The knife was sharp.
There were no glittering jewels clustered around the handle, the blade didn’t curve upwards with a flamboyant flourish. It didn’t glint in the light or whisper through the air.
The knife had no other purpose other than to cause pain, and that’s why it was his favourite.
It did its job, and it did it well.
Everything Cordelia owned seemed to be covered with a thin film of grey fingerprint powder.
She watched from the doorway as group of crime scene investigators either brushed her belonging for prints, squinted at suspiciously placed hairs or searched in vain for blood splatters that quite clearly weren’t there. Cordelia knew they’d find no trace of Daniel in her room or any where in the Hyperion, Angel had conducted his own search before the CSI’s had arrived and she trusted his preternatural sense far more than a make-up brush and little pot of powder because if there were two things that Angel was an expert in, it was blood and dust. Yet the CSI’s worked diligently, methodically, hunting for the one clue that would finally put all the pieces of the puzzle into place.
The only problem was most of the puzzle was missing.
Cordelia tapped her fingernails against the door frame and waited for them to give up their search with a growing sense of impatience. A CSI who, Cordelia noted sadly, looked nothing like George Eads, looked up at the sound of the rattatap-rattatap of her nails and frowned.
“Could you please stop doing that?” he asked with all the people skills of a hat stand.
Cordelia curled her hand up into a fist and forced an apologetic smile to lift the corners of her mouth. “Sorry. Will this take much longer?”
“I expect so,” he shrugged before once again leaning over whatever it was on the dresser that had captured his attention.
“Wonderful,” Cordelia huffed under her breath. Shoulders tense, she stepped out of the doorway and wandered aimlessly down the corridor, trying to make the short journey from her room to the lobby take as long as possible. As the corridor opened up onto the lobby balcony, Cordelia’s footsteps slowed to a stop. She rocked back and forth on her heels for a moment and stretched her neck from side to side.
It wasn’t that she was avoiding going downstairs, exactly. It was just that there were about eight million other things she’d prefer to do than be on the receiving end of Wesley’s disappointed glare. Which, Cordelia knew, would be the first thing to greet her were she to go downstairs.
“I’m not avoiding,” she tried to convince herself. “I’m just-”
“Talking to yourself? I thought that was my party trick?” Fred asked as she sidled her way up the corridor, a bundle of wires and kitchen equipment in her arms. “And you’re totally avoiding.”
“Not avoiding,” Cordelia insisted, eyeing Fred’s assorted haul . “Where are you going with the blender? Actually, you know what? I don’t want to know. Pretend I didn’t ask,” she said quickly when Fred’s eyes lit up with inventors glee.
Fred shrugged, the mass of electrical equipment clanging together in her arms. “That detective is making Angel and Wes show him our weapons licenses,” she jerked her chin in the general direction of the office, “so you’re safe to make a dash for the kitchen if you want.”
A deformed egg whisk which had been lodged beneath her armpit made a break for freedom but Fred caught it before it could escape.
Cordelia frowned. “Weapons licenses? Since when do we have weapon licenses?”
“We don’t. You’d think a big ole’ genius like Wes would have a real convincing fake license squirreled away somewhere ’round here for a rainy day.” Fred shrugged again. The cheese grater clanged against the egg whisk, “it’d be amusing to watch Wes and Angel try to talk Glass ’round if, ya know, the atmosphere in there wasn’t a few degrees below unbearably uncomfortable.”
“Wonderful,” Cordelia groaned.
“Ya-huh. S’cuse me, I gotta go hide these before the LAPD see them,” Fred nodded at the mangled mess of kitchen equipment she held. As Cordelia looked at them again, she realized they weren’t just run of the mill kitchen gadgets.
They’d been Burkled.
The blender had three knives protruding from its base and Cordelia didn’t even want to think about what the Texan had done to the cheese grater.
She was certain they didn’t have a license for it though.
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” she murmured as Fred scurried off down the corridor.
Before Fred disappeared around the corner she called over her shoulder, “You might want to try Gunn’s cell again. He’s still not answering.”
Gunn didn’t know he had so much blood in his body in the first place, so to see it slowly but surely leaving his body was more than worrying. His vision was beginning to blur, the edges of his consciousness leaking into little more than a collection of blurry outlines.
The cut was clean and deep.
But it was nothing compared to the beating Gunn planned for the knife wielding bastard who was pacing up and down in front of him when he got the chance.
If he got the chance.
“Who knew the old man had so much blood in him,” Daniel said, his tone frighteningly casual.
