Title: An Angel in New York
Authors: Pat and Michelle Weakley
Every city has its own energy, Angel reflected as the hotel shuttle crept its way through the New York traffic. Just like people. In front, just behind the driver sat Gunn. Gunn would've preferred to have sat in front, shot gun, he called it, but the driver had quickly nixed that. "Nobody in the front seat," he had growled when Gunn had pulled the passenger door open. Gunn had never been in New York and his uneasiness at being in a strange city radiated from him in nearly palpable waves.
Behind Gunn were Cordy and Fred, chattering away excitedly as they passed by brightly lit stores filled with glamorously dressed manikins and expensive gifts. Remembering the days when she used to regularly visit New York with her once-wealthy family, Cordy's happy voice filled the air with the glories of shopping, shopping and more shopping.
Lastly was Connor, sitting beside him. Connor was quiet. In his teenage manner, he hadn't said a word. He was hunter alert, but it was obvious that the young man was awestruck by the tall buildings that hemmed them in from all sides.
While LA had more than its share of tall buildings it was very different from New York. Even at night, the only time Angel really ever saw LA, the city seemed to be dominated by the sun. There were the nearby beaches, the palm trees and the mild weather, even in the middle of winter. People might be busy, rushing and there was always the traffic, but there was a different tenor. In sprawling LA, like most of sunny Southern California, there was a certain live and let live attitude, occasionally defiant, but accepting of differences; a kind of let it all hang out attitude where anger quickly dissipates like a rainstorm that blows in from the sea, dumps its load and then is quickly gone.
New York, with its sky crowding buildings, is a canyon of humanity. Angry voices, brash and grating, noisy honking horns, impatience and an in your face attitude dominates. On the sidewalks people walk nearly shoulder to shoulder, yet are fiercely protective of their private space. Crowding the street from sidewalk to sidewalk, breathing great plumes of grey clouds into the cold air, cars, taxis and buses slowly creep impatiently along past cars and trucks that are double and triple parked. Even at night everyone has somewhere to go and is in a hurry to get there.
Angel was starting to have second thoughts about going to New York, but Cordelia had insisted. An old friend of her family's had invited them to stay in her New York apartment while she was away in Spain. Angel had been reluctant, so had Gunn, but Cordy and a thrilled Fred had overruled every one of their objections. Besides after everything that had happened they all needed a break, especially Cordelia. Also it wouldn't hurt to show Connor a bit more of the world, although Fred's suggestion about having a white Christmas didn't really apply to New York. Better to have gone off to Vermont or somewhere else in New England for the joys of a winter wonderland.
However the reservations had been made and the bags had been packed with the girls bubbling over with excitement and the men groaning under the weight of the suitcases. Even occasionally Connor's reserve would crack enough to show a brief grin, although Angel wasn't sure whether it was the anticipation of a trip or the girls who had brought it on.
Sneaking a quick look at Connor who still had eyes only for the bright neon of Times Square outside the shuttle's window, Angel could barely hide his own grin at the memory of the flight out of LA. It wasn't until the first plane had flown in low over them near the airport that he had remembered that Connor was still new to this world. Reacting to the ground-shaking blast of the jet engines close overhead, Connor had been ready to leap out of the convertible to do battle with the silver-white beast that had blindingly lit up the night sky.
Connor had never been close to a plane, never mind riding one. Younger, he might have been filled with questions that needed to be asked and answered. As a teenager, he could only pretend that there was nothing that could faze him. Angel had made sure that he had sat next to Connor on the plane, not so much as to reassure the young man, but to make sure he didn't try to bolt out of the plane while it was in midair. Connor had reacted well to the take off, although his hands had gripped the armrests tight enough to put dents in them. The few air pockets they had hit occasionally paled Connor's already fair complexion, but then even Gunn's mocha complexion seemed to get a few shades lighter whenever the plane unexpectedly dipped and rose like a ship on the sea. It was only after Gunn's skin started assuming a green shade worthy of Loren's that Angel had remembered that this was the first time for him as well.
"There it is!" Cordy squealed, pointing a building that was shouldered between two much newer and taller buildings. It was very old, at least 100 to 150 years old with great grey gargoyles guarding its corners and elaborate vines and leaves decorating its brightly lit windows. At the door a pair of massive Atlas' held up on their shoulders a lintel made to look like a vine shrouded log.
"Isn't it beautiful?" Fred enthused to Gunn.
Gunn looked at the building, frowned his opinion, then said, "Yeah."
"It's very historical," Cordelia said as she led them off the shuttle. "The builder was very famous. They say he died very mysteriously," she explained.
"That's all we need," Gunn groused under his breath to Angel as they started pulling all the luggage off the shuttle. He glared up at the building. "If you ask me, there wasn't anything mysterious about his death. He probably died of embarrassment."
"I like mysterious," Connor said, "You think there might be ghosts or demons around?" he asked. "Do you think there are vampires in New York?"
"Even if there are," Cordelia answered primly, "You're not going out to hunt them." Then she called to the green-uniformed doorman who was muscling their mountain of baggage through the wide double doors, "Now you be careful with that," she ordered
Connor frowned, disappointed. "We're here to relax," she said firmly as she turned back to him. "We're going to pretend we're normal people. No demon hunting on this trip."
Connor looked at Angel meaningfully, "Normal?" he echoed.
"Well..." Cordelia answered. Then she smiled brightly, "There's a lot of things we can do after the sun goes down. New York's fascinating at night, you know. In fact I think even more so. New York is famous for its night life."
Angel shook his head ruefully at Cordelia's reply. "Just because I can't go out during the day, doesn't mean that the rest of you can't," he said.
The shuttle driver looked curiously at Angel as he handed him several dollars as a tip. Angel tried to smile charmingly. "I have an allergy to the sun. I burn very badly," he explained, wondering what the driver thought about their talk about demons.
Unimpressed, the driver shrugged, then counted the bills Angel handed him. From the look on his face Angel gathered that he was more concerned about the size of the tip then about demon hunters, vampires and ghosts. Angel thumbed through the remaining bills in his wallet. This going to be an expensive trip.
Gunn's low whistle of appreciation caught his attention. "Will you look at that," Gunn said as a large low slung vehicle dressed in taxi yellow and black pulled up to the curb. The light on its roof said OFF DUTY.
"I think it's an Auburn Cord," Angel said, "Probably made around the mid-30's."
"Sweet..." Gunn breathed.
The taxi driver, a stout man with a bull dog face, tipped his hat at Gunn and Angel then quickly strode toward the front door through which Cordelia had already herded Fred and Connor. Just a he approached the doors, a man and a woman, obviously his fares, stepped out.
Much like the taxi they could have stepped out of a different era. Yet they seemed to be timeless. The woman could have been in her late 50's or even older. Her face was that of a beauty that had not aged, but had instead defeated time. She was stylishly dressed for the cold New York night in a thick rich brown fur coat that reached just below her knees, revealing long legs that were as slim and shapely as a young girl's. Her snow-white hair was cut in a short bob upon which jauntily perched a small brown hat graced by a long curving pheasant's feather.
If the woman was arresting for her beauty, the man was equally distinctive for the aura of command that surrounded him. He was tall, dressed in a heavy black overcoat trimmed with a collar of sleek fur. Steel-grey hair was covered by a matching black hat. His face was not classically handsome, his nose was too beaked and his eyes were hooded, hiding thoughts that none could divine.
Those eyes briefly caught Angel's. During those few seconds the man's eyes seemed to flicker from mild blue to metallic green, leaving Angel feeling as if he had been weighed, judged and then filed away for later consideration. Tool? Ally? More? Then as quickly as it happened the contact was broken. Angel stared as the couple gathered themselves into the taxi.
Beside him Gunn gave an involuntary shudder. "Weird...," Gunn muttered under his breath.
"You felt it too?" Angel asked.
"Yeah," Gunn replied. "I hope Cordy isn't going to be disappointed."
"I dunno. I just got me a bad feeling that this little vacation is going to be anything but normal."
Angel shook his head, then slapped Gunn on the back with a heartiness he didn't feel. "C'mon. You're just nervous from being in a strange place. It was a long flight. Things'll look different in the morning." He looked at the taxi as it disappeared into the traffic. Oddly enough it seemed to find impossible holes through the thick traffic, moving quickly and smoothly while every other vehicle stood at a standstill in the gridlock that choked the city. "I'm sure we'll never see them again."
The woman looked back at the two men still standing at the curb. "Lamont, who were those two men?"
"I don't know who the black man is, Margo," Lamont answered, "but the other man... I have heard of that one before. Great power and happenings follow him. I fear it begins."
"What begins?" Margo asked.
