Disclaimer :: The characters herein are the property of their creators. I make no profit from their use.

:: T h e C r u e l e s t M o n t h ::

written by Starlet2367 { e-mail // livejournal }

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, 1922

Merl leaned against the wall outside Caritas with his hands in the pockets of his Sansabelts, waiting while his friend Andy finished his cigarette. Some techno crap pulsed through the open door and the sound combined with the tangerine-colored light from the street lamps to give the night a weird, Farscape feel. He glanced over at Andy who was puffing his cigarette contentedly.

"I hate that music," Merl said.

Andy snorted and sent smoke rolling out the small blowhole on top of his head. "The Host's in a phase. Digging the manufactured vibe, you know?" He gestured toward the record store across the street. "Vinyl," he said. "They killed music when they left vinyl behind."

Caritas fronted on North Broadway, on the sloppy edge of Koreatown. At eleven o'clock on a Monday night, North Broadway was hardly crawling with traffic. If you weren't already at the bar of your choice, you were home getting ready for bed.

"Thought the rest of the crowd woulda followed us up here once he started playing that crap," Merl groused. Since Merl was an informant, his work came to him through his patronage of similar establishments in the Los Angeles area. He also did some work in Akron when he went home to visit his mom, but it was never enough to keep him solvent.

He jingled the change in his pocket. Not that you could call four dollars and thirty-two cents solvent. He really needed another job. Soon.

"Probably too old to climb the stairs more than once a night," Andy said. He reached up and scratched under his arm. "New deodorant's giving me a rash. Hey, did you see that old geezer in the table next to the stage? A hundred and fifty if he was a day."

"The Mel Torme review always packs 'em in." Merl ran a hand over the bumps on his head and glanced out at the sluggish traffic.

"Yeah. Hey, can you believe they make us stand 10-feet away from the door?" Andy bitched, and took another drag. "It's not like any of 'em are gonna die from cigarette smoke."

It was an old argument, one Merl listened to every time he and Andy came outside. Since Andy recently stepped up to a 4-pack-a-day habit that meant Merl heard it a lot. But it was better than getting his eardrums punched out by synthesizers on acid. "The humans might," Merl said by rote.

"Humans. Pah. Who needs--"


Merl turned his head toward the sound. "Did you hear that?"

"Help me!" A young man ran--or rather, limped--around the corner of the building, one leg dragging behind him at an awkward angle, one hand pressed against his belly. His fingers were stained dark and his striped shirt was spattered with black-looking splotches.

As he came nearer, Merl realized it was blood. He took a step forward. "Hey, buddy--"

"Help me," the guy said, stretching out his free hand.

Merl took another step toward him, but Andy held him back. "Human," he whispered. "I can smell it."

"So what," Merl said. "We gotta help him."

"Looks like a mob hit," Andy said. Out of the corner of his eye, Merl saw him point with his cigarette. "Benny--you know, Koreatown Benny? The Fyarl demon?"

"Yeah?" Merl asked.

"That's his trademark. Take out the left knee, then finish 'em off with a gut wound."

"I knew that," Merl said, trying to sound nonchalant.

The guy groaned and collapsed to the sidewalk. Andy shook his slimy, yellow head. "Ow. That's gotta hurt."

Merl watched, torn. He did want to help him--but he wasn't stupid. Now that Andy mentioned it, it did look like Benny's work. But, hell, they couldn't just let the guy bleed to death ten feet in front of them, even if he was human.

So Merl did what he did best. He abdicated responsibility. "Do something, man!" he yelled at Andy.

Andy took another drag and blinked his piss-green eyes at the guy, who was now nearly at their feet. "Like what?" he asked, smoke trailing out the hole on top of his head like a silver line of fog.

The guy on the ground coughed, spattering blood on the concrete in front of him. "Caritas," he said with a moan. "Sanctuary." He laid his cheek on the concrete and Merl got a good look at him.

"Crap," he said. That was the kid who'd done a half-decent job on "I Will Survive" at disco night two weeks ago. "I--" Merl's voice cracked. He tried again. "I'm going for help." He fled into the upper lobby of the bar, and banged down the stairs.

"Hey, don't leave me out here alone with this guy! Ugh!" Andy said, and followed him down into the bar.

The bar was dimly lit and Lorne tended bar alone. Mondays were usually slow. "Lorne!" Merl yelled, stuttering to a halt by the glossy black bar. "Lorne!" He shoved in between a Locos demon and an aging hippie. Andy crowded in behind him.

