BAD BLOOD

WRITTEN BY: MICHAEL K. DONOVAN

mike@vmp-canada.com

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all the characters that appear on the show are the exclusive property of Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt,the WB and Mutant Enemy, Inc.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: For this story to fit in with the Seventh Son storyline I have constructed, it must be assumed that 'Angel' started about a month and a half before it actually did. The character of Gabriel Giles was introduced in a previous BtVS story I wrote entitled 'Divergent Paths'.

* * *

Cordelia fanned the front of her loose white tank top and leaned out the open window. It didn't help. If anything, it was even hotter outside than inside if that could be imagined.

"God, we need air conditioning." She complained, "I can NOT work under these conditions."

Doyle observed her with raised eyebrows from behind a sturdy desk, his feet propped up on a chair. He was wearing a colorful pair of baggy Hawaiian shorts and a sweat dampened white undershirt.

"Funny," he smirked, "The only work I seen you do all day was buff your nails and make a nifty little chain out of all our paper clips." Whirling one end of the chain like a lasso, he launched it at her.

Cordelia caught it and threw it petulantly on the floor.

"I'd have more to do if we actually had some business once in a while. And you're not helping anything by lounging around looking like you live in a trailer park." She gestured distastefully in his direction,"People want to work with style, not . . .sweat."

"Well, pardon me for tryin' ta cool off a little." He waved his arms wide, "I guess it's not a big concern for an ice queen like yerself."

The brunette languished on the windowsill, "All I'm saying is it's almost payday and, by the look of things, there isn't going to be a pay."

"Relax, Princess. We've only been in business for two weeks now."Doyle reminded her, "Angel'll drum up some cash soon enough. Until then, we'll just have to make due with the love and appreciation of those we help."

"Yeah, well, love and appreciation is great for you guys." She rolled her eyes, "Damsels in distress abound in the seedy underbelly of LA. Now, a handsome prince with a pocket full of cash and a demon problem? THAT'S hard to come by."

Angel climbed out of the hatch that led down to the sewer tunnels and headed straight for the medicine cabinet. There was a rip in the arm of his black, long sleeved shirt and a shallow cut in the flesh underneath. Digging out a small roll of bandages, he began to dress the wound.

"Hey." He greeted them both without looking up, "Any calls while I was out?"

"Sorry, nothing." Cordelia sighed, "I think this heat is too much even for evil."

The door buzzer rang in the other room.

Angel, Doyle and Cordelia all looked expectantly at one another. The buzzer rang again. The moments ticked by and the buzzer repeated several times until Cordelia finally jumped to her feet with a harsh sigh.

"Doesn't ANYone know how to make an appointment?" she complained, stalking across to the next room.

She twisted the knob and jerked the door open. Standing in the doorway was an attractive young man with auburn hair and peculiar green eyes.Looking closer, she noted tiny halos of gold encircling his pupils. He was dressed in tailored black pants, black shoes and a white,long-sleeved cotton shirt.

"Is this Angel Investigations?" he asked, looking her over uncertainly. There was an unidentifiable, exotic inflection to his voice.

"Hello, Handsome Prince!" she beamed, "You've come to the right place. Come in, come in."

Grasping his hand, she tugged him inside, leading him through the waiting room and into the office. Knocking Doyle's feet off the chair they were propped on, she pointed covertly to the auburn-haired young man.

"See, Doyle," she whispered, "Style."

Doyle bounced to his feet with a wide grin on his face.

"Gabriel?" he asked incredulously, "I haven't seen you in months. Where've ya been?"

"You KNOW him?" Cordelia gawked.

"Of course!" Doyle scoffed, "We used to be drinkin' buddies when I lived in Scotland."

"I thought you were Irish." she frowned incredulously.

"I am." He shrugged slightly, "Can't a guy go on vacation?"

"Vacation from what? Drinking and lounging?" Cordelia looked more disbelieving than ever, "And you two used to hang out?"

"Oh, yeah." He nodded happily, "Gabriel and I go way back."

"Not that far back." the young man raised a staying hand and smiled weakly, "And it was more the drinking part than the buddy part. Alot's changed since then, Doyle."

While in Scotland, Gabriel had lived a reckless and self-destructive life, rebelling against an unstable and trying youth, before the events of the last four months had opened his eyes. The only real recollection he had of Doyle was a bleary memory where he had knocked the unfortunate man out in a drunken stupor after recognizing his dual nature with the Second Sight.

"Lemme tell ya, Angel." Doyle continued, turning to the vampire undaunted, "You're lookin' at the finest street scrapper in alla downtown Edinburgh."

"I know him already, Doyle." Angel grumbled darkly, holding the young man's eyes steadily with his own. Gabriel stared back, impassively,his hands folded calmly before him.

"It doesn't take a detective to figure out that there's some bad blood here." Cordelia commented, her interest piqued.

"We've met before." Angel nodded, folding his arms across his chest,"In Sunnydale."

"Oh my God, YOU lived in Sunnydale?" Cordelia exclaimed to Gabriel excitedly, "I used to live in Sunnydale. This is SUCH a coincidence. I can't believe I don't remember you. I mean -" she paused, meeting Angel's tolerant stare, "Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt your tense moment. Carry on."

Angel's eyes turned back to Gabriel accusingly, "You left her."

"So did you." Gabriel's posture became a fraction more threatening and his voice held a mild edge.

"I had my reasons." The vampire's face tightened, "You were supposed to stay with her, watch over her when I couldn't be there."

"I had my reasons, too." Gabriel's green eyes narrowed, "And she doesn't need anyone to watch over her. She's strong enough to take care of herself."

"She?" Doyle questioned, looking back and forth between the two men,"What she? You two lads didn't come to blows over some little filly,did ya?"

Angel's glare brought the half-demon up short, "Oh, THAT she."

Cordelia stood next to the auburn-haired young man and inspected him with her discerning eye.

"Buffy?" she made a disbelieving face, "Buffy Summers? You're kidding me, right? What is it about being a walking death threat that turns guys on?"

Angel eyed her for a moment before returning his attention to Gabriel."Why are you here?" the vampire asked him plainly, turning a chair around and sitting in it backwards, folding his arms sharply over its back.

Gabriel shrugged, "Word on the street is that this is the place to come to when you're in trouble."

"You're in trouble?" Judging by the look on his face, it was obvious that Angel was doubtful, "Forget it. You're capable of taking care of yourself. I'm here to help those who aren't so lucky."

"No, that's not it." Gabriel shook his head, "I want to work for you."

Doyle and Cordelia looked to each other in surprise and Angel jerked to a standing position, nearly toppling his chair.

"No way." he declared hotly, "You are NOT working here."

"I'm not looking for a paycheck." the young man argued, "I only want to help people."

Angel turned his back to the young man and folded his arms across his chest. He understood what Gabriel was asking. He even sympathized with his request. But three months ago, the young man had touched the heart of his beloved Buffy, gotten close to her emotionally in a way that had disturbed Angel despite the fact that he knew he was soon going to be leaving for LA. He wasn't sure he wanted a reminder of that so close to home.

"Think about it, Angel." Doyle suggested, "He could be a real help,especially during the daylight hours. Kind of like the Robin to your Batman. With two of you out there, we could help a lot more people."

Helping people. That's what it all came down to in the end. After all the petty jealousies and personal feelings were accounted for, at the end of the day what mattered most was whether someone's life was a little better for having crossed his path.

"All right." he relented, "For now. But if you pull another Jekyll and Hyde like you did in Sunnydale, that's it, you're out."

Gabriel's face darkened and his mouth tightened. Doyle and Cordelia each frowned in confusion.

"That won't happen again." The young auburn-haired man stated resolutely, "I'll prove it to you. I promise."

"So now that we've added another mouth to feed to our meager payroll,"Cordelia arched a finely kept eyebrow at Angel, "how are you going to take care of things around here?"

Doyle lurched forward, leaning heavily on the desk, "I-I think I got that one covered." Collapsing forward, he writhed, wide-eyed and convulsing and a long strangled moan shook from his lips.

"What's wrong?" Cordelia cried, crouching helplessly beside his twitching form as he slid to the floor, "I've never seen him get this bad before. Shouldn't we get a spoon or something so he doesn't swallow his tongue?"

"I don't know." Angel gripped Doyle's shoulders, "Try and hold him down until the vision passes."

Doyle slumped sharply onto the floor and lay still, jamming his eyes shut. As Angel released him, his hands flew to the sides of his head and he sat up.

"Uhhh," he groaned, "Aspirin manufacturers must just love me. Bring me a bottle." As Cordelia brought him a plastic bottle of small, white pills, he shoved her hand away, "No, no, the OTHER bottle."

Angel pressed an open bottle of scotch into his hand and he took a long draw on it.

"Ah, better." Doyle sighed, "I think my skull finally stopped tryin' ta squish my brain."

"What did you see?" Angel hovered close by.

"I don't know." Doyle shook his head and blinked a few times, "This one was different, like I was getting a bunch of visions at once."

"Cool, like cable." Cordelia's smile fell somewhat, "I miss cable."

"More like a party line in my head." Doyle struggled to his feet and picked up a piece of paper and a pen, "I got a vague impression that it had something to do with the number seven, but the rest is a mess. This could take a while to sort out."

"We might not have a while." Angel pulled on his long, black coat, "I'm going to comb the dark spaces until sundown, see what I can pick up."

"I'll hit the streets." Gabriel offered, following suit.

"Wait a minute. Hold on." Angel shook his head in negation, "You're just starting here. You're not ready to jump right into things yet."

"You have something else for me to be doing?" Gabriel regarded the vampire seriously.

