The Collector

by Duncan Johnson

This story takes place during season three

Krevlorneswath, formerly of the Deathwok Clan and now the Host of Caritas, loved the stage. He loved the beat of the music, the adulation of the crowd, the way the stage lights brought out the green of his skin. Truth be told, he loved being the centre of attention. He was what they call a born entertainer.

Grinning from ear to ear, microphone in one hand, Lorne was singing his heart out and relishing every minute of it.

'Fill my heart with song,' he sang (talk about appropriate lyrics, he joked to himself), 'and let me swing forevermore. You are all I long for - yes you are - all I worship and adore. In other words, please be true. In other words, I love you. And you. And all of you. You're a wonderful audience. Give yourselves all a round of applause.'

The music came to an end, but Lorne could hardly tell beyond all of the clapping and yelling and the stamping of feet. He bowed and let the moment linger for a while.

'You're too kind,' Lorne told his audience, 'and you've got lousy musical taste, but I still love you.'

He gestured to a furry Queska demon to come on stage. It bounded up behind him, wagging its tail eagerly.

'Next up, for your auditory delight, we have an old favourite that I know you all love just as much as I do. Ladies and gentleman, it's Meko!'

The audience hooted and Lorne made his exit, stage left. Meko was a regular at Caritas and something of a rarity here, being a karaoke singer who could actually sing. Several of the regulars were in this evening and it looked set to be a terrific night.

Lorne settled down on one of the barstools to listen to Meko's spirited rendition of 'I Will Survive'.

Arvin, the barman, put a Seabreeze down in front of Lorne.

'Honey, you're an angel,' Lorne said before taking a sip.

That was good. If there was one thing he insisted on with his bar staff, it was the ability to make a decent Seabreeze. Lorne pinched the bridge of his nose. Much as he was loving tonight, all of the activity was taking its toll. There was only so much one demon could do, no matter how loveable he might be. He was glad that, so far at least, none of his customers had asked him to do a reading. That really would take it out of him.

Of course, he could not always control his ability to read people and Meko was broadcasting loud and clear. He frowned as he brain shuffled through the images he was picking up on. Then he turned to the barman.

'Arvin, sweetheart,' he said, 'I think I'm going to need a phone.'

* * *

Angel was not a big fan of distractions and the cell-phone was definitely a distraction. He missed the good old days when a man could go out for a walk and be, for a while at least, incommunicado. He was nostalgic for a time when you could only be contacted by phone if you were at home or by letter, preferably delivered by a man on horseback. But Cordelia had insisted he carry the phone and, despite himself, Angel could see the advantages. He just did not like it very much.

'Lorne,' Angel said, 'now is not exactly a good time.'

'Well, I'm sorry to be such a pain in the posterior, cupcake,' Lorne retorted, 'but I thought I was doing you a favour. I run an entertainment establishment, saving the world's just a sidebar for me, not a career choice. But, you know, I'm not exactly unwilling to lend a hand when the going gets tough and the tough get all dark and brooding. Or more brooding than usual anyway. Is it too much to ask for a little show of appreciation every now and then?'

Angel fought not to sigh as he swung the car round a corner. Tyres screeched.

'Is there a point, Lorne?' he asked.

'Oh, there's a point all right, sugarplum,' Lorne replied, 'a very sharp, gouge someone's eye out sort of point. Say the point of one of those magic swords you and the rest of the Merry Men have been trying to track down.'

'Go on,' Angel prompted.

'I was reading this demon at the club,' Lorne explained. 'Nothing new there right. Anyway, I wouldn't normally divulge a reading like this. It's kind of a doctor/patient thing. Maybe more priest/sinner, thinking about it. The point is, this guy was feeling blue, like tear-your-heart-out-and-bury-it-in-the-farthest-corner-of-the-garden blue. Seems some guy had stolen his favourite magic sword, some demon guy. And given your current obsession with magical weaponry - which, I must say, is a step up from the usual vampire bloodlust, but still falling short of a decent Sinatra-worshipping type obsession - I figured you'd want to know about it.

'So, about this guy you should be looking for…'

'Let me guess,' Angel interrupted. 'He's six-feet tall, has grey skin, no mouth and the biggest pair of antlers you ever saw.'

'How did you…' Lorne began.

The blade of the sword struck the top of the windshield, raising sparks. Angel dropped the phone.

'So, on top of everything else, you're a thief,' Angel said to the demon currently riding his bonnet like a surfboard. 'Somebody's been a really bad boy.'

Angel had got lucky while out on patrol. He was trying to spot any signs of the unusually high volume of magical weapons that had been appearing on L.A.'s streets. What with Wesley working his network of informants and Gunn, Fred and Cordy out on assignment, that had left Angel to do some legwork. Or tyre -work, in this case.

