Shadow of the Beast. 2

Part 2

Wesley slowly walked to the blackened double doors as the persistent knock continued. It had taken him a moment to even register exactly what the sound was. It had been a long time since anyone had carelessly and unknowingly wandered down the lonely, abandoned street after dark. And usually those few that did never made it as far as the hotel before turning back, or running back that is. He remembered the night he had been one of those few, proclaiming himself a rogue demon hunter, daring to hunt down the mysterious creature that lived in the towering hotel.

Having read Mr. Giles’ accounts back in Sunnydale of the souled vampire and after adding his expertise and thoughts of probability to the debate of whether or not the vampire had been legitimately trying to help. His official opinion had been that the attempt had more likely been a trick, conjured up by the vampire who’s true name Wesley knew of, through the Watchers’ Archives, as Angelus.

After being placed on an indefinite leave without pay, or what most liked to call fired, from the Watchers Council for his inability to control his first Slayer, Buffy Summers, and the influence of her previous Watcher Rupert Giles, Wesley had vowed he would prove himself and his worth. Thus, taking on the burden of a lone demon hunter. His plan had been to travel the world, seeking out the demons he had only read about at the prestigious, yet secretive, school for Watchers in England. His first stop, Los Angeles, hub of some of the most evil in the United States.

He had some success at first, killing two vampires, a Krylock demon, and almost catching a Primethis Slug – very fast creatures despite their name. Then he found the dark and lonely street he soon would call home. He had heard of the area, of the whispered rumors of a creature that kept all living things away. Intending on a show of great heroism that was sure to win back the approval of the Council, Wesley armed himself, ready to capture or kill the being that seemed to terrify most in the city, or die trying.

He paused a moment before reaching the doors, thinking of how differently things could have turned out that night. He had intended on killing Angel, especially when he recognized the vampire from the drawings of Angelus he had studied in his days of training.

Slowly the ex-Watcher had crept inside of the ghostly domain, searching every room until the first rays of dawn were only minutes away, finally spotting his target. Feeling a sense of joy at finding one of the most legendary and feared vampires in history, Wesley had raised his crossbow as he entered the empty room on the top floor of the hotel, adrenaline pumping fast and hard through his veins.

But he never fired the bow that night. How could he? The beast he had sought out, the Scourge of Europe, the feared vampire Angelus, was not the being he saw perched on the highest balcony, eyes closed, face turned up to the eastern sky, waiting.

The image had thrown him so much, made him question his previous assessment of the situation in Sunnydale, that Wesley lowered his weapon.

“What are you waiting for?” Angel had asked, his voice filled with ache and sorrow, his eyes still closed as he remained as still as stone.

The insistent knocking roused Wesley from memories of the night that had changed his life and his beliefs of good and evil forever. Rubbing his tired eyes he reached out and unbolted the door, opening it just enough to see the unfortunate human, or enemy who stood beyond the painted glass.

“Cordelia?” Wesley peered out at his one time secret crush from Sunnydale.

Cordelia tried a bright smile as she stared through the small crack in the doorway at a man that barely resembled the handsome Englishman she had flirted with in passing at school. Gone were the glasses and stuffy suits, replaced by a face full of scruffy stubble and casual, wrinkled clothing. His once sharp, clear eyes now bloodshot and drooping with exhaustion.

He guessed that he should not have been surprised. He had not known the teenager very well, but he did remember her persistence when it came to getting what she wanted. “Did you understand anything I told you when you phoned last?”

“Hi, Wesley. It’s good to see you too,” she said it honestly.

“He won’t see you,” Wesley kept his stance stubbornly, the door remaining firmly more closed than open. “He doesn’t see anyone… on purpose,” the last two words trailed almost silently after the others.

“If he doesn’t help me, my dad will die, Wesley.”

Wesley’s gaze turned down, unable to look at the pleading desperation in her beautiful hazel eyes.

“Did you hear me, Wesley? Die.” She hoped that would be enough for him to let her in. Hoped that her entire story would never have to be revealed. Ashamed that she was too weak to immediately give up her own life to save that of someone she loved.

