Splintered 6

Chapter 6

The stench of evil hung in the air, cloying and dark. Only it might have been the traces of perfume clinging to the leather chair at Lilah Morgan’s desk. Angel sat back, his feet propped on the edge of the desk, fingers tapping together, waiting and listening to the sounds beyond the closed office door.

He could hear them arguing from a corridor away as they approached. Bonus. He hadn’t expected to corner both Lilah and Lindsey tonight. They weren’t too happy with the outcome of their late night meeting, snipping at each other about some decision that had not been to their liking. For that one thing, they seemed to be in agreement. McDonald was hardly her protégée. Cutting each other down in order to get to the top here at Wolfram & Hart wouldn’t be a surprise.

Both were so wrapped up in hearing themselves talk as Lilah opened the door, that neither of them noticed the office wasn’t empty. Angel cleared his throat, “You two really blow around a lot of hot air.”

Lilah paled for a moment and then simply looked angry that he had invaded her private office. “How did you get in here?”

There were vampire detectors in place and dozens of other security measures. He couldn’t get in unless someone allowed it. As she slid a suspicious glance toward Lindsey, he pushed past her into the middle of the room, commenting, “It doesn’t matter. I’m more concerned about the reason he’s here.”

“Don’t worry,” Angel shifted his feet down from the desk and leaned forward to add casually, “I’m not here for your other hand.”

He saw the lawyer’s jaw clench and his good hand curl into a fist at his side. “You want something.”

Angel stood, slowly walking around the desk, freezing Lilah into place with a hard stare as she inched toward the open door. “Close it,” he instructed curtly, evoking an insolent glint that quickly faded. When the door clicked shut, he told them, “I recently discovered that some relatives have come to town. Something tells me that you two know all about it.”

“Wolfram & Hart doesn’t keep track of the comings and goings of every deranged vampire on your family tree,” Lilah said, tossing her slim leather briefcase onto a chair before crossing her arms in defiance.

Walking closer, Angel raised an eyebrow, “I never said they were crazy, though I assure you that Drusilla follows a path uniquely her own.”

Lilah shrugged one shoulder, met Lindsey’s gaze for a mere second, and then recovered with, “Anyone related to you would have to be insane.”

“You’re here for Drusilla?” The baffled question tumbled out of Lindsey’s mouth.

“You sound surprised,” Angel said as he watched a flicker of confusion play across his face. Acknowledgement came in the tensing of his shoulders as Lindsey kept his mouth shut having decided he’d already said too much.

Angel considered the fact that these two truly might not know about Drusilla’s presence in town. Her unique skills and senses could have led her to Los Angeles in search of Darla. It just seemed to be a big coincidence if that was the case. As for Darla herself, Angel felt certain that they were culpable for her return. “Forget about Dru, then. Just watch your backs. If you aren’t with her, then you’d better stay the hell out of her way.”

“Since you’ve checked under my desk for your missing vampire,” Lilah shifted to stand arms akimbo, her hands planted on her hips, “I think it’s time for you to leave.”

Standing close now, Angel plucked a tiny piece of lint from the shoulder of Lilah’s jacket. She shuddered at his touch, though not entirely from fear. “Not just yet. I know what you brought back in that box.”

He waited for their reaction. What they didn’t say was far more powerful than any lie that graced their lips. Lilah actually looked a little perturbed over the subject, as if she found it all distasteful. Her acerbic remarks did little to distract Angel as he realized that Lindsey was going to be far more cooperative.

A smug look slowly came over Lindsey’s face. “You think you know everything? Go ahead and tell me what you think was so important and why you think it has to do with you.”

Angel didn’t mind using his height to his advantage as he towered over Lindsey. “For some twisted reason, this law firm has decided to bring Darla back from the dead. She was a pile of dust at my feet. Now she’s human again.”

“Acting dumb won’t help you tonight,” Angel told him as he grasped Lindsey by the throat while Lilah quietly watched from the sidelines. “I wasn’t planning to resort to violence to get some answers, but what the hell. I’m tired and pissed off enough not to care if I accidentally crush your neck.”

Lilah’s hand absently strayed up to her own throat. When Angel’s gaze slid in her direction, she looked on in anticipation of his next move, waiting to see if he’d actually snap her co-worker’s neck. “Don’t look so eager,” he suggested as she toyed with her double-stranded pearls. “You’re next.”

“Save the promises, Angel,” she said confidently, walking around him toward her desk. “We don’t have your precious blonde whore. Yes, I do know all about her. It’s called research. Knowing your enemy. Since you insist on being one.”