He had potted the demon several blocks back, showing off his shiny new weapon. Angel had decided to follow him, see if he could pick up any information that would lead him to the demon's supplier, but he obviously was not as stealthy as he thought he was. Was he losing his edge?

The demon swung the sword again and Angel had to scrunch down in his seat to avoid being decapitated.

'Hey, watch the hair,' he protested.

Angel yanked on the handbrake and the tyres squealed as the car suddenly pulled to a halt. Angel was thrown forward, but only slightly, held in place as he was by his seat belt. The demon, with no such restraint, flew off of the bonnet and landed in the road some distance away.

Angel snapped the belt open and vaulted out of his car. The demon picked itself up and levelled its sword, ready to attack. Angel circled him, warily, looking for an opening. The demon lunged and Angel vamped out, catching the blade of the sword between the palms of his hands. He grinned, showing off his fangs, before flexing his arms and flinging the demon away from him. The demon somersaulted end over end, but still managed to land on its back hooves. It took one last look at the vampire's flashing yellow eyes and then turned and ran.

Angel swore and gave chase. The demon was fast, faster than something built like a tank should be. Angel was fast too, but he could only manage to keep pace with his quarry, not close the gap.

The demon kept glancing nervously over its shoulder. They were outside the city proper and there was a shortage of people and traffic to obstruct the chase. Up ahead was a large house, shielded from the road by a tall gate set in a large wall. Lowering its head, the demon charged the gate, smashing it off of its hinges. Security guards tried to stop it, but were batted out of the demon's way. Then the guards spotted Angel.

'I don't have time for this,' Angel muttered, before leaping over the wall, right over the heads of the guards.

The gravel drive was full of cars and the sounds of a party resonated out from the big house. Angel did not have time to pay the much heed, however. His focus was on the demon and the sword. He jumped up on to the roof of one of the cars and then threw himself in a football tackle at the demon. His arms wrapped around the demon's waist as the impact carried them both threw a large window in a shower of broken glass.

* * *

David Nabbit was in heaven; one look at the gorgeous woman on his arm confirmed that.

'Can I get you anything?' he asked Cordelia Chase.

'I'm fine. Really.' Cordelia replied.

For one brief terrifying moment, David thought he might have offended her with his over-attentiveness, but then Cordelia flashed him a dazzling smile and his heart melted. He still could not believe that this woman was his date for the evening. Well, technically she was here on business, David conceded to himself, but he was allowed to dream.

It had started earlier that day when he had paid a visit to the offices of Angel Investigations.

'David, Hi!' Cordelia had said as David descended the steps into the hotel lobby.

'Cordelia,' David replied, nervously returning her smile. He had to admit, if only to himself, that Cordelia was the main reason he kept in contact with Angel Investigations.

'David,' Wesley said, stepping out of his office, 'this is an unexpected pleasure.'

'Man probably just wants to hear some more of our war stories, right?' Gunn said as he descended the stairs accompanied by a tiny woman David did not recognise.

That was the other reason David like Angel Investigations. It gave him a chance to be part of a world of magic and adventure that was usually just confined to the gaming table.

'I don't believe you've met the newest addition to our staff,' Wesley said to David while indicating the woman with Gunn. 'David Nabbit, this is Winifred Burkle.'

'Call me Fred,' the woman said in an unmistakable Texas twang. 'Everybody else does.'

'I'd be delighted…Fred,' David replied.

Fred blushed and looked down at her feet.

'David's something of an entrepreneur,' Wesley explained to Fred.

'He means he's rich,' Cordelia added.

'But don't hold that against him,' Gunn remarked, showing gleaming white teeth.

'Where's Angel?' David asked.

'Where else would the dark avenger be in the middle of the day?' Cordelia asked. 'He's sleeping, obviously.'

'Not anymore,' Angel said from across the lobby. 'You guys are making enough noise to wake the dead.'

'And how many other folks get to use that expression literally?' Gunn quipped.

'So, is this more than just a social call, David?' Angel asked.

Straight and to the point, David mused, that was Angel. Given that it spared him any more embarrassing pleasantries, David did not mind in the least.

'I was hoping you could help me out,' he admitted.

'Of course we will,' Cordelia promised, stepping out from behind the reception desk.

'Take a seat,' Wesley offered, all business, 'and tell us exactly what happened.'

Sometimes, David forgot that Wesley was now in charge of the agency. It only took a few minutes in the man's company to remind him.

'It's Mason, Mason Klein.' David said as he sat down. 'He's a friend of mine. And he's in trouble.'