Lamont's face grew grim as his eyes turned green and his features changed subtly into those of another. "Evil lurks not only in the hearts of men," he said barely above a whisper as a soft laugh, slipped through his lips. It chilled even Margo's and taxi driver's blood. The hunter, the Shadow, had caught the first tantalizing scent of trouble.
The Snow Globe
"Have a holly, jolly Christmas. It's the best time of the year...." Cordelia sang as she flung open the heavy drapes in Connor and Angel's room.
Connor glared out from under his blankets. "Is she always this cheerful in the morning?" he asked Angel who was barely moving in the bed next to his.
Angel grumbled as he poked his head out of his covers, "I dunno. I'm a night creature. I don't do mornings." His head disappeared back under the covers.
"C'mon sleepyheads it's 10 o'clock in the morning. It's time to get up," Cordelia enthused as she pulled Connor's covers off.
In the sudden cold air, Connor curled up into a ball. "Damn! It's cold! Go away!" he protested.
"It's a beautiful day out there!" Cordelia persisted. She reached for Angel's covers.
"Touch them and you'll die," Angel growled as he pulled the covers more tightly around him. "Remember. Vampire. Sun. Burn. Bad!"
"Oh don't be such a wimp," Cordelia teased as she breezed out of the room.
"Ha!" Connor laughed, "Sure, don't be a wimp, Daddy."
"Out!!!" Angel snapped from under his covers.
Connor snatched up his clothes from the floor where he had dumped them the night before. Hopping one-leggedly, he pulled his pants on. "See ya at breakfast, Dad," he laughed as he headed out of the room.
"That boy's not gonna reach nineteen," Angel muttered. Wrapping his blankets over his head and body he clambered out of the bed. He stomped over to the drapes and pulled mightily on the drawstring cord. The drapes, including the rod and the screws that held it to the wall, promptly fell with a loud clatter. "DAMN!" Angel cursed.
"Good morning!"Fred's perky voice greeted Angel as he stumbled into the dining room after throwing some clothes on.
"What's so good about it?" Angel grumpily replied.
"Nothin" Gunn answered with half-closed eyes.
"Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock. Jingle bell time and jingle bell time...!" Cordelia sang as she bought out a large stack of pancakes.
"Dancing and prancing and jingle bell square in the frosty air," Fred chimed in as she helped Cordelia fill everybody's plates.
"What a bright time, it's the right time to rock the night away!" the two girls joined in duet.
"Oy!" Gunn groaned, slapping his forehead with an open palm.
"Thank god, Loren's not here to sing along with them," Angel commented through gritted teeth.
Connor's voice erupted in gales of laughter. He tipped backwards in his chair as he shook with laughter. Suddenly the chair fell, landing Connor on the floor in a thud. Connor quickly leaped to his feet. Covering his embarrassment as he rubbed his sore backside, he said quickly, "I meant to do that."
"Good move, Peter Pan," Gunn laughed.
Fred smacked him upside his head, "You're mean!" she said, even though she couldn't help laughing too.
"Okay guys, let's settle down," Cordelia ordered as she stifled her own giggles,. "Connor, you, sit. We're going to eat breakfast, then we're going shopping."
Some time after they had eaten and dressed Cordelia was organizing their shopping expeditions. "Fred and I are going to hit 5th avenue. You know, Saks, Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman and so on. Gunn, why don't you take Connor to the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art?"
Gunn groaned. "An art museum? Do I have to?"
"Yeah, I think it'd be a great idea if you guys get to know each other better. Besides it's on 5th avenue too."
Connor glared back at Gunn. "But..."
"C'mon," Cordelia urged. "It'll be fun. Besides it's educational."
"And you, Angel...," Cordelia said thoughtfully.
"And I go back to bed." he finished for her.
"No, can't you find something constructive do? I dunno, do some lurking, Uhm, maybe, um, what do you do during the day?"
"Sleep." Angel supplied.
"Oh, look what I found in a box in the closet while I was getting the coats out," Fred said holding a heavy object in her hands.
"What is it?" Connor asked.
"It's a snow globe," she answered. "See," she explained, "When you turn it upside down and then back right side up again, it looks like it's snowing."
"Snowing," Connor said thoughtfully as he watched the sparkling flakes float down over a scene of the outside of Santa's workshop. "I've never seen it snow. What is it like?"
"Cold." Angel replied.
"Oh, it's wonderful," Fred said, "I remember once going to Denver for Christmas. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The whole world seemed to be enveloped in a blanket of white. It was like time had stopped. Like the whole world was holding it's breath waiting for something special."
"Christmas?" Connor asked, his blue eyes turning dreamy. The hunter for a few moments become the lost boy he truly was. "Is that what it was waiting for?"
"Okay," said Cordelia, breaking the spell, "It's time to go shopping." She shoved coats into everyone's hands. "C'mon, c'mon, let's go," she urged, pushing everyone to the door.
Connor turned to say goodbye to Angel, "Uh, Angel, uh, Dad," he began uncertainly.
"Hug him," Cordelia said, "He's not going bite."
"You sure?" Connor said.
"I promise," Angel said with a smile, crossing his heart, "and hope to be staked."
"There's a thought..." Connor replied with a large grin.
"Guys. Hug already," Gunn grumbled.
Angel pulled Connor to him. For a moment Connor stood stiff, then taking a deep breath, he relaxed and returned the hug.
"Aww" the girls and Gunn chimed together.
Immediately Connor tried to break away, but Angel still held him for a moment longer, regretting all the hugs he had been cheated out of. Finally he let him go. Gruffly, he said to Gunn, "You take care of my son, you understand?"
"Like he was my own," Gunn replied.
Angel stared at the door for a few moments after it had closed. After all the hustle and bustle, the apartment seemed to be too quiet, too empty. He looked at his bedroom, tempted only briefly. He picked up the snow globe, turning it upside down and then right side up again. The flakes glittered as they slowly floated down. It reminded him of the globe he had gotten Connor when he was a baby, too short a time ago, nowhere near the 18 years it should have been if the boy had not been stolen away from him. Like Connor's childhood, it had shattered, never to be retrieved again.
Oddly, the more he studied the globe the more disturbed he felt. He could almost fancy that the green eyes of the red clad elf leaning on the oversize candy cane outside of Santa's workshop were sparkling with unnatural glee.
Angel shook himself with effort. Enough of this maudlin self pity. Maybe I'll go lurk around like Cordelia suggested, he thought as he headed out the door.
Behind him the snow globe shimmered, enlarged, then popped like a soap bubble. The elf, not much taller than two feet, hopped down from the table where Angel that put the globe. With a laugh the little creature, pulled on the straight end of large candy cane. It separated, revealing the deadly gleam of cold steel.
The Shadow Knows...
"Lamont, darling," Margo purred, "Come back to bed."
Lamont turned away from the brightly lit window through which he could gaze down on downtown Manhattan. With preternatural grace he moved to Margo's side of the bed and sat down beside her. "I have much to do this morning," he explained.
"Does it have to do with that man we saw last night?" she asked.
"Yes, I remember seeing him in New York many years ago. He goes by the name of Angel. Back then he was merely a vampire cursed with a soul who had no direction, except to go mad from the memories of the lives he had destroyed. I have heard that in the intervening years since then he has found his sanity and a purpose. He has been involved in several important battles against major supernatural agents of evil in California, including an alliance with a vampire slayer," Lamont explained.
"So why do you think he's in New York?"
"I don't know. We are far from the hell mouth in California where the supernatural is at its strongest. Yet that does not mean that supernatural evil is entirely quiescent here, just far less powerful. Perhaps this souled Vampire is a harbinger of a surfacing of some new, more dangerous evil."
"Or they could merely be on vacation," Margo suggested helpfully.
"That is something I intend to find out."
"But can't it wait until later?" Margo teased alluringly as she walked her fingers up his naked arm.
Lamont smiled as he gently moved a stray strand of hair of his wife's face. "Evil does not wait for late risers," he said.
"Oh, pooh," she pouted, "I bet you don't see Shiwan Khan leaving a nice warm bed to greet the rising sun."
"That's because his type make their evil plans even while they sleep. I must do what I can to keep ahead of them." He kissed her gently on the forehead. "Besides it's not that early."
Margo pulled him closer. "Then what's few more minutes?" she breathed.
Lamont smiled as he spotted the Shrevvie's taxi pull up to the curb. The taxi driver had the uncanny ability to know exactly when he was needed.
"Where to, Boss?" he asked.
"The Sanctum," was Lamont's brief reply.
"Damn cold this morning," Shrevvie ventured.
"Not as cold as in Tibet," Lamont answered.
"Oh..." Shrevvie said, noticing that Lamont was not in the mood for small talk.
