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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 concurs with the action in my story, 'Angel, P.I.' which takes place shortly before "Expecting".

Author's note: Just before I finished Cordy's POV on the same subject matter, Wesley started sniping because he wanted to be heard also. The historical timing of this piece is a little iffy even within my own framework, but never mind that. The actual continuity of the piece means that Wesley has come back into contact with Angel & Cordelia for about a month, give or take. If Cordy's story was for E, this one is for me. These were tremendously fun to write. e.c. 07 jul 00
 
 



ANGEL, P.I. (FOUND)
by Evan Como







Thurs 14-01-00

Should be in bed.

Alright. That written, obviously I'm not. Not in the mood, really. Shouldn't be writing. Just bored. Don't get bored, per se. Just ignoring the phone right now. Would be almost 17:00 in England & don't really want to know who might be ringing. I do. Just forgot to set the machine. Would seem odd to suddenly pick up after 12 rings. Ringing like someone's just died. Hell.

"Yes?"

"Ohmigod, Wesley! What's wrong with you? The phone rang, like, 20 times or something and--"

"15, Cordelia. It's almost 2AM. And you would be ringing me, why?"

Wesley listened carefully, unsure of exactly what the young woman on the opposite end of the line was babbling about. Most of it was incoherent. Most of it sounded as if she had been crying. All of it was about Angel and it began to feel as if someone really had just died.

Even if he was already dead.

An hour and a half later, Wesley lowered the receiver and sighed with relief although he continued to stare at the device, still confused about what he had listened to. A familiar feeling swept over him of hours-long telephone conversations with the same young woman at a different time--and place--in his life when both of them were very different people.

The gist of the call was that Angel was in trouble. He didn't really need an excuse to help. It would keep him busy for a while. With pay. And he would be able to spend some time with the only two people he actually knew in his brand new city.

Angel. There. As if every journal entry I've made since arriving to Los Angeles hasn't started out or included his name.

There is a sculpture on my bathroom counter. Angel gave it to me shortly after we re-met. Don't know why. Puzzled about it. He puzzles me. He is generous with his possessions and his time. With me. Such puppy in his presence. Catch myself being obsequious. Oh, I'm annoying. Know I am. But he's so very pleasant about it. Amused, but it never feels like he's laughing at me. Wonder why. So, I'm always guessing about him. His motives. Mine. Our history would preclude becoming friends, but it's the most honest 'friendship' I've ever had. Wonder about that, too. Stunned, actually.

Wesley had never met anyone who changed clothes more often than Angel. He was always in some state of departure that required a new shirt or a different coat. Wesley had also never met anyone who had so many different coats--all of them perfect, each with a certain look about them to convey whoever Angel was trying to be during any particular outing. This was a PTB excursion so that would mean a long, black one--perhaps the worsted woolen one.

While Angel changed, Wesley took the opportunity to study the apartment. Every time he visited, he investigated the place. There was so much to see, as if the residence was a museum of sorts. The first visit Wesley had noticed the furnishings. Simply structured, the chairs and sofa were finely tailored with sumptuous upholsteries or fine skins. (He was sure the club chairs were calf.) Though not professionally trained in the interior arts, he could appreciate the taste that went into choosing the items, the care taken to preserve them. And, despite their evident cost, each was perfectly comfortable.

When Angel wasn't looking, Wesley had tested each and every one.

Subsequent visits brought an inspection of other furnishings--étagères, tables, accessories. Pieces of art--some framed or not, some antique, mostly of beauty and incalculable value were strewn along shelves, deposited on or against the walls as if they were ordinary thrift bin finds. The items were set out more like knickknacks given by relatives who expected them to be proudly on display whenever a surprise visit was paid.

While musing that Angel's apartment would become a permanent detour for The Antique Roadshow, Wesley was embarrassed to find the vampire dressed and studying him. They shared a quiet laugh--an oxymoron, perhaps, but that was exactly what it was they shared. And then, in an irreverent manner, Angel swiped the Henry Moore from its place and tossed it at Wesley before breezing past.

"I can't, Angel. This is--"

"C'mon, Wes. Demons won't wait forever. I think I'll do-- Axe. I like the axe. You're just watching, OK? That's it."

"Angel. If this is for my being your chauffeur, it's much too generous. Truly, I can't accept it."

Satisfied with his weapon, Angel closed the locker and sealed it. "If this doesn't take all night, we can come back and watch your movie, OK? And, if you're going to make a fuss, just put the piece back on the shelf and forget about it. Ready?"

Wesley's lips moved. He felt them move, but he was speechless to Angel's expectant expression. So, he did all he could do. He dropped the smooth sculpture into his jacket pocket, accepted the keys Angel tossed at him, and loyally followed behind.

While he watched Angel attack and dismember several members of The Ortraculan Membership, Wesley mulled over the reasons why an expensive object d'art was crammed in his pocket. Dissatisfied with all of them, he simply pushed the subject matter aside to make mental notes on Angel's fighting technique and inexhaustible enthusiasm for killing along with an additional note to remain on Angel's good side.

-0-

"I just want you to-- Shhhhhh! Here he comes!" Cordelia paused to absently shuffle a few papers on her desk. Wesley was positive the papers were unimportant, probably just sitting on Cordy's desk for whenever Angel breezed through and she needed to look busy. In fact, he detected the tell-tale signs of a magazine inserted between the sheets of stationery. "OK. Look. We shouldn't have taken this case and now we can't get out of it."

"Oh, I hardly believe that, Cordelia. There's the simple matter of 'we can't continue on your case anymore, Mrs. Franklin, and here's your retainer back'. Unless, of course, the retainer is already gone?"

The look on Cordelia's face didn't exactly confirm Meredith Franklin's money was gone; more like Meredith Franklin's money was now the property of Angel Investigation and it was going to remain so. Wesley shook his head, a proper thing to do considering the moment.

Cordelia is the type of young woman who should not be trusted with the care of animals or small children. Not that either would suffer abuse from lack of attention on her part. More likely because she is so electric all else pales against her shine. Except for Angel.

She treats him mean. Treats everyone mean. 'Mean' might not be the correct word to use. No idea why the two of them remain together other than the fact they match. Incredible amount of affection between them. Caring. Able to exclude the world. Both so independent but couldn't think of one without the other. Don't recall what their relationship was like in Sunnydale.

Don't know what happened over the course of 24 hours, but she was different. Angel was different. Seems odd? Odder they didn't say a word to one another the entire time I was in the office. No verbal regard but they moved in unison. He in his office, she at her desk. Angel--more vampiric than I'd ever known him--moved about the offices so stealthily he was almost invisible. If I didn't see him, didn't detect him. But Cordelia. So aware. Staring at him. Diverting attention when he looked up. Him staring at her. The two of them locked in this 'don't-look-now' ritual. Both of them dark. Very intense.

Wesley watched Cordelia's lips move, but couldn't remember hearing a thing she said to him. Her lips were extremely distracting so he kept staring at them instead of concentrating on the tell-tale signs of how little sleep she'd gotten since their early morning call. When he pulled himself out of the daze he was in, he smiled uncomfortably. Cordelia hadn't noticed his inattentiveness, being equally preoccupied.

She reached across her desk for the phone and retrieved it, not in her usually annoyed manner, but gracefully. Tipping her head slightly, stroking her ear with the receiver, lips slightly parted before she spoke her perfectly-rehearsed greeting, her eyelids raising and lowering with the same casual timing as her chest. Her gaze met Wesley's consciously even though he was certain she neither saw him nor saw through him. After making a simple note on her appointment calendar she returned her full attention to him.

But not before grasping the seat of her chair to stretch, causing Wesley to almost fall out of his.

