Guardian Angel

To Angel watchers: All you need to know about ER is that it is a hospital drama. The only character you need to worry about is Kerry Weaver, chief of the ER. She can be a bit by the book, and her people skills could use some work. She also walks with a crutch for unspecified reasons. Luka and Abby also make brief appearances, and they are, respectively, a doctor and a nurse.

To ER watchers: Angel is a vampire. He was cursed by gypsies who restored his soul, allowing him to feel remorse for his crimes as a soulless demon. He also has an arrangement with the Powers-That-Be to atone for his crimes. They send Cordelia unfortunately painful visions of people in trouble (usually from supernatural reasons), and he helps them. Their colleague Wesley is an expert on demons (he used to be a watcher for a vampire slayer) and he is a far better academic than he is a fighter---although he is improving. Read all of Cordelia's dialogue with a sassy 20-something snark and all of Wesley's with a stuffy Brit accent…

Prologue: Los Angeles

The post-vision pain was still ringing in her ears as she followed them out, but they needed her: this was their third encounter with the Methos demon and he was as scary in the visions as he was in real life. They had a bag of weapons ready, as they always did, and Wesley distributed them in the car en route.

"Can't you go any faster?" she fussed. "They didn't give us much notice…"

Angel revved the engine, the car lurching as he hit a bump in the road. She massaged her still-throbbing head gingerly and winced lightly as she was hit with a brief flash of…something. Not a vision, exactly…more insight. A nagging feeling…they were going to be too late.

"Angel!" she hissed. "Go faster."

He pressed the accelerator. They pulled in the alley just in time to see the Methos demon kick his elderly victim's cane out of the way as he wiped the blood off his dagger and vanished in a cloud of smoke.

He stamped on the brake pedal in frustration, and the car jumped to stop.

"Well?" he said.

Wesley, expert on all things demon, closed his eyes in defeat. "Well, you know how it works, Angel. They can only kill once in any community. Three times we were able to stop him, and so he stayed in Los Angeles. Tonight, he's killed, and we saw him vanish. It's anyone's guess to where."

Cordelia sighed. "But why would the Powers wait so long to give me the vision? Why wouldn't they give us enough time to get there?"

Wesley shrugged. "Could be this victim wasn't meant to be saved. And that someone else, somewhere else is. No one ever said your redemption was restricted to California, Angel. Maybe on this one they need you someplace else."

"Where, exactly?"

Wesley shrugged. "Hard to say. Methos demons cycle habitats and Los Angeles is a warm place, so chances are, he'll head for a cold spot next." He turned to Cordelia. "You're the American, Cordelia. Where does that leave us?"

"Gee Sherlock, I don't know. Cold places. Like that really narrows it down!"


Chicago, 3 days later

It had been a busy shift, but things were finally, gratefully settling down. Part of Dr. Kerry Weaver thrived on the action. She drew strength from a well-oiled routine, seeing the progress as you made it, solving the problems one by one…but part of her always ended a busy shift frazzled. She really connected with her patients, when she had the time to talk to them. When she didn't…days like today, with the bustle finally ending, she was taking a few minutes to get back into that soothing mindset, calmly restocking the supplies and making a few final notes on the charts. She was deep enough into her zone that she barely noticed Randi, the desk clerk, hurry in.

"Dr. Weaver? Ambulance coming in. Young girl, had some kind of seizure at Starbucks and spilled hot coffee on her hand…"

Kerry tidied the charts into a neat pile and picked up her crutch. "Great, grab Luka and Abby, tell them I'm coming."

They heard her before they saw her. Doris, the paramedic, had barely opened the ambulance door when the fragmented stream of words hit them.

"…have to call…Angel, I need to call…or else…"

"What've we got?" asked Kerry.

"Female, about 19, second degree burns on her right hand. Cashier said she had just paid for the coffee when she started screaming, then passed out. Came to en route and has been ranting about an angel ever since…"

"An angel? You think she's altered?"

Doris shrugged. "She resisted coming in, said she had to go tell 'Angel' about her 'vision.' Wasn't making too much sense, but she was pretty out of it at first…"

Abby and Luka rushed in, and Kerry gave them the bullet. She didn't notice the girl's eyes wince warily as she overheard Kerry mention a "psych consult."

Kerry leaned over and shone a light in her eyes. "She's responsive," Kerry noted. "Sweetie, can you calm down for a minute and let us have a look at you?"

