Blood & Water
by Rheanna

Prologue
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep


My first memory is of my mother, kneeling beside my bed, clutching her cross and her rosary and praying for me.

I remember being woken by the sound of her voice, soft and pleading. Her eyes were closed and she held the crucifix to her lips, as if to bless the words as soon as they left her mouth. I stared at her, seeing how the tears ran down her cheeks and fell from her jaw on to the white linen collar of her best Sunday dress. I had never seen her so upset before, and I wondered what I had done to make her cry.

I tried to reach out to her, but my arms were strangely heavy and wouldn't obey me. My skin burned; my head felt as if it had swollen to several times its normal size, and my ears were filled with the rushing of my blood, driven by a feverish fast pulse.

"Holy Mary, mother of God, please not my son. Please not my son. Holy mother, I entreat thee, thou art a mother as I am, and thou knowest the pain of losing a son. Please, holy mother, not my son."

I was no more than six or seven years old, but I understood. I heard the note of sorrow in my mother's voice, the anticipation of grief, and I knew I was going to die. I didn't mind. I was sleepy, and everything hurt. I didn't have enough of a past to regret, and the future was so vast, so blank a canvas, that I could not conceive enough of it to fear its loss. Sometimes I think if I had died then, I would have died content, and perhaps even found the loving arms of my mother's God, and known His son's forgiveness.

Too late for that now.

It feels like a long time ago, but it can't have been, because my mother is here again. She's beside me now, talking to me. Or maybe she's praying. Her voice is faint and growing fainter, and I can't make out the words. It doesn't matter. I've been playing out in the fields, Mother, under the sun, all day long. It's been a long, long day, and I'm tired now. I want to rest. I don't want to hear the blood in my head any more, singing to me.

Now I lay me down to sleep
I give my soul to thee to keep
And should I die before I wake
I give my soul to thee to take

And should I die before I wake…

And should I die…

1.
Crossbearer


"This is Dustbuster to Crossbearer, do you copy? Over."

The street in downtown LA's business district was wide, well lit by streetlamps and, at this time of night, almost completely empty. Nevertheless Gunn made his way to a pool of bright light under a neon shop sign before dropping his guard long enough to unhook the radio from his belt. Still keeping half an eye on his surroundings, he flipped it to 'send'. "This is Crossbearer, I copy. Over."

His deputy's voice was fuzzy with static- the radios weren't exactly top of the range or even, for that matter, legally obtained- but the words were sufficiently clear. "We lost him, but he's heading your way. It's weird. He's slow, like he's injured."

"I could take him, then."

He could hear the disapproval in her voice. "It could be a trap. False sense of security."

"They don't think like that. I'm on the corner of Grand Avenue and Second. How long for you to reach me?"

"Three minutes."

"Check. Don't worry, Cloud, I won't do anything reckless. Crossbearer out."

A police car was making its way along the boulevard. Gunn hooked the radio back on to his belt and adjusted his jacket, hiding the impressive array of weapons attached to the inner lining. The cop in the passenger seat glared at him on the way past. Gunn glared right back, almost able to hear his thoughts. Young African American male loitering on the streets in the early hours. What's he doing? Making trouble?

"Making the city a little safer," said Gunn quietly. "More than you're doing."

He heard a noise from behind him, and turned. An alleyway, unlit and narrow, led off the boulevard. With a single, easy movement Gunn stooped down and freed the sharpened stake nestling inside his boot. He straightened up, and listened.

A distant siren. The wind between the buildings. And then it came again…

He grinned. "Oh yeah. Come to Papa, baby. He's got a brand new stake for ya."

At the entrance to the alley, he paused long enough to shuffle the stake upwards between his fingers, so that the thick end brushed his wrist and the tip pricked his palm. Then he walked into the gloom, with slow and measured steps.

"Come on. I know y'all's in here."

The alley was silent. A faint rustling from behind the dumpster to his left made him look, but it was only a rat. Gunn walked on. He lifted his left arm, tilting up the heel of his hand and exposing the veins on his wrist to the night air. "I know you want some of this. It's good stuff. The very best. Packed full o'vitamins and…."

He heard the roar from behind a pile of discarded boxes and braced himself for the vampire's charge. "Come and get it!"

The vampire ran- no, wait, lurched- towards him and Gunn feinted to one side, avoiding its grasping arms with ease. He hopped backwards several paces, and waited for the counter attack. And waited some more.

The vampire stared at him, as if unable to decide whether pursuing its meal was worth the effort.

Gunn looked about, suddenly wondering if Cloud had been right. Dammit, what if this was a trap? He'd walked right into it and he only had himself to blame if…

The vampire fell over.

Gunn hesitated, then approached it and stood straddling its chest. The vampire groaned and made ineffectual attempts to wriggle out from under him.

"Hot damn," said Gunn wonderingly. He leaned down until he was nose to nose with the demon. "What is this? The least I expect is a fight. If you can't even be bothered putting in the effort, do you know what that does? I'll tell you what it does." He extended a finger and prodded the vampire's chest on every syllable, for emphasis. "It takes all. The. Fun. Out. Of. It. All the fun! And that just gets to me. It more than gets to me. It makes me angry. And tense. It makes me angry and tense and I stay angry and tense until I work that aggression right out." He dropped the stake down from his wrist to his palm, and in the same movement lifted his arm to shoulder level. Then he thrust the point down with all his strength, finding the soft flesh between the ribs with practiced certainty. The vampire gasped at the force of the blow, and shattered to powder.

Gunn sighed happily, and dusted himself down. "There. Inner serenity regained."

"Gunn? Everything okay?"

At the far end of the alley, Cloud and her team were heading towards him at a run. He waved at them. "I'm fine. All done here."

She skidded to a halt and nodded, taking in the dust and his bloodied stake. Her expression remained unsure. "We heard the fight…"

"It's sorted," he told her. "It was easy."

"Too easy," said Cloud. "That's four in one night. It's like they're… dead on their feet."

"They are dead on their feet." Gunn grinned at her and, when she didn't respond, tugged lightly at one of the long dark curls which had escaped from behind her ear. "Cloud, chill, okay? We're getting on top of our game. This is a good thing."

"It's a weird thing."

Gunn glanced back down the alley. A stray dog was sniffing disinterestedly around the spot where he had dusted the vampire. He would have preferred not to admit it, but Cloud had a point. To defeat an enemy, you had to understand it completely. Anticipate it. If the vamps were capable of surprising him, of behaving in unexpected ways- even getting unexpectedly killed- that meant he didn't understand them. He didn't like that possibility one little bit.