"Alright? So just stick close to him. He won't notice a thing because you stick to him like white on rice anyway. This isn't going to take you away from anything you've got going on is it?"

"That's kind of you to ask." It was; a tad bit too kind, in fact. "Should I begin now? Or would that seem too obvious?"

"Wes."

"Angel."

The only indication of Angel's presence before the simple mention of Wesley's name was the slight focal shift of Cordelia's vision before she glanced down. When Wesley turned to speak, Angel was already gone.

Following Angel into his office, Wesley claimed the chair in front of the beautiful polished desk. Angel was reading, as usual. Even the way he turned the pages of his book was abnormally quiet.

Easy to forget Angel is this supernatural creature. Most times he moves awkwardly, like a boy who wakes up one morning to find his pants too short by 8 centimeters. But he is graceful. Makes no sense to write that. Awkward/graceful. Lumbering/elegant. Imposing. With everything he is, he is imposing. Striking bearing. At the same time both comfortable and uncomfortable in his own skin.

There was a vampire sitting across from me. Reading a book. One arm wrapped across his torso. Long fingers massaging the edge of a page before turning it. Very deliberate movement. Just so silent. Dark circles beneath his eyes made me wonder if he had a feeding dream again. Haunted. His look so haunted. Like Cordelia's. His movements. Like Cordelia's. When he looked up, he neither saw me nor saw through me. Like Cordelia.

"You don't have to watch me, Wesley. I'm fine."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Cordelia has you watching me. Don't watch me. Stay, if you want to just hang out, but don't sit around keeping tabs on me. Don't you have rogue demons to hunt anyway?"

"Are you feeling alright? You don't... Look well?"

Angel smoothed the side of his cheek with the back of his hand and cast an adolescent smile at Wesley. "I don't look at all, Wes. You think I'm not looking my best?"

Wesley laughed. The comment struck him funny and his retort was meant in jest when he answered, "I was going to mention maybe it's the black shirt. But..."

Angel didn't laugh. He simply got up and disappeared, the barely-audible click of the staircase door leading into Angel's apartment the only clue to where he had gone. And so, having begun his assignment, Wesley followed again.

"I'm sorry, Angel. Perhaps I'm not as humourous as I thought I was."

The vampire was pacing. That one arm was still wrapped across his torso; his free hand making deep, deliberate sweeps through the dark brown hair that immediately returned to its stand-up position. The steps silent. The movement elegant. The strong, muscular, unheard strides across the simple flooring made Angel's skin tone, despite being cast an almost-human shade by the apartment's warm lighting, seem even less natural.

"I need to be alone, Wes. OK?"

"Sure, Angel. But... I can just sit over here and there was a book of yours I wanted to check into anyway. So, just forget I'm here."

Which Wesley was pretty sure Angel wasn't about to do, Angel's nose being so close to his jaw and all. He didn't see the advance and probably wouldn't have noticed Angel standing so close by if it wasn't for the fact Angel's looming stature cut the glare across Wesley's lenses. Wesley remembered to swallow, at least, and that helped to keep his heart from over-palpitating.

"I. Can't. Forget. You're. Here."

Then Angel disappeared once more.

-0-

Sat 16-01-00

Couldn't say if Angel knew I was following him at night. Stayed at a distance. Comfortable one, I think.

Almost every sanguinedor in Los Angeles County. Sometimes two, three on the same night. No reason, really. Just Angel walking in. Appraising the situation. Speaking, not listening to informants. Maybe they were informants. Too far away to tell. His gaze was telling, even from a distance, what he was talking to. An apparent hunger if they were human. A vicious, condescending manner with his own kind or with other demons.

Vicious. Not vicious like how Angel works for the PTB. Different. Harder. Darker. Body language very-- Very? SUPERIOR! Every room he walked into, no matter what club (some quite dangerous) the second Angel appeared, changed. Every head turned towards him. He was magnetic. Providers lining up to offer (could hear them speaking amongst themselves, despondent over how Angel had declined their offers). Feeders lining up to stake territory. Very territorial. In the end, Angel was deferred to. Couldn't understand why. Would make a fascinating documentary for The Discovery Channel.

While Angel was prowling clubs, Cordelia was staking her own territorial claim. Kimmy Litton had invited her to lunch.

Angel was asleep--in his own way. Don't understand his explanation of 'only my eyes are closed to the world above me' that was leaving him too drained to do much more than fall over his mattress. Daytime was now also my turn to sleep. Come home. Shower, fall over my own mattress. Following a vampire's lifestyle. Trained to annihilate, not understand them. Continuing education at Angel U. With additional courses at Cordelia Tech.

So Ms. Tech invited me to watch and listen from a nearby table at a Brentwood eaterie, making me wonder when I was supposed to get my sleep.

"Cordelia! So good of you to join us! I spoke to Angel first thing this morning and he tells me the case is not going so well. I don't blame him, of course. I just... I just wish I knew what happened to Avery."

"Cut the bullshit, Mrs. Franklin. You know exactly what happened to Avery. So, I'm here to inform you that Angel is off your case." If Cordelia was shocked to see Meredith Franklin, she showed amazing composure. No one did 'rude' better than Cordelia.

Until Meredith Franklin took the word out for a spin.

"Really?" The one word was uttered with contempt, pure contempt. She admitted nothing, of course. Perhaps a more fitting reply would have been to feign shock at Cordelia's accusation. What followed, "sit down, young lady," made Cordelia do just that.

Wesley, stunned by the exchange, handed the waiter his menu with a broad smile and a polite 'thank you'. The reaction the tone of his voice elicited never ceased to amaze him. Los Angelenos were such blatantly fawning Anglophiles.

"Now, I don't mind, of course, that Angel is yours," Franklin began, her voice less severe, more conciliatory. "No Provider can be the only Provider. You know that as well as I do. But, you're young. A little too young, in fact. You're still learning and, there is MUCH to learn to keep yourself-- Alive and prosperous. Are you with me so far?"

Cordelia nodded 'yes'.

"I'm willing to help you learn the ropes. I, frankly, don't want to spend my time trawling for 'that perfect vamp'. Avery was fine. While he was with me. And now that he's not with me--for however long that may be--I need, certain..."

She reached across the table and lifted the slender hand of her guest to twist a ring. She fiddled with the several bracelets complimenting Cordelia's late-winter tan and admired the perfectly manicured nails polished with a color almost the exact shade as her own.

"I--"

"It's alright, Cordelia. Women like us have requirements. We're willing to take the steps necessary to achieve our goals."

"But, Angel is my friend." Cordelia stared at the hand grasping hers but made no attempt to remove it.

"I don't doubt that. I would just like him to be my 'friend', too. And you. I'd love for us to be friends, Cordelia. You've probably already noticed how isolating this lifestyle can be. In an effort to protect your precious investment it's almost necessary to lose contact with anyone who would understand the situation. You're keeping yourself very 'clean'," she finished while rotating Cordelia's arm for a thorough visual inspection. "That's excellent!"

Cordelia remained uncharacteristically silent until the waiter arrived. After ordering a Cobb salad with its dressing on the side and a raspberry ice tea, she turned her attention to an approaching figure.

Meredith's hand slithered from under Cordelia's before she rose to air-kiss Kimberly across both cheeks. Kimberly turned to Cordelia, a broad smile across her frosted-pink lips, and waited. After Cordelia's similar greeting wasn't offered, Kimberly plopped down in her chair, tugging at the overly short hem of her slit skirt. Then she popped her gum.

Almost every head in the restaurant turned to the sound, Wesley's included.

"Sorry I'm late, Mere. The liquidators took, like, forever to get there this morning. But the Chapter 14 is gonna come off OK, I think. Hey, Cord. So, d'ja like Pulse? It was cool, huh? My peeps said you and Angel were there but I guess I missed ya."

