

"The beauty parlor again?" Bonny asked incredulously. "Girl, you just *went*
two *days* ago!" Bonny studied her friend from under her false eyelashes.
"Christin, honey, he *must* be someone special," she said sardonically.

"I don't know what you mean," Christin said, shrugging into her coat. She
turned and gave her friend a bright, vivacious smile. Bonny noted the carefully
applied make-up and soft, swept up hair. The small, gold crucifix that Bonny
had never seen Christin without caught the light. Christin moved quickly to the
employees' exit. At the door, she turned and gave Bonny a last wave...

****

"Christin only did that when she was serious about someone," Bonny continued.
"There were other signs. I don't know...she just seemed *so* happy. Don't get
me wrong...Christin wasn't the kind of person who was normally down or gloomy,
but these past few days, she's been absolutely *glowing*!"

"You say she'd been wearing jewelry?" Nightwing asked. Bonny nodded. "Can you
describe it? Was there anything special?"

"Well, she didn't have a lot of stuff, of course. But, there *was* one thing
that she never took off...a small, gold crucifix...a gift from her mother. It
was the only thing she had of her Mom's. I think that Christin even showered
with it on." Bonny's had taken a faraway look. Blinking, she looked at
Nightwing. "Why do you ask?"

"Because the police reports don't list any type of jewelry in Christin's
private effects." Nightwing thanked her. "If you think of anything else," he
said, handing her a card, "call this number. Day or night. And leave a
message."

Bonny nodded, glancing down at the card. When she looked up, he was already
gone.

****

1013 Parkthorne Avenue, 3rd floor apartment [Saturday 5:30 a.m. EST]

"Gone where?" Dick asked. He was sitting in his darkened Bludhaven apartment,
mask and Nightwing uniform shirt off. It was 5:30 a.m. He'd been at it all
night and felt beat. All of his leads had fizzled. He was at a dead end at the
moment.

"I'm afraid that Master Bruce was called away on an emergency with the JLA,
sir. Something quite Earth-shaking, I understand. I'm very sorry,
sir...Perhaps, Master Timothy could be of help?"

"No! Under no circumstances is Tim to become involved...It's bad, Alfred. I-I
know that Tim's come a long way as Robin, but...well, there are just some
things a kid shouldn't--" he stopped.

"I quite understand, young sir."

"This is why Bruce used to leave me behind so often, isn't it?" Dick asked.

Alfred's expression softened slightly. "I believe that you know the answer to
that yourself."

Dick nodded. "Alfred...let him know I called." Alfred nodded. "And Alfred?" The
loyal friend and confidant of many years waited expectantly. "Let him know that
I *asked* for his help."

"I shall do that, sir."

Dick watched with wistful longing as, with a kind smile, Alfred cut off the
transmission from his end.

****

57 Woolrich Avenue, Avalon Heights Section [Monday 5:30 p.m.]

"Auntie Sally!" Jason, Jr. and Jeremy shrieked delightedly when they saw her
coming up the walk. "Auntie Sally! Auntie Sally!"

The boys shot out of the front door like twin freight trains and threw
themselves at her. They instantly bowled their aunt over on the front lawn.
Soon all three were giggling and rolling on the newly mown grass.

"No fair!" cried Sally, in mock consternation. "Two against one!" Still
laughing, the boys stood and helped their aunt to her feet.

"Will you read us a story, Auntie Sally?" "Please?" Two pairs of identical
brown eyes looked up her pleadingly.

Sally put her hands on her hips and gave her twin nephews a sideways look. "You
two," she tsked, starting up the porch steps. "Guys, you know that I have to go
work in a few minutes."

Sally's announcement was met by disappointed groans. She stopped and looked
down at two pinched, upturned faces. Finally, she relented and crouched down to
eye level with them.

"I tell you what," she began. "You boys promise me that you'll eat your veggies
and say your prayers tonight, and tomorrow, when I get home from school, I'll
read you *two* chapters from 'Harry Potter'. How's that?"

Her promise was met with resounding cheers from both of them. "Mommy! Daddy!
Auntie Sally's promised to read to us tomorrow if we're good!" Jeremy and
Jason, Jr. ran inside calling out excitedly. "Mommy! Daddy!"

Sally smiled as the sounds of their eager voices filtered back from the
kitchen...

****

Room 714, Bludhaven-Ritz Hotel [Monday 9:00 p.m. EST]

"Angel, he's going to hunt again tonight," Cordelia said suddenly. "I can
*feel* his need growing." She pressed a cold compress against her temples. Her
eyes were squeezed shut. "I don't know how much longer I can take this...with
each kill, I can feel more and more of his sick-o, psycho lusts!"

She opened her eyes and looked pleadingly at the tortured soul whom she
considered amongst her best friends. "Angel...I can feel a piece of my soul
break off with each of his kills. I-I don't know if I can go through it again!"

Angel took her comfortingly into his arms.

"I'll catch him...I promise. You're doing a great job, Cordelia...You just have
to hang in a little longer." He sat back and studied her with deep compassion.

"I've made contact with some of the local 'underground.' Word on the street is
that Bludhaven has a vigilante who patrols the nights. He could be the same one
Buffy mentioned...Nightwing, I think. Since he first started operating here, a
lot of the subterraneans who'd moved over from Gotham City began quietly
leaving town. They say this guy is as good as Batman."

"Batman?" Cordelia asked. "I thought he was like some kind of an urban legend
or something. You don't mean that some guy *really* goes around dressed like a
bat?" At Angel's serious nod, she rolled her eyes. "Great! As if the *real*
monsters weren't bad enough, now we have non-dead guys dressing up like them."

She sighed. "Where are all the straight, normal men?"

****

57 Woolrich Avenue, Avalon Heights Section [Monday 9:00 p.m. EST]

"You look really good, Sal."

Sally jumped at the voice behind her. Jason. Her brother-in-law. Sally
immediately stiffened and moved towards the stairs without a word.

"Come on, Sally. We're family. When are you going to stop being this way?"
Jason asked insistently in a low voice. "I mean we're practically brother and
sister."

"Oh, yeah?" Sally replied, her voice dripping ice. "I don't have any brothers,
Jason. And I wasn't aware that trying to sneak into my bedroom at night was
something a *brother* would do."

"Hey, Sal," Jason said nervously. "Not so loud. Look, I wanted to apologize.
I'm really sorry, Sal, honest," Jason pleaded, walking up behind her and
placing his hand on her arm. "I swear that will *never* happen again. I was
drunk, Sal. It was the alcohol...it wasn't me."

As he spoke, Jason began to run his hands up her arms, until he was standing
close behind her. Sally could feel his hot breath on her neck. Angry, she spun
around and pushed him away from her.

"You, snake!" she hissed. "You stay away from me! Do you hear? You stay away,
or I'll tell Sarah the kind of scum she married!"

"Yeah? And who do you think she's going to believe?" he sneered. "Me? The man
she loves? The father of her twin sons? Or you? The little tramp sister who
parades herself in bars in front of men, wearing that sleazy 'Bambi' number you
call a *uniform*. You know how she feels about your line of work."

Jason grabbed her roughly by the wrist and pulled her up close. "You listen to
me and you listen good, you little slut. You either start paying 'rent' for
your room and board, or your tail is out on the streets. Do I *make* myself
clear?"

Sally stared at him, near tears. Hating herself, she nodded that she
understood...

****

The Bambi Nightclub, the Waterfront District [Monday 11:30 p.m. EST]

He felt confident. Christin had been so easy. A few shy comments about her
smile, and she'd willingly met him later that first night. After that, it was
relatively simple to have her drop her guard.

He smirked. Funny how far a single rose can take you, he thought. Now, she was
his forever. He could look at her any time he wanted. He smiled again. He'd
visited her almost every day for the past week, reliving the moment over and
over again.

But now, it was time for a new one. The instant rush he experienced soon after
the kill was beginning to wear off. He could no longer prolong the moment when
he held Christin in his hands. It was becoming harder and harder to *feel* the
thrill of the kill.

He walked around the 'Bambi Club' and smiled, the cold predatory smile of an
animal on the prowl who's just spotted a likely prey.

The cocktail waitresses were all dressed in skimpy outfits replete with antlers
and a dainty, bushy tail. He grinned to himself.

"Looks like deer season has just opened," he muttered...

****

Rooftop: the Bludhaven World Trade Center, Caernaervon Business District
[Tuesday 2:35 a.m. EST]

"The Night Stalker's on the prowl again, you know."

Nightwing sprang instantly into action. Without bothering to take note of the
speaker, he spun, somersaulted in mid-air, and launched himself at the unknown
threat.

He landed on...no one. Whoever had spoken was gone!

"What the--?" First someone sneaks up on him (a near impossibility!), and now
pulls a disappearing act? Nightwing remained crouched in a defensive position,
his escrima sticks at ready.

