Splintered 7

Chapter 7

The new door appeared secure. There was little to indicate that the old one had been ripped from its frame. Angel smoothed his hand down the surface as he wondered if Cordelia would incite him to break it down yet again. Thinking about it, he should have used the opportunity to get her out, made her realize that staying in an open apartment wasn’t a good idea. But then Cordelia had fought hard to make this place hers and wasn’t likely to abandon it if she thought looters might take advantage.

Stubborn, beautiful bitch. Cordy would put herself in danger in a heartbeat if she thought it meant protecting something she cared about. Her precious apartment with its overly friendly phantom menace was just one example. She didn’t belong there. He’d let her stay for the moment, while things were unsettled with Darla and Dru, since he couldn’t seem to make her budge.

Cordy was just confused. Soon she would see the truth. That she needed him as much as he did her. She had to see it, to feel it as deeply as him. He’d make sure of it.

For now she was blind to the truth. Pretending she didn’t care. He knew she was lying, even to herself. The way she kissed him was all the proof he needed. That and the hundred little responses her body made to show him that she belonged to him. That soft mouth melting into his. Her greedy lips open to his plunder. Hands clutching him closer. Her breasts swelling in arousal, nipples peaking beneath his touch. Hips tucked into his seeking out a closeness their clothing prevented.

Damned interfering ghost.

Yes, Cordy wanted him. Her arousal teased his senses even as the turbulence of her fear crashed in behind it. A part of him wanted to wallow in it. After all, he’d earned every emotion she threw his way. That feisty spark of defiance turned him on just as much as her responsiveness. She could be so compliant, so submissive when he wanted her to be, letting him take her in all the ways he wanted.

No, that was part of the dreams, thought Angel and then shook his head to clear its foggy haze. But she loved him. Cordy just didn’t know it yet. It surprised him, the thought of her not knowing. How could that be when it was now so obvious to him? It hadn’t occurred to him until recently, the way he felt. Something… there was something she’d done. He couldn’t imagine what it was, but it was just a simple thing.

A switch flipped, a spotlight shone, a bell rang. Whatever caused it, Angel neither knew nor cared because all that mattered was an understanding that he wanted Cordelia. That he felt so much for her it was impossible to express with words. His need for her went beyond the physical. Soon, Cordy would know that, too. She’d understand. Believe it with every heartbeat. She would live and breathe each day with the knowledge that she belonged to him.

Anticipation set his senses tingling, his body practically leaping with energy as he focused on what he would have to do. First, he’d have to find her. Cordelia had a knack for slipping under his radar. He’d spent countless hours watching her lights go off and on, half-wondering if it was really Cordelia or just the annoying ghost playing with him from afar. No, he knew when she was there. Listened to her as she slept, breathing softly, mumbling in her sleep, moaning in pleasure when she was awakened by her dreams and couldn’t resist touching herself.

Being only a windowpane away was akin to torture. He wanted in. To be the one whose fingers gave her pleasure, feeling her heat and the liquid ecstasy coating him. Angel flicked his tongue across his lips at the thought of tasting her there. Of the rush of her blood as it raced in his ears while his face was buried between her thighs. That would only be the beginning. There was more, so much more that he would do when Cordy would open herself up to him, pleading for the pleasure he could give her and crying out his name as she begged him for more. As her body clung to his, she’d tell him how much she loved him.

For now, Angel needed to find her. It was late, long past sunset. He idly thought about the fact that she might be out with Gunn. A gloomy expression crashed down on his face as he immediately imagined the worst. That cocky bastard was good in a fight, but he had no business being so friendly with Cordelia. Didn’t he know what was good for him? How was it that Gunn earned Cordy’s smiles and laughter so easily? He’d better not find them alone together.

He drove by Gunn’s place in the Plymouth, saw that his truck wasn’t there and talked to a couple of his gang. Apparently, Gunn was at Caritas, a fact that they weren’t too happy about considering it was demon hangout. Angel ignored the distrustful looks they sent his way; he didn’t have time to teach them a lesson in manners.

Parking the car out of sight, Angel made his way into Caritas. He spotted them immediately, but Cordy and Gunn weren’t alone. Wes was with them, suggesting that this was not a date; just one of their little get-togethers that didn’t include him. The smoky air of the club and its shadowy corners made it easy for Angel to approach their table without being seen.

“I don’t get why you still go there.” Cordy took a sip of her coke, scowling first at the drink, and then at Wes before adding, “Not like there’s a reason anymore. I keep having visions, but Demento-Vamp is never around to respond. Might as well have our own agency,” her tone soured along with her expression.

From the cloak of the shadows, Angel tensed at the inference that he was never around and simply not worth anyone’s time. Why would she say that? Cordelia couldn’t mean it. Maybe it was just the drink talking. He stared hard at the dark liquid in her glass, wondering if Gunn was trying to get her drunk.

“Give it up, girl,” Gunn chugged his beer before continuing. “You’re just sore ‘cos we bought you a soda.”

So much for that idea, scowled Angel as he realized Cordelia’s ridiculous plans for permanently separating herself from Angel Investigations were all her own. He’d never let that happen. She belonged with him. The visions were his and so was she. It was that simple.