The girl shook her head, trying to sit up but struggling against Kerry's hand. "I shouldn't be here. You don't understand, I have to call Angel, there isn't much time…."

Kerry nodded gently. "Uh huh. We just want to have a look at your hand, sweetie. You can call Angel later."

Her eyes darkened. "No! I need to call him now! Please, just let me…"

"Sweetie…" Kerry spoke firmly. "You need to calm down, all right? We're going to have a quick look, make sure you're ok after that seizure. Can you tell me your name?"

She gave Kerry a glare of the purest frustration before shrinking back into the gurney and reluctantly cooperating. "Cordelia Chase," she said quietly.

Kerry smiled. "All right, Cordelia," she said in her most soothing voice. "My name is Kerry. We're going to take very good care of you."

Their patient calmed down remarkably quickly, seeming to realize that it would make things easier. She allowed them a moment to get organized, before she spoke up.

"Look, I know you have policies and everything, but it is really important I call my friend. Can you please…I mean, you can do whatever you want, but can you please just let me call him first?"

Kerry nodded to Abby, who grabbed a pen off the table. "Right now, I want to look over your hand, and talk about the seizure you had. Why don't you give my nurse the number and she can call your friend for you?"

"I just…I need to give him a message. I need to make sure he gets it right away."

Abby nodded, pen poised.

"All right," sighed Cordelia. "His name is Angel, his cell number is in my bag. Tell him the…guy…we're looking for is in a dumpster behind the Saks on Michigan, and if he wants to catch him, he's only got about twenty minutes. And tell him I'm fine, and not to come barreling in here to rescue me until he's taken care of the…matter…first!"

Abby raised an eye at the decidedly odd message but copied it faithfully onto her notepad. "Done. You guys need more help in here?"

She shook her head. "Go make the phone call, Abby. Luka and I can handle this."

They washed her hand gently, applied an antiseptic cream and lightly wrapped it.

"You'll want to change that every morning for the next few days," said Luka, nodding at the loose gauze dressing. "It should be fine after that."

She nodded dully. "Ok, fine. So can I go now? I need to…"

Luka busied himself writing notes in her chart as Kerry pulled up a stool.

"Why don't we wait for your friend to get here," she said lightly. "And in the meanwhile, you and I can talk about that seizure. Do you remember what happened?"

Cordelia shrugged. "I guess so. I was buying coffee…" She trailed off. These seemed like very straight-laced people, not like the ones in L.A. at all. She had heard the doctor mention "psych" and she knew what that meant. She must have been pretty incoherent after the vision---what had she done? If they already had their fingers on the speed-dial to the psych ward, she didn't think she should be telling them how she passed out because the Powers-That-Be send her mind-numbingly painful visions to help her vampire boss fight demons.

"And?" prompted Kerry. "You told the paramedic you had a vision. What did you mean by that?"

She shrugged, an inner voice reminding her to be careful. "I get migraines," she offered, using her standard cover story.

Kerry nodded, writing that in the chart with a skeptical sigh. The girl was hiding something, she was sure of it. You don't recover that quickly from migraines, and…visions? Why did she have the feeling this girl was…off?

She sighed. "Do you remember losing consciousness?"

Cordelia frowned. What was the right answer here? She did remember, in vivid and glowing detail. How to convey that without giving everything away? She was rescued when the nurse reappeared and beckoned Dr. Weaver into the hallway.

"Excuse me for a moment," she told Cordelia. "I'll be right back."

"What is it, Abby?" said Kerry.

"Her friend is here," said Abby. "Can I show him in or are you still working?"

"I don't know," said Kerry. "The hand is fine, but something funny's going on. She seems completely unconcerned about the seizure she had, and the story she told me didn't make sense. I'm not sure what's going on, but something…"

Abby shrugged. "Maybe you could talk to her friend, see if he can get anything?"

She nodded, heading over to chairs, where a slight, bespeckled man rose anxiously at her approach. "You're Cordelia's friend?" she inquired.

He nodded. "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Are you the doctor? How's Cordelia?"

"I'm Dr. Weaver. Cordelia is fine, minor burns on her right hand, but otherwise no damage. Did anyone tell you what happened?"

She filled him in on the mysterious seizure, the girl's alarming lack of concern and her own feeling that something strange was going on, that Cordelia wasn't telling her the truth. She was surprised when Wesley's only response was an oddly knowing smile.

"I'm sure she's fine, Doctor. I wouldn't worry."