"Do you always attack first and ask questions later?"

The same voice! Ready, Nightwing spun, throwing his defensive weapons with a
single smooth movement. He was about to follow through by launching himself
once again at his unknown enemy, when he stopped short.

The dark form who stood before him calmly reached out and *caught* both of the
young vigilante's escrima sticks. Nightwing's instantly assumed a new defensive
stance. He decided to let the stranger make his move.

The mysterious figure stepped from the deep gloom afforded by the adjoining
building's shadows. He was a tall young man, wearing an open black overcoat.
Nightwing's observant eyes took in the dark clothes underneath. Whoever this
guy was, he was dressed to blend into the night.

Nightwing's internal alarm system went off. This was a very dangerous man.

The stranger held out the escrima sticks to Nightwing. Nightwing did not reach
for them; instead, he remained on his guard, watching the dark stranger
suspiciously.

The new arrival shrugged and casually dropped the sticks on either side of him.
Holding Nightwing's eyes, he held his hands out to show that he was unarmed.

"We have a mutual friend," he said.

"I'm listening."

"Buffy Summers...You met her a few months ago." At Nightwing's narrowed eyes,
he continued, "Blonde...about this high...has a mean right hook? Carries a
pointed stick...?"

He smiled slightly at Nightwing's sudden look of recognition and nodded. "Buffy
and I are...good friends. She spoke highly of you...said you were doing a good
job protecting the town from our mutual, uh, 'associates'."

"You mean 'vampires,'" Nightwing said bluntly.

Angel nodded.

"Who are you? And what do you want?" Nightwing asked.

"The Night Stalker...I've been hunting him for a few months. A friend and I
have tracked him to Bludhaven."

His cell phone ring interrupted him. He flipped it open.

"Yes?"

From where he stood, even Nightwing could hear the woman's agonized scream!

The dark stranger immediately shoved the phone back into his pocket and turned
to go.

"The Bludhaven-Ritz!" he called. "Room 7-1-4!" Before Nightwing could reply, he
was gone. Nightwing stood still a moment. The guy in the overcoat had just
pulled a disappearing act worthy of Batman.

"Now I know how Commissioner Gordon feels," he muttered. "Who *is* this guy?"
He shrugged. "Only one way to find out." Firing out a jump line, Nightwing
swung into the night...

****

Room 714, Bludhaven-Ritz Hotel [Tuesday 2:55 a.m. EST]

He slipped into the room, a mere whisper in the wind. The sounds of quiet
sobbing came from the next room. Crossing the dark bedroom, Nightwing opened
the door into the outer sitting area. His mysterious acquaintance was on the
sofa, holding a young, crying woman.

The dark young man looked up briefly and acknowledged Nightwing's presence.

"H-He's g-going to *slice* her open...li-like my D-Dad used to do a-a fish. I-
If he's human, Angel, h-he's p-possessed...Water...H-He's s-somewhere near the
water."

"Shhhh...Try and get some sleep, Cordelia," Angel told her. He gently pushed
her down into a reclining position. Her face contorted and she looked away.

"I can't...He's in my mind all the time now. I can't keep him out! Angel--!"
She desperately grabbed her friend's hand. "I *can't* sleep...I won't be able
t-to control him! He'll own me! I can't let him! I can't!"

Angel brushed her hair back gently. "You won't, Cordelia. You're strong...as
strong as Buffy. If anyone can keep this guy at bay, it's you...I know you
can."

Cordelia smiled through her tears. "You really think so?" she asked. Angel
nodded. Her whole demeanor seemed to relax momentarily.

Nightwing didn't know what was going on, but the girl was obviously in pain.
And his mysterious friend had just managed to soothe her agony.

Without warning, she stiffened and shot up. "Hey! Just one minute here,
mister!" Both Nightwing and Angel blinked at the sudden mood change. "What do
you *mean* I'm 'as strong as Buffy'? Couldn't you have come up with another
comparison? How about 'Wonder Woman' or 'Power Girl'? No! You compare me to
Buffy! It always comes back to Buffy, doesn't it? Buffy, Buffy, Buffy!"

She looked at him accusingly, and then slapped her head as if trying to knock
sense into it.

"Hel-*lo*! I still have 'Buffy-issues,' *remember*? You'd think that for a guy
who's been dead for more than two hundred years you'd've learned a *little* bit
about sensitivity...?"

Angel none-too-gently placed his hand on her forehead, and although she was
still babbling, pushed her back down on the couch. Bringing his hand down to
her mouth, he placed his forefinger on her lips.

After a few more seconds of sounding off, Cordelia finally noticed his finger
and stopped talking. Her eyes widening, she muttered, "I was doing it again,
wasn't I? 'Buffy-bashing'?" Angel nodded. She sighed, and making a cute face,
she shrugged a single shoulder. "Sorry?"

His eyes smiled in answer. "Try and rest." Taking his hand in hers, Cordelia
nodded.

As he stood to go, she called quietly. "Angel?" He turned. "H-Her name's
Sally...I-I think she works at a-a nightclub. That's how he found her...I mean,
how he *finds* her. She lived...no, she *lives* with her sister's family. Sh-
She's having a hard time with...J-Jason, her brother-in-law. The police w-will
think he did it, but he didn't...I mean, he won't..." She closed her eyes and
murmured. "*He* did it...*will* do it...it's too confusing...so confused..."

Watching her for a long moment, Angel nodded and left.

****

Miscellaneous rooftops, the Waterfront District [Tuesday 3:20 a.m. EST]

They kept to the shadows, drawing comfort and protection from the night. A mist
had rolled in from the Narrows River, further chilling the early November
morning.

"Who *are* you?" Nightwing asked. "What did your girlfriend mean about you
being dead for two hundred years?"

"She's not my girlfriend," Angel replied automatically. "Who I am isn't
important...what *is* important is that I want to help you catch this killer."

"You say you know Buffy Summers...Is this guy some kind of supernatural killer
or something?"

Angel shook his head, 'no.' "I almost wish he were," he said quietly. "I can
deal with the supernatural. Good against evil...black and white. This is
different. The Night Stalker is definitely human. Cordelia thinks he's
possessed, but I don't think so. Demons don't like to possess things that have
souls darker than they are...Makes them too hard to control. Besides, it's not
as fun as turning someone who's pure to the forces of darkness. And in extreme
cases, inhabiting a dark soul could be worse than being banished to the nether
regions from whence they came."

"'From whence they came'?" Nightwing repeated. "That's a bit of an unusual turn
of phrase, don't you think?"

"Sorry...guess I hung out with Giles too much."

"Giles?"

"Never mind...it's not important."

Nightwing began to feel a bit exasperated. "Okay, Mister Mystery Dead
Guy...tell me...What *is* important?"

Surprisingly, Angel broke out into a genuine smile. At Nightwing's astonished
look, Angel returned to his usual taciturn self. "Sorry...you just reminded me
of someone...

****

The Bambi Nightclub, the Waterfront District [Tuesday 3:30 a.m. EST]

They entered through the rooftop maintenance access, avoiding the front door
bouncer.

Nightwing and Angel stood on the second story balcony overlooking the gyrating
crowds below. Despite the wee hours, the place was packed, and although it was
long past the time most places stopped serving drinks, the alcohol flowed
unabated. Private clubs were not covered under the local two a.m. 'Last Call'
city ordinance.

Bludhaven had an unusual number of 'Private Clubs.'

Although neither Nightwing nor Angel was dressed for the club scene, they went
unnoticed. In addition to the strange shadows being thrown up by the strobe
lights on the dance floor, which hid more than they revealed, the patrons were
too absorbed in their private affairs to pay much attention to the oddly
dressed duo.

"Seems kind of crowded for a week night, doesn't it?" Angel asked.

"The Bambi Club's usual clientele don't go for the nine-to-five scene. Most of
them work at your more illicit entrepreneurial endeavors. Down there at this
moment, there are probably more high-roller deals being cut than on all of Wall
Street today. It's also a favorite 'bank' where young, upwardly mobile loan
sharks can have their recently acquired dirty money laundered."

Nightwing grimaced, his voice dropping to a deep growl.

"And, of course, the management offers their 'gentlemen' customers
certain...services...'happily' served up by the Bambi cocktail waitresses and
exotic dancers...in exchange for a couple of 'C-Notes'. Yeah, the Bambi owner
is a *real* local business leader...a pillar of the community."

"Why don't the cops bust the place?" Angel asked.

"Because, down there, over on the right hand corner, behind that partition," he
pointed with his chin, "our esteemed Chief of Police, Redhorn, is undoubtedly
currently enjoying--Gratis--the Bambi Club's special gentlemen's services."
Nightwing looked askance at Angel. "And I wouldn't be surprised if Hizzoner,
the Mayor, visited earlier this evening."

"So, what's to keep *you* from busting it?"

