CROSSROADS

 

 

Copyright Rachel L. Kovaciny, 2005.  All rights reserved.  No infringement upon the rightful owners of "Combat!", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," or "Angel,"  and the characters thereof, is intended.  This piece of fan fiction is for enjoyment only, and in no way will the author gain monetary profit from its existence.

Author's Note:  This story involves a 78-year-old Billy Nelson from the tv show "Combat!", but is based in the world of "Angel."  So don't expect a war story!  Also, it alludes to events described in my previous crossover, "Bulletproof."  It might be helpful to read that before you read this, if you so desire.  And now, enough stuffy legal talk and author's notes, and on to the story!

 

"Searching"

Part One

by White Queen

 

 

Bill Nelson stretched his arms above his head and yawned.  "That was good," he said.  "You're right, I liked it."  He smiled, causing the creases around his eyes and mouth to deepen.

"Told you."  The young woman curled up beside him smiled back.  "Nothing like a good Mel Gibson movie."

"I don't know -- it's hard to beat ol' John Wayne.  When it comes to westerns, anyway."

"Yeah, yeah, you always say that."  She shook her head, making her chin-length brown hair swish back and forth. "I'll do the dishes tonight."  She winked and picked up the empty pizza box and two soda cans scattered on the floor in front of the sagging couch.  As she carried them the few feet to the kitchen wastebasket, a small grey terrier jumped up from beside the couch and pattered to the door.

"Looks like Tramp is ready for his walk," she said.  "Do you want me to fix up the couch-bed thingy first so you can get to sleep?"

"Why don't I come with you?"

"I thought you were tired," she scolded.

"Wouldn't you like some company?  Other than the Tramp, I mean."  Bill reached for the wooden cane leaning against the couch next to him, and slowly stood up with its aid.

"Only if you want to come along.  I just thought maybe you'd want to turn in; you've had a long trip."

"Not that long.  Besides, this leg of mine needs exercise.  Don't want it to stiffen up, do we?"

"After all this time?"  She grinned and reached for the red leash hanging on the doorknob, knelt, and snapped the hook onto Tramp's collar.  "As long as you're not doing this because you're worried about your little Melanie going out all by herself in the big bad city."  She stood up.  "I can take care of myself, you know that."

"Of course you can.  I taught you how, didn't I?"  Bill Nelson smiled.  "I'd just like some air, if we can find any."

"Okay."  Melanie opened the door, waited until Tramp and Bill had exited too, then closed and locked it behind them.  "It's just -- I know you and Grandma worry about me, and Mom too."

Bill put an arm around her shoulders.  "We love you!  Of course we worry about you."  He chuckled, then turned serious.  "Especially when we heard about that big earthquake."

"That was way south and east of here.  We didn't even get any damage.  And now that you've seen that this is a nice, safe neighborhood, you can tell Grandma and Mom to stop worrying.  Right?"

He nodded.  "It's pretty nice.  I've only seen three panhandlers so far."

"Grandpa!  Don't call them that.  It's not nice."  She frowned at him as they reached the stairs.  "And are you sure you don't want to take the elevator?"

Bill waved a reassuring hand at his granddaughter.  "Stairs keep me limber.  As long as I take them one at a time, that is."

*****

The hot LA night was brighter than Bill had expected.  "Does it ever really get dark around here?" he teased.

Melanie shook her head.  "Not like back home.  Too many street lights."

"I see," he joked.

Tramp pulled eagerly at his leash, heading toward the small park a few blocks ahead.  Melanie held him back more than usual, slowing their pace to match her grandfather's.  The streets in her quiet neighborhood were fairly empty; now and then a car whizzed past, but they were the only pedestrians in the area.

"I wish you could stay longer," she confided.  "Most of my friends are in summer school, but with my internship, I never see them."

"I wish I could.  Then again, a week can start to feel pretty long after a while."  He winked.

"Are you implying I'll get tired of having you around?" Melanie shot back, mock-angrily.

"Surely there are more exciting things to do than sit around your apartment for a week with an old man."

Melanie rolled her eyes.  "First, you're not that old.  Second, I don't plan to just sit around while you're here -- there are all sorts of things to do in LA.  Third, I'm not that fond of excitement.  I like sitting on the couch watching movies.  Especially with you."