"I'm amazed that you don't seem more concerned," said Kerry frankly. "Has she had these sorts of things before?"

He shrugged noncommittally, and Kerry felt her frustration boil over. The girl regularly gets painful seizures of unknown cause and no one---the girl included---shows even the slightest interest in exploring the reason? Unless they knew the reason and were hiding it…but why would they want to hide something like that?

"I'd like to keep her overnight for observation," she persisted. If we could just run a few tests…"

He craned his neck, peering over her shoulder impatiently. "Can I see her now?"

Cordelia brightened noticeably when she saw Wesley come in.

"Wesley! What are you…where's Angel?"

"Still occupied with our little friend. Cordelia, are you all right?"

She nodded. "But why are you…I told him I could wait, he needs you!"

Wesley smiled. "Relax, Cordelia, Angel is fine. In fact, we can go meet him as soon as they release you."

She stared at the doctors. "And when will that be?"

Kerry sighed. "We'd like to keep you for observation, but we can't force it if you are determined to leave. Give us a few minutes to…"

She stopped abruptly, alarmed, as the girl placed a hand to her forehead, wincing anxiously.

"Wesley…" He braced her expertly while she writhed in his arms, whimpering, twisting her body as if she was being attacked. After a very long moment, she finally quieted, breathing hard. Kerry and Luka snapped into action.

"Luka, get a nurse in here. We need a neuro consult…"

The girl shook her head dizzily. "I'm fine, really. Just let me…I need a minute alone. Wes?"

He still had his arm around her, and noted the concern in the doctor's eyes. "Give us a moment," he said, reassuring them with a conspiratorial wink. "I'll talk to her."

She waited until the door was fully closed before she breathed out again.

"What did you see?" asked Wesley gently.

"Relax, we have some time on this one. But Wes…it's that doctor who treated me, Dr. Weaver. She's the next target."

Half an hour later, they had the discharge papers. Dr. Weaver had not been happy about it, but Cordelia had been adamant and signed herself out AMA. The headstrong doctor hadn't seemed convinced with her "migraine" story, and had made her discharge as difficult as possible, refusing to give Cordelia even a simple Tylenol to kill the headache. As Dr. Weaver snippily asserted, she shouldn't be leaving if the pain was that bad. Cordelia sagged on the bed gratefully as Wesley helped her into their hotel room, grabbing two Excedrin and setting them beside her. She swallowed them gratefully.

"We'll have to tell her," said Cordelia after a moment.

"I suppose," said Wesley. "I don't imagine someone like her would react very well to Angel skulking around without an explanation."

"And we'll have to get her address," added Cordelia. "We can't protect her if we don't know where she'll be."

Wesley shrugged. "She'll be easy enough to find. Did the vision tell you where it would happen?"

Cordelia shrugged. "Dank alley behind a cheesy something or other. The usual."

"So…what do we tell her? If this is her first encounter with the non-human world…perhaps we shouldn't give away any more than we have to."

Cordelia sighed. "I'm not happy about it either, Wes. But now that she no longer has the authority to commit me to the psych ward, I'm feeling ok about clueing her in."

He nodded. "I suppose you're right. Methos demons always go for people with physical weaknesses, and she didn't look like she could defend herself. I'll call Angel and tell him where to meet us."


Two hours later, Kerry slipped into Magoo's, almost quaking with exhaustion. She was done for the night, and beyond: tomorrow was her day off. She planned to spend it sleeping, and she planned to get a head-start on that sleeping as soon as she got a coffee for the road. Magoo's wasn't the best coffee, but it was the most convenient, and it had been a long day…

She tensed, eyes widening as she approached the counter. Looking quite recovered from her little accident, sharing a sandwich with her friend Wesley, and chatting amiably with a hulking, handsome companion…it was her patient from earlier, the girl with the burned hand and strange "migraines." And if Kerry didn't know any better, she'd say they looked like they were waiting for her. She forced herself to conjure a smile and approached their table.

"Ms. Chase. Glad to see you're feeling better…"

Cordelia nodded. "Dr. Weaver." She motioned smoothly to the empty spot beside her. "Why don't you have a seat, grab some coffee."

Kerry frowned uneasily. Was that an invitation, or a command? "Nice of you to offer," she said. "But really, I'm…"

Cordelia snapped a finger at the passing waitress. "Coffee for our friend here. And…you want some pie or something?"

