Beta thanks to Psychoadept, Chlare, Mouse42
Plotbunny: Ann Larimer
Angel was walking up the stairs when he noticed something strange. Wesley was standing--no, crouching--behind the door to the office. It was slightly ajar and he was peering through it, watching something.
Wesley yelped and clutched at the doorknob. He turned to Angel with a glare. "Must you do that?!" he hissed.
Angel shrugged. He flicked his eyes towards the door, then back at Wesley. "What--"
"Shh!" Wesley waved at him frantically. "Quiet," he whispered. "I think it's almost asleep."
"It?" Angel whispered. He tried to see what Wesley was looking at, but Wesley had gone back to peering and was blocking his view.
"We thought it was a gift from a client," Wesley explained. "Perhaps one who failed to reimburse us in the normal monetary fashion."
"Where's Cordelia?" Angel asked, suddenly realizing her absence. "Is she okay? Is she hurt?"
"She's all right," Wesley said, hushing him again. "She left. Before it... became a problem." He paused, then looked faintly guilty. "I didn't consider it a threat at the time. If I'd realized the danger, I--"
"Danger?" Angel tried to look over Wesley's head, but between Wesley's height and the fact that he was a few steps higher on the stairs, it wasn't working. Wesley finally noticed his attempts and tried to move out of his way. They bumped into each other three times before Angel grabbed Wesley by the arms and danced him around until Angel was on the top stair. Wesley smiled apologetically.
"I don't see anything," Angel said, peering through the opening. The office looked the same as always. No demons in sight, not even sleepy ones.
Angel felt a hand on his shoulder. Wesley was leaning close, craning his neck to see. "There," Wesley whispered, pointing. Angel followed his finger. He still didn't see anything, nothing weird at least. Cordelia's desk, with her computer and the usual mess of papers, some of which had fallen to the floor, a couple of chairs, and in the seat of one was Wesley's grey jacket, crumpled into a pile.
The jacket twitched.
Wesley's grip on his shoulder tightened. Angel felt Wesley's chest still as he held his breath. As they watched, something small and grey moved in the folds of the jacket. Angel sniffed the air and detected a hint of blood. He sniffed again, following it, turned his head... and bumped into Wesley's arm, which was marred with a set of four long, thin scratches. He blinked, a little embarrassed, then tried to move sideways to give Wesley some space. He wobbled on the narrow step and leaned forwards to recover his balance, bumping into the door. It pushed open under his weight and Angel fell, landing ungracefully on the floor.
The small grey thing moved and Angel suddenly found himself being stared at by a pair of tiny blue eyes.
"Angel, no!" Wesley shouted. He grabbed Angel's legs and started to haul him back into the stairwell.
Angel was dragged along the floor for a foot before he shook himself free of Wesley's grip. "What the hell is wrong with you? It's just a cat," Angel said. He got to his feet and brushed the dirt off his clothes. Cordelia really needed to start sweeping more often. Or at all.
The cat was actually a kitten - small, grey, fluffy, and obviously harmless. Angel slowly reached out a hand towards it. The kitten sniffed at it, cautiously, then mewed and rubbed its cheek against his finger. Angel scratched under its chin, and it closed its eyes, purring happily.
"Hey, little guy," Angel said. "Did Wesley scare you?" He stroked its fur, feeling the tiny body vibrate with purrs under his touch.
Wesley, meanwhile, had inched his way towards the filing cabinet where they kept the handheld weaponry. Angel tore his attention away from the adorable kitten to watch Wesley plunge his hands into the drawer and struggle valiantly with the tangle of weapons. With a cry of "Aha!" he whirled around and pointed a crossbow at the chair. A shuriken slid off of it and bounced, pointy bits first, off Wesley's thigh. Wesley hissed and winced, then thrust the crossbow forward.
"Move away from it, Angel," Wesley said.
"Um, no? Wesley, put the crossbow down."
"You don't understand. It's dangerous!"
The kitten tensed under Angel's hand in reaction to Wesley's outburst. Angel picked it up and cradled it protectively in his arms. It nuzzled against his chest and pawed lightly at his shirt.
"No, it isn't," Angel said, turning away from Wes and walking towards his office. "By the way? Your crossbow isn't loaded."
