The music was loud, there were plenty of people -- okay, maybe a few too many people, considering the size of her apartment and the way some of them were getting a little too friendly on the couch -- and so far no one had gotten so drunk that they'd thrown up, so Cordelia figured her first party at her apartment was a success. Although actually the night was still young.
Wesley had arrived five minutes after the party was supposed to start, which of course meant he was the first one there. He'd seemed disappointed that he wasn't 'fashionably late,' but Cordelia had given him the job of moving some furniture around and that had shut him up. Now he was dancing, which was something Cordelia was pretty sure she could have lived the rest of her life without having seen. It was like watching someone have a seizure, she thought as he lurched around.
He didn't even have rhythm. It was just sad.
While she watched, he spazzed out so seriously that he fell over. To give him credit, he got right back up again, and it didn't even seem like anyone had noticed. Thank God.
He spotted her and danced his way over, grabbing a handful of ice out of the bowl she'd just filled and holding it to his forehead. "I need to cool off," he explained. "You certainly do know how to throw a do."
"Apparently," Cordelia said, drawing back a little bit so no one looking would realize that she actually knew him.
"And these mini-Reubens," Wesley said, picking one up. "With a little sauerkraut and a little swiss inside -- what mad genius brought these into the world?" He popped it into his mouth. "Mmm."
A girl -- Cordelia thought she'd come with Steve Paymer, but she'd already forgotten her name -- came over to them, eyeing Wesley, which definitely lowered her estimated IQ by a good twenty points as far as Cordelia was concerned. "Hi," she said to Wesley, who immediately choked on his food. "Nice sweater. Hand knit?"
Wesley straightened up. "Certainly not by me."
The girl looked flustered. "I didn't mean -- I mean, it's a great sweater."
"Oh, well, I-I'll pass that on then -– to the person who knit it. I-I mean, I would, if I knew who did -– but I don't." Way to look like the world's biggest dork, Wesley. "So I won't pass it on to anyone, will I?"
"Oh.” The girl blinked, then turned and walked away without saying anything else.
Maybe she wasn't so dumb after all.
Cordelia watched her go, then turned back to Wesley. "So where the heck are Angel and Doyle? They better not have stood me up."
Wesley shook his head. "Oh, no. I'm sure they're coming. Maybe they were just delayed?"
It was one thing for Angel to be late -- or not show at all; he was Mr Anti-Social. But Doyle... Cordelia had thought for sure that he'd come. "Well, I should probably be relieved," she said, hoping she sounded more convincing to Wesley than she did to herself. "I mean, if they were here, they'd just be joining you in making my party way less cool."
But Wesley didn't seem to have noticed her snark -- he was pushing up his sleeves and looking at the dance floor again. "I think I'll jump back into the fray," he announced.
"Whatever," Cordelia said, watching him go. To herself, she said, "Well, wherever Angel and Doyle are, I hope they're having a good time."
"Look out!" Doyle shouted, ducking as one clawed, demonic hand swung toward him.
Angel, quick as always in a fight, reacted in time to avoid the other set of claws, then kicked the demon in the side, jumping back as it staggered. "Careful!" he warned Doyle.
As Doyle circled around, trying to let Angel deal with the situation as much as possible, he couldn't help but think that stuff like this always happened to him.
♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣
Angel: Changes in Seasons
Written by: WesleysGirl
Based on an original idea by: Wolfling
With some original dialogue by: David Greenwalt and Marti Noxon
Edited by: Patintexas and Ellen
♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣
"How do I look?" Doyle asked, smoothing his shirt down with his hands on the walkway outside Cordelia's apartment building.
Angel barely glanced at him. "Fine."
"It only counts if you actually look at me, you know," Doyle said, frustrated. Was it really so much to ask for a little bit of input?
"Sorry," Angel said, taking his hands out of his coat pockets and giving Doyle a sheepish look. "The whole party thing, you know..."
"Weirds you out?" Doyle reached out and straightened Angel's collar for him, looking at him speculatively. "I think you'll pass."
"The question is, pass for what?" Angel grimaced.
"A fun-loving, social guy?" Doyle said. "Come on, Angel, you can do this. It's important, remember? Reaching out to people, getting involved... it's all part of being a hero."
"The part I'm no good at," Angel said, but he was looking at Doyle now. He stretched out a hand and brushed it over Doyle's hair; without a mirror, Doyle just had to hope that that made it look better instead of worse. "You think she'll be mad?"
"That we're hours late to her party and arriving smelling like we're recovering from amoebic dysentery?" Doyle made a face. "Nah, she'll love it."
"You know what she's like," Angel said, as they started walking the rest of the way to Cordelia's front door. Doyle could hear the pulsing beat of music inside. "She's probably standing in a corner with her arms crossed, scowling, ready to chew us out for being late."
Doyle turned the handle and pushed the door open.
After the first moment, in which all he could see was a crowd of faces he didn't recognize, his gaze settled on Cordelia, who was dancing with some guy, if you could call it that. The man was spinning her in a wild circle, her feet not even touching the ground, and Cordelia was shrieking with laughter.
She spotted them over the guy's shoulder and grinned. "Hi, guys!"
Angel looked at him and shrugged. "Or not."
They managed to make their way further into the apartment despite the sheer numbers of people, which Doyle figured had to be a violation of some kind of fire code, not that he'd take a chance on mentioning that to Cordelia. It didn't take long to claim a spot over against the wall where they wouldn't get stepped on, and it wasn't more than a minute or two after that that Cordelia came over.
"Hey," she said, eyeing them both. "Get a little distracted, did we?"
"It was Doyle," Angel said quickly, but when Doyle shot him a look of disbelief, he added, "He had a vision. It was one of those things that couldn't wait."
"Yeah, well, it always is, right?" Cordelia was looking particularly gorgeous, Doyle thought, with her dark hair back and wearing a brightly colored top that conformed to her curves.
"But we're here now," he pointed out hopefully, then, before he could lose his nerve, "You want to dance?"
Cordelia looked at him, wrinkling her nose. "Maybe after you clean up a little bit?" she suggested. "What is that on your hands, anyway?"
Doyle glanced down at them and winced when he saw the dark smudge on the back of one. "Okay. I'll be right back." He nudged Angel. "Don't let her go anywhere, okay?"
He made his way through the crowd to the bathroom, which of course was already in use, so he had to wait his turn, leaning against the wall and trying not to accidentally touch anyone who brushed past him.
When he finally got in there, Phantom Dennis was nice enough to turn the water on for him, even going so far as to float over a bottle of anti-bacterial soap.
"Thanks, Dennis." Doyle shrugged his shoulders to get the cuffs of his sleeves up out of the way, then noticed a tear in the right hand sleeve, just above the wrist. "Great," he said, more to himself than Dennis. "Another shirt ruined." And this one was one of the few that he thought Cordelia hadn't criticized yet, which was why he'd worn it.
He fingered the tear, realizing that there was a small scratch on his wrist underneath the torn fabric. It didn't hurt, which was probably why he hadn't known it was there until just then, but it looked kind of red, and there was some dried blood on his arm. Good thing he'd seen it before Cordy did -- last thing he needed was another strike against him.
Doyle washed his hands and the small scratch, then looked at himself in the mirror, using his fingertips to try to straighten his hair. "What d'ya think, Dennis?" he asked. An invisible hand smoothed down a bit that had been sticking up more than the rest, and Doyle sighed. "Everyone's a critic," he muttered.
