Title: The Mirror Crack’d
Summary: The team experiences unusual aberrations. Is the Hyperion haunted or have Cordelia, Angel and Wesley discovered something else?
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: Angel’s Archive (AO), Go Team and Darkness & Daylight..
Notes: Written for AO’s Fall Fic Festival. Title borrowed from Agatha Christie. A/N:I posted part of this yesterday 10/16 planning to make it a 2-parter, but I think it reads better as a standalone. Hopefully, I can transfer your comments to the new thread.
Thanks/Dedication: Thanks to those of you who voted in my little poll.
Feedback:Yes, please. I adore it. *smoochies*
Lost in the pages of a first-edition favorite, Angel soaked in every word. Reading not only gave him a way to pass the time, but provided a soothing method of relaxation.
It was structured, civilized. A temporary escape from the constant reality of keeping his darkest instincts in check by letting his imagination explore what was denied him.
Sitting in his office, feet propped on the desk and leaning comfortably back, he was not so preoccupied that the activity around him went unnoticed. Wesley and Cordelia were arguing again; something about the differences between beige and buff. He let the words fade from his notice to focus again on the novel.
Just when the story pulled him back in Cordelia barged through his open office door. Calling to Wes over her shoulder, “I should’ve known better than to ask for help from someone who thinks Blahniks and Choos are types of demon epidemics.”
Angel tucked a finger between the pages as he closed the cover of his book holding his place. He hoped this was going to be a brief interruption, but considering that it was Cordelia he was glad that holding his breath wasn’t an issue. Wesley hadn’t been able to tell him where she’d gone today, only that she’d left word that she would be back this afternoon.
He’d noted her arrival thirty minutes ago, a distraction from his reading. Wesley’s presence was hardly noticeable as he quietly sifted through various resources and filled legal pads of notes. The occasional grind of a pencil sharpener was about the only irritation, unlike Cordelia.
“Gah! Don’t even get me started.”
There was the constant chatter. Angel found it strangely invigorating, especially the times when she came up with odd-ball ideas. Arguing was futile. He had no idea why Wes bothered. Both of them ended up following right along. Like when she’d bought non-ground coffee by accident and insisted he crush the beans with his hands.
Even when Cordelia managed to work quietly, the office was filled by her presence in a way that often left a void when she went home at night. They had become friends. Doyle’s death had brought them closer. He cared for her in ways that were surprising to him.
There was nothing Angel wouldn’t do to keep Cordelia safe. Keeping her happy was something he felt was out of his control. She’d had so much pain and responsibility thrust upon her. He ached with guilt every time her body contorted from the effects of a vision. So if he occasionally let Cordy have her way or get away with something he wouldn’t normally back down from, then he considered it a little compensation.
Besides, Angel was growing addicted to her smile. The damn thing was contagious. He often found himself smiling back, feeling the warmth of affection rooted deep within him.
If his thoughts and feelings ended with concern for Cordelia’s health and happiness, he might not be so distracted from his reading. His concentrated efforts to focus on his book failed again. It was just as well that she’d come to him instead of forcing him to find an excuse to intervene in her spat with Wesley.
Their argument had left her skin flushed, her heart racing a little faster than normal. He could hear her efforts to slow down her breathing, but the soft panting that came from her parted lips just drew his attention. When her tongue peeked out to sweep moisture along the full curves, Angel hastily moved along, dropping his gaze down to the armful of colored paper swatches clutched close to her chest.
Unceremoniously, Cordelia dropped them onto the surface of his tidy desk scattering them haphazardly. “The man has no taste,” she muttered while sifting through the mess. “To think I used to believe Wes was suave and debonair. That he had style. Now look at him. How could he possibly help me with this?”
A closer look at the pile revealed paint and wallpaper samples. Angel had suspicions, but waited patiently for her to reveal her latest scheme. Cordelia placed her palms flat on the desk and leaned casually toward him, her face suddenly calm and serene. A little too serene, Angel realized, as soon as that sweet smile appeared; the one that he’d seen the first day in the old office when Cordelia convinced him to let her stay.
