Disclaimer: The title came from Disney's 'The Hunchback of Notre-Dame', so I don't own it, 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'Angel' came from Joss Whedon, so I don't own them, and 'Charmed' came from Constance M. Burge, so that's not mine either.
Feedback: It's here to be read; let me know that it has been
AN: For the Buffy and Angel cast, this is set just after the Season 4 episode 'Pangs', so Doyle's still alive, Buffy isn't dating Riley (Thank God!), Spike's just got that chip in his head, and Angel dropped in on Sunnydale to help out with a crisis. For 'Charmed', this is set somewhere between 'Brain Drain' and 'Black as Cole', so Prue's dead, Paige is around and living with Piper and Phoebe, and Cole's still Belthazor rather then human, the Source, or a god-powerful nutcase.
What Makes a Monster?
Angel looked back at the house behind him. Even though he couldn't see them, he knew that Buffy was in there right now, celebrating their latest victory with her friends, sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, having once again defeated a force determined to wipe out life as they knew it…
He couldn't go back.
He couldn't. The risk was too great. Just a few minutes alone with her, and he'd be trying to convince himself that he could stay around her without losing control, that staying with her was what was best for her…
He couldn't go back.
He turned around and started to walk back towards the car park where he'd left his car.
He could only go forward…
Then suddenly five men sprang up around him, all dressed in black outfits and carrying large, expensive-looking weapons, which they were pointing at him.
Angel only took a few seconds to run over his options; since he didn't resemble a wanted criminal to the best of his knowledge, that ruled the possibility that they'd targeted him by mistake, and, since there wasn't anything else unusual about him, it thus followed that they knew about him being a vampire. Based on their scents, they were definitely human, but there was something different about them that he couldn't quite identify. It was almost as though they were on drugs or something…
Then one of them raised their weapon and started to squeeze the trigger.
Angel didn't hesitate; he grabbed the weapon and yanked it out of the man's hand. He felt something strike him in the chest as the man automatically squeezed the trigger before losing the gun- it seemed like an electrical weapon of some kind, he thought, but he shook it off; it may have managed to knock out a younger vampire, but at his age it was hardly much of a threat. The gun now in his hands, he hit the man in the head with the blunt end of the weapon, knocking him out for the count but leaving the other four standing.
Angel didn't even stop to think now.
Ducking to the ground to make himself less of a target, he lashed out with a sweeping kick at the surrounding men, knocking two of them down before they could even fire. As the last two men had just started to take that sight in, Angel had leapt back onto his feet, grabbed the ends of their weapons, yanked them out of their hands, and then hit them both in the end as a finishing touch.
Angel watched as they collapsed to the ground in front of him, before he crouched down and quickly checked their pulses. There were alive, and apparently unharmed beyond a mild concussion, but they definitely wouldn't be getting back up any time soon…
Then something struck him in the back, and he collapsed to the ground, only vaguely registering as he fell that he should have kept an eye out for any potential threats from behind…
Riley looked down at the vampire in front of him. He still couldn't understand it; most vampires they'd encountered had instantly shifted into their true faces and tried to kill the humans around them after they'd been discovered. This one had done neither; not only had he retained his human visage, but, when fighting, he seemed to have attempted to stop the soldiers without killing them, only knocking them out, or at least off their feet.
Still, Riley thought to himself, as he slid his taser back into its holster, he's the same as the other vampires in the essential regards.
True, the vampire had required almost twice as much power to go down as most of the others they'd encountered, but still.
"Ugh…" Forrest grunted, as he hauled himself back onto his feet from where the vampire had knocked him over and glanced over at Riley. "Next time, could you possibly get the bad guy before he knocks me down?"
Riley shrugged. "Sorry; had to make a detour to avoid being seen." He looked down at the vampire, curious to see what it looked like. It was a tall male, with a pale, handsome face and dark, spikey hair, dressed in a long black leather duster, black trousers, and a black shirt.
Riley also noticed a couple of stakes under the coat, but decided it didn't mean anything; vampires were so aggressive at times he wouldn't put it past them to be prepared to kill their own kind if the need arose for it.
"Take those stakes off him and get him down to the lab," he said, looking over at Forrest. "I'm sure Walsh will want a look at this one as soon as possible."
"Damnit!" Cole yelled, as he hit the ground, rolled, and leapt back onto his feet, spinning around to face his adversary once again. Ever since he'd destroyed the Oracle while trying to save Piper, the Source had been sending progressively deadlier demons after him; this current one had dark blue skin, a slight ride along the middle of its head, and could both throw fireballs and create energy blades out of thin air.
Quite frankly, the bastard was tough.
Cole hated it when they were like that; it made everything so much harder.
As he got back to his feet, his eyes briefly met the demon's, and he grinned; it was evidently surprised that he'd managed to dodge that last swipe with its blade, and hadn't quite realised which way he'd dived.