Angel had somehow managed to get himself cornered by a friend of Cordelia's, Laura, who seemed determined to talk to him no matter how uncomfortable he looked. Which he suspected was very.
"So with my Masters degree in Fine Arts, I was able to launch my very own business -– selling sandwiches downtown from a little cart.” Laura seemed proud of herself.
"Huh," Angel said, figuring that wasn't very encouraging.
"Yeah," Laura said. "I do see a lot of stuff on the job. So I tell myself that I'm honing my eye.”
Angel smiled faintly. What the hell did that mean? "Makes sense."
The music changed to something with a deeper, slower beat, and Laura set down her drink. With a big smile on her face, she started to do a sort of dance right where she was standing. "Oh, I love this song." Angel looked around nervously, but she didn't seem to notice. "Would you like to dance?” she asked.
Angel tried to picture it, and he didn't like what he saw. Bad enough that he had to be here at all -- having to dance would just make things a thousand times worse. "I don't dance," he said.
Wesley chose that moment to come over, and Angel was so grateful for the interruption that he could have kissed him. Well, hugged him, at least.
"Wesley!" he said, noting with relief that Laura had given up and was walking off. "You're very... energetic."
"Yes, well, Cordelia throws a fine party, doesn't she? When did you get here?" Wesley looked like he'd had a couple of beers. "Does she know you're here?"
"Yeah. We had, you know. A situation to deal with."
"Ah, a vision?" Wesley got serious immediately. "Anything you might have needed some assistance with? You could have phoned me."
"Nah, Doyle and I took care of it," Angel said, sticking his hands into his pants pockets. "Big demon in the sewers."
Wesley looked at him thoughtfully. "Yes, that would explain the smell," he said.
"Yeah, it was -- " Angel broke off. "I smell?"
"No, no, not at all," Wesley backpedaled like a pro. "What sort of demon?"
Angel shrugged. "I don't know. Big, kind of brown. Wrinkly."
"Humanoid?" Wesley asked, reaching for a little puff pastry thing and popping it into his mouth.
"Yeah, pretty much. Unless you want to count the extra arms."
Wesley looked interested. "Extra arms? How many?"
"Two. Kind of hanging off underneath the regular ones, like they never fully developed, or something." Angel was just glad that talking to Wesley was keeping other people away from him.
"Vestigial," Wesley said knowingly. "That would narrow it down. Well, in the morning I'll take a look in some of my books and see if I can't identify it. Always pays to know what we're dealing with."
As far as Angel was concerned, the situation was dealt with already, but if Wesley wanted to do research, he wasn't going to say no. "Okay."
"You never know when you might run into more, and it's always best to be prepared," Wesley continued.
Across the room, Doyle had reappeared. Angel leaned back against the wall and watched as the smaller man said something to Cordelia.
"What are you...?" Wesley turned and looked too. "Ah," he said. "Hope springs eternal."
"Something like that," Angel said, and they watched together as Cordelia and Doyle moved to the edge of the area where people were dancing and Doyle put his arms around Cordelia.
The next morning, Cordelia had just come into the office when she heard the elevator coming up from downstairs.
"Hi," Cordelia said as Angel walked in. She draped her coat over the back of her chair -- the stupid hooks were pulling her clothes out of shape.
Angel nodded. "Good morning. Is there coffee?"
"Oh," Cordelia said. "It's still in bean form. I thought I ordered the ground." She went over and picked up the bag of coffee beans, handing it to him. "Maybe you could crush the beans with your vampire strength? Just mush the bag." Angel looked from the bag to Cordelia, then back at the bag in his hands again like it was some kind of alien life form. Cordelia sighed. "Mush it."
The door opened again and Doyle came in. Angel set the bag of coffee beans down, probably thinking that Cordelia would be all distracted and wouldn't notice.
"Hi," Doyle said. He looked like hell, blinking like the light was too bright and walking like every bone in his body hurt. "Do you think we could close the blinds or something?"
"Um, in case it escaped your notice, our boss is a vampire," Cordelia said. "And it's daytime. The blinds are closed." She hadn't realized he'd been that drunk last night. He'd seemed sober enough when they were dancing, and then they'd talked some -- not like you could really talk at a party, but they'd managed.
"Oh. Right." Doyle went over to the desk and grabbed one of the bottles of aspirin they kept around the office, opening it and swallowing a couple of pills dry.
Cordelia didn't know whether to be concerned or annoyed. "You could always try that novel concept called 'drinking less,'" she suggested.
Doyle didn't protest -- he just went over and slumped down on the couch, muttering something about how he'd be fine once the drugs kicked in.
"Well, at least you were having fun, unlike some people," Cordelia said, glaring at Angel.
"I had fun!" Angel said.
"Uh-huh." Cordelia decided to run with this train of thought, since it was bound to provide some entertainment. "I'm so glad you came. You know how parties are. You're always worried that no one is going to suck the energy out of the room like a giant black hole of boring despair. But there you were -- in the clinch!"
Angel looked offended. "I didn't... boring?"
"You used to be a person! Did you never party? Did people not gather in olden times?" Cordelia couldn't help but notice that Doyle was just sitting there, not taking Angel's side or anything.
"I talked to people," Angel protested. "Laura!"
"Laura thought you hated her. I had to tell her you were challenged." Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest and looked at Angel smugly.
"I don't hate her. I-I have two modes with people: bite and avoid. Hard to shift. Plus, I can't get too close. I mean, with women..."
"You can be nice," Cordelia said. "I mean, it's not like Laura is going to throw you down on the living room floor and tear off all of your..." She reconsidered. "Well, actually, Laura..."
"I'll try harder," Angel said, looking at Doyle. "Still, I mean, the quiet, reserved –- thing, don't you think it makes me kind of -– I don't know, cool?"
Wesley walked into the office, and Cordelia smirked and gestured at him. "He was cooler."
"Good morning," Wesley said cautiously.
Angel went over and sat down on the couch next to Doyle, who winced. "Now I'm depressed," Angel said with a sigh.
"I feel rather chipper, myself," Wesley said, looking it. "That was quite a soiree last night."
"I'm glad someone enjoyed it," Cordelia said.
"I enjoyed it!" Angel said.
"A gala event," Wesley went on. "Really got the blood flowing. Speaking of which..."
Cordelia shuddered. "Is there going to be talk about blood now? Because I can really live without that this early in the morning."
But Wesley just continued like she hadn't said anything. "I did some research and was able to identify the demon that you killed last night. Two vestigial arms and very sharp claws, yes?"
"Yeah, sounds like our guy," Angel said.
"They're Kla'tark demons, a very rare and extremely dangerous breed," Wesley said. "It's a good thing neither of you was hurt -- the claws contain a deadly poison. The slightest scratch..."
Doyle sat up suddenly, managing to look both alert and slightly ill at the same time, and they all looked at him. "How deadly?" he asked.
"Exceedingly," Wesley said. "Within forty-eight hours, generally. Why?"
"Because," Doyle said, pulling back his sleeve and revealing an angry red scratch on his arm, "I think the countdown's already started."
There was a silence in the room for a few long seconds, then everyone started talking at once. The sound of it went right to Doyle's head, making it ache worse than it had been. He was still trying to absorb what was happening -- the fact that what he'd thought was a little scratch was actually much more serious.
