Blood is Thicker than Water (Prologue) - Lost in the Night
Author: Michael Dewar (Beta-read by Gonzai)
Rating: All
Summary: When a client is murdered, Angel is plunged into the sordid world of
showgirls and prostitution. He finds himself investigating a case, without even
knowing why he was hired, or what the crime is.
As he gets closer to the truth, he will find himself and his friends running in
fear from a seemingly indestructible force. For how do you kill something that
isn't even alive?

* * *

The feet thudded on the sidewalk, an endless human drumbeat. Pedestrians bumped
their way down the streets, an entire cross-section of the city, all forced onto
the same narrow gray pavement by the threat of predatory cars. The sun was
already long gone, and the people had changed their work clothes for their play
clothes. Glittering dresses, black leather, smooth-cut suits, all and every
style adorned them. Innocent people out for a night on the town, ignoring their
troubles, fears and problems for as long as the night lasted.

That's the thing about Los Angeles. New York may be the city that never sleeps,
but LA is the city that only comes alive at night. Not unlike other things.
Vampires, for example.

Ten storeys up, Angel's back slammed hard down onto the rooftop. He struggled to
his feet as the demons swept around for another pass. Two hideous bat-winged
creatures with slender stick-like bodies and smooth death-mask faces, they
hissed at the vampire as they hovered in the air, their clawed fingers twitching
hungrily.
" Doyle!" Angel snapped, as the night-black demons dove in again, " get on with
it!"

A few meters away, struggling with a polished wooden longbow nearly as tall as
he was, Doyle cursed.
" Give me a second, man! I'm kinda new at this whole Robin Hood thing!" he
yelled to the vampire, struggling with the bowstring. The half-demon nocked an
arrow and pulled back hard on the string, even as one of the demons swept in
fast for Angel, its barbed tail whipping towards his vulnerable throat.
The arrow's silver point glinted wickedly in the dim light as it wove through a
series of figure-eights.
Doyle grunted, mentally uttered a prayer, and let go.
The silver-tipped arrow lanced through the air, straight and true. It dove under
one of the demon's wings and punched straight into Angel's chest, barely inches
to the side of his heart. The vampire staggered backwards, nearly falling from
the roof.
Doyle winced. " Sorry!"

Angel snarled, beating back a demon with his fists. " Fire again!" he growled,
ducking low.

Doyle nodded, then realized that the vampire couldn't even see him past the
large winged demons.
" This is very bad," he muttered softly, reaching for the quiver at his
side....the empty quiver at his side.
" Cordelia!" he yelled. " Arrows!"

Behind the door leading to the roof, Cordelia's muffled voice responded. " I'm
coming!" There was a sound of a thump. " I really think someone should oil these
hinges!" she shouted, pounding on the door.

Angel flung himself down as claws tore through the shoulder of his short leather
jacket, rending his undead flesh. He rolled smoothly under one of the attacking
demons and the two creatures collided trying to get to him, squawking angrily.
The vampire took short, shallow breaths as the demons untangled themselves,
eager for his flesh in their fanged mouths.
" Guys!" the vampire roared, as the demons came in for another pass.

With a groan of strained wood, Cordelia forced the door aside. " All right, I'm
here!" she snapped. " Would everybody stop yelling? Hey, watch it!" she said as
Doyle elbowed her aside, grabbing the quiver of arrows dangling from her left
hand.

" No time, darlin'," Doyle responded, frantically pulling an arrow from the
quiver and fitting it to the finely-crafted bow.

Angel knocked the first demon aside with a powerful backhand, but the second one
smashed full into him, bearing him to the ground. Strong scaled hands tightened
around his throat, bloodstained claws digging into his neck. The demon began to
beat its wings, lifting him off the ground by his throat. Through the choking
pain, Angel could feel his neckbones cracking.
A few more seconds, and his head would come right off.
A silver-headed arrow punched through the demon's heart, showering Angel in dark
blood. It shrieked in pain and collapsed to the ground, its black wings covering
Angel like a shroud.

" Yeah! Just call me William Tell," Doyle crowed, punching the air.
" Uh...he did apples, not bat-thing hearts," Cordelia reminded him. " Besides
which, Willy, we've still got one more."

But that was one demon who had had enough. Roaring with fury, it flapped its
huge wings strongly, swooping away. Angel beat aside the wings of the fallen
demon just as the other demon dove down, out of sight. Without missing a beat,
the vampire leapt to his feet and started running.

" Uh, Angel?" Doyle asked. " You aren't planning to do anything stupid, right?"
Angel reached the edge of the roof and leapt off.

" Guess that answers that question," Cordelia commented.

* * *

Angel dropped two storeys, surrounded in expectant silence.
Below him, he could see the dark form of the bat-demon, twisting and turning on
the wind currents. Choose your moment, he thought grimly.
Wait..wait...now!
Angel's pale hands snatched ahold of the demon's whip-like tail, and the
creature howled with shock at the sudden drag. The vampire grimaced as the
demon's wings beat at him, surrounding him with its rank, fetid odour. Slowly,
hand over hand, he began to pull himself up its long, slender tail. The demon
hissed, dropping lower, as Angel secured a hold on its back.

The landscape below flashed past in a dizzying blur.
Streets...cars...people....trees. Trees? Angel wondered. Of course, a park! He's
flown over a park!
Angel saw his salvation. Hooking his fingers into the demon's back, he drove it
lower, squeezing at its spine. As the trees brushed past, bare meters below,
Angel roared with fury, ripping the arrow from his side. The silver-tipped
weapon swept up and then down.
The creature gave an almost human cry of pain as Angel drove the arrow between
its shoulder blades. The bat-demon's wings gave two last, strained beats, then
the sharp arrowhead found the monster's heart. The creature stiffened and
dropped like a stone.

With a crunch, Angel and the demon slammed down onto a park bench, causing the
wood to splinter beneath their weight. A young couple, making out under a tree,
took one look at the limp form of the demon and shrieked in unison.

" Sorry," Angel called apologetically after their fleeing forms, as he struggled
up from the demon's spread-eagled corpse. The exhausted vampire slumped down on
the broken bench next to the body, and gingerly poked at the already-sealing
wound in his side. Slowly, the demon's body bubbled away, evaporating into a
cloud of greasy black smoke, leaving the silver arrow embedded in the wooden
bench.
Rubbing his side, Angel got to his feet and made his way out of the park, back
onto the streets. His streets.

* * *

" You're an idiot!" Cordelia snapped, as the three of them walking along the
sidewalk. " Doyle, tell him he's an idiot."

" You're an idiot," Doyle confirmed, adjusting the large bow on his shoulder.

" Exactly!" the angry woman continued. " In case you hadn't noticed, I signed on
to work for a vampire, not an undead pancake!"

" Cordelia," Angel interrupted. " I killed the demon, I'm not a pancake, and
we're going home. No problems at all."

" Yeah," Cordy muttered, her voice full of foreboding," but when you end up with
your entire body in a cast, drinking blood through a straw, then you'll be
sorry."

" And I'll be sure to tell you that you were right," Angel answered easily, as
they strode up the steps to the office door. The bronze plate glinted in the
streetlights, as Angel pulled out his keys and inserted them into the lock. Then
the vampire stiffened, and sniffed the air." Cordelia? Are you wearing perfume?"

Cordelia's brow wrinkled. " No, of course not, like I'd waste good perfume on
you guys and smelly bat-things. Why?"

" Smelled something," Angel responded vaguely, his nose tilted to the air. "
Smelt like some kind of flowery perfume, cheap and nasty. Coming from the
office."

" So what, we're being stalked by the Flower Monster?" Doyle asked
incredulously. " Just open the door already, this blasted bow is wearing a
groove into my shoulder."

" Some demons have distinctive scents. Pheromones and, sometimes, poisons. Step
back," he commanded, raising his foot.
As his companions took a cautious step back, the vampire lashed out, slamming
the door open.

A slender woman looked up from a desk, her attractive features contorted with
worry. " Hi," she said nervously. " Are you, um...Angel?"

Angel allowed himself to relax a little. " Yes, can I help you?" he inquired
dryly. " Or were you just looking for a phone?"

" I heard you help people." the woman asked, absently toying with her long black
hair. " Is that true?"

" It is indeed," Doyle answered cheerfully from the doorway." And how could we
help a lovely lady such as yourself?"

The woman looked around, an expression of uncertainty crossing her face. " Is
there somewhere we could talk?"

Angel nodded slowly. This doesn't look like a con, he thought. There was real
fear in her face. Angel knew all about fear, he'd seen it often enough on the
faces of his victims. Before the curse...before it all changed.
Shaking away the dark memories, Angel mustered a smile. " Come into my office,"
he suggested. " Cordelia, -"

" I know, I know, make her some coffee," Cordy muttered. The young woman
vanished in the direction of the coffee machine, as Angel led their new client
into his office.

* * *

" Found the subject," the assassin said coolly into his cellphone. " Do I make
the hit?"

" Yes," the voice on the other end of the line replied just as coolly. " Call me
after it is done." There was a click as the line disconnected.