The big Cord easily negotiated the heavy traffic, slipping through any hole that opened up even though it barely seemed wide enough for a bicyclist to squeeze through. Traffic lights always seemed to turn green the moment Cord approached. Quickly they arrived at the opposite side of town, the location of the Shadow's Inner Sanctum. While it might have been more convenient to have the Sanctum located in the Cranston home, it would also have been more dangerous. Lamont preferred to keep his activities as the Shadow well separated from his life as a wealthy man about town.
The neighborhood near the Inner Sanctum had seen a number of transitions throughout the years; from seedy to trendy then back again. Now it was back up on the upswing. Boutiques and costly cafes were starting to take over from the careworn bars and strip clubs. It was hard to tell which was better for the Shadow's secret activities. Luckily, no matter what the income bracket, New Yorkers tended to keep to their own business, not prying into those of others unless it directly involved them.
Leaving the taxi a few blocks away from the location of the Inner Sanctum, Lamont walked purposely through the bitter cold until he reached an alleyway between a sidewalk cafe and a vintage boutique. With a quick glance to make sure no one was watching, Lamont ducked quickly into the alley. He moved past trash cans overflowing with plastics bags and boxes stacked into precarious towers. A small, wry smile played across Lamont's thin lips. No matter the part of town, alleys were all still the same. Some were just filled with pricier garbage than others. Garbage is garbage, just as evil is evil, whether mortal or supernatural, the Shadow reflected.
At the dead end of the alley was a fire escape, but Lamont ignored it, instead placing a light hand on one of the brackets securing the fire escape to the wall. In response to his touch a part of the back wall started sliding up as part of a drainage grate next to the wall folded accordion-wise into the ground, forming a doorway and steps barely high enough or wide enough for a man to pass through.
The Inner Sanctum had changed in some ways over the years. Gone were the massive hydraulics, the heavy gears and pulleys that moved the thick brick doorway and metallic stairs. Instead everything was quietly electronic. Tiny, but powerful motors whispered and hissed as hidden mechanisms came into play. Other hidden electronics made sure that no one could enter the Shadow's sanctum sanctorum. If any intruder ever did manage to penetrate the sanctum's defenses, there were others that insure he would never escape, becoming a prisoner instead.
Still for all the advancements, the hideaway appeared much the same. Thick over-stuffed chairs faced a fireplace that whooshed into life at Lamont's entrance. The dark wood paneling the walls on which old masters hung and the ancient thick piled oriental carpets covering the mahogany parquet floors all spoke of Lamont's sophisticated, masculine taste. Lamont tossed his hat at the wooden hat rack across the room, ringing one of the brass hooks handily. Then he pulled off his coat as he poured himself a large snifter of brandy. Lamont enjoyed the warm afterglow of the brandy as he contemplated the fire. Like Shrevvy had said, it was damn cold outside. Could get even colder. Could even become a cold day in hell.
Shaking himself out of his gloomy thoughts, Lamont tossed what was left of the brandy into fire. The sudden flare up pleased him. That was the way to fight the cold. He strode over to the far wall and pressed a button invisible in the dark paneling. A wide part of the wall slid soundlessly up, revealing a dim blue lit room. It bore a close resemblance to a conventional modern office with fax machines, copiers and even a stock market ticker running in red dot lights high in the wall near the ceiling. The one anomaly was a wall filled with televison screens on which news programs from around the world were playing in a multitude of languages; all of them understood by the Shadow. Also unlike most conventional offices, all lines leading in and out were totally shielded from electronic eavesdropping even from the most sophisticated of the world's intelligence organizations.
This was the brain center of the Shadow's organization. His agents were people tied together not by national interest, but through personal loyalty to the Shadow. At one time or the other, they all owed him their lives or their reputations. The only sign of their membership in this exclusive group was a ring bearing a girasol, a fire opal of the finest water, matching the one that the Shadow himself wore. Each agent was carefully selected, rarely called to do the Shadow's work except to keep watch and to relay information about strange or unusual crimes. All of that information was interpreted, correlated and then relayed to the Shadow through one man. A man who never slept, whose eyes and ears were always open, always at the Shadow's service. He responded instantaneously to Lamont's order.
"Burbank, report." Lamont said as he settled into a chair in front of a computer.
"Burbank, here," came the response from the man who appeared on the computer screen. He was very ordinary looking, brown hair, brown eyes, not slender, not heavy; so ordinary looking that no one ever noticed or remembered him, not even his fellow agents. "All normal," Burbank reported, "However there may be the beginnings of trouble forming in central Manhattan. There is slight increase in crime, not abnormally so, but it is of an unusual character."
"How so? Details." Lamont prompted.
"A Salvation Army Santa Claus was killed Another, a few blocks away, was robbed and his kettle savagely destroyed. An outdoor nativity scene at a church was ferociously vandalized and a store a few doors down from the church was also broken into. Only the section specializing in Christmas decorations suffered any loss. And that loss was total. Nothing salvageable was left in the intruder's wake."
"Correlation," Lamont said even though he could make a guess of it himself.
"Correlation. All crimes were related to Christmas. All happened within a four block area. And in all instances the damage done pointed to a massive amount of anger. The murdered Santa Claus was apparently sliced to death."
"Sliced," Lamont echoed thoughtfully. "Explain."
"According to the agent's report, the victim was killed by multiple wounds from a bladed weapon. The weapon, not yet identified, is described as being too long to be a knife, yet too short and narrow to be sword, even a Japanese short sword or a Roman sword."
"Does the weapon correlate with any other reports?"
"Yes. A similar weapon appears to have been used in the damage in the other Santa Claus attack as well as the vandalism attacks."
"None, however the robbery victim describes his assailant as approximately 24 to 25 inches tall and dressed in a red elf costume. An individual meeting that description was also caught on a surveillance tape from the store."
"Interesting," Lamont said. "Any other reports?"
"Very good. Transmit all pertinent details plus locations of the attacks. Continue to monitor," Lamont ordered.
"Yes, sir. Burbank out."
The fax machine chattered out several pages of details, including a map of where the attacks had happened. As Lamont had expected, the apartment building where he had seen the vampire going into was at the center of all the activities. Whether the man was vacation or not was not going to matter one iota. His vacation, if that was what it was, was at an end.
The Lost Boy
Stepping out of the elevator on the first floor, Angel wasn't exactly sure where he was going to "lurk". Through the wide double doors he could see that even though the sky was starting to get cloudy, it was still bright enough outside to burn him. Still, he wasn't all that thrilled at the idea of seeking out the sewers. It seemed like no matter where he went he always wound up in a sewer. Frankly, he was tired of the damp, the stench and the strange, sometimes moving lumps that he spotted in the noisome waters that passed by him as he walked along narrow ledges. Just once he'd like to find some place underground that was comfortable and well lit.
At a loss as to what to do, Angel wandered around the lobby. The enchanted forest theme from the exterior had been carried into the wide lobby. The thick carpet beneath his feet was grass green speckled with brightly colored flowers. The walls were skillfully covered in a trompe l'oeil painting of a forest of vine-draped trees and plants. He could even spot an occasional shadow that might have been either a deer or even more fantastically, a nereid. Even the pillars that supported the arched ceiling of the lobby were of real wood carved to resemble the trunks of living trees which branched out to the ceiling that was painted to resemble a day bright blue sky filtered through the soft green of leaves. The effect was so overwhelming that Angel was torn between open-mouthed awe and dodging for the shadows.
He couldn't stand it. Angel dove for the elevator as soon as it opened and hurriedly hit the button for the basement. Even the worse sewers were better than that bizarre pseudo-forest. Once he stepped out into the basement, Angel felt a lot more comfortable. It looked like any other basement in any other building. Grey walls, grey concrete floors and the dusty, metallic smell of pipes, furnaces and all the rest of the equipment that keep a building's heart beating. This was the place where he could lurk in comfort.
Strangely enough, although considering the building in which he found himself, Angel could believe just about anything, he noticed that the basement did not seem as big as it should be. One of the far walls seemed to be newer than the others and the flooring seemed to be uneven as though it had been laid over another floor. Bending down, Angel swept his hand over the floor and found the faint traces of tiles. Should have figured that, Angel thought, But why would it be covered over?
Angel followed the wall until it disappeared behind stacks of old equipment. He should have decided to quit there and head back upstairs. He didn't. Something was going on that tantalized Angel's curiosity. He shoved the pieces out of his way until he saw what he had expected to find; the faint traces of a door. It was completely sealed up. There was no way he could get through it, at least not without making a lot of noise. He turned away.
Then his vampire sharp ears caught the faint wail of a scream. A woman's scream of terror. That was just what he needed. Angel threw himself at the sealed door, knowing that it was likely to be too strong for him to barge through. He was right and had the bruises to show for it. Angel looked quickly around for something to use. There it was, a heavy crowbar. He snatched it up and slammed it into the closed doorway. Chips of plaster flew out from a small hole through which he could see the tantalizing glimmer of light. Angel slammed the crowbar again and again until he had knocked out a hole that was big enough for him to squeeze through.
