Double or Nothing. 50

Chapter 50: Road to L.A.

Slipping unnoticed into the school library, Angel found a shadow and blended into it as he observed the boisterous gathering just outside of Rupert Giles’ office. His eyes immediately sought out his mate, but Cordelia was not part of the group. A strange feeling had plagued him all morning, ever since he’d finally crawled back out of bed.

Earlier, their lovemaking had been surprising and a complete deviation from their plans to focus on the non-sexual aspects of their relationship for a while. Angel directed the blame for their indiscretion toward himself. Cordelia’s morning kiss had been more passionate than necessary, but he’d been the one to pull her back into his arms. To keep her there with kisses and to convince them both that what they were doing was still within the rules.

If Angel concentrated, he could still taste her on his tongue.

They’d broken their pact or at least gotten around the rules. It amazed Angel that his lauded control constantly failed him when it came to her. He’d started to believe that it was the same for Cordelia and that during the past couple of weeks they had only grown closer to each other. That she was starting to recognize the fact that it was safe to open up her feelings to him.

Then she’d gone and spouted that ridiculous theory that whatever they had together was only temporary. That she knew he would leave her.

Angel thought he had convinced her otherwise, though the idea itself was bizarre and seemingly came out of left field. The way she’d kissed him this morning gave him no time to ponder anything except the fact that he wanted her. Now, he realized that Cordelia’s passion was somehow spawned by those fears.

Realizing this, Angel had attempted to call her on her cell phone. No answer. Figuring she was still in class and knowing that Cordelia had made a habit of contacting him during one of her afternoon breaks, he’d waited somewhat impatiently for the call to come.

It didn’t.

Cordelia was either mad at him for the rule-breaking love-making and not answering his calls or there was something else going on. The reason didn’t matter, just his gut reaction telling him something was wrong and prompting Angel to head to the school through the Sunnydale sewer system to confront her directly.

Only she wasn’t here either.

Angel knew there was no cheerleading practice this afternoon and as the time suggested that the last class was still in progress, he knew the Scoobies had their study hall scheduled with Giles. During this last part of the year that also included Cordelia and so Angel was surprised that she wasn’t amongst the squabblers circling the two strangers in their midst.

“This is impossible,” Buffy’s voice carried over the rest as she faced Giles. “Tell me how this…this person is not a total fake. I am the only Slayer here.”

“Get a grip, B,” the curvy brunette let out a short laugh. “I’m a Slayer just like you. Only less whiney.”

Surprise registered as Angel listened in, but then he recalled having an up-close and personal run-in with Kendra the Vampire Slayer. This wasn’t exactly a first despite Buffy treating it that way.

Exasperated after a long period of trying to explain the presence of another Slayer and her Watcher here in Sunnydale, Giles whipped off his glasses from the bridge of his nose and glared at Buffy. It always helped to be stern with her when the world looked a little fuzzy as it blurred the hurt showing in her expressive eyes.

“This is rather complicated. A new Slayer is called only when the previous one has died. Your momentary death at the hands of the Master called Kendra and thus when Kendra was killed by Drusilla, the line continued…with Faith.”

Willow piped up trying to sound positive, “This is kinda cool, Buffy. It’ll almost be like having a sister around. You could, y’know do things like hang out, go to the Bronze and patrol toge—”

Her voice trailed off as Willow realized she was describing things that she did with Buffy. After that, the redhead decided maybe it wasn’t so cool after all. “This is just a visit, right? You’re not staying.”

“Actually, I believe that was the plan,” informed the girl’s Watcher.

Angel noted the fact that he looked a little young to have gained that status. Not to mention the fact that the suit and bowtie made him look like he’d stepped straight out of an English prep school.

“Faith’s last Watcher was unfortunately killed by the demon Kakistos. Having left Boston—,” he cleared his throat drawing a smirk from his Slayer, “Faith made her way to Los Angeles where I was sent to track her down. Knowing we were so close to the Hellmouth it seemed an appropriate time and place to continue Faith’s training.”

“You let your Watcher get killed?” Xander gave the girl a harsh look thinking that he’d scored a point for Buffy who was obviously sensitive about no longer being the only Chosen one— again.

Buffy only blushed furiously and muttered a reminder, “Giles is my second Watcher.”

Giles tugged at his collar and replaced his glasses. “Um, yes. Watcher duties are often dangerous. There are always risks.”

They started in on a discussion about why Giles had not been informed of Faith’s existence when Angel finally decided that he’d heard enough. No matter that this was an interesting turn of events, it apparently had nothing to do with the reason Cordelia was suddenly not responding to his calls.

He’d heard enough whining. Angel wanted answers and planned to get them.

Stepping out of the shadows, Angel approached with his usual undetectable footfalls. Closer now, the brunette Slayer’s head turned in his direction sensing his nature as instinctively as only one of her kind could. Before anyone else noticed, Faith whipped out a stake from her back pocket and lunged toward him.

