“You what?” Cordelia’s shrill voice rang throughout the hotel, her eyes dark. Not only had Angel not done what she’d asked, but he’d also pretty much gone ‘into the lion’s den’, “I don’t believe you sometimes,” Said the brunette, shaking her head, “Are you crazy?”
“Cordelia, calm down.” Said Angel, firmly, “Nothing happened…”
“Ohhh, I see!” Her voice dripped sarcasm, arms folded almost petulantly across her chest, “So you and Gunn pretty much went to her house and had what she would class as a sane conversation?”
“You wanna stop ridin’ us?” Asked Gunn, “We’re here, we’re fine – you gotta stop worrying, Barbie.”
Fuming, the brunette sat back and gestured for them to continue, wincing as the pain in her ribs increased. Damnit, they hurt…
“So what you’re saying,” Said Wesley, “Is that she’s working for someone?”
Angel thought for a second, she certainly wasn’t working for them by choice, whoever it was. They’d hurt her and she was terrified enough to stay where she was, to do whatever they wanted. “She knows that you did what you did because you were ordered. She said that she was only following orders too, can you think of anyone who’d want to hurt you?”
Slowly, Wesley shook his head, “Not exactly… No one other than we know here, Wolfram and Hart perhaps, to get to you?”
Angel shook his head, “This smells nothing like Wolfram and Hart. I just…” Frowning the vampire stood back and looked at Cordelia who was sitting glaring at him. “Cordelia,” He sighed, “I’m fine, alright? Stop looking at me like that.”
“Stop looking at you like what?” The brunette got up from the desk and walked, albeit painfully, out into the lobby where she busied herself with filing. Reaching up to place something in the top drawer, she cried out, her ribs rubbing painfully together. Angel was beside her in an instant, taking the file from her hands and looking at her, “What’s wrong, Cordelia?” He asked, frowning, “I’m…”
“I know, you’re fine!” She snapped, “You’re always fine, remember? Until the point where you’re actually not and then something like Darla happens. I asked you not to go over there tonight and you did anyway.”
“I never said I wouldn’t, Cordy.” He said gently, “I had to…”
“You never said you wouldn’t sleep with Darla, did you do that too?”
Thankfully, Angel couldn’t blush or perhaps he would have. “You know I wouldn’t…”
“Do I?” Cordelia’s voice was tired, “Angel, I just worry sometimes. This girl is a slayer and a vampire. Chances are, she’s going to be strong. Maybe stronger than you and…”
“Nothing’s going to happen to me.” This, was backed by a sense of promise in the vampire’s voice. Granted, it was a promise that perhaps he never could keep – no one was certain what the future held, especially not Angel – but as long as it was in his power to do so, he’d make sure that he never left her again.
Cordelia’s gaze drifted to Gunn and Wesley who stood talking in the office. Wesley looked exhausted, older than his years as Gunn explained about Kelsi. “What’s going on, Angel? Is she the one who’s trying to get to Wesley, or someone else?”
“Judging by the marks on her arms, I’d say someone else. Those weren’t self-inflicted…” Angel’s eyes darkened as he thought about what he’d seen, about Drusilla subjecting him to every torture she could have thought of, way back when Angel had been with Buffy, before Angelus… When he’d been happy. Here, was something else with the potential to wreck what little happiness Angel had built up.
“Are you brooding again?” Her voice was accusing and when he looked up, even Angel had to admit that his Seer had what was probably the cutest expression he’d ever seen on her face. The look that passed across his then, was something akin to a smile and the chuckle that resounded low in his throat made Cordelia raise an eyebrow, “No, I’m not brooding.” He said gently, his gaze drifting up as Wesley and Gunn exited the office.
“The man’s crazy.” Gunn’s words made Angel turn, look at the pair standing by the door, “What?”
“Just what I said,” Gunn gestured towards Wesley, “The guy’s thinking of going after her himself, talking to her, making her see sense…”
“Angel,” Cut in Wesley, before the vampire had the chance to speak, “Perhaps I can make her see that she doesn’t have to do this, perhaps…”
“Perhaps you’ll die.” Angel frowned, “Wesley, you walk in there and she does what she’s been ordered to do. She’s been killing council members left, right and center so that she can get near and now? She’s succeeded. She’s here and she won’t hesitate at killing you if it’s what she has to do.”
