Disclaimer: Angel and all of the characters used here are not mine, and I make no profit from this venture. I'm just borrowing them 'cause I think they're great, so feel flattered and don't sue me. I promise I'll put them back in their box when I'm done.
Feedback: Please review and tell me what you think, I crave your opinions! If you have ideas you might want to see added then let me know and I'll see what I can do. This is my second fic, so although I've had practice, I'm still just a novice, so be kind.
Setting: This is set at the end of season two again, just like the last one. You may be thinking 'hey, what are you, stuck in the past?' but I don't care. I like it here, it's nice, and I'm not going to change, so there. * Pulls out tongue * Also, people are more fun to write, especially Cordelia. To me, season three equals mucho badness, and I don't even wanna go there just yet. (Also, Fred annoys me, poor Wes. I'm not jealous…I'm not!)
Note: Before you ask, Buffy and co. will not be appearing in this fic 'cause I wouldn't be able to do them justice. I don't watch Vampire Slayer too much and I certainly don't know what was happening at around the time this is set. Sorry, but it's just tough. Other than that, anything goes. OK, I'll stop my rant and present, to you, the reader, my story…enjoy! :)
The shadows were oppressive, closing in on all sides and suffocating in their density. Thick clouds of disturbed dust clung to the air like blankets, smothering all who passed beneath and concealing entities with hearts that were blacker than the emptiness that surrounded them. The grime and the darkness were the least of anyone's problems, in this case, each struggling to stay one step ahead of the hidden enemy that bombarded them with lethal intent.
Clashes of metal rang through the night; somewhat softened in intensity as the journey up through the cavernous hole and out into the empty warehouse robbed the sounds of their clarity. Is a noise still a noise if no living being is present to hear it? Not a single person, stray dog or rat was within hearing distance by that time, and the battle raged on beneath the abandoned industrial estate whilst the world went on above, unconcerned and oblivious.
But that was how they liked it. It meant less people to get in the way, and less people to get hurt. And as for the awkward explanations afterwards and the added possibility of press attention, well, sometimes it was just best to let the population of Los Angeles go on unknowing. After all, ignorance is bliss.
The only down side to that particular commendable policy was that there was also no one around to hear you scream, and no one to notice when you didn't come back. If things went horribly wrong, no one would come to rescue you, and no one would cry for your death. In this line of work, the dangers were accepted, but all too real, nonetheless. The fighters had come to rely only on each other and, as each knew all too well, there would be few in the outside world to miss them in their passing. This was the only family they knew, a collection of misfits and outsiders, brought together by circumstance and the drive to do good. They helped the hopeless, and they were proud.
Longing for a lungful of the crisp air waiting above, Cordelia took another swing at the shadows with her sword, recoiling from the wet splash of blood that plastered itself to her face in return. There was a satisfying thud as a hefty lump of a body hit the dirt, and she tossed her hair back over her shoulder in triumph.
"Ha, got you that time."
Her victory was short lived, as she suspected it would be, and yet another replacement emerged from nowhere to take it's fallen comrade's place.
"You guys just don't give up, do you?" she asked, knowing she would get nothing but a guttural snarl in reply. They weren't really ones for talking, what with the snouts and the tusks for teeth.
The flurry of activity in the small, enclosed space was hard to discern, even at such close quarters. The only indication of movement was the occasional flash of a razor-like weapon edge, catching a rare ray of light, and the constant flow of scuffles and grunts that accompanied the fighting. And then, of course, there was the stench of death.
The smell of blood and sweat was hard to miss, even for the humans, but Angel's vampire senses were sharp enough to pick up every gruesome detail. Added to the general haze of demon scent, he could isolate the poignant smell of human blood in the mix, and to which of his wounded friends it belonged. Perhaps once, he would have worried about the fact that he could smell injuries, and to a certain extent, he still did, obviously. But he trusted each one enough to know that they could handle themselves, and as cuts and scrapes were inevitable, he didn't let it get to him. He had to focus.