'What kind of trouble?' Wesley asked.

'He says he's been attacked by demons,' David replied. 'He says they're out to get him.'

'He says he's been attacked?' Wesley repeated. 'Were there any actual witnesses beside your friend.'

'No,' David said. 'Mason was alone both times.'

'Well, forgive me for saying so, David,' Wesley suggested delicately, 'but are you sure that Mason isn't making this up? Your friends do tend to have rather active imaginations.'

'Wesley,' Cordelia explained, 'how could you even suggest…'

No,' David interrupted gently, 'it's a fair question. None of you know Mason. Look, I know you think my friends and I are a little…weird.'

'That's not true,' Cordelia protested.

'Actually,' Gunn conceded, 'yeah, it is, but I hang out with a vampire so who am I to judge.'

'We like our role-playing,' David said with a shrug, 'but we know where the game stops and real life begins. If Mason says he's being attacked by demons then I believe him.'

'Well, that's good enough for me,' Cordelia said. 'What do you want us to do?'

David shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

'Mason's hosting a party tonight,' David explained. 'I was kind of hoping you guys would come along to keep an eye on things. You know, just in case the you-know-whats turn up.'

'The you-know-whos?' Fred asked.

'David, we'd like to help,' Wesley began slowly, 'but we're already tied up with another case.'

'Oh come on, Wes,' Cordelia said, 'David's a friend. And besides, party? You can spare me, surely.'

'I don't know,' Wesley said hesitantly.

'It's not like we're actually making a lot of progress on the whole weapons thing anyway, Wesley,' Angel pointed out. 'One night understaffed isn't going to kill us.'

'Very well then,' Wesley announced authoritatively. 'It looks like Cordelia will be attending the party with you, David. And so will Gunn.'

'I will? Gunn said.

'If things get nasty then they'll need you,' Wesley explained.

'That's just great,' David said, clapping his hands together. 'Terrific. Now all we've got to do is find you some costumes.'

'Costumes?' Gunn echoed.

And from there it was only a brief step up to cloud nine, which is where David was now, at one of Mason's exclusive parties with the world's most beautiful princess on his arm. What could possibly spoil this moment?

That was when the window caved in.

* * *

Charles Gunn hated parties. Sure, his old crew could get down with the best of them, if they chose, but there was not much call for partying back there. This was celebration for its own sake, a chance for those with to try and impress the others with, those without not invited. And if there was one thing Gunn hated than a rich guy's part, it was a rich guy's fancy dress party. And who's idea had it been for him to go as a barbarian warrior anyway?

The logic behind it - which Wesley had explained to him at some length - was simple. This way, Gunn had an excuse to carry a weapon into the party. And, from a purely practical point of view, Gunn could not complain that the outfit was uncomfortable and, given the heating in this place, it was not nearly as draughty as it looked. But Gunn still felt like a first-class idiot in this get-up. He had almost caught Wes laughing at him earlier on when he came downstairs in the outfit, but English had been quick to compose himself. Fred had said that he looked handsome, but Gunn was sure she was only humouring him. Fred was sweet that way.

Or maybe she was on to something after all, given the way that brunette in the warrior-princess outfit with the very short skirt was eyeing him up.

'Hey, handsome,' she purred as she sashayed over to him.

'Hey,' Gunn managed in response.

She had stepped in close to him, right inside his personal space. It was clear that she knew exactly what she was doing and Gunn did not know how to - politely - tell her to back off.

'So, is that an axe in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me,' the woman said softly, huskily.

'An axe?' Gunn suggested.

'That's a fine-looking weapon you've got there,' she continued. 'Big, too. A girl might think it was real.'

'Um…thanks,' Gunn mumbled. Where was a demon when you really needed one?

'So, my sexy barbarian, how do you fancy getting all basic and primitive?'

She placed a hand on Gunn's bare chest and his eyes widened in panic. He was definitely going to kill Wesley when this was over, assuming he could still make it out with some of his dignity intact.

'I doubt anyone would miss us if we just popped out for a moment,' the warrior-princess said, 'and I could give you a guided tour of this place. Say with special emphasis on the bedrooms?'

Gunn swallowed.

Then one of the windows shattered and Gunn breathed a silent prayer of thanks to whatever gods had been watching.

A demon tumbled into the room, a nasty-looking dude with massive antlers. Angel, leather duster billowing, fell after him.

Someone screamed. Gunn looked up and realised it was Mason, the guy they were here to protect. Figured.

Gunn did not hesitate.

'Scuse me,' he said to the warrior-princess as he stepped past her and strode towards the demon.

'Hey, Bambi,' he shouted.

