There And Back Again
Six days in Sunnydale felt like an eternity. Time moved at a snail’s pace from which there was no escape. Now it was over. The Hellmouth was secure. Threat averted. Mission accomplished. Not that it had been easy.
Keeping his head in the game was next to impossible. Before he left L.A., he faced the first hurdle: Cordelia. All he really wanted to do was hang up the phone and finish what he started before the interruption. Kissing her. Slow, hungry, hot, sweet kisses that made him crave the taste of her mouth, the warmth of her plush lips, and the sensation of her silken skin beneath his touch.
Rational thought won over his baser instincts. There had always been an undercurrent between them pulling at something deep inside. It annoyed him. Got in the way of other feelings, and other people. Slammed into him whenever she was in danger. Sizzled when they touched. And it occasionally scared the hell out of him when the demonic side of his nature clawed at his insides urging him to respond to her mouthy, stubborn streak with more than a stern look.
Whatever the hell “it” was, Angel could not easily explain or define it. Maybe he was channeling his irritation with Cordelia’s infuriating sense of neighborliness into something enjoyable. A way of exacting control when she clearly had him wrapped around her little finger.
Getting involved with Cordy was not a good idea at all. Yet, as insane as it seemed, he wanted her. Everything she had to give. Even that tart acerbic tongue had its uses. Part of him enjoyed the sting. Something hidden away beneath her defensive barbs, warm and sweet, had yet to be fully discovered, but he caught glimpses of its power over him. Felt it in the way his unbeating heart ached at the glory of her smile.
Angel gulped away the thickness in his throat. No use thinking about it. Simple sexual gratification was not on the cards for them. Their friend-colleague-boss-secretary-neighbor relationship was already knotted up with mixed emotions. Getting physically close could get dangerous. Whatever was happening between them was better evaluated from a distance. No matter his annoyance with the interruption, Buffy’s phone call was a vivid reminder to Angel that he could not have everything he wanted.
Distracted by Cordelia’s rapid retreat and the definitive slamming of their adjoining apartment door, he had heard only about a third of the one-sided conversation with Buffy. Fortunately, the highlights were simple enough to process: trouble in Sunnydale. The imperative, “Come now,” seemingly gave him no choice but to comply even though a sense of obligation committed him to it anyway.
Instead of heading straight for the car, Angel had stopped in front of the connecting door rapping his knuckles on it. Over the noise of the music blaring from inside her apartment, he called out, “Cordelia, open up.”
He knocked again a little more forcefully when the stereo volume went up a notch instead. Wanting to explain about the call, he had tried one last time to tell her what was happening, although it was an easy guess that she would read more into Buffy’s demand for his presence than was actually there. Not to mention the fact that it wasn’t that hard to read between the lines that insultingly suggested he was using her as a substitute for Buffy.
Deciding that Cordelia was going to ignore him completely, Angel had muttered a rarely used expletive and turned away. The metallic scrape of the door moving along its track jerked him to a halt. “Let me guess,” she said with a sardonic tone lacing her words, “someone has unleashed the next apocalypse and Buffy wants you there as backup.”
Angel approached her cautiously as if a faster pace might frighten her off. “Pretty much.”
“Thought so.” Cordelia crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe. Although her voice remained steady and her words succinct, he could read the turmoil in her eyes.
“I should go.”
He could see the ‘hands off’ vibe practically steaming from her. Bristling, she surprised him with, “Maybe I should come too.”
Startled, Angel’s response snapped back a little more forcefully than he would have made it. “No! You’re staying here.”
Cordelia snorted a cynical little sound suggesting that she knew what his response would be all along, although Angel doubted she understood why. “You’re safer here,” he clarified his thinking. Knowing her penchant for needling him about Buffy, she might imagine this to be some sort of clandestine meeting.
“What about you? You haven’t even fully recovered from your demon-killing spree.” Reaching out to him, her fingers slid downward across his torso to the site of his worst wound, now completely closed over, but still sore. The warmth of her hand seeped through his shirt to his skin.
Capturing her hand, he wanted nothing more than to show her something else that needed soothing, but it would only start something he intended to take his time finishing. “Don’t worry about it. I know what I’m doing.”
“Pfft! Just as long as you remember the one thing you’re not supposed to do— no boffing Buffy,” she added coolly.
He did not move a muscle, nor say a word. Let her think what she wanted about his plans for Buffy. Maybe if he let her believe he was eager to get back to Sunnydale to Buffy’s waiting arms it would be for the best. Was she jealous? He tried to find a sliver of jealous rage in her expression, but Cordelia looked like she was handing out matter-of-fact advice.
Angel wasn’t sure what pissed him off more, the idea that Cordelia thought she could hand out orders about his relationship with Buffy—whether or not he ever had any intention of sleeping with her—or that she seemed to be doing it more out of self-preservation than jealousy. Maybe she didn’t want him with the same intensity? The idea came and went just as quickly. No, she was into him. Very into him if her enthusiastic kisses hinted at her feelings.
“Doyle and I can hold down the fort until you get back,” she practically shooed him toward the door.
Leaving Cordelia alone in Doyle’s company for an unspecified period normally would not have bothered him. Ever since their conversation in the sewer, Angel was not entirely certain that Doyle had given up on his plan to ask Cordelia out on a date. Any sparks of jealous rage were all on him, though he put on his best poker face at the mention of their friend’s name.
Realizing that he still held her hand captive, he let go, and stepped toward the door leading out of her apartment into the garage. He kept walking toward the Plymouth and did not look back until he heard the door close shut, not with a bang, but with a soft click and a turn of the lock. As if she was resolved to let him go because it was Buffy who asked for his help, and there had never before been a reason to doubt his response.
The drive to Sunnydale had gone by almost on autopilot.
Twenty miles from town he saw the first road sign. The closer he got the guiltier he felt. Only he was not sure if it was because kissing Cordelia meant that he had cheated on Buffy, or if the accusations about using her as a substitute were somehow justified.
He was there to fight the Good Fight. Support the team. Be there for Buffy.
But his head was not fully in the game.
He kept thinking about Cordelia and asking himself if he was just reading things wrong when it came to her responses. Was her attraction actually to her fantasy version of Detective Broderick rather than him? No, it was real. Denial might be healthier for them both, safer for her— for everyone. He knew his desire was real and he could feel her response to him.
