LaCroix looked over the glittering lights of his newest hunting ground

Title:  Transference

Series: A New Knight in the City of Angel's"

Author: Kizmet

email: kkizmet@hotmail.com

Timeline:  After the first season of "Angel" and the last season of "Forever Knight".

Disclaimer:  Premise and characters borrowed from "Angel" and "Forever Knight".

LaCroix looked over the glittering lights of his newest hunting ground.  This frantically busy city lay in the outskirts of territory forbidden to his kind.

The Slayer, the eternal hunter claimed territory near here.  The girl herself was no more than any other hunter, the first had been a hunter, but her essence had been bound to something ancient, bound to this plain of existence.  The organization which supported her preserved her knowledge from one incarnation to the next, increasing the danger which she represented.  Killing her would not be sufficient to eliminate the threat of her existence.  So the Community simply avoided her.

The Slayer believed she knew of vampires.  She ruthlessly hunted down and destroyed the Failed and their children, believing that they were the sum and total of his race.  The Community was happy to leave her to her chosen amusement.

And while the Community hid itself from her, the others, the Failed flocked to her.  Drawn by a survival instinct that they didn't begin to comprehend they gathered en-mass in the no man's land between the Slayer and the Community.

LaCroix came here to loose himself in the thrill of the hunt, to forget grief and guilt in carnage.  The Failed were the only fair game left.  They were unprotected by the mortal world and condemned to death by the Community.

In hunting them LaCroix could open himself to his darkest impulses and wash away the memory of Toronto and the unmarked grave that held his most difficult but most beloved child and Nicholas' mortal love whom he had followed into death.

Los Angeles was exactly what he needed to escape the all too human grief that Nicholas' death had infected him with.

"So how goes the studying?" Cordelia asked cheerfully.

Angel snarled in reply.

"Having an actual investigator's license isn't complete a bad thing," Wesley offered.  "The knowledge it represents may prove useful and the less documentation that Willow forges for you, the better."

"This is all Kate's fault," Angel growled.

"Yep, she's a bitch," Cordelia said happily.

"Detective Lockley has been something of a nuisance lately," Wesley admitted.

"She tried to have me deported!" Angel exclaimed.  "Not to mention her sudden problem with my lack of an investigator's license."

"Yes, well Willow was most helpful in those matters.  Although I do believe that Mr. Giles was somewhat disconcerted by the illegal nature of her assistance."

"Giles always protests when we do something illegal in the name of Slaying," Cordy remarked.  "It doesn't really mean he objects, it's just observing propriety or something like that."

"The point of the matter isn't that we got the documentation," Angel argued.  "It's that I have better things to do with my time than jumping through Kate's hoops."

"Like what? At the moment we have no clients and no office.   Besides that, I haven't had a vision in weeks.  Now is as good of time as any for getting all the formalities taken care of.  I mean, sure Kate's a pain, but at least she doesn't have the resources Wolfram and Hart do.  If they'd been the ones to think of the mundane ways to get rid of you, you'd have been on a plane back to Ireland, but now, thanks to Kate that angle is covered," Cordy said.

"But…"

"But you don't like studying for the exam, heck you didn't even like studying for your driver's license, which should have been way easy since you've been around longer than cars have," Cordy replied.  "Well Angel, get used to it.  Buffy, Willow, and I got through years and years of tests, I'm sure you can too.  Even Xander managed it, sort of, you'll survive."

"I'd rather face a demon," Angel growled.

"Well it's only an hour till sunset," Cordy commented.  "Use the time to study, then go find some nasty demon to kill, I'm sure it'll make you feel better.  After that we'll all team up to go looking for new offices."

LaCroix dropped from the sky to confront the blood-spattered parody of what a vampire should be.

He grabbed the creature by its throat and lifted it off the ground, smashing it against the dirty brick wall of the ally.

"It seems you've been finding trouble," LaCroix commented, taking in the battered condition of the Failed.  "Did your prey fight back?  Let us see this fearsome mortal that could put a vampire, a shadow of the vampire in any case, to heel."

LaCroix scraped a bit of blood from his prisoner's hand and tasted it, only to freeze in shock as the much to familiar wash of emotion filled him.  The blood was a vampire's, but not this creature's.  The blood told of guilt and remorse, of longing for redemption, tangled and confused with longing for the sun until the two were inseparable, until they weren't even regarded as separate desires.  A vampire's innate darkness and the brightness of a kind soul coexisting in a single body.

"Nicholas," LaCroix breathed.  "How can this be?"

A second taste of the fading blood brought bitter answers.  The emotions in the blood might have been familiar, but the details were not.  This creature hadn't encounter LaCroix's lost son, the blood lacked the richness of time, the other vampire was little more than a fledgling, younger even than the irresponsible Spaniard.  Not Nicholas, just a child who shared his dreams and delusions as well as the heavy weight of guilt that came with them.

LaCroix glared at the creature that dared to offer him hope, only to snatch it away again.  Ice blue eyes caught fire as his captive struggled, becoming golden as the vampire surfaced.   LaCroix tightened his grip on the unfortunate vampire's throat, ripping it away.  The creature fell too the ground, stunned but still clinging to its existence.  Disdainfully LaCroix brought his heel down on the spinal column gleaming through the torn flesh of the creature's neck.  As the bone crumbled under the pressure and the spinal cord snapped the body of the creature crumbed into ash.  Still angry that he could so easily be tricked into embracing hope, LaCroix lifted into the night, looking for others to take his ire out on.

"You're sure you haven't had any visions?" Angel asked.

"Oh yeah… right… I had a migraine with gross-out pictures and it somehow slipped my mind until just now.  Not!"  Cordelia said rolling her eyes.

"I'm sorry Cordelia.  Of course you wouldn't forget a vision.  It's just that I've been hearing rumors of some new power around town.  One that's got most of the locals scared."

"So?  This thing's scaring demons, that's a good right?  I mean they're bad so… enemy of my enemy and everything?"

