Sagging against the trunk while thanking their pathetic asses for leaving her behind, Cordelia sighed tremulously, and then reached down to remove her last boot. After spewing out several choice curses, she concentrated on the job at hand, debating whether or not to take the boots with her. That took all of two seconds. Tucking them snuggly under one arm, free hand gripping the stake that had, up till now, been stowed snugly in her waistband, she began to gingerly making her way across the moonlit clearing.
“Eww. Gross.” the complaint hissed out between clenched teeth as the sensation of cold and slimy blades of grass slid between her bare toes. It wasn’t the most pleasant of feelings, and to take her mind off it, Cordelia instead thought of the various ways she could make the others suffer for abandoning her in the middle of nowhere, and wishing she could recall the place they entered the clearing.
Knowing her car was most probably only yards away wasn’t helping her mood at all, but the anger helped mask the fear of the possibility that all kinds of evil creepy, flesh-eating demons could be watching her from the surrounding darkness and just waiting for her to enter the cover of the trees before attacking.
As if on cue something on the periphery of her vision caught her attention, and she turned, her mouth dropping open in shock as a dark, familiar figure came hurtling towards her.
“Angel?!” the name had barely left her lips when something heavy crashed into her back. A blur of brown and green came rushing up towards her face, and then… nothing as blessed oblivion swamped her mind.
Dark eyes raked Buffy’s pretty face with almost clinical precision. Although still vibrating with the boundless energy that came with being an enhanced human, it was clear to see that time and experiences had wrought changes, even though less than half a year had passed since he’d been banished. Features were finer and more honed and her petite yet compact frame thinner than he recalled.
After nearly two centuries in Acathla’s time-warped hell dimension, he wasn’t surprised by his unresponsiveness to the familiar face that once had him aching with a variety of emotions. Although Angel had been back nearly a month, he’d made no effort, or indeed felt the compulsion to seek out the girl he’d once loved. His release from hell had a price, and once he’d paid it, he intended to leave Sunnydale for good.
Time had inevitably changed him too. Physically, his formerly large but lean frame was now powerful with heavy, defined muscle. He’d survived the cruel, harsh environment that might have broken him. It had strengthened him physically as well as mentally, heightening his predator side until he’d literally become a fighting machine that relied heavily on supernatural senses and instincts.
Psychologically, the changes in him were far subtler, and not all what most would consider for the good. The constant struggle for survival had honed his senses, his mindset that much closer to the predator he had once attempted to keep under his skin. Emotions had no place in the world he’d been part of for so long, and as his scrutiny of Buffy Summers continued, it absently hit him that whatever had once flared between them had definitely died along the way.
Angel continued to watch them. Memories of what once had once been nothing to do with why he lingered; determination not to lose his prey to another the only reason. After so long where survival necessitated kill or be killed, he’d long become used to hunting for his nourishment.
On first returning, he’d attempted to go back to cold/processed animal blood, but it had turned his stomach, too much to consume. The thrill of the hunt was also something he was loath to deny himself.
When he’d first ventured out into the more populated areas of Sunnydale, ever vigilant of the Hellmouth’s protector even as hunger drew him from the shadows of the mansion, Angel had come across several attacks on humans. Initially, Angel had not only killed the demons but also turned on the grateful victims blindly seeking to quench the hunger that would always be a part of him.
It was those few times which had brought home to him that, although his behavior and morality may have blurred from so long in an environment that would have destroyed him if not for the demon beneath his skin, his soul still had enough of an influence that he’d left them alive; albeit dizzy from blood loss.
The high of killing and the unexpected contact of the odd victim who threw themselves into his arms in gratitude, superficial wounds tainting the air with the alluring scent of their blood… Angel would have been lying if he’d denied still taking the occasional snack.
Even though Sunnydale’s residents seemed to harbor the unique ability to rationalize the attacks and move on without reporting them Angel was ever wary of the slayer getting wind of it- especially of victims who’d survived a confrontation with a vampire.
So he’d made demons his prey though Angel’s tastes had become refined. These specific demons were too much of a prize for a vampire -especially one cursed with a soul, their blood a rare delicacy. Being so close in taste and nutritional value to human, they had the added bonus that due to their hulking size double the quantity flowed through their veins. Draining just one would keep him sated for a good while.
Angel assessed the demon taking mental notes of the way it moved, the speed in which it recovered from the slayer’s powerful kicks & punches, and its inability to do more than defend itself against its much smaller, fast moving adversary. Quickly gauging its size, Angel figured out from what he already knew that the demon fighting for its life was the female.
This particular species mated early and remained together for life. A small satisfied smile curled his pale mouth at the knowledge that this left the larger male to him easing the irritation he’d felt at the slayer’s presence.
The demon began to falter at the duel assault of both Buffy and Harris, who shot bolts that mostly connected and sunk into its leathery hide. Angel’s satisfaction grew on seeing the exact moment the demon decided to flee into the surrounding coverage of the dark woods, knocking her to the ground and making a run for it.
