Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel"

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 before "Judgement."

Author's Note: This is the 9th and final installment of my series This Week at Angel Investigations. It's also a teaser for one of my Season Two stories. Doing AI Week was fun. It made the summer go by quickly. I still have two more Season One's and a web site relocation to complete before I flesh out the subject of this story but, please, enjoy what there is. e.c. 9 sept 00

PRELIMINARIES

by Evan Como

I. The 1st Annual Silverlake MeatFest

Whistler poured himself another tumbler of Sangria. Before he could set the empty pitcher down, Harry took it to replace it with another. "--and then I thought they'd wait until after The Olympics to start that Thompson trial," he added.

"Ooooooh, me!" Cordelia exclaimed, dancing her glass at Harry. "I mean," she lowered her voice contritely, "please?"

"Angel! You're missing the evening's performance. Cordelia's giving us a rendition of Oliver Twist!" Wesley nodded his head in gratitude, being careful to raise his glass slightly to meet a wedge of orange with a minimum of splash. Leaning into Harry's ear, he whispered something that made her laugh.

Harriet Doyle shot the late-teen a mock-scolding glance before accommodating the refill. "It seems I spend less and less time with my head above my work load. I completely forgot about both events. When exactly does that trial start?"

"Tuesday." After flipping over the GardenBurger, Angel shellacked it with a topcoat of sauce. He then lifted each piece of perfectly charred chicken onto a waiting platter. Setting the grill's domed lid back in place, he turned his back and basked in its radiating warmth in an effort to break the slight chill of the evening's air.

Studying Cordelia sipping from her overfull glass, Angel shook his head. "You're making us look bad," he commented after his own swig of Harry's special recipe. "Aiding to the delinquency of a minor, right?"

"I haven't been a minor for like ever, Angel." Cordelia peered at the BBQ bubble. "You don't want to get those burgers too done or they'll get all cardboardy."

"In other words-- Make your pretend one rare?"

Cordy ignored his remark on her way to the chaise.

Holding her glass between both hands, she adeptly placed a shin on the cushion and eased down. Beyond the blazing tiki lamps designating the perimeter of Wesley's small back yard, Cordy admired the city view. An unidentified herbal scent wafted in between that of the grill's.

"So?"

"So?" Cordelia inhaled deeply.

Claiming the edge of the lounger, Wesley studied his associate. His eyebrows were lifted expectantly in her direction. "Now that you've finally seen where I live… What do you think?"

"What I *really* think?"

"Unfortunately, yes." Dipping his head, Wesley found that regarding Cordelia slightly out-of-focus helped to lessen the anticipation of her expected review. Her straightened brown hair had increased in volume considerably since her arrival, a few strands actually reverting to ringlets. The fire made her hazel eyes glow. Well, either the fire or her third helping of sangria.

Placing her empty glass on the ground, Cordy scrunched back into the chair, overlapping her cardigan for warmth. She wasn't necessarily cold. The wine punch had done a great job of keeping the gooseflesh away. It just seemed strange to wear a sweater to a BBQ; although, she mused, probably not any stranger than having a BBQ at 10 o-clock at night or having it prepared by a vampire.

She glanced over her shoulder to where Harry, Whistler and Angel continued their topical conversation. Whistler was in his trademarked pleather jacket and sportsman's hat; Harry wore a long sleeved ethnic-patterned hostess dress. Angel had a huge towel wrapped low across his hips—a white horizontal band to both protect and fragment the monotony of his all-black garb.

When she turned back around, Wesley--wearing dryer-pressed denim from shoulder to ankle, was still waiting patiently for her opinion.

"I think your neighbors may be on welfare," she whispered despite the fact that the cottage was situated on the hillside in such a way Wesley didn't technically have neighbors.

"Yes. I've assumed as much," he reluctantly obliged.

Slipping her feet from her thongs, she slid them under his thigh. "It's a really cool place, Wesley. Seriously."

Wesley's dimples made an appreciative showing before he patted her ankles and joined the group.

II. Going Against 'Type

"This is the best barbeque I've ever eaten, Angel. Seriously." Wesley poked another finger into his mouth, sucking it clean before he wiped off. He gnawed at his drumstick, then performed the ritual again. "This sauce is so-- I can't describe it. Tangy, sweet, spicy. All of those." He reached for his glass and washed down his last sentence.