"You sent them to Pulse?" Meredith's smile thinned but Kimberly was oblivious.

"Pulse. It was alright," Cordelia answered cooly. Adjusting her posture, she crossed one leg to lean sideways onto the table, pausing to smile coyly at a young man who had been noticing her a little too enthusiastically. She waited until after he shielded his flustered state to return her attention to her luncheon companions. "Todd? And Sami? And someone else. Yeah. We met them. The 80's music, though. That stuff's tired."

"Yeah. I guess. But they don't play it all night, at least. There's a place near Belmont Shore--"

"Clubs." Meredith's deep sigh wasn't meant to contain her disgust with the subject. "I thought we had agreed, Kim, to approach Angel a little more... Did you ever look up the word 'discreet' after I used it in a sentence?"

"Whatever, Mere. Look. I just--"

"You just figured you were going to drop Angel into your tacky environment and he was going to blend in. He's not that type of vampire. You knew that in Redondo Beach when you first saw him," Meredith hissed. Probably to calm her rising temper, she lifted the napkin from under her place setting and smoothed it across her lap. Even with her face downcast, she could tell everyone in the restaurant was intrigued with the young brunette seated across from her.

"Actually, Cordelia would probably be just the person to settle our disagreement. By the way, that gentleman with the glasses over there... Does he look familiar to you?"

Kim rolled her eyes and slunk down her chair, ignoring the skirt that remained where she had previously been seated. "He's just a guy, Mere. Chill already. Like any of the other guys here. He's too fucking tight-ass to be a club goer."

"Your language--"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, MOM. So, Cord. Angel--to club or not to club?"

Cordelia sipped her beverage thoughtfully. Briskly snapping her fingers at the passing waiter to catch his attention, she pushed the glass into his abdomen. "It's called ice TEA. Not ICE tea. Do you mind?"

Meredith smiled proudly, a very feminine smile that displayed her flawless dental work. Then, she calmly reached across the table and reclaimed Cordelia's hand, petting the top of it with her thumb.

Cordelia, however, pulled her hand away quickly, playfully smacking Meredith's. The two women exchanged an unspoken comment completely lost on Kimberly who was too busy concentrating on her efforts to dissolve the sugary sediment at the bottom of her glass.

"Clubs and Angel don't agree. It brings out a certain... Hmmmmm. Savoring element in him." Ignoring Wesley's sudden cough, Cordelia continued, "so it's obvious you want to share a piece of what I've got. I just also want to make it obvious that numero uno: I don't like sharing; and numero deux: Angel will always be mine."

Sanguinedor--an establishment where demons meet human suppliers

Feeder--the demon

Provider--the human supplier

Wesley--the observer

Lower caste at Council. Observer. But we all have to learn. As Watcher I have to also be able to interpret what I observe. As an Observer, you make detailed notes for someone else's interpretation. Observers never know the big picture. So, that's what I was for being so clueless.

Avery Franklin was a vampire married to a mercenary (my interpretation) human woman by the name of Meredith. Luncheon next to Cordelia led me to conclude that Meredith and Kimmy provided for Avery together. Why? 180 opposites. Doesn't make sense unless Avery's the 180 of Angel. Charismatic, but so far a classless vampire--ruthless, voracious--no less than three accounts gleaned on my own he killed at the clubs. Accidental, by all accounts, those Providers shouldn't have been providing those particular nights.

Several of the clubs I followed Angel to, the Providers that offered themselves to him should not have been providing. The rush, perhaps, of a Provider taking the experience near death. Or, on Avery's part, taking what was offered for the death. I can only go on what I've been taught--a vampire's instinct is to feed from life. Angel doesn't do that. Supposedly. The satisfaction of feeding live must be extremely intense, immensely satisfying. So, to feed past the point of life is to do what? I couldn't ask Angel. So I asked around at the clubs.

"It's been a while, but lemme see... I used to get off on the attack."

"Oh, yeah. The adrenaline rush. THAT was great. That's what's missing at these places. At least with the more experienced Providers." The stocky vampire eyed another lithesome blonde passing by the table with her identically-blonde friend. "Elvis?"

The vampire Elvis shook his head in disgust. "REAL blondes, Gibson. So, Wes, you really don't look like you belong. You're not some L.A. Weekly reporter here to write an exposé on the underbelly of Southern California's growing sanguinedor trend, right?"

"No. I assure you I'm no reporter."

"There he is. See him over there? That one. I was Downtown last night and he walked in and, man! No way to compete with someone like him. Where the fuck did he come from all of a sudden?"

"Back to my line of questioning--"

"Probably some Euro-vamp. Or an Eastie. What do you make of him, Wes? Euro-vamps breeze into town and dry up the pickings for the rest of us. Look at the way he's dressed. Shit!"

"Calm down, Gib. Saw him at Laurel Canyon. Turned it all down. Nice stuff there that night, too. Melanie and her crew."

"Mel?" Elvis whistled through his teeth (a rare feat among vampires), shaking his palm in mid air. "Hottttttt. T! You know, Wes. If you want to get started in this whole Provider thing, you should do this club off Alvarado, near the park. It's not this nice, but the vamps there are sweet. They take it slow, help ease you in. Enjoy their work. Make it a full, giving experience. You gay?"

Wesley cleared his throat.

"Yeah. Not many females there. But the guys are kind. Just real mellow. Salsa on Wednesday nights."

"Salsa?" Wesley shifted uneasily in his seat, hunkering into a position to still be able to watch Angel without being immediately discovered himself. True to his conversational companions' observations, Angel had zero competition.

"And Swing on Mondays."

"Nah, Swing's on Thursdays."

"I thought line dancing was on Thursdays."

"No. Line Dancing's on Fridays. Alternating with 80's on 2nd and 4th Fridays."

"80'S? What is up with 80's? I HATE that shit!"

"Excuse me. Back to my question, if I may? And, by the way, I believe she's a real blonde over there."

Both vampires' heads turned and they nodded in agreement. "Outta my reach," they replied simultaneously with Elvis concluding, "Euro-vamp'll get her."

Gibson nodded in agreement unhappily. "Actually, you get used to feeding in these places and you don't really need the adrenaline anymore. But, Euro over there, bet he probably feeds close to the edge."

"Because," Elvis continued, "vamps like him can have whatever they want. There're a few. The ones who can have their pick. And a Provider never knows when they'll see someone like this guy again so they take a chance. Euro might be cool. He might just take a swig to get the Provider going. Have sex or whatever. Maybe a blow job. Guys like Euro aren't hardcore into Provider sex. They're usually still doing our own kind."

"Hmmmmmmm. Haven't done one of us in years." Gib mentioned under his breath, probably meaning to keep the wistful comment to himself.

"So, guys like Euro-- Why would a guy like Euro come to one of these places?"

Gibson shrugged. "Vamps like Euro usually have situations. Like Mel and her crew. What was she, Elvis? Out looking for a new arrangement?"

"Yeah." Elvis twisted in his seat, continuing the eye contact he made with a brunette. He had obviously given up being choosy. "It happens every once in a while. A vamp gets dusted or leaves the food chain and so everyone plays musical crews. Or a new crew gets situated. Someone must have changed up. So it's a free-for-all-of-us. Who knows, Gib. You might get lucky this time around."

Gibson shrugged again before lifting his glass to his lips. He bestowed a meager wave at Elvis who had made his connection for the night. Returning his attention to Wesley he continued, "this city is made up of crews. The good ones stay hidden. Like Mel."

"Crew?"

