Double or Nothing. 50a

“I think we’re driving in circles,” Cordelia complained to Doyle who was comfortably seated on the passenger side of her car. “Are you sure you know the location of the hotel?”

“Definitely,” Doyle assured her. He knew it all right. He’d promised to get her there. Not that he’d get her there quickly, though. All he knew was the Sunnydale cavalry was coming in a few hours and they’d need every minute to do…whatever it is heroes did to save the day.

Cordelia stopped at a corner and since there was no other traffic, turned to face Doyle. “We are definitely going in circles. I’ve seen this club before.”

“What? This place?” Doyle eyed the construction site thinking he’d made a mistake about taking her past this spot again. It wasn’t every day that dandily dressed demon club owners made an appearance out in the sunshine just to direct workers in the hanging of the marquee.

“Caritas,” Cordelia read the sign that was being placed over the main entrance. She noted the red horns, green skin and bright suit of the demon issuing the orders. Why should that surprise her? This was L.A., after all.

“Careful, crumbcake,” he called out to a beefy construction worker as he pulled on a rope. “That’s a very expensive sign. A little higher on the left.”

Cordelia gave Doyle another impatient look. He finally admitted, “We may have come by about half an hour ago. Cool place, this club. At least that’s the early buzz on the street. Demon karaoke bar that’s set to open next week, so they tell me.”

“Enough with the delay tactics, Doyle,” she sounded out a growl worthy of her mate. “Take me to the hotel now.”

“That’s really not a good idea.” He had been given enough of the panorama vision to know what was coming was not of the goof. Still, he gave in to Cordelia’s demands and they arrived at the gated entry to the hotel within fifteen minutes.

When they emerged from the car, Doyle looked around for any sign of another way of distracting Cordelia from this task, but found nothing. She popped the trunk of the car and pulled out a small club, which she handed to Doyle and took a sword from its scabbard for herself.

“Ah, what’s this for?” Doyle eyed the club in his hand.

“What do you think, dufus?” She rolled her eyes and headed for the front gate.

Looking horrified at the notion, he muttered, “No, no, no. I’m just the seer, ya see? Demon maiming and killing…that’s for the champions and the nutcases.”

Cordelia let out a, “Pfft! Which category are you putting me into?”

Well, he’d certainly walked into that one. Doyle suggested, “Neither one. You’re the brilliant girl who’s gonna realize any second now that it would be a far better idea just to wait right here.”

“I haven’t come all this way to quit or be turned away,” Cordelia told him as she reached for the handle on the iron-wrought gate. It didn’t budge. “Looks like it’s locked.”

“It’s a sign,” Doyle told her, grabbing her elbow and pulling her back toward the car. “No trespassing. Keep off the grass. No attempted breaking and entering.”

Wrenching her arm out of his grasp, Cordelia reached into her pocket and pulled out a set of keys. “I happen to have permission to be here.”

Doyle recalled her telling him about meeting with the development company CEO. Rotten luck, he’d call it, if he didn’t know it was more than that.

“Creepy hotel,” commented Cordelia as they entered the deserted, littered lobby covered with the grime and dust of sitting empty for the past twenty years.

Walking beside her, Doyle asked, “Bad vibes? Let’s go.”

“Too late,” she said softly as her ears picked up a distant whispering. Familiar, it was calling out to her. Then it was gone.

“What was that?” Doyle was looking around at every corner of the lobby holding his club out like he was lifting a torch to light the shadowy corners.

“Sheesh! Paranoid much?”

Gulping, Doyle realized that his demon senses were picking up those bad vibes he’d mentioned. “There’s something in this hotel.”

“Duh! Reason for the sharp, pointy weapons,” Cordelia swooshed her sword to show him what she meant. “I didn’t think I was here to meet Little Miss Muffett.”

“Well, you are in a way, don’t forget.” Glancing down at his dull, not-so-pointy club, Doyle suddenly wondered if she’d taken the better weapon on purpose. “What if I want the sword?”

“You’ll have to convince me you can handle it better than I can,” she commented, not bothering to tell him Angel hadn’t gotten around to that part of her training yet.

“Guess it’s the blunt basher for me,” Doyle frowned. Not that he wanted that either. His vision hadn’t explained what made the hotel so dangerous, but he’d felt the fear and despair Cordelia described to him. It had come from her, from him and from the woman somewhere inside these walls who saw her prison of torment as a haven of protection.

Cordelia was running on instinct and adrenalin. Her nightmares brought her here with no explanation of the details, only speaking of danger and eternal suffering. When Doyle spoke of the old woman in his vision, she felt relieved that there was actually going to be someone to confront. Doyle seemed to think she was a victim, but how could she know that his visions were accurate?

