Kate stared at the autopsy report, the neck punctures that had been the only wounds found on her father weren't as clean as those found on Richard Corin, but the similarities out weighed the differences.
Richard Corin had been killed by a vampire, so had her father. Angel had been there when her father died, of that Kate had no doubts. Her father had been killed by a vampire. A vampire like that boy she had seen with Angel. A vampire like Angel.
Angel had been there when her father had been killed by a vampire. Opportunity and means, that just left motive.
Richard Corin was connected to her and he was a vampire hunter. Something involving Angel had happened and it had been bad. So bad she'd developed mixed feelings about Corin. She hadn't wanted him as an ally, not after what had happened, whatever that was. Trying to think about that blank in her mind made Kate sick to her stomach. She'd been in involved in something bad. Something that had been done to Angel.
Her father had been killed by a vampire. Motive.
Cordelia groaned, her hands flying from her still intensely painful chest wound to her throbbing temples. Just what she needed, Cordelia thought disparagingly, a vision headache on top of a shattered breastbone and healing heart and lungs.
The vision came, a blur of color and panic, then everything became clear for a moment and Cordelia could see a street sign.
After giving her head a few seconds to clear, Cordelia swung her feet over the side of the bed with a sigh. Slowly she made her way downstairs to Giles' living room. He and Angel were discussing something in hushed tones over tea.
"Cordy, you should be in bed," Angel said, jumping up to help support her down the last few steps.
"Vision," Cordelia explained with a grimace. "I got an address, it's back in LA. There was a lot of panic, this is going to be a public one."
"Call Wesley, let him know we're coming. I'll go get us a car," Angel replied.
"I'll drive," Giles volunteered. "I'm certain Buffy will want to come along as well."
"That isn't necessary," Angel said firmly.
"You are short a team member with Cordelia injured," Giles pointed out. "And if you're going to be fighting in a crowd you'll need to finish it as quickly as possible to avoid having innocents caught in the middle."
"Okay," Angel replied reluctantly. "Collect some weapons for her, I'll get Buffy."
Kate looked around the empty lobby nervously. She wanted to get this over with, not sit around and think about it.
She was going to avenge her father's death. Angel wasn't really the handsome private detective who'd saved her life and whom she'd been attracted to, not really. The truth was he was a monster.
The boy-vampire had called him Angelus and that was a name that survived in legend. Kate had found several books mentioning him already in her apartment, evidence that she'd looked into his past before he'd messed up her mind.
Angelus, the one with the angelic face, the scourge of Europe, was one of the most evil creatures to ever exist. After what she'd learned of his past Kate couldn't believe how he could have put up such a convincing front.
A part of her wondered if it were possible that he'd changed but she crushed down that traitorous thought. Angelus was the thing that had killed her father. A cruel and remorseless killer who'd escaped justice for centuries, nothing more.
Angel carried his coat draped over his arm, hiding the sword he was carrying. Buffy discretely hid her knife in a gym bag as they blended into the crowd surrounding the demon's body. Thankfully the crowd was too busy staring at it to really pay attention to the pair that had killed it.
"I think someone must have been giving that bear some kind of drugs," a witness confided loudly to a police officer.
Several other members of the crowd offered conflicting theories, all equally implausible but easier to take than the truth.
"I told you the aliens were coming!" One man exclaimed and Angel grinned, sometimes fact and fiction could be equally strange.
"I haven't heard that one before," Buffy said.
"I'm just glad Kate didn't show," Angel replied dumping the sword into the trunk of Giles' car. "The last thing she needs is to connect me with another supernatural incident."
"Perhaps she took your advise from the last time and has given up her hunt for demons," Wesley said.
"We can all hope," Cordelia replied twisting back to look at the others from her place in the front seat.
"Don't squirm," Wesley reprimanded her. "You'll aggravate your injuries. You really should have stayed at the office."
"And if you'd needed back-up? Who has the mental link with the really, really old vampire?" Cordelia asked.
"I have a cell phone with Gunn's number on speed dial," Wesley replied. "And I'd prefer his assistance, it doesn't come with strings."
"You used to like LaCroix," Cordelia rebuked Wesley.