She shook her head, feeling oddly dazed. Out in the real world, Cordelia had an eerily controlled demeanor, an almost scary self-possession that Kerry hadn't noticed before. Something was up, she could feel it. What was going on here?

Wesley sensed her apprehension. "I know you must be startled to see us here," he began. "But really, you needn't be frightened. Well, not of us at any rate. We're here to help you."

"Help me? With what?"

He fiddled nervously with his glass. "Why don't we wait until the coffee comes?"

The stranger cleared his throat, and Wesley stuttered awkwardly. "Oh, how careless, I completely forgot introductions. Now, you've already met Cordelia and myself. Dr. Weaver, this is Angel. Angel, Dr. Kerry Weaver."

So there really was an Angel! This was getting stranger by the minute, and Kerry didn't like it one bit.

The coffee arrived, and she sipped it gratefully. Wesley gave her a moment, then softly said "All right, Dr. Weaver, I imagine you're a bit confused right now. Where would you like to start?"

"The seizures," she said instantly. "What were they?"

"That's my part of the story," said Cordelia. "Although after you hear it, I bet you'll want me to backtrack. The seizure was a vision. I see people in trouble, and we help them."

She blinked, clearly not expecting this answer. "Oh."

Cordelia smiled. "You see why I didn't tell you at the hospital. I know how it sounds, but really..."

"I'm not entirely sure I understand," said Kerry. "How do you know…I mean, hallucinations can be a symptom for any number of things… migraine, tumor, virus…"

Cordelia grinned at Wesley. "You owe me ten bucks. I told you she'd need the whole story."

Then, to Kerry, she said "We'll start at the beginning. Angel is…special. He has some things he's trying to atone for, and the Powers-That-Be send me full-colour, multi-sensory and mind-numbingly painful visions of people he can help."

"Powers-That-Be?" she echoed doubtfully.

Cordelia sighed. "I don't know why everyone has so much trouble with that part," she commented to Wesley. "They're exactly what they sound like."

"Anyway," she continued casually, "We've been tracking this Methos demon…"

Kerry choked on her coffee. "Demon?"

"Yes, demon," she said patiently. "And Methos demons are particularly nasty ones, they always go after people with physical weaknesses. No offense," she added with a nod to Kerry's crutch.

"And you think this demon is after me?"

"We know he is. Vision girl, remember? I saw it."

Kerry shuddered. She liked to think she was a good people reader, and this girl didn't seem delusional…but…demons? Psychic visions of the future?

Wesley smiled gently. "I know it can be hard to accept, but we can help you deal with this. There are demons in the world, yes, but we know how to handle them. We…"

Kerry flinched back defensively. "Help me? You people just show up out of…who knows where…saying that a psychic vision told you a demon is after me and you expect me to…what? Take you home with me without even batting an eye?"

Angel blinked innocently. "Yes."

She stood, coat in one hand and crutch in the other. "Well, thanks for the coffee and nice to see you're feeling better. If you'll excuse me, I'm off duty and it's been a long day."

She didn't notice them follow her out, and was startled when Angel appeared in front of her, seemingly out of nowhere. He gave her a shy smile. "I'm sorry," he said gently. Then he gave a low growl and his face transformed before her eyes, ridges popping up on his forehead and narrowing into the bridge of his nose, eyes glowing yellow, fangs glistening in the moonlight.

"Now do you believe in demons?" he hissed.

Cordelia smirked. "Told you he was special."

She opened the door to her townhouse, Wesley and Cordelia following. Angel stood on the threshold and folded his arms expectantly.

"What is it now?" she sighed.

"You have to invite him in," explained Cordelia. "He can't come in otherwise."

"Well then he can stay out there for now," snapped Kerry. "I'm still not totally comfortable with this situation."

"We're happy to answer any questions you still have," said Wesley.

She sighed. "I'm sorry. It's just…I had a long day, then I find out that there are demons, and from the sound of it, more than one kind…and one is after me…" she shrugged, then nodded to Angel. "You can come in, I guess," she said. "If you were going to hurt me, you would have done it by now."

Angel stepped in and closed the door behind him. "Thank you. And I'm sorry I scared you, Dr. Weaver, but showing you was the only way to make you understand."

She nodded. "I know. And you can call me Kerry. If you're going to staying here for a few days, the least we can do is drop the formalities." She blinked. "That was your plan, wasn't it? Stay with me until I lead you to your demon?"

Angel nodded. "I'll go back to our hotel, check us out, get our stuff. Tomorrow, we start going over battle plans. Are you working?"