The more she thought about it, her doubts seemed to grow. “Let’s start at the top and work our way down,” Cordelia told Doyle.

They conducted a room to room search. Arriving on the second floor, Cordelia found herself standing in front of room 217. The numbers stood out as glaringly as a neon sign as she gripped the door handle. Giving Doyle a meaningful look, she whispered, “I think this is it.”

With a gulp, Doyle nodded and held his club at the ready. Cordelia threw open the door, leapt into the room holding her sword in front of her. “Hah!”

After a long pause and a glance around the room to confirm it was empty, Doyle told her, “Nobody home.”

“That’s weird,” Cordelia frowned, lowering her weapon as she turned to face him. “I could’ve sworn there was something important about this room.”

“Why?”

“Two-seventeen,” she explained, “is the time I woke up from my nightmares.”

Doyle shrugged. “Don’t ask me, Princess. The PTB weren’t overly generous with the details when they sent me to find you.”

“Think they’d share the important stuff, wouldn’t you?” Cordelia rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Like exactly where the helpless victim is holed up.”

“They can’t do it all,” Doyle found himself defending the higher beings who’d chosen him as their seer. “Something has to be left up to us mortals.”

“Pfft!” Cordelia strode back into the corridor. “Why can’t they leave it all up to us? If they’d mind their own business, we’d be just fine, but noooooo, they have to stir up trouble and interfere with lives and don’t care who they hurt along the way.”

“They’re the good guys,” Doyle reminded her following along. “Fighting the Good Fight, and all.”

Cordelia opened the door to the next room, forgetting that she was still facing Doyle. “We fight the fight. They just sit in the director’s chair and try to call the shots.”

Caught up in their discussion, neither Cordelia nor Doyle noticed the room they just entered had an occupant until a voice sounded in their ears, “I’ve been waiting such a long time.”

The deep male drawl sounded in a tone that made Cordelia think of Southern Fried Chicken and Used Car Salesmen. Whirling around, she saw only the frail outline of an elderly woman sitting in a wing-backed chair by the window. She was staring at the two intruders with fear and a hint of hope in her eyes.

“I’ve been waiting such a long time,” her soft voice sounded hesitant. “Is it safe to go outside now?”

Cordelia and Doyle stared at one another, both thinking they had heard another voice before the woman spoke to them.

“Did you—?”

“I thought I—.”

Breaking off, they put it down to nerves and decided to focus on the woman instead. They lowered their weapons, not wanting to appear as a threat.

“Are you Judy Kovacs?” asked Cordelia with a glance at Doyle for confirmation of the name.

The use of her name on a stranger’s lips caused the woman’s eyes to turn suspicious instantaneously. “Who are you? You’re not here because of—?” she couldn’t even say it after all these years of fears and self-doubt.

“Cordelia and Doyle,” she answered with a smile of encouragement. “We’re not here to hurt you. We’re friends.”

A look of sadness replaced suspicion. Judy told them. “I thought I had a friend once. Tall and handsome. Someone to protect me from the world.”

“Wonder who that could be,” Doyle gave a wry look.

“Angel was here in the fifties and hasn’t been back since as far as I know,” Cordelia told him. “You think she’s been here that long? In a deserted hotel.”

Doyle gluped and glanced around the room again as low, imperceptible whispering sounded from the space around them. “Maybe it’s not so deserted as we thought.”

The low sounds suddenly made sense and Doyle turned toward a corner of the room. “Yes,” he said for all visible means of detection to the horrid wallpaper. “I am. No, I won’t. I won’t… I will?”

The fact that Doyle seemed to be talking to the wall might have been something of a concern to Cordelia. Unfortunately, she was suddenly focused inward and hearing the voices from her nightmare return. Doyle walked out the door leaving the two women alone, neither of them moving, too caught up in their own thoughts to take notice of his departure.

“You’ve found my tasty treat,” the whispers became fully audible. “So delectable, but wearing around the edges. Another year of this and there would be nothing left to dine upon. Now that you’re here, it’s time for the next course and that’s always a thrill.”

Her immediate reaction was the return of the terror she’d felt in the dreams. It kept her frozen to the spot even if her acerbic tongue remained unaffected, “Cordelia Chase is nobody’s happy meal.”

The demon’s laughter filled the room drawing a screech from Judy who cowered in her chair. Some days the voices were soothing, almost fatherly as they convinced her to remain safe inside the hotel. Others brought only further doubts and a surety that danger remained and that leaving would result in her worst fears. It wasn’t just the money she’d stolen. Not anymore. Not since 1952 when she’d accused the man from 217 for crimes he did not commit and got him killed.