"Gunn?"

"Yeah. Just thinkin'." He shook his head, and lifted his radio. "Stakeholder, this is Crossbearer. Theo, are you out there, man?"

"Stakeholder. Yeah, Gunn, we're good here."

"How many you get tonight?"

"Oh, man!" Even through the radio's hiss, the excitement in Theo's voice was evident. "We dusted like five or six. We're talking world record territory here!"

Despite himself, Gunn smiled. "I'll call the Guinness Book of Records in the morning. Listen, I want you to round up your team and meet us back at base."

"No problemo. Be there inside the hour. Stakeholder out."

The radio went dead, and Gunn looked up to find Cloud watching him curiously. "We done for tonight?"

Gunn grinned. "Sister, we are just getting started."

2.
Hello, Lover

"Okay, I'm coming out now. Are you ready?"

Angel looked up from the book he was reading and frowned at the empty room. "Ready for what?"

"Ready for the full-on, no-holds-barred, man-catching phenomenon that is Cordelia Chase. Taaa-daaa!" With a flourish, Cordelia stepped out from behind the partition into the apartment's hallway, performing a graceful spin on her way to the centre of the lounge. A semi-transparent stole was draped over her shoulders, its tasselled edges brushing the hems of the bright red dress which covered her chest and thighs and little else. "What do you think?"

Angel searched for the right words, and failed to find them: "I think it's…very nice."

Cordelia gave a derisory tut. "I know it's nice, I want to know if it's jaw-dropping, two hundred dollars' worth of spectacular."

Angel wondered how it was possible to pay so much for so little fabric. "How much?"

"Don't worry, my bonus will cover it."

"What bonus?"

Cordelia waved a hand dismissively and went into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and pouring herself a glass of mineral water. "Dennis, have you seen my earrings? The little silver drops?" Angel watched as a tiny pair of metallic objects levitated out of a bowl of trinkets on the end of a bookshelf and floated purposefully into the kitchen, depositing themselves into Cordelia's waiting palm. "Thank you, Dennis." Finishing her water, she returned to the living room, hooking each one into place in turn. "C'mon, Angel. Remember that whole 'honesty and tact' talk we had after the Rebecca Lowell thing? Well, I'm going out on a first date and I'd value the honest and tactful opinion of someone whose views I respect. So hit me."

Angel closed his book and leaned forward slightly. "It's nice," he said. "Really."

"And…?" prompted Cordelia.

"And, ah, well, don't you think you might be a little cold in that?"

"Oh my God, you think I look like a slut." Cordelia spun on her heel and strode towards her bedroom, just as the front doorbell began to chime. "A cheap whore! A call girl! I have to change. Get that."

Angel looked from Cordelia's retreating and entirely exposed back to the apartment's front door. He sighed and tried to remember when and why staying with Cordelia had seemed like a workable solution to his current lack of accommodation. He put down the book and, stepping carefully around the boxes of possessions and equipment salvaged from the wreckage of the office, he opened the door.

"You're here," said Wesley. "Good. I need to speak with you on a matter of prime urgency."

Angel stood back from the door and allowed Wesley to enter. "Just so long as you don't want my opinion on what you're wearing."

"Pardon me?"

"Never mind. What's up?"

Wesley was already sitting at the table, lifting a cardboard tube from his backpack. He removed one end and carefully slid out an ancient, yellowing parchment, which he unrolled slowly, working it flat with his fingertips. "I've been making a complete translation of the prophecies of Aberjian. Everything leading up to the… well, the shanshu thing. I've been concentrating particularly on attempting to work out the timings of the events foretold."

Angel sat down opposite him and held down the corners of the scroll. "Is that possible? Most prophecies don't come with a handy fold-out calendar."

Wesley pored over a section of the manuscript, apparently searching for a particular reference. "It's not exactly a science, but if one knows what to look for, it's possible to make reasonably safe guesses. Now, what I've found which is interesting is this…"

"Oh, Wesley, it's you." Cordelia sounded disappointed. "I thought you were my date."

Angel looked around and saw Cordelia had changed into a full-length black silk dress with lace detail on the sleeves. Beside him, Wesley cleared his throat. "Cordelia. You look stunning. I mean… well, stunning. Oh my."

Cordelia smiled sweetly at Angel. "You see? That's the reaction I was looking for." She saw the scroll on the table and scowled. "No, no prophecies, thank you. This is my night off and I emphatically do not want to know about demons, ghouls or the coming apocalypse."

"I think I've found something very important in the manuscript," protested Wesley.

"Does it prophesy that the world is going to end before dawn tomorrow?"

"No, but…"

"Then I can still go out on my date and I'm not interested." The doorbell rang, and Cordelia made a dash back in the direction of the bathroom. "That's my date. I'm not ready. Be nice. Talk to him."

Wesley looked at Angel curiously. "Her date?"

"They met when she drove through a red light and rear-ended him. Fortunately, he works in motor insurance."

"Only Cordelia could turn a road accident into an invitation to dinner." The doorbell rang again. "Ahh, perhaps you should…?"

Angel got up, motioning to Wesley to put the scroll away. He opened the door to a surprised-looking blonde man wearing a well cut double breasted suit. "Oh. Hi. Have I got the right address? I'm looking for Cordelia Chase."

"Yes, you've the right place. She's not ready just yet." Angel stood aside, allowing Cordelia's date to enter but not explicitly inviting him in. He crossed the threshold of the apartment, unaware he had just passed the first test, and Angel closed the door behind him.

The man smiled pleasantly, and held out a hand to be shaken. Angel pretended not to notice, and after an awkward few seconds he withdrew it and acted as if he had intended to jangle his keys in his pocket all along. "I'm Todd. Todd Kinney. And one of you must be Dennis, right?"

At the table, Wesley was carefully rolling up the scroll. "Oh, don't mind me. I'm just passing through."

Todd looked at Angel. "So you're…"

"A houseguest," Angel told him. "There was a fire at my place. I'm staying here until it gets fixed up."

Todd sat down on the couch and nodded sympathetically. "A fire. Man, that sucks. How'd it start?"

"Gas leak," said Wesley.

"Bad wiring," said Angel, at the same time. "The gas leak was caused by bad wiring," he amended, then wished he hadn't.

"Riiight," said Todd, slowly. He had noticed the engraved broadsword leaning against the coat rack, and for a moment he stared at it nervously. "So is Dennis around?" he asked, looking back at the table and Wesley.

Behind Todd, the broadsword levitated until it hung suspended in mid-air. Then it gracefully travelled across the hall and through the doorway leading to the den, safely out of sight. "He's floating about here somewhere," said Wesley.