This had to be serious if she wanted it badly enough to turn on the charm. Cordelia’s delectable cleavage was at eye level and quite charming indeed drawing his gaze like a beacon. Hell, he might technically be dead, but he was still a guy.
Somewhere above his head, Cordelia announced, “I’ve been doing some research,” snapping him out of his momentary haze.
The combination of Cordelia and research seemed oxymoronic. This was definitely serious, Angel decided, brow furrowing. He lowered his feet to the floor scooting his chair closer to the edge of the desk. Since they weren’t working on any active cases at the moment, Cordelia doing voluntary research was startling.
“Was it a vision?” Concerned, he scrutinized her appearance again. No sign of strain. No obvious scrapes or bruises. He hated not being there when she had a vision since they seemed to be far more violent than anything Doyle ever experienced.
“A vis— no, nothing like that.” Rolling her eyes, Cordelia blew off his concerns with a wave of her hand. “Why? Do I look like crap or something?” Bristling, she stepped back from the desk to check out her clothes. “Please don’t tell me I’m wearing my lunch.”
Angel hastened to tell her that her clothes were fine. “No, you look—fine.”
“You say that like I picked this outfit out of the laundry basket,” Cordelia’s voice dropped dangerously. “I’ll have you know I spent an hour getting dressed this morning trying to look perfect just for you.”
His brows shot up in surprise.
Before he could say anything, Cordelia clarified, “Our clients want to see someone who’s friendly and nicely dressed. Since I don’t get a clothing budget, I have to do my best to make do.”
For a moment, Angel didn’t know whether to be relieved that he’d misunderstood her or disappointed. Honestly, he didn’t pay much attention to what she wore around the office. Just having her there made the difference.
It wasn’t unless Cordy was dressed up to go out that he tended to take notice of the clothes themselves. There were less of them, for one thing. He was just concerned, that’s all, wanting her safe.
Wondering why he seemed to have forgotten how to pay a woman a compliment without tripping over his tongue, Angel growled, “Our clients would just as soon see you in sackcloth—or nothing.” He muttered the last, but was overheard anyway.
Cordelia’s expression turned from annoyance to amusement. “That would cut down on my dry cleaning bill.”
Deciding that it was a good time to change the subject, “You were saying something about research.”
A soft sigh escaped. Lashes dropped low to hide the sparkle in those hazel eyes. She resumed sifting through the pile of colored swatches.
“Did you know that the working environment can affect productivity?” Cordelia asked him completely throwing Angel off. Considering the swatches, he’d been expecting a question about redecorating her apartment, or, more specifically, convincing him to help her.
Angel sat back again tapping the edge of his book on his thigh. It took three seconds to figure out where Cordelia planned to take this conversation. He listened quietly to her ‘research’ findings and how they applied to their new offices at the Hyperion. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe the information had merit. Redecorating simply seemed unnecessary.
Furthermore, “It sounds expensive.”
“I can be thrifty,” Cordelia assured him. “This place has so much potential, but it’s old, worn down and I swear still has demon vibes.”
Wryly, Angel commented, “Like me.”
The expression on Cordelia’s face was priceless, a mix of shock, amusement and a hint of guilt. “You are a little fogeyish,” she teased, then nibbled at her lower lip for a moment before getting back to her ideas.
It wasn’t just the lobby that Cordelia wanted to redecorate. That was nothing that a fresh coat of paint and a few plants couldn’t fix. They could wait for new carpeting since there hadn’t been much traffic over the years. It just needed a good cleaning.
The main problem was everything else. “You’ve got seventy rooms, but nowhere to put guests.”
“That’s not exactly an issue.”
Cordelia wasn’t about to give up. “But it could be. We might need to give a client a room for a while. Or Wes might need a place to stay if his research keeps him up too late. He should definitely have a room here.”
It made sense.
