Archive for July 8, 2015

Oblivion   Leave a comment

Title: Oblivion
Author: Little Heaven
Posted: 07-02-2004
Email
Rating: NC-17
Category: Angst, smut
Content: C/A
Summary: Dennis knows Cordelia is dying. And he’s hell-bent on making sure Angel finds out. Sequel to Deluge
Spoilers: Spoilers through Birthday, S3
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: Just Fic, Volition, GT, anyone else, just ask.
Notes: A sequel to Deluge. Set after That Vision Thing, Season Three.
Thanks/Dedication: Written especially for my friend and mentor Starlet2367. Love you, babe! Thanks to my fanfic gurus Laurie Andrews and Julie Fortune for the beta.
Feedback: Please!


Fresh raindrops spattered against the windshield as Angel eased the Plymouth into a parking space near Cordy’s apartment. The street and sidewalk looked like wet obsidian, reflecting the misty halos of the streetlights in the puddles that had formed there.

Cordelia shifted and sighed in the passenger seat, but didn’t wake.

The storm that had drenched them — and saved her life, back in the rocky canyon — rumbled away to the north, and another was sweeping in to replace it. A weak flicker of lightning danced along the horizon, illuminating a tower of clouds, the apartment building in stark silhouette against them. It was coming fast, and it was big.

He killed the engine and glanced over at Cordelia, and then at the glistening hood of the car. It felt like a dream, her warm body beneath him, around him… He inhaled deep. Acknowledged the leftover adrenaline, the pump of borrowed blood, and the smell of sex that clung to them both.

He didn’t understand what had happened. Why Cordy had initiated it. That wasn’t her. Wasn’t them.

Something wasn’t right.

Lightning pulsed again, brighter this time, and an answering grumble of thunder made the car shudder. Cordy flinched, and opened her eyes.

“Are we home?” she asked, her voice rusty.

“Yes.”

She pulled his damp coat closer around her, and peered through the windshield. “I don’t suppose there’s an umbrella rattling around in your trunk-of-death back there?”

He shrugged. “Sorry, no.”

She sighed, looked up at the sky, and reached for the door handle. “Probably not a good idea to be waving metal objects around out there, anyway.” There was a long, uneasy silence, during which she avoided his eyes. Finally, she pushed the door open.

Fresh, rain-scented air rushed into the car as she swung both legs out onto the footpath, and looked back over her shoulder. “Um, I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Wait!” he said, too fast, too loud. He couldn’t leave it like this. Couldn’t let the strange, strained vibe fester overnight. Couldn’t ignore the deep gut feeling that something was wrong. Or the frown she was now sending in his direction. “I mean — I should escort you inside. Make sure you’re –”

“Safe?” The word came out as a short, barking laugh. “I just killed some big stinky demon with nothing but an axe — and saved your ass in the process, by the way — and you’re worried about me walking 30 feet to my front door?”

“In the middle of the night, half-naked, yes,” he said, trying to ignore the sudden memory of her, dappled in raindrops, pulling his palm to her breast.

“Yeah, well, someone went all Incredible Hulk on my clothes,” she replied, her face softening as she adjusted the coat again.

Angel pocketed the car keys. “So I owe it to you to get you inside with your modesty intact. Humor me.”

They climbed out of the car, and as they ran up the path, the rain intensified — a million little starbursts on the concrete. Cordy’s front door flew open as they approached, and Angel put a hand on the small of her back and hustled her inside, slamming it shut behind them.

She jolted at his touch, jerked away like he’d pinched her. But when her eyes flashed to his, the shame he expected to see wasn’t there. Only — heat. What the hell was going on? Was there something in a sulphur demon’s blood that enchanted people? Not that he knew of. Probably something he needed Wesley to look into.

And then he thought again of Cordelia, curling eager fingers around him, and decided Wesley definitely did not need to know about this.

The thermostat on the butter-colored wall clicked up several degrees, and the lamp-lit room began to warm, a cozy haven against the storm outside. Dennis, ever present, jiggled silk flowers in their blue glass vase, obviously glad to have her home.

“There, you see? Safe,” Cordy said. She waved her hand around the room. “Monster-free-zone.” As if on some movie-track cue, thunder cracked overhead, and the lights flickered.

Angel shuffled his feet. “Okay, well. Good. I’ll go then.”

“Your coat.” She grasped the collar and held it out from her body, towards him, like he needed a reminder of how it looked.

“Tomorrow,” he said, putting his hand up in the international signal for ‘stop’.

“Right.” She let the damp material fall. “That’s, uh, yeah. Good idea. Goodnight, Angel.” She leaned towards him, lips heading for his cheek, but at the last moment she pulled out and offered him her hand instead, and then pulled it away and looked at her nails before he could touch her.

More thunder, rolling across the sky like a giant barrel, tumbling through the clouds. Angel could feel the hair on his arms rising, energy crackling in the air. Whether it was coming from the electrical storm, or his proximity to Cordelia, he wasn’t sure.

He turned to go. He needed to go. It was the only safe thing to do. Whatever was wrong, it could wait until tomorrow, when he didn’t have her taste on his tongue, and her scent curling up from beneath his clothes.

If it were just a matter of controlling himself, clamping down on the feelings stirred up by the way she’d touched him, he could deal. But it was obvious he wasn’t the only one having trouble shaking off what had happened.

Cordy always got her own way. He wanted to be at maximum safe distance if she decided once wasn’t enough. And by the look in her eyes, and the heady scent that drifted off her as she got warmer, he figured ‘if’ was about to become ‘when’.

Angel squared his chin. Took a deep breath and pulled the door open. Concentrated hard. Just step out, and keep walking, he thought. Go home and take a cold shower. Everything will look different in the light of day.

A brilliant white flash — framed by the doorway — dazzled him, and the immediate roar of thunder that followed made the air vibrate. He recoiled a little, then squared his shoulders, headed out into the night and —

bounced straight back into the room like a bungee was attached to his belt. He staggered, and regained his feet just in time to avoid crashing into Cordelia. The door slammed shut so hard the wall shuddered, and pictures jangled on their hooks.

Cordy gasped and pressed a hand to her chest. “Is this some sort of new vampire rule? ‘Cause I thought I pretty much knew them all by now.”

“No,” Angel said, shaking his head. He reached over and felt the doorframe, searching for the electric shimmer of magic, then tried the handle. It opened straight away.

There was a gush of energy, and the knob was wrenched from his hand as the door banged shut again.

Cordy made a little clicking sound in her throat, a noise of frustration. “Dennis! What are you doing? Let Angel out.”

The door rattled resolutely and the lock clicked shut.

Dennis never did this sort of thing without a good reason. Angel shivered — an icy finger trailing down his spine, prodding the foreboding in his stomach back to life. What could be so wrong to make Cordy act as reckless as she had tonight, and to make Dennis try to stop him from leaving?

Sure, she’d been through a tough week. The fake visions from Wolfram & Hart had really knocked her around. But she said she was fine now. Had she lied? He cast his mind back to that night, to Cordy — crying, lacerated, burned and disfigured, telling him she was scared. Scared all the time.

Hell, she was just a girl, and sometimes he forgot that. Expected her to deal with things the same way Wes and Gunn did. But they had training, street-smarts, the kind of hardness that came with a life spent immersed in the fight against evil. Cordy was a rich girl from Sunnydale who’d caught a bad break and faced it with more courage than he’d thought she possessed.

“What?” Cordy said, putting her hands on her hips. The coat bagged open at the neck, giving Angel much more of a view than he expected.

He dragged his eyes to her face. “Sorry?”

“Your brood face just went on.”

“No it didn’t,” he protested, trying to look nonchalant. Times like these he wished he could see his reflection in the mirror behind her.

She waved a finger at him, and took a step forward. “Angel, after all this time you think I can’t tell when you’re brooding about something? What gives?”

One beat. Two.

“Are you — okay?”

She gave a nervous-sounding little laugh. “Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, tonight, when we — you know…” he fumbled for the words.

“Boinked?” she said, one eyebrow going up.

“Um, yes. I don’t understand. Why?”

“God, Angel,” she sighed, turning away, black-shrouded shoulders slumping. “Do we have to analyze this?”

He didn’t know what else to say — couldn’t think of any way to word it that wouldn’t make her angry. The silence pulled thin between them, broken only by the sound of rain lashing her big picture window.

Then she shrugged and turned back to him, her face wide open, and when she spoke her tone was soft and vulnerable. “I don’t know what came over me, really. I almost died back there.” Two steps closer.

“And when you looked so freaked, it just — got to me, I guess, that you cared that much. Plus, with the touching. I am a woman, you know.” Another step towards him. “And you’re pretty hot, for a dead guy.”

She was too close. He could feel the heat shimmering off her, like haze in the desert. “I *was* scared, Cordy. You know how much you mean to me.”

“Well, duh,” she said, her voice suddenly lower, breathy. “It’s not every day someone busts an evil guy out of a fiery prison for me. I don’t forget that stuff in a hurry.” She reached out, pressed a hand against his chest, as if feeling for a heartbeat.

He swallowed hard. “So tell me what’s wrong.”

She flinched, took her hand back and held it protectively against her chest. He felt the walls slamming up around her, and that hot, wanting look in her eyes died. “Nothing. I’m just tired. It’s been a tough week. I’m fine, really. I’m all over fine like a rash.”

On the mantelpiece, Cordelia’s cheerleading trophy rattled, a loud, angry sound, and a few pens and matchbooks clattered to the floor. She whipped around, and hissed through clenched teeth. “Dennis!” The noise stopped.

Cordy pushed past Angel, tried the door again; slapped her palm against the wood. “Ugh!”

Angel could smell her frustration, see her desperation to get rid of him, knew he’d hit too close to the mark. “Why don’t I just sit awhile, let you take a shower and get out of that wet coat,” he suggested, lowering himself into a nearby chair.

“Fine,” she sighed. “Don’t make my upholstery wet.” She turned and vanished into the hallway.

A towel bobbed into the room, and dropped in Angel’s lap. He stood, folded it over twice, and placed it on the chair. “Thanks, Dennis,” he said, sitting down on it.

He heard the bang of the bathroom door, and after a few moments the sound of water flowing through pipes. He leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees, rested his face in his hands. Every instinct he had told him something was deeply wrong. Something Cordelia was hiding —

He rose, removed his wet boots, parked them by the door, and walked as quietly as he could to Cordy’s bedroom, keeping one ear on the sound of running water. Thunder rumbled ominously as he stood in the doorway and his conscience pricked, just a little, as he contemplated what he was about to do.

In the corner of the room the laundry hamper shook a little, and the lid slowly levitated, a white cotton shirt rising like a charmed snake from the depths. It floated towards Angel, hovered just in front of his face. Why was Dennis bringing him dirty laundry? He reached out to catch it and the smell curled around him.

Disinfectant. Drugs. A flash behind his eyes — Buffy, pale and cold in the sterile room, his bite livid red on her neck — Wesley, bruised, charred, a long plastic tube snaking from his arm — Cordelia, strapped to the bed, screaming and crying, sheepskin cuffs around her wrists as she kicked and strained…

Hospital.

“Dennis, Cordy’s been to the hospital?” Angel whispered, his stomach clenching. He dropped the blouse back in the hamper and closed the lid. Dennis knocked once. “Why?” After a small pause there was a hissing sound, and a large plastic box slid out from beneath Cordy’s bed, bumping against Angel’s socked feet.

He bent down, released the lid at the corner and peered inside. Bottles, lots of bottles, some almost empty. Half-a-dozen different types of drugs. Brown envelopes addressed to her. The sticker on the top left corner was the same on all of them. St Matthew’s Neuro-Psychiatric Unit.

Oh, God. The visions.

All the blood in his veins turned to ice. Things were so bad she’d been seeking medical attention — for what looked like a long time — and she’d never mentioned it, not once. Why would she keep that from them? Unless…

Above the rhythmic sound of the rain, he heard the shower squeak off. Hands shaking, he jammed the plastic lid back down, kicked the box under the bed, and slid back into the living room, grateful for vampiric speed and stealth.

He sank, shaking, into his chair, and picked up a magazine, staring at it with unseeing eyes. If he was right, then she was dying. Oh, God. Obviously she didn’t want him — anybody — to know. But why? They could help, take the visions away before they did too much damage…

His mind boomeranged back to that night just a week ago, when he sat by her side on the bed. Her voice, croaky, faltering. “If I lose the visions, I wouldn’t be able to help you any more.” Back further, to the night they’d returned from Pylea, as they all sat in Lorne’s wrecked club, settling their nerves with scotch and tequila.

She’d told him how the Groosalug was supposed to take her visions. One little com-shuk and she’d have been free. She knew then that they were hurting her, and yet she still clung to them. Stubborn, loyal Cordelia. Dammit.

“Now there’s something you don’t see every day.” Her voice made him startle and fumble the magazine. He glanced up, guilty. She was snuggled in a midnight blue terry-cloth robe, pink-faced, hair towel-dry, and she quirked an eyebrow when she saw his face. “Jeez, Angel, you look like you just discovered hair gel has gone out of fashion.”

He wanted to rear up out of the chair, grab her by the shoulders and shake her so hard that her eyeballs rattled like marbles in her head.

“Hello? Earth to Angel? I’m not letting you read Cosmo any more if it freaks you out this much.” She pulled the glossy volume from his hand.

“I’m — do you think the door is open yet?” he said, suddenly desperate to escape. He wouldn’t let her know, wouldn’t give her the chance to refuse help again. Had to get back to the Hotel and find a way. Take them before she could stop him. Do it before she knew what was going on. Maybe she was too brave and stubborn to admit she was sick, but he wasn’t brave enough to lose her.

“Still jammed,” she sighed, pulling on the knob. “Dennis, you are *so* dead. No Friends for you this week!” she shouted at the ceiling, hands on her hips.

Angel could feel the anxiety, the tension building, every muscle in his body singing. Had to get out. Had to save her — “Stand back.”

“Oh, no you don’t.” Cordy stood against the door as if shielding it from a bullet. “Not this time, buddy. The Super already thinks I’ve got an anger management problem. No more breako dooro. Capiche?”

He got in her face. Close. Closer. “Get out of the way.”

She gave him her death-stare, brows knitting together in an angry frown as her finger came up to wave in his face. Opened her mouth to speak —

And then the world drowned in a blaze of light. A great, percussive boom rent the air and Angel felt his eardrums compress. There was a shower of sparks outside the window, and the room plunged into darkness.

With a gasp, Cordelia threw herself against him, fingers squeezing his still-wet sweater against his shoulders. Her heart hammered like a little bird’s wings against his chest. Blood, adrenaline, life singing in her veins — but for how much longer?

He couldn’t lose her. Couldn’t let her go. “Cordelia,” he said, the word crumbling in his throat.

She tilted her face up, her breath coming in little, hot puffs against his chin. For a moment they were both frozen, and he knew he should pull away, ignore the way his body responded to the scent of fear and sex. But then he caught the gleam as her tongue wet her lips, and no power on earth could have stopped him winding his arms around her, lowering his face and pressing his mouth to that damp, shining spot.

For a second he felt her stiffen, then relax, melting against him. Angel walked her back, feet tangling, and his arms hit the wall. He leaned into her, pressed her full-length against the plaster. Rocked his hips against her stomach and reveled in the friction as he began to get hard.

Tongues darted out, tangled, melted together as their kiss deepened. Hands grasped, fumbled, worked their way into clothing, and he sighed into her mouth as her warm palms found his stomach, branded her prints onto his chest, rubbed his nipples into hard little points. His knees trembled, and together they slid down the wall to the safe harbor of the floor.

There, beneath the archway, he pulled Cordy into his lap, fisted a hand into her hair, and ate her mouth.

“Angel,” she gasped, pulling back, dragging in deep breaths. She freed a hand from his sweater, and in the watery blue light he could see her fumbling with the tie of her robe. He grasped the ends, yanked, and there was the sound of tearing cotton as it came away, loops and all, and slithered into the darkest corner of the hall.

A frustrated groan rumbled in her chest. “I’m not going to have any clothes left if you –”

He ducked his head, gently bit the side of her breast, and her words died away, replaced by a moan that brought him to fullness in seconds. Lightning strobed, filling his vision with bright flashes of hard, damp nipple and dimpled flesh.

Angel’s mouth watered and he sucked her in, relishing the warmth against his lips, the hard little bud rolling over his tongue. He worried it with his teeth, felt her squirm in his lap and the movement against his cock was so good, he wanted to press her against the floor and bury it deep inside her, now.

Maybe she felt him react, press back against her, because an indecent little moan vibrated against his mouth and she did it again, grinding her ass against him. God, she was so warm, with the smell of rain and arousal and come oozing from her — and this was going way too quickly…

He released her breast with a soft ‘pop’; took a deep, calming breath and blew it out across her nipple. Felt the tightness in his balls subside just a little as she hung her head back and allowed the cool air to flow over her. He followed her momentum, eased her all the way down to the polished floor and peeled back the robe to expose her, head to toe.

She was glorious, skin luminous in the blue flicker of the lightning, long, lithe legs, the dark triangle of curls between her thighs, heavy breasts spreading across her chest, and the seductive curve of her neck. Her pulse rang loud, filled his ears until it could have been his own heart beating. Her eyes, deep, dirty pools. They drew him in, begged him for so much.

And he noticed, for the first time tonight, the large, dark rings beneath them.

“You’re staring,” she murmured, her voice so quiet he could barely hear it above the rain.

“You look tired,” he replied, heart lurching. He reached down to touch her cheek, run a finger over the blue-gray hollow below her eyelashes. One solitary tear escaped, leaving a diamond track across her temple, and disappeared into her hair. His gut twisted again. Couldn’t lose her. “Cordy–?”

“Shhhh.” She reached up and pressed a finger to his lips. “No talking. Just — get naked already.”

Angel hesitated, torn between the want burning in his groin, and the need to help her, save her, now.

“Please?” Cordy drew her finger down, over his chin, his Adam’s apple, and let her hand fall to her chest. The other came up to join it and she cupped her breasts, lifting them, pinching the nipples, and Angel’s brain short-circuited, every rational thought swept away by need.

He grasped the hem of his sweater, pulled it up and off, tossed it across the floor. Cordy’s fingers were already on his belt buckle, tugging the wet leather free. Her wrists nudged his erection, and he couldn’t get his pants undone fast enough.

He staggered to his feet, shucked them off, kicked them aside. Toed off his socks and stripped the boxers down his thighs. She sat up, grabbed them and pulled them the rest of the way, until they slid from his ankles and joined his other clothes — a damp black pile against the door.

He was totally naked before her, for the first time, and she knelt, hungry gaze fixed on him, standing proud and full. For the second time that evening, her tongue wet her lips, and, oh God, was she really about to –?

Her fingers touched the back of his thighs and Angel felt his eyes roll back, his stomach quiver, as she palmed the thick muscles there, pushed her hands up, over his ass, and squeezed. Her lips, hot and wet, closed over his hip and he felt her breathe deep.

Angel put his hands in her hair, just rested his fingers on her head as she kissed him, with long, moist sweeps of her tongue. Just below his navel, his thigh, the crease at the top of his leg where the hair grew darker and thicker. Dammit, she was everywhere except where he really wanted her, and without realizing it, he growled.

Cordy’s eyes shot up, took him in, and he could see the hot spark catch and burn in her pupils as one hand slipped between his legs and cupped his balls. There went his knees again. One touch from her and he was jelly. He leaned forward and splayed his hands against the wall for support.

And then her fingers were on him, pulling him to her. Angel struggled to keep his eyes open. Wanted to see himself disappear into her, inch by inch. Jesus God she was so warm and moist, her tongue lithe and mobile, taste buds rough on the head of his cock. Sweet torture, the long slow drag as she pumped him with her hand, sucked deep and hard with her mouth. Angel hung his head, let the wall take his weight, and surrendered to her.

Cordy, his touchstone, his friend. His heat, his sun. So precious.

And if this was what she needed, right now, he’d give it to her. He’d give her anything.

Just a couple more strong pulls and all the energy in Angel’s body began to spiral downwards, concentrating at the part of him nestled in her right palm. He bit his lip, willed himself to stillness, but his body was a traitor, hips jerking forwards, upwards. Cordy didn’t flinch, but increased the pace, the pressure, opened her throat and welcomed him.

With a shout he was gone, emptying himself into her. The white flashes behind his eyes were mirrored outside as the storm raged on. Wave after wave crashed over him, and when he could think, see again, he was trembling.

Cordy rose, her robe spread on the floor behind her like a shadow. She reached up, pressed the palm of her hand to his cheek, then leaned in and kissed him. Angel could taste himself on her tongue, salty, rich. His hands left the safety of the wall, spanned her slim waist, slid down and around the perfect curve of her bottom.

Immediately the tension began to build again. For a brief moment he wondered how, in the space of a few short hours, his control had been broken so completely. And then Cordy’s arms curled around his neck, her mouth harder and more desperate against his, and even the word control was a distant memory, washed away like leaves danced and swirled in the gutter during a downpour.

Angel wanted to feel her life force. Wanted to be inside her. Deep. Full. Complete.

He lifted her and she took his lead, raising her legs, gripping his waist with her thighs. Her center came crashing down on his, and already he could feel blood returning, filling him again. The sofa was just steps away and he backed towards it, not breaking the kiss.

He sidestepped the coffee table and when his calves hit fabric, he relaxed, let himself topple back, and she rode him down into the soft chocolate-colored cushions.

She pulled away, sat back, tilted her head to one side. There were those dark eyes again, so full of unspoken things.

Thunder broke the air.

“What?” he asked, as her gaze swept over him.

“I can’t see you,” she said, leaning forward so her breasts brushed his chest, and her lips scorched his earlobe. “Want to see you.”

On the coffee table, a candle sputtered to life, the small flame growing tall and bright. Across the room, another. And another.

Cordy sighed, stretched like a cat, and her skin glowed golden in the dancing light. Her breasts, round like suns — he had to fill his hands with them. Her breath made a harsh sound in her nose as he touched her there, and she shuddered against his thighs. Angel could feel her pulse in that hot, slick place, drumming against him.

Heat was pouring out of her, soaking through his skin. Warm, God, so warm. So full of life.

His hands left her breasts, running down her body. It was like stroking hot velvet, and he smoothed his fingers down her sides, curled them over her hips, and stretched his thumbs to meet over the most sensitive place of all. Cordy shivered, stilled, then shivered again, pressing against them. Angel felt every muscle in her body go taut with need, with anticipation.

He pulled her closer, stomach to stomach, so he was pressed against her entrance. She reached between them, guided him in. So wet, so ready. She engulfed him, drove her hips forward, swallowed every inch.

For a long moment she was still, and Angel reached up to touch her face. Her eyes zoomed in on him, glittering with unshed tears, lonely, lost. Then she blinked, and the shutters came down. She planted her palms on the back of the sofa, either side of him, and began to move. He pinched her hips, guided her speed, thrust gently.

If he was right — if she was dying — he was damn well going to make her forget about it tonight. He might not be able to get her to admit it. Might not be able to save her. But he could at least do this.

He could give her oblivion.

Angel leaned forward, captured her mouth, reveled in the twin wells of warmth as his tongue echoed the thrust of his cock. Long, slow, languid. He held her hips back, teasing, making her wait, then easing back in. Deep. Deeper.

Rain hammered on the windowpane behind them, a steady drumming, mixing with the sound of Cordy’s heartbeat, her breath. Her thighs quivered against his hips, and soft little moans purred in her throat. He could feel her, tight, close to the edge, and released her hip, slipping one finger down through the mat of shining curls, seeking out her sweet spot.

She began to vibrate, like the air outside shook with thunder, and then she popped, clenching around him and riding him hard. He let go of her, fisted great handfuls of cushion, gritted his teeth, held his own orgasm at bay.

This was not over yet, not by a long shot.

When she stilled, Angel laid her back against the cushions, settled between her thighs, pulled his legs up onto the sofa and pressed his feet against the armrest. Cordy made a little humming noise, ran her toes up the backs of his calves, settled them behind his knees.

“Okay?” he asked, stroking her forehead. Sweat dampened his fingertips.

“Mmm,” she said, and when her eyes opened, the darkness, the blank emptiness was gone. Warmth shone there. “That was nice.”

“Nice?” He mock-frowned. “Just — nice?”

She smiled. A real, full-blaze Cordy grin. “Yep.”

“Well,” Angel said, moving his hips just enough to make her gasp. “I think we can do better than nice.”