"Because it's useful...I get a lot of my best...or worst, depending on your
point of view...information here." He scowled darkly behind his mask. "When it
*stops* being useful..."

He didn't need to finish the sentence...

****

Room 714, The Bludhaven-Ritz Hotel [Tuesday, 3:35 a.m. EST]

Cordelia tossed restlessly in her sleep. Occasionally, soft moans would escape
from her lips. The disturbed flashes, which seemed to bring a bright, white-hot
explosive pain behind her eyes, settled momentarily, fragmented, and then
finally coalesced into a dark, troubling dream...

****

The Bambi Nightclub, the Waterfront District [Date/Time: Unknown]

...Cordelia awoke in the crowded, smoke-filled, ill-lit room. She sighed,
inhaling too much smoke and instantly setting off a coughing fit. Squinting
through the haze to keep her eyes from watering, she groused at the Powers That
Be.

"~Okay, someone *please* explain why killers *have* to hang out in filthy,
cancer-causing places that can ruin your eyes?~" Feeling extremely put upon,
Cordelia looked around the place. Noting the 'Bambi' cocktail waitresses with
their antlers and bright bushy tails, she groaned.

"~Oh, please! Somebody *shoot* me if I *ever* wear anything like *that*!~"

She froze in place. She could sense him. He was here...somewhere...

He felt his hunger growing. Soon...He *knew* she was here. The next one. He
could *feel* her.

A half-naked dancer gyrated obscenely on the bar above him. Disgusted at such
blatantly sexual overtures, he grabbed his drink and turned away.

No! That one wasn't for him. He liked them pure, innocent. It was *his* job to
bring them over to the Darkside. The Master had willed it so. He'd been given a
great gift: the power of life over death. The power of creation! It was a
formidable gift. He had to use it with great care.

Should he pick one who was unworthy...?

He shuddered at the possible consequences...

Feeling herself drawn towards one end of the room, Cordelia began walking in
slow, deliberate steps.

"~This must the part where the crowds just sort of open up like the Red Sea and
I walk through them, right?~" Immediately, the crowds seemed to part to let her
through. Cordelia smirked.

"~Hey! I'm getting pretty good at these dream-vision thingies.~"

That's when she sighted him. He stood along the wall in the shadows, drink in
hand. His eyes were darting around the crowd, looking, searching, spotting,
discarding. At last Cordelia *felt* his eyes settle on one particular girl.

Cordelia knew her instantly. The girl from her earlier visions, Sally!

Not moving from his place along the wall, he waved slightly, catching Sally's
eye. Smiling, the young cocktail waitress moved quickly towards him.

"How may I help you?" she asked. Cordelia walked up to them and stood next to
the killer. While he and Sally spoke, oblivious to her presence, Cordelia made
faces at him and muttered childish taunts.

"~I bet you were an abused child!~" Cordelia sneered.

"Another one of these," he said. Sally waited patiently. As if reading her
mind, he added sheepishly, "Ummm, sorry, miss. I forgot that you didn't serve
me previously. Scotch and water, please."

"~I bet the bigger kids in school teased you, right?~" Cordelia added. "~Hurt
your itty bitty feelings!~"

Sally smiled. "I'll back in a jiffy!"

"~No way! Are you *crazy*?~" Cordelia cried, running after her. "~*Don't* be
back 'in a Jiffy' or a 'Skippy'!~" She called out, waving her arms in
frustration. "~And just *why* are we talking about peanut butter? Hello-o!
Don't you see he wants to make venison steaks out of you?~"

Walking down the line of customers standing along the wall, Sally continued
taking orders.

"~Listen to me, Sally!~" Cordelia pleaded, placing her hand on Sally's arm.
Unsurprisingly, it passed right through. However, to Cordelia's astonishment,
Sally almost dropped her tray. The young waitress paused momentarily confused.

"~Hey! You *felt* that! Didn't you?" Excited, Cordelia spoke rapidly. "~Sally,
this guy is bad news...*Don't* leave with him tonight! Start walking away
now!~"

As if in answer to Cordelia's plea, Sally began to walk away. Momentarily
gratified, Cordelia was disappointed to see that Sally was only heading towards
the bar to deliver the drink orders for her customers.

Smiling at the bartender, Sally continued on to another set of customers while
her drinks were being mixed.

Cordelia was exasperated. What could she do? Movement up above caught her eye.
Angel and another guy...probably the one Angel called 'Nightwing'! A shiver of
relief shot through her being.

She quickly ran up the stairs. "~Okay...so, why can't I just 'fly' during these
stupid visions?~"

****

"It's getting late," Angel said. "Think he might've left with her already?"

"~No!~" Cordelia shouted. "~He's still down there. He's standing by the wall,
and he's already picked her out! Come on, guys! Do your super-hero thing. Go
down there and take him out!~"

"It's possible," Nightwing replied.

"Cordy said that the girl's name was Sally...Let me go down and ask around. See
if she's still here."

Cordelia sighed in relief. "~Good idea,~" she said.

"Good idea," Nightwing said. Taking a good look at Nightwing for the first
time, Cordelia paused, mouth gaping.

"~Whoa! Does your *mother* let you out looking like that~?" Not expecting a
response, she was surprised to see Nightwing stiffen, as if listening. When
nothing else seemed to be forthcoming, he returned to scanning the room below.

Feeling creeped-out by the experience, Cordelia followed Angel as he moved
away. Shaking her feelings aside, she quickly started on Angel who was looking
in the wrong direction.

"Not there, Angel...over there!" she shouted, pointing. "Turn around! Earth to
Angel...! Look the other way! Do a one-eighty!"

He remained completely oblivious to her pleas. Growing desperate, she
remembered Sally's reaction to her touch. Making up her mind, Cordelia closed
her eyes, took a deep breath, and *walked* through Angel.

Angel's reaction was completely unexpected. He stumbled backwards, falling over
a couple of chairs, and finally overturning a table, spilling drinks and empty
glasses on the table's occupants.

Angel looked like he was having a heart attack. But, since Cordelia knew that
he didn't *have* a heart anymore, his reaction was doubly unforeseen.

"~Oops!~" she muttered, slightly abashed.

The women who'd been sitting at the table with their 'dates' shrieked as the
drinks spilled on their expensive dresses. The men jumped to their feet and
reached inside their jackets!

At that point, things began to move in slow motion.

Something big and black whirled seemingly out of nowhere, knocking the guns
that had materialized in the angry patrons' hands. They shouted in surprise,
painfully holding their wrists.

Three huge bruisers, obviously bouncers who looked like refugees from the World
Wrestling Federation, lumbered towards Angel. Not quite recovered, he began
slowly regaining his feet.

To Cordelia it looked like the entire crowd on the bottom floor was reaching
into their jackets.

"~Get up! Get up!~" she screamed. "~Oh, wait...bullets can't hurt you. Never
mind.~" Looking around the room for Sally and the Stalker, she asked almost
absentmindedly, "~Where'd they go?~"

Without warning, a series of incandescent explosions went of all around the
dance floor. In an instant, the place was in chaos! Customers ran for the
nearest exits, falling over themselves in their mad scramble to get away.

Into the fray, a graceful figure in black seemed to fall from the ceiling. To
Cordelia's shock, Nightwing took out the three bouncers in less than three
seconds. And before either she or Angel could react, he also disarmed and
immobilized most of the patrons who'd foolishly decided to remain behind.

As the smoke settled, Nightwing turned to Angel. "It just stopped being
useful."

****

Drawn to the exit, Cordelia began walking, slowly at first, and then with
increasing haste. He was still here...waiting! She could feel him! Making her
way towards the cloakroom, she saw him helping Sally with her coat.

"~*No*~!" Cordelia shouted. Not stopping to think about the consequences, she
hurried towards them, and taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and *ran*
through them.

A white-hot nuclear chain reaction surged through her soul! A black hand
gripped her chest and squeezed. As the Bambi Club dissolved around her, the
last thing she saw was the Night Stalker looking directly into her eyes,
reaching his hand out to her...

****

Room 714, Bludhaven-Ritz Hotel [Tuesday 4:05 a.m. EST]

"*No*!" Cordelia woke with a scream. She squeezed her temples. The excruciating
pain was almost blinding. Carefully sitting up, she saw that she was lying on
the living room couch. Holding her head, she stumbled towards bedroom.

Collapsing on the bed, she leaned over towards the nightstand. Squinting at the
bedside alarm clock, she had to blink several times before her vision cleared
sufficiently to read the time. 4:05 a.m.

How long had she been asleep? She couldn't remember.

The nightmare came back instantly. Gasping, Cordelia covered her mouth with her
hand. He'd *seen* her! But that was, like...impossible! Wasn't it? It was only
*dream*, wasn't it?

She lay still, going over the events in her mind. *Had* it been a dream? Or a
vision? It had all seemed so real. She didn't know and didn't care. Terrified
over the possible consequences of what she'd seen, Cordelia reached for the
phone, and called Angel.