“That’s all we’ll ever be,” he assured her as his hand reflexively squeezed tighter on Lindsey’s neck eliciting a croaking complaint.

“Pity,” shrugged Lilah. “Go ahead and kill Lindsey, but it won’t get you what you want.”

Tossing Lindsey onto the carpet, Angel reminded himself he hadn’t come here to kill anyone tonight. “Actually, I think I’m going to let him live.” Lunging across her desk, he latched onto to her strand of pearls and with a twisting pull, yanked her out of her seat. Fear at the unexpected move lit her eyes, a gasp parting her lips as her palms pressed flat against the desk. “You too, Lilah, for the moment. One or both of you know how to contact Darla and Dru.”

“Maybe we do,” Lilah told him, but the defiant glint staring back at him served only to push Angel past his self-imposed limits. Releasing her abruptly, his hand moved faster than she could follow, lightly backhanding her into her seat.

He watched with a tinge of satisfaction at the spill of blood dripping over her fingers as she cradled her mouth, and inhaled the rich scent of her fear that blended with Lindsey’s who still lay sprawled on the floor, clutching his throat. “There’s a little message that you’re going to pass on to them from me.”

***

The rattling at the door disturbed Dennis from his little ‘nap’ and for a moment he wondered what would have brought his roommate home so soon after leaving for her audition. Making his way to the door, he paused, confused, sensing someone other than Cordy on the other side. Inching closer, he blended with the wood grain and looked out into the hallway.

Dennis may have been limited to the apartment, but that didn’t stop him seeing anyone who stood directly outside the door. And this little lock-picker instantly perked his interest.

Petite, blonde… rang a bell. But why would the Slayer be visiting unannounced, or for that matter, try to break in? Everything he overheard suggested the young woman was more than capable of forcing the door without the need of a hairpin. Dennis’ amusement caused the lights to flicker. After all, that was the stuff of TV movies, not real life.

After observing her attempts for several seconds, he made a decision. From what Cordy had told him, there was no real love between herself and Buffy Summers, but he seriously doubted this visitor from Sunnydale would harm his room mate. He waited until the piece of wire was jiggled again, and released the lock.

Almost snorting at her gleeful expression, Dennis backed away as the door swung open and the petite blonde stepped over the threshold carefully, seeming to relax as soon as she’d done so. After the way she’d rattled the lock without regard to possible occupants, her hesitance on entering surprised him.

Hmmm, he didn’t sense anything supernatural about her, and that vexed him a little. Surely that much inherent power would radiate from within. He shelved that thought for a moment and contented himself with watching as she gracefully wandered around the room, picking up items and replacing them carefully.

She paused in front of the decorative mantelpiece and for a second just stared at the silver photo frame that was centered on the surface, then slowly, almost hesitantly, reached out and lifted it down. “How… sweet,” the tone of her voice unsettled Dennis, who edged a little closer. Although the breathy softness was attractive— if you liked that sort of Marilyn Monroe huskiness, there was an edge that didn’t seem to suit such a delicate specimen.

With an unpleasant twist of her rather garishly-painted lips, she replaced it in exactly the same position before swirling around, letting her ice-blue eyes run over various items in the living room before licking her lips and heading towards the bedroom.

Okay, so maybe he had possibly been a little hasty allowing Buffy Summers entry. The vibes he was now picking up made him start to regret his helping hand. Dennis had heard the whole tragic farce that had been Angel’s relationship with the Slayer, and for a moment wondered if suspicion and a hint of jealousy had brought her to the big city and to Cordy’s home.

After sitting on the bed and bouncing a little, ‘Buffy’ rose and advanced towards the closet. The doors slid open and she pursed her lips, eyeing the rather meager contents with reluctant approval. Pulling out an evening dress, she held it against herself and grimaced. “Voluptuous- now that’s a surprise.” Her catty comment was duly noted by the hovering phantom and prickles of unease grew rapidly.

He was about to let his presence be known when she gasped softly, shoving the dress back onto the rail, her fingers lingering on a black silk shirt half hidden between brightly patterned cottons and satins. After a second, she pulled out the garment and held it up against her face. Breathing deep, ‘Buffy’ scowled in irritation, fingering the material almost lovingly before starting to remove it from its hanger.

When the pillow hit the back of her head, the blonde jerked around, dropping the silk in shock. Wide blue eyes scoured the room and then narrowed at seeing nothing or no one there. As she bent to retrieve the garment, another pillow flew off the bed and hit her shoulder, the impact almost knocking her over.