Angel came over and got down on one knee, reaching for Doyle's arm. His hands felt pleasantly cool to the touch, but they made Doyle shiver all the same. "What about cleaning it out?" Angel asked over his shoulder, probably directing the question at Wesley, who seemed to know more than any of the rest of them. "Would that help?"
Wesley shook his head. "Not if it happened last night. The toxin's already in his system."
And he hadn't washed it out right away anyway. Hadn't even known it was there for at least an hour.
"Okay, so we have to find a cure," Cordelia was saying. She was pacing in front of the couch, her anxiety palpable and, Doyle had to admit to himself, rather flattering. "There's got to be something, right?"
"I don't know if -- " Wesley started.
"God!" Cordelia said, stopping and looking at Angel and Doyle. "This is all your fault. Couldn't you have been more careful?"
"We didn't know that -- " Angel tried to say, but again Cordelia interrupted before anyone could finish a sentence.
"I mean, demons are disgusting!" She paused, giving Doyle an apologetic look. "Sorry. I mean, you know, some demons are disgusting. Half of them have poison claws, or really big teeth, or... stingers... or something..."
"Cordelia -- " Doyle said.
"You should have been more careful!" she said, her brows drawn down.
He tried again despite his aching head. "Princess, calm down."
"Calm down!" Cordelia said, her voice rising. "Calm down?"
Wesley finally stepped in, touching Cordelia's shoulder to get her attention. "I think what Doyle's trying to say is that it's important not to get too excited. Maybe everyone should take some deep breaths..."
"I don't breathe," Angel muttered.
"Deep breaths?" Cordelia said. "This isn't yoga class, Wesley. Doyle could die!"
Silence descended over the room again as Doyle tried not to let cold panic get the better of him.
"He's not going to die," Angel said reassuringly. "We aren't going to let that happen. We deal with stuff like this all the time -- we'll find a way." His hand, large and strong, slipped into Doyle's for a second and squeezed.
Doyle offered Angel a shaky but grateful smile.
"All right," Wesley said. "There may have been some vague mention of an antidote in the book I found my information in -- I'll have to go back to my apartment to get it."
Angel got up. "Okay, I'm coming with you. We'll get the book, see what we can figure out. Cordy, you and Doyle stay here and see what you can find on the internet, from Doyle's local contacts... anything you can. We'll check in in a little while."
"Don't worry," Wesley added confidently. "It's going to be fine."
Doyle wished he were that sure.
Wesley's apartment looked like he'd just moved in and hadn't had time to unpack. Which, when Angel thought about it, was probably true. As soon as they'd come in -- with Wesley throwing an invitation casually over his shoulder like Angel was just anyone -- Wesley had snatched a book up off a table and sat down on the couch, opening it and starting to look through it.
"Make yourself comfortable," Wesley said, without looking up.
"What's it say?" Angel asked.
"Hold on a moment and I'll tell you," Wesley said.
Angel waited for half a minute, then asked again, "What's it say?"
Wesley glanced up at him. "It's in a demon language I'm not fluent in, and there are eight vowels in a row in some cases. Do you really want me to translate it incorrectly and end up killing him?"
Chastened, Angel hunched his shoulders. "No. Sorry."
Seeming to have realized not only what he'd said but how he'd said it, Wesley looked up at Angel, eyes wide. "No, I'm sorry. It's unforgivable of me to be so rude, regardless of the circumstances. I don't -- "
"Wesley," Angel said. "It's okay. Do what you have to do, and I'll just... stand here."
Wesley smiled a little bit. "You could sit down," he suggested, turning his attention back to the book in his lap.
"Yeah, I guess." But Angel didn't.
Cordelia had been sitting at the computer for some time, trying link after link, looking for any information that might be helpful.
So far, she hadn't had a lot of luck.
Doyle was standing behind her, watching over her shoulder and occasionally pointing something out, but he could tell that he wasn't going to be able to stay on his feet much longer. He was foggy with an exhaustion that went deep into his bones -- it felt like having the flu or some raging kind of infection. His arm burned, the flesh hot and tender to the touch, and the rest of him felt cold.
"You don't look so good," Cordelia said, turning to look at him.
"Yeah, well, I don't feel so good," he told her. "Go on -- keep looking."
She turned her attention back to the computer. "Ooh! Here's something about Kla'tark demons." Doyle tried to find what she was looking at, but it was only a tiny paragraph. "Nothing new," she said with a sigh. "You'd think the people who go to the trouble of making these websites would at least want to make sure that they had all the available information."
"No kidding." Doyle was caught by a sudden chill.
"Go sit down, would you?" Cordelia said, sounding annoyed. "It's not like you're actually helping, just standing there reading over my shoulder."
"I don't want to sit down," Doyle said petulantly. "I want to be doing something."
Cordelia turned and looked up at him again, and this time she didn't seem critical or annoyed -- she just looked worried. Gently, she set her hand over his. "I know. Just... do it for me, okay?"
Damn it, she knew him too well.
Cordelia was a lot more worried than she was letting on. She was surprised at how quickly Doyle was getting sicker -- not that she should have been, what with the whole forty-eight hour thing -- and being worried made her a lot more snarky, which she then felt guilty about. The whole situation was a recipe for Cordelia Chase, Queen B, where the 'b' stood for bitch, and she wasn't sure she wanted to be that girl anymore.
But the way Doyle was looking at her made her feel like anything but a bitch. "I'll do it for you," he agreed. "Since you asked so nicely and all." He sank down onto the couch with a sigh of what sounded like relief, and Cordelia turned her attention back to the computer screen in front of her.
Of course, before she could get anything done, the phone rang.
Cordelia picked it up. "Hello," she said shortly. "I mean... Angel Investigations, we help the -- "
"Cordy, it's me," Angel's voice said.
"Oh, thank God. I was afraid it was going to be a client and I'd have to turn away money." She gave Doyle an apologetic look, hoping that hadn't come off as bitchy at it might have.
"Listen, there is an antidote."
Cordelia felt her heart lift despite herself. "Why am I feeling like there's a big old 'but' coming?"
"But," Angel said, "we don't know for sure if we have all the information. Wesley translated it, but it's like... parts of it are like a riddle. There's some stuff we're going to have to try to figure out, and we're going to need some things."
"Shoot," Cordelia said.
"Chaney and ginseng root, a piece of lapis, and sea salt, for a start," Angel said.
"Right. We've got the sea salt -- I'll see if I can track down the other stuff." Cordelia was scribbling on a scrap of paper. "Is that everything?"
"Not exactly," Angel said. "The other thing we need's going to be a little bit harder to find."
"Why?" she asked. "What is it?"
"The liver cut from a living Kla'tark demon -- of the opposite gender as the one that did the poisoning."
Cordelia frowned. "So what was the one you killed? Boy or girl?" Doyle was watching her so intently that she wondered if he could hear the other end of the conversation.
"That's what we're going to have to find out," Angel said.
"This is revolting," Wesley complained, not for the first time. He cleared his throat, made a noise that Angel thought might have been gagging, then spat over his shoulder. "Pardon me."
"Yeah, well... manners, not one of the biggest requirements down here," Angel said, as they continued to slog their way through the sewer tunnel.
"And you travel down here often?" Wesley asked.
"It's disgusting," Wesley said.
"Try it with a vampire's sense of smell," Angel muttered.
"I'm glad I don't have to." Wesley took a few quicker steps to catch up to Angel, then slipped, arms waving wildly in the air as he fought to keep his balance.