Angel closed the door behind him, leaving Wesley alone to play with his weapon. He placed the kitten on his desk, where it promptly started sniffing a small pile of books. Angel perched himself on the corner of desk and watched it fondly. It explored for a bit, then started to nibble on one of the older books; Angel recognized it as being one of Wesley's. Out of revenge for Wesley threatening the cute little guy, Angel let him gnaw on it. The kitten was very enthusiastic about the book; Angel figured it either liked to eat paper or it knew who the book's owner was.
After a minute, Angel decided that the kitten had had enough revenge on Wesley and reached down to pick it up. When he touched its fur, he got a sharp electric shock. He drew back his hand and shook it. The little guy must have some static build-up or something.
The kitten was chewing in earnest now. Angel realized that he'd better stop it before it did real damage, or else Wesley would want to kill it and him. Angel reached for it again. The shock was so strong that it almost burnt his fingertips.
"What the hell...?"
With a dramatic crash, the door flung open. Wesley strode in, armed to the teeth. His crossbow was loaded and ready to fire.
"Step away from the kitty, Angel."
The kitten arched its back and hissed. Its eyes seemed to flash white for a second, but that could have been a trick of the light. The blue arcs of electricity sparking along its fur, on the other hand...
Angel stepped away from the kitty. Far, far away, until he was behind the weaponry-laden Wesley. He spotted the handle of a dagger in Wesley's pocket and grabbed it for himself. Looking down at the weapon, he stared at it for a beat, then glanced up at Wesley.
"Why do we have a wooden knife?" Angel asked. He held it forward, ready to strike if the kitten should come at them.
"It's ironwood," Wesley explained, eyes locked on the kitten, which had resumed eating his book. "Snakewood, to be precise. It's a South American species with an extremely high--"
"Sorry. It has a low conductivity which makes it rather helpful against high energy opponents such as your friend there."
"My friend? You had him first!"
"Well, considering that you completely failed to believe me when I told you it was dangerous, that makes it officially yours. Really, Angel, do you actually think I would be hiding from a normal kitten?"
"Of course not," Angel said, hesitating only for a fraction of a second. Okay, maybe two seconds. Wesley would probably just assume it was because he was watching the kitten and not--
"Right," Wesley said, rolling his eyes. "Make sure it doesn't eat all of my books." With that he turned and left, leaving Angel alone with the electric kitten and an unimpressive-looking wooden knife.
"Wesley!" Angel called after him.
"Oh, don't be such a baby. I need to look something up."
"You don't know how to stop it?"
"It generates some kind of protective shield when it's... consuming. I believe you've already experienced that. Metal weapons are more than useless, unless you enjoy being in the path of an electrified ricochet, and I'm not entirely confident in the efficacy of other materials."
"I thought you said... never mind," Angel grumbled. "Look, it was cute and fluffy. How was I supposed to know it was some kind of book-eating lightning demon? Can't we just--"
"I don't anticipate waiting for it to finish off my entire library so you can decide whether to pet it or cut its head off. If you had helped me kill it while it was dormant, we wouldn't have this problem."
By this time the kitten had gnawed the corners off of two books and was starting in on a third.
"What's it doing, anyway?" Angel asked.
"It's a parasite. Books that are involved in magic, whether by content or use, tend to absorb energy over the years. It's rather like radiation in how it accumulates and dissipates over long periods." Wesley walked back into the room, open book in hand. "This fellow must have tagged along after the scent of those books I picked up yesterday from Rick's. I'm afraid I quite forgot about the containment spell." He shrugged at Angel apologetically. "They don't usually look like kittens. It's probably a shape shifter."
Angel frowned. "Shape shifter?"
"It may be more vulnerable to traditional weaponry in its native form. I imagine its current physical size is what allows it to create such a powerful energy field."
"You zap it back to normal and I can kill it?"
"It's not quite that simple, but effectively, yes." Wesley flipped a few pages. "I just need the right spell. Ah, here we are!" He cleared his throat and recited: "Σας καλούμε εμπρός, παράσιτο των μαγικών κειμένων, σας διατάζουμε, εγκαταλείπουμε αυτήν την ψεύτικη μορφή και αποκαλύπτουμε αληθινό μόνο σας."
There was a flash of light. The kitten stopped gnawing on Wesley's copy of Magical Herbs and Fungi, puffed out its fur, and hissed at them.
Angel frowned. "I thought everything was standardized to Latin these days."
