"Against the Odds"

As the California sun rose over the horizon, another day began in the City of Angels. Light started to filter through the city streets like blood pulsing through the veins of the living and breathing. Neon lights from the nighttime were turned off, shops signs were changed from 'Closed' to 'Open', and cars began filling up the freeways like there was no tomorrow.

In a gritty apartment building downtown, a demon man walked tiredly down a hallway with a tattered leather coat draped over his arms. He paused in front of a door and fumbled for his apartment key. Once the door was unlocked, he stepped inside. Rays of sunlight bathed his scaly, yellow skin as he entered the room, and he winced slightly before walking over to the windows to close the curtains.

"Hey, Lottie. I'm home, babe," he called out with a scratchy voice. Vivid red eyes lifted away from the window as he scanned the apartment. "I swear, this midnight shift is taking a toll on me. I told Bob I need to switch with someone. I'm thinking maybe four to midnight. That way I can see you more during the day, y'know?"

The demon's brow furrowed when there was no response to anything he'd said. He stepped toward the bedroom and poked his head through the door.

"Lottie? Are you in here? Are you in the bathro--?"

Just as he turned his head around to look back out into the living room, a gloved hand came up from behind him and pressed a cloth that smelled strongly of chloroform over his face. He struggled for a few moments before giving in to unconsciousness.

***

Cordelia was sitting at her desk, flipping through the latest issue of Cosmo, when Doyle entered the office with a big smile. As she looked up, she gave him a platonic smile and then returned to the magazine.

"Hi there, Princess. You're looking extra lovely today," Doyle said. "Did you do something with your hair? 'Cause it looks really nice."

Cordy merely shook her head without looking up. "No."

"Well, whatever it is, you still look nice today."

"As compared to any other day when I don't?" she snipped, looking up at him just as Angel stepped into the outer office.

"Well, you two don't waste any time getting on with the morning banter, do you?" Angel commented, folding his arms and leaning on the door frame that connected the outer office with his office. He raised his eyebrow in Doyle's direction and gave him a slight smirk. Doyle shrugged and Cordy said nothing to this, her mind clearly elsewhere as she flipped nonchalantly through the magazine. "You okay, Cordy?" Angel asked.

"If you're looking for fresh coffee, there isn't any," she said, throwing a glance at the coffee maker. "Wesley went to go get some from Starbucks for us. 'Cause we all know no one likes my coffee making skills. I mean, it's not like it's my forte or anything. I've gotta focus on only two things right now anyway -- filing for my undead boss, and rehearsing for an audition I have tomorrow."

That's our Cordy, Doyle thought with a grin.

As Angel looked over at Doyle and caught him in the act of unsurprisingly stealing another glance at Cordelia, Doyle stopped himself. The vampire shifted his weight, standing up straight as he focused his attention on Doyle. "So, Doyle, how are you feeling? No side effects from the fever? I mean, I know it's been a week, but... you know... relapses and all, uh, sometimes happen -- " he stuttered, clearly not having gotten any better at small talk.

Doyle raised his hand to cut Angel off. "Nah. I'm feeling fine. Thanks." He nodded, feeling a contemplative smile creeping up on him. "Never bet-eehhhhhhh..."

His green eyes shutting tightly as a painful vision swept through him, Doyle reached out his flailing arms as his body fell backwards toward the floor. Angel immediately darted to Doyle's side, bracing him and preventing the inevitable fall. Doyle could hear sounds that he could only hope were Cordelia running to the fridge for his malt whiskey, but he was too busy losing brain cells to think anything else as the vision seared through nerves all too familiar with how it felt.

As the vision began to pass, Doyle slowly opened his eyes.

"What did you see?" Angel asked.

"Whiskey first," Doyle mumbled. As soon as he was able to stand on his own two feet, he slumped down onto the green couch and took the whiskey-filled glass from Cordelia's hands, graciously. "Thanks, Princess." With one swift gulp, the liquid disappeared. "Demons," he answered simply, bringing the cool glass to his forehead.

"Okay. Vague much?" Cordelia said.

Doyle peered at Cordy without much expression on his face. "Lots of demons. All over the city. Vanishing. Some being killed in their homes or on the streets. Mostly just disappearing." Doyle wanted to explain as much as possible. "I dunno. The Powers That Be aren't always that specific with their messages. I just tell it like I painfully see it."

"It's all right," Angel said. "We've got missing demons on our hands. Not exactly something we usually look into, but -- "

Cordelia grimaced in slight confusion. "Uh... okay. Someone want to tell me again why evil, missing demons is a bad thing?"

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

Angel: Changes in Seasons

"Against the Odds"

Written by: Holly

Edited by: Hillary, Settiai, and WesleysGirl

♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

Downstairs in his apartment, Angel was pouring hot water into a tea cup at the table where Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was sitting, watching the vampire with a careful eye.

"Here," Angel said, pushing the cup over to Wesley.

"Thank you," Wesley replied in his British accent. Angel busied himself with placing the tea pot back on the stove. "Angel... you can't ignore this recent vision of Doyle's. If the Powers That Be sent him a vision about demons turning up missing, then I'd wager that the nature of this vision is quite important."

Angel leaned against the kitchen counter and folded his arms. Wesley's cup of tea was steaming on the table before him. "Wes... I never thought I'd say this, but I think Cordelia might have a point. How bad can a couple of missing demons be? We're the guys that are trying to downsize the swell in their numbers. This is just... like an added bonus. Less work for us."

Wesley, rogue demon hunter that he was -- or had been -- couldn't simply let this subject rest. On the contrary. He had to push it, and push it he would. "I understand this, Angel, but haven't you considered the fact that these demons might be good demons? You of all people should be well aware of the possibility. We have our very own specimen upstairs.

"Doyle isn't a specimen, Wes. He's a human being."

"Half," Wesley corrected. "Half-human. Half-Brachen demon. A species of demons that are widely regarded as being rather docile."

"Your point?"

"Do I need one? Angel, this -- "

"Is not important," Angel finished for Wesley. "We're the good guys. We fight the battle against demons. It's what we do; it's what we've always done." He unfolded his arms and gestured to Wesley's untouched tea cup as he moved away from the kitchen area. "Your tea's getting cold."

***

Doyle was tapping away at the computer on Cordelia's desk as she watered the plants around the office while humming to herself, a little off-key. After a few minutes, he leaned back from the computer and crossed his arms across his chest while studying her movements. Tilting his head to one side, he rose and gave her a slight grin. "Penny for your thoughts, love?"

Cordy's head immediately snapped around to look at Doyle. "What'd you say?"

"I said 'penny for your thoughts.' Why?"

"No." She shook off what he'd just said with a gesture of her hand. "The other part."

"Love?"

"Yeah."

For a moment, it seemed as if the two of them were almost on the same wavelength, but the furrowing of Doyle's brow proved otherwise -- it was like he didn't have the slightest idea what the word 'love' had anything to do with. "What about it?" he inquired.

Cordelia frowned at him, then dismissed it. "Nothing."

"Okay," Doyle replied, still sounding very much confused, as the office door opened and in stepped a woman with curly, dirty blonde hair. "Harry," he said out loud, greeting his ex-wife by standing up and walking over to her. She held a small basket in her arms, complete with clear, green decorative wrap and filled with goodies.

