Without You 12

Part 12

CORDELIA

They were too quiet. Even she made more noise than they did. It was freaking her out. “Why are they like this”? She waved a hand at the children in the ‘nursery’ and hid a cringe.

Some of them were so tiny she hated the thought of getting close in case they started screaming like she was some kind of axe murderer or something; a hugely embarrassing circumstance which had happened before, much to her complete mortification at the time.

Me and kids just don’t mix, but would ‘she’ believe me- no! She shook her head and stuck her hands in the pocket of her old faded but clean jeans. Then shoulders hunched defensively, she stayed by the only other adult in the room- another girl about her age if she guessed right.

It didn’t work; hazel eyes strayed with reluctant fascination back to her ‘charges’. The youngest ones looked like ragged cherubic dolls; and while a few of the others were bigger, they were still small enough to give her the heebie jeebies, then finally there were a handful of older ones, pre-teens by the look of them. They all ignored her, which was more than fine by her.

“They’ve learned not to draw attention to themselves” said Neala, a beautiful and earnest young Asian woman, with eyes like liquid and smooth silky hair to die for. She was busy arranging plastic bottles, old juice or cola ones by the look of them into rows for water to be poured into.

“Oh, okay- makes sense I guess”. Cordelia shrugged and puffing out a breath surveyed the nursery with jaundiced eyes. It was a largish space, with toy laden shelves dug into the walls and helpless to prevent it she gave them a closer look, then shuddered. If she didn’t know better she’d say those flat, stone ledges had once contained the remains of dead people. And Ewww! came to mind before she jerked her gaze off them.

“I’ll introduce you in a minute. They won’t talk to you otherwise. It’s been pretty much drilled into them to play dumb around strangers. Vamps like to play with little kids”. Oh great! What a lovely thought- NOT.

“Let’s change the subject” interrupted Cordelia with a pleading edge to her voice, chills raced up and down her arms and trying to steady herself Cordy did her best not to look at their pale little faces with their round cheeks and thin necks. She was only partially successful though and a ball of nausea threatened to erupt in her belly as memories of the boy she’d tried to help filtered past her minds eye.

As promised, Neala introduced Cordelia to the whole group with everyone sitting on the blanket strewn floor. The children where seated around the two adults in a semi circle, spindly legs crossed, eyes curious and rosy, dirt smudged mouths firmly shut. Trying not to look like she wanted to run for her life, Cordy kept a wide smile pasted on her face and hoped it wasn’t obvious she wished she were just about anywhere else.

That smile was pushed to the limit when at the end of the talking the kids crowded round to touch her face and neck with timid hands. Neala hissed a warning just before. It was lucky she did, since Cordy was already only a hairs breath from freaking before then anyway- this took the biscuit though, in fact more like the barrel. Oh my god, they were checking her for a pulse or something? Like- do I look dead to you? Ignoring her inner voice, Cordelia clenched her teeth and grinned like a maniac.

Whatever happened to the trusty hand-shake? she wondered, trying not to squirm away from their little hands. “I already got checked out for a pulse when I got here” she said gritted out in a forcibly friendly voice, trying not to spook the kids.

“Yes but here- seeing isn’t believing”. Replied Neala with a speaking look at the intent little faces, “these children know there are monsters under the bed. Monsters with human faces! Don’t you children”? Thankfully they’d finished and sat back down, finding their places with the usual amount of jumbled limbs and furtive wriggling to get comfortable.

“Yes, Neala” they chorused as one, not exactly loud but hearing them speak after a good twenty minutes of silence made Cordy jump a little.

“Let’s show Cordelia, just how clever you are. Are we ready?” the young woman asked brightly with a light clap of her hands. “All join in now” she cajoled.

“Sunlight is our friend in need, darkness is very bad indeed.” Eyes wide Cordelia took in the earnest shining faces as they chanted in high little voices. “We must never go up and never go out, cos Monsters are always about.” Oh joy! So much for ‘ring a ringa roses’ or the Liberty Speech. “Do not scream, do not shout…..” Cordelia tried to tune them out, it was too horrible. “And if they catch you, you must run and don’t look back cos if you do.. that’s the . end . of . YOU”.

Finished with that morbid flourish, they all looked towards the stunned brunette. “Wow, that was just, erm..wow”. Cordelia swallowed past a lump in her throat. “Know any more, say like ‘Pat a cake pat a cake'”? she finished hopefully.