“What about you?” Angel tried to sound casual about asking. The thought of having Cordelia here under his roof where he could keep an eye on her was tempting.
She’d never leave that Silverlake apartment as long as Dennis was there. Cordelia liked her independence too much to make a permanent place here at the Hyperion.
But something temporary, a space to call her own might be enough of a temptation to keep her from trekking across town when it wasn’t convenient. “Don’t you want one?”
As if the idea was completely new to her, Cordelia paused to think about it. “It might be a good idea to keep some clothes here. Or have my own bed for my after-vision naps.”
Until now Cordelia had just slept it off in his bed. Lately, he’d put her there himself. Her scent lingered on his pillows in ways that were disturbingly tantalizing, strangely comforting and completely familiar. Surprisingly, the thought that she would have her own room wasn’t entirely welcome.
Before he stopped to consider what he was saying, Angel offered, “You can use my closet.”
She stared at him for a second while Angel mentally kicked himself for opening his mouth. What the hell was he saying? Cordelia obviously thought he’d gone insane for suggesting what boiled down to her staying in his room. He had no idea where that had come from.
“Right,” Cordy scoffed dripping with sarcasm. “I’m sure Buffy will love that when she comes to visit.”
Angel hadn’t even thought of Buffy, which only made him feel ten times worse. He’d just been thinking of his need to keep Cordelia safe and protected. Since when had that included keeping her close to him? As for Buffy, “She hasn’t been back since—”
Cutting him off, Cordelia’s enthusiasm over having her own space here at the hotel suddenly gave her plans focus. “I could start there,” she beamed. “First, I’d need to pick a room. There are so many to choose from. We haven’t done much exploring in the other wings.”
The fact that Angel could feel himself scowling over the idea did not make him feel any better about it. Lucky that Cordelia was too busy concocting her plans to notice. The more he thought about why this bothered him, the less Angel understood it.
“Where are you planning to get the money for this?” he asked when she noticed that she’d moved beyond wallpaper swatches to furnishings. “I don’t pay you that much.”
Pausing mid-sentence, Cordelia gave him direct look. “Pfft! You’re telling me? Trust me, I know. Having a place to recover from my visions is a business expense. So I figured we could put it on the company card.”
Just how Cordelia had arranged for Angel Investigations to have a Corporate Gold Card was still something of a mystery to him. He didn’t like the idea of racking up debt and was still getting used to the concept of having people like Cordelia and Wesley dependent upon him for their livelihood.
“It’ll be fun,” Cordelia encouraged him with that smile again. “There’s a weekend flea market coming up. I bet I can find some antique furniture if I haggle a bit.”
Angel could feel himself giving in to the idea since she was so enthusiastic, but he did not like the idea of her going on her own. Laughing at him, Cordelia suggested, “If we go after dark, you could always come along and growl them into submission.”
If only that worked on Cordelia, he mused, thinking that the idea had appeal. “You should look around the hotel first. There’s probably plenty of good furniture around.”
“Meaning it’s free.”
“So it is.”
For a moment, Angel thought she was going to argue, but having won every other point Cordelia apparently decided to let him have one. “Fine. I’ll get started today.”
Angel set his book down on the desk as he rose to his feet. “Maybe I should go with you. Some parts of the hotel are unstable. You shouldn’t go poking around on your own.”
Cordelia shrugged, “Okay with me. Just remember you volunteered.”
They filed out of the office to find Wes bent over an open tome at the front counter. “Ah, the inquisition has ended,” he sent Angel a nod of sympathy.
Catching Cordelia sticking out her tongue at Wesley as she walked past him toward the stairs, Angel’s mouth twisted in amusement. Wes glowered at her. “And might I ask where you two are going?”
Angel pointed upstairs, “Cordy wants to try out some beds.” Ten heartbeats later, Wes’ screeched response carried to his ears.
Searching room to room, Cordelia turned up her nose at everything she’d seen so far. “These boxy little rooms aren’t like yours.”
