Darkness and Daylight

Cordelia / Angel Fanfiction & Art by Lysa Whitmore


101:     The Foyer, Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

“The sun is up,” Buffy announced to the two slumbering lumps on the floor. They were both buried inside their sleeping bags blocking out the sunlight that shone through the stained glass above the front door. 

Mumbles and groans sounded and one after the other, Willow and Xander emerged from their makeshift cocoons. “Is it morning already?” Willow yawned widely, her eyes still closed.

Xander glared squint-eyed toward the light. “Nope. It’s a really bright porch light. Go back to sleep.” He dived back under the covers.

“Get up,” Buffy nudged him with her foot. Sending Willow a look of frustration, she tried again, “Wakey, wakey.”

Willow rolled onto her side, not quite ready to leave the warmth of her sleeping bag. “Try the zipper.”

Following along with the suggestion, Buffy unzipped it and let the air rush in as she tossed the cover aside. Xander squirmed in half-sleep rolling into a fetal position. He hadn’t bothered changing into his pajamas last night. They’d all stayed up waiting for Angel and Cordelia to come back downstairs. When that didn’t happen, there was still the matter of guarding the front door.

Around three a.m. both Xander and Willow looked like they’d had enough for the night. Their eyes were closing and their vigil was more of a cat nap than guard duty. Buffy figured she could always wake them if trouble presented itself. They had removed their shoes and crawled into their respective sleeping bags without complaint.

Reaching down, Buffy tried shaking Xander’s shoulder, but he only mumbled at her. Tickling his ribs brought a sleepy leer to his face that had her backing off fast. Willow was now fully awake and grinning at her efforts. “Try his feet.”

Buffy’s eyes widened as she stared at Xander’s sock clad feet. One sock was half off, down to his ankle and hanging from his toes. Wrinkling her nose, “I don’t think so.”

“You kill vampires and deal with gore everyday,” Willow pointed out, “and you can’t deal with Xander feet?”

Standing, Buffy crossed her arms and held her head high. “A Slayer’s gotta draw the line somewhere. We can let him have another ten minutes while we get our stuff ready to go.”

“We’re leaving?” Willow shucked off the sleeping bag and reached for her shoes. “I thought we needed to be here in case—”

Buffy informed her about her decision to contact Giles. “It’s daylight now. Should be safe enough. If the demon hasn’t tracked Cordelia to the mansion by now, I don’t think it’ll happen.”

“Crosathnam demons are nocturnal,” Angel’s voice sounded from the top of the stairs startling them both, “but they’re not restricted from sunlight. Cordy is still in danger.”

Xander woke up instantly. “Where is she?”

“In the shower,” Angel told them.

Buffy saw that Angel’s hair was damp, too. He was fully dressed. Different clothes than last night: a dark blue shirt, black pants, clean boots. He looked gorgeous and a lot more relaxed than before. Swallowing down the lump in her throat, she said, “I need to talk to Giles.”

Reaching into his back pocket, Angel pulled out a familiar looking cell phone. Buffy realized it belonged to her Watcher. “Call him to come over. We need to strategize. And Cordelia needs him today.”

I need him today, thought Buffy glumly. “What for?”

“To take her to the police station to make a statement,” Angel’s jaw tightened up at her tone. “She also wants to see her grandmother and doesn’t want to do it alone.”

“Oh.” Buffy realized that she hadn’t even thought about that. Still, she didn’t want to face Cordelia yet. Looking at Angel was hard enough knowing he had spent the night with her. She wasn’t one hundred percent convinced that they’d had sex last night. The things she’d heard might have totally been her imagination. Being ninety-nine point nine percent certain left her a tiny bit of room for denial.

“She won’t be alone,” Xander was on his feet now. “I’ll be there.”

Angel stared at the boy for a tense moment before saying, “Thanks. Just keep her safe.”

“I will,” promised Xander feeling a little more manly than he had a minute ago. “It’s killing you not to go, isn’t it? I mean— if you could actually be any deader.”