"Yeah. Eight up to twelve Providers. Thing is she's got some wacked-out humans in her crew. They like the near-death. But she's young. Mel's like, maybe 40. 45. Her crew's maybe early 30's. Experienced. Really tight. They're all super tight. The vamp who hooks up with her gets treated right. Every night. Never has to roam. Whatever her vamp needs, even one of us. This vamp Avery you're asking about? His Provider probably learned her lesson. Like Euro. You don't want a vamp like that snaking out. You want 'em laired. You want 'em kept. Happy. We feed to the death, we get anxious. We get used to it again. Hard to keep us satisfied after that."

Seeing that Angel was preparing to leave, Wesley scooted out of the booth and dropped a bill on the table to pay for his informant's drink. "So, a crew would be the ideal situation? To keep an especially desired vampire curbed?"

Gibson looked up, agitation suddenly causing his brows to furrow. "Seriously, you don't belong here. That's apparent because you're asking way too many questions and that's super dangerous. Last thought for your road? Vamps like Avery, like Euro--crew or without a crew they still get bored. They get bored, they get hungry. We can be tamed, but we hate boredom. The drink alone won't keep Euro tame so a good crew--PRIME crew is the ticket. The prime crew, there's always one to stoke affection. Like Mel's crew. One for the affection and you blow off the other 7 except for a meal. They all know that, but he's gotta hold up his end of the arrangement for those other 7, too. Either that the vamp's gotta go."

-0-

Sun 17-01-00

There was a restless quality to Angel's movements. A tall, dark, regal figure in a longish black leather coat who stepped inside from out and became the nucleus to wherever he went. Wesley, for his life, couldn't imagine how Angelus had been able to ruthlessly hunt and take down his prey inconspicuously. This being that entered and exited clubs at will, took the front of long lines as if the club could not exist without his appearance. Angel could command an audience and, as quickly, disperse it. And, as willfully, disappear as if he had only been a figment of the imagination.

His routine was simple. Travel. *Take in a club. Look around. Be seen. Be approached. Reject. Survey. Reject. Move on. Repeat from *.

Three nights of following. Three nights of routine. So, the fourth night, let Angel go about his business & took on a different assignment. Kimberly Litton. Angel & Cordelia had already done some background work on Avery. The original, non-vamp Avery. Miss Kimberly's name came up in one of the files as a niece. Still just an Observer but from what I had been able to ascertain, Meredith didn't do the clubs at all. She left that realm to Kimmy.

Followed her to PinPrick in Redondo Beach, the club where she first laid eyes on Angel. Raucous club with scantily dressed young men and women--tanned, hard beach bodies. Very oily. Visible scarring. "Nasty," Cordelia would say. Couldn't imagine Angel visiting a place like this the first time. Very not his element when you think of a man--being--with such classical taste.

Rap music. Loud. Sweaty. Not a pleasant smell. Mildewy. Rotten wood. A dying ocean scent of mulching kelp and rotting sea life. Kimmy's element. Was the 'it' girl as soon as she arrived. Kisses blown & received by the type of woman who didn't care who grabbed for what. Much grabbing. If I wrote she had her tongue down every person's throat, I would not be lying as long as I include she wasn't down mine. Stayed out of her range. Observed. These things you read, you don't actually see them. You rent movies to witness such acts of someone's imagination. Council just doesn't realise.

A young woman with a vampire at her throat, writhing in ecstasy while unseen hands did whatever to increase said ecstasy. The entire club was like this. Everything out in the open. Change partners. Blood everywhere. Only vampires. Nothing else. The place was too disgusting for any other breed.

"You don't look like you belong here," the muscular youngish man shouted above the blaring 'song'. "Sure you're in the right place?"

Wesley nodded. "Looking for a vamp," he shouted back. "Avery Franklin."

The young man bounced with the sing-song cadence of the tune, mouthed a few words to the chorus and leaned into Wesley. "Think he's dead."

"Vampire. Would be dead."

"Oh, yeah." He laughed. Pointing at himself, he continued, "Snarl." Pointing at Wesley, "you?"

"Looking for Avery Franklin."

"Kimmy's." Pointing to the dance floor, he shouted even louder, "Kimmy's vamp. Feasting hound. Gone. Way gone. You do?"

"Do what?"

Got two thumbs up and a back as my informant walked away. Feasting hound. That was a new description. Asked around some more. Found myself face to face with Kimmy. High off her ass. Puncture marks below her left shoulder still running. She was disgusting, but beautiful in a way. And a real blonde from everything I could see. Gib and Elvis would have lusted heartily.

"Yeah, he was mine," she yelled. "Had to share. Bummer. You do?"

"Not yet."

"Yeah. Cool, though. Check it out first. See who's who. What's the deelio. Yeah. Find a vamp, then do. Better than doing then trying to find. Go to Alvarado. You gay?"

Wesley rolled his eyes. "He's dusted?"

"Avery? Dunno. Left." She shrugged before leaning her elbows back against the bar, involuntarily scratching across the wound before rolling her head about her shoulders. "My girl took him from me. She knows some shit. Turned his ass all inside out. Didn't want my stuff no more. You should go all the way. Let someone take you all the way. You'd be a killer vamp. Tall ones. They're hard to come by. My new one. He's tall. Think my girl's trying to take him, too. But we're gonna crew. It'll be cool. You should vamp out. This is hard. I might vamp out. Trying to decide."

"She's always talking that shit," a taller woman spoke into Wesley's ear. "She's not gonna vamp. No one's gonna sire her. Not like this."

"Who sires? The club on Alvarado?"

"Yeah. Alvarado's good. Laurel Canyon's better, though. If you're gonna go all the way, do Laurel Canyon. Find that one Kimmy thinks she's got a handle on. He's foine. Good sire makes all the difference in the world. If he's strictly sanguey, he'll teach you how so you never have to hunt."

She was infomative. Had no idea a vamp could be turned 'reformed'. Seems blasphemous. Can't imagine what 'real' vampires think of the whole process. (Won't be looking to ask them.) Providers stayed providers, though. Usually never got sired unless the vamp caused an accident. Clubs allowed accidents but discouraged siring. Have to keep that Feeder/Provider ratio constant for business.

Was very torn between leaving Kimmy there in the club or trying to get her home. But before I could say a word, a body had enveloped her. Her arms & legs enveloped back.

Not that the night was still young. Tired. Back hurt. Wondered again why I can't bring myself to trade in the bike for regular transportation. Somewhere on the 405 South to the 110 North, determined that being in So Cal demands I take chances. Be different. Dare to dream. Movie bullshit like that. With the wind biting, couldn't concentrate on my back.

Alvarado was very laid back. Could hardly find the place, located above street shops up on the second floor. Crepe paper roses & piñatas were hanging from the ceiling. Very festive. Very Olé.  Motown night.  Everything in the open, too, but more like a chapel or a tattoo parlor. Three very pretty young women--one of some kind of Asian extraction & two of Latin were waiting their turns for initiation. The Asian was very chatty.

"Been thinking about it for a couple of years, but they don't want to get you started too soon. And first I had to finish UCLA. So, now I'm cool. Going to get with a crew."

"Everyone is, from my understanding. You have one lined up yet? Someone told me to find a vamp first, then initiate."

"Actually, one of my sorority sisters is hooking me up. So, I'm cool. But, yeah. Find a vamp first. Hey! I know a crew that's recruiting if you wanna go interview. They're looking for a tall guy. But you should vamp-out. Not enough tall ones around and there's starting to be too many girls."

Mon 18-01-00

Declined both suggestions, but half-expected her to mention Meredith Franklin's name. Someone else. Didn't feel like driving anymore. Enough observing for one very long night. Too sleepy to drive the couple extra miles home so I ended up at Angel's at 6 AM. Had just gotten in himself. Eyed me suspiciously but invited me in anyway. Usually would offer coffee, but threw me a blanket instead & I fell out on the guest bed.

