Cordelia panted hard and fast, her legs burning as she raced across the park. She glanced to her right at Gunn swinging his ax with every long stride he took. She didn’t have to look over her shoulder to know that Wesley and Fred were just a step behind – Wes carrying a short sword, Fred the crossbow.
God, she prayed they would get there in time. Please, please let this time be different. But she knew all the prayers in the world wouldn’t help. Not this time, or in any other nightmare she had about the victims they had failed.
She sped up, urging the others to do the same even though it wouldn’t, couldn’t change anything. It had already happened two weeks ago. Two weeks ago: her last vision, her last failure.
It was coming. She felt tears slide down her cheeks as she tossed in her bed, trying desperately to wake, knowing she wouldn’t. Not until it was finished. Not until she saw the little girl, her body broken and torn by the demon they were too late to save her from and too weak to defeat.
Her eyes squeezed out more tears and her fists clutched and twisted in the sheets as she prepared for the inevitable, her punishment. That’s what the dreams were. She knew that had to be it. Her punishment for not relaying the information fast enough, for not being physically strong enough. Wes and Gunn could only do so much. If she were better, the kind of person meant to be a hero, worth the visions, the little girl would be alive.
A sob escaped her when she heard the ear-piercing, heart-wrenching scream. The last sound the child would ever make. The team of four stopped short at the top of the hill that overlooked the playground. ‘Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look,’ she chanted in her mind. She wasn’t sure she could stand it again. The site of the child crouched on the ground just before the monster delivered its first killing blow. But she looked, unable to stop what was.
The little girl was cowering against the slide, gone into shock after her scream of terror. Cordelia saw Gunn and Wes moving in what seemed slow motion, weapons raised as they charged the demon. She felt her own feet move, trying to run for the girl but the air felt thick, her feet heavy. She wasn’t going to make it in time, she never did. “Please,” she whispered aloud. “Please don’t die.” She yelled for Fred in her dream, but the woman was behind her, too far from the girl as she sent a fruitless shot from the crossbow toward the creature.
The hideous blue-gray beast snarled its yellow teeth toward the would be rescuers and raised it sharp, protruding claws. Its hand swiping down toward the girl’s chest. “No!” Cordelia screamed. She froze. Her heart pounded in her ears. If she had just ran a little faster. If it hadn’t taken her so long to describe the demon to Wesley. Maybe the girl wouldn’t have died.
Another ragged sob escaped her as she waited for the claw to slice flesh, to see the spurting, thick crimson, arc from the small body. She waited, but it didn’t happen.
The monster’s tremendous hand stopped hard just inches from the girl, a pale hand halting its decent. “Not this time.” Came a soft, deadly, familiar voice. It was him, her secret dream. Her dark, brooding Angel.
The monster swung its free arm but Angel ducked the blow as a loud resonating snap, reminiscent of the horrible sound at the beach, filled the night air. The demon roared, its twisted and limp arm laying useless at its side. With a hellish growl, teeth bared and eyes blazing red, the monster charged Angel, but he was too quick again. He spun away and grabbed a huge broadsword from the damp ground. Swinging with inhuman strength, he sent the blade whistling through the air and straight through the monster’s neck, severing the macabre head.
He spared one glance at the green goo- covered sword and then turned, ignoring Wes, Gunn, and Fred and striding purposefully to her. His hand touched her tear stained face, his fingers brushing away the salty drops. “Shh, its alright. Everything is alright now. I’m here,” came his voice, more rugged and raspy than it had before.
“Don’t leave me, Angel,” she whispered just before the dream dissolved and she opened her eyes to the stranger standing unsteadily at her bedside, stroking away the tears from her cheek. A little panicked and a lot embarrassed, Cordelia sat up, trying to clear her head, trying to separate dream from reality. “What are you doing in here?” she asked with suspicion.
“You had a bad dream,” he swayed and sagged slightly and placed his hand down on her bed to still himself.
Cordelia looked at his hand on top of her covers, a fresh, bloodless wound stretching across the skin. She looked up at him in question.