Wesley let out a sigh and ran a hand through his hair, “Why is it that I think this would have been easier if she’d just been evil?” He asked quietly.
* * * * *
“Kelsi?” His voice bounced off every wall, making her shudder. Not a lot had scared Kelsi in life, but this… This scared her in death. He scared her. She’d never encountered anyone so twisted by rage, by maddening feelings – all for one person. If she thought about it long and hard enough, the fact remained that – shouldn’t she be the one with all this rage? After all, she was the one who Wesley had killed, inadvertently or not.
“I’m here.” Her voice called out quietly and she winced as a shadow fell upon her. She could almost feel him as he inhaled, testing the air for something that wasn’t right. “You’ve had visitors today.”
Kelsi froze, her breathing ceasing completely. She didn’t need to breathe but she, like other vampires, found it was slightly comforting, made them feel… More human…
“Save your explanations.” His voice was cold. “You did what I asked, yes?”
“And he knows that I want revenge.” Said Kelsi, “That was what you asked.”
“So who then, is the knight in shining armour? Intent on rescuing you from my clutches?”
“His name, Kelsi.” He intoned, “I have no time for petty, time-wasting games.”
“Angel,” She whispered, “His name is Angel.” At her answer, he stepped into the relative light of the apartment, reflected only by the moonlight, Kelsi choosing to find the dark comforting. The mask that covered three quarters of his face quirked upwards in a smile and Kelsi whimpered, “Please, I asked them to leave… I didn’t tell them anything.”
“I don’t appreciate lies.” Dodging as the first blow reigned down upon her, Kelsi got to her feet and stumbled away. She couldn’t take another beating, not like last night… The night before. She couldn’t.
“Run, child, run.” He smiled, flexing his scarred fingers, “I always did love a game of cat and mouse…”
A moment later and his arm was outstretched, pulling Kelsi back towards him from the other side of the room, “I said I loved a game of cat and mouse…” He whispered as he drew her closer, testing the boundaries of his magic, “Relax, Kelsi, you’ll be here for a while…” He whispered.
* * * * * *
“I can’t believe you’re making us stay here.” Said Cordelia, looking up at Angel, “For one, you don’t have Phantom Dennis, for two – no TV… And for three – No mirrors. Would it kill you to have mirrors in this place?”
Angel smiled slightly and glanced at his Seer who was swathed in a far-too-big pink bathrobe, perched on the end of his bed, “Y’know, Cordelia – you could take any one of these rooms in the hotel and still be as safe as you are now.”
“Are ‘ou kitten me?” She asked, through a mouthful of pizza.
“Are you kidding me!” She said again, “You’re pretty much the only one strong enough to protect me against her…”
“It’s not her,” Said Angel, gently, “It’s…”
“Whatever. My point is, you already crushed my ribs today, you owe me buster. Where you go, I go.”
“I’m taking a shower, you want to join me?” He teased, smirking behind his hand as the all-too-expected, “Ewwww!” Floated through the bedroom. Smiling, Cordelia settled down on the bed, snuggling inside his warm, soft blankets as she closed her eyes. Having been doped up to the eyeballs on painkillers this was officially… Nice.
And as a hooded figure hovered outside the window of the hotel, he let a smile flit across his lips. “You should learn not to mess with the business of others, vampire.” He spat, before turning back to the battered and bruised young woman who stood on the sidewalk, “You know what to do?” He asked.
Kelsi nodded, painfully, “Yes.” She whispered.
“Y-yes Master.” She replied as she stumbled up the steps…
“So sleep on the floor then!”
“I live here! This is my bed and YOU insisted on staying with me.” Retorted Angel, darkly. “You sleep on the floor!”
“Geez, Angel you were BORN in the powdered wig days. I know it’s been a while since then but chivalry still exists in SOME places…”
“Says the girl who’s used to guys coming onto her for her-” He paused then, wisely. Would do him no good to piss off Cordelia.
“For her what?” She asked frowning. “I really hope you meant brains there, Angel – or else we’re going to have a huge problem. Besides, you owe me. Hello, broken ribs here.”
“That was an accident…” Offered Angel, lamely. Okay, so he had broken her ribs, but he’d been tossed into her. It wasn’t like he wanted to be on top of her!!! Uh, that wasn’t what he meant and besides…
“Angel, you are NOT sleeping with me.” Said Cordelia, breaking into his reverie.