“I’m sorry, Cordelia,” he confessed, still unable to look at her. “Your father’s debts are owed to a very powerful being. I wish…..” he took a deep breath. He did wish that he could help, would if it were HER life on the line and not her father’s. But he wasn’t strong enough to face something that great alone and Angel had already given his answer. The vampire would never go back to Sunnydale, for anyone or anything, and in fairness to Angel, Wesley couldn’t fault him for that.

Wesley finally looked up at her, “I’m sorry,” he started to shut the door but before it could close, Cordelia shoved a stylishly heeled boot in the opening. “Wesley, I don’t have anywhere to go,” she tried again. “I’ve asked for help from everyone, anyone. You think I would come here first? This is my last choice, my last hope.”

Wesley just stared at her, unsure of what to do. Angel had already given his answer, but maybe if Wesley talked to him again, explained things a little better. And even if Angel was still unwilling to help her, maybe a phone call to Mr. Giles would help. The Slayer was strong and surely able to help her father out of his dilemma.

“I took a bus, a cab, have sold or lost everything I own, and now I’m ruining the best and only pair of boots I have,” she tried for snark since begging seemed to be lost on him. “Are you going to let me in or not?”

“Oh, sorry,” he looked down at the booted foot still holding open the door and stepped back, allowing her to slip inside.

Cordelia’s breath caught in her throat as she entered the lobby, a look of surprise on her face. It wasn’t grand, at least not compared to some of the hotels she had occupied in her young pampered life. And, although it had obviously been refurbished to a certain extent, it still had a long way to go. Even so, it was a contradiction to the face it wore on the outside. It was clean, well lit, warm and for some strange reason gave her a sense of security. As if as long as she were surrounded by it’s walls, no harm could come to her. She looked back at Wesley, who turned to her after bolting the door.

“I’m surprised,” she said.

“Surprised?” he asked as he passed her and walked toward a room off the lobby that looked like an office, Cordelia not far behind.

“I just didn’t expect it to look like this.”

“And how did you expect it to look?” he asked absently as he reached down to the lamp on his desk, turning off the light and gathering a few scattered and opened books.

Cordelia caught a falling book from his arms as they both exited the office. “Ya know. Cobwebs, candelabras, big pipe organ. It looked so dark and scary from the outside.”

“Yes, well. That was Gunn’s idea. No matter how much work we do on the inside, he insists that we do only the minimal repairs needed on the exterior, just enough to keep us from demolition or city inspectors, but not enough to attract unwelcome guests,” he cut his eyes to her at the words ‘unwelcome guests’ before continuing, “And of course all of the windows have been painted black, therefore, it isn’t surprising that you saw no light.”

Cordelia shivered at that explanation, the idea of just why the windows were blackened reminding her what else, besides the companion beside her, resided in the old building. “Who’s Gunn?” she asked more to give her mind another train of thought than out of real genuine interest.

“A friend,” was his simple, unelaborated answer.

“Does he live here too?”

“Yes.”

“So, there are two of you here then? With the vampire.”

“Actually, there are four of us, including Angel,” he answered again without elaboration, giving Cordelia the feeling that Wesley had no intentions of sharing any more information than what was absolutely necessary.

Noticing that they were heading in the direction of the massive staircase, Cordelia’s steps slowed, the courage that had been revved-up by the speech she had repeated to herself over and over during the bus ride to L.A., quickly fading from her memory. “Where are we going?” she could hear her heart thumping in her ears and willed herself to take a deep, calming breath.

Wesley turned and walked the few steps back that she had lagged. He looked at her wearily, “Cordelia, I will speak to Angel for you just before sunrise, I’ll even call Mr. Giles tomorrow if the answer from Angel is still no. But it is late and I am very tired.”

“But I could just speak to him. Explain to him how important…..”

“He knows, Cordelia,” Wesley interrupted. “I relayed the entire situation to him and his answer was no. He won’t see you. He won’t see anyone apart from the people who reside in this hotel. And then it is only limited to a few brief moments, just before sunrise. It is the only time that any of us are allowed onto the top floor, the only time that any of us will go,” he stood and watched her face sink in defeat. “I’ll try,” his tone softened into an attempt at reassurance. He wanted to reach out and lay a comforting hand on her young shoulders that bore too large a burden on behalf of another. “Believe me, I will try. But if I am to be persuasive, I need rest. As I am sure you do as well,” he said sympathetically, his heart going out to her at the clear evidence in her eyes of the worry and fatigue her father had caused.