Angel felt a change of conversational tack was required. "So, where are you two going tonight?"

Todd looked round at Angel as Wesley got up and casually dropped his jacket over the gold-handled ceremonial dagger jutting out very noticeably from one of the boxes on the floor. "There's a new restaurant in Bunker Hill I thought we'd try. La Boheme. You know it?"

"I don't eat out a lot. How are you getting there?"

"I'm driving."

"Will you be late?" asked Wesley.

"Well, I guess, ahh, that depends on-"

"The city isn't safe at night. If anything happens, you can phone here. We'll come."

Angel thought of something. "Did Cordelia mention her migraines?"

Todd blinked. "Migraines? I don't think that, umm…"

"Because she gets these migraines. They come on very suddenly. If she's standing up, you have to make sure she doesn't fall and hurt herself."

"That's cool, man, I can deal with…"

"She was hospitalised last month, because of the migraines," said Wesley. "She's still a little fragile."

"Hospitalised? She never mentioned…"

"What are these guys telling you about me?" Cordelia swept into the lounge, carrying a black clutch bag and tucking the last errant strands of hair behind her ears.

Todd stood up and offered her his arm. "That you look fantastic."

Cordelia smiled as she accepted it, and allowed herself to be piloted towards the door, shooting Angel a look which clearly said that everyone else was more than capable of complimenting her appropriately.

"Have you got your…?" Angel curled his free hand into a fist and mimed a staking motion.

"Like I'd go anywhere without one. Have an exciting night reading old books, guys, as I know only you two can. Don't wait up."

"I don't trust him," said Wesley when they had gone. "He had the look."

"The look?"

"You know. The look. The *look*."

"Wesley, what did you want to tell me about the prophecies?"

Wesley was still staring at the door. "Hmmm? Oh, right. The prophecies." He unfurled the manuscript again and indicated a portion of text buried within an intricate pattern of symbolic illustration. "You recall that I said that it appeared as if, before the shanshu prophecy came about, a number of other things had to happen first? Fiends, apocalyptic battles, plagues?"

"I remember."

"Well this, as far as I can tell, is event number one. And it's due to happen right about now."

"What is it?"

Wesley traced the lines of text as he translated them, his finger hovering just above the fragile vellum. "It says, 'And a plague of demon-possessed blood-drinkers shall come upon the city of angels, and there shall be death in the streets, and unto those who live also.'"

"Vampires."

"It looks very much like it," agreed Wesley.

Angel pushed his chair away from the table and leaned backwards, looking up thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Maybe the prophecy's telling us something we already know."

"How do you mean?"

Angel shrugged. "There's a lot of demonic activity in L.A. A lot. It's almost as intense as Sunnydale, and I thought it was exceptional because of the Hellmouth. I spent eighty years in this country and hardly met another vampire. So maybe L.A. is already suffering a plague."

Wesley nodded. "I hadn't considered that. If you're correct, it means we're one step closer to the fulfilment of the final prophecy than we thought we were." He grinned, and Angel realised Wesley was genuinely excited on his behalf. The doorbell rang.
"And on the subject of prophecies, I predict that's Cordelia and that she's gone out without her keys, again."

"Maybe it is closer," said Angel, going to the door, "but I'm still going to pass on that champagne." He opened it. "What have you forgotten?"

"Lemme think," said Gunn: "Stake, garlic… nope, I ain't forgotten nothin'. You busy fighting evil tonight, man? 'Cos if you ain't got no other plans, there's something I want you to see."


3.
A Night at the Opera

"There is nothing so civilised as opera. The disparate elements - words, music, movement - work together to serve a higher harmony. Executed well, it is magnificent. Are you a fan of opera, Mr MacDonald?"

Lindsey looked down from the box where he sat to the stage below, where Mozart's Don Giovanni was reaching its conclusion. At least, Lindsey hoped it was reaching a conclusion. He didn't think he could face another hour of people in period costume singing at each other.

But his prospective client loved opera, and that was reason enough to endure it. "I'm gaining an appreciation," he said over the swell of the orchestra below. "And please, Mr Favard, call me Lindsey."

"Then you must call me Francis." The silver-haired man seated in the box beside Lindsey smiled warmly, revealing a gracefully tapered pair of canines on either side of his overbite. Lindsey had been told that as vampires aged, they found it increasingly difficult to hide their true demonic natures. He also knew a vampire had to be extremely ancient before that became a problem. "It's good of you to accompany me. I find I rarely get the opportunity to share my passions."

Lindsey smiled back, sensing the moment was right to start making his pitch. "At Wolfram and Hart, Francis, we believe in getting to know our clients. It allows us to serve their specialised needs more effectively."

Favard held up one claw-like finger. "Wait. Listen to the phrasing…" He shut his eyes and moved his hand slowly through the air, following the tempo of the music and voices rising from below. "Isn't it exquisite? I was in the audience, you know, the first time this was performed. Mozart was there." He shook his head. "A genius, of course, but no ability to plan. Did you know he wrote the overture to Don Giovanni the night before the premier? I saw him, just before the curtain rose, handing out the sheet music to the orchestra The ink was still wet." He dropped his hand and broke his reverie. "Forgive me. You don't want to hear endless historical anecdotes, I'm sure."

"Actually, I find talking to our clients fascinating. I had a college professor who used to talk about living history. I never guessed I'd get a chance to meet it."

Favard chuckled. "Or unliving history."

Lindsey laughed. This was going well. Share a joke with the prospect, show him you're on his side. Wolfram and Hart: professional, discreet, flexible, accommodating. Above all, accommodating. "Would you like a drink?"

Favard raised an eyebrow. "Here?"

"Absolutely." Lindsey reached into the pocket of his jacket, hanging over the back of his chair, and found the leather hip-flask in the pocket. He had deliberately selected a design which included a small handle, a enclosed loop of twisted silver. He steadied the bottle by slipping the appendage that had replaced his missing right hand through the loop, then he unscrewed the lid with his left hand using short, sharp movements. The operation lacked a certain grace, but it was effective, and for the moment that was all Lindsey required. Holland had assured him that it would be possible to do something about his missing right hand, but the magic involved was proving trickier to master than they had anticipated. In the meantime, the temporary substitute Lindsey had been given was good for frightening children and not much else.

At last the lid came free, and he handed the flask to Favard. "It's not warm, but it is fresh." The vampire drank appreciatively, even greedily, and Lindsey watched with satisfaction tinged with an edge of disgust he could not quite ignore. "You were talking about the importance of good planning."

