The sharp impact of a hand slapping his cheek brought Angel out of unconsciousness. As he delicately raised his bruised head up, Angel came to two distinct conclusions. Number one was that he was tied to a chair with what felt like chains. Number two was the understanding that every cell in his body hurt like a mother fucker.
“Here, let me help you out, baby.”
Angel felt a weight straddle his groin and a hand wipe blood from his eyes. Groaning when the body pressed against his dick, Angel slowly opened his hurting eyelids to find that the figure atop him was Faith. The Slayer, clad in a white tank and too tight leather pants, seductively wrapped her arms around his neck and trailed her tongue up his left cheek.
“If you wanted a ride,” Angel whispered hoarsely, “you should have said so. I find bondage distasteful on the first date.” He rattled the chains behind him for good measure.
“But what’s the fun in asking?” Faith purred. “I much prefer taking what I want.” She continued to rub against his crotch and was immensely pleased when Angel grew hard despite himself. “You like that, Angel? Do I make you hard?”
“Faith, I’m a man. I can get hard watching Captain Kangaroo, you stupid bitch.” His head rocked to the side when Faith slapped him again. When he turned back to face the young woman, he found her to be extremely pissed off. But more than that, he found a Slayer on the edge.
“Look at you, Faith. You’re nothing but a little girl dressing up in mother’s clothes. Trying to be bigger than you actually are. What the hell happened to you, Faith? You could have been something special. What made you turn away from your calling?”
Faith flipped her hair over her shoulder and then leaned in close. She nibbled on Angel’s earlobe and whispered, “Let’s just say that I received a better offer.” Burying her nails deep in his shoulders, Faith took extraordinary pleasure in listening to Angel’s screams.
Two Days Earlier ~ Monday
Rolling down the tinted window of the limousine, Lilah Morgan watched the fight in great interest. So involved was she, Lilah actually threw a few fake punches whenever the girl connected in her duel with the vampire. She was disappointed when the girl withdrew a stake and delivered the final blow. It was an incredibly powerful display. When the girl headed out on the nearby street, Lilah said to the driver…
“Start the car. Pull up beside her.”
The driver did as instructed. Pulling out onto Whitmore, the limousine caught up with the walking girl and pulled to a stop ten feet in front of her. Lilah again rolled down the window as the girl walked by.
“Faith Burton. May I speak with you?”
Faith turned a glare on her that would have killed a lesser woman. “Depends on who’s wanting to speak with me.”
“My name is Lilah Morgan. I represent the law firm of Wolfram and Hart. And I think I have an offer you cannot refuse.”
“Is that right?” Faith mocked. “And what would that offer be?”
“One half million dollars for the completion of a single assignment.” Lilah could instantly tell she had Faith’s attention.
“What would this assignment be?”
“The assassination of the vampire known as Angel.” A small smile played at Faith’s lips. “Are you interested?”
“I think I am…boss.”
Lilah opened her door and indicated for Faith to slide in. “Perhaps we should discuss the details?”
“Of course.” Faith slide into the car and the limousine drove away.
“Don’t be afraid of it, Cordy.”
“I’m not afraid of it, Angel. It’s just kinda big is all.”
“I know, but it does the job. Just get a tight grip on it and pump.”
“I’m trying but it’s hard.”
“Well bring your hand in closer and try pumping again.”
“Ha! I did it!”
“Very good. Now just aim it at your target and fire.”
The arrow missed wide right of the paper target and stuck in the wall of the abandoned K-Mart that they were in. Cordelia lowered the Delta crossbow and peered at the target in dissatisfaction. No hits. The wall on either side of the target, however, was littered with half a dozen arrows. She handed the weapon to Angel and asked…
“What am I doing wrong?”
“You’re afraid of the crossbow,” Angel said bluntly. He removed the empty bolt and slammed another one in. This model crossbow was a repeater, and each bolt had three arrows. All Cordy needed to do was pump to reload.
“I am not afraid of it, Angel!” Cordy snapped in frustration. She immediately felt bad about losing her cool. Taking the weapon, she said, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to snap. Can you help me again?” He couldn’t deny the slight pleading tone in her voice. He motioned for her to face the target and get her firing stance.