Bill Nelson took her hand in his free one and gave it an affectionate squeeze.  "Listen to you argue -- this pre-law stuff you're studying must really work!"

She laughed, and was trying to find a suitable retort when a man stepped slightly into their path.  Neither Bill nor Melanie had noticed him until he quietly blocked their way.

"Excuse me," he said politely.  "I hate to bother you, but do you live around here?  I seem to be a little lost."  He laughed nervously, and ran a hand through his pale blond hair.  The jeans and black t-shirt he wore looked rumpled, as if he'd slept in them.

"Uh, yeah, I just moved here about a month ago," Melanie answered, stopping and signaling for Tramp to sit.

"Well, I'm trying to find a friend of mine.  He lives on Monk Street.  Is that anywhere around here?"  He held up a worn piece of paper with a blurry address scrawled on it.

Melanie looked at the address.  "Monk Street... it doesn't sound familiar."

Bill noticed that the man's eyes kept shifting from Melanie to some point behind them.  Something didn't feel right to Bill -- the man seemed too eager, too friendly.  But Bill told himself he just had too many years of fight-or-flight behind him, that he was paranoid.  Still, he looked over his shoulder, but saw nothing except an empty alley.

The man continued talking, "He said it was near the Manfred Mall.  Do you know where that might be?"

Melanie shook her head.  "Never heard of it."

"Well, he did say you could get to Monk Street from Carraway Court.  Do you know where that is?"

"Yeah," Melanie smiled.  "I think it's back that way."  As she turned and pointed back toward her apartment, another man suddenly rushed out of the alley behind them.  Taller and broader than the first man, he grabbed Melanie's pointing hand and twisted it cruelly behind her back.  She dropped Tramp's leash, and he ran around and around the little group, barking angrily.

Bill Nelson took action.  He reached out and pushed the blond man off balance, then swung his cane and hit Melanie's attacker behind the right knee.  As her assailant sagged, Melanie spun around and freed her hand from his grip.  The first man regained his balance and rushed at Bill, obviously intending to throw him to the sidewalk.  Bill sidestepped the rush and struck out with his cane, feeling it connect with the man's back.

Melanie pulled back her fist, intending to slug her attacker, who was still holding his knee and howling.  But before she could throw her punch, a third man, a slim young African-American, entered the fracas and grabbed both her arms, pinning them behind her.

The second man joined the first in fighting Bill.  Dealing blows with his wooden cane, he held his own against the two younger men for a minute or so, but then the third man snarled, "Forget the old man.  Just take the girl."

The blond nodded and pulled a blackjack from his back pocket.

Just before the world faded from view, Bill heard Melanie scream, "Grandpa!"

*****

Bill sensed someone near him.  He opened his eyes a little, and could barely make out a blurry form kneeling on the sidewalk.  He blinked a few times, trying to bring the figure into focus.

The man beside him spoke, and Bill struggled to make out the words.  They sounded like, "And I thought I was having a bad night," but the man spoke in some sort of British accent that Bill's aching brain didn't want to work around.

The man touched Bill's shoulder gently.  "You alright?"

This time Bill understood.  He tried to speak, but his mouth wouldn't cooperate, so he shook his head slightly.  This sent a wrenching pain through his head, but his eyes cleared a bit, and he squinted at the figure at his side.  He glimpsed white-blond hair, a long black coat, severely pronounced cheekbones.  All that, combined with the accent, made the man seem itchingly familiar.  The hair was wrong, but everything else brought back memories Bill had left buried for decades.  As things slithered out of focus again, a long un-thought-of name surfaced, and he managed to moan "Spike?" before slipping back into oblivion.

*****

The second time Bill regained consciousness, his head hurt a little less.  He realized he lay on something softer, yet lumpier, than a sidewalk.  He tried to open his eyes, but the brightness of his surroundings convinced him to keep them closed a while longer.  He could hear two men arguing near him, and concentrated on what they said.

"I still don't see why you brought him here," one man said, his voice low but forceful, angry.

"He knew who I was -- he called me 'Spike'!  I couldn't just leave him there."  That was the odd British accent again.

"Don't you think it's a little strange that an old man you just happen to stumble on only a few blocks from here just happened to know your name?"