There it was, Xander clamped his mouth shut, that glare that suggested he’d said too much again. Angel hadn’t budged an inch, but somehow seemed to loom even larger as they faced each other. “Don’t push it, Harris,” he gritted his teeth. “Cordy needs to do this. Otherwise I wouldn’t let her out of my sight.”

Buffy held her breath as the ache in her chest turned to stabbing pain. It wasn’t fair. Now that his soul was permanent and they could be together…he was with Cordelia. How was that possible? Her brain just couldn’t wrap itself around the concept.

“She’ll be fine,” Buffy snapped. Grabbing Willow by the arm, she glared at her other friend and nodded toward the door. “Xander…keys. Let’s go.”

“Hey! What about Cordelia?” Willow asked as she was shuffled forward.

Angel barked out her name stopping Buffy in her tracks. “I need you to deal with this.”

“I’ll deal,” Buffy’s head tilted up a notch. Her lips closed into a natural pout, eyes wide with determination. “Don’t expect me to pretend to like it.”

Angel found it hard to look at her. The pain showing in her eyes actually made him feel like howling triumphantly. She’d sent him to hell, dumped him, all but pushed him at Cordelia and now she acted as if she had a right to be upset that he’d fallen for someone else.

“I don’t expect you to like it, Buffy,” he lifted his gaze to hers. It wasn’t exactly the apology she was looking for.

“We’ll send Giles back to pick Cor up,” Buffy told him as she moved toward the door again. “I—I just need a little downtime first.”

Xander had left the keys to the Plymouth next to the ice chest in the middle of the foyer floor. “We’ll just borrow the car again.”

“Not so fast.” Angel put a hand on his shoulder before Xander could step out of the indirect light into the sunny open doorway. He took the Plymouth keys away. “I have a job for you.”

Gulping, Xander hated the idea already. “A job?” He looked down at the new set of keys Angel placed in his palm. His jaw dropped open at the news that he was to return the DeSoto parked out front to its owner.

“I know you’ll be careful with it,” Angel clapped Xander on the back. “Spike won’t take kindly to any new dents. 


Angel gave him a little nudge toward the door. “Just take it to the Factory before nightfall. I think you’ll remember the place.”

They’d left the door wide open on the way out. Angel edged the shadows to the far side and closed it. He was about to head back up to check on Cordelia when the bedroom door opened and closed. Waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs, he felt a smug smile form as he saw her swathed in his robe.

It was huge on her, doubled over across her chest and knotted at her waist it still gaped invitingly. “My stuff is still downstairs,” Cordelia told him. “And that reminds me—”

“They’re already gone.”

“Damn,” Cordelia growled exaggeratedly. “Just like them. Escaping before I can lecture them on the perils of putting designer clothes into trash bags.”

Angel glanced at the stuffed green bags. Wondering if it would help mollify her, “I have an iron.”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia padded down the stairs barefoot. “Of course you do. What vampire doesn’t these days,” she added, grinning.

Before she reached the bottom step, he swept his arm around her waist and pulled her to him for a lingering kiss. Finally, Angel set her on her feet letting her body skim down his before letting go. “Now the real question is…do you have food of the non-piggy blood variety?” Cordelia moved out of his arms and headed for the ice chest.

Flipping it open, she found snacks galore in a tray on top of the ice. Angel peered over her shoulder as she fished through the sodas, Ho-Ho packages and Twinkies. “There are no Fruit Roll-Ups,” Cordelia huffed. “How could they forget the Fruit Roll-Ups?”

“Is that a breakfast food?” Angel cluelessly inquired.

Straightening up, Cordelia told him, “Absolutely.”

“I don’t have any of those,” he looked almost downfallen. Angel had bought a few things since Cordelia and the others started coming over. He knew how to cook, but had not done so in years. It was not necessary to keep food in the place. After Cordelia made him eat fries at the Deli, he had been experimenting a little, but the experience was not the same without her there.

Taking the unopened Twinkie pack out of her hand, he tossed it back in the chest. “How about some scrambled eggs?”