Favard drained the last of the flask's contents, and laughed quietly. "Indeed. Which brings us to the matter at hand very neatly. I have… certain plans, Lindsey. The details need not concern us here. However, the resources I need to carry out those plans…"

He let the sentence hang unfinished between them. Lindsey leaned forward and carefully lowered his voice. "My firm provides an extremely wide range of specialised professional services. Most of which are not available anywhere else."

"What I have in mind most certainly is not." Favard paused. "I wish to employ the Principalities."

Lindsey blinked, and tried not to let any trace of his growing excitement show in his face or voice. Already he could hardly wait to break this one to the office at large - summoning and binding the Principalities was major league. And the client was his. Neutrally, he said, "Francis, I'll be honest with you. I'm just a guy in a suit - I leave the technical stuff to our backroom boys. But I've heard them talk, and I know the Principalities are about as tough an order as you can get. Those things don't like being dragged up here and they sure as hell don't like taking orders." He half-smiled: "No pun intended."

Favard looked at him levelly. "So the task is beyond your firm?"

Lindsey held up his left hand. "I didn't say that. I'm being straight with you here, Francis - no lawyer bull. If you want the Principalities, you can have them. But it won't be cheap."

Favard appeared to relax. He nodded. "I can pay the price. I have tried elsewhere and been disappointed. I simply wanted assurance that I was approaching the right people. And now I see I am."

"Wolfram and Hart is unique, Francis. No one else out there does what we do." Lindsey smiled broadly. He could tell Favard was going to be a dream client: he had already more or less agreed to pay whatever fee Lindsey chose to make for the contract. And then there was the junior partner's new client bonus…

"I am beginning to suspect that." Favard made as if to say something else, and broke off. His face shifted back to its human countenance, and he winced. "Indigestion," he said apologetically. "A symptom of age I thought I had left behind."

"Can I get you something for it?"

"No," said Favard. "A moment, and I will be… I will be…" Without warning, he doubled over and retched violently. Blood poured on to the pale cream carpet covering the floor of the box. The man and woman in the next box looked around. Lindsey ignored them, and placed his left hand on Favard's hunched back.

"Francis? Mr Favard?"

The opera was reaching its climax below, as the statue of the Commendatore arrived at the finale banquet and demanded Don Giovanni's repentance for his crimes.

"Mr Favard," said Lindsey: "I'll bring the car around to the front of the theatre."

Favard was still retching and couldn't reply. Lindsey stood up and found his keys. He turned to go, and almost walked into the uniformed usher standing in the box's door.

"Excuse me, gentlemen, but a couple of people have asked if you could refrain from talking during the…" The man faltered as he registered what was happening to Favard. "My God. Sir, are you all right?"

"He's fine," said Lindsey, positioning himself between the usher and Favard. "He just doesn't feel well. We're leaving now."

"He's vomiting." The usher's voice began to rise. "Oh my God, that's blood. I'll call an ambulance."

"Listen to me. That is not necessary." Lindsey spoke as firmly and confidently as he could. He glanced to either side and saw that all the occupants of the nearby boxes, and a few audience members in the stalls, were now more interested in his drama than the one on the stage.

"Sir, I'm calling an ambulance now."

"I said that's not…"

Behind Lindsey, Favard attempted to stand up, but doubled over in pain again, leaving him bending over the front of the box. Lindsey heard the ugly sound of retching again, followed closely by several screams from the ground floor.

On the stage, Don Giovanni was being pulled down into hell, unrepentant and damned.

Lindsey grabbed Favard by the back of his jacket and hauled him unceremoniously back into the box, where he collapsed on to the ruined carpet, clutching his stomach and moaning. When Lindsey looked back to the box's entrance, the usher had already gone. He guessed he had maybe five minutes before the ambulance arrived. Not long enough to get an incapacitated vampire out of the building.

With no alternative course open to him, Lindsey sat down next to Favard's semi-conscious, twitching body, and waited.

4.
Cordelia the Vampire Slayer

"So, are you from L.A.?"

"Hmmm?" Cordelia ran her finger down La Boheme's dessert menu, hovering uncertainly over the chocolate cheesecake. She'd just eaten the best meal she'd had in months and, even better, Todd had hinted more than once that he felt going Dutch was inappropriate on a first date. But did ordering dessert send out I'm-a-potential-binge-eater signals? "Oh, no. I just moved here this year. I'm from a little town up north: Sunnydale. That's where I know Angel and Wesley from - we had mutual friends at my high school. Anyhow, I graduated and when I came to L.A. I ran into Angel. He'd just set up the business here and, really, he's terrific but he has no idea about filing. So I offered to help him out until my acting career got off the ground."

"So what do you do?"

Maybe she could compromise and order the lemon mousse. How many calories could there be in something that was ninety percent air? "Oh, everything. Straight drama, comedy, and I'm going to learn to dance so I can audition for the musicals."

Todd smiled. "I meant, what's Angel's business and what do you do in it?"

Cordelia leaned forward, over the menu. Lowering her voice, she said, "He's a private detective. Isn't that glamorous? Wesley does the research and I do… well, I do a little of everything. Office management, client relations, marketing…" She smiled brightly. "And on evenings I battle the forces of darkness."

Todd looked at her for a second, then laughed. "You should try out for more comedies. You're a natural."

Damn, he was cute when he was laughing, thought Cordelia. And he definitely had a reflection - she'd checked for that when he'd ordered aperitifs at the bar- and so far he had shown absolutely no inclination towards attempting to impregnate her with his demon offspring. Cordelia wasn't sure if her dating standards had dropped lately, but she was willing to concede that on past experience those were all major goods. "Angel thinks so too. I crack him up."

"Really? He struck me as being the serious type."

"Oh, he is. But I crack him up in a dark-and-broody on the outside, giggling-hysterically on the inside kind of way." Cordelia handed her open menu to the waiter who was hovering with intent next to the table. "Trio of sorbets, please."

"I'll have the chocolate cheesecake," said Todd, handing over his menu. He looked back at Cordelia. "You must get on well. I can't imagine letting my boss move in with me. Even temporarily."

"Well, he was going to find a motel, but the insurance company hasn't paid up for the office yet, and with the business on hold we're a little tight on cashflow right now. Besides, Angel has this whole dietary thing…" Cordelia waved a hand and trailed off. "But you really don't want to hear about that."

"He certainly seems fond of you. He made sure he told me exactly how to look after you before we left this evening."

"He did? That's…" Cordelia smiled. "That's nice. I'm getting fond of him. And Wesley. I don't have any family in L.A. and they're sweet."