"Pick up...pick up...!" she pleaded.

"Yes?"

"Angel?" she asked. The voice at the other end sounded different.

"No, this is a friend. Angel's...a bit under the weather at the moment."

"Oh my God..." Cordelia whispered. "Did he fall over like he'd had some kind of
heart attack or something?"

"Yes. Who's this? His girlfriend?"

"I'm *not* his girlfriend!" Cordelia denied automatically.

Ignoring her outburst, the voice at the other end continued, "Does he have
heart problems? He said he was all right, but passed out again. I was about to
call an ambulance."

"No! *Don't* call an ambulance. Angel does *not* have heart trouble! Believe
me...at least not in the usual sense. Oh, never mind! The cloakroom! Hurry! The
Stalker! He was with her...helping her with her coat! You've got to stop him!"

The line went dead. She stared mutely at the silent instrument for a moment
longer.

"Oh, great. Where're these visions when I want to see what's going on?"

Feeling lightheaded from the splitting headache that was finally receding,
Cordelia decided that she could *really* use a hot bath. Turning on the water,
she let the shower run until it reached the right temperature.

Stepping in, she luxuriated in the hot, tingly sensation. After a decadently
long time, she shut the water and stepped out into the steamy bathroom.

Opening the bathroom door slightly to let out the steam, Cordelia toweled
herself dry. Wrapping the towel around her, she proceeded to vigorously towel-
dry her long, dark hair. After a few minutes, the bathroom was finally clear of
all steam.

Taking out her hairdryer, she turned to the large bathroom mirror. As she began
drying her hair, a strange feeling began to overtake her. She began to feel
like two people: Cordelia drying her hair, and someone watching her as she
dried her hair.

Momentarily confused, Cordelia turned off the hairdryer and just stood and
stared at her reflection. The sound of the shower dripping became magnified.
Plip...plop...plip...plop...Time again seemed to slow down.

Abruptly, the flashes began...the feelings of lustful hunger...of watching,
waiting, wanting...

*She* was the one. Cordelia *felt* him. He was looking at her! Just as *she*
had seen through *his* eyes, he was now looking through *hers*!

As her world around her went black, Cordelia screamed!

****

Bludhaven: Place/Date/Time Unknown

Consciousness returned slowly and painfully. She became aware that she was
lying on a soft surface. Her sense of hearing returned first. In the distance,
a dim metallic sound followed by a strange hissing noise vied for her confused
attention.

Hiss-clang-hiss, hiss-clang-hiss.

She couldn't figure out what it was. Realizing that her eyes were closed, she
opened them carefully. She tried to bring her hand up to shield her eyes but
couldn't.

Still woozy, she concentrated and blinked her eyes open. Complete darkness
greeted her. The initial feeling of fear soon passed. She assessed her
situation. She wasn't sure but felt as she was in small, enclosed room.

A slight breeze alerted her. She wasn't alone. She could feel it. Knew it.

"Who's there?" she whispered, her voice quavering. "Please...help me..."

"Soon, Sally," a voice in the dark responded. "Soon..."

****

Room 714 Bludhaven-Ritz Hotel [Tuesday 6:30 a.m. EST]

The cold, wet cloth woke her up. Not bothering to open her eyes, she yanked it
off her forehead.

"Angel, how often do I have to tell you? Unlike you, I don't happen to be one
of the undead! I can *feel* cold!"

"Sorry."

Cordelia looked up at the quiet, masked figure. She felt a cold child shoot up
her spine. His *eyes*! The mask somehow hid his eyes. And yet, although
frightening at first glance, he seemed kind.

"Nightwing, right?"

He nodded. Noting the sunlight streaming in from the living room windows, she
felt a momentary panic.

"Where's Angel?" she asked, pushing past him.

"In the bedroom."

Cordelia rushed to the bedroom. Nightwing followed, explaining as he did.

"I lost the Stalker's trail about an hour ago. When I returned to the Bambi
Club, I found your friend outside. He was having trouble walking and fell a
couple of times. I was going to call an ambulance, but he insisted I help bring
him here."

Cordelia noted thankfully that the heavy drapes were drawn against the morning
sun. The room was in total darkness. She closed the door quietly.

Nightwing paused, uncertain about his next question. "He seemed real insistent
about getting here before sunrise." Cordelia turned and faced him. Nightwing
held her pinned with his glare.

"He's a vampire isn't he? All of these comments about his being dead and not
having a heart...you mean he's not human anymore."

Cordelia nodded slowly. Then in a sudden shift that seemed typical of her, but
still managed to throw Nightwing off balance, she smiled brightly.

"But I try not to hold it against him. He's really a good guy! Well, now
anyway...since he got his soul back. But, boy, for a while there...talk about
terrorizing the community! Biting, killing...real Bela Lugosi stuff!"

"Thanks for the PR, Cordelia."

Startled, Cordelia looked over her shoulder. Angel, looking worse for wear, was
leaning against the bedroom door.

"Oh, uh, hi, Angel...uh, um, I was just, um, telling Nightwing here that
you're, um, one of the good guys."

"Yeah, I heard," Angel said sardonically. He looked at Nightwing. "So--? What
now?"

"We keep looking for the Stalker. I've got a friend running a check on some
leads for me. I've also contacted Sally's family. Full name, Sally Deevers.
Didn't come home at her usual time this morning. Her sister, Sarah's pretty
worried. Says it's not like Sally not to call if she's going to be late."

"So, she's been taken," Angel concluded.

"Angel," Cordelia interrupted. Something in her voice alerted the two men.
"Angel, he knows who I am." They looked at her, patiently waiting for her to
explain. "Tonight...I had one of those vision thingies. I saw him...and the two
of you...at the Bambi Club..."

Cordelia continued, explaining about discovering that she could elicit a
reaction from people while in her dream state.

"Astral projection," Nightwing said. At their reactions, he shrugged and
explained. "I know someone. A friend who does that sort of thing."

"Oh," Cordelia said. "Well, Angel's 'heart attack' was caused by..." She looked
askance at Angel. "...me." She cringed.

"But I didn't know that would happen!" she said speaking rapidly. "I just
wanted to get you to turn around!" She took a deep breath. "That's how I
stopped him. At least, temporarily. I *ran* through him." She turned frightened
eyes on both men.

"I felt like I'd stepped through a deep, dark black hole. One so vile, so evil
that I thought my heart was going squeeze shut in my chest!" Two tears began
trailing down her cheeks.

"Angel, he *saw* me! I don't know how, but he saw me. And later, while I was
drying my hair, I suddenly *knew* that he was watching me." She looked so
helpless and forlorn that Angel immediately held her closely. "I'm so
scared...!"

Cordelia clung to her friend for a few moments, but soon drew on reservations
of strength that surprised even her. She stood back and with a steady voice
continued.

"I don't understand why I can suddenly do *this*, but I can't get people to
hear me!" She paused, and looked curiously at Nightwing. "Except you...you
heard me. Or it seemed like you did...How?"

"He's Romany," Angel said.

"What?" both Cordelia and Nightwing spoke at the same time.

"What you makes say so?" Nightwing asked.

"You know what *I* am," Angel said. "I've had run-ins with the Romany in the
past. We're not exactly on friendly terms. They tend to dislike those like
me...Let's just say that I've learned how to spot one. You're one. I can tell."
He looked away momentarily. "I can smell your blood."

"Oh, yuck! Could you be even a little *more* gross?" Cordelia asked
disgustedly, and then curiously added, "What's 'Romany'?"

"The Romany are better known as gypsies," Angel explained. Cordelia's eyes
widened.

"You mean, like Jenny Calendar--?" she asked. Angel's dark brooding eyes became
haunted.

"Yes, like Jenny Calendar.

"I don't understand," Nightwing said. Cordelia looked up at him.

"It's a long story," she said. "One we don't exactly like to talk about."

Nightwing looked first at one and then the other. He waited. At last, Angel
spoke.

"Jenny Calendar. A Romany agent sent to watch me. Her family had a special
grudge against me." Angel looked up and held Nightwing's eyes. "See...I ravaged
her family about a hundred years ago, so they placed a curse on me. Made me
relive the horror that I'd inflicted on others after I'd 'turned.'"

"Angel was one of the *really* bad ones," Cordelia piped in helpfully.

"Thanks, Cordelia," he said. "To make a long story short, because of the curse,
because of my dark past, because of Jenny's family's quest for vengeance, I
reverted to being Angelus, the worst of the worst. And as Cordelia implied
earlier, I began a campaign of terror to destroy the Slayer and everyone around
her." He paused. "I started with Miss Jenny Calendar."

"But he couldn't help himself," Cordelia jumped in. "See, his soul reverted to
the Darkside. As Angelus, he only has one function--to kill and feed off his
kills." She shuddered. "But as Angel, like now, he's *good*--really, really
good! He's been entrusted by Whomever entrusts these things to, um, save people
who're in trouble. Really."