Angel sidestepped, grabbed her wrist and whirled her around so that her own stake was pointed at her throat. Gasping at the swiftness of the vampire’s move, Faith felt a little thrill at the danger she’d just managed to get herself into. Not that she was going to let the vampire stop her from dusting him, but it looked like tall, dark and hottie definitely had skills.

“I’m not here to fight, Faith,” Angel growled in her ear surprising her when he said her name.

“Angel!” Buffy called out as she turned to see what was going on. She’d been so caught up in her own thoughts that she hadn’t even sensed he was in the room.

“You know this vamp?” asked Faith still being restrained.

Buffy nodded. Then she told Angel, “You can let her go. She won’t hurt you.”

Even Faith had to admit the blonde was making assumptions. “This is a vampire. We slay vampires. That’s the job description, B.”

“You’ve got guts saying that with a stake to your throat,” Angel admitted just before he tossed her forward. “I just don’t have time or the patience to play games.”

Before Angel could demand information on the whereabouts of his mate, the girl’s Watcher stepped forward, “I am Wesley Wyndham-Pryce of the Watcher’s Council and you, I believe, must be Angelus.”

“This is soul-vamp?” Faith gave Angel a long look up and down the length of his muscular frame. “Can’t tell by looking.”

“You know about Angel?” That didn’t settle well on Buffy’s stomach. It was doing flip-flops at the news. Even after all that had happened, she still felt responsible for him.

Wesley explained, “I have access to the Council’s extensive library. I find the study of certain vampires and demons fascinating. Knowing I would be coming to California and bringing my Slayer to the Hellmouth, becoming reacquainted with Angelus’ file seemed appropriate.”

“Name’s Angel,” corrected Xander. Hearing the other always gave him the wiggins.

Then Willow added for good measure, “He’s a champion now, not evil or in need of staking.”

The young Englishman was interested at the way Buffy Summers and her friends defended the vampire who was once the Scourge of Europe. There were hundreds of questions taking form in his head and he imagined himself writing a paper on it.

Before the first syllable finished forming on Wesley’s lips, Angel cut him off with a stern glare. “I don’t have time for interrogations unless it’s the one I’m conducting.”

Wesley looked depressed at the news and lack of cooperation. “If you will just take a moment…”

“We’ll start simple,” Angel ignored him and turned his attention to Rupert Giles who had a look of deep concern on his face. “Where is Cordelia?”

Hours earlier…

Attached to the towering high rise containing the corporate offices of Melmon Realty & Development, the multilevel garage was already quite full despite that it was still early in the business day. Cordelia parked her Corvette in a visitor slot and quickly made her way to the corporate suites situated at the top level of the building. She’d called ahead using the number from her dream and made an appointment to see the head of the company.

Cordelia thought it strange that the CEO of what was apparently a successful realty company would agree to see her on such short notice. By some bit of luck, Robert Melmon’s assistant had stepped away from her desk on some random task and the man himself had deigned to pick up the phone.

Then he’d surprised her again by recognizing her name. Apparently Mr. Melmon was an old college buddy of her father’s. They’d lost touch years ago when the kids were still in diapers, but since Cordelia was an uncommon name, he took a chance and asked if she was related to Daniel and Emelia Chase.

Coincidence? Pfft!

“Why should I be surprised?” Cordelia talked to her reflection on the way up in the mirrored elevators. “It’s fate. It’s that trio of interfering, conniving…”

The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Cordelia immediately put a smile on her face and stepped into the plush surroundings. Mr. Melmon apparently did very well for himself. The receptionist didn’t keep her waiting very long and showed her to the private offices of the Chief Executive Officer where Cordelia was greeted like a long lost niece instead of a total stranger.

“You remind me of your mother,” grinned Robert Melmon as he enveloped Cordelia in a beefy-armed hug. “Though I think I see some of Daniel in those eyes of yours.”

Cordelia wasn’t really here for reminiscing, though it certainly made getting down to the point of her business a lot smoother. Innately, Cordelia knew that Robert Melmon had the answers she was looking for.

Melmon’s company had some link to her nightmares. The Moirae brought her here, she had come to realize. What else could it be? The whispered voices that knew so much. Warnings of danger. Knowing Angel would heed the call to follow it to its source and by doing so separate them forever. He would leave her and Cordelia could not stand for that no matter that it meant crossing paths with destiny.

Determined, Cordelia knew the man with the answer to saving Angel and their future together was sitting right in front of her. All it took was finding the right question.

“You said this was an emergency,” Melmon prompted when Cordelia seemed lost in thought. “Daniel looking to sell the family estate?”

“No,” Cordelia actually found herself laughing at that prospect. There was a time not too long ago when that might have been necessary. “This actually has nothing to do with my parents. My…fiancé mentioned something about this company’s involvement in a property he’s interested in.”

Robert Melmon wasn’t certain how that constituted an emergency, but he was willing to listen. Though he could’ve sworn Daniel Chase’s daughter was a little young to be mentioning fiancés and property in the same breath. “Which property is that?”