She shook her head.

"Good," he said. "You can help. We can get him this time. We have to get him."

Kerry helped Wesley and Cordelia get settled on the couches in her living room. She had offered them the basement, but Angel wanted to keep his gang upstairs so he could keep an eye on them, and on her, at the same time. The excitement of the day finally seemed to be catching up to them---even Wesley, and especially Cordelia who was still recovering from her little accident.

"Are you sure you're all right?" said Kerry. She nodded to the girl's hand. "Why don't you let me have another look at that?"

Cordelia shrugged. "I'm ok, just tired. I don't often get two visions in one day, and as I'm sure you noticed, they aren't that comfortable."

Kerry nodded. "I saw. If you don't mind my asking, how did you…I mean, visions…higher powers…"

Cordelia's eyes darkened. "Yeah, I know. Trust me, I never thought I'd get involved in the battle between good and evil. I mean, I grew up on a Hellmouth and knew a vampire slayer and all that, but I was always pretty normal."

Kerry wisely decided not to clarify the "Hellmouth" and "vampire slayer" part. She had absorbed enough new information for one day. She still wasn't sure if she entirely believed what this girl was telling her, but that trick Angel had pulled earlier was...interesting. And they didn't seem overtly dangerous...

"…and then I moved to L.A. and Angel found me. And we just sort of…hooked up, and next thing I knew I was working for him, and we had Doyle…he was Angel's link to the Powers-That-Be. And he…he died. He passed the visions on to me."

Her voice trembled slightly at that last part, and she seemed like she was about to say something. Then she broke off abruptly, taking a deep breath to regain her composure as Angel returned, loaded down with bags and boxes.

He let them fall asleep as soon as he had distributed the clothes and personal stuff from their hotel room. They were exhausted, and he knew they needed rest if they were to be ready. He wasn't sure exactly when they would find the demon; he trusted the Powers to show Cordelia. But tonight they had seen the alley from her vision---behind that coffee shop, Magoo's. They would encounter the demon there, which meant that for now at least, Kerry and the others were safe in her house. He hoped his colleagues and their new friend were sleeping well, because he had a feeling that his combat training was not the only challenge they would face tomorrow.

Kerry was an early riser, but if she was hoping this would give her a few minutes of peace before the others woke up, she was mistaken. As she tiptoed to the bathroom, she noticed Angel asleep in her chair, but when she returned to the bedroom he was wide awake and watching her intently.

"Good morning," she said.


"Did you…I mean, were you comfortable enough…" she trailed off awkwardly.

He shrugged. "I don't sleep at night," he said.

She moved to open the curtains, and he suddenly appeared at her side. "Keep them closed," he said. "At least while I'm in here."

She nodded, already adjusting to guests who could off-handedly throw out such strange statements. "All right," she said. "Will you be joining us for breakfast?"

He shrugged. "I think I'll skip it. Cordelia likes my lunches though. I make a mean grilled cheese."

Wesley was already dressed and was diligently folding the blankets. He mouthed 'good morning' with a wary nod to the still-sleeping Cordelia, as he followed her into the kitchen. He rifled through the fridge as she prepared the coffee.

"Angel has put some…supplies…in here," he told her. "Bottom right-hand corner. You'd best not touch, it's…well, he's very sensitive about it."

She shrugged. "Coffee'll be ready in a minute. Should we wake Cordelia?"

He peeked into the living room and saw faint movement from underneath the blankets. "No need," he said. "I think she's up."

Kerry reached under the kitchen sink for the first aid kit and silently maneuvered into the living room. The girl was still cuddled under the blankets, but half-sitting up. With a slight smile of good morning, Kerry wordlessly took her injured hand and started unwrapping it. Cordelia watched with an oddly detached curiosity.

"There," said Kerry, securing the loose gauze wrapping with a piece of surgical tape. "How does that feel?"

"Fine," said Cordelia. "Thanks. Is Wesley around?"

"In the kitchen, getting breakfast together."



"Good," said Cordelia. "That'll give you and me a few minutes to talk."

Kerry tensed. "About what?"

"Well, I'm sure you still have questions. I think I know what those questions are, and I've heard the answers Wesley gives to them. Trust me, you'd rather ask me!"

Kerry smiled. "All right. What's wrong with Angel?"


"Well, there's that stunt he pulled last night…and the needing to be invited in…and not sleeping at night, asking me to keep the curtains closed…so, is he a demon or something?"

"He's a vampire."

