Chapter One

Wolfram and Hart 2004

Illyria pushed Harmony to the side with no more thought then we give a fly. She stormed into Angel's office and planted her hands palm down on the desk with enough force that Angel heard the wood crack.

He looked up at her and tried to maintain the bored expression on his face. "You wanted something?"

"You are the ruler of this company and these people," Illyria stated.

Angel looked at her quizzically. "I'm the CEO of Wolfram and Hart."

"This is your kingdom," she said.

"In a manner of speaking, I suppose so," he agreed.

"Then it is your fault I am here trapped in this fragile shell," Illyria said.

Angel cocked an eyebrow at her. "I'm not really seeing where you're going with this."

"Perhaps not, but you will." She reached over and grabbed him by his shirt front. She jerked him over the desk easily. "You will pay for your blunder," Illyria said as she tossed him across the room. She flicked her wrist and the very air he flew through slowed and became liquid and distorted.

New York 1996

The homeless man watched the pile of trash and debris with sharp eyes. He sat in a crouch, every muscle tense, waiting for something. That something came in the form of a huge rat as it squeaked and ran out of the pile. The man grabbed the rat up with lightening quick reflexes. It squealed as he sank his teeth into its body. After just a few seconds the man tossed the body of the rat aside and waited patiently, un-moving for the next rat to scurry out from its place.

The man tossed the body of a final rat to the side and stood up fluidly. He walked through the alleyways, keeping close to the walls and out of sight. There was nothing about this man that distinguished him from every other homeless person on the streets of New York City. He was dirty and walked with a shuffle, his head down, his tangled, long, dirty hair in his face, if one watched very carefully though it was apparent that the shuffle was a bit put on as if he did it to fit in. He stopped and sniffed the air like a dog would.

"Get the hell out of the way, street scum," the man driving the street washer yelled.

The homeless man ducked his head even lower and scrambled out of sight down another alley. He glanced around cautiously as he approached a burned out building. He moved aside a piece of plywood that covered a broken window near ground level. He slipped through the window and dropped down to the stack of abandoned wooden boxes. He slid the plywood back in place and then jumped down to the concrete floor of the basement he lived in.

The homeless man stopped and sniffed the air of the dark basement. There was someone else here.

"Alright, I know you're here, come on out," he said. His voice did not match his appearance. His voice was smooth, deep and soft, like velvet or a length of silk.

A girl, no more then fourteen, stepped out from the shadows. She was bedraggled and dirty, much too thin. Her dark hair hung in dirty, lank strands around her face. Her blue eyes were impossibly big in her elfin face. "Sorry, Mister, I didn't mean to crash. I just wanted a place to stay tonight." The girl cast her eyes up to the ceiling a moment. "All the other floors have a bunch of druggies and pervs sleeping there."

The man squinted his eyes and studied the girl carefully. "What makes you think I'm not either of those?"

"I don't know, but if you were you'd probably be staying on the upper floors with them instead of in this basement," the girl reasoned.

The man nodded. "You can stay here tonight." He beckoned her over to the far corner away from all the windows. She followed very closely. He could see in the dark. She couldn't. He squatted down and fumbled in the dark. There was a hiss and the smell of sulphur as he struck a match and lit the nub of a candle. He fitted it into the neck of an old wine bottle and gestured for the girl to sit down amid the pile of blankets he'd gathered.

"I'm Ariel," the girl said as she sat down.

The man smiled very slightly at her. "I'm Angel."

*

Ariel stayed in the burned out basement one night. That one night turned into a week and the week turned into three. She gave Angel a purpose, someone to take care of. He made sure she was tucked in for the night and then he slipped out of the basement through the window. He had rats to catch and he wanted to get Ariel something for breakfast. If he was at the donut shop a couple of hours before it opened sometimes he could get the day old donuts when they threw them out.

