Sunlight streamed through the single shuttered window, painting the floor with broken strips of yellow that did little to brighten the grim surroundings. The room was small and dusty, the hot air stifling without the ever present central air blasting the Californian heat away.
Daniel wiped the sweat away from the back of his neck with a towel and thought longingly of cool suites at the Plaza, mini bars stocked with thirst quenching refreshments, and a soft bed that didn’t smell faintly of urine.
A mouse skittered across the floor, pausing to stare curiously at the intruder that had taken over its home before it once again disappeared beneath one of the loose floorboards. The scuttling of tiny hidden claws blared like a fog horn in Daniel’s ears, making his jaw twitch with irritation.
He crumpled the empty Coke can in his hand and threw it into the overflowing trash on the other side of the room. Squinting his eyes against the bright glare, he watched the Hotel across the street with the same intensity he gave to everything in his life.
She was in there. His beautiful whore. His Cordelia Chase.
She thought she could run from him, run into the arms of another man and he wouldn’t follow. Stupid girl, didn’t she know he’d follow her to the end of the earth?
A flash of dirty grey moved across the floor in his peripheral vision, searching for scraps of discarded food.
The mouse, his only companion in the decaying squat, was flattened beneath his shoe with a sickening crunch of bone and blood.
If her life were a cartoon, a light bulb would have appeared above Fred’s head as she scribbled furiously on her notepad. She wasn’t entirely certain, but if her calculations were correct, if one were to use Einstein’s theory of relativity in conjunction with the Braginhuer’s Codex, during the new moon, while standing on one foot, the result would quite possibly be-
Fred squinted at what she’d written in the last half an hour.
-the most perfect cup of coffee ever made.
That can’t be right.
Fred let her head drop with a dull thump to the lobby counter.
Four days had passed since they’d realized that Cordelia was next on Daniel’s list, but since then, with exception of the death of Cordelia’s neighbours, all had been quiet at Angel Investigations.
Mostly quiet, Fred amended as she heard the now increasingly familiar sound of Angel and Cordelia arguing on the first floor.
Four days and they still had nothing. Zilch. Nada. Bupkiss. Wesley’s books, as invaluable as they were in their everyday fight against darkness, were useless for this. Especially as it was still unclear as to whether Daniel was demon or human. Or maybe he was a hybrid of the two, or possibly a shape shifter. That would explain why they hadn’t been able to get a clear tail on him yet.
Maybe Daniel was a human-demon hybrid that had the ability to shape shift and become invisible.
Fred yawned, her jaw cracking with the force of it.
She really needed a break.
Warm fingers brushed her lower back where her T-shirt had ridden up. Fred smiled into the counter and turned her head to face Lorne.
“I think I’ve found the formula for the perfect latte. It could change the face of coffee making forever.”
“Look out Starbucks, here comes Winifred Burkle,” Lorne chuckled. Fred sighed and felt herself begin to go boneless as he slid his hand up her back and kneaded the tight muscles in her neck.
“S’nice,” she murmured, her eyelids fluttering shut while a contented smile played at the corners of her lips.
Lorne let his fingers work out the tension that had found home between the delicate wings of Fred’s shoulder blades. Though he touched her like she was fragile Lorne knew she wasn’t. You had to be tough to the marrow to live even one day in Pylea, but to survive five long hellish years in his birthplace took more bravery and strength then Lorne could even comprehend.
He tugged gently on the long brunette braid that scaled down her back.
“You look very pretty today.”
The smile that lit up Fred’s face threatened to make Lorne’s heart explode out of his butt cheek.
“Thank you,” she grinned.
Fred sat up, ignoring the way her back protested at the movement, and pressed a kiss to the corner of Lorne’s elegant mouth. She straightened his open collar, her fingers brushing against the warm skin of his neck as Lorne wound the few silky curls of hair that had escaped the braid. Their eyes caught and Fred felt a blush of heat creeping over her chest and up her neck. It prickled her skin with something she didn’t know how to put into equations and theorems.
A muffled thump resonated from the first floor, followed by two pairs of irritated footsteps. With the moment shattered, Fred groaned and rested her forehead against Lorne’s.
“Those two are driving me crazy. I may have to kill them,” Fred muttered.
Lorne chuckled and kissed her forehead. “You won’t be short for volunteers to help, kitten.”
“Oy vey,” she sighed with resignation as Cordelia stomped down the lobby stair case, closely followed by Angel.
“Think of it as a free show. Like Cats but without the toe tapping soundtrack.” Lorne curled his arm around her waist as Fred laid her head on his shoulder, ready to witness their friends latest argument in comfort.
“Grow up, Cordelia.”
“Bite me, Angel!”
“I would if I thought it would make you stop acting like a child.”
“Try it and your vitals will have an appointment with the business end of my stake.”
“Ya know, you are really starting to piss me off.”
“The feeling’s mutual, Deadboy – only you’ve been pissing me off for days.”
