Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel". These properties expressly belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, WB Network, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are the author's.

Historical Note: The action in this story takes place after "Prodigal".

Author's Note: I'm sorta stuck into a time line until I get Angel cured. He's still deteriorating from necromongracy in this story, placed after the events in 'CHERUB (parts 1 & 2)'. This is also a warning that I write ANGEL fanfiction, not BtVS.

Can I just mention at this point that the BtVS & Angel writing teams have to be even more absolutely amazing than they appear? (How does someone write dialogue for Xander?) Wow! This was difficult. Much research, much thanks to the many fan sites across the WWW. (Die, Fox, die!) I think I bit off way more than I should have because I'm still chewing. No more crossovers on THIS level!

I lost my typical writing style putting this one together. So hoping it's more effective than annoying. So hoping I didn't cross the line with the opening sequence. I promised myself I wouldn't overly speculate on Angel's character, but I got carried away a little. Only the future episodes will tell me how far off the mark I went and I'll have to come back and do some clean-up. As always, E-age is much appreciated. e.c. 24 Mar 00 (note to: DMP--lemme know if the Giles/Angel confrontation rang true for you...)

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CLOSURE by Evan Como

AGO: Galway, circa 1741

"Look at how much she has grown, Ma!"

The baby spread her arms wide as she danced at the rail of her crib, giggling. She bounced up and down on her chubby legs, pleading to be held. When the teen eagerly reached for her she squealed with delight.

"Here, Liam," his mother said, annoyed, as she swept the child from his grasp. "An eighteen-month old is of no concern to a boy. Go on now and tend to your studies. Your father will be wanting to examine you before supper and you best be prepared for his queries."

The irritation evidenced by his crossed brows and jutting lower lip masked his disappointment. "But, Ma," he whined as his sister held tightly onto his finger. When the baby smiled at him, he melted and ended his protest before bending forward to kiss her downy head.

But, the baby twirled away from his lips as his mother scolded, "LIAM! Your studies! Now off!"

The fringe of the area rug frayed as he swung his foot at it. "You promised I could play with her when she got bigger!" he snapped. "Look how big she is now. That, and SHE wants me to pick her up." Dropping his chin, he looked directly at his mother with the utmost sincerity radiating from his brown eyes. "I promise I'll not hurt her; I'll not make her cry."

His mother looked at him, not unaffected by his spontaneous charm, but she was adamant, "no, I said. Go study."

Liam picked up the baby's doll and threw it across the room, its sawdust innards exploding against the hearth. "But, I always study!" he shouted as his sincerity gave way to fury. "I study every minute of every hour and you never allow me to do anything else!" Even after hearing the front door open his rage continued to mount. "All I want-"

The hand cuffed Liam from behind, ending the statement of desire.

"Da! Let the boy be. He was off to his studies!"

The man pinched his son by the scruff of the neck, turning him 'round, facing him sternly. "That is not how it appeared to me, Missus. I come home from a difficult day's work to find my household in an uproar. You see the outcome of your coddling him-that savage temper makes him unruly, without respect for anyone or anything. Apologize to your mother, Liam. There is God to thank you did not upset the babe."

"God has NOTHING to do with it," Liam seethed.

A fleeting, pained look crossed his father's face before the disciplinarian within him spoke, "if you continue to speak against God, Liam, one day He WILL turn His back on you. There is no Grace for the wicked."

"And no forgiveness."

"Oh, there IS forgiveness, Liam, AFTER repentance. Apologize to your mother," he counseled.

Liam met his father's eyes defiantly. "I'll not apologize when I've done nothing wrong."

"Blaspheming. Arrogance. Disrespect of your parents. Shall I continue your list of transgressions, boy?"

Taking a deep breath, Liam closed his eyes to exhale, letting a calmness wash over him as he prepared...

"You'll do whatever you wish, anyway. Father."

Apathy replaced hostility as the boy withstood his father's scrutiny. The man, for his part, tried to fathom the sudden change he detected, but took it to be yet another aspect of the boy's belligerent nature. He raised his hand...

Before the anger completely dissipated, it blinded Liam from the initial pain of a backhand across his jaw, a force so mighty he lay across the floor completely dazed as his broken lip began to gush, forgetting for a moment what had started THIS quarrel. Another breath, another lazy exhale...

"DA! NOT IN FRONT OF THE CHILD!" his mother screamed, the shrill tone of her voice causing the baby to wail.

"If I have to beat him every hour he's awake, Missus, I'll teach him to mind that temper and behave!"

Liam swallowed hard, resigned to the penalty for yet another episode he had provoked. One more breath. And, as he separated from his self, his father's reply to the woman echoed deeply within him.

Sometime later, Liam returned to the mother tending him as he examined the foreign welts, feeling as though the body he reclaimed as his own was, instead, a borrowed one. In silence, she ignored his gaze as Liam watched her finish her task, long ago having given up hope she would look up and regard him-not to apologize for his father's actions, explain her own inability to protect or console him, or confirm his suspicion that accidents were forever inexcusable.

He was curious if he would reflect in her eyes, some proof he did exist somewhere within her heart. But, through the years, there had never been a word between them about any of this and Liam learned to live with her exclusion. He would have grown to hate her but, nearing adulthood, he already knew to do so would validate the existence of someone who wouldn't confirm his.

So, he endured her silence until she sent him to bed without supper.

Waking early the next morning before his parents rose, Liam crept to his sister's crib side, watching her intently, waiting for her to rise-exactly as he had done every morning since her fourth month. Her serene face fascinated him and he wondered what went on in that wee mind of hers, where he fit into her life.

She stirred.

