Title: Crisis at Crater Lake
Category: Action/Adventure. Theme Challenge fic (AO/FSB)
Summary: A case leads the AI Team to Crater Lake where the heat rises, tempers flare and the final battle could affect the team dynamics forever.
Spoilers: AtS Season Three.
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: Go Team, FSB. Anywhere else…please let me know.
Notes: Part of the AO/FSB Themed Fic Challenge #1. I picked AtS Theme #2 since my current serial WIP is set during BtVS.
A/N 2: Takes place a few days after WitW only Groo never showed up and Angel never managed to declare himself to Cordelia.
A/N 3: To the people of Oregon: please accept my apologies for moving your one of your National Parks to California. It’s only for the duration of this fic.
A/N 4: There is also a quote from Mr. & Mrs. Smith I couldn’t resist adding.
Feedback:FB is awesome!!!
Hyperion Hotel, Los Angeles
“There’s a monster at Crater Lake?” Cordelia’s raised brows indicated her doubt. She dropped her gaze back down to the newest edition of Cosmo before adding, “That sounds like something from a bad horror movie.”
Sitting on the circular couch in the center of the lobby, she was trying to stay focused on her one priority: relaxing. Too much had been getting on her nerves, lately, namely Angel. Ever since they got back from the ballet the other night, he’d been hovering.
If she had to listen to his apologetic stuttering once more, Cordy figured she’d start screaming.
On top of her frustration with Angel, the weather had turned from being hot & dry to simply scorching. The Hyperion’s version of air conditioning was antiquated and barely kept the heat from reaching suffocation levels. The portable fans she bought with the company card were making it tolerable, but Cordelia hated the icky sticky feeling on her skin.
It hadn’t taken much to convince Angel that they should move into her apartment until the heat wave was over. “All this heat isn’t good for the baby.”
The look of panic on his face was priceless. Shuffling his feet, he’d seemed like he was about to bolt for the stairs only stand there with a big blank stare that hinted at confusion. “You meant move the office, right?”
“Duh! Hello!” There were times when she questioned the superiority of vampire hearing. What did he think she was suggesting? “We can work out of my living room like we used to. Connor’s crib can stay there or the bedroom.”
Angel had nodded, “That’s what I thought.” He was upstairs packing a diaper bag when their new client arrived.
Bursting through the front door on the verge of collapse, a haggard man panted his plea. “Where is the vampire? I need his help.”
“So you know Angel is a vampire.” Wes pursed his lips. The man obviously wasn’t an ordinary client off the streets. Voice laced with suspicion, he inquired, “Whom might you be, precisely?”
“Mike,” he said leaning against the front counter for support. Sweat beaded on his brow. Visible damp spots caused his cotton shirt to cling to his chest leaving dark swatches behind. “Michael Tolliver. I-I work for David Nabitt.”
Cordelia lowered her magazine to take a closer look at the newcomer. Wrinkled, his clothes were actually well-made if not designer. The shirt, shorts and shoes appeared typical of a Geek-on-Vacation. He obviously hadn’t come straight from Nabitt’s office with a generous check for a new assignment.
“How is Mr. Nabitt?” Wes asked in a suddenly cheery tone.
Before answering, Mike Tolliver gulped down the cup of water that Fred handed to him over the counter. “Good, I suppose. He’s in Malaysia this week.”
“Ah,” Wes nodded. Understanding dwindled some of the extra pep. “So you have not come on his behalf.”
Hello! A little slow on the uptake, Wes?
Shifting a little closer to the floor fan blowing cooler air in her direction, Cordelia picked up where she’d left off reading about the newest shade of her favorite nail polish. Seeing that it wasn’t the best color for her skin tone, she lost interest and peeked back up at the client.
Tolliver shook his head, a frightened look on his face. “No,” he admitted, but then changed his mind. “Yes, in a way.”
“What’s the deal?” Gunn cut right to it. “You’re here for our help. Just chill. Tell us about it.”
He looked around nervously, meeting Cordelia’s bored gaze for a moment before moving on to a more sympathetic face. Fred smiled back mutely. “You probably won’t believe me.”