“You’ve got eggs?” Cordelia didn’t bother to hide her surprise as she walked with him toward the kitchen. Seeking clarification, “Eggs from chickens. Not demony eggs, right?”

Angel just raised a brow.

“Just asking.” Cordelia shrugged and then looked suddenly sad. “Bev used to make great scrabbled eggs.”

After a heartbeat, Angel cupped the nape of her neck, glancing down into her grief stricken eyes. Wishing he knew what to say, he silently pulled her into his embrace. Cordelia wrapped her arms around his waist, rested her cheek against his chest, and sighed deeply. 

102:     Oak Park Street, Central Sunnydale

It seemed like a different world this morning. Buffy kept her eyes on the road as the car zipped by familiar sights. It all seemed like a dream somehow. A strangely wrong kind where Angel loved Cordelia and she was sitting in the passenger seat of Spike’s beermobile. 

“God, it stinks of beer and smoke,” Buffy groused sinking lower in the seat. “I hate this car. And I hate Spike.”

Willow was the one in the back seat with the rest of the empty beer cans. She was the one who should be complaining. At least Xander got to drive. That goofy guy grin was back on his face as soon as he got behind the wheel. It was a lucky thing that the drive from Crawford Street to Giles’ place only took a few minutes in the early morning traffic.

She closed the door behind her and followed Buffy and Xander to the courtyard entry of Giles’ small condo. The iron cross design on the door had already existed before the Watcher moved in. Willow hadn’t really thought about Giles selecting the place because the door acted as a vampire deterrent. She wondered if the architect knew about the vamps when he designed it.

They did not have to wait long after ringing the doorbell. Faith answered the door in a matter of moments looking irritated that her sleep had been disturbed. Her tossled brown hair could not hide the shiner darkening the skin around her left eye. There were scrapes and bruises everywhere. And the thought that this was after several hours of super-fast healing only made it worse.

Faith stood there wearing a plaid pajama top. “Are you coming in?”

Gaping in surprise, Willow gasped, “You’re here—”

“As in not in the hoosegow,” Xander’s attention dropped to her bare legs.

Willow finished, “and you’re wearing Giles’ pajamas.”

“Normally I wouldn’t bother,” Faith shrugged, “but I wouldn’t want to keep Wes or the G-man up all night. I don’t like to tease.”

“What are you doing here?” blurted Buffy completely surprised to see her. Faith was supposed to be in jail.

“Nice to see you, too, Summers,” Faith mocked as Buffy and her cronies filed past. “I could ask you the same question.”

“No doubt Miss Summers is here to check in with her Watcher,” Wesley stepped up from behind Faith, his hands closed around the lapels of his robe, “an excellent notion albeit at the crack of dawn.”

As he prattled on about a Watcher’s duty and his endless vigil, Buffy called out at the top of her lungs, “Giles!”

“As a matter of fact, I have a number of lessons for you to master.”

Faith turned to stare at Wesley who looked far less starchy than he had last night. Now rumpled with bed hair and his early morning stubble shadowing his jaw, he almost looked kind of hot. If only he would keep his mouth shut. A smirk appeared on her mouth despite the twinge of pain it brought.

“Talk like that just makes me hot,” Faith leaned in close enjoying the instant look of panic in his eyes. “What kind of lessons did you have in mind?”   

103: The Avalon, Regency Street Luxury Apartments

“Drusilla,” the name rolled off Nicolau’s tongue as if tasting a rare wine. Anticipation hit like a gathering storm. After all of this time she had to cross his path here and now.

He saw Isobel’s eyes go wide with recognition. Drusilla’s name was well known to them both. A look of fury took over her soft features, Isobel’s mouth tightening at the realization that they were not dealing with some nameless minion. “Drusilla here in Sunnydale? The timing is suspect, my love.”

“I remember well her raven hair, a black sheath of midnight against her pale skin,” Nicolau mused over the memory. “She favored black lace and red velvet.”

Curiosity prompted Anton to ask, “A former lover?”

Nicolau shares a look of amusement with his childe. “Hardly. Her sire was never one to share.”

