Title Fill in the Gaps
Author: Dusk (dusk@goldserve.net)
Fandom: Angel
Pairing: A/m (Angel/Host)
Rating: PG
Archive/repost: AngelSlash, RareSlash, Songs of Mercy, SlashRealm
Disclaimer: Not mine. No profit made. Just telling a story.
Series/sequel: #7 in the newly-named Seabreeze Situations. (Thank you, Saraid!) Best read in order.
Summary: Complaints, dust, more coffee and various demons. Just another day.
Comments: Feedback always appreciated.
Posted: May '01


***

Cordelia hefted her battleaxe more comfortably over her shoulder. "It was a total bust," she complained.

"I don't know. I think Mordar's definitely improving." Wesley stepped carefully around a pile of unidentifiable junk.

"I meant Angel. We don't know any more than we did yesterday."

"We know that he's spending his nights sitting alone, in a karaoke bar, not drinking and not singing."

"Exactly. We know nothing."

"We know he's not a ticking time bomb as you thought. I see no evidence of immanent explosions."

"And I'm not buying that it's nothing. We have to...."

"We have to do nothing," Wesley interrupted her. "We have done our reasonable best to find out what's going on and we've failed. Now we wait until Angel feels like telling us. I'm sure he'll do so if he feels it's any of our business."

Cordelia stared at him. "God, Wes, you're so... British."

"Yes, I'm afraid it's the curse of those born in England."

She pulled a face and he turned his attention back to the alley, spotting a few coarse hairs caught on some rough planking.

"That way," he said, pointing to the left path.

They followed the trail in silence.

"I still say we should question him."

"You mean, interrogate him. Yes, I'm sure that would work like a charm."

Cordelia reluctantly agreed. Angel did not respond well to direct questioning, especially when it came to his personal life.

"Fine. Nothing it is, then. But I'm not happy about it."

"Duly noted," Wesley said absently, his attention on the job.

She fell in behind him, already planning ahead. Looked like she'd need a more subtle approach.... Angel would cave eventually.

***

Angel looked up as the door opened. He was reluctantly manning the desk himself, and was filling the time by nosing through Cordelia's filing system. It was completely random, as far as he could tell, apart from a lot which seemed to be filed under 'D' for demon. Some were under 'I' which, knowing Cordelia, was probably for 'Icky'.

In short, any distraction was welcome.

"Hey there, stranger," Cary greeted him cheerfully, carefully closing the door behind him to prevent unwelcome flameage. "No sidekicks?"

"Wes and Cordelia are out tracking something," Angel explained. "Something which doesn't use sewers, which kind of rules me out, at least until sunset. What are you doing here?"

"Brought you a present," Cary replied, tossing something at him. Angel caught the small unlabeled paper bag, feeling it carefully. Small, dry, loose....

"Coffee?"

"Grown-up coffee," the demon agreed.

Angel opened the bag and inhaled deeply. It did smell better than their usual brand.

"Thank you," he said softly.

Cary brushed it away with a gesture. "Well, if I'm going to be over here, I don't want to have to drink that swill. This way, everybody benefits. When you run out, go to that coffeeshop on 4th and tell Maria that I sent you. She won't tell me where she gets it, but she will share if you ask nicely. So... you're all alone here, huh?"

Angel nodded.

"Good." Cary leaned across the desk and kissed him. Of their own accord, Angel's hands put the coffee down and found the nape of Cary's neck.

"Mmmm. I love that part. In fact, I love all your parts," Cary murmured, breaking the kiss reluctantly.

"The guys could be back soon," Angel told him.

"Too bad, but I can't stay anyway. Just came by to drop off the coffee. You enjoy it, now."

Angel dropped his hands back to the desk in front of him. "I will. Thank you."

Cary smiled, and picked up one hand in his own, dropping a kiss on the back of it. "See you later, sweetie."

Angel watched him leave, then picked up the coffee and smelled it again. He set about cleaning out the coffeemaker to try it.

He was sitting down and savouring the brew when the door burst open again, and Cordelia traipsed through it, looking dusty and irritated. Wesley wasn't far behind, equally dishevelled.

"No good?" Angel asked.