The side of Angel’s jaw ticked ominously, his arms folded tightly across his chest.
Cordelia, her hands fused to her hips, tapped her foot furiously against the tiled floor until it looked like the vein in Angel’s head was about to explode.
“Ugh!” Cordelia threw her hands up and spun on her heel, marching to the kitchen with an air of determination that didn’t bode well for any of them.
Angel cursed under his breath and rubbed his face roughly before following after her.
“Yeesh,” Lorne let out a breath once he and Fred were once again alone.
“Their aura’s still funky?”
“Oh yeah,” he nodded, rubbing his temples. “The sooner that girl gets a vision, the happier we’ll all….” Lorne trailed off, realizing what he’d just said.
“Huh?” Fred frowned, her eyebrows meeting in confusion. “Why does Cordy need to get a vision?”
Lorne shifted in his seat and let out a truly unconvincing laugh. “Did I say vision? I meant, er…shoes?”
Fred scowled at him. “Spill it, Mister.”
Lorne sighed and laced his fingers through Fred’s on the counter top. He didn’t like keeping secrets from Fred, but this wasn’t his secret to tell. When Lorne opened his mouth to tell her that, hurricane Angel and Cordelia swept back into the lobby, bringing with them a tension that crackled the air like electricity.
“Three words Angel; I. Don’t. Know!” Cordelia punctuated each word with a sharp prod of her finger into his chest.
Angel scowled. “I know you had them, Cordelia. Just tell me where my keys are.”
“Why would I have your car keys, Angel? Why? I have my own car, not that I can go out in it!”
“You wanna go out, go out. But don’t come crying to me when Daniel has you hog-tied in his trunk. Keys, Cordelia. Where are they?”
“Why do you need them now anyway? Thinking about taking a nice open top drive in the afternoon sun? Cos right now, I’m not gonna stop ya!”
“If it meant five minutes of peace from you I would.”
“Well, I’m so sorry that my life being in danger is such a hassle for you, next time I’ll just let the crazy man kill me.”
Angel narrowed his eyes. “Give me back my car keys. Now.”
“You know what, Angel?” she huffed, flicking her hair over her shoulder.
“You can shove your keys-”
“Ooo-kay,” Lorne clapped his hands together. “I think that’s enough Masterpiece Theatre for one day, don’t you children?”
Cordelia blinked. “How long have you guys been there?”
“Too long,” Lorne said as he pinched the bridge of his nose.
Frowning, Cordelia darted a glare at Angel then turned on her heel and marched back up the stairs. She paused on the third step as though she knew exactly what Angel was thinking.
“Stay,” Cordelia commanded like the vampire was a badly behaved puppy.
And then she was gone.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Queen has left the building,” Lorne murmured with amusement. Angel joined Fred and Lorne and laid his head down on the counter, his forehead pillowed in his arms.
Fred patted his head softly. “Poor Angel.”
Slamming her bedroom door didn’t induce the same rage releasing rush that it once did, mostly due to the fact that the hotel was so large she wasn’t sure anyone would actually hear the thud.
“I am calm. I am calm,” Cordelia told herself through clenched teeth. “I am making the best of the situation, and I am calm, damn it!”
She kicked the foot of her bed, yelping when she realized too late that she wasn’t wearing any shoes.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow,” Cordelia muttered as she hobbled around the room to walk off the pain. The mattress bounced beneath her as she flopped down bonelessly onto her bed. She scowled at the water marked ceiling until her face began to ache as much as her foot. The urge to scream slowly evaporated out of Cordelia’s body, leaving just the thick knot of tension in her chest that had been gradually growing like a tumour over the last few days.
Four days of looking over her shoulder at every strange noise. It didn’t sound like long, four simple days, but it felt like an eternity.
Cordelia felt trapped, claustrophobic inside the Hotel’s numerous rooms and winding corridors, waiting for the shadows to shift and grab her by the throat. She missed her apartment, missed being able to go out without one of the guys playing bodyguard. Missed slobbing around in her sweats, eating ice-cream and watching bad soaps with Dennis.
Angel and Wesley had returned to her apartment once since the discovery of Lucy and Bobby’s bodies, but the entire apartment complex had been swarming with police and Wesley had thought it unwise to draw any more attention to themselves. So the question of where her phantom house mate had disappeared to was still unanswered and laid heavily on her mind.
Cordelia levered herself off the bed with a sigh and wandered aimlessly around the room, trailing her fingers over the few possessions that Angel had brought back from her apartment.
He’d done his best to make her feel as though this was her home, but it wasn’t, and his constant need to make sure she was OK every five minutes had grown irritating quickly. Every time she turned around, there Angel skulked. In the kitchen, in the office, hovering outside her room, everywhere, like he was scared that if he let her out of his sight she might disappear for good.
So she’d ‘accidentally’ spilt bleach over his sweater. And ‘accidentally’ heated his blood up for too long.
And ‘accidentally’ hidden his keys on the fourth floor.