“Angelus,” the name purred from Isobel’s lips. Even Anton recognized the name. The glory days of Angelus were way before his time. Just the mention of these vampires had aroused his master and mistress.

What he knew of Isobel, she was too young to have met the Scourge of Europe in his glory days. “We never met,” Isobel admitted woefully. A pout settled across her pretty lips.

The tales of the bloodshed and horror wrought by Angelus left her shuddering with lustful admiration. There were other more personal accounts revealed by Darla. “I met his sire once in the early 1900s,” Isobel’s revelation stirred up her temper. It showed in her cold blue eyes. “Bitch.”

Darla was always boastful of her favorite’s prowess, yet she spoke of him as if she hated him. Seemed angry with herself for desiring him despite his absence. Isobel had been intrigued, but Darla refused to tell her more.

Isobel’s curiosity had garnered nothing but rumor. It was as if Angelus had simply disappeared. She had been intrigued to discover that her own sire knew Angelus. While she had been entertaining Darla, trying to seduce her into telling her more about her vicious childe, Nicolau had been away. If only he had been there. He was far more Darla’s type.

As it was, Isobel had to settle for a little sport and sharing the innkeeper’s son. The whole experience had been rather unsatisfying. Nicolau had not been very interested in Darla when she told him of her interlude with Angelus’ sire. “The whore doesn’t move me,” he’d said. He had been much more eager to learn about any companions traveling with her.

That was the first time Isobel had heard Drusilla’s name on her sire’s lips. It stirred anger and jealousy within her now as it had then. Not so much because he’d hoped to seduce the other vampiress, but because Drusilla had been subject to Angelus’ will, forced to his bidding, fucked by him, the legendary Scourge of Europe.

Isobel licked her lips at the thought. It was not that Nicolau did not measure up to any vampire she’d ever met. He was her sire, after all, powerful, beautiful and deadly. He was her everything. There was only one thing that kept Angelus in her fantasies.

Nicolau was too refined. He was not vicious, or as ruthless as she knew herself to be. Angelus had those traits according to the many stories she’d heard over the years. If Drusilla’s presence here suggested any possibility that her sire was also present, then this trip America was not going to be half as boring as she imagined.

“Tell me again, Nicolau,” begged Isobel. “You met Angelus once in Venice, I believe, accompanied by his sire and childe.”

“Yes,” Nicolau was quite aware of Isobel’s desires. It amused him the way she put Angelus on a pedestal. He preferred to talk about Dru instead. “I planned to seduce Drusilla anyway. There was something so innocent about her despite her lineage, an oddity. As if there was a place deep inside that her sire had not touched. I wanted to claim that.”

What little Anton knew about Angelus suggested he would not take kindly to another vampire touching what was his. The Aurelius line was very possessive about what belonged to them. “You did this knowing how Angelus would react.”

With a shrug, Nicolau admitted, “That made her all the more tempting.”

Rapt with attention, Anton had to ask, “What happened, master?” having never known Nicolau’s seductions to be unsuccessful.

“Drusilla,” he murmured the name, thoughts turning inward trying to call upon the memory of that night long ago. “She said something. It disturbed me.”

Rather than sharing the details, Nicolau walked away to stand with his back to them, his face darkening into a scowl. He faced the thin veil of curtains now closed across the Venetian blinds. The curtains flashed open with a short pull of the string.

Reaching up, he took hold of the rod controlling the blinds and began to turn it. A beam of sunlight hit low across the windowpane shining directly through the open slat. Anton scampered back into the shadows on the other side of the bed as the light shone into the room. 

The sunbeam hit the floor only inches away. Nicolau ran his hand through its warmth noting the way the light bounced off his signet ring.

“Close the blinds,” Isobel pressed herself against Nicolau’s back. She covered his hand, enjoying the momentary warmth against her skin. “It has been a long night. Drusilla must have a lair somewhere in town. All those who would possess the knowledge of its location have already taken to their beds.”