Gunn struggled to sit up against the wall but gave up quickly. Moving wasn’t an option. “Not as much as you’re gonna when Angel finds you,” he said gruffly, hand pressed against his side in a poor attempt to stem the flow of blood. It leaked through Gunn’s fingers and ran down his wrist in warm, sticky rivulets.
Daniel snorted. “Do you really think I’m afraid of him? Why? Because he’s a vampire?”
“No,” Gunn replied simply. “Because you’re messing with something you shouldn’t be messing with.”
“I fear no one.”
“Yeah, I get that. What with that big ass knife you’ve got in your hand and the way you’re stalking a defenceless girl and everything. Oh yeah, you’re a real tough guy.”
“You’re trying to make me angry,” Daniel narrowed his eyes.
“Nothing gets past you, does it?”
Daniel sneered and kicked a stray stone that lay in his path. It ricocheted off one of the trash cans at the mouth of the alley then disappeared on to the street.
He cracked his neck from side to side, let out a deep breath and calmly said, “I was going to just kill you then dump your body on your boyfriend’s doorstep, but that just seemed wrong. Too easy. Too quick. So I thought long and hard and came up with a new plan.”
“Mind tellin’ me what this new plan is? Seeing as I seem to feature heavily in it,” Gunn asked, a cold sweat breaking out on his forehead. If he could just get on his feet, stand up, he could take Daniel down easily. Gunn was sure of it.
Daniel crouched down in front of him with his elbows on his knees, the knife held firmly in the palm of his right hand, and Gunn’s cell phone in the left. The blood on the blade was slowly drying into a rusty brown smear. “If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise. Don’t you like surprises, Charles?”
Daniel smiled, two rows of white teeth gleaming with promise.
Fred hadn’t been exaggerating when she’d said the tension was a few degrees below uncomfortable. The air was still between Angel and Wesley, like a in-drawn breath held for too long. Against her better judgement, Cordelia slipped into Wesley’s office and took up sentry by the filing cabinets. Angel was the only one to notice her entry, greeting her with a pained smile.
“What sort of ass-backwards operation are you people running here?” Glass asked in exasperation, either unaware or ignoring the angry silence that stood in the room like an elephant. “You don’t have a business license or weapons license?”
“I didn’t say that,” Wesley drew up defensively. “We have both, actually, I’m just unable to show them to you at this moment in time. I should think the LAPD have more to be worrying about right now other than a few pieces of paper, do they not?”
No one who knew him in Sunnydale or back in his foppish Watcher days would ever believe it, but maybe that was why Cordelia felt a strange sense of pride that the new, improved Wesley could look a homicide cop dead in the eye and convincingly lie his ass off when the situation called for it. The feeling quickly crumbled into annoyance at the look he threw her as soon as he realized she was in the room.
Disapproving glare? Check and double-check.
“You’re right, you’re right, “ Glass rubbed his a hand over his jaw, “but we’re going to have a conversation about this once we’ve caught Daniel,” he promised with a stab of his finger in the air between them. Wesley nodded once, sharply, his lips pressed into a thin line as he closed the file on his desk silently.
Angel shifted his weight from his left foot to his right. Jaw tight, arms crossed firmly over his chest.
Glass flipped through his notepad, oblivious.
“Fred said Gunn’s not answering his cell,” Cordelia said to break the increasingly debilitating tension. “Are we worried?”
Wesley didn’t blink as he said, “I expect Gunn’s taking some personal time.”
Cordelia put her hand on her hip and tilted her head, trying not to let her annoyance show on her face. “That doesn’t answer my question.”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Wesley said with as much authority he could muster. Gunn wasn’t something he could currently think clearly about. In fact, he’d never been able to think clearly when it came to Charles Gunn. That was why they were in this mess in the first place.
“Charles Gunn, right?” Glass asked, his eyes scanning his notepad. “I could send a unit over-”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary.”
Patience evaporating in a heartbeat, Cordelia shot Wesley a look that warned of severe pain in his foreseeable future if he didn’t accept the detective’s offer right this very second.
Wesley wavered then crumbled like a cheap deck of cards under that look. He nodded. “Just to be certain, then.”
Cordelia turned to Glass and unleashed the full power of her smile onto him. “Thank you, Detective. We really appreciate it.”
Glass blinked, startled at the warm smile the young woman was bestowing on him. It was the first time that day that she’d looked at him with anything other than distant irritation. To his horror, Glass felt his face flush warm at the sudden attention. He hadn’t blushed in twenty years. It was disconcerting. Nodding quickly, he pulled out his cell phone and left the office before Cordelia Chase could charm him into stuttering.