“Mister, I lived in another dimension for five years. Now I work with a vampire.” Fred shrugged his doubts away. “There’s not much I won’t hear ya out on these days.”
Cordelia snorted softly and flipped to the next page of her magazine.
Turning, he addressed Fred directly, the hushed tones still loud enough for all of them to hear. “Mr. Nabitt gave my department a week vacation while he’s on his business trip. The guys and me… we took our families up to Crater Lake.”
“Oh, that’s pretty,” Fred commented. “I know ‘cause I once went there with a friend of mine. He said it would be a quiet place to study, but y’know we didn’t do much studying.”
Their client didn’t notice Gunn’s gloomy reaction or the way Wesley’s jaw dropped open. Cordelia knew that Crater Lake was somewhere outside Los Angeles. The lake had formed on the site of a prehistoric meteor crash. She’d seen pictures of it before and agreed with Fred that it had a woodsy kind of appeal; assuming that the woods actually appealed to anybody.
“There’s a monster at Crater Lake,” Tolliver revealed and waited with bated breath to gauge their reaction.
“A monster at Crater Lake?” Cordelia quirked her brows, doubt filling her voice at the description he used. He might know enough to understand the reality of Angel being a vampire, but there were obvious gaps. “That sounds like something from a bad horror movie.”
Tolliver assured her the experience was real. He described that his family went with several others up to the lakeside getaway reserved for company members. Nabitt owned several vacation spots and liked to give his loyal employees a few perks.
“We were up there with the kids, twelve of them. It was great timing since it happened to be my son Timmy’s birthday.”
“Timmy Tolliver,” Cordelia rolled the name of her tongue. When their client gave her a questioning look, she smiled big. “How old is Timmy?”
The boy was seven, his father explained. It was actually Timmy who spotted the monster and that set off a panic amongst the children. Herding the kids into the safety of the cars had been their first priority. They burned rubber to get back to L.A., but since the lake was his idea, Mike Tolliver felt responsible.
“Did any of the adults actually see this creature?” asked Wes hoping for a detailed description.
“None of us got a good look,” he admitted. “We were too busy running like hell.”
Tolliver did his best to provide a description, but all they got was a general idea that the ‘monster’ was bipedal, unclothed, and came out of the lake where they had originally mistaken him for a swimmer.
Wes ran a hand over his chin. “Do you intend to report this activity to the Park Rangers, or the police, perhaps?”
Holding up his hands, Tolliver waved off the idea. “No, no, no. We don’t want that kind of publicity. Besides, they wouldn’t believe me.”
“What do you want Angel Investigations to do?” Cordelia leaned forward as she threaded her fingers together on top of Cosmo’s latest poll on sexual satisfaction. “And will we be sending the bill to you or your company?”
“W-well, it’s company property,” he answered. “I haven’t told Nabitt yet, but I’m sure he’ll cover your expenses. I’m the head of my department. I can authorize it. Just take care of the monster.”
Cordelia sat back and relaxed again at the thought: random demon, easy money. “Fred, go tell Angel. It seems we’ve got a case.”
Wesley slowly turned to face Cordelia. “Might I remind you that we don’t normally take assignments so far outside the city limits? Besides which I believe that it is my job to accept new cases.”
“Whatever,” Cordelia rolled her eyes.
“We will gladly accept your case, Mr. Tolliver,” Wes shook his hand. “Consider it done.”
After gathering a few details about the location of the company’s lakefront resort, Wesley assured their client they would waste no time in following up on the case. It was prudent to strike now while there was still evidence to be found. Relieved, Mike Tolliver thanked them, provided some contact information and left.
No sooner had the door closed behind him than Angel walked down the stairs with Conner cradled in one arm and carrying a diaper bag over his shoulder. Fred and Lorne walked side by side behind him.
“We’ve got a case?” Angel saw that there was no one in the lobby. Sniffing the air, he noted, “Something that involves charcoal and lighter fluid?”
“Lake demon,” Gunn explained matter-of-factly. “Sounds like an axe job. Better bring your broadsword.”