"Hi, Francis. I thought I'd stop by and bring you this. I meant to get it to you sooner but I got busy with these conventions I've been attending all week." Harry handed the basket to Doyle, who took it graciously, checking the contents within it. "I hope you're feeling better."

"Yeah, I am, thanks." With one hand holding the basket and another bracing Harry's arm, Doyle placed a kiss on her cheek with a smile.

Cordelia stood back, wincing inwardly; a pang of jealously sweeping through her body for a moment. But, being the strong person she was, Cordy bit back any more potentials pangs. She flashed Harry a smile.

"Hey, Cordelia," Harry said.

"Hi, Harry."

"So, how are things around here? Busy?"

"On occasion," Cordy answered simply. She placed the watering can down on the desk and her hands on her hips. Why in the hell was she feeling so jealous of Harry all of a sudden? It's wasnít as if Harry and Doyle were a couple anymore. And, to be honest, it's wasnít like she and Doyle were a couple, either.

Yet.

Oh God, Cordy. Get a hold of yourself. If Doyle wants anything with you he's gonna have to make that first move.

"Well, things on my end have been quite more unusual than, well, usual," Harry commented, more to Doyle than Cordelia.

"How so?" he asked.

"These conventions I've been going to? There's usually this huge turn out of all kinds of species. Mostly humans -- Ethnodemonologists like myself -- but there's always a large number of the demon community that attend. They even give these wonderful lectures on their species' history for those interested. They're a friendly bunch. Real sweet and considerate," Harry explained. "Anyway, a lot of the regulars failed to show up this time. And it's totally not like them. I mean, these are the diehard regulars. They've never missed a convention in their lives."

Doyle glanced over his shoulder at Cordelia. "Sounds vaguely familiar," he said as he looked back at Harry.

"Yeah. Small world, I guess," Cordelia remarked flatly.

"What do you mean?" Harry asked. "Is this similar to something you guys are dealing with?"

"Uh... we're not quite sure yet," Doyle said, setting his gift basket down on top of the desk beside the watering can.

At that moment, the clanking of the elevator in Angel's office could be heard clearly from the outer office as the sound of Wesley's voice followed. Doyle rolled his eyes and turned around just as both Wesley and Angel walked into the outer office.

"I still think it's best to look into Doyle's latest vision. I mean, honestly, Angel, must you be so stubborn?"

"Oh, hey Harry," Angel muttered, clearly looking to change the subject.

Turning his head, Wesley looked at Harry with a welcoming smile. "Good morning, Harry. It's nice to see you again."

"Same here." Harry smiled. "What's this about a new vision?"

Doyle, catching his ex-wife's gaze, shrugged. "Nothing really. Just something I saw earlier this morning about some demons going missing."

"Missing demons? As in the kind that have been missing all week from the conventions I've been going to?"

"Those wouldn't be the conventions in Burbank, would they?" Wesley asked curiously.

"Yeah, they are. A lot of the regular attendants haven't showed up, which is very strange for them," Harry said.

Wesley raised an eyebrow at her words. "Really? These demons... they were docile, peace-loving demons?"

"Yeah," Harry replied, with a nod. "Listen, I'd really like to help you guys with this if I can. That is, if you want me to."

"Of course!" Wes announced a little excitedly. "I mean, uh, yes... I can't see any reason why not. Right, Angel?"

"Uh, sure." Angel nodded. "I guess... I guess, yeah. I'll go get the word on the street, while Doyle can fill Harry in on whatever details from the vision he can remember. Wesley... you can, uh... do your thing..."

"I could go collect some of the appropriate books from my flat and bring them back here for a bit of research," Wesley suggested.

"Okay. Do that."

Wesley nodded with a smile and said goodbye while letting his eyes linger on Harry a little bit longer before exiting the office. Cordelia couldn't help but wonder if his interest in Harry was obvious to everyone else, too.

Doyle had Harry sit down on the green couch and Cordelia just stood where she had been standing, quietly. She caught a look from Angel and then followed him into his office, grabbing her magazine off her desk first. Shutting the office door behind her, she cut Angel off on his way to the elevator.

"What is it, Cordelia?" Angel asked.

"Do you know what time it is?"

"Eleven-thirty."

"That's right. Eleven-thirty," she reiterated slowly. "In the morning. As in 'abundance of daylight.' As in, 'you better pack your bathing bonnet and SPF, like, 5000.' Unless you're thinking about becoming a walking manfire, then I suggest you wait 'til the sun goes down to do your snooping work."

Angel frowned. "Cordy..."

"Angel... I can't risk being unemployed right now, and if you go all 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust,' then how am I supposed to afford that chemise sweater I saw on Rodeo?" Cordelia asked. "And let's not forget how Wesley would be out a Boggle partner."

"A Boggle? Wha -- Cordy..."

"What?"

"Sewers. Back entrances. Dark. As in 'no light.' So, I'll be fine, okay?" Angel smirked a little at the look Cordelia knew she was giving him, a cross between exasperated and baffled. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got 'snooping' to do. And you've got... a magazine to skim through, apparently."

With that said, Angel stepped into the elevator and closed the gate. He was facing Cordy as it descended, and Cordelia just let out a sigh. Not out of frustration, per se, but out of... something. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but finger-putting-on she would eventually do. She gave a small smile as she took a bottle of water from the mini-fridge before heading back to the outer office.

***

Downtown, in a store stockroom of sorts, a couple of red-skinned Taknok demon men were carrying boxes and bantering amiably with one another. Their dark eyes were surprisingly lighthearted as a few laughs were shared. When a box was dropped, one of the smaller demon men winced.

"Gosh darn it," he blurted.

"Don't worry, Greb. You don't have anything breakable in your box."

"Thank goodness. I'd really be miffed if it had been glass or something."

Just then, the back door was kicked open, and a bunch of figures dressed in black and wearing black ski masks came bounding into the stockroom, brandishing automatic weapons pointed at the Taknoks. They all dropped their boxes and raised their hands as if they were being busted by the police.

The next thing any of them knew, they were being dragged outside into the alleyway where a white van awaited. The double doors at the back of the vehicle opened up, and the Taknoks were shackled and then thrown into the back of the van. Before the doors closed, some armed figures got in the back as well, while the others piled into the front. Driving away, the van left behind tire tracks and the sound of a slight squeal of the tires themselves.

***

At a seedy demon bar, The Bloody Knuckle, Angel appeared, walking up to the bar and placing a hand on the counter top. The bartender, who seemed to be human, looked up from the glass he was cleaning and narrowed his eyes.

"We don't serve vampires, buddy." The bartender was scruffy and in his mid-thirties, with a buzz cut that made him look like a stocky Army reject.

"I'm not here for a drink, 'pal,'" Angel retorted. "I'm here to ask some questions."

"What are you? A vampire cop? Kinda cheesy if you are. I've seen Forever Knight."

Angel had no idea what Forever Knight was. He put his other hand down on the counter, leaning closer to the bartender. "I'm not a cop. But I am a Private Investigator and I'm in need of answers to a few questions."

"Where's your PI license?"