“Am not,” she denied hotly making Angel think for a second that she answered him. But her focus was nowhere near him. She remained ignorant of his presence and was too busy scowling at Gunn to notice that he’d almost stepped out to make her eat those words. “But the total wrongness of me being allowed to buy you beers isn’t lost on me.”

To her left, Wes grinned and saluted her with his glass. “And we’re very grateful, I assure you.” He lifted it to his mouth and took a healthy swallow, slapping his lips with gusto.

Gunn snorted and Angel watched as Cordy’s fingers tightened around her own glass of Coke reflexively. When she pointed out the ridiculousness of denying her a drink in a demon bar, Angel noted that for once her fury wasn’t directed at him. Though he wasn’t certain he liked that, either.

“So…” Cordy began conversationally, apparently giving up on the hope of getting something stronger than a soda, “What do you actually do there, Wes? Watch the Grumpmeister as he goes up and down the stairs to sleep the sleep of the seriously deluded, or debate the eternal question of how blondes turn men into homicidal maniacs?”

Both men winced at the bitterness in her over bright voice. Showing her their solidarity, Gunn nudged her side in sympathy while Wes pursed his lips before replying, “Actually, Angel rarely shows his face when I’m there.”

Still as a statue, Angel gave Wes a hard stare as if the thought alone would cause him to topple off his chair. Maybe that was true, but there were reasons for it. All too important reasons, Cordelia being the main one.

“Sleeping fulltime now?” Her loud scoff only caused Angel to smile twistedly as he realized she kept picturing him in bed. “With me not there to disturb him, I bet he’s making up for lost time.”

Not yet, but soon. Making up for lost time was something he would enjoy as soon as he had her there with him.

“I used to think the fangy fu- dudes slept thru the day till me and my crew found out pretty quick the movies got it all wrong,” Gunn commented, ignoring the mild chastisement in Wes’ eyes when he’d almost cursed in front of Cordelia. Angel knew that Alonna’s daylight kidnapping made it all too painfully clear to Gunn not to rely on fiction. “So he’s still catching those zees?”

“Yeah, must be real tiring not fighting for his redemption and killing evil demons.” Cordy took a large gulp of her Coke and slumped back into her seat with a frown of disappointment creasing her smooth brow. Then, after a long sigh, told them, “Boy, I never thought I’d even think something like that about Angel, never mind say it out loud.”

Cordy’s body language made it difficult to guess her thoughts. She’d been so focused on the idea that being with him would result in the loss of his soul. Angel didn’t know what to do to reassure her. All he knew was that he needed to be with her. They belonged together, no matter the dark warnings that came to him in his dreams. He could fight that.

He pushed his doubts aside, focusing back on the conversation at the table. “I don’t think, to be honest, that Angel is actually in residence half the time I’m there,” Wes corrected their assumption, perhaps retaining some feeling of loyalty. “Maybe he’s taken up patrolling again. Sometimes I can hear him quite clearly in the basement, training.”

“Training for what, stalking helpless victims?” Cordy muttered under her breath, too low for the men sitting with her to hear, but certainly loud enough for Angel to pick up clearly.

The talk veered off the topic and the mood instantly lightened, a real smile finally curving her moist mouth. Angel caught himself staring fixedly, his eyes running like a soft caress along the plump bow of her lower lip. It was making him crazy with wanting her. Looking, but not touching. Finally, Angel decided to leave. This wasn’t a clandestine meeting between Cordy and some unfortunate man, just the bonding between friends. Even if he happened to be the topic of conversation.

Soon, they would all understand. He’d make them see the truth. For tonight, they could have their fun. He was going back to Cordelia’s apartment. If he got lucky, they’d drop her off at the curb instead of walking her to the door. Then he’d get a little of the one-on-one time he deserved.

Turning, Angel strode toward the exit only to feel a tug on his sleeve as he swept past the bar. The smell alone told him who was standing there. Merl looked like he was about to dart away at the first sign of violence. “Hiya boss. Howya doin’?” The added smile instantly drew Angel’s suspicion.

Merl rarely made first contact. The snitch liked to keep things close to his chest just in case something came back to bite him on the ass. He avoided Angel at all costs and usually went through Wesley to make arrangements for providing intel. He was more likely to be paid that way.

The fact that Wes was sitting only ten yards away suggested this was something more than just Merl’s usual game. “This better be worth it. I’m not in the mood to make small talk.”

“Like that’s ever the case?” asked Merl, backing up just a little at the growl that followed. “Maybe I’ll just keep the news to myself then.”

With a lightning fast move, Angel wrapped a hand around Merl’s arm, pushing him against the nearest wall to hold him there. “Talk fast. I’m getting impatient.”

“Yeesh! Okay, okay, remember that crazy girl, the vampire we was talkin’ about the other day?”

Angel nodded, “Drusilla.”

“I know where she’s holed up, ya see,” Merl’s grin widened and he glanced down expecting Angel to release his arm. The hold only tightened to the point where he couldn’t move without pain shooting along his shoulder. “Oww! I’m gonna hafta complain to the Host about his frakkin’ Sanctuary spell.”

“Where is she?” Angel ignored the nasal whining as Merl spouted off about the pressure he was under. “Wolfram & Hart got her. Invited her to town, they did. She’s stayin’ at one o’ them lawyers’ apartments.”