“You are afraid of the weapon, Cordy. And don’t argue. You’re holding it like it’s a bomb. The only way this thing is going to hurt you is either by looking at it straight on or pointing it at your foot. Now speaking of feet…”
Angel stuck his boot between Cordy’s spread legs and began to tap her feet apart. “Your stance is a little too close.” He rested his hands on her hips and turned her a little bit. For a brief moment, Angel swore he heard her gasp. Shaking the feeling away, he said, “Square up with the target.”
He again reached up and adjusted Cordy’s shoulders. Wrapping his arms around her, Angel readjusted her grip on the crossbow. Again he could swear he heard a gasp. Deciding he was going nuts, Angel ignored the feeling. When he moved his head next to Cordelia’s to peer down the weapon’s sight, Angel felt her tense.
“Loosen up, Cordy. And hold it tight to your shoulder. Your problem, or one of them anyway, is that you hold the crossbow too lax. When the arrow is loosed, the weapon jumps in your hand and so the projectile doesn’t fly true. And whatever you do, do not close your eyes when you squeeze the trigger.”
Angel gently removed his hands from Cordelia’s shoulders, but still stayed right behind her. He was so close he could see every muscle movement in her face as she concentrated on the target. He felt the heat of her body and smelled the scent of her hair. It was a slightly overwhelming sensation, but for the life of him, Angel couldn’t move away.
“Squeeze the trigger, Cordy,” he whispered.
The arrow was loosed and flew true. When the thud was heard that indicated it hit the wall, both were incredibly pleased to note this time it was near dead center of the target. Cordelia was damn excited. And when she turned around to face Angel, she saw him wearing a very proud grin.
“That’s a hell of a shot,” he admitted. “See what happens when you get a good grip on things?” Cordelia laughed and took aim once more. She fired the final two arrows and placed them near the center of the target. After admiring her work, Cordy flipped the safety on and went to retrieve the arrows.
“Cordy, can I ask you something?”
“What’s with the sudden interest in learning how to shoot? Not that I mind teaching someone how to wield a weapon. Makes me feel all manly and shit. But I’ve been wondering.”
Cordelia paused in her quest to remove the arrows. She wouldn’t look at him, instead, she opted to gaze down at the floor, her long locks shielding her face. He had to strain to hear when she finally spoke.
“Because I feel kinda useless.”
That surprised Angel. “Cordy, why would you think that?”
Cordelia fixed him with a look that said the reason should be obvious. “Why wouldn’t I feel useless around you and Adele? I mean, look at you. You got the whole Batman Dark Knight thing happening for you. All you have to do is go ‘grr’ and you can whoop the ass of any bad guy you want.
“And then there’s Adele. She can do the ‘grr’ bit, too. I mean, she’s not as strong as you, but she also gets those vision dealies that say Timmy fell down the well or Jane is getting gobbled up by a monster. That makes her special. It makes you special.
“But what do I have? I mean, besides a nice tush and great fashion sense? Absolutely nothing. I’m always the damsel in distress that needs some hero to swoop in and save her. I don’t have special powers or archaic knowledge of demons. I just feel useless. I am useless.”
Angel was stunned. For him, this declaration came out of nowhere. But he knew that Cordelia must have been harboring these feelings for a while. It probably even went back as far as to all the times Buffy saved her life.
Despite the fact that dealing with people could be an awkward experience for him, Angel decided on a course of action he hoped would console the young woman. He hugged her. It was a strange moment, although not entirely unpleasant. At least from his perspective anyway.
“You are not useless, Cordy,” he whispered softly. “In fact, just by being Cordelia Chase you are proving your usefulness. At least Adele and I think so.”
“Really?” Cordelia looked up at him with those lovely eyes. She needed to hear that she had some value. Angel was happy to provide an honest opinion.
“You’re just looking for a purpose,” Angel explained. “You just don’t find those overnight. Hell, look at me. I’m 250 years old and most days I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to be doing.” Cordelia busted out laughing at that. Angel liked that he caused it.