It was time for the strange woman to leave, old acquaintance or not. Dennis definitely regretted his curiosity. It was obvious to him now that she was about to take the garment with her. Out of everything in the closet, that single shirt belonged to Angel. Cordy had recently taken a shine to the garment and wore it compulsively to bed each night, and no way was he going to let the intruder take anything, especially something that his roommate seemed attached to right now.

As the blonde backed rapidly out of the room, her face a picture of fear and confusion, Dennis continued his assault, not pausing until the front door had been yanked open and the nosy visitor had left. Then he set about collecting all the loose feathers floating around both rooms, switching the pillow with a spare in the linen cupboard, shoving the damaged one right at the back. Once the apartment was again featherless, he re-entered the bedroom and levitated the shirt, shaking it out before hanging it back up and sliding shut the closet doors.

He floated back to his wall and settled back down, deciding there and then that people without a key or invite would stay firmly on the other side of the door… also deciding to keep this little faux pas to himself.

If the Slayer was indeed in L.A., Cordy and the others would find out, he didn’t doubt. Guilt faced and dealt with, he drifted off into the ‘nap’ that been interrupted.

***

“Hey, Dennis. What, no ‘Passions’?” Cordy called out, kicking off her shoes and frowning in surprise upon finding the TV off. “You’re not sick are you?” Then she snickered as she realized just what she’d said, “Duh.”

Dennis retrieved her jacket before it could hit the hardwood floor, flicked it at her teasingly, and then hung it up. Lifting her shoes from the rug, he slipped them into the small closet by the front door before following her into the kitchen in time to see her delving into the freezer and extracting a small tub of Chunky Monkey.

Cordy shivered slightly at the waft of cool air that brushed her face and nodded. “Yup. It wasn’t worth getting out of bed for.” She sighed heavily and padded into the lounge to sit cross-legged on the couch, peeling off the lid and accepting the floating spoon with a big smile.

“They wanted me to wear this itsy little red bikini. I swear three dollar bills attached to chains would give me more coverage.” She dug into the ice cream and took a large mouthful mmm-ing with pleasure before continuing. “Flopping around like a stranded blowfish might cost me most of my dignity, but at least there wasn’t the possibility of showing my tonsils from a totally different viewpoint. Sheesh.” She rolled her eyes and took another bite.

After several minutes of describing her afternoon to her roommate, Cordy reached for a magazine and balanced it on her knees as she demolished half the pint of ice cream before passing it to Dennis to take back into the kitchen. She held onto the spoon, licking it clean before reaching forward and dropping it onto the coffee table.

When Dennis came back and lifted the utensil, she looked up from her magazine. “Leave it for now, sweetie. I don’t know if I’m done with the calorie splurge yet. What a sucky day.”

***

Curled up on the couch reading the current edition of Cosmo, Cordelia heard the spoon rattling on the coffee table. Her phantom was trying to tell her something and he certainly had her attention, “What is it?”

Almost instantly, a knock sounded on the door. The magazine flew out of Cordy’s hand landing on the floor as she scrambled to her feet. She wasn’t expecting Wes or Gunn today. Their planned get together wasn’t until tomorrow, barring sudden visions. Having kept odd hours at Angel Investigations, she barely knew her neighbors and couldn’t imagine them banging on her door in that demanding, heavy-handed kind of way.

That meant it had to be Angel or a persistent vacuum salesman. “Not interested! I don’t want whatever it is you’re selling,” she called out and then whispered to Dennis to turn on the stereo. As it blasted out the sound of Angel’s reply, she snatched her magazine from the floor and blindly flipped through the pages.

The sound of intermittent banging against the door and a grouchy voice trying to be heard over the din of the music only brought a smug smile to Cordelia’s face. A certain vampire was just going to have to learn that her apartment was now off limits to him. Though she really didn’t think Angel would hurt her, getting touchy-feely again was not something she could handle. He’d tried calling her several times, but the dumbass obviously forgot about caller ID and she had turned off her answering machine whenever she was at home to prevent him from leaving her messages.

Cordelia let go of the Cosmo to cover her ears as Dennis kept turning the volume up in order to drown out Angel’s voice. Despite the noise, she heard the crunch of splintering wood as the door burst open with superhuman force, bounding back against the wall, its hinges breaking. Angel stood there in the open doorway, trapped on the other side of the mystic barrier, looking furious.

He wasn’t the only one.