Though Angel easily came up with an idea or two, he asked, “Got a name?”

Merl gulped, shifted his eyes left and right, and then whispered, “McDonald. Y’know, as in the old geezer that had a farm and turned it into a franchise.” He grinned again at his little joke, only to see Angel staring down at him with stark seriousness.

“Where did you get this information?”

Watching as Merl’s eyes widened dramatically, Angel demanded, “What’s your stake in this, you little creep? I know you’re up to something. I can smell it on you.”

Quaking in fear, Merl begged him to listen, “No, no, it ain’t like that. Really, it ain’t. She paid me to tell you, but I wasn’t gonna cos I figured it was a trap, see? But then I figured you’d wanna know.”

“Drusilla paid you to give me information,” Angel highly doubted that. His childe never used money when she could use her fangs or her ability to bend the will of her victims.

“No, no,” Merl hastened to correct him. “It was some blonde chick. She wanted you to know where to find her. Said she was goin’ to some ritzy party tonight and wanted to make sure you were there. Gonna be a riot or somethin’.”

When the demon finally stopped talking, Angel dropped his hold. Somehow, this didn’t surprise him. Darla was still in the game, manipulating everyone around her to get to him. “What time is this party?”

“About now,” gulped Merl. Explaining, “You’re not exactly easy to track down.”

Angel took one final look over his shoulder to the table where Cordy sat with Wes and Gunn. Their attention was focused on the stage where Lorne sang of troubled waters, eyes skimming the crowd and meeting his for an instant. Determined to find Darla and put an end to whatever evil plan she was concocting, Angel turned away and took the stairs at a run.

The only clue she’d left him was Dru’s presence at Lindsey’s place. There was no time to head back to the Hyperion for weapons. He’d have to go in barehanded. That would be more than enough to squeeze the life out of her if it came to that. He’d give her death if she left him no choice, but not the life of the undead she craved. Facing Dru would be quite different, far from simple and not without its dangers. There was no telling what mood she would be in.

By the time Angel made his way to the exclusive high-rise apartment building that Lindsey McDonald made his home, he almost missed the lawyer climbing into the limousine parked out front. He had no idea if Lindsey was alone in that limo or if Darla and Drusilla were also aboard. Following at a distance, Angel found himself in suburban Los Angeles, surrounded by multi-million dollar mansions. Though his car was a classic, the Plymouth still looked a little out of place amongst the limos, sedate Jaguars & BMWs, and one flashy Lamborghini.

Lindsey McDonald’s limo pulled in through the security gate and proceeded up the curved drive. Quickly parking along the curb outside the estate, Angel scaled the vine-covered stone fence surrounding the property, landing gracefully below. The elaborate landscaping was well-lit, but some areas of the grounds remained deep in shadow, allowing Angel to get closer to the house.

There was a group of chauffeurs standing in a circle, smoking and talking about the party already in progress below. He listened for a moment, gathering clues as to the nature of the party and its host. This was Holland Manner’s estate, head of the Special Projects Division at Wolfram & Hart. Top employees and ritzy guests were here for a wine tasting.

Angel knew he’d have a problem getting in. Despite Darla’s message, he needed a verbal invitation from someone who lived there. That wasn’t very likely, though he thought Holland Manners was smarter than it appeared. Bad enough bringing Darla back, but he’d allowed Drusilla to enter the picture, all to get to him.

From his hiding place, Angel watched Lindsey step out of the limousine, but it appeared he was arriving with Lilah. They immediately went inside. There was no sign of Darla or Dru back at the limo, just the chauffeur standing by the open passenger door. After a minute, he closed it, walking in the direction of the other drivers.

Angel waited for ten minutes, focused on the front gate, hoping that they had not yet arrived. Deciding it was time to take the direct approach, Angel realized that the chauffeurs were in the way. He circled around the group, concentrating on staying out of sight until he made it to the house. As he glanced toward his goal, Angel saw a tall brunette and a petite blonde being greeted by the hostess. They had been there all along, lingering in the limousine that brought Lilah & Lindsey. Primping, he supposed. Darla was always one to preen and make late entrances. She claimed it was more dramatic that way.

Though he leapt over the shrubbery and dashed toward the front door, which was left partially ajar, it was too late. He stared down at the pool of blood spreading out across the tile flooring and heard a gasp, “Help me, please.”

As the woman crawled along the floor, slipping in her own blood, Angel saw the deadly wound on her throat. “Can I come in?” he asked, steeling himself for the confrontation ahead of him.

“Yes,” she whispered on a final gasp, the light fading from her eyes.

***

“Angel! How nice of you to join us.” Holland sipped at his wine before continuing, “Although I’m a bit at a loss as to how you managed that.”

“The nice lady upstairs invited me in,” Angel replied distractedly as he swept his gaze across the room, automatically assessing the situation. His senses had gone into overdrive since he’d crossed the entrance of the wine cellar, then it clicked when he focused on his sire’s smug expression. Darla no longer had a heartbeat. “What the hell have you done?” he almost snarled, anger ringing his eyes with gold.