"Maybe I attacked him sometime.  Before."

"And didn't kill him?"  The angry one turned sarcastic.

"I don't know!  All I'm saying is, he's helpless, so I helped him.  We do still help people, don't we?  Sort of our raison d'etre and all?"

The angry one sighed loudly.  "Supposedly.  I just think it's suspicious.  He could be working for them."

"Well, then we've got him where we can keep an eye on him.  You should be thanking me, Angel."

"That'll be the day," snorted the angry one called 'Angel'.  "And what if he's badly injured?  Then you shouldn't have moved him."

Bill decided to try opening his eyes again.  It wasn't really so bright around him after all.  He blinked a few times, then stared up at a low once-white ceiling mottled with water stains.

"Yo, guys, I think he's awake," a new voice said.  It sounded young to Bill, possibly African-American.  He turned his head a little and saw he'd been correct on both counts.

The speaker half sat and half lay on a cot across the room.  His head shaved smooth, he wore frayed jeans and a blue hooded sweatshirt.  The sweatshirt was unzipped, revealing a torso mostly covered by bandages.  He smiled at Bill.  "How you feelin'?"

Bill blinked again.  "Swell.  You?" he croaked.

The young man grinned.  "The same."

The other two came into view, one the blond who'd found Bill.  He'd removed his long black coat, and wore simply dark jeans and a tight black t-shirt.  His unnaturally blond hair lay close to his head in deeply-combed lines.  The angry one he'd been arguing with was a tall, broad-shouldered fellow in a dark sweater and black pants.  His short, dark hair stuck straight up in the front, but rested placidly along his head everywhere else.  He crouched by Bill and rested a hand on the couch by Bill's shoulder.  "You're awake."  His voice was kind, but his eyes remained cold.

The blond rolled his eyes.  "Oh, what a brilliant leader we have."

"Shut up, Spike," the dark one said quietly, almost absently, still focused on Bill.  "I'm Angel.  Is there any way we can help you?"

"Yes," Bill said, his voice gradually finding itself again.  "Melanie -- my granddaughter -- they took her.  I need to call the police."

"The people that did this to you, they took your granddaughter?" Angel asked.

"That's right."

"Could you describe them?"

Bill hesitated.

The young man on the cot seemed to understand the hesitation.  "We're sort of private investigators.  Maybe we can help you."

"We're very good," Spike broke in.  "Well, maybe not very good.  But we can find people.  What'd these attackers look like?" he asked eagerly, crouching beside the couch as well.  "Horns?  Fangs?  Hooves?  Did they have tails?"

Bill gave him a look that clearly showed he thought Spike just might be crazy.  "Really, I'd rather call the police.  No offence, it's just... I'd feel better that way."  Bill tried to sit up a little, and found that he could do so without causing the room to spin. He succeeded in raising himself onto one elbow, like the man on the cot, who had lapsed back into silence.

"You seem to be feeling better, Mister uh..." Angel paused, obviously waiting for the grey-haired man to supply a name.

"Bill Nelson."

Angel smiled with half his mouth.  "Mr. Nelson.  I really would like to help you find your granddaughter.  Sometimes we can do things that the police can't."

"I'm sure you can.  But honestly, I'd rather call the police," Bill reiterated.

Angel nodded.  "If that's how you feel."  He paused, then added, "Could you answer one question for me?"

"I'll try."

"How did you know Spike's name?"

Bill blinked, and looked over at Spike, who now sat cross-legged on the floor by the couch.  "It's -- it's really impossible."

"What is?"

"I -- he -- he looks like someone I met once.  But that was sixty years ago."  Why did this matter?  Couldn't they see they were wasting time?  Time that could be used to find Melanie?

"Sixty years ago.  World War Two?"

"Yes.  There was a Nazi... he wanted to defect.  There was a sniper, and a pal of mine got wounded.  But it can't be--"  He looked at Spike again.  "You look exactly the same.  Except he had black hair."

Spike tipped his head to one side and squinted at Bill.  "Nelson.  Bill Nelson.  Sniper."  He closed his eyes a moment, then opened them and grinned.  "They called you 'Billy' then, didn't they!  I remember -- your medic got shot.  Some mouthy little wanker made me help carry him."

Bill stared at Spike.  "It's not possible."