***

THE ALLIANCE

The sewer tunnel twisted around on itself and high up one wall was a grilled hatch, the smell of seawater drifted through the spaces in the grill. Angel stopped under it and not noticing until too late, Wesley bumped into him. Still staggering back he followed the vampire’s line of sight.

“How the devil are we going to get in th-” he didn’t get to finish before the vampire bent his knees and launched himself into the air. Strong fingers latched onto the rusted metal and with a quick wrench the hatch fell back to reveal the man-sized opening. Angel dropped back to the ground.

“I still fail to see-” The next second he was picked up by his legs and thrown up towards it. Desperately, Wesley’s own fingers caught the edge and with the strong shove from his boots soon found himself inside the shaft. “Is a little forewarning too much to ask?” he snapped irritably over his shoulder.

“Get moving watcher-boy”. Angel prodded with marked indifference and obvious impatience.

Still grumbling, Wesley crawled along and within moments felt the draught of air signalling the vampire was behind him. “I hope this doesn’t take too long. I hate enclosed spaces. They make me dizzy” and worse, but he didn’t think that would go down very well- he wasn’t wrong.

“You throw up I’ll break your legs”, Angel warned him darkly without an ounce of compassion. If his internal clock was right, it was almost mid-day. “Speed up” he demanded, increasing impatience making his voice sharp and edgy. He had no intention of being late.

The shaft ended in a cave. Wesley saw the bright yellow sunlight and his heart picked up pace at the sight. The strong smell of salt was sharp and tangy in the air and to the human wonderfully refreshing after the awful dank mustiness of the sewers. “We’re there” he whispered, having no idea why he kept his voice down.

Angel said nothing, and soon enough jumped down to land on the sandy cave floor. Wesley was just picking himself back up and dusting the grains off his stinging palms when his eyes adjusted enough to see what had instantly captured the vampire’s attention.

“Thank you for coming, Angel” said the elderly woman perched on a stool in a circle of sunlight, just inside the entrance to the cave from the beach itself. She inclined her grey head to acknowledge them both. “Congratulations, Wesley. You did very well”. Just behind her seated figure, stood a man of truly impressive proportions.

Knowing she couldn’t see him properly yet given the dimness at the far reaches of the cave, Angel stood stock still and stared at her assessingly, ignoring her guard for now. The woman was in her early sixties by his estimation but still agile and by the looks of her, as sharp as glass.

“Thanks for the invite” he responded with a rich note of sarcasm lacing his voice as he strolled nearer to the woman, refusing to wince when the brighter light scored his eyes. He noticed the guards twitch of discomfort and just to needle him some more, quickened his approach.

Wesley meanwhile struggled to look modest and appreciative at the same time. “Thank you, Deidra. It was an onerous task but I like to think..”. He started forward to join his comrades, when a hard hand jerked him back to the shadows.

“Shut up and don’t think” Angel snapped out, shooting the Englishman a narrow eyed look and jerked his head to the back. He didn’t have time to waste on pleasantries nor did he intend to lose any leverage the Englishman gave him as a hostage.

Enough was enough. Wesley threw back his shoulders and sucked in an indignant breath. “Are you always in the habit of interrupting people? Most rude of you if so”. He reprimanded him stoutly. Angel rolled his eyes at being criticised for his manners by a watcher.

“I’ve been accused of worse” countered Angel darkly, before returning his narrowed gaze to now mildly amused silver. “Let’s cut to the chase”, he demanded abruptly, his lips twitched and a single brow rose in wry yet cold humour. “No pun intended”. He added smoothly. “Where’s Cordelia”?

Deidra’s own brow rose hearing that abrupt question. “She’s safe” she assured him. Then seeing him relax imperceptibly she continued, “with her own kind now”.

“Don’t yank my chain” Angel warned dangerously low, and prowled forward until his boots was only inches from the circle of sunlight protecting her. His face, previously shadowed was now revealed in every furiously intent detail.

“You brought me here for a reason. So spill it or I’m out of here and we’ll see each other again, under very different circumstances”. The threat was explicit and Deidra simply nodded, unfazed on the outside.

Looking up at the tall, powerful frame and hauntingly handsome face with its all too obvious air of menace, it was very easy to believe all of the tales she’d heard of this one. Angelus, the vampire who’d hunted and killed for over a century. Maiming and torturing his way across Europe and beyond.

It was however, difficult to accept that he was also their only hope of survival. But accept it she must.

“As you wish let’s be blunt”, Deidra agreed. “If you want Cordelia back you must help us bring down the Master”. She said it without preamble and held back a stab of guilt, it was no use wishing there was another way and it couldn’t matter that she’d liked the dark haired girl, having admired her spirit.