Here’s where Cordelia’s spontaneous idea went up in flames. Melmon told her that his company dealt in buying, leasing, selling and development of properties all over California. “We’ve been in business for eighty years right here in Los Angeles.”

“I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the place he was looking at,” Cordelia fabricated.

Seeing her hopeful expression, Melmon tapped his thick fingers on the surface of his mahogany desk and gave a shrug. “I want to help you, Cordelia. All I can do from my end is give you a list of the properties we have in development and those that are currently on the market.”

“I’ll take it,” Cordelia readily agreed.

“We have over a hundred properties on that list,” came the warning.

Though her jaw dropped a little, Cordelia decided she’d look at every damn one of them to see if something would connect with the nightmares. As he tapped on his computer keyboard, Melmon got another idea. “If your fiancé has been in contact with my staff, he might be listed as a client. That would narrow the list down to the properties he’s been viewing.”

Cordelia gave him the name Angel D’Aurelius despite knowing that Melmon would come up with a blank. What was she supposed to say to the man? That the Fates themselves were giving her nightmares that included instructions to call him? Not.

Taking the list he’d printed, Cordelia thanked him for his time and promised to pass on his message of hello to her parents. Once again, Melmon gave her a crushing bear hug that Cordelia had no choice but to accept. While he was patting her on the shoulder, she noticed a series of pictures on his office walls. Most were old black and white photos of various buildings she assumed had a connection to the company.

As soon as Melmon released her, Cordelia dropped the list onto his desk and walked over to the closest one. Without thinking twice, she pulled the frame from the wall and turned to him with a shocked expression, “This place! I know it.”

The building was one of Melmon’s favorites, but he hadn’t been back since his father shut the doors in 1979. “That’s the Hyperion Hotel. Built by my great-grandfather in the late 1920s with that California Spanish deco influence. It was a beautiful place once, but it’s got a history you wouldn’t believe. Also made it impossible to sell.”

“Just tell me where to find it.” Cordelia looked ready to take on the world.

***

“What do you mean Cordelia hasn’t been at school today?” Angel barked at Willow who’d just finished telling him that.

Backing up against the front counter, Willow gulped before answering. Giving a little air-quote, she told him, “I thought there were ‘reasons’ Cordy stayed home.”

“Reasons?” Angel’s dark expression was enough to remind her of the not-so-fun times with his former evil or psycho selves.

“You know,” she stressed with a waggle of her thin brows. “Cos she was with you, I thought. That’s why she didn’t come. I mean— not that Cordy’s comings and going are any of my business. I just thought you two had a breakthrough.”

Angel thought they had too. Now he was really starting to worry. Cordelia wasn’t at school and no one had seen her since she left the mansion this morning. He felt the knot in his stomach tighten at the thought that Cordelia might be in danger and he didn’t have a clue where to start looking.

“Who is Cordelia?” Wesley dared to ask.

“My mate,” Angel answered simply.

Faith jumped in with a flippant suggestion, “Maybe she got dusted,” automatically assuming Cordelia was also a vampire.

Her Watcher gave her a harsh look. “Not only is that rather insensitive, Faith, but if you’d thought about what you were planning to say before you opened your mouth, you might have considered that most vampires do not attend school, which suggests that Cordelia is human…or something else entirely. A form of demon, perhaps.”

Xander snorted, “If you saw Cordy’s form, you wouldn’t doubt she’s all human.”

That left Angel and Buffy glaring at him.

Giles rubbed the back of his neck, trying to focus on the fact that Angel was clearly concerned about Cordelia’s whereabouts in spite of the added confusion brought on by his younger counterpart and the Bostonian Slayer.

Full of questions, Wesley grabbed the opportune moment of silence to comment, “You— Angelus, Scourge of Europe and all humanity have a human mate. That is tremendously fascinating. Not to mention dangerous for your mate, I would assume. Considering certain contradictions in the aspect of an ensouled vampire’s being, that concept is…”

Angel pulled him up by the throat until only the toes of his polished shoes touched the floor. The action set off Faith who leapt toward the vampire while pulling out her stake at the same time. Seeing what was happing, Buffy threw herself at Faith and managed to knock the other girl down. They wrestled for supremacy as Angel made his fury known to the Englishman.

“Cordelia isn’t a concept,” Angel snapped as he tightened his grip just enough to let the other man know just how close to death he could come for mentioning his mate in a manner that displeased him. “She’s mine and in no way am I a threat to her.”

He dropped Wesley to the floor. Straightening his suit and tie, Wesley narrowed his gaze upon the vampire. Soul or no soul, the vampire was clearly still a danger, he concluded. One that would require closer observation and study.

With the realization that he was taking out his frustration and anger on a virtual stranger, Angel issued an apology, “I’m a little bit edgy right now.”

Buffy and Faith grudgingly rose to their feet and took up a stance facing each other, their eye contact unblinking. Until their Watchers called out their names drawing their attention. The two teens walked over to stand by their mentors.