Still, such temptation was dangerous, and she was not wrong about Buffy. He still felt something: lingering love, tenderness, and remorse. A combination of a thousand emotions that still had a raw edge when his thoughts drifted toward Sunnydale. He had ended things between them for a reason, but it never really felt over.
Cordelia might have been justified to guess that it was Buffy calling. That he would jump at the chance to see her again. This was not an excuse, but an obligation.
The guilt he expected to feel upon seeing Buffy again faded quickly as he was introduced to a newcomer to the group, a man named Riley Finn. He did not need to be told that they were lovers because his senses revealed the news almost instantly. It was clear from the expression on Finn’s face that he was sizing up a rival. The nervous tremor to Buffy’s voice suggested she expected the tension might escalate to violence.
Angel definitely felt something, but it was not anger. Surprise, yes. He had wanted Buffy to move on with her life, but had not fully considered coming face to face with his replacement. Slow warmth spread across his chest as the idea sunk in and he recognized what he was feeling. Relief. It chased away the shadow of guilt looming ever-presently in his thoughts.
Buffy seemed confused by his indifference, but there was no time for a heart-to-heart talk. Not while Sunnydale was in danger. In the end, talking was not really necessary. It never had been between them. Before he left town, she asked him to go out on one last patrol. She kissed him and he let it happen just to see where it would go. His lack of enthusiasm must have shown because Buffy backed away pretty quickly. Surprise and disappointment showed on her face, but there was a hint of resolve showing, too, as if she was also testing things out.
“I-I shouldn’t have…” she started to say but let the night air swallow her words.
They were at the end of their patrol route. “I think we’re done here,” Angel said to her, but this time it felt like he meant it. “Time I headed home.”
Reaching into his pocket he pulled out the keys to the Plymouth, which was parked in front of Giles’ house, but stopped when he heard Buffy call out to him, “Angel, wait. I almost forgot!”
He stopped in his tracks and waited doing his best to ignore the phantom sound of Cordelia’s laughter in his head as she referred to him as Buffy’s lap dog. Fetch. Kill. Sit. Wait. She was not exactly wrong about it either, which made it sting even more.
Catching up to him again, Buffy reached into her own pants pocket pulling out something small enough to have tucked away in her hand. The Claddagh ring, he guessed with a small pang of regret as Buffy continued on with her explanation.
“I was going to have Oz bring this to you on his trip to L.A., but things went wacko here at Hellmouth Central. Wow, I guess I should’ve given this to you when you first got here, but I had hidden it from Spike and—”
“Spike! He’s back?”
Buffy cringed. “Ah, yeah, long story. He has this whole takeover Sunnydale thing going on. No big. Nothing I can’t handle. It’s just that we found something important. Something that could change everything…for you.”
Resting in her palm was an ancient golden ring fashioned around a large emerald stone. He knew it for what it was almost instantly. “The Gem of Amarra.” No wonder Spike wanted it. Buffy was right. Its reputed powers could potentially make him virtually invulnerable, impervious to sunlight and a laundry list of other things.
“Giles wants to talk to you before you go. Books and stuff…” Buffy trailed off with a sigh.
Angel doubted those references would tell him what he really wanted to know. He suspected the gem’s abilities might also secure his soul, or at least counteract the curse by acting as a balancing force. It did not sound like the kind of theory he could test out without risking that everything could go wrong. That put a lid on his excitement pretty quickly.
The ring felt warm to the touch, its mystical energy attuned to his vampire nature. Angel slid it into place on the middle finger of his right hand. The invisible energy spread out in a wave of tingling sensations until it suffused him with the kind of warmth he had not felt in over two hundred and fifty years. Even if half of the legend was true he worried that possessing the ring might cause problems.
Spike’s interest in it was probably going to be one of many hurdles ahead, but it might just be worth it.
Now he was driving home from Sunnydale. Apocalypse averted. Old relationships ended. Loophole resolved.
So he hoped.
Could the ring truly nullify the curse? Surely, one of those books would shed some light on the subject. It was not just a matter of wanting to be rid of it because obviously the ever-present threat of Angelus meant that the world was a safer place without the darkest part of his demon nature on the loose. There would be nothing to stop him from making a fresh start with Cordelia—unless Doyle finally made that move he had been planning for months.
Angel gripped the steering wheel a little tighter and pressed his foot down on the gas.
Some undercurrent of attraction had always been there, privately acknowledged, but never something he planned to act upon until sheer proximity changed things. Over the past few weeks, he had given in to desires he thought fully under his control.
Countless erotic scenes filled his head, starting with an exploration of her beautiful body. There was not an inch he could not imagine teasing with his mouth, kissing, sucking, nibbling every line and curve he had committed to memory. He salivated at the thought of his tongue on her sex, tasting, delving into the juicy center, flicking at the sensitive nub, stroking her into a rapturous frenzy.
God, he wanted to see that. If she could get so damned worked up over the way he organized his clothes closet, he knew that sex with Cordelia would be electrifying. Truthfully, everything she did confirmed that assessment. All it took was one look from her and he was transfixed by lascivious thoughts. Much of his free time had been spent considering how to broach the idea of letting their friendship turn intimate and determining ways in which he could provide her pleasure while limiting his own, ensuring that his soul would remain intact.
Cordelia’s beautiful body seemed to be made just for him fitting with his like an interlocking puzzle piece. The way she responded to his touch, matching his desire, made him painfully aware that they both wanted more than kisses. Prolonging the chase used to be part of the game, but trying to suppress his needs was downright painful.
Neither one of them had much luck with romance. Truthfully, he was not really certain he wanted to risk getting involved again so soon. Cordelia seemed to be over Xander, but she had not been with anyone since they had met again. He could tell. That was not to say that every male she met wasn’t wrapped around her little finger. One glimpse of that radiant smile was enough. Everyone from Doyle to Dr Folger was half in love with her.
The thought spawned a wave of possessiveness. Cordelia was a friend, a colleague, and neighbor. Not his lover. There was no claim of ownership involved, and she would probably hand him his ass if he ever brought up the subject, especially when it was going to be necessary to keep things casual.
Until he figured out if the ring truly offered his soul protection, he could not risk falling in love with her. What he felt now was just an undeniable hunger that tangled up their friendship with lustful cravings. Desire should not have to be so complicated. Want. Take. Have. Keep. But this was Cordelia Chase and that made everything just a little more complex.