Don't know when I woke up. Maybe just before noon. Felt like someone was staring at me. Cordelia on the edge of the bed.

"What'd you find out about the skankla last night?"

Wesley yawned and removed the glasses he'd been too sleepy to remember to take off, inspecting them to make sure they weren't bent before folding them beneath his pillow. "Can we speak about this later on, Cordelia?"

"OK."

He reached up and eased a strand of hair to behind her ear before he had a chance to catch himself. His reward for the effort was an insecure smile that made him concentrate on her lips. But before he had the chance to repeat Cordelia's name, she vanished.

The teakettle woke me next. No other noise in the room. My watch said 3PM. My body said a major curse word. Got up anyway. Hearty stretch. Walked to the bathroom and ran into Angel who had just showered and was buttoning a shirt.

"Going out again tonight, Wes? Must be some hellacious hunting with those late hours you're keeping. You're a human being, remember. Not a night owl." Under ordinary circumstances, Angel's comment would have been blisteringly sarcastic. Humorless, it was just blistery.

He turned to face Wesley, leaning against the Pulman while he vigorously rubbed the moisture from his hair. Even without a styling product, it seemed destined to stand on end. Angel made no motion to leave the bathroom; he seemed that engrossed in his activity.

"From the looks of it, you're no owl either." Wesley air-drew a u shape beneath his eyes.

Angel frowned without looking up. "All yours."

Wesley actually just wanted to go back to sleep. He still didn't feel like driving home, though. A stray thought of leaving a toothbrush and an extra change of clothing in the apartment crossed his mind while he dressed from his duffle bag. He had to keep reminding himself not to take advantage of Angel's hospitality, not to wear out the always-welcome.

The tea was cordial. They sipped their cups without their usual small talk--well, more like Angel-listening-while-Wesley-prattled usual small talk. After Wesley rose he said 'thank you'. Angel nodded his acceptance before setting his forehead into his palm.

"You've got to protect Cordelia."

"From?" Wesley prompted, curious.

Angel didn't answer. He stared into his still-steaming beverage, causing Wesley to consider that because Angel didn't breathe, perhaps he also couldn't cool a too-hot cup. A wave of emotion suddenly overtook Wesley that he didn't understand. Cordelia's sudden appearance didn't help the situation.

"Angel?" It looked as if she was trying to encourage a smile suffering stage-fright. "How are you doing?"

Wesley could hear her breathing. She intook long drags and released them slowly. Her eyes bored into Angel but when the vampire lifted his to meet her hazel gaze, she flinched. Cordelia followed Angel  to take the two cups to the sink. Turning, he hadn't taken that into account and almost ran into her.

"I'm good, Cordelia. Excuse me."

She wouldn't be excused. Angel tensed, a painful thought seemed to pinch his cheek. Wesley, the bystander, barely heard Angel ask about Visions before he raised his hands to finger the hair at Cordelia's temples. She shivered, then twisted a few of his lower front buttons from their casings. She whispered something in reply and Angel swallowed. It looked like he blew at her before she shivered again. She said something else that made Angel draw his nose across the crown of Cordelia's head before he swept out of the room.

When Cordelia turned around to go back upstairs, she avoided eye contact with Wesley. Tears gathered as she paused to whisper "you've got to protect Angel."

But Cordelia didn't have an answer either when Wesley asked her "from?". He wished that she did; he wanted to watch her lips move some more.

-0-

Tues 19-01-00

I'd have to give Cordelia credit for trying her best. She was quite good at 'the game'. Unfortunately, the game she was trying to play had rules she was unaware of and she was trying to learn them while playing. Doing a good job, but there was so much going on that I didn't understand. She and Angel avoided contact. When awake and his schedule didn't have him clubbing, he was out 'investigating' further. She stayed in the office.

It took forever, but I finally recognised someone I hadn't seen in a very long time. Her name was Cordelia Chase, a young woman I met in Sunnydale, California about a year ago. How did I recognise her? Think it was finding myself in a cold sweat speaking with her over the phone while I was getting ready to follow Angel last night. The voice. The seeming to care about my thoughts. Maybe she did care. She did once. But we don't fit. I kept trying to remind myself of that. That didn't mean I didn't want to kiss her. Again. That second time there was something-- (Sudden lips or black leather. Maybe both. Or that Gift of hers?) Mixed emotions over losing my friend, Angel--a vampire I should have been planning to kill. Mixed emotions over being re-attracted to Cordelia when I know THAT is going no where. Have to keep reminding myself I really don't like her. As much as I admire her qualities, they just don't add up to a person I'm especially fond of.

But she and Angel are a package deal.

Wesley watched the apartment building from a discreet vantage across the street. With the draperies drawn, he couldn't see into Meredith's second floor, right front dwelling. Every so often she would walk onto her tiny balcony to indulge in a cigarette or fuss with a potted plant.

Her later routine was relatively uninspired. There was a stop at the cleaners, a drop-off of a pair of patent-toed sling-backs to the cobbler. It crossed Wesley's mind that a woman who's outward appearance exemplified everything about indulging in the finer aspects of life--her luxurious taste--shouldn't be running her own errands. But then, such a woman would also be living in a condo by the ocean instead of an apartment in Palms and driving a much trendier car than a mid-decade Altima.

Her luncheon date was held on Beverly surrounded by hopeful actors and actresses, most of which were the servers. Everyone she came in contact with, she treated with the same condescension--everyone except for her date. The youngish woman looked about Meredith's age, perhaps younger when Wesley got a closer look upon her exit. The two women chatted, ate their salads, spoke on their individual cellular phones, held hands upon occasion, kissed one another's cheeks upon farewell.

There was exercise on 3rd Street where two more women joined her. At her manicure, Meredith met another woman and went through approximately the same routine. Coffee later, with a magazine and another companion. A hair appointment complete with smooches and more hand holding. More cellular calls. A day of pampered self-indulgence shared with other equally-pampered women.

Dusk waited a full extra minute before it fell, adjusting to the longer days that would lead into Spring. Wesley followed Meredith home. He meant to leave right away, in order to rest before changing to pick up with Angel's activities but a premonition--not that he had them, but it was such a strange sensation, he decided to follow it--returned him to his place of observation.

38 minutes later, someone arrived.

There was the knock at Meredith's door. She was wearing something casual, form-grazing. The visitor's hand reached and stopped just before the lateral plane of the doorsill. Laughter lilted across the street, both male and female. The hand never moved forward. Meredith never met it. Briefly she left Wesley's sight before stepping onto her landing to close her door and lock it.

Think I may have gasped because it looked as if the vampire swallowed Meredith's head. She was trying to be cool about it. Very Bacall. She took his hand & led him downstairs to her car. They drove off. Wish I could have followed, but it looked like the type of situation where an empty lot would have sufficed. Upon retrospection, the hirsute being wearing tattered jeans fit the description of Avery Franklin. Longish dirty-blond hair, long chiseled nose, long rectangular face, long wide shoulders, long rectangular body. Never seen such a lengthy being in my life.  Probably his appeal?

-0-

Wed 20-01-00

"Wesley?"

He was staring at her lips again. She was in-between bites and in-between another run-on sentence and all Wesley could do was stare at her lips. When she broke his concentration, he uneasily glanced over at Angel who was nursing a glass of wine. Angel, who never said another word after Wesley told him how delicious everything was. Angel, with one arm wrapped across his torso over a shirt that looked like it owned Angel more than the other way around. He had never seen Angel wear eggplant before and thought it a complimentary color. In fact, Angel looked as good, if not better, than Cordelia in it that night.