"And what if he reverts back to the 'Darkside' as you say?" Nightwing growled.

"Oh, I'd stake him in an instant *and* cut off his head," Cordelia replied
without blinking.

Nightwing and Angel stared at her. She shrugged. "What're friends for?" She
walked over to the nightstand and picked up the phone. "Anyone for room
service?" she asked brightly, looking expectant.

Both Angel and Nightwing politely shook their heads. Nightwing moved in a
little closer to Angel.

"Just what exactly *is* your relationship with her, anyway?" he asked. Angel
turned a bemused look to Nightwing.

"She's my assistant."

"How do you put up with her?"

"She's also my friend."

Nightwing nodded. "Okay. Well, look...You're not the only one who doesn't work
in daylight. I'll stay in contact if anything comes up." Walking towards the
drapes, he looked at Angel. "Take cover." With that he stepped through the
glass doors leading out to the balcony, and to the room occupants' surprise,
leaped over the railing.

****

1013 Parkthorne Avenue, 3rd floor apartment [Tuesday 8:45 a.m. EST]

"You sure, Babs?" Dick was checking out the contents of his refrigerator as he
spoke. His muffled voice was automatically boosted by the room's audio pick-up
and transmitted to Oracle's Clock Tower apartment/headquarters complex in
Gotham City.

"Of course, I'm sure, ex-Boy Wonder. I've already triple checked the
information, but I'll run it through once again if you wish."

"No, that's all right. I trust you." He walked over to his terminal and turned
on the video transceiver. He smiled directly into the camera. "Hi, gorgeous.
You look lovely this time of the morning."

"Flatterer," she snorted, rolling her eyes. "I look awful. Since your call
earlier, I haven't had a chance to do my hair." She reached behind her head and
wiggled her ponytail for added emphasis.

"Looks pretty cute to me," he said. His eyes were smiling and gently teasing.

She blushed instantly. They were each still a little shy about openly
expressing their feelings for one another. A kiss they'd shared during a
particularly horrendous adventure together had been the first real step they'd
taken. Getting herself under control, she spoke in a businesslike tone.

"Back to the topic at hand," she began, keeping her eyes carefully lowered to
the document before her. "'Angelus' was supposedly one of the most evil
vampires to have ever walked the earth. Then inexplicably, he disappeared.
According to records kept by some obscure group that calls itself the 'Watchers
Council,' Angelus was believed killed well over a century ago. Until, about
four years ago. He reportedly showed up in Sunnydale, California, your typical,
small West Coast community. Except for one major fact." She looked up.

"If you believe the statistics, which seem to have been seriously covered up
through layer upon layer of government agencies, this bright, little Southern
California town is actually the murder capital of the world." Barbara paused,
her demeanor suddenly serious. "Dick, Sunnydale makes Gotham City look like
Disneyland."

Barbara's beautiful green eyes held Dick's dark blue ones. "And, while accounts
are pretty vague, there *is* evidence that a Jenny Calendar, school teacher,
was found murdered in the home of her then boyfriend, Rupert Giles."

"Giles?" Dick asked. He'd heard the name before.

Barbara nodded. "I'm sorry. It isn't much to go on, I know, but it's all I
have."

"Is there any chance that the Night Stalker could *be* this 'Angelus'?" Dick
asked.

"I don't see how. Angelus is supposed to be a vampire. Logic supposes that he'd
drink his victims' blood. None of the victims so far have been deliberately
drained of their blood. They've had some very gruesome things done to them, but
not that." She again looked straight into the camera, giving the illusion that
she was holding Dick's eyes.

"Dick, we have one depraved, cold-blooded killer on our hands, but all
indications show that he's human. A human monster, perhaps, but human
nonetheless."

"Okay, then, here's the hard part. Babs, I need you to run a trace on *all*
suspects that the police have interviewed so far. Not just here in Bludhaven,
but back on the West Coast. No matter how farfetched. I need them collated and
a profile drawn up on each." He paused, taking a bite from a piece of toast.

"I want to know if any of them ever had a history of lighting fires when they
were children. If they'd ever been reported for animal vivisection. Cruelty to
other children when they were growing up. Obsession with torture, especially
against women." He looked intensely across the miles that separated them.

"Do you see where I'm going with this?" he asked.

Barbara nodded. "The classic serial killer profile. Okay, short pants, I'm on
it. I'll call you when I have something. Oh, and while I'm slaving away at my
hot computer terminal, what will *you* be doing?"

"I'll be paying Sally Deever's brother-in-law a visit."

****

Bludhaven Motors, US 61, off Exit 80 [Tuesday 11:05 a.m. EST]

A dark-haired young man wearing a black leather Gotham Knights jacket and black
helmet pulled in. He was riding a gleaming, Vincent Black Knight motorcycle
that was in mint condition. As he removed his helmet, he revealed dark aviator
glasses underneath.

The mechanics on duty immediately surrounded him, admiring the beautiful work
on the rare piece of machinery.

"Wow! Kid, this is a dream come true! How much do want for it?" one asked.

"It's a dream all right, Carlo," another taunted. "And that's where it'll
probably stay! Man, I heard one of these babies sold at auction for something
close to two hundred grand!"

"You need some work done on it, kid?" Carlo asked eagerly. "Man, I'd *love* to
get my hands on *this* engine!"

"Well, she could use an oil change. I'm on my way to New York and was just
passing through the 'Haven. I haven't had a chance to work on her."

At his words, Carlo and another mechanic vied to pull the motorcycle into the
bay. While they argued between themselves, another customer came running out,
waving his arms angrily.

"Hey! I've been here almost forty-five minutes already! When's my car gonna be
ready?"

"Keep yer shirt on!" Carlo replied. "Kenny, finish this guy's car, willya?"

Kenny glared at Carlo. He'd been looking forward to working on the Black
Knight, but nodded. Carlo immediately turned to the gleaming machine in front
of him. His whole demeanor turned to one of worship. He immediately began
setting up the motorcycle for an oil change.

The young man walked up to Carlo and crouched next to him. "Like I said
earlier...I'm just passing through town. But I heard that a buddy of mine was
working here, Jason Connors...any chance of his being around?"

"Who, Jason? Naw. He didn't come in today. Called in sick."

"Oh, jeez, that's too bad. I'm pulling out tonight. I'll be sorry to miss him."
He smiled suddenly. "Last word I got from him, he and his wife...Sarah, I
think, had become parents. Twins, I believe!"

"Yeah, that would be Jeremy and Jason, Junior," Carlo said. "Great kids, the
two of them."

"Isn't his sister-in-law, Sally, still living with them?" The young man grinned
in recollection. "Last picture I saw of her, she'd grown, man. Like, *wow*! She
was wearing this skimpy number with antlers, man! Boy, what I'd give to have a
sister-in-law that looked like *that* living under *my* roof!"

Carlo became very still. He turned slowly and looked directly at his young
customer.

"Look, kid...I wouldn't know about that. Sally's a nice girl, see? She takes
care of the twins and she takes college courses. That outfit you're talking
about is just a uniform she wears at her place of employment." He enunciated
these last words carefully.

"I've known Sally since she was a kid. Dated her sister, Sarah, in high school
a few times. Their parents died when Sally was twelve or so. Sarah took care of
her. She was little more than kid, herself, only eighteen. Then, about a year
or so later, Sarah met Jason. They were married soon after."

He turned back to the motorcycle and while working continued to talk.

"They moved away for a while. The West Coast, I think. They must've had money
problems, 'cause they came back a few months ago. Sarah bumped into me one day
at the grocery store, and told me that Jason was unemployed. I had an opening,
so I took him on. He didn't know anything about engines, but Sarah was a
friend. I taught him what he needed to know, and he's worked here ever since."

Carlo continued to work in silence. The young man soon stood up and wandered
away. Within a few minutes, Carlo walked up to him, wiping his hands on an oily
rag.

"She's all done, Mister...?"

"Richardson. Al Richardson," the kid replied. "How much do I owe you?"

Carlo led him into the repair shop's office. He quickly looked up the
appropriate figures and sales tax. "That'll be thirty-five even, Mister
Richardson."

The young man nodded as he pulled out his wallet. He counted out thirty-five
dollars, and added a twenty-dollar tip.

"For treating her like a real lady," he said. With a friendly smile, he walked
out into the brisk, November midday. Hopping onto his motorcycle, he put on his
helmet and roared off.

****

Bludhaven: On northbound US 61 [Tuesday 12:35 p.m. EST]

"...like a real lady?" the teasing voice came over his ear receiver.

"Well, she *is*!" Dick replied, grinning. He spoke into a hidden mike in his
helmet. "Only four Vincent Black Knights were ever made, and you-know-who gave
me one when I turned fifteen and was finally old enough to get a motorcycle
license."