Jumping to her feet, Cordelia stormed up to the now detached door, staring down at it and then back up at Angel. With the music blasting at its loudest volume, she shouted out her anger. Angel was doing the same on the other side of the barrier. Unable to hear a word he was saying she really didn’t need to in order to understand that he was pissed off. She could read the, “Cordy”, “dammit” and “let me in,” on his lips. If his vampire hearing didn’t get what she was saying in return, she hoped that he at least picked up on the “psycho” and “asswipe” parts.

He signaled for her to shut down the stereo with a curt swipe of his thumb across his throat. Cordy put a hand to her ear and shrugged, looking smug despite the nearly painful noise as Angel started to pace outside her doorway. After a few turns, he stopped to face her again, eyes silently conveying his desire to settle this peacefully.

Cordelia’s ears were ringing and she could see from his expression that Angel had no intention of leaving without talking to her. She stalked over to the stereo and jabbed the power button sending the room into immediate silence. Turning slowly around, she kept several yards of space in between them. “What the hell is this? My door looks like kindling.”

Slight exaggeration, maybe, but how she was going to leave her apartment in the next ever eluded her right now.

Gripping either side of the doorframe, Angel tried to tamp down his anger, but he was fuming inside. As far as he was concerned, he had every right to see Cordelia face to face. He wanted her back where she belonged at the Hyperion. Back in his life and especially in his bed. Normally, he’d have taken it slower, more gently, but he couldn’t risk it. Not with Darla and Drusilla on the loose.

“I’ll pay for the door,” he sounded calm in comparison to the rage he felt inside. “In fact, I’ll get someone over here to fix it.”

“Damn right you will,” Cordelia huffed and moved closer to jab the air between them with a finger as if stabbing him in the chest with it. “I’ll send you the bill.”

Angel bowed his head, taking in a breath of air and releasing it as a soft plea, “Cordy, listen to me.”

Sweeping nervous fingers through her hair, Cordelia figured he’d found out that she had been out on a couple of minor missions with Wes and Gunn. Since their so-called champion couldn’t be found again, she’d demanded to tag along. Maybe Angel was here to make good on his threat. Hah! She’d go wherever she wanted to go and her stalkery ex-boss wasn’t going to stop her from seeing or helping her friends.

“Say what you have to say and then go,” she said dismissively, walking back over to the couch, forcing Angel to turn at an angle in order to follow her movements. She sat down, curling her legs beneath her and propped her magazine back on her lap, hinting that she had far better things to do than talk to him. “Storming around like a maniac and breaking down my door is hardly the way to convince me to work for you again.”

Dropping his hands from the doorframe, Angel leaned up against the threshold, crossing his arms over his chest and doing an impressive imitation of a kicked puppy. “You don’t have to run the office if you don’t want to. I just need you to come back.”

Something akin to guilt stirred inside her before Cordelia remembered she had no reason to feel that way. He just sounded so miserable that it sparked feelings she didn’t need getting in the way of her decision. The memory of their mind-blowing kiss was all too fresh, but it simply steeled her resolve. “You’re out of control. You don’t even see it. Just look at this place. Last time I checked the mirror, I did not have STUPID written across my forehead.”

“Dammit, Cor, I’m not going to hurt you,” he growled. “You have no idea what is going on.”

“Obvious much? You’ve lost it, psycho,” she pffted angrily. Though it was simply the truth as she saw it, her own words dredged up myriad emotions. “Guess it’s been too long since you played groin buddies with your favorite blonde, so you’ve suddenly decided I’m convenient.”

She couldn’t hide the hint of pain that sounded in her words and it wasn’t lost on Angel as he met her gaze from across the room. “That’s ridiculous. The way I feel about you has nothing to do with Darla.”

“What?” Cordelia thought she’d misheard him for a second. Just to clarify it, she said, “I meant Buffy.”

Angel looked confused, as if she’d brought up an irrelevant subject. Hello, this was the supposed love of his life she was talking about and now he acted like he didn’t recognize the name. His jaw slacked open, brows crunched together as if he was attempting to puzzle out the reason she’d mentioned the name, “Buffy?”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia got up off the couch and walked closer. “Y’know, tiny blonde slayer. Carries a big stake. Sent you to hell once.”

“This has nothing to do with Buffy,” he dismissed the idea off-handedly. Though his jaw was clenched as he said it, he reminded her, “She’s moved on. It’s time I left Sunnydale behind me for good, except for you. You’re the only one I need.”

Completely dumbstruck by that announcement, whether or not it was just some excuse to get her to believe him, Cordelia felt the impact of his words. If he was playing her, he knew just what to say. Reminding herself that mind games were just his kind of thing, she steeled herself against any faint-hearted reaction on her part.