When Holland shrugged carelessly, Angel wanted to knock that slight smile from his face. If it showed, Holland obviously felt confident that he had nothing to fear. “Oh, I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far. The new look suits her far better than that of death’s door.”

That drew a smirk from Lilah and Angel suddenly regretted only splitting her lip. He sent her a sharp glare, which she returned until he lost interest in making her squirm. That happened almost instantly. He wasn’t here to play games and that was precisely what the people in this room were doing. They were fools if they thought they could play him this way and idiots if they believed themselves safe from harm.

Not that he was the one they should fear the most. Angel’s gaze slid back to his sire, who pouted dramatically. “I was hoping it would be you that did it, my love, but you’ve been so busy mooning over your new ladylove.” A glimmer of spite touched her cool blue eyes at the instant tightening of Angel’s mouth. “Drusilla came through for me when you failed. She knows the meaning of loyalty.”

The artless stab left him cold. He owed Darla nothing, least of all loyalty. As for Dru, she followed her demonic heart and her crazed senses. There was no sense in blaming his childe for Darla’s death when he knew she only did what she was told would please her. Darla’s throaty laugh made light of the circumstances as she pointed out the strange twist, “So now my grandchilde is also my sire. It was quite the little buzz.”

Dru smiled artlessly as she looked at them both, seeing more than the tension that was surely visible to all. The lawyers gathered in the room for the party were all equally tense, focused on him and awaiting his reaction.

“You’re a fool,” Angel’s voice dulled as he faced Holland Manners, sounding colder with each short syllable. Knowing that he was the instigator, that he’d designed this plan and arranged Darla’s return & subsequent rebirth as a vampire, he felt it necessary to reveal just how rash the man had been. “The nice lady that let me in? It was a plea for help from a dying victim.”

All color blanched from Holland’s face, leaving it pale and pasty as he realized his wife’s death and who must have killed her. Angel took no satisfaction in telling him, realizing that he didn’t give a damn if the world caved in on this man, or on any of them. He was tired of their interference, of their plots and the plans that always seemed to be focused on him.

Then he turned back to face Darla. “I want you gone,” he warned softly, ignoring the shift in the room from smug complacency to growing fear. The stench of it teased his senses, but Angel shrugged it off to concentrate on the two female vampires.

“Oh, but we just got here.” Darla licked her too-red lips and lifted an arm to run scarlet-tipped nails across her slim throat. “And I haven’t met the little woman yet. Thanks to my sweet Dru, I’m more than ready for that,” she purred throatily. Every muscle in Angel’s body tensed at the underlying threat lacing her tone.

“I warned you once,” Angel hissed as he stepped closer. “Don’t threaten Cordelia. Killing you as a human might have bothered me a little, but now I won’t hesitate to dust you again.”

While Darla digested his words, a pinched expression souring her looks, Drusilla weaved through the crowd to playfully gnash her teeth in Angel’s direction. “Bad, naughty, Daddy, I like it when you play rough, but Grandmummy is mine now.”

“Then take her and go,” Angel managed to escape the wandering hands of his lunatic childe. Adding on, “Do it before I change my mind and dust you both.”

“Yes, but we have to have dinner first.” Dru giggled coquettishly and looked around, sizing up the ‘cuisine’. Lilah swallowed visibly and stepped back behind Lindsey as the vampire’s dark eyes rested on her a little too long.

Holland stepped forward, almost yelping when Darla appeared behind him, her hand deceptively gentle on his shoulder. Now begging Angel, “You have to help us! For God’s sake man, you owe us that at least.” He rambled feverishly in his terror; his casual tone had bled away the moment he’d heard about his wife.

Angel stared back at him with a raised dark brow. Underneath his veneer of calm, rage simmered and for a moment he was tempted to ‘help’ the man by snapping his neck. “I owe you nothing,” he replied stonily. “There’s something you keep forgetting,” he added darkly. “I’m not a man.”

Capturing his attention, Darla’s pleasantly surprised laugh filled the air. “Took you long enough to figure it out, my boy,” her hand crept up and latched into Holland’s hair, yanking his head to the side. Sliding into her natural demon face with Dru following suit, she asked, “Are you really going to stop us?”

A collective gasp echoed in the room. The champion they had wanted dark and deadly was now the only thing standing in the way of their deaths. “I want you out of town or I will put you back in the ground,” Angel issued his last warning. It would be impossible to take on both Darla and Dru in these close quarters. While dusting them both would end any future conflicts, it was the here and now he had to focus on.

Fighting together, Darla and Dru stood a chance of beating him. If they dusted him, Cordelia would be… he swallowed sickly, not even wanting to guess what Darla alone was capable of doing out of spite. She’d always been a possessive bitch, and he knew Cordy would be kept alive for a long time.

“You know I’ll do it, Darla. Did it once before,” he reminded her, his expression enigmatic.

Tilting her blonde head as she eyed him, Darla’s mouth twisted in cold mockery, “Two human girls in the space of a couple years, lover? My boy is losing his edge. Although,” she swept her icy blue eyes down his frame, “you lost that the day you got the filthy soul.”

Angel remained silent, watching her stonily, more than aware of Dru in his peripheral vision. The younger vampire seemed more interested in the man she’d pulled out of the frightened clutch of people, but knowing her only too well, he kept the unstable vampire within his line of vision.