Angel glanced at Spike.  "Then you think he's on the level?"

"Sure, why not?  I remember it now," Spike chuckled.  "He called me Superman."

"Superman?" Angel mocked him.

Spike glared.  "I said I was more like Batman."

Angel nearly had to smile.

Bill looked from Spike to Angel and back to Spike, his eyes narrowed warily.  "I don't understand what's going on."

Spike grinned.  "You said yourself I was a superhero."

"I'm a little too old to believe in superheroes anymore," Bill retorted.  Whatever was going on, however Spike managed to look as young as he had decades earlier -- none of that mattered.  "Now, if you'll please help me to your phone, I'd like to call the police.  My granddaughter, remember?  She's been abducted."

"Uh, yeah," Angel said uncomfortably.  "The thing is, we don't actually have a phone at the moment."

"No phone?"

"Well, we have a phone, but it doesn't work.  We're still kind of... regrouping.  After that big quake last week.  Our offices were destroyed.  It's just taking us some time to get back on our feet," he apologized.

Bill looked at the young man on the cot.  "I can see that."

Angel nodded.  "Gunn just got out of the hospital yesterday."

Bill raised his grey eyebrows.  "Gun?"

The man on the couch waved.  "Charles Gunn, two 'n's, at your service."  He smiled a little.  "As long as you don't need any heavy lifting."

Bill nodded to Gunn.  "Thanks."  Then he turned his attention back to Angel.  "Surely there must be a pay phone nearby."

Spike raised a hand.  "I could just take him to that police station.  It's only a couple blocks."

Angel looked at Bill.  "You feel up to walking a few blocks?  We don't have a car anymore either.  I suppose we could try to hail a taxi."

Spike snorted.  "A taxi?  In the middle of the night?  You know that's hopeless."

"I can try."  Bill pushed himself off the couch until he sat upright.  He reached automatically beside him for his cane, then asked, "My cane, did you find my cane?"

Spike nodded.  "Broken in two.  I left it there."

"Do you have something I could use instead?  I'm terribly slow without one."

Angel stood up.  "I think we can find something."

Gunn asked, "Are you sure you should be walking, Mr. Nelson?  If you got knocked out, you probably have a concussion."

"Hey, didn't think of that," Spike agreed.

Bill shrugged.  "Do I seem dazed?  Have memory loss?  Am I dizzy?  Have I vomited?  Are my pupils unequal?"

Spike moved closer and stared into Bill's eyes.  "Look equal to me."

Bill shivered when Spike made eye contact, but ignored his uneasiness.  "Good.  Then I'm fine.  Any concussion is minimal."  And didn't matter nearly as much as finding Melanie.

Angel came back, a heavy black walking stick in his hand.  The top of the cane looked like a silver billiard ball, ornately etched with what seemed to Bill like the random scribblings of a child.  "I found this, will it work?"  He held it out toward the couch.

Gunn frowned.  "That was Wes's, wasn't it?  I thought I saw it with the stuff you salvaged from his place."

Angel frowned back.  "Wesley doesn't need it anymore."  He drew his eyebrows together, making the shadows over his deep-set eyes even darker.

"It'll work," Bill said, reaching for the cane.

"Would you mind if I checked out the crime scene anyway, Mr. Nelson?" Angel asked.  "Maybe I can find something.  A trail."

Bill shrugged.  "Go ahead.  If you find anything, it'll save the police some time."

"Where was it?"

Spike answered, "By that park down on Jolie Avenue."

"I'll check it out."

*****

Spike stopped outside the police station.  "You go on in.  I'll wait here."  He waved a pack of cigarettes as a reason.  "Need a smoke."

"You don't need to wait.  This could take a while."

Spike shrugged.  "I've got a while."

Bill nodded.  "Okay."  He climbed the three cement steps in front of the station, and entered the hand-print-smudged glass doors.  Inside, the familiar smells of paper, warm computers, and disinfectant mingled in his nostrils.

The policeman on duty at the desk looked up.  He was young, probably Melanie's age.  "Can I help you?"

Bill drew himself up as tall as he could, took a deep breath, and made his voice authoritative.  "Hello, my name is Nelson, Lieutenant Nelson.  I'm with the Footville County Police Dept, in Footville, Missouri."

