Yawning, Cordelia shifted in the hard, uncomfortable chair. She rubbed her tired eyes, careful not to damage her eye make-up. Not that it mattered. She’d been stuck in the library all night, and no one who’d appreciate proper eye shadow and mascara application was going to see her, anyway!
She sighed and rested her elbow on the table, cradled her chin in her hand. She stared at Xander, who had his own musty book to yawn over.
They’d come so close to an actual date. Not making out in her car, or hanging with their (mostly his, to be honest) friends at the Bronze or whatever. Nope, this was a special occasion. He asked her out to a movie, and pizza after. And he wanted to pay.
So, what happens? Well, this morning, half a dozen mauled bodies are found in various parks and cemeteries in the general vicinity of the high school. The Sunnydale PD—who manage to keep a lid on things until an unnamed source gives an interview for the evening edition—blames the attacks on unidentified “animals”. Giles concludes something new and deadly is in town, and they had to identify what Buffy might be up against. A call goes out for the Scoobies to assemble. And here they are!
Rolling her eyes at the un-fun fest her life had become, Cordy glanced at Willow. The redhead was at the computer, a faint smile on her lips as she happily typed away at the keys. No doubt hacking into wherever for clues to narrow down the search. Because there were a lot of creatures that liked to maul things.
Oz seemed content to sit next to her and leaf through the book that rested on his lap.
Giles was in his office, on the ‘phone, trying to connect with someone who knew about similar incidents.
And I’m bored, Cordy thought. She added a name to the long list of Things That Like To Tear People Apart, and closed her book. Finally!
The library doors flew open, and Buffy Summers made her usual, dramatic entrance. “We’re back!” she announced to the room.
Angel entered behind her, as quiet and dark as a shadow.
“Buffy?” The Watcher exited his office. “Did you encounter anything out of the ordinary?”
“Nope.” The Slayer shook her head. “Just your normal, run-of-the-mill vampires.”
“Anybody else think it’s scary that we think vamps are normal?” Xander asked. He cast a glance towards Angel. “And mill-runny?”
“Hey, I found some stuff!” Willow exclaimed. And she sounded way to cheerful. “According to the autopsy reports, whatever attacked the victims was big. Like, man-sized big.”
“So,” Buffy said, “we can cross dog-sized and breadbox-sized bitey thingies off the list.”
“Yeah. Also, from the bite marks, it looks like each victim was attacked by a single…um, thingy.”
Giles nodded with satisfaction. “Meaning, we can eliminate creatures that attack their victims in packs.”
“Whoa!” Xander reared back in his chair. “That dredges up some bad memories I’ve managed to repress.”
Cordelia frowned at him. “I thought you said you didn’t remember that whole hyena pack deal.”
Which made Xander look really uncomfortable.
“But,” Willow added, “the coroner thinks at least two ‘animals’ are responsible for the attacks.”
“So, a couple of beasts who maybe like to hang out,” Oz suggested, “but don’t like to share.”
“Yes.” Giles looked thoughtful. “A creature and its mate, perhaps?”
As Willow revealed other fun facts from the autopsy reports, and the list of suspects narrowed down even more, Cordy yawned again. She was so tired. And not just from all the research. After that thing last night, when she thought she saw someone outside her bedroom window, she just couldn’t get to sleep. Because, even though she knew there was no one out there, she couldn’t get rid of the feeling that there was.
She finally had to pull out a book and read until she dropped off.
Putting a hand to the back of her neck, Cordelia massaged her stiff muscles. Turned her head from side to side.
And looked straight into Angel’s black/brown eyes.
After arriving in the library, the vampire had disappeared into the deepest, darkest corner, which was pretty typical. And he hadn’t said a single word. Also typical.
What wasn’t typical was him staring at her.
Frowning, Cordy waited for him to glance away. That’s what most people did when they were caught staring at her. It was what Angel usually did.
But Angel didn’t glance away this time. Didn’t look at all embarrassed or ill at ease. He just…stared. His black gaze steady. His face devoid of expression.