The assassin stretched out flat on the rooftop, placing his eye in front of the
rifle scope. Carefully, he adjusted the long, slender weapon, bringing the image
into focus. Angel Investigations, the sign on the door read.
Hmm, a P.I, the hired killer thought. Trying to spill the beans, are we, honey?
It didn't matter. In a short while, she wouldn't be talking ever again, and if
he had to kill the P.I. as well, well then his fees would just go up a fraction.
The assassin took a sip of his cola and smiled at the thought.

* * *

" My name is Lara Winters," the women began, cradling her cup of the motor oil
Cordelia chose to call coffee. " The trouble started where I work. Well,
actually it's still just there, but lately I've been feeling like I'm being
watched, as well."

Angel nodded reassuringly, examining the woman sitting opposite him. He heard
Doyle and Cordelia shift meaningfully behind him as they leaned against the
wall, and realised he was expected to respond. " I see. Where do you work,
exactly?" he asked, still studying her features.

" It's a ...bar of sorts...on Meridia Road," Lara answered. Her hands shook as
she carefully put the cup down. " It's called Whispering Silence. My boss got
the name from a poem, I think."

" And what do you do there? Waitress, cook, manager?"

Lara bit her lipstick-stained lips. " I'm...an entertainer. A dancer, kinda."

" An entertainer?" Cordelia queried. " Like a stand-up comedian or something
equally lame?"

" Not exactly," she answered, flushing.

" An *entertainer*, Cordy," Doyle said, raising his eyebrows meaningfully. " You
know."

" Excuse me? What am I supposed to know?"

" An *entertainer*," Doyle repeated, making some suggestive movements with his
hands.

" *Oh*. Ew, much?" Cordy answered, looking disgusted.

" You're a hooker," Angel stated bluntly.

Lara's eyes hardened. " Yes, okay? I didn't come here to be judged, I came for
help. Besides, it's good money, and it doesn't involve dealing or killing. If
you've got a problem, just say so."

" No problem," Angel answered calmly, raising his palms in a peaceful fashion. "
I understand."

" What? Were you a gigolo or something?" she asked.

Doyle sniggered.
" No, no," Angel explained hastily. " I know what it's like to have to do
something that you're not entirely proud of, I meant."

" Oh." Lara's watch beeped angrily, interrupting them. "Damn it!" she swore
softly. " I've got get to work! Listen, I'll have to talk to you later. I get
off from the club at 1 in the morning, come by and we'll talk, okay?" She rose
to her feet and Angel rose as well.

" Can you just give us something to go on before you leave?" he asked. " Why are
you so worried?"

Indecision and the fear of being late fought a war across her face. " Some of
the girls, they started disappearing," Lara explained quickly. " I talked to
...a friend about it, and he said I should get someone private to keep an eye on
things." She held out a hand to Angel, " I'll see you soon."

* * *

The assassin straightened as the door opened and the target stepped out. The
door closed and she started to walk down the street, huddled and alone.

" Hello, baby," he muttered under his breath. His cold gray eyes narrowed as he
peered through the rifle scope. He adjusted the rifle on its tripod and brought
the dark X to bear directly on the woman's head.

Such a pretty face, he mused, then his finger squeezed the trigger. The pretty
face vanished in a puff of red, as the rifle boomed.

* * *

Angel burst out onto the street, the shot ringing in his ears. High above, on
the roof of the building opposite, he caught a glint of steel. To a human, it
would have been almost unnoticeable, but to Angel's vampire eyes, it shone like
a miniature sun. He caught a glimpse of a bearded face beneath a baseball cap,
as the shooter rolled smoothly out of sight. Then Angel noticed the bloodstained
form on the pavement.

" No..." he whispered, sprinting towards it. He rolled the body over with a foot
and Lara's sightless eyes stared up at him.
For a second, the temptation ran through him. A few drops of his vampire blood
could make her live again, laugh again...but it wouldn't be her, it would be a
soulless monster, an abomination against life itself. Like me, he thought
grimly.

Angel looked up at the roof, and began to run. There was no chance of catching
the sniper, who was probably already in a getaway vehicle, but Angel ran anyway.
* * *

Blood is Thicker than Water - Act 1-
The silence whispers to us all
(Note: The song is Crush by Garbage)


* * *

It was half an hour later. Lara's eyes stared up at him, glazed and accusing.

" ....so you gave chase, but the shooters got away," Kate Lockley finished. "
Angel?"

Angel looked up from the body as the officers covered it with a white linen
cloth. " Huh?" She frowned. " Oh, sorry," he muttered guiltily,
" I wasn't really following."

The flashing red-blue lights of the squad cars illuminated the detective's
worried expression. " You okay there? Want to sit down?"

The vampire shook his head. " No, I'm good, thanks. Any more questions?"

Kate glanced around. " No, I think we're pretty much done. Give the evidence
vultures a few more seconds, then it's back to the station. We'll need you to
come in for some questioning, get a formal statement. Tomorrow afternoon okay?"

" No," Angel answered reflexively. Kate glanced at him quizzically, as he
continued haltingly," uh, because I have to...go shopping. Shopping. Yeah.
Because I'm out of bloo - coffee."

" Uh-huh. An inquiry into the death of a client, who was shot on your doorstep,
mind you - and you need to pick up coffee."

" I don't get out much during the day, I'm usually busy."

" Yeah, because Private Investigation really is a field that takes place during
regular hours of nine to five," Kate said, her voice syrupy with irony. " You
allergic to daylight or something?"

" Something," Angel responded softly. He gave her a pleading look. " Kate, could
we just skip the formalities? I just really don't need to get held up in a
police station all day."

" Why? Someone planning a bit of recreation vengeance?"

" No," he answered. He didn't think he was very convincing, and judging from her
expression, neither did she.

Kate sighed. " Okay, on the off-chance you actually do have a valid reason not
to come - and because I owe you, I won't press. I'll make up something
convincing for my lieutenant." She ran her hands through her hair and fixed
Angel with a penetrating stare. " But only if you promise me one thing."

" What?"

Kate looked around at the shadowy night streets. The streetlights cast pools of
white that only seemed to emphasize the inky black shadows reaching out for
them." The whole vigilante deal? It only works in the movies, Angel. Not here.
Not in real life. I know you see yourself as some kind of shiny cowboy, with his
white hat and white stallion....well, actually probably black hat and black
stallion...but real life doesn't favor heroes. I don't want to find you lying on
a morgue table with a .45 round in your skull. You get me?"

" Got you," Angel agreed, forcing a grin. Then it was his turn to give her a
penetrating stare. " Not wanting to see me dead...is that for practical reasons
or personal ones?"

" Neither," Kate answered lightly, smiling at him. " I just need a few non-work
guy friends, so my dad doesn't think I'm a lesbian. Of course, he did think you
might be gay..."

Angel flashed his own smile. Indicating his coal-black leather coat and gray
slacks, he quipped," Please. Looking at me, does the word gay spring to mind? Or
any descriptive word that doesn't involve the word black?"

" Just one," Kate answered, winking. " Handsome," she teased as she walked away.
" See you round, Angel."

Staring at her back, Angel's smile vanished. " Handsome?" he whispered softly. "
Not all the time, Kate." His eyes glinted vampire gold for a second, then he
walked away.

* * *

" Work for a vampire, they said. See parts of the world you've never seen, they
said. True enough, I guess. We always see all the really nasty deadly bits,"
Cordelia groused. " And has anybody bothered to tell these people that the whole
dancing around a metal pole thing only works on people with firemen fetishes?"

" Well, you're not a man," Doyle observed, adjusting his belt as he surveyed the
strippers. " Trust me, we still find it riveting."

" Check out the rest of the club," Angel ordered. " I'm going to see if I can
find anyone who knows where Lara lived." The vampire walked away, his dark
clothes in stark contrast to the brightly-clothed customers around him.

" Well some of us do," Doyle muttered, gazing after him. " He really needs to
lighten up."

" Oh please. I'd sooner date Godzilla," Cordelia told the heavily bearded man
next to her. " What did you say?" she asked, turning back to Doyle.

" Angel. Needs to lighten up a little," the half-demon explained, pointing.

" Understatement of the year, much? That's like saying Roseanne needs to slim
down a little!" Cordy paused, then launched off onto another topic. " You know,
that's what really gets me down. Here I am, young, beautiful, talented - and
unable to get a role in an ad to promote liquid soap. And that elephant has her
own talk show! Life's not fair!"

" Yeah," Doyle said. " Too true."



Whispering Silence's strange blue lights gave Angel's pale face a hard, icy
sheen as he moved through the club. There weren't many people there, he noted,
and those that were there were mostly so high that they couldn't even tell who
they were, let alone where they were. The music softly throbbed from speakers on
the walls, as the scantily clad women twisted and whirled around their metal
poles, wiggling sinuously.

I would die for you
I would die for you
I've been dying just to feel you by my side
To know that you're mine

Angel slipped past a couple locked in erotic embrace, muttering, " Excuse me,"
beneath his breath. The strippers spun to the music, slinking forward, hips
swaying. They smiled seductively at the semi-conscious men and women at the
tables, white teeth glinting in the cold blue light.

I will cry for you
I will cry for you
I will wash away your pain with all my tears
And drown your fears

Two women, identical twins, approached Angel.