"In a nice little eight by ten frame in my office," quipped Angel. "Listen, I need to know if you've heard of any demons going missing recently. The non-evil kind. Have you seen or heard anything out of the ordinary?"

"What's it to you?"

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you. Just answer the question."

"No," the bartender replied with a frown. He set the glass down and leaned closer to Angel until their faces were inches apart. "I haven't seen or heard anything out of the ordinary and, frankly, I don't give a damn. Now, get your bloodsucking ass out of my bar and frolic away. Capeche?"

Angel sniffed the bartender slightly, which seemed to perturb the other man. "You're not completely human, so what are you scared of? I don't eat half-breeds," he said. "What are you, exactly?"

"Half Fyarl. On my father's side."

"Yeah," Angel muttered, standing up straight. "There's a lot of that going around."

He lifted his hands from the bar and stepped away without another word, disappearing in one direction while off in a dark corner, in an ugly, red booth, a man sat with a briefcase open and a cell phone held to his ear. His eyes followed Angel's receding form as he spoke into the receiver of his cell.

"Did you get them? All of them? Good, good. My client will be very pleased to hear we've made another successful deal with you. Uh-huh. Yes, definitely. You can expect another check in the mail."

With that, the man at the booth flipped the cell phone closed and pocketed it inside his suit jacket. He looked over at the bar and then closed his briefcase.

A briefcase that had the name Wolfram & Hart engraved in gold letters on it.

***

As late afternoon began to cascade over Los Angeles, traffic thickened as people began to head home from working their nine to five shifts. Back at Angel Investigations, the elevator in Angel's office opened up and Angel walked in, finding both Wesley and Cordelia sitting in there, silently. The occasional laughs from the outer office floated through the air as Angel gave his human employees a questioning look. He noticed the frown that Cordelia was wearing, and that Wesley was flipping through a book.

No surprise there.

Wesley looked up. "Angel," he acknowledged. "Did you find anything out that will help with our research?"

"Your research," Cordelia corrected, looking up as Angel shook his head.

"No," Angel said. "Everywhere I went, whoever I asked said they had no idea what I was talking about. So either they don't know, or... they're covering up something that doesn't want to be -- "

"Uncovered?" Cordy offered.

"Yeah. Pretty much." He sighed a breathless sigh. Leaning with his back against the wall, facing the outer office, he threw a glance out the door and gestured with his head. "Have they been in there all this time?"

Cordy frowned some more. "Uh-huh. The Doyle/Harry bonding fun has been in progress all day," she answered with a fake smile and a singsongy voice. "Jeesh, you'd think they were married or something," she added sarcastically, rolling her eyes. "All they've been doing is talking, laughing and... euch... reminiscing."

Angel smiled at this. "You wouldn't be jealous, would you, Cordelia?"

She gave him a disgusted, 'yeah right' look and rolled her eyes again. "Jealous of what?"

Angel shook his head just as Wesley looked up again from his book. "You know... Harry is a remarkably intelligent woman," he said. "I've read an article she wrote on the mating rituals of Helbur demons. It was a fascinating read."

Cordy grimaced. "Oh please. She's not that special. She studies demons. Big whoop. I work with two part ones. Put 'em together you got one whole demon with a drinking problem and an Irish background. That's, like, hands on. But, y'know. Without my hands literally on something unless I'm cleaning demon goo from my clothes and skin."

At that moment both Doyle and Harry stepped into the doorway connecting the offices with content smiles on their faces, as if they had just finished hearing the greatest story ever told. Angel turned his head before their presence was known to Cordelia or Wes, who both eventually turned to see what was up. While Wesley perked up, Cordelia merely frowned.

"Hey there, Angel. Find anything out?" Doyle asked, folding his arms as he leaned against the doorframe.

"No. Just your basic runaround with a side of nothing much," Angel replied dryly.

"Uh, if you guys want, I could talk to this guy I know who goes to the conventions, too. He has this herbal shop in Korea-town. He might know something," Harry suggested.

Wesley closed his book and stood up with the posture of a true Englishman. "That's a fine idea, Harry. I could join you if you'd like. I'm in the mood for a bit of non-research as it is." Setting the book down on Angel's desk, Wesley looked at Harry as if he expected her to decline his offer.

"Sure, that'd be okay," Harry said. "I'm just glad to help you guys in any way I can."

When Wesley and Harry had left the office, Cordy announced that she was leaving for the day and that if they needed her they should call her at her apartment. That left Angel and Doyle alone.

"Do you think there's something wrong with Cordelia?" Doyle wondered. "She's been, you know, unusually monosyllabic. And for Cordy, that's a rare occurrence."

"Who knows. Maybe she missed a sale at some store or something." Angel shrugged.

"Angel, man, she's not that vain. She's..."

"She's what?"

Doyle shrugged. "Something," he replied, looking rather contemplative, but then shook it off. "So, tell me about what you didn't find out today."

***

In the suburbs of the valley, a family of Gresh'na demons were sitting down for dinner. Two parents and their three children, passing around dishes that looked like something someone vomited up five weeks ago, but was apparently a delicacy. As they began to bow their heads to give thanks, the picture window beside their dining room table shattered and a metal cylinder rolled across the floor.

"What the -- ?"

Smoke began to fill the dining room, and the family began to cough, just as several figures dressed in black and smoke masks came billowing into the room from the front door as fervently as the smoke itself. Brandishing automatic firearms, the figures approached the family that was now slumped in their seats.

"C'mon," said one figure. "Get them into the van. And make it quick."

***

Walking into the hallway outside Angel Investigations' main door about three hours later, Wesley felt as nervous as a school boy walking a girl home after a date.

"Harry, you know... I had a wonderful ti -- " Wesley began as they walked into the outer office. But of course, it had to be that moment that Wesley slipped and fell back onto his, well, back. His hand had shot out to grip the doorknob but he had landed on the linoleum floor despite his efforts.

"Oh, Wesley, are you okay?" Harry asked, rather concerned.

"Uh, yes," Wes bumbled. "The, um, floor tends to be, uh, rather slippery."

As he sat up with Harry's help he looked over to the desk where Angel was hunched over Doyle's shoulder. Both men looked up from the computer screen in time to see Wesley's latest fiasco.

"You okay there, Wesley?" Doyle inquired with an amused grin that suggested he was suppressing his laughter as best as possible.

"Yes, I'm quite all right, thank you, Doyle." Standing up and brushing himself off, Wesley regained his stiff posture as Harry closed the office door. "Where's Cordelia?"

"Went home," Angel answered simply.

"Ah. Shame really."

"Why's that?" Doyle wondered.

"Well, we found out some helpful information at the herbal shop in Korea-town. And I must say I'm impressed with their sales. Buy two vials of mustard seed, get one vile of newt's eye free. Quite a bargain, I'd say..." Wesley said.

"Wes. Information," Angel said.

Wesley looked to Angel and frowned. "Right. Sorry."

Harry smiled. "My demon friend, Kasha, is a Taknok demon. Real peaceful. Very in tune with the cosmos and all that. She owns this herbal shop, like I said. But Kasha said that this morning while she was ringing up a sale, she heard a commotion in the back stockroom. By the time she reached the stockroom, she found the alley-side door wide open and there were tire tracks leading away from the alley."