“You’re the one who wants to sleep in THIS bed.”
“You’re right, I do.” She said, firmly.
The growl bounced around the room, the covers snapping back. “Fine… Fine, take the bed. I’ll sleep somewhere else.”
“But-” Cordelia whined, “Angel… That defeats the purpose. I want to stay with you ’cause…”
“Why?” He asked, exasperated. He wanted to get some sleep some time that night. “Cordelia, nothing’s going to happen to you, you’re safe here.”
“That would be no.” Said Cordelia, “I’m not going home, because– Angel!” He was already moving to the door and he *so* wasn’t listening to her, “Angel, this girl is working with somebody HUMAN. Which means, hello, able to get in my house! Even if Phantom Dennis stops them? Chances are they can play with matches and- Angel, if I’m here with you, then they can’t hurt me. They have to hurt you first because you’re still harbouring the guilt over leaving, which means good for me.”
“Gee, so nice to know you care.” Angel paused and turned back round, looking at her, hand on the door handle.
“Is that sarcasm?” She snapped. “Don’t use sarcasm on me, Angel, that would be MY trait, remember?
“God! It’s not like I’m going to try to bone you! Or you bone me or- some other thoughts along those seriously scary and very creepy lines. We’re friends, not…”
“Are you saying I’m not bone-able?” He asked, “Not the way to get in my bed, Cordelia…”
“I’m not TRYING to get in your bed, Angel! I just want to sleep with you…” She paused, letting THAT thought sink in. “That came out kinda wrong, didn’t it?” She asked, smiling sheepishly.
His anger disappeared as he saw the grin, the colour creeping up her cheeks. He hefted a sigh, pretending to be severely put-upon and shook his head, “Okay, you can sleep under the covers. I’ll sleep on top.”
She grinned as she climbed into bed, giving Angel her perfected You Know You Love Me look. Briefly, Angel began wondering exactly when she’d been able to wrap him round her little finger before climbing onto the bed next to her, over the covers.
They lay there for a while, Angel finally slipping into sated slumber before Cordelia’s voice drifted to the already-light-sleeper. “Angel?”
“Y’know, what I said today about you guys?”
“What about us?”
“That I was tired of there only being guys round here?”
“I didn’t mean it. I’d like it if it was just us from here on out. No girlies. At least none with the grrr face, anyway.”
“Are you trying to tell me you love us?”
“What?! No!” Said the brunette indignantly, “It’s just…” Her voice fell a little and a serious tone crept into her voice, “I appreciate what you guys do for me and I guess… Well, yeah, I love you.”
Angel smiled. “We love you too.”
“Let me say duh…”
The brunette opened her mouth, about to protest, and promptly yawned. “G’nite, broody…”
“Night…” He smiled, finally closing his eyes.
* * * * *
Wesley had sat for the better part of an hour and a half, ever since Gunn had left the hotel and Angel and Cordelia had ventured upstairs. Every time he looked at these blasted books, he felt like there was something he was missing perhaps. Something that he just wasn’t seeing.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
It also didn’t help that some of his collection of books had gone back to the Council when he was fired, right before he came to work for Angel. Plus, carting a collection of books round on your motorbike as a rogue demon hunter was rather difficult – he’d barely managed to get the ones he still owned here when Angel began paying him for working there.
Wesley let out a sigh. The books at the Hyperion were proving invaluable in his search, having been built up since the decline of Angel’s old offices, but still nothing. The ex-watcher stood, running a hand tersely through his hair. He’d looked in every book imaginable, every one he could think of that might–
Suddenly, the answer was in front of him, without him knowing where. He picked up the phone and dialed a number he was well familiar with, waiting for the answer…
“Hello, Magic Box? How can we help?” Anya. Dear, sweet and totally tactless Anya.
“May I speak with Giles, Anya?” He asked, having no time for pleasantries. Well, not much time anyway. If his theory was right, then there was certainly a problem.
“He’s over there…” She paused, making Wesley more irritated by the second. “Would you like me to get him, or pass a message on?”
“Get him.” Said Wesley, through gritted teeth.
“Wesley?” Her voice raised, jovially, “I’d know that clacking tongue anywhere. How are you?”
