Cordelia drifted in and out of the ephemeral state of not quite awake not quite asleep with the feeling that something wasn’t entirely as it should be. It wasn’t that there was something missing, exactly. No. More that something was there that wasn’t before. It wasn’t the same feeling she’d had the night after Wilson Christopher, when she’d woken up with heck of a lot more than aching thighs and stubble rash on her throat.
This was the opposite of that.
comforting, secure, peaceful, protected
-like finding something she didn’t know existed.
With that existential thought poking at her caffeine starved occipital lobe, Cordelia blinked once, twice, and forced her eyes to adjust to the low light that leaked through the drapes but didn’t quite make it to the bed. Dust motes were frozen in the still air and the low hum of traffic told Cordelia that LA was already awake and on the treadmill. Downstairs a filling cabinet slammed shut with more force than strictly necessary and like a single cartoon light bulb being switched on above her head, the who, why, when and how of where she was came tumbling over Cordelia.
An amused smile curled at her mouth as Angel muttered in his sleep, lips pressed against the back of her neck, and tightened the arm he’d lazily draped around Cordelia’s waist sometime during the night.
With all the stealth she could muster at seven in the morning, Cordelia levered Angel’s arm up a few inches and shuffled around in the tight cocoon of his arms until they were face to face. The T-shirt she’d scavenged from beneath the bed at sometime during the night twisted awkwardly around her like a straight jacket, rubbing against still sensitive skin. Angel frowned at the disruption of movement, his eyebrows drawing together unhappily until Cordelia ceased her fight with the T-shirt.
“Finished?” Angel muttered, voice raw with sleep.
“Mmm,” she hummed, eyes closed as she wriggled closer to the contact that was now second nature. She pressed her nose into the steel ridge of Angel’s collarbone and breathed in the musty scent of his skin. In turn, Angel’s hand crept beneath the hem of her top and splayed flat against the small of Cordelia’s back.
Her face was puffy from sleep and her mouth felt full of cotton, their legs were tangled awkwardly together and the arm she’d slept on was prickling to life with pins and needles.
“I don’t want to wake up yet,” Cordelia grumbled, the soundtrack of another day at the office gradually increasing in volume as Wesley cursed loudly at his computer.
Angel rubbed his jaw against the soft tangle on her hair. “Then don’t.”
Cordelia wondered if it were as simple as that. Her body was whispering to her to go back to sleep and she found she didn’t want to argue with it. “Wake me in half an hour, ‘kay?”
Angel grunted his agreement.
“But I know the file exists. I put it there myself, you lying servant of Lucifer!” Wesley smacked the side of the monitor, hoping that maybe a little brute force would help his cause.
This file does not exist blinked mockingly at him.
Rubbing his eyes, Wesley took a deep breath, grimacing when the lingering stench of last night’s battled reached his nose from his hands. It didn’t seem to matter how many times he showered, his fingers continued to reek of whatever it was the demons had excreted. Add to that the restless night of tossing and turning he’d had over thinking about Gunn, and Wesley Wyndam Pryce was on the verge of breaking out the not so secret bottle of Glen Fidditch from his desk draw.
Glancing at the clock, he decided that 8:30 am was still far too early for liquid courage. He pressed the tips of his fingers to the side of his steaming coffee cup, not moving them until the heat became too much and the desire for alcoholic sedation had passed. Cracking his neck from side to side, Wesley rebooted his computer and rested his elbows on the lobby countertop, waiting for the God of Lost Files to look down on him kindly. He propped his chin in hands as he watched his laptop buzz and groan back to life, eyes beginning to ache as he refused to give into the need to blink.
If he closed his eyes, Wesley wasn’t certain he had the strength to open them again.
The computer screen flickered blue ominously for a nervous heartbeat before it slowly, painfully, came back to life. Before Wesley could breathe a thankful sigh of relief, the Pop Up of Doom once again sprang to life.
An Internal Error Has Occured: Your computer will now shut down.