The desserts arrived, and Todd began to attack his slab of cheesecake with gusto. "Yeah. And they make a nice couple."

"No," began Cordelia, and stopped, suddenly wondering if insisting to her date that the man currently sharing her apartment was not gay was the best way to take the evening forward. "No," she amended quickly: "They're like, the cutest couple ever, aren't they? Wesley's a doll. Hey, are you eating the rest of that cheesecake?"

A sudden noise from the front of the restaurant made Cordelia turn in her seat. The source of the commotion seemed to be an argument between the Maitre D' and a bum who had wandered in off the street. The bum was lurching drunkenly from side to side while the head waiter attempted to usher him back into the street with a gradually increasing level of force. Todd set down his fork. "Maybe I should go help out."

Cordelia stared at the mirror behind the bar, where the reflections of the Maitre D' and the waiters struggled silently against empty air. "No. Don't."

"It's okay, Cordelia. It'll only take a second." Todd stood up.

The vampire growled, and knocked one of the waiters sideways into the bar's metal counter. It shuffled towards the man, slow and unsteady on its feet. Cordelia stared. This wasn't right. This was something new.

The vampire bore down on the waiter, pinning him to the counter. Several members of the restaurant's staff had now joined the fray, as well as a few of the closer diners, but it was clear that they were only slowing the vampire down. Cordelia was sure none of them knew what they were dealing with, or how to stop it.

She opened her purse and pulled out a stake. "Vampire Zombies from Beyond the Hellmouth," she said to herself: "Starring Cordelia Chase."

Todd was staring at her incredulously. "Cordelia, what are you doing? That's a piece of wood, not a…"

"Todd," she said clearly: "Sit. Watch. Learn."

Gripping the stake so tightly she could feel splinters piercing the palm of her hand, she walked through the tables and across the main entrance of the restaurant. The vampire, grappling with five waiters and customers, as well as its intended victim, was still hunched towards the bar, and took no notice of her as she approached. She took up a position directly behind it, and tapped its shoulder sharply.

The vampire broke free from its attackers and spun around to face her, hissing. One of the waiters gave a short yelp of surprise and fear at the sight of the demon's face. As well as the animalistic, heavy features Cordelia expected, the vampire's skin was mottled with a dark red rash and its eyes were feverishly shiny.

"Excuse me," she said, "but if you don't mind, I'm on a date here."

She plunged the stake into the space between the vampire's ribs, and brushed the resulting dust carefully off the front of her dress. Then she turned and made her way back to her table, remarking to the room in general as she went, "Jeez. The way Buffy acts you'd think it was tough or something."

5.
A Vampire in the Basement, and Other Errors of Feng Shui

"Stop here," said Gunn, indicating a place at the side of the empty street. "We'll walk the last few blocks."

Angel pulled the convertible off the road and killed the engine. Gunn hopped over the still-closed door, while Wesley got out in the traditional manner. They began to make their way along the unfamiliar back alleys. "You've moved your base," Angel observed.

Gunn shrugged. "Had to. They knew where we were."

"Speaking of which," said Wesley, "How did you know where Cordelia lives?"

Gunn nodded in Angel's direction. "From him."

"Angel?"

"When you and Cordelia were in hospital, I asked Gunn's people to watch out for you. They covered your apartments, too, until you came out."

"Well, I…" Wesley blinked. "Thank you."

"Ain't no damn vamp going to get past us," said Gunn resolutely. He shot Angel a look. "Nothing personal. We're here." He pushed aside a dumpster to reveal a set of steps and, at their base, a scarred wooden door. He rapped it quickly, four quick knocks, three slow. After a moment, it opened. "Chain, it's me. I got two with me." He glanced back at Angel: "And you can consider yourself invited in."

The door opened fully, and they ducked inside. The passageway was low, and Angel had to stoop to make his way along it. They descended twice more, once by stairs and finally by a rusty iron ladder whose every rung creaked ominously at the imposition of weight. Jumping the last few feet on to the concrete floor, Angel found himself in a long, low hall, whose walls were defaced by ancient graffiti and moss-green streaks of damp. He made to step forward, and caught himself just before his toe made contact with the nearly-invisible wire thread strung across the hall. Tracking the faint glimmer to its source, he saw a loaded crossbow mounted at chest level on the far wall.

"Love what you've done with the place," murmured Wesley. "It's so homely."

Gunn scowled at him. "Yeah, well, the guide to Feng Shui didn't offer much about positioning booby traps. You got a nice apartment somewhere, yeah? This is my home, man, and I mean to make it safe." He hopped over the tripwire. "Now follow me."

Hopping, side-stepping and ducking where indicated, they traversed the length of the hall without incident. At the opposite end of the entrance hall, a petite black girl dressed in torn combats and a crop top waited for them. "I'm glad you're back," she said to Gunn. "I don't like having one of them here. It's giving me the creeps."

"Not for much longer. I brought the experts." Gunn pointed at them in turn: "Cloud, this is Angel and Wes."

"Ah, that would be Wesley. Two syllables: Wes-ley."

Cloud eyed Angel with suspicion. "I don't like having two of them here," she amended.

"Stow it," said Gunn sharply. "He's cool."

Angel said, "You still haven't told us what this is about."

"I'm gettin' there." Gunn crossed the room until he was standing next to a crate-shaped object draped in an expanse of stained red velvet. Angel began to move closer, but halted at the sight of Gunn's hand raised in warning. "Better stay where you are. This might be catching."

Angel opened his mouth to ask what he meant, but before he could say anything, Gunn had gripped one corner of the material and given it a sharp tug. It fell to the floor, revealing the cage beneath.

The vampire within lay on its side, twitching but apparently oblivious to its surroundings. It was positioned with one hand extended, claw-like, into the pool of clotting blood on the floor by its head.

Even from across the room, Angel could smell it. The vomited blood had an odour that was new to him - not fresh, not stale, but cloying, at once sweet and acidic. He could tall from the expressions on the faces of the three humans that they found the smell distasteful, but to Angel it was almost overpoweringly strong. He turned away.

Cloud looked at him sceptically. "Don't tell me blood bothers you."

"Not usually." He made himself turn back to the cage. "Vampires aren't known for throwing up."

"And seeing that, aren't we grateful for it." Wesley glanced over his shoulder at Angel, then at the cage in front of him, with an expression of keen interest. "Mind if I take a closer look?"

Gunn shrugged. "Be my guest. Far as I can figure, the only reason to steer clear is if you're a vamp."