" Hey, big man," one of them said seductively, running her hands through her
hair and leaning back.

" Hey," Angel said.

" Cara thinks that my dress is too slutty," the second twin said, running her
hands over her skimpy black dress." Is it?" She licked her lips.

" Yes," Angel responded bluntly.

See your face every place that I'm walking
Hear your voice every time that I'm talking
You will believe in me,
And I will never be ignored


* * *


" Yeah," Doyle said, for the twentieth time. " Too true."

" And then, the director just told me, ' You're not quite what we're looking
for'! I mean, come on! I was born for that part! I was totally believable!"

" Yes, Cordy," Doyle agreed dryly," you would have been perfect as Dancer No.17
in the Can-Can routine for that Coke ad." The half-demon was becoming worried
that his head might implode. Ordinarily, he was fine with listening to Cordelia
talk about her favorite topic, herself, but enough was enough. He prayed that a
huge Doyle-eating demon would just appear and swallow him up. Luckily, he
noticed the next best thing." Angel! How goes the detectoring?" Doyle asked,
shooting up to the vampire with frightening speed.

The vampire absently rubbed his stinging cheek. " Not so good. Anything
interesting happen at your end?"

Doyle opened his mouth. But he was far too slow. " Well, " Cordelia said. "
While sitting here, I have been hit on by winos, street people, biker freaks, a
really spaced out girl who likes leather a *lot*, and a weird short guy called
Ken."

" Who had a really good left hook," Doyle added, rubbing his shoulder.

" Oh," Angel said, somewhat overwhelmed by Radio Cordelia, with excerpts from
the Doyle Channel.

" Excuse me," a firm voice said behind them. The three turned to face a large
man in a dark suit, who was definitely *not* part of the entertainment. " If we
could have a word in private?" the man asked, his beefy hands clamping down on
Angel's shoulders.

" Okay!" Cordy said a bit too brightly. " You men just go off and have a nice
chat, and Doyle and I will stay here. Okay?"

The man frowned. " No. Not okay. Move it."

* * *

The office was not really what one might expect from the owner of a strip
joint. It was both simple and spacious, and almost compulsively neat. Behind a
dark wooden desk, a pleasant-looking man regarded them. Late-40s, Angel judged,
but there were only a few crows-wrinkles around his eyes and the barest streaks
of gray in his dark brown hair. Hanging on the wall behind him, several weapons
attracted Angel's attention, and he examined them with critical eyes as the man
rose to his feet, smiling easily.

Showy and unwieldy, the vampire judged, as the man moved out from behind his
desk.
" Jonathan King," he introduced himself, holding out a hand to Angel.

" Angel," the vampire responded, his tone carefully neutral as he shook King's
hand.

King beamed. " A pleasure, truly a pleasure. And your friends?"

" Doyle, Cordelia," Angel said, pointing to each in turn.

" Charmed," King said.

" That's.... a big sword you've got there," Cordelia said politely, pointing
behind him

King nodded, glancing at the enormous double-handed weapon she indicated. " Used
by German barbarians, before the Roman Empire crushed them," he explained, his
hand stroking the icy metal. " I'm fond of history myself. My father was a firm
believer in reincarnation, and I always wondered what it would have been like to
live in bygone days. Don't you ever imagine what it would have been like to live
a century ago, Angel? To see a different time, up close?"

" Can't say that I do." It's hard to imagine something you really experienced.

King shrugged. " Ah well, each to their own." Then he shook his head and smiled
self-depreciatingly." But I must be boring you, talking about my hobbies! What
can I do for you?"

" Haven't a clue," Doyle replied caustically. " Since it was your walking
mountain that 'invited' us here, and all."

" Of course," King chuckled. " I forgot for a moment. Ang - may I call you Ang?
- I believe one of my girls physically assaulted you, correct?"

Angel frowned. " Excuse me?"

" She slapped you," King clarified, still smiling.

" Ew!" Cordelia muttered." Angel, what kind of thing did you ask her to do that
would make a *hooker* slap you?"

" It was a misunderstanding," Angel explained, ignoring her." No lasting
damage."

" Yes, Ang, but I still need to make sure my customers are treated well," King
said, resting his hand easily on the vampire's shoulder. " I can't hope that
everyone will be as mature as you, so I need to keep discipline. The customer is
always right, that's my motto."

" I'm not really sure that those words were exactly meant in regard to strip
clubs," Doyle chuckled, smiling slightly." I mean I don't really see your type
of business as worrying about being respectable. No offense or anything."

King's brow creased and he paused, sitting down on his desk." Mr Doyle, I must
say I do view my...enterprise as respectable. The oldest profession in the
world, you know," he quipped. " I'm not ashamed of what I do. My girls are well-
treated, provided with places to live
and with treats and presents -"
" Like pets," Cordelia interrupted cheerfully.

King raised an eyebrow, as if trying to decide if he was offended or not." Yes,
in a way. But really, I can't abide slackness or disrespect, so I have to make
some kind of reparation. Feel free to enjoy yourselves...on the house."

Angel and Doyle exchanged glances." Thanks," Angel said slowly," but I'm not
really sure if -"

" Oh don't be so uptight!" King advised." Just look around, see if there's
something you like."

" I think what they're trying to say is 'thanks, but no thanks'," Cordelia said
sharply. " Come on, let's go." She walked quickly to the door and looked back
firmly at the men. " Coming?"

* * *

" 'On the house'?" Cordelia asked incredulously as they walked down the passage,
back to the main section of the club. " God, how gross is that?"

" Well," Doyle began," I guess you can see the logic, in a funny kind of way -"

" *Doyle*!"

" - totally unacceptable, he was completely out of line," the half-demon
finished guiltily.

" Yeah!" she agreed." And as for that whole 'oldest profession' line? Please.
Basically, he hires girls to have sex with people. Why doesn't he just come out
and say it?"

" Because it's illegal in most countries around the world?" Angel suggested.

" Whatever, 'Ang'. And as for - hey!"

A lean, thin man pushed past them, walking towards King's door. " Sorry," he
answered emotionlessly, adjusting the baseball cap on his head.

" Well!" Cordelia spat." I call that rude, don't you, Angel? Angel?" Angel
stared after the man, his eyes narrowing. There he was, plain as daylight.
Lara's killer, still wearing the same cap, the lower portion of his face hidden
behind a beard. The man's gray eyes passed over Angel and his companions without
a hint of recognition, and the vampire had to control a shudder at what he saw
in those eyes. They were empty gray pools of nothingness, the eyes of a weapon,
not a human being - one could and would kill others as easily as he might blow
his nose, and with less consideration. Even demons were wary of men with eyes
like those.

As the killer continued down the passageway, Angel glanced over at Doyle. "
Bingo."


* * *

" Ah, Randall," King said politely, as the assassin entered his office. " You
were successful?"

" Yes," the hired killer said. " But we have a complication."

" Really? Feel free to share."

" She talked to a P.I. before I made the kill. I just saw him leaving your
office. Tall, good-looking, black clothes."

" Ah, good old Ang!" King said cheerfully. " Wonderful fellow, not too talkative
though. Rather like you, actually," he told the expressionless sociopath." Maybe
you could be friends?"

" I don't bond well."

" Such a shame," King sighed. " Ah well, considering he'll be dead very soon,
it's good you're not going to form a bond."

The killer licked his thin lips. " Do you want me to do it?"

" No," King said coldly. " You were supposed to prevent the girl from contacting
anyone. You failed. I'll deal with this matter...personally."


* * *


" So King's a baddie," Cordelia concluded, as the three of them leaned against
the bar. The club was even more deserted than before, and the guilty customers
were slowly filtering out, going home to ignorant wives and girlfriends.

" King's talking with baddies," Doyle said warningly. " That doesn't mean he's
evil himself. He could just be stupid."

Cordelia chuckled. " He's definitely stupid. But I'm still going for stupid
*and* evil. Someone can be stupid and still be evil, can't they Angel?"

" Hmm?" the vampire said, miles away. " Oh, sure. You don't have to be smart to
be evil. Or sane, for that matter. But I'm not so certain our new friend is as
foolish as he looks."

" Oh come on," Cordy burst out. " He acts like he's running a children's
playgroup, not...this place!"

" Just because he pretends to be a fool, doesn't mean he is one," Angel warned.
" Remember the Mayor."

" Right, who turned out to be a gigantic Snyder-eating snake demon. Good point,"
Cordelia mused.

" Your Mayor was a gigantic demon? And no one noticed this...or complained or
anything?" Doyle asked disbelievingly.

Cordelia smiled bitterly. " Welcome to the wonderful world of denial. What's the
plan, Angel?"

" I'm going to go and make a new friend," the vampire called over his shoulder,
as he walked away.

Cordelia and Doyle stared in disbelief as their employer started chatting to one
of the prostitutes leaning against the club's walls. Crisp green dollar bills
exchanged hands, and then she took the vampire's hand and led him away. " Tell
me I didn't just see that," Cordelia begged Doyle.

" It does seem a little...out of character for the boss, yeah," Doyle answered,
still staring.