From the first, she had been something of a thorn in his side, a temptation for his darker desires, testing out his methods of control. Her spoiled, egotistical outlook on life had always reminded Angel of his youth back in Ireland. Her existence had turned topsy-turvy, and she lost everything that she held dear in that former life. Now they were here in Los Angeles where the Powers that Be had brought them back together. Somehow, he doubted that improving his sex life had anything to do with it.
Until he knew more about the Gem of Amarra’s affects on the curse, he could not risk unleashing Angelus upon the world again. Especially because Cordelia would be the first to come face-to-face with the monster he was if he should lose his soul again. That was something he could not do, but he wanted her anyway, and he intended to make certain that she knew it.
Home Sweet Home Invasion
Six days alone with Cordelia and still Doyle had not managed to make his move. There was no telling just how long the current trouble in Sunnydale would keep Angel away. It was downright depressing. Maybe his chances were miniscule, but he was not going to count himself out just yet. There might be a bit of red tape and a secret or two to reveal, but he was fairly certain that not being a broody vampire with ex-girlfriend issues was a plus in his favor. Not to mention the whole lack of a curse.
He just had to wait for the right moment.
There were no visions this week. Doyle supposed the PTB knew their champion was dealing with the trouble at the Hellmouth. That did not mean the office was closed for business. Cordelia took one case that Angel would no doubt have frowned upon, but managed to keep them working for a few days. She promptly used the check to pay for some new office décor, a manicure, and a fancy television that now shared Dr Folger’s cable service. It was a safe bet that Angel would frown upon that, too.
Doyle did not mind at all. He quite liked hanging out at Cordelia’s place, getting comfy on the couch, letting her snuggle up all friendly-like as they watched TV. It was something he could get used to if given the opportunity. He knew that to be as likely as a snowball’s chance in hell, but he would take it.
Aiming the remote at the television, he clicked until he found something of interest. Beautiful beach babes in scanty red swimsuits. If he squinted just right that one in the blue bikini looked just like Cordelia.
“Leer much?” Cordelia snorted as she snatched the remote out of his hand, but lingered a moment to admit that, “Baywatch just makes me realize how much I miss the beach. I’m already starting to loose my tan.” Frowning, she looked down at her arms finding fault with the golden skin that Doyle found so intriguing.
Thinking that he could handle the beach if she loved it so much, Doyle suggested, “We should go. Tomorrow, maybe.”
“You’re just as pale as Angel,” she gave him a quick once-over. “Have you ever been to the beach?”
“There’s always a first time.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes at him. “Yergh! I think I just scarred my brain imagining you in a speedo.”
Offended, but half-joking about it, he huffed, “Just because I don’t run around in the altogether like a certain neighbor of yours doesn’t mean I wouldn’t measure up.”
“Ew! We’re definitely changing the channel.” Clicking the remote a couple of times, she stopped at the sound of a familiar scene. “Ooh! This is the one where Rachel—”
“No you don’t, princess. Let’s look for something else.” He reached for the remote again only to have Cordelia snatch it close to her chest as if she was protecting it.
“Who doesn’t like the awesomeness that is ‘Friends’?”
Sensing that he had made a critical error, Doyle tried to backtrack, but it was too late. He was getting an earful about the gloriousness of her favorite show. “I’m better with movies,” he defended himself against the waving remote by holding up his hands. “Café scenes aren’t really my thing.”
“Too bad it’s not Thursday. We could watch ‘Cheers’. You might get the whole friends at a bar concept.”
Right now Doyle wouldn’t mind being at a bar. He was about to suggest that they head down to his favorite pub when he thought he heard something. “What was that?”
Still in defensive mode, Cordelia did not notice the distraction. She was nattering on about who was friends or siblings with whom, and which characters were most likely to have secret crushes. Doyle tried to focus through the sound to pick up the clatter again. If he was in demon form it would be easier, but that was not going to happen, not with Cordelia standing right there giving him an earful.
The television blared louder as a commercial came on. Doyle made a move for the remote, which Cordelia took as a challenge for a spontaneous game of keep-away. She darted to the other side of the antique wood chest that served as a temporary coffee table holding the remote behind her back. “We’re watching ‘Friends’.”
Doyle needed silence. “Mute it,” he made a slashing motion with his hand.
Trust Cordelia to take it personally. “Hey! Was that some Irish way of telling me to shut up?”
“Only if it works,” he muttered. Wrestling the remote away, Doyle pressed the mute button, while explaining in a hushed voice, “I heard something next door,”
The instant smile brightening her beautiful face revealed her assumption that Angel had returned. Doyle moved in front of the closed connecting door blocking her from opening it. He grabbed her by the shoulders. “Wait. Just listen.”
With the television now in silent mode, and Cordelia momentarily stunned into silence herself, the noise in the other apartment quickly became apparent. Clattering in the kitchen. Breaking glass. Serial curses. Not enough to identify anyone. Some random burglar had picked the wrong place to rob.
With their ears pressed up against the door, Cordelia whispered, “Maybe we should call 911.”
“Right,” Doyle let the sarcasm roll off his tongue thickening his brogue accent. “Let’s bring the police down to a vampire lair.”
Whispering again, “It’s not like Angel has a coffin in the bedroom or dead bodies in the closet.”
“There’s the weapons cabinet,” Doyle reminded, which was unfortunately over there and not on this side of the door where they could arm themselves against the intruder.
Cordelia pointed toward her bedroom motioning that he follow her in there. “There’s blood in the fridge, too. Try explaining that one to Detective Buttinski,” suggesting that Kate Lockley might jump at the chance to see the place. “I knew I should’ve cleaned that thing out yesterday.” She hit the flat of her hand against her head.
Doyle laughed louder than he should have. “You. Cleaning?” He couldn’t help but sound a little skeptical about the idea. Wondering what she was up to he watched with interest as she knelt on the floor next to her bed. For a moment, he thought she was planning to crawl under it, and imagined taking refuge there with her keeping her safe from the big bad burglar next door.
“I clean,” came the scornful remark from somewhere underneath the bed ruffle seconds before a mostly empty cereal bowl and spoon appeared only to be shoved aside.
Maybe it was a good indication that Angel had not spent any time in here, he thought with a smile, while also admiring the curves exaggerated by her current position. The vampire would have sniffed out that bowl faster that you could say moldy Cheerios.
Despite the tempting idea of cuddling close under the bed, he had to point out that they still had a ready means of escape. “We could just leave by the main door.”