"No, it generally means something bigger and worse moved into the neighborhood," Angel replied.

"And I think you're just assuming the worst case.  Angel do you even know the meaning of optimism?"

"In my experience it's often synonymous for self-deluded." Angel said.

"Ha-ha.  You just want an excuse to get out of taking your test Wednesday."

"Cordelia, I'm not anywhere near as worried about that test as you think I am," Angel protested.  "I'm trying to evaluate a potential threat."

LaCroix stood outside the burned out building that had once held the offices of Angel Investigations. 

He knew that the child who reminded him of Nicholas had once considered this place home.  Obviously that was no longer the case.

Since tasting the young one's blood LaCroix had been unable to forget him.  He wanted to see this child who was so reminiscent of his Nicholas.  LaCroix couldn't say why he was so drawn to the other vampire; he wasn't Nicholas, he simply shared Nicholas' most exasperating characteristics.  LaCroix could see no reason why he would wish to involve himself with yet another troublesome, doomed individual, and this one wasn't even family.  Hadn't Nicholas caused him enough pain?  If he had any sense left he'd want nothing to do with the young vampire.  And yet here he was, outside the place which had been a home to the other.

Only it was a dead-end.  "Well that's really for the best," LaCroix told himself.  Of course his son could have identified a person with much less to go on than this.  If Nicholas could manage it, he could hardly do less.

LaCroix stalked into the condemned building.  If his quarry were as similar to Nicholas as he suspected the blast had undoubtedly originated in his home.

However, determining ground zero required a knowledge of explosives, which LaCroix lacked.  Well, Nicholas had always relied on experts such as the good Doctor in his investigation, LaCroix reasoned turning to the blood-memories he'd obtained.  The blood hadn't been fresh the memories were little more than impressions and a certain feel of familiarity which had led him to the building. 

Still his quarry had come home to this place hundreds of times.  It was a simple thing to allow the memories to guide him to an underground apartment.  The place was black with char; many of the furnishings had been shattered in the blast.  Nothing whole had been left behind.

LaCroix picked through what had been left.  A few broken dishes, still too many for a vampire, perhaps it was evidence of a mortal pet.  LaCroix made a note to deal gently with mortal when he found what he sought.  He had been cavalier in his regard of Nicholas' mortals, had believed that the Doctor's death would sever Nicholas' ties to the life he'd created in Toronto, rather it had ended Nicholas' interest in life altogether.

When Nicholas had asked LaCroix for his help it had been given.  The bond between himself and his child told LaCroix that Nicholas would leave him to follow his Doctor, to follow Natalie, one way or another.  LaCroix had always said that Nicholas didn't know what he wanted, but in the end, he wanted to with Natalie, and between Nicholas' beliefs and Natalie's time frame and LaCroix's own interference, Death had been the only place they could be together.  Given the option to go back, LaCroix would not have left Nicholas with so few options.

"There is no way back," LaCroix reminded himself angrily.  "What's done is done and can only be lived with.  I will not fall into Nicholas' trap of guilt and endless morning for that which is lost."

Decisively the ancient vampire turned his attention back to the charred apartment and the task at hand.

A more diligent search turned up only one other object of interest, a half burnt, badly water-stained address book.  The tattered book yielded only a few names and telephone numbers, two of which were useless for LaCroix; the entries for Giles and Buffy had mailing addresses in Sunnydale, the current Slayer's base of operations.  The other entries were more helpful, Doyle, Cordelia Chase, Wesley Wyndom-Price and Kate Lockley all possessed Los Angeles numbers.

LaCroix found the first two numbers disconnected and no one answered at the third, but Kate Lockley answered promptly with a curt, "Detective Lockley here."

LaCroix smiled dryly, it didn't surprise him in the slightest that the younger vampire had ties with the local police department.  "Still the police had such a habit of unnecessarily complicating matters," LaCroix thought as he hung up without speaking.

Prank calls, Kate Lockley thought with a scowl turning back to the individual who'd been waiting at her desk when she'd arrived for her shift.

She'd originally thought he was Angel, the look the officer manning the front desk had given her when he mentioned that someone was waiting for her was the same one that she encountered when certain colleges made comments about how maybe they should become PI's with only one name if they wanted a favor from her.

Once those comments had caused her to blush and her snarls had only covered her embarrassment.  Once, back when she'd believed Angel was just a handsome man as awkward in social situations as she was.  Kate had thought that maybe he was the one.  Gorgeous, painfully sincere in his desire to help people, and best of all he didn't seem to expect her to be some helpless damsel in distress.

But it was all a mask.  Angel wasn't her type… Hell, he wasn't even a member of her species, and if the legends she'd found about Angelus contained even a kernel of truth, he was a serial killer without equal.  At least not in the human world, she had yet to determine the scope of his atrocities in his world's scale.

He said he'd changed, and Kate knew it was the truth.  Angel wasn't the psychotic killer she'd read about, but he was a part of that other reality.  The reality that had killed her father.  A reality that included creatures that made a mockery of the laws she was sworn to up-hold.  They blended with her society when they choose then shattered it with their violence whenever the mood struck.  Even Angel, with all the changes he was so proud of, could cast every trace of humanity when it suited him.

Angel killed that thing on the train without a second thought, and then had the nerve to come tell her, "Oops, that one wasn't evil after all."  He didn't even feel guilt about it.

That told Kate more than she needed to know about demons, about their reality.  The only law they lived by was the last one standing is right.

She'd wanted to believe Angel was different, but she knew better.  The night that her father died Kate had abandoned her reality for Angel's.  She walked into that warehouse with every intention of taking her vengeance their way, making them pay with her gun and the stakes she'd brought.

Kate had killed a person in the line of duty before. After weeks of second guessing herself IA had cleared her of any wrongdoing.  Sometimes she still wondered if it had had to end with a man dead by her hand.  Kate couldn't have imagined that a time would come when she'd kill for vengeance, but she had.