"Definitely spicy," Whister agreed, his eyes watery. "Thanks for the invite, by the way, in case I didn't happen to mention."

"You didn't. And you're welcome," Cordelia replied. Setting her burger on edge, she wheeled it over her tongue. "Are there anymore ribs?"

Angel did a quick inventory. It didn't seem possible that three humans and a demon could consume so much meat in less than an hour. "Ribs gone. There's another burger here, a thigh, two wings and a link."

"Hot link?" the four guests inquired together. Each rabidly looked at each other, then to Angel.

"I could divide it." Angel studied their faces, amused. "Or I could eat it myself."

"Now *that*, I'd like to witness." Wesley leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. "Although, I have to admit that it's been quite a treat watching you consume watermelon. Why, of all things edible, Angel—watermelon?"

"After a hard night slaving over the briquettes, Wesley, it's refreshing. Right, Angel?" Cordy ventured, annoyed after Angel pushed the platter a little further from a stealthy fork's reach.

"I can't personally say I've ever seen a vamp eat watermelon before," Whistler commented. With the aid of a Hawaiian roll, he whisked the last of his baked beans onto his fork. "I should probably mention that I don't spend a lot of time in the company of vamps, though. That potato salad was great. Any more down there?"

Harry slid the container his way, expressing a compliment to Wesley for a job-well-done. "With watermelon being something like 90% fluid, the texture is probably acceptable. There's no appreciable smell to interfere with the anticipated taste. And, considering Angel's age and his country of origin, he probably doesn't have any preconceived notions of what watermelon is actually supposed to taste like."

Suddenly self-conscious, Angel pushed his plate forward and folded his arms in its place. He cocked his head at Harry. "That your expert exo-demonic opinion?"

She smiled sheepishly, licking the corner of her mouth before dabbing it with her napkin. "Sorry. I guess I'm always working. But, better here than at that Thompson trial."

Wesley peeled the blackened husk from his ear of corn. "That's an intriguing statement. Which side called you for— I'm assuming, expert testimony?"

Nudging aside the perfectly chopped pieces of fruit, Harry finally found one last piece of watermelon in the composition. "Actually, not that they contacted *me*. The defendant's law firm did call DemonSeek for an expert, though."

"The old 'demon-possession' defense. Can't remember the last time that one was pulled out of storage." Whistler swallowed his bite then refilled with a glob of carrot/raisin slaw. "This pineapple in here?

"Fresh." Angel's brow furrowed deeply. "Kate was the primary on that case," he added.

"Kate?" Dividing the link in half, Harry placed a piece on Wes's and Cordy's plates.

"Angel's ex." The savory sausage was consumed in almost one bite. To Harry's bewildered expression, Cordy expanded, "cop ex-friend. Kate's all wiggy about the whole demon thing. Out to Rambo the unhuman race."

"Rambo." Wesley rummaged his thoughts for a moment. "I didn't realize *that* was still a viable colloquialism."

"So your cover's been blown?" Whistler asked Angel.

"Yeah," Angel admitted. Lifting his plate as he rose from the table to begin the clean up. "And if the defense strategy is going for demonic possession—"

"Then our obsessed Detective Lockley will be uncovered, as well," Wesley finished.

III. False Sense

"I believe she's sloshed." Wesley's slender frame casually tilted against the inside of his front door. He joined Angel to wave when Harry rapidly double-honked before she accelerated away.

"Then she'll probably want to call in sick again." Slouching against the outside of the cottage, Angel shouted past Wesley for the topic of their conversation.

Wesley smiled. "It's Labor Day, Angel. And a paid holiday. At least that's what Cordelia told me."

"Maybe for you guys but there's no rest for the wicked." Glancing out of the corner of his eye, Angel was half-afraid of the expression he'd find on Wesley's face, half-hoping it wouldn't be there. "Look, Wes," he raised his hand, his palm flat against that permanent barrier that denied him entry.

That look got, well… more intense.

"Do you ever—" Wesley began before pausing to raise an index finger. He deliberately traced the lines on Angel's palm. "—ever remember-- I guess, more like-- Do you ever feel it? Like a phantom pain? Remember—"

"No."