Unable to help it, Angel threw back his head and laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound and when he’d finished his eyes were filled with cold mockery. “Even if I could- which by the way I can’t. What good would it do you? Despite what he thinks, he is just one vampire. Someone else would step up”.

“The Master is the key to destroying the barrier. It was raised to keep him in- then went awry. Destroy him and the barrier comes down”. Deidra advised him simply. Wesley nodded emphatically in agreement.

“What she says is true. It really is as simple and as complicated as that”.

“Say’s who? You” taunted Angel, shaking his dark head in disbelief. “The very guy who read a prophecy in time to do nothing but get himself caught too”. That irritating brow did another dance higher.

Wesley stiffened and showed no signs of being intimidated. This was his area of expertise and no one was going to take that away from him. “Think about it” he returned, his clipped voice just as meaningful and mocking. “It makes sense if you have any”.

“It doesn’t matter what you believe, Angel. If you want Cordelia returned to you, you will help us”. Interrupted Deidra firmly, bringing his attention back to her.

“Guess again. I can find her on my own” he asserted with absolute certainty, crossing his arms under a face made utterly remote. “Then where are you? Nowhere”.

“Maybe” she allowed then paused meaningfully, “but you won’t get in without killing, getting killed or perhaps… causing Cordelia herself to lose her life” it was said without inflection, even sadly but it was enough to cause both the vampire and the ex-Watcher to stiffen, Wesley aghast and Angel in pure smouldering rage.

“So much for safe” he lashed out in condemnation. She didn’t flinch even when he eyed her in utter disgust.

This little old woman in her battered old track shoes, ridiculous faded combats and baggy oversize shirt might look harmless if slightly batty, but he knew better. He recognised her kind of ruthlessness.

“So you’d kill your own kind? An innocent girl, for your own ends”? The next second he was as close as the sun would let him be. “I don’t think so. Hell- you wouldn’t even know I was there”. He jeered in a snarl, impotent rage surging at not being able to do more than talk.

The second the vampire looked to lunge, the silent figure standing protectively behind her started forward; Deidra motioned him back and looked up into that hard face only a few feet away without flinching, though her hands knotted in her lap.

“You accuse me, vampire. But tell me- is a quick death not kinder than what the Master or that blonde bitch will do when you hand her over”? She felt the razor sharp slice of his narrowed eyes as they raked her face.

“Interesting choice of words”, Angel admired her recklessness. Then added with his dark head cocked; “care to tell me how you know about that”? The conversational tone was belied by his restless prowling back and forth, following the edges of the sun tinged sand, while his hard and suspicious gaze stayed firmly on her face.

Wesley’s head swivelled from side to side as they tossed the verbal ball between them, still agog at what he’d overheard. They couldn’t mean what he thought they did, could they? Killing an innocent girl- no, he mentally shook his head refusing to accept it. That would make them no better than the beasts themselves.

“They think nothing of talking when we can hear, after-all we’re just food to them”. Deidra answered with honest cynicism, “I have my spies and I know all about your deals”. Her eyes locked on his in silent debate.

They were at an impasse now, luckily they both recognised it. “You weren’t going to let them have her were you”? Deidra probed, knowing in her gut she was right.

“I hadn’t thought that far ahead” refuted the vampire; refusing to give an inch and looked away when those eyes of hers seemed to dig too deep into his soul.

“You’re lying” she said softly and ignored his glower. “Either to yourself or to me, but it doesn’t matter. You and I both know that a confrontation between you and the Master was inevitable at some point- why not now”?

Her voice was deep and raspy now, almost hypnotic and shaking his head to clear it, Angel turned away from her, staring thoughtfully into the distance. It was a silent trio of humans that held their collective breath, waiting for the outcome of that deep reflection that could seal their fate or perhaps… free them from it.

“What happens when the barriers down?” the vampire finally asked her, “presuming I can kill the Master that is” he added, and now it was his turn to stare into her soul.

“You get Cordelia” Deidra answered without hesitation, “and safe passage” she added, and sensing he was weakening, leaned forward as if willing him to agree.

Hearing that, Angel straightened to his full height and slid his eyes closed as dark satisfaction flooded him. The poetic justice of it called to his demon; seducing him with the idea that she’d be handed back by the very people she’d sought protection from.

Still it was stretching credibility a bit far that they’d hold to their side of the bargain once they were free. Head tilted at an angle he asked slowly “right, and the reason I should trust you”? The question was rife with cynicism.