" Out of character? It's against all laws of God and man! Angel just doesn't do
stuff like that! Besides which, he's all cold and dead...and ugh, why did I just
think that?" Disgust twisted Cordelia's mouth, as they watched Angel and the
hooker leave. " I think I need to wash my imagination out with soap," she
muttered.

* * *

Brown paint flaked off the walls of the room she led Angel to, curling backwards
like burnt skin.

The hooker sat down on the room's small bed, her short skirt riding high on her
pale white thighs. Angel stood, framed in the doorway as she flashed a plastic,
automatic smile.
" So, how do you want to do this?" she asked, her tone cool and business-like.
Angel said nothing. " Come on, where do you want to put it?" She paused. " You
do know what to do, right? I haven't got lumped with another virgin, have I?"

Angel shifted awkwardly from foot to foot, made uncomfortable by her emotionless
attitude. " I don't want - what's your name?" he asked.

" Mandy. There, you know my name. Can we please get a move on? I charge by the
hour, you know."

" I don't want to sleep with you," Angel tried to explain.

Mandy groaned, rolling her eyes. " If you're one of those guys who gets off with
whips and chains, you got the wrong lady. A girl could get hurt doing that
stuff. You want Soaking Suzie, not me. I'll get her."

The hooker rose to her feet, but Angel caught her arm. " I'd just like to talk,"
he said, holding out his hand. She eyed the roll of bills there and slowly sat
down.

" You a cop?" she asked, staring at him suspiciously. " You talk like a cop. Not
a very good one, but still a cop."

Angel pretended to ignore the insult. " No. Private investigator - I help
people," he explained." What do you know about a girl named Lara Winters?"

Mandy frowned." Lara? What do you want with Lara?"

" She hired me," Angel said softly. " She was shot just after she left my
office. I want to know why."

" Fuck," the woman breathed slowly. Then she rose to her feet. " I don't squeal.
There's a very short life-expectancy on people who do around here."

She made as if to move for the door, but Angel stepped in front of her. " I'll
keep your name out of it. Anything you can tell me could help." He fixed her
with a dark gaze and pressed the bills into her hand. " It could avenge her."

For a split second, Mandy paused, then her fist closed around the bills. " I
don't know much about Lara. She kept to herself, didn't really socialize with
any of the other girls. I know she didn't like working here; she wanted out.
Most people do."

" Do you want out?"

" It's a living," she said, avoiding his gaze. " I wouldn't expect a fancy boy
like you, with your nice suit and spiky hair, to understand."

" Maybe I'm good at understanding people," Angel said, putting a finger under
her chin, making her look at him.

Mandy's lips tightened, and then she broke away. " Whatever. Anyway, I don't
know much, but I do know her address, if that's any help. I'll write it down."
She pulled a notepad from her small leather purse and scribbled the address on
it. She passed to the vampire without looking at him.
" Lara was a nice girl," she said, eyes on the floor. " It's not right."

" No, it isn't," Angel agreed." And someone will pay for it."

Mandy laughed bitterly. " Yeah, and then I'll be swept up onto a horse by a
shining prince, and the sky will rain plum pudding."

Angel smiled. " Stranger things have happened."

" Whatever. Close the door on your way out," she said brusquely. As Angel walked
to the door, she spoke again. " Hey, not-cop-guy."
Angel turned. " You know," she continued, her admiring gaze sweeping his body,"
I'm almost disappointed you only wanted to talk." She smiled sadly.

" Good night," Angel responded, slipping silently through the doorway.

As the door clicked shut, Mandy took a deep breath and ran her hands through her
short brown hair. Good? What's good about it? she thought, quiet tears beginning
to form in the corners of her eyes.

* * *

" So," Cordelia asked Angel accusingly, as they walked to the car." Did you have
a nice time?"

" Excuse me?" the vampire said, as he pulled his keys out of his pocket.

" You know, while you were 'making friends'?" she said sarcastically.

" Cordelia," Doyle said patiently, clambering into the back seat. " He's a guy.
Guys always have fun. It's like a drinks machine. You put in the coin and out
pops a soda, regular-like."

" What are you talkin - oh," Angel said. " Cordelia, I didn't sleep with her."

" No, you played cards," she said, voice rich with irony. " And then you had a
sing-song."

" I *didn't* sleep with anyone."

" Don't worry man," Doyle said comfortingly. " You don't need to justify
yourself to us. Everyone needs to feel loved, right?"

Angel groaned and leaned his head against the steering wheel. " I. Did. Not.
Sleep. With. Her. I paid her for information."

Cordelia snorted. "'Information'? You mean sex talk, don't you. Nasty, sordid
sex -" Doyle nudged her. " *Oh*. Information. Case information."

" That's right," Doyle said. He swallowed. " It is right, isn't it Angel?"

" Yes," Angel said dryly. " Glad to see you finally got your minds out of the
gutter. She gave me Lara's address."

" Sorry!" Cordelia said, grinning like a maniac as the car pulled away." Doyle
jumped to conclusions."


* * *

The apartment was empty, a husk waiting for an owner who would never return.
Nothing disturbed its death-like silence, no human presence wandered from room
to room, leaving lights on and laughing...living...loving. It was inexpertly, if
lovingly, painted in shades of orange, having the overall effect of making a
visitor feel like he was inside a giant peach. A fish tank rested against the
wall, but there were no fish within its glass confines and the scent of strong
perfume still lingered over the living room, over the plain, worn sofa, the
small TV, the plate on the dinner table with half a microwave dinner still
resting on it. Then, a soft sound disturbed the room's wake.
The handle of the door jiggled up and down. It shook slightly and then was
simply pulled through the door to the sound of splintering wood.

On the other side of the door, Angel tossed the handle away and bent the lock
open. " Impressive," Doyle observed. " You know, if the whole private
investigator thing doesn't work out, you could probably make a fortune as a
locksmith."

Angel grunted unhelpfully, pushing the door open.

" Yeah, I thought so too," the half-demon continued cheerfully. " Nice place,"
he announced as they walked into the mourning apartment.
" Cosy."

" Please," Cordy said disdainfully. " It's so cheap I can hear the roaches in
the walls."

" Actually, there aren't any roaches in the walls," Angel said helpfully." I did
hear what sounded like some rats, though..."

" I was being metaphorical."

" Oh. I knew that."

The three of them poked half-heartedly around the apartment for about fifteen
minutes. " Can we go now?" Cordelia demanded. " I think I might catch something
icky if I stay here too long. Besides which, picking through dead people's
stuff? Not really on my list of fun things to do."

" Just give it a few more minutes," Angel said absently.

" Oh yeah, you're already dead, so I guess this doesn't creep you out at all.
Well, speaking as a pulse-having person, I'm going to wait outside."

Angel, bent over a desk, ignored Cordelia as she swept from the room. He had to
admit, dead or not, he knew what she meant. He could still smell Lara's perfume
on the objects of the desk, and on the apartment itself. She must have spent a
lot of time here, he thought. He could almost see her, down on her knees,
repainting the walls, or cleaning under the table. Angel blinked, chasing away
the image, and looked down at what he had in his hand. A small black address
book, smothered in Lara's scent. Angel flipped carefully through it, poring over
the entries, as Doyle peered with interest into the empty fish tank. One entry
in particular caught his eyes. Outlined in blue, it read, 'Ray Shepard',
followed by a cellphone number. No details, no address, just the enigmatic
sequence of numbers.

" What's up?" Doyle inquired, leaning over Angel's shoulder. " Any addresses in
there of interest? Girl-friends who like Irish men, perhaps?"

" Doyle."

" Sorry, man. That was tasteless," the half-demon admitted.

" Nothing much," Angel said," hairdressers...her mother...the club...and this
one."

" Interesting," Doyle said, his eyes scanning the blue-highlighted entry. " So,
what now?"

In answer, Angel reached out and picked up Lara's phone. Cradling it to his ear,
he dialed the number, then waited.

The phone rang six times, then..." Detective Shepard speaking," a man's voice
said on the other end.

Angel's eyebrows shot up. Detective? " Hi, I'm...um...my name is Angel, I own a
private investigation company, and I was wondering if you could help me with a
case I'm working on."

Shepard sighed. " If this is to do with my ex-wife, you can tell her she's got
all the money she's ever going to get out of me, so she should stop wasting her
time."

" No, this isn't to do with your ex-wife," Angel replied grimly." This concerns
a woman named Lara Winters. You know her?"

" I might," The policeman said, his voice guarded.

" Detective Shepard, I'm sorry to inform you that Lara was shot outside my
office earlier tonight. She was trying to hire me for something, but she was
killed before she could tell me anything about it."

" Christ," Shepard swore. " I heard about that at the station, but I never heard
the victim's name. Lara. Oh, Jesus." His voice shook slightly.

" Are you okay?"

Shepard paused, and then his voice came back, harsher and stronger. " Yeah."

" Did you know her well?" Angel asked quietly.

Shepard's voice hardened. " Why don't you explain just how you got this number,
before I get all confessional, huh pal?"

Angel winced. He had a feeling mentioning that he had broken into Lara's
apartment wasn't going to score points here. " I was investigating," he said
evasively," trying to find out who ordered the hit."