Afterwards, as she sat in the ruins of her self-image, Angel had resumed the cloak of normality and offered condolences for her father's death.  He could step between her world and his without pause.  Behead a demon one minute and play the part of a concerned friend in the next.  She couldn't do that.  Once she stepped into Angel's world there was no way back for her.  The shadows were full of monsters now and Kate had originally believed that nothing could change that.

Now she had hope though.  Her visitor of the night had given her that hope.

Corin had spent almost two hours talking around the subject before he came to his point.  He was a demon hunter.  Specifically a vampire hunter, he believed that the reality Kate had been forced into could be washed from existence.

He had more experience with demons than Kate had.  Corin had been bitten by a vampire and had lived to tell about it.  Had been changed by it in a way that was much more personal than what Angel had done to Kate.  Corin had gained an intimate knowledge of vampires from that bite, he knew their weakness and could sense their presence.  He had even gained a part of their strength and speed.  He had the ability to destroy them where they hid, and he wasn't alone.  Kate wasn't alone any more; she wasn't the only human in a sea of horror story monsters.  They had allies and a cause: to rid their reality of those creatures which had no place under the sun.

"Your Angel won't be alone," Corin was saying.  "Vampires don't work that way.  They need their Community, their contacts.  It's how they blend in, how they cover their kills.  They all kill Detective; don't delude yourself on that point.  They may be able to obtain sustenance in other ways in this day and age, but they're still predators.  They need the kill as much as the blood.

"You don't have to convince me of that," Kate replied.

"You're lucky then," Corin said, fingering the jagged scar on the side of his neck.  "It took this to convince me.  Marissa and I had been a couple for five years when she did this to me.  I thought she loved me, but in the end I was just prey.  I got lucky, Marissa was injured when she attacked me, I managed to break free of her and got the curtains of the apartment we shared open before she could finish the job."

"I'm sorry.  I can't imagine how I'd have felt if I'd been in your place."  Kate said.  "What can I do to help you?"

"We find your friend Angel, he's our key to the Community."

LaCroix's hunt had been much more satisfying that night.

He had found Wyndom-Price at the address listed and followed him to Miss Chase's new residence, a distinct step up from the multi-level hovel that he had been referred to.  Both were mortal, but Miss Chase's other guest was distinctly not.

LaCroix had known that this was the one he sought from his first glimpse of the young vampire.  The light that he had only previously associated with his Nicholas was an integral part of the other vampire, a fact that surprised LaCroix to no end.  He had always believed it was Nicholas' coloring; curly sun-gold hair and clear blue eyes like a summer sky, that had caused his favorite child to become linked to LaCroix's fading memories of the day.  But this young one, dark of hair and eyes, glowed with that same light.

LaCroix kept his presence carefully cloaked from the younger vampire as he neared the window of the apartment.

The two males sat at the kitchen table, searching intently through a stack of antique tomes, occasionally referring a question to the girl who was slumped on a nearby couch, a damp rag on her forehead and a bottle of aspirin clutched in her hand.

Sneaking a quick look at her thoroughly busy companions, the girl quickly opened the aspirin bottle.

"Cordelia…" The vampire objected.  "You're not supposed to take anymore for another twenty-four hours."

"Angel," the girl whined.  "I swear my head's going to literally explode.  Just one more, please?"

"I'm sorry Cordelia," Angel said softly regret filling his dark eyes.  "It's not safe."

"Perhaps you should schedule an appointment with a doctor.  Ever since Vocah's attack the pain accompanying your visions has been worse.  There might have been some lingering damage done," Wyndom-Price suggested.

LaCroix easily deciphered the look of guilt that settled on Angel's face.  Such a destructive emotion, LaCroix thought.  Nicholas had invited such misery into his life through his endless fascination with claiming responsibility for everything that went wrong.  Such a pointless waste of time and energy.  Even when the fault truly belonged to Nicholas nothing was changed by his guilt.  More often the fault lay elsewhere but Nicholas still choose to suffer the guilt.

"Patterson, you're the one proctoring the PI licensing exam right?" Kate asked.

"That's right Detective, is there a problem?" the officer asked.

"No," Kate laughed nervously.  "It's just that a friend of mine is taking the test.  We've been planning a surprise birthday party for him, but we couldn't think of a way to get him there without making him suspicious and I was thinking, you could tell him that the test had been rescheduled."

"I don't know Detective."

"The party's two days before he's scheduled to take the test.  It won't cause any problems," Kate pushed.  "I'd owe you."

"Well… Maybe…"

"I'd forget the identity to the person who broke the Captain's special coffee mug, the one his daughter gave him."

Patterson blanched.  "How'd you?  … What's your friend's name?"

"You remember Angel?  He escorted me to my Dad's retirement party."

"Well, that was quite invigorating," said Wesley shakily as Angel helped the battered Watcher back to his feet.

"Invigorating?" Angel asked examining the notch the demon's scaly hide had taken out of his axe blade.

Wesley retrieved his glasses from his pocket, briefly glanced at the twisted bit of metal and glass then sadly tossed them into a nearby dumpster.  "Destructive?" he offered.

"I'd throw in painful and exhausting," Angel said rubbing his badly bruised shoulder.

"It could have been worse.  Cordelia did an amazing job of describing the demon, if we hadn't been able to identify it, hadn't known about that spot on the Raknid's spine, we never would have managed to kill it." Wesley said.

"Uh… Wes, things just got worse," Angel said.

"What?"

Angel nodded toward a clawed hand reaching around the corner in front of them.  "Looks like it had a friend."

"Oh dear."

The second Raknid, an ugly conglomeration of fur, feathers and scales built roughly along the same lines as Raptor, with a crocodile's snout and a long prehensile tail with a bony knob on the end stalked into view.

Wesley and Angel moved apart, faces grim, weapons raised.