With a deep sigh, Giles suggested, “This is not a time for over-eager curiosity or hot-headed reactions. I suggest we start looking for Cordelia systematically.”

“Good idea,” Wesley nodded while holding a hand to his sore neck.

Then Giles added as the younger man spurred his irritation, “Angel, next time you want to rip my colleague’s head off, please do so outside the library. You know how I hate cleaning up the mess.”

Angel grunted an acknowledgment as if he would consider it in the future. He was too busy racking his brain trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for Cordelia’s sudden disappearance.

Seeing the vampire’s visible distress, Xander decided to take some action. “I hate to say this, but maybe there’s been an accident.”

The vampire’s dark head shot up, his eyes full of pain at the thought. “No. Surely the hospital or the police would’ve called me.”

“If they knew where to call,” Buffy pointed out. Then almost whispering, “If she was able to tell them.”

Xander picked up the telephone at the desk and dialed the admissions number for the hospital. It was a scary thing, he realized with a shock, that he had that number memorized. After making a couple of other calls, he informed Angel, “I guess this is good news. No sign of Cordelia. The police say her car hasn’t been reported as being in an accident and the hospitals say no one by her name or description has been admitted.”

While relieved in one sense, they found the news unsettling in another. It meant that Cordelia had vanished without a trace. Angel was pacing back and forth across the open space of the room looking like he wanted to tear the place apart just to let off some steam.

He stopped when Giles asked him, “Have Cordelia’s nightmares continued? Have they affected her behavior?” Obviously he was searching for any remote explanation.

“They’re worse than before,” Angel admitted. “I thought with our relationship getting closer that the nightmares would fade. That she would forget about losing Angelus and focus on me for a while. Last night, she said something that blew my mind. She said she expected me to leave her.”

Confused, Wesley cut in again, “Why are you referring to Angelus as someone else?”

He received several stares that suggested he’d once again moved into territory that was none of his business. Giles answered cryptically, “That’s what happens when a vampire crosses paths with Fate herself.”

Getting back to Angel’s concerns, Buffy queried in surprise, “Cor thought you’d leave her?” That made no sense after all that had happened. Even she knew that.

Faith suggested wryly, “She skipped town first before you could dump her.”

“I wouldn’t dump Cordelia,” Angel growled at the Slayer. Just her presence in the room was causing his demon instincts to crawl to the surface and the situation was only making it worse. “I’m in love with her and I’ll do whatever it takes to find her and bring her back to me. Are you clear on that?”

“Five by five,” Faith took an aggressive stance in front of him despite the warning.

“Angel,” suggested Willow cautiously, “if she did leave, do you have any idea where she’d go? Does she even have any money?”

He was about to say something about not letting his mate go around town like she was destitute when Angel remembered, “She has our credit card.”

Angel pulled out his cell phone and dialed someone up. The Scoobies recognized the fact that he was speaking in French and gave each other a few awestruck looks before waiting for him to get off the phone. “The bank says she’s used it twice. First to gas up the car right here in Sunnydale and next to buy a meal at some place called The Coffee Spot.”

“Where is that?” asked Xander hoping the news included an address.

“Los Angeles.”

Willow gulped, “L.A. is huge. How are we gonna find her there?”

It registered that his friends were trying to be supportive and Angel allowed himself a second or two to acknowledge that. Right before Buffy came up with a new idea. “Maybe Cor just took the day off to go shopping. That’s her cure-all, isn’t it?”

“Without telling Angel she was skipping school?” Willow doubted it. “Why isn’t she answering her cell phone? This isn’t like her just to take off.”

Xander had to differ on that one. “It’s not? Being spontaneous, jumping the gun, putting herself in danger?”

“I meant being deceptive,” Willow countered, “but you’re right— she’s done this on the spur of the moment for whatever reason.”

Pacing again, Angel was lost in thought again. Must find her. So…L.A…where to from there? Where in L.A.? Start at this Coffee Spot. Then what?

“Willow!”His sudden move to grab her by the shoulders as he was passing by gave her a start. “Can you cast some kind of tracking spell? We could start at that coffee place. I might be able to follow her scent, but it’s already been several hours. Longer by the time we get there.”

“I’ll try,” she promised. “L.A. is so big that it could take time to track her down even with magick.”

Wesley knew that cutting in with another question could be dangerous considering Angel’s behavior so far, but having thought about Rupert Giles’ statement regarding the vampire and fate, he felt there was something to be explored in relation to this missing young woman and her nightmares.

“Mister Giles, I noticed that in your earlier comment, you personified fate. Were you simply attempting to confound me or is there a deeper message there?” Wesley asked for more details and to his surprise was offered up a tale that left him astounded.

As Giles revealed the basics of the whole Moirae deal, Angel attempted to keep a handle on his ever-thinning control. The young Watcher’s enthusiasm over Angel’s role as the chosen Champion of the Powers that Be and the fact that his entire life and death and unlife had been manipulated by the Moirae themselves to make it happen was too much to take. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce looked like he was going to explode from withholding his questions.