" Hmm," the detective said suspiciously. " Tell you what, Mr Angel. You meet me
at the Hot Mug at three o'clock tomorrow, and we'll see if we can *both* be a
bit more forthcoming. It's a coffee spot on Mariner drive, you know it?"

" I'll be there," Angel responded. " And by the way, it's just - " But Shepard
had hung up." - Angel," the vampire finished.

" Cheer up," Doyle remarked. " At least he didn't call you 'Ang'."

* * *


Angel yawned and stretched slowly. His arm reached out vaguely for the lamp,
fingers searching. A soft click later, his bedroom was illuminated by a pale
electric light.

4:45 AM, the red lights of Angel's clock flashed vindictively.
Angel sighed as he sat up. After years of living in Sunnydale, sleeping during
the day and patrolling with Buffy at night, adjusting to a more human schedule
was tricky. As a result of the still unfamiliar transition, he slept at strange
hours and often not very well. The vampire rubbed his sleep-encrusted eyes and
shuffled for the closet.

Fifteen minutes later, a fully-dressed and ravenous Angel pulled his fridge door
open. Empty blood bags swung sadly in the smooth white cubicle.
" Damn," the vampire muttered to nobody in particular. Angel never was very good
at housekeeping, and the whole concept of regular shopping trips to the butcher
tended to elude him. Stretching again, the vampire stalked over to the lift and
stepped in.
He reached up and pulled. The grate rattled down in front of him.

* * *

Anyone entering Jonathan King's office at five in the morning would had an
extremely unpleasant surprise.

The man sat at his black wooden desk, rigid as a statue. A soft keening chant
escaped his lips, as his eyelids flickered rapidly. Slowly, he drew a black-
handled knife out from under his desk, still continuing the eerie chant. He
pressed the cold steel blade against his tender palm and closed his hand
tightly. Droplets of red blood ran down his hand, dropping into a ceramic dish
already partly filled with the red fluid. The dish began to shiver slightly, as
the blood began to bubble and roil ominously.

King's eyes rolled back in his head until the whites showed, as the blood began
to boil.

* * *

Up in the office, the vampire made his bleary way to the coffee blender, his
stomach growling uncomfortably. He stared at the brown-stained filters, and the
few lonely granules in the coffee tin. Then he allowed a smirk to creep across
his face. Angel reached under a desk and pulled a small box of quality Colombian
coffee from its hiding place. It had been very expensive, and the vampire
hoarded it fanatically, rotating its hiding places to avoid detection by Doyle
or Cordelia.

" Hey, everyone needs an obsession," he rationalized as he began to fix the
coffee.



As Angel rode back down the lift, he caught a whiff of faint tantalizing scent.
" Blood?" he asked curiously, his stomach rumbling at the thought. He sniffed,
but could not pick up the scent again. Shrugging, Angel walked over to the small
metal trapdoor that was his access to the sewers. Shopping time.

As Angel descended down the ladder into the sewers, a single drop of blood
squeezed up the crack between the lift's bottom and the floor.

* * *
Doyle stared morosely at his watch.

" God, what kind of sicko would evict a man at four-thirty in the morning?" he
complained to his watch, walking up the door to the office. " Still, as long as
I pay Big Ricky by Friday, then I can collect on that debt Johnny the Hawk owes
me - without Ricky ripping my arms and legs off - and *that* debt will pay my
rent," he said, as he fumbled with his keys. " All I need is to find somewhere
to stay for a couple of days, and to stay off solid foods for a while. Heck,
Angel let Cordy stay over, didn't he?" the half-demon said, as the door swung
open. " Angel?" he called, walking into the dark office. " Angel?" he called
again, as he made his way over to the coffee machine. " Turn on some lights,
would ya?" As he reached for a mug, he noticed something different. " Angel,
old buddy," he chuckled, as he scooped up the box of Colombian coffee. " I
*knew* you were holding out on me."

There was a muffled thud downstairs. Doyle looked up from his prize. " Angel?
Hey, boss-man, hide and seek really isn't my favorite form of recreation, you
know?" he called, as he stepped into the lift. Doyle's foot brushed over a pool
of bubbling crimson blood on the lift floor, but the half-demon didn't notice
it.

The lift grate rattled into place as the blood pool bubbled and grew.

* * *

The lift slid to a graceless halt. Doyle pulled the grate up, peering into
Angel's ill-lit abode. " Come on, Angel, quit fooling around," the half-demon
ordered sharply, walking into the room. His feet left bloody smears behind
them, as he stepped slowly forward.
Behind him, the pool of blood, now covering half the lift floor, rose up into a
smooth man-high pillar.

" Okay," Doyle sighed. " Funny vampire man wants to lurk where-ever the hell you
are, then I don't have a problem with that. I've got enough problems of my own
right now, thank y - gnngh!" A strong hand grabbed the back of his neck, needle-
sharp claws digging into his skin.

* * *

Angel whistled quietly on his way to the butcher's, still sipping his mug of
coffee. Around him, rats squeaked and twitched their whiskers, but the
unconcerned vampire kept on walking, enjoying the exercise. All was right with
the world.

* * *

Doyle drove his elbow back hard, hoping to knock the wind out of his attacker.
Instead, he felt no resistance, as if he had struck air.

" What the - yaaaah!" Doyle yelled, as his unseen opponent sent him tumbling
into a wall. The half-demon groaned woozily, feeling his own blood running down
his neck from his wounds. A hand grabbed his shirt and Doyle was thrown brutally
across the room. The half-demon landed hard on the floor, clutching bruised
ribs. He felt a needle-like tingling across his skin, as his demon side emerged.
" I'm guessing you're not here to sell life insurance," Doyle muttered, raising
his arms in preparation for combat as he got to his feet. Halfway through the
movement, he paused. His right elbow was drenched in blood, but it hadn't been
cut. Then Doyle was on his feet, and he saw his attacker for the first time.

" Definitely not life insurance," he gulped.

* * *

Angel clambered down the ladder, dropping back into the sewer, a large paper cup
of blood tucked carefully under his arm. He flicked the lid of the cup as he
started walking, savoring the heavenly, dark scent of the blood.

" Nothing like a good cup of blood to fix all your ailments," he said dryly,
taking his first sip.

* * *

The creature was a head taller than Doyle, and had no face or legs to speak of.
Vaguely man-shaped, its only constant features were its two clawed arms. The
rest of its crimson body rippled and shifted constantly, shimmering oddly as
Doyle stared at it. Slowly it moved forward, flowing over the ground towards the
stunned half-demon. The creature made no attempt to dodge, as Doyle drove a
green-skinned fist into its chest. His hand punched clean through its rippling
surface with no effect, and Doyle's red eyes widened with disbelief.

" Huh?" he asked the creature. " You're what, made of blood? Not solid?"

The creature did not respond, except to send a clawed hand sweeping for his
head. Doyle tried to dodge - too slowly - and the monster's claws tore across
his cheek. The force of the blow spun him to the side, and the half-demon
struggled to maintain consciousness.

" Okay, you can hit me, but when I hit you, you go all mushy," Doyle muttered,
wiping blood away from his jaw. " I never was an academic type, but I'm fairly
certain something in the laws of physics says you're not allowed to do that."

The blood-creature gave a eerie hissing scream, clenching and unclenching its
clawed fists.

" I get the hint," Doyle yelped. " I'm gone." Shielding his head with his arms,
the half-demon charged straight for the monster's torso. He burst through in a
shower of crimson, dashing for the stairs. The creature snarled and moved to
follow.

* * *

A blood-covered Doyle dashed up the steps, heart hammering. Behind him, he could
hear the soft watery sound of the creature advancing with surprising speed. He
burst into the dark office, dashing for the door. Before he could reach it, the
creature was on him in a burst of red. Strong arms lifted him off the ground and
sent him crashing hard into a wall, his spikes gouging holes in the plaster.
Doyle staggered to his feet and red hands snapped around his throat. The half-
demon struggled desperately, lashing out wildly, but it was like fighting fog.
His bloody fists swung uselessly through the air, as spots gathered across his
vision. The creature lifted him up by his throat and slammed him flat against
the wall. Against the light switch on the wall.

White light chased the darkness and shadows away. The monster howled in shock
and surprise, dropping the half-dead Doyle. In a flash of crimson, it dove
across the room, back into the relative darkness of the stairs. Doyle leaned
thankfully against the wall, his hand clutching his blood-soaked throat. He
didn't know why it had let him live, and frankly he didn't care. The creature
hissed once more from the dark stairwell, and then vanished into the shadows.

Doyle's skin prickled, as his spikes retracted and his face returned to normal.
But the haunted look in his eyes didn't leave with the change from red to gray.

* * *

Blood is Thicker than Water - Act 2- Scent of Blood

* * *

" You look really icky," Cordelia observed, handing Doyle a cup of coffee. The
half-demon accepted the hot drink gratefully, wincing as Angel prodded at his
ribs.

Glancing down at his red-splattered clothes, Doyle smiled weakly. " I'd have to
agree with you there, princess."

" You might have a cracked rib or two, and I won't advise going to sleep with
that bump on your head, but you'll live. And wash those cuts," Angel instructed
him.