For the first time since the previous evenings demon slayage, Cordelia, Wesley and Angel found themselves together in the same room, in the middle of a painful silence. The office clocked ticked its presence as usual. For a wonderful moment Cordelia saw herself snatching it off the wall, throwing it to the floor and stamping on it until there was nothing left of it but broken cogs.
Wesley let his gaze travel from Cordelia to Angel and back again slowly.
“Don’t you think sending the LAPD to see why Gunn’s not picking up his phone is, perhaps, slightly extreme?” he said slowly, forming the words with more care than necessary.
Cordelia narrowed her eyes. “Not when we have a psycho trying to get our attention by a leaving a trail of corpses behind him it’s not.”
“Daniel’s shown no interest in Gunn-”
“Jesus, Wes, do you care about Gunn at all?”
The words had left Cordelia’s mouth before she could stop them, but she felt no compulsion to take them back even as the air stuttered and threatened to leave the room completely.
“Of course I do,” Wesley said calmly, his voice clipped and sharp.
Cordelia met his stare and refused to back down from it, the back of her neck prickling with defiance. “You have a funny way of showing it.”
“It’s really none of your business.”
“But it’s fine for you to butt your nose into my business, right? Double standard much, Wes?”
“It’s hardly the same,” Wesley scoffed, his composure beginning to crack around the edges.
Cordelia raised an eyebrow that asked him to explain the difference.
“Do you have any idea how reckless-” Wesley broke off mid scolding, snatching his glasses off his nose and leaning forward in his chair as he searched for the right words to make Cordelia see sense. “The threat of Angelus is a very real one and you of all people should know that.” Cordelia saw Angel shift his weight from foot to foot out of the corner of her eye and darted a quick look at him. He was scowling resolutely at the floor and Cordelia found her self wondering what exactly had been said while she was hiding in the bathroom with Fred.
“It’s not what you think,” she said finally.
Wesley clenched his jaw, eyes scrutinising Cordelia for a long moment before he said, “I hope for both your sakes it isn’t.”
He pushed his chair away from the desk and stood, picking up his coffee mug as he left the office without another word.
Cordelia let out a long breath and dropped down into the chair meant for clients. She let her head hang over the backrest so that she could see Angel. “I see he’s in a fabulous mood today,” she muttered, blood rushing to her temples at the awkward angle.
Angel rubbed the back of his neck, his smile not quite reaching his eyes.
“So,” Cordelia scooted around in the chair when the strange feeling of vertigo became too dizzying. “What did he say to you?”
Shaking his head, Angel said, “It doesn’t matter. Like you said, it’s not what he thinks, right?”
Something sharp twisted painfully in Cordelia’s chest, forcing her to break Angel’s gaze. “Right,” she nodded, tracing the smooth wood grain of Wesley’s desk with her index finger, following the whorls and lines until they merged and became as confused as her thoughts.
“Hmm?” Cordelia looked up. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Angel raised an eyebrow, silently reminding her that that word was still outlawed between them.
“Really, Angel. I’m fine,” she smiled easily. “I mean, if I ignore the fact that I have my own personal fan club rooting through my underwear drawer in the middle of the night, I’m just peachy.”
“Maybe Glass was right,” he said quietly. “Maybe you’d be safer someplace else.”
“Maybe. But this is where I want to be.” Cordelia smoothed her hands down her skirt. “Unless you’re tired of having me as a roomie, of course. Then I guess you’ll just have to move in with England’s finest pain in the ass,” she grinned wickedly.
The corners of Angel’s mouth twitched, his eyes lingering on Cordelia until she felt a warm thrill blossoming at the base of her spine. “I think I’ll pass on that one.”
“You’re not looking so good,” Daniel frowned as he turned the knife over and over in his hand.
“Being stabbed kinda has that effect on a brother,” Gunn muttered, wincing as he pulled himself into a more upright position. A sweat had long since broken out on the back of his neck, chilling his already cool skin.
Daniel tilted his head to the side and nodded slowly. “I suppose it would. Tell me, does she love him?”
Gunn blinked, confused at the abrupt subject change. Maybe he’d lost more blood than he thought. “What?”
“The vampire,” Daniel spat the words out like venom, the grip on the knife tightening. “Does she love him?”
“Dude, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Gunn said wearily. He pressed his hands against the ground and tried to propel himself to his feet. He needed to be upright. If he was upright, then he’d have the advantage.
Daniel lifted a booted foot and pressed it down onto Gunn’s shoulder before he could leave the ground. A sudden jolt of pain ricocheted through Gunn’s side, making him grunt and curse loudly. Squatting down in front of him again, Daniel covered Gunn’s mouth and nose with his hand, tutting disapprovingly under his breath.
Daniel pressed in close to him, his breath tickling over the side of Gunn’s face as he said, “Naughty, naughty, Charles. Quiet as a mouse, remember?”