The demon turned and Gunn lopped off his head with one swing of his axe. Blue blood spurted up from its severed neck and struck Gunn in the face.

'Damn,' he swore. 'Why do I always get the slimey ones?'

'My, you really are a barbarian, aren't you?' the warrior-princess remarked as she looped her arm around Gunn's.

Gunn did his best to ignore her.

'You okay, Angel?' he asked as he offered the vampire a hand up.

'Fine,' Angel replied, waving away Gunn's hand, 'but did you have to decapitate our lead?'

* * *

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce stood aside as Gunn kicked open the locked door. He knew Gunn had to get ready for the party that evening, but right now he needed Gunn's muscle for their other case.

Angel had noticed it at first, the way in which more and more demons they fought seemed to come armed with magic weapons. Given time to look over their recent cases, Fred had confirmed it as a statistical fact. Regular demons were problem enough. The last thing Los Angeles needed right now was an influx of demons with artefact weaponry, They needed to find out who was supplying them and put a stop to it. Quickly.

While Angel hit the streets, Wesley had lit a fire under his informant network and diligence had won out. A lead pointed him in the direction of an old associate of his, Father Stefan Carmichael of the Church of St Andrew. Today was Father Carmichael's afternoon at the gym so Wesley had offered himself up as the priest's opponent in a game of squash.

Wesley was, unfortunately, out of practice. Father Carmichael, he soon discovered, was not.

Nearly stumbling over his own feet, Wesley hopped to one side and hammered the ball back at the wall with the head of his racket. Smiling the whole time, Father Carmichael took one stepped forward and backhanded the projectile as it ricocheted towards him. Grimacing, Wesley lunged forward, skidding on the smooth floor. His racket managed to connect with the ball, but his feet slid out from under him and he ended up on his back. Father Carmichael gently knocked the ball back at the wall, knowing that Wesley had no hope of returning it, before offering Wesley a hand up.

'My point again, I believe,' he said.

'I think I'm going to have to conceded defeat on that one,' Wesley agreed, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.

'Another game?' Father Carmichael asked.

'Maybe when I get my breath back,' Wesley gasped, 'about three years from now.'

Father Carmichael laughed.

'So, you wanted to talk to me then, Wesley,' he prompted.

'Yes, that's right,' Wesley agreed, propping himself up against a wall. 'I wanted to ask you about the Glaive of Neimak.'

'What about it?' Father Carmichael asked. His voice was calm, but he had turned away so that Wesley could not read his reaction on his face.

'It used to be kept in your church vault, I believe,' Wesley continued, 'except it appears to be missing.'

'It's not missing,' Father Carmichael replied, stooping to retrieve the squash ball.

'Really?' Wesley replied. 'Then perhaps you could tell me where it is, as one friend to another, hm?'

'We sold it.'

Wesley was incredulous. 'You sold a mystic artefact?'

Father Carmichael frowned. 'Now you know I don't buy into all that magic mumbo-jumbo, Wesley. That thing was an antique, nothing more.'

'That thing, as you put it, is a very powerful mystical weapon,' Wesley corrected him, 'and very dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands. Do you realise what you've done?'

'Wesley,' Father Carmichael said coldly, 'we've been friends for some time, but that does not give you the right to pass judgement on my actions. Once we established that the glaive was of no Christian significance, there was no reason to hang on to it and the proceeds from its sale helped finance essential repairs to the church roof. What would you have me do, save the glaive or my church?'

The priest turned to leave, but Wesley's hand shot out, holding the door closed.

'I need to know whom you sold it to,' he said.

'It was sold via an agent,' Father Carmichael replied. 'That's all I know.'

'I'm going to need a name, Stefan,' Wesley said.

The name Father Carmichael had given him had led Wesley to this shop and its proprietor, Lucius Grey. Wesley had encountered Lucius before. He was a fixer, someone you came to with a problem who would then supply you with whatever you needed, given enough time. Lucius was well connected, exceptionally so, and would have been a valuable addition to Wesley's informant network, except that Wesley would not even trust the demon to give him the correct time.

'Hey, you better be paying that,' Lucius squeaked as he indicated the door with a paw.

It looked as if Lucius was cowering behind the counter, but Wesley knew better. The demon was just not tall enough to see over the top. Lucius stepped up on to a box and peered over the top.

'Oh, it's you,' he muttered.

'A pleasure to see you too, Lucius,' Wesley replied. 'I hear you've gone upmarket.'

'I don't know what you're talking about,' Lucius replied.

'Probably because I haven't explained myself yet,' Wesley countered. 'I've been hearing rumours that you've been supplying enchanted weaponry.'

'Yeah, well, you should know better than to trust rumours, right?' Lucius said.