Wesley shook his head. "Led us a merry chase, across half the city...."

"Through trash piles and warehouses and grimy stacks of engine parts and I don't know what else," Cordelia added. She poured herself a cup of coffee and took a sip automatically. "The trail eventually died over near the bus depot..." she trailed off, and took another mouthful. "God, this is *great*. Did you get new coffee?"

Angel nodded.

"This totally makes up for our crappy day. Anyway. I am dusty, I am tired, and I'm hitting the shower. You guys can sit here and go over our lack of success in detail."

Wesley sat down. "No, it's alright, you take the first shower. Really, I insist," he said sourly.

She shrugged. "Thanks, I will."

"Guys," Angel said calmly. "Wes, if Cordelia doesn't clean up, we'll just have to listen to her complain about how awful she thinks she looks. We won't get any work done. We can try and get an idea of what this demon's up to, and Cordelia can add anything when she comes back."

Wesley and Cordelia exchanged glances.

"The good mood's back," Cordelia said.

"Appears so," Wesley said.

"Think we should run and hide?"

"Cordelia," Angel interrupted. "You have a smudge all the way down your face, and your hair is tangled in back. Your clothes are filthy. You can argue, or you can go clean up. Your choice."

She looked down at herself, then turned and walked up the stairs.

"Thought so," Angel said, turning to Wesley, who was opening a desk drawer. He pulled out a map of the city.

"We started out over here," he pointed. "The signs indicated it was heading south...."

Angel sipped his coffee. "Think I should get one of the other bathrooms fixed up?"

Wesley looked up. "I'm sorry?"

"The showers. Seems you two, or all of us, are always getting messy on the job. If I had more than one working, it'd save arguing over who gets it first. Especially since it's always Cordelia who gets it first anyway."

"It's up to you, of course, but don't go to any trouble on our account. It's not going to kill me to sit here a little dusty until she's finished."

Angel nodded. "Just a thought."

"A very noble one, I'm sure. Do you need any other advice on home improvements, or should I get back to the case?"

"Sorry. The case. Right. What do we know?"

Wesley sighed. "We know where it's been, and where it's not. We don't know what it's doing, or where it's doing it."

"Well, that's good, right?"

"No, Angel, that's terrible. I wonder if you're actually paying attention?"

"Maybe I'm just being an optimist, but to me, no new bodies, plus narrowing down where we have to search next time... seems like a good thing."

"Easy for you to say. You're not the one who still has three-quarters of the city to go over with a fine-tooth comb."

Angel blinked at the bitter tone. "I didn't realise it was getting you down so much."

"Well, it is. It's a lot of time and effort and so far, we've made no progress whatsoever." He rubbed at his eyes. "I hate to say it, but this could be the one that beats us."

"Would another pair of eyes help the search?"

Wesley smiled briefly. "Thank you, but given that you'd be bursting into flames, I'm not sure how much help you'd be."

"Actually, I was thinking we could call Gunn in. He knows the city better than we do. Might be able to give us some pointers, or at least lighten the load a little by doing some searching."

"You think he would?"

"Can't hurt to ask."

"I suppose not. I'll go and see him now...." He stood up.

Angel raised his eyebrows. "Uh, Wes?"

"Yes?"

"Why don't you fill me in on what you covered today, first? Just so we're all up to speed. After sunset I can do my part, and I don't want to go over what's already been searched. Plus, you're a mess. You want to go out like that?"

Wesley sat back down again. "Good points, all of them. Especially the one about me staying here. I think I've had enough for one day."

Angel smiled. "Have some coffee."

Wesley nodded. "I think I will. It smells wonderful."

Angel got up and poured another cup. Wesley meanwhile located a marker pen and started studying the map, marking out the trail they'd followed.

By the time Cordelia eventually descended, looking much happier and considerably cleaner, they'd nearly finished. She leaned over Wesley's shoulder to examine the map, brushing her wet hair out. Wesley rescued the map just in time.

"Sorry," she said cheerfully, in answer to his glare. "I think you mostly covered it. Except you didn't mark off that alleyway we went through... you know, with the tyres? Or the warehouse that backed on to it."

"They were both empty. It was a false trail, remember?"