He thrust once.

“Again,” she whispered.

Another, harder. Her toes curled against the backs of his knees.

“Again.” This time her voice was dark, needy.

He slammed into her, felt like he was arrowing straight up into her chest.

She caught him in the full beam of her eyes, and a fire burned there. The word came out slow, dirty. “More.”

Deep inside, his demon turned, restless.

He rammed home again, and this time her hips shot up to meet him. Bones collided, skin bruised.

“Yes,” Cordy hissed, throwing her head back, exposing her throat to him.

So alive, blood roaring beneath her skin. Angel’s forehead rippled. God, he could fuck her to shreds…

“No,” he grunted, dragging himself back from the edge, feeling the ridges subside.

“Harder,” she panted, bucking against him. The sofa trembled. Cordy’s fingers dug into his ass. The spear of pain went straight to his cock, and she must have felt his response, because she did it again, nails cutting into flesh.

“Cordy.” Her name ground its way between clenched teeth.

Five minutes ago she had been day, now she was night. Drawing him in, her fists pounding his back, her lips forming his name, soundlessly. She wanted more, more than he was able to let himself give. So close, so easy just to surrender. Too dangerous.

He grabbed her wrists, stretched his arms over her head, buried his face in her neck. Felt the pound of her pulse beneath his lips. Let the desire pour through him, accepted it, and channeled it to where his body merged with hers.

Time began to stretch. The tightness in his stomach, his balls, grew. Dimly, he felt Cordy pull a hand free, her body twisting as she stretched her arm out, and then there were hot trails of fire down his back. Angel’s head snapped up. He saw the flicker of the candle above him, the drip of wax as she tipped it, letting hot drops rain on his skin, where his tattoo straddled his shoulder-blade.

The pain burned to his core, melted the dam, and the tide broke free. He lunged, roaring, every muscle on red alert, engulfed in the sensation of spilling himself inside her.

And then, exhausted stillness. Cordy’s harsh breath against his ear, her heartbeat thudding through him. The crackle of wax solidifying on his back. Angel breathed deep, gathered himself, let the sound of rain and wind ground him again. So long since he’d let so much go.

Cordy tapped the back of his calf with her foot. “You’re heavy,” she grumbled.

Angel propped himself up, elbows sinking into the cushions, hands on her shoulders — took in her glowing face, wild, rumpled hair, chest and neck flushed red, mischief sparkling in her eyes. Like she didn’t have a care in the world. His heart squeezed tight in his chest.

“Nice?” he asked.

“Whoo doggie.” She slapped his butt.

A weak tremble of thunder, and the wind knocked at the window. Time to get back to the hotel and start researching.

“It’s late,” he sighed, carefully pulling out. She had to be sore, but she didn’t show it. He stood, looked around for his pants. “I should go.”

“It’s still nasty out there,” she said, and for a second that dark look crossed her face again. Conveyed unsaid words. Stay. Hold me.

Angel hesitated. What if there wasn’t time? Every second could count.

Her eyes caught his, begging.

Tomorrow. He’d start first thing. Somewhere there would be a way to fix this. But for now, she needed him here. He held out a hand, and pulled her up. “Maybe I should wait it out.”

The vase on the coffee table rattled approvingly, and the candles winked out one by one.

“I think you should,” Cordy replied. She squeezed his fingers, and led him to the bedroom.

Ends.

LittleHeaven

Posted July 8, 2015 by califi in Complete

The Case Of The Missing Santas. Epi   1 comment

***

Angel watched Cordelia’s brightly-coloured coffee cup drift back to the table, and swivel back and forth on its saucer. They were all huddled in a booth in the furthest corner of the food hall, sheltered behind a large potted plant, where it was less likely that early-morning shoppers would notice the strange sight of floating china, and little packets of flying sugar.

Jack sat on the long moulded plastic bench, between Angel and Wesley. He’d come with them quietly, and seemed more than shocked at the current situation. Angel could hear he had a heart murmur, and he definitely smelled human. Hardly the usual ‘big bad’, as Buffy used to call the villain du jour.

“Well?” Wesley motioned to Cordelia’s chair. “Would you care to explain this?”

“Missy, I’m so sorry,” Jack said, addressing Cordelia, but staring with unwavering attention at the serviette twisted between his bony fingers. “I didn’t mean for this to happen. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was hurt anyone.”

“Really,” Cordelia snorted. “What kind of nasty old man goes ‘round making Santas invisible?”

Jack’s blue eyes filled with tears. “That’s not what I was tryin’ to do.”

“What *were* you trying to do?” Angel asked, unable to help feeling sorry for the man. Sure, he’d made Cordelia invisible, but the vibe he was giving off shouted ‘victim’ more than anything else.

Jack raised his head to look Angel square in the eye. “I wanted to hide.”

“You wanted to make *yourself* invisible? Boy, did you ever mess up,” Cordelia said.

Angel held up a hand to silence her, and for once, it worked. “What were you trying to hide from?”

“No, you don’t understand,” Jack said, his eyes sparking. “I didn’t want to hide anyone, I wanted to hide the lie.”

Cordelia’s cup banged against her saucer loud enough to make Wesley jump. “Cryptic, much?” Her voice resonated frustration.

“I’m sorry, I’m not explaining this very well.” Jack cast his eyes around the table, and took a deep, shaky breath. “When I was younger, Christmas was different. The kiddies looked at Santa and they saw the magic. They believed, you know? All those shining eyes, the little smiling faces…”

“I think I’m going to barf,” Cordelia interrupted.

Jack shook his head. “Exactly my point. These days everyone is so — cynical. Even the kiddies seem jaded and old. They don’t see the miracle anymore. I just wanted to hide the fact that the Santa in our grotto wasn’t the real one.”

“You do know Santa *isn’t* real, right?” she said. Angel could imagine the look on her face. And if they didn’t get this fixed, he’d have to make it a regular exercise.

“Of course,” Jack sighed, “but the kids should have some time to believe. They grow up too fast these days.”

“So it was a concealment spell.” Wesley got a notepad and pen out of his jacket. “Do you remember what the ingredients were?”

Angel half-listened as Jack listed what he had boiled, dried, and ground up to sprinkle on the sugar-coated cookie. He wasn’t much with spells. Mainly he was concentrating on the noises around him. The chink of cutlery, the murmur of conversation, footfalls and rustling bags — the sounds of humanity. It didn’t bother him as much today as it had two days ago. Perhaps he was getting used to it, being around people.

Doyle flashed into his mind. *‘She’ll provide a connection to the world. She’s got a very — humanizing influence.’* Thank you, Cordelia, he thought, watching her bagel descend, partially chewed, onto her plate. Doyle had been right. Angel wondered if his friend would have been proud of him at the moment, drinking coffee at the mall, in the midst of the pre-Christmas rush. No, probably not. Doyle would have been too preoccupied with not being able to see Cordelia.

Angel smiled and took another mouthful of coffee.

“A-ha!” Wesley’s exclamation brought his full attention back to the conversation at the table. “You say you substituted skink’s eyes for newt?”

Jack nodded. “It’s impossible to get newt at this time of year. Everywhere I went was sold out.”

“A common amateur’s mistake — or so I’m told,” Wesley said. “Responsible for many a spell going wrong.”

“Can you fix it?” Cordelia asked. Jack and Wesley both looked in the direction of her voice.

“Maybe,” said Wesley.

“No, I’m sorry miss. I didn’t really know what I was doin’ to start with,” Jack said, at the same time.

Angel could sense Cordelia’s temper snapping, like the air around him shifted somehow. For a split-second he imagined an invisible Cordelia beating Jack to death with a half-eaten bagel. He’d had too much caffeine, obviously. He put his cup down, and pushed it away.

“Thank you, Jack. I think we can take it from here.” He rose and offered Jack a hand, helping the old man to his feet.

“Angel,” Cordelia said, and he could hear her teeth were gritted.

“Leave it, Cordelia,” he said. “Jack’s going to go home now, lay his uniform away, and never dabble in the dark arts again, right?”

“Certainly, sir. I’m so sorry. So sorry,” Jack shook his head towards Cordelia’s seat and performed the customary tip of his cap. Wesley stood aside, letting the old man out of the booth. They watched in silence as Jack shuffled away.

“Why didn’t you tell him what happened to the other two?” Wesley asked, putting his pad and pen away.

“What good will it do, other than give him a coronary?” Angel said, thinking of the heart murmur.

“Well, that would cheer me up,” Cordelia sighed.

“Really?” Angel raised his eyebrows.

There was a long silence. “No,” she finally said. “I guess he learned his lesson.”

“I almost feel sorry for him,” Wesley said. “What do we tell Miriam?”

“Nothing.” Angel shook his head. There was no point. The police wouldn’t believe a word of it anyway.

“Hey!” Cordelia’s voice was so close to his ear it startled him. “If we don’t tell her something, we can kiss our store credit goodbye. And, invisible or not, I want to shop. Of course, if I stay invisible, I might not need to pay for anything…”

“Cordelia, really,” Wesley said, looking shocked. “You’d steal?”

“Or I could walk up to the counter and scare the crap out of the assistant,” she snapped. “Either way, not getting much shoppy satisfaction otherwise.”

Here they go again, Angel thought. He rubbed his temples, willing the sudden yearning for a nice brood in the dark to disappear. Except disappear was probably an inappropriate word right now… “We’ll tell Miriam what happened, just not who. He’s learned his lesson. All he wanted to do was make things better. It backfired. It happens to all of us, now and then.”

***

Cordelia stretched out on Angel’s couch, nibbling on the sushi he’d bought her and Wesley for lunch. Miriam had taken the news well, all things considered. The main thing was that she’d promised to send vouchers. Hopefully they’d arrive in time for the post-Christmas sales. That blue bra better still be there…

“Eeeeww, God, Wesley, what the hell are you doing in there?” she said, wrinkling her nose as the stench from the kitchen began to invade the rest of the basement apartment.

“Working on your cure, I hope,” he called. There was a small ‘pop’ and a puff of smoke, followed by the clatter of Wesley slipping off his stool.

Angel rose from his chair, where he’d been resting, eyes drooping, looking like any moment he’d fall into a coma of vampiric proportions. Cordelia realized he’d probably been awake most of the last three days.

They hurried into the kitchen, where a sulphurous green cloud hung around the oven, tendrils creeping outwards like some ghostly form of ivy.

“Is that it?” Angel asked, blinking through the haze.

“I think so.” Wesley replied, as his head appeared over the top of the table again. “Cordelia, if you’d like to try this.” He poured the contents of the saucepan into glass beaker, and held it out in front of him. The mixture bubbled and frothed with a suspicious fervour.

“Sure, it smells a lot like my cooking, so no big deal,” she said, trying to convince herself it wouldn’t be as barf-worthy as the odour suggested. “What’s in it?”

“Uh, probably not a good idea to ask,” said Angel, who had accompanied Wesley into the little magic shop in Koreatown that they’d stopped at on the way home.

“Lizard guts. Got it.” She smiled. “I’m smiling at you, by the way.” God, it would be such a relief not to have to explain every facial quirk. Assuming it worked, if course. It was Wesley she was relying on here. Taking a deep breath, she wrapped her fingers around the beaker. “I’ve got it, Wesley, you can let go.”

Right, deep breaths, hold your nose, down it in one swallow, Cordelia thought. Don’t dwell on the contents. She grasped her nostrils, screwed up her eyelids, and gulped the foamy liquid. Little abrasive chunks of something caught on the back of her tongue, and the vapour burned her throat and nose. She got half of it down, and then gave up, banging the beaker down on the bench top.

Her stomach did a somersault, lurching and heaving. “Look out, sushi coming back for an encore,” she gasped, falling onto her hands and knees.

A cool hand rubbed her back. “Take deep breaths,” Angel said. “It’ll pass.”

Cordelia gagged and swallowed, trying in vain to keep the vile liquid down. Angel’s hand continued to glide up and down her back, and she was grateful he was there. It made her remember when she was a little girl, and their housekeeper would sit with her if she was sick. Once, after she’d come back from having her tonsils removed, her father had come into her room and read her the Wall Street Journal until she fell asleep.

But now they were both gone, taken away from her by the IRS, and she’d ended up here, on Angel’s kitchen floor, about to puke her guts out. Thinking about other stuff only worked if it kept your mind off the original stuff, she thought ruefully.

She felt Angel’s fingers hook under her hair, pulling it back in case she threw up. Thank-you, Angel. Nothing worse than having to wash puke out of your… “Hey, how did you know where my hair was?”

His hand stilled. “Same way I knew where your back was.”

Cordelia opened her eyes, and there were her fingers, splayed on the linoleum in front of her. Sure, they were kinda stained-glass-window in appearance, and she could still see the floor though them, but it was a major improvement. “Wesley, if I didn’t feel like I was about to go all ‘Exorcist’ here, I’d kiss you,” she gasped.

“Really? Have a peppermint.” He bent down, holding a box of tic tacs under her nose. She held up a semi-visible hand to accept one.

“Will it get better?” Angel asked, helping Cordelia into a sitting position.

Wesley nodded. “As she digests the antidote, she should get steadily more — vivid.”

Cordelia took a few deep breaths, and popped the mint into her mouth. She felt a little better now, barf-wise, but very, very tired. “Can I lay down for a while?”

“Sure,” Angel nodded. “I was going to have a nap myself. Then I’ll take you home.”

“Great.” She smiled, thinking how wonderful it was that he could actually see it — or at least through it. “Wake me up at sunset.” Hauling herself to her feet, she marched past Angel, through the living area, and flopped down on his bed.

“That’s fine, Cordelia. I’ll take the couch,” Angel’s voice was sarcastic, but faint, and getting fainter by the second. Within moments, sleep took her.

***

Cordelia sat in Angel’s car, outside her apartment building. Every ounce of strength had vanished from her body, but it was worth it. She looked down at her hands, now almost completely solid again. Thank God. Wesley had saved her, and she hadn’t even had a chance to thank him properly. By the time she’d woken from her nap, he’d gone home.

Angel came around and opened the passenger door. “Come on, I’ll help you inside.”

“I’m fine,” she said, trying to stand. Her knees quaked and buckled. “Okay, maybe a little with the damsel in distress.”

He pulled her to her feet, supporting her with an arm around her waist. “Are you sure you’ll be all right on your own?”

She shot him a suspicious glance, as he helped her along the pathway. “You been playing with that sensitivity stick again?”

“Playing with what? Oh — that. No.” He chuckled. “It’s just that someone recently told me that I should be more considerate of others, pay attention to their feelings, get involved more. I think maybe they had a point. I’m trying it out.”

“Oh,” she said, taken aback just a little. “Sounds like this person knew what they were talking about. Dennis!”

Her front door swung open, and they staggered towards the sofa, collapsing in a heap on the cushions. Angel sighed, and looked around the room. “Why aren’t there any decorations here? I though you were big with the tinsel.”

“But not big budget with the tinsel,” she replied, easing her shoes off. “Since I spend most of my time at the office, I put it up there instead. Figured I’d get to see more of it.”

“Oh.” He looked uncomfortable. “You should take tomorrow off.”

“Well, duh, it’s Christmas. If you want me to come in you’ll have to pay triple-time.” She shook her head in resignation.

“No, it’s fine. Stay here. Are you sure you’ll be all right?” he asked, getting to his feet.

“Yes, go home, you’re freaking me out now,” she said, smiling.

Angel backed towards the door. “Okay, but any problems, call me.”

“Go!” she cried, waving him away. “And, Angel…”

“Yeah?”

“Merry Christmas.”

He smiled. “You too, Cordelia.”


Epilogue: Saturday, December 25, 1999

The display on the clock said ten am. Cordelia stretched and yawned. Had she really slept for thirteen hours? It felt like it. She was warm, rested, and… She jerked upright in bed, her hands flying up in front of her.

They were solid. Not translucent, not even slightly fuzzy. Solid, solid, solid. Oh thank God — the best Christmas present a girl could ever have.

The smell of brewing coffee snapped her out of her silent celebration. Bless you, Dennis. Real coffee, too, not that nasty instant stuff she normally had to make do with. She wondered where he’d gotten it. Maybe Dennis was a cat-burglar while she was off fighting the demons and other nasties of LA. Cordelia pulled the bedspread up to her chin, taking a deep, satisfying whiff.

Another smell caught her attention. Sage? Onions? Perhaps Dennis was making — stuffing? Oh, poor thing. She should probably break it to him that there was nothing to stuff. He was going to be so disappointed. Maybe she could spread it on toast or something — it would probably be tastier than plastic macaroni. To her relief, her stomach didn’t heave at the thought of either. Actually, she was kind of hungry.

Someone knocked on the front door. Before she could lay a hand on her robe, she heard Angel’s voice, low, almost whispering. “Come in, Wesley.”

What the hell was Angel doing in her apartment? It was Christmas morning. Wasn’t he supposed to be back at Brood Central, vamp-napping the day away?

“I must say, Angel, this had better be important, dragging me all the way over here on — goodness mmph.” Wesley sounded like he’d had a hand slapped over his mouth.

This was too weird. Cordelia tugged on her robe, jammed her feet in her slippers — hey, look, still visible — and marched into the living room. “Holy crap.”

The room was festooned with tinsel, and other Christmassy objects. A little tree sat on the coffee table, with tiny bud lights twinkling on and off. Angel stood in the center of the room — beside an equally startled Wesley — wearing the apron that she never used.

Cordelia blinked a couple of times, and pinched herself on the arm. “Angel, what are you doing? Are you possessed?”

“No.” He sounded wounded. “I’m roasting a chicken. The store was all out of turkeys.” There was a long pause. “Dennis is helping.” A bang on the wall indicated that, indeed, Dennis was a willing participant.

She sank down into a chair, taking in the room one more time. “I thought you didn’t like Christmas.”

“Maybe it’s not so bad.” He shrugged. A soft ‘ding’ came from the kitchen. “Oh, time to stuff.”

As soon as he was out of the room, Wesley came over to Cordelia. “I see you’re looking, er, more like — something, today.”

She glanced down at herself and smiled. “Thanks, Wesley. I mean it. You really came through for me yesterday.”

The sound of plates and cutlery rattling around made his self-satisfied grin vanish, and he nodded his head in the direction of the kitchen. “This is most unexpected. Are you sure he hasn’t turned evil?”

“I’m pretty sure Angelus didn’t cook. He liked his food raw.” She shuddered.

Wesley rubbed his hands together. “Well, I must say, if Angel can cook other things as well as he does eggs, I’m looking forward to this. Fancy a game of Scrabble while we wait?”

“You carry Scrabble around with you?” She tried not to laugh.

“Travel Scrabble,” he replied, as if that justified everything.

She rubbed her forehead with one finger, perplexed. So much for a lonely Christmas Day, sitting in front of the TV with a frozen meal and only a ghost for company. Instead, here she was with her two friends, a nice cooked lunch on the way, and she wasn’t invisible anymore. On the whole the day had turned out really well. Perhaps this wouldn’t end up as the worst Christmas on record, which, after everything that had happened over the last few weeks, was — unexpected. She felt the smile begin at her toes and spread all the way to her lips. “What the hell. Just let me wash up and get dressed, and you’re on.”

***

Cordelia pulled on her clothes, squeezed the last of the water from her hair, and taking a hairbrush in one hand, wandered into her bedroom. Showering always made her think profound thoughts. Maybe it was from the hot water on her head, she wasn’t sure. Today, for the first time in weeks, her shower thoughts hadn’t been all about Doyle, and finances, and her stuttering acting career. They’d been about the vampire stuffing a chicken in her kitchen, and the English guy setting up Scrabble on her coffee table. Okay, so maybe that didn’t qualify as profound in most people’s dictionary, but in the Cordelia Chase book of serious thoughts, it came pretty damn close.

She’d laid out her gifts to Angel and Wesley on her bed, prior to getting in the shower. She’d intended to give them out yesterday, but the whole see-through thing had kind of forced everything else from her brain. They weren’t very exciting, but in the small time she’d had after they finished Santa-ing, combined with her limited budget, it was all she could manage. With a sigh, she sat down beside them.

Hold on — there was something different. A third gift nestled beside them on the duvet, wrapped in silver paper and decorated with a glittery bow. A small rectangle of red card had the words ‘From Santa’ written in Angel’s handwriting. With a small squeal, she picked it up, squeezing it. Soft. Little tingles of excitement fluttered in her stomach, just like when she was a little girl.

Okay, patience was not one of her strong points. It needed to be opened, and now. She slid her fingernail under the flap at one end, popping the wrapping open and peering inside. A flash of blue satin made her gasp.

“Oh my God,” she breathed, tearing the paper off. How did he know? Her mind flashed back to him, watching while she wrestled with her conscience outside the Victoria’s Secret changing rooms. He’d noticed. Who’d have figured? Without warning, her eyes filled with tears.

For no apparent reason, she suddenly thought of Aura and Harmony, and what they would be doing this morning. In their expensive houses, with their stuck-up families, and their piles of presents. And at that moment, she wouldn’t have swapped where she was for the world.

The little piece of blue satin in her hands had more thought in it than any of the presents her friends were opening. She wiped a tear away with the heel of her hand, and began to laugh.

The squeak of a floorboard made her jump. “Angel, how many times do I have to have the ‘stalker’ talk with you?” She frowned, and he stepped into her room, looking embarrassed. She wagged a finger at him. “I swear I’m going to put a little bell on you.”

“I just wanted to see if you liked it,” he said, shuffling from one foot to another.

“Of *course* I do. It’s a bit — personal, I mean — hello, underwear — but I love it. Thank you,” she said.

He looked at his hands, and then out of the window, avoiding her eyes. “I didn’t know what to get you, and you seemed to really want that. I know underwear is usually for lovers…”

“Ew! Let’s just leave it at ‘thank you,’ shall we?” she said. “And thank you for today, too. This is all so great.”

He perched on the end of her bed, stiff and nervous. “Uh, are you all right?”

“Again with the big sensitive thing. Did you inhale the aerosol snow?” she asked. Twice in three days was just too weird.

He looked uncomfortable. “Well, after what you said in the men’s room the other day…”

“And isn’t that a strange sentence?” she interrupted. “Sorry, go on.”

“I was worried.” He looked her in the eye. “So — are you?”

She thought about it for a long, strange moment. About everything that had happened that week, and especially that morning, and there was only one clear answer. “You know what? I really am.”

His smile changed his whole face. “That’s — good.”

For a moment they sat in silence, not quite sure what to say next, and then Wesley’s voice floated through from the living room. “I’ve set out your letters, Cordelia!”

“Oh, right, Scrabble,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m doing this. And I can’t believe you’re cooking something besides eggs. Who knew you were a gourmet?”

“I’d save your judgement until after you’ve eaten,” he chuckled, rising and motioning towards the door. “Coming?”

“In a moment.” She nodded.

As soon as she was alone, she stripped off her top and threw the old, disintegrating bra in the hamper. Beaming now, she put the new one on. “Hello, silky goodness,” she giggled, pulling her sweater back over her head.

Then she gathered up Angel and Wesley’s gifts, and sighed a long, contented sigh. There was good food to eat, friends to share it with, mall vouchers on the way and new satin against her skin. It was a pretty good Christmas, after all.

The End

LittleHeaven

Posted July 8, 2015 by califi in Complete

The Case Of The Missing Santas. 3   1 comment

Part 3: Friday, December 24, 1999

Wesley jolted awake. Bugger. He’d meant to stay alert, keep an eye open for anything suspicious, and instead he’d dozed off under a blanket on Angel’s couch. He looked at the luminous dial on his watch. The soft green numbers showed four-twenty-two a.m. He remembered someone mentioning to him that the hour between four and five was when the undead walked the earth. His flesh prickled and he pulled the blanket up under his chin.

“Cold, Wesley?” Angel’s voice made him jump. In this instance the undead weren’t walking — they were reading a book in the chair opposite him.

“No, no, just a bit peckish actually,” Wesley replied. As if on cue, his stomach rumbled. He remembered the giant, sugar-coated biscuit, still sitting in its paper bag on the counter. It was calling to him. Angel turned back to his book as Wesley folded back the blanket and padded, barefoot, into the darkened kitchen.

By the dim glow from the microwave display, he located the bag. His stomach growled louder, sounding very much like the Golvar demon he’d been telling the children about earlier that day. Not that they’d been particularly interested. No respect — that was the problem with the younger generation.

Taking a plate from the cupboard, Wesley unravelled the crumpled edge of the bag, lifting it open to expose the biscuit, in all its sugary glory. “Oh my.”