Before Wesley had to come up with another excuse for missing the topic of Cordelia's conversation, a sharp knock was applied to the side door. Angel, still lost in his thoughts, finally came around after Meredith breezed into the room. She exchanged a cursory air-kiss with Cordelia before the same application to each of Angel's cheeks. Angel stood without unwrapping his arm.

Meredith took in the room while Angel dished up a plate for her. Her approval was evident in the way she seemed to categorize everything. Only after Angel returned did she bother to acknowledge Wesley. She squinted, remembering him from the restaurant without mentioning it. She snorted at an internal joke before dismissing Wesley's presence entirely.

He had never felt so transparent in his life. Nor as happy to be so.

When Angel invited me to remain for breakfast that morning after HE saved Cordelia from certain death, my heart sang. If I had shut up for one moment I would have heard it. Couldn't shut up. So damn happy to be invited to join them. Cordelia and I started arguing immediately. Angel laughed. She chatted. I yammered. We spoke over one another's sentences. Bickering. I wanted to shove her off her chair. She almost did me. The most pleasant breakfast I've ever attended.

Sometimes wonder if a man's life will be judged--not on the accumulation of wealth and the donation of it--on the quality of the company he keeps. Now if that's the case, then I've already ascended several flights upon re-acquaintance with Angel. Meals at his table are congenial. Even with Cordelia there.

He rarely converses. Between Cordelia and I, there's no room. But when she falls silent--or I--what few words he may offer are spectacular. His off-handed sense of humour, the tone of his voice. Witty, wry. Wish I could find some way to learn about his life--to hear history tinted by his first-hand knowledge of it. Intelligent. And a gentleman.

Think most of what he says would be crude coming from someone else. Like he deliberately uses language to detract from what he looks like. Paradox. Those dark eyes, darker, cutting askance only make him more interesting to behold. Fascinates me to no end.

That Angel I've been trying to know over the course of the past month didn't show up for Dinner Night. Cordelia was missing, too. To see Angel and Cordelia at this point was to imagine two travelers desperately lost among Saharan dunes who have just detected the same mirage. They were both thirsty and Meredith was there to appease.

Council is far removed from the aristocracy of modern England. But that doesn't mean Council is not without division. Placed in that context, Meredith would be Elder. Her movements were assured. She knew her place, where she wanted to belong. And that was between Angel and Cordelia. A polite hand upon Cordelia's thigh. A brusque hand swept under Angel's jaw. Tiny, tender touches. Heavier, more invasive ones.

The interlocking C's on the jacket she shrugged off to reveal immaculate shoulders, the buoyant set of her unrestrained breasts against the silk of her blouse. Several strand of pearls wrapped around her throat, dripping into unexposed cleavage. Notes of an expensive perfume--one my old roommate's Mother smuggled through friends so that her husband would never find out. Freshly coiffed. The overall impression she did nothing to care for herself.

The restaurant that day with Cordelia? Confident. Assured. Here, in Angel's apartment with her conquests at her fingertips. More confident. More assured. Mannered/demanding. Beautiful/otherworldly almost. She blushed. Angel swooned. She spread an additional retainer on the table. Cordelia swooned. Sitting there, I was helpless to do anything except watch. If Kimberly was the gutter trollop, Meredith was the 180. And Cordelia? 180 in training.

Meredith had already claimed Angel before she first stepped into Angel Investigations a little under a week ago. Cordelia's acceptance of her initial bribe had only verified ownership.

The rest of the night. The three of them. Cordelia and Angel caught within the headlight-glare of Meredith Franklin, losing their brilliance. Being taken, increment by shallow increment. Angel lost to his vampiric desire, lust. I know. Didn't feel it, but by now I could recognise it. Cordelia trying her best not to surrender to her own wants as she eyed the cash and a woman who was the epitome of the lifestyle she once knew--one she wanted back.

Unmistakable now that I was sitting there watching it. Lust on her part. Female desire. Women? It's difficult for me to understand lust from a woman's point of view. Except that I knew Cordelia Chase once upon a time. And I was sitting at that table wanting to get to know her again.

Angel was trying to be protective. He was failing. Miserably. His innuendo? Perfection. Every word he spoke some variance on some sexual act. Meredith would divert her attention from Cordelia for a moment, lean towards Angel. Another touch. His disgust. His bravado. His failure. Her return to Cordelia. Her knee too close. The hand across Cordelia's back too possessive. Angel trying again. Failing again. Cordelia.

What happened to break it up I don't remember. Only that Cordelia and I were suddenly up and saying our goodnights with Meredith following closely behind. Cordelia and I walked into the parking lot. And then, such a fleeting movement of her fingers brushing against my palm I barely noticed that Cordelia had touched me at all until I turned and saw her running to her car. Her monarchal demeanor will never be shrouded by generic license plates.

Corner of my eye. Meredith slinking back to Angel's apartment. Shoulders glistening by dim light. Missing jacket. Stupid ploy. I followed, stayed hidden. Could barely see or hear the conversation.

"I don't appreciate what you're trying to pull."

"Angel. I don't know why you're so angry. Here. We can speak about it inside." Her arm slid up against the door as she leaned her body suggestively into the sliver of an opening Angel allowed--definitely not wide enough for Meredith to actually climb through although it looked like she was giving it a try.

"You're not coming inside. Again. I didn't invite you tonight. You had NO right to be here. Now I'm asking you to leave. And to leave us alone."

"But..." Taking her jacket from Angel's hand, she seized the opportunity to make more than a little contact. When he gasped, she continued to stroke his hand, sliding her slender fingers up into his unbuttoned shirt sleeve to dance against his bare flesh. "Like that, Angel. You know. I know you do. I can teach her. Everything. Like this. And more."

He was having a difficult time exhaling, the taken breath disbursing in staccato hacks. He gasped again when Meredith leaned further into the doorway and tugged on his arm gently, causing him to increase the opening's width. "Don't. Please. I don't know what I did to you. Where we met. I'm just sorry. Just. Please?"

"Please what, Angel?" she asked tenderly. Her breath collided with his lips, cushioning her kiss. "She's young, Angel. Alone, you'll consume her in a matter of a year. You'll take care. You adore her. I know. But you should have waited. This young..." Another kiss, held longer and she was able to budge the door another inch. "But with two of us. Kimmy as a third. I know she's not your type, but maybe with Cordelia's competition...  Or there can be other arrangements."

"Please." Angel reached forward and toyed with the scarlet ends of Meredith's feathered style. "We're not like that."

"Yet. But you know. Eventually. I can see it's already started."

"Nothing's started."

"Dear, Angel. I didn't want to introduce you to the clubs. Kimmy is an idiot. But, you haven't started the lifestyle yet and this way you won't have to. The four of us... We'll take it slowly. Whatever is comfortable for you. You'd like-- Comfort?"

"No?" He leaned out and kissed the bridge of Meredith's nose before drawing his own across her forehead. If she hadn't pushed the door to make it squawk, he would have taken her lips. Instead, he pushed her back.

"Angel."

"NO. Leave US alone."

The door violently slid shut and was adamantly latched. Meredith Franklin remained in the hallway, leaning against the wall just beyond the door's frame so she couldn't be seen through its narrow window. The hand she had used to play inside Angel's sleeve now twisted the precious beads at her neck. And, for a brief moment from his vantage, Wesley saw Meredith Franklin as what she really was--a very angry not-so-youngish woman who had just been rejected like an ordinary club-goer.

Waited with her. Would have been there all night if need be. Meredith just waiting. Five, maybe ten minutes. Maybe thinking. She knew what she wanted. Calculating. She was Crawford. Clever. Willing to wait. Maybe not forever. But for a little while longer.