That made sense in an odd sort of way. "Oh. Anything else I should know about?"

"Well, he's a good vampire," offered Cordelia. "About a hundred years ago he snacked on a gypsy and her tribe cursed him with a soul. So now he helps people, trying to redeem himself for his days as a Big Bad."

"Why is having a soul a curse?"

"Aside from the guilt issues? Because they put a happiness clause in the curse. If he has true happiness, he goes evil again. So he's doomed to be guilty and miserable until he redeems himself."

"So that's why he's so…"

"Broody. Yup." Cordelia smiled. "You've gotten over your initial shock, I see."

"Well, if I can accept demons and Powers-That-Be, why not gypsy curses and vampires?" She hesitated. "Does it…does it get any worse than that?"

Cordelia shrugged. "I don't know. I don't think I have the best perspective on these things. I've kinda been doing this for awhile."

Kerry snapped the first aid kit closed efficiently. "You up for some breakfast?"

They rose, each helpfully offering a hand to the other. A moment later, Kerry winced as she tripped on one of Angel's boxes, then choked on a scream when cross-bows, stakes and some sharp things she couldn't identify tumbled out. Wesley came running.

"What's wrong? What is it?"

She pointed wordlessly at the tangled arsenal littering her floor.

Wesley shrugged. "So?"

"So? I invite you in and this is what you bring with you?"

He blinked, confused. "Well, how did you think we would kill the demon?"

She turned away, breathing calmly as she limped to the kitchen. She hoped the coffee was ready. She really needed coffee.


"And what's this one?"

Wesley barely spared the weapon a glance. "Sword of Altos. You can tell by the engraving. Watch the blade, it can get hot in the sunlight."

"Oh. How useful."

"It is," remarked a dry, deep voice from the doorway. She whipped around, almost crashing into Angel who had skulked in, unnoticed.

"You scared me. Did you have to sneak up on us like that?"

He shrugged. "I'm gonna grab a snack. You guys want anything?"

Wesley shook his head, and Kerry said "I'll help you."

"No," he said hastily. "I mean, I can manage. It's…"

"Angel is shy about eating," explained Wesley.

She sighed. "Is this because he's a vampire?"

He blinked. "How did you know about that?"

"Cordelia and I had a chat."

Angel nodded. "Where is Cordelia anyway?"

Wesley smiled. "You didn't think you could bring her to a city like Chicago without expecting her to do some shopping…"

Angel frowned. "You let her go out by herself in a strange city?"

"Of course not," Wesley huffed. "Dr. Weaver isn't the only one with a day off today. And if I recall correctly, Dr. Kovac is almost as hulking and imposing as you."

Angel looked doubtful. "Well, is she coming back here anytime soon?"

The phone rang and Angel nearly lunged for it.

"That's Cordelia," confirmed Kerry. "She'll be home in about an hour. Luka said he would drop her off on his way to the hospital."

"I thought you said he had the day off," said Angel.

"He does, but there is a patient he wants to check on. We might meet him for dinner at Magoo's."

Magoo's---that was the diner they had been in yesterday. And that diner backed into a non-descript and vaguely nasty-looking alley like the one Cordelia had described from the vision. He felt a twinge of anticipation. Something was going to happen, tonight. He could feel it.

"Well, if we go out, we have to be ready," said Angel. "Let's see how good you are at thinking on your feet."

Twenty minutes later, Angel had given up. His first inclination had been to offer the doctor a stake: the most basic weapon, enough that she would feel protected. He didn't expect the slight (and physically unsteady) doctor to be an asset in the fight, but he didn't want her getting in the way either…unfortunately, she was less comforted by a stake then someone like Cordelia, who was used to having one in her pocket at all times.

"This is the best you can do? You expect me to protect myself with a splinter of wood?" she squeaked.

"Well, we'll protect you," said Angel. We just wanted you to have something…"

"You don't have anything sharper? A knife, or a sword or a gun?"

Well, he did have knives. And they would actually be useful in fighting this kind of demon, so he wasn't sure he wanted to waste one on someone who wouldn't contribute. And some of them, like the sword of Altos, could be dangerous to the wielder too if they were inexperienced. Still, he knew Dr. Weaver was far less likely to get in the way if she felt relatively safe and self-sufficient. He gave her the smallest dagger he could find and mock- attacked her. She swung wildly with the armed hand, holding her crutch with the other and struggling to keep her balance.

"No," said Angel impatiently. "You aren't doing that right at all!"