" Yes, mommy," the half-demon mocked him.

" Good boy," Angel said, standing up hastily and brushing the blood from his
hands.

" Jeez, Angel," Cordy muttered. " Squeamish much?"

" Not exactly," Doyle explained, noticing the hungry look in Angel's eyes. " I
can change my clothes if you're finding them a bit...distracting."

" What's that supposed to - ew," Cordelia grimaced. " Why couldn't vampires
drink something else, like fruit juice?"

" Because then we wouldn't be vampires," Angel said dryly, " we'd be health
fanatics with bad teeth."

" Yeah, and I for one find fitness nuts even scary than demons," Doyle quipped,
the corners of his mouth turning up," so let's just be thankful we work for a
blood-sucking fiend instead." When Angel did not react, Doyle frowned. " What,
not even a smile? I admit, I'm hardly at my best, but still, that was funny, I
know it was."

" Just as long as you believe that," Cordelia replied," and Angel, cease the
broody. We can't have random disgusting monsters made of blood just running
around the office - it'll mess up the carpets. So get with the planning!"

Ignoring her ineffective pep talk, Angel moved closer to Doyle once more, trying
to ignore the seductive scent of blood that hung on his clothes." So, it was
made of liquid - blood - and seemed solid, but when you hit it, you couldn't
make contact - "

" - and when it hit me, it sure as hell made contact," Doyle confirmed
ruefully." It was like punching fog. Fog stuffed with rocks, that is."

" And it was scared of the light when you turned it on."

" Uh-huh, it was like me after a four-day bender, just screamed and dove for the
shadows," the half-demon responded.

This time, Angel did smile. But not much.

* * *

Angel wrapped his hands around the warm cup of coffee, as his dark eyes examined
the coffee spot in minute detail. He sipped the brown liquid, reveling in the
warmth it brought his eternally chilled flesh, as the customers bustled around
him. He'd set Doyle and Cordelia to researching, and quite frankly, he was
worried about his books. The last time Cordelia had looked up something up,
about a dangerous fire demon, he'd found all the books on fire magic dog-
eared...

" Mr Angel?"

" Just Angel," he said, turning in his chair.

The man who sat down in front of him was slightly overweight, his skin a soapy
shade of white. " Life on the streets and too many cigarettes," he grunted in
response to Angel's questioning glance. " You're Kate's boy, aren't you? I've
seen you around the station."

" I sometimes work with her."

" Uh-huh. So what were we talking about last?"

" Being forthcoming."

Shepard smiled slightly. " Right. You want to start?"

" Lara came to me for help, she didn't say what, and then the sniper outside my
office made sure she didn't get more specific," Angel answered.
" That's really all I got."

" And why I am talking to you instead of reporting to my lieutenant like a good
little boy?"

" Because you're lieutenant will sigh, cluck sympathetically, and dump it a file
to get lost. I won't."

" You don't have much faith in the LAPD," the detective observed.

" I don't. Can you give me a good reason why I should?"

Shepard leaned forward. " No. But I also can't disclose official information to
just anyone. No policeman can."

" No. But you could, say, talk to yourself, working over the details in your
mind, and I could just overhear," Angel suggested.

" That's unprofessional. Why would I be such a sloppy cop?"

" Because I can nail this bastard, and you can't give him a parking ticket
without lawyers jumping all over you."

Shepard grinned. " Damn, I like you, Angel. Okay, I'm musing to myself, then."
The playful look went out of his eyes. " Lara came to me, claiming she had
evidence of criminal activities at a club she worked at."

" Whispering Silence."

" Uh-huh. She said girls were just disappearing, that her boss would just take
them down into this basement and they would never come back. She thought the
girls were being sold."

" Sold?"

" Yeah, like slaves."

" Doesn't sound much worse than their normal jobs," Angel said bitterly.

Shepard's cold eyes hit the vampire like a stake. " It is. At least the call
girls can maybe earn enough to get out. Slave girls, they only get bought by the
real sickos, because they can't find anyone who'll do what they want, money or
not. But lately, Lara had changed her mind. She thought that the girls never
made it out of the basement alive."

Angel's brows came together. " Murdered for fun." Just like all too many vampire
victims, he thought. Many vampires, most even, killed just for the thrill, even
if they weren't hungry. They were demons after all. But King wasn't. He was a
human. Somehow that made it much worse.

" Exactly. She was trying to get something solid I could to take to get a
warrant for the place, my guess is King finally figured her out."

" Why was she doing this?" Angel asked. " Why risk it?"

" She had a son, left over from a bad marriage. Looked over by some relatives in
some hick town," Shepard explained. " I'd promised a reward if she could give me
King. She needed the cash. For him, and for herself."

" She wanted out," Angel said softly, repeating Mandy's words.

" Yeah. She was really nice, sweet and all. Probably would have made a great
mom," Shepard said, the ice in his eyes melting.

" Did you love her?"

Shepard looked shocked by the abruptness of the question." No. Maybe. I came on
to her a little, but she always turned me down. She was really polite about it
though. It was like a joke between us, me continually making passes at her,
while she dodged them." He swallowed.

Angel stood up, draining his cup. " Thanks for musing."

Shepard studied the varnished table. " Yeah. Whatever." As the vampire turned to
go, the detective spoke again." Angel."

" Yes?"

" Take this."

Angel regarded the money the man offered. " I'm not a hit man."

" No. You're a P.I. Consider this a finder's fee. When you find something to
prove King's guilt, call me. I'm the hit man."

" Killing doesn't make it easier," Angel advised.

" Well, it makes the useless feeling disappear a little," he said grimly.

" It's not worth it."

Shepard snorted." Who am I kidding? Me and Lara tried to bust this guy for
months. What says you can?"

" I've got a friend on the inside."

* * *

Mandy swore, as she stepped out of the club into the cold night. She nodded to
Barry, the bouncer, as he pulled the door to the club closed and locked it
behind him.

" Seeya tomorrow," she told the large man, walking away.

" Sure, Mand'," came the gravely reply, as the bouncer walked to his car.

Mandy sighed, pulling her coat tighter around her slender figure, as the car
pulled away. Shit, she thought. LA streets at night. Smart move, girl. The wind
ruffled her hair as she crossed the empty street, high-heeled shoes clacking on
the pavement. In the distance a cat yowled, and Mandy flinched. Jumpy, she told
herself. All that fucking non-cop's fault. The hair stood up on the back of her
neck, and she spun around.

" Who's there!" Nothing. An empty alley. Feeling foolish, she turned around and
came face to face with Angel. She started backwards violently.
" Damn, you walk like a cat!" she snarled.

" Sorry."

" And why exactly are you creeping around LA at night?" Mandy asked
sardonically. " Isn't it past your bed time?"

Angel shrugged. " Not really," he answered honestly. " Besides, why are you
wandering around so late yourself?"

Mandy rolled her eyes, pushing past him. " A client with stamina. I thought the
numbskull would take forever to finish."

" Finish wha - never mind, I don't want to know," the man said, keeping pace
with her.

" So what do you want to know? Any more of my co-workers turn up dead; you
looking for more clues with your little magnifying glass?"

" No, nobody else is dead," Angel said grimly. " Not yet."

Mandy flashed him a false smile. " Great, then we can go our separate ways, and
I don't get killed for talking to a cop."

" Private investigator."

" Whatever." Angel caught her shoulder, pale fingers wrapping around it. " Ow!
Watch it!" she snapped, struggling to free herself.

The vampire held her still. " I need to get inside Whispering Silence."

" Great, we open at eight and close at twelve! Let go of me!"

" I need to get inside when no-one else is around. I need to get into the
basement where King takes the girls."

The blood drained from Mandy's face. " The basement."

" The one no-one comes back from," Angel confirmed. " Can you get me in?"

Mandy bit her lip. " Why should I?"

" For Lara."

Mandy went absolutely still. " Fucking conscience," she swore, turning and
walking back towards the club.

" Thanks," Angel said quietly.

" Fuck you, too."


The vampire's amused expression was captured perfectly in the center of the
rifle scope. Randall lifted the smooth black cellphone to his ear.

" Sir? She's definitely trying to double-cross us. Do you want her...removed?"
The assassin's thin lips caressed the last word.

The voice on the other end of the line sighed. " Mandy, a traitor. How sad...she
could do the most amazing things with a pair of silk stockings..."

" Sir? Do I kill them?"

" No, no," King chided. " Why kill the flies when they'll walk into my web of
their own free will? I need more blood, anyway."
The assassin remained silent. King paid well, and if listening to insane little
mutterings about spiders was the price Randall had to pay to receive his large
checks, then King could mutter all night, as far as he was concerned. " Follow
them," King ordered. " Take no action until I tell you to."

" Sounds risky," Randall responded emotionlessly.

" No risk here. I already know where they're going."

* * *

Doyle pinched his brow, staring at the unfamiliar words in the book in front of
him. " Okay, Cordy, try this one. Das uchnein stadht..."
The half-demon read off a series of German words, then raised his head. "
Cordy?"