Of course, Wesley thought tiredly as he looked at the clock once more. Still too early.
The sound of approaching footsteps cut through the relative silence of the lobby as he let his head fall to the counter with a dull thud. The gurgle of the coffee machine stuttering to life, the high-pitched clink of china mugs being inspected and a low grunt of disgust told Wesley it was Angel who was, surprisingly, the first to rise.
“Tried hitting it?”
“Mnnph,” Wesley grunted.
Creek of wood, shuffle of papers, fingers tapping out an annoyingly cheerful beat on Cordelia’s desk top.
Wesley squeezed his eyes shut.
“Have you seen the Anderson file round here anywhere?”
The shrill squeak of the filling cabinet opening, quiet muttering-Anderson, Anderson, Anderson, ah, there you are-and finally the clankslam of the draw rolling shut.
Blessed silence for one, two, three-
“Can you smell something?”
Wesley’s head sprang up from the counter, neck cracking painfully and the words I showered four times! on the tip of his tongue, but they were quickly swallowed down as the front door swung open, letting a short sharp burst of LA life into the Hotel before it was silenced just as swiftly by their early morning walk-in.
Six feet, give or take an inch, dirty blonde hair that needed to be cut, harried expression, ill-fitting suit, coffee stains on his lapel; Wesley had lived in America, and watched enough television, to recognise a cop when he saw one.
“I’m looking for a Mr. Angel?”
Angel unfolded himself from the edge of Cordelia’s desk and far too casually strolled out of the office and into the main lobby. “You’ve found him.”
“Detective Glass,” the Detective reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his badge with a practiced flick of his wrist, snapping it shut and depositing it back into its home before Wesley could even focus on the flash of silver. “You’re a tricky man to track down, Mr. Angel-”
“Angel. Just Angel. No mister.”
Detective Glass nodded and murmured, “Right.” He pulled out a small note pad and pencil and recorded the fact that Angel was certain he already knew. Glass looked up once he’d finished scribbling in his book and grinned, the skin around his eyes crinkling with what Wesley expected wasn’t laughter lines. “Kinda like Cher, huh?
“What can we do for you, Detective?” Angel asked, his jaw already tight with irritation.
“A few weeks ago you and a-” Glass scanned his notepad for the name he already had memorised, “-Miss Chase were present at the murder scene of Amy Morello?”
Angel’s stomach churned uncomfortably. “Amy was a client of ours.”
“You told one of our officers that she’d called you on her cell phone asking you to meet her, that she thought she was being followed?”
“That’s right,” Angel nodded, remembering the lie he’d hastily manufactured as the sirens had crept closer and all the colour had drained from Cordelia’s face.
“Huh,” Glass scribbled into his notepad again and Wesley felt the sudden urge to shove the Detective’s pen somewhere very uncomfortable. “Strange.”
Angel raised his eyebrows.
“There’s no record of that phone call on Ms Morello’s cell,” Glass said as he pocketed the notepad. He cocked his head to the left as he said, “Miss Chase’s neighbours were recently found deceased in their apartment. Did you know that? Maybe Miss Chase said something to you about it?”
The Detective didn’t blink as he waited for his question to be answered.
“Yes,” Angel said succinctly, arms folded across his chest.
“That’s a hell of a coincidence.”
“If you say so,” Angel said with a vague parody of a smile lifting the corners of his lips.
“Wouldn’t you? Say so, that is,” Glass narrowed his eyes as he watched the other man, searching for a tell that would give him away.
“I’d say you were the detective, Detective.” Angel let his mouth toy with the false politeness floating around his mouth to reveal a tiny glimpse of white teeth.
The office clock ticked loudly in the silence. Wesley cleared his throat to break the stalemate and slid off his stool to join the other too men.
“Was there anything else we can help you with, Detective?” he asked politely as he stood beside Angel.
“Actually, there is,” Glass nodded as he reached into the inside pocket of his jacket once more, his gaze never leaving Angel as he pulled out a slightly dog-eared photograph. “Where were you last night between one and four a.m.?”