"And you claim that you've never been spoiled in your life!" Babs said.

"Who me?" Dick asked innocently. They shared a quiet laugh. After a moment, he
brought it back to business. "So what do you have for me?"

"Like you suspected, the brother-in-law, Jason Connors was in and out of juvie
as a kid. The charges against him are a veritable proving ground for a serial
killer in the making: small animal torture, nuisance arson--open fields,
garbage cans, that sort of thing--school bully. I have a report here that at
age ten he beat up a smaller kid so badly that the other kid had to be pulled
out of school for several months."

She paused. "Think this guy's your man?"

"Not sure, Babs. The girl, Cordelia, the one with the psychic flashes? She was
adamant that the police are going to tag Connors as the killer, but that
they'll have the wrong guy. So far, he sounds like my primary suspect...that
is, if I discount the vampire."

Barbara laughed humorlessly. "You've sure gotten yourself in with some very
strange bedfellows, Dick. I mean, I know we both hang around a guy who dresses
up like a bat, but that doesn't mean that we should suddenly ally ourselves
with someone who can actually turn *into* a bat!"

"I know that, Babs. And believe me, I'm trying to be as cautious as possible."
He shuddered. "When he told me that he could *smell* my blood...I haven't felt
*that* chilled since Two-Face almost...well, you know."

"Yeah, I know, Dick," Barbara replied quietly. She recalled how Two-Face almost
killed Robin in a double-gallows trap. This incident, more than any other,
turned Batman's natural worry over his ward taking chances as a young
crimefighter into an outright obsession for the boy's safety. And it eventually
led to the break up of the famed Dynamic Duo.

To this day, there remained undercurrents of misunderstandings and resentment
between foster father and son.

"Got anything for me on the Romany tie-in with Angel?" he asked.

"Apparently there's no love lost between your people and vampires, Dick. Did
you know that?"

"Well, I don't much about my Romany heritage, but I remember that Dad used to
making warding signs at times of great stress," Dick mused. "Like a time that
he found one of our lines frayed. If we'd gone on, we probably all would've
been killed." He paused, trying to recall childhood memories of his father.

"He once mentioned that Grandpa Richardo told him a story about the 'before
time'. That is, the time before our family crossed over to England from Eastern
Europe. It was around the Renaissance, during the reign of Queen Mary. Dad said
that Bloody Mary had little love of gypsies and most who wandered into Britain
during this time met with a grisly ending." He stopped talking momentarily as
he concentrated on a lane change.

"Apparently, the Graichones placed some kind of a curse on the queen, and soon
she took to her sickbed. Ostensibly it was because of a bad pregnancy, but she
had really developed a stomach tumor. She died after several months of painful
suffering, and her sister, Elizabeth, came to the throne. Queen Elizabeth was a
bit more tolerant of the Rom, and under her reign, my family, a wandering
troupe of circus performers, thrived."

Dick saw his exit up ahead, and maneuvered through traffic to get on the
appropriate lane. Approaching the light at the end of the exit ramp, he spoke
again.

"That's all I know about family skeletons. Dad never mentioned vampires in any
of his bedtime stories. But then, he could've considered them too frightening
for a little kid."

"Well, I'll keep searching for any more information," Barbara offered, "but I
think I've reached a dead end at this point."

"Thanks, Babs," Dick said gratefully. "After I have a talk with Connors, I'll
get back to you."

"Gotcha. Oracle out."

****

57 Woolrich Avenue, Avalon Heights Section [Tuesday, 1:07 p.m. EST]

As he drove up Woolrich Avenue, a quiet, tree-lined street, Dick noticed
several BPD squad cars in front of Number 57. A police blockade had been set up
about five houses away. Three armed and ready police officers stood stern
guard, keeping out the curious onlookers.

"What's going on?" Dick asked casually.

"They think they got him!" a spectator said excitedly. "The Night Stalker!"

"Oh? What makes you think that?" he asked.

"The guy's sister-in-law is missing...no trace so far. Some people she works
with, said that she'd been complaining how her brother-in-law had been giving
her a real hard time these past few weeks, if you know what I mean?" He added
the last with a leer.

"No, I don't know what you mean," Dick said coolly. "Can you explain it to me?"

The informer looked around furtively, then stepped closer to Dick. In low
murmurs he 'explained' what he meant. Dick actually blushed at the man's
gleefully graphic explanation and suppositions about what the 'Stalker' might
have done to the missing girl. Holding onto his temper with an iron will, Dick
nodded his thanks and moved away.

****

Bludhaven: Place/Date/Time: Unknown

Sally's tears had finally stopped. She was terrified. She hadn't been this
scared since that night so long ago when the police came and told them that Mom
and Dad had been killed in a car accident.

The cold voice who'd spoken to her when she'd first woke up hadn't said
anything further.

What was going to happen to her? She hadn't had a chance to say good-bye to
Sarah and the twins. Hadn't told them how much she loved them.

The tears began again.

She was going to die. She knew it.

When the voice spoke earlier, it had been like the sound the Death.

She closed her eyes. Pulling the words from long ago, she began first as a
whisper, then with growing strength:

"Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou amongst
women, and Blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."

At the word 'Amen,' an aura of peace seemed to envelop her.

In the distance, the strange 'hiss-clang' continued unabated, beating a regular
tattoo into her subconscious.

Sally succumbed to the exhaustion brought on by her utter terror...

****

The Pavilion, Haven Mall: Caernaervon Business District [Tuesday 3:45 p.m. EST]

Cordelia walked slowly through the racks of expensive clothes. She'd been
pleasantly surprised that a dump like Bludhaven actually had a decent shopping
district. The Pavilion was one of *the* frou-frou upscale department stores on
the East Coast.

She'd been getting cabin fever in the hotel room. Angel wasn't any help. He was
locked up in the bedroom, waiting for sunset, or whatever vampires did during
the day. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, she'd called the concierge and
asked whether there were any stores within walking distance of the hotel.

She wrote Angel a brief note and left. That had been over two hours ago. Now,
Cordelia had visited every single store in the mall, to include two
perfumeries, three bath and lotion shops, four shoe stores, two stores that
specialized in accessories, and even a bookstore where she'd picked up a self-
help book.

Most of the mall's clothing stores held stuff she wouldn't be caught dead in,
but Pavilion was proving to be the exception. She gave a small squeal of
delight when she spotted the perfect dress!

"Oh, and it's my size!" she added. Grabbing the dress from the rack, she looked
around for a dressing room. Spotting it, she hurried to it. The girl in charge
looked up and smiled.

"How many do you want to try on today?" she asked.

"Just this one," Cordelia said, her exuberance bubbling over. The clerk handed
her a tag with the number 'one' on it and led her to an empty changing booth.

Cordelia immediately locked the door behind her, hung the dress up on a hook on
the door and undressed. Hanging her own skirt and blouse on another hook, she
happily slipped on the new dress.

Smoothing it around her flawless figure, Cordelia looked at herself in the
mirror, expertly studying how the dress fell, looking for any signs of
imperfections.

She smirked. "As *if*!" Elated with the results, she stepped outside of the
booth to the small sitting area in the dressing room. The room had a larger
three-way mirror here. Tingling with anticipation, Cordelia walked up to the
three-way and assumed several poses.

Clapping her hands in a show of girlish thrill, she cried with satisfaction,
"Perfect!"

About to turn to back to her dressing booth, Cordelia began to feel peculiar. A
sudden sense of dread seemed to enshroud her. An impression of being watched
began to creep up on her. The back of her neck tingled with an eerie sensation,
as if a hundred needles were prickling her.

A wave of blackness began to wash over her. The dressing room began dissolving
in a wild kaleidoscope of black and white. As she lost consciousness, she
thought she saw a pair of evil eyes looking back at her from her own
reflection...

****

Bludhaven: Place/Date/Time Unknown

Cordelia woke up in a darkened room. She was lying on something soft. She tried
to move her hands but couldn't. Looking around she had the oddest feeling that
she was being watched.

She closed her eyes in exasperation. Of course, she was being watched!

In the distance she heard a strange 'hiss-clang, hiss-clang' rhythmic sound.

"~I guess this is part where I'm supposed to note any and all unusual sights
and sounds...~" She sniffed and gagged immediately. "~Oh, gross...! *And* dead
smells!~" She rolled her eyes.

"~Why does it always have to be so nasty? Why can't death, murder, and mayhem
ever be *neat*? Or smell a little nicer? *No*! It always smells like something
just died!~" She paused, mulling over what she'd just said.

"~Oh, okay, you know what I mean. Like, just once...I'd like to wake up on a
Hawaiian beach or something. You know, somewhere nice.~" She looked around.
"~And *bright*! Is it just *possible* that just *once* I could maybe get a
little light?" Looking around the place in annoyance, she called out.