“I’ll put you close to Fred,” he said as he headed back for the stairs, expecting her to follow. When she did, he continued. “Don’t be alarmed. Angel never descends to the lower floors. One would never know that he was here if they weren’t initially informed of his presence,” he passed on the information as they reached the first landing and headed down the hall.

Stopping in front of one of the many doors, Wesley pulled out a key and turned the lock. The room was the size of a large bedroom, furnished only by a double bed and old chest.

“I’ll get Fred to bring you down some of her extra linens,” he stood in the doorway and watched as she entered the room cautiously, fingering the bare mattress and wondering how in the world she was supposed to be able to sleep with the knowledge that a vampire was loose in the building.

An awkward silence stretched on for a moment.

Feeling as if he should say more but unable to think of a word, Wesley stood just inside the room for another minute, “Try to get some rest,” he said before reaching over and grasping the handle, closing the door softly. He hoped that Angel would help her, believing that the act might just be the thing to bring him closer to his cure.

***

He sat in the comfort of darkness, slouched in a corner of the barren room. Every sense, every cell, focusing on the foreign presence in the hotel. She had just entered the building, yet she was everywhere. He closed his amber eyes and lifted his head, breathing in the air, taking in the scent of the woman he had ordered not to come.

She was much more beautiful than Wesley had described. He had noticed that immediately as he leapt as quiet as death from rooftop to rooftop, following her as she bravely walked down the street. Watching her as the cab driver sped away before she had passed the first building. Coward.

When Wesley had first spoken to him of her problem, he had dismissed it as soon as it was revealed that her father was being held in Sunnydale. The beautiful façade of a town, hiding the gates of hell.

He gritted his jagged teeth as pain washed through him, memories of his first attempt at doing real good in the world filling his mind. He would never forget the young Slayer’s scream when his face briefly slipped into the image of the permanent monster he now was. He had stared in confusion at her for only a moment, surprised by the kiss she had given him, before realizing what had happened. Standing paralyzed he had watched as her face changed quickly from terror to disgust.

And why shouldn’t she have been disgusted?

He stood and began pacing the floor restlessly. He had tried once to help a beautiful young girl from Sunnydale, laid himself open to danger and destruction in order to keep her safe. And what did he get in return? A ‘no thanks’ in the form of a spell that kept him permanently in the shadows. That made sure he’d never approach a human again without the brand of what he was solidly in place.

He had thought to scare the beautiful brunette as she walked so purposefully down the dark street all alone. Terrify her into running back to Sunnydale, his mind already branding her a foolish kid for attempting personal contact with him. However, with each step she took down the deserted road, he realized that, although young, she was no kid. And certainly no fool.

She knew exactly what she was doing, what she was risking. Or at least she thought she did. He discerned that by the fear that radiated from her, the way her heart raced faster and faster the closer she came to the hotel. Yet she held herself regally, never giving a clue to the outside world of the fear that was eating her alive. That was not a definition for foolishness, but bravery.

He also knew a piece of information that she had not given to Wesley. A term, or alternative, that her father’s captor had given to her.

He paced faster, a low growl emanating from his chest as he imagined her taking the deal, offering herself up as some sacrificial lamb in order to save a brainless father. He pushed down another feral growl. Why should he care? No one in Sunnydale had cared about his ability to help before. Besides, she might brave an attempt to speak with him, knowing that Wesley would be close by, but she would never be brave enough to go back to Sunnydale and give herself freely to any monster. Never.

He would not help her.

So her father would die. He was a simple minded human to borrow money from a being that would take his flesh over cash anyway. Leave him to the fate he created for himself.

But what of the fate he had created for his daughter? She was all alone and the object of some monster’s obsession, whether she turned herself over to him or not. Angel knew the Memlock demon, along with his perversions. Knew that the huge, snake-skinned creature wanted Cordelia and that he would make her pay on her father’s debt, one way or another. The money was really inconsequential when it came to his fetishes. And one of those fetishes just so happened to be collecting young, attractive, human girls by the dozen. He probably wet himself when he saw Cordelia Chase.