The tiny awakening Kathy opened her identical brown eyes and smiled at Liam-just as she had every morning since he began his ritual. He was the first person she saw every new morning and her appreciation of his presence caused his heart to sing. Tentatively reaching to her with his finger, he let her grasp onto him until sunlight loomed, until the neighboring cocks crowed the breaking dawn.

And then he stole away.

-0-

Darkness had fallen hours before his trek home, but Liam was mired too deeply in his thoughts to consider the consequences of his tardiness. He had, as every Saturday for the prior six years, helped the Widow O'Dell home from market. And she had, as every Saturday since, been kind to him.

But this Saturday had been different. After noticing his bruises, she had been oddly affected by the inspection as she related how she hadn't noticed his growth during their years together. Her hands lingered longer at they massaged his broadening shoulders, stroked the swell of his maturing chest, as she kneaded the developing musculature of his arms.

He was accustomed to the small caresses, the tender kisses, the way she made him feel less alone. As always, the attention was disconcerting at first, until she helped him relax. With her hands tousling his hair, she said nice things, referring to him as 'special', 'precious', 'beautiful'; making him feel loved.

Or if not loved, at least not despised.

This particular day, though, when she smoothed her face against the fuzz on his cheeks and pulled his hands onto her, Liam surrendered and buried himself deep within her comforting spell.

He felt peculiar as he finished his journey. The Widow didn't need to explain how he had wronged her. That she never wanted to see him again was explicit when she banished him from her life. The cold night air permeated his being, and he shivered not from the temperature, but from its cruel touch reminding him how his physical nature had severed his relationship with the one other person in his life he had never made unhappy.

Fleeing to his room upon entering the house, Liam slept his restless, dreamless sleep huddled in a corner without blanket or pillow. His muscles ached when he woke at last to her fingers tracing his brows. Dawn had barely broken, but by the soft light there he saw her smiling at him. Consumed by her affection, he reached for her, drawing her body into his chest as he buried his face in her neck.

"You shouldn't be here, Kathy," he whispered, unsure if he was speaking or beginning to cry. "I'm a horrid sinner and if they catch you here, they'll know I've turned you wicked." But, try as he might, he couldn't set her free, hugging her so tightly she gasped.

"KATHY!"

Liam held onto the screaming child being torn from his arms and the child, for her part, grabbed onto her brother with all of her childish strength. When she was finally ripped from his embrace, with her came a piece of his shirt.

"Liam," his mother nagged, "you could have bothered to change out of-"

He looked up to her quizzically as she stopped mid-sentence, the color drained from her face as she turned abruptly and left the room with the still-crying Kathy. A moment later his father called from the living room, the tone of his voice filling Liam with dread.

The man brusquely pushed aside the rip in the shirt, disgust replacing concern on his face.

"It was not Kathy's fault my shirt was torn-" Liam defended.

But, his father, intolerant, cut him off. "You dare to come into this house at the hour you entered last night with the stains of fornication on your flesh and attempt to turn blame onto your sister for a rip in your shirt? BOY! You dare to insult my intelligence with your lies and your mockery!" Leading the boy by his nape to the mantle, he leaned down the mirror there. "Look at yourself, Liam. Is this the body of chastity? Or of deceit and downfall?"

"Da, please," Liam heard himself beg, his voice barely audible as he studied himself. The marks on his torso began to throb and he remembered her words as she sent him away. "I did not mean to..."

It was the weightlessness that made him dizzy, as he was tossed backwards. Liam tried to put the events into order, but none of them made sense to him--only that he couldn't seem to manage his life. He continued to fail at finding other paths to be taken, choices to be made other than just the one he was ever able to see. The repercussions of his actions never kept him from repeating them and he cursed himself for being unable to change, despising the punishment for confirming his assumptions.

Distracted by the haze of his thoughts, he fell across a chair. This episode, so unexpected, left him bewildered and his mouth formed silent words against it as he tumbled towards the table.

The sound was deafening-of switch hitting flesh, of voices forfeited to irrational anger, the baby crying. Somewhere within the din, he remembered the Widow's voice when she dismissed him as a man and a ferocity within him was ignited. Grabbing for a pewter candleholder, his being exploded as he swung it in retaliation at his torturer, hearing himself roar in determination of defense no matter what the cost.

Until his father placed a boot into his stomach and sent him hard back against the wall where he collapsed defeated and unarmed, obviously not enough of a man. Yet.

...six, seven, eight... As the switch pounded harder, he turned his eyes away from its relentless advance to gaze at Kathy. Through the bars of her crib, she returned the consideration tearfully, her small palms offered to him as if in invitation to her world. One where God protected the innocent, love-patient, kind, and unconditional-truly existed, and absolution was sympathetic.

He squeezed his eyes shut against her regard and finally ceased resisting the world he had created for himself. A brutal world where he was a vile untamable creature, unworthy to touch or be held, and where insurmountable mistakes emphasized the futility of life. ...sixteen, seventeen, eighteen...

"ANGEL!" she called for the umpteenth time. "PUT THE HAMMER DOWN!"

He didn't acknowledge her presence until after Cordelia pulled the hammer from his grasp, right before his empty fist almost met the nail. "Why'd you take it away? I'm trying to hang a picture!"

She didn't believe him and her expression said as much. "What is wrong with you, Angel? You know you don't want to hang up pictures. You just want to take out your aggression on something. Well, lemme tell you, Little Demon That Fumes, that poor wall won't take much more and I, for one, am sick of listening to the 'bang-bang-bang'. Now sit down!"

Angel thought, for a split-second, to use one of his supernatural abilities to reclaim possession, but Cordelia's arched brow let him know she was onto his line of thinking. He was SURE she could read his mind, no matter how often she denied the accusation. No one could know somebody THAT well...