"~Hey! Stalker! I know you're in here, so stop this silly 'dark room terror
trap' crap! Turn on a light, or are you afraid of being seen?~"

There was no answer, but Cordelia could actually *feel* the surprised response
from an unseen presence in the room. She felt a sudden shiver of fear wash over
her, but tamped it down firmly. Now wasn't the time to back down. Building up
her formidable temper, she lashed out at the tormentor of her dreams.

"~Look, buster! This has gone on long enough! Now, I know what you look like,
so stop hiding in the dark!~" Again, there was no response. Cordelia began
making clucking noises.

"~Bawk-bawk-bawk...~" she clucked. "Chicken...yellow...I'm gonna tell all the
girls in town that the so-called Night Stalker is nothing but lily-livered
coward! I bet you used to wet the bed--!~"

"*Shut up*! *Shutupshutupshutup*!" The voice roared out of the dark. Suddenly,
the lights came on!

When she saw the contents of the jars on the shelf, Cordelia shrieked...!

****

The Pavilion, Haven Mall: Caernaervon Business District [Tuesday 5:30 p.m. EST]

She woke with a screech.

The cold, wet cloth fell on her lap. Scrambling to her feet, she knocked it off
in a panic. She looked around at the shocked looks of the store clerks. She
kept screaming in horror.

"*Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!*"

The store personnel tried vainly to calm her down.

"Miss! Miss! It's all right! You're all right! Miss...! Please!"

"Dominique! Did you call nine-one-one?"

"Yes! They're on their way!"

Cordelia kept on screaming. The images wouldn't go away. The jars kept flashing
in her mind: Christin's eyes, Cindy's hands, and other horrors too terrible to
give name to. Her senses began shutting down one by one.

As the store personnel reached for her, the only sound she could hear was the
odd 'hiss-clang, hiss-clang' in the distance...

****

Room 714, Bludhaven-Ritz Hotel [Tuesday 6:45 p.m. EST]

Sundown.

Angel awakened, feeling refreshed. He'd slept all day. A dreamless, untroubled
sleep for once. He felt the hunger that was never quite abated grow within him.

He rose and made his way to the small courtesy refrigerator in the living area.
He looked through it, moving the small bottles of liquor and soft drinks out of
the way.

At last, he found what he was looking for. A small zip-lock baggie filled with
red liquid. Not bothering to pour it into a glass, he sucked it right out of
the bag.

"If I hadn't seen it, I might still not believe it."

Startled, Angel turned his demon face towards the intruder. A small gasp of
surprise greeted him.

Nightwing stepped carefully, fully on the defensive, into the soft light
streaming in from the bathroom. He was holding a wooden stake in each hand.
Suddenly twirling them faster than the eye could follow, Nightwing assumed a
fully offensive/defensive stance.

"Now, tell me why I shouldn't just stake you?" he asked. "I had you checked
out...Jenny Calendar? Just your bad luck that she was a distant cousin of mine,
Angelus. I've lost a lot of family members in my life. Now I find out that you
murdered what just might have been my last living relative..."

As Dick had been returning to the hotel from the Connors' home, he'd received
this latest bit of information from Barbara. She'd urged him to use his head,
but he'd gone ballistic.

"Dick! If as you say, he's turned from 'Angelus' to 'Angel' then he's *not*
responsible! Dick! Please, answer me!"

"Sorry, Babs, but this is something I have to do. That monster killed my family
before I was even born. He should've died centuries ago...I'm just gonna set
nature back on its course."

He'd shut off his ear receiver and placed his system into blackout mode so that
Oracle wouldn't be able to track his movements and report him to Batman...

That was an hour ago.

As he spoke, Nightwing slowly, stealthily circled his deadly opponent. He had
no illusions that this would be easy. His last battle against two vampires had
almost ended in his being turned into a tasty snack.

And those two had been vampires for only four weeks. Angelus had been around
for several centuries.

"You apparently were solely responsible for the murder of the greater part of
the Graichones, my family, while they were still in Eastern Europe. After what
remained crossed over to England during the Renaissance, they managed a
resurgence for awhile...Even invoked that curse on you, the one about having to
suffer for 'a single night of happiness.'"

He glared pure hatred at the being who'd caused his family so much hurt and
devastation.

"But it wasn't enough for you to practically wipe out my immediate line, you
also had to start on the distant cousins. So, one more time, Angelus...tell me
why I shouldn't kill you right now?"

Poised for a fight, Angel was about to answer, when the phone rang. He looked
at the young vigilante, his eyes questioning. Nightwing swallowed, a muscle
worked along his jaw line. Finally, he relented and nodded, 'yes.'

Angel picked up the phone. His concern was immediate. "Where? Rabe Memorial?"
He covered the receiver. "Do you know where Rabe Memorial Hospital is located?"
At Nightwing's nod, he spoke into the phone.

"I'll be right there. Thank you for letting me know." He hung up and turned
towards the angry young man whose intense glare was almost as chilling as his
own.

"I'm sorry, Nightwing, but you'll have to kill me later. That was the emergency
room at Rabe Memorial. Cordelia's just been admitted."

Without blinking, Nightwing turned and ran towards the balcony. Pausing
slightly, he looked at Angel who'd followed right behind. "After you."

****

Room 234, Rabe Memorial Hospital [Tuesday 7:45 p.m. EST]

She lay in the quiet, muted lighting of the hospital room. She was afforded
some semblance of privacy by the room dividers. The sounds of medical monitors
beeped in low tones, while life-giving liquids dripped steadily into her
system.

The two men approached her cautiously. Finally, Angel placed his hand gently on
her forehead.

Cordelia opened her eyes and looked up him. Before he could say anything, she
broke down and began sobbing openly. She held her arms out for comfort, and
without hesitation, Angel took her into his arms.

After a long moment of brokenhearted crying, Cordelia finally quieted down. In
a voice broken by occasional sobs, she told them what she'd seen.

"He has them all in glass jars on a sh-shelf. All the p-parts he's taken. S-
Sally...he has her. She was still a-alive, but I don't know how much longer.
Angel, his need is growing. I-I know you don't think he's possessed by a demon,
but Angel...he's evil. I know he is...pure evil!"

She shuddered in Angel's arms and began to cry softly again.

Nightwing moved in.

"Cordelia," he addressed her quietly. She wiped her eyes and looked quickly up
at him. "You've got to help us. Is there anything you can remember that could
prove useful? Sounds? Smells? Anything?"

She nodded. "The place smelled like Death, but I don't think that'll be of much
help." Nightwing nodded disappointed. "*But* there was this one thing that
might be...a strange sound, somewhere in the distance. A 'hiss-clang, hiss-
clang'." She looked up at him expectantly. "I kept hearing it. Even after I
came to in The Pavilion. I could still hear it in my head...'hiss-clang, hiss-
clang'."

"You say you still heard it when you came-to in the mall?" Nightwing pressed.
Cordelia nodded. "Cordelia, listen carefully...this is extremely important. Was
it in your head, or could you actually hear it when you woke up?"

"I'm not sure," she said, shaking her head helplessly. "Why?"

"I need to see if you heard it while you were unconscious and only *thought* it
was part of your dream, or if you heard in your dream and only *thought* that--
"

"--Only thought I heard it when I woke up," she finished.

"Exactly," Nightwing said with quiet admiration. Cordelia smiled up him. She
concentrated, trying to remember.

Finally opening her eyes, she looked at him uncertainly. "I *think* that I only
heard it in my head," she offered. "Because I was in the mall for the better
part of two hours and never heard it until *after* I heard in my dream vision
and came to."

"Good girl," Nightwing said, satisfied. "You've been a big help."

Feeling a surge of pride at the praise, Cordelia reached her hand up and
lightly touched his face.

It was if an electric current passed between them. Both cried out at the
unexpected shock. Nightwing at first fought against the dark and disturbing
images that suddenly invaded his subconscious. Realizing what he was
witnessing, he grabbed Cordelia's hand, and held it even tighter to his cheek.

As suddenly as they'd started, the images stopped.

But it was enough.

"I know where he has her," Nightwing said, standing up. Looking down at the
beautiful and brave girl who'd been living with these mental impressions that
came straight from Hell, he leaned down impulsively and kissed her on the
cheek.

"Get some rest," he whispered. "It'll be over soon."

****

#67 Thrawn Trailer Park: Adjacent to Thrawn Park [Tuesday 8:25 p.m. EST]

In the distance, the 'hiss-clang' of the Thrawn Terminal-Red Line Elevated
could be heard as the railcars coupled and uncoupled. Nightwing maneuvered his
'Wing cycle through a series of narrow twists and turns in Bludhaven's sole
trailer park.

The place did indeed reek of Death. And a few other unpleasant odors, Nightwing
thought. Thrawn Trailer Park was rock bottom even in Bludhaven. The residents
were those who'd reached the end of their rope and had no hope left, nothing to
look forward to except Potter's Field, Bludhaven's pauper's cemetery.