“That’s where you’re wrong, luscious one,” the Thesulac told her. “I’ve been feeding off your fears for ages now. Ever since I caught a whiff of them during the time of the vampire’s residence and this one’s youth.”

“The fifties?” Cordelia’s confusion sounded until she realized that it had to do with the Moirae’s time trip down memory lane. They’d been non-corporeal, not truly in the sphere of reality, Klotho had told them. Apparently close enough for a demon to sense them. “I was across the street. You could tell?”

Conversation was the Thesulac’s strength and a weakness, for it enjoyed the little debates that it’s victims often made as he spoke to them. Explaining that its mental tentacles reached out beyond the scope of his physical environment to draw victims into its den, the demon did not bother to hide the fact. Watching her face as it told Cordelia of the mental link formed between them at that moment and the resulting angst it caused was equivalent to whipping up a satisfying snack.

Mmm, mmm, Good!

“He was with you then,” the demon reminded. “Your thoughts, your concerns, your deep fears all focused on him. I almost had you then. You nearly came to me. Then you were gone.”

His irritation at the loss of his meal came across as shouted white noise, like a blank television channel with the volume turned all the way up. Cordelia covered her ears after dropping her sword to the carpet. The action failed to stop the whispered words from getting through.

Cordelia had no idea how the demon had found her fifty years and a hundred miles away. Upon her asking, it returned smoothly, “You found me.”

“Did not,” Cordelia snapped back. “Why the hell would I ever come looking for you? Except for now, obviously, and it’s not like I’m planning to stay— just telling you to leave Angel alone.”

“Ha, ha, ha, ha,” the deep chuckles left her shuddering. “What led you into my den, luscious one? Your mind, your thoughts, your very being turned to me. Focused here upon the threshold of our future, renewing bonds you never knew existed.”

“We have no future, buddy.” If the Moirae sent her the dreams as a warning or even, as Doyle suggested, a message for Angel, they also managed to activate the psychic connection made by the demon. She had no idea what kind of demon it was; only that it kept referring to her as its next meal.

That was never a good thing according to Cordelia’s Handbook of Hellmouth Survival.

The Thesulac found her amusing, such a mixture of tasty emotions ripe to devour. In truth, she might provide an excellent replacement for his aging tasty treat, but there were other things to consider. This luscious one would give him a quick boost before the main course arrived, one that would keep him filled up for eternity. The one he’d allowed to escape having stirred the hotel residents into a murderous frenzy.

“Your mate will fall into the web of your own making,” the demon informed Cordelia. “When he finds your cold, lifeless body and climbs into the pit of despair from which there is no escape, he will be mine.”

“No!” Cordelia’s anguish resonated as she realized that Angel would figure out a way to find her. Once here, he would fall into the demon’s trap and it would be her fault for leading him here. Was that the Moirae’s warning all along?

“If there was ever a soul marred by angst and pain, it was that one,” the Thesulac made a sound of pleasure anticipating what was to come.

Cordelia felt sick and as the seconds ticked by she fell deeper and deeper under the influence of the Thesulac.

Time passed unnoticed by Cordelia as the demon held her in its thrall. Judy sat as unmoving as a statue in her flowered dress and faded sweater while Doyle wandered the halls searching for something he’d lost. Preying upon their fears and doubts, the demon tugged at every emotional thread he could identify searching for the one that would give him the most in return.

Until it stumbled upon the one thread that led the demon astray.

Attempting to prey upon Cordelia’s innate doubts about her feelings for her mate, about the conflict she felt regarding the parts that made up the whole vampire versus the sum whose essence surpassed the parts, the Thesulac reached deep into her mind expecting to find the worst of her pain of loss and suffering, but found only love and the confidence that came with the unwavering belief in its existence.

If there was one thing Cordelia knew with certainty, it was that Angel loved her. No single doubt of that fact could be traced. Even with her fears of him leaving, which she now realized were caused by this demon, they were never about him not loving her. They were all about her being afraid to lose him like she’d lost Angelus.

Except that she hadn’t lost Angelus. Not completely. Only now with the Thesulac’s voice in her head did Cordelia realize how many things it had used against her. Any doubt or concern, any small insecurity had opened her up to it’s influence. Even to the extent that it warped her acceptance of her true mate.

“Tell me anything,” she called out to the incorporeal demon, “but don’t bother trying to convince me that Angel’s not in love with me. As for me loving him, don’t even go there. That’s why I’m here, dumbass.”

Silence came as her only answer, muted rage that thickened the air in the room with its nearly palpable presence.

Cordelia grabbed her sword from the floor, pointing it in front of her and moving into a defensive position in front of the old woman who looked to be slowly coming out of a stupor. Still hoping the demon would show, Cordelia called out, “Do you even have an ass?”