"Sounds suspicious enough," Doyle commented dryly.

"Yeah, but that's not it," Harry continued. "Wesley and I went to another store where it also appears that a demon employee didn't show up for work today. And in this store a demon customer added that as she was driving up to her daughter's apartment building, a white, unmarked van sped away from the building and literally disappeared into thin air."

"Think it's a coincidence?" Doyle inquired of the souled vampire.

Angel stood up straight before gradually shaking his head. "No. This is all falling into the non-coincidence category," he finally replied as he grabbed his long, black jacket off the coat rack and put it on. "Wes, if Cordy calls by some chance to see how the investigation's going, tell her Doyle and I went to check out a few sources."

"What if she inquires as to where?"

Angel exchanged a look with Doyle, then glanced back to Wesley. "Tell her we went for a pub crawl."

***

Back at the Bloody Knuckle, a group of well-dressed men sat around a table, chatting over a few beers. Over at the bar, the bartender from earlier tilted his head to one side and let it crack, then did the same to the opposite side. As he filled a drink for a female patron, he looked up in time to see Angel approaching with Doyle in tow.

"Hey, buddy, I told you before that I -- "

Before the bartender could finish his sentence, Angel had already jumped over the bar and pinned the bartender to the back wall, causing several bottles of liquor to fall and crash onto the floor along with a few shot glasses. Doyle gave the crowd a slightly nervous scan, checking for any potential bullying-intercepting against Angel.

"What do you know about white, unmarked vans driving off into thin air?" Angel demanded, holding the bartender stiffly by the collar.

"I said I don't -- "

Angel vamped out and Doyle piped in. "Now you've gone and made him mad. See? He's got Game Face."

The bartender gulped at Angel's bared fangs, throwing a glance at Doyle who obviously wouldn't stop Angel any time soon, then looked back at the vampire. "Okay, okay. There's this factory downtown. I overheard some guy talking on his phone... right after you left earlier today. Mentioned some gathering. That's all I know, man. I swear."

"What kind of factory?" Doyle asked.

"Dunno. I think an ice factory or something," the bartender muttered.

Angel released his grip on the schlep with a shove against the wall for good measure, causing yet another grouping of liquor bottles and glasses to fall and shatter on the floor. "Now, was that so hard?" Angel inquired with a smirk. The bartender shook his head as Angel turned away from him and looked to Doyle. "Let's find this ice factory."

As soon as both men were outside of the demon-based bar, they stepped out into the seemingly empty parking lot that was damp from grime and God knew what else. But it had that moist look on the pavement as if it had rained, even though it hadn't.

"So where do you figure this ice factory is?" wondered Doyle with a raised brow.

"Well, I'm thinking we should call Wesley. Get a list of where any or all ice factories in the LA area are and even outside the city."

At that moment, Angel's cell phone began to ring, startling him. Doyle shook his head in exasperation before reaching his hand into Angel's inner coat pocket and pulling out the cell phone. Before he could answer it though, he cried out and grabbed his neck with his free hand, pulling out a dart of some sort. Looking up at Angel with confusion written all over his face, Doyle dropped to his knees and passed out almost immediately.

"Doyle!"

The cell phone fell away from the half-Brachen as Angel bent down to take the dart from his friend's hand. Just as he studied the dart, he, too, winced and grabbed his neck. Pulling out an identical dart, Angel stumbled a little on his feet while vamping out and letting a feral growl emit from deep within his throat. After losing his footing completely, Angel fell down to the ground beside Doyle's unconscious form. Looking up from lying on his back, Angel struggled despite his foggy-minded condition to get back up. Through blurry vision, he vaguely made out two dark figures approaching him just as his consciousness fled.

The two figures approached the unconscious men, holding dart guns in their hands. "Take the vampire. Leave the other one. He's only half demon," ordered the taller figure in a gruff voice.

"So's a vampire," replied the shorter figure.

"Yeah, but this isnít just a normal vampire, idiot."

The shorter figured shot his companion a skeptical look. "He looks like a typical vamp to me."

"Thatís because you donít look at the flyers that the boss passes out," the taller figure shot back. "If you did, youíd recognize him. His nameís Angel, and there are a lot of people out there whoíd be more than willing to shell out a wad of cash to get their hands on him."

With a shrug, the shorter man placed his dart gun in the holster on his hip and began to drag the unconscious Angel away toward a white, unmarked van behind them. Leaving only Doyle, both figures shut the back van doors and hopped into the front. As the van began to drive off out of the parking lot, it disappeared.

Meanwhile, the cell phone beside Doyle continued to ring.

***

It was so quiet in that same parking lot that anyone could easily hear a pin drop. Literally. When the cell phone began to ring again, Doyle stirred instantly. He grimaced and his hands reached out to pull himself up as his green eyes fluttered open groggily.

"Ugh..." he groaned, placing a hand to his forehead. As the ringing began to register in his mind, Doyle turned and picked the cell phone up, turning it on. Upon placing it to his ear he groaned again. "Yeah?"

"You know, the sole purpose for having a phone is to answer it when it rings!"

It was Cordelia.

"Hi to you too, Cordy," Doyle replied sarcastically. "Say, Angel wouldn't be there with you, would he?"

"No. Why? Did you guys find out anything?"

"Yeah. Something about an ice factory," he muttered, standing up on shaky legs. Looking around him, he realized that Angel was nowhere in sight. "Angel, man?" he called out.

"Doyle. Where's Angel?" Cordy asked.

"Not sure. I was hit in the neck with some dart. Bloody thing knocked me out like a light. I'm guessing whoever did it Angel either went after without me or..."

"Or what?"

"Or whoever did it has Angel."

There was silence on Cordy's end as Doyle began to head for Angel's vacant convertible that sat by itself in the parking lot.

"You still there, Cordy?"

"Yeah, just... Angel never goes missing without telling us."

"Well, when people go missing they generally don't have time to leave a forwarding address, if you catch my drift." Doyle sighed as he got into the driver's seat of Angel's car and pulled the spare car key that Angel had given him for times like this out of his jacket pocket.

"You know what I mean," Cordy snipped, then sighed as well. "Okay, well, I called the office and Wes told me something about what he and Harry found out, and something about you and Angel doing a pub crawl, so I figured I'd call you to see if everything was... um... okay."

Doyle smiled as he started up the engine. "Worried about me?"

He could almost see Cordelia rolling her eyes as she told him to shut up. Though, nowadays, he noticed that her insults were emptier. Not that she ever truly meant anything harsh by them even in the beginning, but their relationship had taken a turn. A more confusing turn, but a turn nonetheless. Her playful insults were merely idle threats meant for the sake of her being able to find an excuse to roll her eyes at him.

Doyle hung up the cell phone after agreeing with Cordy to come pick her up at her apartment where she would meet him with a list of ice factories in the LA area. She was going to call Wes and Harry at the office to let them know about Angel.

***

In a warehouse, a white van pulled inside and parked. The huge warehouse doors shut behind the vehicle as two dark figures stepped out and pulled off their black ski masks. They were human in appearance. The taller one had a scar across his left cheek that suggested he had been in a bad fight in the past few weeks. The shorter man walked around to the back of the van.