" Give me a second!" Cordelia snapped. " Jeez, you're as pushy as Angel
sometimes..." She bent over the small German-English dictionary on her desk,
while Doyle whistled pointedly and let his gaze wander around the office.
Several minutes later, she finally spoke. " Uh...I like green cheese on my cats.
Maybe I got the translation wrong."

" Ya think?"

" Hey, don't get snippy with me," she spat. " Uh...okay how about this..." She
scanned a few words of the new interpretation. " Hmm, blood... death...dark
spirit...yup, this sounds like our monster." Doyle was already moving for the
phone.

* * *

Angel gently pushed the small window open. " What did you say this is used for
again?" he asked Mandy, glancing into the shadows of the club.

" Some of the girls sneak their boyfriends in for a little private fun after
hours," Mandy explained, " the window's an easy way in, so we make sure that
King never closes it."

" Boyfriends? I wouldn't have figured - "

" - that hookers are capable of holding actual relationships, with love and
trust and all the other things they talk about in the soap operas?" Mandy
finished sharply.

" Well actually, I was going to say that any guy would be happy if his
girlfriend had to sleep with other men for money."

" Well, welcome to the real world," she muttered. " Can we just get on with
breaking and entering?"

Angel nodded, pushing the window fully open. He slid through the glass portal
easily, landing on the floor at the back of the club. The eerie blue lights
shone on his face as he stood up, while Mandy wormed her way through, cursing
under her breath. As she pulled herself to her feet, he muttered, " Smells
deserted."

" Smells? What are you, a bloodhound?" Angel opened his mouth to reply, but a
soft ringing cut off his words. " Uh, Angel, you're beeping," Mandy noted.

Angel pulled the small cellphone from beneath his coat and flipped it open. "
Doyle?"

" The one and only," the other's Irish voice said dryly across the line. "
Demons 'R' Us."

" What have you got?"

" Uh, hang on," Doyle said. The sounds of scrabbling were heard and his voice,
slightly muted, said," Princess, give me the blasted book!"
Cutting off Cordelia's protests, Doyle's voice spoke again. " Here we go...our
friendly liquid boy matched the description of a...Gunstagde...I think. Never
got the hang of German..."

" Doyle. Evil blood demon? Get to the point."

" Okay, okay. It's not actually a demon, technically."

" I don't care if it's a politician, I just want to know what kills it!" Angel
said, exasperation ringing in his voice.

" Well, not much that I can see. It's a magical construct, created from a source
of blood imbued with a spirit of darkness. You need pretty good spell-casting
credentials to make one of these, lots of fancy German blood magics. It needs to
be constantly supplied with fresh blood, or else the dark spirit gets mad and
goes home."

" Fresh blood," the vampire said grimly. " The girls."

" Yep, King's handy supply source," Doyle spat. "Very hard to maintain the
spells, but it's worth it. Effectively indestructible, and capable of assuming
almost any form. Kinda like that thingy in Terminator 2, but with red blood
corpuscles instead of liquid metal."

" Great, it can't be killed," Angel snapped." Not unless Arnold Schwarzenegger's
on call."

" Well, it doesn't like light," Doyle suggested." The dark spirit in it and
all."

" No light. Just like me."

Doyle coughed. " Not exactly. You may have sunlight issues, but this thing
doesn't like *any* light. Electric, fire, you name it." Cordelia's voice spoke
in the background." Uh, Cordelia has just suggested that we use floodlights to
chase it. I don't really think that's very practical, though."

Angel grimaced." Never mind. Maybe we can get to King before he summons it. Get
down here, fast. There's a window round the back, we'll leave it open for you."

" Sure thing, man. We're only five minutes away." Doyle put the phone down and
turned to Cordy." Well, off we go to the club."

" Great," she returned." Do the words 'into the line of fire' mean anything to
you?"

" Actually, it's got claws, not guns."

" Oh, shut up! Let's just go and get killed already!"

" A pleasure, princess," Doyle returned, heading for the door. " We need to make
one little stop-off first, though."

* * *

Angel glanced around King's office. The antique weapons shone unpleasantly in
the light, and he got the unpleasant feeling that several of the jewels in their
pommels were watching him, like beady eyes. " Nobody here," he called.

" And no joy on the dance floor," Mandy yelled back.

" Guess we try the basement, then," he responded, walking out.

" Oh, goody."

As the door closed behind the vampire, a drawer in King's black desk began to
shiver. Inside the drawer entombed in wood, a bowl of blood quivered angrily. A
single bubble of blood rose up towards the surface.

* * *

Doyle squirmed through the window, clutching a package wrapped in brown paper
under his arm. " Gnh," he grunted, collapsing on to the floor. Cordelia
struggled through after him, and Doyle's pulse rose substantially at the sight
of the tanned skin visible under her hiked-up top.

" Damn," she snapped, as he helped her to her feet. " I think I lost several
pounds just getting through there."

" You could advertise it as a great weight-loss program," Doyle suggested,
scanning the blue-lit room." Angel? Ang - yikes!" A pale face loomed out of the
darkness. " Angel," the half-demon said dryly." Could you *please* not loom like
that?"

" I'm sorry," the vampire said. " I'm a natural loomer. Glad to see you could
make it."

" Well, you know, I had to cancel a few wild parties, but I managed to fit it
into my schedule," Doyle replied flippantly." So, where's our basement o' evil
magic?" The vampire led the two of them round a corner and down a short flight
of stairs." Wow. That's certainly a big door."

It certainly was. It was huge, black, metal and triple-locked. Oh, and twice the
height of a man. The metal of the locks glinted mockingly at them.

" Yeah, well, Mr King doesn't believe in cutting costs in security," Mandy said
irritably. " Fine, you've seen the basement. You've seen why no one but King
ever gets inside. Can I get lost now?"

" Hold my coat." Angel shrugged off his jacket and placed his palms flat against
the door. He tensed, groaning with effort.

Mandy chuckled with amusement. " Oh, you're kidding me..." Angel growled deep in
his throat, pushing harder. A vein stood out on his forehead, pulsing angrily,
as one of the locks gave with metallic pop. The second lock torn open. Snarling,
Angel smashed his shoulder hard into the huge door. With a metallic screech, the
door slowly ground open. Mandy stared with disbelief. " What does he eat for
breakfast?" she asked Doyle and Cordelia, as Angel took his jacket back.

" You wouldn't want to know," Cordelia said firmly. " So, let's see what's
behind door number 1..."

The room smelt of dust and blood. A lot of blood. Dim candles were placed on
saucers in the corners, casting more shadow than light. The criss-crossing
shadows covered everything like a dark net, making it hard to see the room its
entirety. In bright daylight, the contents of that room would have been
horrible. In those dark, murky shadows, it was much, much worse. Most of the
floor was taken up by a circle, carefully engraved into the floor, with pale
lines radiating from the center outwards.

It must have taken hours, Doyle thought, hours of sitting and carving, making
the room perfect before the slaughtering began.
Dropping to one knee, the half-demon inspected the circle. Noticing dozens of
small white scratches marring the floor, he turned to Angel.
" What do you think made those?"

" Fingernails," the vampire answered shortly.

" Oh." Doyle swallowed and rose to his feet.

" God," Mandy murmured, as she ran her fingers along a wall." I knew King was a
sick bastard, but this..." she whispered, staring at her red-stained fingertips.

" Overwhelming, isn't it?" a cold voice said from the doorway. The assassin
leveled his silenced pistol at them, the silvery metal of the barrel shining
wickedly in the light of the candles." Yeah, I thought so too, first time I saw
it. Still, the upside is I don't think anyone will notice a little bit of extra
blood here, and it'll be yours if you don't put your hands where I can see them,
right now."

" Put that down," Angel said calmly.

" Or what?" the man spat. " I remember you. Mr Hero, running out a second after
I pulled the trigger on that girl. Standing over the body, all dramatic, like
something out of a bad action movie." A muscle twitched in Angel's jaw. " What
are you going to do, Mr Hero?" the killer snarled." Make a move and I'll pop one
of the pretty ladies, and you wouldn't want to see one of those nice faces all
bloody, now would you?"
The man shifted his grip on the gun, leveling it at Cordelia's head.

" Hey, buddy," Angel began. For a second, the assassin started to shift his aim
towards the vampire. That second was all it took for Angel to cover the five
meters between them . His left hand bashed the pistol from the killer's grasp,
while the right smashed up and across in a powerful uppercut. Randall's head
snapped around and blood spewed from his mouth, as he slumped against the wall.
" You wanted to see my hands, there you go, a close-up view," Angel snarled,
grabbing him by the shirt and hoisting him up.

" Please..." the man moaned. " Don't..."

" Feels different to be on the receiving end of the pain, doesn't it?" Angel
ground out. " Not quite as *fun*, huh? Where's King? Where is he?"

Randall opened his mouth and his head exploded in a fountain of blood, his body
slumping to one side. " Here," King said coolly, standing where the assassin had
stood only seconds ago, the killer's weapon in his grasp, pressed up against
Mandy's neck. She struggled, then went limp with fear as he pressed the cold
metal harder against her neck.

" Let her go," Angel ordered, eyes hardening with anger.

" Such a shame about poor Randall. I told him to stay back and watch, but he
always was such a hands-on man..." King said, ignoring him. " If memory serves,
this is the part where the bad guy...who I assume is supposed to be me, reveals
his wicked plot, then gets killed."