“I was here. In bed. Asleep.”
“Can anyone confirm that?”
“Yes.” Angel’s jaw twitched, his eyes averted from Wesley’s questioning gaze. “Mind telling me why I need an alibi?”
“One of your business cards was found on the body of Anne Santos on Cahuenga Boulevard last night. Do either of you recognise her?”
Wesley frowned and took the proffered photograph from the Detective, slipping on his glasses so he could see more than just a mass of smudged colours. “No,” he said after moment. “She’s not a client of ours.”
“Huh,” Glass scratched the back of his neck thoughtfully. “Then why would she have your card on her?” the Detective watched them steadily, his eyes slowly moving between Angel and Wesley, waiting for the flicker-flash of guilt that he’d become an expert at rooting out. Nothing. “These coincidences just keep piling up, don’t they?” Glass raised his eyebrows. “Kinda like the bodies in this case.”
The blare of a car horn and its accompanying rush of angry curses infiltrated the lobby as Fred slipped in through the front door, mouth stretched wide open with a yawn and hair a mess of tangles. She rubbed her eyes tiredly as she walked, oblivious to the tension in the air, across the lobby with a muttered “Mornin’, boys,” before she disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.
“And that was?” Glass asked.
“Winifred Burkle. She’s an associate of ours. Are we under investigation, Detective?” Wesley frowned.
“You gotta admit your connection to all three murders is suspicious,” Glass said carefully, aware of the waves of hostility that were vibrating off both men, but not swayed by it. “You have quite a file down at the station, Angel. Detective Lockley left some, er, interesting notes on you behind before she left.”
A disconcerting steel smile cracked at the corners of Angel’s mouth. “I guess I’m just an interesting guy.”
Glass had the feeling that Lockley might have been onto something.
The slap-slap of bare feet hurrying down the staircase put pay to any other observations the Detective was about to make about Angel being interesting. Hair still wet from the shower, dressed in sweat pants and Angel’s T-shirt, Cordelia jumped down the last three steps and came to an abrupt halt beside the three men.
“Hi. Excuse us,” she said quickly to the Detective, barely even acknowledging his existence as she grabbed Angel and Wesley by their sweaters. She tugged them forcefully across the lobby until she was happy with the distance.
“We have a problem,” Cordelia hiss-whispered without preamble.
Angel’s shoulders slumped and he could barely keep the whine out of his voice as he said, “Another one?”
Cordelia shot him an annoyed look. “My hair brush is missing.”
Wesley rubbed a hand over his face. “I hardly think-
She waved her hand sharply through the air. “As well as most of my underwear and jewelry, some photos of us all, the spare business cards I kept in a shoe box beneath the bed, my passport and for some reason that I don’t even want to contemplate, my diaphragm!”
“Are you sure?“
“Yes, I’m sure! Trust me, Wes, a girl knows when someone’s been in her room, rifling through her stuff. That psycho-nut-case was here last night and he’s taken a few souvenirs!” Her voice gradually rose and rose until it echoed through the lobby.
Detective Glass cleared his throat. “Is there a problem?”
“Do you mind?” Cordelia dismissed him with the flat of her palm.
“He was in your room and you didn’t wake up?”
“Huh?” Cordelia blinked dumbly at Wesley’s hushed question.
“Daniel. He was in your room and you didn’t wake up. He didn’t wake you up. That doesn’t really fit with what we know about him,” Wesley said, a frown creasing a line between his eyebrows.
A flush of red began its way up Cordelia’s neck. “OK, not really the point here-”
“Cordelia stayed in my room last night,” Angel said smoothly, chin cocked, ready for a fight.
“Again,” the word fell out of Wesley’s mouth as a statement, not a question.
“Hey!” Cordelia snapped her fingers to break the scowling contest. “Can we please concentrate on what’s important, here? Like, for example, the homicidal maniac that’s stolen my diaphragm.”