“What?” Angel asked.

“You might want to take a look at this.”

***

Bang.

Cordelia shifted, restless, and pulled the covers up higher.

Bang. Bang.

“Dennis, I’m ignoring you, if you hadn’t noticed,” she grumbled. In response, the bed started shaking. Or possibly it was an earthquake. She sat up, ready to run for the doorframe. In her experience, earthquakes weren’t just tectonic plates jiggling around — they were often portents of apocalypsey things about to happen. But everything else was still and quiet.

The covers flew back, exposing her to the chilly air of the bedroom. “Dennis, I swear, what’s gotten into you?” She grabbed the sheet, irritated, and tried to pull it up. Dennis pulled back. A short tug-of-war ensued, until she refused to participate any longer, laying back down, blanketless and defiant. She was not getting up at quarter past five, no matter what he did.

Without warning, all the drawers and cupboards in the room flew open, their contents exploding into the air and scattering across the floor. Okay, that was the last straw. Now she was really pissed.

“Dammit, Dennis, I am so gonna kick your insubstantial…” Oh, shit. Cordelia was certain she was waving a finger in front of her face. In the artificial light from the street that filtered through her window, it should have been easy to see. So where was it? She glanced down at herself and saw only empty bed, and an indentation in the rumpled sheet where her thighs should have been. “Oh, crap.” Heart in her throat, she scrambled out of bed and into the bathroom. The light flicked on as she leaned over the sink, looking into the mirror.

Nobody looked back. She was invisible.

Okay, this was — unexpected. Cordelia patted her arms and legs, and then her stomach, and lastly her breasts. Oh, thank God, they were still there. She was solid enough, just see-through. She wandered, slightly dazed, back into the bedroom, picking her robe out of the pile of clothes on the floor, and slipping it on. As soon as it covered her body, it too disappeared. Interesting. She kicked a few sweaters aside to unearth her slippers. As each foot nudged inside, they vanished too. She shook one off, and it re-appeared.

“Well, look at us, just a couple of invisible room-mates,” she said, hoping that verbalising it would make it less spooky. The wall knocked twice. So, Dennis agreed — it wasn’t just her sleep-addled brain giving her the wiggins. No wonder he’d been going crazy trying to get her attention. “I’m sorry I ignored you,” she sighed. Dennis, obviously feeling a little guilty, began picking up her clothes and folding them.

Cordelia put her slipper back on, watching it dissolve again. Invisible. Wow, that was shitty. She’d come to LA to get away from shitty things — like vampires and hellhounds and mayors that turned into giant snakes — and the IRS. Although, she had to concede, you never really got away from the latter. She’d had such high hopes of fame and fortune, sacks of money and rich, eligible men lining up to wine and dine her. It was supposed to be easy and happen right away.

But what had she actually ended up with? Russell Winters, donkey demons, Spike and his little torture pal, detatcho-limb guy, cockroaches, vengeful ghosts, Doyle frying himself, drool-o-vision, almost having her eyes removed for the highest bidder — and now this. This sucked most of all. Okay, no, Doyle dying sucked most of all, but this ran a close second. And the timing sucked too. It was a yuletide suck-fest.

How on earth was she supposed to go to auditions in this state? As far as Cordelia could remember, there were no Academy awards for ‘best actress in a transparent role’. Her inevitable stardom seemed a lot less assured right at this moment.

She sank down on the edge of her bed, elbows on knees and face in hands. “Okay, Universe, I give up. I don’t care about having a nice Christmas anymore. I’ll embrace the crappiness, I promise. Please, just fix this.” Silence pressed around her.

A one hundred and fifty dollar dress, salvaged from her Sunnydale wardrobe, slipped onto a hanger and floated into the wardrobe — and suddenly it all made sense. “I’m still being punished, aren’t I?” she asked the air.

Cordelia had thought that was all over when she moved into her new apartment. Finally she had something nice, where she could be herself again. I’ve already paid, she thought. Paid for being super-bitch Queen C, for being haughty and self-centred. Obviously she hadn’t paid nearly enough. Not for all the misery she put people through. People like Willow — and Marcy.

Oh, God, now there was a relevant memory — Marcy, who turned invisible because everyone ignored her. Marcy who had idolised Cordelia and her gang. They’d been so awful to her. Cordelia remembered how that had ended. Tied up on the May Queen throne while a scalpel danced inches from her face.

Psycho girl never got a chance to finish the job, so now the universe was doing it for her, and for all the others like her. What better punishment for vanity than invisibility? Plastic surgery won’t fix this one.

And then the most awful thought of all struck. “Oh my God, how am I going to put my makeup on?”

The doorbell made her jump. “Cordelia?” Angel’s voice was tense. Was everyone determined not to let her sleep today? She tied her robe around her, and then remembered that it didn’t really matter. She could be naked and he’d never know. With a sigh she shuffled to the front door, and pulled it open.

Wesley and Angel stood in the doorway, both looking anxious.

“Thanks Dennis,” Angel said, stepping inside and looking around the darkened room.

Cordelia’s skin crawled. Angel couldn’t see her either. And he had super-hero eyesight. She swallowed hard. “It’s not Dennis, it’s me.”

“Cordelia?” Wesley gasped, reaching out and waving his hand in front of him.

“Ow! Look out, you just about poked me in the eye!” she snapped, jumping backwards. Turning to Angel, she said, “Whatever this is about, it better be good. As you can see, I’m having a bit of a visibility problem.”

“Yes, yes, very interesting.” Wesley nodded, rummaging in his satchel. He held out a crumpled paper bag.

Cordelia took it and peered inside. “You came all the way over here at the crack of dawn to bring me a stale cookie for breakfast?”

“No, look at it again, Cordelia,” Angel replied.

With a sigh, she took another look, and chills raced across her invisible skin. The damn thing was glowing. Not that brightly, which is why she’d missed it at first glance. A sort of iridescent blue that pulsed in and out, like it was breathing. She looked at Wesley and raised an eyebrow. He was standing there, looking creeped-out, as she floated the bag in mid-air.

“For those of you who can’t see my expression,” she said, “please refer to Wesley’s face for a good imitation. What the hell is going on?”

“Why don’t we all sit down?” Angel gestured towards the couch.

“You two sit. I’ll stay over here. I don’t want your bony vampire butt in my lap.” Cordelia began to imagine the endless possibilities for being injured that came with her condition. Being sat on, having doors slammed in her face, getting run over… She clapped a hand over her mouth in horror, as it all became crystal clear.

Angel and Wesley perched on her sofa, placing the cookie in the middle of the coffee table, where it cast an eerie blue glow. Dennis must have disliked it as much as she did, because he chose that moment to turn on the lights, drowning it out.

Cordelia began to pace the floor, her feet almost keeping up with her spinning brain. “That cookie was meant for Angel, because he was dressed as Santa,” she said, thinking aloud. Angel and Wesley’s eyes tracked her voice as she moved. “But because I ate it, I disappeared. That’s must be what happened to the other two.”

“It makes sense. Miriam said that one of the bodies looked fuzzy,” Angel said, nodding.

Cordelia didn’t like where her train of thought was leading her. “No wonder Bob freaked out in his bathroom — I know I had a Sunnydale moment when I looked in my mirror — and no wonder both men ended up dead. You two have only been here a few minutes and I’ve already nearly lost an eye. Being see-through is dangerous. Fear may have killed Bob, but I guarantee the other one had some sort of accident because nobody could see him. They both died as a result of being invisible.”

“Yes, but Miriam identified them at the morgue — so at least we know it wore off,” Wesley mused.

“Or perhaps it only works on people while they are alive,” Cordelia said, shuddering. “Angel, have a bite. Of the cookie, not me. Maybe…

“No, no, I can’t have both of you invisible.” Wesley glanced up, looking panicked. Except he looked at where she had been when she spoke, not where she was now. For some reason, that freaked her out most of all.

“I’m over here, Wesley,” she said, hugging her arms around herself.

“Well, for God’s sake, stand still so I know where to look.” He turned towards the sound of her voice. Okay, now it looked like he was ogling her breasts. Nothing new really, but still kind of yucky.

Angel rubbed his face, looking tired. “Why don’t you put on a hat, so we know where your face is?”

“Fine in theory,” she said. “But — watch.” She shook off one of her slippers, and it revealed itself. The look on both their faces would have been hilarious in any other situation.

“Fascinating,” Wesley breathed, as she put it back on.

“I’m glad you’re so excited by all of this.” Cordelia slumped into a chair. “Forgive me if I don’t share your enthusiasm. This Christmas officially can’t get any worse.”

“I’m sorry. This was supposed to happen to me,” Angel said, rising and coming over to her. He reached out to her, resting his fingers on her in what she hoped was supposed to be a comforting gesture.

“Angel, do you know what you’re touching?” she said, teeth gritted.

“Not your shoulder?” He snatched his hand away.

“Not quite,” she sighed.

“Cordelia, where did you get these from anyway?” Wesley asked, pointing to the cookie.

He was unbelievable, thinking of his stomach at a time like this. She wondered if he would hear her coming before she kicked him in the shin. “If you’re hungry, there’s cereal in the kitchen.”

His face lit up. “Well, yes please, I’d love some. But I was more interested in the magical qualities of the biscuit, rather than its nutritional value.”

“I — I’ll make eggs,” Angel said, looking relieved to have an excuse to escape after his unintentional fondle.

While Angel poached, or scrambled, or whatever you did with eggs to make them edible — Cordelia hadn’t gotten around to working that out yet — she sat down next to Wesley on the couch and recounted her conversation with Jack, the security guard. It wasn’t that she needed to sit next to Wesley, but the closer her voice was, the better his ability to “look” at her face, rather than the wall beside her. It made her feel better — enough to risk the odd poke in the eye.

“He was such a sweet old guy,” she sighed, turning the cookie over and over in her hands. “Do you really think he knew what was in these?”

“Hard to tell,” Wesley replied, eyes turning towards the cookie, which even to Cordelia herself, looked like it was spinning in mid-air of it’s own volition. Little grains of sugar dropped off and fell to the floor. He jerked his head up, as if struck by a thought. “Dennis, can we have the lights off please?”

Cordelia felt the rush of cold air a second before Wesley’s glasses flicked off his face, flew in a spectacular arc over his head, and landed behind him on the sofa. “That’s his way of saying he doesn’t like you,” she said, retrieving them. “It’s okay, Dennis.”

The lights clicked off, and Wesley got down on his hands and knees, nose touching the floor.

“Sorry, are we interrupting your morning prayers or something?” she asked, mystified.

“It’s not the biscuit. It’s the topping,” he replied. “Come down here and have a look.”

She didn’t need to bend all the way down. The little blue specks on the polished wood pulsed just bright enough for her to pick them out. “Just another reason why sugar is bad for you,” she sighed.

Wesley got to his feet, dusting himself down. “I think we need to make another trip to the mall. There’s a security guard I’d really like to have a chat with.”

***

Angel pulled Cordelia’s bedspread around him. For the third time in three days he was crouched in the back of his car while they drove to the mall. It was like some sort of recurring nightmare that he couldn’t seem to wake up from.

He stifled a yawn. The sun had come up while they ate breakfast, and waited for the mall to open for the day. Trying to keep human hours was messing up his sleeping patterns, and he was tired. Maybe this is what it was like for people who worked night-shift. For Buffy, patrolling the graveyard when other girls her age were tucked up in their beds. His heart squeezed tight in his chest, as he recalled how beautiful she had looked in the sunlight, turning towards him as he strode out to meet her — to kiss her…

“I don’t see why I couldn’t drive,” Cordelia whined from the front passenger seat. “Wesley had his turn yesterday.”

“Because, Cordelia, I’d rather not have to explain to the fine constabulary of Los Angeles why I was a passenger in an apparently driverless car,” Wesley replied.

“Yeah, it would look weird,” Angel agreed. The last thing in the work he wanted was for Cordelia to take control of his car again. Especially with him as a passenger.

“This coming from the guy in the Laura Ashley shroud,” she said.

The sound of an apple being bitten filled the air, and then the sharp smell of Granny Smith tickled Angel’s nostrils. It was followed by Cordelia’s sigh. “What?”

“Nothing,” Wesley said.

“You have ‘something’ face.” The sound of leather squeaking indicated she’d turned in her seat.

It was Wesley’s turn to sigh. “I was just thinking how happy I am that food becomes invisible as soon as it goes in your mouth. Otherwise breakfast would have been a rather stomach-churning affair, as would your consumption of that apple. Oh, dear God, woman. Stop it!”

“What’s going on?” Angel said, trying to peer out from under the bedspread.

“It appears that when Cordelia pokes her tongue out, the chewed-up food on it becomes visible again,” Wesley answered. “As will my omelette, if she keeps that up.”

“You’d deny an invisible girl her only pleasure in life?” Cordelia sounded mock-hurt.

“Oh, well, carry on, if your pleasure includes wearing the remains of my breakfast,” Wesley snapped.

Angel pulled the bedspread closer around his head, suppressing a growl. “If you two don’t stop it…” He felt the car glide gently over the speed bump that signified their entrance to the car park, and threw off his cover. The corner draped over Cordelia’s shoulder, and for the first time that day he could see the contours of her body. Something that could have saved him from excessive embarrassment earlier.

***

Cordelia stood behind Wesley and Angel, who were seated in front of Miriam Saunders’ desk. She’d discovered on the way through the mall that it was the safest place to be, if she didn’t want to be walked into, or kneecapped with a shopping bag.

Miriam was looking through the staff database, a frown marring her tired face. “Are you sure his name was Jack?”

“Yes, an elderly gentleman, by all accounts. He wore a security guard’s uniform,” Wesley replied.

“I’m sorry.” Miriam shook her head. “There’s no Jack working here.”

“You’ve got to be frickin’ kidding me,” Cordelia huffed.

Miriam’s head snapped up. “Who said that?”

“I did,” Cordelia said. Okay, sure, they’d decided that Miriam wouldn’t be able to handle talking to an invisible person, but this was now beyond a joke, and Cordelia wasn’t going to stay silent.

“That’s Cordelia,” Angel said, casting an irritated glance in the direction of her voice. “She’s sort of –invisible.”

“That’s what happened to Bob and Ed,” Wesley added. “And we believe it’s as a result of a biscuit Angel was given by this Jack fellow — which Cordelia ate.”

“Invisible,” Miriam echoed. “Because of a biscuit. This is a trick, right?”

“Honey, I wish it was.” Cordelia moved around to Miriam’s desk, picking up a marble egg and tossing it from hand to hand.

Angel leaned forward. “Remember Cordelia said we deal with unusual cases? This is one of them.”

Miriam’s eyes were glued to the marble egg as it plopped backwards and forwards.

“Jeez, it’s rude to stare,” Cordelia said, putting the egg back down.

Miriam went a couple of shades paler, and began to hammer on her keyboard with alarming force. “Here — we had a Jack working here eight years ago, in security. According to his records, he had to take compulsory retirement because he was too old.”

“It looks like Jack decided to come back to work,” Angel said.

“And we have to find him. Perhaps we should split up,” Wesley suggested. “That way we can cover more ground.”

Angel looked uncomfortable with the suggestion, and Cordelia remembered his comments in the bathroom the previous day. The whole place must give him the wiggins. She tried to imagine walking along Fifth Avenue, and not wanting something from every shop window. She couldn’t. “Are you sure?”
Her voice made Miriam jump.

“Yes, that’s usually how it works,” Wesley said.

“I was looking at Angel when I said that,” she sighed. Having no visible body language was proving to be a real hamper to effective communication.

Angel nodded, rising from his chair in a slow, deliberate movement. “I can move faster alone.”

“Cordelia had better come with me.” Wesley got up and shouldered his satchel.

“Great, I get to hang with the geek,” she muttered.

Wesley scowled in her general direction. “Well, since nobody can see you, it’s hardly going to ruin your image, is it?”

“We’ll meet at the Grotto in thirty minutes. Check your watches.” Angel said, heading for the door.

“Check.” Wesley held up his wrist.

Cordelia glanced down at her arm automatically. Oh, of course. Invisible. She felt it with her other hand. No watch anyway. Like it or not, she needed Wesley as a timekeeper, as well as a shield from the crowd. She squared her shoulders. “Lead on, satchel boy.”

***

Forty minutes later, Cordelia and Wesley stood in front of the Grotto. The large sign at the gate now informed shoppers that Santa was so busy making presents that he’d had to take the day off. Cordelia grabbed Wesley’s arm, raising his watch level with her face. “He’s ten minutes late. Do you think he’s okay?”

Just as Wesley was about to reply, Angel swept into view. Cordelia looked hopefully at him for a moment, and then realized that she wasn’t going to prompt a response that way. “Any luck?”

“Sorry, no.” He shook his head.

Wesley removed his glasses and began to polish them with his handkerchief. “Perhaps if Angel invested in some laboratory equipment, I may be able to determine the chemical composition of the biscuit topping. Unfortunately that may take some time, and these things usually…” He trailed off, his face betraying the fact that he’d almost revealed something he’d been trying to keep secret.

A tide of panic washed over Cordelia, her heart leaping into her throat. The sudden rush of adrenaline made her dizzy. Angel’s eyes flicked straight towards her, and she knew he could hear her fear — or smell it. “Stop sniffing me,” she said, her voice sounding more strangled than she intended.

“Wesley, what were you saying?” Angel asked.

“Oh dear, I don’t want to alarm anyone. It’s just that invisibility spells tend to have a compounding effect.” Wesley’s polishing grew more vigorous. “The longer you’re transparent, the harder they are to break. In the worst cases, people have been known to lose solidity, and cease to exist altogether. I fear time is of the essence.”

Cordelia sank onto the nearby imitation park bench. Okay, she took back what she said earlier about Christmas not being able to get any worse. It just did.

“Cordelia?” Wesley looked around, placing his glasses on his nose. He reached out and felt the air around him. “Oh, heavens, it’s happened already.”

“I’m over here, dumbass,” she sighed. Angel tracked towards her voice, and sat beside her. At least he didn’t sit *on* her, she thought.

“We’ll fix this, I promise,” he said, leaning his elbows on his knees, his hands pressed together.

Before Cordelia could reply, Angel’s far arm shot out, latching around someone’s wrist. He tugged, and Jack stumbled into her range of vision. He looked old, sad, and seriously surprised. He couldn’t be evil — could he?

“Wha — what’s going on?” he stammered, looking at Angel’s hand, and then at his face.

Cordelia sucked in an angry breath. “Oh, boy, do you have some explaining to do.”

Continue

Posted July 8, 2015 by califi in Complete

The Case Of The Missing Santas. 2   1 comment

Part 2: Thursday, December 23, 1999

“Morning!” Cordelia breezed into the office. It was a beautiful day, if a little cool. But sunshine of any temperature lifted her spirits. Plus, a hot shower and a good night’s sleep had left her feeling refreshed. Her decorations twinkled as the breeze from the door made them dance.

“Cordelia,” Angel said, turning from the coffee machine to greet her. His face was grave. “Can you finish making this and bring it through?”

She clicked her tongue in exasperation. “Have your arms fallen off? I’m not a glorified waitr — ooooh, right.” She glanced through into Angel’s office and saw Miriam Saunders sitting, pale-faced, in one of the chairs. “I get it, coffee’s for her, right? Right.”

Cordelia finished mixing the toxic-looking brew, and carried the mug into Angel’s office, placing it on the desk. Angel picked it up, slipped a coaster underneath, and then sat back in his chair, pressing his fingers together in front of him.

“He must have had my card in his wallet. He had no family, so they rang me. I had to identify the body,” Miriam said, her voice tremulous. She picked up the coffee, took a big sip, and pulled a face as she swallowed. Carefully she placed it back on the coaster and pushed it away from herself.

Angel nodded for a moment. “Did they say what killed him?”

“Heart attack. And his feet were all cut up — like he’d run a long way without shoes. They said it was as if he’d died of fright.” She took a deep breath. “That’s not the worst of it. While I was there, Ed showed up.”

“Ed?” Cordelia asked, getting the sudden, bizarre vision of a talking horse on stretcher.

Miriam reached for a tissue from the box on Angel’s desk, and dabbed her eyes. “The morning Santa. They found him washed up on Venice Beach — in his pyjamas.”

“It’s okay, Miriam, we’ll get to the bottom of it,” Angel said, leaning forward. “Can you tell us anything else? No matter how strange it seems, it could be important.”

“Well…” Miriam hesitated for so long that Cordelia thought she’d forgotten what she was saying. “It might just have been the lighting in there, but he looked kind of — fuzzy.”

“Fuzzy?” Cordelia echoed.

Miriam nodded. “Kinda indistinct — not solid. I dunno, I was really tired, my eyes were all blurry. It’s probably just my imagination.”

“Good morning, all.” Wesley’s voice made them all look towards the door. “I was just about to call Ms Saunders, but I see she already knows about the sad demise of Bob.”

“Did you manage to get another Santa?” Angel asked, turning his attention back to Miriam.

“No.” She shook her head miserably. “They’re all booked. All the reputable ones are, anyway. I know Bob was a bit of a loner — and from what you say he must have had his fair share of personal problems — but he was so reliable, and great with the kids. He’s been with us almost ten years. Replacing him is going to be really hard. You’re sure watching someone would help?”

“Greatly,” Angel said, nodding.

The idea hit Cordelia so hard, she nearly fell over. “Angel, why don’t you be Santa?”

“What?” He looked up at her, alarm written all over his face.

“What better way to catch the culprit than to go undercover?” she said.

“That would be wonderful. It would solve both my problems,” Miriam said, perking up. “I just have to ask, how are you with children?”

Angel was turning a peculiar shade of grey. Cordelia wondered how many children he’d dealt with in his pre-soul days, and how many had survived the encounter. Best not to dwell on that. “He’s great with kids, aren’t you Angel?” She nodded at him, prompting a response.

He rose out of his chair, glaring at Cordelia. “No. I’m not doing it. You can forget it right now.”

***

Angel closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. How he ever came to be in this position, he would never fully comprehend. Perhaps it was Miriam’s crying, or Wesley’s incessant attempts at logical persuasion. No, it was Cordelia. No matter how hard he tried to resist her, he always ended up doing exactly what she wanted. One day he would have to figure out how she did it, before it got him into real trouble. Or maybe that horse had already bolted.

“How do I look?” he sighed.

“Hang on, I’m not quite done!” Cordelia’s voice floated over the concertina partition set up in Miriam’s office. Her bra flew over the top of the particle-board barrier. “Oops, Angel, throw that back?”

He bent to pick it up with some difficulty, his enormous padded stomach getting in the way. The soft fabric of the bra was faded, and kind of thin in patches. He rolled it between his fingers. Not really the sort of thing he would have expected her to be wearing under those glamorous clothes she liked so much. It smelled like her — a mixture of skin and perfume, and it was warm, her body heat still contained within the fibres.

His fingertips tingled, and his chest felt tight. Touching Cordelia’s bra was weird; too intimate. This was her *underwear*. The heat seeping out of it came from her… Okay, he shouldn’t have thought that. He hastily tossed it back.

“Thanks,” she called. There were a few moments where fabric rustled, and a zipper closed. “Okay, I’m coming out. Ta-daa!”

Cordelia emerged from behind the screen, and did a little twirl.

“You look… Hey!” Angel protested, a little offended, as she burst into a fit of giggles.

“I’m sorry, it’s just…” She pressed a hand to her mouth, having limited success at stemming the tide.

It wasn’t doing anything for his already shaky confidence. “Do I look right? I mean, I can’t see in the mirror, so it’s hard to tell.”

She smiled and nodded. “You look perfect, Angel.”

God, this was so, so wrong. A vampire in a Santa suit. And his assistant in something that left very little to the imagination.

“Angel, what? I can see a frown under all those white curls,” she said.

“Isn’t your dress a little — well — there’s more to the — that’s it?” he asked as she shook her head.

“Pfffft. I’m the sexy helper, you’re the fat old guy. You can’t look cool all the time. Live with it — or be undead with it, whatever,” she said. “We should see if Wesley’s ready.”

“Okay, I guess so. Let’s go,” Angel said, taking another deep breath. His gut churned, and he hesitated with his hand on the doorknob. Surely there had to be a way to avoid this. To prevent dozens of warm, chubby children, sugar-sweet, climbing into his lap. Crowds of people would be watching him…

Angelus would have enjoyed this. He felt a sharp prod in his back.

“Angel, what is it?” Cordelia asked, poking him again.

