Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel". These properties expressly belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, WB Network, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are the author's.
Historical Note: The action in this story takes place after To Shanshu in L.A.
Author's note: Installment number six of my series "This Week at Angel's Investigations". I'm experimenting with Season Two in this one while reaching back for a theme from my story "On the Road to Discovery". Oh, and by the way, it's just a story. OK? e.c. 19 Aug 2000
by Evan Como
Wesley, centered behind the expansive window, reviewed the cheering throng. Their exhilaration, their zeal, their... Whatever their emotional state, he could feel it surging up through the concrete beneath his feet. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the sensation of being assaulted by the intensity of unrestrained emotion.
"Back away from the glass..."
For a moment, he had almost believed he was alone. Refocusing on the reflected scene of the room behind him, a palpable sadness pressed against Wesley's heart and his slow exhalation formed a breathy cloud that obscured both views.
"I couldn't resist saying that," David Nabbit chuckled. When Wesley veered round to face him he smiled broadly then shrugged apologetically. It wasn't the first time he wondered if the Englishman had been born without a sense of humor.
"You beat me to it," Angel commented off-handedly. Leaning against the sky box wall, Angel's chin burrowed against the shoulder padding of his balmacaan while he stared outward. Despite the room's lighting--moderately bright, pleasantly ambient, Angel had managed to find the singular area where it was darkest.
After Cordelia pressed her nose against the window, she leaned back to examine the imprint either for oil or just because. "You realize if they didn't have all those signs up in the air and stuff the view of the stage would have been so much better. Check it out!" she pointed, creating a dot with the pad of her index finger. "I bet Wisconsin couldn't even see anything with that big old New Jersey in front of 'em. D'ja see, Angel?"
Angel didn't say whether he had or not. Cordy just stared forward.
"This was an amazing opportunity, Mr. Nabbit." Wesley returned to the lavish refreshment spread. Although what remained of the buffet looked inviting, he only took a beverage. "That you allowed us to witness history-making with you; as the olde guarde steps aside for the new. I, for one, feel awed and privileged to have been here and, will never forget this night as long as I live. Thank you *so* much."
"Yeah? Cool," was how Nabbit acknowledged Wesley's gratitude while he studied the masses in the Staple's Center arena. With his hand pressed forward, he pretend-melded with the collective for a moment. He envied their esprit de corps. He has always liked that phrase--esprit de corps.
Unfortunately, the corps in the room with him weren't being their usual espirited selves.
"I could have gone to Philly, too," he bragged, "because my Board of Directors makes me donate equally to these things so I'm not accused of partisanship? But I didn't want to deal with the humidity."
"Yeah. Humidity sucks," Cordy sympathized.
Catching himself mid-frown, Wesley redirected the topic. "What's your opinion, Angel? Dare I inquire if this is your first convention or your first personal witness of a President of these United States?"
His arms folded across his chest, Angel blended further into the wall.
"I don't mean to pry. OK?" Troubled, Nabbit turned to Wesley. "But, are you all mad at me or something? Because you're not as much fun as you usually are."
"When have we ever been 'fun'?"
Nabbit stared at the vampire while double-clicking the question in mind. "Yeah. Well. OK. It's not like we Hacky Sack or anything together, but-- I dunno." He twisted to the window, catching Cordelia out of the corner of his eye. "It just seems like you all are channeling *my* life, you know."
"I liked Hillary's hair," was the soft female reply. "It was cute. But that blue color she digs wearing--" A gentle pucker suspended a cupid's bow of Oriental Beige before her. "Didn't it blend in too much with the background?"
The computer mogul looked expectantly at Wesley's profile.
"Cordelia..." A twist of the lips met Nabbit's approving nod. "Here we are..." Wesley reapplied the cap onto his Snapple, inhaling deeply before forging ahead with, "in the midst of The Democratic National Convention and all you can think of is the superficial--"
"Good! 'Superficial' is good..." A cutting glance persuaded Nabbit to refrain from clapping.
"--the superficial elements that won't make a bit of difference in a week. Definitely not a decade. Thousands of Americans are under this roof attempting to make a difference-- Attempting to establish new platforms for the beginning of the new century, the new millennia..."