Cordelia scooted out from beneath the bed holding an armed crossbow and a handful of bolts. “Pfft! Who said anything about leaving?”
“You keep that thing under your bed?”
“I’m not putting it under my pillow.”
Doyle slid the door connecting the apartments wide open, not sure he liked the idea of Cordelia leading the way in, but more worried at what they were going to find. He took a chance while her attention was focused on the noises now coming from Angel’s bedroom by shifting into his true form to sniff the air. Just as he thought! His sharper senses told him everything he needed to know.
The interloper was a vampire. Someone he did not recognize.
He tried to be as quiet as he could, telling Cordelia that this was a bad idea. “Let’s get back to your place.” Once across the threshold the vampire would not be able to get through. Keeping Cordelia safe was as much a priority as keeping his own neck intact. This was no ordinary burglar and though Doyle figured he could hold his own in a bar fight, any vampire who dared to rummage through the lair of a master vampire with Angel’s reputation was not likely to be put off by him.
An angry expletive sounded, “Bollocks!” accompanied by a crash of furniture against the floor. “If I was a ring, where would I be?”
Cordelia let out a gasp of recognition and moving forward even faster away from Doyle’s outreaching hand. He just lost any chance of getting her to safety. Fear punched him in the gut. It ran spidery-like down his nerves, a sense that he might lose her— on his watch. Bad enough that anything could happen, but for it to happen while Angel was away and unable to swoop in to save the day… Doyle knew he did not like those odds.
If that meant getting his game face on in front of Cordelia, he was just going to have to do it no matter the consequences.
Doyle crept up behind her as Cordelia took careful aim at the vampire rummaging through Angel’s sock drawer. Several other drawers from the chest were completely pulled out, lying broken on the floor along with scattered clothing and other tossed items.
Looking at him from behind, Doyle noted the slicked back blond hair and swath of leather figuring he thought he was quite the badass. Most of them did, after all. He quipped in a Cockney accent, “Well, this has been fun,” making it sound like the opposite as he tossed the last pair of socks over his shoulder, “but it’s getting old real fast.”
One last time, Doyle tried pulling Cordelia back to safety, but she elbowed him in the side to free herself. The soft “oof” was enough to cause the burglar’s head to twitch. He turned slowly, a grin on his angled face, “Time to make things more interesting.”
“Spike!” Cordelia said the name as a warning aiming the crossbow with a far steadier hand than Doyle would have done. Seeing that face, hearing that name, he now knew exactly how dangerous this had become.
The smirk on the bastard’s face as he said her name “Cordelia, you look smashing!” suggested that her presence had just turned his bad luck good. All irreverent charm with that glint in his blue eyes, he sounded like a casual visitor instead of a threat. “I had no idea you were playing house with Peaches. What a surprise.”
“We weren’t expecting visitors.” Cordelia was not a fool. She kept the crossbow trained on Spike, but Doyle noticed that she sounded more irritated than scared. Maybe it was all an act. If it was, he hoped he was not the only one tricked by it. “What are you doing messing with Angel’s stuff? I hope you have the cash to pay for all of this.”
Grinning, Spike stepped closer stopping only when she fingered the trigger. Doyle couldn’t move. He eyed the space around them looking for some sort of weapon. The closest was the broken stand of a floor lamp, but that did not seem like much good against a vampire, especially this one.
Spike had not so much as looked his way focusing his attention entirely on Cordelia. “Just looking for what’s mine, luv,” The tone was soft, but came with an underlying threat beneath the smooth words. “I want the ring. Tell me where he’s got it hidden and I’ll let you two live.”
Cordelia sounded just as confused as he was on this one. “Ring?”
Since it was important to talk a good game, Doyle told him that he was making empty threats. “You’re the one with the crossbow pointed at your heart.”
That icy blue gaze turned in his direction assessing and dismissing him in seconds. “What is it with you good guys running in packs?” Apparently unconcerned with any potential threat from his direction, Spike sneered a bit and asked Cordelia, “Who’s this one, then?”
Feeling rather ticked off at the dismissal, Doyle cut in before any introductions were made. “More than meets the eye, blondie.”
He went from laughing, “Ooooh…the Mick’s got spine!” to serious, “Maybe I’ll snap it in two,” in the blink of an eye.
Cordelia came to his defense, nudging the crossbow up another notch. “Do you want me to use this?”
Deadly serious, he answered coldly, “You’ll be dead before the arrow leaves the bow.”
Despite the threat, Cordelia didn’t budge. “Angel is already going to be pissed off about this mess, Spike. Touch either one of us and—”
“Nice try, cheerleader, but Angel isn’t here.” Spike sniffed the air, his vampire senses providing details that she would not comprehend. “Hasn’t been for at least a week. Missing him, luv? Your sweet scent is everywhere.”
Getting personal now, was he? Doyle gulped down a lump forming in his throat as he realized what Spike was implying. “She lives next door.”
Naturally, Cordelia looked a little embarrassed by the vampire’s suggestion. “I might have—”
Spike cut her off eager to rub Doyle’s nose in the truth by telling him he had better rethink the facts. “Don’t be so sure about that, Dolt. Look around. Somebody’s been sleeping in Angel’s bed. Quite recently.”
The bedspread was rumpled as if hastily made. Not what he would have expected from Angel who kept the rest of his place as tidy as a pin. Still, Spike could easily have messed it up when exploring the room.
Any second now Cordelia was going to rip into Spike with some scathing remark to set the record straight. He turned to find her staring back with wide-eyed guilt written on her flushed face. No, no, no! Where were the denials, rebuff, and acidic retorts? Doyle’s stomach churned as he realized there would not be any. She had not said a word to make Spike take it back because it would be a lie.
Doyle’s jaw fell slack as he gaped at her, his mind spinning at the notion that he was far to late. He had missed that minuscule chance after all. But when? Nobody told him the status quo had changed. A deep ache bloomed in his chest as he asked, “You two have. . .”
The quick “No!” stung even though it was what he wanted to hear.
Spiked tutted, “Pesky curse, remember? That’s a real shame.”
“Like you care! Not that it’s any of your business.”
“Pet, as much as I don’t like the big ponce all souled up, I really hate it when Angelus decides to drag the whole bloody world into hell right along with him. Maybe it’s best you stay out of Angel’s bed.”