His efforts had been far from soundless. For only a few moments, a tableau of several men and women stood frozen around a woman who crouched on the ground in terror. They didn't stay still. As one, six vampire faces turned toward Angel. He had interrupted their feeding. Growling like a pack of hungry wolves, they charged him. Angel threw his attackers away from him, scattering them in several directions. One of them, apparently their leader, hissed at the others as they regained their feet.
"He is mine," he said to them. "I will show the intruder what it means to invade our domain."
Snarling, he screamed at Angel, "Die, human."
Angel dodged his charge, spun, lashed out with a fist, slamming it into the vampire leader's belly. "Who said I was human?" Angel said as his face went vampiric.
The vampire leader groaned in pain. "Who are you? Why do you interfere?" he demanded.
Angel shrugged. "The name's Angel. I'm from out of town and I'm looking for a little action."
"Angel," one of the other vampires hissed, "He's the one in California that hunts his own kind."
"Traitor!" the lead vampire screamed, grabbing up a large stake, "I will show you what happens to traitors in New York."
"Bring it on," Angel challenged.
The vampire charged at Angel, intending to impale him. Angel grabbed the long stake out of the creature's hands as it swept close enough to leave a small tear in his shirt. Angel snapped the stake in two then turned on his feet as neatly as a matador and buried one of the pieces into the leader as he grabbed for Angel's throat. Through the leader's dust another vampire attacked Angel. The sharp end of the other piece in Angel's hand mingled his dust with the leader's.
Deciding that the time for one on one was over, the remaining vampires attacked Angel, burying him under their sheer weight. Angel struggled to his feet, throwing one off after another only to find them coming back for more. There were too many. Angel found himself held down as a stake headed for his heart.
Suddenly the air reverberated from the blast of twin silver .45's. The stake clattered harmlessly to the ground. As Angel struggled to his feet he saw one of the shadows in the room separate itself from the walls. It flitted through the air, seeming to be a shadow of something, only to become the shadow of something else in the next moment. Sibilant, taunting laughter filled the air as the vampires tried to escape the flying lead. They screamed in terror as bullets bit into their undead flesh.. Although they could not be killed by bullets, the pain was still terrible. They fled down into the darkness. As they disappeared the words, "Shadow, Shadow, Shadow," echoed in the air.
Angel finally had the chance to check out the vampires' underground den. It was an old subway station that had been blocked off from the main routes several decades before. Built in the days of extravagance, it was high ceilinged and covered with fanciful mosaics matching those in the apartment building. Tattered broadsheets advertising vaudeville stars of yesteryear still covered the walls. The vampires had made it well lit and warm with electricity stolen from above. Old carpets and antiquated horsehair chairs and sofas made for a comfortable living space.
"They will return soon with more of their kind," said the man who faced Angel.
Angel could barely see his face. Nothing but glittering green eyes and a great hooked noise was visible between the black slouch hat and the red scarf that covered the his lower face. A heavy red-lined black cloak restlessly moved about the man even though there wasn't the merest breath of a breeze in the underground lair. "You're the Shadow, aren't you?" Angel asked.
"I am," was the reply.
"But wouldn't that make you...?" Angel began.
"The forces of good are as ageless as those of evil," the Shadow intoned mysteriously. "What brings you to New York, Vampire?"
"The name's Angel," Angel said, "I'm here on vacation."
"Does your vacations always include invading vampire dens?"
"No. I was exploring when I heard someone scream."
"So even when you are on vacation, you act to defend the helpless?"
"I guess you could say that," Angel answered thoughtfully.
"Interesting. I have heard of you before, Vampire called Angel. I have also heard that trouble of great import tends to follow your footsteps."
"I hope not," Angel said, "All I want to do is relax and get away from things for a while."
"You may not have the luxury of that choice."
"Angel. Angel," said a voice behind Angel. Angel turned to see the woman the vampires had captured. She pulled at frizzed red hair as faded blue eyes stared off into space. "The Lost Boy will destroy the Spirit of Christmas," she prophesied. "All the world will grieve. The greatest of wars between good and evil will destroy the world. Only an Angel can save us all." With the last word she collapsed in Angel's arms.
The Shadow commented to Angel as the vampire eased the woman onto a nearby couch, "I believe your vacation has come to an end."
At the Metropolitan Connor grimaced as he joined Gunn. "You see anything interesting?" he asked as Gunn poured over the museum's exhibit listings on a kiosk in the middle of the lobby.
"I don't know. What interests you?"
Connor shrugged. "I dunno. Knives, swords, broad axes... "
"You mean anything that's sharp and deadly."
"Well, there's an exhibit on arms and armor. Sound good to you?"
Connor shrugged. "Sounds as good as anything. I don't suppose they'll let us try anything out."
"Doubt it," Gunn replied as he led the way to the exhibit. "These museum types aren't too cool on their patrons trying to slice each other up."
Following the directions from a map they had taken from the kiosk they found the exhibit on the next floor. Gunn headed for the exhibit room, but found that Connor was not beside him. The young man was looking toward another exhibit across the hallway. He could hear the strains of Christmas carols. "Would you like to see the Christmas exhibit first?" Gunn asked Connor who was looking into the gaily decorated hall curiously.
"Okay," Connor replied offhandedly.
"Before you take a look at the weapons?" Gunn asked in surprise.
"Sure. After all this is my first Christmas. I might as well see what all the excitement is about."
They stepped into a vast hall that was fragrant from the evergreen garlands that draped down from the center of the high ceiling to the far corners of the big room. While several of the rarer items were behind glass walls, many others were arrayed in roped enclosures that recalled Christmas throughout the ages and throughout the world. Antique teddy bears and wooden nutcrackers surrounded a Victorian Christmas tree decorated in lights that looked like lit candles. Next to it was one showing a Southwestern posada of children dressed as Mary and Joseph standing before a flat roofed adobe house decorated with flickering luminarias.
Gunn watched Connor closely as they moved from one exhibit to another. Although the boy tried hard not to show it, Gunn could see the shine of wonder in his eyes, something that he himself had never been lucky enough to experience.
"You look thoughtful," Connor said, breaking into Gunn's thoughts, "What is it?"
"Nothin'," Gunn replied, "I was just thinking."
"It's just that I never had much of a Christmas when I was growing up. I was real young when my folks were killed by vampires. The gang tried to make up for it, but it's kind of hard to get in the mood when you're fighting for your life."
"I know what you mean. Holtz mention how it used to be before Angelus killed his family, but in Quor toth, it didn't seem real. Like you said it's hard to celebrate when you're fighting for your life."
"Bastard..." Gunn hissed his opinion of Connor's kidnapper under his breath.
Connor looked sharply at the tall Black man. "What do you mean?"
"That's another thing we can lay at that bastard's door step. If it hadn't been for him and Wesley maybe we all could've had some real Christmases. It would've
been nice," he added sadly.
"Let's check out the weapons," Connor said, bitterness leaking through his voice, as he turned away from Gunn. "That is something closer to what our lives are really about." He gestured toward the exhibits around them, "This is all just a fantasy for children. Not for us."
Gunn muttered under his breath, "Bastard..." as he followed after Connor.
A scream and a wild laugh erupted behind them. Connor and Gunn turned as one. A small man dressed in a red suit was bubbling with glee as he skewered a Santa Claus manikin with a candy cane handled sword. He effortlessly leaped the velvet rope around the display and slashed through a rope surrounding a mountain of teddy bears. Stuffed heads and arms flew in all directions as the strange creature hacked merrily away.
"Hold it right there!" ordered a security guard, aiming his pistol at the little man.
The little man laughed, "So you have come to defend Christmas!" Suddenly he threw his sword, impaling the guard like a bug on a pin. "Fool," he screamed, "You are all fools," he screamed again at the stunned people around him.
Suddenly as if released from a magic spell, people began screaming and running for the nearest exits.
"Connor..." Gunn began, but the young man was nowhere to be seen. "Angel's gonna kill me," he growled, trying to spot Connor. There were so many people rushing past him that he had a hard time staying where he was. He didn't know what to do except to head toward the little man. Where there was trouble he was sure that Connor would be right in the middle of it.
A child's terrified cry mingled with a woman's scream caught Gunn's attention. A woman had fallen in the crowd's mad dash from the room. Over her stood a terrified little boy. Terrified because the little man was charging toward them. Suddenly Connor appeared in front of the little man with an ornately decorated battle axe in his hands.
"So you would oppose me, boy?" the little man demanded as he skid to a stop.
"Well duh...", Connor replied as he swung the battle axe. The little man laughed again. "Too high, boy. You must reach a little lower. Not that it will do you any good."
Connor chopped down at the little man, but he quickly dodged the blow, swinging his sword at the same time, knicking Connor across an ankle. "Try again, boy." the little man challenged. Suddenly he turned and ran.