"Before he used your illness to further his agenda with Angel," Wesley replied. "I always knew we couldn't trust him, but until then I hadn't realized the depths he'd sink to to get what wants."
"Am I going to have to go through this with everyone?" Cordelia whined to Angel.
"Wes isn't attacking you Cordy," Angel sighed. He hesitated for a moment then regretfully added, "And he's right about LaCroix."
"I trust you completely Cordelia," Wesley assured her. "This has nothing to do with you, it's about LaCroix; he's amoral, opportunistic…"
"He's doing his best to take care of his family," Cordelia argued. "He's not amoral, he follows his beliefs about what's right and wrong without fail, they just don't match yours. He really cares about us, Angel and I anyway, that's more than I can say of my human parents."
Buffy shifted uncomfortably, bothered by Cordelia's impassioned defense of the ancient.
Kate prowled restlessly around the office, twisting her crudely carved stake in her hands, before trading it for the more comforting familiarity of her gun.
She wished she'd found something to back up her conclusion that Angel was a monster and mass murderer.
Sure she'd found well-maintained weapons and blood in the refrigerator in the lobby. But the weapons weren't even circumstantial evidence, her father's death had been caused by fangs not weapons and the blood was actually a mark in his defense, he wouldn't have needed it if he were hunting.
"He did kill my father," Kate reminded herself sternly.
"Would a jury find him guilty?" Her conscious asked. "You don't have any hard evidence."
"He screwed with my mind! He's hiding something," Kate argued.
"But is it murder or just that he's a vampire?"
"Even if he didn't kill my father, which he did, he has killed," Kate shot back. "He's a vampire, by definition that makes him a serial killer."
"What if he's changed?"
"The thing I read about, that doesn't change. Psychopath doesn't even cover what he is, he's a monster, plain and simple."
"He saved your life."
"He killed my father!"
"I'll be right back," Angel said. "I need to get the demon blood off my sword before it corrodes
"An excellent thought," Giles said with a significant look at Buffy. "I'm certain Buffy's ax could use some attention as well."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Bring an extra rag," she said to Angel. "Maybe if you're here I won't get the lecture on proper weapons
"I'll give it to you myself," Angel said walking into his office. "Kate," he exclaimed in unhappy surprise. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"Angel," Kate replied walking toward him, her hand at her side, the gun she held hidden by the folds of the long jacket she was wearing.
"Why are you here?" Angel asked.
"I figured it out," Kate said raising the gun. She fired twice then as Angel staggered back she pulled the stake from her coat pocket and drove it into his chest.
Angel collapsed to his knees, a fresh gout of blood spurting from his chest as the stake was wrenched free. Shock held everyone frozen for a timeless moment. Kate stared, horror-strickened at the blood on her hands. Slowly her eyes rose to meet Angel's uncomprehending gaze. He coughed wetly and blood flecked his lips.
Kate screamed and suddenly the paralysis that had gripped the room was broken.
Buffy kicked the gun out of Kate's hand, breaking the detective's wrist in the process then knocked her back against the office's far wall.
Cordelia caught Angel as he lost consciousness and gently lowered him to the floor, pillowing his head on her knees.
Wesley opened up his cell phone.
Giles moved to stand guard over Kate as Buffy went to Angel.
"He's alive," Cordelia reassured the Slayer.
Buffy took Angel's hand and squeezed it tightly. "You'll be okay," she told him with complete and baseless certainty.
"The ambulance is coming," Wesley said.
Kate was still staring at Angel. "He isn't…" she was muttering. "Oh god, I was wrong. I was wrong. He's not…"
"Do shut up woman," Giles snapped harshly.
Kate pulled her knees to her chest and began rocking slowly back and forth.
The sound of shattering glass announced LaCroix's arrival. He didn't ask any questions, between his residual link with Angel and his full link with Cordelia he knew everything that had happened.
Gently he lifted Angel from Cordelia's lap. Buffy glanced up as Angel was moved, seeing LaCroix's golden eyes and bared fangs she reacted automatically. Bracing her hands on the floor she twisted from her kneeling position to kick LaCroix away from Angel.
Hardly expecting to be attacked LaCroix fell back.