“Your ghost didn’t like the idea of me coming in your room,” he gave a small head gesture to the cracked bedroom door and the kitchen knives littering the floor and the few sticking out from the wall.
“Oh,” she said in a small, uncertain voice, looking at the evidence of what lengths he had gone through to reach her, disturbed that it really didn’t disturb her.
Unable to stand any longer, he sat down on the edge of the bed. She could tell he was going to say something. She waited while he tried to compose himself, tried to hide how painful it was to speak. “You want to talk about it?” he finally asked.
Did she want to talk about it? No. She never wanted to talk about it. Ever. Only once had she even mentioned having dreams about their missions to Wesley and that had been a huge mistake. Luckily he didn’t know just how bad they were, how much they…hurt. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. She was fine. They were her nightmares, her visions, her problem, her responsibility. “I’m fine,” she gave him a sharp look even though her voice betrayed her.
“Yes, fine!” She pushed herself up a little straighter on the bed.
“And the person in your dream, the one you were begging not to die, are they fine too?”
Cordelia’s stony expression melted as a face haloed by curly blond hair flashed through her mind. “No,” she closed her eyes, her voice a quiver of sadness.
“Tell me,” he ordered gently.
The room was blanketed in darkness, the rain drummed a slow, hypnotic beat against the window, and Cordelia opened her eyes and looked at the ragged stranger, who for some reason, sitting so comfortably on her bed, didn’t feel like a stranger at all. “You know, I never even asked you your name, did I?”
“I..um.. I don‘t..,” he stammered and shifted uncomfortably, caught off guard by the change of subject and her soft, questioning voice and the fact that he didn‘t know the answer.
“It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me. Mine’s Cordelia. Cordelia Chase.”
He attempted what he thought might be a small smile and nodded, hoping that she would go on, let him in.
She could barely see his face in the shadowed room and she suddenly knew why people went to confession or called in to those talk radio shows to air their dirty laundry. It was easier to tell a stranger your problems, to confess things to someone who didn’t know you, wouldn’t judge you.
She looked down at the bed, picked at a piece of lent on the yellow blanket that covered her legs and tried to think of where to begin. “I’m.. ah.. I get these…premonitions, of people, people who are going to be hurt,” she chose her words carefully. “Those guys, Wes and Gunn, along with our other partner Fred, they ….we,” she emphasized, “try to help those people.”
When she grew silent he prodded her on, “And how do you ‘help’ them?”
“We save them, by stopping whatever is trying to hurt them, sometimes,” she muttered the last word under her breath, the tears from her nightmare still glistening in her eyes.
“Saving people shouldn’t give you nightmares,” his heart was breaking at the despair in her voice, the blame he knew she was placing on herself.
“It doesn’t. The ones we don’t save do,” her voice trembled and she looked back up at him, studying the silhouette of his face, the way the streetlight reflected in his dark eyes.
“What are you trying to save them from, Cordelia?”
It was the first time he had said her name and it sent an unexpected shiver through her, flashed images of her dream ‘Angel‘ and his plea to be saved. “Those things at the beach and other things like that – demons and monsters, your occasional evil human.”
Those things at the beach. He was one of those things at the beach.
“You probably think I’m nuts,” she mused.
“No. I don’t think you’re nuts.” Beautiful, brave, sweet and good was all that came to mind. He cursed whoever had given her this burden, made her feel responsible for the evil in the world as if she were connected to it somehow. He stared at her, wondering how a young and beautiful girl had come to think of herself as the world’s protector. Is that why she was on the beach? Had she had a vision of someone in trouble? She said the other men Wes, Gunn, and Fred were her partners yet she was out there all alone. He was furious at them for letting her suffer through the visions, for letting her out of their sight long enough to be in danger. But at the same time he was glad that she had been there alone, no matter what the reason. If she hadn’t been, things might have turned out differently, worse. When he had seen her, knew that her life was threatened, a killing rage had taken over him and he knew that no one around her would have been safe, not even her friends. Her self-appointed mission might be to protect every lost or hurting soul in the world, but he knew his was much more singular, much more focused. His was to protect Cordelia Chase and no one else, no matter the cost.