Cordelia knew she was being petty, but he was making her crazy and as long as they were snapping and bickering with each other, they didn’t have the chance to talk about what exactly had happened during their last encounter. Which was good, because Cordelia really didn’t want to talk about it. But that didn’t mean that she hadn’t thought about it again and again and again until her nails had dug half moons into the palms of her hands.
The dreams didn’t help.
Every morning for four days Cordelia had woken, her legs tangled in bed sheets, pillows knocked from their home, with an ache between her legs that her old friend the adjustable shower head did little to ease. She’d never been gifted with a photographic memory before, but now it seemed like every little detail of her visions and nights she spent with Angel had been burnt into her brain with a branding iron.
His hands griping her hips, cool lips whispering along her collar bone, muscled thighs pressing against her own, the need she saw etched in his so often unreadable gaze, the overwhelming comfort given with his touch, letting her forget, letting her breathe, making her want….
Cordelia groaned and forced her fingers to uncurl when they began to cramp painfully.
As regular as clock work, a wave of guilt washed over her like a cold shower. People were dead, people that she should have been able to save, and here she was thinking about Angel’s tasty man-thighs.
It was the waiting, Cordelia decided. That was really making her crazy. Her life seemed to be reduced to waiting for things. Waiting for Daniel to tear her apart, waiting for the PTB to strike her down with yet another vision, waiting for the next time that she and Angel would find themselves wrapped around each other like lovers.
She wasn’t going to spend the rest of her life waiting.
They needed to do something.
“We need to do something,” Cordelia declared, her arms folded defiantly across her chest.
Fours pairs of eyes blinked at her.
“And something that isn’t reading the same musty book again and again. We’re not going to find crazy psycho man hiding in one of them. We need to do something.”
“What do you suggest?” Wesley asked carefully, sure that he wasn’t going to like the answer.
“I’m thinking it’s about time we went after him.”
“That would make sense, if we knew where he was.”
“Well, we need to find him!” Cordelia gestured with her hands wildly. Fred ducked before she was smacked across the face.
“We’ve been trying-”
“No, Wes, we’ve been waiting. Since when do we wait for the homicidal maniac to creep up on me from behind and decapitate me before we can say whoops, there goes Cordy’s head?”
“That’s not going to happen,” Angel bristled at her words.
Cordelia dismissed his assurance with a flick of her wrist.
Wesley leaned back in his chair and rested his elbows on the desk. “So, what do you suggest?”
“Well,” Cordelia twisted her hands together nervously. “The club that-”
Cordelia spun around to glare at Angel. “You don’t even know what I was going to say.”
“We’re not using you as bait in that place again. Or Fred. Or anyone. No more bait and catch. It never ends well.”
“OK, so maybe you did know,” Cordelia muttered, her shoulders slumping for a moment before she straightened her spine with determination. “So, anyone else got a better idea?” She raised an eyebrow and looked expectantly at each of her friends in turn.
Wesley rubbed his forehead.
Fred shrugged and chewed the end of her braid.
Lorne swirled his drink around idly.
Angel was staring at her like he had something to say.
“We’re not putting you in danger again, Cordy. We’re just…we’re not,” he declared as though his word was law.
“I’m on board with the no danger,” Cordelia reassured him. “I am all over the no danger. I’m no danger’s biggest fan-”
“But?” Wesley asked.
“It’s been too quiet. He’s planning something.”
Wesley leaned forward in his chair. The leather squeaked but nobody laughed. “How do you know, did you have a vision?”
Out of the corner of her eye Cordelia saw Angel sit up a little straighter in his chair.
“No,” she shot a sharp glare at the vampire. “I don’t need a vision on this one. It’s like in the bad guy hand book, or something. Get the poor victim thinking the threat is gone, then-BAM!- you come home one day and all your hand towels are evenly spaced and all your food labels are facing front.”
Wesley looked at her for a long moment. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Meh,” Cordelia waved a defeated hand and finally sat down on the arm of Angel’s chair.
“It’s a film,” Fred piped up.
“I don’t see what that has to do with Cordelia’s stalker,” Wesley frowned.
“I knew what you were talking about,” Angel said as Fred outlined the plot of Sleeping With The Enemy to an increasingly confused Wesley.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “That’s a first.”
She couldn’t help the startle of surprise that leapt through her body as a cool hand slipped around her waist.
“Are you going to be angry with me forever?” Angel asked quietly, tugging on the hem of her shirt like touching her was second nature.
“I’m not-” Cordelia paused. She was angry at him, but for reasons she wasn’t ready to think about just yet. “I’m just….” The sentence faded away to nothing when she realized she didn’t know how to answer it truthfully. “I’m feeling kinda crowded, is all,” Cordelia leaned back against Angel’s arm, contradicting her admission.
“Want me to tell the guys to back off?”
Cordelia raised an amused eyebrow at him. “It’s not the guys who are doing the crowding. It’s one guy. One vampire-guy. One vampire with a soul-guy.”