When Angel didn't answer, the young man headed for the door, "Then I guess I'll be cover the streets."

"I'll check out anything significant I can find about the number seven and try and make a connection while Doyle sorts this out." Cordelia smiled in Gabriel's direction, "Good luck."

Angel paused for a moment, watching his newest employee out of the corner of his eye, then opened up the hatch in the floor and dropped down.

Gabriel stood in the open doorway, one hand on the knob."I'll check back in a few hours." he called, closing the door behind him.

* * *

Angel stormed through the tunnels, tension bristling in every fiber of his body. Seven, that's all Doyle could figure out. Not much to goon, but it was enough for Angel. Gabriel was the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. What were the chances of him showing up in LA just minutes before Doyle had a vision about sevens? None, unless he was the cause of it.

The boy had potential, incredible potential if the stories were true,but Angel was wary. Potential could be a very dangerous thing without direction and Gabriel had already proven that he could be erratic and unreliable. It would be an easy thing for someone with his power to start preying on people instead of protecting them. As a suspect, he was definitely worth checking out.

It only took him a few minutes to figure out where the boy was going and match his movements. The sunlight promised to keep him confined to the sewers, but he would still be able to follow Gabriel almost anywhere he went. He followed him along the boulevard, pausing whenever the boy stopped to talk to someone.

Admittedly, Angel's experience with Gabriel had been limited and he knew very little about him. The boy wasn't much of a detective, that was for sure. The questions he asked were about as subtle as a sledgehammer and left more than a little room for interpretation. Fortunately, he had an open, friendly charisma that seemed to make people want to help him. In LA, people like him usually got eaten alive.

Maybe that's what Buffy had seen in him, Angel considered. He tried not to think of her, as he had grown accustomed to doing, but it was not easy. Gabriel's arrival had stirred up feelings that he had hoped to bury for the good of the world.

Angel watched from the shadows as the Seventh Son met up with a late afternoon streetwalker. The dark-eyed girl smiled and took him by the hand, leading him into a towering office building, which housed, amongother things, a hotel and a nightclub. Angel's brow furrowed. A prostitute? Granted, the young man had made some foolish decisions in his past, but from what Angel knew of him, he expected better. Gabriel did, however, have a history of drug abuse and from what Doyle had said, he enjoyed his liquor, as well. To Angel's experience, one vice tended to lead to others. He couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. He was glad now that Gabriel had left Sunnydale when he did. Having someone like that around Buffy would cause her nothing but trouble.

He would have to make a point to get more information out of Doyle whenhe got back to the office.

* * *

Cordelia reclined on a plush loveseat and flipped absently through the pages of a brown-stained book. Three electric fans directed flows of just slightly cooler air at her from three different angles. Slumped in a hard-backed chair, Doyle sat in front of Angel's computer, combing the internet, pausing from time to time to dab his forehead with a wet cloth.

"So what's he like?" Cordelia queried casually without looking up from her perusal.

"What's who like?" Doyle raised his eyebrows questioningly.

"You know, your friend with the sexy eyes." Again, her tone was as casual as if she were discussing the weather.

"Sexy eyes?" he smirked crookedly, "You mean Gabriel? I don't think he's really your type."

"What do you mean 'not my type'?" she regarded him dubiously over the top of her book, "He's tall, good-looking and a nice dresser. OfCOURSE, he's my type."

Doyle shifted uneasily in his seat and rubbed the sweat off the back of his neck, "Sure, on the outside, he looks fine, but on the inside, he's a mess. Always drinkin', fightin', getting' into ALL kinds of trouble."

Cordelia peered at him from under a pair of fine, chestnut eyebrows,"So what you're saying is that he's like you only taller, better looking and with a nicer wardrobe. I'm guessing his wallet sees a bit more strain than yours, too."

"Well . . . yeah, I guess you could look at it that way." Doyle dropped his eyes to the floor.

The front door opened and Gabriel entered. He was now wearing a navy blue V-neck shirt and a pair of charcoal gray pants with a black leather belt.

"Hey." He smiled a greeting, closing the door behind him.

"Hey, yourself." Cordelia winked playfully, "You changed. Nice."

Gabriel looked down at himself a little self-consciously.

"Yeah," he smirked, "Is . . .is Angel back yet?"

"He checked in a few minutes ago." Doyle nodded, "Got a call from some cop friend of his and said he won't be in until later."

"Cop friend?" Gabriel inquired, a slight line forming between his brows.

"Yeah," he shrugged, "a detective, I think."

"Damn." The auburn-haired young man sighed, sinking down on the end of the loveseat, "I didn't learn a thing while I was out. You two didn't find anything useful, did you?"

Doyle suppressed a small surge of jealousy as Cordelia slid across the seat and sidled up to the young man.

"We found a ton." She grinned proudly, holding up a page covered in scrawling pen marks, "I don't know how much of it will be worth anything, but this is the best of it."

"There are seven major archangels in heaven." She recited from the page, "Michael, Raphael, Urial, Raguel, Sarial, Jarahmeel and, tah-da .. . Gabriel."

Doyle inclined his head toward the auburn-haired young man, "Friends of yours?"

"They're my brothers, actually." He nodded softly, "My father apparently planned on having seven of us right from the beginning."

"Six brothers?" Cordelia cooed with interest, "Are they all as handsome as you?"

Doyle fixed her with a tedious expression, "Hey Princess, you ever think about trying ta be a little more obvious, once in a while. I'm sure you might be able to pull off if you put your mind to it."

Cordy rolled her eyes and gave a short, exasperated sigh, "Beating around the bush is for losers and those who do without. The Chase family motto says if you see something you want, you go get it."

"Isn't that how your Dad ended up in jail?" he chuckled.

"Just shut up and show him what you've got." She scowled at him and jabbed a finely manicured finger in his direction.

Doyle favored her with a half-forced smile and leaned across the desktop. He couldn't help but needle her. Seeing the fire in her eyes was just too enticing. Yet another one of his guilty pleasures.

"I found a little on everyone's favorite, the seven deadly sins." He tapped the computer screen with a hard fingernail, "Greed, Gluttony,Pride, Lust, Sloth, Wrath and Envy. I think I know a few a these fellas personally."

"No doubt." Cordelia added with a roll of her eyes, "We also have the seven saving graces."

"Mercy," she said, beginning a list.

"Got it." Doyle held up the index finger on his right hand.

"Grace,"

"Nope." Doyle smirked.

"Faith,"

"Comes and goes." He held up another finger.

"Prudence,"

"Not around this crazy place." He shook his head with a snicker.

"Chastity," she eyed him dubiously,

"Not on yer life, honey." He winked broadly at her and she shook her head in exasperation.

"Hope"

"Ever and always." He added a third finger to his tally.

"and Charity." She waited for Doyle's comment and he just stared at her silently.

"Oh, come on." He laughed out loud, "Do you even have to ask?"

"You SO have no class." She groaned and rolled her eyes again.

Gabriel leaned forward and smiled at the two of them.

"Nothing solid, huh? Maybe we should keep looking." he cocked his head and spread his hands, "At least until Angel gets back?"

Cordy snuggled up against his arm and laid her book across both their laps.

"Here, we can share." She smiled, holding his green eyes with her dark brown ones with calculated demureness.

"Um, sure." He answered uncertainly, "I guess."

Doyle raised his eyebrows and sighed, shaking his head and slipping back behind the computer monitor.

* * *

Angel entered the lobby of the Seventh Street Tower and pushed through a throng of onlookers. Yellow police tape cordoned off the elevators and stairs and the hotel staff was busy doing their best to move along the curious bystanders. He hung close to the entrance, in shadows,until he spotted Kate across the room. She noticed him too and quickly made her way through to meet him.

"I was wondering when you'd show up." She smiled a bit uneasily.

"I came as soon as I got your call." He answered, his hands pushed tightly into the pockets of his long, black coat, "What happened?"

"It's probably better if I just show you." She inhaled a deep breath and released it slowly, "We can take the service stairs. Hope the sight of blood doesn't turn your stomach."

"No." he said, ducking under a line of police tape and following her up a narrow stairwell, "That's never been a problem for me."

They went up seven flights of stairs and came out into a long, carpeted corridor. The scent of blood was overpowering, filling the entire floor like a thick blanket. Fortunately, Angel had fed well from his supply of animal blood recently, so the craving it awakened in him was manageable.

As Kate walked slowly down the hallway, Angel trailed behind her.

"You're not supposed to be up here, so we'll have to make this quick."She explained, coming to a wide, open doorway where the blood smell was strongest.

Angel poked his head inside and his face fell slack with shock.

Police officers and photographers milled about, carefully documenting the scene in a subdued and practiced manner. Two lab technicians wearing long white coats stood on either side of the bed in the center of the room, collecting bits of evidence with tweezers and sealing them in individual plastic bags. A woman's corpse was lain neatly atop the bed, pale and cold looking, the sheets underneath her drenched with an enormous amount of blood. The body had been brutalized with surgical precision and arranged like some gruesome offering. Angel had seen,even committed, worse, but not by much. He turned his eyes away in revulsion.

Kate nodded sympathetically, "There are seven wounds on the body, all exacting and targeting different body parts. Whoever it was stabbed her in the heart, the stomach, the head and the throat then cut out her eyes, removed her hands and mutilated her genitals. Guys at the morgue are gonna just love this one. We're dealing with one sick puppy here."

"Seven wounds?" Angel repeated softly.

"Yeah." Kate nodded, "Looks like it might be cult work. Or else someone who wants to make it look that way. There are indications of sevens all over the place. Seventh floor, room seven-o-seven, hell,the TV was even left on channel seven. But there's something else I want you to take a look at."