Lorne looked up from whatever he was mixing. "I heard ya the first time, Merl. What's the nine-one-one?"

Merl pointed toward the stairs. "There's--there's a guy up there! Needs your help!"

Lorne pursed his green lips. "Not Jimmy-the-Nut again, is it? I told him last week to find a shelter--"

"LORNE!" Merl hopped up and down on his cross-trainers.

The Locos demon growled. "Dude," he said through a bad under bite, "*You're* gonna be bleedin' in a minute, you don't stop with the hysterics." He shoved Andy back a few steps. "Hey, smoke-breath. Back off."

"Sorry, sorry." Merl's voice cracked. Andy took a step toward the Locos and Merl shot him a warning glance. Then he patted the Locos on the shoulder and turned back to Lorne. "Mob hit," he said. "Human. Came around the corner and crawled to the front door. Think he needs help."

Lorne's mouth fell open. Then he dropped his bottles and picked up the phone. "Why didn't you say something? Jeez!"


The boy's face disappeared behind the zipper of the black body bag. The coroner's assistant looked up. "That about does it," he said. He motioned to the EMTs. The one leaning against the side of the ambulance uncrossed his arms and grabbed the stretcher.

Lorne nodded his head. "Thanks." It was a damn shame about the boy. Kevin Wating had been one of his semi-regulars, a nice young man with a good job who enjoyed an occasional evening in a roomful of demons.

"You knew the deceased?"

Lorne turned and found himself staring at the detective, a man of indeterminate age, gone to paunch. He held a small notepad and pen in his hands and worried a frayed toothpick with his teeth. Lorne didn't have to read his aura to see he would kill for a cigarette.

"Yeah, he used to come in and sing from time-to-time." Lorne shrugged. "I'd give him a reading; you know, the usual. Nice kid, but he was just that. Usual."

The EMTs loaded the body onto the stretcher and wheeled it toward the ambulance's open doors.

"That's some pretty fancy make-up you're wearin'," the detective noted.

Lorne glanced at the guy's badge, which was prominently displayed on the pocket of his lightweight gray, seen-better-days blazer. "Brings in the crowd, Detective Holmes." He paused for a minute. "Great name for a detective."

The detective tongued his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. "Geez, I never heard that before." He motioned toward the doorsill. "Any idea what that means?"

Lorne glanced down past his red, suede Stacy Adams. There, on the concrete floor just inside his doorway, Kevin had scrawled the letters "p," "e," "z" in his own blood. "Pez? Could be he had a thing for candy."

The detective grunted. "What about family, friends, job? He ever come in here with anyone else?"

Lorne shoved his hands in the pockets of his lemon-yellow suit. "Sometimes he came in with a friend." He rocked back and forth on his heels. "Uh, Don? Dan?" He squinted at the streetlight and let his mind take him back to the last time the guys had been in. Kevin was a beer man, but his friend preferred Scotch. "Dan! That was it. Dan Sparks. I think they worked together."

Holmes scribbled in his notebook and belched. "Sorry," he said, tapping his chest with the side of his fist. "Shouldn't have had that second piece of pie."

Lorne let the usual cliches about cops and dessert roam through his head. "Right. Hey, you guys gonna need to keep this crime scene tape up all night? Not to make light of what happened here, but tomorrow's kind of a big night for me. April Fool's, and all."

He gestured toward the tape roping off the entrance to the club. Beyond it, the press of onlookers was dissipating. The body was gone; nothing left to see but old, fat guys in badly-tailored jackets talking to green lounge singers.

Your usual Monday night in the city.

Holmes glanced toward the flashing blue lights. "Ramirez!" he yelled.

A dark-haired woman in a blue LA's finest uniform poked her head out of a parked cruiser. "Yo," she called back.

Holmes gave her a "come here" gesture. She tossed a clipboard and a stack of papers on the seat and joined them at the entrance to the club. "Yeah?"

"You about done filing the papers here?"

She nodded. "Yeah, we've about got it cleaned up. Rest of the stuff I gotta go to the station for." She glanced at Lorne. "You want us to send in a clean-up crew, or you wanna do it yourself?"

Lorne glanced down at the blood on his step. Kevin wasn't the type to mix it up with a bad crowd. From what Merl told him, he was pretty sure this had been a demon hit. The cops would do their best, but they'd never catch the right angle. Only one guy in the city could do that.

"I'll clean it up," he said. After Angel got a good, strong whiff.