Angel scratched the back of his head guiltily. “Sorry.”
“Try that again, this time with a little feeling,” Cordelia’s lips twitched with a smile.
Wesley cleared his throat and glared at them over the top of his glasses. “If we could get back to the issue at hand, please?”
Chastised, Cordelia stood up and Angel’s hand fell away from her waist. It trailed over her ass in a way that may or may not have been an accident. She had a feeling it wasn’t.
“So, we’re all agreed then. We go back to the club tonight.”
Angel stood up to glare down at Wesley. “I don’t remember there being a vote.”
“That’s because there wasn’t one.”
“Interesting leadership method you got here, Wes.”
“It worked for you, didn’t it?”
“OK!” Cordelia clapped her hands together before the growling and eyeballing could begin. She still didn’t know what had caused the tension between Angel and Wesley, but it was far beyond beginning to annoy her. “As much fun as these little displays of testosterone aren’t, how about we do something crazy like, oh, I don’t know, behave like adults so we can catch the man that’s got a hard-on for cutting me into little pieces. Starting at the club tonight.”
Angel’s eyebrows knitted with a stubborn frown.
“You’ll all be there. I’ll be safe,” Cordelia attempted to reassure him.
He wasn’t swayed.
“Angel,” Cordelia sighed, stepping closer to him she placed her hands on his folded arms. They were like steel beneath her palms, corded metal that had seen the beginning and end of two centuries. “C’mon, big guy. I can’t sit around waiting to be found anymore. Please?”
Angel scowled down at her.
She tried a different approach.
“You know I’ll just annoy you till you say yes.”
He was wavering. She could see it in his eyes.
Cordelia tilted her head to the side and went in for the kill. “I’ll tell you where your car keys are,” she sing-songed.
That was the winner.
Angel didn’t like this.
The music was too loud and the club too crowded. The dance floor teemed with skinny boys and red-lipped girls grinding against each other, each one desperately searching for something real beneath the flashing yellow lights. Sweat and stagnant perfume clung to the air, choking the atmosphere like a cloud of poison.
Bodies, hot and rushing with blood, surrounded him. A century ago Angel would have revelled in the degradation while Darla seduced the black-eyed children to spread their legs or bare their necks. They would have bathed in the sticky red blood of the innocent with smiles on their faces and death in their hearts.
But now all Angel wanted was for someone to turn the music down.
“I don’t like this!” Angel shouted above disjointed bass beat.
“Really, I would never have guessed!” Cordelia grabbed his hand before he could completely become one with the shadows. “We need drinks!”
“I don’t think-”
“C’mon!” she tugged his hand and Angel had no choice but to follow her. It didn’t matter that he was stronger than her, or that he’d spent a good innings of his life making Europe quake with fear – when Cordelia Chase said jump, Angel had a tendency to find himself asking how high.
Cordelia weaved them through the crowd, moving with a confidence that drew appreciative stares.
Angel narrowed his eyes.
That was another thing he didn’t like. The staring. As soon as they’d stepped into the club and Cordelia had slipped out of her jacket, handing it to Angel like he was the coat check boy as she revealed the flimsy excuse of a top, he felt the urge to either press his lips to the bare skin of her back or ask her exactly what did she think she was doing going out dressed like that young lady?
From behind it looked like she wasn’t wearing a top at all. The only proof that she was were the two thin silver chains that somehow held the scrap of material together. It was a miracle of modern engineering. And one that Angel couldn’t seem to stood looking at. Which was good, because that meant he wasn’t watching the way her hips swayed from side to side as she walked, and he most certainly wasn’t looking at how her leather pants caressed her long legs like a second skin or how the tattoo on the small of her back was on display for the entire world to see.
Cordelia looked over her shoulder and smiled at him, squeezing his hand encouragingly. Angel managed to convince one side of his mouth to quirk upwards as she dragged him over to the bar. Mercifully the Spears woman wasn’t so loud at this end of the club.
“One drink,” Angel said decisively.
“Yeah, OK Dad.”
“We need to stay alert-”
“I had the pep talk from Wes already,” she cut him off with a wave of her hand.
“I know, but-”
“Stay alert. Stay with Angel. Do not leave his side, no matter what happens,” Cordelia ticked off the Englishman’s instructions on her fingers. “If the mission encounters difficulties assume crash positions and the exits are here, here, here and here. I know, OK? It’s my ass this creep has a yen for, I’m not about to hand it to him on a plate,” Cordelia cocked an eyebrow. “No matter how fine it looks in these pants.”
“I’m not happy about this,” Angel said again, feigning ass-staring innocence.
“That’s a shocker,” Cordelia pfft’d. “We have everything covered. Fred is safely tucked up in bed with Lorne and lets not think about that too much because I don’t need the scary visual place. Wes is on the back exit, Gunn is round front. Daniel won’t be able to get in or out without one of us seeing him.”