Was he ever going to stop talking about it? Doyle did not want to think about Cordelia being in Angel’s bed for any reason, whether or not the vampire was there, too. Especially, if he was there, but that would be insane on their part. Angel couldn’t…should not…well, it was wrong, not to mention unfair.
Spike seemed to be making a pretty big leap. He had to know if there was something going on. Six days had passed since Angel left for Sunnydale and Cordelia had not breathed a word about getting intimate.
He began with her name, “Cor—,” only to be cut off faster than a racehorse reaches the finish line.
“Geez, okay! He kissed me. I liked it.”
For a second Doyle thought she might turn the crossbow on him. He held up his hands in surrender pushing the hurt of it aside to say, “Cordelia, I’m sorry. He’s been trying to do the right thing. Staying away. Ever since you moved in next door.”
“Convenient little set up,” commented Spike reminding them both that he hadn’t gone anywhere. “Slayer know he keeps you within snogging distance?”
“Buffy’s a little busy,” she snapped.
That statement only brought more laughter. “You don’t know how true that is.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Ringside seats might be fun.” Whatever the inside joke Spike finally let it go. “Speaking of rings, I am bloody tired of searching this place. You two should take over.”
Doyle was not sure what to do except play along and hope they could escape behind the safety of the protective barrier between apartments. Although he was not sure that was even an option now that he had literally pointed out the door. His frustration at his own stupid mistake made him bark the question, “What ring?”
Vamping out, Spike threateningly stepped closer. Doyle tensed for a fight, but Cordelia stepped in between them. “Hey! We need details. What does this ring look like? Angel gave Buffy a ring once,” she sounded a little sour over the memory. “She stopped wearing it. Or lost it. Maybe Angel took it back.”
Now she was just buying them time, Doyle suddenly realized, as she backed them both up in the direction of her apartment door. Genius girl! Only Spike caught on. He snatched the crossbow out of her grasp and tossing it on the couch before he shoved her up against the closest wall pinning her there with his hips and hands.
“Get off me!”
Cursing, Doyle launched himself at Spike only to crumple to the ground after a powerful backhand stopped his forward momentum. “Don’t move an inch,” Spike flashed his fangs in warning as he closed that strong hand around Cordelia’s delicate neck, tilting her forward.
Not one to sit back and take it, Cordelia writhed and pushed against the immovable vampire, until reaching her last resort. Her knee angled up sharply, but Spike was ready for that move. “Don’t piss me off.”
“Then listen carefully, both of you. Find my bloody ring!”
Still on the floor, Doyle stretched his arm out toward the broken lamp stand. Spike moved back to stomp on his hand, dragging Cordelia along with him, his fingers digging in to the sensitive skin at her throat. Both of them cried out in pain. With a sudden release of his hand, Spike sent Cordelia flying on top of Doyle just as he was trying to pull himself to his feet. They tumbled to the floor in a heap.
Spike crouched down next to them looking quite pleased with his work. Although Doyle wanted to wipe that smirk of his face, he knew the attempt would most likely get them killed. “At least tell us what to look for.”
The smirk faded a bit as if it was finally sinking in that they knew nothing about the ring he wanted. He took Cordelia by the hand, helping her back to her feet, gently brushing her tousled hair back into place. Doyle rose up behind her feeling his lips tighten up as he fought to hold back the urge to tell Spike to keep his hands to himself. He was surprised that she let him get that close, but decided she was just playing it safe.
“It’s not Buffy’s ring,” Cordelia ruled that out.
Even Doyle knew about that one. The Claddagh ring Angel had given Buffy Summers as a token of his love. A vision had skimmed over those events before their first meeting. The ring was gold, but could hold no special significance to anyone else. Whatever Spike was looking for had to be something worth the risk of coming here, and potentially facing Angel himself to get it.
“C’mon, pet,” Spike softened his words, his fingers slowly tracing circles along her shoulder. “Don’t play coy. Magic ring. Emerald stone wrapped in gold. Lets Angel walk around in the sunlight.”
Cordelia gasped, her fingers curling into the lapels of Spike’s leather duster. “There’s a ring that can do that?”
“Don’t you know?”
Thinking about it, Doyle realized that he knew what Spike was after. “The Gem of Amarra! I thought that was just a legend. It renders the wearer unkillable if he’s a vampire,” he told Cordelia.
Taking a step away from Cordelia, brushing out the wrinkles on his lapels, Spike gave him a nod. “Not as dumb as you look. That’s the one.”
Cordelia crossed her arms, saying, “Now we know why you want it. What makes you think Angel has the ring?”
“Makes sense. The slayer stole it,” he revealed with a sneer, telling them that he organized a dig for the ancient object after discovering its whereabouts in Sunnydale. Planning to get it back, he had spied on the Scooby Gang only to lose track of it. “That fool watcher wanted it destroyed, but she wouldn’t do it. Had to give it to your big strapping hero.”
Looking distracted over the news, Cordelia’s teeth tugged on her lower lip. “Angel could totally use that ring. I have patched him up so many times we ought to own stock in the bandage company.”
Doyle stressed the point, “But he doesn’t have it.”
Cordelia’s worried look transitioned into a smile. “Well, he might have it now. Angel’s in Sunnydale right now. With her,” she added for Spike’s benefit just to watch the reaction.
“Good time for a handoff,” agreed Doyle twisting the figurative knife a bit further.
Clearly upset by the realization that he had come to L.A. looking for a ring that had never left Sunnydale, Spike let out a frustrated shout, paced toward the nearest breakable object and hurled it at the wall. “Bloody hell!” He stalked back toward them, asking questions for which they had no answers. “What about the whole letting the werewolf bring it to L.A. plan?”
“Oh, probably just the latest apocalypse at the Hellmouth,” Cordelia explained with a shrug.
Spike grunted. “Another one?”
“Angel isn’t here. The ring isn’t here. You shouldn’t be here,” Doyle waved toward the back staircase leading to the underground parking area.
“Have I outstayed my welcome?” He clasped both hands over his dead heart. “That hurts.”
Cordelia took a step back as he moved closer, bumping into Doyle behind her, but Spike kept coming, crowding them together against the doorjamb. “Wh-what are you going to do?”
“Make sure Angel doesn’t have a choice about giving me that ring.”
“He’ll be invulnerable. You won’t be able to hurt him.”
“Sunlight, stakes, not even fire will kill him, but I will still win, still get what I want,” Spike revealed. “Only one thing opens him up to a world of hurt, a vulnerability no other vampire has to fear.”