Angel's hand shot out and caught Wesley by the upper arm, steadying him. He'd probably leave a bruise, but it'd have to be better than falling down into the muck they'd been slogging through.
Wesley gasped air, his heart beating triply fast for twenty beats or so before it started to slow down again. "Thank you."
Angel waited to be sure Wesley had his feet under him again before letting go. "No," he said. "Thank you, for helping. You didn't have to."
"Actually," Wesley said slowly. "I did have to."
"Why?" Angel asked, puzzled.
Wesley stood up straighter, adjusting the bottom of his jacket with the hand that wasn't holding onto his sword. "Because it's the right thing to do."
Angel nodded, then they started walking again. "I'm worried about him," Angel said finally, to say something.
"Of course you are -- he's your friend." Wesley said it kind of wistfully, and Angel would have tried to think of something to say to that if he hadn't realized that he was pretty sure they were at the right place.
And there was no body.
"I think this is it," Angel said, turning slowly, looking around. "I mean, I'm pretty sure this was the place. I bent the end of my sword running it into the wall right... here." He rubbed his fingers over a small, mostly invisible mark on the rough stone wall.
"Are you sure?" Wesley asked doubtfully.
"Well, the body didn't just get up and walk off on its own," Wesley said.
Angel turned and looked at him with an eyebrow raised. "Are you sure?" It wouldn't be the first time, after all.
Wesley blinked, seeming to think about it for a minute before shaking his head. "Quite sure," he said. "There'd have been something about that in the book."
"Then it's got to be around here somewhere," Angel said. "I mean, who would have taken it?"
There was a faint sound behind them, and Wesley turned. "Er... Angel?"
Still distracted, thinking, Angel said, "Yeah?"
"Maybe... maybe that took it?" Wesley's voice sounded higher than usual.
Angel turned around and they both stared at the very large demon standing over them.
Back at the office, Cordelia had managed to find the sea salt in one of the boxes of random supplies that Angel kept lying around, and Doyle'd given her the number of someone he knew who could probably put his hands on the other items they needed.
He felt hot, and kind of woozy. Sitting upright on the couch was stretching the limits of what he was capable of, even though he'd taken more aspirin under the theory that it couldn't hurt and might help.
"Okay," Cordelia said, hanging up the phone and turning around. "Benny says he knows where to get the stuff and he'll bring it by as soon as he gets it. Of course, you don't even want to know what I had to promise him, but..." Her expression softened. "Hey, are you okay?"
Doyle thought that he was rather distinctly not okay, but somehow that didn't seem the sort of thing to say to a beautiful woman, so he just nodded. "Yeah. Hanging in there."
"Can I get you something? I don't know, water? Juice?" Cordelia's brow was furrowed. "Um... chicken soup?"
"Somehow I don't think you're gonna find chicken soup in Angel's kitchen," Doyle told her.
"Well, maybe not, but there's this deli down the street..." Cordelia pointed with her thumb like she was giving him directions. "Seriously. Anything?"
What he wanted to do was ask her to come over and sit down next to him. He wanted to hold her hand and rest his aching head on her shoulder, maybe feel her fingers run through his hair soothingly.
Instead, Doyle sat on the couch alone and said, "No. I'm okay," even though they both knew it was a lie.
"Wesley?" Angel said, not taking his eyes off the demon that towered above them. It looked like some kind of cross between a mountain lion and a horse.
"Get back here, would you?"
Wesley obeyed, moving back half a dozen steps so he wasn't in between Angel and their new friend, who had some of the most amazingly bad breath Angel had ever had the bad luck to encounter. Looking, Angel noted that the demon's left eye was almost white. He took a step in that direction, watching as it turned its head to track him.
"It's blind on the left side," Angel said, stepping back over to Wesley and grabbing onto the other man's sleeve, encouraging him to move to that side. "Try to stay in its blind spot."
"Right." Wesley was doing that thing that he did, where he acted like he knew exactly what he was doing but was almost certain to do the wrong thing any second, which actually was kind of helpful because it let Angel know that he needed to pay extra attention to where Wesley was and what he was doing.
Angel went into game face, hoping that that would make him look like more of a threat than Wesley did. That way the demon would worry about him and, hopefully, forget about Wesley. Sword in hand, Angel rushed forward and struck at the monster's shoulder.
Surprise, he thought as he flew through the air and smashed into the sewer wall. Always nice to run into the demons that were double-jointed. "Wesley, look out!" Angel called, scrambling to his feet and running back into the fight before Wesley could get himself killed.
The demon had turned to face Wesley, who looked more like he was trying to fence with it than kill it, so Angel took advantage of the moment and stabbed his sword deep into the thing's chest. It roared with a sound like screeching tires on wet pavement and whirled back around, batting Angel with one paw -- again -- and sending him flying -- again.
When Angel lifted his head, he saw the demon turning its attention toward Wesley again. Wesley swung his sword at it lightly, almost like he wasn't trying to hurt it all, but apparently looks could be deceiving because a split second later one of the demon's toes was splashing into the sewage, most of the noise of it drowned out by the monster's shriek of pain.
Mad now, the demon snarled and reached out, flicking Wesley's sword from his grip, wounded hand bleeding in an arc that would have soaked the leg of Wesley's trousers if it hadn't already been soaked with other stuff. Wesley staggered back, but Angel was already there -- thank God for vampire reflexes -- chopping off the rest of the demon's hand and then jamming his sword deep into its rib cage before it could even react.
It hit the wet ground with a meaty thump that jarred the tunnel, made a feeble attempt to scrabble its way to its feet again, and died.
"Wow," Angel said, looking at it. "That was..." He glanced at Wesley, wrinkling up his nose. "Do I smell as bad as you do?"
"I'd imagine so," Wesley said, going over and picking up his sword, which was coated with slime. He held it gingerly like he didn't want it to get too close to him, which as far as Angel could tell was a big waste of time -- Wesley was already coated with filth. "What now?"
"This way," Angel said, starting in the direction the demon had come from. "Anything this big, it's gonna be pretty clear where it came from."
It didn't take long to find the demon's lair, which was a couple hundred feet back in one of the side tunnels. It'd made a really nice nest for itself with what looked -- and smelled -- like sewage, but otherwise there wasn't a heck of a lot there, so it was easy enough to spot the half-eaten body of the Kla'tark demon that Angel and Doyle had killed the day before.
Wesley crouched down to examine the remains.
"Please tell me it ate the right half," Angel said.
"For our purposes? Yes," Wesley said, poking the body with his sword. "It appears to be male."
"So that means we need a female," Angel said.
"Yes." Wesley stood back up. "Well actually, 'male' and 'female' are just approximations. In some ways, Kla'tark demons have more in common with -- "
Angel was already headed for the main tunnel again now that they had the information they needed. "While I'm sure that's all really interesting, can we save it for another time and talk about where we're going to find another one of these things?"
Behind him, he heard Wesley say, "Yes. Yes, of course." Wesley caught up with him after a few seconds. "That's a good question. I'm afraid the book I have didn't say much about their living conditions or customs -- just that they're very rare."
Angel paused to look at Wesley, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. "So you're saying you don't know."
"No." Wesley sounded apologetic to the point of groveling. "If I could just lay my hands on a copy of Worthington's Demonology, I'd -- "
"Got one," Angel said, starting to walk again, relief flooding through him now that they had at least some idea what to try next.