"Duh. It still means we don't have to search there again. Mark it down."

He muttered something under his breath but did so.

"So did you just spend the time complaining about how badly we did, or do we have a new plan? Please, say a new plan, because I've had enough of just wandering around and getting nowhere." She put her hair back into a clip to keep it out of the way and sat down.

"Angel had a suggestion. Call Gunn in."

"Oh, that's a great idea! I'm sure he'd love to help. Well, I'm sure we could persuade him, anyway."

Angel nodded. "And after dark I'm going to go find Merl. He may not know anything, but it's a start. This thing does it's hunting in the predawn as well as early hours, so if I get a trail I can follow it up then."

Wesley frowned. "Angel, you can't work through the night."

Now it was Angel's turn to frown. "I can't?"

"I meant, you've been working all day, now you're going to work all night, as well?"

"Well, not all night. Just the first few hours... then the last few. Home before dawn."

"Preternatural strength or no, you still need to rest at some point. I certainly intend to."

"Me too," Cordelia added. "All this working is hard work."

"Funny, that," Wesley muttered under his breath. She shot him a look.

"I will rest. Promise. But I've mostly been sitting here all day. Work, yeah, but the staying-in-one-place, unstrenuous kind."

"My job, you mean," Cordelia pointed out.

"Well... yeah."

"And you're saying it's not hard work?"

"No!" Angel said hastily. "Definitely not. You're right, I'm exhausted from all the... heavy lifting involved in answering the phone." He tried to keep a straight face and failed.

She shook her head, refusing to rise to the bait. "You're obviously doing it wrong. And you don't have to deal with the visions, so that cut your workload in half in one stroke."

The phone rang on cue and Angel politely gestured for her to take it. She did so, answering in what Wesley considered to be an obscenely cheerful tone.

"Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless, how can we help you?" She reeled off her standard greeting and managing to cross her eyes at Angel at the same time.

He debated the appropriate response, then stuck his tongue out at her.

"Oh, sure we can. No, believe me, whatever it is, we've seen weirder."

She stopped paying attention to Angel and reached for her pad. "Yes, sir, even weirder than that. Uhuh." She took a few details and hung up, turning to Angel and Wesley with a grin.

"New client?" Angel asked dryly.

"New client!" she confirmed happily. "Poor guy thinks it's the weirdest thing on the face of the planet. Obviously has *no* clue. We can sort it in an hour tomorrow."

Angel looked at Wesley. "Not such a bad day, after all, then."

"Not totally irredeemable," Wesley reluctantly agreed. "Can I *please* shower now?"

***

Angel waved at Ramone behind the bar, who grinned and pointed to a far corner. Looking over, Angel saw Cary sitting at a table, deep in conversation with someone - or something - he didn't recognise.

Instead of going over, Angel went towards the bar, spotting Merl slouched on a barstool as he approached. He walked as silently as possible, stopping about a foot away.

"Hi, Merl," he said loudly.

The demon jumped three inches in the air as he turned.

"Sheesh, man, what are you trying to pull?" he groused, sitting back down. "I ain't no use to you if I keel over from a heart attack, y'know?"

Angel smiled at Ramone, who was smirking.

"Business first. Fun later," he told the bartender. "AB for me, and one more of whatever my friend here is drinking."

"Friends don't scare the crap out of each other," Merl muttered, but he downed the last of his drink and accepted the new glass the bartender put in front of him. "That Host dude, he may be a bit fruity, but he stocks the best yak bile this side of the Atlantic, I tell you, it's fantastic." He glanced at Angel's drink. "Not that you'd care, somebody has to open a vein to keep you happy."

"Now, Merl, I'm really not in the mood for chatting."

"Like I really think you'd talk to me if you didn't need my help. Haven't paid me for the last time, either. Or the time before that," Merl said sourly.

Angel nodded. "You're right, I owe you. Here." He pulled an envelope out of his jacket and handed it over. Merl opened it and rifled through the contents.

"Pleasure doing business with you, my man. But this is way more than you usually give me for what I did. Not that I'm complaining, no way."

"It covers this time, too."

The demon stared down at the money. "Figures. What is it?"