Nicolau lifted her hand to his lips kissing her fingertips. He flipped the blinds closed again and turned to take her fully into his arms. “Drusilla has something I want. It cannot be a coincidence that she is involved. When we find Drusilla and after I take back what is mine to possess, I will enjoy renewing our acquaintance.”   

104:     Giles' Place, 523 Oak Park Street, Central Sunnydale

“Going Goth?” Faith stared at the dark smears under Buffy’s eyes, frowning. Being tear-stained and huddled under a cloud of gloom was a bad sign. “Great look, B. I love the way that mascara brings out the bags under your eyes.”

Horror dawning, Buffy realized that clear evidence of her tears was showing. For a second she froze halfway across the threshold staring back like she’d been caught doing something unforgivable. Spine stiff, shoulders straight, chin tilted stubbornly, she snapped, “I didn’t realize Raccoon-in-Plaid was the rage now,” reminding Faith of the blue-black ring of bruised flesh around her own eye. “Otherwise…”

Conceding the point, “Touché,” Faith shut the door behind them. She did not miss the fact that her casual comment hit a few nerves.

After a pause, Buffy’s tightly wound expression softened, asking, "You okay?"

“Yeah,” Faith shifted uncomfortably at the sudden concern. "I was gonna ask you the same question."

Only it seemed that Buffy had already moved on. Catching up to Willow, hissing, “Why didn’t you tell me?” she hastily wiped her fingertips beneath her eyes, and then, still whispering, asked if Angel had seen her that way.

The fact that they had seen Angel caught Faith’s attention as she listened to Willow’s response. “I don’t know,” said Willow muttering an apology for not noticing. “Guess I was kinda preoccupied.”

She was not the only one with other things on their mind. Xander trailed after them casting lingering glances at her bare legs gaping at her over his shoulder. Faith pushed aside her curiosity over Buffy's words for a moment, turning her attention to him, waiting for his sorry excuse for being caught staring. His gaze lifted toward her face. Only he did not make it that far, rapt attention zeroing in on a flash of cleavage as she absently plucked at a button.

Someone shouted a warning, too late, just as Xander rammed into the end of the banister. Biting back a laugh, Faith idly wondered what Cordelia Chase had ever seen in such a putz. He had to have something going for him.

Watching Xander clownishly clasp the sore spot on his chest and fumble for excuses for not looking where he was going, Faith could not see it. Whatever it was, it had to be hidden. It might be fun to find out. “Want me to rub that for you?” she leaned close to his ear taking up a spot next to him.

The audible gulp was too much. Faith chuckled, dimpling in amusement at Xander’s immediate panic. Catching the stern stare from her stuffy new Watcher reminded her that this wasn’t exactly the time for flirtation; especially with Cordelia’s ex. Thinking of Cor only made her think of Bev and that made the already hard knot sitting in her stomach tighten up.

It made her sick to think about it. All that blood. Someone who did not deserve to die. Her fault.

Faith pressed her mouth closed tightly, ignoring the discomfort of her swollen split lip. The anger she had let overwhelm her last night was brewing again. Just thinking of Bev was enough to awaken a need to pummel something to death. Preferably the ugly evil bastard demon that’d killed her.

She barely noticed that Giles had arrived downstairs sporting a robe over another set of plaid pajamas. Did Watchers own anything but plaid and tweed? It wasn’t until after he’d greeted the Scoobies that she snapped out of her thoughts. Despite the bed head, Giles looked fully alert and ready to be debriefed on anything they might have to report.

It was doubtful that they’d fought the demon again. This was not a triumphant group returning from a night of slayage. Buffy still wore the same clothes from yesterday and looked like she had been up all night— crying, too, if the runny mascara was any clue.

Realization hit, “You’ve seen Angel.” Buffy must’ve gotten wind of the fact that her ex was off the market... unless something bad had happened.

Ignoring the comment, Buffy made eye contact with Giles. “We need to talk,” she nodded toward the kitchen. Privacy was not exactly easy in the small condo.