"Oh."

Wesley tried to shake off his disappointment. He could almost detect the symbol still etched into Angel's hand; and touching the area, feel the sliver of heat on a plane of cool. In the overhead light, he could make out every line in front of him, the texture of Angel's flesh. He compared the size of his own hand, lining up their fingertips and lowering the heel of his palm to meet Angel's.

He could feel—

"Wes."

Fascinated, Wesley knit his fingers with Angel's. He could sense the vampire attempting to respond—someway, if not in kind. But the two-word barrier--the invisible guard that could not be breached--held Angel's hand at his mercy.

"It amazes me how I can reach out, touch you like this, but you can't-- How you can't move—"

Angel, swiftly and without warning jerked his arm straight back, pulling Wesley forward and straight into his chest. With his one hand still entangled, he raised the other to Wesley's throat and pinned him against the outside jamb.

"Don't you ever underestimate what I can and can't do, Wesley. DO YOU HEAR ME?" he seethed into the astonished man's neck. After a feeble nod of agreement, Angel inhaled, his sniff obnoxious with intent. "This is a good scent for you, Wes. You should wear it more often."

"Put the Watcher back in his house, Angel," Cordelia chimed upon exit. She leaned to airkiss Wesley on his cheek. Tugging on Angel's sleeve, she whined, "OK, I'm all peed-out, Angel. Let's go home."

IV. Otherworldlies and the Really Fup-Ducked

"Ohmigod, I'm sooooooooooo drunk. I can't believe how drunk I am. Wow." The instant Cordy stepped over her threshold, she dropped her purse. Tipping her head to one side, she rolled her eyes to the darkened ceiling. "DENNIS!"

Her cardigan's placket rustled forward slightly.

Cordy smiled, then spun in place. "Dennis, I'm sooooooooooo drunk. I can't believe how drunk I am. Seriously. Wow."

"Um, Cordelia?"

"Yeah, Angel. Did I happen to mention how drunk I am?"

"Yeah, you did. But can you just take maybe one or two steps so I can get in?"

Cordy's back twist became a huge stretch. She balled her fists and pushed her arms upwards, dropping them behind her head before she yawned her reply.

Impatient, Angel one-armed her around the waist so he could enter and close the door.

"I'm flyyyyyyyyyying! Check me out, Dennis! I'm flyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyying!"

"Cordelia." She made strange sputtering noise while her arms flapped and Angel struggled to keep her balanced. "I'm warning you now you're going to have a serious hangover in the morning. You can't make a Sangria that good without using the *cheapest* red wine."

"Fly me to bed, Angel," she pointed in the direction of her room, suddenly finding herself vertical. She pouted. Big time.

"You shouldn't make that face. You'll get wrinkles."

"Shahhhh. Right. You'll turn me vamp before I get to that stage, Boo Boo. C'mon, Dennis. Let's go brush my teeth."

When Cordy climbed onto bed, Angel was already there.

"Whassup, lil AngelBoy?"

"Don't call me that."

"What-tah-everrrrrrrrrrrrrr." Cordy swished her arms, giving into the awesome feeling of being so relaxed. She felt rubbery and warm. And her cheeks were numb. "So. Angel. Whassup?"

"I'm not going to turn you."

"That's cool, Ay-yay-yangel. Angel. Angle. Foo."

"Foo?"

"Foo. Foo. Foo. Foo."

"What does that mean?"

"Foo?"

"Yeah."

Cordy pfh'd. After raising both shoulders to ear level, they free-fell back in place. "I'm drunk, Angel. Really, really drunk. What do I know from foo?"

"What *do* you know? OW!" He rubbed his chest where her backfist clobbered him. "Why'd you hit me?"

Shifting forwards, then backwards, Cordelia gave up and sat up next to him, her back sharing the headboard. She ground her head on his shoulder. "I really, really liked that ffffffffffresh, fffffffffffruity, fffffffffffffabulous, fffffffffffflavorble sangria. Hey, I could bite you. Grrrrrrrrr!"

"Stop."

"Grrrrrrrrrrrrr!" She rolled her head back, only to have Angel retract. "Here, Angel. Lemme have a taste. I'ma eat choo! Grrrrrrrrrr!"