Quickly, Cole raised his right hand, summoned an energy ball, and threw it at the demon, striking it in the chest just as it realised where he'd gone. His opponent briefly dazed by the blast, Cole leapt forward, grabbed its head in both his hands, and twisted it sharply, smiling slightly at the loud crack the neck made.
He watched the hunter collapse to the ground, and smiled.
Good riddance, he thought to himself.
Then the smile faded as the demon's body started to crackle and shake; evidently, whatever it did after it was killed wasn't as simple as just collapse on the ground. He didn't know what would happen once the energy reached critical mass, but he doubted he wanted to be there when it happened.
Cole started to shimmer away, his mind already set on getting him back home to San Francisco… to Halliwell Manor… to Phoebe…
And then the demon exploded while Cole was still in mid-shimmer. The sheer magical force of the blast sent Cole reeling, making him lose focus just long enough for him to get pushed into the shimmer like a boat in a whirlpool.
Tearing through the nether dimension where he always went when shimmering, Cole briefly couldn't tell where he was. Normally he was able to control where he went, but with the shock of that explosion to deal with, right now all he could do would be to try to sense something familiar and hope that it wouldn't be the Underworld.
Reaching out with his mind as he fell through the swirling greyness around him, he tried desperately to find some kind of safety net, something magical and powerful…
Then he sensed something. It didn't exactly seem like white magic- it reminded Cole unpleasantly of the Source- but he was sure that, if he halted a few hundred metres before he reached the source of the 'line', he'd manage to avoid running into whoever, or whatever, this was…
He grabbed onto it and, like a drowning man, hauled himself out of the swirling blankness, reaching desperately for a point some way away from the heart of whatever dark power he'd latched on to…
Landing in the middle of a deserted street in some small town that he didn't recognised, but which certainly wasn't San Francisco.
Stretching, Cole looked around at his surroundings, trying to figure out what his next move should be. He might just try and shimmer out, of course, but he couldn't be sure that the demon's energy hadn't contaminated his own in some way, and didn't want to risk it until he was sure everything was back to normal.
Walking down the street until he came to a T-junction, Cole noticed a cemetery a short distance away from his current position. He grinned; perfect. Nobody visited a graveyard at this time of night, to the best of his knowledge; he should be able to rest there and test his powers in his own time.
"Yikes…" Cole muttered to himself, as he looked around the graveyard that he'd found himself in. He'd never seen so many fresh graves in one graveyard; what was wrong with this town, had it been through a plague lately?
Then again, there was definitely some kind of ancient evil in this area; he knew that much. Maybe whatever it was had been active quite a bit lately…
But if that was the case, why hadn't the Elders asked the Charmed Ones to take a look at it?
Sighing, Cole crouched down to look at one of the graves that looked the freshest. He glanced up at the name on the grave; Alexa Capaldi, barely twenty-four years old. He laid his hand gently upon the grave, and stared down at it.
"I'm sorry," he said, eventually. "I wish I could have been here to help you."
Then a hand suddenly burst up from the grave, grabbed Cole by the throat, and began to throttle him.
Cole didn't even stop to wonder at what was going on; he grabbed the fingers around his neck and, exerting all the strength he could muster while still in human form, managed to tear the hand off his neck, leaving only the barest of scars.
As he stared down at the grave in horror, a young woman hauled herself out of it, her clothes covered in dirt and her features distorted into a wild, demonic visage with a large forehead and sharp fangs.
Cole realized what she was at once.
"A vampire…" he breathed, partly in awe. He'd heard of them, of course, but he'd never actually encountered any…
Then the thing that had once been Alexa Capaldi turned to look at him, hunger and fury evident in her eyes, and Cole didn't even stop to think; he shifted into Belthazor, raised one hand, and threw an energy ball at the vampire, striking her directly in the chest.
Belthazor watched as the vampire rapidly collapsed into a pile of dust, the part of him that was still Cole hoping that Alexa had managed to make it to heaven after her body's destruction.
Then he flexed his shoulders and looked over himself. Apparently Cole's worries about the explosion were unfounded; if there'd been any negative effects from that demon dying, they either weren't obvious ones, or they were just minor in the overall scheme of things.
He smiled. With everything back to normal now, he could just turn back into Cole and shimmer back to San Francisco for some time with Phoebe; the Source would probably take a while to select a new assassin to go after him…
Then blinding pain took over his brain as something rammed into his back with enough electrical power to kill a human.
At first he thought that it was the Source's latest assassin, deciding to just take him by surprise from behind, but as he collapsed to the ground, still intact, if almost totally paralyzed, he decided it wasn't; if it had been, he'd probably have just been killed straight away, rather then just stunned.
Rolling his eyes to look behind him, Belthazor saw a young man dressed in a military-style outfit and holding some kind of taser gun standing over him, raising a radio to his mouth…
Then blankness took over his dazed mind, and he lost consciousness.