Meanwhile, Scar walked around several crates marked 'Fragile' were stacked to the opposite side of the warehouse. There was a portal there, swirling before him, and three men guarding it. One of them shoved a shackled demon woman and her teenage daughter into the portal.

"Got a new one," announced Scar. "Mack's bringing him around."

Sure enough, the short man, Mack, appeared from around the stacked crates with a groggy Angel in shackles. He was vamped out and seriously pissed despite still being slightly out of it due to the effects of the dart.

"You brought a vampire?" grimaced one of the guards.

"This isn't just any vampire. He's got a soul."

The guard raised an eyebrow at the manís words. "Where the hell did you get an idea like that?"

"A little birdie told us," Scar replied sarcastically. "But really, imagine how much someone would pay to have a vampire with a soul as their slave."

"Plus, it was either him or his half Brachen friend," Mack piped in. "Not to mention this guy was coming to check this place out. Foil what we got goin' on."

"Next!" a guard exclaimed.

Angel began to come to as another demon was brought forth and shoved into the portal. Trying to get the upper hand, he tried to stage a fight, but hitting Scar's fist with his face didn't really work out well. Pissed about the escape attempt, Scar personally shoved Angel into the portal.

Where it was taking him, Angel didn't know.

***

On the other side of the portal, Angel fell face first onto a hard surface. Scrambling to his feet, he discovered that he was in a prison-like room. Gray concrete floors and walls... doors made of steel bars. And he wasn't alone. In this room there were the three demons that had been shoved through the portal before him, along with almost a hundred others. Just by sensing the place out, Angel came to a realization. "I'm the only vampire here," he muttered.

"Ding, ding, ding. Tell him what he's won, Bob!" A human man placed a hand on Angel's shoulder and grinned. Then his facial expression changed to authoritative. "Get with the others!"

With a shove at his back, Angel stumbled forward into the demonic crowd.

"Men over here. Take the women and children and place them downstairs in the 'waiting room'."

As the men were separated from the women and children, Angel had an odd feeling that this was going to be some sort of demonic holocaust. As he looked around at the group of male demons around him, he sensed someone approach him. Someone human. And sure enough, one of the human guards walked up to him and placed a name card around his neck that read:

Item: 071264
Vampire w/ a soul
Age: 246

"Get these guys ready for auction!" the guard in front of Angel told the others.

***

Doyle arrived back at Angel Investigations with Cordelia, who was carrying a large phone book in her arms.

"You know, Princess, we do have a phone book here in the office."

"Yeah. But this is the newest addition," she said, shaking her phone book slightly as if to make her point right there. "The office one is from last year."

Doyle shrugged; she did have a point.

"Francis... what happened?" Harry's voice rang out.

He cast her a look and sighed. "I thought Cordelia called here."

"She did, but all we got was a quick 'Doyle, dart. Angel, gone. Ice factory,' and then she hung up," Wesley piped in. He stood up, wiping his eyeglasses with a handkerchief.

"Would you rather I rambled, like, say... you?" Cordelia shook her head. "No, thank you. Cliff notes are just as good." She set the phone book down on her desk and flipped to the spot she had bookmarked in the yellow pages.

"Angel and I found out something about an ice factory that probably connects to this whole demon disappearance case. But when we got outside this bar, I got shot in the neck with a dart and passed out. I don't know what happened to Angel. He was gone when Cordy's phone call woke me," Doyle explained.

"This is pretty serious then," Harry remarked.

"Well, yeah. I mean, our boss is missing, no thanks to certain information about white, unmarked vans and Korea-town shop owners missing a few demon stock boys."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Harry asked, placing her hands on her hips.

Cordy sighed and looked up from scanning the yellow pages. Both Doyle and Wesley exchanged uneasy glances.

"It means Angel wouldn't be AWOL if you hadn't butted into our investigation and led him in the AWOL-induced direction."

"Cordelia -- " Wesley started, as if about to chastise her like a little girl. Instead, she sent him a look that said 'don't even think about it, bucko' that caused the Brit to shut up.

"Well, it's not like you guys were actually doing any investigating before I offered to help," Harry retaliated indignantly.

Before Cordelia could get the chance to say anything back to Harry and rip her a new one, Doyle stepped up to play referee. "All right, ladies. Let's all just all take a chill pill, okay? Harry, your help has been much appreciated. Cordy's just a little stressed right now." Upon Cordy opening her mouth to speak, Doyle gave her a look. "Have you found any ice factories, there, Cordelia?" He figured changing the subject was the way to go.

Nodding, Cordy ripped the page out of her phone book and folded it in half. "Yeah," she nodded. "There's a G & N Ice Factory just outside the valley, and a Jericho Ice Factory here in the city. I say we go with Jericho."

"All right," he said, stealing a look at Harry. "Why don't you stay here with Wesley some more and look up anything about these missing demons. Like, their habits or something."

"Their habits? How do you mean?" inquired Wesley.

Doyle rolled his eyes in exasperation. "I dunno, man. Anything. Do they prefer to mate during the springtime? Are they weak little things? Do they enjoy long walks on the beach under a moonlit sky? That sorta thing." Walking over to Cordelia, he looked at the page she had folded. "Okay," he said, looking at her. "Why don't you come with me to this ice factory?"

Sharing a glance with him, Cordy slowly nodded. Placing his hand on the small of her back, Doyle led Cordelia to the main door and looked at Wesley.

"If you find anything about the demons' habits, give us a ring."

***

People of all different genders and species were walking in and out of the crowd of 'items.' Angel just so happened to be one of those items. Dressed only in his black slacks and his wife beater with the name card around his neck, Angel stood uncomfortably in the same cell-like room as before. A few human women seemed to work their way through the crowd to purposely get a glimpse of the handsome vampire with a soul. One of those women was a long-legged brunette with some waves and lighter brown highlights.

"So, you're the infamous vampire with a soul?" she inquired from the other side of the cell, the corner of her lips curling up in a smile. Angel didn't reply, but he did take a few steps closer to the bars.

The woman sipped the champagne from her champagne glass rather languidly. "The name's Lilah Morgan. Cat got your tongue?" Lilah studied his hard facial features and shook her head. "Okay, fine -- don't answer me. But, if you ever decide to change over to the dark side..."

Pulling a business card out of her purse, she held it up to his face. It read:

WOLFRAM & HART
Attorneys At Law

"Give me a call," she said seductively as she reached her hand in through the cellís bars. "We could do great business together."

Tucking the business card into his pants pockets, Lilah grinned coyly and sauntered away from Angel. His eyes left her receding form with a bit of relief, but now at least he knew that Wolfram & Hart was behind this. Or, at least, had a foot in this operation. As he turned his head to the left, he was met with a demonic man who resembled Gary Oldman as the pale, aged Dracula in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

"You're a wonderful item," the man cooed, in a sickeningly sweet tone. If Angel hadn't been so good at keeping his composure, he'd have shuddered. Poking a long, bony finger into Angel's chest, the pale demon grinned, baring pointed, yellow teeth that were slick with saliva. "A vampire with a soul. That makes you one of a kind, doesn't it? You wouldn't be the infamous Angelus would you? Would you?"