Angel’s fists clenched at the picture his mind conjured of her in her father’s place.

“I don’t care,” he growl at himself.

She would send Wesley to him again, but his answer would still be no. It didn’t matter that she had shocked him with her bravery or how difficult it must have been for her to come to something like him for help, knowing what he was. None of that was his fault. He would not feel guilty for it. She had been told not to come.

Then why did she? And why did her very presence seem to torture him? He tried to focus on something else, anything besides the smell of her, the image of her, the sound of her heartbeat as it joined with the others in the hotel. He would not let those things affect him. Would not waver. He had given her his answer. Twice.

Angel’s pacing turned into more of an angry gate as he crossed the room and turned back again, telling himself that his answer to Wesley would still be no. It didn’t matter that he would have to watch as she left the hotel to face her fate. He wouldn’t help her, he couldn’t.

He had to ready himself for Wesley’s plea. He knew the former Watcher would do his best to convince him, still holding on to the hope that Angel was the one spoken about in the obscure little prophecy he had found. The disillusioned humans who had taken up residence in his building might think he was some tortured potential do-gooder, but in truth, the few acts they had witnessed had been no more than whims, accidents even. He was no more a hero than any other demon that walked the streets at night. No matter what their hopes.

He was furious at her for coming, for putting him in this position. “I don’t care,” he repeated again, his voice dripping with hatred, welcoming in the anger to crush the guilt. Knowing that deep inside, where the now dead flame of hope had been lit three years ago by Whistler, he really did care.

***

Cordelia jumped slightly at the rap on the door before quickly composing herself. “Come in,” she called from her seat on the bed.

A timid thin woman with large glasses entered the room, her arms full of linens, sheets, a blanket, pillow and what looked like a piece of clothing folded neatly on top.

“Hi,” the woman smiled after laying the items on the mattress and waved a little too enthusiastically for someone living with a vampire. “I’m Fred,” she leaned in as she spoke, a nervous laugh escaping her lips as she pushed up her glasses that slid slightly down her nose.

“Cordelia,” she responded and gave a small smile back. Standing up, she reached out for the pile of linens.

“Oh, here,” Fred seemed giddy as she reached out and grabbed the item on top. “It’s a night gown. Wesley said he didn’t think you brought anything with you. I’ve only worn it a couple of times, since I bought it, not since it’s been washed because it’s not dirty or anything, it’s clean and its pretty comfortable for a long one although I usually prefer the shorter ones, they don’t get all twisted up when you toss too much or have those really bad dreams about cows and caves,” she finished breathless as she handed the long white night gown to Cordelia.

Ooookay. “Thanks,” Cordelia reached out and took the pretty but plain garment from the obviously disturbed young woman. ‘Well, what do expect, Cordy?’ she thought to herself. ‘She lives with a vampire. That alone defines crazy.’

Thirty minutes later, after insisting on helping Cordelia make-up the bed, hosting a long winded tour of the small bathroom, and offering several times to share some of the tacos stashed in her room, Fred allowed Cordelia to usher her politely to the door. But just before leaving, she turned around, her face sincere. “Are you afraid?” Fred asked her in a quiet almost childlike voice, the crazed look and rambling sentences suddenly gone.

“Yes,” Cordelia answered, longing to talk to someone about it, welcoming that intimate moment of kindred spirit that all women seem to share.

Fred didn’t respond to her answer as they both stood silently at the door. After a few heartbeats, Cordelia asked, “Fred? Why are you here? What made you want to live in the house of a vampire?”

“I was in a really bad place for a long time. But I finally found a way out. It was simple really, it shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did. I just followed the numbers and then I was home. But I think my brain took a little longer gettin back,” she smiled shyly, able to acknowledge her obvious mental state. “I think it just forgot how to not be there. I wandered around for a couple of nights before it happened,” she seemed to stop and think a moment.

“What happened, Fred?” Cordelia asked softly, urging the young woman to continue.