“One day. If I live and get the chance, I’ll tell you about another prophecy, concerning a different vampire this time. I’m sure you’d find it fascinating”, was the cryptic reply. Deidra stood and shaking off the panicked restraint of her guard, walked to meet the shadowed vampire. “Do we have a deal”?

She knew she’d crossed the line when the shadows engulfed her slight frame too and the silent exchange that followed was stretching on the nerves to put it mildly. Wesley saw stars before he thought to release his pent up breath- again. It whooshed out of him so loudly he almost missed the crucial reply.

“Sure why not, who wants to live forever” Angel quipped with another hard smile curving his lips; this time aimed more at himself than her. Then the vampire spun on his heel and was gone. “I’ll be in touch” he tossed back over his shoulder and dragging off a protesting Wesley, headed back to the access shaft.

His voice floated back from the shadows. “When you see Cordelia, tell her I’ll catch up with her soon”. Hearing it clearly, Deidra couldn’t help a reflexive shiver at the dark promise that smooth as silk purr contained.

***

CORDELIA

Cordelia was having a bad day, her head was pounding with the headache from hell and her palms were stinging like crazy after she’d dug her nails into them during her many ‘count to ten’ sessions.

“My mommy’s dead” answered the little girl, a blonde haired little madam, who now tore Cordy’s heart to little pieces with a bright voice and no understanding of what she’d said.

“Right-sorry” she replied desperately looking round for rescue, and seeing none forthcoming, turned back to the child. “Look, can you not pinch the other children, its not.. nice” she finished lamely, still wanting to kick her own ass for the stupid slip. Mental note to self; no mentioning parents- no make that.. anyone.

“But she’s coming back when the hosbital fixes her up after the nasty vamps goway gain”. Innocent blue eyes blinked at her flummoxed face with childish assurance. Cordelia swallowed hard and softly, absently corrected her, “You mean hospital”. Oh god! How the hell do you answer that? The interruption when it came was like a manna from heaven.

“Cordelia, can I talk to you please”. Asked Deidra from the entrance, causing the dark haired girl to jump a mile high, so deeply engrossed was she in figuring out kid speak- she’d been in another world. One she was glad to escape from.

“Sure”. Cordelia almost lunged for the doorway and the familiar figure of her protector/nemesis. “No problem” she added with gusto. “Be back in a minute” she called out cheerfully to no one in particular. “What’s up”? She finally thought to ask as the two of them cleared the entryway.

“I have a few questions I need to ask about certain… things. In private please” replied Deidra with a foreboding air that struck the dark haired girl like a lightening bolt. Disconcerted, Cordelia let herself be steered down an empty corridor, beyond the hearing of any guards posted outside the nursery.

Cordelia’s heart sank and soared at the same time confusing her into blurting. “It’s him isn’t it”? What the hell did you just say? Geeze, I don’t believe you just said that, obsessed much! “Erm I mean..” she faltered and squeezed her eyes shut before giving out a winning smile designed to distract the recipient purely by its blinding intensity.

“Wow- will you just listen to me” she laughed semi hysterically and sat down on the nearest available surface; which happened to be her pallet. “I mean the Master, cos hey- he’s always upto something isn’t he. So… what was it you wanted to talk to me about again”? Fingers crossed she prayed her ploy had worked.

She relaxed when Deidra didn’t pounce right away. Bad move- “Tell me about Angel” demanded Deidra softly. Cordy just stared at her, shock draining her face of colour.

“You’re not talking about the biblical kind are you”? Asked the despondent brunette, resignedly; that white head shook from side to side and Cordy shut her eyes and heaved a deep heartfelt sigh. “Crap”!

Later on……..

This place was never totally silent, which was not exactly surprising given the number of people living here. It was nighttime, and the place was rife with noises, snoring, whimpers; and the occasional cries of fear from dreams or even more embarrassingly – lovemaking.

Cringing Cordelia harrumphed in annoyance at a particularly loud snore, accompanied by a more distant moan of pleasure and turning over, plonked her thin pillow over her head to try and drown out the sounds. It didn’t take a genius to guess which ones disturbed her more.

Particularly after her talk with Deidra…

She’d been seduced by one of the most notoriously evil vampires in demon history, forcefully shaking off the recollection Cordelia twisted onto her back to stare up at the utter pitch blackness of her quarters.

“I don’t need anymore reminders thank you” she grumbled out-loud and thankful she was alone. “I miss the moon” she sighed, feeling despondency drag her down, “and the stars too- shining through actual honest to goodness windows“.