Irritated, he begrudgingly went to the desk and took his chair. "What? I'm sitting, Cordelia. Now what?" he asked her indignantly.

"What's going on with the Covington case?" When Angel, trying to maintain his bad mood, rummaged through his thoughts and returned stumped she prompted, "the COVINGTON case, Angel."

"I thought Wesley was working on that."

He tried to evade her questioning but, as usual, Cordelia was able to wear him down with the unwavering hazel squint that saw through him so completely.

"We need to have a staff meeting?" he asked sheepishly.

She crossed her arms and squinted harder. "Well, you don't sound very sure of that decision, Angel. Are we or aren't we?" After he gave in and presented the slight nod she wanted, she yelled, "WESLEY!" as she walked into the front office, "get your butt up! Staff meeting."

Wesley's entrance caused Angel some amusement as he watched the lanky man juggle a stack of manila folders on top of a polka dot box, taking a moment to exchange a knowing smile with Cordelia. When the man and his haul made it to a chair without incident, Angel held back a sarcastic round of applause.

"Good morning, Angel," Wesley said, his British accent matching his cheeriest smile. "How are you?"

"I'm good, Wesley. And yourself?"

"Very well. Thank you so much for inquiring."

"Ooooooh! Donuts, Wesley! Cool! Are they still warm?" Cordelia poured coffee into three mugs and took the pot back to the other room.

The aroma of fresh donuts filled the office as Wesley reached into the box and felt one. "Pretty, warm, Cordelia," he answered as she returned, "we could take them downstairs and toss them in the oven for a minute or two."

"Nah. Let's just get this meeting over with before Angel gets in the mood to start tossing things, himself. Hey, Angel, did you notice? No grounds this morning. I think I've got the hang of this coffee thing."

Angel took a sip from his mug, wanting to disagree with her, unable to reason how it was possible for Cordelia's coffee-making techniques to get any worse. When Wesley didn't seem to notice, though, Angel wondered if it was just his sense of taste but, after another sip, he deemed Wesley's taste buds to be the actual undead ones.

"Ready? Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. Lemony filling. You know, Wesley, I bet if they made these donor-filled, Angel would probably get addicted to them, too. You'd just love to sink a sweet fang into one, wouldn't you Angel?"

Angel made a face as he motioned for her to wipe powdered sugar from beneath her nose. "That sounds really gross, Cordelia."

"But, I would hazard a guess you'd try one? At least once?" Wesley looked expectantly at his boss, unsure if the comment would be well-received.

Realizing his initial bad-taste reaction was a cover-up for his curiosity, Angel admitted, "yeah. Well maybe just once. Without glaze, though."

Pleased, Wesley dunked his donut. "Yes. The glaze would fight with the natural glucose."

"See. I TOLD you!" Cordelia stifled her outburst of laughter when she noticed Angel seemed to be paler than usual. "OK, Angel. We get it: 'Drop the subject'." She waved her hand in his face. "Angel? Enough with the Evil Mc Grimacey face."

"Buffy."

Angel stood up far too quickly, unsure if his fever had flared and he was just hallucinating-again-until Cordelia rose just as fast to face the door, too.

The petite young woman, her blonde hair swept into a low ponytail, stepped into the office and inspected the goings-on. "Am I interrupting something?" She ventured, "company business?"

Angel studied Buffy from head to toe. Her slate blue tank complimented her toned arms and her khaki utility trousers were cinched at her trim waist by a thin olive belt, the same olive drab as her heeled sandals. The scarf lazily looped around her throat accented the lovely green of her eyes. Not fond of the color on her lips, however, Angel fondly remembered a method of removal.

"Actually, Buffy, we were in the middle of a staff meeting." Cordelia leaned back across Angel's desk and nudged him. "Right, Angel?"

"Wesley. Really interesting seeing you here." Buffy acknowledged her ex-Watcher with a nod so gratuitously condescending he remained fixed in his chair and she rolled her eyes at his rudeness.

"Buffy," Wesley stated.

"... and new guy," Angel trailed off, his face full of emotion, not all of it good.

The tall, athletically built younger man walked into the room, his brilliant smile directed towards Buffy. "I got a space right in front of the building," he related. His smile remained as he asked Angel, "it's not tow-away, is it?"

"I wouldn't know," he replied, dazed. "I don't park in front during the day."

Cordelia laughed nervously. "Right. He has tenant parking inside." Regaining her composure, she turned to Buffy, incensed. "Wow, Buffy. You brought your new boyfriend with you? Talk about CRU-EL! That sounds like something I would do. So, when did you become such a mega-"

Angel cut her off. "Why are you here, Buffy? I... I mean. It's nice. You've come. But weird. Weird you're here. With him. The new guy. Who has a name." Angel paused for a moment, silently snapping his fingers. "Riley. Right?"

Disturbed, Cordelia turned around and stared at Angel. "You've met him already?" she whispered too loudly.

"No, Cordelia," Buffy answered instead. The anger in her voice was subdued, but there nonetheless. "They've never met. Angel probably observed Riley when he was in Sunnydale on Thanksgiving stalking me."

Riley shook Wesley's offered hand enthusiastically, exchanging introductions before moving on to Cordy, who deliberately backed away, eyeing him suspiciously as he offered his hand to Angel. "Pleased to actually meet you, Angel."

Before he was able to respond to the gesture, however, Riley's arm swung away, taken out of reach by Buffy. Angel swallowed his growl.

"The rude one," Buffy told Riley, "is Cordelia. We went to High School together."