The policeman looked puzzled.  "Are you here on official business, sir?"

"I'd like to report a missing person."

"Missing during the quake, or more recently?"

"Recently."

"As in, you think they're still alive?"

"Yes!"  Good grief, of course he thought she was still alive.

"Right."  The policeman typed something into the computer on his desk, waited a moment, then asked, "Full name?  Of the missing person, I know yours."

"Melanie June Taylor."

"Nickname?"

"None, really."  He knew the procedure; how many of these hadn't he filled out himself?  But he followed the ritual as patiently as he could.

"Sex?"

"Female."

"Hair?"

"Medium brown, chin-length."  She always tried to grow it longer, then got impatient and cut it again.

"Eyes?"

"Blue."

"Identifying marks?"

"Medium-sized birthmark on her right shoulder."

"Height?"

"Five-foot-three."

"Weight?"

"I don't know -- say 130 to 140?"

"Age?"

"Twenty-one."

"Address?"

"Two-forty-four Jolie Avenue."

"Phone number?"

"I don't remember -- she just moved there."

The man typed Bill's answers into his computer.

"Time of disappearance?"

"About ten-thirty tonight."

"Place last seen?"

"Near a park over on Jolie Avenue.  We were walking her dog, and three men attacked us."

"So this is a suspected kidnapping?"

"Yes."

"Descriptions of the attackers?"

"Male, two Caucasian and one African-American.  One Caucasian was blond and about my height, and wore jeans and a black t-shirt.  He was the only one I saw very clearly.  The other had dark hair and broad shoulders.  No facial hair, any of them.  And no masks"

"You were with her when they attacked?"

"Yes.  They knocked me out and when I woke up, they were gone."

"Your relationship to the missing person?"

Bill sagged a little, and his voice lost the edge of its authority.  "She's my granddaughter."

The policeman nodded.  "Thank you, Lt. Nelson.  We'll get someone on it as soon as we can."

"As soon as you can?"  Bill leaned across the desk.  "Don't you mean immediately?"

The young man shook his head.  "I'm sorry, sir, but all units are engaged at the moment.  There's more looting going on south of here.  Where the quake hit hardest," he explained.

"We're wasting time, young man!  My granddaughter has been missing for over an hour."

"Yes, sir, I'm sorry."  He didn't look very apologetic.

"Don't you think you can at least spare one man to visit the crime scene with me?"

"I'm sorry, sir."  He smiled ingratiatingly.  "You're a policeman yourself, you know what it's like.  Ever since that quake we've had nothing but trouble.  Looting, riots, homicides.  This city seems on the brink of war, or maybe several wars.  Your granddaughter isn't the only person missing."

Bill nodded.  "I see."  He turned on his heel and walked out of the police station, so angry he barely needed the black cane.

Spike met him outside.  "That didn't take long."  He took a long drag from his cigarette, pulling his sunken cheeks in even further.

"No."  Bill could barely speak, afraid his anger would erupt if he opened his mouth too long.  He glared darkly at the police station, and his nostrils flared.  "Punk."

"I take it things didn't go so well?"  Spike flicked away his cigarette butt.  It fell in a graceful, glowing arch.

"Are you three really private investigators?" Bill asked, controlling his anger and beginning to walk back the way they'd come.

"Angel was.  Then he was the head of a law firm for a while."  Spike laughed derisively.  "But since the quake?  Angel calls it 'regrouping'.  I call it 'hiding'."

"Would you be willing to help me?"

"I thought you said the police would take care of it."

"The police are busy.  Or so they say."

"They would be."  Spike stuck his hands in the pockets of his leather coat.

"Because of the earthquake?"

"Yeah."

"Melanie didn't tell us things were that bad."

Spike shook his head.  "They're not, around here.  But further south, in the less civilized parts of town..."

"Race riots?"

"No.  Just riots.  Angry people with nothing better to do.  The shake-up did a lot of damage in a couple places.  Some people lost a lot."  He shook his head.

Bill glanced at him, and realized he looked almost sad.  "What?"

"Oh," Spike shrugged, "just remembering that night."

"The night of the quake."

"Yeah."

"You lost something?" Bill guessed.

"A couple friends.  That law firm Angel 'ran' -- the whole building collapsed.  And he owned some old hotel, the Hyper-something.  It got swallowed."