She frowned. "Well, I am not exactly used to…"

"Excuse me," interrupted Wesley gently. "I think another strategy is called for. Kerry, it looks like you're stabbing. The foreword motion is what's unbalancing you. You'll be able to keep a more stable stance if you angle to the side, like slashing."

She tried it. "You're right! I stay on my feet a lot better that way."

He smiled. "Well, Cordelia should be home at any moment. We'll run a few drills. If something does happen tonight…"

"It will," said Angel confidently.

"Well, we'd best be ready. And rested. Lunch, anyone?"

Cordelia arrived home just in time for Angel's grilled cheese sandwiches.

"Did you have fun?" asked Wesley.

She nodded. "That Dr. Kovac is a much better shopper than I thought he would be. You know, Dr. Weaver, you should ask him to take you sometime. The man knows bargains…"

Kerry skeptically studied Cordelia's current ensemble: in deference to the cold Chicago weather, she had chosen long sleeves, but they were the see- through gauzy kind. She gained a bit of extra covering with the inches- thick, inches-long mishmash of bracelets on her right arm, and her sleek black pants were loose enough to be comfortable, but tight enough to be cute. "I think we have different styles," said Kerry doubtfully.

Cordelia shrugged. "Well, Angel told me not to get too much because we have to lug it all back with us. So I focused on shoes because they pack well." She beamed proudly.

"And will any of those shoes be suitable for a skirmish in an alley, possibly tonight?" asked Wesley, trying to get her back on subject.

"Oh, please," she scoffed. "Like I'd go into battle with shoes I haven't broken in? Are you nuts?"

"Apparently," remarked Wesley, shaking his head indulgently.

They were just finishing lunch when Kerry's colleague Dr. Kovac called. The patient he was visiting, a bishop he had been treating for weeks, was in the mood for company. If they wanted to meet him for dinner as planned, it would have to be Magoo's, as he would be occupied at the hospital for the rest of the afternoon.

"Sounds good," said Kerry.

Cordelia shot her a questioning glance as she cleared the table.

"Luka," mouthed Kerry.

Cordelia smiled, nodding ascent as Kerry finalized the arrangements. She liked the handsome young doctor, and was happy enough to spend more time with him. She gathered the last of the lunch dishes, not noticing Angel scowl worriedly as Kerry hung up the phone.

He made sure they dressed appropriately, Cordelia in shoes as sensible as she could muster, and Wesley with enough pockets to conceal a variety of weapons. He didn't have to tell them something was up; they could sense it as well as he could. They met Dr. Kovac just after six, and the diner was crowded.

"I can't believe you got us a table," said Wesley. "This place is…busy."

"A lot of hospital people come here," he said. "They know me."

They hung coats and settled in, Cordelia raising an eye as Angel sat himself beside the doctor. Was he expecting something to happen…now?

"So Dr. Kovac," said Wesley genially. "How is your patient doing?"

"Call me Luka," he said. "And he's managing, thank you. And you…Cordelia tells me you are in town on business. What kind of work do you do?"

He glanced at Cordelia cautiously, unsure of how much she had told him. "We're…well, Angel is a detective," he said. "We're looking for…a missing person."

"Oh, I see," said Luka. "So you are a detective also?"

Wesley shook his head. "I am a…researcher. I have some specialized knowledge in…the kind of missing people Angel usually looks for. And Cordelia is our office manager."

"Must be a big case, if all of you are traveling for it."

"We're a very close-knit group."

Dinner was blessedly uneventful, and Dr. Kovac, the only one still blissfully unaware of demons and vampires, remained blissfully unaware--- right up until the moment the demon attacked them. They had gone out the back door, to walk the handsome doctor back to the hospital. The Methos demon had been waiting behind a dumpster.

"What…is that?" he choked, throwing a protective arm around Kerry.

Angel and his friends ignored him, surprisingly well-armed and not in the slightest surprised to see a beast from hell attacking them in the middle of Chicago. Wesley struck the first blow, with the sword Kerry had been looking at earlier. At the first trickle of blood, the demon broke out in spikes, and began shooting fireballs from its mouth. It kept its eye riveted on Kerry, clearly hungry and clearly interested, but just as clearly realizing that it wouldn't get near her unless it disposed of the many, many protectors she had.

"Keep back," whispered Wesley to Luka. The doctor shook his head, and with a sigh, Wesley handed him a stake. "Well the fireballs dissipate quickly, so if you stay down, they won't hit you."