Finally, he could no longer manage it and Angel forcibly kept his hands in his pockets while the Englishman eagerly suggested, “Perhaps these nightmares you have described are not post-traumatic stress at all. What if they are in fact visions sent to Cordelia by the Moirae?”

“Visions?” Angel was suddenly listening.

Wes gestured with his hands as he spoke, “History and mythology frequently tell of humans receiving visions from higher beings including the Moirae. The Fates rarely involve themselves on the mortal plane and use other methods of communication.”

Giles had to admit that he hadn’t considered that notion. The fact that he had done so much research into the background of the Fates and their practices should have given him a clue. The realization stunned him and he was forced to reluctantly admit, “That is a brilliant suggestion.”

“Thank you, Mister Giles,” a pleased grin came over the younger man’s face. “Where was I? Oh, yes. These nightmares could include past or prophetic images sent by the Moirae. If Angel is indeed their champion then it is likely that those closest to him, especially his mate, would remain tied to their plan, to his fate, his future, and to his ultimate destiny.”

Angel remembered the terror he’d sensed in the way Cordelia screamed his name each time the nightmares came. Through the haze of his worries, he heard Giles prompting him to tell them every detail he knew about the dreams. “It’s not much. Fear. Confusion. I’m there, or at least she says it’s me— leaving her. That’s all I know except that she wakes up at the same time each night screaming my name.”

“Every time? The same hour of the night?” Wes found that intriguing.

“No,” Angel clarified. “The exact same minute. Two-seventeen.”

As soon as he’d said it aloud, Angel made the L.A. connection. “Two-seventeen. It’s not the time that’s important, just the number.”

“I’ll bite,” Xander quipped. “What’s important about 217?”

“That was my room number at the Hyperion Hotel,” Angel revealed. “Wesley is right. This is dredging up my past and if Cordelia’s dreams have brought her to that cursed place then she is in grave danger.”

“What kind of danger?” Buffy asked already planning to kick its butt when she found it.

“The worst,” Angel’s cryptic answer came with a dark sneer. “Now I know why Cordy has been so distant, why she’s been paranoid about holding on to her memories of Angelus. When I get my hands on the demon that’s causing it, this time he’s going to die…painfully.”

The Scoobies gulped knowing that it was a vow, not a threat. Then the vampire told them, “I’m leaving for Los Angeles.”

Angel turned with a dramatic swish of his long leather coat, heading for the doors of the library. The sound of Buffy clearing her throat caused him to pause. He heard her ask, “Want a little help?”

Los Angeles, Approximately 11 a.m.

“Lost! I’m lost, lost, lost. You’d think the man who owns the building could give me proper directions,” Cordelia grumbled while steering into the parking lot of an old diner. She’d decided to stop for a bite to eat while figuring out her exact location. “At least I’m still in Los Angeles.”

Calling Robert Melmon again might be pushing her luck considering that he’d gotten her lost in the first place. Between his sketchy directions and several construction detours, Cordelia had been driving for over an hour after leaving the garage. Now she was frustrated as well as tired and hungry.

Not the best way to feel when the voices inside your head kept whispering that there was somewhere you needed to be.

The Coffee Spot was not exactly Los Angeles’ classiest place, but it was clean and looked to be popular. The early lunch crowd was already starting to filter in, so she locked her car and grabbed a booth near the back.

A gum-popping waitress took her order returning shortly with a glass of iced tea, a sandwich & fries and the yellow pages. Cordelia hoped to find a map of downtown L.A., but found it had already been ripped out from the front of the book. “Sheesh! People will steal anything.”

“Lost?” The question came from a man standing at the end of her table.

Cordelia wondered how the hell he knew that. She scrutinized his appearance from his neatly cut black hair downward. Brown leather jacket, red shirt, white undershirt and black pants were all clean and tidy enough if not exactly stylish. A dimple came and went as he flashed a smile, gazing at her like he’d found something precious he had misplaced.

“That is none of your business,” Cordelia decided the guy looked too eager to please. “Go bother someone else. Not interested.”

“You will be,” he answered cryptically while inviting himself to sit down on the other side of the booth. “And you’ll find that you’re very much my business.”

Incensed, Cordelia gave him a deathglare that would have packed a wallop at even at a hundred yards. Sitting back in the booth, he held his hands up against her fury even as he listened to her response.

“I may be new in town, but I’m not some low class hooker looking for a pimp,” she practically breathed fire across the table.

Gaping at her assumption, he shook his head, horrified that she’d taken his words entirely the wrong way. His Irish accent thickened as his panic level shot through the roof. “That’s not what I meant. You’re a high class girl, for sure.”

“What!”

“No, I didn’t mean that either,” he put his hand on her arm as she started to climb out of the booth. “Hear me out, Cordelia.”

The sound of her name on the stranger’s lips made Cordelia pause long enough to shake off his loose grip. “Who are you?” she demanded.