“You’re Cordelia Chase?” Glass piped up at the mention of the name that seemed to link so many mysteries in this case together.
Cordelia finally turned her full attention to the stranger in the lobby. “And you are?”
“Detective Glass,” he said, pulling out his badge as he closed the few meters between them with long strides.
She narrowed her eyes at Angel and hissed, “What did you do this time?”
“Miss Chase, do you know this woman?” Glass handed her the picture.
Cordelia shook her head as she looked at the dead woman staring back at her. “What’s going on?”
“She was found murdered last night.”
“With one of our cards on her,” Angel explained under his breath.
“One of the business cards that was stolen from my room last night. Fantastic. That’s just fantastic,” Cordelia muttered as she handed the photograph back to Glass.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions, if that’s possible?” Glass asked, eyeing the two men that flanked Cordelia protectively.
“Sure, why not. I mean, a day without being questioned for murder by the LAPD is like a day without sunshine,” Cordelia said as she pulled her wet hair off her neck and twisted it up into a messy knot.
Time stuttered still as Wesley saw the reddish purple mark on Cordelia’s neck.
“You son of a bitch,” he ground out between clenched teeth as he lunged towards Angel, not caring that it was a vampire he planned on pummeling, certainly not concerned that said vampire was one of his closest friends.
Cordelia stepped between them quickly, her arms outstretched to stop Wesley’s imminent death.
“Do not do this now!” she shouted, her words made even louder by the ensuing silence.
Wesley’s mouth twitched as Angel’s hand settled possessively on Cordelia’s hip.
“I mean it, Wes,” she warned him.
Glass watched curiously as the tired looking Englishman, the ‘interesting’ murder suspect and the girl with a rather impressive hickey on her neck argued without saying a word. When the tension became too much for even Glass to tolerate, he said, “I think you better tell me exactly what is going on here.”
Blood beneath his nails, rusty brown stains that could have been easily washed away but aren’t.
Not for him.
For his sweet, succulent Cordelia. For the woman she was before the vampire tried to turn her into some cheap, lying whore. But he could fix that. He could save her. If he sent her the right message, she would have to see the truth.
Daniel flipped through the photographs and smiled.
He’d found his next messenger.
Twenty minutes and a pot of fresh coffee later, the clock in Wesley’s office ticked discreetly through the still lingering tension as they waited for the detective to digest a heavily edited version of recent events.
Glass threw the file he’d been reading on to Wesley’s desk amongst the other detritus. He rubbed his hands over his face. “Did it ever occur to you to hand this into us?”
“This guy is out of your league,” Angel said from where he was leaning against a filing cabinet, arms folded casually across his chest.
“Right, whereas you people are all trained professionals,” Glass said dryly. “I could have all of you charged with obstruction of justice. This isn’t a game. People are dying. You should have come forward with what you know.”
“What we know?” Cordelia scoffed, her bare foot tapping a nervous rhythm against the chair leg. “Unless you saw something in that file that I haven’t, we know less than nothing.”
“You know a name, you have a list of locations where he’s been spotted, you have a picture,” Glass waved the photograph Amy Morello had given them when she first went to Angel Investigations for help. “All of which would have been helpful to our investigation!”
Elbows on his desk, Wesley calmly steepled his fingers together. “How many people has he killed?”
“As of last night, we think seven women and two men. We’ve managed to keep most of it out of the papers, the last thing we need is to panic the public,” Glass said wearily. “All the women are aged between twenty and twenty-five, attractive, but that and the way they were killed are where the similarities end.”
Cordelia’s eyes widened at the number. “You think? Think?”
“There may be more,” Glass admitted.
Cordelia slumped down in her chair and put her head in her hands.
“Miss Chase needs to be put under protection-”
“No.” Angel straightened up, body tensing by almost invisible degrees. “Cordelia stays.” He cut a flicker of warning in Wesley’s direction on the outside chance that the former Watcher thought of using the detective’s offer as an excuse for putting some distance between him and Cordy.