Wesley moved to place his palms flat on the counter, then noticed the stains on the wood and hesitated with his hands hovering an inch above the surface.

'I want your client list,' he said.

'Then you're going to leave disappointed,' Lucius told him.

Gunn stepped forward.

'Maybe rat-boy just needs a little persuading,' he said.

'Maybe you're not the guy to do it,' Lucius shot back, pulling a mace out from behind the counter.

'My, my,' Wesley said, eyeing the weapon, 'that's quality workmanship. It seems the rumours were correct.'

'Yeah, so what,' Lucius said. 'This mace'll still cave in your friends skull.'

'Wanna put that to the test?' Gunn threatened.

'I don't think that will be necessary,' Wesley said, holding up a hand. 'I'll just call the charming Mr Grey's wife and let her know about his visits to Madame Dorion's.'

'You wouldn't dare,' Lucius said.

Wesley pulled out his cell-phone. 'Try me.'

'Fine, okay,' Lucius flustered. 'I hate doing business with you.'

'Likewise,' Wesley replied with a grim smile.

'There,' Lucius said, handing over a thick stack of papers, 'now get out of my sight.'

'So what's this Madame Dorion's?' Gunn asked as they stepped outside.

'Well, everyone has to make a living,' Wesley replied, 'even demons. And certain demons do so by…selling themselves.'

'You mean…' Gunn's eyes went wide.

'Quite,' Wesley said as they reached the car.

'Just one thing, English,' Gunn said, 'how come you know so much about this Madame Dorion's anyhow?'

* * *

Winifred Burkle let the door to the hotel swing shut behind her with a loud thunk. What she needed now was a long soak in the bath followed by a nice soft bed.

Wesley looked up from where he sat surrounded by papers.

'How did it go?' he asked.

'Fine,' Fred replied. 'Just fine.'

Wesley had not wanted her to go on the assignment at all, but Fred had insisted. She wanted, no, she needed to feel a part of the team. And that meant taking on cases. What with Cordy and Gunn going to that party with Mr Nabbit and Angel and Wesley looking into that business with the magic weapons, she was the only one left.

But Wesley did not think that she was ready yet.

'Wesley,' she protested, 'I want to do this.'

'I know you do, Fred,' he replied patiently, 'but it could be dangerous and you'll be on your own.'

'It doesn't sound dangerous,' Fred replied. 'Just some strange noises and rattling pipes and stuff.'

'It's what's rattling the pipes that's concerning us,' Gunn put in.

'I only need to take a quick look around,' she wheedled. 'I'll take a bunch of notes and then you can all look over them when you get back and plan our next move.'

'I know you mean well, Fred,' Angel said, 'but you shouldn't go walking into danger.'

'Why not?' Fred asked. 'You all do it all the time.'

'Yes, but we have experience,' Wesley countered.

'But you had to start somewhere, right?' Fred said.

Cordelia shrugged. 'She has a point.'

So, reluctantly, they had allowed her to go and investigate the haunting at the Addams' house.

Fred was not scared of ghosts. Cordelia, she knew, even lived with a ghost, though Fred had yet to pluck up the nerve to go and meet him. As a child, she had always been a little disappointed that their house was not haunted. She had imagined having a ghost as a best friend. But that was just fantasy. She had never really, if she was being honest, expected to meet a real live (okay, dead) ghost. And the thought that she might be about to put butterflies in her stomach. Lots of them.

Audrey Addams opened the door almost as soon as she stopped knocking.

'Hi,' Fred said, forcing herself to smile. 'I'm Fred Burkle. From Angel Investigations. We spoke on the phone.'

'Of course, dear,' Mrs Addams said. 'Won't you come in.'

Fred offered her hand, but her host ignored it.

Mrs Addams led the way inside. She was a frail woman, almost bent double by age, who supported herself with a cane.

'What seems to be the problem, Mrs Addams?' Fred asked. It was cold inside the house, colder than it had been standing on the stoop outside, and Fred rubbed her arms to keep warm. It was dark inside too, and Fred could see cobwebs on the ceiling. Maybe Mrs Addams could not get up there to clean, she reasoned. And there was a smell about this place, as well, like something had curled up in a corner and died. Fred decided it probably was not polite to mention it and soldiered on regardless.

'It's my husband, dear,' Mrs Addams said in response to Fred's question.

'Your husband?' Fred repeated. 'On the phone you said that your house was haunted.'

'Yes, that's right, dear,' Mrs Addams confirmed, 'my husband's dead. Here, follow me into the kitchen and you can meet the old buzzard.'

With no small amount of trepidation, Fred followed.

'Mr Addams,' she said nervously. 'Are you in here?'