Ramirez nodded. "How much more time you need?" she asked Holmes.

He chewed his toothpick thoughtfully. "'M done." He glanced at Lorne. "You'll need to stay available, though."

A card appeared in Holmes' fingertips and Lorne took it. "Guess I'll cancel that surfin' safari I had on my calendar for this week."

Holmes grunted then stuck his notepad in his jacket pocket. Ramirez gave them a wave, climbed in her car and radioed in to dispatch. The ambulance was already gone, the crime scene guys and their cameras and notebooks had disappeared, and now Ramirez and her partner nosed out onto North Broadway. Everything was back to normal except for the yellow tape and the drying blood on Lorne's doorstep.

And the memory of Kevin's face disappearing behind black plastic.

"I'll call you if I have any more questions," Holmes said. Then he turned and walked to his dusty, undercover wreck.

Lorne watched him go then reached into his pocket for his cell phone.

"Angel Investigations."

"Angelcakes," he said. "Call in the troops. I need your help."


Cordy woke, heart pounding in her throat, listening intently. Then she realized the phone was ringing. She groaned, reached for the receiver on her bedside table and knocked her glass of water to the floor. It hit the wood and shattered.

"Crap," she said. "Dennis! Phone?"

It floated in from the hall and she plucked it from the air and thumbed it on. "Who died?" she said, pushing her hair out of her eyes.

"One of the Host's clients," Wes replied.

She groaned. "Geez. I was just kidding." She took a long, tired breath. "We meeting at Caritas?"

"In twenty, if you can."

"Give me thirty." She clicked the phone off and laid it on the bedside table, then dropped her feet to the floor.

"Ow! Dammit!" she said, jerking her foot back and flipping on the lamp. "Way to go, genius." She lifted her heel and plucked out a piece of glass. A bright, red bead of blood welled up.

She thought about the vial of warm, viscous blood the nurse drew at the hospital today. How she still had the needle mark on the inside of her elbow. "Great," she muttered. "Now I have a matching set of holes." She looked up at the ceiling. "I hear some people collect salt and pepper shakers," she said to Dennis. "Of course, some people have the taste of a randy she-goat, but who am I to judge?"

She glanced down at the floor, assessing the damage made by the falling glass. Water dripped down the side of the bedside table and wall. Silver glass shards glittered in a shooting arc across the polished oak planks. She dropped her shard back to the floor with its friends, and exited the bed from the other side. "Should have asked him to give me forty-five so I could clean up this mess."

Her little clean-up broom and dustpan floated into the room. She reached for it, but Dennis pulled it away and made sweeping motions in mid-air.

"Oh, Dennis, would you?" The broom-and-pan nodded. "Thank you, sweetie. What would I do without you?"

Her foot throbbed as she hobbled to the bathroom. She slapped on a Band-Aid, rinsed her face, and brushed her hair. Then she pulled a pair of dirty jeans from the hamper and slid them on. Ordinarily she wouldn't wear dirty jeans if you gave her six brand-new Gucci bags and took her to lunch at Spago. But it was late. She was tired. Dead guys bled. You do the math, she thought, as she padded back to the bedroom for a shirt.

One stop for coffee later, she pulled up in front of Caritas and parked--something that never would have happened when the sun was shining. But it was late--or early, depending on your persuasion--and the only folks out were the street sweepers, the cops, and the third-shift workers.

Angel stuck his head out the bar's door. And vampires, she thought, as she locked the car. "Angel," she said, nodding at him.

He stuck his hands in his pockets. "Hey," he said, giving her a quick, almost unobtrusive once-over. His eyes lingered on her foot for just a second too long.

Creepy dead-guy Spidey sense, she thought, as she crossed the sidewalk. "I cut it on a piece of glass." She brushed past him and started down the stairs. "Oh, wait," she said. "What was I thinking? It's not like you care."

He hurried down behind her. "What does that mean?"

She didn't bother to glance over her shoulder. "You know what it means, Mister I-ditch-my-friends." She stepped into the large, open room that housed the main portion of the lounge.

"Well, lookee here. It's everyone's favorite little Seer," the Host said from behind the bar. His lemon yellow jacket hung over the back of a chair next to the door. He'd rolled up his shirtsleeves on his silk, red-and-yellow, leopard-print shirt. In one hand, he held his trademark Seabreeze; at his elbow the coffee maker peed a brown stream into the carafe.

Cordy took a deep breath and under the smell of freshly-perking coffee was the usual mix of alcohol, the bleach used to sanitize the glasses, and muted flop sweat.

