Kate Lockley stood the Hyperion lobby talking with Wesley, Angel instantly felt defensive. Kate always had him feeling like he had to apologize, it was aggravating and he didn’t really think he had anything left to apologize to her about.
He’d saved her life, okay in the nick of time – but he had saved her – and it didn’t take rocket science to link Kate’s fall from grace at the LAPD to her meeting him in a nightclub a few years ago. Yet, he was pretty sure he couldn’t be held responsible for her choices and reactions to vampires and demons.
“What’s up, Kate? Hear something spooky on your police scanner you thought we should look into?” Gunn asked walking past Angel, carrying a bag of Chinese take out he’d picked up for him and Wesley.
“No. Wesley called me in.”
“Yes, yes I did.”
Angel turned his gaze from just over Kate’s head to Wesley, to see him take off his glasses and start to wipe them on the hem of his shirt. “Wes?”
“I found a link to all the victims of the Ycuchbn ritual sacrifice. As they can masquerade in human form, they have taken to using a front to lure in the young women they need.” Wesley pulled a card out of his pants pocket and crossed the lobby, handing it to Angel.
“Hobby Model Agency?” Angel said, staring at the card in his hand. “Hobby?”
“I thought it best to act quickly, since we are limited time before the next sacrifice. I asked Kate to go in posing as someone looking for an agent, however…”
“You said no?” Gunn asked from behind the counter where he was pulling out the food, getting ready to dig in and start eating. “Want to join me and Wes?”
“No thank you,” Kate said and she crossed her arms over her breasts in a defensive posture. Angel realized then that the stress and tension he was picking up from Kate, while not abnormal, was higher than usual.
“They declined Kate an interview, she never got past the secretary.”
“What?” Gunn said, looking at Kate. “Seems pretty enough to me.” He winked at her.
Kate sighed. “Oh, the secretary thought I was pretty, I think. She said it wasn’t about my classic good looks, it was about my age. And then she said that if I wanted to lie about my age.”
Angel furrowed his brow. “Age? Is age important to the rituals?”
Wesley shrugged. “I don’t believe it is, but is possible they are looking for young blood, gave it a deadline.”
“Should have lied about it then, Kate.” Gunn said.
“I did. I put down 25. Apparently that was too old, but then again she laughed in my face when she read it on the application.” Kate ran her hands through her hair and then picked up her bag from the pouf in the center of the lobby. “Wesley, I’m sorry I couldn’t get any further. But that agency is located in a dingy basement and the whole thing gave me a bad vibe. So, I’d say you are on the right track. Stop these…things from killing more young women, no matter what you have to do.”
She turned away from Wesley and saw Angel, gave a small unsure smile at him. “Angel.”
She slowed down for a moment, looking for a minute like she wanted to say something more to him and Angel waited. Waited and wondered what it possibly could be, there wasn’t much else they could say to each other. They’d work together, they’d be civil but beyond that what more was there? Friendship had never entered their relationship before it was ripped by the news he was a vampire.
Then vampires killed her father, she couldn’t ignore the demons she’d learned about, or share the truth with anyone she knew and then she’d lost her job. Saving her life had been the least he could do, Angel supposed, but damn it did she have to look at him like that… like it was all his fault that demons existed? Just because he’d told her about them?
Her mouth shut and she breezed past him. Angel felt relieved, she’d figured it out there was nothing to say. At least she would be willing to help, even if she hadn’t been able to help this time.
“A modeling agency? Huh?” he said to Wesley.
Wesley nodded, as his mouth was full with food and he put down his fork, chewing furiously. “I suppose we’ll just have to stake the place out, see if anyone leads us to where they’ll be performing the next sacrifice. Though, I was hoping to get more of a feel for how they are choosing the women. I ran a check on the agency, it’s considered small time but it is getting a few young women legitimate jobs. Some of whom are still alive, they must have different criteria. Even if we got someone in there, there is no guarantee they’d be chosen for the sacrifice.”