"It's always better to stick to the source language when possible. Avoids mistranslations," Wesley said. He flipped the page. "After all, we wouldn't want to..."
The kitten's body rippled. Sparks of electricity flashed in its fur.
"Oops." Wesley glanced up at the kitten, then over at Angel. "There is one small problem."
"What's that?" Angel asked, gripping his wooden knife.
Wesley held up the book. It showed an engraved illustration of the parasite's true form. To scale.
"I'd say that's more of a big problem."
The room started to shake as the transformation began.
"I'd say the problem is going to be when it breaches the ceiling," said Wesley.
"We have to get it outside. Cordelia threatened to stake me if we lose our security deposit."
"Until the field is weakened--"
"Just tell me when I can grab it," Angel said. He moved around the desk, ready to lunge at a moment's notice.
The cute little grey kitten was no longer little or cute. In fact, it didn't even look like a kitten anymore. Instead it bore a remarkable resemblance to Van Gieson's Maiden With Urn, if it had been crossed with an oversized lava lamp. Its hide was covered in small bumps and slick with a thickening grey mucous, and were those... antennae? The demon squelched wetly as it grew, waving its boneless form back and forth as if searching for something to grab on to. A distinctly earthy smell filled the room, like someone had buried a library under soft peat.
"It's odd, really, that the term bookworm should have evolved from descriptions of these creatures," Wesley said, staring. "Because I've always thought of them as bookslugs. Certainly the slime is a factor. Or perhaps bookleeches--"
"Wesley," Angel warned.
"Sorry! Er, just another... thirty seconds?"
"How do I kill it?"
"Well for starters, forget the knife. Their hides are far too thick."
Angel tossed the weapon away. A wooden knife was a stupid idea anyway. "What does work?"
"Twenty seconds. Interestingly enough, salt has a weakening effect, especially table salt. The iodide--"
"Do we have salt?"
"I'll check. Ten seconds." There was a clattering noise as Wesley rummaged for something. "Aha! Catch!"
Angel caught it reflexively. He only had a few seconds to see what Wesley had given him... "A handsaw?"
"Now!" Angel took a running leap at the ugly grey blob and grabbed onto it. He felt a mild shock go through him, but nothing he couldn't handle. "Saw off the antennae!" Wesley called out.
Wesley had been right about the slime. Angel tried to keep a grip on the demon, but it kept growing bigger and more slippery. Angel glanced down at himself and groaned; another outfit ruined. He'd liked this shirt.
"This way!" Wesley shouted. He was out in the main office area, waving at Angel to move the demon towards him. They needed to get it away from the books, fast.
Angel looked up just in time to get smacked in the face by a flailing pseudopod. "Ugh!" He spat out a mouthful of slime as he wrestled the demon out into the main room. He slammed it against the wall, trying to pin it down; the creature pushed back, slamming him into a filing cabinet. They went down with a bang, sending folders and papers flying across the floor.
"The files!" Wesley cried. He started forwards in an attempt to rescue some papers, but jumped back again as Angel and the demon tumbled along the floor towards him.
"Forget--" Angel began, grunting as he landed a punch. The demon seemed to shimmer for a moment. "--about the stupid--" Another punch. "--files!"
"Sorry, sorry! Forgetting about the files now," Wesley said, turning back to his books. "Even if it does mean Cordelia is going to kill us," he muttered under his breath.
"She'll have to wait her turn," Angel muttered back. The demon was growing fast. Stretched out, it was almost too tall for the room. They'd never get it out the door now. He couldn't wait any longer for Wesley to get his act together. Gathering all his strength, Angel launched himself and the demon at the window behind Cordelia's desk and pushed. He was barely aware of catching his side against the desk and ignored Wesley's panicked cries as they crashed into the blinds. Glass shattered around them. The fall was short and hard, but the creature landed first, cushioning Angel's landing. It was like crashing onto a waterbed--an increasingly slimy, pulsating waterbed. Angel rolled off of it and got to his feet.
"Angel!" Wesley shouted. Angel looked up. Wesley was waving something. "Don't worry, I caught it in time."
"What?" Angel was baffled for the few seconds before grasping pseudopods pulled him back into the fight.
"The computer! You knocked it over."
"Stop saving the office and tell me how to kill this thing!" Angel yelled back.
Angel tried to rip off the antennae, but couldn't even begin to get a grip. He was covered in demon slug mucous. At least it wasn't corrosive demon slug mucous, he reflected. He concentrated on keeping the demon as close to the building as possible.