“I was in an alley I’d been sleepin’ in. There were a couple of men…….they tried to….,” Fred seemed uncomfortable and Cordelia felt regret for pushing for the story. “I’m usually pretty good at hiding, or defending myself. But there were two of’em,” she said almost apologetically as she looked down at the floor. “I just remember them laughin about what they said they were going to do before one of them punched me so hard I fell. I was a little dizzy and it took a few minutes for me to remember where I was, that I hadn’t got lost again. When I finally looked up, I saw Charles Gunn standin there with a bat in his hand and both men slumped over on the ground,” she smiled and looked up again. “He brought me back here and I’ve been living with him and Wesley ever since.”

“And Angel,” Cordelia reminded her.

“I don’t think I’d call what Angel’s doin here livin,” she whispered.

Cordelia leaned against the wall near the door and let out a big breath, she thought about Fred’s choice of the phrase ‘not living’ when describing a vampire and shook off a shudder. Turning her head she looked at the other woman who still stood in the doorway. “What’s he like?” she kept her voice soft, as if someone other than Fred might hear her question.

“I don’t know, really. He doesn’t let any of us get too close. Good and bad. Nice and not so nice. It’s not his fault really, I guess. He’s just kinda stuck ya know, between our world and his, and he’s hurting. Sorta like a wounded animal that growls anytime someone gets near, even if they’re tryin to help. At least that’s what I think he must be like.”

Cordelia didn’t like the illustration Fred had given of the mysterious vampire. Wounded animals might elicit sympathy, but they were still animals, unpredictable and violent.

“Wesley thinks Angel’s a tortured soul, that he was meant to do good but was kinda pushed off his path by what happened with the Slayer. He’s always in his office studyin prophecies and tryin to find a cure for Angel’s curse. He goes and talks with him sometimes but never for very long.”

“What about Gunn? What brought him here?”

“Angel saved his life. I don’t really know what happened. Charles doesn’t like to talk about it, but I know it was right after he lost his sister. He goes out with Angel at night sometimes, to hunt, but I don’t think it’s because he likes him or trusts him. I think he’s just waitin to pay back the favor, or for Angel to mess up. Maybe a little of both. He grew up on the streets fightin vampires, hatin’em for the things he witnessed. I think it confuses him that one would do something good.”

Cordelia could understand that. “So you’ve never seen him? Angel?”

“No,” she said softly and Cordelia couldn’t tell if Fred’s answer held a meaning of regret or relief. “But I just know that he can’t be completely bad.”

“Oh, why not?” after all of the stories, Cordelia still couldn’t seem to believe in the idea of a good demon, or at least one that was not completely evil.

Fred shrugged her shoulders before answering, “He gave me a home, a place to feel safe again, whether he meant to or not. I’d like to tell him thanks for that. I’d like to think he was glad that Charles brought me here, saved me from being just another crazy homeless person.”

Cordelia’s heart went out to Fred. When they had chatted, or rather when Fred had rambled as they made the bed, Cordelia had found out that Angel had paid cash for the hotel. That Wesley had told her once that Angel had a small fortune stashed away, left over from his days as a true vampire, one without a soul. He didn’t lavish any of his tenants with gifts or anything, but none of them were required to contribute financially to the old building. And Fred was supplied with a moderate and steady allowance. Cordelia had no way of knowing if this was Angel’s decision or the influence of the two men who obviously watched over Fred, but she could understand why she might feel a since of loyalty or gratitude to someone who she viewed as a benefactor of sorts.

“Guess I better go and let you get some sleep,” Fred moved then, just out of the room and into the hall. “Don’t worry. Wesley will help you, even if Angel can’t,” she said with great conviction.

“Goodnight,” Cordelia watched from her doorway while Fred walked to her room a few doors down.

Shutting the door, Cordelia buried her face in her hands and blew out a large breath of frustration. Angel wasn’t going to help her. Even Fred seemed to sense that. And Wesley had already pleaded her case twice to him and the answer had been no.

Cordelia walked to the bed and sat down, her shoulders slumped in depression and defeat. Angel wouldn’t help her, and poor Wesley couldn’t. She had already spoken to Giles, knew to what extend he was willing to go.

