Aggie was knocked aside in the initial onslaught and bounced painfully into the bookcase. She crumpled to the floor and peered dazedly at the chaos that had erupted around her.
The intruders were incredibly fast-moving and wore hoods that somehow kept their faces in perpetual shadow. From the wooden stakes they carried it was obvious who the intended target was.
Fred, Gunn and Lorne were desperately trying to keep them away from Angel, who remained immobilized and seemingly oblivious to the fighting around him. Spike had emerged from the back of the house and was trying to fight his way over to the others. She saw Wesley by the door, grappling with one of the hooded figures. Blood dripped from a gash on his forehead.
"Aggie!" he gasped as he dodged another blow aimed for his head. "The spell... you have to finish--" The robed figure landed a solid blow to Wesley's gut, and he doubled over.
The shielding stone had rolled into the corner not far from where Aggie crouched. She reached out and snagged it. Now she just needed the piece of paper Wesley had written the spell on. She looked around.
It had fluttered to the floor near Angel's feet. No one seemed to be paying much attention to her; she might be able to make it over there. She crawled across the floor, trying to think invisible thoughts.
No one seemed to have noticed her. Unfortunately, one of the hooded figures was now standing on the paper.
She took a deep breath. One... two... three... She grabbed the figure's ankles and heaved as hard as she could. He fell to the floor with a thud and Fred took the opportunity of his indisposition to hit him with a lamp.
Aggie grabbed the note and scanned the nonsensical words. Where the hell had Wesley left off? She picked a place more or less at random and started reading, the stone held aloft in her right hand.
"Ilacve... alshase... nac atranes..." She felt very much like a baboon attempting to recite the Gettysburg Address. "Zilacal... seleitala acnashvers... itan--"
Something hit her in the side and she flew onto her back, just barely holding onto the stone and paper.
She leaped to her feet, faced her attacker and--suddenly grateful for the Tae Bo craze that had swept L.A.--landed a solid roundhouse kick to his solar plexus. Assuming, of course, that he had a solar plexus. She wasn't entirely convinced the things were human.
She looked down at Wesley's notes again and tried to rush through the last few words. "Itanim... heramve avil--"
This time someone grabbed her from behind. Aggie struggled to hold onto the stone, which had begun to feel warm in her hand. She had to keep going.
"Eniaca--" she gasped, trying to squirm away from her attacker. "Pulumxva!" She managed to spit out the last word just before a hand closed around her throat. She dropped the stone and struggled with both hands, trying to break free, but he was so much stronger. He was cutting off her airway, choking her--
Out of the corner of her eye Aggie saw Angel came roaring off the couch, sending a trio of dark-robed figures flying as he lunged towards Aggie. With one quick motion he snapped the neck of the man choking her and moved on to someone else.
Aggie crumpled to the floor, lungs heaving, and watched Angel in amazement. So this is what he's like on his good days, she thought. She was grateful, of course, that he'd saved her, but she couldn't quell a feeling of revulsion as she watched Angel dispatch the last of their attackers with a terrifyingly feral grace.
Beside her on the floor was a heap of what should have been the body of the man who'd nearly strangled her. There was nothing there but an empty robe. She looked around the room--eleven similar piles of cloth lay on the floor where surely a moment ago there had been bodies.
Wesley prodded a robe with the toe of his shoe. "Order of Orthon," he said. "Hired assassins."
"What happened to the bodies?" asked Spike.
"They dissipate into the ether upon death," said Wesley.
"For easy clean-up post-bloodbath," said Gunn.
Angel came over and helped Aggie to her feet. "Are you all right?" He was gentlemanly, she had to give him that.
She managed an achy nod. "Fine."
"Sorry about..." Angel looked guiltily at the destruction around them "... all of this."
Aggie stared glumly at her devastated living room and the broken front window.
And then she noticed the black van parked across the street from her house. And the familiar magical aura coming from inside it. "He's in there," she said.
Angel followed her gaze to the van. Like a flash he was out the window and racing across the yard.
By the time they caught up with him, Angel was standing in front of the van, glaring menacingly at the black tinted glass of the windshield. "You've got until the count of five to come out of there," he said.
"One." Pause. "Two." Everyone waited tensely.
Angel grabbed a metal garbage can conveniently sitting by the curb and slammed it into the windshield hard enough to shatter the glass. He reached into the large hole where the windshield had been and pulled out a skinny man in a gaudy velvet cloak.
The maneuver reminded Aggie of retrieving a toy prize from a box of cereal, only in this case the prize was a greasy-haired man with thick glasses and unusually poor fashion sense.
"This is the guy?" said Angel somewhat skeptically.
"That's him," said Aggie. "I'm sure of it." He was not exactly what she'd been expecting, either.
"Do I know you?" demanded Angel. The man stared back defiantly and refused to speak.
With a look of impatience Angel lifted him by the throat and shook him like a rag doll. "Let's try that again. Do I know you?"
"No," squeaked the man.
"You work for Wolfram & Hart?"
"Wolfram & Hart? No."
"Then why are you trying to kill me? Did I outbid you on eBay or something?"
"You killed my father," said the man.
Angel rolled his eyes. "I kill a lot of people, Inigo. You'll have to be more specific."
Angel looked offended. "He was a necromancer! And he tried to kill me first!"
"You didn't just kill him, you ruined him--and me! All our family's money, our house, our reputation, all gone because of you!"