“And if he’s already here, we’ve got back up for that,” Cordelia waved at one of Gunn’s friends over Angel’s shoulder. “We’re good to go here, Champ. Now shut up and buy me a something incredibly alcoholic because I think I deserve it, don’t you?”
Cordelia spun on her heels and smacked her elbows on the counter top with a thud. By the way she was tapping her nails, Angel thought it best not to tell her that she’d just put her arm in something suspiciously sticky. Instead, he signalled to the barman the way only men seem to know how.
“I know the last few days haven’t been exactly easy for you,” Angel said as delicately as he could.
“Understatement much? I’ve had visions less painful than living with you, Angel.” Cordelia snapped. The barman arrived to take their order. “Hi, I’ll have a Martini-”
“She’ll have a Coke and I’ll have a beer,” Angel interrupted her. The barmen nodded and wandered away to get the drinks.
Angel could feel the heat of Cordelia’s glare burning into the side of his face.
“Shouldn’t have made the crack about living with me,” Angel shrugged, leaning his elbows on the bar as well.
Cordelia rolled her eyes and nudged her hip against his, a silent apology between friends. An easy silence slipped over them as they waited for the barman to return, Cordelia hummed along with the music under her breath while Angel memorized the faces milling behind them through the long mirror that spanned the bar. His reflection was nothing but a gaping chasm beside Cordelia and as though she could sense his unease, she leaned her shoulder against his. Forever his connection to the world.
“Fred thinks Daniel’s a shape shifting, invisible, human-demon hybrid,” Angel said, suddenly needing to fill the air with something.
Cordelia snorted. “Fred needs to lay off sniffing the Magic Markers.”
“She may have a point.”
“Well, the human-demon hybrid part, at least.”
“There isn’t a slither of humanity in that creep, Angel. You can trust me on that,” Cordelia shuddered, images of her last few visions flashing through her mind.
“I’m not human, does that make me a monster?” Angel asked quietly, unconsciously tearing a beer-mat into miss-shaped squares that fell onto the bar like confetti.
Cordelia tilted her head to the side and nudged their shoulders together. “You’re Angel,” she smiled, and the rest of the club disappeared for a moment as his world consisted entirely of Cordelia. The warmth of her arm against his, the curve of her mouth, the openness of her heart, they wrapped around him like a blanket. Something shifted inside his chest and Angel couldn’t stop looking at her. The air thickened around them like a breath held in anticipation. Cordelia’s heartbeat echoed in his ears, drowning out the heavy bass beat of the club as it quickened under his gaze.
Two spots of colour reddened Cordelia’s cheeks. Tearing her eyes away from him, Cordelia cleared her throat, breaking the moment as quickly it had happened. She straightened up and plastered a wide unconvincing smile onto her face when the barman returned with their drinks.
Angel pulled out the grainy photograph of Daniel from his jacket pocket. “Hey buddy, you seen this guy around lately?”
The barman barely glanced at it before shaking his head and turning to take another order.
“Here, let me have a go,” Cordelia snatched the picture out of Angel’s fingers and squeezed between the young couple that had finally caught the barman’s eye to relay their order.
“Hey, we were here first!” the woman spluttered.
Cordelia raised her eyebrow. “And now you’re here second. Deal with it and move on,” she dismissed them with a waggle of her fingers.
To Angel’s disbelief the couple did just that.
“Hi there, what’s your name?” Cordelia turned the full force of her smile onto the barman. Angel felt sorry for him fleetingly, he’d been on the receiving end of that smile more than once.
The barman blinked, appearing to have forgotten his own name for a second before he said, “Pete.”
“Hi Pete, I’m Cordelia. I was wondering if you could help me out with something?” she tilted her head innocently to the side and leaned over the bar.
Angel watched as the barman’s eyes zeroed in on Cordelia’s cleavage. He struggled to reign in the growl he felt itching at his chest.
“OK,” Pete agreed like a man hypnotised.
“Do you recognize this man?” Cordelia held the photograph in front of her chest.
Pete stared at the photograph like his life depended on it. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “He comes in every now and then. Quiet. Doesn’t cause any trouble,” he shrugged.
“Has he been in recently?”
“Not for a couple weeks, why?” Pete tossed his regulation dish rag over his shoulder and leaned forward onto the bar. He was smiling at Cordelia. Cordelia was smiling at him. Angel didn’t like this at all.
“Oh, he’s a friend,” Cordelia waved away the question idly. “Likes a bit of the old glug glug,” she made a drinking gesture with her hand and he nodded sagely.
“Yeah, we get a lot of that in here. This isn’t exactly a high class joint, ya know.”
“I noticed,” Cordelia grimaced, poking a dusty bowl of peanuts with her index finger.
“Maybe you could give me your number and if he comes in again I could call you?” Pete smiled and Angel wanted to push the barman’s head through the mirror behind him. But he restrained himself because he knew Cordelia wouldn’t say-
“Sounds like a plan,” she smiled coyly, twirling a loose wisp of hair around her finger.