She suddenly sensed a change in the atmosphere, no longer feeling the demon in the room. Since the whispering had stopped, Cordelia wondered if it was something she said or if the demon had simply gone off to look for Doyle who seemed to have vanished. Turning to Judy, she explained that she needed to look for Doyle, but that she would be back to help her. “We’ll get out of this, I promise.”

Dashing out into the hall, Cordelia immediately found the seer who was coming in her direction. Doyle explained that he’d been looking for some physical sign of the demon and was in no way hiding from it in one of the empty rooms. “Pfft! Like I’m supposed to believe that? This demon guy is invisible, intangible and also not looking to be easy to kill. Somehow, it tricked me into coming here and thinks it can get its mental hooks into Angel.”

Between the two of them, they guessed that the demon had piggybacked into the dreams given her by the Moirae as a warning. “It’s been feeding off my emotions ever since the Moirae merged Angelus and Angel, exaggerating my concerns and doubts.”
“That’s why I’ve been so damn confused,” Cordelia told him. “Missing them. Loving Angel. I’ve been pulled in two directions because it’s been preying on my emotions; I don’t like playing the victim.”

Doyle muttered, “We’ve got to stop this.”

“Careful,” Cordelia warned him, surprised at the sudden determination to beat their foe. “I might start thinking that you want to be here.”

“Who, me?” Shaking his head, Doyle clarified, “I meant we needed to stop talking and get that old lady and ourselves the heck out of here.”

Between the two of them, they managed to convince Judy to leave with them. Doyle felt certain that it was because the demon was not in the room whispering to her not to trust them. Even before arriving at the top of the stairs, they heard a commotion down on the lower level. Voices filtered up from below and the closer they got to the landing, the more confident Cordelia became.

Angel was here, but he hadn’t come alone. While there remained a thread of concern over his safety, Cordelia knew to blame the demon for it and felt a growing sense of confidence that the future she’d seen in the nightmares was a dwindling possibility. There was nothing they couldn’t beat together. Besides, she had a few things to say to her mate and no nasty demon was going to stop her from doing it.

Still here or not, the creature no longer had any power over her that she didn’t give it. Unfortunately, that didn’t apply to everyone else. As far as Cordelia knew, Angel had no idea that he was walking into the demon’s trap. That didn’t change her instantaneous reaction upon seeing him at the bottom of the stairs.

Having just finished issuing last minute reminders to the group, Angel had turned to head up to Room 217 where he felt certain he would find Cordelia. Then suddenly, she was there at the top of the steps. His mind registered the fact that she wasn’t alone, but he was too focused on the fact that she was alive to look any closer than that.

“Angel!” Her face glowed with the brilliance of her smile as Cordelia caught sight of him. The vampire raced up the stairs at an accelerated speed, then stopping on the step just below the top. Face to face, they simply stared into each other’s eyes for a endless seconds before he breathed her name on a ragged sigh of relief.

A short, intense kiss followed summing up all of their feelings in one brief moment until both pulled back. This wasn’t the time for passion. Danger remained and the safety of everyone was at risk.

“Explanations later, champ. There’s a demon running loose,” Cordelia warned. “We have to get Judy out of here.”

The name caused Angel to focus on the old woman. She was staring at him while a dark-haired man supported her with an arm around her waist. Deep wrinkles marred her familiar face, but it was the eyes he recognized still full of fear and reflecting the darkness of decades past.

“Judy?”

From the look on Angel’s face, Cordelia could tell the seer had been right about the woman. Judy Kovacs had been at this hotel for nearly fifty years under the influence of the faceless demon. It seemed clear by the shock registering in his dark eyes that Angel never suspected to find anyone from that time still at the hotel, especially her.

“Is it really you?” Judy asked with awe despite her confusion. It was like looking back in time and seeing him exactly as he was half a century ago. Before her actions got him killed. “You’re alive? Not a ghost come to haunt me.”

“No ghost,” Angel shook his head. “Later, after we get you to a safe place, I’ll tell you everything.”

“I’m safe here,” Judy looked back toward her room. “He told me so.”

Angel gently cupped her shoulders and tried not to shudder at the skeletal sensation of her bony frame under his hands. He was responsible for this, he knew. “Trust me, Judy. I have to ask you to trust me.”

She looked hesitant. After all, she’d trusted him before and that had only gotten him lynched by an angry mob. Looking at the kind expectant faces of Doyle and Cordelia, Judy nodded her assent.

“Let’s get her downstairs,” Angel told the others. He picked up the frail woman and carried her down to the ground level. Calling out to Oz and Xander, he decided that it was safest just to get Judy out of the building.