Directing him to the bathroom, she indicated the inside wall of the shower. Words were scrawled in thick blood on the tile, smeared, but still readable.

"Embrace the Seventh, Angel." He read aloud, aghast, and stumbled back into the main room. Faced with the sight of the dead girl again, he drew up short and shuddered.

Angel stared, mesmerized, at the dead girl's eyeless face. He hadn't realized it at first, but he recognized her. It was the prostitute he had seen Gabriel with earlier. Dread turned in his stomach as his suspicion deepened.

"I had a feeling this might be too much for you. I'm sorry." Kate apologized, following him out, "But you're the only Angel I know, so I figured I'd take a shot and see if you might know something. Angel?"she nudged his shoulder gently, "Are you alright?"

"Clean." He muttered, tearing his eyes away from the corpse.

"Excuse me?" Kate raised her eyebrows and smiled in confusion.

"Clean." He repeated, "All the wounds have been cleaned, but the bed is a mess. The killer wanted to make sure we didn't miss the significance of the wounds."

"So it's a message." Her lips tightened, considering the implications,"Just like the one in the bathroom. Who do you think this Seventh could be?"

"I can't be sure, but I might have an idea." He frowned, stroking his chin in agitated thought as a fat policeman squeezed past him.

"Care to share it with me?" she smirked crookedly.

Something small caught his eye, a rectangular card positioned squarely on the corner of a writing desk and emblazoned with a bright yellow logo. He could have sworn it hadn't been there a few seconds ago. Leaning with his hand against the top of the desk for a moment, he palmed the card and secretly slipped it into his pocket.

"Not yet. It's just a hunch." Angel walked past Kate and headed swiftly for the door, "I'll call you when I know for sure."

"Hey, Angel, wait." She tried to stop him, but he was already at the stairs by the time she turned, "Bye."

The overweight officer paused in his note taking and looked up, his eyes narrowed and an evil smirk bending his pudgy lips.

* * *

Cordelia leaned on the back of the loveseat, peering over Gabriel's shoulder and adding another photo to the pile on the book in his lap.

"This is me at cheerleading practice, and this is me at the mall, don't you just love the way that sundress picks up the highlights in my hair?"

"Um, sure." He commented uneasily.

"Oh, look, here's me at the prom." She laid down another picture excitedly, "Don't mind the geek in the tux. Just some English guy who had this MAJOR crush on me. But considering that dress, I guess you can't blame him, right? Aren't you English or something, too?"

"Sort of." Gabriel shrugged, gathering up her photos and handing them back to her, "Don't you think we should get back to researching?"

"All right, fine, whatever you say." She smiled cheerily, slipping the bundle of photos back into her purse and leaning forward over the back of the loveseat again. With seeming innocence, she reached out for the book in his lap to turn a page, brushing the backs of her fingers across his cheek. Gabriel's eyes flicked to her uncertainly.

"I, uh, I really think I can handle this myself." He smiled weakly.

"Sure." She shrugged unconcerned, reaching out to turn another page,"But where's the fun in that?"

Doyle groaned loudly and slumped back in his chair, staring angrily at the computer screen.

"Ugh, this is gettin' us nowhere." He sighed, rubbing at his eyes, "The only seven I'm findin' now is those little fellas from Disneyland."

"Oh, I know these!" Cordy exclaimed, "Sleepy, Dopey, um, Bashful,Happy, Sneezy . . . Doc, and . . . what's the last one?"

"Grumpy." Angel supplied, popping up through the hatch in the floor.

"Why am I not surprised that you knew that?" she watched as he entered the room.

"Hey, you're back." Doyle stood up and stretched, "How did your meeting with the lady cop go?"

"Not good." Angel's forehead was knotted in tense thought, "There's been a murder. At the Seventh Street Tower."

"Seventh Street Tower?" Gabriel looked up from his book in surprise,"That's where I've been staying."

Angel looked at the boy and his lips tightened. The revelation was unsurprising, but not comforting at all.

"I also found this." The vampire held out the small card he had discovered to Doyle.

"Lifting evidence from the scene of a crime? Pretty risky." he observed, accepting the card and scrutinizing it.The yellow logo advertised a dance club that was popular with the early twenties set, aplace called the Seventh Heaven, "What's so important about this? TheSeventh Heaven is right in the same building. There's probably half a dozen of these cards in every room."

"The killer's trying to send a message." Angel informed him, "Specifically directed at me."

Angel's eyes flicked furtively to the Seventh Son as he related what he had seen at the murder scene. He purposely left out the fact that he had recognized the victim. Throughout the explanation, Gabriel seemed impassive and calm.

"Wow, this sounds like one gruesome customer." Doyle blew out a long breath, "But at least we have more to go on now."

"Yeah, we've got a psycho with a thing for lucky number seven and some major woman issues." Cordelia folded her arms across her chest and sat on the edge of Angel's desk.

"How do you know it's a man?" Gabriel asked quickly, "It might be a woman behind this."

"No way." Cordelia asserted, "Only someone of the male species could get that medieval on a person. When a woman gets that angry, she goes shopping or cries or tears up all her husband's clothes. My mom once lit my Dad's Mercedes on fire because she caught him staring at the maid."

"That's very reassuring." Doyle looked at her and shuddered, "And is it any wonder why you're still single?"

He ignored the sour face Cordelia shot at him and tapped the eraser end of an unsharpened pencil against his lip thoughtfully.

"Besides, it doesn't sound like this crime was committed out of anger."he noted, "I'd have to agree with Angel on the message theory,especially considering what they found in the bathroom." He regarded Angel seriously, "You don't know anyone who would be tryin' ta send you a message, do ya?"

Angel shook his head, "No, but I know where we'll probably find out."

"The Seventh Heaven?" Doyle deduced with a smirk.

"Right."

"Oooh, we're going clubbing!" Cordelia sauntered over to Gabriel with a bright smile, "I've got a party dress that will knock your eyes out."

"Sorry, Cordy." Angel shook his head again, "You'll have to sit this one out. We need you here to man the office."

"Man the office?! Something tells me this has more to do with my being a girl." she griped, dropping onto the loveseat next to Gabriel and taking hold of his arm sulkily, "This is SO not fair."

Gabriel shifted uneasily, pulling away from her and rising to his feet.

"So when do we go?" he asked, looking first to Angel and then to Doyle.

Angel watched the Seventh Son tensely.

"Doyle." The vampire signaled the young man with his hand, "Can I talk to you outside for a minute?"

"Sure thing." He followed the vampire to the door and out into the hall.

Angel closed the door behind them and leaned against the wall. He was in one of his moods again, Doyle knew. Pensive-face, Cordy always called it. To Doyle, it reminded him of the expression his mother used to put on when she caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. Or in other places.

"If this is about that twenty bucks I owe you, that investment is just about ready to pay off. I'll be able to get you back in a week,honest." He blurted defensively, then ducked his head slightly, "Well .. . maybe two."

Angel held up a flat palm, silencing him, "It's not." He held the young man with his dark eyes, the furrow between his brows deepening, "How much do you know about Gabriel?"

"Hey, we go way back, ever since -" Doyle began with his salesman's smile.

"Honestly." Angel's more-serious-than-usual expression meant business.

"Honest?" Doyle shrank a little, "Not very much. From what I can remember, he can fight like a tiger and drink like a fish." He leaned backwards a little and peered at Cordelia through the crack in the door, "He does okay with the ladies, too."

"Do you think he could kill someone?" the vampire asked carefully.

"What?" Doyle's jaw sagged, "Angel, he's just a kid."

"Doyle, just answer the question." Angel insisted, "I need to know for sure."

Doyle's gaze shifted from side to side and he swallowed nervously,ducking his head and staring down at his shoes.

"Doyle?" the vampire pressed relentlessly.

"There was this one time . . .back in Edinburgh." Doyle sighed sadly,"There was this bruiser, just some guy lookin' to start trouble, you know the type."

Angel nodded, less than reassured by the tone of Doyle's voice and the sick look on his face.

"Anyways, this fella started on Gabriel's girl, just makin' an ass of himself to get the kid to bite, you know? Gabriel had quite a few brews in him at the time so he took up the gauntlet and met the meathead outside."

Doyle swallowed again and wiped the back of his hand across his forehead, "You know, I really don't see how this has to do with anything. The kid's on our side."

"Doyle." Angel tried to keep his worry from affecting his voice, "What happened?"

"Gabriel beat him." Doyle shrugged and quelled a shudder, "Beat him bad. The guy was askin' for it, sure, but he didn't deserve this. But that's not even the thing that got to me. The kid looked like he really got over on hurtin' the guy. Gabriel wasn't protecting his girl, he wasn't protecting himself or his pride. He just wanted to punish him. Took him apart like it was nothing and the whole time, his eyes were dead and cold, like he wasn't even there."

"Damn. I was afraid of that." Angel grimaced, balling his hand into afist and leaning his back against the wall, "When he was in Sunnydale,he found out that his father was using chemicals and some kind of hypnosis to program him."

"Program?" Doyle was stunned, "For what?"

"To be a killer." Angel regarded him gravely, "I saw him with the girl who was murdered this afternoon."

"Ah, Angel, you don't think . . .?" Doyle let the sentence trail off,too horrified to continue.

"I hope not." The vampire pushed off the wall and headed for the stairs, "But he might not even know he's doing it. Who knows what sort of junk is all tangled up in his head?"

Doyle tapped a finger to his lips, "Then why all the messages? What could he possibly want with you?"

Angel sighed heavily and stopped, folding his arms across his chest. His brow was furrowed and tight over his eyes and his jaw became hard as steel. Doyle waited patiently. Getting personal information out of Angel was like squeezing blood from a stone. He had learned to wait.