Riley nodded his sandy blond head and smiled again to each of them. "Nice to meet all of you. Really. Looks like we're the first ones here, though, Buffy. I guess we couldn't avoid that after all."

"First ones?" Angel echoed, wondering where Cordelia put his hammer until he heard it move across the floor further outside of his reach.

"Actually, Angel, the whole gang is supposed to be here by now. In fact, that's why Riley and I took the big detour through 'Buffy's Past Life In Los Angeles'. But, they're late. Maybe caught in traffic or something." Buffy, suddenly distracted, turned to the wall. Pointing, she commented, "those don't look like they belong there."

The hammer had disappeared from Angel's thoughts until he heard it move again and he cleared his throat in Cordelia's direction before squaring his broad shoulders. "OK, then. If you have to wait for everyone else, why don't you just go ahead and take a seat out in the front office while we finish our meeting?"

Honestly surprised, Cordy didn't hide her shock when she glanced at Angel before ushering the couple out. "Right, Buffy. You know, just go sit out there and wait. And try not to move stuff around or make any personal calls. This is a business, after all, and we wouldn't want the lines tied up."

Insulted, Buffy replied cynically, "Oh, I can certainly see where you wouldn't want that. Not with the telephones just a-blazin' with those helpless victim phone calls for Misfits, Incorporated."

Cordelia allowed Buffy the comment before slamming the door in her face. "Wow, Angel. I can't believe you just did that!" she said, proud of his reaction and still excited from insulting Buffy. "Way to work through the pain!"

Wesley retook his seat, reaching into the box for another donut as he tried to suppress his amusement. "I, for one, am quite shocked."

Ignoring their praise, Angel retook his seat and smoothed the desktop with his palms before taking another swig of coffee that actually didn't seem to taste half-bad at a cooler temperature. "Alright. So, back to our meeting. What were we discussing?"

"The Covington case is first up, Angel," Wesley answered, lifting the first folder from his stack.

"No. That's not it."

Cordelia giggled. "Donuts, Wesley. We were discussing donuts!"

Angel leaned back in his chair, a smirk testing the corners of his mouth as he agreed, "that's it. Go on. So, cake or raised for those donor-filled?"

-0-

The front door to Angel Investigations opened as the staff finished reviewing their last case. Angel watched Buffy's gang through his louvre office windows as they arrived, almost in a clump whenthey attempted to walk through the door simultaneously.

He already wanted them to leave.

After citing a missed freeway interchange and the infamous Los Angeles traffic the reasons for their delayed arrival, Giles, Willow, Xander and Anya greeted Cordy and Angel warmly. Their hellos for Wesley, however, were considerably less enthusiastic, the difference not unnoticed by the A.I. staff.

"So, Angel, in a nutshell, that's it," Giles finished after an almost fifteen minute explanation.

Angel stared at him, more confused than when Buffy first arrived. "It doesn't make sense, Giles. How could a new Hellmouth be forming right under our noses without me knowing anything about it? I don't buy it. Are you sure your theories are correct?"

Giles seemed to be taken aback by Angel's skepticism. "Well, not 100% sure, but certainly sure enough to bother making this trip, Angel."

"C'mon, Angel. I'd give Giles the benefit of doubt. He's still, like, really smart even if he is still unemployed," Cordelia added. "You might consider moving, Giles, if the job market in Sunnydale doesn't open up, you know. Maybe commute when Buffy needs you. IF Buffy still needs you."

"Wow, Cordy, way to make a man feel loved--that prime technique you just won't let go of."

Angel, ignoring Xander's remark, questioned Cordelia, "why wouldn't WE know, though. I mean, isn't this what the PTB would be having me work on?"

"What if," Wesley theorized, "one of the other 'teams' is working on THIS particular case, Angel? It's not as if you've been included in their loop as often as you were in the past. Maybe they feel that since you're-"

"OVERWORKED! Wesley!" Cordelia cut him off. "You know, running a full time business and all, Angel. Maybe one of the other teams really is on this particular case."

But, Angel continued to be unconvinced. "Still, a Hellmouth is a very serious phenomenon. There should be some warning of its existence. An earthquake, at least."

"That's what we thought, Angel," Willow replied. "I mean, there have been tremors in the region... I know there's nothing specific, but we've been following this for months, now. It has been months, hasn't it?" she hesitantly asked the group who nodded in reply before she finished, "and MONTHS of research have proved a new Hellmouth is being formed here in L.A."

"But if you're unwilling to help us, Angel, I believe we can do this without you," Giles said curtly, displeased with Angel's closed-mindedness.

With everyone looking to him, Angel finally acquiesced. "Look. It's not that I don't want to help."

"Great, then it's settled. Everyone downstairs!" Cordelia exclaimed. "Hey, Angel. You want me to go to the store? It's not like you have strategy munchies on hand."

"Ooooooh. Those cheese puff thingies?" Wesley suggested. When Angel reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of currency, peeling off a few bills to hand to Cordelia, Wesley added, "maybe I should go instead. You know. Because Cordelia NEVER sticks to the list?"

"Hey! Wesley. I buy what's right. Angel doesn't always know. Besides, what are you going to go get besides some cheese puffs? Fibery cereal and fish in a bottle? It's not like this is the Four Seasons. There are only two bathrooms on the premesis and you don't wanna know about the facilities in the rest of the building."

"Look if you guys are going to fight about it, I'll go to the store," Angel said, annoyed by their bickering. His employees backed down and he gave the money to Wesley instead.

"But I like that fibery cereal," came a response from the door.

"Spike?" Angel looked for an explanation but everyone seemed to divert their attention at the same time. "Spike works with you now," he stated incredulously.