Mugs rattled as the mug-tree shook.

'Over here,' said a voice. Fred thought it sounded like the crunch of leaves underfoot in Fall. There had been a lot of leaves in Pylea.

She turned and she could see a head floating over the sink.

'Mr Addams?' she asked.

The head bobbed in what she supposed was meant to be a nod and smiled at her.

'That's me,' he replied. 'I see you've brought the harpy with you as well.'

'Why you…' the old woman began, shaking her fist.

'Where's the rest of you?' Fred asked. 'That is, if that's not a rude question. I don't want to start offending you, but I've never met a ghost before and I don't really know what I'm supposed to…'

'You're doing fine,' Mr Addams assured her, 'though I'd work on that babbling thing if I were you.'

'Sorry,' Fred said.

'That's quite all right,' Mr Addams replied, 'and to answer your question, it takes a lot of effort to manifest a full body. I find this easier, but if it's making you uncomfortable…'

'No, no, it's fine, really,' Fred insisted hurriedly.

'Now, what can I do for you?' Mr Addams asked.

'Well, to be honest, I'm a little confused,' Fred admitted. 'I was told there was a problem here, but you seem like a nice sort of ghost really.'

'Why, thank you,' Mr Addams replied.

'Damn his eyes,' Mrs Addams swore. 'The man's a menace.'

'How so?' Fred asked.

'Because he won't tell me where he stashed the money, that's why,' Mrs Addams replied. 'That money's supposed to be my inheritance and if that man won't tell me where it is then I want him exorcised.'

'Don't you think that's a little drastic,' Fred said.

'I'll say,' Mr Addams agreed.

'I'm paying you enough for it, aren't I?' Mrs Addams insisted. 'So, Patrick, are you going to tell me where the money is or is this going to be your last goodbye.'

'You're not getting a penny of my money, woman,' Mr Addams snarled. 'I want all of my money to go to Kimberley.'

'Who's Kimberley?' Fred asked.

'His daughter,' Mrs Addams spat, 'but his first marriage. He thinks she's better than me, but she hasn't had to put up with him for that last twenty years!'

'Put up with me?' Mr Addams repeated. 'I think it was more the other way around. I should get a medal for putting up with your vitriol.'

The mugs shot of the mug tree and shattered against the opposite wall, causing Fred to jump back in fright.

'What about your bile?' Mrs Addams demanded. 'I deserve that money as payment for the being a loving wife under the worst of circumstances.'

Plates threw themselves off of shelves and smashed on the tiled floor.

''Loving wife?' Mr Addams laughed. 'That's a joke. And you're not seeing a penny of my money!'

Three long knives floated out of a wooden block and hovered in mid-air. Then they flew across the room in Fred's direction. Fred screamed and ran from the room. The knives shot past her head and embedded themselves in the kitchen door. Fred ran, panicked, searching for somewhere to hide. She pulled open the first door she came to. It was a closet and there was something in there, something large that was falling out towards Fred. She jumped aside, still screaming.

'Whatever is the matter, dear?' Mrs Addams asked from the other end of the hall.

Fred bit down on her lower lip and forced herself to regain her composure. She looked at the thing on the floor. Then she looked at Mrs Addams. Then she took another look at the thing on the floor.

'Um, Mrs Addams,' she began, 'I think you might want to take a look at this.'

Mrs Addams hobbled over to take a look at her corpse.

'Oh my word,' she exclaimed.

The hallway filled with the sound of Mr Addams' cackling laugh.

'You always said I'd talk you to death,' he crowed. 'Guess you were right after all.'

'Why you…' Mrs Addams began.

'Won't be getting any of my money now, will you,' Mr Addams taunted her.

'I'll kill you,' Mrs Addams promised. 'I'll kill you.'

'Sticks and stones may break my bones,' Mr Addams sang, 'if I had any.'

Fred raised her hand.

'If you're both, um, dead,' she said, 'then surely there's no problem with your daughter inheriting the money. That is, assuming she's your only living relative.'

'I don't want that bitch getting a penny of what's rightfully mine,' Mrs Addams snapped.

'Maybe I should call her anyway,' Fred suggested. 'Do you keep her number anywhere?'

'The address book is on the bookcase in the living-room,' Mr Addams told her.

'Right, well, I'll just be through here then,' Fred replied, wanting to put as much space between her and the ghosts as possible and wondering how she was ever going to explain this to Kimberley Addams.

In short, the situation had been a mess, but fine seemed an adequate enough appraisal for Wesley.

'I doubt we'll be getting paid, though,' she added.

'Mm-hmm,' Wesley murmured distractedly.