"It's her." The vampire said at last, "When he was in Sunnydale, he wanted her. He knew about my history with Buffy. Deep down, he might resent that."

Doyle regarded him with keen interest.

"You speakin' from experience here?" he asked, "I saw the way you looked at him when he showed up this afternoon. You could've cut the tension with a knife. You don't suppose you might resent him a little,too, do you?"

Doyle winced inwardly as he saw the sharp flinch travel across Angel's face. He had gone too far. Doyle knew it the instant the words left his mouth. Angel's fleeting moment of openness was shattered and the vampire stalked swiftly for the stairs.

"We'll find out at the club tonight, one way or the other." He grumbled bitterly.

Doyle rubbed his hands together tensely and jammed them in his pockets as he listened to Angel's receding footsteps. Gabriel, a killer? How could that be? His eyes snapped up and he swiftly walked back into the office where the young man was alone with Cordelia.

"What happened to you?" she frowned, looking him over skeptically, "You look like someone died."

"No, Princess." He covered his uneasiness with a carefully practiced smile, "Not yet, at least." He gestured to Gabriel, "You want to stop by your place and get anything before we hit the club?"

Any excuse to keep the young man from being alone with Cordy. At least until they could determine the extent of his involvement with the murder.

"Sure." The young man agreed.

"Good." Doyle shot one last worried glance in Cordy's direction before grabbing Gabriel by the arm and leading him hurriedly out the door,"Let's go."

* * *

Angel was the first to enter the club followed by Gabriel and then Doyle. The two older men had decided to do it that way so that they could keep an eye on the Seventh Son. Both hoped he would be exonerated, but were cautious nonetheless.

Just as Doyle had expected, the bouncer accepted a ten dollar bill in lieu of Gabriel's ID without question. Inside, the place was a panorama of flashing lights and pounding sound. The heat was stifling and the air was thick and heady with faint incense and the scent of perfume. Lithe dancers, both male and female, lined the walls inside glitzy, imitation cages, thrashing relentlessly to the frenetic beat. Young women dressed in flashy costumes and carrying drink-laden trays over their heads wove skillfully amongst the patrons.

Most everyone, staff included, was dressed with the heatwave in mind. Skimpy halter tops and miniskirts were common amongst the women while the men wore fashionable shorts and tight tank tops. The three of them stood out like sore thumbs, Angel in his usual black overcoat and pants, Doyle in a gaudy, buttoned up shirt and Gabriel still wearing his navy blue V-neck shirt and charcoal pants. Beads of sweat were already forming on the brows of Doyle and Gabriel while Angel remained unaffected by the heat.

A slender, tanned blonde girl dressed in an outfit that was little more than a tasseled bikini bumped up against Angel's chest, grinning and peering longingly up into his eyes. He ignored her as she squeezed past, his intense gaze scanning the tight crowd. His eyes wandered to the dazzling, light jammed stage as the curtains parted and a tall,brightly garbed man walked through.

The man was naked to the waist and lean to the point of being leathery,with long, multicolored hair and a round, protruding potbelly. Lavish make-up decorated his face, forming a green-eyed demonic mask, complete with a huge painted mouth and teeth. A bright red cape hung down his back, its corners fastened to bands of gold encircling his wrists. The man spread his arms wide and threw his head back with a high-pitched cackle as a starburst of crimson pyrotechnics exploded around him.

The bizarre performer seemed to single Angel out of the crowd of hundreds and leered challengingly as the music quickened and he began to spin and dance around wildly. A slight shudder crawled up the vampire's spine and he was overrun with a feeling of intense foreboding.

"I'm going to check out the stage." He called over his shoulder before pressing into the crowd.

Doyle reached out to hold him back for a moment, but lost sight of him in the swarm of dancers. He turned back with a helpless smirk, as Gabriel stared around, grinning and gawking at the sheer sensory overload. Doyle clapped a hand to the young man's shoulder and smiled broadly.

"It's a lot to take in, isn't it?" he shouted over the thunderous music.

"Too much." Gabriel agreed, squinting as a bright flash of light assaulted his eyes, "How are we supposed to find the killer in all this?"

Doyle's smile fell a little. After what Angel had suggested in the hallway outside the office, he wasn't sure what to expect. He hoped the vampire's theory was wrong.

"Why don't we head up to the bar, toss back a few." He suggested, "For old times sake."

Gabriel shook his head and leaned closer to his companion, pressing his fingers into his ears, "I don't drink anymore, Doyle!"

"What!?" Doyle cupped his hand behind his ear.

Gabriel drew in a deep breath and attempted to be heard again over the blasting music, "I said I don't -!"

A thick column of club-goers wedged between them and pushed them apart as it cut a swath through the sea of people. Gabriel was drawn deeper into the crowd and pulled along with the flow toward the stage. He started to panic a little as he was borne farther away from one of the only familiar faces he knew in the club. He had to find Angel, get back to Doyle somehow.

Pulsing music flowed from the direction of the stage, wrapping itself around him in waves of insinuating energy and the panic inside him eased. He suddenly didn't care that he was alone in the club, nor was he concerned about where his companions had gone. He smiled contentedly and followed the flow of the crowd until he found himself near the stage amid a group of energetic dancers, all facing the same direction. There was apparently some kind of show happening on stage,but he couldn't see what was capturing the attention of the crowd.

The music continued to enfold him, seeping through his skin and into his bones. He closed his eyes and forgot about Angel, about Doyle,too, allowing the frantic beat to vibrate pleasantly through him. Awarm, soft body pressed against him and he opened his eyes to find a slender, red-haired girl dancing temptingly close with her back turned to him. She was shapely and attractive, he noted as she continued to dance, brushing against him occasionally and completely unaware of the effect the teasing contact was having on him. The pounding music seemed to recede and his breathing became heavier. A wave of disorientation washed over him and his heart started beating like a bass drum in his ears. He wanted her. He had no idea who the girl was or what she was like, but he wanted her. Badly.

Wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, he leaned forward a quarter step and let her bump against the solidity of his chest. The girl turned around with a quick apology and froze, looking up at him and caught by his vibrant green eyes.

"Hi." She murmured in a faint voice, a look of wonder softening her delicate features.

He said nothing, instead taking her by the hand and leading her deeper onto the dance floor and away from her friends.

Angel lurched forward as a surge of people pushed past him from behind. Rebounding off a thick-necked bouncer, he stumbled back again. The crowd was frustrating in its closeness, walls of human flesh closing inon him from all sides. It offended him, overloading his senses with blatant humanity. It was all around him, everywhere he looked,everything he touched, everything he smelled. The smell . . . Angel gasped desperately, trying to control the sudden craving inside him. The salt and sweat and blood were so close, so much, he wasn't sure he could handle it. He pressed his fingers against the sides of his skull, fighting for control, the relentless beat of the music thumping like a phantom heart within his empty lungs.

Through eyes, he saw a familiar face on the dance floor and his throat constricted. Graceful and svelte, the blonde danced rhythmically with her back to him, close to the front of the stage. Although he could not see her face, her identity was unmistakable. Buffy.

He shoved desperately through the crowd, regardless of the other club-goers, heading straight for her. As he approached her, an auburn-haired young man wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her deeply, sliding his fingers down over her firm back. She responded with equal ardor, reaching up and hooking her hands together behind his neck.

Outrage fired within the vampire's soul, screaming at him to lash out and protect what was his. Gabriel was doing it again, touching her,seducing her. His Buffy. His property. Enraged, Angel seized the young man's wrist.

Gabriel was strong enough to match the vampire's power and resisted him, a look of irritation on his face.

"Go away, Angel." Gabriel muttered in annoyance, burying his face into the girl's soft blonde hair, "I'm busy."

"Leave her alone!" the vampire snarled, deep and threatening, "Buffy is mine!"

Angel grabbed the Seventh Son by the throat and pulled him away from the girl, a low, lion-like growl rumbling in his throat. She turned and screamed when she saw his demonic face and fled into the crowd.

Upon viewing the girl from the front, Angel realized that it wasn't Buffy the boy had been with. For that matter, she wasn't even blonde,but that wasn't an issue anymore. Gabriel had challenged his claim and he had no choice but to respond.

"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Gabriel grunted through gritted teeth, straining against the vampire's grip.

"No one touches what's mine!" Angel growled, squeezing against the boy's windpipe, "No one looks at her and no one touches her but me!"

Gabriel jabbed rigid fingertips into Angel's throat and spun out of his grip, raising his hands into fighting position.

"You want to fight me, old man?" He snarled, beckoning with an open hand, rage burning in his gold-on-green eyes, "Come find out how much I've changed."

Instantly, he lunged forward with a sharp kick aimed at the vampire's mid-section. Angel slapped the attack aside and smashed a fist into his opponent's nose. Gabriel shrugged of the blow and landed a short chop to Angel's chest following with a heavy side kick to his knee. The vampire staggered and fell, slamming a hard first into the young man's stomach.

Gabriel skidded backward and crouched over, pressing a hand to his abdomen. Barreling forward, he tackled Angel, driving him up against the stage. With the hard wooden edge digging into his back, the vampire cracked his fist repeatedly into Gabriel's ribs and flipped them over, baring his fangs. The young man struggled desperately to hold the vampire's sharp canines at bay as Angel pinned him to the stage and reached for his throat.

Too much time had passed since Angel had tasted human blood. The need for it burned like a white-hot flame inside him. He longed to feel the hot rush of it coursing down his throat, thrumming through his veins and filling him with life, if only for a while. He crushed the Seventh Son against him, just one more inch and the sweet elixir would be his.