Realizing she wasn’t going to get the rise she’d hoped, Darla pouted in mild annoyance. Taking him down would probably be easy enough, but that was something that wasn’t an option in her mind. Want for him still flared too hotly. Plus she hadn’t missed the noticeable change in his demeanor, and was willing to wait for her moment to get him back where he belonged. By her side.

She glanced around at the sea of frightened faces and then back to Angel. How far was he already willing to go? From his outwardly detached air regarding the plight of the humans, Darla wondered if she hadn’t mostly succeeded already. Time to find out, she decided. “Say we leave LA and let you have your precious seer all to yourself. What’s it worth to you, Angelus, one night of uninterrupted dining?”

Angel’s gaze left hers for a moment and looked around the room. Terrified faces stared back at him and Holland was practically soiling himself with pure fear. His body shook beneath Darla’s deceptively gentle grip. “Please…” he mouthed silently.

Something snapped in Angel’s head and his eyes went blank. The consequences of such a deal weren’t lost on him, but all that mattered was keeping Cordelia safe. “Just keep in mind they’ll leave a bad taste in your mouth.”

Holland’s mouth sagged open as every remaining vestige of color bled from his face. Angel turned away, hardening his heart even more against the panicked cries for help. As he pulled the double doors together, his eyes caught and held Darla’s and desperately quenching down the surge of self-hate he felt at the sight of her gleeful, triumphant expression at his unexpected actions, he slammed the door and turned the key, moving up the stairs with vampiric speed determined to ignore the screams that now echoed from the cellar.

“I half expected my boy to join in. Pity.” Darla could have sworn she’d seen a familiar flicker in the souled vampires eyes, and it warmed her from the inside out. She looked directly into Holland’s bulging eyes. “Don’t be sad, not exactly how you planned it, but close enough for me.” With a shrug and a feral grin Darla attacked his throat with gusto.

***

Wes stared down at the opened newspaper with horror written all over his face. It couldn’t be! He reread the small print. No, the information hadn’t changed. “Good God,” he muttered, shocked to the core.

Wolfram & Hart, the name was a red flag. It was too much of a coincidence: a massacre last night at Holland Manner’s house, in his wine cellar. “So many deaths,” Wes sighed heavily. Even though the law firm had been nothing but trouble, almost killing him and attempting to drive Cordelia insane, no one deserved being butchered to death, as the paper worded it.

According to the article, a Ms Lilah Morgan and Mr Lindsey McDonald had survived with superficial wounds. ‘No comment’ from them even though the reporters had described them as pale and in shock.

The Head of The Special Projects Division, Holland Manners had perished whilst the other two thorns in their sides had walked away. Not so lucky were the lesser employees, who most likely had families that were now grieving.

The paragraph that stood out from the rest of the article was the mention of the doors to the cellar. From the morbidly detailed description of the damage, it was easy for Wes to ascertain that it must have been locked prior to the massacre. If the perpetrators to contain their victims had indeed locked it, surely they would not have had to force their exit after? That left him with the horror of realizing someone had callously locked the lawyers in with their murderers. In his stunned mind, Wes could think of no other reasonable explanation to dispute such an unpalatable conclusion.

“You been here all day, Wes?” His eyes jerked from the article, startled by the noiseless approach of the resident vampire, then they widened with surprise.

“Angel. You look… a little worse for wear.” He took in the unusual sight of a paler face with tired eyes ringed in blue shadows. His usually immaculately gelled hair was clean, yet tousled without any sign of hair products in sight.

His clothes, although looking clean were wrinkled and Wes wondered if Angel had slept in them. “And no, I arrived about half an hour ago,” he answered the original question before holding out the newspaper. “Have you heard about this?”

Angel took it from him without a word and scoured the article that covered most of the page. He was fully aware of the pale blue eyes assessing him and tried to shove down the guilt that had ate at him since he’d left Darla and Drusilla to it last night. Then his mouth twisted. “I see our two favorite lawyers escaped the all-you-can-eat buffet.” The comment slipped out and he regretted it the instant a gasp echoed through the lobby.

“All-you-can…?” He reached for the paper, scanning the article again, but already positive that that particular phrase wasn’t used anywhere in the report. He finally looked up to find Angel’s eyes were busy scrutinizing his boots. “Angel?” Wes took a deep breath. “Please tell me you weren’t there?” the shocked question reverberated through Angel’s tired skull and he dragged his gaze up to meet stunned blue.

“I didn’t kill them, Wes. They did that,” Angel defended himself, but still had the grace to look as guilty as hell.

Wes frowned in confusion. “They?” he asked quietly. “And who exactly are ‘they’.” Angel shifted uncomfortably before saying the names out loud. For a moment Wes looked again at the newspaper, closing it and folding it neatly before dropping it onto his desk. “Drusilla. Yes, I can see a remote chance that one of your… family may have decided to show her face, but Darla?” Wes chuckled, but the vampire noted the total lack of humor.

“Darla.” Angel nodded, his expression remaining closed.

