Deja Vu. 2

Part 2: Looking For Answers

Angel wandered into the lobby, lured downstairs by the smell of freshly brewed coffee. He’d spent most of the night patrolling the seedy underbelly of the city, keeping himself occupied. There was nothing like beheading half-a-dozen Kralath demons to give you perspective.

Just before dawn he came home, showered, changed, and did some Tai Chi. Now he felt calmer, more centered, and determined not to let last night’s events rattle him so much.

He couldn’t go to pieces in front of them. He had a second chance, and if he blew it, they’d never trust him again, ever. He could *not* allow that to happen. He wasn’t the guy who yearned to be alone, to sit in the dark and brood any more. He needed them around him. Especially — her.

Cordelia was already there, breezing around in a bright floral print sundress. Gunn was polishing his beloved hubcap axe. Cara sat, looking self-conscious, on one of the couches, nibbling on a donut.

“Morning.” Angel perched on Cordelia’s desk. He didn’t have to try too hard to smile when he saw her.

“Hey.” She smiled back, coming towards him with a cup of warm blood. She was visibly relieved to see him more relaxed.

“Uh… Cordy.” He glanced sideways at Cara as he took the mug — as always, uncomfortable about feeding in front of strangers.

“Don’t mind me,” Cara said, putting her hands up. “After what’s happened to me lately, this is way, way down on my list of disturbing. And I wanted to apologize for last night.”

“Apologize?” He cradled the cup gratefully, sipping the warm red liquid. Cordelia had made it just the right temperature, as usual.

“Yeah, for busting in like that,” Cara said, looking embarrassed.

“Who could blame you?” Cordelia said, sitting down at her computer. “And besides, we’re here to be busted in on. Pretty much used to it.”

Cara acted as if she hadn’t heard. “And the bawling, God, I’m not normally that pathetic. You must think I’m some stupid hysterical female.” She blinked at Angel.

“Used to that, too.” Gunn grinned, not glancing up from the blade he was working on. Cordelia stuck her tongue out at him.

“Don’t worry about it,” Angel said, trying to avoid Cara’s dark eyes, and concentrating hard on not inhaling her scent.

He sat there, drinking his breakfast, and banging his heels against Cordelia’s desk until she looked up at him, scowling. “Angel!”

He remembered the piece of paper. “How’s Wesley getting on?”

“Still at it.” Cordelia nodded towards the office door.

“Might get a progress report,” he said, swallowing the remaining blood. He dumped the cup on her desk, hurrying into Wesley’s office.

“And you couldn’t put it in the sink?” she asked the empty space where he’d just been.

“That’s really gross,” Gunn muttered. “You’re gross, man,” he called to a retreating Angel.

A small giggle came from the couch. “Men, huh?” Cara smiled wryly.

“He’s usually pretty good with his cups.” Cordelia picked it up and looked at it with concern.

“So, Angel must be, what, 100 years old?” Cara asked.

“And the rest,” Cordelia said, still examining the cup.

“Must be weird having that big an age difference with your — boyfriend?”

Gunn made a small choking noise, but didn’t look up.

“Boyfriend — uh, no! God no, we’re just friends,” Cordelia sputtered.

Cara raised her eyebrows. “Oh, I just assumed, the way he looked at you, I thought you were — y’know?”

“Pffft, not Angel, he’s just a friend.”

***

Angel shook the ex-watcher’s arm. “Wesley, wake up!”

“Oh, uh, what?” Wesley’s head jerked up from the desk. “Oh, Angel, I am sorry, I must have dozed off,” he said, trying to straighten his glasses.

“You got a bit of drool.” Angel touched the corner of his own mouth to illustrate.

“Oh, heavens,” Wesley muttered, wiping his sleeve over his mouth and looking at the books and papers scattered all over his desk.

“How far did you get?” Angel asked, plunging his hands into his pockets and fidgeting from foot to foot.

“Well, it’s all rather cryptic, I must say,” Wesley sighed. “We know one thing for certain. Cara is directly descended from the sister of the girl that Angelus killed.”