The fact that Angel wanted her sparked all kinds of appeal… if she was out of her mind. No way was she forgetting what would happen to Angel’s soul if she gave into it. “But I don’t need you,” her hushed voice carried to him with the jarring impact of a scream. “Not that way.”

“You want me,” Angel countered in frustration. Suddenly, his tiredness started to catch up with him. “You love me. You tell me so every time I’m inside you.”

Trembling, Cordelia realized Angel was delusional in addition to being freaky, “No part of you has ever been inside any part of me. You’re starting to scare me.”

“I know,” he answered slowly, eyes darkening into pools of midnight. “I can taste it. There is no reason be afraid. Trust me, Cordy. I need you to trust me.”

Cordelia dipped her head, staring at her painted toenails for a few seconds until she snapped, “There is no trust. It’s gone. You’ve killed it.”

“You have to trust me, Cor. You’re in danger,” he pleaded for understanding even as a dark thread crept into his voice.

“From you.”

Shaking his head in denial, Angel explained, “It’s Darla.”

“Your skanky sire?” Cordelia had heard enough about her to form her own opinion of the vampire who created Angelus. There was one important factoid that Angel seemed to be forgetting. “She’s dust. Gone with the wind. If I have anything to fear from Darla, it’s that she taught you everything she knows. Go away, Angel. I don’t want you here.”

“But she’s back,” Angel explained that the danger was all too real. “Wolfram & Hart brought her back. I’ve seen her.”

“Just great, now you’re obsessing about blondes again.”

With Darla on his mind, Angel thought he’d imagined it when he first broke down the door, but the faint scent of his sire still lingered in the room. Fear for Cordy’s safety escalated instantly until it gripped his chest like a vise. “She’s been here, inside your apartment.”

“Checking out the competition,” Cordelia actually laughed at the notion. “Sorry she didn’t stay to chat. I could have reminded her about your no-bone policy. It doesn’t matter, really, cos she couldn’t have been in here. You’re not the only vampire without an invitation.”

Angel pressed against the invisible barrier, needing to get it through Cordy’s head that her life was on the line. “No, she’s human.”

“Darla’s human?”

“Right.”

“So not only is she not dead, but she’s human, too.” Cordelia crossed her arms and muttered under her breath, “That’s convenient. Well, it seems like you two are overdue for a family reunion. Why don’t you say hello for me and we’ll leave it at that.”

The fact that Cordelia thought he was crazy was making things more difficult for Angel and it was getting harder to control his temper. “Just do as I say for once, dammit. I want you safe and I can’t keep an eye on you while you’re so far away from me.”

“Maybe I don’t want or need your protection anymore.” Now exasperated, Cordy threw her arms in the air, “What’s it take to make you get it? You’re freaking me out. Stalking me like some lovesick lunatic won’t fix any of this. Just go. You’ll never get what you want, not from me.”

Angel’s gaze focused on her flushed skin and the rosy curve of her lower lip while her words sunk in. Oh, she was so wrong about that and soon, very soon, Cordy would discover how willingly she would give him everything he desired. “When I see you again,” he vowed, his voice silky soft, yet ruthless, “this barrier won’t be an issue.”

***

After waiting several hours for Angel to show, Wes finally pushed aside his doubts & natural anxiety and made his way upstairs, jumping at every sound, real or imagined, on the way.

By the time he reached Angel’s suite door, he was already a bundle of nerves. Armed with sterile gloves, tweezers, a specimen slide and a few small food bags, Wes entered hesitantly. He debated for several seconds whether or not to close the door, finally deciding to leave it ajar. It would look less suspicious, he decided if Angel were to come back and find him.

Then his slight shoulders slumped. Either way his goose was cooked. How would he explain snooping around his boss’s rooms with a pair of surgical gloves on? For a wild moment he envisioned asking the vampire to cough, then shuddered at the bizarre thought. The sooner this was done the better.

With that in mind, he pulled the gloves out of his jacket pocket and slipped them on awkwardly, cursing under his breath as some of the fingers refused to co-operate. Finally they were on and he began his search, dredging all of the practical experience garnered from his years studying as a Watcher.

Soon, his confidence grew somewhat and pretty soon every surface and cupboard in the living and kitchen area was thoroughly searched, with thankfully no sign of anything out of the ordinary. “Now for the bedroom,” he muttered under his breath, rather uncomfortable at the thought of searching such personal dwellings.

The bathroom was first on his list and that was accomplished pretty quickly, and, taking a deep steadying breath, he moved into the bedroom. The covers were half hanging from the bed, and the bottom sheet was removed completely and thrown in a crumpled ball on the floor beside the bed. Wes skirted that and concentrated first on the dresser and closet.