Spots began to dance in Gunn’s eyes as he was slowly deprived of oxygen. He clasped Daniel’s wrist to wrench himself free but it was futile. It was like trying to dislodge granite. “You have to promise to be quiet, Charles, otherwise you’ll ruin the surprise,” Daniel pressed the flat of his knife to Gunn’s neck, digging the tip into his flesh until Gunn felt skin break and trickle with blood.
Gunn nodded carefully, his lungs burning painfully.
“Good boy,” Daniel smiled and removed his hand. Gunn gasped for breath, sucking in air like it was the sweetest thing he’d ever known.
“What are you?” Gunn wheezed between coughs that shuddered painfully through his chest, he doubled over with dizziness only to be slammed back against the wall by his assailant.
Daniel spread his arms wide at his sides. “I’m just a man in love.”
Gunn calmed his breathing and concentrated on the daggers of pain that lanced his side at every breath. “You’re a sick sonofabitch.”
“Yes, well, you say potato,” he shrugged, his attention drawn to the cell phone as it began to ring once again. “They must be starting to worry. Friends are important, Charles. Very important. A man is nothing without his friends. I’d tell you to remember that but by the way that wound is bleeding I doubt you’ll have a need to.” Daniel nodded twice, quickly. “It’s a shame, really. I’m sure you and I could have been good friends. Cordelia would have liked us to be friends, don’t you think? Of course, she’ll be dead soon too so I guess it’s a moot point.”
The cell phone ceased its shrill call.
“Ah, silence,” Daniel smiled. “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll keep this. You never know when it might be useful,” he pocketed the phone and Gunn’s stomach twisted with fear. “Well, I can’t stand around here all day. Things to do, people to see. And you have a message to deliver for me, if you would be so kind?”
“Sorry. Can’t. Busy.”
“I’m sure you can fit it into your schedule, you see, all you have to do,” Daniel leaned in close to Gunn again, his voice whispering Gunn’s fate, “is die.”
The air rushed out of Gunn as the knife plunged in.
Cordelia stared at the phone and worried her bottom lip between her teeth. Why wasn’t Gunn answering his cell? Why hadn’t he checked in yet? It was making Cordelia feel uneasy, her skin prickling as it did just before a vision would crash through her brain. She waited for now familiar onslaught of horrifying images, but none came.
Something was very wrong.
Leaning against the lobby counter, Angel watched her over the lip of his mug as he sipped his blood. “Still no answer?”
Cordelia shook her head and tapped a fingernail against her teeth. “I don’t like this.”
She crossed her legs and rubbed a hand over the back of her neck, her thumb smoothing over the fading bruise at bottom of her throat. Angel swallowed, eyes darting between the unconscious action and the way Cordelia’s skirt had ridden up over her thigh, giving him a tantalising glimpse of what he’d already run his hands over in reverence.
Noticing his stare, Cordelia cleared her throat and raised an amused eyebrow.
Angel smirked, lifting his shoulders in a shrug.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Pig.”
“That’s not what you said last night,” Angel murmured under his breath, smiling as he lifted the mug to his lips again.
Cordelia felt a hot flush racing up her chest, her worry over Gunn momentarily forgotten in the face of Angel’s rare moment of teasing. “That was just the vision sex talking,” she said brusquely, pretending her face wasn’t three shades pinker than normal.
“Sure,” Angel nodded, “of course. Whatever you say.”
Angel caught the stapler moments before it could cause his face any damage and set it down far out of Cordelia’s reach. “Nice aim.”
“I’ve been practising.”
The phone rang twice before Cordelia snatched it up. “Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless.”
Angel watched her as she listened to the caller, her head nodding to a chorus of uh huh‘s as she scribbled on her yellow notepad. He pushed himself away from the counter when her pen froze mid scribble, a frown creasing a line between her eyebrows.
“Did you just say 8th street?” Her eyes grew wide and darted to Angel. The flush that had painted her cheeks drained from her face quickly and in that moment Angel knew who was on the other end of the line.
“Where is he? What have you done to him, you bastard!”
Angel snatched the phone from Cordelia’s grip and pressed it against his ear.
There was nothing but dial tone.
“The alley beside Gunn’s apartment, we need to be there, like, yesterday,” Cordelia said as she rifled frantically with the pile of papers and folders that littered her desk.
“Get Wesley. Now.”
Cordelia plucked the small white card from her desk. She dialled the Detective’s number as she slipped her sling backs on and threw her purse over her shoulder.
Angel did as she asked without argument.
Daniel flipped the cell phone shut and let a slow smile slither across his face.