Connor sped after him with Gunn close on their heels. The little man led them on a chase, leaping and dashing through exhibits. Every once in a while he would turn to slash at Connor or Gunn, seeming not intending to hurt them only to keep them after him. Connor swung the axe repeatedly at the little man, but managed only to catch air most of the time. One final lucky swing snared the little man's pointed hat, sending it flying to the top of an exhibit case.
Looking at the hat on its perch, the little man laughed as he rubbed his balding head, "Boy and man, doesn't matter," he taunted. "Doesn't matter a thing. Can't save Christmas, ain't worth saving." Suddenly he turned but there was nowhere else he could go. He was trapped in a corner.
"Hold it!" Gunn yelled to Connor who was prepared to slice into the little man, "What the hell is going on here?" he demanded of the little man.
"Don't you know?" the little man replied. "Don't you know that tomorrow's Christmas, but there ain't gonna be no Christmas. I'm gonna stop it, that's what I'm gonna do. And your boy here's gonna help me. That's what it takes. It takes the innocence of a child to kill Santa."
From out of nowhere a snow globe appeared in his outstretched hand. He tossed it at Connor. Connor dropped the battle axe to catch the globe.
"Connor, don't!" Gunn yelled.
Too late. Connor looked into the globe. "Connor," Gunn said, "Put it down."
Connor laid the snow globe down. Then he reached for the battle axe.
"Connor..." Gunn said uneasily.
Connor turned toward him. The blue of his eyes went pitch black. He swung at Gunn, slicing through his denim jacket.
"Oh, hell no, you're gonna pay for that. That was a new jacket, Peter Pan!" Gunn said angrily.
Connor swung at him again, but Gunn was ready for it this time. As the axe cut through the air he dodged it and then before Connor could bring the heavy weapon up for another swing he grabbed the shaft. They stood there for a moments staring at each other. Connor's are were totally empty of life, just black holes of nothingness. "Connor, come back to me." Gunn pleaded.
The young man released his hold on the weapon and, ignoring Gunn, knelt to pick up the globe from the ground. Gunn grabbed Connor's arm, but quickly pulled his hand back with a loud curse. His hand had immediately whitened with the burning chill of frostbite.
"Too late, too late, too late," the little man cackled. "Too late. It'll take an Angel, but it's too late. It's too late for you all." He pressed his middle finger against the side of his nose and nodded. There was a fire cracker pop and the little man and Connor were nowhere to be seen.
Gunn stared at where they had stood, "Oh, Sh...."
Even though she was starting to tire from Cordelia's manic trail blazing through the stores on Fifth avenue, Fred still found that she was enjoying herself immensely. The surging crowds, the glittering bright decorations, the Christmas music, everything had her in a whirl. She could have gone on like this forever. However she noticed that Cordelia was starting to fray at the edges. Finally Cordelia collapsed wearily on a nearby bench.
"Tired?" Fred asked needlessly.
Cordelia shot her a tired, but satisfied smile, "Yeah, I think so. I just wish this didn't have to end. This is the best time I've had in a very long time."
"I know what you mean," Fred replied as she sat down next to Cordelia. "This could make me almost forget Pilea."
Fred nodded. "Almost."
Cordelia playfully shoved Fred in the shoulder. "I bet Gunn helps a lot in that matter."
Fred smiled shyly as she pulled a strand of wavy hair away from her face. "Yeah, you could say that."
Rummaging through the mountain of bags and boxes around her feet, Cordelia ran through the Christmas list in her head. "Well," she finally said, "I think I have just about everyone covered. Of course I maxed out my credit card, but that's okay." She glanced over at the single bag that sat next to Fred's feet. "Couldn't find anything you liked?" she asked.
"Oh," Fred replied, "I found what I needed. It's just that I already had most of my shopping done back in LA."
"Lord save us from efficient people," Cordelia breathed. "And to think I dragged you through all these stores," she added in alarm.
"Don't worry about that," Fred assured her, "I'm having a wonderful time, besides this way I can help you with your packages."
Cordelia tilted her head thoughtfully. "Yeah, you got a point there." She grabbed up her bags and boxes. "I think we better head back," she said with a mixture of regret and relief in her voice as she unsteadily rose to her feet. Suddenly she screamed, "Hey!" and toppled back onto the bench, burying a little girl in boxes and bags.
"Catch her!" a man in a security guard's uniform yelled as the little girl struggled out of the avalanche.
"Now wait a minute," Fred demanded, pushing herself between the red faced man and the little girl.
"She stole something," the security guard growled at her.
Cordelia held the little girl protectively as she cringed in her arms. Her clothes were ragged, far too thin for the chill winter weather, and it looked like she had not bathed for a very long time. Her tiny frame was nothing but skin and bone.
"Where's your Mommy?" Cordelia asked gently.
"I don't have any. Mommy died when I was little and I haven't seen my Daddy for a very long time," she answered as she buried her face against Cordelia's thick coat.
"Humph," the guard growled. "Kid's lyin'. They all do. I'm takin' her in."
"Now wait a minute," Fred protested, "It's Christmas Eve."
"Yeah, so if she has no family, I'm takin' her to Social Services."
"No!" the girl wailed, clinging even more tightly to Cordelia.
"What did she steal, anyway?" Cordelia asked.
The little girl held out in her hand a gold wrapped chocolate.
"Godiva," Cordelia observed, "You have got to admit she has good taste." She looked up at the guard. "Can't we just pay for it and you can drop this whole mess?"
"No way, lady. Gotta take her in. It's for her own good," the guard replied, reaching for the little girl who continued to sob and wail as he tried to pull her away.
"Please," Fred begged, "We could take her in. At least let her have a nice Christmas. Please."
"Now lady, I don't know you from Adam. I gotta take her in," the guard insisted although he was starting to waver. Especially since a crowd was starting to form around them. Judging from the angry muttering going around him, there was no one on his side. It could get very ugly.
"You may not know these young ladies," said an elegantly dressed woman as the crowd parted before her. "But, I am sure you know me and my husband."
The guard touched a hand to the bill of his hat in respect, "Yes ma'am, I do. You're Mrs. Lamont Cranston. You gotta understand, ma'am. I'm only doing my duty."
"I'm sure you are," Margo replied soothingly, "However these girls seem to be quite taken with the child. Why don't you release her into their custody, and mine, of course. We will see that she is well taken care of."
"But ma'am," the guard began to protest.
Margo favored him with a benign smile. "I'm sure you have more important things to do than to harass a little girl. Don't you?"
The guard's eyes momentarily glazed over, then cleared. "Yes'm I do," he said sheepishly before turning away with a nod to the ladies clustered around the little girl.
Cordelia gazed open-mouthed at Margo. "You're Margo Cranston, aren't you?"
Margo nodded as she signaled toward Shrevvie who had been waiting on the sidelines.
"I've heard all about you and Mr. Cranston," Cordelia gushed, "My mother's friend said that if we ever had any problems we should look you up. But I never imagined. Why I heard that only the most important...."
"You're staying at the Forest, aren't you?" Margo interrupted easily as the girls piled Cordelia's packages in Shrevvie's arms.
"The Forest?" Cordelia echoed.
"Yes. We call it the Forest because it looks like a forest inside," Margo explained.
Fred nodded. "That's the place," she confirmed.
"Good. We'll take you there and help you get the child settled in." Margo knelt down to face the little girl who peeped out from behind Cordelia. "What is your name, little one?" she asked.
"Angela," she replied shyly.
Margo smiled sweetly. "I'm sure you are."
Angela looked like an entirely different little girl once they had her cleaned up and dressed in some new clothes that they had bought along the way. Long, pale blonde-white hair feathered around a delicate pixie face and enormous bright blue eyes shone with pleasure as the little eight year old sipped on hot chocolate and nibbled on chocolate chip cookies. "This is the best Christmas I have ever had," she enthused as she curled up contentedly between Cordelia and Margo.
Fred stepped back from the Christmas tree that she had just finished decorating. "Do you think the guys will like it?" she asked the others.
"It's lovely," Margo said.
"What are we going to do about Angela?" Cordelia asked Margo.
"I know some people who will be very glad to take her in," she replied, fingering the little girl's soft hair. "They've always wanted a little girl. You would like that, wouldn't you, Sweetheart? To have a family of your own?"
Angela nodded vigorously in reply. "I don't want to be cold any more. There's always so many bad people around. Christmas shouldn't be that way. People shouldn't be afraid then."
"No, they shouldn't," Margo replied thoughtfully.
Dashing through the snow on a one horse open sleigh... filled the air as Fred turned the radio on louder. "Jingle Bells, jingle bells," Fred chimed in.
Angela hopped off the couch and joined the slender brunette. Giggling with joy as they swung hands, she joined in, "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way..."