So. Speculation without observing Avery at work is that his magnetism must have equaled Angel's in some way. If the being that swept Meredith Franklin away the other day was, in fact, Avery then that speculation could be truth. Meredith--culture/class/status/luxury--took to her car with a being that had none of those visual qualities. Wasn't there on the outside. Maybe within? Maybe the two went to an art retrospective, followed by lattes?

Kimberly at her club moved a certain way. She reacted a certain way. As did her fellow clubbers. No restraint regarding what each of them knew they wanted. Perhaps Meredith doesn't wear her fetish so openly. But the woman who was immediately groped upon leaving her apartment is merely a better actress at keeping her passions hidden.

And at applying them.

Wesley felt premonitioney again, so he waited past Meredith's departure. A half-hour later, the familiar sound of a sliding door broke the silence of the parking garage.

Angel's shoulders moved irrespective of the rest of the vampire's body. They surged forward, squared into the direction he was going. The tail of his shirt twirled kite-like, as did the long unbuttoned cuffs. There was a fluidity to the rippling movement of his pants' full legs. At such a rapid pace, Angel seemed as if he was standing on the edge of a pier facing an angry ocean.

And the sea didn't stand a chance.

The bike maneuvered in and out of traffic easily, but Wesley already had some idea of where he was following Angel to. Angel had become his prey in an odd twist of circumstances. Wesley had no idea what went on inside the being's mind, but he felt attached by instinct--a more-than-slightly scary concept.

Angel cut his lights, his engine, and rolled into a parking spot against a couple of fallen pine trees. He leapt from the convertible in one easy motion, in an arcing almost cartoon-like fashion. Wesley followed at a distance, nearly having to run to keep Angel's pace. Even over the debris of their path, Angel was incredibly silent. Those shoulders knew exactly where they were going.

Laurel Canyon is nothing like Pulse, PinPrick, Tarzana, Alvarado. Could write them all down and the individual characteristics. More like Laurel Canyon is the prototype of all. Everything out in the open. EVERYTHING. Tidy in a way despite the incredible numbers of beings and humans. Loud. Not my style of music, but got swept up in it anyway. My pace to the beat. Moving to the music. My shoulders steering against the crowds, my gaze--direct, daring. Breathing to the pounding rhythm. I could detect the compression of the woofers as the bass rumbled through the entire building. Began to breathe in time on every other 1st, rest, 3rd, rest, 1st, rest, 3rd...

Pushing. Searching.

"You don't belong here," Wesley heard despite the fact the words were soft-spoken.

He turned to meet bared fangs. Under the demonic appearance, he could almost detect the vampiress' human beauty. He didn't answer her because he didn't know what he could say other than to agree.

"I've seen you. Tarzana, I think. You didn't belong there either. You don't blend."

"I'm not trying to," the voice replied, sounding more assured than he had ever remembered hearing himself. Very Holden.  When Wesley realized he wasn't lying he relaxed into the conversation, taking a step closer to the female to lean down against her ear. "Are you asking me to leave?"

She laughed, the evil facade morphing away. Frowning at Wesley's expression when she wasn't as pretty he had assumed, she invited, "stay. You do?"

"No."

Laughing again, she pushed the glasses up the bridge of Wesley's nose. "If you stay, you will," she warned, melting into the crowd.

Watched. Observed. Watched some more. Angel was hidden, but the buzz was all around so I knew he was on the premises.

Don't know how long I'd been standing in one place when everything suddenly focused. Other than the vampiress, not one other being approached me. Not demonic. Not human. Almost a couple hundred people crammed into one room. No one even touched me. No one saw me. Never made eye contact again.

Watched. Observed. Untouched. A trio in front of me gorging on a man about my age--or so he appeared. Watched. They performed. They quit.

Listened. Bass. Melody. Screaming. Grunting.

Next to me--two women engaged in something I couldn't begin to describe. Semi darkness. The scent of defecation. A growl. A muffled cry. The sounds of pleasure. They quit.

Watched. Listened. Alone.

Unaffected by everything surrounding me.

Emotionless.

Of Council.

Wesley began to roar. It started out as a sardonic chuckle that gave way to what could best be described as a belly laugh. He was afraid to wipe at his eyes for fear of contracting an infection of some sort. That got him going even harder.

Shoving off the wall he was standing near, Wesley took broad steps into the crowd that parted automatically for him. A stray thought crossed his mind whether it was possible for him to bottle his Councilness as a repellant; if he would be just as effective for mosquitoes, too, or only anything that had to do with the debauchery surrounding him.

Chatter regarding 'the new one' was stronger nearer the dance floor, so Wesley slacked off his self-reflection to get back to work. He listened in on a few conversations, pleased to determine Angel was still rejecting. It was interesting to stand so close to the intimate acts he was witnessing, close enough where he could actually describe them play by twisted play if they were describable. He stood where he wanted because everyone treated him exactly the same way Meredith Franklin had.

Transparently.

"KIMMY!" someone screamed behind Wesley before jostling him out of the way to run into the open arms of the young woman he knew on sight.

Kimberly had that slightly dazed look about her. The wound from the night before had healed leading Wesley to conclude the feeding process enhanced the healing metabolism for a Provider. Kimberly laughed, her wispy blonde hair clasped on top of her head with a couple of sparkling barrettes, enthralling the crowd gathered around her. She never ceased surveying the room.

When her eyes fell still, Wesley followed where they landed. Simultaneously, they both started wading through the crowd, Wesley being able to move faster to pull ahead of her. She stopped when he blocked her path.

"You don't belong here," she shouted.

"I'm tired of hearing that," Wesley shouted in reply. "I won't let you take him."

"What?"

"BACK AWAY!"

Kimmy grimaced at Wesley, then stepped back. She studied him a moment longer until a being brushed past that nearly knocked Wesley off-balance before sweeping Kimberly Franklin into his arms. That being was Avery Franklin.

Wesley was pretty sure he didn't want to observe what went on next between them. Instead, he took to scouting the room. The conversational tone of the place had gotten more vague.

No one knew his name. There were various euphemisms. 'Euro' seemed to have stuck. Followed the warmer strand of buzz into the next room. Panic disturbed my natural repellant. Suddenly I was being knocked about. Found myself taking more steps backwards than forwards. Tried to calm down. Just intensely afraid. Words. Euro. More words. Descriptions. Desire. Offerings. All for Euro.

"WHERE IS HE? EURO!" Wesley screamed at the female who had decided to dance with him.

"You do?" she screamed back before lunging at Wesley. When he scrambled past, she called him a filthy name he missed.

Chanting. Euro. Euro. Too much beat. Music too loud. Couldn't bring myself to take my own pace. Take my own breaths. Too controlled by everything happening around me. Waves of desire bombarding. Things people and creatures were doing to one another in my path. Couldn't move them. Couldn't get out of the way. Standing there. Scared.

"Angel," Wesley barely whispered. After he swallowed, he opened his eyes. If he called the name as an incantation it couldn't have worked better.

The crowd continued to chant their nickname for him as the vampire thrashed in their midst. His arms were extended above his head, those shoulders still moving independently from those hips. Angel's head moved back and forth, then side to side. His eyes were closed while he mouthed the words to a song that made absolutely no sense.

So far away, Wesley was unable to do anything except watch the frenzied molestation occur. Angel seemed oblivious to everything around him. Unknown, untoward hands reached out to stroke, to grope anything, anywhere. Buttons had long been removed from a shirt being shredded. Lips moved forward to meet Angel's constantly moving ones, only to be ripped away by replacement lips--a multitude of lips swarming Angel's entirety.

After nights of rejection, Euro's adoring public was having their way with him.

He didn't know how long it took him to finally reach Angel by way of the tidal pool of life, of unlife. Slowly panic was replaced by immense concern and the fact that Wesley was the only one in the entire room--among the hundreds of bodies--who could tell Angel was hardly enjoying himself. Wesley communed with the overwhelming grief Angel was exuding.