Cordelia accepted Willow’s enthusiastic hug and acknowledged the others’ relieved looks with a smile, but it looked like everyone was busy doing something, she saw. Even Willow didn’t take time to pepper her with questions about what she had done. Xander was all seriousness as Angel transferred Judy into his arms.

“These are friends,” Angel explained as he quickly introduced the two guys. Meaning every word and needing her to know that, he added, “I’d trust them with my life.”

Judy’s eyes widened, constantly thinking back to the hanging, but she also felt a bit of hope upon seeing the sunlight filtering in from the glass-doored entryway of the hotel. She lifted a hand to Angel’s face and gave him a smile— her first one in over fifty years. “Thank you.”

While the vampire was occupied with seeing the demon’s victim to safety, Wesley and Giles were busy preparing for the raising ritual. The young Watcher held a container of divining powder mixed with sacred herbs and was sprinkling it in a specific pattern around the lobby.

“Cordy, you should go with Oz and Xander,” suggested Angel. “Make sure Judy is safe. We have a demon to kill.”

“Uh-uh, big guy,” Cordelia shook her head. “I’m not leaving you now.”

Doyle told them, “If they need a hand, I’d be willing to give it.”

Angel still had no idea who the man was, but until he knew for certain he didn’t want him anywhere near Judy Kovacs. No matter that he had been helping Cordelia with the old lady. “Stay. No telling what will happen here.”

“Then Cordelia and I will stand by. Guard the door in case it gets through the front lines,” Doyle told him.

“Yeah,” Angel liked that idea. It would keep Cordelia out of tentacle reach should his plan not work and things got nasty. “Do that.”

Cordelia gave Doyle an irritated look, but decided that she didn’t have all of the details. Obviously, Angel knew exactly what they were about to face and the gang had not only come up with a plan, but brought in two strangers to back them up. No time for questions now, she realized.

“Did you hear something?” Doyle asked her a couple of minutes later, just as Giles was opening up the compendium of spells to its bookmarked page.

“Ignore it,” Cordelia snapped. “That’s the demon. Trying to get your attention.”

“But—,” Doyle couldn’t ignore the doubts plaguing him. What if the champion failed? What if the demon won? What if…what if…what if…came the self-directed questions as he stared at the goings-on.

Cordelia nudged him with her elbow, tired of hearing his muttering. “Shut up.”

“Hey,” the Irishman suddenly pointed in Buffy’s direction. “Is that who I think it is?”

“Shut up, Doyle,” repeated Cordelia.

A state of enhanced apprehension tensed each one of the group concentrating on the tasks assigned to them. Each of them felt a growing fear stemming from even the tiniest of doubts of their success. The demon dug a little deeper, latching on to other thoughts and whispering into their minds ideas that seemed to turn insecurities into certainties.

Seeing the group faltering in their efforts, Angel shook off his own doubts reminding them what they were facing. “It is the demon. Don’t listen. Just focus on your tasks.”

Giles’ voice rang out, “We call thee forth, Thesulac of the Netherworld. We command you, leave our minds and join us on this, the physical plane.”

He held out his empty hand toward Wesley who reached into a knapsack he’d been carrying. With extreme caution, Wesley handled the orb of Ramjarin, knowing that ancient crystals were extremely delicate. With the orb in hand, Giles continued the incantation.

“We invoke thee by the power of all the priests of Ramjarin,” he intoned. “What was once in our thoughts, be now in our midst.”

The air crackled with energy as the Thesulac phased into view. Its appearance drew gasps of surprise. None of them had seen anything quite like the creature hovering before them. Leathery grey flesh covered its form while blood red eyes mocked their presence despite their numbers and weapons. Its large humanoid upper body was cloaked in a hooded black robe, while the lower half consisted of numerous flailing tentacles.

Angel had his axe, Buffy and Faith their swords. Giles and Wes reached for weapons of their own now that the raising ritual was complete. No telling how the demon would react in its physical form. The tentacles alone made its appearance ominous.

Cordelia wondered what they were all waiting for. Normally Buffy would be all over the demon by now, flipping and quipping her way to kicking its ass. Angel would be carving his way up that very ugly demon torso and finding out just how loudly its bones cracked under pressure. She had no idea who the other chick was or why she reminded her of Buffy in the way she held herself, but Cordelia didn’t have to wait long to find out the deal.

Once Willow started speaking, it became apparent they were waiting for her to cast a spell. Cordelia gulped as fine strands of her hair started to float in the air as static electricity gathered. Then the witch raised her arms, lightning shooting out from her fingertips.