Moving inhumanly fast Cordelia managed to catch Angel and settle him back without jarring him.
Buffy didn't give LaCroix a moment to recover, springing to her feet and delivering a spinning kick that knocked him on his back.
LaCroix snarled, fury and fear for Angel turning his eyes a burning crimson. He lunged off the floor, plowing into Buffy with brutal force. They landed in a heap, LaCroix's much greater size pinning Buffy beneath him. He tangled one hand in her hair and jerked her head back, baring her throat to him.
Buffy managed to get one hand under LaCroix's chin and forced his head back, away from her jugular vein.
Wesley grabbed LaCroix by the shoulder and tried to pull the ancient vampire away from Buffy.
LaCroix turned toward Wesley growling, his fiery eyes bore a mad glow.
"Angelus!" Wesley exclaimed. "It'll destroy him if you kill her! You know that."
LaCroix abruptly released Buffy and rolled to his feet, his eyes regaining a measure of sanity along with their more familiar golden coloring.
"Tell her to stand aside!" LaCroix ordered. "We've run out of time for this fool's game."
"Angel won't die!" Buffy insisted. "The ambulance is coming, they'll make him better."
"Don't delude yourself," LaCroix growled. "I am the only way to save him."
"Let the doctor's try," pleaded Wesley.
"I won't risk my child!" LaCroix snapped.
"You'll have to go through me," Buffy shouted back.
"Through all of us," Giles amended as he and Wesley moved to flank Buffy.
"Can you do that to Angel, kill the people he cares about?" Wesley asked. "And would he return to you if he sees our deaths in your blood."
"Don't include me," Cordelia stated. "LaCroix's right, you're not protecting Angel, you're killing him."
"I won't sanction turning him," Giles said firmly. "Even if he dies it's better this way."
An astounded sound burst from Cordelia. "You're a bunch of idiots! Being a living vampire is way better than a dead human."
The ambulance crew rushed in disrupting the stand off.
"There," Buffy said gesturing to Angel. Reluctantly Cordelia fell back letting the EMT's have access to Angel. LaCroix turned away, hiding his eyes, with a visible shutter he forced his human seeming back into place.
"What the hell happened?" one of the EMT's demanded carefully removing a palm-length splinter from Angel's chest before applying a compression bandage.
"This woman attacked him with a wooden stake after shooting him," Giles said, his tone implied that he couldn't imagine why anyone would ever dream of using a stake for anything other than securing a tent.
"He's going into shock," The second paramedic announced. "The sub-clavicle artery was damaged, there's heavy internal bleeding."
A third member of the ambulance crew relayed the information back to the hospital.
LaCroix stepped forward but Buffy reminded him of her ultimatum with a glare.
"They're here, just give them a chance," Wesley begged quietly. "Buffy will stand aside if he's not going to make it, but let him have the chance to survive as a human."
LaCroix took a deep breath and Cordelia sensed a brittle version of his customary icy control replacing the near panic he'd felt since Angel had been injured. "We have to stay close," He said guiding her toward the door. "I won't be able to do anything if he actually dies. But Wesley is correct, the safest path is to give him every chance to survive as a human. I can't be certain what he'll choose if I try to turn him now."
The EMT's transferred Angel to a stretcher as a couple of uniformed police officers appeared on the scene. They stared at Kate with shocked recognition.
"Detective?" the younger one asked, shaking her lightly.
"I'm going with Angel," Buffy insisted forcefully and room was made for her in the ambulance.
"I was wrong. Oh God I was wrong," Kate repeated staring blindly into space.
Cordelia and LaCroix discretely worked they're way out of the Hyperion and took to the skies to follow the ambulance.
"Send someone to the hospital to take the girl's statement the older officer ordered before turning his attention to Wesley and Giles.
The atmosphere in the waiting room was painfully tense. Buffy and LaCroix stood in opposite corners, glowering at each other, while Cordelia hovered by the door, listening intently, flinching every now and then, looking pale even for a vampire.
"They're still operating?" Giles asked as he and Wesley joined them
"They're doing some sort of tests," Buffy said.
"It's bad," Cordelia added. "I don't understand a lot of what they're saying, but it's really bad."