Maybe this was not something she wanted to say with an audience hanging around, but Faith was not about to be cut out of the conversation. Butting in, “Anything that’s Slayer business is my business, too. If you got something to say, I want to hear it.”

Especially if that business had to do with Cordy & Angel.

Faith followed along despite the subtle clearing of Giles’ throat. Shouldn’t he know by now that she did not do subtle?

Blocking the way into the kitchen, Buffy told her, “This is personal.”

So it was about Angel.

“Can the personal chit-chat. We have a demon to find.”

Emphasizing her name, “Faith,” Giles interrupted quickly, “perhaps it would be best if I have a moment alone with Buffy.”

Feigning disinterest with a shrug Faith turned her back on the two of them. Her gaze fell on Willow and Xander who looked like they were going to burst a blood vessel or two trying to stay silent. “I suppose you two know all about it.” No doubt they meant to keep her in the dark being such loyal little sidekicks.

Deciding that she might as well check how Cordelia was doing, Faith inquired, “Did Angel say—?” never realizing that it would open the floodgates.

Her mention of Angel spurred Xander and Willow to inundate her with comments about being at the mansion last night. They were talking so fast it was hard to keep up. Not so fast that she didn’t catch the key words ‘Angel’ and ‘soul’. That got everyone’s attention.

“Back up!” Holding out her hands, Faith prompted them to slow down. “Say what?”

“It’s about Angel’s soul,” blurted Willow no longer able to withhold the information a moment longer.

"Bastard," Xander grumbled loudly. "Stupid curse. If he was gonna lose anything, it shoulda been his—"

Gasping indignantly, “Xander!” Willow whacked him on the arm. “Shut up. This is important.”

Cautious curiosity prompted Wesley to join the conversation. “Something happened to the vampire’s soul?” he queried before Faith could ask the same thing.

Giles’ head snapped back to Buffy, icy horror chilling him. “Not again.” Picturing Angelus on the loose, a clipped accusation fell from his lips, “Buffy, how could you?”

A snort sounded as Faith realized what direction his conclusions had taken. Though she was worried about the fact that Angel might have lost his soul, and what that meant for Cordelia, it was obvious to her how that scenario would have gone down.

Faith didn’t know much about love. Being horny, wanting someone to fill you up, to make you forget about anything else felt familiar— she knew all about that. Sex was an escape from pain and loneliness, or something fun with a stranger that gave you a high. Instinctively, she knew that it would be different for Cordelia and Angel where feelings were involved. That had to make it even harder for them to resist considering the curse, prophecy, kidnapping and death.

Life was too short and full of shit to ignore something that felt so damn good. And if your honey was a hottie, that did not make it any easier. After all that had happened tonight, Faith figured things had just taken a natural course. She pictured Cordelia and Angel tangled up in bed going at it. Hell, there was only one thing to conclude.


She had every confidence that Angel could deliver. The only question was whether or not Angel would feel it too. Bliss. Would that rocket-ride to an orgasm really cause him to lose his soul? It had happened before, and was something that could easily happen again, so she’d been told.

Suddenly things were not so funny. Cor had hinted that things were heating up. Both of them had managed to resist going too far. Faith had asked lots of questions partly because it was fun to see her friend so worked up over Soul Boy. But mostly it was because the Mayor had something else on his agenda that involved Angel.

Faith had nearly told him to stuff it when he mentioned seducing Angel, causing him to lose his soul and inviting Angelus to join forces. Mentioning that Angel already had a girlfriend didn’t seem to faze him. Wilkins just asked if she’d lost her touch. He’d given her a couple of nights to think about it, but got distracted with civic matters over the Bingo Parlor debacle.

Seducing Angel might have been fun if not for Cordelia. Now that she was in the picture there was no way Angel would see Faith that way. Yes, he was a guy, but he was a guy in love. This was not the same broody vampire that Buffy had dumped when he got back from hell. Under different circumstances, Faith would not have minded giving Angel the ride of his undead life.

Cordelia made all the difference. She was a friend. That was a rarity for Faith. One she wasn’t about to let the Mayor screw over that way.