Angel glanced down into his son’s alert eyes. “Did you hear that Connor? Daddy’s gonna go earn some money for your college fund.”
“This does sound fairly routine,” Wesley agreed. He suggested that Angel and Gunn handle it on their own, an idea that Cordelia quickly slammed down.
Tossing her magazine aside and rising to her feet, Cordelia huffed, “Why should they get a break from this heat and not us? Angel doesn’t even feel it.”
Coming over to stand beside her, Angel gave her a hurt look. “I can feel it,” he muttered as she softly ran a hand over the baby’s head. “It just doesn’t bother me.”
“That’s so nice for you Mr. Cool and Comfortable,” she glared. Taking one step back she snapped, “Look at me. Go ahead. Take a close look. Cordelia Chase is not supposed to sweat.”
Trapped into complying, Angel’s gaze slipped from head to toe. The short ponytail that stuck up from one of those scrunchy hair things reminded him of Pebbles from the Flintstone cartoon he once watched with Connor. Tiny strands of her hair curled to hug her face and neck.
The slightly dewy appearance of her skin at the dip of her cleavage drew his gaze followed by the extra cling of her cotton top across her breasts. She’d tied the loose ends together in a knot right under those generous curves exposing the taut planes of her belly revealed by her hip-hugging shorts.
Everywhere he looked he saw flushed, golden skin. Gulping, he commented, “You look… hot.”
A few giggles and snorts sounded throughout the lobby. Angel realized what he’d said and hastened to correct it. Only he seemed to be making it worse. He finally settled on pointing out, “That’s hardly appropriate for the office.”
“Buy a new air conditioner and maybe I’ll consider changing my wardrobe,” she returned stubbornly.
“Bad idea, man,” joked Gunn. He leered playfully at Cordelia. “Don’t do it.”
Angel scowled as Cordelia reached for her magazine, rolled it up and ran after their fast-moving friend. One lap around the lobby was all it took to make them both plop down on the couch in front of the fan. Cordelia poked Gunn in the side to make her point. “It’s too hot for this,” she groaned.
“Which is why you’ll be taking Connor to your apartment,” Angel reminded her. “Gunn & I will handle this Crater Lake creature.”
Cordelia explained her strategy. “It’s a resort. Why shouldn’t we enjoy a few perks while we’re there? David won’t mind. He’d be the first to tell us to stay for a day or two. After all, we’d be dealing with his monster-sized problem.”
The others weren’t quite convinced. While David Nabitt’s generosity wasn’t in question, their right to be presumptive about it certainly was. Besides, Angel was firm on one thing, “I’m not taking my son into a battle zone.”
“It’s not a battle zone,” Cordelia huffed, fanning herself with the copy of Cosmo. “There’s just one little demon.”
Angel saw the stubborn pout forming on her lips. He could feel himself starting to give in and wondered if there was anything he wouldn’t do for her. “Cor—”
“C’mon, Angel,” her sweet smile would have convinced him to take up cliff-diving if she asked. “Connor will be safe with the rest of us while you deal with the lake monster. Wouldn’t you feel safer knowing he’s close by?”
Knowing that he was being manipulated only made it worse. His jaw clenched at the realization that he’d always been a sucker for that smile. Since the day she first convinced him that he needed her help.
“There’ll be air conditioning,” she teased the others with the thought of it. “Cool air. No more muggy heat. We’ll have a lakeside view from the Jacuzzi.”
Wes dared to point out, “Really, Cordelia! We have been hired to do a job, not to cavort half naked in the wilderness.”
Hearing Fred’s giggle, Angel noticed her gaze focus on Gunn. “Sounds like fun to me.” She blushed until her cheeks were rosy with it.
Adding stiffly, “There is no guarantee Mr. Nabitt’s property even has a Jacuzzi,” Wes slumped down on to rest his elbows on the desk, chin in his hands.
“He’s a billionaire,” Cordelia gave him an eye-roll. “Of course he has one.”
All of the talk about Jacuzzis summoned up reminders of seeing Cordy in a bikini. Angel licked at his suddenly dry lips. Before he could say anything, Lorne piped up, “Count me in sugarplums, especially if there’s a chance of getting a decent Sea Breeze at this little resort.”