He shuddered. “I’m not sure about this.”

“Of course you are. Store credit, remember? Bailing is not an option.” She gave him a little shove in the right direction.

***

Cordelia admired her reflection in the mirrored glass as they walked down the hallway to collect Wesley. Angel’s flustered reaction to the shortness of her dress had given her an idea. How many good-looking, single fathers were there in LA? Would they like to sit on *her* lap, perhaps? Oh wait, Angel would probably give them the third degree and scare them off, like he did with all her dates. How was she ever going to find a man who wouldn’t run a mile when he found out what she did?

They stopped outside the room where Wesley was getting changed.

“Decent, Wesley?” Angel knocked on the door.

“I don’t think that word could be used in relation to this costume, but yes, I’m dressed,” Wesley replied, his voice even more clipped and uptight than usual.

Angel pushed the door open, and he and Cordelia both stared at Wesley in silence for a good five seconds. He was dressed as an elf, in a red velvet jacket and matching red leggings. A pointy little hat rounded the outfit out nicely. But there seemed to be a problem with the groin area of his tights. In fact, he looked like the Dirk Diggler of Santa’s workshop.

“Wow, Wes, is that a stake in your pants or are you just pleased to see me?” Cordelia said, dragging her eyes away from the large bulge.

Wesley glanced downwards. “Yes, it is a stake, actually. We don’t know what sort of evil may be lurking in Santa’s grotto. I’m ready to do battle should anything attempt to attack us.”

“As comforting as that sounds, Wesley, it looks like you’re ready to do something else,” she said, shaking her head. The man was clueless.

“It appears to have slipped from its original position in my waistband,” he conceded, looking embarrassed.

Angel frowned. “After what happened yesterday — perhaps it would be better if you left the stake behind.”

“Very well,” Wesley signed, turning his back and removing the offending object. “Ow!”

“Splinter, Wes?” Cordelia giggled.

“I don’t see why I couldn’t be Santa,” he grumbled, glaring at her over his shoulder.

“Oh gee, the peeper with a woody in his tights? Yep, that would go down well with the parents. Miriam already thinks you’re a weirdo. I’m surprised she even let you be an elf,” she said.

“Yes, I see your point.” Wesley nodded. “A blood-sucking creature of the night is a much better choice — no offence, Angel.”

Angel took a deep, hitching breath. “Let’s just get on with this, shall we?”

***

They made their way down to the grotto in silence, armed with a sack of candy and a Polaroid camera. Miriam’s list of instructions rolled over and over in Cordelia’s head. Always keep your hands in view. One piece of candy per child. Keep the line moving. Hard-sell on the photos.

Her heart stopped for a second. What if vampires didn’t show up in photos? Oh well, too late to worry about that now. They’d deal if it happened, though she wondered with increasing anxiety if a bunch of angry parents — with photos of their children levitating in front of Santa’s throne — would jeopardise the promised store credit.

They let themselves in the rear of the display, through a little gate in the white picket fence. There was already a line of noisy children at the front entrance. Angel seemed to be having trouble with — well, it wasn’t quite obvious with what. But he was hanging back, turning this way and that, rubbing his palms on his padded belly.

“Just get in there already,” she groaned, dragging him by one arm to the large, plum-coloured velvet throne.

“I can’t do this, Cordelia,” he muttered, his voice muffled by the white nylon beard and moustache.

“Course you can. Remember, just ask them if they’ve been good, what they want for Christmas, and tell them you’ll see what you can do. Easy.” She smiled, hoping it looked encouraging. The last thing she needed was Angel freaking and scaring the kids.

He lowered himself into the ornate chair. For someone who was dead, he was doing a heck of a lot of deep breathing. Could vampires hyperventilate? At the rate he was going, she was probably about to find out.

“Ready?” Wesley asked, from his position at the front gate, craning his neck to see them between the trees.

“No,” said Angel.

She nodded. “Yep, let ‘em in, and keep your eyes peeled.”

The first child came towards them. He was the living incarnation of a four-year-old Dennis the Menace, mischief all over his face and a plastic bow and arrow strapped to his back. His mother stood back near the entrance, probably pleased to get rid of him, even if just for a moment.

Angel lifted the boy onto his knee. “Uh…”

Cordelia rolled her eyes. He’d forgotten his lines already. “Have you been good?” she hissed under her breath.

“H-have you been good?” Angel repeated.

The kid sighed like some cynical old guy. “Yes.”

“Uh… have, I mean, what do you want for Christmas?” Angel stumbled over the next part.

“I want a Game Boy, and a skateboard, and a football, and car.” Dennis the Menace rattled off his Christmas list.

“You’re too young to drive,” Angel said, his white eyebrows going up.

“No, no! You’ll see what you can do,” Cordelia whispered. This was like acting class for the retarded.

Dennis hopped to the floor. “You suck,” he said, kicking Angel in the shin. Cordelia heard a growl rumble through the Angel’s chest as the boy stomped away. Okay, this was going well. Not.

The next child was a little girl, about six, her huge green eyes framed by a mass of blonde curls. She held out her arms to Angel so he could set her on his knee. Surely this one would be easier than the baptism-of-fire kid who was now loudly complaining to his mother that he didn’t get a piece of candy.

“Oh, crap, we forgot about the candy,” Cordelia said, picking up the bag which she’d stashed behind the throne.

“Have you been good?” Angel asked the little girl. She nodded, but didn’t speak. “What do you want for Christmas?” He looked up at Cordelia, eyes clearly asking if he was doing it right this time. She smiled.

The little girl remained silent. Cordelia held the bag of candy out, raising her eyebrows at Angel. He took a boiled sweet and offered it to the child. Her giant eyes filled with tears.

“Wha — what?” he asked. “What did I do?”

“Don’t you remember what I said last week?” the girl sniffled, breaking her shy silence.

“Um, no,” Angel replied, looking panic-stricken.

“Well, if you can’t remember that I’m a diabetic, how are you going to remember where my house is?” she asked, her lower lip jutting out.

Angel didn’t reply, he just lifted the girl from his lap, and rose to his feet.

“I can’t do this,” he said again. He took a couple of large strides, and before Cordelia knew it, he was a rapidly diminishing red figure in the crowd.

“Sorry, sweetie,” she said to the pouting child. “Santa has to pee.” With that, she jumped the white picket fence, and sprinted after him.

Cordelia ran through the mass of shoppers, trying to keep up with the fast-disappearing Angel. It was amazing that someone with half a ton of Dacron padding in his jacket could move so quickly. Just as she thought she’d lost him in the sea of shoppers, she caught a flash of red going into the men’s room. Wow, maybe vampires really did pee.

***

Angel leaned on the porcelain basin, trying to ignore the trembling in his hands, and his lack of reflection in the mirror. The white tiled room was mercifully empty, with just the incessant echoing drip from a leaky faucet to break the silence. Nobody there to see his fear, his shame.

If it weren’t mid afternoon, he could get out, just climb in the car and take off.

This had been a bad idea. All those children, life pumping through their veins — so close to the thin, soft skin. Their smell… Saliva flooded the back of his mouth.

The swinging door of the bathroom flew open, crashing against the doorstop.

“Angel, what’s going on?” Cordelia barged in, her short velvet skirt flaring around her legs as she strode towards him.

*Not now, Cordelia. Please, leave me alone.* His throat felt thick and tight. “I can’t do it. All those people…”

Her breath rushed out in a little noise of exasperation. “Oh, for God’s sake, don’t tell me you’ve got stage fright. Hello, grrrrr, remember? Big scary vampire? Kicker of demon butt? They’re just little kids, they can’t hurt you.”

“I’m no good with humans. I don’t know what to say to them. I — I made that girl cry.” He wiped his hands over his face, pushing the annoying nylon beard down, off his chin. Why couldn’t Cordelia just leave him alone? Didn’t she understand what he was? What every primal instinct was screaming at him to do? She was just a human — she couldn’t begin to fathom the want, the raw need. Stupid girl! Ignorant, trusting Cordelia…

“Improvise,” she said, oblivious to the battle he was waging. “Just say whatever feels natural.”

He banged the basin with his hands, shouting, “Nothing feels natural. None of this *is* natural. Look at me!”

His eyes snapped up to the mirror, and where his own face would have been, there was only Cordelia’s reflection, staring at him, startled and upset. “Angel…”

He turned and sat on the vanity, looking into wounded brown eyes that filled him with remorse. “It’s easy for you, Cordelia. You’ve been doing it your whole life. You’re so confident with everyone,” he said, softening his tone.

“Well, I must be a better actress than I realized,” she sighed. “Angel, I’m scared all the time. Can’t you tell? I have no idea what I’m doing in this city. Just when I thought I’d worked it out, Doyle died, and now I’ve got these visions, and they scare the crap out of me…” She started blinking, like she might cry. “I’m just making it up as I go. We all are. Wesley is. Doyle was. You have to, too.”

Angel stared at her; opened and shut his mouth a couple of times. It wasn’t like Cordelia to come out with something so personal and — well, deep. He hadn’t realized she was having such a hard time. She was always telling him he had to get more involved, show more concern for those around him. Maybe she was right, because he’d missed this one, big-time.

The bathroom door squeaked open. Cordelia flung an arm in the direction of the noise, one accusing finger pointing. “Don’t even think about it, buddy. Use the one upstairs.” The startled man retreated without protest. Her eyes were still firmly fixed on Angel. “So, are we ready?”

He shook his head, remembering the crowd that awaited him at the grotto. “It’s not just that I don’t know what to say. It’s hard for — other reasons.”

“Such as?” Cordelia stepped towards him, frowning. He couldn’t look her in the eye any longer, and dropped his head. “Ohhhh,” her voice betrayed sudden realisation. “But you’re good now.”

“I am. But having a soul doesn’t mean the demon isn’t there. I still want…” He knew he didn’t have to finish the sentence. “It’s always there. You don’t know how hard it is.”

“Yes I do,” she countered. “Angel, I know what it’s like to want something so badly, and to deny yourself. This whole mall is a testament to that, for me. I have *nothing*, and now I can’t buy stuff to fix that.”

His hands tensed, fingers gripping the Formica mouldings. She *didn’t* understand, she never would. “Dammit, Cordelia, you can’t compare your need to shop with a vampire’s bloodlust,” he said, looking up again. Her face burned with an intensity he’d never seen before. There was real pain there, and a look that he felt in his gut. “Okay, maybe in your case, you can.”

A small smile forced its way across her face. “Possibly not the best analogy, I admit. But I didn’t just mean the shopping part. I guess Christmas is making me think about what I had before, and what I have now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for my job, and my apartment, and my ghost. Sometimes I’m even grateful for Wesley showing up — though usually that’s when I’ve been drinking — but it’s gonna take time to adjust, y’know? I thought I was there, and now I’m not so sure.”

“I get that.” Angel nodded. His arms and chest relaxed a little, his mind calming and clearing. Cordelia often left him confused and bewildered, but her last statement made too much sense.

“We just have to deal. You have your demons, I have mine. Doesn’t mean we can hide in the bathroom forever. Now put your whiskers back on, and get out there. Okay?” Cordelia said, smiling. As she did, the scared, vulnerable girl transformed back into the person he knew.

He could feel his lips quirking in response. “I’ll give it one more try.”

“Good. But I warn you now, I catch you nibbling on any of the kids, and I’ll stake your undead ass.”

“Understood,” he said, pulling his beard back into place.

***

When they arrived back at the grotto, the place was in a near state of pandemonium. Cordelia couldn’t quite believe her eyes. Wesley was sitting, cross-legged in the entrance, telling a story, with a group of raucous children in front of him.

“And then the Rogue Demon Hunter cried, ‘you’ll never take me alive!’ and the Golvar demon raised up its mighty tail…”

“This story sucks!” That sounded like Dennis the Menace. A plastic arrow bounced off Wesley’s chest.

“Who did that?” he demanded, getting to his feet. All the children started cheering Dennis on. A rain of candy wrappers and bits of screwed-up paper accompanied the second arrow.

“Stop that right now! When your parents come back…” Wesley huffed.

“Problem sir?” Jack the security guard seemed to appear out of nowhere. Cordelia recognised him from yesterday, and wondered again why he was working at his age.

“I’m quite capable of controlling a group of mere children,” Wesley said, smoothing down his jacket and flicking a candy wrapper from his shoulder. As his eyes followed it, he noticed Cordelia and Angel, and hurried over to them, leaving Jack to deal with the junior uprising.

“Thank goodness you’re back. Those children are evil.” He looked at them fearfully.

Cordelia couldn’t resist. “I cannot believe after all your — weeks on the Hellmouth, that you place a bunch of little kids on the top of your list of scary things.”

Wesley looked like he was really going to lose it this time, but just as she thought he was about to shout at her, Angel’s quiet voice cut in. “Wesley might be right. Perhaps one of them is evil. We still don’t know what happened to Bob and his counterpart. Cordelia, take photos of all of them. Wesley, record names and addresses — pretend we’re running a competition or something.”

“And what will you do?” Cordelia asked.

“Smell them,” Angel said. “Nothing else, I promise.”

She tried to get a good look at what small part of his face she could see through the fake facial hair.
“Will you be okay?”

He nodded. “Humans, I have trouble with — evil, I can handle.”

***

Cordelia raised the Polaroid camera and took a quick photo of child number forty-seven, perched on Angel’s knee. Angel blinked and rubbed his eyes, as he had done the previous forty-six times. The flash had to be hurting him, but he hadn’t complained once. And, on the bright side — no pun intended — he was visible in every single picture.

Not only that, but he seemed to be getting better at the conversation part of the job. Go figure — Angel can’t cope with normal people, but give him the possibility that one of them might be something icky and dangerous, and he calms right down.

Why did she always end up hanging with the weirdos of the world? Did she give off some sort of vibe that attracted the geeky, the emotionally stunted, and the not-always-human? Like Doyle. Her heart stabbed in her chest. Dammit, why was repressing this sort of thing so hard lately?

“Hey there, missy.” Jack’s voice interrupted her train of thought, for which she was kinda grateful. “I brought you nice folks some snacks, compliments of Mrs Field’s Cookies.” He held out three paper bags.

The thoughtfulness of the gesture touched her. This poor old guy probably had nobody, and yet, here he was bringing her baked goods, instead of feeling sorry for himself. There was a lesson to be learned in that.

She studied the packages. They were labelled in shaky handwriting — ‘Pretty Girl’, ‘Elf’, and ‘Santa’. “Oh, how sweet,” she said, giving him one of her biggest smiles as she accepted the gifts. “You chose these specially?”

“Yeah.” Jack nodded, his eyes twinkling with delight. “Yours are chocolate chip, the English guy’s are bran — he seems like he needs the fibre — and Santa’s are sugar-coated. I thought he looked a little pale.”

Her heart was going to melt, she was sure of it. Was it legal to adopt a grandparent? “Thank you, Jack.”

“Least I could do. I’m just so pleased the kiddies didn’t have to miss out today,” he said. He looked at his watch. “That’s me done. Time to head home.”

“To your family?” she asked, hoping for the best.

He shook his head, looking a little sad. “No, sweetie, just my cat.”

So, she was right, he was all alone. In forty-five years that could be her. Minus the nose-hair, of course.

“You have a nice Christmas, Jack,” she said, and for the first time, it wasn’t just a throwaway remark.

“Won’t you be back tomorrow?” He frowned, his forehead a lattice of wrinkles.

“I don’t think so.” She glanced at Angel, who was waiting patiently while the little girl described the dollhouse she wanted, right down to the fittings in the bathroom. The kid had taste.

“Well, good day then,” Jack said, tipping his cap again. She watched him walk away, a frail old figure, quickly swallowed up by the crowd.

***

Angel stretched out on his couch, listening to Wesley and Cordelia bicker in the kitchen. It had started as soon as they’d gotten back to his apartment, all three of them exhausted from their shift in Santa’s grotto — an experience he wanted to put behind him as quickly as possible.

He wondered if Wesley was going to continue hanging around. From what he could make out, the ex-Watcher had little money, no way to get back to England, and very little purpose in life — other than trying to live up to his principles by hunting demons. And judging by his fighting skills at Cordelia’s eye auction, he was lucky to have survived this long on his own.

“How come Angel only got one biscuit?” Wesley sounded suspicious.

“Okay, so I ate the other one. I was hungry. Looking beautiful is gruelling work,” Cordelia replied.

“It was Angel’s biscuit, Cordelia. Shouldn’t you have asked first?”

“Pffft. Angel doesn’t eat.”

“I *can* eat, I just don’t need to,” Angel called, wanting them to stop, but lacking the energy to go in there and referee.

“Well, I was hungry,” she shouted back. “And it seemed a shame to waste it on someone with your stunted sense of taste.”

“*My* sense of taste isn’t stunted,” Wesley said.

“Unlike your sense of style.”

Angel groaned and pushed himself off the couch. It was impossible to relax with those two carrying on like children. He’d had enough of children to last a lifetime, which — in his case — was really saying something. He rounded the corner, glaring at them both. “Wesley, you can have the other cookie. Now, both of you, sit down, be quiet, and I’ll cook you dinner.” The immediate silence was worth the effort.

***

It was obvious, Angel thought, watching his two colleagues shovel eggs into their mouths, that neither of them had eaten well lately. No wonder they’d been fighting over a giant sugar-coated cookie like it was made of gold. This was another one of those things he should have noticed, if he hadn’t been so busy wallowing in his own grief and guilt over the-day-that-wasn’t, and Doyle’s death.

“So,” he said, putting his cup of coffee down and gazing into it. “Are you both — all right?”

Wesley and Cordelia both stopped, mid-chew, and stared at him.

He glanced up at them. “I mean, you know, are you okay? Any problems you want to tell me about?”

“Has someone spiked your blood?” Cordelia arched one eyebrow at him.

Angel shifted in his seat. This wasn’t quite the reaction he’d hoped for. Of course, they were probably both too proud to admit that they were struggling. Cordelia had already revealed far more today than she would have liked, that was obvious. “No — I just wondered…” he abandoned the sentence, and turned his attention back to the coffee.

“I’m fine. Thanks for asking,” Wesley said. “And by the way, these eggs are truly excellent. Again. You could go into business, you know, if the detective agency thing doesn’t pan out.”

“That’s — comforting,” Angel replied. Silence blanketed the room again, broken only by the chink of forks against plates, and the sounds of chewing.

***

“So, what’s the plan?” Wesley asked, as he passed the last plate to Cordelia.

She took it from him and towelled it dry. “Don’t ask me — Angel’s the boss. Angel, what’s the plan?” she called.

“Well, generally after the drying comes the putting away,” Angel replied, walking into the kitchen, wishing they’d both give it a rest and leave him alone. “Are you two planning on going home any time soon?”

Wesley shook his head. “Someone has to watch you.”

“I don’t need a Watcher,” Angel said, alarmed. The last thing he wanted was the two of them sniping at each other all night. He had some quality sitting in the dark planned, followed by a spot of brooding.

“I know how much you love to play statues with the lights off, but if you run away in terror some time between now and nine o’clock tomorrow morning, we’ll be back to square one,” Cordelia said, rubbing the back of her neck, looking tired.

With a sigh, he realized they were right. While fleeing in terror wasn’t his style, they had no idea what had happened to the other Santas, so it made sense that someone observe him for the next twenty-four hours.

“I’ll take first shift,” Wesley offered, taking the tea towel from Cordelia and hanging it on the rail.

She sank into a chair, her face blanching. “I think you might have to take all the shifts, Wesley.”

Angel was at her side in a flash. “You okay? Is it a vision?”

“No.” She shook her head. “I’m just tired, I think. How old were those eggs?”

“The eggs were fresh. Maybe you caught something at the mall,” he said, worried. Cordelia had been nothing but vibrant and healthy since he’d bumped into her at that Hollywood party.

She sighed, and looked around for her bag. “Maybe I did. Can you take me home?”

“Okay, but you call me if you need anything,” he said, going for his car keys.

“Excellent.” Wesley smiled. “And on the way home we can swing by my place and collect the Monopoly board.”

Angel resisted the urge to punch Wesley in the face. Hard.

***

Cordelia let herself in, and dropped her bag on the floor. Back against the door, she slid into a sitting position. Every muscle ached, her eyes burned, and chills trembled through her body. She felt a gentle tug on her sleeve. “Oh, Dennis,” she sighed. “Please, run me a hot bath.”

After a few moments the sound of running water floated out of the bathroom. It was warm and inviting, and the thought of sinking into the hot, foamy goodness spurred her back to her feet.

Unbuttoning her top, she dragged herself towards the bedroom. This was just perfect — because not enough awful things had happened to her in the last couple of weeks. Nothing capped off the Christmas from Hell better than a nasty, infections disease. Oh well, at least if her appetite was ruined she wouldn’t mind so much that all she had for Christmas dinner was a frozen macaroni cheese and a couple of apples.

She shook her clothes free of her pale, clammy body, leaving them on the bedroom floor, from where she knew Dennis would collect them and put them in the laundry hamper. With a final effort, she stumbled into the bathroom, where the warm steam enveloped her.

She sank down into the water, letting it swirl around her throbbing limbs, and a few tears slipped down her face. She wasn’t crying, really, because then she’d be breaking her promise to herself. What her eyes did of their own accord had nothing to do with her.

Part 3

Posted July 8, 2015 by califi in Complete

The Case Of The Missing Santas. 1a   1 comment

***

Angel wondered if a man’s place at the mall was solely to sit around and wait for people. He and Cordelia were perched on the low couch in the Management Office’s reception area, waiting for Wesley to come out. The severe-faced woman at the desk said he was ‘being interviewed.’

The room was sterile, cream-on-cream, with recessed lighting, and more of the potted palms that filled the rest of the mall. Prints of famous paintings hung on the walls, set in generic chrome frames that insulted the genius of the work contained within.

A corridor ran off to the left, office doors set at regular intervals between the ceiling-to-floor one-way windows that served as walls. One of them contained Wesley — his smell hung in the air, proving he’d passed this way recently.

With a sigh Angel picked up a magazine, flicking the pages with little interest. Perhaps there was some enchantment placed on waiting rooms which made time move slower there than in other parts of the universe. At least in hell things had rollicked along at a fair old pace…

A sense of release washed over him. The sun was down. Even buried here, encased in the monolith that was the mall, he felt it slip below the horizon. Now, if he wanted to, he could leave. He rose, more out of frustration than actual intent to follow through on his instinct.

“Angel, what are you doing?” Cordelia asked, the tone of her voice clearly transforming the words to ‘leave now, buddy, and I’ll stake you dead.’

He raised a finger to his lips. He could hear voices. She opened her mouth again, but stopped as he cocked his ear closer to the source of the sound.

A woman was talking, her voice raised, which is what had brought it into his hearing range. “He’s just gone, and that’s not like him. He’s usually so reliable. I can’t get hold of him at any of his numbers — it’s like he vanished without a trace. That’s both of them now. We should call the police.”

“I said *no*. We don’t want that sort of publicity,” a man’s voice replied, semi-threatening.

“Well, what do you want me to do, just hire another, pretend nothing happened?” the woman snapped back.

“Yes, that’s what I want you to do. Get another stupid Santa, or get yourself a new job.”

“Do you know how hard it is to find a good Santa at this time of year? And what happens if the next one disappears too?” The woman’s voice held a touch of panic now.

“I don’t care. Just get another one.” The man’s voice grew louder, and the door of the closest office flew open. The owner of the voice stormed out, and down the hallway, where he went into another office and slammed the door behind him. The glass wall rattled.

Angel took his opportunity, and slipped into the room the man had just vacated. The woman — a nicely dressed lady in her late thirties — looked at him with misty eyes. “I’m sorry, sir. The public aren’t allowed in here.”

“What happened to the Santas?” Angel asked.

“Oh, God.” She went very pale, and sank down into the chair behind her desk.

Cordelia came in the doorway behind him. “Angel?”

He motioned for her to enter, and she closed the door before sitting down.

Angel produced a business card from the pocket of his duster, placing it on the desk where the woman could see it. “I know you have a problem, and I think we can help. I’m Angel.” He held out his hand.

“Miriam Saunders.” The woman shook it, business-like, but he could feel the tremor in her fingers. “Have a seat, please.”

“So, what’s going on?” he said, settling into a chair.

Miriam studied the card for a long time, and it was obvious she was debating whether to tell him everything, or throw him and Cordelia out. Finally, she took a deep breath. “I know this sounds crazy, but both of our Santas have disappeared. They went home two days ago, and never showed up for their next shifts. Nobody has heard from, or seen either of them since. It’s like they’ve vanished into thin air. It’s — frightening.”