"Actually, Angel, old mate," Spike began in his clipped British accent as he swaggered through the doorway, "I don't work with them but they crowned me an honorary member for this really big bru-ha. Don't ask me why. I don't get it myself. Although, people, if you're going to bring a bloke in the trunk, one of you could at least be considerate enough to let him out. You think?"

-0-

It was difficult to ignore the strange voices drifting through his apartment as Angel rode the elevator up to his office. The scene was foreign-to have this many people in his home, to have THESE people in his home. His initial reaction was to leave until they finished their project-let them work without him--but Cordelia strongly urged he just take a few moments upstairs alone instead of leaving his home completely at their mercy.

After finding the hammer in Cordelia's desk, he slammed the top drawer closed a little too firmly. He imagined how good it would feel to shatter every piece of glass surrounding him; to, at the very least, throw the tool through the front door until a thumping sound distracted him for a moment and he got up to find its source.

"You guys!"

Opening his office bathroom door, Xander and Anya fell out, fully clothed, but flustered. Angel pulled the young man up by his shirt, nearly throwing him across the room. "What? You couldn't go to Giles' car?"

"Well, Angel. It's not like this seems to be the best neighborhood and the hallway is kinda creepy."

"Anya. You used to be a demon. I'm sure you've been in creepier places than an office building."

Xander, examining the empty buttonhole on his shirt added, "there are people out there, Angel. You know. It's a workday. And car nookie isn't big fun in the daytime. But, you wouldn't know about that."

"OK, Xander. Time for jokes already?" Angel glanced at his watch, "and, it's still SO early."

Placing a finger to his temple, Xander paused before replying, "it's coming back to me now. If I remember right, no sense of humor goes right along with your no sense of life."

"Guys. Angel, we were just in a mood after the long drive. So, we were feeling frisky."

"Excellent use of the word 'frisky', darling. Way to conjure up visions of feline partay-ing. Meow, meow, meow?"

Angel watched the two of them pawing at each other and felt mildly repulsed, that and a little jealous; both emotions conjuring intense hostility. "Look, Xander, you should watch out who you accuse of having no sense of life. This isn't Slacker Palace and you need to respect it. Can you two just run along now and not do it anywhere near anything that belongs to me?"

"Wow, Angel. I'd swear you weren't doing it anywhere near your belongings either. What's the matter? Cordy not giving it to you enough? At least we know she's not making you any happier than she made me. Or is this the new and improved Evil Angel? More grouch, less bite."

"We're not like that, Xander. You need to get your mind out of the gutter. Although, maybe I'm not taking into consideration that's probably where you're living these days?"

"Interesting choice for you, Angel. Going for the low blow, but Cordy's sucked all the funny right out of you. What'd you suck out of her?"

Anya nudged Xander to get his attention. "She's not your girlfriend, Xander. What do you care what they do to each other?"

"Cordy's still my FRIEND, Anya. Friends watch out for each other."

Angel leaned against his desk, disturbed by the accusation. "She's MY friend, too, Xander. I look out for her. I know you've never been fond of me and most of the reasons why that is, but trust me when I say I would never add Cordelia to that list by hurting her."

"Yeah. Well, I'm not big on shopping in the 'trust Angel' department. People who trust you end up hurt, don't they? Or dead. How's about this little demon aspect she's been explaining that turned her into Cordy Mnemonic? That's cute. Heard it HURTS a lot."

Angel began to speak, but let the subject drop. There was no use in defending himself, he could have written Xander's argument. "Just go."

"You know, you're not very nice. You're rude and you've got a lot of repressed aggression," Anya stated.

"Back off the demon analysis. You might want to spend more time analyzing what Xander's got going on in his life besides being the So-So Humor Boy."

"Good idea. He hangs out with his really good friends who he's loyal to and who are loyal to him. And he makes a very sweet boyfriend. He lives in a basement and helps fight evil." She smiled at Xander, "did I forget anything, sweetie?"

"Pretty much sums it up, Lollypop. Anything in there sound familiar to you, Angel? You know, other the sweet boyfriend and the loyal friends part, we could almost be twins."

"Aren't you forgetting the most important part? I'm not human."

Xander raised 'thumbs up' as he escorted Anya to the staircase. "Nope, Angel," he replied over his shoulder. "I have NEVER forgotten you're not human. And it's great to see you're finally not forgetting it either." Before he closed the door, he leaned back in, out of Anya's earshot, to add, "and keep on remembering that in case Cordy ever wants to forget."

As the door closed behind the couple, Angel felt his rage return to full force, letting it warm him as he considered how best to vent. Barely into the effort, the hammer dropped from his hand when he was wracked with a spasm so severe, he struggled to stay upright.

"Angel. A bad one?" she asked, her face overly concerned as she hurried to him from the stairwell door.

"No one seems to understand I was coming up here to be alone. Don't come near me, Cordelia," he snarled as another pain, deeper within, seemed to twist through his rib cage. He swallowed hard to avoid crying out. When his gut violently wrenched, Angel nearly buckled while his face contorted from the unadulterated agony. He panted softly, forming little 'oh's' to help him through the seizure.

Cordy came at him anyway and reached for the arm he jerked away from her. Her face was too concerned and she looked like she was about to cry. Despite his assurances to Xander, Angel wanted to smack the pity apparent on her pretty face, but his shoulders went numb.

"GET AWAY FROM ME," he spat at her, making Cordelia freeze where she stood.

"But, Angel. I want to help."

"Now? You want to help me now? Where were you last night? Out on some date or at home painting your nails?"

"That's not fair, Angel," she replied so softly he barely heard her. "You won't let me help you more."

"Oh, it's MY fault you can't help me?"