“Clearly that’s not enough if this man was in your home last night,” the Detective carried on regardless of the withering look he was receiving. “Look, I understand that you want to be the one to look after your girlfriend, but this is police business. We have resources you don’t.”
“I’m going to ignore the whole being given orders like a dog for just a minute, because Angel’s got a point. This is the safest place I can be. Besides, I’m not leaving my home,” Cordelia said as she stood up. “Listen, Detective. We’ve learned our lesson. The first hint of newness about psycho-murder-guy and you’ll be the first to know. Promise. But I’m not leaving the hotel. So… are we done here?”
Glass frowned. “Well, no, not really-”
“Great,” Cordelia clapped her hands together and ignored him. “I’m gonna go have a bath.”
“Didn’t you just have a shower?” Wesley asked.
“And now I’m going to have a bath. Does anyone have a problem with that?” Cordelia raised her eyebrows haughtily. When she received no answer, she turned on her heel and left.
“She’s just a bit stressed right now,” Fred apologized as the sound of Cordelia’s bare feet stormed up the staircase. “Ya know, what with the whole stalker trying to pull out her intestines through her nose… thing.”
Glass nodded. “We need to dust for prints in Ms Chase’s room. Not that I’m expecting to find any,” he added sourly. Daniel was nothing if not meticulous at his crime scenes. “And I urge you to rethink Miss Chase’s protection. This is a pro we’re dealing with here.”
“We’re well aware of what we’re dealing with, Detective Glass. I just hope you do,” said Angel.
Glass knew a warning when he was given one.
Cordelia lodged her big toe into the cold tap to stop its drip drip dripping. The red of her toenails looked obscene against the virginal white of the porcelain bath tub, a slash of loud color amidst the relative calm.
The day had started with such promise. She’d woken sated and safe, with that after sex ache that made her cheeks tinge pink and her lips want to curl into a knowing smile.
Well, Cordelia thought grumpily, that’s all shot to hell now.
She didn’t have to strain to hear the raised voices that clashed downstairs, they wafted up through the pipes and open doorways like half formed memories.
Cordelia just hoped the Detective had left so he didn’t witness the carnage of Wesley and Angel’s ‘discussion’.
“Seven women and two men,” Cordelia murmured, but saying it out loud didn’t make it feel any less horrific.
“Knock knock?” Fred said as she poked her head around the bathroom door. Cordelia was sure she’d locked it.
“I’m kinda naked in here, Fred.”
“Oh, it’s nothing I haven’t already seen before,” she chirped as she barged into Cordelia’s hideout. “Although I’m feelin’ a bit inadequate now.” Fred looked from Cordelia’s chest to her own.
“Was there something in particular you wanted, Fred? Or did you just come in here to ogle on me?”
“A bit of both,” Fred grinned and knelt down next to the tub, her chin resting on the edge like a child waiting to be told a story.
Cordelia groaned and sank down beneath the water.
Fred shimmered above her like a persistent mirage that couldn’t be vanquished by just blinking.
“You’ll have to come up for air sooner or later,” Fred shrugged and settled down to get comfortable, her back against the bath tub and long legs stretched out in front of her.
Sevenwomenandtwomensevenwomenandtwomensevenwomenandtwomen, the cold hard fact repeated itself over and over again in Cordelia’s mind as she held her breath and watched the ceiling swirl with scented bubbles. Beneath the protective wall of the water the noise downstairs was reduced to a barely audible hum, drowned out by the beating of her own heart and the sound of the ocean in her ears.
Cordelia drummed her fingers against the side of the tub and felt the vibrations rattled through her while her lungs began to burn for air and her eyes started to sting.
Another women had died while she was arching her back beneath Angel to save her own life.
Cordelia wondered if there was only so much guilt a person could feel before they were numb to it.
The water sloshed violently when Cordelia sat up, gasping for air. Her hair was plastered across her face but she didn’t move to claw it out of her eyes. She slumped back down until the water lapped gently at her chin.
“Seven women and two men,” she said uselessly.