“Name’s Doyle,” he explained looking rather sheepish at having accidentally implied that she was a prostitute. This wasn’t how he’d imagined their first meeting. “I’ve been sent by the Powers that Be.”

Cordelia plopped down onto the seat again, scooting over to the middle of the booth. “Hopefully to give me directions.”

With a laugh, Doyle answered, “In more ways than one. Your little jaunt today is of great interest to them. I’m told it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. In fact, you are a year ahead of schedule.”

“Tough noogies,” Cordelia was too tired from having been awake all night to argue the case. “I’m doing what I have to do.”

“Be certain that you want to take that step, because once you do there is no altering the outcome. Not by the likes of us, anyway.” Doyle wondered exactly what Cordelia knew about the Hyperion Hotel and what she was about to face.

She remained quiet, sipping at her iced tea from a straw and looking determined. He could tell that some details were the order of the day. “It’s a little early, but let me tell you a bedtime story, Princess.”

Cordelia fought off a real yawn. “As it happens, I am kinda sleepy. Awake all night. So tell me, already.”

“Once upon a time, there was a vampire and he was the meanest vampire in all the land,” Doyle began and managed to cause Cordelia to blink as she realized whose story he was going to reveal. “Even the other vampires were afraid of him he was such a bastard.”

“I think I know this one,” Cordelia muttered, but let him continue.

Doyle did so without a pause, “Then one day he’s cursed by gypsies. They restore his human soul and all of a sudden he’s mad with guilt.”

“Let the brooding begin,” Cordelia nodded.

“He’s all… ‘What have I done?’ …he’s freaked.”

Yawning again, Cordelia looked a little bored. Doyle had to agree with her. “Yeah, well it’s a fairly dull tale. Needs a little sex is my feeling.”

Cordelia suddenly realized where the story was heading and scowled across the table at him, which only pursed her lips and made her just as beautiful if a little scary. He had a feeling this was not a girl to cross.

“So sure enough,” Doyle clapped his hands once, “enter the girl, pretty little blonde thing. Vampire slayer by trade. Our vampire falls madly in love with her and after a time the two of them get fleshy with one another.”

“Don’t think I like this story anymore,” Cordelia told him. “Certainly not this part of it. What’s the point?”

“I’m gettin’ there.” He dimpled grinning at her impatience. “A little perfect happiness comes along and our boy goes bad again; he kills again. So when he gets his soul back for the second time, he figu—”

Cutting in, “Figures it’s time for more brooding?” Cordelia asked.

“No,” Doyle gave her a sharp look. “You said you knew this. He figured it was time to secure that pesky cursed soul of his. No more worries about too much happiness.”

Her dramatic eye-roll was automatic. Cordelia knew he’d left out a few details, not that she really cared. She wanted to know what all this had to do with the reason she was here in Los Angeles.

“That’s when things start to get a little screwy.”

“If you ask me, that started when you sat down in my booth,” Cordelia huffed.

Doyle leaned forward across the table. “The PTB are a little peeved with their kinfolk right now. Seems the Fates have taken a close interest in their future champion and jumpstarted the program before the game was set to begin.”

Remembering that Doyle said she wasn’t supposed to be here for a year, Cordelia asked how he knew that. “The PTB told me that I’ve been chosen to act as the champion’s seer, which is to say they sent me some great splitting migraines that come with pictures…visions of the future.”

“Visions,” Cordelia mulled over the word. “My nightmares, are they visions from the Powers?”

“Not the Powers,” he shook his head and frowned. “The Fates themselves, perhaps. Or something else.”

Cordelia realized that she was caught up in the endless struggle that Giles had once described as being the Powers’ eternal game. “They sent you here to stop me?”

“Not really,” Doyle said to her surprise. “More to warn you that going to the Hyperion Hotel today will change the future.”

“I’m counting on it,” Cordelia rose from the booth facing him with a presence and air of self-confidence that bowled him over. These Powers were running scared if they’d called their seer into action just to warn her off. “As far as I’m concerned, the future isn’t written yet, no matter what the Moirae have to say about it.”

Not wanting to burst her little bubble, Doyle knew that the Powers and beings like the Moirae influenced far more than humans or demons wanted to believe. Free will and blind luck got you so far and after that…some things were unavoidable.

“You’re off to the Hyperion without a clue of what you’ll be facing,” Doyle told her.

“Doesn’t matter,” Cordelia stated despite the fear that curled up in her belly at the notion of doing this alone. “Those nightmares…visions…fate-o-grams…whatever… they came to me for a reason.”

He didn’t doubt it, but Doyle had to make the suggestion, “Did it ever occur to you that the visions were intended to make the champion take action rather than you?”

Cordelia looked down with confusion. “To convince Angel to leave me? To find the Hyperion and— do what? My nightmares tell me the only thing he’ll find there is eternal suffering. That’s not gonna happen.”

“You’re terrified,” the Irishman’s black eyes rounded with the sudden realization. She had put on a brave front, but his other senses were telling him what lay beyond the surface. Not that he wasn’t right there with her on the fear front. “Fair enough. Who wouldn’t be… considering.”