“I did NOT clack my tongue.”
“You did too.”
“I bloody did not.”
“I di- Anya, please put Giles on? This is important.”
He heard the sigh, heard the ‘Giles, it’s Wesley’ being yelled across the Magic Box and Xander’s, ‘Spineless Ex-Watcher Extraordinaire, wonder what he wants’ – and battled the urge to throw the receiver against the wall, before Giles answered the call.
“Giles? It’s Wesley – how are you?”
The hesitance in Giles’ voice made Wesley wonder, but the reply was as he’d expected. “Good, you?”
“Not so. I was wondering if you still had the copy of the Pergamum Codex?”
He heard Giles pause a second, rummage through a box he assumed was relatively close and waited patiently. “Yes, I have it.”
Wesley held his breath. “Can you check something for me?”
* * * * *
Warmth. He hadn’t had that in a long time, not since Buffy… Not since… Holy God, this felt good. Oh, this felt REALLY good. Angel pressed himself closer, his face all but buried in the shortish-hair. Cinnamon. That spicy shampoo that Cordelia always used. The apple body lotion she lathered herself with after a shower…
He inhaled, once, deeply. Deep enough to move the bed a little and he felt her curve into his body, press against his. And suddenly he was aware of how uncomfortable a situation this actually was. In fact, he was suddenly aware that the situation was no longer just ‘uncomfortable’ – he coughed, and squirmed, causing his seer to wrap her arm almost sluggishly across the upper part of his body.
He felt her sigh, her breasts pressing into his side, the slight weight of her breath against his skin – and he could feel her heart. Thump-thumping against his chest. He’d spent a lot of the past few months missing his friends, the wonderful simplicity they brought to his life – the normalcy they brought. More than ever, Angel realised that he’d missed Cordelia – true, they’d never done this before, but without being sure what this was, could they classify it as a ‘this’ or was it just a sleep-induced haze on his part?
He lay there for a moment, his eyes gazing up at the ceiling in his room. If he moved, he was going to wake her up – if he didn’t move, she was going to wake up and find… Well, he hoped more than anything she’d just think the covers were ‘rumpled’ but this was Cordelia and if anything, his Seer wasn’t stupid. Besides, the fact that he wasn’t *under* the covers, kinda worked against him in that particular scenario.
Think of… Of… Angelus, there’s a bone-reducing thought. Think of how hurt she’d be if she knew you’d slept with Darla. Ah, damnit, sex… Angel frowned, Sex with Cordelia. Naked Cordelia… Oh God, she’s going to kill me.
She stirred next to him, opening one eye and looking up at him, sleepily. “Angel?” He watched as realisation dawned and she pulled away now fully awake, gasping, “Ohhh… My… God…”
“Cordelia…” Of course, when Cordelia had stood, she’d tossed the blankets OFF herself and onto him. It was with a not-very-stealthy grunt that Angel plunged to the floor, blankets wrapped haphazardly across his body. He growled, loudly, hearing the laughter that echoed across the room. At first, the laughter was tentative. Then, amused. Then, it sounded almost like all-out hysteria on her part.
“It was NOT that funny…” He intoned, so very much not amused, as he tried to untangle himself from the blankets.
She laughed again – and in that split second, three things happened. The lights fizzled and went out… Cordelia screamed… And Angel felt something whipsaw against his cheek… The blow to his body was almost crippling. Angel sputtered and felt feet and fists fly into his body. He coughed and tried to stumble, succeeding in only falling against the wall as his attacker rained blows down upon his body.
The last thing Angel heard before he gave into the blackness was Cordelia’s scream…
* * * * *
“What’s giving you the problem, the closed sign or the fact that there’s no lights on?” Called Lorne, frowning as he pulled his terrycloth robe around his body. This was getting ridiculous – didn’t people realise that he had to sleep?
He pressed the buzzer and listened as the footsteps came down into the main part of the club. “Oh, it’s you. Sorry sweetcakes, I was happily slumbering in the land of nod. But don’t let that bother you.”
Wesley ignored the sarcasm, taking a quick look at Lorne’s chosen outfit – a dyed pink robe. He raised an eyebrow and almost chuckled at the frown he received.
“Accident with an Armani suit, now, did you want something? I’m sure you didn’t come here to give me fashion advice so what’s the what?”