Doyle’s voice cracked as he realized what Spike was getting at. “His soul.”
“Exactly, mate. He’s got namby-pamby feelings he can’t just switch off. Friends he cares about. A woman he wants.” Spike’s hands tightened as they closed over their shoulders. “Let’s just say it’s a bad day to be you.”
Tires screeched to a halt leaving a burning rubber track on the old cement of the underground parking garage. Angel recognized Spike’s DeSoto the moment he saw it. The bastard was still here. Having tried calling both Cordelia and Doyle from his cell phone after leaving Sunnydale, he expected the worst.
Possessing the Gem of Amarra could be considered a blessing, but the power it rendered was going to make him a target. Spike was just going to be the first in a never-ending line of vampires who wanted its magic. Now he realized that such a threat was not just going to affect him, but his friends, too.
Angel did not bother with subtlety—or using his keys.
A powerful kick knocked the steel door off its hinges. He stepped into his apartment and leaped down the stairs. “Spike!” He could tell that neither of his friends was present, which meant the other vampire was playing a dangerous game.
“Took you long enough,” Spike said by way of a greeting as he slowly rose from his stretched out position on the couch. “My crew back in Sunnydale told me you left over an hour ago. They’re a useless bunch for the most part. Coulda saved me the trip.”
Beyond beating Spike to a bloody pulp, he didn’t really have a plan. Angel crossed the room in a flash throwing the other vampire across the room. Heat coursed through his veins, a rush of added power. The uppercut Spike threw barely registered. Angel slammed his head into a concrete pillar and held him there.
Fangs bared, he growled closely, “You’ve got five seconds to tell me what you’ve done to Cordelia and Doyle.”
“Right to the point, then. I see you’ve got my ring.”
“Where are they?”
“Let me go and I’ll tell you.”
Angel released his hold, but didn’t step back, crowding Spike against the wall as he awaited an answer. “Well?”
“I’m getting to it. Impatient bastard.”
He wanted the truth. Now.
Giving him some room, Angel moved aside hoping that it would put Spike into a cooperative mood. Instead, the second he gave him an inch Spike dashed across the room jumping onto the coffee table, and then the couch, his black boots leaving dark scuffmarks in his wake. “Maybe we’ll have a little fun, first,” he said, reaching for one of the swords hanging on a wall display.
Impatience weighted him down for a moment as Angel anticipated the attack. “Try it,” he growled encouraging Spike to make the charge.
Brandishing the sword from atop the coffee table again, Spike suddenly launched it like a spear toward Angel who did not bother to move out of the way. Half expecting it to bounce off him, he felt the sharp steel pierce his skin sliding deep into his gut. It almost tickled. Angel heard Spike let out a shout of surprise, but it sounded far away, as he stared down in shock at the blood seeping from the wound.
Wasn’t he supposed to be invulnerable?
Angel closed his hand over the hilt pulling swiftly to get the blade out. By the time he reached down to check it the wound was already closed. Much faster than normal vampire healing, he realized amazed at the speed of his recovery, and without the need for blood.
So, that was how it worked.
“Just testing the ring, mate,” Spike jumped back down to the floor, his tone casual. “Not what I expected, but it does the trick.”
“I asked you a question. Where are they?”
Spike got to the point. “Give me the ring and I’ll give you Cordelia, and the other one. Bonus deal. Two for one.”
Thinking of what might have been done to them, Angel imagined wrapping his hand around Spike’s neck and squeezing until it cracked under the pressure. “If you’ve hurt….”
“Don’t be daft. She’s fine. They’re both fine. Hardly a scratch or bruise between them.”
He would judge that for himself as soon as he found them. “Answer the question.”
“All I want is my ring.”
“Might as well go home, Spike. The Gem of Amarra stays with me. There’s a reason Buffy wanted me to have it.”
Spike scoffed, “Right. To piss me off!” He eyed the ring on Angel’s hand as if planning to forcibly remove it.
“You know what it can do,” Angel said by way of a warning squaring off against another futile attack.
All it did was wind Spike up again. “Which is why I want my bloody ring! That little bitch stole it from me,” he seethed at the injustice of the slayer taking what was his. “This is bollocks!”
“Because you want it or because she gave it to me?”
“Peaches, giving you the Gem of Amarra is the slayer’s biggest cock up yet. Think about it.”
Angel didn’t want to think about anything except getting his friends back, but if putting up with Spike’s jealous little gripe session was going to get his point across he would do it. “Spike, you’re not in any position to talk to about screwing things up. You are so caught up in your latest power play with Buffy you can’t see that it is just dragging you down. I hear Drusilla left you.”
“Don’t go there. Leave her out of this.”
“Like you left Cordelia out of it?”
Angel watched as Spike growled and paced across the carpet, a bundle of energy set to explode. Part of him wanted to keep prodding. To give him another excuse to beat him down.
“Get it through your thick skull. The next time your soul goes poof Angelus will have the ring. No one on this side of hell could stop you. Not even the Slayer.”
Contradicting everything the Watcher had predicted about the power of the ring, the idea rankled him. After all, the combined resources on the Gem of Amarra said nothing about protecting vampires from curses. Was the theory so far-fetched? A hint of doubt started to creep in despite the hours Angel had spent pouring over tomes in the Watcher’s special collection.
Despite Giles’ theories on the ring’s potential, Angel remembered that the original plan had been to destroy the ring rather than give it to him. If anyone besides Buffy had a right to want Angelus permanently restrained, it would be her Watcher.
“Look at what I’m trying to accomplish here, at the good I can do with the ring. Angelus won’t be a threat. The gem’s power can secure my soul.”
“Part of me prefers you without the sappy soul. Decades of terror and revolution and blood. No one to stop us. Until you toyed with the wrong girl and ended up cursed by gypsies.”
“What’s your point?”
“That you should go back to being a good little monk and keep it in your pants. Magic is magic. Miracle cures aren’t on the menu. That gem won’t save your soul.”
Angel held onto that one hope. “It will.”
“You’re as much of a selfish bastard as ever. What happens when those Cordelicious kisses go too far?” Spike prodded him along. Waggling his eyebrows, he smirked saying, “If anyone was made for a good shag…”
Angel rammed his fist into Spike’s face before he finished the sentence.
Staggering back, Spike leaned up against the wall to recover. “Not wrong am I?” He paused to stare at Angel who glared back at him thinking that torturing the messenger might be just as satisfying as a kill. After all, he still had to get Cordelia & Doyle’s location out of him.