"Yeah, yeah... and how about, um..." His fists pom-pomming with enthusiasm, Nabbit suggested, " DEMOCRACY!!!"
"Alright, Mr. Nabbit. Demo--"
"Call me David. You never call me David." David flinched. It never ceased to amaze him how rude the English guy could be and it wasn't the second time he wondered if Wesley gave the vampire lessons in that department.
"Ok. Mr. Nabbit, it is," Mr. Nabbit conceded.
"Democracy. In a country where, for almost 225 years--" Wesley paused in anticipation of Cordelia's expected digression.
But his associate missed her cue.
"--the political system has remained virtually unchanged. And where, in a matter of a few months so few of the population will exercise their Constitutional right to express what they believe in," Wesley concluded, his faux-enthusiasm barely making it to the finish.
"Don't soapbox. Try-- Chelsea's hair."
Cordelia blurted out laughing, barely catching a slick of saliva before it dribbled from her chin.
"You two!" Wesley struggled to keep his exasperation face dimple-free.
"Looked nice. Huh, Angel? What about her lipstick, though?"
"A little mature. You think?"
Cordy rolled her forehead against the glass, spidering her manicure through the smudge. "For sure way wrong color. But she was working her hair! Big ups for the 'do."
"I liked her hair, too!" David chimed in agreement, shrinking back when Cordy peered at him demurely. Maybe it was demure. He wasn't sure what demure really looked like but he figured that was the way pretty girls looked when they rendered someone heart-melty.
Wesley huffed louder. "All this embarking on a new era; the proselytizing; the furor of the vehement masses-- And all you can feel is that the Clinton females were immaculately coifed?"
"How I *really* feel?"
"Of course, Angel!" Wesley replied ecstatically. "How *do* you really feel?"
"Hungry. Huh, Angel?" Smearing fingers abruptly stopped when Cordy ruefully glanced behind, wincing.
Angel met her eyes deliberately and gradually their dark countenance brightened. The slight curve of his lips was in response to her fluttering lashes, the bashful diversion of her attention.
You can *make* her tell you.
With his head lowered, Angel pushed from the wall. Gracefully, he moved to the window and smoothed his hands across its surface. "Cordelia's right. I'm situated in the middle of a snack box, Wesley. I ain't gonna lie. I could use a meal."
Angel almost laughed when he noticed the expression on Nabbit's face--utter horror as the man either tried to determine if Angel was joking or how close the door was situated. It was difficult not to recognize that look-- Or the fact when Angel settled his hands in his coat pockets, the glass bore no trace of his presence.
It had become instinctual to accept certain circumstances--almost to the point of stop-noticing them. Turning abruptly, he examined Cordelia intensely. Maybe there had been four, five non-steps between them. He sensed Nabbit's fear instantly--even before the man was able to process what was happening--a result of Angel covering that distance far too quickly.
Those hazel eyes looked dreamily at Angel before shifting to follow Wesley's approach. There was that usual brisk confusion before her mind caught up with the routine and before she settled into her typical annoyance.
Before she rolled her eyes. And tch'd.
Before she announced, "incoming," and lurched forward into Angel's grasp.
You're doing it to her now. Repetition was never your style.
He imagined a canyon between his eyes, his brow felt that furrowed, but Angel couldn't stop himself from staring at Cordelia that way. He hurt. Everywhere. He had been sitting crosslegged too long, his body straining to move forward against his mental anchor.
So sad. Has-been.
Her sleep was too agitated to be restful.
Can't even do it on your own, lesser being.
She called Angel's name again and he wanted to wake her up and ask why she kept doing that. Even though he already knew.
Eventually she won't be so strong anymore. Neither will he...
Wesley finally decided to take the most direct approach and lifted Angel's arm. The vampire's seeming weightlessness shocked him to a degree; he hadn't expected Angel to be so willingly escorted from Cordelia's room.
Even more surprising was that Angel didn't object to having his leg looked at or administered to.