Picking up the gown, Cordelia grabbed her large purse full of what little personal items she had brought, wondering if a warm bath would help the cold numbness that was filling her up inside as the growing realization that she was the only one who could save her father became all too clear.

***

Cordelia lay quiet and still in the darkened room, a cross clutched tightly in one hand, thoughts of her father, her mother, her life plaguing her mind. How had she come to this? There had been a time in her life that her biggest worries were which date to choose and what shoes to wear.

Her eyes focused on the opened window and the vague muted light that filtered through it and into the room. She had had to open it, unable to stand just the idea of the blackened window, even if the sky was almost as dark as the painted panes. In some ways she thought it must be her fear giving her another form of defense to go along with the wooden cross, thinking to repel the vampire by the idea of a window opened to the sky, no matter that it was still night and wouldn’t affect him at all. Fear never was a very rational advisor.

She should just leave, go home and get it over with. What difference did it make that she had four more days left when she knew the inevitable outcome?

Of course, her fate wasn’t really sealed, she did have a choice. She didn’t have to go back to Sunnydale.

Cordelia swallowed back a small sob at that thought, that she would even entertain the option of abandoning her father. But why did that surprise her? It was just what her mother had done. Maybe she was more like her than she wanted to believe.

Her eyes focused on the room again as she desperately pulled her thoughts away from guilt and blame. She wouldn’t leave her father. She knew that. Her desperate and brief thoughts of not returning to help him were just her last frantic gasps of oxygen before drowning.

She studied the shadows again, counting them like sheep. One. Two. Three. She stopped. Concentrating on a very large, dark outline near the corner of the room. She squinted, shifted her eyes away and then back again, but no matter what she tried, the shape still looked the same, like that of a man. She knew better, knew that no one had entered the room. But then it moved slightly.

Cordelia’s head shot up from the pillow and she sat straight up, her heart pounding out a frenzied rhythm as she moved to get out of her bed.

“Stay where you are,” the voice rumbled the order softly, like distant thunder.

Cordelia stilled, her left hand twisted in the sheet that covered her just above the legs, while the right gripped the cross she held so hard a splinter pricked the palm of her hand. She waited for his cue, to know whether to speak or scream.

“Why did you come her?” the low voice was filled with anger and admonishment. “Wesley gave you your answer. Did you think coming here would convince me?”

Her fear almost turned to anger at the contempt in his voice. Lifting her chin, she looked in his direction, unwilling to let him intimidate her. She had wanted to plead her case personally, now was her chance. “I had to try. He’s going to kill my dad.”

“So pay him the money,” he said so simply she wanted to cry.

“I don’t have it, or I would,” she bit out.

“Well then, what do you want from me? Money? If you borrowed it from me, wouldn’t you be right back where you started? In the debt of a demon?” his sarcasm was a cruel taunt at her situation.

“I didn’t come here to ask for money,” she stayed the quiver in her voice.

“Then what did you come here to ask me for, Cordelia?”

His voice had been hard and admonishing until her name had crossed his lips, softening the sound and making her uncomfortable at the intimateness of it, the caress it held. “I just….,” she breathed slowly and collected herself. “I thought that maybe you could, would ‘convince’ him to let my dad go. I’d still pay back the money he owes of course, eventually.”

“Oh, ‘convince’. And why should I risk myself for a man who is dumb enough to borrow money from something like a Memlock demon?”

“Why?”

“Well, what’s in it for me? Besides the pleasure of pissing off one of the biggest demons on the West Coast?”

She finally realized. Angel was just like the other demon. He wanted payment. “I’ve got a string of pearls missed by my mother’s quick and greedy exodus. They’re worth about three-thousand.”

“Not enough,” he gave a humorless laugh. “Anything else.”

She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t have anything else.

“So, that’s all you have to offer? A necklace for the life of your father, the greedy fool.”

“He’s not a fool!” she argued passionately. “He was desperate.” And so was she. She looked back at the figure, “Please,” the word tore it’s way from her heart and cut straight through him. “I can’t just leave him there.”

A picture suddenly formed in his mind of her begging for her father’s life in front of the Memlock, of the pleasure it must have brought him. He wanted to rip the monster to pieces for that, to kill her father for causing it and her for lowering herself in front of the creature.