The creature's eyes, glowing like molten lava, moved from one man to the other, evaluating which represented the greater threat.  With a high-pitched scream the Raknid threw itself at Angel.

The souled vampire smashed the flat of his axe into the demon's bony snout, briefly stunning it.  Seeing an opening Wesley lunged for the kill spot on the Raknid's back.  The demon's tail snapped like a whip, the heavy end catching the ex-Watcher squarely in the chest.

Wesley fell back with a moan, his sword dropping to the ground as he gasped for air.

"Wes!" Angel yelled, ice forming in his stomach at the sound of bones cracking.  However long he did this Angel didn't think that he'd ever get used to the terror he felt at the possibility of loosing one of his mortal friends.  He never used to think about it, not really.  Before Doyle had died he had believed that somehow his friends would always be saved.  Like a teenager he'd believed that they were invulnerable.  Buffy had been dead, but Xander brought her back.  He'd been sent to Hell but he came back only a little worse for wear.  They'd faced the Master and the Mayor's ascension without casualties.  The only people he'd ever lost had been lost to the demon that shared his body, and Angel had come to believe that the only thing he really needed to fear was himself.  As long as he took precautions to ensure that his soul stayed firmly in control everything would work out okay… and then the Scourge had come and taken Doyle from him.

Still clutching his chest and struggling to breathe Wesley forced himself to meet Angel's eyes then nodded toward the demon.

"Right," Angel said softly allowing the change to over-take him.  An angry rumble filled the air as Angel focused on the creature, now in full demon mode himself. "First take care of the threat, then you can get Wesley to the hospital." He thought glaring at the Raknid with glowing yellow eyes.

Angel feinted forward then ducked under the Raknid's tail.  As it swept past him Angel snapped his axe into place.  The force of the creature's own momentum drove Angel's blade through its flesh.  The bony weight that had done so much damage to Wesley fell to the ground as the Raknid shrieked in pain and outrage.

The Raknid swiveled quickly on its powerful hind legs, grabbing Angel's arm in its jaws then jerking its head away.

Angel was pulled off balance, as he fell the Raknid's teeth tore through his heavy coat and the flesh beneath.  The dark haired vampire rolled back to his feet, out of range of the demon.  Painfully Angel transferred his axe to his good hand, trying to ignore the slow dripping of blood from the jagged wounds in his arm.

Both injured and more cautious now Angel and the Raknid circled each other, looking for an opening.  The Raknid's high screams punctuated Angel's continuous low snarling.

In the background Wesley shakily reclaimed his sword and staggered to his feet, leaning his weight against the wall, cradling his cracked ribs with his free arm.

The Raknid lunged at Angel, who dodged to the side, completely forgetting the demon's shortened tail in his haste to avoid its teeth and claws.  The forgotten tail cracked against the side of Angel's knee forcefully.

Angel's fangs bit through his bottom lip as he felt something tear in his knee. 

The Raknid followed up its latest attack with another lung, trying to catch the vampire in its jaws.  Angel jumped back, his injured leg collapsing under him as he landed.

Grimly Angel got back to his feet, preparing for the next attack.

"You appear to be in need a assistance," a smooth, deep voice announced.

All three combatants turned to stare at the new comer.  He was a tall, painfully pale man wearing a black suit and shirt.  His close-cropped hair was stark white, only a shade lighter than his skin, pale blue eyes, cold as ice surveyed the scene.

He took in Angel's fangs, glowing eyes and demonically twisted features with a hint of surprised confusion apparent in his eyes before turning his attention to the Raknid, this creature he regarded with simple distaste.

"And I believed that the Slayer was the only reason to avoid Hellmouths," the stranger sighed.

The Raknid attacked its newest opponent only to find its teeth clacking together on empty air as the stranger moved out of its way faster than the eye could follow.  Confused the creature looked around for its missing enemy.

While it was distracted Wesley drove his sword into the creature's flank.  Infuriated the Raknid turned on him, only to have Wesley snatched out of its reach by the pale-skinned man.

The demon screamed a challenged at this new enemy and to Wesley and Angel's shock the man responded with a threatening snarl.  His pale blue eyes caught fire and his teeth elongated into fangs.

As the stranger changed Angel was suddenly filled with the sense of another vampire, one which was ancient, much older than the two-hundred and fifty year old vampire had believed was possible, even for a member of his species.

The Ancient grabbed the sword Wesley has left embedded in the Raknid's side, dragging it down through the creature's body as he tore it free.  He smiled around his fangs as he raised the gore-covered sword to the ready.

As the creature turned to face the other vampire Angel threw his axe, it twirled, end over end, twice before sinking cleanly into the Raknid's back, perfectly centered between the creature's shoulder blades, severing it's spinal cord.

With a last, sickly whimper the creature sank to the ground.

Limping heavily Angel placed himself between Wesley and the older vampire.

"I have no intention of harming your pet," the ancient vampire said, tossing Angel the gore-encrusted sword he'd taken from the Raknid's body.

"Who are you?" Angel asked, allowing his features to shift to their normal, human seeming. 

"Lucien LaCroix," the older vampire replied.  "And you are Angel, correct?"

Angel nodded.  "What do want?"

"We will speak more later," stated LaCroix.  "For the moment tend to your injuries and those of your mortal friend."  With that the ancient took flight, rapidly disappearing from Wesley and Angel's startled gazes'.

"What exactly was the boy," LaCroix wondered.  He was so like Nicholas and yet his true countenance showed the taint of one of the Failed.  In LaCroix's experience the Failed were twisted, evil beings, completely consumed by blood lust to the exclusion of all else.  To compare Nicholas to one of those creatures bordered on the sacrilegious, and yet Angel, despite his appearance, was not what LaCroix had come to expect from one of the Failed.

Angel possessed the same basic goodness and innocence that had been central to Nicholas despite his eight centuries of darkness. 

But Angel was undeniably Failed.  His speed was only a fraction of a true vampire's and his presence was much weaker than LaCroix had expected, Angel's blood tasted of centuries but a twenty-year-old fledgling could have presented a stronger front.