Gently prying the fabric from the area had lifted what little scab had formed and a mucous-like substance oozed from the angry sore. With the most delicate of prods, Angel took a seat on the edge of the bathtub.
Wesley wet his cloth under the trickling faucet then placed it on Angel's leg. "Hmmmmmm," he intoned affably, rising for a moment to grab a small zippered case from the sink's counter.
Angel watched Wesley wipe the area gently before rinsing the cloth, wetting, and wiping it again. The water was exactly the same temperature as his body--he didn't want to consider how Wesley figured that out. The tap burbled for a moment before the water returned to its repetitive pitty-pat, the sound kinda comforting in an annoying way.
"I'm afraid I forgot to pack the leeches, Angel. So we're just going to have to make-do with simple modern methods."
When Wesley's grey eyes peered over the top of his glasses, Angel had to swallow his smile. "I don't know, Wes. There's just no substitute for a good leeching."
It was difficult for Wesley to feign indifference as he pinched the foreign substances from the laceration then re-disinfected the tweezers after each extraction.
"You should probably be wearing gloves."
Wesley merely nodded and continued his project.
"Did you hear me, Wesley? Dennis can probably find you a pair. DENNIS!"
"Shhhhhhh, Angel. You'll wake Cordelia. I'm fine without gloves."
"Angel. Stop it! Sit down and stop moving!"
"I think Cordelia-- The vision wasn't meant to prevent anything from happening. Do you think she saw it happening? That's what her vision was about? No one touched her, right? But the same thing happened Sunday morning. What if something's gone wrong and now she's going to start experiencing all of these things, Wesley. You didn't see it, but all that was left by the time I got there were a couple of body parts. A couple of pieces of body parts. What if Cordelia saw it happening?"
Keeping his head down, Wesley swabbed the wound before tweezing another section. "That's purely conjecture, Angel. There's no way of knowing what she saw or didn't see until she awakens. But, I'd imagine that, yes, like her previous Vision, she probably saw what you were too late to prevent. Stop shaking your leg, Angel. It's difficult as it is--"
Here it comes...
Shooing Angel's hand away, Wesley finished taping the gauze in place then sat back on his heels.
"It would probably be better if you're going to do this to yourself, Angel... To at the very least, use a clean implement."
"I use whatever's handy. Get it? Handy?"
*Every* time! He's more predictable than you are.
"I really wish you wouldn't have said that to me."
"You brought it up."
That's it? He's just going to clean up? Oh, that's no fun. Do something...
Angel reached without thinking, lifting Wesley's chin with his the curve of his finger. But Wesley didn't look at him. He just stared at the faucet--the drip-drip-erratically spewing faucet.
Don't think about it. Just. Push. Him. Over. The. Edge.
Wesley swallowed, then finally adjusted his eyes to meet Angel's. He was trying to project defiance--the ever-subordinate as superior. He was good at projecting disapproval--that was always a reliable one in his repertoire and it usually was the one that Angel responded to the most when the vampire was in the mood to be reprimanded.
Wesley stared at his face in the bathroom mirror. He had no idea what this particular look meant, but it would probably be a good idea to remember it if he ever needed to get rid of Angel in a hurry again.
"Why's he limping like that?"
"How many times you asked me that, Tino?"
"I'ownt know, Gunn."
"Six. You asked me that question six times and what'd I say six times?"
"You don't know."
"Right. You think all of a sudden I got a bomb dropped for question seven?"
"Jeez, Gunn." Tino fidgeted beneath his oversized sports jersey. "Well. You at least know why he's here?"
Gunn rotated his head and let those brown eyes of his explode all up on Tino.
The smile that he reserved just for himself--for his own sense of accomplishment, eased across Charles Gunn's full lips as Tino grumbled away. It was either the silent way he used his eyes or his height--sometimes he used both at the same time--that could deliver his message more clearly than a few choice words. Not that he didn't have a few of those under his belt, too.
Unfortunately, none of those worked on the vampire awkwardly pacing below him.