"You do?" Wesley asked, catching up with him again. "Well, that's fortunate. So we'll go back to the office -- er, your office -- and see what we can find."
Cordelia was starting to freak out. Okay, to put it honestly, she'd started to freak out a little while ago and was now well into freaked-out territory. Doyle was getting worse by the minute, or at least that was what it seemed like to her. She'd managed to convince him to take some more aspirin and lie down on the couch -- she didn't think he was actually sleeping, but maybe kind of dozing, and that had to be good, right?
She'd just crept over and draped a blanket over him when she heard noise from Angel's apartment downstairs, so she went to investigate.
"It's upstairs," Angel was saying to Wesley in answer to a question she'd missed. "Middle bookcase."
"I need a book," Wesley said, passing her on the stairs. He was unbelievably filthy.
"Yeah, I figured," Cordelia said, then turned and added, "Don't turn the lights on! And Doyle's fine, thanks for asking." She finished going down the stairs, where Angel was pulling his shirt off over his head.
With the shirt still in his hands, Angel asked, "How is he?"
"Not fine," Cordelia said. "He's all feverish, and he says the light hurts his eyes, and what the heck is that smell?"
"Sewer," Angel said, which was plenty as far as Cordelia was concerned. "I'm gonna take a shower."
She stayed where she was as he disappeared into the bathroom and turned on the water. "So did you find it?" she called.
"Yeah," Angel called back. "Of course, now we need to find another one, which might be harder."
"What do you mean, harder?" Cordelia didn't like the sound of that.
"They're a rare kind of demon," Angel said. "It's not like you can go down to the corner store and pick one up."
"Well, why not?" Cordelia asked, frustrated. "I mean, maybe not the corner store, but there are places that sell magical stuff. Demon... eyeballs, and things. How come none of them would have a whatever-demon liver?"
"First of all, it has to be a freshly killed whatever-demon liver," Angel said, sounding like he was washing his hair, and okay, Cordelia so didn't need to be thinking in that much detail. "Second, rare demon. Rare."
"Yeah, I know what rare means," Cordelia said, leaning against the wall and closing her eyes. It was going to be okay. They were going to find this demon, and make the antidote, and Doyle was going to be just fine.
"Wesley went to find the book that might give us an idea where to look," Angel said after another minute. She wondered if he could tell that she needed the reassurance.
The water shut off, there were some more sounds, then Angel reappeared in the bathroom doorway, one towel around his waist while he used another to dry his hair.
"He'll be okay," Angel said.
"I know." Cordelia didn't sound convincing even to herself. Angel still had a smudge of something on his cheek. "You've got a -- " She mimed rubbing her own cheek.
"Oh," Angel said, then wiped his cheek with the towel. "How's that?"
"Better." She smiled a little bit, even though it felt forced. "I guess it's kind of hard when you can't look in the mirror."
"Yeah. Why don't you go see how Wesley's doing? I'll be right up."
Cordelia nodded and turned to go back upstairs.
Doyle didn't hear Cordelia leave the room, but he did notice that Wesley was back because the other man had turned on a light in Angel's office and was moving around in there. Figuring that someone would tell him what was going on when there was something important to say, he pulled the blanket more tightly around his shoulders and tried not to shiver, since it just made his head ache. Hell, even his teeth hurt. Okay, admittedly that might have something to do with the fact that he hadn't been to a dentist in years, but since it was a new development he thought it was more likely it was the poison working its way through his system.
He didn't like thinking about that.
He tried to doze a bit more. The next time he opened his eyes, Cordelia was sitting down on the edge of the couch and laying her cool hand against his cheek. "Hi," Doyle said.
"Hi," Cordelia said. "Angel and Wesley are back."
"Yeah, I figured." He closed his eyes again, sighing as Cordelia rested her hand on his forehead. It felt nice.
"Cordelia?" Angel's voice. "Did you have any luck finding that stuff?"
Doyle felt Cordelia stand up again, so he opened his eyes.
"Yeah. Doyle knows people who... know people, or something. But yeah, this guy Benny is going to drop it by later on."
"Good," Angel said. He came over to the couch and looked down at Doyle. "You hanging in there?"
"Yeah," Doyle said. His voice sounded a little bit scratchy, and he wasn't sure if that was real or if it had something to do with his ears.
"Wesley and I found the demon -- it was male, so now we've got to track down a female." Angel looked kind of worried, and like he was trying not to look worried. His hair was damp and spiky, sticking up.
"So now we have to find a demon in a haystack," Cordelia said.
"Basically," Angel agreed.
"The difficult thing is knowing where to look," Wesley said, from the doorway to Angel's office. He was holding an open book.
"Harry," Doyle said.
"Oh, great," Cordelia said. "Now he's hallucinating."
Doyle struggled to a sitting position. "No, I'm not," he said, although he suspected he might be pretty soon if things kept getting worse. "Harry's an ethno-demonologist, remember? This is her thing. If anyone'd know where to find an Kla'tark demon in LA, it'd be her."
"Good idea," Angel said.
"Yes, excellent," Wesley said, with maybe a little bit more interest in his voice than Doyle liked hearing. "Although I'm sure she'll be upset to know that you're... er, not well."
Dying, Doyle thought, although to be fair he didn't want to think it any more than Wesley wanted to say it. "We just won't tell her that part."
"What?" Cordelia said. "Doyle -- don't you think she has a right to know what's going on?"
"I'm sure she'd want to know," Wesley said, nodding.
"I could tell her if you don't want to," Cordelia offered.
"No," Doyle said firmly. "I'll call her, thanks."
Cordelia said, "But I -- "
"Cordelia," Angel said, interrupting her gently. "Let's just let Doyle deal with it, okay?"
"Fine," Cordelia said, clearly still upset.
Getting his feet flat on the floor, Doyle stood up. "I'll just use your office, if that's okay," he said to Angel, then swayed a bit, the world starting to tilt sideways. Angel stepped forward quickly and caught him, an arm behind his shoulders while he found his balance. "Thanks," Doyle muttered.
"It's okay," Angel said. "Do you want me to -- "
"No," Doyle said. He'd be damned if he couldn't walk a dozen steps on his own, no matter how sick he was. "I'll be fine."
Wesley stepped out of his way, leaving Angel's office empty so Doyle could have some privacy. Once he was sitting down again, he took a deep breath and dialed Harry's number.
Amazingly enough, she answered on the second ring. "Hello?"
"Harry? It's me, Francis."
Her voice immediately became warm and friendly. "Francis... hi. How are you?"
Great, he got to lie to her right off the bat. "Fine. Listen, Harry... not to skip the small talk or anything, but we could really use your help."
"What is it?" Harry knew how to be practical, he had to hand her that.
"We're dealing with a case -- someone's been scratched by this rare kind of poisonous demon, a Kla'tark, and we need to locate another one to make an antidote. Only we don't know where to look."
"Hm -- they're rare, all right. I didn't know they'd even come this far south -- they're usually found further north, they like it wet. Maybe this one migrated or something? Are you sure it was a Kla'tark?" Harry asked.
"Pretty sure," Doyle said.
"Hmm," Harry said again. "Well, I guess if I could look at some maps or something, I might be able to give you some ideas..."
She continued to talk in that mostly-talking-to-herself sort of way that Doyle was familiar with. He glanced up, and Cordelia was standing in the doorway watching him. When their eyes met, Cordelia widened hers and mouthed, "Tell her!"