“Don’t try to frighten me off, Doyle,” warned Cordelia fixing to walk out. “Maybe the vision didn’t come with detailed instructions, but I heard enough to convince me that I have to go.”

That caught his attention. “You say that you heard enough? The Fates actually spoke to you during the dreams? Directly?”

Shrugging, Cordelia huffed, “Pfft! No big. A lot of scary whispering. Overdone if you ask me.”

Despite the bravado, Doyle knew the experience rankled her. “Then I guess there’s no use to try to change your mind.”

“Give the guy a gold star,” she quipped. Then Cordelia put her hands on her hips looking like a defiant Amazon from Doyle’s angle adding, “This is something I have to do.”

Doyle grinned. He couldn’t help himself. She was so sure that she could do anything to beat this. If he didn’t know the outcome of the little bedtime story he’d spun, he wouldn’t mind making a play for her himself. The thought brought a little sadness to his heart without understanding why. If anything, he should be glad knowing that it was possible to love and be loved like Cordelia and her champion.

The PTB had given him a vision with multifaceted sounds and images of things to come. Creation of their champion vampire had changed the course of the future as known to them and they needed it back on track. Whatever was leading Cordelia to the Hyperion did so without their knowledge or consent.

The Moirae themselves possessed the power, but were rarely known to take sides in cosmic schemes. Doyle didn’t care about the politics, only that this beautiful girl was about to put herself in danger to save the man—pire she loved from something that hadn’t even happened yet. If she had her way, it never would.

“Have a seat, Princess,” he nodded toward the other side of the booth. “Finish your sandwich. We’ve a long day ahead of us.”

“Since when is there an us?” Cordelia tapped her fingers on her hips. The Irishman had come out of nowhere with cryptic warnings from the Powers that Be. Whether that was to stop her or help her seemed to be the question of the day. “Does that mean you’re tagging along?”

Taking one of the French fries from her plate, Doyle chewed and swallowed before answering. “I suppose it does at that. As for there being an ‘us’, we’ll just keep that between you and me when you introduce me to Angel,” he winked.

Cordelia slid back into the booth again breaking into a smile for the first time. After that Doyle looked a little mesmerized until she told him, “Just keep in mind that he’s the possessive type.”

“Can’t say as I blame him,” Doyle admitted readily. Turning serious, “Assuming we come out of this in one piece— and I’m not saying we will— there’s more than a game at stake. The PTB have a mission for their champion and I, for one, would like to be around to tell him what it is.”

***

Upon hearing Buffy’s offer of help, Angel stopped before reaching the library doors. He’d been about to charge off on his own thinking only of bringing Cordelia home safe and sound. This wasn’t as simple as saving the damsel in distress; he knew all too well what awaited them at the Hyperion. Besides, it was still daylight.

“Here’s what you need to know,” Angel swung back around and looked each one of them in the eye. “This isn’t your typical cemetery patrol. There’ll be no vampires to stake. The Hyperion Hotel is the den of a Thesulac demon and it’s powers will force each of you to face your worst enemy— yourself.”

Wes commented that he remembered reading something about Thesulacs, but could not immediately recall the details. The vampire barely paused to let him speak, “It’s a paranoia demon. Non-corporeal, it instills fear as it whispers to its victims, feeding on their innate insecurities.”

“Cordelia insecure?” A snort sounded from Xander which drew unwanted glares from a certain vampire. Angel’s concerns on he behalf were obvious, but Cor was a hard nut to crack. “Just saying she’s usually kinda confident.”

Giles pointed out, “Nevertheless, she is human and her recent personal experiences put her at risk. We will all be in danger going in there. Even Angel. Paranoia demons feed off emotions and there are none of us who can claim a lack of those.”

“Well I’m ready to kick a little ass,” Faith bounced up and down punching her fists in the air. Asking Wesley, “Can we go, too?”

Frankly, Wesley was not about to be left behind. He was exceedingly fascinated by the whole thing. “Absolutely. We must do what we can to help.”

Angel looked at the lanky Englishman. “Do you have any field experience at all or do you just study vampires and demons?”

“Well, it’s not all books and theories nowadays,” Wes flashed Giles a condescending smile. Then proudly informing Angel, “I have, in fact, faced two vampires myself. Under controlled circumstances, of course.”

Even Faith grinned. Her new Watcher was cute considering he was such a dweeb. All he needed was someone to break him in a bit. Faith figured she was just the gal to do it.

Giles drolled, “Well, no danger of finding those here.”

“Vampires?” Wesley glanced at the one standing directly in front of him.

“Controlled circumstances,” answered Giles.

Angel wasn’t blind to the territorial behavior of Buffy’s Watcher. It was something he completely understood. Still, he had to get everyone on track and chose to disagree with Rupert Giles.

“Then let’s control them,” Angel said as he informed the group about the demon, what to expect and precisely how they would go about killing it.

“This thingy doesn’t sound easy to kill,” Buffy commented upon hearing that it could neither be seen nor touched.