A spray of white powder fell over both of them, making Angel's eyes sting. The demon bucked and thrashed. Angel lost his grip, sliding awkwardly off the demon and landing flat on his back. He tried to wipe his eyes clear but just it made him slimier. At least the slug wasn't happy, either.
"I found some iodized salt," Wesley called, smiling proudly. "Carry-out packets!"
Wesley's grin faded. "There aren't any more."
The demon stopped flailing and rippled threateningly. So much for the salt. Angel stood and readied to pounce. "Tell me we have something that will actually kill this thing and not just make it more annoyed."
Angel had actually spent enough time with Wesley to tell the difference between the "Well..." that meant he didn't have an answer and the "Well..." that meant he had an answer but he just didn't like it very much.
"I don't suppose there are any swimming pools on this block? Or a convenient bonfire?"
Angel didn't bother to respond, too focused on his opponent. One of the antennae twitched at him.
"A large vat of beer?"
"What?" Angel glanced up, distracted. The demon leapt, but Angel moved aside in time.
"Hmm. Perhaps we need metal."
"I thought metal was bad. Metal is good now?" Angel asked.
"In this form, yes. It's vulnerable to highly reactive metals."
"We have lots of metal. Throw me something!"
"It has to be a certain type. It's not as if we can just throw thumbtacks at it. Steel won't work. We need something more reactive. I don't suppose you have any significant quantities of copper?"
The demon leapt again, this time knocking Angel to the concrete. The slimy pseudopods pinned him down.
"Oh dear," Wesley said, then disappeared from the window. Angel struggled to free himself. By the time he finally worked an arm free, Wesley was back, holding something protectively against his chest. "I think this will work. It's not really intended for this species, but it is iron..." Wesley trailed off, voice full of reluctance.
Angel spat slime. "I don't care what it's for," he growled. "Throw it!"
"But... it's very old. Irreplaceable. Perhaps if you could delay the creature, I can find a suitable substitute."
Wesley sighed. "Very well. Ready?"
Angel stretched out his arm. "Just tell me how to kill it."
"Aim for the central nerve mass, in the stomach. With your strength, the knife should penetrate the hide."
"It has a stomach?"
"The dark patch near your left hip. Catch!"
Wesley threw. His aim was true and the hilt of a long knife smacked into Angel's palm. His fingers curled around it and he twisted, putting all his strength into reaching the shadowy spot that he could just make out under the translucent, thick slime. He struck hard.
The demon roared upright, its full height towering over him. For a moment Angel thought Wesley had been wrong, that no simple knife could kill this creature, but then the wound began to fizzle and spit. An ear-wrenching sound split the air as the demon bucked and shrieked and began to curl into itself. Slime spattered the street as it began its death throes. The fizzing grew louder, stronger, and before Angel's eyes the demon dissolved into a disgusting grey puddle.
Wesley rushed out into the street. He pulled Angel to his feet, relieved to see he was all right. Then Wesley pulled back and looked in vain for somewhere to wipe the thick slime from his hands. Failing that, he made a face and tried not to touch his clothing. He moved over to the puddle and extracted the remains of the knife; most of it had dissolved with the demon. All that was left now was a very sad-looking hilt.
Wesley shook off the slime, then cradled the hilt in his hands. "The blade was very old. It was meant for killing extinct demons."
"I'd say that thing's pretty extinct. Hey, wasn't this..."
"It survived Cordelia. I hoped perhaps it might escape the worst of the slime's corrosive effect." A flash of regret passed across Wesley's face, but when he looked up at Angel it was gone, replaced with pride. "But yes, it did its job. As did we! All in a night's work for this pair of demon hunters, eh?" He reached over to pat Angel on the back, then apparently thought better of it.
Angel looked down at himself, at the slime and glass spattered all over the street, at the broken office window. "Night's not over yet," he sighed.
Wesley looked up at the office and frowned. "Oh dear."
Angel knew when Cordelia arrived. The shriek that woke him was unmistakable. By the time he got dressed and made his way upstairs, Cordelia was scowling angrily and smacking the side of the computer monitor. Wesley was standing against the far wall, in fear of personal injury.
Cordelia rounded on Angel. "What did you do to my stuff?! The computer isn't working, I can't get my morning sun because there's cardboard all over the gaping hole where the windows used to be, and Wesley destroyed my filing system!"