Taking down another of his adversaries with an efficient slash of his dagger, he could be afforded the time to take a quick glance at the situation, using his acute night vision to his advantage. It looked like he was right. He smiled grimly at the piles of fallen bodies lying at the feet of his three counterparts, almost proud in a sort of fatherly way that they didn't seem to need his help. Gunn successfully felled two demons at once, hacking through them with a slice of his axe. Wesley and Cordelia stood back to back; making a pretty formidable pair as they chopped and stabbed at the creatures they probably couldn't even see.
Thankfully for his weary limbs, it looked to Angel as though they were finally coming to the end of the demon hoard at last, their numbers falling dramatically. Luckily for the demon hunters, this breed was not particularly fearsome, or else the sheer numbers may have presented them with a bigger problem. As it was, it was nothing they couldn't handle, what with their ever-growing experience and expertise. And everyone would be able to pay their rent this month, which was always a big plus.
Another demon crawled from a crevice to the side, and Angel made fast work of it to ensure it didn't get the chance to escape. He realised with disappointment that the job might not be finished as soon as he had hoped, as this newly excavated cave system had too many places for the odd demon or two to hide. They would have to make a last sweep of the place before they left to make sure none had been missed, and in an area this big, that could take some time.
"Jeez Gunn, why'd you have to bring that thing with you, anyway? It's hardly the best weapon to have around when we're all crammed in here. You, like, totally nearly took off my kneecap just now. Be more careful!"
Gunn shrugged apologetically in the direction of The Cordelia Voice, hugging his axe to him defensively.
"Sorry", he said, "You know I can't leave home without it. It's my baby." He couldn't see Cordelia's face, or her body, for that matter, but he was sure that she would be scowling at him round about now.
Angel kicked his freshly killed demon over onto it's front, and was satisfied that it was completely dead. Looking round at the others, he felt relief wash over him to find that all the foes had been vanquished, and everyone was still in tact. Chalk one point up for the Angel Investigations crew.
Wesley safely stowed his own weapon at his side, anxious not to accidentally stab anyone in the dark, and then tried, with little success, to pick off the various demon entrails adorning his jacket. Wrinkling his nose in disgust and then giving up, he moved carefully around to where Angel was standing, feeling for the sides of the cave and stepping over the litter of bodies as best he could.
"Um, Angel, I don't suppose you could help us out and find the flash lights, could you? We seemed to have dropped them during the fight. As appealing as it sounds, I really don't fancy feeling around amongst severed limbs in the dark."
"I hear ya", Cordelia agreed, cringing when something squelched under her shoe. She didn't even want to think about what that might have been.
A second later, an only slightly slippery flashlight was pushed into her hands and she turned it on immediately, swinging the beam round to check on her friends and nearly blinding Wesley in the process.
"Opps. Sorry", she said when he squinted, bringing an arm up to shield his dazzled eyes.
A sharp cry eliminated the chance for a reprimand, and everyone spun to direct a little light at Gunn, finding him grimacing in pain and clutching his foot, leaning a hand against the wall for support.
"Ah", Cordelia said knowingly, "the horrors of a stubbed toe."
Gunn nodded enthusiastically, biting his lip and screwing up his eyes.
"Why is it that the little things always hurt the most? You know, like how paper cuts are way worse than the proper ones? And when you get something in your eye…" She paused to see the guys staring at her and finished the thought with a soundless 'never mind'.
"Right…yes, well, anyway, I think we'd better spread out and check the rest of the cave before we call this a night. There could be more demons hidden about down here." Wesley shone a beam around the small chamber they were currently in and found a couple of passageways leading off, as well as the route they had taken to get down here in the first place. "Cordelia, do you want to go with Angel down that way and me and Gunn take this one?"
"Sure", Cordy agreed, skipping in and out of the obstacles like a hopscotch. Anxious to get back home to a nice inviting bath courtesy of her friendly household ghost, she pushed past Angel and led the way without giving him the chance to assume his 'protector' position.
They were out of sight in moments, and only the echoes of their footsteps told of their presence. Wesley turned to Gunn and motioned ahead.
"Shall we?" he asked.
"Let's go" was his answer, and Gunn, putting on an exaggerated limp, plunged straight into the shadows without a second thought, shining his flashlight ahead of them.