Cordelia and Wesley, crouched as low as possible, got in a few small nicks with their daggers, as Angel humped the back of the creature, sword in hand. The beast let them get in a few ineffectual digs before it snarled and viciously kicked with one foot, then the other. Cordelia and Wesley went flying into the dumpster. Kerry winced as she heard the girl's head smack ominously as it hit the ground. Wesley rose shakily, ducking fireballs as he scrambled toward Cordelia. Luka caught his eye and shook his head, motioning to Kerry, crouched beside him. Wesley nodded, the message clear: you trust me with your girl, and I'll trust you with mine. As Angel distracted the demon with his fast-footed swordplay, the men slowly inched their way to opposite sides of the alley. Luka knelt beside the unconscious Cordelia. Wesley tossed Kerry his last spare stake and told her to remain low.

The beast was tiring, but Angel was too. For weeks, they had been tracking him. For weeks, they had distracted this creature long enough for its prey to get away, except in one instance. That instance had brought the creature here, and Angel knew it wouldn't be enough to just stop it this time. They could not spend forever on its tail, not like this. They would have to kill it, for good this time. They had used all their strength, all their weapons, and they hadn't killed it. Why would this fight be different? How could they make it different? With a last grunt of strength, the demon finally dislodged Angel from its back and went after Wesley, who was carefully guarding the prey.

Kerry watched in horrified terror as the creature lunged toward her. He seemed unstoppable, the few nicks the others had inflicted already healing. Her new friends, on the other hand…with one eye, she saw Luka, hunched protectively over Cordelia's still form. With the other, she saw Angel struggle to his feet as the beast aimed for the weaker Wesley. Finally, her fear turned to anger and for a moment she forgot he was a dangerous demon.

"Oh no you don't," she shouted. "You'll pay for hurting my and my friends!" Closing her eyes, she swung her crutch with all her might. There was a popping sound, then the creature turned to dust before her eyes.

As one, they hurried over to Luka's side to find him so distracted with the now-awake Cordelia that he hadn't noticed the fight had ended.

"She won't let me examine her," he complained. "I told her, with a head wound she needs to have someone in the ER look her over, but she won't come."

"I'm fine," said Cordelia.

"You were unconscious," protested Luka.

"Luka," interrupted Kerry. "These guys are spending the night at my place. I'll look after her myself. I promise to bring her in if there are any problems."

"All right," conceded Luka reluctantly. "If you're sure…"

She nodded.

"What was that thing?" asked Luka.

"What do you think it was?" said Cordelia.

He thought about it for a moment. "An actor," he decided. He shook his head. "Maybe people like him blend in where you're from, but here…that was…interesting. Why were you guys looking for him, anyway?"

Angel shrugged. "You know those actor types. Always into something."

Luka nodded, looking around the alley curiously. "Too bad he got away. Maybe you'll catch him next time."

They dropped Luka back at the hospital, then headed back to Kerry's house. Two hours later, with Cordelia certified healthy, they were lounging in the living room sipping coffee, tea, hot chocolate and blood respectively.

"I still don't understand how that battle was different," said Angel. "Why we were able to defeat him this time, but not before."

"Well, we had some help this time," Cordelia said, smiling at Kerry.

"You might be on to something," said Wesley slowly. He was flipping through yet another crumbling old book, and stopped flipping at Cordelia's comment. "Look at this," he said, reading. "No warrior can defeat. No slayer can slay. Only a wronged one can make the demon pay."

"She fought back," said Angel, finally understanding. "He goes after victims with physical infirmities because they generally can't fight back."

"He underestimated me," said Kerry proudly.

"And that's why you were able to defeat him," concluded Wesley. "I can't believe I didn't figure this out before. No warrior can defeat him, I assumed it meant he was unkillable. And he is---by a warrior. It seems he can be killed quite easily, but only by the one he is wronging---his intended victim."

"So we won't have to worry about him anymore?" asked Kerry.

Wesley shook his head, still amazed. "Unbelievable," he mumbled. "You know, this would make a fascinating article…"

Cordelia cleared her throat. "Um, maybe. But could you write it in the morning? It's late and we have an early flight and I did get thrown into a dumpster…"

"I thought you said you were fine," teased Wesley.

Next thing he knew, he had a face full of pillow. "Fine enough for you?"

He rose, following Angel to the kitchen to clean the dishes, and leaving the two women giggling on the couch like teenagers.