With hardly a moment’s hesitation, Buffy sprung to her feet and took off after it closely followed by Harris and Willow. Angel turned instantly to follow them and then paused on seeing that Cordelia had been left behind.
Nothing was more tempting than picking off a straggler, and Angel doubted the male he knew was lurking nearby would pass up the opportunity of an easy meal. As if on cue the male came silently but rapidly out of the cover of the trees and made a beeline for Cordelia who had pushed away from the trees she’d been leaning against to begin a tentative trek across the clearing.
Instinct took over and he approached at a run, bone shifting under the skin of his face even as he exited his hiding place. A large twig hidden by the thick grass snapped under his boot, drawing startled hazel eyes in his direction, and Angel muttered curse when her mouth parted, his name tumbling from her lips an instant before the demon barreled into her half-turned back.
Before she’d even hit the ground, Angel’s boot had connected with the demon’s chest taking advantage of its forward momentum. Instantly it staggered; focused so fully on its’ prey that Angel’s sudden attack had been unexpected.
Before it could regain its balance, Angel kept up his assault, curled fists connecting with its face and torso with savage accuracy taking advantage of reflexes that were even slower than the female’s due to the fact it also carried at least 200lbs extra weight.
Almost belatedly, the demon seemed to remember his razor sharp claws and brought up both arms attempting to deflect Angel’s flurry of punches and kicks as well as get in a few blows itself. But it was too late to avoid the inevitable, and all too soon for the demon, its attacker had managed to get it into a headlock and sink deadly fangs into its throat.
Unfortunately, with double the blood going through its veins, it took a lot longer to drain the demon, thus was slower in having the affect to weaken it. To avoid being thrown off its back, Angel altered his heavy grip and wrenched its head around until a satisfying crack broke the air.
Following its now limp and heavy body to the ground, Angel continued to feed until sated, retracting his fangs and releasing the rapidly cooling corpse to step away and straighten up to his full height.
For several moments, euphoria filled him, enjoying the feeling of almost-human blood coursing richly through his veins. Head tilted back, eyes half closed, Angel purred with satisfaction, as the hunger that rarely left him was sated almost fully for the first time since he’d been cursed with a soul.
Then the sound of a steadily beating heart brought him back to the present, his eyes snapping open and turning to rest on the still figure lying several feet away. The purr turned to a low growl, a scowl darkening his features.
For a moment, he’d forgotten the presence of Cordelia Chase, and now, realizing that the heavy blow had obviously not killed her outright, Angel wasn’t sure if he felt relief that an innocent life hadn’t been taken or anger that it left him with a major problem.
She’d seen him. Not only that— recognized him. That brought potential discovery by the slayer and her watcher.
Various options slid through his mind as he approached her, most ending with a quick death by his hands, but all reluctantly quashed; not completely by the presence of a soul, still buried deep enough to be a bleep on his moral radar. No, his decision had more to do with part of his conditional release.
Dropping to his haunches, Angel reached across and carefully turned the supine body over, taking in the graze and forming lump on her temple. On closer examination, he noted she’d hit a large branch, which, luckily for her had already begun rotting into the earth. Angel didn’t doubt that if the wood had recently fallen, the blow would have killed her.
He half growled in growing discontent.
It would have saved him the hassle of deciding what to do with her, he thought, shoving down the faintest flicker of shame that attempted to prick his conscience.
Running large hands through his already tousled hair, Angel checked out the rest of her for other injuries, dark eyes narrowing in subtle male interest on seeing that her silky blouse had lost several buttons, gaping open to display the rounded curve of one full breast snugly encased in fragile blue lace.
Nice! The thought popped unexpectedly into Angel’s head, and with an annoyed grunt he quickly checked for broken bones then rose to his feet and turned his attention to the demon. His brow furrowed in thought, considering the options left open to him, until, with a resigned sigh, he moved over to the corpse and, hefting it up, he strode over to the nearest thicket of bushes and dumped it. Satisfied that it was concealed, he turned back to unconscious girl and lifting her up, he eased her onto his shoulder.
The slightest chance of the slayer or her cohorts believing Cordelia’s claim to have seen him wasn’t worth the risk. At best Buffy could check out the mansion just to put her mind at rest; at worst…
Fuck. All he’d wanted was to do what he’d agreed and get out of town without anyone being the wiser. Taking the brunette with him, although appearing to be his only option right now pissed him off and made him wish he could have just killed her and be done with it.
Angel just hoped they didn’t find the demon’s body. If the Watcher knew anything about this species, and the vampire was positive he did, then he would no doubt be aware that it hunted in pairs. Said Watcher would also know of its ability to consume its victims quickly, leaving no trace behind. Their companion was easy prey and for the time being, it suited Angel to let them believe Cordelia Chase was dead.