Gunn hopped up on the counter and tapped his chopsticks on his legs. “To bad we don’t anyone who is young and just screams sacrifice me to your evil leader, huh?”
Wesley laughed sarcastically. “Yes, that would be lovely.”
“Cordelia,” Angel muttered, not realizing he’d said it out loud. He walked behind the counter to a desk that none of them used and found the telephone book under a bunch demonology books. Opening it up he started looking for her number, wondering if she’d even agree to meet with him let alone do this. It would be asking a lot but he didn’t see they had any other choice. These demons were smart, they had their bases covered and they needed some eyes.
“Cordelia?” Gunn said. “What kind of demon is that?”
“Cordelia Chase?” Wesley said. “Cordelia? What in the world made you mention her? Was it the demon bait subject? I do recall that in Sunnydale vampires and demons alike did seem quite fascinated with her.”
Angel shrugged. “I was…” he cleared his throat. “When I was evil, anyway. Wanted to make her a very stylish present for Buffy…” he turned around and saw both Gunn and Wesley staring at him. “What? I was evil then, I’m just saying…she lives in LA, she has a certain spark that attracts evil, and she knows about demons. She fits our criteria. And she’s barely 21. She’s got to be young enough for them. I don’t want any more women dead and we need information that she’ll be able to find for us without much prompting. Kate even if she’d gotten in wouldn’t really have known what to look for.”
“She lives in LA?” Wesley said.
“Who the hell is this chick, Cornelia?”
“Cordelia,” Wesley and Angel said in unison. Angel finally nodded as he finally found what he was looking for. A listing under Cordelia Chase, figured she’d use her whole name.
“She lives in LA, Angel?”
“Yeah. I ran into her in Sunnydale last week.”
“You didn’t mention it.”
Angel shrugged and looked at Wesley for a moment, why in the world was he put out by that? So, he hadn’t mentioned running into Cordelia Chase. “I didn’t think it bore mentioning until now.”
“But, Cordelia and I…well, I supposed it wasn’t much…” Wesley stammered and started to turn pink, then nearly stuck his nose into a container of fried rice.
“Oh, right. You and her had that ‘gross flirtation’ to quote Buffy, quoting Xander.”
“It most certainly was not gross.”
“So, she’s a hottie?” Gunn asked.
Angel held up his hand to quiet them, dialed her number and gave Wesley a worried look. “Ask her to come here? Tomorrow?”
Wesley nodded. “Better to ask her to put herself in mortal danger face to face.”
Angel agreed with a shrug and waited for Cordelia to answer the phone.
This was good, Cordelia thought. She’d come out of her room, smiled, flirted and now she was on her couch with Alec rubbing her feet. He was watching a business news channel and she was flipping through a magazine on interior design. It was nice and Alec really did have a talent with his hands and he claimed to love pampering her. He of course did get a lot of perks out of the pampering, a small voice reminded Cordelia but she pushed it aside. She was going to focus on the good.
And the good was they weren’t having fight number one million about her giving up her apartment, job and acting ambition. The apartment was quiet; Alec had taken off his suit and put on jeans and blue pullover shirt that brought out his blue-blue eyes. Peering at him over the edge of the magazine Cordelia smiled, he really was gorgeous. A small doubt flickered through her mind that Alec’s looks and his bank account really weren’t things she should be basing her pro-list on, but she pushed it down. They’d been on the list since she’d first realized that boys were more than morons who pulled your pigtails. Rich, good-looking, in a good social circle, and willing to worship her.
It didn’t matter if the worship wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, nor was it blind adoration and sometimes it felt condescending. What else was she supposed to do? Be alone? Let someone else like Xander Harris worm under her skin with his sarcastic humor and puppy-dog eyes only to break her heart because they want to get in bed with their female best friend? No thank you.
Getting herself out of her bedroom and making up with Alec had been the best decision she’d made all day – and hey she was getting a foot rub out of it. Smiling, she bent her head down and started to read the article about the latest trends in high style bathrooms.
“The office is holding a charity ball next month.”