"As long as he's not dead I can fix this," LaCroix reassured Cordelia.
"No," Buffy said, but her voice wavered uncertainly.
"Would you let him die?" LaCroix asked. "Your insistence that he remain human is the only reason we're here now. Will you not end this stupidity and let me offer him the protection being a vampire provides?"
"It was a goddamn stake, LaCroix!" Buffy snapped. "Being a vampire isn't protection against
"She missed. The danger to a vampire would be pasted by now."
"If you hadn't screwed with her mind she wouldn't have gone after Angel in the first place!" Buffy accused angrily.
"She tortured him extensively with holy water before I ever met her, and if it weren't for Angelus' all too human sensibilities she wouldn't have been alive to present any further threat to my son after that incident." LaCroix said.
"Angel doesn't want what you have to offer!" Buffy insisted. "He won't accept it, you'll just finish killing him if you try to turn him."
"You don't want him to accept it," LaCroix said. "His desire to please you is what is killing him."
"He's not going to die!" Buffy exclaimed.
"He is dying and your wishes are all that kept him clinging to humanity," LaCroix replied. "Grant him your permission to choose and see what he decides."
"He's happy as a human."
"He was and he will be again once he truly understands what being a vampire is," LaCroix admitted. "Mortality is fleeting. Angelus' is over. We aren't debating human or vampire any long. The choice is between vampire and corpse."
"I don't accept that!" Buffy said stubbornly.
"They're finished," Cordelia hissed backing away from the door. "The doctor's coming."
A tired looking older man appeared through the doors Cordelia had been listening at. "Is Ms. Chase here?" he asked.
"How is he?" Buffy asked.
"Ms. Chase?" The doctor questioned.
"That would be me," Cordelia said. "What's going on?"
"May I speak with you in private?" the doctor asked.
"What's going on? Angel didn't die, so what is this?" Cordelia demanded.
"Please allow me to speak to you alone," the doctor requested.
"Fine," Cordelia snapped. "Just tell me what's going on!"
The doctor led Cordelia to his office. The others remained fidgeting impatiently in the waiting room, trying to ignore the ominous feeling settling over the room in the wake of the doctor's request.
LaCroix used his link to Cordelia to eavesdrop on her conversation with the doctor. After several minutes he stormed out of the hospital without a word of explanation.
The police officer mindlessly stood by as LaCroix walked past him into the room containing Detective Lockley.
As she had at the hotel, Kate was still curled in a ball mumbling her endless protestations of guilt-leadened remorse. LaCroix stared down at the woman without pity.
I shouldn't be here, LaCroix thought; I should be turning Angelus right now regardless of his or the girl's feeling on the matter.
This was literally his worst nightmare since Angelus became human almost five months ago; Angelus' life was in jeopardy and LaCroix could do nothing. The Slayer would force him to kill her rather than accept that the only chance to save Angelus was to return him to his proper state. And while LaCroix had no moral compunction about killing her he could hardly expect to successfully turn Angelus when his culpability in Buffy's death would lie plainly in the blood he would have to share to turn him. Angelus would see that and flee from him straight into the arms of Death.
LaCroix's control was too precarious to risk an extended debate with the girl the moment. Her stubborn denial of simple facts was more than enough to tempt him into killing her. Until he had gained a measure of control it was best that he stayed away. And LaCroix was forced to admit he was fearful of trying to turn Angelus at this point. Until he tried he couldn't fail. LaCroix didn't want to face loosing yet another child so soon after Nicholas, but there were so many things that made turning Angelus, at this juncture, a potential disaster.
He looked down at Kate, LaCroix had thought her the perfect target for his fearful frustration and rage, and yet…
"I'm sorry, I was wrong," Kate was still babbling.
LaCroix caught her chin and forced her to look at him. "Once before you threatened to take my son from me," LaCroix said. "I foolishly allowed you to walk away from that without repercussions. That mistake may cost me his life but it will be rectified. Although, at this moment, ending your pathetic existence seems almost a mercy. Still it is a mercy I am willing to grant."
LaCroix gripped the back of her head with his free hand then twisted her neck sharply. Kate's body dropped bonelessly to the floor, dead even before she fell.