"Wait," said Fred. "This is our super-powerful sorcerer?"
"Looks more like a wanker with a wand, to me," said Spike. "'Cept he doesn't actually seem to have a wand, does he?"
Wesley, meanwhile, had been exploring the contents of the van and held up a large magical tome. "I believe he was getting his spells from here. Most likely he has little or no innate power of his own."
"And when his spells didn't finish the job fast enough he hired those Orthon guys to do it for him," said Gunn.
Angel set the man back down on the ground with a thump. "I don't have the energy for this crap."
"What'll we do with him?" asked Fred.
"Let Wolfram & Hart deal with him," said Angel. "I'm sure they can arrange suitable accommodations for the boy wizard."
"I'll call in the troops," said Gunn, pulling out his cell phone.
"And until they get here?" asked Wesley.
"He's not coming into my house," said Aggie. "That is definitely where I put my foot down."
"I've got a better idea," said Spike, pulling a pair of handcuffs out of his back pocket and cuffing the man to the bumper of the van.
"Wherever did you get those?" asked Wesley.
"The witch's knickers drawer."
Wesley coughed politely. Aggie opened her mouth to say something, then thought better of it and snapped it shut again.
"He is a sorcerer of some sort," said Fred, tactfully steering the conversation another direction. "He might be able to magic his way out of those."
"No problem," said Angel. He grabbed Hainsley Jr.'s head and gave it a good solid slam against the hood of the van. The man crumpled to the ground in an unconscious heap.
"Spellcasters," said Angel disdainfully, "once you lay hands on them they fold like a house of cards."
"I'll stay and keep an eye on him," said Gunn. "The cleanup team should be here in a few minutes."
The notion of a Wolfram & Hart cleanup team made Aggie feel vaguely nauseated. She turned away and walked back to her house.
Standing amidst the rubble previously known as her living room, she suddenly felt very tired. She heard the others walk in behind her.
Lorne whistled. "The things she does for strangers."
Wesley began collecting the robes of the Orthon assassins while Fred knelt and tried futilely to fit the broken pieces of the coffee table back together.
"Just leave it," said Aggie.
"I'm really sorry," said Angel.
"You will be, because I'm sending the bill to your office."
"I could get my people in here this morning--"
"Uh uh. No more Wolfram & Hart people in my house. Or in my life," she added, giving Lorne a dark look.
"Independent contractors," promised Angel. "We really should get that window fixed today. It's not safe like that."
Aggie didn't bother to argue. Arguing would simply mean that Angel and his merry men remained in her house, and she was, by now, exceptionally anxious that this not be the case.
"Well, this has been fun and all," said Aggie, ushering them towards the door, "but now that Angel's better I'm sure you've got lots of places to be that aren't here."
"Thanks for all your help," said Angel. "If there's anything you ever need--"
"Just go," said Aggie.
"I owe you big for this one, sweet cheeks," said Lorne, squeezing her arm on the way out.
"Lorne?" she said.
"The next time you're in trouble? Ask someone else for help."
He smiled and blew her a kiss. "You betcha."
Aggie closed and locked the door, a futile gesture in light of the gaping hole where the window used to be. She walked straight into the bedroom, ignoring the splinters of wood and broken glass littering her path, and crawled into bed.
That'll teach me to answer the door at three o'clock in the morning, she thought as she pulled the covers over her head.
"That was fun," said Spike. "'Cept for the bit with the Arioch demon."
A shiny black Wolfram & Hart van had pulled up in front of Aggie's house and several men in uniform were attempting to detach the unconscious Hainsley from the bumper of his van.
"I don't think Aggie liked us very much," said Fred.
"Can't imagine why," said Wes. "Could it have been that we woke her up in the middle of the night, nearly got her killed, and had her house wrecked by demonic assassins?"
"I thought she was nice," said Angel. "You know, considering."
"Um, not to be the guy who always brings up work," said Gunn, "but you never decided what to do about Gates."
Angel had forgotten all about the sound stage full of mutilated bodies. It felt like years ago rather than a few hours. He looked at Gunn. "Do whatever you think is right. I leave it to your discretion."
"You sure?" said Gunn skeptically.
"I'm hungry," said Fred.
"Raise your hand if you're surprised by that," said Lorne.
"I'm thinking about waffles," continued Fred, ignoring him.
"Waffles do sound rather good," said Wesley.
Angel stopped walking. It took the others a moment to notice he'd fallen behind. They turned at looked at him.
"Angel, what is it?" said Wesley.
"Cordelia," said Angel. It was the first time he'd said her name in front of anyone since... since he'd stopped having a reason to say her name.
Everyone was staring at him. But it had felt good, saying it like that. Their expressions had changed when he said it, and for the first time he considered that maybe there was some comfort to be found in sharing your grief, in seeing it mirrored in the eyes of your friends.
"I miss Cordelia," said Angel. "And I'm pissed at her for leaving us."
Wesley smiled sadly. "Me too."
"Remember that restaurant she liked to eat breakfast at, the one with the terrible waffles?" said Fred.
"Mimi's," supplied Gunn.
"A bunch of Hollywood types eat there," said Angel, smiling faintly at the memory. "That's why she liked it."
"She was so happy when we let her drag us there," said Gunn. "It made the food go down a little easier."
"It wasn't so bad," said Fred.
Angel gazed at the eastern horizon and smiled. "We've still got an hour until the sun rises. Let's go watch Fred eat some bad waffles."