Gabriel worked himself partly out of Angel's grip and jammed his forearm into the vampire's open mouth, crying out in agony as teeth sliced into his skin and blood flowed. Angel dug his fangs deep into the flesh, sucking greedily, mindlessly. The Seventh Son shoved his forearm hard against the vampire's jaw and jerked it free, throwing Angel back into a nearby table and snapping a kick into the upper part of his chest.

As the vampire fell to his knees, leaning heavily on the overturned table, Gabriel picked up a chair and held it high overhead, "I'll never let you control me again, Father."

Angel had no time to react as the boy brought the chair down,full-force, shattering it over his head. The blow hurt terribly,setting off a burst of blinding light before his eyes and setting his head spinning. But he wouldn't dare let Gabriel get the better of him. He could never live with the shame.

"You can't take what's mine!" he roared, swinging his fist into Gabriel's jaw and tackling him to the floor.

Across the club, Doyle relaxed with his back against the bar and his hand on a pitcher of beer, smiling congenially at the two young women on either side of him.

"Oh, yeah, honest." He grinned, "In fact, my people and I are here on an important case right now."

The girls looked to each other and rolled their eyes skeptically, but made no move to leave.

"So where are your 'people' right now?" one of the two asked with a smirk as the bartender brought her a fresh pitcher of beer.

Doyle's eyes flicked to a knot of chaos in the thick crowd and worry creased his forehead.

"Ah, damn. Funny you should ask. Sorry ladies, duty calls." he reached around the girl on his left and grabbed her pitcher while clasping his own with his right hand, "I gotta go settle an argument."

"Hey!" the girl complained loudly as he took off toward the dance floor with the two pitchers in hand.

"'Scuse me, pardon me, comin' through!" He squeezed through the throng that had gathered, holding the brimming pitchers overhead.

He found them wrestling on the floor in a violent struggle, cursing and clawing at one another, their eyes distant and unfocused. Angel held Gabriel down by the throat, digging his sharp nails into the young man's flesh. The Seventh Son twisted out of his grip and rolled onto his side, pinning the vampire's arm under him.

"She's mine!" Angel snarled, gnashing his fangs, "Mine!"

Gabriel shifted his weight and drove his shoulder into the vampire's chest, "I am my own person. You'll never take that away from me!"

Doyle raised his eyebrows and shook his head."I apologize for this fellas." He smirked, "But you've both got it coming to ya."

Upending the two pitchers, he doused the pair in a cascade of cold, frothing beer. The men cried out in shock, releasing one another and scrabbling back, crab-like, on the floor, jolted back to reality by the chill downpour. Gabriel shook his head and blinked repeatedly,breathing heavily and squinting as golden rivulets ran freely down his brow. Angel stared across at him with beer dripping off the end of his nose, his yellow eyes wide and stunned, fixed on the seeping wound on the young man's forearm.

"Angel." Doyle murmured, tapping the length of one finger discreetly along his own cheek, "Yer showing."

Angel immediately relaxed his vampiric face and staggered to his feet. He reached out to offer Gabriel a hand but hesitated when he saw the blood on the young man's arm again.

"What happened, Doyle?" he asked quickly as Gabriel pushed himself to his feet.

The dark-haired man stared fearfully up at the stage and took both his companions by the arm, "We'll talk about it later. Right now, we gotta make tracks."

Angel followed his eyes and found the painted man standing center stage, grinning impossibly wide with his arms spread triumphantly and his brightly colored cape flowing all around him.

"And so ends our evening show, ladies and gentlemen!" he announced, his voice echoing from the rafters without the aid of a microphone and his fiery green eyes flaring as they held Doyle and his two companions,"The main performance is scheduled for a later date. I hope you've enjoyed yourselves. Good night everyone!"

As Doyle urged his friends toward the exit, Angel held the painted man's gaze steadily with his own. He had known something was wrong from the first moment he had seen him. Looking at the man's mad grin one more time before allowing Doyle to pull him out the door, he had no doubt in his mind. The pigments on the man's face weren't stagepaint anymore. They were real.

* * *

Doyle rummaged around in the bottom drawer of Angel's desk in search of another book. Angel stood still as a statue, pensively gazing out the window while Cordelia tended to Gabriel's wounds in the reception room.

"It's good that the kid's not the one to blame for all this, huh?"Doyle mentioned conversationally, and then quickly reconsidered, "I mean good in the sense that it's not him, not in the sense that now we have something entirely different to deal with."

"No, you're right." Angel agreed quietly, staring between the blinds and out the window, "It's good. And we'll take care of the demon. Tomorrow night, if all goes well."

Doyle started absently rearranging the pens on Angel's desk, trying to use the time to gauge his friend's mood.

"After everything that happened at his hotel, I told Gabriel he could crash out on the couch here. I hope it's not a problem." He watched the vampire for some sort of reaction, anything at all.

"Fine by me." He stated flatly, still staring out the window.

"Cordy's sticking around, too." Doyle smirked a little sadly, "Says she feels safer here. Like anyone with half a brain's gonna believe that."

Angel turned and put his back to the window, folding his arms over his chest and sitting on the windowsill.

"You don't have anything to worry about, Doyle." He said, shaking his head.

"What are you talkin' about?" Doyle sighed heavily, "She practically jumps into his lap every chance she gets."

"You don't know Cordelia." Angel snorted, "The way Buffy told it, backin Sunnydale, she got like this whenever she met a football player from another district. He's just a new thing for her, kind of a taste ofher glory days in high school. Give it a while for the novelty to wear off, she'll lose interest in no time."

"I dunno Angel. She's playin' hardball." He dropped into Angel's chair and looked longingly through the glass into the next room where the dark-haired girl hung attentively at the Seventh Son's side, "How can a man resist THAT for long?"

"Trust me." The vampire's eyes narrowed and his mouth tightened,"Gabriel's got his mind set on other things."

"You mean Buffy." Doyle nodded softly, "You ever going to tell me what happened there, man?"

"Nothing." Angel answered quickly, "And everything."

Angel paced across the room and leaned against the wall.

"He had some problems when he came to Sunnydale." He began, "Almost got us all killed. But he's strong and brave, too. And he was in a lot of pain. I think that spoke to her on some level."

"I never would have figured her as going for the tormented type." Doyle smirked, tilting the chair back and turning to face Angel pointedly,"So there were sparks flyin' between the two of them?"

"You could say that." Angel muttered, staring down at the floor and remembering, "He had feelings for her. He still does, I can see it on his face. I hated it, but I knew I was going to be leaving soon, so I stepped back to let her have a chance at a normal life."

"And then what happened?" Doyle discovered an pile of books under the desk and reached under to pull them out, shuffling through them quietly in his lap.

"He just disappeared. She was taking the first steps to moving on with her life and he just left. She never said anything to me, but I knew it hurt her." Angel clenched his fist unintentionally, "I wanted her to be happy and I knew he was a decent person underneath it all. But I hated it. I even hated him a little. I thought that might have had something to do with why he left, because of all the history Buffy and I have."

"Hah, found it! I knew it was around here somewhere." Doyle crowed excitedly brandishing one of the books proudly. He stopped short and cringed slightly in apology, "I'm sorry, you were saying?"

"No. I'm done." Angel answered shortly, covering his unintentional moment of vulnerability and walking into the reception area.

,p> Doyle scampered out after him and seated himself prominently on the back of Cordelia's desk. As he passed, Cordelia scowled at him.

"You better not leave a butt mark on that." She warned crossly, "I just polished."

"Thanks for the warning, Princess." Doyle flipped briskly through the large book, his eyes scanning the pages, "I know it's in here. It has to be."

Angel sat down quietly across from Gabriel. Each avoided the other's gaze, shamed by their behavior at the club earlier. While the vampire appeared to have healed during the short trip back to the office,Gabriel's face was bruised and his forearm still slowly oozed blood into a newly applied gauze wrapping. Cordelia curled up on the loveseat next to him, dabbing attentively at a small cut along his jaw with a cool, damp cloth. He sucked air wetly through his teeth,wincing slightly, and her brow creased with concern.

"I can't believe you bit him." She glanced accusingly in Angel's direction, "Talk about a case for employee mistreatment."

"I didn't mean to do it." Angel hung his head, the memory filling him with guilt, "It was an accident."

"So what, Gabriel just, like, fell on your teeth?" she pressed pointedly.

"It's not his fault." Gabriel shook his head, "Something weird happened. I felt it too. It was like something got inside me and started pushing all my buttons."

"Sin." Doyle stated, turning the book around and holding it out to Angel, "I knew I recognized that creepy fella on stage from somewhere."

Angel accepted the to me with intense interest. The sketched portrait on the page fit the painted man perfectly, just as Angel had seen him before they had retreated from the club.

"The demon Sin was originally seven separate entities who were fused into one being." He read aloud, "The creature must embrace every seventy-seven years or perish from the earth forever."

"Embrace?" Gabriel scratched his temple, "I've never heard that term before."

Cordelia stroked a long finger down the length of his arm, from shoulder to wrist and smiled warmly, "That might explain why you're so slow on the uptake."

The young man swallowed uneasily and inched slightly away from her as Angel continued reading, "It is thought that the creature is the root of man's belief in the seven deadly sins, one for each of the original demons."

Doyle retrieved the book from Angel and raised his eyebrows, blowing out a long, stressful breath, "That explains the murder, at least."

Gabriel winced again as Cordelia touched another tender spot on his face and he stopped her, taking the cloth from her hand."I don't understand." He frowned, leaning forward and touching the cloth gingerly to his jaw.

"The girl's body had seven wounds." Doyle explained, "The heart for greed, the stomach for gluttony, she got it in the goods for lust, the brain is the root of pride and the hands and eyes are related to wrath and envy."