Cordelia bent down and picked up the hammer. As she held it out for him, she made no attempt to hide the hurt he had inflicted. "Yes, Angel. It is your fault. It's your fault you did this to yourself in the first place and it's your fault you won't let anybody make it any easier for you. People care for other people, Angel. That's how they get through these things. You should have learned that after Doyle died."

He leered at her. "That's great for people, Cordelia, but I'm not 'people' and you're not a hospice volunteer."

She barely missed his knee when she dropped the hammer on the floor before turning to run downstairs.

"I couldn't help but overhear..." A different British voice, refined.

Exasperated, Angel hadn't detected Giles' presence as the older-looking man entered the office after returning from his car for a few books. "I was trying to be alone..."

"Yes, well. I can imagine how all of us are suddenly quite the imposition on you. Invading your privacy so impromptu-like." Giles gave him a cursory glance as he passed on his way back to the apartment. "You're ill," he stated.

"It's a private matter, Giles. I'd prefer we leave it at that."

"Of course. If there's anything I can do if you're not feeling well... Perhaps we should all just go?" When Angel glared at him in reply, he finished agreeably, "yes. A private matter."

"I'm dying," Angel confessed to Giles' back, waiting for the man's graying head to bob in acknowledgement before he finished, "don't mention it to Buffy."

Giles took a deep breath, finally turning and really taking a look at Angel. "I was wondering when we walked in. The color in your cheeks, you seem like you have a fever. I'm curious, of course, even though I know I'm prying."

Angel sighed heavily. "You're a Watcher. You see with Watcher's eyes. You have to have some idea."

"Worst case scenario, of course."

"Worst case scenario."

Giles bowed his head and moved back to Angel's desk where he set down his books. Angel struggled through another obvious episode of some sort before taking one of the chairs, prompting Giles to join him.

"I'll have Cordelia get the books to you. So let her know when you make arrangements for them."

Removing his glasses and wiping them absently against his sweater's hem, Giles mulled over the revelation, seemingly stunned by the news. "The books? Oh, yes, of course. How long have you got?"

"Maybe a couple months before I have to have to have something drastic done."

"Hmmmmm. So this may well be our last conversation. Ever," Giles began, oblivious to Angel's displayed discomfort. "I must have rehearsed what I'm about to say to you over the years at least a hundred times and you've never spoken, so please don't now. In fact, the fantasy of this has always been that you were completely devoid of any type of existence."

Angel, barely able to hold eye contact, waited during Giles' unendurable silence as the man collected his thoughts from a million miles away, probably trying to decide where to begin. Resisting the urge to rise from the chair and flee from a conversation he had hoped never to hear, Angel instead remained seated as his flesh began to crawl on the inside. He wanted to prompt Giles, to get him started on what he hoped would be a long-winded speech. ANYTHING was preferable to what was physically happening.

"I just realized this probably isn't going to be anything like how I imagined. So much has changed." Giles' laugh was strained, underlying his uneasiness. "I had always presumed when you lost your soul, Angel, I finally understood the nature of a vampire. That there was YOU, and there was the demon, completely separate, that wasn't you. But, it wasn't until my own recent experience that I truly understood they ARE one and the same. I can reflect on first meeting you and KNOW what you were going through. The isolation of being apart from your own kind, of possessing a soul, your intelligence, all your emotions placed inside that lifeless physical vessel where they were to be trapped for an immortality. It surprises me still how you maintain any semblance of sanity. Your torment has got to be-"

Giles sighed heavily as he studied Angel compassionately.

"I don't believe you ever stopped being human on some level. That made you different from your counterparts. Oh, they remember the experience, but you do more than remember. You know what you are. You understand what you're not. But you appreciate what you were. And it's more than being a mimic. All my life I was led to believe that man is good and demon, evil. All demons, all the time. When we first met, you challenged that credence. I was willing to relax my faith...

"But, in retrospect of the crimes you committed against humanity, you just may be the first-maybe the only--one of your kind to truly conceive how to meld human and demon together perfectly. Vampires have always been a particularly nasty breed, but you defied the laws of the condition, Angel.

"And because you've never lost connection with what it was like to be human, you preyed on us so effectively. Knew what made us hurt the most. I shiver to think how you learned your craft. You understood how to insinuate your brand of viciousness so effectively that I, for one, am still recovering. I look into the mirror every morning and see a man who was weak enough under unrelenting torture to betray the entire human race. I can thank you for that as much as I can thank you for the friendly competition you've provided.

"And now. You. Sitting in front of me. Dying. Back to being that wonderful chameleon you were in the beginning. Able to be all things to everybody, but have you ever been true to yourself I wonder? Sure, you're filled with remorse. You care about the people in your life. Cared enough about Buffy to finally set her free. And now there's Cordelia. What is your grand purpose for her, I wonder?"

Angel wondered, too. He wondered that every day.

"When your friend Doyle died, how did you feel? Probably missed him instantly, didn't you? Felt rage over his death-that he had been taken away before you had a chance to really invest yourself in his life, and he in yours. The intimacy that could have been achieved, but the possibility was raped from your grasp as if you hadn't earned the right to care about someone who may have been able to return the affection.

"That was how I felt when you took Jenny's life from me. At least Doyle didn't die a senseless, brutal death designed to be the centerpiece of your grand machinations. Maybe if Jenny was in the middle of restoring your soul, it would have been, at the very least, a retaliatory execution. But you just murdered her, making her entire existence inconsequential. To prove what, Angel? How much power you possess over the innocent?"

There it was. THAT topic. Angel held an imaginary breath and closed his eyes. The memories of the exhilaration of Jenny Calendar's death echoed through him. How he had twisted her head so quickly, so violently. With such force it had taken forever to realign her neck in Giles' bed. He couldn't find the remorse for the act. He knew it was somewhere, though. Buried under wanting Doyle to walk through the door...