“But one thing I do believe is that we all have some role. We may not see it at first. Shit, we may not even realize we performed our purpose even after we did it. But I think we all have one. Who knows, Cordy. You might discover your purpose before you know it.”
“Thank you, Angel.”
Angel smiled slightly and hugged her once more. He gently placed a kiss on her cheek and pulled back to reassure her once more. But for some reason he went speechless. Angel had no idea why, but the look on Cordelia’s face just captivated him. He saw a spark of something special, something he hadn’t seen in a long while, if ever. That may have been why he felt compelled to kiss her. But before his lips could touch Cordelia’s, the damndest thing happened.
His cell phone rang.
Both jumped in surprise at the shrill ring. Cordelia chuckled nervously and shied her head away in embarrassment. Angel rolled his eyes at the interruption. Fucking technology. This shit wouldn’t have happened in the 1800s.
“Hello Adele,” he spoke into the phone. He smiled at Cordelia and was pleased she returned it. At least his advance didn’t upset her. She actually looked disappointed it didn’t continue.
“Where are we? At the old K-Mart on Lincoln. I’m teaching Cordy how to use a crossbow.” Angel grunted in annoyance. “Yes, Adele, that is all I’m teaching her. Why are you calling?” Angel’s face lit up. “Are you kidding? Adele, that’s fantastic. No, we’ll be by in about twenty minutes. See you then.”
“What was that about?”
“The loan application came through.”
“It did? That’s great! How much is it for?”
“Enough for six months lease, a couple desks, and a computer,” Angel grinned. “C’mon, Adele wants us to come by the apartment. It looks like it’s celebration time.”
“Celebration? Does that entail a possible part-ay?”
“Indeed it does, milady. Now let’s get this stuff gathered up. You know how antsy Adele gets when we make her wait.”
The Bronze wasn’t that bad when you were with people you liked. Well, that was unfair to say. Buffy, Willow, and Oz weren’t that bad. Xander was a little prick, but no one was perfect. But there was something special about going to a bar with a couple people you could truly classify as friends.
Sipping on a beer, Angel sat at a small table and watched as Adele and Cordelia grooved on the dance floor with each other and whoever happened by. Both were feeling good on this momentous day. Adele because her idea of a detective agency was becoming that more real and Cordelia was happy because he and Adele had offered her a job as a secretary when they finally got it going.
As Cordelia said, there would be no more “Helping ugly people pick out wedding attire to make them look passably attractive.” She seemed fairly excited about that.
Angel ordered a red wine and Diet Coke from a passing waitress when the girls began to move to the table. The drinks arrived just after they did. He smiled as they jabbered excitedly about the music, the business, and anything else that crossed their hyperactive minds.
“We need a name to put on the door,” Adele pointed out as she sipped on her wine.
“We do!” Cordy agreed. “How about The World’s Greatest Detective Agency?”
“Isn’t that a little presumptuous?” Angel asked.
“You’re probably right. How about Angel Investigations?”
Angel nearly choked on his beer. “You would actually put my name on the door?”
“Why not?” Cordelia countered. “People in need are looking for a certain breed to help them. They want someone strong and strapping, dark and mysterious, powerful and good-looking. They want somebody who looks like they can kick ass and take names.”
Angel glanced skeptically at Adele. “Is she being serious?”
Adele shrugged. “You can’t fault her logic, Angel. You’ve got the look of someone who can take care of business. Women will go ga-ga over the eyes. Men will hire you because they’ll begrudgingly admit you could kick their ass. It’s sound logic.”
Angel wasn’t convinced. “You two are pulling my leg.”
“Seriously, Angel, it’s a good thought. When they see your face and can connect it with the name of the business, it’ll leave an impression. Cordy seems to like the name. I like the name. But since you are the boss, it ultimately is your decision.”
“Or, you know,” Cordelia interrupted, “we could give you the wide eyed innocent look until we finally guilt you into accepting the name.”
“Or we could do that.”
He would have argued some more, but Angel had a funny feeling they weren’t bluffing on that. Instead, he simply lifted his beer and said, “I guess this is to Angel Investigations.”
“To Angel Investigations!” the girls echoed. The three clinked beverages and drained them for good measure. It was then that Adele asked the all important question.