Now she was alone, the need to unload took over; “and lets not forget baths and showers and food- oh my god I can’t believe how much I miss eggs- I thought I hated eggs!” The memory of Angel force-feeding her after her ‘fast’ flitted into her brain and she had to forcefully kick it out again.

Knowing sleep was impossible; she sat up and leaned over to fumble for the candle and precious lighter she’d been grudgingly given. Of course that wasn’t all she missed. With suddenly shaking hands she lit the candle, rammed into a used milk bottle.

“Don’t go there. Just.. don’t okay”. She hated nighttime, with nothing to do but think, her rebellious mind would always go back to him, making her miserable all over again- then furious and finally back to hurt. Talk about a vicious circle, and even worse was that so far even Deidra’s awful revelations about his past hadn’t put an end to it.

Deidra had sure been interested in her relationship with Angel. “Ugh, will you just forget about it already” she told herself for about the hundredth time in the last hour.

Chin on her drawn knees and dark tousled hair tumbling around her shoulders, Cordy sat contemplating a clean spot on the ratty blanket she hadn’t dared inspect too closely before. She lasted about half a minute- tops.

“I still don’t get it” she murmured confused. “How did she do it- get so much out of me I mean?”, she shook her head morosely no nearer to understanding than before.

“She played me is what happened”, if she wasn’t so pissed she might admire the other woman’s skill. Layer by layer she’d patiently laid bare Cordy’s life at the mansion, from how they met to how they parted. “And wasn’t that just a hoot” she grumbled sarcastically. “Not”.

Of course the worst was when she’d oh so delicately asked if Cordelia had been ‘bedded by the vampire’. Cordy snorted at the memory, “Way to make me sound like a ditzy blonde. Er, Hello! Names Cordelia not Harmony- bedded, hah”. Scoffing at it didn’t take away the sting of admitting she had though. Even now she winced at the gleam in those silver eyes, when she reluctantly had.

Face burning, Cordelia huffed and closed her eyes, trying to block out the memories. It didn’t work, even hating him as she now did- with every fibre of her being she could still feel the shivers course through her, like aftershocks following a quake.

“Nosy old woman. Couldn’t just leave it alone could you. No had to go and rake it all up again”, she sighed and scrunched her face to ward off the sting in her eyes.

That’s when she caught it and her head lifted off her knees with a jerk of surprise.

“What is that? Is somebody whistling“? Ears straining Cordelia rolled her eyes in disbelief when she was satisfied it really was. “Geeze, some people are just so clueless” she derided caustically. “If that wakes the little… monsters, and I have to go deal with them- blood will be spilled!” Still muttering dire threats she swung her legs off the bed and dragged on her jeans again.

Dressed and filled with righteous indignation, she swiped up the candle, bottle and all and marched out, smacking the scratchy woollen flap out of her way as she exited the chamber.

The flame wavered the higher she held it, flickering like glowing orange tongues on the walls in front and to the side of her. It didn’t take more than a few steps for anger to be replaced by fear and the tuneful pitch of the whistling now took on a menacing quality.

“Get a grip Chase, geez it’s only some dweeb in desperate need of a brain transplant”. She jeered to herself softly. Maybe so, but wandering around caves at night with nothing more than a candle was a little bit too prehistoric for her nerves right now and they refused to settle.

The whistling carried on, gentler now though- lower, as if drawing her in. It was downright creepy and goose bumps erupted all along her limbs. Mildly freaking, she stood stock-still and tried to pierce the gloom ahead of her.

“This is so not right. What the hell am I doing”? She asked, wincing when her voice travelled in an echo down the tunnel. Then it hit her and she felt like smacking herself.

“Ugh, how many horror flicks where some dumb chick gets herself sliced and diced do you have to see before it sinks in you- idiot” she sure felt like one. “Not this girl, nuh huh, no way, me I’m smart- see here’s me going back for some great big hulking guards to kick your ass”.

Even with the freaky deaky moment of hysteria she hadn’t really expected a reply. So when she got one it hit her doubly hard.

“Good luck finding some; since they’re back here with me”, came a mocking voice, low pitched but carrying for all its lack of volume.

Hearing that familiar deep timbre froze Cordy to the spot, and unnoticed by her the candle wavered in her hand as tension roared through her, pinning both trainer shod feet to the floor. With wide eyes and jaw dropped open in shock she tried to speak past the sudden lump in her throat. What was *he* doing here, she thought dumbly as her brain struggled to catch up with reality.