Angel grimaced. “Hence the resemblance.”

“Indeed. The prophecy itself is less clear.” Wesley raised his scribble pad to read aloud from it. “‘One and twenty years shall pass. The daughter shall be marked with his sign. She alone can consign to eternity that which is fleeting. By the joining of the temples, so shall it be.’ That’s all there is, and it doesn’t make much sense. Maybe some of the content is missing.”

“Well the first part is obvious, she developed the mark at twenty-one, but the rest…?” Angel said, wondering for the hundredth time why prophecies regarding him were so damn non-specific.

“Some of the words could also have more than one meaning,” Wesley admitted.

“Like with ‘Shanshu’.” Angel ran a hand through his hair. “Do you think that’s why she’s here?”

“Nothing points to that. In fact it seems the opposite. Making you mortal would not consign you to eternity, but prevent you from achieving it,” Wesley said. “At this point I still have no real idea what to do to help this girl.”

“Great, just wonderful,” Angel sighed, realizing he was actually kind of desperate to get rid of her. He could do without the mental anguish right now.

“On the bright side, I don’t think she’s here to harm you.”

“Comforting, Wesley.” Angel paced the room for a few seconds. “I think we should go to Caritas tonight.”

“Good idea. You want Cara to sing?” Wesley asked, starting to tidy up his books, and looking relieved to be doing so.

Angel decided he liked Wesley more and more these days. “Exactly.”

***

Angel woke from his afternoon nap with a start, loud noises downstairs disturbing his sleep. He dashed for the door, and then ran back to the dresser, wrenching on a pair of sweatpants before resuming his headlong rush.

He sprinted along the corridor and down the stairs, three at once, making a mental note to stop sleeping naked while they had a houseguest. His colleagues shot him a brief glance as he skidded to a halt by the reception desk.

“What’s going on?” He looked around, puzzled. A small puff of grey smoke was drifting across the lobby.

“Chill, man. Just another one of those grey spiky things,” Gunn said, looking nonplussed.

“You should have called me.” Angel shifted uneasily, not understanding their attitude. They were pretty relaxed considering what had just happened.

“Well, since you missed the one at one pm and the other one at three-thirty, we figured why bother calling you for this one?” Cordelia deadpanned, not looking up from the magazine she was buried in.

“They’re not too bright,” Gunn said. “They come bursting in the front door, all big and growly. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.” He waved the crossbow he was holding, to make his point. “Guess them gypsies couldn’t afford the more expensive head-hunting demons.”

“Where’s Cara?”

“Out in the garden. I think our uninvited visitors were making her a little nervous,” Wesley said, stifling a yawn.

***

Cara shivered a little and pulled the borrowed cardigan tight around her shoulders as the sun’s last rays disappeared from the little courtyard. She looked small and lost.

“You okay?” Angel asked. She jumped at the sound of his voice. He was used to that. People rarely heard him coming.

“A bit scared,” she admitted, “but hey, not freaking out anymore, see?” She forced a smile and held out one hand to show him how steady it was.

“That’s good. I’m glad,” he said. He sat next to her on the bench, leaning his elbows on his knees, and clasping his hands in front of him. Her scent, drifting away from him on the evening breeze, made him think once more of that fateful night. “I won’t lie to you, you make me pretty nervous.”

“Me, too.” She nodded, eyeing his bare chest. “I mean, you make me nervous. I never met a vampire before.” She paused and laughed softly. “God, I never thought I’d come out with that phrase anytime — well, ever. How did life get so weird, so fast?” she said, her eyes full of unanswered questions.

“I want to get this thing sorted out as much as you.” He turned to her, suppressing the urge to shudder as he gazed into her disturbingly familiar face. “Wesley has translated the prophecy and it doesn’t make much sense. But there is a way we could find out more.”

“How?” she asked.

“Karaoke.”

“Huh?”

“I know a place, the guy there is psychic. He can give you a reading, but you have to sing,” he explained. “And I should probably warn you, he’s green, so don’t be alarmed when you meet him. The red horns can be a bit off-putting, but really — hey, what are you doing?”