A ball? Cordelia let the magazine fall against her chest and smiled at Alec. “Really. Formal?”
Alec grinned. “You will be the most beautiful woman there.”
Cordelia smiled back. “Well duh.”
“I’ll be so proud to have you on my arm. Mona wants to discuss dresses with you, she asked if you would be free for lunch sometime this coming week?”
Mona was the latest woman to be dating Alec’s business associate, and Cordelia supposed friend, if one defined the term friendship loosely, Kent. Cordelia barely knew her but in Mona’s favor she seemed smarter than the last three blondes Kent had gone through. At least she had better taste in clothes, shopping with Mona would actually be fun. “I think so,” Cordelia winced thinking about her work schedule, the auditions she had lined up. “I have to check my schedule. Do you have her cell?”
“Uh, yeah, she rattled it off to my secretary,” Alec mumbled standing up along with Cordelia to get his brief case. Cordelia walked over to small table, she liked to call the dining room table even though it really just had a tiny spot in her living room between it and the kitchen. Picking up her maroon date book, she started to flip through the pages wondering when she could find a break to go shopping. Biting her lip in concentration she decided she had to make time for it, she rarely got to go shopping anymore, especially with someone who knew what a real dress looked like.
Alec came up behind her with a slip of paper with his business’s name on the top, and he kissed her earlobe. “Here you are,” he whispered.
She took the slip and zeroed in Thursday, it was the soonest she could pull it off. “I’ll call her now.”
Moving away from Alec to her phone she screamed, her hand flying to her heart when her phone rang. “Damn it I hate when that happens,” she muttered, glancing at Alec who was just shaking his head at her. “Hello, this is Cordelia Chase.”
“Cordelia. It’s Angel.”
Her breath caught in her throat and she felt like she needed to sit down. Why the hell would Angel call her? Oh my God, what in hell was going to come bearing down on LA? “Is there an apocalypse?” She blurted out, causing Alec to stare at her.
“No. Nothing that dire, but it’s important.”
“Not dire but bad then?” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Well, then why the hell are you calling me? It’s not like bad things of the…” she suddenly realized Alec was staring her at her and fished for a way to say what she wanted to say without saying it. “Of the acting in supernatural freak shows are my specialty.”
“What?” Alec said clearly confused.
“Hold that thought, Angel,” she put her hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. “Acting stuff, Alec. Go watch your show.”
Alec nodded, turned around but then he looked back at her. “Angel? That guy you spent the weekend with?”
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Angel’s not a guy. And yes, go watch the money news,” she pointed to her TV and turned around, taking the cordless phone with her into the kitchen. “Sorry, Angel. What the hell do you need me for?”
“Look can we talk about it tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?” Cordelia closed her eyes and remembered what she’d just read in her date book for the following day. She’d had work and the gym penciled in, she could skip the gym one time she guessed. “Um, I can do that but after work, I can’t skip or anything, and hey it will be dark so no problem for you.”
Angel made a weird sound that might have been a chuckle but she wasn’t sure. “That’s fine, let me give you the address for my place.”
“You have a place?” Cordelia asked, grabbing a pen from her dining room table and scribbling the address on the same piece of paper as Mona’s number.
“It’s a hotel. The Hyperion.”
“You live in a hotel? With like people?”
“Oh, because living in a hotel alone is so much more normal,” Cordelia thought out loud. “You are sure you aren’t evil?”
“What!” Alec yelled from the couch.
“Shh,” Cordelia snapped at Alec over her shoulder.
“Cordelia, I’m not evil but I do need your help.”
Cordelia furrowed her brow but her skin started to tingle at the idea that Angel needed her help with whatever evil-fighting things he did in the dark of the night. Then she shook it off; she was just going to go meet him out of curiosity and nothing more. She’d say no, because really how the hell could she help a vampire with anything but dinner. She shuddered at the thought and shook her head physically to get the memories of her close calls out of her head.