Surprise lifted his bows at the disorder of the once neat-as-a pin closet, with clothes precariously clinging to their hangers, and when he closed the doors, he had another good look around the room. Clothes were scattered around, slung over the bedside chair, and a frown of worry developed. Angel was almost anal, as Cordelia called him, about cleanliness, but it was no longer reflected in his sleeping quarters.

Letting loose a perplexed sigh, Wes stepped around the crumpled sheet and made his way to one of the bedside tables. As he was in the process of opening the single drawer, he paused, and then stooped lower. “Hmmm,” his soft wordless comment shifted some of the blue powder that was scattered across the surface and instantly he straightened.

Although not as cognizant in substances as he was with books, Wes knew enough not to inhale potential drugs. He waited for the dust to settle, pulling out one of the food bags and the piece of glass. By the time he’d used the edge of the glass to pile up the powder, he found he had more than enough to send it off to a small lab he used on occasion.

Once he’d scraped the contents into the bag, he quickly sealed it with a plastic tie, and shoved it into his pocket, turning on his heel and almost running out of Angel’s suite, yanking the gloves off as he went.

Wes didn’t relax until the door was shut firmly behind him and he was back in the lobby. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, he almost wobbled over to his desk and flopped into his chair with a whoosh.

***

“I thought about what you said,” Cordelia’s voice brought Angel out of his deep thoughts as he sat at her desk. He turned to find her placing the cardboard box she carried onto the countertop. “You were right. Dennis finally explained about the intruder. He can’t protect me there.”

Angel pushed the chair back, turning it to face her as she walked around to his side of the front desk. Yes, he was right and it felt good hearing her say that, but coming back to the Hyperion meant more than accepting his protection. She had to know that. He let his gaze travel from her polished toenails and sandaled feet up the length of her, lingering in all the places he longed to touch and noting the way her body reacted to the weight of his stare.

“I brought a suitcase, too,” Cordelia licked her lips as his eyes dropped back down to them. “Just give me a set of fresh sheets and I’ll set up one of the rooms.”

“No.” He didn’t move from the chair, not wanting to frighten her away now that she had come back to him. “That’s not good enough. Darla can still get to you if she wants to.”

Making a move to grab her suitcase, Cordy snapped, “Then what good are you to me?”

He was out of the chair and held the suitcase in his hand before she reached it. “I think that’s a question that needs answering, but not here.”

Leading her up the stairs to the second floor, Angel felt surprised by the fact that she followed along. It didn’t take much imagination to know where he was going. He’d expected to hear a protest. No matter. He wasn’t going to tempt fate by asking why she’d changed her mind about it.

“You’ll stay here,” he pushed open his bedroom door, “with me.”

Cordelia brushed past him, her shoulder touching him as she walked into the room, looking around as if for the first time. Sizing the place up. “Tell me you plan to be a gentleman and sleep on the floor.”

“The floor doesn’t look very comfortable,” he pointed out wryly. Did she really expect him to offer it? When she knew there was nothing gentlemanlike about his feelings for her. “We’ll make do with the bed.”

“Just as long as we’re clear,” Cordelia nodded reluctantly. Pointing toward the left half of the bed, “Your side,” and then the other, “my side.”

Angel sat down on the end of the bed, directly in the middle. “Yours and mine,” he deliberately rephrased her words. “Absolutely.”

He watched in silence as she flitted around the room, moving his things to make room for her own. Settling in. Again, he wondered at the suddenness of Cordelia’s change of mind. This was his chance to prove that she would find pleasure in his arms, that he wanted her, even loved her. Now that Cordy was here, he wasn’t about to let her leave again.

“Why are you really here?” Angel couldn’t fight off his curiosity despite dreading her answer. He needed to know the truth and felt anxious as she left her task and walked over to stand in front of him.

Reaching out, Cordelia touched him, her hand palming his cheek, the warmth from her skin seeping into his. Angel nearly closed his eyes at the sensation, finding that gentle touch intoxicating. “I already told you. I thought about what you said to me. Everything you said. There’s no one I trust more than you and I came here to prove it to you.”

It wasn’t exactly the supplicant apology Angel had imagined, but it would do for now. “Just how do you intend to do that?”

“Any way you want.” Magic words, that’s all it took. After all, Cordy belonged to him body and soul. That’s why she had come, he reasoned, as his hand reached out to curl around her hip.