'What are you looking at?' Fred asked, crossing the lobby and sitting down beside Wesley.

'I've found the agent who's supplying the weapons to the demons,' Wesley explained, 'but I still need to find out where he's getting them from. His supplier list goes on for seventeen pages.'

'Couldn't you just ask the agent himself?' Fred suggested.

'Lucius has an uncanny inability to tell the truth,' Wesley replied. 'We could be here till Christmas sorting through his deceptions. Believe it or not, this way is actually quicker.'

'If you say so,' Fred said sceptically. She picked up one of the sheets of paper. 'That's odd.'

'What is?' Wesley asked, peering over her shoulder.

'That name,' Fred said. 'Mason Klein. Isn't he Mr Nabbit's friend? The one being hunted by demons?'

'I do believe you're right,' Wesley said.

'It's probably just coincidence,' Fred suggested.

'Probably,' Wesley agreed, 'but I don't believe in taking chances. Do you?'

* * *

There were times when Cordelia Chase knew that she had come a very long way since her days as the spoiled rich bitch of Sunnydale High. And then there were times like now when she thought that maybe she had not changed a bit. She still loved the smell of money. And there was plenty of that on display tonight. So, sure, she would go back to her day job of saving the world first thing in the morning, but she was allowed to indulge for one night.

Plus, this princess costume was something else. Looking at David, you would not think he was much of a clothes man, certainly not in that wizard's get-up he was wearing now, but she could not fault the outfit he had picked out for her. And sure, she could have pulled off that warrior-princess outfit the woman on Gunn's arm was wearing, but why would she want to. You had to be pretty desperate to flash that much skin, right, and Cordelia Chase was not desperate. Much.

Mason Klein - who, Cordelia had to keep reminding herself, was the reason she was here - was sitting in a corner looking distraught.

'Do you think we should check on him?' Cordelia suggested to David.

'That's probably best,' David conceded. 'Mason does tend to get…overwrought.'

Just great, Cordelia thought to herself as she glided across the room, determined to make every other woman there jealous, but fearing that Angel's entrance may have distracted attention elsewhere. That was just like him.

Mason was clutching a drink and muttering to himself.

'Are you okay?' Cordelia asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

Mason jumped and Cordelia had take a couple of hurried steps back so that his drink did not go all over her dress.

'Oh my god,' Mason exclaimed. Then he recovered himself. 'Oh, I'm so sorry. I'm not normally like this. Honestly.'

'That's okay,' Cordelia said. 'I know all about your…problem.'

'My problem?'

'Cordelia works for that detective agency I was telling you about, Mason,' David explained.

'Oh, right, that problem,' Mason said. 'Do you believe me now? They're attacking me in my own home.'

'Actually, I don't think antler-boy was after you, Mr Klein,' Cordelia said. 'I think he may be connected to another case that we're working on.'

'Then how did he end up here?' Mason asked.

'Because - and this is experience talking, I can tell you - the Powers That Be have a very odd sense of humour,' Cordelia explained.

Mason nodded slowly, clearly not understanding a word. Cordelia was okay with that - she got that a lot. His gaze kept flicking over to the headless demon corpse on the floor.

'Don't you think we should do something about your guests?' Cordelia asked.

'My staff will look after them,' Mason replied. 'That's what I pay them for. Do you mind if we go somewhere away from the…'

'General ickiness?' Cordelia supplied. 'Works for me.'

'Let's go up to the games room,' Mason said, getting up to lead the way.

David and Cordelia followed him upstairs into a room dominated by a large table.

'This is a games room?' Cordelia said. 'Where are the games?'

'Over there,' Mason said, pointing to the bookcase.

'Oh, those games,' Cordelia said, nodding sagely.

'So,' she said, turning to David, 'you guys all sit around here and pretend to be something you're not, right?'

'Pretty much,' David confirmed.

This was one of those times when Cordelia realised how far she had come, but suppressing high school Cordy's trademark wit and wisdom was quite a challenge.

'Would either of you like a drink?' Mason asked, opening the drinks' cabinet.

'Not for me, Mason,' David said. 'But Cordelia might want something? Cordelia?'

'No,' Cordelia said, 'but thank you.'

'You don't mind if I have one, do you?' Mason asked. He had already poured himself a large glass.

'No, no, of course not,' David and Cordelia said in unison.

Mason drained the glass.

'I'm just a little on edge is all,' he said. 'Having demons try to kill you will do that to a guy, I suppose. And you need to work harder?'

'I do?' David said, bewildered.

'The monsters in your games are nowhere near as scary as the real thing.'

The two men laughed and Cordelia experimented with a faintly amused smile.

'So, have you any idea why these things are after you?' she asked Mason.