Cordelia didn’t see why not. The software designer could afford to have anything he wanted. This little lakeside resort probably came with a butler and a cook, too. She wondered if there would be a massage therapist or a manicurist on staff.
“We’ll all go,” Angel finally conceded to her enthusiasm, “but we’re not staying more than a couple of days. Wes can clear it with Tolliver. Once we deal with the demon, Nabitt may want to free up the resort for the people on his payroll.”
Giving Cordelia a high-five, Gunn congratulated her on her triumph. “Way to go, girl. Can’t get much better: air conditioning and a paid vacation to boot.”
“I’ve still got it,” she grinned back.
Crater Lake National Park
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Cordelia asked for the third time as Angel maneuvered the Plymouth onto an even smaller dirt road.
She sat in her usual spot. Wes and Lorne occupied the back seat with Connor’s rear-facing car seat between them while Gunn and Fred followed close behind in the truck. Lorne’s humming seemed to get louder as the tension increased.
“If there’s a resort around here, I’ll find it,” Angel assured her. Although he saw no sign of lights along the lakefront to indicate the presence of any structures much less a whole resort.
Even with the top down there was very little breeze. Moving at a slow crawl did not help any since the car had no air conditioning system. “Admit it, Angel,” she all but growled. “You’re lost.”
“I am not.”
“You should have pulled over at the ranger station when we entered the park.”
Wesley provided a little male solidarity by explaining, “The ranger station was closed for the night.”
“They would’ve had a map,” Cordelia ignored the fact that they would have had to break in to get it.
Angel told her he didn’t need a map. “These roads circle the lake. The resort is at the edge of the lake. We’ll find it.”
So far, Cordelia hadn’t seen anything but a Smokey the Bear statue urging them to prevent forest fires. One or two small wooden signs pointed in the direction of camping sites. She’d expected to find a stone gate leading onto private property or a big company logo. Nabitt’s Lodge, or whatever fancy name David called his little getaway, was certainly difficult to find.
An owl hooted loudly from the trees overhead, startling Lorne. “This really isn’t my idea of nightlife.”
The big bright moon overhead filtered down through the cover of the treetops. Between that and the headlights of the vehicles, all Cordelia could see was the path directly ahead. The rest of the woods were shadowy. Each time she peered into the darkness between the trees, she thought she saw movement.
“It’s just the trees,” she told Lorne and Wes as she looked over her shoulder at them. “There’s nothing to be nervous about.”
“Tell that to your aura.” Lorne didn’t need her to sing to feel her nervous vibes. He started humming again to distract himself.
Cordelia turned a little further in the seat and pointed out the tight grip Lorne had on the side of Connor’s car seat. Warning softly, “Don’t wake the baby.”
“I’m not the one with the shrill voice,” he smirked and went right back to his soft humming.
Gasping indignantly, Cordelia whirled back into her seat reminding herself that it was just this muggy heat making everything unbearable. As soon as they got to the resort, they’d all be thanking her for coming up with the idea. A little time in the lap of luxury would quickly make them see reason.
Several minutes later, Angel spotted a road sign at a crossroads that lead down toward the lake. “Marker 109. This is it.”
The road ended forcing them to abandon the Plymouth and the truck to follow a small footpath. It opened up as it reached a small area set up with a barbeque grill and a picnic table. There was a moderately sized rustic cabin facing the lake.
“That don’t look like a resort to me,” Gunn commented as he shouldered his axe.
Fred agreed. “Mr. Tolliver never did say it was a resort, just a company getaway. I kinda wondered about that when you mentioned it, Cordy.”
“Why didn’t you say so before we left?” Cordelia had never known Fred to keep her mouth shut about anything before. “The hotel was cooler than this hellhole.”
She whispered the last word just in case the sleeping baby in her arms overheard her.
Shrugging her slim shoulders, Fred simply told her, “I don’t know. When I was up here with Steve that one time, I wasn’t paying much attention to anything else. I do know that the National Park Service normally allows only a limited number of developments in the region.”