“Well, boy, have you picked the right team for the job,” Cordelia said, bursting into her less-than-subtle sales pitch. “At Angel Investigations we specialize in unusual cases, for a reasonable fee — or store credit.”

Angel groaned inwardly, but Miriam seemed more than happy to consider what Cordelia was saying. “If you’d like to see the grotto, maybe you could find some clues?” she said.

“We’ll consider taking the case, on one condition,” Angel said, wincing as Cordelia elbowed him in the ribs.

“What?” Miriam rubbed her temples with both forefingers.

“That you release our friend. He was in Victoria’s Secret…”

“Oh, yes, the peeper. I suppose so, as long as nothing like that ever happens again,” Miriam said, frowning at Cordelia’s snort of laughter.

It was Angel’s turn to elbow Cordelia. “I promise, Ms Saunders. He’ll be perfectly well behaved.”

***

Cordelia watched, rather bored, as Wesley and Angel strode around the periphery of the empty grotto that she’d seen in her vision. As grottos went, it was nothing special. A two-foot high white picket fence surrounded a sugar-pink castle, in the doorway of which stood a large gold and velvet throne.

Leading up to that was a meandering fake brick path, weaving between plastic fur trees covered in artificial snow and red glass baubles. At the entrance to the whole thing was a gate, adorned with a sign that advised the grotto was currently closed. Overall, the effect was pretty tacky.

Miriam Saunders stood to one side, her face displaying an odd mixture of scepticism and expectation.

“Oh, dear, another one gone?” An older man’s voice over Cordelia’s left shoulder made her gasp and wheel around. “Sorry sweetie, didn’t mean to startle ya,” he said, his face crinkling into a warm smile.

“That’s okay — Jack,” she said, reading his name badge, which also proclaimed that he was store security. He looked way too old and frail to be able to secure anything, but to say so would be rude. Not that it usually stopped her, but he had such a pleasant, grandfatherly quality about him, she decided to hold her tongue on this occasion.

“Such a darn shame. The little kiddies will be so disappointed if there’s no Santa,” Jack said, his blue eyes peering at her through thick, wire-rimmed spectacles.

“Did you see what happened to them?” she asked. Surely a security guard would need to be perceptive as part of his job.

He shrugged. “Well, Missy, yes and no. I seen ‘em all right, but nothing funny happened while they were here. They just went home and never came back, both of ‘em. Breaks my heart to see the little’uns disappointed. I’d volunteer myself if I wasn’t so old and skinny.”

Cordelia nodded and sighed. A five-year-old would probably crush him. She wondered why he was still working, instead of enjoying a nice retirement with his wife and family. Maybe he didn’t have anyone. Like her.

Jack glanced at Miriam, and then smiled at Cordelia. “Better be on my way, don’t want to get in trouble for loitering. Nice to meet you.” He tipped his cap and ambled off.

Wesley approached her, looking puzzled. “It doesn’t appear to be in any of the more common mystical formations.” He glanced up at the turret of the fake castle.

Cordelia couldn’t help herself. “Peeper, Wesley?”

“You had to bring it up.” He crossed his arms over his chest and scowled at her.

“I’m sorry, it’s just — what on earth were you doing?” She tried to suppress a grin.

“I was so sure she was a vampire,” he said, bewildered. “Very pale, you see. I ran in after her and she started screaming. I can assure you I had only your safety in mind.”

“Well that’s a relief.” Cordelia attempted to remain straight-faced. “I don’t think I could bring myself to shop for your present at ‘Dirty-Old-Men-R-Us’s House of Trenchcoats’.”

To her surprise, Wesley’s face lit up. “You’re buying me a Christmas present? I’m so touched.”

She smiled and nodded, regretting her runaway mouth for one of the few times in her life. Not only did she not have enough money for new underwear, now she didn’t have enough money for Wesley’s present either. What did stuffy English guys like, anyway? Bowler Hats? Umbrellas?

Angel’s voice broke her train of thought, as he stopped beside them. “I can’t find anything unusual.”

“Nor I. It would really help if we could interview one of the Santas — see if they’d noticed anything out of the ordinary,” Wesley said.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. “If the Santas were around to be interviewed, then Miriam over there wouldn’t need us in the first place.”

At the mention of her name, Miriam Saunders began to approach, her expression now a mixture of scepticism, expectation and hope.

“Perhaps we could hang around the next Santa, watch for — something,” Angel said with a marked lack of enthusiasm, like the last thing he wanted to do was return to the mall.

Miriam sighed; obviously realising they’d come up with nothing. “Finding a decent Santa at this time of year is going to be difficult, maybe impossible.”

“What about the last two, do you have their addresses?” Wesley asked.

She nodded. “We keep comprehensive records on all our Santas. You can’t be too careful these days, considering they have close contact with children. There’s a lot of weirdos about.” Her eyes narrowed at Wesley, who turned a vivid shade of pink again.

Cordelia wondered how she could ever have seen such a 007 quality in someone who turned out to be, well, just a 0 really.

Angel looked eager at the prospect of moving their investigation elsewhere. “If we could have their details, please, we’ll investigate their homes. Look for signs of foul play.”

“We’re not supposed to give that information out…” Miriam hesitated, perhaps still wary of revealing everything to three strangers, and then shrugged. “One can’t hurt, I guess. They’re back in the office.”

Angel turned so fast that his coat flew out in a wide arc behind him. For a split second Cordelia smiled as she remembered Doyle’s comment about how hot it made the vampire look. What did you call something that made you sad and happy all at once? Bittersweet?

Then she realized Angel was covering ground at significant pace, and took off at a jog to keep up.

***

Cordelia screwed up her nose in distaste as they drove along the dingy street. She studied the square of memo paper that Miriam had scrawled the name and address on. Bob Kowalczyk. Just another faceless victim in the procession of people who lost themselves in LA every day.

Shit, she’d spent too much time hanging around with Angel — now she was starting to think like him.

“Here, stop!” she shouted, snapping out of her reverie just in time to realize they were about to sail past Bob Kowalczyk’s apartment building. Cursing under his breath, Angel braked hard, sliding the back end of the Plymouth around and fishtailing slightly as he managed to make the driveway — just.

“Jeez, and you complain about my driving,” Cordelia muttered, climbing out into the parking area. Angel looked like he was about to protest, but just shook his head instead.

“Which one is it?” Wesley said, trying to extricate himself from the back seat and straighten his glasses at the same time.

She peered at the address again. “Apartment 10.”

“Over there,” Angel pointed to a ground floor dwelling. The lights were all on, and the door stood wide open.

They all gathered in the little covered porch, looking inside. Wesley took a small axe out of his jacket.

“Wesley, you took that to the mall?” Cordelia gasped.

“Shoppers can be brutal,” he replied in a hushed voice, stepping into the apartment with care, weapon at the ready. “I once got a black eye at the Harrods sale. Who knew that half-priced cashmere sweaters could turn people into complete maniacs?”

“Thank God the mall guards didn’t search you, or you’d been in jail by now,” she muttered, following close behind him.

Angel waved a hand in the doorway, and then slipped inside. “He’s dead.”

Cordelia’s skin prickled. “How can you tell?”

“I wouldn’t have been able to come in otherwise.”

She scanned the small, shabby room. It was a dump. Perhaps that was why, even with the front door wide open, it hadn’t been robbed. Nothing worth stealing.

The dining table was covered in what looked like bills. A Santa hat sat in forlorn solitude in the middle of the pile of envelopes and paper. The sofa looked like an over-cuddled teddy bear; you knew it used to have a pile to the fabric, but it had long since been worn away — yuck, by people’s butts — and now it was only visible in any great quantity on the cushion corners and along the top of the backrest.

An empty bottle of scotch lay on the floor in front of it. There were no signs of a struggle, no blood, no nothing.

“It looks like Bob owed quite a few people money,” Wesley said, leafing through some of the correspondence. “Perhaps someone came to collect on a debt.”

Cordelia took a wad from the table, and surveyed them with growing scepticism. “Somehow I don’t think the power company is in the habit of murdering their customers. Or California Bank & Trust. Or Visa. Or American Express. Or MasterCard…” she said, tossing each bill back on the pile as she went. “Boy, he owed a lot. Maybe he killed himself. Bills this big would make me pretty suicidal.”

“Not out of the question I guess,” Angel said, shrugging, his eyes scanning the room.

A cockroach scuttled across the floor. Since the plague in Cordelia’s old apartment, they freaked her out even more than usual.

She screamed, loud and long, bounding onto the couch, and making Wesley throw his handful of final demand notices in the air.

“Good Lord, Cordelia, it’s just an insect,” he chastised, as the bills fluttered to the floor around his feet — poor man’s confetti.

“I think I’ve got Post Dramatic Stress Disorder.” She slumped into a sitting position, then thought better of it, and stood up again, the old springs creaking in protest.

Wesley rolled his eyes. “That’s Post *Traumatic* Stress Disorder, and I very much doubt you have it.”

“Yeah, well you’re not the one having the big bug flashbacks,” she snapped, flapping her hands and looking around the floor to see where the disgusting thing had gone.

“I cannot believe that after all your years living on the Hellmouth, you place the common cockroach at the top of your list of scary things,” he said, shaking his head.

God, Wesley could be a pain in the ass. She took a deep, patient breath. “One: I happen to have had a very bad cockroach experience recently,” she said, “and two: they’re not *top* of the list. Roman sandals are. Especially worn over socks.”

“Guys, in here.” Angel popped his head out of the bathroom door. Cordelia shot Wesley her best aggrieved look, and went first, keeping an eye out for the cockroach.

As soon as she got in there, she wished she’d let him go ahead of her. The room reeked of mildew, and there was a nasty ring around the tub. She didn’t even want to look at the toilet.

“Yech. I don’t think anything demonic killed Bob. I think his own lack of personal hygiene did him in.” She wrinkled her nose.

“I can smell it,” Angel said, his nose twitching.

She rolled her eyes. “You and everyone for six blocks. Someone really should have introduced the guy to bleach.”

“Not the mildew. Fear,” Angel replied. “It’s stale, but still quite strong. He was terrified.”

“And now I’m so pleased I didn’t have time for dinner,” Cordelia said, turning and pushing her way back out, past Wesley.

She hesitated in the middle of the living room, wondering if she was safer in there with the cockroach, or outside with people from the lower socio-economic bracket.

Wait a second, she *was* the lower socio-economic bracket. Okay, now she was in serious danger of feeling sorry for herself again, and she’d decided against that. Suck it up, Cor, find some clues.

The front door still stood ajar, and she automatically went to close it. It had a bunch of locks on the back, all unbolted. She stared at them for a moment. There was no damage to the door — so the guy had let himself out, and left the door open. Must have been in a hurry. Angel said he smelled fear. Something had scared Bob Kowalczyk enough for him to bolt from his apartment and leave it wide open. Maybe it was the cockroach.

“I seem to have come up with more of nothing than usual,” Wesley said, as he and Angel emerged from the bathroom-from-the-black-lagoon.

“He ran out of here, scared out of his wits, and never came back,” Cordelia said, pointing to the door.

Angel appeared to take a deep breath. “No demons have been in here.”

“Ugh, enough with the bloodhound act,” she said, an involuntary shudder dancing down her back. “I just want to go home and take a shower.”

“I’ll call Miriam in the morning and tell her that Santa is dead,” Wesley said.

Santa is dead. God, it sounded so morbid. Cordelia sighed — what else could she have expected from spending Christmas with a tortured vampire and the world’s worst Watcher?

“Great, excellent, that’s settled then. Now can we go?” She headed for the door.

If anything else squicked her out tonight, this was going to gown down in history as the Christmas of Barfing.

Part 2

Posted July 8, 2015 by califi in Complete

The Case of the Missing Santas. 1   1 comment

Part 1: Wednesday, December 22, 1999

“What’s this?” Angel’s voice startled Cordelia.

Standing atop his desk, her balance was precarious, at best. Damn vampire, how could he be that big and still move around the place in complete silence?

“Jeez, Angel, stalk much?” She glared at him, wobbling on her heels, and losing her grip on the large piece of tinsel she was trying to attach to the ceiling. It coiled to the floor like a gaudy snake.

Standing, hands in pockets, in the doorway of the shadowy office, he looked more annoyed than when she’d dropped peanut butter in his bed. “What are you doing?”

“Well, duh, putting up the Christmas decorations,” she said, accepting his hand, and descending with as much grace as her skirt would allow. His deepening scowl indicated he could see the little crescent-shaped dents her stilettos had made in the mahogany desktop. Obviously he was unaware how trendy distressed wood was.

She moved to retrieve the tinsel, but Angel planted his boot on it. “Can we not?” he said, pointing towards the main office, where the dusty mid-afternoon sunlight filtered in slanting beams through the windows, causing a myriad of decorations to sparkle and shimmer.

“Angel, just because we’re poor doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate. This is my first Christmas in LA and I won’t have you brooding all over it.” Cordelia was pleased how steady her voice was, when her insides felt more like jello in an earthquake. This was going to be harder than she thought.

Last Christmas she was skiing in Aspen, wearing designer everything, getting bundles of money from her parents, and wasting altogether too much energy hating Xander Harris. It may have seemed like the worst Christmas ever, what with the broken heart and the hole in her guts, but this year felt twenty times worse. Fifty, maybe.

This Christmas she had no money, no family, and no friends — well, none that were actually alive.

And there it was again — the grief. Simmering under the false cheer, threatening to burst out at the worst possible moment. Her chest ached and her throat closed up. Damn you Doyle for leaving — and for leaving the visions. An ornament or a piece of jewellery would have been way more appropriate.

Maybe Angel sensed her melancholy, because he let out a long, audible sigh. “Christmas is just another reason for stores to con people into buying things they can’t afford, to give to people they don’t even like.”

Okay, Angel, way to spread the cheer. No, dammit, she would not let this get her down. They were going to have a nice Christmas, even if it killed her. And not even Angel could stand in the way of Cordelia Chase on a mission.

She tugged at the tinsel. “Listen to you, Ebenezer. Christmas is not just about presents. It’s also about eating yourself silly and drinking way too much. Though in your case, that’s the same thing, isn’t it? What do vampires do at Christmas? Drink a turkey? Can the undead get salmonella?”

Angel lifted his foot. That was easier than she thought. Round one to Queen C.

“Hello? Angel? Corde — oh there you are.” Wesley’s head appeared around the office door.

“Wesley.” Angel nodded towards the skinny Englishman.

“Hey, Wesley, how are the rogue demons?” Cordelia smiled, knowing her mockery of his self-imposed title drove him nuts.

“As I explained before, they’re not… Oh, super, Christmas decorations! May I help?”

“Give me strength,” Angel muttered. He took a deep breath, then another, and motioned to the doorway, his mouth setting in a grim line. “You can do what you like out there, but my office is a Christmas-free-zone.”

“Fine, party-pooper. Wesley and I will aaah!” Cordelia threw the piece of tinsel to the floor, one hand flying to her face. Oh, God, here it came. Brain-bender the second. And it was a hell of a lot more painful than brain-bender the first.

“We’ll what?” Wesley frowned. “Smack ourselves in the head?”

“No — she’s having a vision.” Angel’s voice became fuzzy and far away. Screaming pain cracked through her skull, the pressure building and pounding behind her eyes. They were gonna pop out, she was sure of it. Angel’s fingers closed over her shoulders, his touch barely registering in her howling brain as she crumpled to the floor.

Then came the images — fast and blurred, and it was hard to make them out. The place she saw was almost comforting in its familiarity. But something was very, very wrong. Cordelia’s heart hammered in her throat, her hands sweating and shaking, despair wrenching at her gut.

“Good heavens, it looks rather dramatic,” Wesley’s voice grew louder in her ears as the vision began to fade.

Cordelia opened her eyes gingerly. Angel was kneeling over her, his face contorted with about as much concern as she’d ever seen him express. She sucked in a deep breath. “Please tell me I’m not drooling.”

“No, no drool.” He reached up to his desk and caught a tissue between his fingers. “But, there’s — a thing…” He pointed to his nostril.

Oh, yay, now she was shooting stuff out her nose. She felt a pang of nostalgia for the drooling as she accepted the tissue, noting with gratitude that Angel and Wesley were both pretending to be interested in other parts of the room.

After a few moments of blowing and wiping, she felt strong enough to sit up.

Angel sat back on his heels. “Could you make anything out?”

She knew where it was now — the place she’d seen. “The mall”.

“Demons are attacking the mall?” Wesley sounded excited.

“I don’t know,” she said, vaguely annoyed that the source of her pain seemed to be making him so darn cheerful. “All I saw was the mall and Santa’s grotto. It was empty.”

“The mall?” Angel helped her to stand.

She shot him an irritated glance before pulling her arm away. “No dumbass, the grotto. We have to go and check it out. Someone was really, really scared. Oh, God, I felt it, Angel. I felt someone’s feelings…” Now she was shaking. Doyle had never mentioned anything about feel-o-vision. It truly, monumentally sucked.

“It’s okay, we’ll sort it out. Coming, Wesley?” Angel grabbed for his car keys.

***

The thought of the mall terrified Angel. Everything he despised under one roof — crowds, commercialism, mirrored walls — and Muzak. Plus, his last mall visit had contained just a little too much rocket launcher for his liking. A shudder jolted down his back as he huddled under the blanket in the back seat of the Plymouth. If it hadn’t been for the anguish in Cordelia’s voice, he would have been tempted to send Wesley alone. And he wouldn’t have caved when she insisted on driving.

The tires squealed as they took a corner too fast. “Cordelia, please be careful,” he moaned, his stomach lurching along with the car.

“Would you rather drive? Oh, that’s right, you can’t, what with the setting sun shining in the windows,” she snapped. “I’m doing the best I can. This thing handles like a tank.”

Angel made a mental note to limit Cordelia’s use of his car to emergencies. They screeched around another corner. Make that life or death emergencies.

“Look at that. Why does everyone leave their shopping to the last minute?” Wesley said. “I always have my Christmas shopping done by Aug-argh!”

Angel could only guess that Wesley’s head had collided with the raised roof of the convertible, as they bounced over a speed hump. “Cordy,” he grunted.

“Keep your fangs on,” she said. “I’m used to driving cars that actually have shock absorbers.”

Mental note number two. Avoid arguing with post-vision Cordelia.

“You’ll be driving one missing half its transmission in a minute,” Wesley said. “Okay, Angel, we’re in.”

“Thank God.” Angel discarded the blanket and sat up. “I’m driving home.”

Wesley turned around in his seat. “Sunset’s over an hour away.”

Angel took a deep breath to calm his churning stomach. “Then we’ll kill time.”

***

Angel emerged from the elevator into his own private hell.

The mall consisted of five levels. The center of the building was an atrium, through which something charitably described as a sculpture thrust its way towards the domed glass roof. Stores ringed each level, and the pedestrian areas were decorated with mirrored pillars and potted shrubbery. Every available surface and window was festooned with wreaths, tinsel, glass baubles and lights that flashed in a multitude of colours and patterns.

And it was *busy*. Shoppers moved as one huge, amorphous blob, ebbing and flowing from store to store. Angel figured it was probably normal, being three days before Christmas. Or maybe it was always this crowded. He tended to avoid anywhere that teemed with this much humanity.

Being here was causing him more discomfort than the Wrentarth talon that Cordelia and Doyle had dug out of from between his shoulder blades last month.

Someone bumped him as they bustled past, barely glancing up to apologize. The tense atmosphere was aggravating his already anxious state. He could smell the frustration. It oozed off people as they hurried about, struggling to move through the crowds.

The carols blaring from tinny speakers proclaimed this was a time for peace and goodwill. A time to celebrate with family and friends. A time to be full and happy and generous. Yet all he saw was people too stressed to smile at each other.

He *had* liked Christmas, a long time ago. The memory of sweet little Kathy was still vivid. She would help their mother re-set the table, on Christmas Eve, after their evening meal had been cleared away. Together, they would place the traditional loaf of caraway seed and raisin bread on it, alongside a pitcher of milk and a candle. He always tried to sneak a bit of the bread. His mother always caught him.

He and Darla had made their own traditions. They’d dressed in fine clothes; sauntered about whichever town they were in, finding gifts for each other. Some were purchased, some were stolen, some were killed. They had enjoyed themselves, in their own way.

Drusilla had loved it best of all. Her favourite game was to sneak up on a group of carollers — see if she could snatch someone away, unnoticed, and drain them before the song had ended. The strains of something pseudo-traditional caught his ear, dragging him back to the dark, lamp-lit streets, laughing as he watched her pick out victims like candy from a shop window. He could almost smell the blood, and his stomach twisted and yawned with familiar need.

And then came the nausea and self-abhorrence that had filled so many Christmases since — the ones spent laying in gutters, filthy and awash with despair — and the sharp memory of standing on the ridge in Sunnydale, waiting for the sun to take him.

Coming here was a bad idea.

“Oh my God!” Cordelia squealed, startling him.

Wesley tensed, his eyes lighting with anticipation. “What is it? Do you see something from your vision?”

“Victoria’s Secret. We *have* to go in!” she clapped her hands and dashed into a shop.

“Cordelia, this is no time for shopping,” Wesley called. She didn’t turn around, disappearing into the sea of undergarments. He sighed. “I guess we should go in and wait for her.”

Angel nodded. The last thing he wanted was for them all to split up. He didn’t trust his reactions, alone in this place. Plus, they had about an hour up their sleeves. How long could this small diversion possibly take?

***

Angel glanced over at Wesley, his impatience growing. “Time?”

“Two minutes after you last asked.” Wesley sounded more than a little irritated. He was also quite pink in the face, apparently embarrassed by their proximity to women’s intimate apparel.

Angel shifted in his seat, and felt his anxiety crank up another notch. Thank goodness he didn’t have any blood pressure, or it would have been going through the roof now. “That makes twenty minutes. Do you think she’s all right? Maybe she had a vision, and fell, or something attacked her in there…”

“I’m sure she’s fine,” Wesley said, through gritted teeth.

Another bored-looking man, seated at the far side of the waiting area, smiled at them. “Women, huh?”

“Quite.” Wesley nodded, keeping his eyes fixed on his feet.

This, then, was obviously normal. Angel breathed a sigh of relief. Of course — that man had been there at least as long as him and Wesley. Angel felt an unusual sense of solidarity with him, and managed a smile and a nod in the man’s direction.

Another few minutes passed. Angel’s normal ability to sit and contemplate the universe seemed to have deserted him. The whole vibe of the mall made him too tense. Perhaps a quick circuit of the store was in order, just to make sure nothing demonic was going on. He stood up, and then sat down, and then stood up again. “I’m going to look around a bit. Wesley?”

“Er, no, thank you, I’ll just wait here until one of you returns,” Wesley replied, still staring with immense interest at the floor.

Angel wandered about the store, relieved to be doing *something*, and marvelling at how women’s corsetry had changed over the years. He’d seen his fair share of it. Gone were the bones and cruel, pinching corsets that Darla had laced herself into, and he had frequently torn off her. This stuff was light, lacy, and he guessed much more comfortable — and easier to remove. He reached out to feel a floral-patterned bra, and his fingers pressed against the underwire. Okay, so maybe not that much more comfortable…

“Can I help you sir?” A woman’s voice startled him.

“Uh, no, I’m — just looking.” He snatched his hand away, wondering if he looked as guilty as he felt — a pervert fondling the underwear.

“Something for your girlfriend?” she said, persistent. “We have a lovely range of camisoles, if you’re not sure of her cup size.”

“Cup size?” Angel looked around for a means of escape, his stomach knotting. Racks of coloured silk and lace loomed around him like a maze. He was out of his depth. He didn’t belong here, amongst these people, and this new-fangled corsetry that he didn’t understand.

The woman looked at him with undisguised pity. “Okay, maybe we’d better try nightwear. I can show you something in a nice mauve satin.”

“No!” he barked, and then held up his hands when she jumped and pressed her fingers to her mouth, shocked. “I’m sorry, I — I’m just waiting for a friend.”

She backed away. “Well, why don’t you go sit in the waiting area, sir?”

“Of course, sorry.” He nodded, relieved to be off the hook. Turning his back on the startled woman, he hurried back to the safety of the changing rooms.

As Angel neared the place where he’d left Wesley, the sound of a commotion caught his attention.

“I can assure you that’s not what I was doing.” Wesley’s voice grew louder as he appeared around the corner, flanked by two security guards. “Angel, help me!” he said, at their eyes met.