Cara was pinching herself, hard, on the forearm. “Just checking.” Again her soft laugh filled the air. “Yep, totally not dreaming.”

“Sorry.” Angel shook his head.

***

Cordelia watched him through the doorway, worried.

“I don’t like this. I haven’t seen him this rattled since the whole Darla nightmare,” she said, walking back to Wesley and Gunn. She was looking for reassurance, hoping they’d tell her she was over-reacting.

“Seeing Cara will have dredged up a slew of painful memories,” Wesley mused. “His dealings with gypsies haven’t been happy, I understand?”

“God, Ms Calendar, I hadn’t even thought about her,” Cordelia gasped. This was so not good. Angel had to be freaking.

Gunn’s frown indicated he was catching on fast. “And it’s not so many weeks ago he was lockin’ people in wine cellars with the fang sisters. You think this’ll send him over the edge again?”

“Don’t,” Cordelia said. So it wasn’t just her — they all thought the same…

“Don’t what?” Angel’s voice made all them spin around.

Cordelia hoped she didn’t look as startled as the other two. “Don’t — forget to, er, scrub behind your ears.” She started shaking her finger at Gunn in a matronly fashion. “You don’t wanna get that funky toe-jam smell back there.”

“Girl, I always smell good,” Gunn said, giving her the universal look for ‘that was close’.

“Actually, I think I’m picking up a little residual demon goo,” Angel said, stepping closer.

“Really?” Gunn sniffed himself, looking genuinely worried.

Cordelia wondered if Gunn actually did smell, or whether Angel was just taking her side. That was happening a lot lately. Another example of the weirdness that was him.

“Why don’t we all go and get cleaned up,” Wesley said. “After two days in these clothes I must smell worse than a slime demon.”

Gunn laughed. “Well, I didn’t want to say, dude, but…”

“And then, Caritas.” Wesley cut him off, scowling.

“Yo, whoa. Do I gotta sing?” Gunn’s panicked expression made Cordelia smile.

“No, none of us have to sing. Come on, it will be nice for us to all go out together for the evening — however bad we smell.” She winked at him.

“That’s it, I’m taking a bath in those fru-fru oils you gave me for Christmas,” he grumbled.

“Hey!” She slapped his arm. “Sandalwood is very masculine.”

“Okay, Gunn, you take the girls to Cordelia’s so they can bathe and change. Given the mental capacity of Cara’s attackers, it should be safe for you to leave them there while you get — masculine. Then you can escort them back,” Wesley said.

“Gunn’s Taxi Cabs — service with a smile *and* a handsome driver,” Gunn said, bowing low towards the girls.

“Meet back here in two hours. And be careful,” Wesley said, picking up his jacket and keys.

***

Cordelia opened the front door of her apartment, letting Cara go in ahead of her.

“I’ll pick you up in an hour,” Gunn said, looking around the entrance one last time. “Don’t open the door to anyone.”

“We’ll be fine.” Cordelia fingered the small throwing axe in her bag. He nodded and left. “I feel like Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard,” she muttered to herself, smiling at the sudden mental image of Kevin Costner coming to her rescue.

The door banged shut, apparently by itself. Cara jumped.

“Oh, sorry, that’s just Phantom Dennis,” Cordelia said, waving her hand in the general direction of the noise.

Cara plopped down on the couch. “You have a ghost.” It came out as a resigned statement. “Of course you do.”

“I think he prefers ‘non-corporeal citizen’,” Cordelia said, then quietly mouthed, “he’s very sensitive.” She raised her voice to normal volume again. “Dennis, can you guard the door please?” A small rush of air beside her confirmed he’d complied.

“Anything else I should know about?” Cara’s tone was exasperated. “Plants that come alive, re-animated pets, possessed kitchen appliances?”

Cordelia rolled her eyes, laughing. “You’ve been watching too many horror movies.”

The girls took turns to bathe and do their hair, and ended up in front of Cordelia’s closet in their undergarments, trying to decide what to wear.

“You have some nice clothes,” Cara said, her voice full of envy.