“I don’t understand why the PTB didn’t send you visions,” Fred voiced the thought that had been on Cordelia’s mind for a long time. Too long.
“Join the club,” Cordelia sighed, cupping the bath water in her hands then watching as it trickled through her fingers. “And when they do give me visions…”
“They’re all upside-down?”
“And inside out.”
Cordelia unplugged her now aching toe from the tap and the sound of water hitting water once again filled the foggy bathroom. Fred picked at the frayed edge of the bath-mat and clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth.
Cordelia rubbed her hand across her damp forehead and squeezed her eyes shut as she said, “Daniel’s going to kill me.”
“No. He won’t. Angel won’t let that happen. We won’t let that happen,” Fred said as though she already knew what was to come.
Lifting her right arm out of the steamy water, Cordelia patted the crown of Fred’s head before she wound a thick lock of the Texan’s hair around her finger.
Downstairs, the much abused filing cabinet was once again slammed shut.
“We’ve never kissed,” Cordelia said in a moment of honesty. It was easier to think about her and Angel than her probably imminent death.
“Who? You and me?”
Cordelia snorted and tugged Fred’s hair. “Me and Angel.”
Intrigued, Fred twisted her body round to face Cordelia and raised her eyebrows.
“Well, there was that time right after I got the visions, but that wasn’t so much a kiss as a desperate attempt to get my life back. Didn’t work out so well,” Cordelia screwed her face up at the memory, ignoring the lingering pain that still resided after that time in her life.
“You’ve never kissed but you-” Fred gestured suggestively with her hands.
Fred rolled her eyes. “You should get that printed on a T-shirt. It’d save you time saying it over and over again.”
“You don’t understand-”
“I don’t understand complicated? I’m dating a green, effeminate, anagogic demon from an alternative dimension that I was held prisoner in for five years. Where’s the simple in that?”
“It’s not the same,” Cordelia muttered petulantly, sinking down lower into the water. Her knees broke through the evaporating bubbles like two flushed icebergs.
“Right,” Fred snorted and laid her cheek against the lip of the tub. The heat of the room was making her feel drowsy and flushed, her T-shirt was damp and the backs of her knees where beginning to sweat.
“He’s not going to stop.” Water slipped past Cordelia’s lips as she spoke.
“Daniel. He’s going to keep on killing until he gets what he wants.”
Fred shrugged. “Then we’ll just have to make him stop.” She pressed her bottom lip to the warm porcelain and crossed her eyes as her glasses began to slip down her nose.
“So, what’s it like? You and Angel, I mean. Apart from being complicated.”
Cordelia poked her toe at the cold water tap and frowned, unsure how to answer, uncertain that she should answer at all. Fred watched her closely, waiting for the other woman’s usual reply of we’re just friends.
“It’s…” Cordelia trailed off distractedly as she struggled to find the right words to describe exactly how it had been the night before. “Really damn good,” Cordelia laughed, surprised at how good it felt to share a secret, to gossip and act her age. “He makes me feel like….”
Fred grinned broadly and urge her to continue. “Like?”
“Like I’m everything,” Cordelia shrugged, disrupting the water around her.
“But you’ve never kissed?”
Cordelia shook her head. “Nope.”
“You’re both crazy,” Fred said with authority.
Cordelia silently agreed. “So, you and Lorne are officially dating?”
Fred smiled and ducked her head.
Cordelia decided to pretend they were just two girlfriends talking about boys for a little while longer.
What harm could it do?
Gunn patted his pockets as he left his apartment, making sure he had his wallet, keys and cell phone on him. He’d overslept and woken with a crick in his neck and a dark cloud in the shape of Wesley hovering over his head.
They were going round in circles and Gunn had had enough. It just wasn’t worth the sleepless nights.
Hands dug deeply into his pockets, forehead creased in thought, Gunn strode towards his truck in the late morning sun with only one thing on his mind.
He didn’t feel the cold burn of the blade slicing through his skin until it was too late.