“What happened?” Angel asked, holding out a hand to stall the men.

“We caught your friend here trying to get into the women’s changing rooms,” one of them said.

Wesley frowned. “I was just trying to see if Cordelia was all right,” and then he mouthed ‘vampire’, motioning towards the changing rooms with his eyes.

Angel inhaled, taking in the scents around him. Humans, perfume, a little sweat. No vampire. He shook his head.

“Ah, well, there you go,” Wesley muttered, drooping a little.

“Where are you taking him?” Angel addressed his query to the other guard.

“Manager’s office. C’mon pal,” the man said, pulling on Wesley’s elbow.

***

Cordelia checked she was buttoned up correctly, and gathered the assortment of bras and panties she’d tried on. Once, she would have considered wearing Victoria’s Secret as a lowering of her standards. These days, her budget was too tight even for these prices. Her old stuff would just have to hold together a little longer, because she sure as hell wasn’t going to stoop to cheap and nasty.

When she entered the store, she’d been consumed with the thought that just trying on new stuff would make her feel better. But all it had done was depress her more. Window-shopping was a soul-destroying experience — one she figured she’d never get used to. She missed the dainty little bags and things wrapped in tissue paper. Coming away from a shop empty-handed defied the natural order of the universe.

She emerged from the changing rooms to find Angel, standing awkwardly, hands deep in the pockets of his duster. His expression changed from near-panic to relief when he spotted her.

“Hey, Angel,” she said, glancing around. “Where’s Wesley?”

“Store security took him away,” he said, looking miserable again.

Her eyes widened with surprise. “Oh, is that what the commotion was? Boy, you can’t take him anywhere. I didn’t pick Wesley as a pervert.”

“He thought there was a vampire in the changing rooms.”

She stiffened, and he must have noticed, because he added, “Don’t worry, there’s nothing here. I’d sense it if there was.”

She began to chuckle, despite herself. This could only happen to *her* in a mall. “I guess we should go rescue him.”

“Guess we should.”

Cordelia approached the changing-room assistant and handed over the things she’d tried on. “Thanks, I’ll leave these for today.” She held back one bra, a gorgeous azure floral pattern. Just one thing. It would make all the difference if she could only have this. But that would leave her without enough money for next week’s food. Sighing, she added it to the pile.

“You’re not buying anything?” Angel asked, looking confused.

She put on her biggest fake smile. “No, didn’t really like any of it.”

“And it took you thirty minutes to come to that conclusion?” he muttered, falling in behind her as she headed for the doors.

“Hey, you wanted to kill time,” she said, wanting to put as much distance between her and the blue satin as possible, before her resolve crumbled.

Continue

Posted July 8, 2015 by califi in Complete

The Case of the Missing Santas. Prol   Leave a comment

Title: The Case Of The Missing Santas
Author: Little Heaven
Posted: 06/03
Email
Rating: G
Category: ATS 1 or 2
Content:
Summary: Cordelia’s first Christmas is LA isn’t turning out the way it was supposed to.
Spoilers:
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: Please ask.
Notes: Season 1, set between “Parting Gifts” and “Somnambulist”.
Thanks/Dedication: Thanks to Kelley and Laurie for the beta, and to the Angel Fanfic Workshop.
Feedback:


Prologue: Monday, December 20, 1999.

Bob locked his apartment door behind him. Then he fastened the deadbolt. And put on the chain. Reaching down, he slid the last two bolts into place, and gave the doorknob a small, sharp twist, just to be sure.

Heaving a sigh of relief, he kicked off his black, shiny boots and slipped the red felt hat from his head, tossing it onto the cluttered dining room table, where it sat like a big red exclamation mark amongst the final demand letters and disconnection notices.

Still five days to go until Christmas and already he was exhausted. Every year he promised himself that this one would be the last. This year it absolutely *would* be, no question. He was getting too old for this shit.

As he sat down on the threadbare sofa and removed his white beard, the feeling of unease that had followed him home crept over him again. Bad time of year to quit smoking, he thought, reaching for the almost-finished bottle of scotch on the coffee table. He drained the remainder of the liquor in one swig and rested the empty vessel on his padded stomach, the glass clinking against the gold buckle of his black patent leather belt.

God, he was so tired. Maybe he’d caught something from one of the hundreds of children who’d clambered into his lap over the last few days. Enough of them had been snotty-nosed. Maybe if he closed his eyes for a moment, just to muster enough energy to get out of the damned prickly red suit…

The bottle hitting the floor woke him with a start. He must have dozed off completely, and now he felt truly awful. Perhaps some aspirin would help.

Bob stumbled into the bathroom, the long legs of his Santa suit almost tripping him as he made his way to the medicine cabinet on the wall. He opened the mirrored door, and then slammed it shut, with a gasp, leaving the aspirin and all the other contents untouched.

Jesus Christ, he couldn’t see himself! He looked wildly around the small tiled room. Everything else appeared normal. He held up a hand in front of his face. Nothing — no red sleeve, no chewed fingernails… He pressed his palm against the deteriorating mirror, and it made a misty halo on the cool glass. When he withdrew it, a few greasy fingerprints remained.

Shit — maybe he was dead! It was the only explanation. Dead. Oh God oh God oh God… His stomach clenched and he grabbed for the sink with trembling hands. This couldn’t be happening.

What if he was a *ghost*? Could he walk through things? Bob charged at the wall, and there was a resounding crash as he cannoned into it, almost knocking himself senseless. It hurt, and threw his ghost theory out the window. Little beads of cold terror-sweat trickled down the back of his neck. What the hell was going on?

Maybe it was just him that couldn’t see — himself. Some sort of selective hysterical blindness maybe? He needed someone else to see him. Anyone just to smile and nod; acknowledge his presence. He dashed for the door, fumbling with the locks and chain, and finally out into the courtyard of the apartment building.

Nobody was there.

“Hello, anybody?” he yelled, his voice bordering on hysteria as it echoed off the buildings around him. With a small, strangled noise of desperation, he began running towards the street, the adrenaline of total terror overriding his fatigue.

He burst from the car park, onto the sidewalk, and down the road, past his grimy apartment building and the poorly maintained houses of his neighbours. Gathering speed despite his cumbersome clothing, he bolted between the broken-down Ford pickup that sat on blocks, and a rusty Buick, and out into the street.

There, at the corner of the block, was a group of people, walking home from their Christmas shopping, arms full of bags and parcels. He stumbled towards them.

“Hey, you there!” he shouted, waving his arms. The people looked around, startled. One shrugged and they continued walking, a little faster than before. “Look at me!” Bob screamed. He was now only about 20 feet from them, standing in the middle of the road. He should have been a very visible, odd sight, in his red suit, leaping about in the street like a lunatic.

“Where the hell is that coming from?” One of the men looked straight past, or rather through, Bob.

“I don’t know, but it’s freaking me out.” A woman clutched her bags closer to her body, and the group began to hurry off.

Bob stood there, incredulous. They couldn’t see him either. God-in-heaven, what had happened to him? He turned and fled into the night.

Part 1 

Posted July 8, 2015 by califi in Complete

Deluge.   1 comment

Title: Deluge
Author: Little Heaven          
deluge ficpic
Posted: 12/03
Email
Rating: NC-17
Category: Angst, smut
Content: C/A
Summary: Cordelia wasn’t into feeling sorry for herself. Angel could brood and angst all he liked – he had eternity to do it. She didn’t have the luxury of time anymore.
Spoilers: Through Birthday, Season Three.
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: Just Fic, GT. Anyone else, just ask.
Notes: Set after That Vision Thing, Season Three. Psychofilly wanted smut, on the hood of a car, in the rain, on the worst day of Cordelia’s life. Here it is, babe.
Thanks/Dedication: Big hugs to Queen Mab and Starlet2367 for the beta.
Feedback: Please!


The sky above L.A. churned and boiled, a dark seething mass. The air was heavy and humid, and the sticky breeze carried the smell of rain and ozone.

Cordelia glanced up at the oppressive bank of clouds. They matched her black, depressed mood. “Stupid doctors,” she muttered. “Stupid scans.”

What did they know, anyway? She was pretty certain none of them had ever treated a seer before. She hadn’t even told them about the visions. That would be a one-way ticket to the loony bin, which she *so* didn’t need on top of everything else. Specialists or not, those doctors were used to dealing with normal people, normal problems – not conduits for the PTB. How could they be so sure they were right?

So bits of her brain were dying. Big whoop. People only used, like, three percent of their brain. That left plenty to keep her alive. Longer than the four months they’d predicted, anyway.

Hot tears stung her eyes, and she blinked hard. Lose focus in the LA traffic and she wouldn’t have to wait for her brain to leak out her ears. For a second she wondered what it would be like, to just drive straight at a wall. Would it hurt?

“For Christ’s sake, get a grip. You’re not Buffy. Suicide is for losers.” Or for Slayers trying to close a doorway to hell. Cordelia was neither of those things. She was Vision Girl, and she wasn’t leaving. Not yet.

The first drops of rain spat against the windshield as she parked outside her building. She snatched up her purse, and the envelope full of pictures of her failing brain, and ran for the entrance.

Dennis swung her apartment door open, greeting her with a ruffle of her hair, a worried nudge of the papers in her hand.

“Yeah, it’s bad,” she sighed, acknowledging his concern.

She felt his presence drift away, and then heard the squeak of taps and the sound of running water in the bathroom. He knew the drill. That she didn’t want Angel to smell the hospital on her. Whenever she returned from an appointment, Dennis always drew her bath, drizzled perfumed oils into the water, and stood – or floated – waiting, with a big, fluffy towel. God, she loved her ghost.

She went to her room, kneeled beside the bed, and pulled the large plastic box from the dark recesses beneath. The pill bottles clacked and rattled, and she leaned her forehead on the mattress, squeezing her eyes shut.

Rain tapped against the window, breaking into her thoughts. She took a deep breath, slotted the latest set of scans into the box, and shoved it back under the bed. Way, way back, like the further she pushed it out of sight, the less real it became.

The bed shook a little. “No peeking, Dennis,” she sighed, knowing full well that as soon as she left the apartment, he’d be under there, nosing through the reports and letters.

She shed her clothes, dropping them into the hamper, and went into the bathroom. Carefully she dipped one foot into the steaming, foamy water, waited for her skin to adjust to the heat, then slid her whole leg in. Bit by bit, she eased herself into the water, until she was submerged to her neck. Closing her eyes, she lay back.

In quiet moments like these, she could hear the noise going on in her head, a dull roar that never fully receded. Drumming on the inside of her skull like the rain drumming on her bedroom window.

Cordelia wasn’t into feeling sorry for herself. God knew she had plenty of reasons to, but it was such a waste of time. Angel could brood and angst all he liked – he had eternity to do it. She didn’t have the luxury of time anymore.

The doctors had been telling her she was dying for a long time now. No big deal. Everyone was dying. And in Sunnydale, the likelihood of it being sooner rather than later was pretty high. But there had always been hope. Hope that the visions would get less painful. Hope that the damage would level off.

Today was the first time they’d taken that away. Today they said when. Four months. One hundred and twenty-odd days.

It wasn’t enough time.

Cordy felt a washcloth dab the corner of her eye, and realized she was crying. “Thanks, Dennis,” she sniffed, swiping impatiently at her nose. She wasn’t going to waste any more time on self-pity. She was going to wash the smell of disinfectant and sick people out of her hair, get dressed, and go into work to fight the good fight.

Her body ached at the thought.

The more she dwelled on it, the more she was overwhelmed by the urge to slip into her sweats, and spend the evening with Dennis, the TV, and a large tub of something fattening. “Not like I need to watch my figure,” she murmured. Maybe some rest would help. God knew, she needed it.

The water went from scalding to tepid. Cordelia examined her wrinkled fingertips, and climbed out of the bath. Her skin tingled as Dennis smothered her in a towel, and began to dry her back.

“Thanks, Dennis, I got it.” She half-smiled, grasping the corners of the terry-cloth, finishing the job herself. He fluttered away, and moments later her pyjama bottoms and an old, soft t-shirt bobbed through the air, landing at her feet. Her resolve crumbled. “Okay, we’ll have an evening in. It’s perfect weather for it,” she added as a gust of wind made the rain splatter on the pane before resuming its gentle tap-tap-tap.

Cordelia dressed, poked her feet into her slippers, and wandered into the living room. No more thinking about dying, or visions, or work; just a cozy evening on the sofa, eating ice-cream and watching movies. For now, all she wanted was to indulge in the comforts of life; make the most of it.

“Better call Wes,” she sighed, picking up the phone. As her finger hovered over the buttons, a knock on the door made her jump.

“Cordy?” Angel’s voice was low, worried.

She rolled her eyes, cradled the phone, and went to the door.

Angel stood in the entrance, looking like a drowned rat. His hair sat flat on his head, little rivers of water coursing from each collapsed spike, and running down his face and neck.

If she weren’t so annoyed, she would have laughed. “What are you doing here?”

“When I woke up, you weren’t there. Nobody knew where you were. I was worried that you’d had a vision, fallen down…” he said, shuffling from foot to foot. Water trickled down the furrow between his brows, along the bridge of his nose to the tip, and hung there.

“Wes gave me time off for an audition. Didn’t he tell you?” She stood aside to let him in. A small towel drifted from the bedroom, and she snatched it out of the air, shoving it at Angel.

He began rubbing at his hair. “He was out on a book-finding mission or something. Guess he didn’t tell anyone before he left.”

“Well, as you can see, I’m fine,” she said, with a smile that felt forced and fake.

Angel’s eyes narrowed. “So why are you in your pyjamas?”

“Oh, uh, I decided to take the day off. I think I’m getting a cold,” Cordelia replied.

“See, I knew something was wrong. I…”

Angel’s words began to blur and fade.

“Oh, God,” she gasped, feeling her knees give way. Pain bloomed behind her eyes, and the world fell to pieces.

She could see it – something huge and scaly – emerging from rocky ground. The smell was overpowering, making her lungs burn and her eyes water. The creature shook the dirt off, and began to hunt. It was going to rip and tear and devour…

“Cordy? It’s okay, I’m here,” Angel’s voice phased back in.

She dragged in a breath, then another, and opened her eyes. She was in his lap, his arms around her, her face pressed to his chest. “Ew, you’re all damp.”

He pulled away just far enough to look at her. “What was it?”

“Big, yellow, scaly. Smelled like rotten eggs. Phew, that thing really needs a good deodorant.” She wrinkled her nose.

“Sulphur demon.” He nodded.

Panic flooded through her, mixing with the dizziness and nausea. “Angel, we have to go. Now.”

“You should stay…”

“You’ll need me for directions.” She grasped his jacket lapels, used him to pull herself up. Her head pounded and throbbed – the Seltrex that already saturated her system barely took the edge off.

Angel hesitated by the door. “Your clothes…”

She grabbed a sweatshirt off the sofa. “No time. Please, before it’s too late.”

***

The lights of LA trailed far behind them as they swept along Highway 1. Cordelia felt her head begin to nod, lulled by pain, the hum of tires, rain on the roof, and the steady swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the wiper blades.

“Stay with me, Cordy,” Angel said, shooting her a sideways glance. “Are we close?”

“Mmmm. Just resting my eyes,” she said, a yawn cracking her jaw. She hadn’t recognised the place in her vision, she just knew it was out here somewhere. A creeping sensation in her spine, that tingled stronger and stronger as they got closer.

They were in the middle of nowhere now. Rocky canyons loomed large to their right, dark, forbidding shapes in the murk and mist.

“Here!” Cordelia shouted, every nerve in her body waking and screaming at her in symphony.

Angel pulled hard on the wheel, and the back end of the car shot out on the slippery asphalt. He tweaked it the other way, corrected the slide, and shot forward into the little side-road. Cordy’s skin prickled, her heart pounding. They were close now. Closer.

The headlights were twin arms of white, reaching through the blanket of rain. Shiny, wet rock rose up on either side of the car.

Angel braked hard, killed the engine, flicked off the lights. His body tensed, and she could sense his anticipation.

“It’s here,” he said.

She didn’t have to be a vampire to smell it. The acrid stench of sulphur curled in through the car’s vents, making her cough. “Should have brought a can of Glade,” she spluttered, pulling the neck of her sweatshirt up to cover her nose and mouth.

A deep rumble made them both jump. The car vibrated and shuddered.

“That can’t be good,” Angel said, reaching into the back seat for his broadsword. “Stay in the car.”

“But…”

“Cordy,” he growled.

The car shook again, the ground on which they were parked trembling beneath them.

A fountain of rock and dirt erupted off to the left. A few stones pinged off the Plymouth’s trunk and roof, and Angel flung his door open and launched himself into the deluge.

“Oh, crap,” Cordelia grumbled, crawling across to the driver’s seat to get a better look. Through the storm she could just make out the creature from her vision, and Angel, rolling through the puddles in a flurry of limbs and sword and claws and fangs. The glass was misting over, and she wiped it with her sleeve. Now she couldn’t see either of them.

She sat in the car, holding her sweatshirt over her nose, peering through the gloom. Nothing moved, except the rain, sheeting down, bouncing off the rocks and exploding into white spray. Her ears were filled with the roar of water on metal and glass.

Cordy took a deep breath, uncovered her mouth, cracked the window and hollered, “Angel!”

She strained her ears, trying to pick up anything above the din that would indicate he was okay. The stink was overwhelming, and her eyes burned and watered. Just as she was about to wind up the window, Angel’s cry cut the air.

“Dammit!” she cursed, reaching for the trunk release lever. It popped open with a loud clunk. If she was gonna die, it may as well be doing something stupidly heroic.

Cordelia dashed from the driver’s door, skidding on wet gravel as she rounded the end of the car, yanking the trunk open. Thank God, there was a small armory of weapons there. No crossbow, which she would have preferred, but a lethal-looking axe glinted at the bottom of the pile, and she pulled it free, welcoming the heavy feel of it in her hand.

She was soaked to the skin already, and the sulphur made her choke. She could barely see through the water dripping over her smarting eyes.

A low growl came from behind. Cordy spun, axe ready, just as Angel’s body flew through the air, smacking into the rock wall with a sickening crack. Her throat was on fire now; the air rushing into her lungs felt like broken glass. Through tears and rain she could just make out the yellow beast, leaning over Angel, one clawed arm raised for the kill.

“You stinky, gross, disgusting – thing!” she screamed, breaking into a run.

“Cordy, no!” Angel shouted.

She swung hard, felt the blade of the axe sink deep into the creature’s back, then a sucking sensation as it pulled back out. The Sulphur Demon toppled forward, and Angel rolled, getting out of its way. As it hit the ground, a big spurt of yellow goo squirted from the wound, splattering the front of Cordy’s pyjama pants and sweatshirt.

Cordy wanted to shout in triumph, something witty, yet abrasive – but she couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe for the fumes rising from the dead demon. She stumbled back a few steps, the axe falling to the ground.

Angel staggered to his feet, lurched towards her. What the hell was he doing? He grabbed the neck of her sweatshirt, tore it right down the front, and flung it aside.

“Pants! Take them off!” he yelled above the roar of water and wind.

“What’s your damage?” she gasped, staring at the tattered remains of her top. Smoke began to rise from the material.

“The blood – it’s sulphuric acid, Cordy!”

He snatched at the sides of her pants, yanked them down her legs. Already they were smoking, holes beginning to appear. With a scream, she kicked them off. Her slippers went flying. Oh God, some of the goo was on her skin…

And then the world turned upside-down. Sky and rock and ground and rain all rolling past as Angel slammed into her, tackling her into a huge puddle.

“Stay still,” he shouted, falling on his knees beside her. He started scooping up water in his hands, splashing it over her legs and arms, frantically trying to wash her down.

God, this was horrible. Sitting in a puddle, in her t-shirt and panties, in the middle of nowhere, while Angel threw cold water all over her. And she was dying. Officially, the day had sunk to its lowest point. It had achieved maximum suck.

Cordy took a deep breath. They were upwind of the demon, away from the worst of the smell, and the cool, damp air was soothing as it went down. Her skin wasn’t blistering or smoking, which had to be good.

Angel was moving like a man possessed, running trembling hands up and down her legs and arms.

She reached down to stop him. “Angel, I’m okay.” More splashing. “Really, Angel. Stop.” She curled her fingers with his, squeezing tight.

When he looked up at her, his dark eyes said it all. Fear, desperation, urgency. He was scared. Realization slapped her with an open hand.

He was scared of losing her.

Cordelia hadn’t thought for one minute what her death would do to Angel. Well, she’d wondered how he’d deal, without the visions to guide him. But she’d never considered he’d look like – well, this. The same way he looked when he found out about Buffy.

And, out of all the day’s sucky things, it was the one that really broke her heart.

She wanted to say something, anything, to snap them out of the trance. Nothing would come out, the big lump in her throat like a cork in a bottle, keeping the words down. They just stared at each other. The hair on her arms raised.

A thin tendril of smoke curled past Cordy’s face. She followed Angel’s eyes as they flicked downwards. To the yellow splotch seeping through the front of her t-shirt.

The stopper gave way, and a scream tore loose from her throat. Angel moved, fast. His hands fisted in the hem of her shirt, and there was a sharp ripping noise as the fabric gave way, tearing from hem to neck. He stripped it from her arms and tossed it away.

Okay, she was wrong, before, about the maximum suck. Because then, she hadn’t been topless.

“Hey!” She slapped Angel’s arm. “Don’t stare! Pervert.”

He stood up, plunged his hands into his pockets, looked at the rocks, at the car, at his boots. “Sorry.”

Cordy struggled to her feet, cupped her hands over her breasts. Stood shivering as the rain battered down. “Do you think we got it all off? The acid, I mean. Not my clothes.”

“Uh, I think so. We should, y’know, check,” he said.

As much as Cordy cringed at the thought, it was gonna have to be him. Her eyes still burned and watered from the sulphuric gasses. He had super-vamp-vision. And she really wanted to *not* start dissolving on the way home.

Angel took a deep breath. “Okay.” He put his hands on her shoulders, manoeuvred her to a spot in front of the car. “Sit here.”

“Can you see all right?” she asked, as he crouched before her, taking one leg in both hands.

“Vampire, remember?” he replied, running his fingers up the curve of her heel, twisting her leg left and right, staring at it intensely.

She frowned at him, his face just visible in the blue-grey light that reflected down off the clouds. “Then why are you squinting?”

He glanced up for a second, before resuming his inspection. “I just want to make sure there’s none left anywhere. Even the smallest speck could bore a hole in your skin, given long enough.”

“What a happy thought,” she muttered, making sure her breasts were still completely out of sight behind her hands, and trying not to slip off the hood as he raised her leg higher. His cool fingers traced lines in the water that trickled in rivulets down her thigh.

A jolt ran up her leg, arrowing straight to her core, and she gasped.

His eyes snapped up. “Okay?”

“Uh-huh.”Cordy nodded. Tried to ignore the slow, hot throb that began as he ran the palm of his hand up the inside of her other leg.

What the hell just happened? One touch from him, and suddenly she was all “hello salty goodness.” It was a long time since she’d thought of him like that. She needed to get a grip. Perhaps the sulphur fumes had fried what was left of her brain.

She turned her head, stared at the ground, tried to think of anything other than the feel of the rain and Angel’s fingers on her back, her arms…

He reached her wrist, and his thumb accidentally brushed the underside of her breast. The heat in her belly exploded, swamped her entire body. Crap, crap, crap…

“I’m sorry.” He jerked his hand away.

“It’s…” She glanced back at him. His face was shocked and tight, and his nostrils flared as he took a deep, hitching breath.

Oh, God, he could smell her. Smell how much she wanted him. Her body was screaming it, and she could tell by the way he was trembling, he was getting the message loud and clear.

And suddenly, she wasn’t embarrassed. She was dying, and the time for childishness like that was over. Now was the time for taking what little life had to offer with both hands. Finding happiness where she could. She wanted…

“Cordy?” Angel gasped, as she dropped her hands, exposing herself to him. He shucked off his duster, held it out to her, as if it would shield him from the attraction arcing between them.

“Don’t,” she said, and the word came out low and hoarse. She took the coat and dropped it behind her on the hood. “Just…” she took his hand, placed it over her breast, arched into his touch.

His arm trembled. She could see the inner struggle. Watched the conflict on his face.

“Cordy, we shouldn’t,” he murmured, but his thumb moved, sweeping across wet skin.