The room fell into an easy silence until the stranger rose, “Lay down. Get some rest.” He said it softly, but there was no mistaking that it was an order.
She bristled slightly, every instinct in her rebelling against being told what to do, especially by a homeless bum. She was supposed to be offering him charity, taking care of him, not the other way around. But she was tired, too tired to fight. Sliding back down the bed, she pulled the covers up under her arm and turned to her side. She watched him as he walked across the room and sat down, his back against the dresser.
“What are doing?” she leaned her head up.
“I thought I’d stick around, chase out any demons that happen to come along,” his voice sounded horrible again, raspy and cracked.
“No demons can get in here. Not with Dennis on guard,” she smiled slightly and motioned to the door.
Little did she know. His anger flared at how easy it had been for him to get in. The fact that he had been able to enter her home without an invitation still puzzled him. “I don’t mean the ones out there,” he explained, leaving it unsaid but understood that he was staying because of the dreams.
Cordelia laid her head back down, feeling safe for the first time in months, knowing somehow that at least for tonight the demons in her dreams would be defeated. Unsure if the one to defeat them roamed perfect and powerful through her sleep, or sat ragged and weak against her dresser.
He sat and stared at the shadows of rain racing down the wall and took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of her room, of her. Her heart was beating soft and steady as she slept peacefully for what he imagined was the first time in a while. The rain had almost stopped now and the moon tried to peek its way through the clouded sky, sending a muted glow through her window and touching the soft curve of her cheek. He closed his hand into a fist, remembering how her warmth spread through him as he brushed away her tears, murmuring comforting words. He clenched his fist tighter, deliberately causing pain in an attempt to stop himself from rising and crossing the room, reaching out for that warmth again.
It had been excruciating when she left him on the couch, thinking he was asleep. He had laid there listening to the sound of her wet clothes falling to the floor as she stepped into what he imagined was a warm bath. The soft splashes and ripples of the water making his body vibrate with need while he pictured her laying back, eyes closed, water caressing her, touching her in shadowed places that made his mouth water and his body hard.
He closed his eyes and willed that picture back into his mind, torturing himself even more as the smell of her room, her body, her blood, mingled with the fantasy. Her head tilted back against the tub. Her eyes closed and her curves peeking out of the water seductively. Himself kneeling on the tile floor, washing her, caressing her, hands delving down and disappearing into those shadows he’d dreamed about earlier.
She opened her eyes, looked at him with trust, love, hunger and pulled his face to hers. The kiss was deep, long and inviting. His hands sought out more supple ground as they caressed their way up to her bared, full breast. She dragged her lips away, giving off a soft, echoing moan as he….
He shook his head and forced his eyes open, pushing away the fantasy. He wasn’t locked away in some sunken dungeon any longer. She wasn’t some dream to keep him latched on to sanity. She was real and she was in danger. Danger from the visions, but more frightening, the thought that terrified him the most, was the danger she was in from herself. Her bravery. It shook him, made him worry like he knew he had never worried before. Demons, humans, any outside source he was sure he could defeat once he was at full strength, but her will. He wondered if he would ever be strong enough to defeat that.
He gazed at her, his eyes following the hypnotizing rise and fall of her chest as she lay sleeping. His ears picked up the steady flow of blood beating through her veins, hot and delicious as he fought against the change, pushed down his urge to drink what he needed, what his body screamed for. He knew he couldn’t stay, couldn’t protect her from the outside world or himself for that matter until he satisfied his hunger.
Looking at the window, he could sense that dawn was still several hours away. Plenty of time to seek out what he needed and return to her and the safety of her apartment before the sun rose. Standing on shaky legs, he felt repulsion for what he was and what he was about to do as he watched her sleeping, bathed in moonlight like some angelic figure while he stood broken and torn in the shadows of her room. She was an angelic figure, an angel that wanted to save the world. A good soul who had visions of innocent people in trouble, in danger. Even though he knew there was no other choice, he didn’t want to leave her. He was ashamed of what his body needed to heal, and that without it he was too weak to protect her. What if she had another nightmare? Worse. What if she had a vision?