“Omigod!” gasped Cordelia as she watched the demon writhing and screaming as it disintegrated into a gray ash that drifted to the floor. She knew her friend had skills in the spell-casting department, but this elemental conjuring was something she’d never seen before. “Go, Willow!”

“Well that was a letdown,” Faith looked sad that there hadn’t been a fight.

Buffy had to agree. She turned to the other Slayer and started up a conversation about what moves she’d planned to use on the demon. Caught up in their own little egocentric topic, neither one saw their Watchers rush to Willow’s side as the witch nearly fell to the ground.

“Whoa! Just a little dizzy,” Willow grinned giddily, her red hair still standing on end. “I did it! Hehe. Too bad Oz and Xander didn’t see me. They’d be so proud.”

As Willow plopped down on the circular lobby couch, a cloud of dust poofed in the air. Wesley waved his hand in front of his face to clear it, hacking loudly. Ignoring the noise, Giles simply told Willow, “I’ll be proud enough for both of them.”

Doyle leaned against the edge of the front desk looking from group to group with a satisfied smile on his face. Now that the danger was over, he could relax a bit. For the moment, anyway. There was still work to be done here, he thought as his gaze turned toward the Power’s champion and his beautiful mate.

Lots of work, but telling them that could wait a few minutes. At least until they came up for air, Doyle told himself as he watched them kissing. As soon as the demon was gone, they’d dropped their weapons and made a beeline for each other meeting up at the midpoint of the lobby.

He gulped in awe at the sight thinking he’d just jumped into the live version of his vision. Doyle had a feeling that dealing with these two was going to be an awful lot like living with free cable. As a dimpled smirk appeared on his face, Doyle figured he would somehow manage to get used to it.

As Cordelia sucked in a little gasp of air, Angel rested his forehead against hers. “You aren’t leaving my sight for a long time, I hope you know.”

Her mouth quirked upward. “That goes for you too, champ.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t call me that,” Angel ground out rather seriously. “Willow saved the day. I’m no one’s champion.”

“Gotta give Willow the props,” Cordelia nodded. “She earned it. Though I’m betting it was you who got them here. I know that you’re the one who missed me, who found me and figured out what was going on.”

There was a low grunt of acknowledgement. “With their help.”

Cordelia realized he didn’t think that counted. Her arms were still around his neck until she pulled back to slide both hands over his chest. “There’s nothing that says a champion has to walk alone. You’re my champion, Angel. Not because you came to L.A. to rescue me, not because the Moirae say so or because the Powers have sent you a seer to make it happen.”

She nodded her head in Doyle’s direction at Angel’s look of confusion. They made eye contact for a moment and the Irishman gave him a brief salute from his spot at the desk.

“It’s because in spite of everything in your past, your heart is good and noble even though it doesn’t beat. Everyday you struggle to keep a balance between the man and the demon within you and I know that it’s not easy,” Cordelia admitted. “We all have our own kind of demons, I’ve discovered, like fears and doubts. Even the little ones can grow and fester until we don’t recognize the people around us.”

Angel’s hand covered hers as they covered his heart even as her words filled it close to bursting. It didn’t need to beat, he thought, certain that its cadence would match her own. Words failed him. He just couldn’t find a thing to say in the wake of what Cordelia had to say. Her utter confidence in him sounded clear as a bell and in the back of his mind, Angel wondered if it was okay for champions to cry.

Those pliant lips spoke nothing but truth and when Cordelia continued, Angel took it as an oath, “I love you, Angel. I love you so much that I ache with it and no demon, person or Powers that Be will ever stand in the way of that again.”

He read her heart in her eyes as they shimmered with tears. Angel’s voice cracked, “Cordy,” before claiming her mouth again.

Cordelia looped her arms back around his neck as Angel pulled her close using his large hands to sinuously follow the curve of her spine down to her hips. He held her there as kiss for kiss they met in perfect unison of love and need and passion until both became conscious of the fact that they were far from alone.

“Soul boy sure knows how to kiss,” Faith drooled at the sight of the increasingly hot scene at the center of the lobby. “Where do I sign up?”

Buffy glared at the other Slayer. If she was missing out— and Buffy reminded herself that this was partly her decision— then this attention-seeker certainly wasn’t going to imagine the opportunity existed. “Hello! Care to adjust your contact lenses? Since when is kissing vampires in the Slayer job description?”

From nearby, Giles cleared his throat rather loudly. Willow wasn’t certain if it was because of Buffy’s hypocritical comment or the fact that Cordy and Angel seemed to be under a state of permanent lip-lock.

Xander happened to rush back in through the doors and stop midstep upon catching sight of them. “Is there a kissing contest? Buff— wanna sign up?”