"What about her throat?" Gabriel pointed out, "Angel said she had been stabbed in the throat."

"Sloth." The vampire added, "The thyroid gland controls energy levels in a human. The demon must need to pay homage to the seven deadly sins."

"You think that's how he got the two of you to flip your wigs at the club?" Doyle questioned, circling a finger around his temple in demonstration.

"I'm willing to bet on it." The vampire nodded softly, chagrined at the memory."That makes sense."

Gabriel stroked his bruised chin in thought, "It started out as almost like an animal attraction to every woman around me, like I had no control. I'm guessing that was lust. Then it changed. When Angel came up to me, I saw my father instead and I felt threatened, like he was trying to control me again."

"Pride." Angel observed grimly, "When you saw your father, your pride was threatened. It's a classic dynamic."

"Well, my father and I have had some pretty serious extenuating circumstances." The auburn-haired young man remarked ruefully.

"What did YOU see?" Cordelia narrowed her eyes shrewdly and tilted her head at Angel.

"That's not important." he avoided the question, "I know the demon was definitely after me. We just have to figure out why."

"What if it wasn't looking for you, Angel?" Doyle continued absently looking through the old book, "The message on the wall said 'Embrace the Seventh, Angel', right?"

Angel nodded.

"What if you read it wrong? Gabriel and all his brothers are named after archangels and he's the youngest one. The seventh angel." He looked seriously in Gabriel's direction, "Suppose 'embrace' is just a fancy way of sayin' 'eat'?"

Angel nodded agreeably, "It's already shown a strong interest in sevens and he certainly fits the bill."

Gabriel leaned back in his seat and stared at the ceiling.

"Wonderful. A demon as old as creation wants to devour me just because I have six older brothers and six uncles." He sighed sharply, "So how do we kill it?"

"That was going to be my next topic of discussion." Doyle looked less than confident, "Sin is unique, so no one's ever found a way to kill him, but it says here that each of the seven demons that he's made up of had to be killed in a particular way. Pride needed to be crushed,Lust impaled, Wrath drowned, Greed electrocuted, Gluttony burned, Sloth decapitated, and Envy poisoned. The theory is that he could be taken down piece by piece provided it's all done in the same twenty-four hours before he can regenerate."

As Doyle closed the book, the four looked to each other uneasily. Angel rose to his feet and stroked his chin thoughtfully, his mind working at a furious pace.

"This is going to take some maneuvering." He said, turning to Gabriel,"Can your Second Sight identify the demon's different parts?"

"I think so." The young man frowned in thought, "I noticed a change in it tonight when it switched from Lust to Pride. I should be able to recognize which one we're facing."

Cordelia raised her eyebrows in confusion.

"Second Sight?" she questioned, slipping her hands around Gabriel's arm, "You mean like Doyle has?"

"Not likely." Doyle snorted and smirked, "He's got the real thing. I'd trade up what I got in a second."

"If you need me with you, there could be another problem." Gabriel pointed out, facing Angel, "Unless Doyle's friend at the door is there again tonight, I'm going to have some trouble getting in. I understand that these places frown on the presence of minors."

Cordelia wrinkled her nose and narrowed her eyes at him, her hands loosening around his arm, "Excuse me?"

"I'm only seventeen." He shrugged apologetically.

"Ew!" Cordy recoiled instantly with a look of disgust on her face,shrinking away from him as if he were on fire, "What were you thinking by coming onto me all this time!? A Chase woman, me in particular,would NEVER date a younger man. Ever. Get a clue boy-child."

Bouncing to her feet, she stalked sourly across the room and leaned her back against the opposite wall, rolling her eyes skyward.Doyle observed the exchange with a wry smirk.

"Easy come, easy go." He raised his eyebrows at Gabriel.

"Don't worry about the club." Angel told him, "The plan I've got in mind requires you to wait outside. All we need are some supplies."

* * *

Later, while Gabriel and Cordelia were out collecting the supplies that Angel had asked for, Doyle and the vampire were alone in the office.

"Okay, SOMETHING'S bothering you, Angel." Doyle leaned against Angel's desk and folded his arms resolutely over his chest, "You been all twisted up since we got back from the club and I'm tired of waitin' for you to volunteer."

"Do you know how long it's been since I've tasted human blood, Doyle?"the strain in his voice was almost painful to listen to.

"I'm not sure, " Doyle answered uneasily, "but I'm guessing it's been awhile."

"Not long." Angel shook his head softly, "I was poisoned and the only cure was the blood of a Slayer. She gave it to me."

"That's tragic." The dark-haired young man frowned, "But why is it just startin' to bother you now?"

"I didn't want to do it, Doyle. I would have rather died than risk killing her." He clenched his fists in front of him and paused, seeming to need to regain his composure, "But she kept hitting me, until my instincts took over. Even then, I still had a measure of restraint. I stopped myself from going all the way."

"That's what Sin tapped into at the club tonight, wasn't it?" Doyle guessed wisely, "He started with bloodlust and then zeroed in on your pride. So you attacked Gabriel."

Angel's brow furrowed and his eyes darkened, "I didn't just want to hurt him tonight, Doyle. I wanted to kill him. There was nothing inside me that told me it was wrong. I tasted his blood and I wanted to drain it all. And all because I imagined that Buffy was my possession."

"Look, that wasn't your fault." Doyle reassured him, "Sin got his hooks in ya. You weren't in control of yerself."

Angel lifted his gaze and looked at Doyle with pain and uneasiness in his dark eyes, "I felt like I was in control when I was draining him. That's the problem. What if Sin had nothing to do with that? What if I can't let go of this?"

"Angel." Doyle rose and smiled, "You moved all the way out here so Buffy could have a better life. You put your life on the line every night to help people you don't even know. If there's anything in this world I'm sure of, it's that you'll do the right thing."

"Umm, hellooo!" Cordelia's voice called from the reception area, "A little help here?"

She staggered through the door with a large cardboard box in her arms,nearly tripping. Doyle watched her with interest for a moment, then turned back to Angel.

"I better go give her a hand." He said, "You going to be alright?"

"Yeah." Angel nodded, "I just need a little time to think."

"Good. 'Cause the last thing we need is for you to be off your game during the big show tomorrow night."

Angel watched as Doyle went into the next room and took the box from Cordelia, who dumped it in his arms without so much as a word of thanks. Behind her, Gabriel carefully inched in through the door, his face hidden behind two more boxes.

"Don't you worry, Doyle." The vampire murmured, clenching his fist,"I'm more than ready."

* * *

The next night, Cordelia observed skeptically as Angel and Gabriel got suited up. The pair looked like commandos, dressed all in black and outfitted with a dozen or more contraptions of Angel's own design.

"You go out like that in this heat and you'll both die of cardiac arrest." she warned them, fanning herself with a magazine, "Well, atleast one of you will."

"I'll be fine." Gabriel assured her, slipping a short, wide bladed sword that was almost a cleaver, into his boot, "As far as the heat is concerned, that is."

"Who said I was worried?" she eyed him distastefully.

"This demon is finished." Doyle smiled confidently as he helped Angel on with a tightly bound backpack, "With the two of you working together on this, I'm betting seven lives will end up being a few too short."

"Let's hope you're right, Doyle." Angel slipped a metal-tipped stake into his retractable wrist sheath and pushed it up into his sleeve with a click, "If we mess this up, we're not going to get another chance."

With all of their equipment in place, Angel and Gabriel pulled on coat and jacket respectively. Angel's was long enough to cover everything he carried and loose enough even to conceal the backpack while Gabriel's waist-length gray leather jacket did a serviceable job of camouflaging his own arsenal.

"We're in the middle of a killer heatwave and you're wearing leather."Cordelia sighed, shaking her head, "I'm telling you, 'cardiac arrest'.. . "

"You know the plan, just like we discussed." Angel nodded to Gabriel,"Ready?"

"Any time you are." the boy answered eagerly, sweat already gathering uncomfortably on his forehead.

* * *

Angel entered the Seventh Heaven alone, the way they had planned it. Gabriel would certainly have passed out from the oppressive heat if he had gone inside dressed as he was. Angel, on the other hand, had no such worry. The vampire migrated to a secluded corner, near the fire exit and watched the tightly packed crowd. There was a performance already underway onstage, but Sin was nowhere to be seen.

Scanning the room with dark, intense eyes, Angel creased his forehead in confusion. He had been sure that Sin would be expecting a challenge. The previous night, it seemed that the demon had invited it. But now, the creature seemed to have disappeared.

A young woman slipped into the space in front of him and smiled lasciviously up at him. He barely remembered her, but it was the bikini-clad girl who had bumped into him the night before. Her pale blonde hair was pulled back from her face, exposing an attractive length of neck and a delicately featured face atop a slender, supple body. Her attire was about as modest as it had been last night,consisting of a skirt that was barely enough to cover her and a laced-up top that was so tight it appeared ready to burst. She was beautiful, but her face held a constant tinge of dissatisfaction.

"Hi." She grinned, displaying a mouthful of straight, white teeth and holding his eyes with manufactured innocence, "I wish I had eyes as beautiful as yours."

"What?" he frowned down at her, having only caught the last part of what she had said.

"I was just wishing I had the kind of presence you do." She reiterated,sour irritation peeking through her carefully constructed mask of sensual interest, "Remember me?"

"No." he stated quickly, lifting his head uncomfortably and looking past her into the crowd, toward the stage.

"What about me?" she grabbed him sharply by the arm, her voice changing, becoming more like that of an older woman.