“I need you to read me.” Stated Wesley simply.
“Ah, time of the essence and all that. Don’t worry, you’ll get that later.” Said Lorne, gesturing towards the stage.
Wesley frowned, “Can’t I just… Sing here? The effect is surely the same…”
Lorne shrugged and sat down, wishing Ramon was here for the wonderful seabreeze that he so desperately needed right now. Ah, dear sweet Ramon who’d almost had Angel and his friends killed. Lord, how he missed that boy.
“Uhm…” Wesley faltered and looked at the green anagogic demon. “I…”
“What should I sing?”
Lorne rolled his eyes, “I don’t know… A nursery rhyme? Mandy…” He caught the inevitable shudder and chuckled at the memory of his favourite vampire customer belting out Manilow. He watched Wesley a moment before shaking his head, “A jingle…”
Wesley shook his head, feeling much like a prize idiot…
“What walks down the stairs, alone or in pairs, everyone knows it’s – WHAT?!”
Lorne coughed, trying to hide the laughter, “You chose the Slinky jingle?”
“It was off the top of my head…” Claimed Wesley, raising an eyebrow, “Was that enough?”
Lorne had Wesley repeat the jingle once… Twice… A third time. Until Wesley cottoned on to the fact that he was making a fool of himself. “Lorne…?”
The Host chuckled and grinned, “That was fun… Okay, bubula… You want to know what’s happening in the world of the Watcher?”
“Yes!” Said Wesley, exasperated.
“Okay, but you better sit – ’cause the picture I’m gonna paint? Not a pretty one.”
Wesley sat down, tentatively. He couldn’t help but wonder what was about to be revealed. The Host set people on their true path – what if his true path was to do what he’d tried to do years ago? The very thing he’d believed he’d succeeded in doing? He remembered the night so clearly, the smell of smoke as it clung to his nostrils… He’d tried to do the right thing…
“So, your slayer came back and she’s doing a whole lot of damage?”
Wesley glanced up at Lorne and nodded, tersely. “She has a soul…”
“Did that stop Angel from going to the darkside?” His question was simple, but one that Wesley knew he couldn’t answer. Was Kelsi doomed? Did it matter if she had a soul or not? Lorne watched as Wesley winced and looked away. “Good.”
He hadn’t answered the question, but as Wesley looked up to ask him what he meant, Lorne continued, “You know that a soul doesn’t instantly mean that a person is good, you’re going to need that knowledge walking into this fight – and what a fight it’s going to be…”
Wesley raised an eyebrow, “You know I can’t fight her. She’s stronger than me, perhaps moreso than Angel. I can’t fight her.”
Lorne shook his head, “Not her. Him.”
“Him? Him who?”
* * * * *
“Ah, our guest awakens.”
The first thing Cordelia was aware of was a headache. The second, in a truckload of not fun, was the smell of urine.
Her vision swam in front of her until finally it focused and Cordelia moved, groaning slightly as her head pounded. Vision? No… Someone hitting her with something heavy. Ah, that was it.
“Guest?” Her mind had the presence to cough out that word and finding her figurative feet, Cordelia continued, “Does that mean your ‘guest’ can leave at any time she wants?”
The voice chuckled and Cordelia looked up to see him shaking his head, “Nope, didn’t think so.” She said with a shrug, “Any chance you want to tell me which enemy you are? We kinda have a few.” Her gaze drifted round the room until it settled on Kelsi, the girl she’d met at the hotel, sitting huddled in the corner. Blood trickled steadily from a wound in her side, making Cordelia frown. Then, she remembered… Broken ribs, the girl deserved everything she got.
“What’s going on?”
“Ah,” He chuckled, “So Wesley truly hasn’t mentioned me?”
“Uh, that would be NO.” Said Cordelia, frowning, “He’d mention the knowing of freak parts.”
The guy’s jaw tightened and Cordelia braced herself against the stinging slap delivered to her cheek. “Hold your tongue, girl.” He hissed, glaring at her.
Cordelia frowned, “You’re going to pay for that.”
Kelsi looked up from where she sat, meeting Cordelia’s eyes, “I’m sorry.” She whispered softly, “I never meant for it to end like this.”
“Then how DID you want it to end?” Asked Cordelia, frowning, “Looks like someone just learned the beauty of hindsight, huh?”