Giles examined Angel, misunderstanding the anguished look. "How do you reconcile yourself to Jenny's death, all of those other friends, lovers, parents, children throughout the years? I'm finally moving past her. I won't forget. But, at least I'm moving on."

The voices. Jenny. Thousands of crimes. Crying voices. A child screams... No progress.

"I wish I could tell you how much I HATE YOU, but I can't. You have tested the boundaries of my humanity so often I am at a loss to despise you. Perhaps it's the very nature of humankind to feel we have the power within us to individually heal those who are most in torment. I know I personally have considered how to reach that festering wound making you, on the surface, the most amazing being on the face of the earth and, inside, so reprehensible your acts defy description..."

"You can't heal me. Nothing can."

"Your disease, no. I don't suppose some great miracle is going to pull you from the brink this time around, Angel. You'll die and my humanity will find me mourning your departure. It's the same humanity that won't ever let me forgive you, but nothing within my heart would allow me to wish this disease even on you."

The two men locked eyes for a moment before Giles collected his books and rose.

"You look bewildered, Angel. I can't believe anything I said surprised you in any way." When the elevator arrived, Giles pulled open the grate and waited for a response.

"You don't seem, I don't know... Furious?"

"I'm not. That IS odd, isn't it? I am quite beyond anger, Angel, but I still ache. That will never change when I recall these events--any of these events. Even this conversation. Of course, this topic is closed as soon as I close this grate. No mention of it to Buffy, no need to bring it up between us again. You have led a remarkable life, Angel, and have been a remarkable influence-whether for good or evil. And I believe, as I stand here, I have made the right decision to remember only the good."

"But I'm not good," Angel reminded the man in front of him.

Giles closed the grate slowly as he considered Angel's comment. "I think you summed it up best, yourself, the demon inside amplifies the original man. So, perhaps most of you is NOT good, but somewhere inside of you at one time existed a gentle and loving person. The soul you possess, Angel, is your own and the best part of whoever you were at one time all entwined with the vampire you exist as, but there nonetheless. You love, you care, you protect. You, Angel. That is YOU. And I hope, at some point before you depart this dimension, you can know THAT person and find him some peace."

-0-

Trying to block out the noise from his guests as he cleaned up after preparing their lunch, Angel could see Cordelia, from the corner of his eye, sitting with her old acquaintances. Her attention to their conversation seemed forced, evidenced by the insincere smile across her lips. She looked his way occasionally, knowing he was watching her.

Uncharacteristically, she picked up an empty glass and brought it to him.

"Thanks."

Cordelia leaned back against the counter with her arms folded and looked at him harshly. "What else?"

"I'm sorry I was mean."

"I don't believe you, Angel."

"Alright, then. Fine. Apology not accepted now go back to your friends."

"You are being such a dick!"

Her accusation prompted him to stop cleaning and he met her eyes. "I'm having a hard time with this, if you don't mind, Cordelia. If you weren't so self-centered, you'd take that into consideration..."

"Why? Cuz Buffy's here with her new beau and you want to sit in the dark and be all mopey-dope about it?"

"I want to be alone. I do. I NEED to be alone. It's too loud in here and there's too many of THEM and I..." He paused to relax before he started throwing things. "Why are you here?"

"Ummmmmmm. I work for you?"

"Is it just work?"

"Noooooooo. I'm not just here for work, Angel. These guys used to be my gang, as embarrassing as it is to admit that. But don't you dare think I'm off the clock."

"I keep thinking you're here for something else. Some purpose other than the job and, I don't know... They think you're here for some other purpose."

"Pfffffff! Angel. What do you care what they think? They'll be gone once they dismantle their Hellmouth, never to return again. Who calls? Who e's? We do big work here in Los Angeles. We're as important as they are. Maybe more because we're in a REAL city with big time demonic trash to take out."

"So, you're not staying for me?"

"Hey, Angel. What if you're staying here for me? What if I work for you and I'm VisionGirl to keep me from leaving L.A. until you're finished doing whatever you're supposed to be doing for me? You ever think of it THAT way? You're one to talk about self-centerism."

Her suggestion made his supposition worse. That, and it still seemed like SHE was the self-centered one. "I don't want to hurt you, Cordelia. And I don't want to hurt your feelings, especially in front of them."

"Good. Then apologize and don't do it again. Ever."

"I did-"

"No, Angel. You apologized for being MEAN. You're not sorry about being mean. You want to be a big ball of twist and shout over what you're going through and I can appreciate that. But, the fact of the matter is you can be angry without spewing all over everyone, me especially. Right? On the other hand, if you go mop up the city with Spike over there you won't have to apologize to anyone for kicking his ass."

He smiled at her fantastic suggestion. "I'm sorry for hurting your feelings. And, I am sorry for being mean TO YOU. Apology accepted?"

"Sure, Angel. Hey, Riley."

"Am I'm disturbing something private?"

"Riley. What can I do for you?" Angel tried to catch Cordelia's attention before she left, hoping she would engage Riley in conversation. But when she scurried off, it made him wonder if she had accepted his apology after all.

"OK. Ummmmm. Hey. GREAT lunch! You're a good cook. And, GREAT place. Really nice. The furniture is-"

"Riley?"

"Yes sir?"

The 'sir' hurt and he hoped it didn't show on his face. "First, don't ever call me sir again. Do I look like your Dad or something?"