“Please,” she said on a sigh. He took a faltering step towards her, closing the space between them, and then his body was against hers, arms circling her, easing her down onto the car. His lips grazed her cheek, the tip of her nose, her mouth.

The damp wool of his sweater was rough against her nipples, his sopping trousers cold between her knees, and the hood of the car warm on her back. A thousand different sensations assaulted her. His kiss, deep and dark and needy. The smell of wet earth and rain. The sound of wind and distant thunder.

The insistent nudge against her thigh as he got hard. Harder.

Cordy curled her fingers in the hem of his sweater, worked her hands underneath, found his back. He was cool, but warming, as he absorbed her heat – and the car’s. She drew her nails up his back, tugging the heavy fabric as she went. A rumble vibrated through his chest, an echo of the storm above them, and he broke their kiss to strip the sweater free. It made a soggy ‘slap’ as it hit the ground.

His chest was a pale expanse of hard muscle and gooseflesh. She grasped his shoulders, lifted her head and licked his collarbone. The rain was sweet and cool on her tongue.

“Cordy,” he whispered, nipping her bottom lip. He pushed her back, his crumpled coat a pillow for her head, and slipped lower. He followed the drops running down her neck, his lips and tongue chasing the little rivers of water, as gravity guided them between her breasts.

She curled her fingers in his hair, gasped as his mouth closed over a nipple. The gentle tug of teeth had her glowing, burning up from the inside. She was sure if she opened her eyes, steam would be rising from her skin.

He was on the move again, tongue rough on her stomach. His hands crept up the backs of her legs, lifted them, slung her knees over his shoulders. She could feel his mouth working lower, skirting the edge of her panties. Then he stopped.

“Angel,” she gasped.

He raised his head. “Are you sure?” His voice was gruff, sexy.

She was more sure of this than anything in her life. Sure that she wanted to share something this tender and intimate with someone who cared for her. Someone who didn’t just want to impregnate her with demon spawn. Angel. Her best friend.

It might be her last chance.

She pushed his head down, and felt his fingers curl into the waistband of her panties. There was a sharp snap, the sting of elastic against her hip, and then they were gone. She was open to him, to the elements. The air felt cold against her heated flesh.

He buried his face between her legs, and she felt his chest rise as he breathed deep, and realised with a primal thrill that he was scenting her, like a wolf scents his prey.

Angel. The wolf. The comparison scared her, excited her. Danger and magic and sex. The thought alone almost tipped her over the edge.

And then his tongue was there, plundering her, taking her to a place she’d only dreamed of. Cool fingers pinched her hips, tilting her, snaking around to the small of her back, lifting her, increasing the pressure. Her ears began to hum, her limbs buzzed, and the spark started from deep within and cascaded outwards.

Her cry echoed off the rocky walls, and dissolved into the night.

She breathed deep, let her orgasm fade, opened her eyes and smiled at Angel. He was hovering above her, elbows resting on the car, fingers trailing across her breasts, her face.

She remembered the strong press of his cock against her leg, and the desire began to spiral again. She reached between them, hooked her finger in his belt. “Can we?”

“If you want to,” he said, smoothing her wet hair back from her face.

That wasn’t what she meant. “Is it – safe?”

He nodded.

Of course, there was no way he could get perfectly happy here. He didn’t love her. The person he loved was dead. He knew his limits, and she trusted him not to exceed them. She trusted him with her life — what little there was left of it.

With a sharp tug, she had the leather strap out of the buckle. He helped her, sliding the belt out of the material loops. It jangled to the ground. A flick of his fingers had the button on his pants undone, and she grabbed the zipper, yanking it down, pushing against the sides of his legs with her feet until the trousers dropped to his knees.

He wore boxers, and she sat up to put her fingers in the waistband at the back. She slid them lower, grabbed his ass. God, the muscle there was so hard. Like the column of his cock, pressing into her stomach as she leaned into him. His hips rocked, rubbing it against her.

Cordy shivered, pulled away and dragged the boxers down. He sprang free, and she grabbed him with one hand, marvelling at the heat he was exuding. He twitched in her palm, and she felt tremors run down his legs, saw his stomach tense. She stroked him once, twice, and he inhaled sharply.

His hands found her hips, dragged her across the slippery paintwork to the very edge. Then he took his cock in one hand, guided it to her entrance, and held it there.

Lightning flickered, lit the rocky canyon and his face for a brief second. Illuminated the sheets of rain like sparkly foil curtains.

With a gentle thrust, he was in. His arms came around her once more, laying her down, before sliding down her sides to hold her hips. And then he began to move.

Cordy closed her eyes, grabbed the edge of the hood as he rode her. Jammed her heels on the front bumper for leverage, and met him thrust for thrust.

Even through her eyelids she could see the lightning, closer now. The air cracked and boomed with thunder, and the ground vibrated. The Plymouth’s suspension creaked as Angel drove into her, faster, harder, and the bounce of the car only served to force him deeper. She took him in, welcomed the penetration. Wished that she could die now, so the last thing she’d feel in the world was Angel, burying himself to the hilt inside her.

He was panting, his breath coming in small grunts as he slapped against her. One hand left her hip, delving between their bodies, his thumb touching her just *there*. It was all she needed, her body imploding, clamping around him.

Angel shouted her name, his thrusts suddenly erratic, and he jerked against her once, twice, and came with a deep growl. He slumped over her, and dropped a kiss on her forehead.

Cordy put her arms around him, and for a long time they lay there, clasped together on the hood of the car, listening to the thunder as the rain beat down on them. She felt refreshed, more alive than she had in years. Clean and tingling and sated.

And then the rain stopped. She opened her eyes to see the clouds breaking above them, a few stars shining through.

Angel kissed her cheek, touched her face with gentle fingers. “Okay?”

“Mmm,” she sighed. Bit her lip as he pulled away. Knew she’d never feel like that again.

He held out his hand, pulled her up, and then reached for his duster, draping it around her shoulders. “We should get you home. This can’t be good for that cold.”

“Cold? Oh – yeah. You’re right.” She nodded.

He pulled his pants back up, found his sweater. They climbed into the car, and Angel did a tight three-point turn, so they were facing back towards Highway One. He turned to her, looked uncomfortable. “What just happened. It was…”

“A one-time thing,” she interrupted. “Life and death situation, dramatic weather, nakedness, you do the math.”

“Right. And, those fumes. They were pretty powerful.” He changed gear, began to drive. Shot a couple of tentative glances in her direction.

“Yes, powerful.” She nodded. Like his hands. Like his kiss. She smiled at him. “Thank you.”

“What for?” he asked, negotiating the way back along the narrow road.

She looked out the window at the lightning, moving slowly away to the north. “For being there.”

End

LittleHeaven

Posted July 8, 2015 by califi in Complete

Blurry.   Leave a comment

Title: Blurry
Author: Little Heaven
Posted originally: 11//03
Email
Rating: NC-17 (for the naked part)
Category: Halloween Fic
Content:
Summary: Mrs O-Town’s Theme: Isolation. One of the AI team gets trapped in an alternate dimension where they’re taunted by images from their past and it changes them somehow.
Spoilers:
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: Just ask.
Notes:
Thanks/Dedication: Halloween Fic For Mrs O-Town.
Feedback:


Everything’s so blurry, and everyone’s so fake
And everybody’s empty and everything is so messed up
Pre-occupied without you, I cannot live at all
My whole world surrounds you, I stumble then I crawl
You could be my someone, you could be my scene
You know that I’ll protect you, from all of the obscene
I wonder what you’re doing, imagine where you are
There’s oceans in between us, but that’s not very far

– Blurry, Puddle of Mudd.
**~**

At first it was like being asleep. Dark, and peaceful. Floating on a sea of warm molasses, which, thank God she really wasn’t, because that would *so* ruin her clothes. Of course, she wasn’t sure if she was wearing any — but that’s what it felt like. Drifting, calm, relaxed.

Her brain was soft and woolly, and all the dreadful memories and thoughts of the last few months were hazy and far away. No more of the horror of being a human puppet. Here, wherever she was, she was safe from the full impact of the hurt.

Cordelia was grateful for the respite. Kissing that beast thing had been gross. And if she thought of Connor — well it was a good thing she was asleep, or there would have been a lot of unattractive barfing. If she ever woke up, there wasn’t going to be enough water in the world to wash away the yuk of what she’d been forced to do.

Then, after what could have been hours, or days, or even weeks, there was the sensation of rising, of coming up out of the sea. Black turned to grey, turned to pink. Sounds became sharper, clearer, louder. Her face broke the surface. Cordelia opened her eyes.

Okay, everything looked a bit out of focus. Maybe she’d been under so long that her eyes were out of practice. She blinked a few times, rubbed her fingers over her eyelids. It didn’t help. The room looked fuzzy, like she was viewing it through a frosted window, and the colours were drab and faded.

She peered down at herself, stretched in a half-sitting position on what looked like a hospital bed. Oh, God, she was still a bit fat. “Enough with the demon pregnancies,” she muttered. Perhaps she had ‘incubator of evil’ tattooed across her forehead in ink that only demons could see, because it was becoming an alarming recurrence.

At least her clothes were nice. Actually, *really* nice. Calvin Klein jeans. She couldn’t see the label on the shirt, but it felt like real silk. The boots were suede. Someone had given her a top-notch manicure, and the smell of L’eau D’Issey tickled the back of her nose. How had Angel been able to afford this?

A cold shiver ran up her back. What if he hadn’t won? What if, right now, she was being kept, like a pet, by the thing that had hijacked her body?

“Only one way to find out,” she said aloud, frowning as her voice made no echo in the room. Like she was talking into cotton wool. She swung her legs off the edge of the bed, expecting that ‘you got up too fast’ dizzy rush, but her head was clear. Carefully, she slid her butt off the mattress, her feet making full contact with the floor. It felt weird, rubbery, like she was standing on latex. Like she’d sat on her legs for too long, and her feet had gone half-numb.

Cordelia turned to look at the bed, and her breath jammed in her throat. She was looking at herself. Her body, still asleep, immaculately dressed and groomed, a few clear tubes running from her nose and mouth. She let the breath out with a ‘whoosh’ and put her hands on her hips. “Oh crap, not again!”

She glanced around the room. It looked, through the haze, like someone was moving in. Boxes were piled against one wall. She went up close, bent her head and squinted at the vivid-marker scrawl on the side of the top carton. ‘Cordy’s things.’ It looked like Angel’s handwriting. A little flutter tingled in her chest. He was still alive.

So, she was the one moving in. This was her room. For some reason that made her stomach drop. It had a feeling of permanence. Why would they bother moving all her stuff in here? Unless they thought… Yee, not good.

The door swung open, and Angel, looking as out-of-focus as everything else, strode in. He had his ‘mega-brood-face’ on, and the slump of his shoulders betrayed weariness.

“Angel?” she said. It was worth a try. Maybe not all comas were equal.

He didn’t look up, just leaned on the edge of the bed, and took her body’s hand. For a while he stroked her fingers, pressed them to his cheek, and just stared.

Cordelia felt like she was intruding on someone else’s private moment. He looked wrecked, despairing. Fear bloomed in her chest.

Finally he let her hand go, placed it across her stomach, and pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead. “I’m sorry, Cordy.” With a swish of his black duster, he turned, striding from the room without a backward glance.

Cordelia ran after him. At the doorway, she hit some sort of barrier, bounced back off it like someone had strung a trampoline from the frame. “That’s it?” she shouted as the door drifted closed. Her only answer was the muffled echo of his feet, dwindling away to silence.

What the hell was wrong with him? Last time this happened, he’d been frantic, they all had. Trying desperately to get her back. Now all she had was ten minutes of defeated pessimism. She sank, shaking, into a nearby chair. It, too, felt rubbery and distant, the touch not fully registering against her back and legs.

Days passed. Nurses came and went. Stylists, physiotherapists. All distant and fuzzy, their speech quiet and distorted.

“Stop making me look good, and try waking me up!” she screamed at them. She tried picking up items and throwing them, but somehow her hand slipped off, nothing would stay in her grip, nothing even moved.

And Angel didn’t come back.

Cordelia realised that, for the first time in her life, she was truly alone. No fake friends to hang out with. The Cordettes had been better than nothing. No Scooby Gang — the closest thing to real friends she’d had in Sunnydale. None of the others from Angel Investigations came to visit.

“They hate me,” she whispered, sickly cold spreading through her gut. She’d betrayed them all, the day she let that demon inside, she knew that now. God, she hated herself, every day since she ran out of the Hyperion and away from her family.

Cordy had never realised how slowly time moved when there was truly nothing to do.
Eavesdropping on conversations held only a little interest. The woman who bathed her was having problems with her landlord, and the gay hairdresser was having a spat with his boyfriend.

Big woop. It all seemed so small, so insignificant compared to the things she’d seen, the stuff that was out there. Stuff she used to be able to fight.

Now she was cut off from everything and everyone she loved, trapped in this little, sterile room. Isolated in a drab, blurry world.

Cordelia found that she didn’t sleep. She wished she could. With every minute that dragged by, she wanted more and more to lie down, and never wake up. No helpless to help, nobody to talk to, and it was only going to be so long before she ran out of things to think about, started dwelling on that part of the last few months that was tucked away at the back of her mind.

Lurking like a monster, ready to leap out and crush her. It was coming, and she didn’t want to be around when the dam broke.

She wanted to die.

On the evening of the fourth day, she curled up in the chair she couldn’t really feel, and began counting the blips on the small machine beside her bed. Her heartbeat. Every flash seemed to get brighter, pulsing, filling her vision. She was drifting again, floating, her mind consumed only with the steady rhythm. It filled the room, and nothing else existed…

***

“Cordy?” Angel’s voice made her head snap up.

“Huh?” she glanced around, relief washing through her. Her apartment, warm and familiar, everything clear and sharp and full of colour. Thank God. And then came the shimmering sense of déjà vu. She’d been here before, not just in this place, but in this moment.

Her hair was long, tangled, curling over her shoulder, her ponytail tatty and unruly. Her eyes felt swollen and gritty, and her nose was running. A tide of grief crashed down. Doyle.

“I hope this is all right,” Angel said, coming through from the kitchen, a steaming mug in his hand. The rich smell of cocoa filled the room. “I wasn’t sure how you like it.”

“It’ll be fine,” she said, sniffing. “I can’t believe he’s really gone.”

“It was my job. I — I tried to stop him…” Angel shook his head, his voice catching. Fresh tears shone in his eyes, and he made no attempt to disguise them. He sat beside her, dirty, shattered, placing the mug on the table.

She wiped at her nose. “And then you would be dead, I would be crying over you, instead.”

“You’d cry over me?” he said, looking like the idea had never occurred to him.

She slapped his arm, hard. “Of course, dumbass. If you were gone, who’d sign my paycheck?”

“Oh.” He seemed crestfallen for a second. Then, “Oh, you were joking. Weren’t you?”

“I figure Doyle wouldn’t want us to be all maudlin and puffy-eyed,” she said, and the sound of his name on her lips was all it took to bring her own tears flooding back, running unchecked down her face.

“Nope, he’d be making us drink that Poly-Malt scotch, and telling us to pull ourselves together.” Angel dug in his pocket, presumably looking to offer her a handkerchief, but came up empty.

Cordelia used her sleeve, blotting up the dripping mascara, even though it would probably never wash out. One more ruined outfit, courtesy of Angel Investigations. Maybe that’s why Doyle had always dressed so badly. On those shirts, you could never tell which bits were the pattern and which bits were stains. Perhaps it was all part of a cunning master plan. She’d never given him enough credit, for a lot of things.

“Oh, God, I slapped him,” she gasped. “I called him short, and poor.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing he hadn’t heard before.” Angel gave a melancholy chuckle.

“I was horrible to him,” she said, the memories of a hundred snarky comments crowding into her head.

Angel’s hand landed on her shoulder, an awkward, timid touch. “He didn’t mind. He loved that he couldn’t work you out. I think he saw it as a challenge.”

She glanced up at him. “Loved?”

A sad, reminiscent smile spread across Angel’s face. “Well — he called you a stiffener.”

“Why that little…” Cordelia stopped the word ‘weasel’ from coming out. She heaved a giant sigh. “I’m really gonna miss him. Bad clothes, funny smell, and all.”

“Me too.” Angel stared across the room, his eyes unfocussed, misty, the beginnings of his brood-face beginning to show.

She reached a hand out, stalling for a second as he startled, then gently poked at his Brylcreamed fringe. “I like this look on you. Very Hogan’s Heroes.”

“You think?” He smoothed his hand over it.

“I think,” she replied, smiling, reaching for the cocoa. The overpowering chocolatey smell hit the back of her nose, and the first sip caught in her throat, causing her to cough and splutter. “Eww, God, Angel! How many spoons did you put in this?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, six, maybe seven? Hot chocolate isn’t my area of expertise. Is it really bad?”

“Worse.” She nodded, trying to stop her tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth.

“I’ll make tea. I’m better at tea,” he said, taking the mug from her and rising, turning for the kitchen.

“Angel, I think there’s some vodka in there. Get that, too,” she called after him.

She sank back in the cushions, pressed a hand to her forehead. This was too horrible. Poor Doyle. He saved her life, and Angel’s, and all those scared, half-demon families…

Something cut into her reverie, a cold, shuddery sensation. A draft blew against her feet, and the feeling of being watched made all the hair on her neck prickle.

Cordelia looked down, wondering where the icy breeze was coming from. Maybe there was a hole in the floor, beneath the sofa. She lowered her hand, trying to gauge the source of the air. As soon as she touched the floor, it stopped.

“Huh,” she said, shrugging. Just as she was about to sit back up, one long, bony finger shot out from beneath the sofa, wrapping around her ankle. She dragged in a lungful of air — the prelude to a scream — and jerked upright.

Nothing. Just the poky little out-of-focus room, her comatose body, motionless on the bed before her, and the sound of her heart hammering in her ears. “Must have been a dream,” she murmured, pulling her feet up onto the chair, hugging her knees to her chest.

For a few moments, she’d been back in the real world. Sure, in her past, and a pretty painful part of it, but just to be back in that moment, with someone to talk to — with Angel — had been so wonderful. Until the Finger of Freak-out had ruined it all. That definitely hadn’t happened the first time around. Probably a hangover from carting around an evil hell-thing inside her for months.

She wanted to go back. It wasn’t real, but it was a hell of a lot better than sitting here in the room that time forgot. Cordelia trained her eyes on the blipping machine again, slowing her thoughts, just concentrating on breathing in, and out. In, and out. In…

***

Her arms were full of clothes. They covered her desk, spilling onto the chair. Blouses and skirts, jackets, wraps — a myriad of colours and expensive fabrics. Real, honest-to-God couture. Bags and tissue paper littered the floor, and her smile was so big it hurt her face. She jumped and squealed. “I have new clothes!”

A dark shadow lurked to her right. Angel. Cordy could see him out of the corner of her eye, his expression half goofy, half smug.

“Get over here.” She pointed to the floor in front of her.

Angel’s face transformed from smug to scared. “What?”

“We need to get something straight,” she said, as sternly as she could with the smell of designer labels wafting past her nose. God, she’d missed that aroma. Money.

“You do like them, right? I mean, with the bouncing, and the hugging…?” he asked, shoving his hands in his pockets. Little bits of gold glitter from her top had stuck to the front of his jersey when she’d hugged him, and they sparkled as he moved.

She put down the garments and crossed her arms across her chest. “Well, duh! Of course I do. But don’t misinterpret my screams of joy to mean that buying me all this stuff gets you off the hook just like that.” She snapped her fingers.

The beginnings of a pout tugged at his bottom lip. “We’re still not friends?”

A flash of cerise caught her eye, one of the gorgeous tops beginning to slide off the table. She grabbed it, felt the fabric. So beautiful… No, dammit, focus, Cor. “I’m not saying that,” she sighed, releasing the blouse. “But I’m not saying you’re forgiven, either, not by a long shot, mister.”

The pout got bigger. “I’m…”

“Don’t say you’re sorry again. It’s just too painful to listen to. And if you get all stumbly and uncoordinated, you might trip and damage the clothes. This is going to be our final discussion on the matter. You know why I was mad?”

“Yes.” He hung his head.

“You promise not to go all ‘Dark Avenger’ again?

“I promise.”

“And no more skanky blondes? What am I saying? You’re a eunuch.” She shrugged.

“I’m not…”

Cordy held up a hand, stopping him mid protest. “Don’t interrupt. I *am* still your friend, Angel. With you until the end, blah blah blah — remember?”

His face lit up, the smile almost stopping her in her tracks. Now there was a sight.

She took a step forward, jabbed her finger in the middle of his chest, sending a little shower of glitter to the floor. “But, you ever do anything like that again, and I swear, I will kick your lily-white vampire butt all the way to hell. Understand?” She punctuated the last word with an extra hard poke.

“Yes. Cordy, you know I’m…”

“Yeah, yeah, sorry, I know.” Cordy turned back to her clothes, so he wouldn’t see the grin threatening to break across her face. “Now, get me some coffee, Office Boy. And I’ll need some hangers. Don’t want these to crease.”

She peeked at him, just a flash. The look on his face was priceless.

“Office Boy?”

“Tick tock.” She bit her lip. Mustn’t laugh now.

“Right, coffee, hangers, I can do that,” he scurried away, and she managed to keep it together until he left the lobby. He deserved to pay for what he did, and she was *so* going to make sure of that. But it was good to have him back. Really good. Not that she was admitting it to anyone else. No siree.

A figure cut across the edge of her vision. She pulled herself together, put her serious face on, and turned, ready to give another lecture. There was no way Angel could have fetched her coffee that fast.

She was right. A swirl of black robes and a flash of red eyes. A gust of cold air, rancid, the reek of graves and rotting flesh. A glint of metal. Then it was gone.

Cordy opened her mouth to call for Angel. Or Wes. A small noise behind her made her jump, and before she could whirl in that direction, a gnarled, flaking hand was over her mouth, muffling her scream, yanking her head back. The room began to swim, blur, and…

***

Cordelia was in bed. Her own bed. Sheets that smelled of fabric softener and body lotion. A gentle flutter on the pillowcase indicated Dennis was there, fussing, as he always did.

The evening’s memories came flooding back — scored flesh, boils and pus, skin blistering and peeling from her arms. “Oh, God,” she gasped, hands flying to her face, feeling for lumps and scabs.

“Cordy.” Angel towered beside her bed, and her heart shot into her throat.

“Dammit, Angel,” she gasped. “Don’t sneak up like that!”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to — I just wanted to be sure you were okay,” he said, sitting on the mattress beside her, his solid thigh pressing against her leg through the covers. His face was sombre in the dim light from the hall. “How do you feel?”

She breathed a moment, listened to her body. It was quiet. All the burning, stinging, aching; just a memory. “Fine. Tired, but okay. Are the boils gone?”

“Yes, it’s fixed. You look great,” he said, hooking her hair back behind one ear. For a moment his finger stayed across her cheek, smoothing over the skin where the welts had been.

She frowned at him. “You smell of smoke. What happened?”

“The usual. Got transported to a hell dimension, broke some guy out of a prison made of fire, came back. Standard stuff.” His voice was light, but she could tell by the little line that appeared between his eyebrows that all was not well.

Cordy pushed herself up, leaning forward to rest her arms on her raised knees, eyeballing him. “What? Spill, I know something’s wrong.”

He turned away, looking out the window at the city lights. “The man I rescued was evil. I had to hurt some good people — and other things.”

“So why did — ooooh. For me.” She hung her head. This sucked. “You shouldn’t have.”

“Not an option, Cordy,” he said, his voice gruff. Turning back to her, he took her hand, his eyes boring into her. She felt naked, a rabbit caught in headlights. He swallowed hard, blinked a couple of times. “I don’t want you to be scared anymore. If we can find some way to take the visions…”

“No. Keep your hands off my visions.” She shook her head.

“But you said…”

“Well, wouldn’t you? I was all burnt and gross and oozing. It freaked me out. I’m fine now. Good as new.”

His frown deepened. “You know I meant what I said — I’d still need you, visions or not.”

“Oh yeah, the car thing,” Cordy sighed. She really wished people would stop comparing her to stuff. However good the intention, it always came out sounding like an insult. “I’m not just doing it for you. I’m doing it for the people who need our help. They need me, too. The day the PTB start contacting you by SMS, I’ll gladly give the visions up. Of course, you’d have to work out how to use your phone by then.”

“It’s the buttons,” he protested. “They’re too little.”