Pulling her into his arms, Angel settled Cordy atop his thighs, his hands roving over the firm curves of her bottom before sweeping up to tangle in the soft waves of her hair. “We’ll start where we left off,” he said suggestively, then brought her closer so that her mouth hovered over his. A throaty challenge followed, his own words causing his body to stir in anticipation. “Kiss me.”

Butterfly kisses lighted across his face, softly rousing a hunger that would not be sated with such simple fare. Addicted to her kisses, he needed far more than just the soft teasing of her lips and claimed her mouth with the intrusive sweep of his tongue.

Clothes faded away, leaving only that crimson slip of satin hiding Cordelia from his view. Angel hungrily let his gaze travel over every feminine curve, his hands following to cup and caress what he could not see. Burying his face against the curve of her throat, he pressed his mouth against the source of the siren call that filled his ears. Every pulse, each beat of her heart was all for him. Her arousal scented her skin and turned to liquid heat as she took him inside. Braced against his shoulders for support, she rode him slow and steady, the sensual slide of the satin and her skin causing them both to sound out their increasing pleasure.

Angel trailed his tongue across that hot pulse and shuddered at the promise of what lay beneath the frail surface of her skin. His hands clutched her closer as Cordelia’s arms wrapped around him, too. That tantalizing scent, he wanted to taste it, needed to feel the warmth against his tongue. Just the thought, the need, the desire shifted his body and his fangs extended as he opened his mouth over her throat.

Just then her lusty moans turned soft as Cordelia whispered those now-familiar words, “I love you.” He never tired of hearing it or of being deep inside her when she said it as if he could thrust into her heart and stay there.

Before his features could change back, she lifted her head, eyes full of acceptance as they roamed his face. When she leaned in to kiss him, fangs and all, “Now isn’t that touching,” the interruption came as an unwelcome surprise. Standing directly behind Cordelia at the edge of the bed, Darla slipped a hand around her shoulder and yanked her back against her. He could do nothing, helpless to do anything but hold Cordelia’s hips and feel the hot grip of their joined bodies.

Angel half expected Darla to vamp out and demand her share. He knew he should be ripping her apart for touching what was his, but he couldn’t seem to make a move against her. There was something not right. It held his attention, stirring confusion and dread. Another heartbeat sounded. Hers, pulsing a deadly tune.

“Death doesn’t require a pair of fangs,” Darla told him as her hand held Cordy tight. A knife appeared in the other, striking out, slicing across Cordelia’s throat.

Blood spewed forth, bathing him in its gooey warmth as the life started to fade from her eyes. He howled in rage, as Darla slipped away into the darkness, her final words spurring him to act, “But eternity does.”

Dying was not an option. He couldn’t let her go. Wouldn’t. Without hesitation, he bit into the wound, taking in the rich blood pumped by her fading heart and then prepared to give her his own. As Cordy’s pale mouth closed around his wrist, her hands gripping it as tightly as she could manage, Angel watched with growing horror at the realization of what he had just done.

He’d damned her.

Jerking his wrist away from her mouth, Angel heard himself screaming his denial. “No!” He awakened, shaking and huddled against his bedroom floor, muttering in fear and trying to separate reality from those dark visions. “Not Cordy. Not her. Not that way.”

***

Angel waited in the alley shadows behind Caritas, his black clothing blending him in with his surroundings. Nearly two hours had passed since the phone call that had him back on edge. The urge to pace off the caged feeling made the wait a long one, though the feeling was nothing compared to the shock he had received at picking up the phone.

He’d finally descended from his room after a very long hot, then icy cold shower after his nightmare to find the lobby deserted. Going by the empty teacup on Wes’ desk he’d been here at least once during the day. Angel only hoped that the younger man hadn’t been around to hear him screaming like a crazed psychopath hours earlier.

His mouth twisted bitterly at the thought. Something else to add to the long list of reasons Cordy had for refusing to come back to him. Ruthlessly tearing his thoughts away from the woman he craved, Angel focused on the reason for this clandestine meeting.

Darla.

Her call out of the blue had literally knocked him sideways. The message he’d passed on through Lilah and Lindsey was simple. Get out of town or face the consequences. Darla never did like to play by anyone else’s rules. She wanted to meet him. Angel had listened mutely as his sire told him she’d chosen a time after sunset, “Don’t be late, my love. As you know, it isn’t safe for humans to hang around in alleys after dark.” Although her voice had been outwardly light and almost teasing, he hadn’t missed the underlying tone that hinted at a deeper purpose.