No matter his feeling, no matter his fears, it couldn’t be helped. He was what he was. A vampire. A vampire in desperate need of blood. Hot, rich, healing human blood. He left the apartment wondering if her nightmares would come back with his absence, praying that she didn’t have a vision, and that if she did, that the victim in it wouldn’t be his.
He had traveled at least fifteen miles and hadn’t had any luck. The streets were virtually bare, he guessed because of the earlier storm. No wonder the shelters were full. But just as the cringe worthy thought of ally rats had entered his mind, a stroke of luck was sent his way in the form of the Sunset Movie Theatre and the release of the late show patrons.
The intoxicating smell almost knocked him off his feet as the crowd rushed out of the metal doors. He found the closest shadow as he watched for his moment, hiding his face as it instinctually morphed into its true form. The first humans close enough were a man and a woman holding hands as they darted around puddles and giggled happily while hurrying to their car. They were his first choice, he wanted to rip out their throats in a jealous rage, envious of their seemingly blissful life.
He forced his predatory stare away from them, unwilling to let himself attack the couple out of anger, unsure he could stop himself from killing them. He needed to feed, that was certain, but it didn’t mean he had to kill his victim. He couldn’t go back to her like that, like the things in her nightmares. Whoever he fed from, he would leave alive.
Scanning the area, he noticed that two males lagged behind, arguing over a cell phone at the side of the building. The larger of the two was strong and tall with the build of a soldier. The other was smaller, wiry and agile. Neither seemed to notice the fading crowd as they continued their argument, barely progressing in their walk to the nearby old truck.
“Man, its 12:54 a.m. now give me the damn phone before I break it over your thick head.”
“I just need to check on her. The conversation I had with her earlier this evening was odd. She seemed…..”
“Pissed, irritated, smothered by her over protective, workaholic partner.”
“Pleasant was the word I was looking for. Much too pleasant.”
“You mean pleasant as in normal-on-a-good day pleasant or weird over-the-top-trying-to convince-everyone I’m fine pleasant.”
“The second type of pleasant.”
A scream interrupted the two men, turning their attention to the young teenage girl running from the alley.
“Whoa, hold on,” the larger man caught her by the shoulders, trying to gently shake her from her hysterics. “What the hell you runnin’ from?”
She sobbed and shook her head, unable to catch her breath through the sobs.
“Are you injured? Can we call someone?” the man with the accent asked softly.
“He… he told me to… to run. Before it was too late. Run he said. I was just waiting on Jerry. He works the snack bar on Fridays,” she cried
“Who told you to run?” the man who held her asked.
“He said he wouldn’t hurt me if I ran. So I did what he said, but not before I saw his face. I’ve got to go,” she struggled out of the man’s grip. “Get out of here. He’s not right. He looks like….”
“Like what?” the gentler man asked.
“Like a monster,” she whispered before running into the night, away from the building.
“Possibly, of course I’ve never heard of a vampire warning off a victim.”
“Well, whatever kind of evil thing it is,” the man explained as he walked the few steps left to his truck and handed his companion a stake and a short sword before pulling out a large axe for himself, “if its still back there it’s gonna be a dead evil thing.”
“Technically vampires are ….right,” the man with the accent resigned off of his friend’s look of impatience. “I’ll take the east side of the building.”
“Meet ya round back,” the other said as he rounded the corner.
With his friend out of sight, the thin man pushed his glasses nervously up higher on his nose and then raised the stake in one hand, the sword low at his side in the other. “Whoever you are,” he called to the darkened alley as he took a few tentative steps between the buildings, “I must warn you. I have been trained to fight monsters such as yourself nearly from birth.” His voice echoed eerily in the silence. “I’m not alone,” he said more for his own confidence than to scare whatever lurked in the alley. “My colleague and I have you cornered. There is no escape.” A noise startled him causing the stake to fall to the ground. Hurriedly he bent to retrieve it and straightening found himself face to face with the most hideous vampire he had ever seen.
“You’re right. There is no escape,” the creature said as he knocked the stake and the sword from the stunned man’s hands and grabbed him with quick fierce speed, sinking his fangs deeply into his victim’s neck.