"They keep telling me I don't belong here, Angel."

A body attempted to bump Wesley out of place, but he stood his ground. The beat morphed into a slightly different one but Angel followed along without missing it. Wesley retracted a pair of arms that had woven themselves around Angel's torso, smacked the hands that continued to reach, picked aside the bodies glommed against Angel's legs.

"Angel." Wesley was sure he didn't actually vocalize the name, merely mouthed it, but that was enough. He met Angel's brown eyes with his grey ones.

"You don't belong..." He grimaced for a split second before recognition set in.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE, WESLEY?" Outside, Angel paced furiously. What was left of the shirt fluttered in his wake.

Wesley had no idea how they got outside in the first place. There was a blur of some sort before a quieter version of the throbbing. He was sure he would never recover from the experience--that he was destined to exist for the rest of his life with a 4/4 bassline drumming in his head.

"You've been following me? ANSWER ME!"

Wesley swallowed. He felt calmer so Angel's hysterics didn't have quite the impact they would have under normal circumstances. "Looking out for you, Angel. That's all." He crossed his arms, tilting his head slightly to grace Angel with a half-smile that meant nothing more than to convey camaraderie.

The vampire obviously felt a bit differently when he stood right upon Wesley. Their bodies weren't touching, but Angel's was close enough that Wesley could feel the absorbed heat rapidly dissipating from Angel's cooling body. Even Angel's harsh words were warm against Wesley's stubble.

"You are not my Watcher, Wesley. And you're not my father. I don't need your supervision. Got it?"

Wesley nodded. He took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly through his mouth for resolve. "Just looking out for you. Honestly. We can all use a spot of looking out for sometimes, Angel. It's not as if I don't know you."

"Oh, you KNOW me, Wesley," Angel seethed. "You just forget that you do."

Wesley tried to follow the disappearance while it happened in front of his eyes. It was as if Angel could revolve backwards into a sideways step and evaporate--the most amazing thing Wesley had ever almost-witnessed anyone do. He'd seen Angel complete the maneuver on several occasions and it always crossed his mind to ask whether it was something he had to be undead to learn or something that Angel could teach.

Knew him. Can't forget I know him. Don't want to forget I know him. When I parked outside Meredith Franklin's apartment, there was his car.

Felt like a voyeur standing there, leaning against it. Thought of sitting on his trunk to wait, but was trying to remember to stay on his good side. Didn't actually know why I was waiting. Knew I wouldn't need the stake I left in my duffle at the bike. Angel wasn't happy. Miserable. Tormented. Festering. Tried not to think about the things I'd seen being done to him. Made me feel very sad. Not the actual abuse, but that he'd accepted it so willingly. Almost gratefully. Still makes me sad to think of it. Must hurt his soul, I'd imagine. Must make his soul dreadfully sad.

(Must learn to write with a waterproof pen.)

Watched. Observed. Listened. Nothing going on in the neighborhood, really. A few very early morning workers getting into their cars. Dressed factory-style. Food service-style. Made me muse that Meredith Franklin in her Chanel ensembles lives next to ordinary folk. No grass on this particular street to be worried about getting barraged by a sprinkler. Two trees. Two tall, not-so-healthy looking coco palms. Apartment buildings too close together. Too little tenant parking. Wondered how Angel got a space right in front of her apartment until I determined she probably saved it for him.

Watcher mode kicked in to work out the scenario during the wait. Kim wanted her vampire back. Angel was the trade. Six interchangable women plus Meredith plus Cordelia equals crew. The former Avery's wealth? Kimmy only wanted her vamp and it was a small price for her to pay. She probably won't live much longer anyway, what does she care about money for? Vamp Franklin was still playing both ends against the middle so Meredith wasn't going to get it all. Only took a little to pay off the girl who 'owns' a quality vamp.

Only problem is that Meredith didn't add in the girl has quality, too. And, seriously wasn't kidding when she said she doesn't like to share. Would have been happy to clue Meredith in if she hadn't ignored me so.

Other than a cut beneath his lower lip, Angel didn't look any worse for the wear. Took the keys. Found an Aloha shirt in the trunk. Buttoned it for him. Sad brown eyes watched my fingers like he'd never been buttoned up before. Bundled him into the passenger seat, refrained from kissing the top of his head (seriously!), pulled the top up, drove him home in silence. Wreck on the Westbound 10. Took so long to get home the sun came up.

Cordelia took it from there. Put him in the shower. Ran down to the Coffee Hut and picked up Angel's favorite brew, a cup for me, too. Displaying her qualities.

"You keep staring at that shelf. What's wrong?" While Cordelia re-inspected, Wesley studied her lashes. They were incredibly long even without mascara. It made him try to recollect if he had ever seen her without makeup. With a bare face--still very pretty, but far too young--she didn't seem quite so kissable. That was a relief.

"There was something here. I thought maybe Angel moved it but I can't find it anywhere. Little wooden bulbous thing."

"The Henry Moore."

"Right! Angel's got all kinds of valuable stuff just left lying around like it doesn't mean anything. Cataloguing for the insurance records took, like, forever! And do you think he appreciates? Those friggin' books of his, too! Maybe Meredith stole it last night. Biatch!"

"I've got it." Wesley instinctively backed away when Cordelia turned on him suddenly. "I didn't steal it, though," he laughed uncomfortably. "Angel tossed it at me one day. I can return it. Do you think I should return it? I have no idea why he would have given it to me."

Cordelia smacked Wesley across his arm and walked back to the table to wait for Angel who had turned off the shower. "He wants you to have it, dodo. Guy, Wesley. Why else would he have given it to you?"

Thought never occurred to me the answer would be so simple. She does that. Cuts right through the guilt, grime, whatever. Could have figured it out on my own. It was nice to finally have the answer, though.

He'll be alright. Sure he's been through worse. Cordelia's explanation of the events left him confused. She pared it down to monetary reasoning. Probably would have figured that out, too. Angel's apparent affluence. Maybe it's not actually monetary. Like Cordelia. All in the style. The bearing. The way they match. Quality.

She had been using her time wisely. In the end, her scenario was better than mine. Thought it best to leave out that Kimmy may have been in it for love. Whatever it is between Cordelia and Angel--decided to leave that aside, too. Didn't seem so intense anymore and they were doing their version of speaking again. She was--while he listened. Seems he was enjoying it.

"I think I'll be leaving, now." Wesley stretched when he got up from the table, pleased to be driving Angel's car home instead of his bike.

"You followed me to Meredith's." Angel left it as a statement, despite the questionable meaning.

A dimple appeared, and with it the answer of "it just looked as if you were in the deep end, Angel. That's all. Maybe you just needed a hand out of it."

It was nice to hear what resembled humor color Angel's reply. "That sounds like a comment from someone who's been in the deep end a few times, himself, Wes."

"Or maybe someone who's refused a hand so many times it stopped being offered?" Angel took Wesley's extended one and shook it solemnly.

Cordelia walked me to the door, relieved. Angel seemed like he couldn't wait to crawl into a closet, except I don't ever recall seeing a closet in the apartment. Something to check for the next time I pop in.

"Thanks, Wesley. I'll cut the check later on if that's OK with you. Let me know when you want to go get your bike, too."

"Sure, Cordelia. You know, this doesn't really have anything to do with being paid. You and Angel are my friends. Friends help friends. That's all. You'll be OK?"

"Yeah. I'm cool. Just waiting around for payback to hit, so that everything'll really be back to normal."

Have no idea what the payback is she spoke of. She says very strange things sometimes. But Angel seems to understand. And what he doesn't understand, he ignores. Maybe I can learn a thing or two from him.

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