" If you feel up to it," Cordelia responded sarcastically.

" No thanks," King answered. " Tactically unsound, you see. Did any of the great
warriors of the past behave like that, running around with pointless dramatics?
Did Alexander the Great? Did Hercules?"

" So, do you see yourself as one of those people?" Angel asked, letting the
assassin's corpse fall with a wet thump. " A great hero?"

King chuckled." Heavens, no, Ang. I'm just a businessman."

" Oh, really?" Doyle asked acidly." Because last time I checked, businessmen
made money. I didn't see anything about human sacrifices and blood spirits
anywhere!"

" I never said I was a legal businessman, Mr Doyle. The fact is a...servant like
the one I created has many uses in today's society."

" The perfect assassin," Angel said quietly. " Indestructible, relentless..."

King beamed. " Exactly. Plus, very good at getting into places which no normal
human could get to. Bank vaults, for example. Much more efficient than poor
Randall. Of course, there are certain disadvantages about summoning one..."

" Having to murder innocent people, for one?" Cordelia asked sarcastically.

" Well, actually I was going to say that my creature tends to leave stains on
the carpets, but that too, I guess," King answered. " Now, if you excuse me,
I'll be off. I have to get my beauty sleep, you know." The man took several
quick steps backwards, gun tight against Mandy's neck. He cuffed her sharply and
thrust her forwards, sending her crashing hard into Angel's arms.He darted for
the door, slamming it shut behind him. They heard the scraping sound of
something being wedged against it, as Angel lowered the semi-conscious woman to
the ground.

" That won't hold me!" Angel warned, voice raised with anger.

" Really, Ang," King called through the thick door. " I don't know how you
intend to force the door down...when you're being ripped into little pieces by
my liquid friend." Blood began to well under the door, sliding out onto the
floor, bubbling...

* * *

King whistled cheerfully, strolling up the passageway and into the dance room.
He paused by the open window.
" Note to self: call locksmith."

* * *

The Gunstagde reared up in front of them, crimson claws unfolding.

" Uh-oh," Doyle said. " It's grown." Angel dove low, slamming into, and through,
the spirit. " I could have told you that would happen!" the half-demon warned.

The Gunstagde wheeled around, hissing. " I think you made him mad," Cordy
observed.

Angel grunted with pain as the monster's razor claws dug into his shoulders. It
hauled him upwards and slammed him against the heavy door, again and again.
"You...don't...say," he snarled, teeth jarring with every impact.

" What do we do? What do we do?" Cordelia asked, waving her hands around
ineffectually. " The amazing Mr Liquid is beating Angel into a pulp!"

" Distract him," Doyle ordered, tearing desperately at the package under his
arm.

The Gunstagde's claws tore across Angel's throat, and the vampire's own blood
mixed with the magical creation's fluids. Furiously, he pounded blow after blow
into its insubstantial torso.
" Hey!" Cordelia yelled. " Plasma-man! Yeah, that's right, you!"

The monster turned and screamed at her. Cordelia leaned backwards." Have you
considered a breath-freshener?"

" Cordelia..." Angel groaned, as the Gunstagde let him fall and charged the
defenseless brunette.

" Doyle!" she shrieked. " Mission accomplished! *Do* something!"

" Done." A beam of light seared the monster, as Doyle tugged the last of the
brown paper away from his brand-new flashlight. " Remember me?" the half-demon
snarled. Howling in pain, the Gunstagde threw itself backwards, tearing through
the steel door like it was paper. It bounded up the stairs, roaring its anguish
at the heavens. " Gotcha," Doyle said with satisfaction.

Angel pulled himself to his feet, his torn throat already healing. " King's
getting away."

" You take him," Doyle said confidently. " We'll handle blood-boy." The vampire
was already moving for the wrecked door.

As he disappeared up the stairs, Cordelia turned to Doyle. " *We'll* handle
blood-boy?"


* * *

King left through the front door, locking it carefully behind himself. You can't
trust anybody, these days, he mused, opening his car door. As he settled into
the driver's seat, he heard the click of a gun's hammer being cocked. He looked
up. " Oh, hello."

* * *

The Gunstagde burst through the window, landing in an alleyway behind the club.
Bounding along, its body reforming as it moved, it screamed with fury.

" It sounds pissed," Cordelia noted, as she and Doyle staggered after it, the
flashlight's beam weaving uncertainly in front of them. " How exactly do we kill
it, anyway?"

" Uh...."


* * *

King regarded the man in front of the car. More importantly, he regarded the 38.
special leveled at him. At this range, the bullet would punch straight through
the windscreen and into his forehead. King tried to smile.

" I don't believe we've met," he said politely, his hand picking up the black
handled knife on the seat next to him.

" Ray Shepard," the pale, overweight man hissed. He unfolded a badge. " LAPD."

Slowly, King drew the knife across his palm, focusing on holding his features
rigid against the sharp pain. " Ah, so you're here to arrest me. I must warn
you, I have excellent lawyers. Wolfram and Hart, perhaps you've heard of them -
"

Angel forced the club door open, effortlessly breaking the lock. Shepard's eyes
flickered over to him. " Angel."

" Shepard. You followed me?"

" Smart boy. Nice job, by the way."

King interrupted, clearing his throat. " I would really like to speak to a
lawyer - "

" Shut up," Shepard snapped. " You'll get your lawyer. And then you'll get your
prison sentence." He moved towards the car, pulling out his cuffs. " Okay,
King. You know the drill. You have the right to remain silent..." King went
suddenly rigid, chanting strange words loudly. " ...and apparently you waive
it," Shepard finished.

Angel leaned closer, noticing the cut on the man's hand and scenting the blood
on the air. An electric tingle ran over his skin, as King's eyes rolled back in
his head. " Uh-oh," the vampire muttered. The welling cut began to bubble.

Suddenly, King's eyes snapped back to normal. They widened, and then the man
screamed, long and shrill. The cut began to bubble more fiercely, as his body
jerked and arched spastically. " What the hell is wrong with him?" Shepard
demanded. " Some kind of fit?"

" I don't know," Angel snapped, as King's arms began to shake violently. The
veins in the man's forehead began to swell, and the vampire was struck with a
horrible premonition. " Stand back."
With a last rending scream, Jonathan King exploded. Crimson blood splattered
against the windscreen.
Angel met Shepard's shocked gaze. " Allergic reaction?" he suggested.

* * *

" So, how the hell do we kill it?" Cordelia asked, as the Gunstagde crouched in
the shadows of an alleyway just ahead of them. " I don't much fancy just going
in and getting eviscerated, thank you very much."

" I say we just go ahead and try and pin it down with the flashlight. Maybe
prolonged exposure will kill it," Doyle suggested.

" That's a very lame plan."

" Any better ideas?"

Cordelia sighed. " No." Doyle crept forward, angling the flashlight beam so it
shone onto the monster. As soon as the light touched it, it fell apart into a
pool of motionless blood.

Doyle raised his eyebrows. " Well, that wasn't so bad."

* * *

The sun rose, bringing with it a touch of reality. King's death became a heart
attack and the Gunstagde a man in a red costume. By the time it was about to set
again, all had returned to relative normality.

" Yeah, that's great," Angel said into the phone. " Wonderful. I'm glad to hear
it....sure, I will. Thanks for the check...bye, then." He lowered the phone and
regarded his colleagues. " Well, it looks like Mandy has 'inherited' Whispering
Silence. She plans to turn it into a hotel, bed and breakfast kind of deal.
She's hiring most of the old girls on as maids and cooks."

" Lovely," Doyle said. " And I assume that some of the well-paying customers may
find little 'surprises' waiting for them in their beds?"

" Old habits die hard," Angel agreed.

" So, no more Mr King, huh, 'Ang'?" Doyle asked mockingly.

" Not a chance. 'It was if every drop of blood in his body was heated to boiling
point,' I believe the coroner said," Angel replied, smiling slightly.

" Why?" Cordelia asked. " People's blood doesn't boil spontaneously." She
paused. " At least, not often."

" My guess is he tried to summon another Gunstagde, but there just wasn't enough
blood for the spell," the vampire explained quietly.

" So it took his own blood," Doyle concluded. " Show why you don't want to mess
up your magic spells."

" Well, considering we've got a nice big check," Cordelia suggested," I think we
should stop this gross discussion and go out for dinner."

" What, and blow all our newly-earned cash on a nice meal, then spend the next
day grousing about our bills?" Doyle asked with amusement.

" Pretty much."

" Sounds like a plan to me," he agreed. " You in, Angel?"

The vampire shrugged. " Why not? As long as we don't go somewhere they serve red
wine...or tomato soup...or decorate the tables with red tablecloths..."

" Sounds like someone's getting a bit of a blood complex," Doyle suggested, his
eyes glinting with amusement.

" I don't even want to eat a rare steak," Angel said firmly.

" Is it even *possible* for a vampire to get a complex about blood?" Cordelia
asked, as they made their way to the door.

Angel smiled. " We'll find out when next I open my fridge."

And still chatting and bickering, they left.


* * *