Wesley indicated, “There should be an incantation to make it corporeal, a raising ritual of some kind.”

“I had it once,” Angel admitted as he remembered his long walk down the Hyperion corridor. “I lost it during a lynching.”

“Deadboy has to keep reminding us that he was evil,” Xander automatically issued the dig. “As if we’d forget.”

Angel gave the teen a hard stare, clarifying, “My lynching. They put a noose around my neck and left me hanging from the hotel ceiling.”

“Eep!” Willow cringed at the mental image. “Good thing you were already dead.”

“Who did that to you?” Buffy was horrified at the thought. They were caught up in the revelation and no one, even Angel, thought of it as only secondhand memories.

He told her, “My fellow residents at the Hyperion Hotel.”

“I’m right aren’t I?” Xander asked. “The Hyperion is that creepy hotel Klotho showed us during our little Moirae-guided time-trip? Circa 19-whatever. The hotel she told us was more interesting than what we actually came to see.”

“That’s the one,” Angel nodded in confirmation. Realizing then, “You’re right. Klotho was hinting at something. To me. To Cordelia. All of us even then. Trying to say that the hotel was important. Dammit! The Moirae knew this would happen.”

Giles felt certain that there was more going on than just the influence of a paranoia demon. Still, it was best to take one problem at a time. Solve the immediate threat and them move on to the big picture. “Perhaps you’d better tell us everything that went on at the hotel.”

Angel gave them the abridged version. Even that left them horrified. Wesley gasped with morbid curiosity. “Did they shut the place down? What happened to the rest of the residents?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted as his jaw clenched and he swallowed reflexively. “I left them there after the lynching. All of them helpless. I told the Thesulac to take them. To take them all. Nothing would ever force me to set foot in that building again.”

Silence fell for a heavy pause until Buffy dared to say, “Except this. Now. Cordelia.”

She was the only thing he could think of that would ever make it happen, Angel realized. Just when he thought he’d found happiness, it looked like fate decided to deal one last blow wracked with agony and irony and pain. If anything happened to Cordy…

Willow caught Angel’s attention, her hand on the sleeve of his jacket, “This was when again? The 1950s?”

“1952.”

The extent of his decision became clear as Willow realized, “You had a soul then.”

“With or without a soul, I have a lot to make up for,” Angel wasn’t certain that was possible. This was just a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of blood he’d spilled. “Tell me how that qualifies me as a champion to anybody.”

Wesley and Giles shared a look of understanding before the younger Watcher said, “So that’s what this is about— unfinished business.”

“Never doubt it, Wesley, this will be finished.” Angel had Cordelia to think about and that mean dealing with a problem fifty years in the making. “Here’s what we’ll need. You mentioned the raising ritual. Rupert, I need you to check your resources for an appropriate incantation.”

“Absolutely,” Giles answered, already moving in that direction.

Angel called after him, “I don’t suppose you have an orb of Ramjarin collecting dust on a shelf, do you?”

“No.”

Wesley held up a finger to catch the vampire’s attention. “I know of a place in Los Angeles that specializes in ancient crystals. I’ll give them a call. We can pick it up on the way to the diner.”

“Good,” Angel doubted that his original source was still there or that he had another orb. “We’ll also need some sacred herbs and divining powder.”

“Bingo!” Willow told him. “They’re at home, but we can stop lickety-split and I’ll have them.”

“What else?” asked Buffy now eager to get going.

Angel remembered the words he’d heard back in 1952. “Just something really big to hit it with.”

“Cool,” commented Faith. “Sounds like fun.”

Within a matter of minutes, Giles returned triumphantly. “I’ve found it. Just where I thought it would be.”

“Kleefaks Compendium of Spells?” Wesley asked interestedly.

He received a nod from Giles.

“I’ll cast the spell,” volunteered Willow before the two Watchers could say anything.

Angel declined the offer. “Rupert can do it. I have something more important for you to handle— if you think you can.”

Her large green eyes blinked as Angel described her appointed task. Willow nodded despite her nervousness and promised to try.

“Weapons locker.” Angel glanced at Giles who tossed him the keys. Opening it up, he took out two matched swords. Tossing one to each Slayer, he watched them catch the perfectly balanced steel, brandishing the swords in an equally flashy show while trying to size each other up.

Angel barely allowed himself a moment’s amusement at the sight. Then he grabbed Xander’s shoulder and nudged him in the direction of the locker, “Grab a weapon.”

Xander took out a machete while Angel picked up a heavy axe, wishing that it was his own. No time to go back to the mansion, though. They already had too many stops to make between here and the Hyperion.

Then Angel’s gaze darted around to the corners of the room as he realized that there was one other person missing from the group. Normally the werewolf was so quiet that he was easy to overlook. “Where is Oz?”

“You need Oz?” Willow asked then glanced at the wall clock. “He’s at band practice by now.”

“Get him,” Angel told her. “We need the van. Sunset is too far away to risk delaying our departure.”

Continued

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