Moaning, Buffy turned red. They hadn’t told anyone they were officially dating. As he saw her reaction, Xander paused with an apologetic grimace and commented, “Looks like we won if this is the victory party.”

Reluctantly parting, Angel and Cordelia stayed close enough to wrap one arm around each other as they turned to Xander. He told them, “Oz has Judy settled down. He’s so calm it was like they were communicating with their eyes. Kinda freaky. I bugged out to come help with the demon dude.”

“Willow killed it,” Cordelia explained. “One zap and he was toast.”

A gleeful gleep followed from the redhead. “I fried it,” she confirmed with a Cheshire cat smile.

Xander had to run over to hug her after which Buffy had to run over to hug them both. Watching with raised brows at the sight of all the hugging, Faith asked Wesley, “Are you sure Sunnydale is the place for us?”

Sighing, Welsey promised, “We won’t be there forever, Faith. Just to give you some time training with Buffy and Mr. Giles. The benefits of their experience and my newer techniques will vastly improve your slaying skills.”

“Damn, all that hugging isn’t natural.”

“Think of it this way,” Wesley decided she could consider the other option. “There’s another Hellmouth in Cleveland. We could go there.”

Faith’s mouth dropped open. She’d never been to Ohio. Knew nothing about it. As far as she was concerned, it was about as far removed from New York, Los Angeles and Boston as the moon. “Sunnydale. Cool.”

With that, she sauntered toward Doyle who watched her swinging hips approach with a lump forming in his throat. He gulped as she gave him a long look commenting, “I’m Faith. You from Sunnydale?”

“No,” Doyle answered and then looking a little nervous at the prospect, “but I think I will be. For a while, anyway.”

Cordelia finally realized the connection after hearing the formal-looking Englishman speak. He reminded her of Giles, only stuffier if such a thing was possible. The girl had this whole Buffy vibe going on. Combined with the man’s comments, she came to the conclusion, “There’s a new Slayer in town?”

“Sore subject,” her mate gave a nod in Buffy’s direction. Cordelia tried not to smirk, but couldn’t stop herself from grinning. “On the way into the city she did look a little like someone who’d had her favorite stake taken away.”

“Mister Pointy?” Cordelia asked. “Wasn’t that the one she got from…?”

“Kendra,” answered Angel soberly.

Stepping up beside them, Wesley commented, “The lives of Slayers are often short. Kendra’s death called Faith to her duty and I would see that she meets it with honor. That is something you have shown today, Angel, duty and honor. Something I would have bet anything you knew nothing about.”

“I’ve learned some hard lessons,” Angel admitted.

Wesley nodded and then held out his hand to Cordelia in introduction. “You are the vampire’s lovely mate. Cordelia Chase, missing no more. I am Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, Faith’s Watcher.”

The corny formal greeting brought another smile to her lips as Cordelia shook his outstretched hand. Before she could answer, Wesley was telling her that he was exceedingly fascinated by her relationship with Angel and would be very interested in talking to her about it. From Angel’s low rumbling, Cordelia got the idea it would not be pleasant for Wesley to actually try asking questions.

So did Wesley. He gave the vampire another disappointed look and quickly changed the subject choosing to comment on their surroundings. “Amazing that this place operated for so many years under the Thesulac’s influence.”

“According to the Hyperion’s owner,” Cordelia told him, “strange things have been happening here since it was first built back in the 1920s.”

Wesley wasn’t really surprised considering the nature of the Thesulac and the stories Angel imparted on their way to Los Angeles. “For the better part of the last century this has not only been host to a malevolent demonic presence, but the very worst faces of humanity. This is a house of evil.”

Gazing around the lobby, Angel knew that history had finally come to an end. They had cleansed this place of the monster within and even he felt a weight lift off his shoulders. The Hyperion wasn’t evil. Angel shook his head, “Not anymore.”

Doyle stepped up in time to comment, “The place has definite possibilities.”

Turning simultaneously to the stranger, both Angel and Wesley asked with a hint of irritation at the interruption, “Who are you?”

Slapping Doyle on the shoulder, Cordelia told them, “This is Doyle, my trusty guide. Not so good with the directions, but since he’s been appointed by the PTB to help Angel with his mission, we’ll be seeing a lot of him in the future.”

“My mission?”

“Well, you’re a little ahead of schedule,” Doyle went on to say, “but that doesn’t mean the Powers can’t adjust the game plan.”

They talked for a while about helping the hopeless with Wesley finding everything about the idea exceedingly fascinating. The others stepped over, tired of being in the background eavesdropping. Angel looked a little shellshocked by the idea, but it grew on him so fast that even he couldn’t take it all in.