Wes pursed his lips then spoke, almost as if he were thinking aloud. “First, you telling Cordelia that Darla was back, as human, was… extremely difficult for us to believe.” He lifted narrowed eyes and captured Angel’s wary ones confirming that Cordelia telephoned with a concern that he was becoming delusional and violent. “But now your resurrected sire is apparently re-fanged and helped kill almost an entire division of Wolfram & Hart. Come on, Angel, tell me, how can you expect us to not think you are having some kind of-of breakdown?” he asked almost pleadingly.

“Wolfram & Hart… remember Vocah, Wes?” he asked abruptly, then his mouth quirked bitterly. “I doubt you’ve forgotten. That ceremony was to invoke something.” Wes nodded slowly and leaned back in his chair.

“So you’re saying that they brought back a human Darla?” He inwardly mused for a moment then asked; “But now you’re saying she is a soulless vampire.” Wes stated rather than asked, but Angel nodded in confirmation, leaning forward and pressing his hands flat on the desk between them, his dark eyes tinged with a hint of wildness that had Wes pressing a little deeper into his seat.

“Exactly! Dru turned her. She asked me but I refused.” He grunted angrily and straightened up. “She took great pleasure in telling me last night.” Lack of sleep was making him loose-lipped and it seemed to Wes that he was unaware of how incoherent he sounded.

“She asked you?. So you’ve seen her previous to this.” He indicated the newspaper. Angel shook his head, abruptly realizing he was saying too much.

“That doesn’t matter, now,” he growled with irritation. “What does matter is they are in L.A.”

Wes stared at the now pacing vampire. How on earth had he missed all this? Things were dreadful, he couldn’t deny, but he’d hoped upon hope that it was an unpleasant phase that would soon pass.

When he’d last spoken to Cordelia, she’d mentioned Angel’s last visit, especially his ramblings about a human Darla. Wes had inwardly agreed with her blunt comment that the vampire was becoming delusional. Now he was totally at a loss. Angel was correct. The whole reason for Vocah’s attack was for the scroll of Aberjan, which held the invocation spell required.

Wes couldn’t dispute that, but why Darla? And why in human form in the first place? He also had to find out how this involved Angel. But it brought up too many questions that would need time to find answers, and right now, he needed to concentrate on the massacre at hand.

“You say you didn’t kill them, but I have to beg to differ, Angel. You did not deny being there, which is what I asked,” Wes paused and reached for the paper, leaving it folded but tapped it with a finger. “You didn’t help, and in my eyes is that any less heinous?”

Coming to an abrupt halt, Angel approached the desk in short angry strides. He snarled, “Darla and Dru are none of your business,” causing Wes to shrink into his chair and clutch the paper to his chest. The conflict in Wes’ eyes forced Angel to realize he wasn’t going to back down over something so serious. Abruptly, he added, “I have my reasons.”

“But isn’t it ‘our’ business too?” Wes asked nervously no matter what twisted logic Angel had come up with to justify his lack of action. “There is a risk to everyone, including your friends, with two such notoriously vicious vampires causing God knows how many more unnecessary deaths and suffering. Angelus was the only one that surpassed their reign of terror.”

His unneeded reminder rang in Angel’s head, and the rage bled out of him rapidly. “I’ll deal with it, just back off.” He finally replied. Wes stared at him for a long moment before reluctantly nodding.

“Very well, we’ll continue to concentrate on the helpless in the visions.” This jolted Angel. With so much going on, although never forgetting his seer, he’d given no thought of the mission fought for him.

He looked, really looked at Wes, and only now noticed the signs of sleepless nights, and bruises that hadn’t even begun to fade on his face. Although Angel himself suffered from lack of sleep, he could still function almost fully, and lately hadn’t been facing all kinds of demons, but Wes, Gunn and Cordy had, and they were also human.

That last thought brought to his mind Cordy’s threat. “I hope by that you mean Cordy having visions, with you and Gunn fighting them?” Wes cringed in his seat at the ring of amber that abruptly flared in the vampire’s eyes as he waited tensely for his reply.

“Of-of course, Angel. What on earth do you take us for?” he lied through his teeth even as he inwardly answered his own question: cowards who can’t say no to a woman with a tongue like a scimitar. He gulped in relief when the amber faded along with the threatening vibes.

Appeased, Angel’s tone softened. “Good. Don’t let her try to bully you into going.” Wes nodded with a smile he hoped showed Angel they could manage to do that. “I should have said something before now, but thanks— to both of you.”

Angel lifted a hand to stay Wes’ automatic protestations, adding, “I will put them both in the ground if it comes to it.”

Wes instantly frowned. “Angel, I know you have a certain… history with them, but surely the death and destruction they already caused is reason enough to rid the planet of them?” Angel’s dark eyes flickered for a second before clearing and meeting Wes’.

“You’re right,” he finally admitted, then his attention was caught by the discrete way Wes unexpectedly checked his watch with a frown before his brow smoothed and he relaxed. “Am I keeping you from something?” He asked, a little irritated at the thought that Wes would consider anything more important than what was happening right now.

Automatically answering, Wes started to explain, “Yes, actually, I have several errands to run before heading home. I’m expecting C—,” only to realize what he was saying and rapidly recovering with a cough, “nothing really, just a quiet night of relaxation. I just popped in here to check on y—things and then caught sight of the newspaper headlines.”