"Swallowed?"

"Whoosh, completely gone.  Ground opened up and it was no more."

"You were there?"

"The four of us were."  Spike smiled grimly.

"Why the smile?"

"Let's just say we lost a lot of enemies that night too."

They were halfway back.  "And now you live underground in the basement of an abandoned building."

"For now."

Neither of them said anything for an entire block.  Finally, Spike spoke.  "You haven't asked me."

"Asked you what?"

"Lots of things.  Why I haven't aged since the war.  Why I'm a nicer fellow now."

"I don't guess it's any of my business."

"Or maybe you don't want to hear the answers."

"Maybe."

"Think you'll believe me if I tell you?"

"Maybe."

"Vampires.  We're vampires."

Bill said nothing, but simply stared at the pavement as if he needed to plan each step with the utmost precision.  He didn't have time for this -- he just needed to figure out a way to rescue Melanie.

"Believe me?"

"All three of you?"

"No, Gunn's human.  Just me and Angel."

"I see."  Bill kept his voice even, not betraying either belief or disbelief.

"Oh, and there's Illyria, you haven't met her."

"What's she?" Bill asked politely.

"She's, uh--"  Spike searched for the right word.  "--blue," he finished.

"We're getting close to your building, aren't we?"

"Yeah."  Spike looked at Bill, scanning his face.  "You're not asking why we haven't drained you dry.  Why we're helping you."

Bill shrugged.

"We have souls.  Me and Angel.  We're not evil anymore," Spike volunteered.

Bill stopped walking and faced Spike.  "Look, I don't really care if you say you're the tooth fairy.  You've offered to help me find my granddaughter, and that's all that matters."

"Fine.  Just thought you might want to know."  Spike lit up another cigarette.

"Those'll kill you," Bill said automatically.

"Not a problem."

*******

When they reentered the derelict building's basement, Spike stopped Bill outside a thick wooden door.  He rapped once, then twice quickly, then once again.  "Lets Gunn know it's us," he explained.  "Worked it out yesterday when he got back."

Bill could hear someone dragging something behind the door, then a noise like a heavy chain being moved, and a loud deadbolt opening.  The door swung slowly inward, and they entered.

"Back in the old lair," Spike smiled.  "How you feeling, Gunn?"

"Not so bad.  Still on those painkillers."  Gunn moved slowly back to his cot, carefully setting down his pistol and crossbow before lying down again.  "Glad you're back though -- there's nothing on."  He picked up a remote from his cot and switched off the tv.

"The big man get back yet?"  Spike gestured for Bill to take a seat on the couch.

"Yeah, he's in his room.  Yo, Angel," Gunn raised his voice and turned toward a closed door in the far wall.

The door opened, and Angel walked out.  "Mr. Nelson.  I take it your visit to the station was unsatisfactory."

"The police were... too busy to help me."

Angel nodded.  "I kind of thought they might be."

"You're a PI?"

"In a way."

"Did you visit the crime scene?"

"Yes."  Angel pulled a chair up beside the couch and sat down.  He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands.  "I found your cane.  That's about it.  No blood, no trail.  Checked out a couple alleys."

"Oh."  Bill closed his eyes.  His head ached again, and this frustration wasn't helping.

"But that doesn't mean I can't help you.  If you want me to."

Bill looked Angel in the eyes, and saw they were kinder than before.  "You believe me now."  He shivered unconsciously and dropped his gaze.

Angel nodded.  "I do.  I'm sorry I didn't before -- we've got some pretty powerful enemies out there, and I thought you might be working for them."

"Why the turnaround?"

"I checked into some things.  Let the night air clear my head.  So tell me what happened."

Bill Nelson went over the attack step-by-step, complete with descriptions of the attackers and of Melanie.

When Bill finished, Angel asked, "Do you have any theories on who they might be?"

"No.  I'd never seen any of them before.  I don't live around here though -- I'm just visiting Melanie for a week.  Her grandmother and mother and I live in Missouri."

"Do you or Melanie have any enemies, people that might gain something from her disappearing?"

Bill thought a moment, then shook his head.  "I can't think of anyone.  Sure, there may be people who don't like me much.  But no one that would do this."

"What about Melanie?  Someone from her job?"