“I combined two rooms to make my suite,” Angel reminded her.
Cordelia poked her head into yet another room finding it small, dusty and totally unappealing. “Why’d you do that instead of finding something better? You’ve got like seventy rooms to choose from.”
Sixty-eight, actually, but who was counting. After a thoughtful pause, Angel gave her a short answer. “I stayed there before.”
“Back in the 50’s,” she recalled.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. Trust Angel to cling to the past hanging onto his old room like it was a comfortable old shoe instead of trying something new. The same might be said of his relationships, she mused, the thought causing her to snort softly.
With an eager sparkle in her eye, she glanced up at the ceiling imagining what she would find on the top floor. “I guess that leaves the penthouse for me.”
“There is no penthouse,” warned Angel knowing she wasn’t about to find anything like a luxury suite in this wing of the Hyperion. Though he remembered that one had existed, it was located on the other side of the hotel that remained boarded up.
“Urgh! Just my crappy luck.”
However, he knew of some small suites on the upper floor that would probably be ideal. For some reason Angel was hesitant to take her up there. “Cordy, there are plenty of rooms on this level. You wouldn’t have so many stairs to climb.”
“I wouldn’t have to climb any if someone would pay to have the elevator repaired,” Cordelia countered with a smirk. Gotcha there, buddy.
Trying another tactic, Angel pointed out that she wasn’t actually moving in, just in need of an overnight respite and a place to keep some extra clothes. “Unless you’re thinking of giving up the apartment,” his voice dropped low trailing off.
The seemingly casual comment startled her. “Leave Dennis? No way.”
Angel grunted. Just as expected.
“What was that?” Hands on her hips, Cordelia frowned at him. “You know I wouldn’t do that to Dennis. He’d be alone. Or have some clueless nutcase move in who’d have him exorcised.”
“Like I said,” Angel shrugged, “a smaller room down here would be more suitable.”
Cordelia had already looked at the choices down here. They were either across the hall from Angel’s suite or had some gory tale connected with them. Angel had been telling her the history of the rooms and the people he’d observed who’d lived, and occasionally died, there. Maybe rooms like that would be fine for visitors once she spruced them up a bit, but her own room needed something more going for it than being in close proximity to Angel.
She reached out, palm flat against his chest, the cool material of his shirt rasping along her skin with the gentle urging of her hand. “C’mon, Angel, let’s try upstairs.”
Angel didn’t move a muscle waiting for her to move away. Through the barrier of his shirt her touch felt like a branding iron. Every time she laid a hand on him served as an unwelcome reminder of what he couldn’t have. No matter its innocence or casual nature, Cordelia’s touch stirred cravings, desires that needed to stay buried.
He’d convinced himself that it was just the fact that he missed human contact. That the beast inside him was simply responding as it was wont to do by imagining it to be more than it was: enjoying the pleasure of her warmth, her smile, her scent so close to him; resisting urges so instinctive that it was sometimes painful to control them; wanting.
These things could be repressed. They had to be. The curse wasn’t something he fully understood. He hadn’t come close to discovering the truth. Nor had he really thought it necessary to try. When Angel walked away from Sunnydale, he thought he’d left all hope of happiness behind him letting himself drift into a dark and lonely place.
Doyle and Cordelia dragged him back, pointed him toward this path of redemption. They gave him far more than just a purpose. Genuine friendship was something he valued because it was so rare. He’d never taken that for granted and felt the impact of Doyle’s death because of it.
Angel had never mourned the death of a friend before. He’d brooded about his past deeds, the atrocities he’d committed without his soul, and those deaths he’d caused with it. Never before Doyle’s passing had he actually felt such loss with someone else by his side, mourning the same loss, seeking and giving comfort at the same time.
In death, Doyle had done far more than pass the legacy of his visions to Cordelia. He deepened their commitment to their mission, to their friendship and to each other albeit in a very platonic way. Just when that dynamic had switched in his mind was hardly a mystery. Angel could pinpoint it to the exact moment.