Cordelia was probably right, Doyle decided. "Listen, Harry?" he said, interrupting. "There's something else I need to tell you..."
About half an hour later, Doyle was curled up on the couch again, shivering, when Harry came into the office. Without pausing, she walked over and got down on her knees next to the couch, not saying anything to the rest of them, which Cordelia tried not to think of as being rude. Plus there was that thing where she'd knocked Harry out during the whole mystical-pregnancy incident, so she should probably cut her some slack.
Harry touched Doyle's arm and he opened his eyes. "You didn't sound this bad on the phone," she said.
"I wasn't this bad when we were on the phone," Doyle said, glassy-eyed with the fever that aspirin wasn't even touching anymore.
"Not to interrupt," Wesley said, "but time is of the essence. We need to locate a female Kla'tark demon as quickly as possible."
Harry turned and looked up at Wesley, and that was when Cordelia noticed that Harry had a book tucked under her arm. "I brought this," she said, holding it out.
Wesley took the book and opened it to a page that Harry had obviously marked, reading it. "Oh, dear," he said.
"What?" Cordelia said.
"It's just that this is a bad time of year for this," Harry said, looking at Doyle apologetically.
"There's a good time of year for this?" Angel asked.
"She means that this is the time when female Kla'tarks go into hibernation for four months in order to gestate their young," Wesley said.
"Well, that's good, right?" Doyle asked, his voice rough. "I mean, if they're hibernating, shouldn't that make it easier to find them?"
"Have we mentioned how rare these demons are?" Harry asked.
"About a dozen times," Cordelia said sharply. "Rare, right. We've got it. If they're going to be that hard to find, shouldn't you guys, oh, I don't know, start looking?" She knew she sounded angry, but she couldn't help it.
"That's what we're going to do," Wesley said. "Harry, I have some maps for you to look at, if you don't mind?"
"Of course," Harry said, getting to her feet and patting Doyle's shoulder.
"Then, once we've located one and cut out its liver..." Wesley said.
Harry stopped. "Wait a minute -- you're going to what?"
"Cut out its liver," Wesley said. "You didn't know?"
"No, somehow that part got left out," Harry said. "So what you're telling me is, you want me to help you find a female, possibly pregnant Kla'tark demon -- which, while not necessarily friendly toward humans, isn't going out and trying to cause harm -- so that you can kill it and cut out it liver?"
Angel looked mad. "No. What we're telling you is that one of its kind hurt Doyle, and if we don't create an antidote, which we need the liver to do, he's going to be dead by this time tomorrow night."
There was a really long pause -- way too long, from Cordelia's point of view. Harry was silent, thinking.
"Wesley?" Harry said finally.
"Show me those maps."
In the doorway to Angel's bedroom, Angel and Wesley stood watching as Harry and Cordelia fussed over Doyle, who was curled up on Angel's bed with a pile of warm blankets on top of him.
"I'm sure he'll be more comfortable down here while we're gone," Wesley said.
Harry came over and joined them. "I want to come with you."
"No way -- it's too dangerous," Angel said.
"I don't care," Harry said. "I want to help."
"You have helped," Wesley said. "Thanks to you, we've a good list of places to look. We wouldn't have managed that on our own."
Angel was looking at Doyle, whose eyes were closed. Cordelia was sitting on the side of the bed next to him, talking to him softly.
"Maybe you should go home," Wesley said to Harry. "Get some rest. We'll phone you if there's anything to report."
"No," Harry said, shaking her head. "I'll stay. Here, let me look at that map one more time."
Wesley held it out for her, holding it open so that they could all see it, but Angel trusted the two of them to deal with it. He moved into the room and sat down on the chair Harry had been sitting in a minute before, smiling reassuringly at Cordelia when she looked at him. He reached out and rested a hand on Doyle's shoulder, feeling the heat radiating off of him even through the blankets.
"Don't worry, okay?" Angel said.
Doyle opened his eyes. "I'm not worried," he said.
"Everything's going to be fine," Angel said. "Something kind of like this happened to me once, you know, and I'm still... well, okay, not alive, but fine. The same. You know what I mean."
"Yeah," Doyle said, meeting his gaze. "I know what you mean." He untangled a hand from under the blankets and grabbed onto Angel's hand, his fingers surprisingly hot. "Now get out of here and go do what you need to do, yeah?"
"Yeah," Angel said. Doyle was still holding onto his hand, and Cordelia, for once, was sitting there quietly.
"Angel? If anything happens..." Doyle said.
"Nothing's going to happen," Angel said firmly.
Doyle shook his head. "I just want you to know that I appreciate everything that you've done for me."
"You'll appreciate it even more when Wesley and I come back with that Kla'tark liver," Angel said, squeezing Doyle's hand before letting it go. He turned to Cordelia. "We'll be back as soon as we can. Keep an eye on him, okay?"
"I will," Cordelia said.
Angel and Wesley were exploring some caves in Ventura -- the location was right for the kind of place Kla'tarks liked to hibernate, apparently. The demons liked small dark places and that meant a lot of poking swords into depressions in the stone and waiting to see if anything came out to attack you, which was actually a lot less fun than it sounded.
"Anything?" Angel asked, turning away from his side of the cave. He knew the answer, but it was one of those things where he felt like he had to ask anyway.
"No," Wesley said. "Just the last one, then, and we'll have to move on to the next location."
"This really is like looking for a demon in a haystack," Angel muttered.
"At least Harry was able to identify some of the locations where we'd be most likely to encounter them," Wesley said. "Without her assistance, we'd have been much worse off."
"Oh, I know." Angel paused to let Wesley walk over the lip of the cave first, watching him in case he tripped. "Still feels like we're not getting anywhere."
Wesley turned, his face half-lit by the flashlight he was holding. "We'll find one," he said, his voice soft.
"We have to," Angel agreed.
Cordelia and Harry were doing the best they could to make Doyle comfortable, but it seemed pretty impossible. He was flushed with fever, sweating even though he was covered with a mountain of blankets, but if they tried to take the blankets off he shivered and burrowed further underneath them.
Harry went to the bathroom and came back with a cool cloth, moving toward Doyle like she expected Cordelia to get out of her way, which was so not going to happen. Cordelia held her hand out for the cloth, and their eyes met -- Harry's questioning, Cordelia's stubborn. Then, slowly, Harry put the cloth into Cordelia's hand.
"It might make him feel better," Harry said.
"Yeah," Cordelia said, trying not to sound grudging. "Thanks."
She smoothed Doyle's hair back from his forehead with one hand, biting her lower lip when she felt how hot he was, then gently lay the cloth over his brow. He moaned, but didn't try to move away.
"Shh. It's okay." Cordelia didn't know what else to say. "Angel's gonna be back soon. It'll all be okay."
Half an hour later, and Angel and Wesley were half an hour further north in Santa Barbara about to head onto a bike trail. "Are you sure this is what Harry was talking about?" Angel asked, looking down the trail doubtfully. It was a couple of hours past sunset and things were, well, dark, which wasn't so much a problem for him as it was for Wesley.
Especially considering the other man's tendency to lose his footing.
"Yes, this is it," Wesley said. "Apparently, if we go far enough down this trail, we'll find a collection of depressions in the side of a cliff-like area. She said there were reports of a Kla'tark seen here some years ago, so at least there isn't any doubt that it's the sort of spot they favor."
"Okay," Angel said.
They hadn't gone forty feet down the trail when Angel saw the sign.