OK. Now Angel had had enough.
“Any luck?” Angel asked as he joined them, wrapping an arm around Cordelia’s waist. When he smiled it didn’t reach his eyes. Pete pushed away from the bar, message received loud and clear.
Cordelia scowled at Angel when the barman wandered away to collect glasses. “I was getting information,” she hissed.
“Information wasn’t the only thing you were about to get.”
“Did I ask you to come rescue me? He was cute. Very cute. Thank you for ruining my potential love life once again,” she huffed, elbowing Angel sharply in the ribs.
He squinted at Pete’s retreating figure. “You think he’s cute? Really? But his hair’s all-” Angel flicked his fingers at his forehead, “-poofey.”
“First of all, have you seen your hair recently? People in glass houses shouldn’t use so much hair gel. Secondly, a little flirting goes a long way when you’re hunting a maniac, and thirdly…” she frowned. “Great, I’ve forgotten my thirdly!” Cordelia let out a grunt of annoyance and fisted the lapels of Angel’s jacket, trying to shake some sense into him but he was immovable granite and barely swayed against her meek assault.
Cordelia’s shoulders slumped in defeat.
“Finished?” Angel asked with amusement.
“You’re an overprotective Neanderthal,” Cordelia muttered, butting her forehead against his chest.
“It wasn’t a compliment,” she pulled away, the smile in her eyes telling Angel that she wasn’t really mad. “Any ideas what we do now?”
“Ask around, see if any one else has come into contact with Daniel?” he suggested.
“We could do that, or we could get drunk and reminisce about the good old Hellmouth-days when the bad guys wore flashing signs that said ‘here be evil’?” Cordelia asked, looking up at him hopefully.
“Maybe another time,” Angel said even though a part of him wanted to see if she was a giggly drunk.
“You’re just gonna spoil all my fun tonight, aren’t you? OK, fine, Captain Responsible. Let’s go be investigatey,” tangling her hand in his once again, Cordelia tugged him into the fray.
Gunn watched Wesley as the Englishman paced back and forth, his cell phone pressed tightly to his ear as he struggled to hear Angel over the din of the club.
“I can’t hear you, Angel, say again? OK. Uh huh. Right. What is that awful noise in the background? Music? That’s meant to be music? OK, now I feel old…yes, I imagine it’s much worse for you…uh huh…well, keep your eyes open and call me if anything happens.” Wesley flipped his cell phone shut with a click.
Wesley startled at the other man’s voice. “I didn’t see you there.”
Gunn buried his hands in his pockets and walked the few steps over to Wesley. Somehow it felt a lot longer than just a few steps. “Rondell’s taken over out front, but so far we ain’t seen shit.”
“Same here. They spoke to the barman, apparently Daniel hasn’t been here for a while.”
“So we’re wasting our time?”
“It would seem so.”
Gunn leaned back against Wesley’s car and crossed his legs at the ankle. He tilted his head back and looked at the sky. The smog and lights of the city hid the stars, leaving just a cold sheet of black staring down at them. Gunn scuffed the toe of his sneaker against the pavement, displacing the cigarette butts and bottle caps that littered the sidewalk.
The silence made Wesley’s chest hurt, a deep bone ache that he knew he could cure if he only he were brave enough. But he was a coward, a joke, and the silence was going to ruin what little they had left if someone didn’t take the first step.
“How’ve you been?”
Gunn shrugged noncommittally.
A police siren wailed somewhere in the distance, probably heading their way. This wasn’t exactly the good part of town.
Wesley cleared his throat and pulled off his glasses, tempted to clean them with the front of his shirt. “We seem to keep missing each other at the hotel,” he said slowly, choosing his words carefully as though they might come back to haunt him one day.
Gunn laughed a rough bark of disbelief. “Cut the crap, Wes. We haven’t been ‘missing’ each other, we’ve been fuckin’ avoiding each other ever since….” he let the sentence trail off to nothing.
Since I said I love you.
Gunn rubbed his hand over the nape of his skull and spoke to the ground. “Look, man. Let’s just pretend this whole thing never happened-”
Gunn’s denial was lost as Wesley captured him in a sudden kiss, cradling the other man’s jaw in his hands as he tried absolve his mistakes. Gunn hesitated, frozen for a long second of uncertainty as Wesley’s breath ghosted his lips. He knew this would change nothing, just a little cold comfort for the soul, but god, Gunn had missed him.
Wesley felt the moment the other man’s internal struggle ended as a rough groan of acquiescence rumbled through Gunn’s chest. This was simple, easy. The heat of Gunn’s body pressing against his, strong fingers digging frantically into his hips, the taste of promises in his mouth, this made sense. Gunn’s fingers snared Wesley’s hair as though he were afraid he might disappear into vapour and memories. Their teeth clashed, tongues fighting a battle that had already been lost months ago as Wesley pressed Gunn up against the car door. Wesley hummed low in his throat, his lips and chin burning from the sweet friction of Gunn’s jaw. The sound of their ragged breathing filled the night, drowning out the muffled beat the music inside the club.