“So why didn’t you say so?” Gunn asked the question again, not really wanting to hear more about her study buddy. “Angel and me coulda come up here and taken out that demon without dragging everyone along.”
“It’s not my fault,” Fred reminded him.
Staring at Cordelia, they drew another gasp of outrage from her throat. “How was I to know David Nabitt is even cheaper than Angel? Talk about pinching pennies. This isn’t a getaway. This is—.”
“A cabin on a moonlit lake,” Angel interjected before she could describe it the way he imagined she would.
“Pfft!” Cordelia followed along as he led them toward the cabin entrance, passing through the scattered mess in the picnic area. “You would say that. This is exactly the isolated kind of place serial killers like to hide out.”
Angel stopped, turned and gave her a hurt look.
“Not you, dork,” she rolled her eyes. The little crease in his furrowed brow made her mouth quirk into a smile. Teasing, Cordelia added softly, “Just don’t get too happy about the scenery.”
Walking forward to grasp the doorknob, Angel found himself thinking that the lakeside scenery had nothing on the images in his head of Cordelia herself. The night of the ballet played over in his mind, flashes of her bare skin, of his lips on her golden flesh, his hands roving across her curves. The way she touched him, kissed him. Only it wasn’t really them, not entirely.
He’d tried to tell her when they returned to the hotel that his feelings for her had grown. That he thought the two of them had gotten closer recently, more so than he ever imagined possible. He wasn’t even certain when the thought first came into his head. The idea that he was actually attracted to his best friend initially freaked him out a little, but it grew on him until it was almost all he could think about.
When Cordelia suggested they forget everything that happened that night, he was certain that she didn’t feel the same way. It was obvious to him that she was uncomfortable with it despite her earlier bravado. The arousal he’d sensed that night was just part of the possession.
It crushed him to think he wouldn’t ever kiss her again that way. To take her in his arms and peel her clothing away. To reveal her beautiful body in a way that no one else would ever see. Making love to her tenderly, passionately, wildly.
The sight of her holding his son in her arms only made it worse because it always started him thinking about things that were even more remote a possibility. He lifted a hand to her cheek, briefly noting the questioning look in her eyes when he touched her.
“Step back. Let me check out the inside of the cabin first to make sure it’s safe.”
“Actually, I was thinking of just waiting in the car,” Cordelia admitted as she took another look at the outside of the cabin. Not impressed, she figured the inside wasn’t going to be anything to write home about. “Your demon slayage shouldn’t take very long, right?”
Angel wasn’t so certain about that. “This lake is larger than I thought it would be. We’ll have to track the creature, assuming that we can find a trail.”
“Oh, great.” It wasn’t as if she’d had a vision to lead them directly to the demon’s lair.
“Maybe you should take Connor, Fred and Lorne back to L.A.,” Angel suggested. “There’s no telling how long this will take and we didn’t exactly prepare for this kind of situation.”
Lorne wholeheartedly agreed.
Cordelia nuzzled her cheek against the baby’s soft hair. “Connor will be safe here in the cabin with Lorne. Fred and I can help find this demon so we can all get out of here.”
“Well I won’t mind,” Lorne gave in conditionally, “as long as you hurry up, get inside and point the way to the powder room.”
Wesley thumbed in the direction of the trees. “It’s over there.”
A portable orange outhouse was half-hidden by the shadows. Lorne’s eyes got big. “Yeesh! Nature isn’t calling that loudly. I think I’ll hold it.”
“The sooner we get started with this investigation,” Wesley told them, “the faster we’ll finish the job.”
The cabin was empty. No demons in sight. Its sparse furnishings suggested this was more of short-term camping area than anything else. There was no electricity or plumbing of any kind. Angel could see perfectly well in the dark. Wes and Gunn had grabbed flashlights from the trunk of the car and were able to move around without a problem.
There were lanterns stored against a shelf inside. Lighting these, they were able to provide enough light for Lorne to feel comfortable about waiting inside with only Connor for company. As the others closed the cabin door behind them, Lorne glanced down at the sleeping baby, “Looks like it’s just you and me kid.”