“Yeah, Angel bought me these.” Cordelia pointed to the section of the wardrobe that had been carefully segregated, as if it were some sort of shrine.

“He buys you clothes?” Cara’s eyebrows went up.

“Well — he gave a bunch of ’em away — long story. And most of the others have been covered in blood, or slime, or guts,” Cordelia sighed. “Demon hunting should come with a uniform. Preferably a scotch-guarded one.”

“He’s really a nice guy, isn’t he?” Cara said, holding a sweater experimentally against her torso.

“Uh, yeah, he has his moments.” Cordelia eyed her warily.

“I can’t believe you two aren’t together.” Cara shook her head in amazement. “He’s so hot.”

“Hey, whoa! He’s a no-bone. Don’t even think about it.” Cordelia’s voice was briefly muffled as she yanked a top on over her head. “One boff and goodbye Mr. Nice Guy. Post-coital Angel makes those grey things that are after you look like Care Bears.”

“Is that because of the curse Mom mentioned?” Cara sat on the bed, looking horrified and fascinated all at once.

Cordelia shimmied into her low-rise pants, the ones that revealed a peek of her tattoo. “You really don’t know anything about it?”

“Remember me, the one who thought the world was normal?” Cara raised her hand as if she were in class. “Anyway, even if Mom had known about it, I wouldn’t have listened. I always thought all that old Romani stuff was totally lame.”

“Well, now you need to know about it, since you’re here because of it.” Cordelia handed Cara a pair of jeans she thought would fit. “And it’s not a pretty story.”

She sat cross-legged on her bed, relating the tale, while Cara got up and began to dress. “About a hundred years ago, Angel was living in Romania. He fed on a gypsy girl who was related to you — your great-great-great-whatever ancestor.”

“That’s why he wigged when he saw me, because I look like she did?” Cara asked, frowning.

Cordelia nodded. “I guess.”

There was a moment of silence as the realization spread across Cara’s face. “Did she — die?”

“Well, duh!” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “She was his first, second and third course. Anyway, her — your family got totally pissed, and put a curse on him. They gave him back his soul as a punishment for killing their favourite daughter.”

Cara looked puzzled. “And what did that do?”

“It gave him back his conscience,” Cordelia said, inhaling sharply as she suddenly wondered what it was like, living every day burdened with that much guilt. She wasn’t sure she’d ever really thought hard about that before, or that she wanted to try it right now. “That’s why he’s working for redemption.”

“And the no-bone part?” Cara raised an eyebrow.

“That’s the curse’s clause. If he experiences perfect happiness, he loses his soul — turns back into his old evil self. And if you’re Angel, perfect happiness apparently comes from getting groiny.” Cordelia paused for dramatic effect. If Cara understood nothing else, she needed to get this.

“He says the curse isn’t that black and white, but the proof is in the boffing. A while back, he went postal after a night of passion, and ended up being sent to hell for the summer. It was a whole big thing,” Cordelia said. “So now sex is just not worth the risk. He’s eunuch guy.” Her tone was flippant, and only someone who had experienced those dark months would guess at the distress it hid.

Since meeting Angel in L.A., her greatest fear was always that Angelus would return. Knowing how he systematically broke Buffy, along with last year’s brief drug-induced reminder, still gave her nightmares. The closer Angel got to someone, the more Angelus wanted to torture them. And Cordelia figured she was probably closer to Angel than anyone else these days. The visions connected her to him, causing their bond to grow stronger. As it did, so did the danger.

“Bummer,” Cara said as the full impact of the tale finally dawned on her. “Forced to be sad and celibate forever, that’s harsh.” The cogs churning in her brain were evident as she paused for a moment. “Can he at least — kiss?”

“Well, yeah, but what’s the point? Can’t ever lead to anything. Like I said, not worth the risk,” Cordelia said sharply, emphasising the word ‘risk’. Cara’s line of questioning rang alarm bells in her head.

“Oh, well that sucks. Sounds like he kinda asked for it though. But what did *I* do to deserve this? That sucks too,” Cara grumbled.