That didn’t mean he would ever let Cordelia discover that he felt more for her than friendship. It did, however, give her an advantage He was a sucker for that smile. “Upstairs,” he nodded in that direction. “There’s one place you might be interested in. Back in 1952, there was a woman who stayed there. She had some big—”
Cordelia snatched her hand away from his chest. “I’m not interested in hearing about any big-boobed blonde you ogled back then.”
“Actually,” Angel followed along as she headed toward the staircase, “she wasn’t a blonde and her…figure was svelte compared to yours.”
Snorting, “Trust you to remember the important details,” Cordelia tried to ignore the sudden flash of burning jealousy that swept through her. It was beyond ridiculous to feel possessive about Angel. Especially about some stranger who was probably old enough to be her grandmother by now. But she did, anyway.
Stupid feelings didn’t know or care about Angel being a cursed vampire. They just existed to torment her. It was embarrassing and she hoped in no way detectable by super-senses. It was transference, that’s all, that made Angel pop up in her dreams instead of Keanu or Brad. He looked available even though he wasn’t.
Someone needed to get a message to the part of her brain in charge of daydreams and lusty fantasies to remind it that Angel was just a friend—and a eunuch. Even if he wasn’t in the no-bone category, which he most definitely at the top of the list, Cordelia felt confident that she knew Angel’s type and she wasn’t it. Although she might argue that Cordelia Chase was anybody’s type.
It probably wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to wind him up a little, but sensing Angel’s eyes on her every step of the way made her spine tingle. “That better not be your way of saying my ass is too big.”
The sound of Angel stumbling as he caught the toe of his boot on the stairs brought a grin to her face. Without turning around, she laughed, “Dork.”
A chained doorway prevented further exploration beyond this wing of the hotel. The topmost level of the hotel contained a series of small suites, which Angel assured her were of equal size. The closest one bore a small bronze sign that hung haphazardly on a single remaining peg.
“Eos,” read Cordelia craning her neck to the side. Straightening up, she shrugged, “I wonder what that means,” and reached for the door handle.
Angel’s hand darted out to stop her, his fingers closing over her wrist. “The windows in that room have an Eastern exposure.” She stared at him blankly for a moment before it sunk in that it would get the morning light. “Eos was the Greek goddess of the dawn.”
“Not all of us are allergic to sunlight,” Cordelia reminded him with a sigh. Some days it seemed like she didn’t see much of it. But the early light might actually disturb her sleep now that she thought about it. “Um, okay. We can look at the other two.”
Loosening his grip, Angel released her feeling strangely relieved that she had chosen not to go inside. It wasn’t much different from the others except for extra sunshine. The direct light in that particular suite would probably be good for Cordy. Over time she had become something of a night owl, her hours shifting to accommodate him, or, more precisely, their mission.
Now that summer was over, Cordelia no longer made it a point to spend time sun-bathing in the courtyard. It was usually during the hours when he slept. Sometimes when he awakened early he’d find her dozing on one of the lawn chairs she’d found in storage in the basement. There was enough indirect light to let him linger, to catch a glimpse of golden skin if he found the right position. The chair was always turned in the direction of the sun beaming down into the courtyard, hiding Cordelia from his view.
He never lingered there for long. Sometimes Wesley would show up forcing him to slip back into the hotel undetected. The last thing he needed was a lecture about his curse. Angel was hard enough on himself for his lack of control. He didn’t need any reminders about what he couldn’t have.
On the rare occasion that Angel was in the lobby when Cordelia emerged from her sunbathing, she would be swathed in the fluffy white robe that now had a permanent home next to his. “Oh, good, you’re up,” she’d say not knowing just how true that might be if those words were applied a little differently. Then she’d commandeer his bathroom to shower and change clothes.
They’d argued about the amount of stuff she left around. Dammit, Cordelia needed someone trailing after her just to put everything away. He wouldn’t miss the wet towels she left on his bathroom floor when she claimed a space of her own. But the aroma of her shampoo, body wash, and the unique mix of scents that were purely Cordelia lingered in the air long after she left.