Mason shook his head.

'None whatsoever.'

'You don't remember cheating us?' A voice like a rumble of thunder echoed through the room. 'Are we so insignificant? You will pay for your insult with your life.'

'Where are you?' Mason asked, backing towards the wall.

Cordelia saw it first.

'Look out!'

An arm snaked out of the wall and wrapped itself around Mason's through. Then the rest of the demon stepped away from the wall. Around the room, three other demons stepped away from the walls as well. The skin was the same green colour of the paint, but now they were out of hiding, it darkened almost to black.

David stepped between Cordelia and the advancing demons, raising his wizardly staff as he did so.

'Stay behind me, Cordelia,' he said. 'I won't let anyone hurt you.'

'David, this isn't one of your games,' Cordelia told him.

'I know,' David replied, 'but I don't want you to get hurt.'

'I don't want you to get hurt either,' Cordelia said.

'Don't worry,' Angel said as he strode through the doorway. 'It's not going to happen.'

A bolt flew from the crossbow Wesley was holding and impaled the demon attacking Mason between the eyes. The head of Gunn's axe landed in the chest of a second demon and Angel, now showing his game face, snapped the neck of a third with his bare hands.

The fourth was still advancing on Cordelia and David. David raised his staff and brought it down hard on the demon's skull. The staff snapped in two.'

'This isn't good, is it,' he said.

The demon snarled.

Cordelia lunged forward, scooped up on of the broken halves of the staff and rammed the sharp end into the demon's gut. It collapsed, gurgling, to the ground.

'I'm guessing it's a bit late to ask if it's okay to kill these guys,' Gunn said.

'It's okay,' Wesley told him, 'but then they were never the real problem, were they, Mr Klein.'

'Mason?' David said.

'I…I don't know what you're talking about,' Mason insisted.

'Then you're not selling magical weapons to Lucius Grey?' Wesley asked.

'Lucius Grey. Never heard of him,' Mason replied.

'That's funny,' Wesley said, 'because you're name is all over his paperwork.'

'Okay, so maybe I did sell him one or two things,' Mason admitted.

Angel folded his arms.

'One or two?' he said.

'All right, already,' Mason said. 'I've been trying to shift my weapons collection.'

'You're what?' David said. 'Mason, is what they're saying true.'

'Yes, it's true, David,' Mason said. He dragged a chair away from the table and slumped down in it, defeated. 'It started out as a bit of fun. I found this guy, said he sold magic weapons. I mean, how much of a coup was that over the rest of you gamers, that I actually owned a genuine magic weapon. Only it didn't stop with one. It was like an addiction. I kept having to get one more, just one more. But then my business started getting into trouble and I needed to find cash. Fast.'

'If all you needed was money you could have come to me, Mason,' David pointed out. 'You know I'd always help a friend.'

'I was embarrassed, David,' Mason replied. 'I didn't want anyone to know what a mess I made. So I started selling off my collection of weapons.'

'But that wasn't the worst of it, was it, Mr Klein,' Wesley prompted.

'No,' Mason admitted. 'I couldn't bear to part with all of my weapons so I mixed in some fakes with the stuff I sold to Lucius.'

'And demons don't take kindly to being cheated,' Cordelia remarked. 'We could all have been killed because of you.'

'I know,' Mason said, burying his head in his hands, 'and I'm sorry.'

'How much of your collection did you sell?' Wesley asked.

'About half,' Mason said. 'Say, fifteen weapons.'

Wesley turned to Angel.

'If that's true then we've already traced most of them.'

He turned back to Mason.

'Mr Klein, if you're still serious about selling your collection then I can put you in touch with some people who will dispose of your weapons safely.'

'Thank you,' Mason said. 'You don't know how much that means to me.'

'I'm not doing it for you,' Wesley said. 'I'm doing it for all those people who would be killed if those weapons ever hit the streets. And for all the people who have died already.'

David led Cordelia and the rest of the gang to the door.

'So, I guess I finally got to fight a real demon,' David said with forced enthusiasm. 'That'll be something to make the guys jealous.'

'I'm sorry about your friend,' Cordelia said.

'I know,' David said, 'and thanks. For what it's worth, Mason's not a bad man.'

'Not everything can be black and white, heroes and villains,' Cordelia said wistfully. 'But don't you just wish it was.'

'Why do you think I like to escape every now and then to a world where it is,' David replied.

Cordelia stared up at the full moon.

'You know, David, you think I'm finally beginning to understand you.'

'Really?' David asked.

'Really,' Cordelia replied. 'But only a little.'

'A little's good,' David said.

Cordelia smiled and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. David blushed.

'It's a start,' she said.