"Just have to keep your ear to the ground and bring me what you hear." Angel briefly outlined their case. Merl nodded reluctantly.

"Got nothing for you now, but give me a little time. See what I can do, no promises or nothing."

"That's fine, Merl. Just do what you can."

The demon eyed him uneasily. "No beating me up, pushing me against walls, making ugly threats? What changed?"

Angel stared at him. "I've mellowed."

"More like blissed out. Suits me just fine, by the way."

"Angel, don't tell me you're actually socialising!" a new voice exclaimed and they both turned to see the Host. Angel smiled.

"Work," he said succinctly. "Which I think is now done."

"Well, at least you're talking to people. Merl, how's the yak bile today?" He clapped the demon on the shoulder.

Merl shrugged. "Great as always, man."

"Good, good. Glad to hear that. Going to get up on stage for me?"

Merl's snort told them what he thought of that idea. "Just come here for the bile, that and the not-getting-beat-up. That's enough for me. My aura don't need reading."

"Your loss, my friend."

The demon shrugged again and returned to nursing his drink. Cary turned to Angel.

"Now you, you don't need to get up stage for me to see that happy blue streak running through yours. Good mood?"

Angel nodded. "Pretty good. Promised I'd take it easy tonight. Thought I'd sit in here a while."

"Well, you know I always like that idea. Here, I'll get you a table." He scanned the room for a moment, finally spying an empty table in a corner. He guided Angel over there with a hand on his arm.

"All solitary, too, so it should suit you fine. We're pretty packed tonight. I have no idea what's bringing them in, but I'm having a blast. So many new voices." He sat down in one of the empty chairs, gesturing for Angel to take a seat. He did.

"You really enjoy this, don't you?"

Cary looked at him oddly. "Of course I do. Why else would I do it?"

"I don't know. It just seems to me that you'd get a bit tired of it. I mean... how many of the people who get up on stage can actually sing well? Not a lot."

"Oh, sweetie, you're looking at it *all* wrong," Cary told him with an expansive gesture to illustrate his point. "Singing isn't about whether they hit the notes or get the words right."

"It isn't?"

"Oh, I'm not denying that that adds something to the experience, but... it's about the variation, the different sounds, the individuality. You can have a dozen people sing the same note, and it'll be different every time. That's the beauty of it. Now imagine that variation when applied to every possible song they could choose to sing. How could I ever get tired of that?"

The animated expression on his face made Angel smile. "I guess you couldn't. It doesn't sound like that to me, though. It's just songs."

"You're missing so much, though...."

"You must have better ears," Angel said.

"Just a different perspective. Warped childhood, probably. If I'd grown up with all this... maybe it'd just be music to me, too."

"Warped childhood?" Angel asked quietly. Cary so rarely talked about himself.

True to form, he wasn't going to do it now. "You don't want to hear about that," he said dismissively.

"Maybe I do."

"Then maybe I don't want to think about it, okay?" He met Angel's eyes after a moment and smiled. "Sore spot. Just try listening to it my way, for a while. Take this guy," he nodded towards the man singing on the stage. A human, one of the regulars who came more for the atmosphere than for a reading. "What do you hear?"

Angel shook his head but closed his eyes anyway. "I hear... somebody who's a long way from Phil Collins. The song is good, though."

"No, no. *Listen*. Let your imagination fill in the gaps between the notes, the words. It's all there."

Angel tried to do as he was told. After a moment he opened his eyes. "I'm sorry. I can get some of the personality, I think, but that's all. No magic there. I don't have your gift."

"It was worth a try," Cary said philosophically. "You'll just have to take my word for it."

"You can tell me what you see and hear," Angel suggested. "You're good at that."

"Which is a polite way of telling me I never shut my yap?" He grinned. "You're not the first person to say that."

"That's not what I said," Angel insisted. "I like that you talk. I'd get on better with people if I could talk like you do."

"I think you'd scare people witless if you started talking like me, sweetie. Hey, there's a thought. Want to play a game with your humans?"

Angel laughed out loud. "Cordy would stake me on the spot. Wes would argue in favour of exorcism. Apart from that, it would be fun. Next time they annoy me, maybe."

"Just promise me I can be there, that's all I ask."

[end]





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