Wesley was kneeling by the cage now, moving his hand back and forth through the vampire's line of sight, apparently trying to determine if it was conscious. "So you think this is some sort of disease."

Gunn gave Angel a sceptical look. "This is the brains of your outfit?"

Angel said nothing, and Wesley pointedly ignored the remark. "It's understandable that an uninformed amateur might conclude this creature is ill, but that's quite impossible. There are no vampire diseases."

"You sure 'bout that?" asked Gunn. "'Cos there are one hell of a lot of sick vamps out there."

Angel turned to him. "You've seen others?"

It was Cloud who answered. "More than a few. It started three or four nights ago, mostly in the downtown neighbourhoods, but they're all over now."

"Not that we're complaining," added Gunn: "It's just… well, I don't like it when vamps do unexpected things. And this is one big stinkin' heap of unexpected."

"Angel, come and look at this."

Angel began again to approach the cage. Gunn stepped in front of him. "Man, I really wouldn't."

"It's okay. Wesley's right - there are no vampire diseases. Whatever's wrong with that one, it's not communicable."

Gunn reluctantly moved aside, and Angel joined Wesley, crouching on the floor as close to the bars as possible. "What is it?"

"I need your night vision. Tell me if I'm seeing things, or is that mottling on the skin really there?"

Angel looked at the vampire's exposed face, neck and hands, seeing the livid pattern of bruising on the skin clearly despite the gloom. "It's there. It's like a rash. I've never seen anything like that before."

"And I certainly don't recall reading about these… I suppose I shall have to say 'symptoms', for lack of a better term."

Inside the cage, the vampire suddenly began to stir. Rolling over on to its stomach, and propping itself up on its hands and knees, it lunged towards them with a roar, before hitting the bars and rebounding with a heavy thud on to the floor. It moaned, retched, and threw up once more before a crossbow bolt to its chest dusted it permanently.

Wesley looked at the empty cage, then at Gunn, who was still holding the crossbow raised, and said in annoyance: "I'd barely started examining it."

Gunn shrugged. "This operation does not have a policy of taking prisoners. I brought you here so you could see it. You saw. You want to study one up close, go catch your own." He looked at Angel. "Maybe you're right and there's no such thing as vamp 'flu, but I don't think you oughtta be taking chances."

The pile of dust in the centre of the cage slowly soaked up the pool of blood. Angel watched the grey ashes turn red, then black, before subsiding into a sodden, bloody mess. "Thanks for the concern, but this could be anything. Poison, for a start."

"A person'd need one mighty load of rat poison to do the amount of damage I'm seeing out there," said Gunn, replacing the crossbow on a hook set into the wall. "Look, dead vamps is not a problem for me. But if something's going down on my patch, I like to know why. And if someone's doing this, I'm thinking that's someone I want on our side."

A ringing sound distracted Angel from the discussion and he searched the pockets of his coat until he located his cell phone. "Hello?"

"So you finally remembered to bring your phone when you go out. Wesley's is switched off. He is such a dolt."

"Cordelia?" Angel looked at his watch. "Is your date over already?"

"Yes, my date is over. My date is so totally over it's not true. He ditched me, Angel! Can you believe that?"

"I, uhh, I'm sorry to hear that."

"Not nearly as sorry as I am. It was going so well, and the meal was so nice, and we were hitting it off, and he was going to pay and everything and then I went back to our table and he'd just gone without even saying anything and I *hate* this stupid city and I *hate* that my dates are all psychos…"

"Is Cordelia in trouble?" asked Wesley.

Angel attempted to tune out the muted stream of self-pity churning in his ear long enough to frame an answer. He covered the base of the phone with his hand. "No. Her date bombed."

"Why's she telling you?"

Angel gave him a look. "Because your phone was turned off."

Wesley clapped him supportively on the shoulder. "Say something sympathetic," he suggested, and turned back to Gunn and Cloud.

"…And it was all because of that stupid sick vampire," continued Cordelia. "I knew I should have worn the red dress."

"Cordelia, stop. What sick vampire?"

"The sick vampire I staked in the restaurant. Did I not mention that?"

"Where are you now?"

"Walking down Broadway, trying to flag down a taxi. Which is impossible, it turns out. I shouldn't have let him drive."

"Stay where you are. I'll come and pick you up. Give me half an hour." He ended the call and turned to the others. "I'm going to get Cordelia. Wesley, if I leave you off on the way, could you do some research on this?"

"I'm not sure I'll be able to find much, but I'll certainly look."

To Gunn, Angel said: "If you come across any more like this, you should stake them from a distance. Just in case."

Gunn grinned at him. "Don't worry. I wasn't gonna offer them hot lemon and honey."

6.
It's a Vision Thing

"Tell me again what it looked like."

"It looked icky. Icky covers it. Do I have to go into details?"

A set of traffic lights hanging above the road ahead flicked from amber to red, and Angel brought the black Plymouth convertible to a stop beneath them. Hip-hop blared from the car in the adjacent lane, and one of its drunken occupants leaned out, leering obviously at Cordelia. She ignored him, too wrapped up in her own despondency to notice. "It could be important," Angel told her. "Gunn's group have been finding sick vampires for the last few nights. There's something strange going on."

Cordelia thought. "Well, he looked kind of feverish - not that I stopped to take his temperature or anything. And he wasn't acting rationally. I mean, he walked straight into the restaurant and tried to serve himself from the people-buffet. Not smart. Oh, and there was this really gross purple rash all over his face."

The lights turned green, and Angel accelerated the car. "Yeah. We saw that too. It is the same thing."

Cordelia brightened. "But I staked him good. Straight for the heart, and *poof*, all gone." She frowned. "And then I got back to my table and Todd had bailed. I guess he couldn't handle the whole slaying thing. You know, I'm beginning to understand why Buffy can't hold down a stable relationship. So where are we going?"

Angel took a left and turned off the boulevard, on to one of the quieter side streets. "I'll leave you home. Then I thought I might drop by Wesley's and see if he's turned up anything useful."

"Do you want help?"

"No, it's okay. It is your night off."

"Good," said Cordelia firmly, "because I wasn't offering. Angel, let me sum up my understanding of the situation. Number one, a lot of nasty, blood-sucking vampires are sick. Well, so what? Since when do we run the Undead Red Cross? Number two, and this is the really crucial point, no one is going to pay us for doing this. Jeez, anyone would think you're not in business to make money."

"I'm not."

Cordelia settled back in the convertible's front passenger seat and gave the long, resigned sigh of imminent martyrdom. "You might as well get Wesley and let him bring his books back to mine. Most of your library is there anyhow."