His anger turned into words that lashed out at her, “And did you beg so sweetly when you made your deal with the Memlock?” he hissed between gritted teeth.

He knew.

“What makes you think I’m any different? You know what I am. What’s in my nature to do. I’m a monster just like he is. That’s why you came to me, isn’t it? To find a monster to defeat a monster?”

“Some people say your different than other demons. That you have a soul. Even if you don’t let it show,” she meant the last as an insult and he clearly understood it for just that.

“A soul doesn’t automatically mean you’re good, that you care. There are enough humans in the world that prove that fact on a daily basis.”

“There must be something in you that cares a little. You live with humans.”

“Well, unlike vampires, humans can enter your home without an invitation. Just because I don’t kill them, doesn’t mean that they are welcomed.”

She was tired of the fruitless conversation and the game of words he seemed to be playing, “Are you going to help me, or not?” her voice was soft and weary.

“No,” he answered, his body tensing at the bite in his own voice and the emptiness in her eyes as she resigned herself to her fate.

Cordelia rose then and dropped the cross on the bed. What did it matter now? Die tonight, tomorrow, six weeks from today, she no longer cared.

“Where are you going?” his voice thundered as it had before, demanding a reply.

“Home,” she said as she began to take small steps in the darkness, heading for the light switch by the door.

“Why?”

“Have you been listening? To save my father you jerk.”

“So it’s that easy for you? To trade your life for his. You’d give yourself to that monster so that he can live?”

He sounded outraged and she turned and looked in his direction just before she reached the door, “Yes.”

“So,” he paused, his voice taking on a sinister note. “You do have something more valuable than a necklace,” there was a grimness to his words, and at once she knew he was attempting a bargain. The same one that waited for her in Sunnydale.

Her mouth was dry and her chest rose and fell quickly. She had been prepared for this fate in Sunnydale. What difference did it make which beast she went to? “You’ll get him away from that monster?” she hoped and feared it at the same time.

“You’ll give your life for his?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“And I can believe you? Trust that you’ll do what you say?”

“You hold my dad’s life in your hands. I think tonight should instill enough trust in you that I’ll do anything for that.”

“Then it’s done.”

He moved then, and she thought of what he was, what he needed to live. Could that be what he meant? Literally give her life to him as payment? Unable to control herself, she turned and flipped on the switch, as if the light would banish him as it did any bad dream or creepy shadow; but she couldn’t seem to make herself turn around, to look death in the face. She longed for the forgotten cross on the bed and uttered a silent prayer that he had meant his words. That her death would free her father.

The bright room was an unexpected assault and he knew instantly she had done it to chase him away, thinking that he was going to kill her and that the light would cause him to slither back under his rock like all disgusting things that live in dark places. That was her impression of him, something ugly and evil, cowering in the shadows. He stared at her back as it trembled, the courage she had flashed at him in the dark gone as she came to terms with what she had actually done. He wandered if she would stay true to her word. If he could make her break it. “Don’t make deals you can’t keep, Cordelia,” he warned, daring her to turn around and see the monster to which she had sold herself.

Staring at her trembling hands, Cordelia took a deep breath and turned, readying herself for the hideous sight.

He stood straight and tall in the middle of the room, his amber eyes burning into her, waiting for her to run in terror or collapse to the floor in sobs, begging to take back the bargain. But just like anything viewed in shadows and darkened rooms, whispered about and feared, he became clearer in the light, less monster and more intimidating figure. He was tall and thick, with broad shoulders and a menacing presence; and the muscles that tensed and flexed under her scrutiny, gave her more of a sense of power than menace. His face was definitely one of a vampire, but even that, bathed in the glow of the overhead bulbs was not as terrifying as she had thought it would be. She supposed that running for your life through the Sunnydale Cemetery made the idea of sharp teeth and a bumpy brow much scarier than it seemed now.

She found herself staring into his amber eyes, swimming in the deep emotions of hate and pain that swirled within them, thinking that Fred’s assessment had been right. He was more injured animal than demon. And in some ways that made him all the more dangerous.