"Cordy, Fred," Angel said, bursting into the apartment, "Have Connor and Gunn come back yet?" Behind him the Shadow stood silently observing the gaily decorated apartment.
"No," Cordelia answered, "Is something wrong?"
"I don't know yet. I, well, we, found a vampire nest below this building..." he began.
"Oh, no," Fred said unhappily. "Can't we just forget about them for one night at least?"
"They are no danger to you," the Shadow said. "I don't believe they will return. At least not until long after you have left New York."
"Then what's the problem?" Cordelia demanded of the tall black-cloaked man.
"That is to be seen," the Shadow intoned ominously. "Their victim prophesied that the Spirit of Christmas was in danger. That its death would bring about the destruction of the world."
"Now, she could have delirious, you know," Angel said hopefully.
"I doubt it," the Shadow replied.
"It the lady okay?" the little girl asked as she bravely walked up to the Shadow.
The Shadow knelt down to her. "Yes, the paramedics said that she would recover. The vampires had not yet harmed her thanks to Angel's intervention."
Angela looked up at Angel who stared down at her curiously. "That's good, she said, "I am glad that she was not hurt badly."
"Just frightened," the Shadow assured her.
"Who is she?" Angel asked gesturing at the little girl.
"Her name's Angela," Fred replied, "Some security officer caught her shoplifting and was going to take her to Social Services."
"But where's her parents?" Angel asked.
"She doesn't have any," Cordelia answered.
"But..." Angel continued, looking confused.
"We thought it would be nicer if she spent Christmas with us," Margo supplied. Smiling graciously, she extended her hand, "I don't believe that we've met. My name's Margo Lane-Cranston. I'm an old friend of Cordelia's family. You might say I helped Fred and Cordelia rescue Angela from what was promising to be a very dreary Christmas."
Angel nodded his understanding, but still seemed at a loss.
Margo continued, addressing the Shadow, "And you must the be legendary Shadow. I've always hoped to meet you."
"And I, you, Mrs. Cranston," the Shadow answered rising to his feet. He bowed slightly to Margo, "I heard much about the good you and your esteemed husband have done for this city."
Margo's smile broadened slightly, amused by the fact that she was greeting her husband as a stranger, "Thank you," she replied.
"Uh, nice," Angel broke in, "But where's Gunn and Connor. I can't believe that the two of them have been hanging around a museum this long."
"That's because we haven't," Gunn answered grimly as he came in through the open door. Connor's been kidnaped."
"What?!" Angel exclaimed turning on Gunn.
"It was some kind on weird elf or demon, I dunno. He was talking some kind of trash about that there's going to be no Christmas and that it'll take the innocence of a child to kill Santa. Then he threw a snow globe at Connor and poof they were gone."
"I wouldn't exactly call Connor an innocent," Fred said, "And he's not quite a child, either..."
"Perhaps not," the Shadow said thoughtfully, "But from what Angel has told me, he is still very much the innocent even though you may not think so. While he may be a warrior, and thinks of himself as such, he still thinks as simply as a child. He thinks of only himself and has no goals outside of preparing and engaging in battle. To him it is still a game." The Shadow noticed that Fred was going to disagree, "A deadly game to be sure, but still a game. Like any other child he gives little or no thought to the future, either his own or mankind's, outside of fantasizing."
"Well, you might be right," Fred answered, "but still, at eighteen..."
"But that is the point, while he has lived eighteen years and has the body of an eighteen year old, in the terms of the number of years between the time he was born and now, he is still a child, in fact, practically an infant. Also more importantly, he believes in Santa Claus."
"I don't know about that..." Fred said uncertainly.
"Does he know not to believe in Santa Claus?"
"I guess not," Fred admitted. "We have all talked about Santa Claus like he was a real person and as far as Connor is concerned I guess he's about as believable as any of the hundreds of demons he has fought."
"Exactly, for you see Santa Claus can only be seen by those who truly believe he exists."
"And that's why he was taken," Angel said finishing the thought. "He's a trained warrior in mind and body, but he's still a child in a lot of ways."
"And more importantly," the Shadow added, "He has never learned to believe there is no Santa Claus."
"But there is no Santa Claus," Gunn said.
"You're wrong," the Shadow said, "While Santa Claus may not exactly slide down people's chimneys, he's still very much real. He's the embodiment of the Spirit of Christmas. He stands for the hope we have this time every year for peace, love, joy and most especially selfless giving. Even among the flurry of overzealous shopping, people still hold in themselves that special spark that comes with thinking about others instead of themselves. Everyone treats each other a little more kindly, with a little more respect, even here in New York. That will all be lost if that creature succeeds with his evil plan."
"But what can we do?" Fred asked.
"The woman we saved," Angel said, "she mentioned something about an Angel saving the Spirit of Christmas. Where are we going to find an Angel?"
The Shadow knelt down in front of the little girl, "Do you know where we can find an Angel?"
Angela smiled. "Yes," she replied. She reached for Angel's hand, "It is time," she said as she led him toward the door.
The others looked at each other curiously then followed the little girl and Angel out of the apartment. They followed her down the elevator until they had reached the first floor lobby. When the elevator doors opened everyone stood entranced at the vision before them.
The lobby had been transformed. Where it once had resembled a summer-bright forest glade in the mid-afternoon, it now looked like a winter-bare forest in the middle of the night. Overhead was the deep blue black of a clear winter evening from which bright stars shone. The largest overhead actually seemed to twinkle. The air had a fresh cool snap to it but yet was comfortable enough not to require a heavy coat. Even the flower strewn carpet beneath their feet had changed. It was thicker now and snow white. They could almost feel the cool chill of snow as they walked toward the center of the vast lobby.
The lobby was packed with several hundred people who turned to greet the newcomers with welcoming smiles. The crowd parted before them as they walked to the center of the room. Soft music filled the air as did voices raised in song. Although it was many languages, it was the same song. Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht! Alles Schlaft; enisam wacht. Noche de paz, noche de amor, Todo duerme en derredor. Oiche chiuin, oiche Mhic De, Cach 'na suan dis araon,. Silent night Holy night, All is calm all is bright.
"This is the most holy of nights," Angela explained. "This is the fulfillment of the pact between God and man. It is the ultimate sign of God's love for humanity."
"But..." Cordelia began.
"You have all seen the power of evil, and yet you doubt the power of good," Angela said. "You have been in buildings that were the focal points of evil, but you see, this one is a focus for good. Many, many years ago, the builder had found out that the woman he loved had betrayed him in a moment of foolishness. Instead of hating her, he chose to forgive her, for he knew that their love was for all time. Sadly, she died in a terrible accident before he could tell her that he forgave her and that their love was still strong. He built this building in her memory. On the night that this building was completed, the night he disappeared, his lover's ghost came to him and he was finally able to tell her that their love would never die. This building stands as a testament to their undying love."
"When Angel and the Shadow chased the vampires from beneath this building,"she continued, "the stage was set for this miracle."
"A miracle," Cordelia breathed.
Angela waved her hand and the air before them shimmered then coalesced into a door that glowed goldenly.
"Then you're the Angel the woman was talking about," Angel said.
She shook her head. "No, not me, you."
"I'm not an Angel," Angel said, "Far from it."
"But you are, for this quest requires one who has been to the depths of evil. Only one who has done great evil can accomplish the greatest good."
"I don't know..." Angel said doubtfully. "How will I know what to do? Will you be coming with me?"
"No, I can't. The evil elf has barred the way. Only those who have had to conquer the evil within them can enter."
"That is why Angel can go through," the Shadow guessed.
"Yes, as will you, for you are much the same. You have both battled and conquered the demons within you. This quest requires an Angel, but the Angel needs a Shadow, for the shadow will reveal what the angel cannot see."
"You know what she's talking about?" Gunn whispered to Fred who gave him a dirty look then elbowed him in the gut.
Angela turned to Gunn. "It will all become apparent when they enter the portal.
"Can we come too?" Gunn asked.
"No, this quest is for the two heroes, but here on this side we will all join in the vigil. Our united power on this side will give them the strength to battle the evil one."
She waved her hand again and the door opened. An icy wind bearing biting pellets of snow swept into the lobby.
"Don't we need some heavier coats or weapons?" Angel asked as he doubtfully eyed the blizzard on the other side of the portal.
"Everything you will need is on the other side," Angela answered.
Angela nodded. "I'm sure." For a moment the girl transformed into a tall winged being of eye-blinding beauty. Angel was not only awestruck but was filled with more warmth and peace than he had ever experienced during his entire existence as either man or vampire. "Believe," said the heavenly creature in a voice that was more a song than words.
Angel smiled, now sure of his mission. "I believe." He stepped through the portal.