"I apologize for that. Actually don't know why I said it. Maybe my military background. I'm in the Army, you know. Or maybe you don't. I don't know how much Buffy has told you about me. Or if you and Buffy still talk. She mentioned you were older and then I see how you've got your own business, a really established life... So... How old ARE you?"

Angel imagined taking the dishrag and stuffing down the chatty young man's throat. Instead, he over-enthusiastically wrung it out after wiping down the counter top quickly. "What's on your mind, Riley?"

"Ummmm. Just trying to make conversation. You know. Trying to move right along past that awkward stage of where you're the ex and I'm Buffy's present-"

"Stop. Please."

"I'm sorry. This isn't going well. Lemme try again."

"No. Don't try again. Don't try at all. Let's just avoid. You don't speak to me and I won't-" Angel caught himself looking forward, straight into Buffy's eyes. She turned away quickly and he frowned. "Did Buffy put you up to this?" he asked scornfully. "Does she think because we have her in common that we're supposed to bond and be best friends?'

"Well. No. It was my idea," Riley stammered. "If this is too uncomfortable, there's a hotel--"

Angel was pretty sure he just walked away from the conversation. His temper spiked and he went blank for a moment before finding himself in front of Buffy who was impeding his progress up the stairs to his office.

Willow, unable to actually hear their hushed words, read the familiar body language that told her Buffy and Angel were not having the friendliest of conversations. Attempting to bury her nose in her book, her eyes kept returning to the former couple. She turned to find Riley, but instead found herself face to face with Spike.

"He makes her feel alive. You can see it, can't you, Red?"

"What?" she asked. Embarrassed, her eyes finally stayed where she put them. "I'm not seeing. Not looking to see. Vision returned to written page..."

Spike placed his face in the cradle of Willow's neck, barely touching her skin with the tip of his nose. "The way he makes her different? The way she's NOT around GI Joe. Angel makes her feel things, Willow. THINGS. She has a bleedin' hard-on for him. Look at how angry he makes her. It's not just her effect on him. He's whipped for all time--that's for certain, but she's not over him yet, I don't believe. There's something inside of her..."

Willow leaned away from the vampire, unwilling to absolutely trust behavior modification. "He'll always be special to her, Spike. That's all. It's got to be weird, you know. But, she's over him. She loves Riley now. I'm pretty sure of that. Over Angel. Done. Happy with her new, fewer-centuried man. Better life."

"Oh, it's not better, Willow, if she's not feeling anything. I bet it's not just her cheeks that are flushed... Like yours. Aren't you pretty when you're so embarrassed? But, you're not so innocent any more, Willow, where you don't recognize what's going on?"

-0-

"Wesley."

"Angel."

"Why aren't you downstairs with everyone else? They could probably use an extra pair of eyes, or hands."

Wesley, not amused, merely blinked at Angel before to returning to his case file.

"Wesley?"

"Why aren't YOU downstairs, Angel? You've got body parts, too."

"I asked you first."

"I asked you second."

"I'm your boss."

Placing his file aside, Wesley twisted his seat and glanced up into Angel's face. "Pulling rank. Rather beneath you, but the grin is a cute touch. Is that to persuade me to insinuate myself into a situation I know I'm not wanted in?"

Angel put the charm away, replacing it with interest in one of Wesley's files. "The Flores Auto Lot heist. Here, I'll help you. We can spread it out on my desk..."

"Why, Angel? Now you're trying to do damage control on my bruised feelings."

"Or maybe mine? You know, misery loves company."

"Fresh out of Cordelia, then, are we? So, I'll do in a pinch. You need to work on your employee management skills, Angel, because nothing you're saying is making me feel better."

"I'm trying, Wesley. I'll admit I'm not good at this, but I'm trying. Now, it's your turn. You try."

"As if breathing her name, she magically appears... I'll let our associate continue to be your emotional crutch, thank you very much. It's her cut-to-the-Cordelia-Chase candor you respond to so well."

Before Angel had a chance to deny the accusation, Cordelia grabbed his arm and began pulling him away.

"Angel! You've got guests so stop trying to run away from them. We have Wesley to do that."

Wesley's face emphasized, 'See what I mean?' while he announced, "well, I've put in my eight, so if you don't need me for anything else-- Cordelia? Any piercing migraines on deck?"

"Nah. I've got a dull throb, though. Maybe I'm on standby for this Hellmouth thing."

Snorting cynically, Wesley stated, "you wouldn't be the first to feel that way. Page me if you need me."

Angel felt bad for the man. "Why don't you go?" Catching himself before making the situation any worse, he finished, "go investigate the Hellmouth. You know. Personally, Wesley."

"Pardon me?"

"Giles has a pretty good idea of the vicinity where it's forming and you can do all the kinetic and paranormal testing-"

"Great idea, Angel!" Cordy agreed enthusiastically as she walked to her desk. Tossing Angel's keys across the room, she added, "and if you take Angel's car, he can't bail."

"Well, I..."

"C'mon, Wesley. You know you want to help. And you're REALLY good at this stuff." Angel leaned closer and conspiratorially added, "besides, Giles isn't as good at getting his hands dirty."

Snatching the keys dangling from Angel's fingers, Wesley seemed less than pleased to be agreeing. "Don't think the saccharine charm you're oozing has anything to do with my decision, Angel. One day you'll come up against an occasion where I'm not going to let you have your way," he muttered as he made his way to the opening elevator.

"Hey, again."

"Riley. Look-"

Riley held up his hand as he approached, to cut Angel's objection. When he noticed Cordelia, his brows knit in frustration. "I just want to talk. You know. Just one friendly, simple conversation. In private, preferably. Is there someplace we can go?"

Angel nodded his head affirmatively after Cordelia checked the blinds and motioned upstairs.

-0-