"I don't know.  She's attending UCLA, but right now she's doing an internship for a law firm over the summer.  And working part-time at a bookstore."

Angel's eyes narrowed, and Spike and Gunn both looked intently at Bill.  "What law firm?" they asked in unison.

"Kimble-Gerard."

All three relaxed.  "Oh," was all Angel said.

"Doesn't seem like much to go on," Spike muttered.

Angel glared at him.

"What?  I'm just saying what you're thinking!"  Spike still wore his long black coat, and as he began pacing the apartment, it swung jauntily behind him.  "No enemies, no blood trail, no baddies you could look up in your dusty old books.  Just a missing girl."

"And a missing dog," Bill reminded them.  "But I suppose Tramp ran off to the park or something."

"Right."  Spike continued pacing.  "Nothing.  That's what we've got."

"I don't know about you," Gunn said, "but I'm kind of wishing we had Cordy or Fred around.  They'd just click a few buttons and bring up some vital clue on the computer."

"Well they're not here," Angel growled.  Then he brightened.  "But we could still use the computer.  Spike--"

Spike stopped pacing.  "What?"

"Why don't you get online and see if you can find a clue."  His tone bordered on wheedling.

"Why me?"

Angel shrugged.  "You're always bragging about how much you learned from Willow, about hacking and what-have-you."

"Yeah, well, don't believe everything I brag about."

Gunn laughed.

"Hey," Spike turned toward Gunn.  "What about you?  You got all that law mumbo-jumbo in your head.  They teach you anything about computers?"

While the three of them argued, Bill stood up from the couch, unnoticed.  He moved to a dusty black laptop perched on a table in a corner near Angel's door.  It seemed connected and plugged in, so he tried turning it on.  The laptop whirred encouragingly and started flashing white words and letters across the screen.  He waited for it to boot up, and half-listened to the bickering behind him.

Eventually, Gunn noticed their guest had moved.  "I think Mr. Nelson beat us to the punch."  He nodded toward Bill, and the others turned to look.

Bill clicked the mouse a few times, and shook his head.  "You have a computer and an internet connection, but no phone?"

Angel made a noise halfway between a laugh and a snort.  "Illyria has discovered chat rooms."

Bill's eyes roved over the screen.  He typed a few things, then turned to look at the others while he waited for his page to load.  "The punk at the station said Melanie isn't the only person missing recently."

Angel nodded, and walked over toward Bill and the computer.  "You think there may be a connection between her and other people who've disappeared?"

Bill shrugged.  "It's worth a shot."  He turned back to the computer.

Angel leaned over Bill's shoulder.  "What the -- you're in the LAPD database?"

"Brilliant."  Spike joined them.  "You've hacked into LAPD?  That'll really make them eager to help you."

Bill shook his head.  "I didn't have to hack in.  You haven't asked what I've been doing since the war."

Spike nodded.  "Alright, I bite.  What've you done since the war?"

Bill smiled.  "I've been a cop.  And ever since a leg wound took me off active duty, I've been sitting at a series of ever-larger desks using our force's computers."  He typed more words.

Angel backed away.  "I'm glad somebody knows how to run the thing," he muttered.

Spike stayed slightly bent over Bill's shoulder, watching in fascination.

Four raps came at the door, the same combination Spike had used.  "I'll get it," Angel said, motioning for Gunn to stay put.  He pulled away the heavy chair they'd propped under the doorknob, undid the deadbolt and chain, and opened the door.  "Illyria," he said noncommittally.

"The patterned knocking is absurd," a deep female voice replied haughtily.  "This door could not withstand the force of my smallest finger.  Surely our enemies also hold the power to destroy it."

Bill glanced over his shoulder, then looked again, longer.  The woman who'd entered was precisely as Spike described her:  blue.  Not entirely blue, certainly.  But her upper forehead was a bright metallic blue, deepening up into her scalp, and her hair had streaks of the same.  Her lips had a blueish tinge, and her eyes glowed like icy puddles under a clear sky.  She wore some sort of brown futuristic suit that vaguely reminded Bill of that X-Men movie Melanie had made him watch.

He turned back to his computer.  Finding Melanie -- he had to concentrate on that.  Not on the strange beings that surrounded him.