He glanced down, clearing his throat and checked his watch again blindly, hoping the vampire standing in front of him hadn’t noticed the slip. Cordelia wasn’t alone in wanting to keep jaunts away from her apartment at night to herself, and now, armed with this new, disastrous turn of events, Wes realized it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more prudent in future.

Mainly to keep Cordelia out of the firing line as she adamantly insisted upon no further contact with Angel. Things were dangerous enough with Darla and Drusilla in town. There was no need to distract Angel from his drive to purge human society of the two vampires by mentioning Cordelia.

“So, Angel, is there anything else I should know about?” he asked, relieved to find that the vampire hadn’t seemed to notice his faux pas. In fact, during the time that Wes was trying to figure out how to meet up with Cordelia at his flat without drawing suspicion, Angel had disappeared into his office and returned holding a manila file.

Wes nodded approvingly, “You’ve been keeping a record of events, I see,” only to frown when he received a negative headshake.

“No. This is something I was working on before…” Angel paused and then held out the file. “I want you to take a look at it now.” Wes’s brows lifted in curiosity.

“I assume it’s important if you feel it needs to be dealt with now,” he stated thoughtfully as he reached for the file, placing it on his desk and opening it out to find a sheaf of formal looking letters, and notes in Angel’s handwriting. He frowned and sifted through them, the furrow deepening when briefly skimming one particular page.

After carefully rereading it he lifted his head to stare at the vampire with surprised eyes. “Angel, this is a copy of your curse,” he waved the printed-paper between them, adding, “but I find the title heading it somewhat mystifying: ‘Edited Kalderash version’?” Wes shook his head in confusion. “I had always assumed the spell used to curse you originated  from the Kalderash, so this wording seems rather odd.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought” Angel nodded slowly, looming over the desk to shuffle through the papers and pull out a letter. “But I got this in the mail about a month ago, along with the Kalderash copy.” He held out the letter to Wes who took it and then propped his hip against the desk as he explained.

“Apparently, the gypsies were not the spell’s creators. Their ancestors came across it centuries before and—”

“Tailored it to their specific needs,” Wes cut in, his voice rising in building excitement.” Hardly unable to contain himself, Wes grinned in dawning comprehension as he came to the end of the lengthy letter. “Angel, it is imperative we obtain this- this scroll, um,” he glanced again at the letterhead. “Mister Brayess…hmm, his name actually rings a bell.” He squinted his eyes attempting recall what he’d read or heard, then his face lit up.

“Mister Brayess is a noted figure known by the Watchers Council. A renowned magus,” he revealed, his voice dripping in hushed awe. “The council have used his services on many occasions. One time in particular…” Wes jolted out of his reminisces when he suddenly became aware of Angel’s impatient gaze, and glanced at the letter again. “But that’s another story.” He cleared his throat and an excited gleam lit his pale blue eyes.

“Angel, you do realize the significance of such a find?” Wes’ body twitched with anticipation, causing a faint smile to touch the vampire’s pale mouth. Adding a soft tut-tut, he said, “Heaven knows why you didn’t show this to me before now. Performing the original incantation would nullify the Kalderash clause. It would mean a permanent end to the threat of Angelus”.

“Not exactly,” Angel reminded him, lifting a hand before Wes could protest. “I am Angelus. A fact that some people forget, or refuse to believe,” he added bitterly.

Wes was already nodding and inwardly biting his tongue. He of all people was very aware of this sometimes-unpalatable fact. “Yes, yes, of course,” he murmured almost apologetically. “The addition of your soul is what makes the difference; a-a vampire with a soul.” He corrected before continuing after a short, uncomfortable pause.

“Have you seen the scroll yet?” Angel shook his head and rose lithely to his feet, talking and pacing simultaneously.

“No,” he admitted. “Brayess was out of the country at the time, so my appointment was made to coincide with his return. But other…things distracted me. I almost forgot about it.”

Gaping, Wes stared at him in disbelief. “What could be so urgent to distract you from such a sensational revelation?”

“I’d say Darla and Drusilla’s appearance is ‘urgent’ enough, wouldn’t you?” Angel returned dryly. Almost instantly, Wes responded with what almost sounded like a ‘duh’ before nodding and sitting back into his seat.

“Yes, of course,” he replied, a little embarrassed with yet another bout of momentary forgetfulness. I must be more tired than I realized, he thought to himself “I’m afraid, In my excitement, I overlooked that for a moment. This appointment, you haven’t missed it, I hope?” he asked, getting back to the subject of the scroll.

Angel rubbed a hand across the back of his neck and halted his pacing to turn and face the other man. “No. It’s tonight.” He revealed wearily. “The guy lives in San Francisco, and won’t part with the scroll or ‘risk damaging it by using a photocopier’. I arranged to go there and transcribe a copy myself.”

“Completely understandable,” nodded Wes, thinking of the delicacy of ancient scrollwork.

Walking back over to the desk, he reached out to collect the paperwork and slide it back into the file. “I’d be away from L.A. until late tomorrow night,” he told Wes, frustration coloring his low tone, “and right now, that’s not possible.”

“No, no I suppose not.” Wes felt his excitement fading as he watched Angel tap the file with his forefinger, but suggested he might make another appointment at a later date.