LaCroix turned away from his empty revenge and walked out of the precinct, his departure no more remarked upon than his arrival had been.
"Angel isn't going to make it, not as a human," Cordelia said bluntly, stalking up to Buffy. "Maybe not even as a vampire."
"Don't say that, especially not here!" Buffy hissed angrily with a significant glance at Angel's unconscious form.
Cordelia shuttered at the numerous tubes and wires practically hiding Angel beneath them, remembering what the doctor had told her about his condition. Then her earlier anger returned in a rush. "It doesn't fucking matter what I say!" she snapped shoving a sheath of papers into Buffy's hands.
"What are these?" Buffy asked in confusion.
"Organ donor forms," Cordelia explained mercilessly. "Kate damaged the arteries supplying blood to Angel's brain, it took the doctors too long to restore the blood flow. Angel is brain dead. LaCroix isn't even sure if changing him will fix things. If you hadn't interfered at the hotel it wouldn't be an issue. The damage wasn't caused directly by what Kate did; it was the delay in treatment. If we'd been able to change him immediately there wouldn't have been any damage," Cordelia accused.
Buffy's knees gave out and she slumped into a chair beside the bed, "I was trying to protect him," she whispered staring up at Cordelia with wide grief stricken eyes.
Angel stared down at the headstone with dismay.
He didn't understand what was happening; he knew where he was, if not how he'd come to be here. But he didn't understand why he couldn't leave. The cemetery covered less than a acre, he should have been able to walk to the edge in minutes, but no matter how he tried he always found himself back here, staring down at the very grave he'd risen from centuries earlier.
Determinedly he turned his back on the stone once more and began walking.
Buffy met LaCroix at the door to Angel's room, "Tell him I love him and I want him to come back to us," she said tremulously.
LaCroix nodded sharply as he walked past her to Angel's bedside. How was it, he wondered that these setting could make anyone appear so frail?
LaCroix reached through the tangle of medical equipment to brush his fingers across Angel's cheek. LaCroix's eyes closed for a second and he sighed in relief at the faint spark of life he could still sense.
With renewed certainty LaCroix turned to study the various machines surrounding Angel. The last thing he needed was for one of these devices to bring a nurse at an inopportune moment.
After several minutes study LaCroix deftly switched off the alarms. Then he gently removed the respirator tube from Angel's mouth as well as the IV lines in his arm.
LaCroix bit into Angel's wrist, flinching almost imperceptibly at the dull taste, a faint, distant, confused frustration was all the life left in his blood. Hopefully that would be enough. LaCroix used his fangs to open the veins in his wrist and pressed the sluggishly bleeding wound to Angel's mouth.
Angel glanced down at one of the other tombstones in the cemetery then stared, transfixed. The name and dates silently accused him, but Jenny Calendar's final resting place was in Sunnydale not Galway.
Fearfully Angel read the names on several more stones, he recognized them all.
What was this place?
Angel hurried forward only to find himself standing over his own grave once again. He turned to walk away and was confronted with a closed door, standing alone in the middle of the cemetery.
A man in his mid-thirties with disarrayed blond hair sat casually leaning back against one of the tombstones surrounding the doorway.
"Is that the way out?" Angel asked.
"It's one way," the man answered opening crystalline blue eyes and smiling up at Angel. "Possibly not the way you want."
"What are you doing here?" Angel asked uncertainly.
"Enjoying the sun," The man replied and for the first time Angel realized he'd been walking unharmed through the sunlit cemetery for what seemed to be an eternity.
"It hasn't hurt either of us yet, so I'm not going to worry about it," the man… no, the other vampire said. "I like your representation of this place better than my own, at least yours has grass."
"You know where we are?" Angel asked.
"It's the place where we choose, the place between life and death," the vampire said. "You can go through the door, to where-ever it leads, or go back and live, but as a vampire again. Or for the first time, you'll actually be a vampire if you go back now, not one of the Failed."
"What's you're purpose in all this?" Angel asked. "Guide? Gatekeeper? Guard?"
The blond vampire grinned boyishly. "I'm not actually sure. When I was in your place I thought the person I met was a gatekeeper. The first time she was a lovely woman who begged me to crossover. The second time our esteemed parent barred my way and told me I still had to make amends in the world."