Illyria pointed to Bill.  "A visitor."

Gunn nodded.  "His name is Bill Nelson.  We're helping him find his granddaughter.  Trying to, anyway."

Illyria tilted her head to one side and studied Bill.  "He seems old, yet strong," she concluded.  "Like the skin of an aging elephant."

Gunn laughed.  "You been to the zoo again."

"I have."  She turned her gaze to Gunn.  "The flamingos revolt me."

Spike rolled his eyes.  "Ignore her, if you can," he advised Bill quietly.

"Finding anything?" Angel asked.

"He was right, a lot of people are missing since the earthquake.  Not just the ones that are probably piled under rubble either," Bill answered.  He frowned.  "That's not good."

"What's not good?"  Angel began slowly walking from one side of the room to the other, his arms folded.

"Some of them are turning up dead."

"How many?"

"Ten that I can find."  Bill typed a few letters again.

"And how many are reported missing?"

"A lot more."

"So your granddaughter has a good chance of surviving."

"I hope so."

"Do there seem to be any patterns?"  Angel paused his pacing near the computer.

Bill shook his head.  "Not so far.  No one else has been reported missing near Melanie's apartment.  It's pretty scattered."

Spike straightened up.  "Bloody computer's giving me a headache," he complained.

Bill closed his eyes momentarily.  The glare from the screen wasn't helping his head any either.

Angel resumed stalking up and down the middle of the room, going from the tiny kitchenette to the computer and back.  "So let's assume they snatched her at random -- not out of any malice toward her or you personally.  She was just handy..." he stopped and faced Illyria.  "Do you think you could stop staring at me like that?  It's not helping."

"You remind me of the night-dark cat.  The one that never ceases its movement," she replied.

"At the zoo?" Angel asked, his mind sidetracked by her seeming randomness.

"He tells me he has never seen the jungle his cage is meant to resemble.  I think often of freeing him."

Spike groaned.  "Great, now she's communing with bloody cats."

Illyria turned her gaze to him.  "I feel if I opened his portal, he would not walk through it.  He is afraid."

"Afraid?" asked Angel.

"Of leaving what security he knows.  Even if the jungle would suit him better, he does not wish to endure the dangers he might face."

Angel glowered at her.  "And you think I'm afraid?"

Illyria narrowed her eyes, and gazed at him for a few moments.  Then she turned away, and walked to her room without another word.

Spike grinned.  "Bluebird's makin' some sense after all."

Angel shifted his glare to him, but didn't comment.  He turned back to Bill Nelson, who sat pressing his hands to his eyes.  "You okay?" Angel asked him.

Bill nodded slightly.  "Sure.  My eyes are just getting blurry."  He tried to stifle what felt like his millionth yawn that night, and failed.

Gunn checked his watch.  "It's two a.m.  I think we humans could use some sleep."

Angel nodded.  "You have a point.  Would you like to go back to your granddaughter's apartment, Mr. Nelson?"

Bill shook his head.  "I don't have a key."

"You can have my couch," Spike volunteered.

"You're very generous," Bill said.  "I accept."  He stumbled a bit on the way from computer to couch, but waved off Angel's attempted assistance.  Sleep took him almost before he'd pulled his feet off the floor.

*****

As he slept, he dreamed.  He dreamed of his past, as he often did.  The dreams never followed the chronology of his life -- this night, they began in the middle, and skipped around considerably.  He dreamed of his two daughters going to the prom, then his own high school days.  Evelyn smiled up at him from a hospital bed, holding their first baby in her arms.  Memories of his son playing baseball mixed with the stickball games of his own youth.  Images from the war came to him, jumbled, distant, still threatening.

Finally, just before waking, he dreamed about the day his daughter Caroline came back to live with them.  Her husband Steve dead from Desert Storm, she moved home, bringing her eight-year-old daughter with her.  The images seemed blurry, like a soft-focus movie, or an impressionistic watercolor.  Eight-year-old Melanie crying herself to sleep, clutching her beloved stuffed animal, a monkey she named 'Mr. Longstocking'.  Caroline and Evelyn kneeling side-by-side in the back yard, teaching Melanie to plant Marigolds.  Melanie holding his hand as they walked to the corner store for a Hershey's bar.

 

continued in Part Two...

 

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