The Christmas Miracle
Angel stood uncertainly at the edge of a steep precipice. All around him sharp daggers of ice blocked out what little sky he could see through the raging blizzard. Beside him stood the Shadow whose cloak fluttered in the wind. He didn't know whether he was more jealous of the cloak or the twin 45's that gleamed in the man's hands. Even though they were magically protected from the worst of the storm's fury, enough of the chilling wind seeped through to make him not want to stay out in it any more than he needed to.
"Where now?" he asked the crime fighter.
"Ahead," the Shadow answered.
"I guess you haven't noticed that there's a steep drop off there."
"That is only an illusion."
"Right," Angel said doubtfully. "You wouldn't mind leading the way, would you?"
"Not at all." The Shadow passed him and without hesitation stepped off the cliff. He did not fall. In Angel's eyes he appeared to the standing in thin air.
"How the hell did you do that?" Angel asked in amazement.
"It is all an illusion. You only have to see through it," the Shadow said as he returned to Angel's side. "Let me open your eyes," he said, placing a hand on Angel's shoulder.
Suddenly the storm stopped and Angel found himself on a broad snow covered plain. Ahead of them was the unbelievable sight of a small town of steeply roofed cottages surrounding a large building that was a fanciful concoction of golden onion domes and glistening glass. A candy-striped pole bore a sign that said, North Pole. Angel gaped open mouthed in disbelief at the Shadow who without another word led the way.
The tiny village was unexpectedly silent. Beneath softly glowing street lamps along the side of the snow covered road were parked gaily painted sleighs, but all the little houses were dark. A few of them even had their windows shuttered and doors barred. Angel spied a small, pointed-eared head peek out of a gabled window before it was closed with protesting creak.
"What's going on?" Angel asked.
"Great evil," the Shadow answered.
Angel nodded toward the 45's the Shadow held in his gloved hands. "I guess you wouldn't consider letting me borrow one of those, would you?"
The Shadow stopped, shot Angel a quick look for a moment with a raised eyebrow, then continued walking.
Angel shrugged. "I guess that's a no," he said more to himself than to his companion.
"Guns are not what you will need in your battle," the Shadow said.
"What will I need? I'd like to have an idea of what to expect."
"You have everything you need already," the Shadow replied. "You only have to realize it."
"Do you always talk in riddles?" Angel asked.
The Shadow turned to Angel without breaking stride. Angel could almost detect the faint glimmer of amusement in the man's green eyes. "Sometimes riddles are the more accurate answers."
"Thanks, for the enlightenment," Angel muttered.
"No problem,"was the Shadow's unasked for reply.
Connor shook his head trying to clear the grey fog that filled it. He could barely remember who he was never mind where he was or what had happened to him. All he could remember were the barest impressions. Angel, his father, New York City, Cordelia, Fred and Gunn. Gunn. For a moment a memory cleared. Gunn and the museum. And a strange little man. There was a battle. Then the memory disappeared leaving only intense emptiness. And cold. It was so cold. Never had he ever been so cold. It tore into his flesh and chilled him to the marrow of his bones.
"Get along," a voice intruded upon his confusion, "We do not have much time."
"Time? For what?" Connor managed to say. The effort it required just to formulate those simple questions was nearly beyond his abilities.
"You're a strong one," the voice came again, "but not strong enough. You need not be asking questions, boy. You just follow my orders. Just like I tell you. That's all required of you. No need to be thinking. I do the thinking, not you."
Connor forced himself to regard the voice's source. It was a little man, dressed in a strange red outfit. Something told him that he needed to resist, but he couldn't. It was too hard. The little man shoved him roughly, nearly throwing him off balance. A thin thread of anger flashed through him, but it faded before he could grasp it.
"It's dangerous here, boy. Very dangerous. You have an important job to do," the little man said, slyly deciding that bullying was the wrong tack to take with the young man. "We must not dally. Time's a wasting. You must not fail. The world's at stake, you know."
"Danger. World at stake," Connor echoed blindly.
"Aye, boy. Danger. The fate of the world rests on you. You must not fail. Look you there. Do you not see those guardians? You must destroy all four of them. You must not fail," the little man insisted.
Before them stood monstrous creatures dressed like soldiers in high red hats with shiny black bills, blue jackets and white pants. White bandoliers crossed their chests and in their hands where white bayoneted rifles. The creatures moved woodenly, barring their entrance to a palace of crystalline ice.
"Here," said the little man as he handed Connor a double-headed axe. "You must not allow them to stop us."
"Must not allow them to stop us," Connor echoed as he approached the gigantic figures. He swung the axe, slicing through the arms of one of the soldiers. The others immediately attacked, swinging their wooden rifles, trying to impale Connor upon their razor sharp bayonets. Connor dodged and leaped, nearly missing being struck by one, quickly rolling out of the way of another. He swung his axe, sending wooden splinters flying everywhere as he sliced through wooden legs, arms and anything else that he could reach. Then there were no more.
"You did well, boy," the little man said as he shoved a massive iron key through a lock into the thick wooden door before them. "There are more tests before you. More before we reach our final goal."
"Goal?" Connor echoed, managing to turn it into a question, feeling somehow that he needed to know something.
"Aye, our goal, boy. Let me worry about that. You have enough to worry about. Look about you."
All around them were more huge creatures. These resembled stuffed toys and rag dolls with red yarn hair. For a breath they seemed frozen, waiting for something. Then suddenly they all turned as one toward the pair. "There be work for you to do," the little man commanded, "but do it quickly. Time passes," he urged as a smiling rag doll lunged for him.
Connor swung the axe, shearing off one of the creature's arms, sending cotton stuffing flying around them like snow. More attacked, until Connor was immersed in stuffing, fragments of red yarn and brown mohair fur. He was starting to tire, swinging mechanically at anything that moved. The gigantic toys were slowing their attack, but did not retreat. Suddenly a small, stuttering biplane appeared overhead. It swooped over Connor, firing suction-cup tipped bullets at them. Harmless, they struck Connor in the head and about his body. The distraction was enough to give a large Teddy bear the chance to grab Connor in a furry embrace. He was helpless. His arms were pinned to his sides as the bear lifted him high up into the air. The bear's grasp slowly began to tighten. Far below him the little man impotently sliced and stabbed at the bear's legs with his candy cane sword.
Suddenly another little man appeared in the middle of the chaos, "What are you doing, Foxx Redd? Why are you and this stranger attacking us?"
Foxx Redd turned to the newcomer with a hiss. "No one would listen to me, Forrest Greene. Not even Santa. I warned you all what would happen if we let things keep on going on the way they have been going. Everyone has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. All everyone thinks about is buying things. It's gotten insane. Christmas decorations are going up before Halloween. I told you it must be stopped. But did anyone listen to me? No! No one!"
"This is not the way!" Forrest Greene protested.
"There is no other way!" Foxx Redd screamed, lunging for Forrest Greene, impaling him with his sword.
Forrest Greene fell against the remnants of doll's arm. His blood stained the soft white fabric as he gasped out, "You were his right-hand elf."
As if its strings had been cut, the Teddy bear released its hold on Connor. It was a long way to fall, but the stuffing covered floor was soft as he rolled to break the impact of his fall. Suddenly he found himself staring into the shiny toes of a pair big black boots. He rose to his feet to face a tall, white-bearded man dressed in a long red dressing gown edged with white fur. Sky blue eyes regarded him with infinite sadness. "So this is the boy who would destroy Christmas?" the man said.
"Strike him," Foxx Redd screamed at Connor. "The time is near past. The deed must be done now!" He threw the dropped axe to Connor. "Do it quickly. They come. It must be done now!"
His mind finally clear of confusion, Connor regarded the little man and the axe that had landed at his feet. "No," he said.
"Boy, you will do as I say!" Foxx Redd screamed. "The deed must be done."
"Not by me!" Connor yelled back at him. "Not by me, not by anyone!"
"It is ended, Foxx," Santa said to the little man. "He sees the truth now."
"I will not have it!" Foxx screamed. In his hand appeared a snow globe, "You will be mine again!" he said throwing the globe at Connor.
Connor backhanded the globe away from him, but found instead the elf's blade buried into his belly.
"No!" Angel screamed seeing the elf pulling his sword out of Connor's body.
The Shadow's twin 45's spat fire, catching the evil elf, sending him flying across the room.
Santa knelt next to the stricken boy. He pressed a hand against the wound in Connor's stomach as he brushed a lock of brown hair out of the boy's face. Angel collapsed to his knees next to him, "Connor," he whispered.
"I can heal him," Santa said, "But only you can bring him back from where he journeys now."
At first Connor could not believe his eyes. He found himself in a room dominated by a tall Christmas tree decorated with lit candles and fragile glass ornaments. Gaily wrapped presents were piled beneath the tree. Set in a wall between two windows was a brick fireplace holding a fire that happily snapped and crackled. Tall brass candlesticks in the windows held white tapers that flickered brightly. Through the windows he could see large snowflakes floating against a blue-black night sky.