Leaning his tall frame against the industrial building's interior wall, Gunn shied back into the shadows. He didn't pretend for a moment that his rich brown complexion made him impossible to detect. He never underestimated the abilities of a vampire, having come against far too many of them in his too young life and losing his fellow combatants, his friends and--
Gunn squinted hard. Language was a delicate instrument, he knew from experience. The being below him was speaking in volumes and Gunn was gonna keep 'listening' until he cracked the code.
Gunn stared up the trunk of a eucalyptus tree, then back down again. In that short period of time, Angel was already yards in front of him and he had to race across the debris in the ravine, nearly tripping a few times, to catch up.
"So if we had negotiated a little longer, I could have gotten a month's worth of rations from you, couldn't I?"
Angel smiled slyly. "We struck a deal for two weeks. All negotiations are final."
Gunn shook his head in self-reproach. "So, Mr. Vampy Vamp-Vamp, how is it you can be such a big philanthropist and feed my peeps for a couple weeks just for a drive to San Diego?"
"Let's just say my rent isn't as high as it used to be."
An owl flapped briskly across their paths, disappearing into the darkness. It wasn't until after Angel stopped that he noticed Gunn had done so before him.
Two knives unsheathed one after another--Angel's of delayed reaction.
Gunn moved stealthily to match Angel's position. "That's not human," he sniffed, speaking softly to take advantage of the vampire's excellent auditory perception.
The odor emanating from the cavern entrance assaulted Angel's senses and he swallowed apprehensively. And then he followed the young man who had fearlessly taken the lead.
After examining another set of bloody tracks, Gunn pushed off his knee to stand. "Organized, who-- *What*ever they were. Different sizes, but these are all the same shoe."
"You ever seen tracks like this before?"
Gunn shook his head thoughtfully. "No. But what you're-not-telling me is telling me that *you* have. What was this place?"
Angel tip-toed through a dozen bodies instead of answering. It didn't matter what it used to be since it wasn't that anymore.
No finesse. You could have shown them the right way to go about this. No imagination. Boring!
Some of the battered, bloodied faces were still barely recognizable to Angel. There were a few who had been introduced to him as University students. He remembered the sensation of being surrounded by their animated personalities.
You could have turned them on each other. They would have done anything for you. *Anything*. Such a waste of potential destruction...
Angel stared at the familiar scene--the Oracle beings slain, their recently deceased bodies in the beginning throes of decomposition. It had been such a disappointment to learn they were simply mortal. Even so, it didn't make it any less difficult not to miss them.
He took the silence of the chamber for granted, knowing he had no access to the Auguries even if they were still present.
"Someone seriously jacked this place up, Angel."
"Don't say stuff like that here. This was a sacred place."
"Oh." Gunn stared at the body impaled into position on the stone wall of the Oracle chamber. "I didn't know you guys had religion and stuff."
Angel studied the body, taking note of the ironic point made by the horizontal slant of the Sword of Profanity. "Not *my* religion, Gunn. But it's someone's and we need to respect that. OK?"
You're getting so good at this, Warrior Angel. I almost believed you, too...
Even with the top down on Angel's convertible, Gunn could still smell the stench that covered the two of them. It was difficult--smelling this way--to not think about the carnage he had seen or to think about that one lone body in the high-ceilinged arched room. He had come across a few different types of demons in his short experience fighting them, but nothing so grotesque.
It chilled him to imagine how any creature had gladly subjected himself to such detestable disfigurement. Of having his face scored, the skin ripped from the protruding facial muscle for twisting, for tautning before hammering nail after nail into the skull to keep it in place--the same way someone would deliriously have a heart tattoed across an ass cheek.
"I'm still waiting." Gunn glanced at the passenger, then quickly down to the hilt of a sword gleaming by Interstate glow at that passenger's side. "Angel!" he called out.
Angel took his time lolling his head in Gunn's direction.
"I need answers," he shouted above the roar of a 16-wheeler. He could have sworn he saw the vampire take a deep breath before turning away. "Angel! ANGEL! I'm not taking 'no comment' for an answer."
"It's something *I* have to deal with. So just drop it."
"Hell and no! I Axel Foley for you when you say 'go', nanny your best friends, and now you got me driving your Daisy-ass up and down the coast and you don't think you owe me an explanation?"