"That doesn't sound like LaCroix," Angel commented.
"You're right, he isn't much of an advocate of redemption," Nick said. "It might be that our minds, our subconscious thoughts give form to this place. Nat would tell you that this is all just a hallucination brought on by the lack of blood to the brain. Something scientific and quantifiable."
"Except I've never met you, so why would my subconscious conjure you up," Angel said.
Nick shrugged. "Science can't explain everything."
"What would your lady say?" Angel asked good-humoredly remember the Natalie Lambert's journals had relieved that the doctor had possessed little tolerance for Nick's belief in the supernatural.
"What would yours say?" Nick replied lightly.
Angel smiled fondly. "My lady is not overly fond of science. Particularly when it is encountered in the form of a quiz."
Nick laughed softly.
"But you're not a gatekeeper?" Angel asked returning to the subject at hand.
"I don't feel like a gatekeeper, more like an older brother," Nick said. "Someone who's been here before, several times actually, and might be able to offer advise."
"Well I already know how you chose," Angel said sitting down beside Nick. "So I guess why would be the better question."
Nick sighed. "I chose between death and vampirism six times, half of those with regard to my own life. The first time I chose to go back not knowing what I was going back to but afraid to go on."
"I made a devil's pact with LaCroix to keep him from offering this choice to Fleur, my sweet, little Fleur. She was innocence and sunshine, I couldn't imagine her as anything else. No matter how well intentioned, a vampire can never be innocent, not when we hunger for human blood."
"A few years ago I tried to unmake my original choice, I told you what happened."
"Jenette, my lover and my sister as you are my brother, found mortality and death and I forced her to face this choice again. With her I couldn't imagine her being dead anymore than I could imagine my mortal sister as a vampire."
"Finally Nat, my beloved Natalie, demanded that I either step fully into her world or take her fully into mine. I failed to do either and so I joined her in death."
"Usually you need to go to more than one person for conflicting advice," Angel commented.
"I said I'd been here before, not that I knew what I was doing. I haven't much experience in giving advice or taking it either for that matter," Nick replied and to his own surprise Angel found himself smiling in response.
"So what's on the other side of the door?" Angel asked.
"For you? I honestly don't know. Unlike myself, you don't bare full responsibility for your past. The demon may have taken form from what you were in life, but it wasn't exactly you. I envy you that."
"It doesn't wash the blood from my hands," Angel said quietly.
"Then perhaps you should return. You've a destiny to fulfill and people who would miss you. The door will always be here and they're worried for you."
"That was pretty straight forward. Buffy would give you points for not being cryptic," Angel said. "But aren't you breaking some sort of rule? I thought messages from the PTB were required to be obscure."
"Who said I was that?" Nick asked lightly. "I'm just a manifestation of your subconscious remember? And since you always knew what you wanted why should I confuse the matter?"
"A fairly independent manifestation," Angel laughed. "Goodbye Nick, I'm glad I met you. Say hello to Natalie for me."
Nick's eyes turned sad and serious. "Some promises can't be kept. Death was neither what I hoped for or what I feared."
Angel's dark eyes blinked, for a few seconds he just took in what had happened. Then his gaze met LaCroix's; relief was evident in the older vampire's expression.
"You turned me," Angel said. "With Buffy's blessing."
"You were dying Mon Fils," LaCroix replied.
"Oh," Angel said, uncertainly. Then he glanced around himself. "How can we explain…"
"Your sister and I will see that the good doctors see nothing untoward about your sudden recovery," LaCroix promised.
"So is it different?" Buffy asked absently, playing with a button on Angel's shirt as she reclined against his chest.
"Not entirely," Angel answered. "There's still the need for blood. If anything that's stronger now, more a part of me. It's strange I never realized how separate the demon was before. No standard of comparison I guess."
"So this isn't better?" Buffy asked.
"No, I wouldn't say that," Angel replied. "I feel more in control, more whole, not soul and demon, just me. There is the blood lust; I am still a vampire, but no demon. The hunger is a darkness in me, but it isn't the absolute evil that the demon was. I can live with this."