Angel was walking back from the donut store when he heard the scream. He was almost certain it was Ariel. He gripped the box of donuts under his arm and used his preternatural speed to get to her. There were three men gathered at the dead end of the alley. Angel thought he recognized them as regulars from the upper floors of the building he lived in. One of them held Ariel from behind, his hand over her mouth. Her eyes looked around wildly, scared. One of the other men was busy unbuckling his belt buckle. He unzipped his pants and advanced toward Ariel. She kicked and tried to scream.

"For God's sake Jerry, get her legs. If the little bitch kicks me in the nuts I'm gonna have your head," the man said.

"Not before I have yours," Angel growled.

The men turned their attention to him. "Well if it isn't the little piss ant that sleeps in the basement. We thought you were a mute eunuch."

"I'm impressed you know words longer then one syllable. Let the girl go," Angel said.

"What if we don't?" the man named Jerry challenged him.

"I'm going to make you very sorry," Angel promised.

The men laughed loudly. One of them threw a sloppy punch at Angel. He grabbed the man's arm and slung him into the brick wall hard enough that he was sure the man saw stars. The man with the unbuckled pants gulped hard and started to do his pants back up. He backed away stuttering. Angel glared at him, his eyes flashing yellow. The man ran.

"Looks like it's just me and you, Jerry. Now let her go," Angel said.

"What? You doing her?" Jerry asked.

"I'm not going to tell you again. Let her go,"

"Make me," Jerry said.

Angel moved faster then any human. Before Jerry had a chance to blink he was in front of him. He slammed the butt of his hand against Jerry's chin. Ariel dropped to the ground.

"Ariel, run. Get back in the building. I'll be right there," Angel said as he caught Jerry in the gut with a roundhouse kick. Jerry slumped to the ground. Angel grabbed the man by the throat and pinned him to the wall. He crouched low and looked in the man's eyes. "Never touch her again."

He stood up slowly and casually walked over to where he'd dropped the box of donuts.

"I'll get you, you son of a bitch and the little whore too," Jerry choked out as he spit blood from where he bitten though his bottom lip when Angel hit him in the chin.

"I mean it, Jerry. Never touch her again. You won't live through the next encounter," Angel promised.

He picked the donut box up and slipped inside the basement. He covered up the window and then made his way over to where Ariel had already lit a candle. It was a glowing bastion of light in the darkness.

"Are you okay?" Angel asked the girl as he sat down.

Ariel nodded. Tears streaked her face and her eyes still looked scared. "Yeah, thanks. They-"she stopped and stared hard at the flame of the candle.

"Why did you leave before daylight anyway?" Angel asked. He'd told her to never leave the basement when it was daylight. Night time was his hunting time. He couldn't protect her then. In the daylight she was fairly safe.

"I had a bad dream. I went looking for you," she said in a very small voice.

Angel sighed and handed her the box of donuts. Ariel took a glazed donut from the box and devoured it. She took another and ate this one a bit more slowly.

"My real name isn't Ariel you know. It's from that movie, The Little Mermaid. She was so pretty and I sort of wanted to be her, so when I ran away I just decided to be her. I bet Angel isn't your real name is it?" Ariel said.

Angel swallowed and shook his head.

"So what is it?" Ariel asked.

It took Angel a moment to answer. "It doesn't matter. I'm not that person anymore. I haven't been in a very long time." He laid down in the blankets, turning his back to the girl and her questions.

*

Ariel reminded Angel of his little sister, Kathy. She reminded him of what Kathy might have grown up into if he hadn't killed her. It was both wonderful and painful to be around Ariel. She bubbled with so much life and so much love. She didn't understand why Angel wouldn't go to the park with her during the daytime and she didn't understand why she always had to stay in the basement after dark. She said she got bored while Angel was away.

He stayed with her as much as possible. He told her stories and when he ran out of those he pilfered comic books from garbage dumpsters and read those to her. Occasionally he'd find a book to bring her. He brought her a doll one time that he'd found in the dumpster. It was missing a leg but you couldn't tell under the long dress. Ariel had scoffed and told him she was too old for dolls, but he noticed that she slept with the doll every night.