That idea was cut off by Angel’s gruff response, “He always keeps the scroll with him. The curse is just one of many incantations.” Grunting in irritation, he added, “Brayess is leaving for his yearly retreat to a monastery in Tibet two days from now, which means if I don’t do it now, I won’t be able to get a copy of it until he gets back.”

“Which is when?” Wes sighed in frustrated disappointment at Angel’s low reply.

“Three months.”

***

“Crap, I’m late,” Cordelia muttered as she glanced at the clock hanging behind the checkout counter. The Blockbuster clerk quirked his mouth in a measure of sympathy, but failed to move any faster. Though it was just movie night at Wes’ place, punctuality was expected. Otherwise, she’d never hear the end of it.

Going out when and where she wanted was something Cordelia was resolved to do. No matter that Angel’s determination to see to her safety overlooked the fact that he was the one who scared her. He was obsessive, delusional and now starting to remind her of a Friday night horror movie.

So she’d been extra careful about sneaking out of the apartment. Angel couldn’t be everywhere at once. He was probably off chasing some blonde who reminded him of whichever ex-girlfriend he happened to be obsessing over. It confused her as to how a brunette like her got caught in the middle. Not that Cordy seriously considered what it might be like to be with him if the threat of Angelus was non-existent. Or missed the early days when it felt so good just to make him smile.

They’d built up a friendship out of the ashes of Sunnydale and it strengthened after Doyle’s sacrifice. Looking back, Cordelia couldn’t pinpoint when everything when wrong. There was a time when Angel stood behind her, when his strength was something she trusted. Now he forced her to keep glancing over her shoulder, suspicious of shadows. Being afraid ticked her off and it might have been stubbornness that made her determined to keep her movie night plans with Wesley, but she wasn’t about to let Angel turn her into a hermit.

Besides, Wesley’s apartment was just one bus transfer away. When she finally reached his door, a smug smile appeared on her face. Getting here was the big challenge, since Wes usually gave her a ride home on the moped once the buses stopped running. She knocked on the door, half expecting Wes to fling it open and demand to know why she was six and a half minutes late.

There was no response, even after Cordelia rapped a little louder, calling out to him through the door. “Guess the Grumpmeister has him working late again. No visions tonight, so it’s just nose-to-the-grindstone vamp issuing orders to his minions.”

Then she noticed the edge of a folded note poking out from beneath Wesley’s door. She stared down at it for a minute, wondering if some secret admirer was slipping her friend love letters. A grin formed along with the thought and Cordy bent down to pull the note out. “Wouldn’t want some nosey parker to come along and take it,” she said feeling completely justified.

To her surprise, the note was addressed to her in Wesley’s familiar scrawl. So much for Wes’ love life, Cordy sighed, opening the note and scanning its content. “Gone for popcorn. Make yourself at home,” she read. Frowning, Cordy read it again, scrutinizing the short message and finally rolled her eyes.

It looked like Mr. Prepared & Punctual had ruined his record. Shoving the folded note into her jeans pocket, Cordy decided it was better to wait for Wesley inside the apartment than to die of boredom by hanging out in the hallway. Besides, he said to make herself at home and that implied going in. Unfortunately, that also meant she would have to dig through the jumbled contents of her purse in search of the spare key.

When Wes had given it to her, he stressed that the key was supposed to be used in emergency purposes only. Pfft, like she’d normally want to walk into Wes’ place day or night for any other reason. It wasn’t like she’d sneak in just to put itching powder in his underwear. “Too bad I didn’t think of that before I left the hotel,” Cordy grumbled, but felt the grin spread across her face at the thought of Angel hopping around trying to reach all of the itchy spots.

Finding the key lodged between her compact and the side of her purse, Cordelia let out a triumphant, “Aha!” She let herself in and locked the doors behind her, setting the plastic Blockbuster bag on the coffee table. Everything looked so neat and clean, not like the last time when she had to wade through piles of research just to get to find the living room carpet.

Blame that on Angel, she thought sourly. He wasn’t around long enough to give Wesley anything to do, much less to cause him to get super-absorbed in finding out why some new strain of snot demon was causing sudden attacks of moo-shu flu and how there was a prophesy that involved the vampire-with-a-bad-attitude. Huh. Things were obviously so boring without her around the office, that Wes had nothing better to do than keep his apartment clean.

Impatient, Cordelia was already tired of waiting. Wondering how long Wes was going to be, she rummaged through her purse again and took out her cell phone. Punching in the number two on her speed dial, the action made Cordy realize she’d have to reprogram the number one spot. Thoughts of Angel left her with a scowl on her face. As she waited for the call to go through, she shoved her purse onto the couch, not caring that it hit harder than intended.

Then the beep-boop tones switched over to an automated recording, indicating that Wes either had his phone forwarded or turned off. “Stupid voice mail,” she muttered just before leaving him a message designed to get his butt home asap. “I’m here and I’m bored. Guess I’ll just have to rifle through your stuff while I’m waiting.”

Cordelia turned around to toss her cell phone onto the couch next to her purse and let out a short shriek of surprise as she saw Angel standing only three feet away. He closed the distance between them before the sound faded. “Wes won’t be home tonight,” his words sent shivers along her skin. “It’s just you and me.”

Chapter 8

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