“Okay, Angel. I’ll be there around 6 or 7, my boss might be on the warpath tomorrow because I was off today working on a movie, and she gets into a hissy fit when I’m not around to help her actual act human around the clients. She’s worse than a demon I’ll tell you.”
“Demon!” Alec said from the couch. “Cordelia what kind of play are you saying yes too?”
Cordelia rolled her eyes at her boyfriend. “I have to go, my boyfriend is getting testy.”
“Yeah. I can hear him,” Angel said. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, bye.” She hung up the phone once again a small thrill running through her before she shook it off and turned to face Alec.
“Demons? Evil? What kind of play is he asking you to be in?”
Cordelia shrugged and gave Alec her most charming and hopefully distracting smile; she didn’t feel like making up a lie. It didn’t matter; she wasn’t going to help Angel out anyway. She was just a bit curious about his life in LA, he’d always been the weirdest man – demon – she’d ever met. Why not just check out the freak show that was his life. “I don’t know yet exactly but I’ll find out tomorrow after work.”
“Then you’ll come by my place?” Alec asked, grabbing her by the waist and pulling her into him.
Cordelia wanted to say no, but how could she, he was looking so cute and he’d seemed a bit jealous of Angel due to thinking she’d been hanging out with another man during a fun weekend away. She didn’t have to stay at his place if she went over there, she’d have her own car and she could leave whenever she wanted. “Okay.” She smiled as she answered.
Cordelia tapped her steering wheel nervously, her eyes darting from Angel’s parked car to the large hotel a few feet from the door Angel had told her about.
She still felt the odd tingle from the previous night when Angel had called her and said he needed her help; yet her mind just couldn’t comprehend it. Also she was reminded of standing in front of the library doors in high school so many times, trying to tell herself she didn’t want to go in and help the slayer. Yet she always had and she was going to go into the hotel too. Cordelia knew it but a part of her wanted to just try to remember why she shouldn’t.
She was an actress. She was an office manager. She had a boyfriend who came from money and made loads more. She had a life that didn’t include monsters and demons. Cordelia nodded her head, yep those were the reasons she had no reason to open the door to her car and walked into the hotel.
But why did Angel need her? What had made him think of her? What did this hotel look like on the inside? Why did he live here? And again what would make him think he needed her help? Her, Cordelia’s, help. Angel had said he needed her help and it was important… Her help was of importance?
Cordelia’s hands left the steering wheel and within minutes, with her purse thrown over her shoulder she was making her way into the hotel. She was in a darkened hallway, her heels echoed on the tiled floor but ahead of her was the glow of light and maybe that was why she felt no doubt. Or maybe it was just the knowledge that this was Angel’s hotel, but her nose scrunched at that thought. She knew she trusted Angel but he was a vampire who could return to the soulless creep she’d once met in Sunnydale. Yet still no fear flowed through her, just the unmistakable tingle of anticipation of finding out what Angel wanted.
Cordelia sped up her pace and found herself in a well-lit lobby with a few pieces of furniture that had be from the fifties. In fact she quickly took in the whole lobby and realized that it had to have been last decorated back in the 1950’s. Angel really needed to give the place a make over, she thought, as her eyes fell on a bald, dark-skinned man sitting on a counter playing a game boy completely unaware of her presence. She knew she’d made noise, her heels had echoed and here was someone who had to work for Angel just playing his game.
“I could be a vampire you know,” she said loudly.
The man yelped and was on his feet in two seconds, his eyes narrowing on her. “You ain’t pale enough, white as all get out, but not pale enough to be a vamp.”
“That’s not my point. My point is, you work for someone who probably has lots of undead enemies, and you just let a woman with very loud shoes sneak up on you.” To emphasis her point Cordelia walked toward him, with each step her shoes still echoed loudly on the tile. “See.”
The man’s posture turned defensive then and from nowhere he pulled out a cross and a large knife. He put the cross in her face and gauged her non-reaction and then crossed his arms. “You ain’t a lawyer are you?”
“Huh?” Cordelia said.