Angel looked at her. "You don't have to…"

"I know. But it's either that or watch late night movies and feel even more depressed than I already do about how my date ditched me. Did I mention my date ditched me?"

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"You said that already."

"You told me Todd ditched you already," Angel pointed out.

Cordelia frowned in mock petulance. "I need consoling, and you're not even trying."

"I am trying," he protested. "It's just that I don't have a lot experience with this kind of thing. 'I'm sorry to hear that' pretty much exhausts my repertoire."

Cordelia giggled. "Didn't you ever have a teenage sister, way back in ye olden days?"

Angel looked at the road ahead. "I had a sister."

"Oh," said Cordelia quietly. "Oh. Oh! Ohhhh…"

"Cordelia?"

There was no reply, and when he looked to his right, he saw that she was curled up in the passenger's seat, her legs pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped around them in as close an approximation of the foetal position as the confines of the car allowed. Her face was contorted in pain. Angel pulled the convertible off the road and released Cordelia's seat-belt. He took her hand and gripped it tightly. "It's all right. It'll be over soon. I'm here."

He spoke to her quietly, unsure if she heard but somehow feeling the need to let her know she was not alone. When the vision passed, Cordelia blinked twice and stretched her legs and arms. Angel noticed a row of tiny punctures on each of her shins, where her nails had broken the flesh. "Oh, God."

"It's all right. It's over now."

She swallowed, and nodded. "I was… uhh, it was a little girl. Her name is Lauren Tanner. She's sick; she's in a hospital."

"Do you know which one?"

"Yes. St Matthew's. I think I'll know where in the hospital when we get there."

Angel pulled the car back out into the traffic and made a U-turn, accepting the change of destination implicit in her statement.

"Angel, she's only eight years old, and she thinks she's going to die."

He touched her hand. "You wouldn't have been given the vision if we couldn't change it."

Cordelia nodded, and allowed her head to sag against the back of the passenger seat. "I could hear you," she said. "It was like you were a long way off, but I heard. I don't think I could stand these if I had to go through them by myself."

Angel squeezed her hand more tightly, and drove faster.

7.
Visiting Hour

By the time they had arrived St Matthew's and found a space in the hospital's overcrowded short-stay parking lot, Cordelia's headache was beginning to fade, although the metallic taste at the back of her mouth and the odd sense of mental dislocation which always accompanied the visions persisted. She had forgotten to bring painkillers with her, so she had to make do with chewing a stick of mint gum, while sipping from the bottle of tepid mineral water someone had left in the Plymouth's glove compartment. She felt relief when the car's motion finally stopped.

"We're here," said Angel. "Do you want to wait in the car while I go in?"

She opened her eyes and looked towards the lights of the hospital's main entrance. "No, I'll come with you. Tonight's been so much fun so far, why stop now?"

She got out of the car and waited while he locked it, then went into the hospital building. The E.R reception was crammed, mainly with mugging victims and weekend drinkers. Angel surveyed the mass of humanity, and looked back to her. "Where now?"

She shook her head. "I'm not sure."

"Well, we've got a name. I'll ask at the desk here, then the ICU. If that comes up blank, we'll find out where paediatrics is." He frowned. "You look pale, Cordelia. Maybe you should sit here until I get back."

That was peachy, coming from someone who hadn't had a healthy complexion since the eighteenth century, but for once Cordelia didn't voice the thought. The harsh buzzing voices and fluorescent lights were aggravating her headache again, so she simply nodded and slipped into a moulded plastic seat at the back of the waiting area. She watched Angel disappear into the tangle of bodies crowded around the reception desk, then rubbed her aching eyes. She looked up at the ceiling and announced, "I hate this gig. You hear that, Powers-That-Be? It sucks."

The veiny-nosed drunk in the seat beside her squeezed her elbow in a show of inebriated solidarity. "They never listen to me either, honey."

"Get off me!" She swatted his arm away and got up quickly. As she looked around for somewhere else to sit, her eye fell upon a short, dark-haired woman, dressed in a smart black pants-suit. The woman was weaving her way through the concourse, clutching a cup of coffee tightly and wearing a distracted air. Cordelia had never seen her before, but somehow knew instantly who she was. She picked up her purse and went after her.

The woman took a route away from the ER and towards the ICU, along hallways which were busy but no longer jammed. Cordelia followed her at a distance, not sure what to do next. By the time the woman had arrived at her destination, a private room off a side corridor in the ICU, Cordelia had decided what approach to take. She waited for a moment outside the door, then knocked and pushed it gently open. "Hi. You're Mrs Tanner, right? Lauren's mom?"

Inside the room, the woman started up from the seat beside the single bed. The bed was designed for an adult, and so the body of the little girl who lay in it seemed impossibly small and doll-like. Her head had tilted to one side on the pillows, so that she faced towards the door, and Cordelia could see the twin plastic tubes emerging from her nose, and the larger tube which snaked out of her mouth. "Yes, that's me. Are you…" Mrs Tanner was looking at her, and Cordelia shifted uncomfortably, suddenly aware that her evening dress was hardly suitable attire for her current surroundings. "Oh, I thought you were one of the doctors. I guess not. You must be from the school."

"I heard Lauren wasn't well. I just wanted to call by and see how she was doing."

"She's sleeping now." Mrs Tanner sat again and took hold of her daughter's hand. With her other hand, she reached up and brushed the girl's hair off her face. "It was a good night. I thought the class sang beautifully. Lauren was so excited about her solo. She wants to be singer, you know, when she grows up." She looked up and smiled, and Cordelia saw that her eyes brimmed with tears.

"Lauren's singing was great. She was just great. Mrs Tanner, she's going to be fine. I know it."

Mrs Tanner shook her head, as if in incomprehension. "One minute she was fine, getting ready to go on to the stage, and then she was screaming, rolling on the floor, crying with the pain…"

"Do the doctors know what it is yet?"

"They're not sure. At first they thought she'd eaten something. They pumped her stomach. But now, with the fever and the rash, they're talking about an infection. I don't think they know." Her voice began to shake. "I just want to know what's wrong with my baby."

Feeling helpless, Cordelia approached the bed and placed her hand on the older woman's trembling shoulder. She kept it there until the shuddering stopped. After several minutes' silence, Mrs Tanner said, "I've been sitting with her since they brought her in and I haven't even… I should call her father."

"Use my cell-phone," said Cordelia, opening her purse. "I can sit with Lauren for a little while."

Mrs Tanner nodded gratefully and accepted the phone. "I'll be right outside."