He was about to bring up the subject again when Spike finally asked, “What about Buffy?”
It was a serious question, Angel noted, but one that left him confused. He had already put a ‘closed’ sign on that chapter. Buffy had nothing to do with the here and now.
“She’s done this for you, given you a way to secure your soul—even if it is a bunch of guff. Tried to make it safe for you to get it together with her.” Spike sneered looking like he was ready to rip Angel apart over the idea.
There was a time Angel might have held that over his head. Not anymore. “Buffy and I are finished.” He had priorities and they did not involve fighting over a girl who could handle the unwanted attentions of a vampire. If Spike had a crazy idea that Buffy could ever want another vampire lover, Angel figured he would put that idea out of his head. “She’s got a boyfriend. A human one.”
“That tosser! There’s something off about him.”
Angel could not disagree, but it was not really his business anymore. Still, it didn’t hurt to use it as an excuse to get Spike out of town. “Maybe you should check into it. Right after you tell me where you’ve stashed Cordelia and Doyle.”
“Somewhere in the city limits. They’re a bit tied up at the moment,” Spike joked as he plonked down in Angel’s favorite chair. “Manny the Pig has them in his van. Driving around in circles. Waiting for orders.”
“So this is your plan…trusting a guy named Manny the Pig with my friends? With Cordelia!” Angel reached down to grab a fist full of cotton and leather and hauled Spike out of his chair with a sharp yank.
Managing to shrug, Spike admitted, “He seemed keen to take on the job. Something about the Dolt owing him.”
“Call him,” ordered Angel trying to rein his anger back in. Struggling with it, he glared hostilely, voice clipping coldly, “Get them back here now.”
Spike reached down into the pocket of his leather duster and pulled out a cell phone. Flipping it open, he waited to be released. He looked down at the alphanumeric keypad, staring at it blindly for a moment, making Angel think that he might have forgotten the number of the soon-to-be-dead Manny the Pig.
After a long pause, Spike glared at him almost accusingly as if doubting the truth. “You’re really done with the Slayer? No more Scooby Gang patrols…long lost lover reunions… bleeding heart Valentines… puppies nailed to the door… soul-stealing shags?”
“We’ve moved on. It’s over. Barring another apocalypse I have no plans to go back to Sunnydale.”
Spike closed the flip phone. “You want your friends. You want the ring. Seems you want a lot and I get nothing in return.”
Impatiently, Angel let out a frustrated growl. “What do you want?”
“What say you and me make a deal?”
Wondering if he was going to regret it, Angel responded cautiously, “I’m listening.”
“Before we get to the negotiations there is one little catch. Might need to take care of it before we bring home your hot little bed warmer and pal.”
Angel couldn’t really blame Spike for jumping to the conclusion that Cordelia was his lover, but he did not have to make it sound so crude. He opted for giving him a hard stare instead of breaking his jaw. It might be hard for him to explain this little catch or to make that call to Manny the Pig if he could no longer talk.
“Marcus is in town.”
No further explanation was required. Angel knew Spike referred to a vampire who specialized in the skill of torture. Their paths had never crossed, but Marcus’ reputation as an expert at drawing out secrets, at keeping his victims alive for lengthy periods of interrogation, or simply for the pleasure of the torture itself, was well known to supernatural circles.
Normally, the heads-up would be useful information, but Angel had a feeling this was all part of Spike’s plan. “You brought him here.”
Spike did not deny it. “I might have told him he could torture you into telling me where you stashed the Gem of Amarra.”
“You’d get the ring and he’d…”
“Get to torture you. It’s his thing.”
Ties that Bind
Old sweat and other unidentifiable smells permeated the air in the old van. It was completely disgusting and she was pretty sure the fake fur rug lining the floor was the cause. Their brawny captor was not exactly a paragon of cleanliness either. Cordelia had to put up with his beefy hands copping a feel every time he stopped the van to check on their bindings.
The last time he took the duct tape off their mouths telling them that screaming would not bring them any help. They were stopping for a while somewhere out of the way. Doyle made a plea for their release. He seemed to know the creep from somewhere, but that just made things worse.
“I’m not supposed to rough you up,” he balled up his ham-sized fist to hold it close to Doyle’s face. “You still owe me for your losses at the Orbit Room. Don’t think I won’t take my pound of flesh from you or your pretty little friend if either of you tries any shit.”
Cordelia shuddered at the thought of what he might do. When the van door shut behind him, she went back to tugging on her bindings. Her arms were bound behind her with rope that was thin, but strong. Her efforts to loosen the rope only left a raw abrasion across her skin.
“Maybe we had better sit quietly,” Doyle suggested from his equally tied up position on the other side of the van. “Manny is not exactly a prince among thieves. He’ll hurt you—or worse—just to get back at me no matter the deal with Spike.”
She did not need to hear the details about why he was involved in some dealings with such a shady character. It was part of his old life. The one he was trying to avoid even if it did not seem to want to let him go. Even so, Cordelia did not like getting dragged into the middle of these things. Doyle and Manny apparently had issues and they were not the only ones. Angel and Spike’s conflicts would probably fill a book.
“This whole damsel in distress thing is wearing thin.” She was not sure how much more of this she could take. A trickle of sweat rolled down her back, clothes sticky against her skin. For a moment, she wondered if she might be contributing to the grossness. “I am so ready to be rescued from this disgusting van.”
Doyle let out a sardonic laugh, “We’re a bit short of heroes at the moment,” sounding just as frustrated over the situation. “Angel doesn’t even know we’re here. He could still be fighting off trouble at the Hellmouth.”
There were a few other ideas rolling around her head about what Angel might be doing back in Sunnydale. Just how long was this apocalypse going to last anyway? “Spike should’ve just gone back to Sunnydale. This whole captive thing is a waste of time.”
“It’s a question of when, not if, Angel will get here,” Doyle assured her. “Don’t doubt that.”
Cordelia shook her head. “You don’t understand. He’s there with her. What if he doesn’t come back?”
“He’ll come back,” said Doyle with a lot more confidence than she felt. He had never seen Angel around Buffy before. “There’s the mission to consider. And you. He’s got feelings—”
Vexed at the soothing tone intended to calm her down, Cordelia cut him off, “Angel called me an annoying pain in the ass. He hates that I live next door. He’s probably still mad at me.”