Angel looked at her and was stunned for an instant. The girl holding his arm was now the prostitute that had been murdered upstairs in the hotel. She was dressed in the same gaudy attire, but there was no trace of blood on her clothes or wounds on her body

"Sin." His eyes narrowed dangerously and the dark-haired prostitute smiled.

"I knew you'd recognize me sooner or later, demon." She breathed with a slight giggle.

"If you're Sin, then who was on the stage last night?" he folded his arms over his chest and turned to face the creature.

"Oh, that was me, too." She chuckled patronizingly, "If you know my name, then you probably know where I came from. Sometimes I forget and parts of me tend to wander. It's hard on the head, but great for the perspective."

"So the corpse at the hotel was you? You never killed anyone." The vampire lifted his eyebrows. This was not at all what he had expected."

That was just an act to get his attention, but instead I got you. I've killed thousands of people, Angel." She told him bluntly, "And I'll kill a thousand more. Just as soon as you tell me where you're hiding the Seventh Son."

Angel ducked his head, as if considering and then grabbed hold of her arm and jerked her into him in one smooth motion.

"Come and get him." With a flick of his wrist, he brought the metal-tipped stake out of his sleeve and rammed it into her chest,shoving on it until the tip popped out of her back.

Sin gaped and fell to her knees, eyes wide with shock, as Angel bolted for the fire exit. Bursting outside, the vampire slammed the door behind him and pressed his back against it. Gabriel was waiting in the alley, as they had discussed, his hands hanging in nervous readiness at his sides. Angel nodded uneasily to the young man.

If his calculations were wrong, even by a little, the entire plan would fail. Gabriel would be left to face the demon alone and he would most likely die, just like the hundred Seventh Sons who had gone before him. Just a small miscalculation . . .the vampire shook his head. No. Doubt was a luxury that would have to wait until later, after this was all over, when he was safe again in the darkness of his office. Right now was a time for recklessness.

From an overhead fire escape, Doyle smiled and waved, a rifle ready in his other hand.

"Are we on?" Doyle raised his eyebrows.

"What are you doing here, Doyle?" the vampire demanded. Doyle's presence could seriously jeopardize the plan.

"Poison darts. For when Envy shows its ugly kisser." Doyle shrugged,indicating the gun, "Figured I could help out a couple of my friends. You don't think I was about to let the two of you play hero by yerselves, did you?"

A massive impact struck the inside of the door and Angel flew forward,stumbling along the paved street.

"I took out Lust. I think we have Sin's attention." He climbed to his feet and looked to his companions.

The door shuddered again and flew open and a small figure stood framed in the doorway. It was the bikini girl, surrounded by a halo of steam and her eyes glowing with green fire. The demon stepped casually into the alley, grinning broadly and watching Gabriel hungrily.

"There you are, lunchmeat." The creature's voice emanated from between its teeth, rich and melodious, like a miniature choir, "You're going to be my new beginning."

The Seventh Son drew the short, wide-bladed sword from his boot, and advanced on Sin, "How about your final ending."

Sin's slim, female hand snapped out and smashed into Gabriel's chest,throwing him back against the alley wall like a sack of grain. The boy bounced hard and the blade flew from his hand as he sank to his knees. Doyle lined up a shot and then hesitated, knowing that the dart would only be wasted if he used it on the wrong aspect. Angel dove at the demon and cracked his fist across her delicate jaw with no effect. He continued to strike her, smashing his foot into her stomach and pounding his fists into her throat, all with no apparent impact. Sin's slight body possessed incredible strength and resilience, seeming to root itself to the ground whenever he hit it, becoming as solid as stone.

"I feed off chaos!" Sin bellowed in a voice that was beyond what her delicate throat should have been able to produce and straight-armed an open hand into his chest, stopping him cold, "I live for discord! I crave strife!"

"Gabriel!" Angel shouted, "Get up! You have to tell us which sin we're facing!"

Gabriel groggily pushed himself up and focused his eyes on Sin as she laughed triumphantly.

"It's Envy!" he cried suddenly, "I'm sure of it. Doyle, shoot!"

"Just what I was waitin' to hear." The half-demon raised the rifle to his shoulder and pulled the trigger.

Sin's laughter was cut abruptly short as a thumb-sized dart embedded itself in her neck and released a strong dose of venom. She looked up at Doyle confusedly and stumbled, falling face-first to the ground. The three men watched in horrified fascination as the corpse of the bikini girl split lengthwise and another body began to take shape.

Thick, obscuring mist poured from the split, swirling into a column around the lifeless form. A tall man with a thickly muscled physique and wearing ragged gang clothes arose from the pile of dust that had once been Sin's former body. Turning, the man glared at the three and spread his hands with a cocky smile.

"Twice now, you've killed me." The man nodded with a measure of grudging respect, "That's only happened a handful of times throughout history. I commend you, Seventh Son. You and your companions may prove to be a worthwhile challenge yet."

Gabriel raised his hands and focused his special vision on the demon.

"Bring it on, Wrath." The boy hopped forward and snapped a sharpside-kick up under the man's chin. The impact hurt his foot, but the demon fell back a step.

"It's getting weaker." Angel noted, joining the Seventh Son's attack and slamming his fists into the demon's torso.

Sin growled in frustration, backhanding the vampire and knocking him to his knees. As the demon raised his arm to cave Angel's skull in,Gabriel clamped onto the thick limb and held on with all his might. The boy gasped in surprise as he was hoisted effortlessly into the air and slammed down painfully onto the street. Sin gripped his throat with steely fingers and started to squeeze.

"I will embrace you, Seventh Son!" He snarled.

"Comin' down!" Doyle called, riding the rapidly descending fire escape ladder down into Sin's face.

The creature's entire body shook with the blow and it lost its hold on Gabriel, stumbling dazedly into the wall, and fell onto its back. Doyle bounced off the end of the ladder and skipped over the dark asphalt, skidding to a stop between the rising forms of Angel and Gabriel.

"Wrath." He clutched the spent rifle tensely in his hands as Sin sat upslowly and grinned evilly, glaring at them with baleful green glowing eyes, "How do we kill Wrath? Fire, right?"

Angel slipped a clear, glass bottle out of his backpack, tossed it to Gabriel and then backed away. The Seventh Son quickly sparked a woodenmatch and lit the bottle's gas-soaked fuse.

Hefting the flaming weapon, he made sure to give Angel a wide berth, "I got it covered."

As Sin advanced, Gabriel hurled the firebomb into the demon's chest,engulfing it in a tower of roaring flame. For the first time, they heard Sin scream in pain.

"You cannot destroy me! I am eternal!" he roared as the inferno seared through his body, "Come here, vampire! You fear the flames. Burn with me."

Angel backed away warily as Doyle and Gabriel looked to one another briefly before linking hands and charging the demon, hooking it around the neck and slamming its burning body to the ground. Sin toppled like a mighty oak and writhed slowly until his body caved in on itself.

Angel raised his arm protectively before his face and squinted into the dying flames.

"What happened?" he frowned, "Why isn't it getting up?"

Doyle hung back, briskly patting down the scorched hairs on the back of his forearm, "I wouldn't do that, Angel, you -"

A thin, skeletal figure shot forth out of the fire, tackling the vampire with tenacious strength and bearing him to the ground. Sin's new body was female again, a plain, curveless shape with a thin nose and lusterless, straight brown hair. Her fingertips were like talons,digging into the undead flesh of Angel's throat with enough strength to make lights dance before his eyes and his head swim.

A powerful wave of lethargy washed over Gabriel and Doyle and they each stumbled weakly to their knees.

"Sloth, Doyle," Gabriel demanded tensely, battling the enervating force and watching Angel's struggles helplessly, "How . . .How do we kill Sloth?"

"Uh, uh, decapitation, I think." Doyle touched his fingertips to the sides of his head, attempting to concentrate, "Yeah, that's gotta be it."

Gabriel found his fallen sword and wrapped his hand tightly around the hilt. The weakness was debilitating, but he wouldn't surrender. Steeling himself, he planted the toes of his boots against the pavement.

"I hope you're right." He summoned what little remaining energy he had left and dove onto Sin's back, hooking the sharp edge of the weapon around her throat.

The demon released her hold on Angel and reared back, slamming Gabriel's body repeatedly against the alley wall. The boy gritted his teeth against the pain and held on tightly, working the edge of the blade in his hands against her bony neck. The girl snarled and whirled trying to throw him off, but he continued to hold on and sawed the weapon deeper into her throat.

Doyle jumped forth and smashed the butt of his rifle against Sin's jaw,hoping to stun the creature long enough for Gabriel to finish his job. The blow had little effect and she reacted swiftly, slapping a powerful open hand against the side of Doyle's head and spinning him to the ground. Wailing angrily, the demon stomped down on his leg and ground her small foot maliciously. Doyle screamed and grasped his wounded limb in agony. Angel charged and rammed his shoulder into Sin's chest,knocking her away from his friend.

Gabriel braced himself and leaned back, jerking hard on the blade. Steel grated on bone and Sin's voice was cut short as the creature's severed head tumbled to the street.

As the demon's headless corpse collapsed, the Seventh Son released his hold and fell to his knees. Breathing hard, he dropped his sword and clutched his bloody shoulder where it had been dragged across the rough brick. Sin's body continued to move, flopping around on the pavement near an open sewer grate.

"Come on, we've got to go after it." Angel urged, his dark eyes locked on the creature as it slipped over the edge down into the sewer.

Doyle sat up weakly and looked to Gabriel as the Seventh Son rose unsteadily to his feet and offered out his hand.

"Give me a minute." Doyle accepted Gabriel's hand and pulled himself up, "Not everyone has a vampire's resilience. The kid looks like he could use a little breather."