"I can't understand it.  LaCroix feels older than time, but his demon form is less corrupted than a newly risen vampire," Angel said.  "Cordelia, you've seen the Master, he was only six hundred."

"He was in major need of a facial.  Can you say eeew?  I wonder if his face got stuck that way, cause if I were him I would have covered it up," Cordelia commented factiously.

Angel repressed a snort of laughter, "I asked him that very thing the first time I saw him."

"LaCroix was amazingly helpful and friendly for a vampire," Wesley said, steering the conversation back on track.  "Also he flew, I didn't think vampires could fly."

Angel shrugged.  "It's not a common ability, a few of us can.  Penn and I could both jump farther than our strength could account for.  A few others like Dru and Master have mesmeric powers.  I've seen stories where all sorts of powers are attributed to vampire, but the reality is none of us have all those things, a very few of us have one of those abilities, but that's it.  I wish I knew what LaCroix wants with us."

"If he's as old as you think he is there should be some mention of him in the Watcher's Diaries," Wesley said.  "I'll have to ask Giles to check them for us."

 

"Well, in the meantime, Angel your test's been moved up," Cordelia commented.  "It's at 9:00 tomorrow morning at 6775 NE Clover Dr. Office #6."

"Did they say why?" Angel asked.

"Nope, they just called and gave the new info," Cordelia replied.

"That's after sunrise," Wesley said. "And Clover's far enough in to the suburbs that tunnel access isn't likely."

"What do you want to bet Kate's involved somehow," Angel remarked.  "She's completely dedicated herself to making my life miserable."

"She needs more hobbies," Cordelia said.

"Alright, I got the last of the Holy Water unloaded," Kate said.  "Why do we need so much?"

"He won't give us the information willingly," Corin said.

"Can't we just threaten to lock him in a sunny room?" Kate asked.

"Vampires understand what it means to fall into the hands of a Hunter.  Death isn't a threat in that situation, it is simply the inevitable conclusion of the proceedings," Corin replied.

"Okay…" Kate said a bit uncertainly.

"Despite his outward appearance, Angel is a monster, remember that," Corin instructed.

"What else needs to be done?" Kate asked, steeling her resolve.

"We're ready," Corin said.  "As soon as the vampire is captured we can start."

"We're here," Wesley said.  "It doesn't look like much, are you sure this is the right address?"

"Of course it's right, I took the message," Cordelia said.  "Now Angel do you want us to come in with you?"

Huddled under a blanket in the back of the car Angel rolled his eyes.  "That won't be necessary Cordelia, but thank you for asking.  Wesley, I think the test lasts three hours.  Which side of the car is closer to the building?"

"Mine, it's the red brick one right across from us," Wesley answered getting out of the car and leaning the seat forward.

Angel pulled his coat over his head and dashed across the sunlit sidewalk into the welcome shelter of the building.

"Good luck!" Cordelia yelled.

Angel paused just inside the doorway to straighten his cloths to make an entrance like a normal person rather than a vampire fleeing the sun's light.

The office building looked deserted, not to mention being just a few steps away from being condemned.

"Strange place for a test," Angel commented.  "Maybe the city's trying to save money.  The rent on this place has got to be cheap."

Angel climbed to the top floor office where the test had been scheduled.  The room was empty except for a few tables and one other person, a man with dark, curly hair and serious storm gray eyes wide-set in a lightly freckled, triangular face.

"I thought there were a group of us taking the exam," Angel said.  "This is where the PI licensing exam is being held?"

"You're in the right place Angel," the man replied.  "Please come in."

"How do you know my name?" Angel demanded suspiciously.

"Hello Angel," Kate said from the doorway behind him.  Angel turned to see her leveling a crossbow at his chest.

Behind him Corin pulled a cord and the drapes fell away from the room's numerous windows, forcing Angel into the one shadowed corner left.

"Kate?  What are you doing?" he asked.

"You told me I should try having you as an enemy.  So tell me Angel how am I doing so far?" Kate said coldly.

Angel glanced back at the other man who was also holding a crossbow now.  "Who's your friend?" he asked.

"Corin?  He's a professional, just full of fun facts about the modern vampire."

Corin cautiously set a glass at the edge of the pool of shadows Angel stood in.  "Drink it," He ordered.

Angel picked up the glass, examined it briefly, "What is it?"

"Not important," Corin replied.

"Not thirty," Angel said casually tossing the glass across the room.

Corin fired his crossbow and reloaded in one easy motion.  Angel snatched the bolt out of the air a hand's breathe from his shoulder.

"Good reflexes," Corin remarked.  "I haven't seen that too often.  Can you handle two at once?"

Corin and Kate fired simultaneously.  Angel caught Kate's bolt, which would have passed through his heart, but could do nothing about Corin's except wince in pain as it embedded in his thigh.

"What did you think you were doing?" Corin yelled at Kate.  "We can't kill him yet!"

"I missed," Kate replied, sounding chastened.  "It was an accident."

Angel could feel numbness replacing the pain in his leg, an area of deadened nerves spreading out from the arrow.  He fell to his knees as his leg gave out.  A few seconds later he toppled helplessly to the floor.

Corin pulled a heavy set of manacles from the bag behind his desk as he said. "Kate, get the body bag."

"What's wrong with him?" Kate asked.

"The bolts were coated in curare, it acts as a highly effective paralyzing agent on vampires."

"He's still conscious?" Kate asked staring at Angel's crumpled form.

"Yes, but he won't even be able to blink his eyes for at least two hours," Corin explained.

"Then why all the precautions?" Kate asked gesturing to the manacles.

"In case I'm wrong."

"Thank you Aristotle," LaCroix said.  "Your help has been appreciated."

"I was glad to be of assistance General.  I was sorry to hear about Nicholas, he was a good friend.  A bit odd, but still a good friend."