"You've got to be kidding me," he said. "'Devil's Canyon'?"
"I know," Wesley said. "Ironic, isn't it?" He tripped over what Angel thought might have been a blade of grass but managed to catch his balance before he fell. "People actually ride bicycles along this path?"
"Mountain bikes, probably," Angel said, thinking that was the kind of thing Doyle would have said.
"I'd think hiking would be dangerous enough," Wesley said. "Although I suppose most people have enough sense to do it in the daytime." He tripped again, and Angel caught him by the upper arm this time. "Thank you."
"No problem." Angel would have been able to move faster if he'd been by himself, but he needed Wesley to help him figure out which part of the demon was the liver. Assuming they ever found one. "How far do we have to go?" he asked.
"A few miles," Wesley said, stumbling again.
Great, Angel thought.
Doyle was seeing things, and he couldn't tell if they were actual things, or visions, or if he was just hallucinating. Hallucinating, wasn't that something someone had said earlier?
Yeah, Cordelia had said it. But he hadn't been hallucinating then. Had he?
Everything was so confusing, He was hot and cold at the same time, and for a minute he remembered that he was sick. Poisoned, and Angel had gone looking for a cure. Only Doyle didn't think he was going to make it back in time, not when the world was on fire and vampires, vampires were vulnerable to fire.
"Angel," Doyle muttered, rolling his head back and forth on the pillow, looking for a cool spot on the pillowcase or maybe a way to get warm. His hands felt too big and the room was too small, and he didn't want Angel to burn up.
"Shh," he heard a woman's voice say. "Shh. Doyle, it's okay. Angel's gonna be back soon and it's all gonna be okay."
Was that Cordelia? Or Harry? Doyle reached out to catch her hand in his, being careful not to hurt her. Her fingers felt little and delicate in his, like he could break them if he was too rough, and why did everything hurt so much? It wasn't supposed to be like this. He might not know a lot, but he knew that much. Life wasn't supposed to be so hard, or so short.
"Tell him... stay away from the flames," he said, seeing Angel and a wall of fire. It was so hot. He had to stop Angel, had to make sure he didn't...
Gentle hands were pushing him back down, and Doyle was shivering, chilled to the bone.
"Sorry," he managed to gasp, knowing for a minute that he was sick and that Cordelia and Harry were taking care of him. He felt ashamed and scared.
"It's okay." Definitely Cordelia's voice, and he couldn't help but feel grateful for her touch. "Try to rest."
Shaking, squeezing his eyes tightly shut, Doyle prayed to be taken away.
Angel looked around. "This can't be right."
"I assure you, it's exactly the sort of place that Harry was talking about," Wesley said.
"We're in the basement of a juice bar," Angel said. Even if this was right, he couldn't help but think that it was wrong, somehow. Doyle might be dying, and they were one floor under a restaurant that mixed things like tomatoes and carrots and seaweed together in blenders and sold it for six dollars.
"This is the part of town Harry indicated on the map," Wesley said, offering it and the flashlight to Angel like that would help convince him. "The basements of these older buildings are just the right climate for Kla'tark demons."
Angel was just about to shake his head again when he thought he heard something. Something faint, kind of like a scraping sound. "Did you hear that?"
"What?" Wesley asked.
"There it is again," Angel said, holding up a hand to tell Wesley to be quiet. "It might not be a Kla'tark, but there's definitely something down here."
Wielding his sword and hoping that he wasn't going to scare the hell out of some college kid wearing a bright orange apron and blood-red hat, Angel started to move through the cavernous stone-foundation basement with Wesley right behind him.
"Do you think -- " Wesley whispered, and Angel heard it again, louder and a hell of a lot closer.
There was a rasping snarl, and something large and sturdy hit Angel from the side, him and the demon both rolling across the floor as he tried desperately not to let one of those claws scratch him. Chances were good he wouldn't be affected by the poison, but that didn't mean he wanted to find out. "Get back!" he shouted to Wesley.
His sword was gone -- must have dropped it in the tussle -- but the demon wasn't anywhere near as strong as the one he and Doyle had killed, and Angel slipped into game face and got it by both wrists, pinning them to the dirt floor.
"Now would be good, Wesley," he said tightly, using his weight to hold the Kla'tark down. "Just be careful."
Wesley came forward cautiously. "Through the throat should do it," he said. "Sever the head and higher brain function both at once."
"Well, do it," Angel said, as the demon bucked underneath him, trying to throw him off.
He didn't really see it when Wesley lifted his sword and brought it down swiftly, cutting halfway through the demon's neck with one blow, because he was too busy making sure that he had those deadly claws restrained. But he knew when it happened, because the demon gave a gurgled shriek and then went limp.
"That ought to do it," Wesley said, sounding satisfied.
Angel let go of the demon slowly, wanting to make sure it -- she -- was really dead, but it didn't move again. "Okay," he said, thinking of Doyle. "Let's cut out the liver and get the hell out of here."
It felt like they'd been waiting forever, and Cordelia had lost track of what time it was. She thought it must be getting close to the time when Angel and Wesley would either come back or at least call and check in.
Doyle had been getting steadily worse. Sometimes he said stuff that didn't make any sense, and most of the time he didn't seem to know she and Harry were there.
He tossed on the bed, throwing the blankets off and squirming away when Cordelia tried to put them back on him. He was soaked with sweat, pale but with flushed marks on both cheeks. He shifted again restlessly, his arm falling so that Cordelia could see that what had probably originally been a small scratch was now a large, reddened swelling.
"Oh God," Harry said, and Cordelia knew she'd seen it too.
"He's going to be fine," she said stubbornly, trying to soothe him by stroking her fingers through his hair lightly.
There was a sudden sound from upstairs, then someone calling for Doyle. A guy's voice, one Cordelia didn't recognize.
"Oh! It's the guy with the stuff," she said, realizing. "Benny." When Harry just looked at her blankly, she explained, "He has some of the stuff Wesley needs." She glanced at Doyle, her fingers still tangled in his hair. She didn't want to leave him, but...
"I'll go," Harry said.
"He needs money," Cordelia told her. "It's in the top drawer of my desk."
"Okay." Harry went upstairs, and after a minute Cordelia could hear voices.
"Princess," Doyle said, opening his eyes. It was the most sense he'd made in a while, which was probably saying a lot.
"Yeah, Doyle," she said, taking his hand. "I'm right here." God, he looked so... her heart felt all twisted up with fear, like there was something deep inside her that knew he could die, and it was just wrong because Doyle was one of the good guys, right? And the good guys didn't... Cordelia tried to blink back tears, and Doyle let go of her hand and reached up to brush them away with gentle fingertips.
"There's something I need to tell you," he said, serious, his eyes dark in his pale face.
"Shh, it's okay. Don't talk," Cordelia said. He should be saving his strength, or something.
"Yeah, you... always say that." Doyle smiled wearily. "But I need you to know... Cordelia. I love you."
Cordelia felt her lower lip trembling. "You what?"
But Doyle's eyes were closed again. For a second, she couldn't help but think the worst, and she felt a sob welling up in her chest, but then she saw that he was still breathing. She brought a hand up to her cheek and wiped away at the tears that were streaming down her face.
She heard another sound from the stairs and wiped at her face more quickly, trying to erase any signs that she'd been crying because no matter how much she liked Harry -- and she did -- she really didn't want her seeing that. But then she realized it was more than just one person, and a few seconds later Angel and Wesley swept into the room, looking triumphant.