Alone with the girl, Cordelia pulled the hospital bed's blankets higher around her still form. As she did so, her fingers brushed a piece of paper which had slipped between the sheets. She lifted it and found it was a flier for Glendale Grammar School's Music of the World Night. Seven o'clock, Sunday 25 June, All Welcome. She folded the paper in half and slipped it in her purse.

The child stirred and moaned in her sleep, turning her head and tugging at the tubes. As she moved, she exposed the left side of her face and neck for the first time. Cordelia stared. The mottled red rash corrupting Lauren Tanner's skin was not yet as virulent as that which Cordelia had seen on the vampire in the restaurant, but it clearly sprang from the same source.

"Lauren," she said softly, "If you can hear me, I want you to know it's going to be okay. You've got your very own guardian angel now. And he kicks ass."


* * *


Angel felt like kicking something, hard.

The staff on both the E.R and the I.C.U main desks had refused to disclose any information about Lauren Tanner, or even to confirm that there was a patient of that name in the hospital. The second woman to whom Angel had spoken had threatened to call security unless he could produce documentary proof that he was a relative. Angel couldn't, so he had returned to the spot where he had left Cordelia, only to find her gone.

"She's not here," said the drunk in the seat by the door, slurring the words.

"Did you see where she went?"

The man stabbed a finger in the direction of a hallway. "She went that way. Hey, you're cute."

Angel left the drunk and followed the corridor, pausing at each open door or branch route to check for Cordelia. He had retraced his path almost all the way to the I.C.U with no success when he passed two doctors standing at the side of the corridor, deep in conversation. The first, a tall middle-aged black man, was examining the clipboard which his companion, a young Hispanic woman, had just handed to him. As Angel went by, he heard the name 'Tanner' clearly detach itself from the general hum of conversation.

There was a water cooler sitting in an alcove opposite the doctors. Angel took up a position at it and slowly filled a disposable paper cone.

"It's weird, Glen," the woman said. "She's not responding at all. The toxins are out of her system: we should be seeing some improvement by now."

Glen frowned. "Hell of a toxicology report. How does an eight-year-old ingest silver nitrate?"

Angel drank the water, listening. He refilled the cone and turned around.

"We don't know. She was under constant supervision all day at school, and her mother says Lauren didn't leave her sight between coming home and going back in the evening. She was taking part in some kind of musical production."

"And what are her current symptoms?"

"High fever, muscular spasms, and a distinctive red-purple rash that started to develop about an hour after she was brought in."

"From silver nitrate poisoning? No, I don't think so. Either she ate something else as well, or there's an infection at work entirely separate to the poisoning. In which case, I don't rate her chances." He returned the clipboard to the woman. "Get Mike to re-perform the blood tests. And find her a bed in the I.C.U."

The doctors began to walk away, still talking. Angel screwed up the paper cup and threw it in the trash. He began to follow them.

"Quite a thirst you've got there."

Angel stopped. He turned around, slowly. "Hello, Lindsey," he said pleasantly.

Lindsey ignored him, patting the top of the water cooler with his left hand. "Water doesn't hit the spot, though, does it? It must kill you to be around all these people bleeding. Waste of a good meal."

"Let me guess," said Angel: "You're here for a prosthetic fitting?"

Lindsey smiled smugly, and dropped a paper cone into the curve of the hook which jutted out incongruously from the right sleeve of his suit's jacket. With his other hand, he held down the cooler's tap, filling it up. "Come the next full moon, I'll have a replacement that's superior in every way. Just another part of the Wolfram and Hart employee benefits package."

"They'll replace you part by part," said Angel. "One morning you'll wake up and there'll be nothing of you left at all."

Lindsey dropped the paper cone on to the floor and stepped closer to Angel, raising his right arm until the sharp point of the hook pushed into Angel's cheek. "Funny. Because as I recall, it wasn't my firm that cut my hand off above the wrist."

"Hey, if it isn't the clawyer. Can I give you a hand with anything, Lindsey?"

Angel saw Lindsey's eyes flick away from him towards the source of Cordelia's voice. He took advantage of the distraction to step backwards, breaking contact. Cordelia came to stand at his side, and they faced each other in edgy silence for a moment, while staff and visitors flowed around them in the hallway, oblivious.

Behind Lindsey, the door to a private room opened and a white-haired man in a wheelchair emerged, pushed by another man and pursued by an agitated nurse.

"Excuse me, you cannot just remove this man from the hospital. He is seriously ill. He is in no condition to be moved. Who are you people?"

"Well," said Lindsey to Angel and Cordelia, "don't think it hasn't been fun, because it hasn't, but duty calls." He shrugged and turned to the nurse, tucking his right arm behind his back. "I'm Lindsey MacDonald. My firm is Wolfram and Hart - we represent Mr Favard's interests."

"This man doesn't need a lawyer, he needs a doctor. His pulse is so weak we can't even pick it up, his body temperature indicates severe hypothermic shock, he is…"

"He's a vampire," whispered Cordelia to Angel.

Angel nodded, and said quietly, "A very old vampire. Look at his hands. Cloven."

"I can assure you," Lindsey was saying, "We are fully aware of our client's medical history. There is a bed prepared for him in a private clinic, and an ambulance waiting outside to take him to it. If you will simply release him into my care, I assure you, he will receive the best treatment."

Angel watched the argument a second longer, then touched Cordelia's arm and drew her away. They began to walk back to the hospital's main entrance, Cordelia occasionally casting glances behind her in the direction of the escalating argument between Lindsey and the nurse. "Just when I'm thinking tonight can't get any worse, we run into Lindsey MacDonald. Next time, remind me not to think."

Angel said, "That vampire, Favard - he was sick too. I saw the rash."

"Lauren has it as well," Cordelia told him. Angel looked at her curiously, and she nodded. "I found her. She's sick, but they're looking after her. I don't think there's anything else we can do here." Her face brightened. "And hey, be proud of me! I got us a genuine, detective-type lead! Look at this." She opened her purse and handed him a piece of paper. Angel unfolded it and read the contents.

"'Music of the World Night'?"

"No, dummy. Look at the top. Glendale School, and there's the address. I talked to Lauren's mom. She said Lauren got sick real fast, and she was at school all day and in the evening, for the performance. We should check it out."

She was brimming with enthusiasm, and it was somehow infectious. "Yeah. Good work, Cordelia." He smiled. "Clawyer. Give him a hand. That was pretty funny."

She grinned at him. "I wasn't Sunnydale High's Queen of the Cutting Put-Down for nothing. And as for the one-hand jokes… God, I can keep those coming forever."

She marched defiantly out into the night. Angel followed her.

 

Part 2


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