"Nicholas should have listened to me," LaCroix said harshly.  "There was no other way his infatuation with mortals and guilt could have ended.  Thank you for your time and goodbye."  LaCroix firmly terminated the phone call, then turned on his computer to retrieve the files Aristotle had sent him.

LaCroix quickly read the summary on the vampire Angel or Angelus, commenting softly to himself as he read.

"Romantically involved with the current Slayer, really Angelus.  Gypsy curses?  Perhaps some of Nicholas' more obscure cures shouldn't have been dismissed quite so casually.  Aw yes, origins; Angelus, child of Darla, child of Joseph Heinlich Nest, failed child of Richard of Kent.  Richard always was the careless sort.  Nest and Darla both reported dead, the work of the current Slayer."

"Angelus, born in Galway; Ireland, 1727 AD; called Liam Roark; turned 1753 AD.  Cursed with a soul,1898, a soul, how quaint.  Still it seems the Romany did him a favor, the boy is more than half-way to becoming a true vampire despite his linage."

"If he'd gone on as he began the Enforcers would have undoubtedly taken notice."

Finishing the summary, LaCroix settled in to read the rather extensive files detailing the history of his newest interest.

"Nothing?" Wesley asked sounding stunned.  "How can the Watchers have no information on a vampire as ancient as this LaCroix seems to be?"

Giles sighed.  "The fact remains there are no records of this individual as a Vampire.  However, Willow's friend Tara used to listen to a late night radio persona who called himself the Nightcrawler.  She remembered that his true name was Lucien LaCroix.  Willow was able to download transcripts of a number of his shows from the Internet.  It seems he had a fairly enthusiastic following."

"He broadcasted out of Toronto, Ontario for a few years as well as owning a nightclub there, the "Raven".  A headless body was found at the club shortly before it closed, the Nightcrawler program was abruptly discontinued and your Mr. LaCroix disappeared from Toronto."

"Could he have killed the victim?" Wesley asked.

"He was cleared by the police, however; both investigating officers as well as the Medical Examiner assigned to the case all died or disappeared shortly after the incident," Giles said.  "This LaCroix seems very integrated into society for a vampire.  Angel is the only vampire I've ever heard of who could begin to compare," Giles continued.

"That's not quite accurate," Wesley said.  "Angel's first case here in LA involved a vampire industrialist."

"In any case, LaCroix seems like a most dangerous individual, you should be cautious in your dealings with him despite any seeming benevolence on his part."

"Thank you, and please thank Willow and Tara for their assistance.  I'll ask Cordelia to retrieve those files from the dread machine," Wesley said.

"Cordelia?"

"Yes, she's become quite skilled in researching via the web."

"Miraculous, just a few years ago Jenny was despairing of the day that it would be feasible to expect Cordelia to complete even basic assignments without a catastrophe occurring," Giles said.

"Speaking of Cordelia, I really must be going.  I need to pick her up from her audition before collecting Angel from his exam," Wesley commented.

"Why?" Angel asked as soon as he was able.

Kate and Corin had relocated him to what looked like a larger storage unit.  They had chained him to a heavy metal table that reminded Angel uncomfortably of a dissection table and cut away his clothes.  Then they left him there while the curare wore off.

Now they'd returned.

"Good, you can speak.  Now we can begin," Corin said, taking the lead again.  Kate stood in the background looking like she wished she were anywhere else.

"Why?" Angel repeated.

"Where does the LA Community congregate?" Corin asked.

"What?" Angel replied in confusion.

Corin nodded to himself.  "Your co-operation wasn't actually expected."  To Kate he said, "Vampires fiercely protect their anonymity."

"Where'd you dig this guy up Kate?" Angel asked.  "I doubt he's ever seen a real vampire before.  Probably just rented out all the vampire flicks at the local video store."

Corin dumped a pitcher of water into a hollow sphere suspended on a chain above Angel.  "This is a version of Chinese water torture," he explained releasing the sphere.

A drop of water from the device sizzled as it struck Angel's skin.

"The holy water is what makes it unique," Corin continued.  "Come along Kate, it will take a half hour for the water to run out."

"He's not there!" Cordelia announced running back to the car.  "No one's there!"

"What?" Wesley demanded.

"The whole building's empty and the room were Angel's test was supposed to be had skylights and way more windows that any room needs!" Cordelia exclaimed.

"Oh dear… I'll park then join you in seeking clues."

Four hours.  Eight pitchers of holy water raining down on his unprotected flesh.  Innumerable tiny annoying burns, which were beginning to overlap and deepen into more serious injuries as his overtaxed system ceased to heal his injuries.  Time broken only by Corin's inane questions and periodic refillings of the torture device. 

Three pitchers ago Angel had tried explaining that vampires simply didn't have the sort of orderly civilized society that Corin was seeking.  At most they had hunting packs maintained by a particularly vicious or powerful leader, but the packs were autonomous, each guarding its territory with all the jealous of rival gangs.

Corin refused to believe him, and the pointless torment continued.

Angel tried to distract himself from the pain by thinking about other things; unsolved cases, setting up a new office and apartment, the mystery that was Lucien LaCroix; however, it turned out that the holy water was much more effective at distracting him from his thoughts than his thoughts were at distracting him from the holy water.  Eventually he gave them up in favor of counting swings of the sphere and trying to guess where the next drop would land so he could brace himself against the pain.

"What if he really doesn't know?" Kate asked.

"They all know," Corin said calmly.

"Angel's killed every other vampire I've ever seen around him.  He even tried to kill that Penn guy and Angel was the one who made him.  I don't thing Angel socializes much with other vampires," Kate argued.

"I've been inside their heads.  Marissa drank from me, I know vampires in a way that you are incapable of.  Those who you knew as Vampires were probably rogues.  He might even be an Enforcer.  Marissa warned me that they hunted down those who broke their code and the mortals who knew of vampires," Corin said. "He lies.  Even now he tries to mislead us to protect his people from exposure."