“Now about our salaries…”
“Yeah, about those. Do we get a benefits package with that?”
“Perhaps a dental plan and paid holidays?”
“You two are vultures,” Angel decided.
“Think we can form a union?”
“I don’t think we can have a union of two, Cor. Unless we can get that delicious Willow girl and her buddies to join up. What do you think A-Dog?” Angel was incredibly quiet and seemed to be concentrating on something. “Yo, Fang, you okay?” The only answer Adele got was a resigned…
The feeling that trickled down his spine was dead on once more. Sure enough, Buffy and crew emerged from the crowd. And if Angel was reading Buffy clearly, and he was fairly good at reading people, she didn’t seem too pleased that he was hanging with Adele and Cordy.
“Angel,” Buffy began curtly. “What are you doing here?”
“Just taking the girls out for a celebration.”
“The girls?” The way Buffy said that irritated Angel beyond belief. “Well, would ‘The Girls’ mind if I talked to you privately for a moment?”
“Would ‘The Bitch’ kindly not speak as if ‘The Girls’ were not sitting right here?” Adele mocked.
“Adele!” Angel warned. He was well aware that she didn’t much care for Buffy, but the look he sent her clearly expressed she shouldn’t instigate. Adele nodded slightly and focused on her drink. Angel indicated to Buffy they should find a quiet corner.
They left Oz, Willow, and Xander at the table with the ladies.
The quiet corner that Angel and Buffy found was underneath the staircase leading up to the catwalk all the young couples liked to occupy if they wanted to make out. Considering he was probably going to get his ass chewed, Angel was remarkably calm.
He nodded to the singing of the young woman doing an acoustic set on stage. She actually had a nice voice. Reminded him of Patsy Cline. Angel was idly wishing for another beer when Buffy began her rant.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
“You heard me. First you walk out on a date with me and then you just plain don’t show up for one. Now I find you hanging out with some strange woman and with Cordelia.”
“Think you could say her name with a little less distaste, love?”
“And this attitude of yours? I have to admit I don’t care for it.”
“You mean the whole thing I have going on with being my own man? Yeah, that is a bitch, isn’t it?”
“You know, if this is going to be your attitude towards me and our relationship, then perhaps we should reconsider why we’re even together.”
“I agree.” After a slight pause, Angel said, “Perhaps we shouldn’t see each other for a while.”
Buffy was floored. “Excuse me?”
“You’re different. I’m different. And besides the most blatant reason of ‘Me vampire, you Slayer’, there are a ton of others why we shouldn’t pursue this relationship further.”
Buffy merely stared at him in a state of shock. “Are you breaking up with me?”
Angel paused a moment and thought about it hard. Finally he decided and said, “Yeah. I suppose I am.”
It was like she was frozen in place. Angel briefly considered saying something, but in the end decided to merely walk away. And considering he just broke up with the love of his life, Angel wasn’t feeling that bad. It was also a good thing he arrived back at the table when he did. Adele seemed to be speaking in an inappropriate manner to Willow.
And like always, Oz took it with quiet dignity.
“You know what I like? Whip cream,” Adele stated seriously. “Do you like whip cream, Willow?”
“Fabulous! Do you like cherries?”
“Good! Now, do you know what a vulva is?” The wide-eyed look on Willow’s face was confirmation. “Excellent. That’ll save us a lot of time.” Her good humor was lost when the vision struck like a hurricane. Angel was barely able to catch her before Adele’s head slammed against the floor. And like the darling girl she was, Cordelia ran interference.
“How about that chick up there singing? Helluva rendition of ‘China Grove’, eh?”
On the floor, beneath the table, Angel delicately stroked Adele’s hair and waited for the pain to subside. When she meekly called for painkillers, he lifted his hand above the table and snapped. Without looking, Cordy reached into Adele’s purse and retrieved the bottle and slapped it into his hand. Adele popped two and began to tell her story.
“There’s a young man,” she whimpered. “In the alley outside a bar. Uh, shit, I can’t see the name. But there’s an adult bookstore across the street.”