She quirked her eyebrow at him, watched the conflict pass across his face. Knew he wanted to press the point. Wondered if he was going to sit there all night, brooding. “Angel I’d really like to go back to sleep. You are planning to go home, right? Because lurking in girls’ bedrooms while they sleep is just disturbing.”

He looked embarrassed. “Okay, if you’re sure you’re all right.”

“I’m fine. Shoo. I’ll see you at the office.” She smiled and waved until he’d closed the door behind him. Waited until the front door clicked shut, and then let herself slump back against the pillows. It would have been so easy to take him up on the offer. Offload the visions. Save what little was left of her brain.

She *was* scared. Scared of dying. Scared of leaving him. Scared of being alone…

A noise startled her. A scuttling, scratching noise. Something was under the bed. “Don’t be silly,” she laughed, thin and nervous. There were no monsters under the bed — well, none in here anyway; Angel would have smelled them.

More scuttling, louder, and she could feel small impacts on the underside of the bed base. Cordelia shrank down beneath the covers, pulling them up beneath her chin, staring at the foot of the bed, a horizon over which anything could rise. Oh, God, let it just be a really big spider. Even a cockroach. Anything but…

A dark shadow took form, growing, two red eyes, unblinking. A long, craggy arm reached toward her, fingers stretched outward. Dread stabbed in her chest, constricted her throat.

“Angel!” she shrieked, closing her eyes, unable to move or think or…

***

The sky burned bright with fire. A sour wind whipped at her coat, her hair. Little red coals dropped down around her, smoke pouring from them in hazy grey arcs. She didn’t remember this place, turned to get her bearings.

A black figure approached, leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Moving with the swift grace and strength of a vampire. Angel. As he got closer she could see blood, dirt, bruises. He landed heavily beside her, staggered, and she reached out to him. Her hand passed right through, and he stumbled forward, oblivious to her presence. Righted himself and stared at the building across the street. At the window.

Cordelia followed his line of sight, and her stomach lurched. So this was how he knew. How he found out. “Oh, God, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It wasn’t me, wasn’t my fault,” she said, putting her hand to his cheek, though she knew it wouldn’t really touch him.

The look on his face was worse than what she knew she’d see in that room, but she couldn’t turn away. It was like a knife slicing through her chest, hurting more than the boils and the burning, even more than the rebar in her guts.

Angel opened his mouth, a cry of pure rage and anguish poured out, and he turned, storming into the stairwell. Smashed the door open and blasted inside.

Cordelia didn’t follow. Couldn’t. She just sank to her knees and wept, on the roof of the building, listening to Angel wrecking everything he could touch. She never knew how much she’d hurt him. “It wasn’t my fault,” she sobbed, over and over, and for the first time in a long while, believed it.

This was where ‘doing the right thing’ had left her.

After a long time she stood, wiped her face, and looked back at the window. Saw herself and Connor asleep, wrapped together. Then she turned, glanced across the roof at the tall, robed figure, with red eyes glowing beneath its hood. How long had it been there, watching her? It lifted one skeletal hand, and beckoned.

She looked back out over the city, wondering if it would do any good to run. The lights were pale beneath the glow of the fire, blurry through the smoke. Thousands of little haloes in the City of Angels. “Let it come and get me. Cordelia Chase is done running,” she murmured. Her eyelids felt heavy, exhaustion clouding her vision, dragging them down…

***

“Cordy.” Angel’s voice made her blink. The lights of LA were clear, winking through the large window at her. She turned around, eyes widening as she took in the plush apartment. It reeked of money. Every ornament and furnishing was beautiful and obviously expensive.

The subdued lighting gave it a smoky, sexy appeal, and it took her a second to spot Angel, half-sitting, half-laying on a large, square sofa, shoes off, dressed in only a white tee and loose, black drawstring pants.

“Huh?” she said, dumbly, trying to take it all in. Glancing down at herself and wondering why she was standing there in a long, red, satin slip.

He rose, coming towards her, looking concerned. “You okay? Where were you just then?”

“Somewhere not very nice,” she admitted, rubbing her arms as gooseflesh prickled.

His hands landed on hers. “It’ll take time. If you want to talk…”

“No,” she said quickly. This was too weird. Where was this place? And why was Angel looking at her that way? Soft, dark eyes making an appreciative sweep of her body from waist to head, his hands sliding around to her back, fingers resting on the curve just above her ass. The way lovers touched.

Oooh, right, she got it now. This must be a sex dream. A coma sex dream. Well, why not? Wasn’t like she was getting any real action, wherever her body was.

“It’s okay. Take your time. We have plenty of time.” Angel reached up and smoothed a strand of hair from her face, cupped her cheek in his palm, and moved closer. His thighs touched hers, the hand on her back pressing her into him, just there. “You know I never thought we’d get to…” he trailed off, his lips almost touching hers, then pulling back.

Fire sparked in her belly, heat sweeping outwards, crackling across her skin like a forest fire. She didn’t need words — every part of her body must have screamed desire that lit her up like a beacon.

He felt it, the sharp intake of breath through his nose a giveaway response. “Are you sure?” he whispered.

“Well, duh!” she replied. It was supposed to be flippant, but came out throaty, breathless.

He hovered, an endless second humming between them, and then slowly, slowly, pressed his lips to hers. Soft, unhurried, dry, like a schoolyard kiss. Pulling away just a little, leaving her hanging, sweet torture, then sucking her bottom lip, just touching it with the tip of his tongue.

Cordelia felt the moan come up from her belly. It spilled out, an animal noise she wasn’t aware she could make, and his nostrils flared, small pants of breath cooling her face.

And then the restraint was gone, his mouth crashing down on hers, teeth clashing, tongue darting out, cool velvet, tangling with her own. A groan rumbled through his chest, his hands cupping her ass and pulling her harder against him, his hips grinding into her stomach, and she felt a hot thrill at the sudden hard steel pressing into her belly.

He pulled again, up, and her feet left the floor. The slip rode up to her hips, covering his hands, as she wrapped her legs around his waist, gripping the back of his neck as the kiss deepened.

This was so good. Too good. Even though she knew it was a dream, she broke free, gasped, “the curse.”

“You’re safe, Cordy. I’ll always keep you safe,” he said, his voice low and gruff.

She stilled, listening to her heart pounding, blood hammering through her veins. “I know you will, Angel.”

And then they were kissing again. He drank her in, like she was his water, his air. She could feel the heat pouring from her, soaking into him, like the sun warming the ocean after a long, cold winter.

With strong strides, he carried her to the sofa, sat down so she straddled his lap. Her knees sank into the soft cushions, bringing her centre down on his. She could feel the hard press of him, and all she wanted was to have that part of him deep inside her. Just the thought had her stomach and thighs quivering, and she rocked forward, making him groan and buck against her.

His lips left hers and trailed down her neck, her chest, making a damp circle on the fabric as he sucked one nipple into his mouth. Cordelia gasped, hung her head back, lost in the sensation.

“Beautiful,” he murmured against the hard little pebble, running his hands up her sides, carrying the red satin higher. She let go of his shoulders and raised her arms, and it shimmered up and away in a wide arc, pooling on the floor. She glanced down, realized she wore no underwear. Saw the solid column of his cock, outlined through the black fabric, nestled against her thigh.

“Oh, God,” she gasped, her fingers plucking at his t-shirt.

“Okay?” he said, his eyes burning like the embers that had fallen from the LA sky.

“Want…” It was all she could get out. Words were forgotten and all she knew the song of her body, a symphony of need drowning out coherent thought.

He chuckled, and it was the sexiest thing she’d ever heard. The t-shirt flew up, joined her slip on the floor, and he raised his hips, shimmying the flowing black pants down, kicking them free.

Damn, he was hot. All chiselled muscle and pale, smooth skin. Cordelia pressed herself to him, rubbing herself up his chest like a cat, feeling the rumble inside him, and doing it again. Sparks went off all over her body, and she was sure her skin must be twinkling, like the lights of LA that watched them through the window.

His hands found her hips, lifted her, positioned her so she could feel him, pressed against her entrance. Time stood still, and all that existed was that exquisite feeling of almost. And then he lowered her down, over him, and every nerve centre in her body went off like fireworks. “Angel,” she cried, grabbing his shoulders as he filled her all the way.

His arms came around her, the room spun, and she was beneath him, on her back on the sofa. Angel loomed over her, his elbows either side of her head, hands touching her face, her lips, her hair. “I love you, Cordy,” he whispered. Something cold and wet splashed on her cheek, and she realised it was a tear. His tear.

“Shhhh.” She reached up, touched his face, smoothed his skin.

“Sorry. I just never thought we’d make it,” he said, blinking.

“Oh, we’ll make it,” she crooned, shifting her hips. His eyes closed, the muscles in his jaw twitched. Just like the kiss, he started gentle, hesitant. The slow drag of skin on heated skin. She reached down, grabbed his ass. “Come on, harder, please.”

Angel’s mouth closed over her breast, and he drew back, ramming into her, once, twice. Her hips shot up to meet him, legs twining around his thighs, feet rubbing against corded muscle. She reached up, gripped the armrest of the sofa behind her head, hung on. Nothing had ever felt this good. His tongue on her nipple, his fingers on the other, and the wonderful, aching moment when his other hand slid between them, thumb slipping between dark curls to press in the sweetest place of all.

Little incoherent grunts and moans rose from deep inside him, sweat beaded on his forehead, and she could tell by the way his cock throbbed inside her that it was all he could do to keep it together. That idea of him, on the knife-edge of control, together with the delicious drag of his thumb, sent her orgasm spiralling, unexpected, out of control. His name poured from her lips, over and over, and as her whole body clenched and tingled, he gasped and jerked, and she felt him empty into her.

For a long moment they lay, twined together, damp, panting. Cordelia closed her eyes, waited for equilibrium to return. When she opened them, he was smiling down at her. It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. “I love you,” she whispered. He leaned in to kiss her, and then — he was gone.

***

She sat up, gasping, taking in the blurry little room and her comatose self. Dammit, back in hell again. Or wherever this really was.

Darkness gathered like smoke, on the edge of her vision.

“Okay, what? Quit following me around and get to the point,” she snapped, turning towards it. The cloaked figure with red eyes, and, for goodness sake, a scythe.

“Do you know who I am?” The voice was eerie, like wind howling under the eaves of a house. It made her flesh prickle.

“You *are* Death, right? Because I’ve been caught out on this point before,” she said, staring into the black depths beneath the hood.

“Yes, I am Death.”

“Thank God, because I’m ready to go. Really. Take me away from this — nothingness, before I go stark raving loony,” she sighed.

“You’re not scared?” Death sounded surprised.

Cordy shrugged. “Not any more.”

“Damn, I must be losing my touch.” Death leaned his scythe up against the wall and sat down in the armchair opposite her. The stench of decay rose up around him as his robes swirled and settled.

“Where the hell are we?” She waved her hand at the out-of-focus room.

“Another dimension, only one degree removed from your own, which is why you can still see it. Limbo,” he replied.

She frowned. “Like the dance?”

“No, not like the dance,” he said, an edge of exasperation creeping into his tone. “It’s the place between your world and the next. The place before the afterlife.”

Made sense. Not really alive, not really dead. Limbo. A bad place to spend the rest of eternity. “Okay then, let’s get this over with,” she said, folding her arms over her chest, a little cold and shivery despite the relief of finally getting what she wanted.

“Not yet. I have a choice for you.” He made a dramatic sweeping gesture with his hand, stirring up more smell.

Cordy wrinkled her nose. “What is it with you people? Showing up and giving me ultimatums. Because I tell you, the last time? *So* not fair. Led me right into a trap. How do I know you won’t do the same?”

“I’m Death.” He sounded a little irritated. “What reason would I have to lie?”

“Okay, go on then.” She rolled her eyes. This had better be good.

“You can choose to die, now, and go to your eternal peace, or you can awake from the coma, and resume your life, whatever there may be left of it. Decide.”

It was Cordelia’s turn to be irritated. No, actually, damn mad. “Now? Jeez, impatient much? How am I supposed to chose something this important with no prior warning?”

Death sighed, a long-suffering sound. “I gave you plenty of time to consider.”

What was he on about? He’d only just showed up… Except he hadn’t. He’d been in every one of her memories, except the sex dream — and how embarrassing would that have been? He’d sent her back to those special moments with Angel, to help her decide.

She got up, paced across the room. “Why only Angel memories?”

“You are connected,” Death replied, in his spooky, whistling voice. “But they weren’t all memories. Your last experience, for instance.”

“You saw that?” she gasped. “Freaking pervert!”

“It is your future. The future for one of the two paths.”

“Which one?” she demanded. Oh, she was *so* going to chose that one.

But Death shook his head.

“Okay, can I ask one thing?”

“Shoot,” Death replied.

She blew out a long, shaky breath. Maybe she didn’t want to know this. “Where would I go, if I died? Would it be hell, because I know I’ve been a bitch in my time, and I gave birth to a demon that nearly took over the world…”

Death made a strange, choking sound, and it was only after a few seconds that Cordelia realised he was laughing. It wasn’t very comforting. “Do you really think, after all you have done for them, that the PTB would send you down there? Did you do everything with good intention in your heart? Look inside, and that’s where you will find your answer.”

She nodded, relief flooding through her. She was going to heaven. Maybe heaven was whatever you wanted it to be. How else could she be having sex with Rich Angel without fear of the curse?

Her heart twisted at the thought of Angel. He was still alive — or undead, anyway — back in her own dimension, the blurry world she could see all around her but not be a part of. God knows where the others were. Would he, or any of them want to see her again? There was no way of knowing. She could be alone, penniless, waiting tables in Denny’s, and buying clothes from Penny Saver. Did she deserve that, after all she’d been through?

“Decide!” Death boomed, standing and reaching for his scythe. “I can’t hang around here all day. I’ve got a fifteen-car pile-up on the Autobahn to attend. I won’t be back.”

Cordelia closed her eyes, remembered all the things she’d seen and felt, and more. Angel leaping off a balcony with her in his arms, bullets ploughing into his back. Angel holding her hand in hospital. Angel sitting in a room, scratching on the wall, mad and hallucinating. Angel making love to her with tears in his eyes.

She breathed deep, let the choice come on it’s own, and when it did, it felt right.

Death nodded, reached out his hand, and pressed it to her forehead, pushing her back towards her body. Wind whirled around her, and something was tugging, sucking her back into that lifeless figure. Darkness fell, and all was silent.

***

Noise exploded in her ears. A door slamming open, loud beeping, someone running. Her throat hurt, tubes choking her, and her head screamed with pain. Hands grabbed her, rolled her on her side, and she coughed and spat, feeling the tube slide out. She dragged in a painful, burning breath.

“She’s coming ‘round,” someone said.

“Cordy, can you hear me?” Angel. His voice wavering, but unmistakeable.

She tried to open her eyes, squinted at him. He was blurry, but coming clearer with every blink. And tears streamed down his face. “Angel,” she tried to say, but it just came out as a croak.

“Don’t. It’s okay. Rest,” he said.

***

Later, she dozed. After all the doctors had checked her over. After the respirator had been unplugged, and the tubes taken from her nose.

Angel still sat in the corner, in the chair Death had occupied. He looked shaken. And *really* well dressed. Cordelia may have only been out of a coma for two hours, but she knew Armani when she saw it. She had no idea what was going on, where they were, but there was plenty of time to find out.

“Hey,” she whispered, as loud as she could manage after the tiny sip of water she’d been allowed to drink.

“Hey,” Angel said, coming over to her, linking his fingers with hers, careful to avoid the drip in the back of her hand. “You came back. I thought I’d lost you.”

“So did I.” She turned her face away. Didn’t want him to see her cry.

Desperation and panic welled up inside her. Oh, God, he had to know; she had to tell him everything, now.

“I didn’t do it. Didn’t…” She couldn’t say it — didn’t leave you, didn’t fuck your son… “It wasn’t me,” she croaked.

“Hey, shhh, it’s okay, I know,” he said, squeezing her hand.

“You do?” Her voice was barely audible.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he whispered.

His words dissolved, filtered into understanding, and her heart began to soar, relief flooding through her.

He didn’t blame her, didn’t hate her. Didn’t doubt her. She’d sacrificed love for the mission, and it cost her soul. Of course, Angel, of all people, understood that. About wrong choices made. About regret. About loss of control. The sob caught in her throat and made her cough.

He cupped her cheek, turned her face back to his, and kissed her, just like in the dream, soft, barely a whisper on her lips. “Don’t think about that now, it’s over. The important thing is that you’re here. You’re awake. Nobody knows how. Do you remember anything?’ he murmured, forehead resting against hers.

Cordelia nodded, swallowed hard, found her peace. “I realized I didn’t want to die.”

Took a deep, shuddering breath, and looked him in the eye. “This time, I chose love.”

End.

LittleHeaven

 

Posted July 8, 2015 by califi in Complete

Celestial Ink   Leave a comment

Title: Celestial Ink
Author: Lostakasha
Posted: 2005
Pairing: Cordy/Angel
Rating: R
Summary: Angel has artistic tendencies. Cordy has a tattoo. I have zero imagination left for a compelling summary.
Disclaimer: Not mine, not now, not ever.
Dedication: Many happy returns to you, tesla321! Hope you get some well deserved time off, and that you enjoy this little slice of Cordy/Angel cake for your Birthday Ficathon!
Feedback: Hello, feedback ho here. Don’t hold back.
A/N: I apologize for the bad French. It should translate to ‘lazy eyes’ but if it doesn’t, somebody correct me! And thanks to Joni Mitchell, and the cut line lyric from “Blue.”


Celestial Ink
Noontime. Angel is in the courtyard garden, deadheading a cluster of buttery yellow roses. Curled brown petals drop to the cement around his feet and stick to the tops of his battered Fluevogs.

Cordelia had picked out the low-slung shoes, elbowing Angel in the ribs as if he wouldn’t have found them without her. “Youhave to get these. They’re even called Urban Angels. They’ll make your clown feet look a hell of a lot less clodhoppery.”

He scoops the mad spatter of blossoms from the ground and carries them out to the curb, depositing them into the trash. The traffic is slowed by the massive puddles that swamp Hyperion Avenue, a collection of two days’ worth of rain that shows no sign of stopping. He doesn’t mind that his shirt and jeans are soaked and clinging to his skin; it’s a welcome change from demon blood and fear-induced sweat.

At first she sounds like a mother, perturbed and superior. When he ignores her call a third time, her tone shifts. So Angel stays rooted to the spot, feigning interest in the passing cars, pretending not to hear. The sound of his name rises from the breath at the back of her throat and lingers on her curled tongue, and without looking he knows her mouth is shaped as if to kiss rather than to speak.

When he feels her touch on the back of his shoulder, he jumps, genuinely startled.

“So much for vamp hearing, Mister Beltone. Where the hell do you go when you take these little mind trips of yours?”

She is holding her jacket over her head. Kissing is the last thing on her mind.

Angel gestures to the courtyard. “It’s a good day for yard clean-up.”

“Sure is. For you and Martha Stewart’s insane little brother, maybe.” She pulls at his elbow. “Let’s go. In the house, Gene Kelly.”

As she turns to dart back toward the hotel, he glimpses the cerulean blue swirls on the small of her back, snaking up from beneath snug linen capri pants. Sun rays and moon beams, entwined. It’s been there for months; acquired in the days when she worked across town with Wes and Gunn. Without him.

It was still healing the night he came to their office for the codex. Hints of new skin and India ink mingled with the scent of body heat, anger and a sudden flash of desire.

“Hey, hold on,” he calls, suddenly behind her in one step.

Shrugging the jacket back on, she shakes invisible rain from her hair and turns around.

“You got a tat,” he tells her, gesturing at his own back.

“You catch on quick,” she laughs. “I’m one of the cool kids now.”

“Nice,” he says, nodding. She doesn’t offer him another glimpse, just watches him. “What’s it supposed to be?”

“If we’re going to swap ink stories can we do it inside?” Fat raindrops surrender their hold on the balcony above their heads and sink into the sodden pavement. Cordelia grabs Angel’s wrist and pulls him up the steps, stops, and turns her back to him. Lifts her jacket. Twists her hips a little.

“It’s the moon and sun. And some stars. See?”

He does, and lets his fingertips trace the corneal loops visible just above her low waistband. She is still beneath his touch, holding her breath.

“It’s just your standard girly tat,” she insists brightly, letting her jacket fall over his hand as she pushes the door open. “Nothing special.”

There’s nothing Angel can say now. Just “Oh.”

II

The representation is larger on the page than on her skin. Angel’s sketch captures what detail he has actually seen, plus some he intuits. As he adds crosshatching to the curve of her hip, he senses her coming up the stairs. He thinks about flipping the sketch book sheets to cover this latest work, and realizes that all of the other pages hold drawings of the tattoo and its owner.

Instead, he concentrates on shading the swell of her bottom and chuckles softly, imagining the tirade he will suffer when she peers into the book and reacts to his newest artwork. Well worth it, he thinks, to see her eyes narrow in an imitation of fury, to watch her storm away from him in a glorious shower of electricity.

His own personal lightning show.

He waits for her, listening to the rain. Water etches the glass balcony doors, scratching like graphite on vellum.

III

Cordelia hesitates in Angel’s open doorway for a moment. She steps in and closes the door at her back.

“Hey.”

Two hundred-odd years of practice comes in handy. He doesn’t look up.

“That’s not bad.” Cordelia leans over his shoulder and points to the illustration. “It’s not so, what would you call it? Victorian?”

“Too ornate?” He looks up and smiles. Lies through his perfect teeth. “Fair amount of guesswork going on this one.”

“The real thing’s much funkier.” She flicks the page with a sigh. “You’ve got it in the wrong spot. And if my ass was that high it could double as a drink tray.”

Angel closes the pad and drops it to the floor. “Yeux paresseux.” Cordy is perched on the corner of the bed. “Maybe Degas was right. He used to say I had lazy eyes, idealized my subjects too much. Cranky bastard.”

Yeux need a new hobby.”

“I thought it was pretty damn good for never having seen the whole thing up close.”

She leans toward him, takes a deep breath.

“Angel, when I was seven, my father commissioned a portrait of my mom and me. We wore silly matching dresses. Yellow dresses. Pearls.”

“Tiaras?”

Her laugh rings through the room, warming Angel with a sudden rush. “No, you big shit. Close. I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever painted. Until I was in high school, anyway. Then, just…yuck.” She shudders at the memory. “Anyway, I’ve always wanted an artist to do a real portrait of me.”

There is a book filled with sketches of Cordelia that Angel started when Doyle was alive. There is still another, each page a study of her arms, her torso, her face, all made in the weeks between banishing Darla and reclaiming the trust and acceptance of his team. And there is the volume with studies of her back that rests next to his chair.

“I want you to draw me,” she tells him.

Angel retrieves the sketchbook and joins her on the side of the bed. He opens it to the beginning, and she leans into his side. Her voice is thick, breath warm on his shoulder.

“Angel. I want to model for you.” She studies his profile. Leans closer. “I want you to draw the real me, not what you think is under my clothes.”

Angel shifts on the bed, and laughs. “I haven’t drawn with a live model since…”

Cordelia opens the distance between them, snapped back to the real world. “If you say Darla I will stake you to dust,” she warns. Angel can hear her heartbeat thrumming in her chest, feel her struggle to hide what she wanted. What she’d hoped for.

“The twenties. The nineteen twenties.”

She jumps from the bed and strides to the door. Thunder rolls in the distance, off to the west.

“Fine. If you don’t want to do it, just say…”

“Cordelia.” He draws out her name, a long and languid command that stops her in her tracks and roots her to the floor. In a breath he is behind her, and lets his palms brush her shoulders as he takes a deep, heady draught of her scent. “Cordy.”

His touch glides over her, deliberate. Firm. Shoulders to forearms, elbows to wrists, then her waist fills his hands, warm and taut. As he buries his face in her hair he pulls her against him, and she doesn’t resist.

Later, after he has memorized the swirl of her sun and moon with fingers and lips and tongue and cock, after she has drifted off to sleep, curled in his bed as though she has spent endless nights there, he opens the book to begin a new sketch. After long moments of staring at the page, pencil poised and ready to capture her essence, he abandons the exercise, climbs into bed beside her and pulls her close.

“Love you like the sun,” Cordelia murmurs, burrowing into his arms.

He answers with a kiss and a whisper. “Love you like the moon.”

end

Lostakasha

Posted July 8, 2015 by califi in Complete