"Angel's only friends are human.  Corin I've seen them in sunlight.  There is no way I could be wrong.  I don't think Angel even likes other vampires," Kate said.

"It's time for another pitcher," Corin commented.

"Angel didn't leave that building on his own," Wesley said.  "There isn't any access to the sewers for blocks.  He couldn't have made it that far."

"The test wasn't really today," Cordelia said.  "Cop Lady had them tell Angel it had been changed and what am I supposed to do?  Tell the police that I think their detective kidnapped or killed my friend 'cause he's a vampire?"

"Wesley, Cop Lady couldn't have really killed Angel could she?  I mean she's a human; Angel can protect himself from a normal human right?  Even if she does know about vampires."

"Angel is quite capable," Wesley said.  "Still, we should find him, Detective Lockley has proved that her intentions toward Angel are anything but friendly and I doubt Angel could bring himself to harm her despite her recent behavior."

"Oooh," Cordelia moaned.

"I take it Angelus has gotten himself into trouble?"  LaCroix said stepping into Cordelia's living room.

"LaCroix!" Wesley exclaimed.

"You're… you're a vampire," Cordelia stammered.  "You can't come in here, I didn't invite you."

"And what, prey tell, does that have to do with anything?" LaCroix asked, annoyed.  "What has befallen Angelus?"

"Vampires cannot enter an inhabited human dwelling without an invitation," Wesley explained, feeling slightly ridiculous explaining vampirism to a vampire.

"Why ever not?" LaCroix asked.  "Ah, perhaps it's a "psychosomatic reaction" as Dr. Lambert would have said.  She was quite convinced that holy symbols were not truly harmful to my kind as well."

"Now, if that is explained to your satisfaction, what has happened?" LaCroix demanded in a tone that brooked no further delays.

"Quite frankly, Mr. LaCroix, we don't trust you," Wesley said.  "We don't even know that you aren't involved."

LaCroix stared into Wesley's eyes, focused on his heartbeat and in a deep compelling voice demanded.  "Where is Angelus?"

"Missing," Wesley replied in a daze.

"Hey!" Cordelia exclaimed. "What happened to not trusting the creepy vampire?"

"Tell me what you suspect," LaCroix ordered.

"We thing Detective Lockley abducted him," Wesley answered.

And then LaCroix was gone.

"Wow, even Angel doesn't disappear like that," said Cordelia.  "Are we sure he's a vampire?"

Wesley shook his head slightly as if clearing away cobwebs.  "What happened?" he asked.  "I didn't intend to say all that."

"So why did you?" Cordelia asked.

"It just came out, I couldn't not say it.  I couldn't hear anything but his voice and I just couldn't not answer," Wesley stammered.

"Well, we'll just have to find Angel first," Cordelia said determinedly.  "So what do we do now?"

"Detective Lockley is really our only lead.  I think we should follow her," Wesley suggested.

"In that case, it's a good thing cop lady never noticed us, cause she was always to busy staring or glaring at Angel."

"Where do we find the Community?" Corin asked implacably.

"There is no Community!" Angel exclaimed.

Angel's chest was a collage of red blisters and charred, black patches.  His body's efforts to heal itself had exhausted him.  His every cell screamed for blood with which to restore itself.

"Angel," Kate said, speaking to him for the first time in seventeen hours.  "Please, just tell him, end this."

"How?" Angel asked.

"Tell us what we need to know," Kate encouraged.  "You don't have to hurt anymore."

Angel laughed bitterly.  "Nothing to tell," he said.  "What he's looking for doesn't exist."

"Your lies are pointless," Corin said.  "I know you know."

Silently, tiredly, Angel rolled his eyes.  There was nothing he could say to the delusional hunter.

This Lockley would not take Angelus from him, LaCroix thought furiously.  He would not loose another to some mortal female, certainly not this child who bore such a resemblance to Nicholas.

Angelus was to have been his opportunity to correct the mistakes he'd made with Nicholas.  He was to have filled the hole Nicholas' death had left in LaCroix's life.

For eight hundred year LaCroix had dedicated so much time and effort to raising Nicholas.  Advising, chasing and punishing his most contrary child, and then Nicholas was gone.  After eight centuries he was gone in a single night.  The bond of blood that had stretched between them for so long touched on only emptiness now.

Emptiness in his mind and in his life.  Nicholas was gone and nothing LaCroix could do had even begun to fill that hollowness.

Then he had found Angelus.  When he thought of the young vampire his pain was dulled.

All the violence, all the destruction had done nothing for his grief, but LaCroix found solace in planning how he would help his new protégé.

It was not a cure, but it was a start.  The boy was not his son.  Nicholas was lost forever, but Angelus was so like him, and he was still within reach.

Nicholas had been destroyed by his foolish quest for mortality, by his guilt, by LaCroix's failure to reach him.  But he knew better now, he would not allow Angelus to destroy himself.  LaCroix would not let things get so out of control again.  And he would not allow a mortal to take Angelus from him.

"I don't know," Angel sighed watching Kate pull the globe away from the table.  He waited for her to add more holy water.

He could see the gleaming white of his ribs showing through the charred remains of his chest.

"It's okay.  I know you're telling the truth," Kate said.  "I'm sorry, this is wrong."

Kate laughed hysterically.  "Can you imagine what my parents would say if they were alive to see you?  If they knew I was involved in this?  I'm a police officer, police officers don't torture people, we're the good guys."

"Of course police officers aren't supposed to kill people either, but that's okay, because you're not really a person are you?"

"You're not real are you Angel?  When I kill you there won't be a body, you'll just disappear, like a nightmare.  Not real, you aren't supposed to be real.  Monsters aren't supposed to be real… and they're not if you kill them."

"But this is real," Kate said, brushing her hand across Angel's scorched arm.  He gasped in agony.  "At first the burns just went away, and it was okay, but they don't anymore.  This is real, and it's wrong."