“Sounds like Harper’s down on Park View,” Angel informed her. “What’s attacking him?”
Adele grimaced at the pain and tried to focus on the vision. She sighed in frustration. “I don’t know. But it feels weird.” She gripped at his leather coat and looked at him with dark pleading eyes. “I don’t like it. Promise me you’ll be careful.”
“I promise.” Angel wrapped his arms around her and lifted Adele up to her stool. To Cordy he began, “Will you…”
“I’ll watch her,” she quickly promised before resuming her distraction of the Scoobies. “Now what is up with the X-Files? The season started out with those weird altered time episodes. Is it me, or has this year been weak compared to others?”
“I don’t think it’s necessarily weak,” Willow explained in a professional manner. “It’s just having to follow in the footsteps of a strong fourth and fifth seasons, so it’s just weak in comparison.”
Angel paused long enough to be confused at the topic before rushing off to stop the monster in the vision.
British Airways Flight 807 ~ Heathrow to LAX
Somewhere over Missouri
The stewardess didn’t care much for the three men sitting side by side in row twelve. The men were certainly British, and all appeared to be thirty-something. She had heard names to be Ian, James, and Douglas. And Douglas seemed to take joy in shooting lewd looks at her.
Little bastard. She had half a mind to serve him poisoned peanuts.
Ian, a slightly chubby man of average height was the leader of the group. James was a tall and lean looking fellow. He listened intently as Ian whispered whatever it was that he was reading that rested on the tray before him. Douglas, the bastard, was a shorter, albeit well muscled man.
He was focusing more on the flight attendants than on Ian. And Ian didn’t take kindly to that. He elbowed Douglas in the ribs to get his attention.
“Will you listen as I detail the mission?”
Douglas rolled his eyes. “You’ve detailed the mission three bloody times, mate. I think we get it.”
“Well, we shall discuss the mission three more times. We shall keep discussing it until I am convinced you’ve paid more attention to this file than the poontang on this flight.” Douglas sighed and waved at Ian to talk.
“This is the target,” Ian explained. He once more showed them the photograph of Faith Burton. “Being this woman is a Slayer, extreme caution must be exercised. Mission priority is to bring her in alive. But if no other choice remains, the Council has authorized a Schedule Seven action.”
“Schedule Seven,” James groaned. “I thought the Council stopped performing those after the war.”
“They had,” Ian said. “But then, the Council hasn’t had to deal with a rogue Slayer before. Drastic times and measures and all that, James.”
Douglas was confused. “Okay, yeah, I wasn’t paying attention. What is a Schedule Seven?”
Ian gritted his teeth as he explained it to the newest member of the Council’s Second Ranger Troop. “A Schedule Seven is a neutralization of the target and all other compromising parties.”
“Neutralization?” Douglas questioned.
“Assassination,” James clarified.
Douglas leaned back in his seat as he took in that information. A slow smile crossed his face. “Neutralization. I like it.”
Angel lifted the broad sword up to battle position as he slowly entered the alley behind Harper’s. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he couldn’t help but feel Adele was right. There was something off about this. But knowing he had no reinforcements on this one, the only thing Angel could do was push forward.
There wasn’t anything particularly special about this alley. There were dumpsters. Small puddles of water and sewage pooled in places. A homeless woman sucked back on a bottle of Red Dog. But something was very wrong. And as Angel went a little deeper into the alley and peered behind a dumpster, the suspicion was confirmed.
Bending down, Angel delicately checked for a pulse of the young man. He found one, but it was incredibly faint. The man had gotten the shit royally beaten from him. Just a precursory examination and Angel found a bad head wound, several broken ribs, and a dislocated shoulder.
Angel didn’t feel the second presence until it was too late. A metal pipe cracked against his skull causing a wound very similar to the one the young man carried. As the vampire slumped down and rolled onto his back, the blood oozing from his head and onto the filthy street, Angel watched with vague understanding that the homeless woman threw off her rags and peered at him with a sly smirk.
Why did she seem familiar to him?
“That,” Faith began, “was incredibly quick. But don’t worry love. You’ll have a chance to make it up to me later.”
After that, Angel’s world faded to black.