It was Cordelia who looked away. Who felt uncomfortable. Uneasy.
“Thank you, Willow.” Giles smiled at the computer whiz. “That shortens the list a great deal. Buffy,” he said to the Slayer, “I need to speak to you for a moment.” And he turned towards his office.
“Hey, wait!” Cordy exclaimed, realizing her chance was about to slip away. “I finished my book, Giles. So, I guess that means I can…”
“Start on another.” The librarian handed her a slip of paper. “These should prove useful.”
Cordy groaned. It was a list of five book titles.
As Buffy and Giles disappeared into the office, Xander smirked at his girlfriend. “That’s why I read really, really slow,” he said.
Rolling her eyes, Cordy stood up and disappeared into the stacks.
The sad part was, Cordelia knew where all the weird books on Giles’s list were. Eyes narrowed, she looked from the list to the bookshelves. Now, which one of these books was the thinnest?
“Try this one,” a voice said from behind her. And an arm appeared on her right side.
Startled, Cordy took a step back…and slammed into the large, cool body behind her.
With a shocked gasp, Cordy jumped forward. Spun around.
Angel was standing there. Face expressionless. Looking at her like he hadn’t just scared 10 years off of her life.
“This one,” he repeated, and held the book out to her.
For a long moment, Cordy stared at him in disbelief. True, she didn’t know Angel all that well. But it didn’t take a bosom buddy to know he was acting weird even for him.
What’s your damage? she almost asked. But didn’t. Something stopped her. Maybe it was the way his gaze flickered across her face. From her eyes. To her mouth. Back again.
Maybe it was the way he was too close…and took a step towards her that brought him even closer.
Cordy stepped back, until her body was pressed against the bookshelves.
Still holding out the book, he watched her with curious eyes.
“Um, th-thanks,” she said. She took the book, and waited for him to move so she could get by. But he didn’t. Instead, he pushed his hands into the pockets of his duster and just…stood there. Staring at her.
Cordy cradled the book to her chest, and felt her heart pound against the hard cover. What the hell was wrong with him? Was this some kind of weird, vampire thing? If so, it was creeping her out.
“Excuse me!” she said, putting a little Queen C sharp into it.
And, with the faintest of smiles, he stepped off to the side.
With a sigh of relief that she would never admit to, Cordy hurried past him.
She could feel him, right behind her. A pressure against her back.
As she went down the steps to the main floor of the library, Giles and Buffy left the inner office.
“Angel and I will do another patrol,” the blond said. “The night’s still young. And who knows. We might still run across something.”
“That’s a good idea,” Giles mumbled, his real attention was on the book is his hands. “Be careful.”
“It’s my middle name,” Buffy said. The skeptical looks she received from around the room made her smile with chagrin. “Most of the time. See ya, guys.” Then, nodded towards Angel (which seemed to be the ‘follow me’ signal) and started towards the door.
Angel walked around Cordelia, body brushing against hers as he passed.
As the Slayer and the vampire left the library, Cordelia returned to her seat, and opened the book.
It was fifteen minutes before her confused mind could focus on the words printed on the page.
Finally, Giles let them go. Just when Cordy was about to mention child-labor laws, and cruel-and-unusual punishment.
“We’ll continue tomorrow afternoon,” he said as they filed out of the library.
Cordy couldn’t wait.
Cordelia dropped Xander off at his house.
“You’re not off the hook, buddy,” she told him. “We’re still going out on that date. And you’re still paying.”
“Yes, Mistress Cordelia,” he grumbled. But he didn’t get out of the car without a kiss or two.
How someone with no social life before her had gotten so good with the smoochies, she’d never know. And she wasn’t about to complain.
Finally, Cordy went home. Parking her sporty red roadster in the circular driveway, she stumbled out of her car. She was so tired, all she could think about was jumping into bed and…
The girl’s startled shriek cut through the night. As a dog barked in a neighbor’s yard, she spun around.