No, she had practically betrayed Cordelia another way, Faith realized, thinking of Bev again. It wasn’t fucking fair. Then again, when had anything ever been fair?

Intently, she turned back to face Buffy, her hands grabbing the counter edge. Deep down in her gut she knew what had happened, but she wanted to hear it for herself. Giles’ assumption about Buffy doing Angel was way off.

“What?” Buffy glanced around uncomfortably at the staring faces. They had all moved in that much closer. “No! I didn’t. We didn’t. We know better. He’s supposed to know better.”

Faith could not believe that she had to point out the truth. “Giles, B didn’t sleep with Angel.”

“She didn’t?”

Instant relief relaxed his expression until Willow rephrased his words and changed the emphasis. Squirming uncomfortably, “She didn’t.”

“Cordelia, Giles, it was Cordelia,” Faith emphasized, snapping her fingers in the air. Giles’ head twitched, eyebrows coming together, and then arcing up as the light bulb went off. “Buffy wouldn’t be so upset if she was the one doing the wild thing with Angel.”

“W-W-Wild thing?” Wesley stuttered behind them.

He got her meaning clearly enough, Faith gathered, glancing over her shoulder at the man. On the surface he seemed so different from Giles, yet they had the same training. Giles had some interesting layers she was still discovering. She wondered if Wesley was going to prove to be half as much fun in breaching that stuffy exterior.

“Cordelia?” Giles looked bug-eyed for an instant before he paled.

Faith gave him an I-told-you-so look before asking Buffy, “Everything’s cool, right? You didn’t stake Angel, did you?”

“No,” Buffy huffed as if she wished she’d done it.

A high-pitched screech startled Faith who swung around to face Wesley. He looked thunderstruck with a mix of awe and terror. “Angelus is back! Dear God, no.” Flying into action, Wesley flung his suitcase onto the coffee table, pushing aside neatly folded clothing to grab the manila folder containing his research on the vampire. “We must organize a plan at once. The most important thing is that no one panic.”

The only panicking seemed to be coming from his direction.

Wesley held up his hands, one of them containing the folder, gesturing for the group to stay in place so they could think this through. None of them had actually moved. “Good,” he nodded at their calm response.

Inwardly, Faith wasn’t so certain anymore. One scenario kept playing out in her head as she thought of Angel and Cordelia in bed together. It had everything to do with the mayor’s proposed scenario: causing Angel to lose his soul. Shit, no wonder Buffy had been crying. Angelus was back.

“Where’s Cordelia?” demanded Faith. 

“At the mansion,” Xander answered jaw tightening, “with him.”

Faith felt dizzy at the thought. Oh, fuck. “You left Cor with Angelus?”

A croak sounded from Wes’ throat as he lifted his chin a notch. “Then your friend must be dead,” he concluded swiftly. Standing there in his robe and plaid pajama bottoms, he rushed to assure them that his training would get them through this latest ordeal.

“But Angel didn’t lose his soul,” Willow calmly interjected before Giles could say anything.

A chorus of, “He didn’t?” sounded from Faith, Giles and Wes.

Feeling stunned by the news, Faith could not understand it. The prospect that Angel had not experienced that fateful moment of bliss with Cordelia just seemed wrong. She looked over at Giles for answers, but he seemed lost in thought, eyes closed in an expression of utter relief. Only Wesley remained objective enough to consider the possible reasons.

Referring to some notations in the Watchers Council records, “There is little to no information about the curse available other than your own report, Mr. Giles, on the happenings between Miss Summers and Angelus.”

Buffy’s jaw dropped at the notion that this stuffy stranger knew all about it. “I don’t know why I bother asking for privacy. My love life is already International News. Why keep anyone out of the loop now?”

“We’re talking about Cordy and Angel,” reminded Faith, her fears alleviated, calm again now that she knew Cordelia was safe and no one needed staking. “I knew they’d end up in the sack.”

She did not miss the scowl on Buffy’s face, but continued on anyway. “How the hell did Angel not lose his soul? Virgin or not, no way would Cor not know how to give him a moment of bliss,” she gestured lewdly.