Angel kept a straight face, refusing to answer. The pale demon raised his hand above his head and snapped his fingers. Within moments, a human guard was at his side.

"Is there a problem, Mr. Ghorden?"

"This vampire refuses to answer my questions. Make him speak."

"Speak, vampire," the guard ordered.

Angel just looked at him.

Taking out a stun gun, the guard zapped Angel in the neck and Angel hissed, vamping out. "Speak."

"Bite me," Angel growled through his teeth.

"Now, now, Angelus. No need for cross words," Ghorden wagged his bony finger in front of Angel's face. He turned to the guard and gestured to Angel's beater. "He looks strong enough. I am pleased with his features so far as well. Take off his shirt."

***

"This the place?" Doyle inquired, looking at the building before them. "Doesn't exactly look like a factory. I mean, where are the smoke stacks?"

"The sign says Jericho Ice, idiot. I'd say this was it."

Doyle and Cordelia had pulled up outside the Jericho Ice factory in Angel's car and were now walking quietly toward a door to the side of the building.

"No need to get hostile, princess. I'm just stating a fact that it doesn't look like a factory."

"I'm not being hostile," Cordelia insisted. "You're just being..."

"What? What am I being?"

"Shut up."

"See? Now you're just being mean," Doyle frowned.

"No," she shook her head, whispering to him. "Shut up." She pulled him behind a dumpster while pointing to two men dressed in black standing outside the door with cigarettes in their hands.

"Oh," he replied, watching the men take a few long drags from their cigarettes. "I think we should follow 'em inside. I got a feeling that we can find Angel by going in there."

"Do you think maybe Angel just... followed them here, or something? Maybe he's lying in wait to make his move."

Doyle smiled at Cordelia. "I don't wanna be Mr. Pessimist Guy, but I doubt that's the situation here."

He studied Cordy's face as she frowned. He felt slight twinge of jealousy that Cordelia was so worried about Angel, but he had to reassure himself that it was because Angel was her friend. When she turned to face him, she caught his stare. He was going to look away quickly to play it off as nothing, but the way she held his gaze made his knees all buttery. Doyle somehow couldn't pull away. Just the opposite. He felt himself being drawn closer to her face. And it wasn't just him. Cordy felt it, too; he was sure of it.

But then the side, metal door of the factory slammed shut and startled both Doyle and Cordelia, and before anything could happen, their faces pulled back and looked toward the factory again. The two men had disappeared, obviously having returned inside.

"Uh, they, um, went inside," Doyle commented.

"Yeah, I noticed," Cordelia said.

***

The dim lights seemed to give Angel Investigations' outer office an intimate glow. A glow that made Wesley's palms sweat each time he glanced up at Harry. Even more so when she caught his look and smiled. She was such a smart, beautiful woman that he was completely baffled as to why Doyle could've ever let her go.

Wesley looked up again and smiled at the way Harry's curls tumbled down around her face. She was looking down at the book in her lap and biting her lip at the same time.

"Uh..." Wesley started.

Harry glanced up at Wesley. "What?"

"Oh, um, I was going to say that I'm sorry for how Cordelia acted before. She tends to speak before she thinks."

Smiling, Harry shook her head. "Don't worry about it, Wesley. I understand that Cordelia is worried about Angel being missing."

"Still, I'm sorry about that."

"Thanks," she replied. The book on her lap slipped off onto the floor. Wesley grabbed it with surprisingly good reflexes before it hit the linoleum. He placed it back on her lap and they smiled at each other. "Thanks again."

"You're welcome."

***

A now shirtless Angel stood in a different, large room with the other demon men, pacing along the barred doors as a demon man was led out of the room by two human guards with rifles.

"You shouldn't worry so much, brother. Whatever will happen to us is meant to be," a demon said to Angel.

The souled vampire looked at the demon man whose skin was green and scaly, almost like a lizard's. "Where are they taking him?" Angel asked.

"To auction. His destiny will be to serve whoever pays the most. It is our path. Serving the stronger ones. It is something all of us must accept."

"What are you? A guru? We're going to be auctioned away! We'll never see our loved ones again," another demon piped up angrily.

"I heard that they auction our loved ones away too. Our women and children. Split apart so that the evil and wealthy of society can have their own personal slaves. And those of us who are weak are killed. Some flayed alive," yet another demon added. "We don't stand a chance. We gotta do what they say so they don't kill us."

Angel rolled his eyes and folded his arms. "You guys are giving up this easily?" he asked.

"Well, yeah. We can't do anything. They've got weapons. They can kill us dead on the spot before we could lift a hand."

Angel shook his head. He couldn't believe these guys. "You're demons. They're humans. You could take them."

"We could die," one said.

"Or die trying. And I don't wanna die," added another.

"Only the strong can survive."

"Then be strong," Angel insisted.

"But we don't believe in violence. It's not our way. Violence is not the answer," insisted Lizard Demon Guy.

"Maybe not," Angel muttered, turning from them and placing his hands on the barred door. "But sometimes it's the only solution."

As the two human guards returned to the caged room, then opened the door, Angel tensed, planning to use this chance to get away... somehow.

But the guards pointed to him and dragged him out while re-shackling him.

"You're next, vampire."

***

Angel walked slowly out into a smaller room, shackled at the wrists and ankles. The area was round with flat walls that led up to a balcony for spectators so they could look in on a fight below. But, instead, there was a platform which Angel was led onto by the guards, who brandished spear-like stakes pointed at him.

"Ladies and gentlemen, feast your eyes on Auction Item # 071264; Angel, the vampire with a soul. Formerly known as Angelus, once the Scourge of Europe. Sired in Galway in 1753, this one is a classic. Vampires like this are hard to come by these days. And let's not forget that this one is the only one with a soul!" came the announcer's voice from seemingly out of nowhere. "Just imagine how guilty he'll feel to do your bidding when you threaten an innocent life!"

Angel glowered, keeping his head down, trying to think up a plan. But that spear-like stake wasn't looking too friendly at the moment.

***

"Ow," Cordy murmured as Doyle stepped on the heel of her foot as they snuck through the side door to Jericho Ice. "Watch it."

"Sorry," he replied sheepishly, still kind of in thought about coming so close to kissing her not a few minutes earlier. He moved around to the front of Cordelia, placing his left hand on her right arm and leading her toward the sound of voices on the other side of a bunch of stacked crates. Holding a finger to his lips, he motioned for her to take a peek through an opening in the crates. "Tell me what ya see on the other side."

Cordy nodded her head and hunched over to peer through the gap. Biting her lip, she squinted. "Three guards. One is definitely a demon. The others, I think, are human," she said. "And... they're guarding a portal."

"A portal?"

Standing up straight, she looked at Doyle and frowned. "Yeah. A portal. You know... big swirly thing of color, usually a mix of blue and white with some purple or silver for good measure, that leads to another place," she said sarcastically, just above a whisper. She gestured for him to take a peek.

Bending down a bit, Doyle did so and scrunched his nose as he squinted. "Yeah. That's a portal, alright."

"Duh. I said that."

"I think that may be where Angel's gone," he replied, standing up.

"What makes you think that?"

Doyle shrugged. "Call it a hunch."