“I don’t believe you” she whispered past her locked throat, then repeated it louder this time. This just wasn’t happening. This is simply a nightmare she mutely insisted. I fell asleep and this is just a bad dream– please, she prayed.

“Come see for yourself” Angel offered silkily, not co-operating on the dream thing much to her consternation.

“Right, cos I’m really that dumb” Cordy shot back, still trying to pierce the gloom and locate him. Terror clogged her throat as every tiny detail of Deidra’s big Angelus talk came back to haunt her.

“Take *one* more step back and I snap a neck” the disembodied voice warned from the blackness the candle couldn’t penetrate. She hadn’t even realised she’d been backing up until then, now she stopped, uncertain.

“How do I know you’re not just lying your ass off”? Cordy shouted, desperately hoping he was. She hated this, the not knowing but even more than that- the fear. Her spine stiffened at that and she wet dry lips with a pointed tongue. “Hate to ask what with you being such an *honest*, stand-up guy and all!” she finished derisively.

Despite the bravado her breath was coming in panicked pants, steaming the air in front of her lips while her pulse thundered in her ears. She shrieked when there was a sharp ‘plink’ sound and just for an instant the flare of a lighter illuminated three figures, one lounging against the wall and two others slumped on a heap on the floor. Then the flare of light further down the tunnel was gone and Cordy was left blinking trying to figure out what that flash had revealed.

Crap, he wasn’t lying he *really* did have them*. Godammit they were grown men weren’t they? They knew the risks. *Don’t you do it* the saner side of her mind hissed at her, nevertheless she didn’t move. Couldn’t actually, guilt and self-preservation warred inside her and no matter which way she planned it, she saw no escape.

Hysterically she guessed he must have walked right past her room to take out the guards and then again to bring them here and draw her out. There was no way he couldn’t have known it too- what with that vamp sense of smell. “What are you playing at, Angel and why are you here”? The quaver in her voice was telling so she took a deep breath and held it in.

“Who said anything about playing? Does this seem like a game to you?” He snarled back, his voice both familiar and vibratingly angry.

Cordy could literally feel the chill of that sharp reprimand like a douse of ice water and swore under her breath. “Geeze, okay I was only asking”? She grumbled and rolled her eyes.

“Come closer”. Angel demanded abruptly, his voice echoing harshly down the tunnel. The idea of simply refusing was tempting, but in the end the lives of the unknown guards weighed too heavily on her beleaguered mind.

“Asshole” she whispered annoyed at his high handedness; then putting one foot on front of the other she slowly advanced. That small glimpse hadn’t given her the chance to judge just how close or not he was and she didn’t intend to get too close.

With the candle held as high as she could Cordy tried to get a handle on exactly where he was. “You didn’t answer my question, why are you here”? Her voice sounded tinny to her ears and with every step the pounding rhythm of her heart got louder.

He ignored the repeated question. “Closer” his deep voice drew her inexorably nearer to him. Inwardly quaking, Cordelia guessed he could see her, could feel him watching her while she was blind to him, and that thought alone almost had her running in the opposite direction.

The candlelight drew his shadow just before touching his face and body and Cordelia came to a halt. “That’s close enough” she told him refusing to budge an inch closer. “Take it or leave it”. Unknown to her, Cordelia’s eyes traced his face, tracking the changes since she’d last seen him and what she found wasn’t good in her opinion.

“You look like hell” she blurted out, almost reproachfully, as if he should have done better. He did too, or if she was honest it was just that he looked more like a demon than he ever had before. Anger could do that to you she figured, and blanched at the coldness in his dark eyes.

“I’ve been better” Angel quipped emotionlessly, leaning against the wall, with his arms crossed. He didn’t move just let her continue to look him over, knowing if he did move the lunge he was resisting would have him over there in a microsecond.

The orange flame flickered over his black leather duster, then up to his face and neck, highlighting the dips and valleys of his hard face and unreadable yet watchful eyes. Behind him the guards lay unmoving and silent.

Seeing the totally still leg of one, Cordy gasped when a new thought hit her. “Are they still alive”? She asked anxiously, wanting to kick herself for not asking sooner. She tried to see past him but didn’t dare take her eyes off him for more than a second.

“For now, yeah.” He drawled meaningfully; catching every nuance of expression that flitted over her face. Another time and other expressions tried to superimpose themselves on the here and now, he pushed them back. It wasn’t the right time.

Not exactly the reassurance she was after, she admitted to herself dryly. Her palms were damp and gripping the bottle tighter, she prayed it wouldn’t slip from her hand. That was all she needed to be stuck here with sicko psycho vamp in the pitch dark.