Now Darla was here, approaching him with that sinuous walk and a wicked little smile. Seeing her oh, so familiar face up close, hearing her unfamiliar heartbeat and her need to breathe filled him with dread and confusion. It seemed wrong and unnatural to see her that way, yet humanity was part of his elusive dreams. Somehow, Wolfram & Hart had given her something precious that might take him decades or centuries to earn for himself. For a moment, Angel imagined being human again. Cordy would have no excuse to fear him then. For now, she’d just have to get over it. She wasn’t as turned-off by that side of him as she pretended to be.

Distracted, he almost missed the tremulous plea pouring from Darla’s scarlet painted mouth. When she repeated it, his hands started to shake visibly enough for him to have to hide them in his pants pockets. He couldn’t believe what she’d asked of him.

There she stood, graced with the gift of life, yet begging him to take it from her. To turn her into a soulless demon. Anger at her easy disregard for her existence raged within him. Blind with it, he grabbed her shoulders roughly, shaking her slight form and not even thinking about the fact that it was the first time he had touched her.

Darla cried out, “I’m dying!”

A quick release followed, Angel’s hands opening up like they’d taken an electric shock from her words alone. It happened so fast, she stumbled for a second before approaching him again as he’d backed away, unable to respond.

Apparently, she’d contracted syphilis and was dying from it when the Master had found her and changed her. Diseases she picked up pre-demon had reasserted themselves. Recalling his own life of debauchery and whores, Angel suddenly wondered what lay in store for him. Then reasoned, unless it was just the evil influence of Wolfram & Hart being unable to give Darla a new life, only allowing her to pick up where she left off.

Shanshu suddenly seemed more complicated than ever, but Darla’s plea for him to take her life and to turn her made him want to retch up his last meal of pig’s blood. Any hope of settling this quietly and simply running her out of town where she could start a new life and he could forget she existed died in the darkness of that alley. Their meeting degenerated from there. Him refusing point blank and Darla reminding him, “I saved you.”

Her face blanched when Angel rapidly responded, “No, you damned me.”

Swallowing convulsively at her devastated expression, he’d stepped back until his shoulders had brushed against the damp wall behind him. “I can’t… won’t do that to you.”

“Not even if it means you’ll be saving me from death?” Rasping hoarsely, a raw sound left her throat accompanied by her desperate blue eyes boring into his as she leaned close. Angel felt nothing as she ran her hands across his chest, trying every trick she knew to get him to respond. There was barely a measure of pity before then and her attempt to seduce him into being cooperative killed that in an instant.

All he could think about was what Darla would do if she was a vampire again. Her first act would be to go after Cordelia and he wasn’t about to let that happen. The chaos and bloodletting that would follow her return to vampirism was undoubted. She wanted to be saved from death by letting him rip out her throat and literally swallow her life away.

Smooth lines defined his blank expression as Angel asked, “Is there a difference?”

Darla stepped back like he struck her, flinching as she realized he wasn’t going to take away her cursed life and give her back the power and eternal existence she craved. “Damn you! Damn you to hell, Angelus!”

Turning on her high red heel, Darla started to walk away. He grabbed her back so fast that she stumbled against him. There was a glint of anticipation in her eyes as if she thought he’d changed his mind. “Too late,” the words rumbled low in his chest, “I’m already there.”

He sensed her eager hope, a twinge of lust and natural human fear as he loomed large above her, feeling a dark twist of satisfaction in his gut that he could make her quiver without really trying. “Don’t get so wound up,” he growled softly as his hands squeezed hard enough to bruise her flesh, causing her to flinch at the pain. “The soul is getting to you, isn’t it? Does it hurt to remember what you’ve done to people? I see no regret in your eyes, but the fear is there.”

“Do something about it,” she begged him, no longer caring if he realized just how the pollution of her human soul made her feel.

“Live with it. Death may be your ultimate redemption,” Angel told her, “but you won’t get it from me.”

Darla squirmed to escape his grasp, but he held on tight, one hand grasping her jaw to force her to look at him. “Bastard.”

A sneer curled his lip, “You should know. I’m telling you again to get out of town. You don’t belong here and I don’t want you anywhere near me or mine.”

“It’s that bitch of a seer,” Darla kicked at his shin, which only served to make him angry. Maybe it was just what she said. “She’s nothing compared to me.”

“No, she’s everything,” he snapped and pushed her away. “If I see you anywhere near Cordelia, it won’t matter that you’re human. I’ll kill you.”

Any shred of remorse at the thought of it faded as Angel watched Darla stumbling out of the alley, blankly noting her desperate sobs and all-too-human tears.

Chapter 7

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