"Well, this hunch of yours better be a hundred percent accurate, 'cause I don't like the look of those guys," Cordelia replied, gesturing to the gap but making reference to the three guards. She made a face to suggest the whole situation was slightly giving her the heebies and Doyle just watched her expression.

You're a damn idiot, Francis, he thought to himself. You should've kissed her when you had the chance. What if you die tonight and you never tell her how you truly feel? What if --

"What?" came Cordelia's voice, cutting through his daze like a hot knife through butter.

"Huh?" Doyle wondered, snapping out of it. "Oh, uh... nothing."

***

"Let's start the bidding at $3,000!" called the announcer.

Angel finally lifted his head, taking in the sight of all the potential bidders ready to win him and use him. If he weren't, well, him, he'd probably feel pretty cheap. But he was Angel. Champion. He could get himself out of this. Right? He'd gotten himself out of worse jams before. Surely a --

Ow!

Angel turned his head toward the guard poking his left arm with the spear-like stake. He flinched, jerking slightly away from the guard. Looking back up, he spotted Lilah Morgan, the Wolfram & Hart lawyer, up in the spectator's balcony amongst the other bidders, sipping from her champagne glass and holding a bidding fan in her free hand while a smirk danced about her lips.

***

Standing beside Doyle, stealing the occasional glance around the side of the crates rather than straining to peek through the gap, Cordelia started to giggle. Doyle instinctively clamped his hand over her mouth and gave her his 'serious' look.

"What are you laughing for?"

Shoving his hand away, she pulled her cell phone from her pocket and held it up as the slight buzz of it vibrating was pointed out by Cordelia. "It tickled," she whispered, flipping it open. "Hello?"

"It's me."

"Me who?"

"Cordelia."

"Oh, hi Wesley. What's up?" She motioned to the phone for Doyle to try and listen in with her, and he more than obliged. Hell. A chance to be close to her? As if he wasn't going to take it. "Doyle's listening too so speak away."

"All right, well, Harry and I came across the species of demons that we know about that have gone missing. Taknok, Gresh'na, Helbur, Gorth, Voynek..."

"Yeah, yeah... what about them?" Cordelia cut Wesley off.

"They're all particularly strong demons. Quite strong, actually. All are docile in nature, but they're all quite capable of causing damage if they put their minds to it. Because of their beliefs of nonviolence, they won't fight to save themselves. They're extremely passive and willing to let themselves be, well, kidnapped, I guess."

"Makes sense, seeing as that's what happened to them," Doyle quipped, his ear practically pressed against Cordy's as he listened in on what Wesley said.

"So they just need a little fire lit under their demon butts. No problem," Cordy said adamantly.

"I hope that helps you two out," Wesley said helpfully. "You haven't found Angel yet, have you?"

"No, but we're working on it," Doyle replied.

As soon as Cordy hung the cell phone up and placed it back in her pocket, she looked at Doyle. "We got a plan?"

"Well, there are three guards. So... well... you take the one on the right, I'll take the two on the left," he divvied.

"What should I do?"

"Hit him on the head. You're good at that," Doyle shrugged.

"Okay."

He peered around the corner of the crates to see the guards all nonchalantly talking to one another as Cordy looked around them for a weapon. When she spotted a random piece of plywood leaning against the crates, she picked it up. "How about this?"

Doyle turned to face her and looked the piece of wood over. "It's fine. Now, on my count, we'll try and beat the hell out of 'em, okay?"

Cordy nodded in agreement.

"One... two... three!"

Doyle and Cordelia charged out from behind the crates and Doyle immediately jumped on one of his two allocated guards while Cordy scurried up to hers, a human male about thirty with red, spiky hair and a matching goatee.

"Hey there, sweet cheeks," her guard said with a malicious grin, ready to lift his gun on her.

But before he got the chance, Cordy whacked the plywood across his face and then on the top of his head until he fell to the ground. As soon as he did, Cordy kicked him in the gut and looked over to see Doyle struggling with both guards. "Never let a man do a woman's job," she mumbled.

The demon guard had Doyle caught in a headlock while the second human guard was kicking Doyle in the gut.

"Hey!" Cordy shouted to the human guard who, upon turning toward her, was met with the plywood hard across his face. He crumpled to the ground like a sack of coal.

Using Doyle as a shield of sorts, the demon guard snickered. "One more move, sweetheart, and I'll snap his neck," he threatened.

Cordy rolled her eyes. "Pfft! Go ahead. I dare you."

For a moment the demon guard was kind of dumbfounded. As was Doyle, who was trying to see where Cordy was going with all this with eyes full of worry. "You kidding?" asked the guard.

"No. I don't care about him," Cordy insisted, hoping the guard wouldn't call her bluff.

"Okay then," he shrugged.

In the instant the guard made the movement to snap Doyle's neck, Doyle quickly changed into his demon form. A loud cracking sound sent a horrible chill down Cordy's back as she watched Doyle's body slump to the ground. Energized by fear, she came at the demon guard full force as she kneed him in the groin and began pummeling and whacking his head with the plywood until he went down as lumpily as his partners.

Cordelia then crouched down at Doyle's side and touched his demon face, worry lines creasing across her forehead as she bit her lip. "Oh God. Doyle, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it. I was bluffing to him... oh God."

Just then Doyle's demonic red eyes popped open and startled Cordelia half to death. As he sat up, she placed a hand on his chest, searching his face to see if he was okay. Snapping his neck back into place, he shook the demon visage away and semi-glared at her. "I really wish you would've discussed that little plan with me first, princess," he grumbled, rubbing his neck. "If I hadn't changed, I'd really be dead."

"I'm sorry."

"I thought you didn't care?" he snipped as Cordelia helped him up to his feet. To say the least, he was pretty shaken by his near death experience.

"Of course I care, Doyle. I was only bluffing," she insisted in her defense. "I didn't think he'd actually believe me."

"Well, it was pretty believable from my point o' view."

"I said I was sorry," she replied sheepishly.

Doyle looked at her and placed a hand to her chin and lifted her face to his. "It's okay. I'm alive and that's all that matters, right? I'm not dead, and hell... ya did some fine acting, that's for sure," he said with a smirk. "I think I smell an Oscar."

Smiling back, Cordelia turned to look at the unattended portal and Doyle followed her gaze.

"So, you were saying something about a hunch?" Cordelia asked.

"Yeah," Doyle nodded, taking a deep breath. He gestured toward the portal. "Ladies first? Or you wanna stay behind and give these guys another few lumps if they wake up?"

She shook her head. "No. I'm coming, too. We'll go at the same time."

Semi-surprised, Doyle offered her his hand and she took it. Stepping directly in front of the portal, both tightened their grips on each other's hand and then jumped.

***

"How about 20,000? 20,000. Can I hear 25,000?" came the announcer's voice. Angel still couldn't figure out where the voice was coming from. It was like it was everywhere at once. "25,000 to Wolfram & Hart. What about 30,000?"

Angel lifted his head and glanced up at Lilah, who was just putting her bidding fan down.

"Come on, people. We're talking about a genuine, one of a kind, vampire with a soul. Two-hundred and forty-five years of infamy!"

More bidders' hands flew up.

"30,000 to Mr. Ghorden."