The passageway was tight and winding, and in places, the two tall men had to duck and crouch to get through. Its demon residents had physically gouged the crude pathway out of the rock, the claw marks still visible on the sides. For this particular mission, it hadn't been hard to find the warehouse in question, as it seemed that these demons had little imagination, simply using the abandoned lot outside to dump the rubble.
As underground caverns went, this one was pretty cosy, with none of the wall slime and dripping dampness that was usually associated with such places. The excavation was fairly new, and Wesley attributed its dryness to the fact that ground moisture hadn't had the time to seep in just yet. Nevertheless, the air got stuffier as they descended deeper into the earth, and he soon found himself loosening the collar of his shirt in the heat.
After an eternity of trudging along, they came to a fork in the road, the passageway branching off into two separate directions. A pleasant draft flowed past as the air was sucked from behind them and whipped round into the new spaces.
"Can you feel that?" Wesley asked, and Gunn nodded in response. "I think these join up at some point further down. Let's split up and meet in the middle."
"No problem", Gunn answered, choosing the left hand tunnel and disappearing into the depths.
Wesley peered down the remaining passage but couldn't see much, the bends and jagged outcrops obscuring the way and reflecting the light of his torch. This part seemed to have been dug in a hurry and didn't look as well used as the rest of the system. There were no rounded edges and smooth walls, so he had to be especially careful not slice his head open on the regularly jutting out rocks.
Squeezing around a particularly tight bend, he froze when he heard movement ahead. A high-pitched squeal resounded along the passageway, followed by grunting and snarling. No prizes for guessing what was down there, then.
Directing the flash light beam at the floor so as not to give away his approach too soon, Wesley crept round the final boulder only to emerge into a substantially sized chamber, the ceiling of which must have been high enough to allow someone twice Wesley's size to walk in unhindered. It was only on closer inspection that Wesley realised just how different this room was from the rest of the cave. Imbedded in the walls was the occasional brick, and he could just make out what looked like pillars holding up the roof. To his eyes, it looked like this room had been built rather than dug, and the patterns on the brickwork led him to believe it was a much more ancient in origin.
The light from his torch started to flicker slightly, and Wesley shook it sharply in protest.
"Damn. Don't do this to me now", he whispered to himself, smacking the wretched thing with the heel of his hand.
The beam spluttered some more and then began to fade, the last of the light dying pathetically. Wesley inwardly cursed the cheap batteries and tucked it away under his jacket, hoping that Gunn wouldn't be too long in finding him. The blackness made him nervous.
To his surprise, he found that his eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness, despite the absence of any light from the entrance of the cave hundreds of metres up. Squinting into the dimness, he could make out a very fine shaft of slivery light filtering in from a crack in the ceiling on the other side of the room. He realised that the air tasted fresher down here and assumed that the tiny hole must eventually reach up to the surface.
Another movement made him whirl round, bringing up his sword for protection. Desperately searching the emptiness in front of him, he caught sight of what looked like a shift in the shadows as something made up of a more dense shade of black moved.
Wesley waited, willing his weak eyes to focus faster. After several tense seconds, he realised that the demon he had heard before wasn't paying any attention to him, but in fact had its back to him, obviously not having noticed his presence. All of the concentration its small brain capacity allowed it was focused on something by the wall, and it chattered to itself, snorting and hissing in curiosity. There was another squeal, and the demon seemed to become angry, raising its arm to strike.
Not wanting to waste the chance and have that fury directed at him, Wesley lunged forward, thrusting the sword through the demon's flesh. It gave the characteristic howl and then collapsed dead, just as the rest of its brethren had done.
Hefting his sword out of the dead corpse, Wesley heard a squeak in front of him, and the object of the demon's attention also moved. He took a step back as the tiny animal skittered past, running through a ray of light long enough for Wesley to spy its white and ginger colouring. The brief glimpse dispelled the feeling of disquiet that had fallen, and he all but dismissed it as harmless. Curiosity almost getting the better of him, Wesley was about to make after it to find out what it was when he heard footsteps approach.
He looked round in the direction of the noise to see what looked like another entrance to a passageway coming from roughly the same direction as Gunn had headed and was relieved to see torchlight glowing gradually brighter. When he looked back again, the creature was gone.