“Who are you and why you questioning my abilities. I’ll have you know I’ve been dusting and fighting demons since I was in my teens.”
“Pftt. I’ve dusted a few myself. Where is Angel?”
“He’s downstairs doing his thing.”
“His thing? Downstairs? How do I get there?” Cordelia asked, tapping her foot as she waited.
“Look. I’m Charles Gunn, I work for him and he’s busy. You know about a nest or something else?”
“I’m Cordelia. He’s expecting me, if you’re his secretary you should know this.”
“Secretar… I…you’re that chick…you dated English ? Wow, I mean I never knew he had it in him to get such a fine piece…”
Cordelia’s eyes narrowed, “I’d watch what comes out you’re your mouth next, Mr. Gunn.”
“Just Gunn. And I just met… aww hell, Angel’s in the basement, first door you see going the way you probably came in,” Gunn said, then he hopped on his counter and started back with his game.
Cordelia shrugged and turned on her heel, making sure her heels were louder than usual, glancing back at the guy on the counter one last time. He was looking at her with a mixture of annoyance, defensive posturing and amusement. Cordelia decided she liked him, even if he had confused the hell out of her when he finally realized who she was. Who had she dated? She knew no one named English and what kind of name was that anyway?
Opening the door, Cordelia instantly heard the sounds of something whapping against something in a constant, yet wild, rhythm. Descending the stairs she soon found herself facing Angel’s pale back and watching him attack a heavy bag with his bare fists like it was his worst enemy. She felt a chill run down her spine at the fierce, intense violence of it and she took a deep breath to try to find her confidence.
She felt intrusive, there was something so intimate about the rage she was witnessing and she was positive she was witnessing rage. She knew bad moods and she remembered Angel as someone who hid in the shadows. God, she shouldn’t be on the staircase she realized. Her mind whirring and remembering her decisions in Sunnydale when it had come to Angel had been about keeping things easy, superficial and there had been no sharing of anything. Cordelia felt like she should turn around and leave, talk with the guy in the lobby and wait for Angel but part of her bristled at the idea.
She’d been invited over, he’d said it was important and he needed her for something. In fact it was rather rude of him to go into some kind of angst-ridden petulant rage at the heavy bag in his basement when he knew she was coming. If he wanted to be a broody and violent guy he could do it on his own time. Decision made before she realized it Cordelia stepped down the rest of the steps.
“Been sneaking up on guys all day. I’m beginning to fear for safety of LA, at least from demons and undead guys like yourself.”
Before her sentence was even finished, Angel was facing her in full vamp face and looking mighty pissed off, his body tense and his fists still clenched. The words rage, violence, moody and intimate ran through her head again and she realized that she’d called into question his ability to protect people. It didn’t have quite the same effect it had on the guy in the lobby. That had been amusing, this was potentially and possibly dangerous. God, she could be stupid.
“God, I’m stupid,” she said and closed her eyes. “I was just teasing. Really. I did it to the guy upstairs, Uzi or something was his name, right?”
“Gunn,” Angel said his voice a harsh growl but his face seemed to almost melt back into its human form and though his body remained tense he seemed more relaxed. “Are you early?”
“Pftt.” Cordelia looked at her watch and shook her head at Angel. “As if. I don’t do early. Or on time. I’m twenty minutes late.”
Angel nodded. “Let’s get straight to business then?”
“Sure,” Cordelia said. “I’m curious as to what you’d need with me.”
“There is this modeling agency, it’s a front for demons who are using it to weed out…” Angel paused for a moment. “Potential sacrifices to this chaos demon they worship. People are killed, then something happens that creates chaos for that particular month. It happens on lunar cycles, we have a little under a couple weeks to figure out the way they operate. We need someone in the agency that will…” for the first time since he’d started explaining he looked away from her eyes. “Appeal to the demons for their needs,” he said and once again his eyes met hers waiting for her reaction.