"Uh... fifty thousand dollars!" came a familiar voice. Angel looked through the crowd of bidders to find Doyle standing beside Cordelia. Doyle had somehow managed to grab himself a bidding fan.

"50,000 to the Irish fellow next to the pretty lady. How about 55,000?"

Before anyone had the chance to bid, Doyle piped up again. "Fifty-five thousand an..." he rummaged through his coat pocket and pulled out a few dollar bills. "Fifty-five thousand and six dollars!"

Cordelia rolled her eyes and whispered in his ear. "Keep stalling the auction. I'll try and find the other demons and light a fire under their unflamey butts."

With a nod, Doyle watched Cordelia disappear through the crowd.

"Uh... sixty-seven thousand!" Doyle's voice rang.

***

Cordelia tip-toed through an all-concrete hallway where she spotted a guard with a sword at his side. Sneaking up to him, she slipped the sword away, quietly, but when he turned at the sensation of his weapon moving, Cordy whacked him across the face with the butt of the sword. He went down, which drew the attention of the demons locked in the cell-esque room across the hallway.

"Who are you?" asked the 'guru' demon.

"Someone who's trying to save you."

"Save us? You're just a girl," another demon scoffed.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. Now she knew why Buffy hated that line. "Well, I don't see the rest of you doing anything to save yourselves or the others," Cordy snipped. "I'm gonna get you all out of here so you can fight back."

"But, miss, we do not -- "

"Fight. Yeah, whatever. Blah, blah, blah. We believe in nonviolence and stuff. You really need to shut up and fight back, because good demons like you are being auctioned away into servitude and that is so wrong. Is that what you want? To be slaves?"

"Of course not, but -- "

"No. No buts. Either you do or you don't. And if you don't, then I advise you to get up off your asses, take a vacation from your Gandhi mantra and kick some much needed ass," Cordelia said with her fiery spirit.

"Fighting is not the answer."

"It is when others like you are going missing, becoming slaves, and dying. You think you're strong by refusing to rise to their levels? Well, I say rise above their levels. You wanna bare the guilt of knowing you could've done something to save innocent lives, but didn't? Fine! So be it! Be stubborn! I'm not stopping you! But my friend is out there and I'm risking my own life by trying to help him. And I'm human. You're demons. You can easily take those other guys 'cause you're, like, really strong and more superior than they'll ever be!"

This seemed to motivate them enough so that one demon spoke up. "Maybe she's right."

"Of course I'm right," she insisted indignantly. "So, get up off your nonviolent asses and fight the good fight."

Definitely instilled with the fire they needed, the demons in their cells begin rattling and banging against the walls with determination to save themselves and their kind. It was almost like one of those touching Hallmark moments, Cordelia thought, as she scurried over to the unconscious guard and grabbed the keys from him, unlocking the first cell. Demons spilled out and began heading in all directions. Handing the keys to the 'guru' demon, Cordy smiled.

"Thank you, miss. We shall do this to save our kind. You've shown us the error of our ways and we are grateful."

"Stop being mushy. Here're the keys."

Guru demon nodded. "Thank you."

As he began to turn from her, Cordy went, "Ooh!" He turned back just as she pulled out a business card. "Here. If you know of any helpless or hopeless that need saving, give us a call."

With another nod, Guru demon walked off, passing out keys and handing out orders on freeing the women and children. Meanwhile, Cordy took off the way she came.

***

Heads were bouncing between Mr. Ghorden, Lilah and Doyle as the bids were thrown back and forth. Doyle was mid-bid as Cordelia stepped back through the crowd and touched his arm.

"Three million, two hundred and forty-three thousand, nine hundred dollars and... fifty-six cents!"

Cordelia gave him a befuddled look. "Now you're just being ridiculous," she muttered.

"Hey, it's been working so far," he muttered back, just as the doors to the auction block area burst open and the released demons spilled forth. They charged in and easily took out the guards. From up above, the bidders and patrons and other onlookers began filing out, some just about running in the face of the chaos.

"Hey, guys!" Angel shouted to the demons, gesturing to his shackled self. "A little help here."

As a demon freed Angel from his restraints, the souled vampire disappeared amongst the crowd below only to reappear moments later on the balcony beside Doyle, startling the half-demon. "Angel, man. Wanna try not sneaking up on me sometime?"

"Yeah, but then it wouldn't be fun," Angel said. "Pretty hefty bidding there. And it seems someone rallied the troops."

Cordy raised her hand slightly. "Ah, that'd be me."

"Really?" Angel asked, clearly impressed.

"Yeah... what can I say? I know how to light a fire under demon asses and make them stand up against the odds. Especially when the odds are in their favor."

The last part, she gave Doyle a hint-like smile before turning her smile on Angel. Of course, this left Doyle looking at Cordelia, trying his damnedest to read between the lines of what she just said.

"Well, thanks for coming to my rescue, guys," Angel said appreciatively.

Dragging his gaze away from Cordelia's face, Doyle turned to his best friend, the vampire with a soul. "No problem."

Angel grinned self-consciously. "Though, I gotta admit I feel kind of awkward being -- "

"The damsel in distress?" Cordy offered, slightly joking.

"I was gonna say 'incapable of saving myself'," Angel muttered, furrowing his brow just a bit.

"Hey. That's what we're here for, man," Doyle added. "You scratch our backs, we scratch yours and all that. He took in a glimpse of Cordy smiling.

"Well, it seems like we got these demons to save themselves as well."

"All in a night's work."

The three of them turned around with a nod that suggested the saying 'Our work here is done' as they walked away from the thinning crowd.

***

Back at the office, the next day, Doyle walked in with the mail in his hands while Cordy was once again watering the office plants.

"Morning, Cordelia," he said cheerfully.

"Morning."

"Where's the big guy?"

"Sleeping," she replied. "Or brooding downstairs with a side of Tai Chi and Embarrassment."

Doyle's brow crossed with confusion. "Embarrassment?"

"Yeah. I think he's still a little wigged out about last night. You know. Being the 'damsel' and all."

"What about Wussley?" He grinned and gave her an exaggerated wink. "I mean, Wesley?"

Cordy gave him a knowing look. "Out getting coffee with Harry."

"What?" asked Doyle, all traces of amusement draining from his face.

"She stopped by earlier to return a book of his from last night. She asked him if he wanted to get a cup of coffee before she headed to this seminar that she invited him to," Cordelia explained, placing the watering can down on the floor. "Something about Jesilac demons and how they shed skins when they're going through demon-puberty or something. I dunno. Nerd stuff."

Doyle noticed the look on Cordelia's face and inwardly smacked himself. "Cordy... about last night... when you said you cared. I... I didn't mean to say you didn't or anything. I was just..."

"Don't worry about it, Doyle. We all say vague things. Sometimes we remember them, sometimes we don't. And sometimes one person remembers and wonders if what was said was a slip-up or the truth," Cordy commented, looking down slightly and biting her bottom lip for a brief moment.

She picked up her purse and pointed to the mail. "Feel free to take the mail to Angel or whatever. I've got an audition..."

Doyle watched her, dumbfounded. "I'll, uh, see ya later, then."

"Okay."

After Cordelia shut the office door, Doyle stared after her and dropped the mail on her desk.