“Yeah, considering your family’s trying to knock you off and all, I’d say it pretty much does.” Cordelia bounced back off the bed, heading for the door, and making it clear the conversation was over. “Better hurry up, Gunn will be back in a minute.”

***

Angel leapt up from his desk as Cordelia and Cara came flying through the hotel doors.

“I gotta stop making entrances like this,” Cara muttered, from where she’d fallen onto the floor.

“Dammit, I looked so good before I got pushed over!” Cordelia cursed, trying to fix her hair and examine the graze on her elbow at the same time.

Angel was beside her in a second, concerned. “What happened?”

“Another one of those monster thingys,” Cara puffed, half-rising, and leaning her hands on her knees.

“It jumped us when we got out of the truck.” Cordelia flicked her head towards the doors. “Gunn’s on it.”

Angel pulled a handkerchief from his trouser pocket, licked it, and began dabbing at the wound on Cordelia’s arm.

“Gross!” She yanked her elbow away.

“I — I’ve seen other people do it,” he stammered, taken aback. Why couldn’t he do anything right around her these days?

“Yuk. Dog lick is cleaner that human spit,” Cara said, straightening up and wiping her trembling hands on her jeans.

“But mine’s — vampire spit,” he mumbled.

“Not helping, Angel.” Cordelia said, shaking her head.

The stink of vaporised demon drifting in from outside heralded the fact that Gunn had been successful. They all turned towards the doors as he came in, looking anxious. “Those things are getting stronger. I don’t like it.”

“What things?” Wesley came out of his office, newly-clean, polishing his glasses on his shirt.

“Satan’s little helpers. Gypsies must have raided their piggy bank, ’cause that one was much better at his job than the others,” Gunn said, dusting himself down.

Cara pressed her hand to her mouth, eyes wide. “They won’t stop until I’m dead.”

“We won’t let that happen Cara.” Angel’s voice was quiet but firm.

***

Cordelia let Angel usher her and Cara through the metal detector. She liked it when his chivalrous side came out. She wondered if he’d throw his treasured leather coat over a puddle for her… “Oof,” she grunted, running smack into Cara, who had stopped abruptly. She gave the gypsy a gentle prod in the back. “Oookay, causing a traffic jam here.”

“Sorry — I feel like I’ve just arrived in the bar-room scene from Star Wars,” Cara said, staring at Mordar the Bentback, who was ordering a drink.

“You think he looks bad, wait til he starts singing,” Cordelia said, grimacing.

The Host bustled towards them, beaming all over his green face, and dressed in a criminally bright purple suit. Cordelia gave him points for courage with his color selection.

“Well, if it isn’t the Fanged Crusader,” he gushed, his smile fading to an expression of concern as his red eyes came to rest on Cara. “And who is this little peach?”

“Cara needs a reading,” Angel said, squinting against the purple glare.

“Well, you know the drill, big guy.” The Host motioned to an empty table.

“Here, pick something,” Angel said, putting the songbook down in front of Cara as they all sat down.

She screwed up her face. “I’ve never been very good at getting up in front of people.”

“Just imagine everyone naked, that’s what I do.” Cordelia smiled.

“You do?” Angel said, looking up sharply.

“U-huh.” Her smile faded as she thought of that dreadful play Angel and Wesley had seen her in. She’d tried it then — quite an unwise idea on that occasion. Visualising her best friends in the nude was icky. And some people were better left clothed — especially Wesley. No wonder she forgot half her lines. And then… She shivered, glancing from Angel to Cara.

Cara’s eyes flicked back to Mordar again. “Not sure if that would help. I mean, what do any of these guys look like naked?”

“Don’t ask me,” Gunn chuckled, holding his hands up. “I don’t even get to see girls naked, let alone demons.”

The waiter deposited a carafe of wine on their table.

“Dutch courage.” Wesley poured a glass and placed it in front of Cara.

“Now *that* will help,” she said, gulping down several large mouthfuls.

Cordelia looked pointedly in Angel’s direction. “And what about food?”