Sure enough, Gunn emerged, axe and all, a fresh coating of demon blood trickling down his face.
"I found one", he announced, clearly pleased with his discovery. Almost tripping on something on the floor, he stopped and looked down at the offending object. "Looks like you got one too."
He nudged the demon over with his foot and whistled.
"Big one, ain't it?" he asked, frowning at Wesley when he didn't get a response. "What's up, man? What'd you see?"
Wesley snapped his attention back to his friend and shook away his thoughts.
"Nothing, just a cat or something, that's all. We should get back and find the others."
Gunn nodded his consent and led the way, using his still working flashlight to illuminate the way. Wesley took one last look and the chamber behind him before following into the shadows.
As they came to the next room, Cordelia's voice floated towards them down the tunnel. Wesley and Gunn looked at each other, well acquainted with that tone, and steeled themselves for the meeting.
"What do you mean you didn't see it? You are such a bad liar. You totally did that on purpose. How would you like it if I got some of this stuff in your hair, huh, mister product user?"
Wesley and Gunn approached to find Cordelia running her fingers through her hair with her 'eew' face on. Angel looked like he was having a hard time concealing one of those rare smiles he got from time to time. Cordelia spotted them immediately and grabbed Wesley's arm.
"Wesley, tell him. He so got demon ick on me as some kind of sick joke. And what's with these demons, anyway? They're, like, extra gooey or something. Just look what it's done to my top. It's ruined! And Angel just made it worse. Tell him!" She punctuated the last few words with a harsh arm shaking, expecting it to produce the desired response from its owner.
Wesley blinked at her, and then looked up at Angel, unsure of what exactly he was supposed to say.
"Oh, that is so typical", Cordelia groaned, pushing his arm away. "You always stick up for him, but what about me? He's the bad guy here, so tell him off already!"
"Look, Cordelia, I don't know what it is you think I should do, but I don't think you need me to fight your battles for you."
"Yeah, right, 'cause you'd be the last person I'd ask."
"And just what is that supposed to mean?" he demanded on the defensive, the pair of them falling into their old bickering habit.
"Children…" Angel chided, stepping in before the situation could escalate. He pushed them both towards the exit, positioning Gunn in between them both just in case.
They continued sniping all the way back to the surface, with Gunn and Angel doing their best to keep them moving along instead of stopping to face one another. Gunn kept on rolling his eyes and tutting and Angel gave the occasional sigh, wondering how it was that they still had the energy for it. All he wanted to do was get back and roll into bed, not have to play referee to the most wearying match of insult throwing and name calling imaginable. It was like both of them degenerated into five year olds every time they'd had a hard day, each grating on the other's nerves when they were stressed or tired.
Angel guessed they used the routine as some kind of comfort thing, and supposed that neither of them had done that badly out of it. It was harmless enough, and their relationship only ever got stronger as time went on, so he let them indulge themselves. They managed to make it back to the warehouse without incident, and they were all so relieved to be free of the confining space below that the pair of them forgot their argument and fell silent.
As they made their way back to the car, Wesley and Cordelia started to pick demon flesh off of one another in the light of the streetlamps, and Angel couldn't help but smile. It was like a silent make up, their way of saying 'I love you really' without having to utter the L word. That, and he was glad that there would be less mess to clean out of his car later.
The group wandered through the empty lot, a welcome breeze stirring through the overgrown weeds poking up through the concrete. They made their way round the stacks of old wooden crates and old chemical drums to the abandoned van, stripped by vandals, that marked the hole they had made in the chain link fence.
As they crawled through one by one to reach the parked convertible on the other side, a small set of twinkling eyes watched them from a hiding place in the shadows. They followed each member with interest, finally coming to rest on the vehicle with which they would make their escape.
Nobody heard the pitter-patter of little feet as they sat, patiently waiting for Angel to start the car. The eyes and the creature that owned them crept silently around to the back of the car, unnoticed by its passengers.
The battle weary members of Angel Investigations set off down the street towards the Hyperion hotel, each yearning for the comforts that would await them when they got home, but completely unaware that they had a tiny stowaway clinging to the underside of the trunk.
To be continued…