It was obvious by the way he was holding his leg that he was more in need of a rest than Gabriel was.

"I'm good, Doyle." Gabriel straightened quickly and winced, "There's still three more to go."

Angel turned to Doyle, "Get yourself to a hospital. We'll take it from here."

"You sure you two'll be alright without me?" Doyle asked half jokingly,and sank back against the wall.

"We'll have to manage." Gabriel observed, "With that leg, you're not going anywhere."

Doyle nodded in agreement to the young man as Angel dropped through the manhole with his arms held close to his sides. Gabriel smiled and waved before following the vampire down into the sewer.

Angel landed easily on the damp concrete just in time to catch a glimpse of a shadowy figure rounding the corner into another tunnel. Gabriel touched down carefully next to him and Angel pointed to the dark tunnel where he had seen Sin go. Together, the pair took after the demon with determined energy, splashing through the shallow, dirty water along the sides of the passage. Gabriel's eyes were far less accustomed to the inky darkness, but he was still able to manage with his other senses.

They chased it down a second tunnel and into a junction. The shape it wore now was that of an enormously fat man, the cop that Angel had briefly come across at the staged murder scene. The obese man paused,bending over to pick up a fallen length of pipe and then turned on them.

"I'm guessing you're Gluttony." Angel smirked, "And I know you don't like the water much. Time to take a jump in the pool."

Sin's eyes bulged in panic and he dropped his weapon, diving for a metal ladder which lead up to the street. Angel grabbed two handfuls of pudgy flesh and hauled the demon into a deep part of the tunnel. Wrapping his arms tightly around Sin's incredibly fat chest, he locked his hands together and jerked him into the water with a massive splash. The creature thrashed wildly as Angel rolled with him in the way of a fighting alligator and began to squeeze the air from his lungs.

Gabriel stood on the shallow ledge tensely, watching as Sin slammed Angel's head off the concrete and they both sank under the murky surface. He knelt down and peered hopefully into the sloshing, cloudy depths.

"Come on, Angel."He muttered softly.

Unseen, a small figure hoisted Sin's forgotten pipe and swiped it overhand at The Seventh Son's head. Gabriel sensed the attack at the last instant and dove into a roll, catching the end of the pipe across his already wounded shoulder. He yelped and turned his back to the wall, his head swimming from the pain.

Less than five feet away stood a small boy holding the pipe in both hands. His face was lined and leathery with a mad grin and dark,avaricious eyes. He clanged the metal pipe off the floor and sneered.

"Being made up of seven different beings has it's advantages." The creature lunged and jabbed at Gabriel with the pipe, dipping under his defenses and slamming it into his stomach.

Gabriel doubled over and fell dizzily to his hands and knees. He had pushed himself too fast, too far. The agony in his shoulder was sickening. The child demon hefted its pipe and stood over him triumphantly in the near total darkness.

"Prepare to be embraced, Seventh Son." The boy leered with a mouthfulof pointed teeth.

Angel's vision blurred and a wave of sickness overtook him as he sank to the bottom with Sin in his embrace. The sensation was similar to what he remembered from the last time Angelus had gorged himself to illness. His insides roiled and his abdomen cramped painfully, robbing his limbs of strength. He had not expected Gluttony's power to be able to affect him so easily. Sin tried again to break for the surface, but Angel hooked an arm around his neck and dragged him deeper.

They fought in dark, near-silent weightlessness, Sin reaching for surface and Angel pulling for the bottom. The fat man struggled and fought to get free, weakening as the oxygen in his lungs was depleted. Angel crammed his elbow into the creature's gut, forcing the last breath out of its lungs.

As Sin's limbs went slack and his eyes glazed over, the vampire planted his feet into the demon's chest and shot for the surface, bursting up and latching onto the ledge. A metal pipe clanged into the concrete,scattering sharp chips in all directions and narrowly missing his skull. Angel lurched back and hoisted himself up onto the opposite ledge.

A young boy glared at him with luminescent green eyes, holding the pipe in both his small hands and standing over Gabriel's limp body. Seven shiny, red tentacles extended from the child's chest and were attached to strategic points on the Seventh Son's face.

"Angel," the young man gasped in agony, "It's Greed."

Reacting swiftly, Angel leaped across the water and grasped an insulated electrical wire on the wall, ripping one end free and jamming it into the base of Sin's neck.

The boy screamed and the tentacles released their hold on Gabriel as hundreds of volts of electricity coursed through his small frame. Spasming crazily, Sin flopped over and shook as the end of the exposed wire popped and shorted out the circuit. Angel waited until the boy layed still and released the wire, kneeling down by the Seventh Son's side.

"Bet you're glad I made you wear that insulating suit, now aren't you?"he smirked as the auburn-haired young man pushed himself up into a sitting position against the wall. There were seven pucker marks arranged on his face where the tentacles had attached themselves, "You okay?"

Gabriel's green and gold eyes went wide and he pointed over Angel's shoulder, struggling to rise.

"Pride." He gasped.

Angel whirled as Sin, now wearing the form of the demonic dancer, fled to the far end of the tunnel and started climbing for the surface. Unconcerned, the vampire smirked and turned back to Gabriel to help him up.

"Forget about me!" Gabriel shouted, pushing Angel toward the far end ofthe tunnel, "You have to go after it!"

Angel ignored him and slung the young man's arm over his shoulder,supporting his weight and starting slowly back the way they had come.

"What are you doing?" Gabriel demanded, "Sin's getting away!"

"Sin doesn't know these tunnels like I do. Trust me, Gabriel, we're done here." The vampire assured him without explanation, "Are you alright to walk?"

The auburn-haired young man pushed away in frustration, limping heavily, "That THING is going to come back!" he turned in the direction that Sin had gone, "It'll regenerate. We only killed it six times."

"Right," Angel placed his hand on Gabriel's shoulder and held him back,"Impaled, poisoned, burned, decapitated, drowned, electrocuted . . ."He turned his gaze to the ladder that Sin had retreated to, " . . .and crushed."

* * *

Sin nimbly scaled the metal rungs of the ladder, desperate to escape. Once he reached the open again, there would be no way for the vampire and Seventh Son to catch him. In a mere twenty-four hours, he would be completely recovered, ready to hunt down his prey again.

This time, there would be no games. He would seek out the Seventh Son directly instead of trying to lure him in. And during the daytime, too, when the boy's vampire ally would be next to useless. No one had ever come so close to destroying Sin before. This Seventh Son would pay for that.

Reaching the top of the ladder, the painted man pushed the heavy manhole cover up, sliding it to the side and boosting himself up to sit on the edge of the street. Yes, he would ensure that this embracement would be the most excruciating ever.

A truck horn blared deafeningly and a set of blinding headlights bore down on the demon. He turned too late and opened his fanged mouth in a silent scream as the speeding truck collided full force with his torso,sending his lifeless body hurtling into the ditch where it dissolved into a wisp of black smoke.

* * *

Angel stared out the window at the violet horizon. They had stopped in at the outpatient clinic on the way back to the office to get Gabriel's more serious wounds patched up.

There had been a note from Doyle pinned to the inside of the office door informing them that he had done the same and then gone home. Angel would call him later and let him and Cordelia know the outcome of the battle, but right now, he wanted some time for quiet contemplation. It would be dawn soon, and this was the time when he liked to watch the sky the most. Already, the temperature was beginning to rise slightly. It promised to be another hot day.

"You don't have to leave, you know." He said, still looking out the window, "You've earned a place here if you want it."

Gabriel stood next to him, watching the horizon also, with a sling binding one of his shoulders and a large, tightly-packed travel bag slung over the other.

"I appreciate it, but LA will be fine without me." He answered, tiny reflections of the approaching dawn shining in his green eyes,"Besides, I have places to go."

"And people to see." Angel observed without feeling a twinge of jealousy for the first time since the Seventh Son had arrived in his city.

The young man was struck dumb for an instant, surprised at Angel's astute deduction and even more by the acceptance he detected in the man's voice.

"All my life, I've always had someone else telling me what to do. After my father died, I didn't have that anymore. Maybe that's why I came to you." He smirked bittersweetly, "But I guess it's time I started looking out for myself, huh?"

"You're stronger than you think, Gabriel." The vampire told him, "I've seen it. And so has she."

"Thank you." The boy seemed very much his age for the first time in Angel's experience, innocent and a little vulnerable, "You don't know what it means for me to hear you say that."

The two continued to stare at the gradually lightening sky in silence for long minutes until Gabriel spoke again.

"Three months ago, I was lying on the floor of your mansion and dying."The young man's jaw twitched slightly in shame at the memory, "I thought my life was over."

"I remember." The vampire nodded slightly, continuing to observe the approaching sunrise.

"Do you also remember what you asked me that day? You wanted to know if I loved her and I couldn't answer you." He reached out and turned the vampire to face him, meeting his gaze with stalwart conviction, "But I can now."

Gabriel remained perfectly still, nervously watching the vampire for some sort of reaction.

Angel cleared his throat uneasily and pulled the curtains closed,heading slowly toward his apartment, "It's getting close to sunrise."

"Angel . . ." Gabriel followed him out into the reception room.

Angel stopped with his back turned and his head bowed.

"Be good to her Gabriel." He whispered, his voice stained with emotion,"Nothing will ever change what she and I have, but you were right when you said she doesn't need anyone to watch over her anymore. Maybe it's time I realized that."

"I'll never forget what you did for me back then." Gabriel whispered softly, standing by the open door, "Or now. So how do you think we should leave this?"

Angel raised his arm slowly and offered out his hand.

"As friends?" he suggested.

"Friends." Gabriel clasped the vampire's hand tightly and smiled.