Karaoke wasn't the most calming of experiences; most people who walked on that stage dripped like Woody Harrelson at a meat packing plant. She just hoped this little outing didn't mean any of them would have to take their turn in the spotlight.

Cordy slid onto the barstool next to Wes and set her paper cup of coffee in front of her. "If you don't mind me saying," she said to the Host, "you don't look so good."

He pursed his lips. "You try getting a dead guy's blood off your doorstep, sweetie. You'd be a little pink, too."

Wes nudged her with his elbow. "Thanks for coming," he said. "I know it was your day off."

"Next time remind me to find a boss who understands the concept of personal leave," she said.

Angel leaned against the end of the bar, obviously keeping his distance. "You do anything fun today?"

She thought about the endless round of CAT scans, the needles in her arm, the antiseptic smell of the hospital waiting room. "Went to Malibu. Got some sun." She reached up and hooked her finger in the collar of her shirt. "Wanna see my tan lines?"

Angel's mouth pulled into a near-smile. "A day in the sun," he said quietly. "That's-- Good. Good for you."

Cordy felt a pang of guilt. Then remembered what it was like to have a heart-stopping, head-splitting vision with no warrior to service it, and most of the guilt washed right on out.

"Cordelia," the Host said. "You want a hit of anything in that coffee?" He pulled a bottle of Bailey's from under the bar and waggled it at her.

She wasn't supposed to drink. It affected her medication. From the looks of her latest scan, though, affecting her medication was the least of her worries. "Sounds like a plan," she said, popping the plastic lid on her cup.

He dumped a glug in and stirred it with a swizzle stick. "Where's your other friend? Gunn?"

"Yo, dawgs," Gunn said from the doorway. He shifted his crossbow so it hung over his shoulder and scooted onto the stool next to Cordy. "Sorry I'm late. The crew found a nest down on Seventh."

She reached over and patted his hand. "Dust any vamps?"

Gunn glanced at Angel, who still lurked at the end of the bar. "About one too few."

Cordy snorted into her coffee. The fumes from the Bailey's made her nose burn, so she took a sip and let them burn her throat, instead.

She caught the Host shooting Angel a sympathetic look and her guilt-o- meter went off again. Darn it, he went postal on *them*, not the other way around. But nursing a healthy dose of anger was hard to do when he put on those puppy-dog eyes. So she closed her own eyes and concentrated on the warmth and strength of the men on either side of her. They were her real friends, the ones that didn't abandon her for four-hundred-year-old whores.

The ones who remembered the mission.

"So," Angel said. "Wanna tell us what happened?"

Cordy's eyes popped open at the sound of his voice. She heard Wes clear his throat.

Angel faded back into the shadows. "Sorry. Wes, why don't you, um, take the lead here?"

Cordy took in Angel's hunched shoulders and the hands-in-pockets slump. He didn't look like a predator or a betrayer. But he looked a whole lot like a sad, lonely guy. She glanced back down at her coffee.

It's not fair, she thought. He gets to take three months off to hunt skank, sticking her with *his* visions. Not only that, but now she got to feel his leftover pain. If she could just get her hands on those Powers for five minutes--

The Host interrupted her thoughts. "A kid named Kevin Wating used to come in and sing from time-to-time."

Cordy looked up at him, took a deep breath, and pulled in her focus. Next to her, Gunn leaned his elbows on the bar and sipped the beer the Host had put in front of him.

"Liked disco nights," the Host said. He took a sip of his Seabreeze.

Gunn grunted. "Probably what killed him. Too much Bee-Gees'll do that to a man."

The Host's eyebrows drew together. "Hey, don't diss disco." He gestured with his glass. "Besides, I hear the Bee-Gees are perfectly nice people. Not the type to blow out your kneecap or leave you with a sucking gut wound."

Cordy's stomach rolled. "Sounds like Koreatown Benny's work." She pushed her cup away.

Angel stiffened. "How do you know about Benny?"

She shot him a look. "Hey, some of us didn't take the winter off to track down our skank-tastic exes."

"Kids," the Host said. He put a hand on Cordy's arm. "Put a lock on it. I've had about enough bloodshed for the night." He sounded like he was talking to both of them, but he looked right at Cordy when he said it.

"Fine," she said. "Keep going. My apologies." She waved her hand. "Won't happen again."

"Thank you," he said.

"Welcome," she said, bordering on sarcasm.