Angel was standing there, just a few feet away.
“Damn it!” Cordy exclaimed. Her heart pounded in her chest. “What the hell are you doing here?”
The vampire shrugged. “After I walked Buffy home, I decided to keep patrolling. I saw you drive up, and thought I should make sure you got into your house okay.”
Cordy put her hand to her heart and took a deep, calming breath. It made sense. She supposed.
“Fine!” she snapped. She glared at him. “But don’t scare me like that ever again!”
Eyes steady on her flushed face, the vampire nodded.
Rolling her eyes, Cordy stalked up the front walkway, Angel hard on her heels.
Cordy took the keys out of her purse, and opened the front door. “Well, thanks,” she said grudgingly. And started to step inside.
Suddenly, Angel grabbed her upper arm. Yanked her back, towards him.
“What?!” Cordy demanded, as she staggered on the porch. Snatching her arm out of his grasp, her hazel eyes stared daggers at him.
But Angel didn’t see. Instead, he was looking through the open door. “I thought I…felt something.”
Cordelia’s first instinct was to scoff. To tell him to just…back off. Because with last night, and tonight, and everything, she was starting to feel…crowded.
Then, she remembered his vampy senses. How he could see, hear, and maybe feel things normal people couldn’t.
A shiver raced up her spine as she glanced inside. Was he trying to say someone—some thing—was in her house? “What is it?”
“Is anyone else home?” Angel asked.
“Well, Mrs. Armstead,” Cordy answered. The housekeeper was probably asleep by now. “What’s wrong?” she demanded.
“I’m not sure. Maybe nothing,” Angel said. Then he looked at her, his eyes serious and concerned. “I should probably look around, though. Just to be sure.”
Cordy’s almost stopped breathing. She looked at him, then quickly looked away. She thought of all the people who’d invited Angel into their homes. Buffy. Giles. Willow.
They all paid the price when Angelus came out to play.
Angel stood there, watching her, waiting patiently. Like he knew what she was thinking. He probably did.
Uncertain, Cordy glanced inside once again. What if there was something in there? Who would she rather have at her side when she confronted it? A kindly but distant housekeeper? Or a well-muscled, super-strong, battle-ready vampire?
To the practical part of her, there was no contest.
“I guess…” she finally said. Then, she shrugged. “Come in, Angel.”
With a nod, the vampire stepped through the door of the Chase residence.
After a moment’s hesitation, Cordy followed him inside.
Angel walked through the lower level, head tilted to the side as he listened for something she’d never be able to hear.
He did a quick sweep upstairs. Seemed to pause when he opened her bedroom door. Eyes taking in every detail, every nuance.
But Cordy knew this was her imagination. Having a relative stranger look into her most private place, where she kept her most private things, was kind of weird.
By the time they reached the foyer, the worry was gone from his eyes.
“Like I said,” he commented, “probably nothing.”
“Yeah,” Cordy nodded. Feeling awkward, she opened the front door. “Well…good night.”
Angel graced her with one of his rare, small smiles. “Good night.” And he stepped outside.
Cordelia closed the door. Turned the deadbolt.
What a night. she thought with a long sigh. Weird on top of weird.
Shaking her head, Cordy started up the stairs.
And uneasiness fluttered, like nervous butterflies, in the pit of her stomach.
Angel returned to his spot. It was where he’d spent all of last night. Where he’d remained, gazing up at her window, until false dawn lit the sky.
Where he’d be tomorrow night. And the next. And the next.
Arms folded, he leaned against the tree. He felt so…relieved, to the very core of his being. Free, somehow.
She’d invited him in. The barrier was gone.
He supposed he could have gotten the invitation from anyone. From the housekeeper. Or Cordy’s parents, once they got home from wherever they were.
But the fact that it was Cordelia who invited him in seemed more fitting. More…right.
Just then, her bedroom light came on. Angel watched her silhouette move past the window.
His dead heart seemed to clench in his chest.
“Good night, Cordy,” he whispered.