"Alright. You got your *month's* rations. Now just drop it."
Gunn smacked the steering wheel with the heel of his palm. "Fuckin'A, man!" he huffed under his breath. Squirming in his seat, Gunn tried to wake his sleepy accelerator leg. "I didn't invite you in my life to have you buy me off, Angel!" he complained.
Angel let the argument fall by the roadside, preferring not to bring up the fact that Gunn still hadn't exactly extended an invitation.
"When did you wake up?" Cordelia asked with her eyes closed.
Angel, sitting at the foot of Cordelia's bed, shifted uneasily, still groggy from two uninterrupted days of sleep.
She tch'd and flopped her head against the pillow. "I'd sleep a whole lot better if you weren't watching me like that."
"I need to talk."
After flipping over to her other side, Cordy punched the pillow roughly. A few seconds later, she rolled onto her back and opened her eyes.
Directly into Angel's.
She clambered to sit up. "That's freakin' weird, Angel!" After considering how weird his undetectable movement had truly been, Cordy's fright morphed into anger and she shoved his shoulder. Hard.
"Don't do that to me!"
"I went to San Diego."
"This isn't about you disappearing for two days and then coming back and sleeping for another two days, Angel. You didn't leave a note and you didn't call and you shut off your cell."
She doesn't care.
"I-- I was trying to protect you."
She always looks at you like that when she doesn't believe you. Tell her she's a goddess. That this room is a holy place. That you want to *protect* her.
His eyebrows were doing that furrowey thing again. Maybe that's why Cordelia poked him right there. "OW! Stop doing that!"
"Stop playing games, Angel."
"I'm not playing games."
She so knows you. No wonder you need help...
"Why won't you listen to me?"
"Because you don't want to talk Angel. You want to find out what happened to me so that you can go out and kick somebody's ass. It wasn't an ass-kickable offense. I got my feelings hurt and I learned a valuable lesson. And one day I'll be able to look back and say, 'I grew from that experience'. But you're getting all wiggy over something that has absofreakin'lutely nothing to do with you."
"If your feelings are hurt, I feel it, too.
Ah. That's soooo sweet. Here, say it again so the kids can listen.
Cordelia huffed. She didn't like the way he flinched like he did, but she ignored him in favor of hunkering back onto her mattress. She wished it wasn't too hot for blankets because it would have been perfection to pull one over her head. Instead, Cordy shimmied back up against her headboard, perspiring from too much activity and silently cursing the night for holding any potential breeze hostage.
"You don't think fucking up your leg hurts *my* feelings?" Pleased with his obvious understanding, Cordy added, "you want to be this supreme control freak, Angel. But this is MY life to live and MY life to ruin or make better. My mistakes to make and my lessons to learn from those mistakes. So don't talk to me if you're only doing it to get at my information. You wanna share something with me. Share. Otherwise, I'm not on NiteBite alert and I wanna go back to sleep."
"You weren't sleeping."
The corner of her mouth creased in disapproval. "This is weird, Angel. Living with you is the single weirdest thing I've done to date and I have demon-impregnation to compare you to."
Only that? There's one more thing. Maybe two. Actually, at least three or four you can do within the next 60 seconds...
Angel blinked. He swallowed. There were a couple of breaths there, too. And he blinked again.
By the available light shining in from the street, Cordelia watched every muscle of Angel's face twitch. She reached up and rubbed the lines across his forehead, fascinated by how both warm and cool he felt.
"What happened, Angel?" she asked, genuinely concerned, gathering him into her arms.
Pulse envy. You'd think after two and a half decades you'd have gotten over that. Despicable...
Leave me alone. I know, turn up the volume on those milliners.
You think that soul of yours makes you so strong... Ah, that's sweet. Those human gestures. Remember how I used to stroke your ear like that? You know you'll never get her back. She can't be her and he certainly can't be.
Are you listening?
Don't pretend you can't hear me...
Fine. I'll go away for now. But don't forget, my Darling Boy-- Hearts that beat are hearts that stop. And I'll always be right here to remind you how to make that happen...