Unfortunately her fear didn’t go unnoticed. Angel inhaled deeply and his wolfish smile curved wider, making her gulp and stare at the flash of those strong white teeth.

“Hmm, this is new- the fear I mean. I think I like it”, he goaded softly and dark eyes gleamed at her under slashing brows. “Careful, baby. You’re getting me all worked up.” He followed up that provocative warning with a mock shiver of delight then smirked at her indrawn hiss of rage.

Nerves evaporated under an immediate inferno of red-hot temper. Next to her spitfire eyes the candle-flame paled in comparison. How dare he, she fumed. Just who did he think he was or- more importantly she was?

“You don’t scare me Angel- just bore me to tears. So ..” She hunted for something stronger. “Kiss my ass” she finally growled, inflamed.

Preferring temper to fear, Angel deliberately stoked the emotion higher. “Been there done that” he mocked in a sing song voice. “Is that an invite”?

As he’d intended Cordelia was instantly transported back in time to his seduction in his bathroom and then of course the rest too. Hazel eyes narrowed into furious slits. Seeing it, Angel tensed guessing she’d go for the jugular.

“Geeze, you are so delusional do you know that? Where do you get off coming in here and knocking people around? Don’t you get it- I don’t want you. Now will you just leave me alone“?

Hauling in a deep breath, Cordy continued to glare across the divide at him.

“Anyway how did you find me? No- forget that, I actually don’t give a crap”. Flinging up a dismissive hand she got back to her rant. “Are you mentally challenged or something? Did my leaving somehow leave you in doubt about my feelings? Cos- hello! It spoke volumes to me” pure sarcasm dripped from every irate word.

Angel let her wind down before pushing away from the wall to stand solid in the centre. His tall frame filled the tunnel, shrinking it to a suffocating degree.

Cautiously, Cordelia kept him in sight, unreasonably hurt that he looked so utterly unmoved, other than a small hard smile that had her wanting to smack him on the mouth with something heavy and blunt. Nothing new there she thought angrily.

“Better pull back that ego, sweetheart. I’m not here for you”. Angel returned softly. That scored a hit and his smile widened in satisfaction when she couldn’t stop a frown of utter confusion from crossing her too expressive face.

Disconcerted and stopped in her tracks, Cordelia felt an embarrassed flush crawl up from her chest to spread all over. “You’ve lost me” she admitted baldly, “Why the big show then”? Gesturing to the unconscious guards her brows rose in sharp demand with just a hint of disbelief.

Angel didn’t answer straight away but sauntered over to the far wall, ostensibly to face her. Cordelia tensed and carefully tracked his movement only relaxing when he came no closer. He didn’t need to even if he wanted too. You’re not here for that he reminded himself. His face remained blank.

“You’re friend, whatsername- Deidra? Weird silver eyes and white hair” Angel prodded deliberately playing dense. It worked, she did know exactly who he was talking about; you couldn’t miss the startled leap of acknowledgement in her hazel eyes, though she did a good job of keeping her face expressionless.

“Well she came to me“, Angel paused to let that titbit sink in and Cordy’s eyes widened even further, almost impossibly so, “asking for my help” he finished smoothly.

“You’re lying” Cordy returned flatly without missing a beat. The candle was held defensively in front of her body, her stance combative as they faced off with only a man’s length between them.

“Go ask her if you don’t believe me”. He offered nonchalantly and seeing her pre-occupation Angel took a step closer, closing the distance minutely, and thrust his hands into his pockets to deflect any alarm. His nostrils flared infinitesimally as her unique scent teased them. He hid it well, but he ached with wanting.

His smug detachment was too obvious for her to continue doubting him, although what possible reason could have induced the fool woman into do something so dumb was a complete mystery to her. A mystery she intended to unravel, the sooner the better. In fact starting now would be good, she decided.

“So why drag me into it”? Her arm was aching from standing still for so long but she firmed the muscle and kept the bottle high enough that she could keep a wary eye on him.

She *knew* she was right about that, Angel had gone to a lot of trouble to make sure she stumble across him and she intended to find out why. Unease was creeping around the edges of her mind as all of a sudden everybody’s motives seemed suspect- why the hell can’t my life ever be simple? She wondered exasperated.

“Who said anything about dragging”? He refuted. “I’m just being neighbourly and giving you the heads up- in case she didn’t”. His brow quirked now; a definite question in those knowing dark eyes.

Cordelia kept her lips firmly sealed, thinking she’d been pumped enough for one night without making it worse. Angel paused a beat to see if she’d answer then continued regardless.