“Princess, you may frustrate the hell out of him in more ways than he’ll ever admit, but staying mad at you is impossible.”
“Think so?” The thought cheered her up a bit.
Doyle shifted forward as much as his bindings would allow. “You’re always fighting about something. Has he ever held a grudge?”
That just made her smile and stare back incredulously. “Hello, this is Angel we’re talking about. I can’t even eat peanut butter in front of him without getting that judge-y stare.”
“Point taken,” he nodded, “but he does care. You know that.”
Not the way she wanted, if in fact she actually wanted to go there, to a place where she knew just how much he felt, but without being able to do anything about it. Those kinds of feelings were off limits. Dangerous.
“Sure. It’s just nice to hear it once in a while. Y’know?”
It was her own stupid fault if she had lied to Angel’s face before he left. Told him it was just the story that had gotten her hot and bothered when in fact she had somehow been working her way up to it for weeks—or years. Living near Angel, patching him up, getting closer as friends, and the whole naked thing, might just be putting thoughts in her head that really didn’t belong there. Kissing him was a mistake. He might want her, but that did not mean it was anything more than physical combustion between two hotties.
Doyle hung his head low, closed his eyes, and stayed quiet for a while until the only sounds around them were the van’s squeaky chassis as it rolled over a pothole. “Sometimes,” he began without really looking at her, “it’s better to keep things under wraps for a while. Test out the waters. Wait for the right time to reveal things.”
Ugh! Cordelia did not like that idea at all. That was too much like covering up the truth. But… “Okay, so what if I held out on telling him about the play. Every time I fail at an audition, he gets this smug look as if he knows he owns me. He takes me for granted.”
Looking at her like she was crazy, Doyle countered, “No he doesn’t. Trust me. He is terrified that you’re going to leave. He….” Breaking off, he closed his mouth into a tight line as if realizing he had said too much. Their conversations about Angel were fairly open, but Doyle usually walked a tight rope when it came to revealing what might be something private.
The notion that Angel would be terrified over anything drew a scoff of disbelief from her throat. More likely, he wanted to keep the status quo going at the office. Things were going great so far. The office was all set up and nicely organized. She had already started a nifty filing system that helped her remember each case. More clients were coming in week to week. Thanks to her billing methods, they were actually starting to be paid something. Though Angel might handle the heavy stuff when it came to Doyle’s visions, she was totally there for patching up duties.
Hell, yes, Angel should be terrified, she decided. Try finding someone else to fill her shoes.
But it was not her duties as an Angel Investigations associate that she wanted him to care about. It was their friendship, which had gotten so much closer over the past few months. Maybe the kisses were just a sign that they both needed to get laid. That might be off-limits for Angel, but not her. Yet, the thought of getting intimate with another guy left her completely cold.
It was wrong to let him go off to Sunnydale thinking she didn’t care. That was her bad. If he actually felt a tiny spark of desire that was not the result of a cursed vampire getting turned on by reading a sexy scene, she needed to hear it directly from him.
“Even when Angel bottles up his feelings I know there’s something going on behind the broody silent mode. I don’t like secrets,” she said as much to herself as to Doyle who was doing a fairly good job of trying out that patented broody treatment. “If someone has feelings about someone else they should just say so.”
Doyle choked out the question, “Really? Just like that.”
“Simple. Real. That’s the truth.”
“Okay, then. Cordelia, I think—”
Oh, no. She did not want him sticking up for Angel again. Before he could say anything else, she cut him off. “Look, Doyle. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the effort, but if I wanted relationship advice I would get it from someone a lot more Rikki Lake and a lot less Phil Donohue.”
For a second, Doyle looked like he was going to argue, but she sent him a stare that shut him up again. He let out a long sigh, gave her an odd smile, and said, “You’re right. This isn’t the time or place for this conversation. We’ve got to get out of here.”
“Love to, but hello! Just a little tied up right now.”
“Close your eyes.”
They narrowed instead. “Why?”
Doyle stalled on the question finally coming up with, “Because I asked.”
How was closing her eyes going to help them escape?
“Just do it,” Doyle hissed reminding her of Angel for a moment.
“Ooookay. Dramatic much?”
Following orders, Cordelia shut her eyes tight. Now she was curious. He was up to something scuffling around on the other side of the van and probably trying to free himself from the rope binding his wrists without looking like a dweeb.
It was not like Doyle had vamp strength or anything. Angel could probably rip out of these ropes like they were paper chains. If he were here, they never would have been captured in the first place. Angel would have kicked Spike’s boney ass all the way back to Sunnydale, but that’s where Angel was—Sunnydale.
Not that she was bitter about it.
Fine. She would keep her eyes closed and her mouth shut. Let Doyle try to be the hero just this once.
A hand suddenly closed over her mouth preventing her from screaming. She couldn’t turn her head to see what was going on. Struggling did not help.
Cordelia stilled at the sound of Doyle’s voice next to her ear. “I said keep your eyes closed. Wishful thinking, I suppose.” Something sharp brushed against her wrist rending the rope to the point that she was able to pull free. She reached up to move his hand away from her mouth, but Doyle’s skin felt almost leathery. He held her there long enough to warn her, “Don’t scream, Princess. This is the only truth I can give you.”
As soon as he released her, Cordelia swerved around to look at Doyle. Her eyes widened in surprise, but she felt no need to scream at the sight of Doyle with bright red eyes and green leathery skin with odd blue spikes. There was just a sense that it explained a few things. “I guess this is what you’ve been hiding from me. Now the whole ‘some demons are good’ conversation makes total sense.”
Using his spiked hands to cut across the rope tying her ankles together, he waited until she was free to answer. Sounding shameful about it, Doyle admitted, “I wasn’t sure you could handle it. You’d see me differently.”
“I work for a vampire, dumbass! Pretty sure I can handle anything.”
Despite his demonic appearance, she could still see her friend Doyle when he smiled. “Maybe you can.”
“Duh! Now let’s get out of here.”
Doyle moved closer to the van door grateful for the fact that Manny could not see them from the driver’s seat. “The next time he stops we’ll make a run for it.”
“Good plan.” Cordelia scooted up next to him noting the way he quickly shifted back to his human appearance when she kept on looking. “You’re not hiding anything else, are you?”
The quick denial, “No, no, not at all,” seemed almost too hasty, but the van started to slow down making escape the priority.
Cordelia grabbed the door handle to help Doyle pull it open. “Run!”