His brow furrowed and he took a small step back, as if to catch himself, before straightening again and looking at her as if she had struck him. He had expected fear, but he had gotten much worse, a small amount of pity and a large amount of curiosity. The kind of look that might grace the faces of freak-show patrons or students looking into formaldehyde jars. “Get a good look, Cordelia. See exactly what kind of deal you’ve made,” he ordered with a growl, his eyes turbulent and cruel.

He was trying too hard to scare her now and she knew it. She thought about what Xander had told her. That Angel had come to Sunnydale to help and what the result of that attempt had been. She wondered why he never let the others see him, yet gave them a home and, in a sense, took care of them. Why would an evil vampire do that? Why would a marginally good one after being cursed by the first humans he tried to help?

He was putting her through something that he never forced on the other members of his house. Suddenly she was afraid of the possibility that he would change his mind, that he wanted to. That he was giving her a test that she was expected to fail, allowing him to go back on his promise.

Well, she would not let him. She had come too far to give up now. No matter what feelings raged within her at the moment, she could not show fear, regret, or disgust at what he was, enabling him to use that as an excuse to run away, abandon his attempt at helping her the way he had Buffy and the others in Sunnydale.

It might not be too bad living in the old hotel, she reasoned with herself, always the survivor. The others seemed to come and go as they pleased. She’d have Fred for company and she could visit her father, go out during the day. Eventually, maybe even go to school. Cordelia remembered what Fred had told her, how she wished that she could thank Angel for what he had done, no matter how he felt about it.

Tentatively she took a small step forward, causing Angel’s body to visibly tense, “Thank you,” she breathed, showing that she not only wasn’t afraid but even grateful for his help. And in some ways she was, now that she knew the trade had not meant her death and that her father would be set free.

Angel stood uncertainty, not knowing what to do at the unexpected reaction and words of thanks. Everything about her surprised him, caught him off guard. He stared back into her hazel eyes full of fear at her situation and cautious gratitude. Just as it had before, her bravery shook him, changed everything he wanted to believe about humans.

He looked at the way she stood so still, so brave as she looked at a product of hell. She was holding herself in that regal stance again, the one she had donned as she walked so fearlessly away from the cab. He stared at her features, the perfect line of her face, the fullness of her lips and her soft, sun kissed glow. Her beauty was much more prevalent as she stood half way across the room like some angelic goddess in the clingy, white night gown. The bronze of her skin enhanced even more by the color of the garment as it gently hugged her curves. Her coffee colored hair tumbling loosely around her face and down her back, urging him to touch it, to run his fingers through it.

The old familiar memory of angry and disgusted eyes came fresh and fast in his mind, the irises morphing from clear, blue to sparkling, hazel. He cursed himself internally at his thoughts and boiled with rage at her for turning on the light, for making him feel so vulnerable to her eyes, and her so inviting to his. She was acting as if she weren’t afraid of him, and for a moment he had believed it. Relished it.

Suddenly he felt over-exposed, imagining, after admiring her beauty, what a hideous creature he must seem to her. “Turn it off,” he growled.

“What?”

“The light! Turn it off!” he roared.

Cordelia stepped back quickly and plunged the room back into darkness. Her hands were shaking again and her heart pounded so hard she felt dizzy.

Angel took several steps until he stood just inches from her, his face hidden again in shadows. She thought about screaming for Wesley. Instead she froze, waiting for his next unpredictable move, for the injured beast to strike.

He stood over her for what seemed an eternity, intimidating, aggressive. The darkness turning him back into the deadly creature he was as his shadow engulfed her, smothered her until she felt as if she couldn’t breath. “Are you afraid of me, Cordelia?” he finally spoke; his voice was soft and menacing, expecting a truthful answer. He knew she was and wanted to feed that fear, punish her for turning on the light.

“Well,” her voice shook, but she didn’t care. “That’s what you want, isn’t it? To scare everyone away so you can lick your wounds in private?”

The truth of her words stabbed him even as their openness created an odd sense of intimacy.

“There is a reason I live in darkness, Cordelia. A reason I don’t want anyone to look at me,” he leaned close to her ear, “Don’t ever do that again,” he threatened through clenched teeth.

And then he was gone.

Part 3

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