“So- since you’re going to be seeing me around. I thought..” Angel left the words hanging and flexed his shoulders in a relaxed shrug, while his dark eyes remained hooded and watchful. Tension tried to invade his shoulders and he refused to let it. Her reaction was going to tear a strip off him; knowing it he tried to prepare for it.

The complete nightmare of that idea had Cordelia seeing red. “Help with what? A brothel” she snapped spitefully, deliberately being offensive as a defence. She tossed her hair out of her face, all the better to glare at him.

That pointed reminder pissed him off like nothing else could and despite everything his brows snapped down to shadow narrowed dark eyes as white hot anger surged. Taking a few deliberate steps forward, Angel hunched his shoulders and clenched his hidden fists, resisting the urge to get physical with her.

“Careful Cordelia” he warned harshly. “I’ll only take so much” the growl was menacingly low. The intimidation was necessary; he had to shut her down now. Or risk it all by blowing his top.

Cordy was far too busy riding a wave of exultation that she’d *finally* managed to pierce his armour to take any notice of the warning. “Oh purlease!” she scoffed, “So what? You’ll burst- …breathe on me …or oh hey I know” she gave him an intent and purely evil smile, not seeing how still and tense he’d gone.

“How about .. passing on an STD?” Hazel eyes oozed malice. “I mean- Wow! There’s so many for a man-ho to choose from these days” Taunting she ticked them off on her fingers. “Herpes, syphilis-“

Cordelia didn’t see him twitch so much as a muscle. “oompth” and lost her breath when a hard body slammed into hers. Angel swiped the bottle from her hand and pressed her to the wall with his longer length. “You just don’t know when to quit do you”? He snarled directly into her terror stricken face, only inches below his.

“With you, never sounds good” she countered breathlessly and despite the quaver in her voice, shoved her hands into his chest to try and push him away from her. “Get the hell away from me. I’m particular about who I’m wearing” she snapped hotly and stared haughtily up at him, her mouth a sullen curve.

“Glad to hear it” Angel rasped and for a moment a hot flare lit his eyes from within. “Keep it that way”. His free hand gripped her hair, with the dark tresses wrapped round his fist. Under his forearm her heartbeat was pounding, inciting the beast. While her body heat seeped through both their clothing to soak into his skin- tempting the man.

He hadn’t wanted to get this close and this was why. Want- take- have; it wouldn’t take much and he knew it. There was no one to stop him, certainly not one frail human girl. He trembled on the edge, and willingness to take the fall was only a beat away.

Their gazes caught and melded in a sizzling clash of wills causing a lightening swift awareness to sizzle between them. Cordelia couldn’t suppress the rise of molten heat that flooded her lower body. The roughness of the rock wall pressed into her back and she focused on that rather than the hard contours of the body pressing her into it.

“Just back off, Okay”. They both heard the note of panic in her voice and Cordelia wriggled and shoved with all her might, testing her strength against his willingness to hurt her. “Get off” she howled, past caring if she brought the whole damn conclave down on him.

Her wriggling pushed up her shirt, baring her back to be scraped by the wall, drawing blood. Catching the salty scent, Angel immediately levered himself off her and backed away, the candle in one hand. Breathing hard and choppy, Cordy warily sidestepped along the wall to get some distance from an obviously unstable, angrily on the edge Angel.

“Fine I’m off” he growled and took a few deep lungfuls of air himself. Not for oxygen but simply to try and centre himself and regain control. He was losing it, had started to the moment he’d seen her. Angel knew he had to get away before he snapped, unleashing every tumultuous emotion he’d been hiding on her unsuspecting head.

There was just one last thing.

“If you want to know the truth, then go see the old woman. Otherwise just do you’re usual jumping to wrong conclusions” he suggested pointedly, backing off to stand the bottle with the candle in it on the floor.

“What’s that supposed to mean”? Pounced Cordelia, daring him to say it; if he tried to deny what she knew she’d hit him or.. something.

“You figure it out. You’re so good at that” he said sarcastically, then dropped something next to the bottle. “Maybe you should read it *properly* this time”. Angel suggested roughly, pinning her with glittering topaz ringed eyes.

Cordelia looked at with suspicion. “What *is* that? Is that the diary..” When she looked back up, she found herself alone. Further along the tunnel, the sounds of groaning could be heard from the re-awakening guards.

Snatching up the diary before it could be noticed she waited with one foot tapping for the dumbass’s to come round enough to be lambasted by a very irate brunette.

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