Angel knew he’d miss that. Though he suspected there would be fewer cold showers taken because of it.
“That suite is called the Helios,” Angel pointed down the hall toward the entrance of the center of the three suites. “It’s the one I told you about.”
“Yeah,” her mouth curled at the reminder. She headed toward the door marked with the brass Apollo Suite sign, “The woman with the big—”
Pausing, Cordelia turned back on her heel to face him. “Did you say emeralds?”
“They were in a necklace,” Angel told her. “I guess I noticed.”
“So you were either staring at her boobs or her neck.” Rolling her eyes, Cordelia took a guess that it was probably both. Typical. Angel might be a eunuch now, but he was definitely all male and a vampire one at that.
Gruffly, he answered, “Maybe.”
Cordelia snorted. She followed Angel down the hall to the Helios Suite. “So what was her sad story. Everybody that stayed here back then had something horrible happen to them. Or did something they regretted. Maybe she robbed a jewelry store and stashed her loot in the hotel.”
“I doubt it,” Angel explained that the woman acted like she had money. He opened up the door to the suite, its hinges creaking, cobwebs stretching in front of them. He cleared them away so Cordelia could step inside. “It wasn’t that unusual for people to live at the hotel for weeks or months at a time. They’d come there to get away from something only to fall prey to the Thesulac demon, though I didn’t know why at first.”
Stepping into the small anteroom, Cordelia saw that time had taken its toll on the wallpaper and furnishings. Dust and grime had built up in the material of the settee, carpet and curtains. Layers of dust and cobwebs seemed thicker here than in any of the other rooms they’d searched. Unlike the rooms on the lower floor, this suite had furniture and wallpaper that looked much older than the rest.
It was as if parts of the hotel had been renovated some time in the past only this room had been left untouched. “Are you sure that something weird didn’t happen here?”
Angel wasn’t sure about anything except that the woman was amongst the members of the mob who’d attempted to hang him. And she’d been alive when he left them all to their fate at the hands of the Thesulac. “I don’t know.”
The floorboards creaked under their weight, but Cordelia insisted on poking around to see if any of the drawers or closets might contain some forgotten treasure. Angel stopped just inside the door, surveying the suite with a grim expression. This place felt different than the rest of the hotel, oppressing, and the air thick and stale. He didn’t like it, and knew by instinct alone that they needed to get out.
Unfortunately, Cordelia had already wandered into the adjoining bedroom. Angel went in after her, determined to get her to head back to one of the lower floors. He found her standing in front of a gilded mirror that hung on the back wall. Like the rest of the furnishings, it was unique to this room. No sooner had he started to move forward than Cordy let out an ear-piercing shriek.
Angel was across the room in an instant pulling her close, staring down helplessly at the look of panic on her beautiful, though smudged face. He could hear the staccato beat of her heart hammering in her chest, and the shaky gasping breaths. His name was muttered against his chest as Cordelia wrapped her arms around him holding on for dear life.
“What is it?” The question was half-growled as he looked around the room for any sign of trouble. He rubbed his hand down her back in a soothing motion then up to join the other in cupping her face, turning it so he could look into her eyes.
The hazel depths were marked with fear, darkened by confusion. “I saw something,” Cordelia trembled beneath his touch. Clutching at his shirt as if it anchored her to Angel, she chanced a glimpse over her shoulder back at the mirror.
Its splintered surface was quiet again reflecting the room, the broken shards across its lower right corner still visible. What she’d seen before was back again. Angel was too busy looking at her to notice that the mirror’s image showed the room in pristine form. There was no dust, dirt or cobwebs anywhere. The colors weren’t faded at all.
That wasn’t what had made her scream.
“In the mirror,” Cordelia stumbled over the words, her head spinning as she tried to make sense of it, and finally realizing why it didn’t, “I saw—you, Angel.”