Nightwing parked his 'Wing cycle off to the side, and both he and Angel
dismounted. He removed his protective helmet and placed it on the seat. Taking
out an electronic key device, he clicked the 'lock' button and his bike
immediately became enclosed in a non-reflective, black, metallic shield.

If necessary, the shield could withstand a small nuclear explosion.

The two night visitors separated and approached #67 with caution. Touching the
electronics on his mask's night vision lenses, Nightwing scanned the area
immediately around him. The NVL's picked up the body heat given off by others.
Movement to his right caught his attention.

He froze in place. A frightened cat yowled and took off, knocking over a
garbage can. Smiling slightly in relief, Nightwing continued on his stealth
approach.

"Got anything," Angel's quiet voice said from next to him.

Nightwing almost jumped out of ten years' growth. He whirled around, assuming
an immediate defensive stance. Where *was* he? He couldn't see him.

"What? What do you see?" Angel's excited voice said from next to him. Nightwing
rolled away and again came up on a defensive stance.

"What is the *matter* with you?" Angel hissed from in front of him. Nightwing
looked around. He couldn't see him! Before panic set in, common sense won out.
Of course, he thought sheepishly. His NVL's picked up body heat. Angel didn't
give off any body heat.

Reaching up, Nightwing readjusted his lenses. Angel immediately came into view,
his face puzzled.

Nightwing made a mental note of the lenses' obvious weakness. They couldn't
track the 'undead.' Hopefully, that would not be a major issue. Letting out a
breath he hadn't known he'd been holding, Nightwing shook his head.

"Never mind," he said. "Let's go in."

****

#67 Thrawn Trailer Park: Adjacent to Thrawn Park [Tuesday 9:05 p.m. EST]

Afterwards, it was almost a denouement. The hero and demon broke into the
trailer, and found Sally Deevers still alive, but shaken by the ordeal.
Nightwing called in the BPD emergency dispatcher, and before long Thrawn
Trailer Park was knee-deep in cops.

Watching safely from a distance, Nightwing observed as Detectives Fontana and
Reuters placed a blanket around Sally's shoulders and offered comfort.
Nightwing felt like cheering for the two honest cops who'd been working almost
around the clock since the first body was discovered all those weeks ago.

A live one! They'd found a live one. Better...they'd found the Night Stalker's
lair. There was enough evidence here to put him away for the rest of his life
and a few lifetimes over.

Unfortunately, the only thing that they *didn't* have was the Night Stalker,
himself...

****

Room 234, Rabe Memorial Hospital [Tuesday 11:30 p.m. EST]

It was long past visiting hours. The hospital was set to 'night' with the
corridors and rooms in soft, subdued lighting to encourage healing sleep.

The door to room 234 opened without a whisper. He could hear the beeps and
whirs of the monitoring equipment. Over that quiet background, he could hear
her soft breathing.

He smiled. He could feel the anticipation rising. Soon, Cordelia, he breathed
in silent prayer...soon.

Taking out a hypodermic, he carefully measured it to the necessary dosage. He
didn't want her to die from this. Oh, no. What he planned for her required that
she be there, fully aware of everything that was going to happen.

He had to suppress a sudden giggle that welled up in his throat.

And he knew exactly where he was going to keep her. He walked around the
partition. She was lying on her side, facing away from him, awash in the
shadows thrown up by the room dividers.

A look of avarice flitted across his eyes. He wanted her so badly, he was ready
to take her right there and then. But no! He had to practice self-restraint.
The Master had to be fed first. The Master's hunger was growing, escalating. He
had to feed him more and more often. What if he picked wrong? What if--?

He gave himself a mental headshake. No! He'd been given the power, hadn't he?
He was the chosen, wasn't he? With the power of life and death? No, he knew
that he'd pleased his Master so far and would continue to do so for years to
come.

Approaching with measured steps, he carefully reached for the sheets to expose
her arm.

He gasped. What was going on?

"Not tonight, honey...I've got a headache!" With the speed of an attacking
cobra, the masked figure that had been lying seemingly asleep suddenly turned
around and grabbed him by the wrist with a heavy gauntleted hand. Before he
could react from the unexpected attack, the Night Stalker was grabbed from
behind.

About to fight back, he turned in time to see the nightmarish vision from his
childhood. The Master! He'd come! But--?

But he didn't look at all pleased...

****

Room 714, Bludhaven-Ritz Hotel [Wednesday 12:57 a.m. EST]

"Are you sure you won't stay another day?" Nightwing teased.

"No offense, Nightwing," Cordelia huffed, "but the only thing I want too see
right now is Bludhaven in my rearview mirror." She turned and flashed him a
smile. "Or from the air. Thanks, but no thanks!"

Nightwing smiled back. "Just thought I'd ask. This town *has* that effect on
people."

Angel got off the phone and looked up. Nightwing tensed immediately. Both men
studied each other through narrowed eyes. Cordelia gave a long-suffering sigh
and stepped in between them.

"Hey! It's *over*! We're supposed to be on the same side!" Exasperated, she
looked up at Angel and poked him in the chest. "You! Remember the rules! No
biting!"

She turned to Nightwing and gave him a slight shove. "And *you*! Angel and I
just helped you put a killer away. So what are you going to do now? Drive a
stake through his heart? For what? For something that happened over two
centuries ago?"

Nightwing didn't take his eyes off Angel. Cordelia shoved him again, a little
harder this time. "Hey! I'm talking to you!"

Startled by her tone, both men looked down at her. "Don't you think he hasn't
suffered? Can't you see he suffers even now? Every hour he's awake...and
asleep...he's haunted by the cries of the dead...of those *he* made suffer."

As she held Nightwing's gaze, her own eyes were pain-filled. "But he's paid!
Again and again, he's paid! And he's *still* paying!"

Nightwing grabbed her by the upper arms and shook her. "How can you defend
him?" he cried. "He murdered Jenny Calendar, and tried to kill *you* and each
of your friends!"

"Okay! That's a *major* friendship issue," Cordelia admitted. Angel stared at
her. His expression was hurt, but not surprised. She gave him a slight shrug,
but then turned back to Nightwing. "But *I* know that the evil monster who
tried to kill me isn't standing here now." At Nightwing's look of contemptuous
disbelief, Cordelia exploded.

"All right, already! I suppose that *you're* Mister Perfect...that you've
*never* made a mistake in your life! But, if you did, at least *you* were
responsible for your own actions! No one *forced* you to do something against
your will!"

Unnoticed by Cordelia, her words cut through Nightwing like a surgeon's
scalpel. Thoughts of Brother Blood and his unspeakable mind tortures flashed
through his mind at light speed. Cordelia continued her harangue.

"Well, Angel *wasn't* responsible! Jenny's dead because the curse that her
people...*your* people...placed on him backfired!" She added the last part
accusingly. "I know that it's hard to forgive...and I know that we can't afford
to forget. But Angel has tried to make restitution. He helps those in
need...for no payment! I should know...I'm supposed to get a share of Angel
Investigations and so far I've managed to fall behind on my rent three months
in a row!"

Cordelia placed a hand on Nightwing's forearm. "Please...let it go. We'll be on
the redeye to LAX in another thirty minutes. Me, Angel, the Night
Stalker...we'll all be just another bad memory."

Nightwing returned her gaze soberly. At last, he nodded. Turning towards Angel,
he asked, "What've you got?"

Angel studied the young vigilante for a moment longer before finally answering
him. "Giles finally got the info I requested. The Night Stalker is one Greg
Hopkins, AKA Gregory Hodges, AKA Geoffrey Hopkins. Apparently in an out of
private and state mental institutions since the age of five when he witnessed
his sister's brutal murder." He glanced down, momentarily ashamed.

"Vampire," he whispered. He looked up with the same deeply haunted look that
Nightwing had seen earlier. Shaking himself, Angel continued the report.

"Greg or Geoffrey seemed to have developed multiple personalities from an early
age. The reports available are pretty sketchy. At one point, his parents
actually believed that he was possessed, and they had at least one exorcism
performed on him."

He shrugged, shaking his head. "What he never got was what he really needed,
solid psychiatric help. The boy became lost in the system. When his parents
passed away, there was no left who cared about him one way or another. He was
released on a clerical mistake. A few months later, the Night Stalker was
born."

Cordelia looked up. "Will Arkham Asylum be able to hold him?"

Nightwing scowled. "We can only hope, can't we?"

****

Gotham City: Cell Number 35, Arkham Asylum [Wednesday 9:35 p.m. EST]

He sat quietly staring into space, immobilized in the straight jacket they'd
transported him in.

As he looked, he watched. She was taking a shower. He could feel the hot water
as it tingled against her exposed skin.

He smiled.

"Soon, Cordelia...Very soon...!"

The End
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