"Merry Christmas, Connor," said a beautiful blonde woman dressed in a long red satin gown.
Connor smiled and ran into her arms. "Mommy," he said happily. Then stopped, confused at the squeak of his voice. Then he looked down at himself. Instead of the body of an eighteen year old, he found himself in the body of a ten year old dressed in flannel pajamas. "How?"
Darla smiled, "Isn't this the Christmas you've always wanted?" she asked.
"Yes," Connor admitted. "But how?"
"This is the granting of your Christmas wish," Darla answered. She gave a present to Connor. "Open it up," she said.
Connor opened the present, rapidly tearing away the bright foil paper and satin ribbon. He pulled out a snow globe with a golden angel inside it. He turned it upside down then right side up. Glittering flakes floated around the angel. "How long?" he asked his mother.
"Forever," she said, "Or as long as you want."
Connor smiled, "Forever," he breathed.
"What do I need to do?" Angel asked Santa.
"The Shadow can show you the way," Santa replied.
"Shadow..." Angel said turning to the black cloaked crime-fighter.
"Tis the season," the Shadow responded placing his hand on Angel's shoulder, "Think of your Christmas wish," he instructed.
The first thing Angel saw was Darla sitting before a fireplace. She had on a full skirted red gown that was trimmed in white lace. Her long blonde hair caught up with a silver comb tumbled around her face and slender neck in large soft curls. It had been a very long time since she had seen her so beautiful.
Next he noticed was the young boy in her arms. Although he was only ten, he knew automatically that the boy was Connor. This was Connor's dream and as he looked around the cozy room with the Christmas tree, the soft hissing gas lamps, the sigh of snowfall outside, he realized it was also his dream. This might have been his life if he had not become a vampire.
"Darling," Darla said, rising to greet him, "I'm so glad to see that you've come home. Connor has been waiting all evening for you to return."
"Of course," Angel replied, "I'm sorry if I'm late."
"No problem, dear," she said as she stooped, then brought out a gift from under the tree. "Here is your gift," she said, handing it to him.
Angel opened the gift to find a ring inside it. The ring was of two hands holding a heart.
"I know you lost it some time ago and missed it. I hope you like it," she said.
Angel studied the ring for a few minutes, remembering the girl he had given a ring much like this one to. It would be so good to forget the past, to live only in this dream.
"What will happen if the boy dies while Angel is still within?" the Shadow asked Santa worriedly. Time was passing quickly and he could feel Connor's heart slow beneath his hand.
"Then Angel will never return to us. He will die with his son."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Nothing," Santa replied.
"Do you like it?" Darla asked.
"It's very nice," Angel replied.
Connor ran to him and he knelt to receive his hug. He gazed into the boy's innocent blue eyes "What do you think of all this, son?"
Connor the child looked back at him seriously. Angel could see the Connor of Quor-toth in his eyes. "It's very nice here," he said. "I have you and I have my mother. I've always wanted it like this."
"So have I," Angel admitted, "But we can't stay here.".
Connor shook his head. "I don't want to leave."
"You have to. We both have to."
Connor stomped his foot peevishly, "No! I don't want to. Ever!" He ran into Darla's arms. "Mommy! I want to stay with you!" he protested.
Darla looked at Angel. "Let him stay. I've been so lonely. I want him with me. I want you with me, too," she urged.
"We can't stay," Angel answered.
"No!" Darla protested, "Stay with me."
Angel grasped Darla by the shoulders, then tilted her chin up so that he could gaze into her eyes. She was so beautiful. Maybe if she had not become a vampire, if he had not. If fate had been different. If they had met in a different time and a different place... Tears glistened in her eyes. "We have to go. If we don't Connor will die. And so will I."
Darla pulled out of his grasp. Hugging herself, she said sadly, "I've been so lonely..."
"I know. So have I," Angel replied. "But you know what you must do."
"Mommy?" Connor demanded, pulling on Darla's skirts.
Darla knelt down and hugged Connor tightly. "You have to go, sweetheart."
"I don't want to."
"You have to, baby."
"I'm not a baby," Connor protested childishly.
"I know you aren't." Darla gently ran her fingers through Connor's fine hair, "I know you aren't a baby. You're a fine young man. Be brave for me and go with your father. That's where you belong."
"But..." Connor protested tearfully.
Tears falling freely down her cheeks, Darla rose to her feet and taking Connor's hand in hers, led him to Angel's side. She placed Connor's hand in Angel's. "Take good care of our son," she said.
"I will," Angel answered, "On my life, I promise I will."
"Connor," Darla said, "I'll always be with you. Look in your heart and I'll always be there."
"Are you ready?" Angel asked Connor.
Connor swept the tears from his eyes, then nodded sadly, "Yeah."
Angel found himself surrounded by the Shadow, Santa, and Santa's elves. "Connor!" he said looking down at his son in his arms.
Connor opened his eyes. There were tears in them. "Mom!" he cried like a lost child.
Angel hugged Connor, "It's okay. She'll always be in your heart." Angel placed his hand over Connor's wound. It was healed.
Santa nodded. "It's Christmas morning. It's time for the three of you to go home," he said with a twinkle in his eye.
In a blink of time Angel found himself and Connor back in New York City. The sun was shining brightly through the soft falling snow. It did not burn. Angel wrapped his arm around Connor who returned the favor. "How about we walk back? I'd like to get an idea of what the city looks like in the day."
"Sounds good to me," Connor replied.
As the plane flew into L.A. Cordelia breathed a sign of relief. "I never thought I would say it, but I am so glad to be going back home."
"Me too," Gunn replied. "Give me palm trees and sunny beaches any time. They can have that damn snow."
"Oh, Gunn," Fred said, giving Gunn's arm a squeeze, "It wasn't so bad."
"Hmph," Gunn groused. "I never thought we'd leave. It was a miracle that the storm cleared at the last moment."
"Speaking of miracles," Cordelia remarked, "I can't believe that we were able to get tickets back to L.A. on Christmas day."
"We could've stayed another day," Fred mentioned to Cordelia.
"No way," Cordelia said, "L.A.'s my city. I'd rather spend the rest of the week in my own home and in my own bed."
"Ditto," Gunn remarked.
"How about you?" Angel asked Connor, "Are you glad to be back in L.A.?"
Pulling his eyes away from the fascinating sight below of cars changing from toys to full size, Connor turned to Angel. "Yeah," he replied. "I'm glad to be back home too."
"Home?" Angel remarked.
Connor smiled. "Yeah, home." He nodded to himself. "Home," he repeated, "You know, I like that word." He gazed at Angel thoughtfully, "I'm sorry the miracle isn't going to last very long."
"Miracle?" Angel asked.
"Yeah, you know. You being able to be out in the daytime. I guess today's the only day."
Angel shrugged. "Having you safe, and well is the bigger miracle to me."
"Home sweet home," Cordelia said as she breezed into the hotel's lobby. Then she stopped cold awestruck. Sweet-smelling pine garlands were draped from pillar to pillar and in the middle of the room was a Christmas tree that nearly touched the high ceiling.
Lorne sat comfortably on an overstuffed chair with his feet up on a hassock, holding a cup of steaming apple cider. "Hi, folks. Back from the wars?" he asked.
"You might say that," Gunn replied. "You do all this?"
"No way, man. Decorating's not my thing." Lorne held up a card in his hand, "Let your big, brown eyes take a look at this, Angel sweetheart."
"Gimme," Angel said with a grin as he snatched the card out of Lorne's hand. One side of the business card was a present-filled sleigh. One the other in ornate cursive writing was S. Claus.
"Looks like you've made yourself some influential friends," Lorne remarked. "I have got to hear the story. But first..." Lorne waved his hand and music filled the lobby. "I'm in for some Christmas carols. What'd you like to hear first folks?" he asked, grabbing up a mike from his chair.
Lorne began to sing; Rocking around the Christmas tree, at the Christmas party hop. Mistletoe hung where you can see every couple tries to stop
Rocking around the Christmas tree, let the Christmas spirit ring. Later we'll have some pumpkin pie and we'll do some carolin
As he listened to Lorne sing, Angel reached under the Christmas tree for a small gift labeled To Connor from Angela. "Here," he said to Connor. "Why don't you open this. I'm kind of curious about what it could be."
"Sure," Connor replied as he began opening the box. Then he showed what was inside to Angel. It was a picture of Angel and Darla next to a Christmas tree. Grinning happily between them stood a ten year old Connor.
"Merry Christmas, Son," Angel said.
Connor looked up at the angel at the top of the Christmas tree. It had long blonde curls and a full skirted red dress. He smiled. "Merry Christmas, Dad," he said.