Why couldn’t everything be as simple as this? Wesley wondered as the space between them became nothing.
Because, a voice in his head reminded him, you won’t let it be simple.
As though he could read his thoughts, Gunn broke the kiss with a shuddering breath. He rested his forehead against Wesley’s and closed his eyes.
“You can’t keep doing this to me,” Gunn whispered.
Wesley swallowed, his throat and his chest painfully tight. He let his hands drop from Gunn’s waist and stepped away from the other man even though his body screamed at him to stay, to make a home within his arms.
“I’m sorry,” Wesley said, rubbing his jaw.
“Yeah,” Gunn grunted and pushed away from the car, his eyes resting everywhere but the Englishman. “Maybe we should call it a night. We’re wasting our time here.”
“I guess,” Wesley frowned, well aware that it wasn’t just the stakeout that he was talking about.
Gunn nodded and buried his hands into his pockets. His shoulders were slumped and misery etched the lines of his face, Wesley felt a deep bone guilt over the fact that he had been the one to cause Gunn such pain.
“I’ll see ya later, yeah?” Gunn said casually, as though they had never been anything but friends on the front line.
He didn’t wait for Wesley’s answer as he turned and walked away.
“Vocah,” Cordelia said decisively, gesturing with her now rum enhanced Coke. “Worst demon, ever.”
“Yeah,” Angel agreed, his forehead creased with thought. “That wasn’t fun.”
“Closely followed by those Skilosh butt-heads and that bleach blonde skank-ho Sire of yours.”
“You know, Darla’s actually a natural blonde,” Angel pointed out with the neck of his beer bottle.
“Shyeah,” Cordelia snorted and swallowed the last syrupy dregs of her drink. The alcohol warmed her nerves and loosened the knot of tension between her shoulders. It was the most relaxed she’d been in days and Cordelia planned on enjoying it while it lasted.
“Where’s Daniel on this list?” Angel changed the murky subject of his Sire before it could descend into name calling and beige period accusations.
“Oh, he’s on a whole other list of nasties along with Wilson Christopher and the snake worshipping fraternity creeps.”
Angel leaned back in his seat, stretching his body out like a lazy cat in the sun. His thigh settled against Cordelia’s but neither of them pulled away from the contact. After prowling the club until Cordelia began to complain about the fact that stilettos where not made for investigating, they had finally settled on a long cushioned bench in dark corner away from the dance floor.
A few meters to their left, a young couple were making out like it was the end of the world. Arms and mouths tangled together, nothing else existed to them, not the worn material of the bench, not the stale aroma of sweat. Just two people at the beginning of their lives, deliriously blind to the world around them.
Cordelia let her head lull against the back of the bench and wondered were the waitress had disappeared to.
“Why’d you think he picked me?” she asked absently, her eyes fixed to the hypnotic flashing lights that danced across the walls.
“You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Angel said as he picked at the label on his beer.
“Really? I mean, you don’t think I’m a magnet for crazy? ‘Cause let me tell ya, sometimes I seriously feel cursed with crappy luck.”
Angel tilted his head to look at Cordelia. She was chewing thoughtfully on her index finger and her eyes were beginning to glaze over from the rum. Her nose glistened with sweat and the deep red gloss she’d so carefully applied earlier that evening had worn away to revel the natural soft pink of her lips.
“Trust me, you’re not cursed,” he said quietly. “Unless you’ve pissed off some gypsies and don’t know about it.”
Cordelia laughed, a deep sardonic rumble that Angel felt rather than heard as she rested her head on his shoulder. “If I’ve learned anything from you, Angel, it’s to stay far far away from gypsies.”
“Better safe than sorry,” Angel nodded sagely.
“OK, I’m getting maudlin and you’re starting to sound like an old woman. We either need more drinks or should cut our losses and call it a night. Personally, I’m leaning towards some major sorrow drowning,” Cordelia yawned, the cocktail of rum and four tension filled days and nights catching up on her. A slow headache was forming between her temples, she closed her eyes but the clubs lights still flashed across her vision.
“One more drink and you’ll pass out,” Angel reasoned, resting his chin gently on top on Cordelia’s head. Her hair was soft against his jaw and still held the perfumed traces of her shampoo.
“I can handle my drink, thank you very much,” she murmured, enjoying the way Angel’s voice rumbled through her. She let out a sigh that tickled Angel’s skin beneath his sweater and made his stomach twitch with hungry butterflies.
“Sure you can,” Angel said, his voice a strangled mix of emotions that he couldn’t seem to keep hold off with Cordelia so close.
Both relief and annoyance flooded through him when he caught sight of Wesley weaving his way towards them, his shoulders set in a stiff line and brow wrinkled in thought.
Angel nodded to him curtly as Wesley pulled a seat up opposite them. “Nothing?”