“You want me to buy dinner?” He looked around as if someone else would materialise and offer to pay.

She enjoyed watching him squirm. “Yes, Uncle Scrooge. It was your idea to come here. Think of it as penance for firing us.” She folded her arms across her chest and scowled at him. She knew he had no defense against that look.

***

“Bro, I think I’m gonna explode,” Gunn puffed, leaning back in his chair as he surveyed his empty plates and expanding stomach.

Angel was beginning to regret offering to pay for everyone’s meals, despite the huge smile Cordelia had produced when he’d first agreed. “Well, there was no need to have three main courses,” he grumbled.

“Yeah, there was! It was free,” Gunn said.

“Thank you, Angel, it was very nice.” Wesley dabbed his mouth with a napkin. “We really appreciate it — don’t we, Gunn?”

The twinkle in Gunn’s eye contradicted his belligerent tone. “Yeah, what English said.”

“Okay, I think I’ve got it,” Cara said, slurring and waving the songbook dangerously close to her and Cordelia’s drinks.

“Finally,” Angel muttered under his breath. “Any longer and I would have gone up there myself.”

He felt a sharp pain as Cordelia kicked his shin under the table, provoking a slight growl. She poked her tongue out at him, and he tried to suppress his smile. As usual, he failed.

“Excellent, what did you pick?” Wesley asked.

Cara held the book up, displaying her choice to the group. “I thought I might do something from Saturday Night Fever.”

“Oh yes, a splendid movie. John Travolta cut quite a dash in that white suit of his. I always wanted one of those,” Wesley said, with an enthusiasm that Angel found rather disturbing.

Gunn nodded, eyeing Wesley’s current attire. “That explains a lot.”

“Ewww, hello, disco?” Cordelia’s distaste was evident.

Angel rubbed his hands over his face, trying to erase the mental image of Wesley in white flares. When he looked up again, Cara was already approaching the stage, weaving across the floor.

“I think I might just have a dance,” Wesley said, standing so fast his chair nearly toppled over.

“Oh, man, this I gotta see,” Gunn chuckled.

The Host’s voice filled the room. “Hey, everybody, give it up for our little disco inferno, Cara!” He handed her the microphone and backed into the shadows.

Angel watched her scan the audience nervously. Her eyes met his and he smiled, trying to look encouraging. Her cheeks flushed. He hoped it was due to the wine, and not because she was imagining him naked. God, he hated Karaoke. She smiled back, and began to sing.

The Host sat down next to Angel. “Thank Aretha, one of your party can hold a tune.”

Angel was relieved too. After the Wang Chung incident, he wouldn’t blame the Host from banning him or his companions from the bar. “Yeah, she’s all right. What are you getting?”

“Patience, Angel cakes, we’re not even up to the chorus yet,” the green man chastised him.

Wesley was gyrating around in front of the stage, attracting shouts of amusement from the crowd of demons seated nearby.

“Woohoo, Wesley!” Cordelia yelled.

“That dude has no rhythm.” Gunn shook with laughter.

The Host looked worried. “Is he dancing or is that a medical condition?”

Cara was warming into the song a bit now, belting out the chorus.

“If I can’t have you, I don’t want nobody, baby…”

The Host and Angel sat in silence as she completed the rest of the song. It ended with a hearty round of applause, which may have been for the singing, or for Wesley’s unconventional dancing, Angel wasn’t entirely sure.

As the Host departed to intercept Cara on her way down from the stage, Wesley collapsed into his seat, breathing hard.

“Dude,” Gunn said, waving a cocktail umbrella at him. “Just when I think your dancing can’t get any scarier, you prove me wrong.”

“I thought he was very — brave,” Cordelia giggled. Angel loved that sound. She made it all too infrequently these days.

Wesley leaned forward, patting his brow with a napkin. “Actually, I wasn’t just enjoying myself. I’ve made a bit of a discovery.”

“Other than the fact your dancing should come with a health warning?” Gunn grinned.