"I saved it! And it was hardly a system in the first place," Wesley retorted. Cordelia glared at him and he wisely shut up.
"Last night," Angel said. "There was a demon attack. We took care of it."
"Duh! I kinda figured that part out when I sat down in a seat full of disgusting slime!" She turned and pointed to her skirt, which had an ugly grey splotch all over the rear. "This outfit is totally ruined now."
On impulse, Angel reached forward to wipe the slime from her skirt. Halfway there he stopped, seeing Cordelia's incredulous stare. "Sorry," he mumbled, and stepped back. He'd spent so much time last night cleaning slime off of things, it became a habit.
She shook her head at them. "Look at this mess. Can't you two learn to play outside?" Her eyes widened, and she rounded on Wesley. "Oh my God, Wesley! Where's Mortimer?"
"Mortimer?" asked Angel.
"You didn't let him get eaten, did you? Poor little guy. Some helpless helpers you are, letting a poor defenseless kitten get eaten by some big slimy demon."
"You named it?"
"Well, Wesley named it, but I was totally going to take him home with me. It's just that my landlord hates pets."
"You have a ghost, but you can't have a cat?" Wesley asked, adjusting his glasses.
"Dennis is very clean," Cordelia said. She sighed. "He would have loved Mortimer."
"It was a demon," Angel said.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Dennis is ghost, not a demon."
"What?" The conversation was making him dizzy. "No, Mortimer."
"Mortimer's a ghost?" Cordelia frowned and crossed her arms. "Now that you let him get eaten, yeah."
"Demon! And stop calling him--it--Mortimer." Angel sighed. Mornings really weren't his best time. "It ate Wesley's books."
Cordelia cocked an eyebrow.
Wesley cleared his throat. "Though he appeared to be a small, fluffy kitten," he explained, "in actuality 'Mortimer' was a shape shifting demonic parasite." He shrugged. "Simple mistake, really."
A look of horror washed over Cordelia's face. "I spent all afternoon petting a demon?!" She frantically wiped her hands on her skirt. "Oh my god, so gross. Ew! That's it. I am so not paid enough for this." She picked up her purse and walked towards the door.
"Cordelia?" Angel asked.
"Worker's comp," she said. "And you are so paying for my new outfit." She slammed the door behind her, making Wesley jump.
"Sorry about that," Wesley said. "She was a bit..."
Wesley walked over to the couch, which had been cleaned last night, and sat down. He had something in his hand. Angel squinted at it, then realized it was the hilt of the extinct demon hunting knife. Well, former extinct demon hunting knife. Wesley looked down at it mournfully.
"At least it went for a good cause," Angel said, sitting down next to him.
Wesley chuckled. "I don't suppose it would ever have fulfilled its intended use anyway. L.A. is a bit short on Kek demons."
"Maybe one's hibernating."
"I'll cross my fingers," Wesley said, then made a slight face. "Though perhaps not, since this won't be of much use against an actual Kek demon now. We'd be quite defenseless, I'm afraid."
"Eh, you never know. Probably another very old blade with the mark of Kekfadlorem out there."
The corner of Wesley's mouth curled up into a smile. "Just a matter of checking the antiques district, is it?" He leaned forward, rubbing his back. "Lord, I ache. Cordelia's right. We probably should have just tossed it out your office window first thing."
"I don't actually enjoy falling out of windows. I kinda like to keep that as a last resort. You named it Mortimer?"
"At the time it was an adorable fluffy kitten. And," Wesley admitted, "there's a Cary Grant marathon on television this week. Arsenic and Old Lace?"
"I once ate a guy named Mortimer. He didn't look much like Cary Grant, though. More like Peter Lorre." Angel faintly remembered the taste of the man's blood. "Probably the French in him."
Wesley blinked at him. "Wasn't Lorre Hungarian?"
"Yeah, but you know the French."
"Angel, did you hit your head when you fell out the window?"
"No, I landed on Mortimer." Angel rubbed his face blearily. "I don't usually get up this early."
Wesley stood and motioned for Angel to follow him. "Why don't you have a nice warm mug of... of blood and go back to bed?"
"Good idea." Angel paused at the top of the stairs and turned to Wesley. "Oh, and Wes?"
"I'm with Cordy's landlord. No pets at the office."