Angel snuffed out the candle flame with his thumb and index finger. He tucked the blankets a bit more firmly around Ariel's chin and then slipped through the basement window into the night sky. He had gotten a late start tonight. Ariel had wanted him to tell her stories until she fell asleep, then she had struggled to stay awake in order to listen to them.

He had to wander a little further from his alley to find rats that night. He didn't like wandering so far from Ariel. She had nightmares often and when she woke screaming she looked for him. Angel found an alley where the rats were ripe. It didn't take long for him to catch enough to satisfy his hunger. He never really got full on rat's blood. It was thin and had a bitter taste to it, but he didn't have many options. Rat's blood would have to do. Angel stopped by the bakery and managed to nab a loaf of sweet bread off the very top of the garbage dumpster. He walked back toward the basement.

He broke into a run, the bread dropped and forgotten when he smelled it. He rounded the corner and saw her little body lying broken in the alley. A roar clawed its way out of his throat as he gathered her in his arms. Her throat had been slit. He rocked her against his chest, tears streaming from yellow, feral eyes. He never heard the other girl coming.

"Out a little close to dawn, aren't you vampire?" a girl's voice said.

Angel looked up, feral yellow eyes glowing in the pre-dawn light. He hadn't completely shifted into game face, but only through force of will. He hadn't been able to keep his eyes from going yellow.

"It's not what you think," Angel said.

"Yeah, tell that to the little girl you just killed," the girl said.

"No, I didn't-I found her like this," Angel carefully laid Ariel's body on the dirt. He stood up slowly, not wanting to startle the other girl.

"Tell it to some one who actually cares," the girl said as she whipped a stake from her pocket.

"Slayer-you're a slayer," Angel swallowed hard.

"Yup, the one and only, India Cohen, wish I could say it was a pleasure to make your acquaintance but it's not," India said. She jumped at him, catching him in the jaw with a graceful spinning hook kick. Angel stumbled backwards. He caught himself against the garbage dumpster. He glanced down at Ariel's body just before India slammed an uppercut into his chin. Angel fell back, his elbows cracking against the hard dirt of the alley. He shook his head, trying to clear the stars he saw dancing before him.

He barely had time to register it before the stake slammed into his heart. Within seconds Angel, the vampire with a soul, was dust beside the body of the little girl he'd tried so hard to save.

Wolfram and Hart 2004

Lilah Morgan gathered up file folders and notes. She stood and smoothed down her professional, pewter gray skirt. She walked out of the office on heels higher then most women could stand in. She paused in front of Holland Manners' office and glanced at her watch. She had an eleven o' clock meeting with him to discuss the swiftly approaching apocalypse.

"What are you waiting for, Lilah? Someone to open the door for you?" Lindsey asked stepping up beside her.

Lilah smirked, "I didn't realize you were invited to this little discussion."

"Personally, by Mr. Manners himself," Lindsey said opening the door.

Lilah elbowed him and smiled sweetly. "Ladies first, Linds."

"I don't see any ladies here," Lindsey replied just as sweetly. They sat down at the long table in tandem. Holland Manners was already there along with half a dozen of the top executives at Wolfram and Hart.

"Lilah, Lindsey, so glad the two of you could make it. I've just spoken to the Senior Partners and it seems we have a problem," Holland said.

"Yes, I got your memo, Sir. I brought along all the information I've got on the apocalypse and there do seem to be some discrepancies in some of the notes," Lilah said.

"Indeed there are. The partners are not happy. Apparently things are not as they should be for this apocalypse. Lindsey, Lilah, I'm counting on both of you to make this right," Holland said.

"Of course, Sir. Where would you like for us to start?" Lindsey said.

"We are missing one of the key players for the apocalypse. The Senior Partners aren't sure what occurred but apparently there are several prophecies mentioning this particular player. I need you to find out what happened to Angelus, the vampire with a soul," Holland said.