“It’s quite hard to see from this table, but near the stage I had an excellent view of two grey spiky fellows that may not be here just to enjoy the ambience,” Wesley said, looking very pleased with himself. “The dancing was just an excuse to get a closer look without being too conspicuous.”

“Oh, yeah, nobody noticed you at all,” Gunn said, rolling his eyes, and earning a slap from Cordelia.

“Well, good for you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” she said to Wesley.

Angel twisted his head, trying to find the demons Wesley referred to. Sure enough, there they were, cooling their heels in a booth on the far side of the room. He should have seen them as soon as they arrived. “Damn.” He banged his hand down on the table in frustration. Cara had his head all messed up. He felt several pairs of eyes on him, and looked up at Wesley. “I’m sorry, I missed them. I guess I’m a bit — distracted.”

“Hey, man, we’re all guilty,” Gunn said. “None of us noticed them except Wes.”

Wesley nodded. “And in any event, they can’t hurt her here, and we can’t hurt them. Even if we saw them before — what could we do?”

“We should try to get Cara out of here without them noticing. The Host would have a cow if we started a slay-fest on his front doorstep,” Cordelia said.

“Yes, we should keep a very close eye on them,” Wesley agreed.

***

The Host sat Cara down at a secluded table near the back of the nightclub. She looked tired, nervous, and just a tad pissed off. He sighed. This wasn’t going to be easy. “It’s confusing, isn’t it, honey-bun.”

“You can say that again,” she grumbled. “Can you tell me what’s going on? Because nobody else seems to know.” Her eyes flashed with vague annoyance.

“You have a great gift for our broody friend over here — and it’s one he’s earned.”

“And?” She nodded, waiting for more. The Host shrugged, sorry that was all he had.

Her expression turned from one of expectation to out-and-out anger. “But I don’t know what it is, or how to give it to him,” she snapped. “And I want to, before someone — or something, kills me!”

The Host surveyed her in silence. Her aura was infused with magic — and he wasn’t sure it was all the good kind. But her intent was pure, and she spoke the truth. Such a shame she was unlikely to survive the week. “I know this is frustrating, but I don’t have an answer for you, muffin. All I can do is set you on your path. And your path lies with the Motley Crue over there.”

“That’s it? Follow the yellow brick road?” She sagged back in her chair.

“Something like that. Whatever’s coming, it’s going to be difficult. You need to be strong, and stick close to the big guy. It’s the only way this will end well. Your life is in grave danger — you have to trust them to protect you, however scary things get. Can you do that?”

“Yes,” she sighed, her face closing off, any last scraps of hope fading away.

“Good. Now go easy on the happy juice, I see a hangover in your near future, pumpkin. Remember, the body is the temple of the soul. Look after it,” he said.

***

Cordelia looked up from her coffee as Cara staggered over and slid into a chair. She recognized the defeated look on the gypsy’s face — the same look that had stared back out of her own mirror every day between arriving in LA and the day she met up with Angel. She wondered what on earth the Host had said.

“Well?” Angel asked, voicing her question.

Cara shrugged. “Still none the wiser as to what I have to do, or what the result will be. He just said I had a great gift for you, to stick to you guys like glue, and that I was going to be hung over tomorrow — like I need a psychic to tell me that! I need another drink.” She sat down, reaching for the carafe.

“That’s it?” Gunn asked, eyes widening in disbelief.

“Don’t worry, Wesley will work it out,” Cordelia said, in what she hoped was a reassuring tone. She looked to her companions for support, but received none. Their last hope at working out the prophecy was a bust. They looked as depressed as Cara.

“C’mon guys, cheer up.” She turned on her biggest smile for them. It was no time to wallow in disappointment. They needed to get Cara out of the club, and back to the hotel in one piece.

“Not good enough,” Angel said, pushing his chair back. “There has to be more.”

He looked less depressed now, but more freaked. The last thing they needed was for him to lose his temper and get thrown out. If there were more bounty hunters waiting, Cara would need all of them to protect her. Cordelia put out a hand to cover his. “It’s okay, Angel.”

“No, it’s not.” He rose, spinning on one heel and striding away.

Part 3

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