“Nothing,” Wesley shook his head. “The chances of Daniel returning to a location that we already knew of were slim to none anyway.”
Angel valiantly fought the urge to say I told you so as Cordelia sat up and wiped her hand over his shoulder, removing either drool or lipstick. She blinked several times in succession as though she were having trouble focusing on Wesley.
“Where’s Gunn?” she asked.
“Home gone, or gone gone?” Cordelia frowned, concerned.
Wesley rubbed a hand over his face and shrugged, stubbornly refusing a more precise answer.
“Wanna drink?” Cordelia offered. “I’ve heard that the answers to all life’s troubles can be found at the bottom of a tequila bottle.”
A small barely there smile twitched at the corners of Wesley’s mouth. “I thought we agreed no more tequila after last time?”
“We came, we saw, we resisted the urge to vomit? Ah, memories,” Cordelia smiled sadly and held Wesley’s gaze for a long moment before he chuckled and shook his head.
Angel frowned, feeling like an outsider intruding on a private moment. “When was this?”
“The night you fired us. It was quite an evening,” Wesley said coolly.
“Of course, that’s all water under the bridge now.”
Silence settled between the two men, thick with tension and past resentments that should have been settled a long time ago. Angel knew the icy glare that he was receiving from the Englishman had little to do with him firing them the year before and everything to do with his current close proximity to Cordelia.
Angel clenched his jaw.
Wesley raised his eyebrows.
Cordelia darted her gaze back and forth between the two men, absently worrying the sleeve of Angel’s sweater.
She cleared her throat to break the staring contest. “So, what do we do now?”
When Wesley looked at her the ice in his eyes began to melt. “Go home and think of another plan in the morning, I guess.”
“Works for me,” Cordelia nodded and stood up. The sudden movement sent a rush of blood to her head and made Cordelia stumble, her legs wobbly. Both men reached out to steady her. “Woah,” she laughed, “head rush.”
“How much did she have to drink?” Wesley asked accusingly.
“Not much,” Angel grunted.
“She shouldn’t have been drinking at all, she’s underage.”
“A couple rum and Cokes aren’t going to hurt her. She’s not a child.”
“She’s also standing right here!” Cordelia snapped. She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes and waited for the floor to stop moving beneath her feet. Cordelia flinched when a strong hand curled around her shoulder, her skin suddenly feeling far too tight for her bones.
“You OK?” Angel asked, sounding far too far away.
“M’fine, just got up a little too quickly,” Cordelia muttered, trying and failing to bat away their concern.
“We should go.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, “right after I’ve had this-”
Cordelia’s neck snapped backwards like a bow, hands flailing as her body was assaulted by the Powers’ latest message. The two men watched impotently for a moment as her eyes rolled backwards and her mouth fell open into a silent ‘o’ of pain. When Cordelia’s knees buckled Angel caught her. Banding his arms tightly around her waist, he pulled her into his chest and turned them away from prying eyes.
The scent of fear radiated from Cordelia as she spasm, her spine jerking with unnatural force. Below the heady perfume of fear was something even sweeter to the vampire’s senses, something now familiar and consuming. Angel closed his eyes and held Cordelia tighter until the storm passed and her shudders ebbed away.
She groaned and fisted her hands into the front of his sweater. Her lips brushed against the side of Angel’s neck as she battled to find her equilibrium, the soft wet caress made every muscle in Angel’s body tighten in response, in a hum of anticipation that refused to be pushed aside by guilt.
“Gimme a second,” Cordelia said shakily, her warm breath fluttering over his jaw. Angel stroked the bare expanse of her back. Cordelia shivered.
“Bad?” Angel asked, the word almost lost beneath the erratic beat of the music that still vibrated through the walls.
“I’ve had worse,” she said honestly before forcing her fingers to uncurl and move away from the comforting embrace. When she smiled her thanks to Angel, two spots of red staining her cheeks. He snaked his fingers through Cordelia’s and squeezed her hand. Angel understood.
Wesley cleared his throat. “What did you see?”
Cordelia took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “There’s a group of…” she scrunched up her nose in thought, “…pygmy…type…things…about to make a midnight snack of a bunch of teenagers at….” Cordelia trailed off as she tried to pinpoint exactly where she’d seen. “It’s a golf course…Ran-something. Ranwood, Rancha….Rancho!” Cordelia yelped, then automatically pressed her hand to her forehead. “OK, ow.”
The couple that had been so thoroughly wrapped in each other were now looking at Cordelia like she was insane.
“What, like you’ve never seen a girl have a vision before?” she snapped. “Get a room, already.”
The couple moved away from them quickly.
“And use a condom!” she added for good measure. “Again, ow.”
“Rancho Park?” Wesley asked patiently.
“That’s the one,” she nodded carefully.
“Sharp teeth, weird little hands,” Cordelia shuddered. “Creepy ankle biters.”
“Sounds simple enough,” Angel shrugged.
Famous last words.