"Kate, let me go," Angel pled.

Kate shook her head.  "I can't."

Angel watched helplessly as Kate raised a roughly carved stake over his heart.  He couldn't believe he was going to die like this; at the hands of a deranged friend turned enemy, for no reason.

The stake halted in it's decent a millimeter above Angel's body.  Both Kate and Angel stared at the pale hand gripping the stake below Kate's hand.  Slowly their gaze followed the dark clad arm to the tall harsh looking vampire who had introduced himself to Angel as Lucien LaCroix.

His icy blue eyes took in the damage Angel had suffered before turning to Kate.  She shrank away from his imposing presence.  She'd been a member of the police force for six years; dealt with all sorts of violent, dangerous and intimidating people.  She'd never backed down before today, never met anyone who simply radiated evil like this creature did.

LaCroix cut off her retreat, taking her arm in a vice-like grip.  He traced the line of her jaw with a gentle touch, Kate shivered at the cool feel of his fingers and at the deadly intent in his eyes.

"How shall I kill you my dear?" he asked.

"Don't," Angel objected weakly.

"Even after this you would argue for her life?" LaCroix demanded in shock.

"Please don't."

LaCroix sighed, "As a favor to you child, she may keep her life, but this will not be repeated."

LaCroix turned his formidable gaze back to Kate.  "Look at me Detective, listen to me.  There are no such things as vampires.  Do you understand Detective?"

"I understand," Kate replied tonelessly.

"The very idea of the supernatural is ludicrous to you," LaCroix instructed.  "Now leave."

Kate turned robotically and walked out.

"What?" Angel asked looking after Kate in confusion.

"Don't concern yourself," LaCroix said.

He examined Angel's bindings briefly with a faint growl tore the hinges of the manacles apart.

Angel sighed in relief as his over-extended muscles were finally able to relax.  The relief was short lived as the movement shifted badly burnt flesh.

LaCroix took a knife from his pocket and drew it from Angel's wrist to his elbow, then repeated the cut on his own arm and pressed the wounds together.

Angel gasped as he felt his body drawing the offered blood into itself.  As his damaged nerves began to regenerate.

LaCroix knew it was almost impossible to hypnotize another vampire, but Angel's mind was almost as undefended as a mortal's and LaCroix's blood ran in his veins.  Beyond that, LaCroix was not simply another vampire.

"Look at me Angelus," LaCroix said, reaching for the impossibly slow heartbeat of a vampire.  When he didn't find it, he frowned in confusion, he could feel Angelus' mind open to him, he should have sensed the boy's life rhythms.  LaCroix forced his will onto the recalcitrant organ and reluctantly Angel's heart pulsed.  LaCroix sighed in relief as Angel's pulse stabilized. 

Returning to his original purpose, LaCroix promised, "There is no pain, sleep now."

Once Angle's eyes had drifted shut LaCroix released his mind.  He wrapped a blanket around the dark haired vampire ad took to the skies with his awkward burden.

Wesley and Cordelia both jumped as the door to her apartment swung open just in time to admit LaCroix carrying Angel's unconscious body.

"Where should I put him?" LaCroix demanded.

Cordelia jumped up to guide LaCroix to her room, "What happened?"

"Holy water burns," LaCroix explained succinctly.  "He won't be able to eat for several days.  I will be by to give him blood.  Once he has healed enough to feed I'll arrange for human blood to be delivered.  I'm quite certain Angelus routinely drinks some form of animal swill.  That will not be allowed until he is completely healed.  I will hold you responsible for his recovery."  Having had his say LaCroix left as precipitously as he had arrived.

LaCroix stood on a bluff above Los Angeles looking out across the lights of the city up into the faint stars.

In the past few years his relationship with Nicholas had been an odd, strained thing, at times held together only by the timeless bond that carried Nicholas' concerns and preoccupations to him while modern technology in the form of radio waves carried LaCroix's voice and words back to his estranged son.

Tonight he set his words on to the wind, trusting, hoping that somehow he could still reach his lost child.

"Nicholas, it seems I've adopted another child," he began.  "A rather surprising side-effect of sharing so much blood."

"You would have enjoyed being an older brother to this one.  He's so like you Nicholas.  As strange as it may sound to you that is what drew me to him."

"Perhaps I have learned to appreciate your peculiarities.  Too late, of course."

"Thankfully young Angelus doesn't seek mortality, he merely believes it will be granted as a boon by his Powers should he accomplish the feats which they set forth for him.  I have never know a god to be so generous, thus I find it easier to accept his quest than I did yours."

"Also his linage is of the Failed.  A Romany spell returned his sanity, or perhaps cast out the demon infesting him.  He claims it returned his soul, and I find I can no longer argue against the existence of a soul.  Regardless, he is one of us now, a true vampire, my blood completed the transformation begun with the curse."

"I believe I've learned enough from the mistakes I made with you to not drive him away as I did you."

"I find I miss you Nicholas.  I hope you were correct and are with your Dr. Lambert as you desired to be."

"Farewell Nicholas, wish me well in my new endeavor."

Angel relaxed as the Quo-Kari demon dropped dead at his feet.  It was his first case since being injured and despite what he'd insisted to Cordelia and Wesley he was a long ways from feeling normal.

For one thing he had a sense of the ancient vampire LaCroix.  Angel knew he hadn't left the city.  He still wondered at the ancient's intentions.  LaCroix was unlike any vampire Angel had ever met before.  More powerful and yet less mindlessly destructive, but still not trustworthy.  Angel had little doubt that the ancient had prevented Kate from executing him and had healed him for some reason other than the goodness of his heart.

Beyond his connection to the other vampire Angel still felt weak his lungs and chest ached strangely.  When he switched to his demon form it almost hadn't happened.  There had been dizziness and pain, for a moment he hadn't thought the change would come.  It had almost cost him the battle.  But it hadn't, he reminded himself, and given a little more time he'd finish healing.