"We've got it," Wesley said, holding up something Cordelia didn't even want to think about.
"I have the other things," Harry said from the doorway, as Angel came over and sat down next to the bed. "Need some help?"
Wesley looked back at Harry and nodded. "It won't be long," he said, as they went off to the kitchen.
"How is he?" Angel asked, looking from Doyle to Cordelia.
"I don't know," Cordelia said, so relieved that Angel was back that she felt kind of sick with it. "He was... he's delirious. Saying stuff. You know."
Angel was watching her with that concerned look he had, the one that usually just annoyed her but right now was really pissing her off because she didn't want to cry. "What about you?"
"I'm fine," she said sharply. The expression on her face must have given her away, though, because Angel stood up and sat down next to her on the bed and just... hugged her. "I'm fine," Cordelia said again, muffling her voice against his shoulder.
"I know," Angel said.
Angel was tired of waiting. Waiting to find something you were looking for was one thing, but waiting when there was nothing to do but wait was even worse. It had been an hour since Wesley had given Doyle the antidote, and there was still no sign of change. Doyle was still feverish, tossing on the bed and sweating. Angel could feel the heat pouring off of him from two feet away.
"He said something, before," Cordelia said suddenly.
"What?" Wesley asked.
"He said... to tell Angel to stay away from the flames."
"Was it a vision?" Wesley asked.
Cordelia shook her head slightly, then shrugged. "How the heck am I supposed to know?"
Doyle was so hot that the temperature in the room had gone up. The human body wasn't meant to withstand that kind of heat, Angel thought. "It's okay," he said, in case Doyle was listening. "I'll stay away from the flames."
Another ten minutes passed. Harry was sitting on the other side of the bed down near the foot and Cordelia was leaning back in the one chair, looking exhausted. Wesley came over and put a hand on her shoulder, and she tilted her head back and smiled at him gratefully.
Under Angel's hand, Doyle shifted again, then let out a sigh, relaxing so suddenly that Angel was startled. Almost immediately he could feel the heat begin to leave Doyle's body.
"Is he -- ?" Cordelia asked.
"No, no," Angel said quickly, running his hand along Doyle's bare arm to confirm what he already knew. "He's okay. The fever's broken."
Cordelia moved closer to see for herself as Harry sighed with relief and Wesley murmured a few comforting words to her, so Angel moved out of the way, letting Cordelia take back her seat on the side of the bed and watching as she reached to take Doyle's hand in both of hers.
The next morning, Angel stood next to the coffee pot in the office and contemplated the bag of coffee beans that Cordelia had ordered by mistake. He looked around, but since there was no one there to discourage him, he gave the bag an experimental squeeze.
Apparently it was more than the poor bag could take, because it split along the seam, spilling a shower of coffee beans down onto the floor.
The door opened, and Wesley and Cordelia walked in.
"Watch out -- " Angel started, just as Wesley slipped on some beans and went down, landing flat on his back. "Sorry. I -- I had a little..."
"Mushing didn't work out so great, huh?” Cordelia asked.
From the floor, Wesley said, "Not to worry. My fault I'm sure, really." He got onto his knees and started sweeping up the coffee beans. "I'll just pick them up..."
"Wow," Cordelia said to Wesley. "Groveling isn't just a way of life for you, it's an art.”
"I don't grovel," Wesley retorted.
Cordelia rolled her eyes in a gesture Angel was very familiar with and turned to him. "So how's Doyle?"
"Better," Angel said as Wesley got to his feet. "He's downstairs getting dressed. He still walks like... you know..." He gestured helplessly with one hand.
"Like a geriatric patient escaped from a nursing home?" Cordelia asked.
"Pretty much," Angel said. "But he'll be okay." Wesley was still holding a handful of coffee beans, and it occurred to Angel that this was as good a time as any. He looked at Cordelia meaningful and said, "You know, thanks to Wesley and all his help."
Cordelia just looked puzzled, but Wesley said, "No, not at all. It was my pleasure. It's not as if a man of my particular talents can find employment just anywhere, you know, and..."
"You're broke, aren't you," Angel said.
Wesley looked down at the floor. "Angel... a man's finances are his own business."
"You want a job?" Angel asked, smiling.
"Oh, yes, please!" Wesley said.
Angel was glad that his instincts had been right. "Look, I don't have much, but as long as you make yourself useful around here, you're entitled to a cut.”
"I -- I don't know what to say," Wesley said.
Cordelia had plastered a wide smile onto her face. "Well, this is great! Now we're really -- " She turned to Angel. "Do I have to take a pay cut?" Angel shook his head, and she turned back to Wesley and continued, " -- a team!"
Wesley was looking at Angel gratefully and actually started a move that might have ended in a hug, but Angel stepped back and shook his head slightly. That was a little too much gratitude, as far as he was concerned.
"You won't be disappointed," Wesley said, blinking and glancing away, his emotion obvious in his voice. "There is, ah, something in my eye..."
"Oh, god," Cordelia announced. "If you're getting all sappy, I'm going downstairs to watch Doyle walk across the room like an old man."
Doyle sat at Angel's kitchen table eating a piece of toast that Cordelia had made. She'd put butter on it and everything. Good thing Angel kept a little bit of real food around.
"This is good," Doyle said, taking another bite. His hand was still kind of shaky, and Cordelia hoped that by the time he'd eaten something he'd be able to walk without looking like he might fall down.
"Thanks," she said. "I mean, pretty hard to screw up toast."
"Still. It was nice of you to make it for me." Doyle sounded like he was really trying hard.
They both had glasses of orange juice -- Doyle's was mostly empty, and Cordelia's was still mostly full. But it gave her something to do with her hands while she sat there with him, not sure of what to say. Usually she just... came right out and said whatever she was thinking, but she wasn't so sure that was a good idea here.
"I was worried about you," Cordelia said abruptly, then looked down at her glass, turning it on the table. "When you were sick." She glanced back up at him at the same time Doyle looked up too, and their eyes caught and held.
"Really?" Doyle asked, smiling.
"Yes. Really." Flustered, Cordelia added, "It was kind of... well, scary. I thought you were going to die."
"Nah," Doyle said, but she didn't buy how casual he was pretending to be. "You know Angel'll always come through in a tight spot."
Cordelia nodded, turning her glass again, listening to the sound of it on the tabletop. "What was it like?"
"Miserable, mostly," Doyle said. "I kept thinking all kinds of crazy things."
"Like what?" she asked.
"Oh, you know... like in dreams."
That didn't really tell Cordelia what she wanted to know, so she decided to push it a little further. "You said stuff," she told him. "Weird stuff -- 'Angel, stay away from the flames...'"
"Well, that's not so weird," Doyle pointed out. "Sensible, actually, what with him being a vampire and all." He hesitated, then added, "They say dreams show all kinds of secret fears. Maybe I'm subconsciously worried about him being dusted. I'm kind of used to having him around now, you know?"
"Yes!" Cordelia said, seizing on that. "And I'm used to having you around. Plus, it's not like I shouldn't be used to the crazy by now. No one else drives me crazy the way you do." She flushed a little bit, thinking she'd said a little bit too much there, and stood up, grabbing Doyle's glass and going back over to the refrigerator for more juice.
"Is that the good kind of crazy, or the bad kind of crazy?" Doyle asked curiously.
"Both," Cordelia said. And, since her back was to him and he couldn't see her face, she smiled.