“Cordy,” he pointed out as if she hadn’t been there listening, “I have a mission. The PTB sent me a seer. Why do I need one of those?”

Doyle crossed his arms over his chest. “The Powers decide on the mission, they show it to me with one of their flashy little numbers and I tell it to you who goes out and saves those helpless types we’ve been talking about.”

“We knew you had a destiny somewhere, champ,” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Looks like we needed to come to L.A. to find it.”

Angel liked the idea more and more. Los Angeles, City of Angels. It seemed…right, somehow. Fitting. Fated. He supposed it was after all.

Then frowning, Angel remembered, “You still have school.”

“Pfft! So we stay in Sunnydale until graduation.” Cordelia told him. “There are surely a few helpless types back home to save.”

“You’d consider moving here? Leaving the mansion?” Angel wanted to be certain that this was something she would agree to.

Willow cut in, “There’s always the shopping.”

Laughing, Cordelia squirmed excitedly at the notion. “Not that shopping for great shoes isn’t one of my life’s ambitions, but my priority is you, Angel. If your mission is here in L.A., then so am I. End of discussion.”

They were staring, smiling and leaning closer again until Xander made a gagging sound that caught them off guard. “Still kinda dusty in here. Must be the demon toast.”

Cordelia looked around at the slightly hazy air and decided the seer had been right. The place did have possibilities. “Angel, what do you think about living here?”

“We need a hotel?”

Shrugging, she compared it to their sizable home in Sunnydale. “It’ll be roomy like the mansion. There’s what? Only a hundred rooms or so. That might be enough for your book collection and a training room.”

Angel gave her a little squeeze at the dig she’d made about his books. “I don’t need that much space. Besides, there are only 68 rooms here.”

“Plus, I know the owner of the development company,” Cordelia smiled. “Uncle Bob, as he’s asked me to call him, has been trying to off-load this place since he took over from his father. Bet we can get it cheap.”

“Sounds perfect,” Angel answered and Cordelia grinned having made up his mind.

Willow looked around the littered lobby now covered in a fine layer of powdery ash. “A little dusting, a few throw pillows… what’s not to love?”

There was one person in the room that was clearly not thrilled with the idea. Buffy looked hurt that Angel would consider leaving Sunnydale. It felt like desertion even though he owed her nothing. Even though technically this was not the same vampire she had loved and lost. She just didn’t like it.

“You’re really going to leave Sunnydale?” Buffy asked gripping Xander’s hand a little too tightly.

“Buff! Circulation!” Xander called out.

“Sorry,” she apologized automatically and then turned back to Angel awaiting her answer.

He thought about it for a while before responding. “Sunnydale has its champion in you, Buffy. Its Slayer. Now it looks to have a spare as well.”

Faith didn’t quite like that description and told him so. Then she really got into it when Xander jokingly suggested she and Buffy could be the female version of the Dynamic Duo.

“This is going to be an interesting adjustment,” Giles pointed out to his colleague.

Cordelia turned away from the squabbling Slayers as they argued over which one of them would take the lead on tonight’s patrol when they got back to Sunnydale. This timing seemed perfect. Too perfect. As if one warrior had been brought in to replace the other.

Fate steps in again, she realized wryly.

“Angel, do you think this is all just one big manipulation by the Moirae or the PTB?” Cordelia asked him. “Are we playing into their hands?”

Wesley practically leapt back into the conversation. “I find that concept exceedingly fasc—,” he let his words fade away as he sensed irritation with the interruption. The vampire’s mate apparently possessed the ability to silence a man with only a glance for he suddenly found it far more interesting to look than to speak; doing both took too much concentration.

Cordelia continued with her questions, this time including Wesley and Doyle as she asked, “Can these Powers be trusted? They’ve set Angel up as champion to a cause, but have they locked his destiny in stone?”

“I’d need time to study the issue,” Wesley answered honestly. Even then, he doubted that anyone except the Powers themselves could tell her. Not that they would.

With a shrug, Doyle reminded Cordelia, “I only know what they tell me.”

“The Moirae made a promise,” Cordelia reminded him. “Cooperating with them brings you a grand destiny. Sound familiar?”

“I know what they promised,” Angel smoothed his thumb across her cheek. “They have been purposely vague during the meetings with Liam and Angelus and Angel. Promising, but never coming through with the details. Until we all appeared before them and they told me…or them, actually…that you’d be mine.”

Cordelia smiled at that now that her doubts were stripped away. “Angel, they’re you. I get that. Really, I do.”

Then Angel told her, “You are my destiny, Cordelia Chase. The Moirae themselves said so and I’ll hold them to that bargain. Beyond that, we’ll take the future as it comes… together.”

Epilogue

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