The Host's eyes narrowed, but his attention was diverted by Wes's near-empty coffee mug. "Want me to warm that up?"

"That'd be great." Wes pushed the mug across the bar.

The Host grabbed the carafe from the warmer. "Actually," he said, over the wet slap of coffee hitting china, "Merl and Adam said the same thing about it being a mob hit." He splashed some more Bailey's in on top of the coffee and stirred.

"If it's a mob hit," Gunn said, "wouldn't the cops be in on it?"

"Oh, honey, they are. I had the whole forensics crew out here for hours. It was like something straight out of CSI."

"Why not let them handle it, then?" Wes asked. He twisted his mug back and forth in one spot on the bar.

Cordy noticed he looked a little wilted around the edges. Not surprising, considering it was about three-thirty in the morning. "Because Benny's a Fyarl demon, remember?"

Wes glanced at her. Behind his glasses his eyes were sharp, despite the crumpled hair and wrinkled shirt. "Still, a mob hit's a mob hit. I'm sure the cops would be all over it."

"They'll do their best," the Host said. He nodded at Angel. "But I needed more. Someone who knows something about blood."

Cordy held her tongue out of respect for the Host but that didn't stop her from shooting Angel one of her nastier smirks. "Why blood? I mean, besides the obvious gut-shot-knee-cap thing."

"Because Kevin wrote something in his own blood on my doorstep," the Host said.

"Like that guy on the X-Files?" Gunn asked. He jiggled his beer bottle against the bar. "The one who died at Mulder's door? What was his name?"

"Ex," Cordy said. "He was Mulder's informant. Same guy that used to play on Twenty-One Jump Street."

"Uh, guys," Angel said, "as important as pop culture is--"

Gunn turned toward him. Cordy couldn't see his expression, but she was pretty sure it wasn't friendly.

"Y-you should t-totally keep talking about it," Angel stuttered. He made a go-ahead motion with his hand. "All night, you know, if you want. I mean, the guy's already dead, right?"

The Host cleared his throat. "Doesn't anyone care what he wrote?"

"I do," Wes said. He elbowed Cordy and sent her a "behave" glare. "What was it?"

"It was the letters P-E-Z," the Host said.

"Pez? This dude's dying word was Pez?" Gunn asked

"Well, we all know candy's evil, Gunn," Cordy said. "Goes straight to your hips."

Gunn waggled his eyebrows and leered at her. "Your hips look jus' fine to me, girl."

She grinned at him.

"Why Pez?" Wes said, starting to sound a little impatient.

Cordy took that as her cue to quit goofing off.

The Host shrugged. "Heck if I know. That's where you guys come in." He glanced at Angel. "You get anything off the blood?"

Angel shook his head. "Totally normal. No sign of drugs or alcohol. He was pretty scared, though." He shrugged. "Sorry I can't give you more to go on."

"Hey, it's more than the murder cop gave me."

"So what do you want us to do?" Wes asked. "I mean, why call us in at all, if it seems like a clear mob hit on a human?"

"Because the last words he spoke were 'Caritas' and 'Sanctuary'," the Host said. "I know Benny's a Fyarl demon, and maybe he was just trying to get away from him. But that boy came here hunting sanctuary, and one way or another, I want to see that he gets it."

Wes nodded. "Why don't we start with a routine search? We'll look into Kevin's life; see what it tells us about his death." He glanced down the bar, eyes skimming Cordy and Gunn and landing on Angel. "Let's hold off on pumping Benny for info. We've seen his work before. The less we involve him, the better."

Angel nodded. "What about Merl? Didn't you say earlier that Merl and Andy were here when it happened?"

The Host nodded. "Yeah, they saw most of it. You know Andy. He wouldn't spit on a human if he saw one on fire. But Merl knew Kevin, so he came down and got me. Told me what happened." He shuddered. "It wasn't pretty, I'll tell you that."

"Why don't I go after Merl, then?" said Angel.

The Host nodded. "Offer to pay him, will ya? He owes me for last night's beer."

"Don't I always pay Merl?" he asked, looking as innocent as a vamp in the shadows ever could.

The Host snorted.

"Any idea where he worked?" Cordy asked.

"Genesys. The genetic research company out in the San Gabriel Valley."

"Near City of Hope?" Cordy asked. "The hospital?" After the last couple of months she knew a lot more about LA's hospitals than she'd ever imagined she could.

"Uh huh," he replied.

"Why don't I check it out tomorrow, see what I can come up with?"


on to part two