Cordelia could do nothing but stare at him. At the clench of his jaw, the near blackness of his eyes, his body was entirely taut she realized and his fists were clenched again. Whatever had him hitting that bag was still weighing on him and he was waiting for her to say yes to being bait. Bait. Her. Again. She should have known she realized, why the hell else would he had thought of her?
“So, when you realized this you immediately realized I’d appeal to the demons needs?”
Angel nodded. “You have a certain…quality.”
Cordelia did not like the way he said that, it implied that he himself knew precisely what the quality was because of first hand knowledge. And she shivered remembered a time when Angelus had her pinned down, other times when Angelus had leered at her before baiting Buffy. “Ewww,” she said, looking around the basement and realizing the stairs were the only place to sit in the dingy place.
She’d missed the dust, dirt and the dankness of it before because she’d been focused on Angel. Both his body and his rage, she thought wryly, looking up at him. He was still as a statue, his eyes boring into her the only sign he was alive and she thought for a brief moment that if one had to decorate only with a statue the basement couldn’t do much worse.
“This place needs flowers, some paintings, oh yeah and a cleaning by the way,” she said, as she lowered herself onto the stairs.
Angel took a step closer and continued to just stare at her. Cordelia squirmed a bit and was about to yell at him for staring at her, when his head ducked down and he took three steps away from her.
“I guess it’s okay. You explained why you need me and I have yet to answer you. So let me get this straight. You want me to be bait of course because I have a that special bait quality?”
Angel moved his eyes back on her. “It is dangerous, but I’ll be around, as will Gunn and Wesley.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Gunn, didn’t hear my shoes banging away at your tile and Wesley screams at his own shad…” her eyes widened. “Wesley? Works with you?”
“He doesn’t scream at his own shadow anymore.”
“Bet he screams at yours.”
Angel shook his head and actually smiled somewhat before suddenly sitting down next to her on the steps. “Sometimes,” he admitted. “But I lurk.”
Cordelia laughed outright and turned away from Angel, her eyes falling on the bag she’d caught him savagely beating. “This is important isn’t it? Because of the sacrifices, they’re women my age aren’t they?”
“And what happens after this demon god is appeased, it harms more people?”
“Car accidents, plane crashes, gangs suddenly feeling the need to shoot each other dead. Yeah. It harms a lot of people.”
“Accidents aren’t really accidents. I knew it.”
“Sometimes they are just accidents. Sometimes, no.”
Cordelia turned back to Angel. “Fine. I’ll do it but on one condition.”
Angel stared at her waiting.
“I want to get paid.”
Angel shrugged. “We usually only bribe around here, but I guess we can come up with something. Um, 100 bucks?”
Cordelia eyes widened. “You are asking me to put my neck on the line, Vamp Boy. No way. 1000 bucks or no bait.”
Cordelia stared him down.
Angel made a disgusted noise and started to stand. Cordelia sighed, and grabbed his arm realizing she was going to have to show him how to bargain. “Didn’t they haggle in the olden days?”
“Huh?” He squeaked, letting her pull him back down on the stairs.
“Haggle. I say 1000, you say 200…. We end up meeting in the middle.”
“I can’t afford the middle.”
“I thought you helped people. That this was like your homebase.”
“You bribe snitches.”
“Well then you should be asking people to pay, or taking on paying clients. I’m sure there are some people out there looking for folks who can fight ghosts or just creepy stalkers. You’d be great at that, handling creepy stalkers you know?”
“I did that once. Of course he wasn’t your usual stalker. Attacked Doyle with just his hand…”
Angel snapped out his memory. “Nothing. Anyway, we find the trouble. The trouble doesn’t come to us. Not since I lost my seer.”
Angel rolled his own eyes. “Look Cordelia, I will pay you, I owe you that much for the time and stuff this may take, plus the possible bodily harm.”
“If so much as a fingernail breaks you owe me extra.”
Angel stared at her. “I just don’t know what I can afford…” he trailed off his eyes darkened and his brow furrowing. He stood up and sniffed the air.
“Demon in the lobby…” Angel growled and flew up the stairs.