He said, "stop, Cordelia," thinking that she would by command. Instead, she lunged at him, pinning him to the mattress. He looked into her face, into that huge smile of hers and those glee-ffffffffffilled hazel eyes.

She chomped her teeth. "I'm oh eat choo, AngelFoo! I'm oh— " Cutting herself off, Cordy went straight-faced. "Hey, Angel. Do you ever, you know. Remember? When we almost—"

"Nothing."

Cordelia pulled back slightly, a little surprised, before she collapsed on top of him. "Almost."

"We're not like that."

"You wanna be?" She could feel him tense. All of him went absolutely rigid.

"No?"

Reaching around, Cordy hugged Angel so tightly that if he had a breath, he wouldn't have been able to do anything with it. "I'm drunk. You could take advantage of me and—"

"Is that what you want me to do?"

"I think the whole point of you taking advantage of me while I'm drunk is that I'm not capable of making the decision for myself."

"But you're not drunk."

She pushed up, twisting her lips. Angel didn't smell like himself. There was the smokey scent clinging to him that matched the huge dark smudge across the left side of his face. She blinked slowly, half-expecting the action to Etch-a-Sketch him clean. "Drunk enough," she winked.

"Get up." He nudged her brusquely before swerving his legs over the edge.

"I finally found a place," he confessed a minute later.

"I know. A couple weeks ago, huh?" She kneed over to joined him, sliding her palm down his arm a couple times slowly. "I'm actually surprised you told me. I just expected to come home one night and find you gone."

He stood up, displeased by the accuracy of her accusation. "Everything'll go back to normal then." Over his shoulder, he looked back to find her lying flat on her back, her head falling over the edge. "You shouldn't do that."

"The room is spinning, Angel. And you look a lot bigger upside down." Cordy finger-combed her wild mane towards the carpeting. Concentrating hard, she was able to revive her buzz. Yawning again, her eyes tightly closed and big, inverted Angel disappeared completely.

V. Sympathy for The Disciple

He felt nervous. He'd been inactive for far too long. Everything about the body inside the perfectly- tailored suit felt peculiar. He took a deep breath, held it and slowly exhaled while wobbling his jaw in its socket.

That felt better.

"Once you get back in the courtroom, Lindsey, it'll be like climbing back on a horse. You'll be fine." Holland clapped the much younger man on his shoulder.

Lindsey relaxed. "Almost three months of recuperation, sir. I guess I've just had too much time to wonder-- I don't know. Maybe not if I've still got it, but if I ever had it." His practiced voice complemented the self-depreciative statement and, even though Lindsey didn't actually need his mentor's broad smile for validation, it felt good to know the skill was court-prepared.

"Well, Counselor. Day one begins in, oh—" A practiced turn of her slender wrist gave Lilah the opportunity to study her brand-new Corum. "One hour *exactly*," she purred with Swiss precision.

The familiarity returned.

He discreetly nodded the top of his head in her direction before swiping his briefcase from his desktop. "Shall we?"

Lilah's smug expression turned to confusion. She laughed uncomfortably. "Um, Lindsey. I realize it's your first day back on the job. And even though your case is pro-bono… Well?"

"Just present it, Lilah," Holland unexpectedly snapped.

Gracefully, she laid a palm forward and gestured at Lindsey's desk. The threesome studied the unarmed prosthesis.

"Hmmmm." Holland's eyes drifted to the empty space below Lindsey's right sleeve. "Brave call, Lindsey," he said, his response a mixture of uncertainty and respect.

Tucking his briefcase against his right side, Lindsey opened his office door for his guests. "Well, Sir. Lilah. Considering how brutally my client has been accused of bludgeoning his entire family to death, I figure that one of us needs to appear sympathetic."

He had the elevator all to himself, but his expression remained impassive. Lindsey MacDonald, Esquire, counted his breaths; took them evenly; let them go at precisely the same rate. Patience would become his most prized virtue, he reminded himself and one day he would be able to gloat openly about the looks on all of their faces—Lilah's, Detective Lockley, and especially one certain vampire with a soul.

-0-

evancomo@netscape.net

Angel's Journal