“Would she…?” Xander suddenly decided to drop the question when Giles cleared his throat rather loudly.

Giles and Wesley exchange looks mutually deciding that it was up to them to get a handle on the conversation before it went further out of hand. Neither one of them was exactly comfortable with the subject, but it had to be discussed.

“Perhaps you should review what happened,” Giles suggested. “I presume you went to the mansion as was discussed.”

Buffy sighed heavily answering, “Yes,” while Willow and Xander nodded and followed suit with, “Uh huh” and “Yup.”

Silence followed and the uncomfortable sensation building in Giles’ stomach churned as he pressed on with the inquisition. They were making him pry the information out of them. “So you saw something that led you to believe…”

“Oh, we saw alright,” Xander groused, his face darkening.

Willow’s pale face flushed as she admitted, “Through the keyhole.”

“You were spying on them?” Faith was not amused. She gave the three of them a look of disgust and walked into the adjacent living room to sink onto the couch. Propping her chin on her hand as she leaned against the arm of the couch, she mused, “Bet that’d be hot.”

Resoundingly shocked by the comment, Wesley sputtered, “Please, Faith, do try not to be so— so…,” only to let his voice trail off. He gathered his thoughts again before saying, “It is not your place to be concerned with the— the sexual proclivities of vampires.”

Snorting softly, Faith merely stared back.

“No one said they were having sex,” squeaked Xander complaining. “There was no sex having. Nope, none that we saw, therefore, it wasn’t had.”

“Uh—,” Willow looked back and forth between Buffy and Xander.

Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. “Buffy,” he began before opening his eyes, “I do hope you can shed some light on the subject. This must be painful for you, but it is important that you tell me what we’re facing.”

Shoulders slumped, Buffy’s look was desolate, her hazel eyes full of anguish. “I think Angel… I think Cordelia has him all twisted up inside.” She pushed past him to head into the living room where she took a seat in Giles’ favorite easy chair pulling her legs up and hugging her knees close to her chest. “He’s just sorry for her, that’s all.”

Even Faith knew better than to interrupt. She held her tongue as Buffy explained her version of the night’s events.

“We got there with Cordelia’s stuff,” she recounted bitterly. “That’s when Angel came downstairs to meet us and told us that Drusilla had actually saved Cordelia. It wasn’t until later that…” Buffy’s blonde hair shadowed her features as her head dipped low.

Willow picked up when her best friend suddenly trailed off leaping in to fill in the blanks. “Later, we heard noises. Fighting. It wasn’t spying. Not really.”

“No,” Buffy agreed looking up again. “It sounded like an argument. We were concerned.”

“Yeah, concerned.”

“Uh huh.”

As usual, Giles seemed more patient about waiting for the story to come out. Faith felt antsy, waiting anxiously for the details. Still, it was easy to guess where both Buffy and Xander were coming from. A little too easy. She only hoped they would get over the hurt-jealous-angry stage quickly for Cor’s sake. In the meantime, it would be fun to rub their noses in it. Giles, too. She would have to remind him that her predictions about the direction of Cordelia and Angel’s relationship were smack on target.

Cursing quietly, Giles reprimanded himself for not interfering. “Having observed their growing attachment, I feared the worst. My instincts told me it would only lead to trouble, but I chose to put off my concerns for future contemplation.”

He was looking at her, conceding the point, before Faith could rag him on it. She saw that Buffy looked wounded that Giles had not warned her about it. “You knew?” Shimmery tears appeared which Buffy blinked away rapidly. Straightening up her slumped form, she snapped, “Don’t you know what could’ve happened? You’re supposed to say something, do… something.”

Faith pointed out that it was not exactly Giles’ fault if Angel and Cordelia fell in love. Gasping, Buffy closed her arms across her chest and held on. “They’re not. Angel was just—”

“Horny?” asked Faith curious to hear Buffy’s take on the whole thing.

With a deep sigh, Wesley piped in, “That is hardly helpful, Faith. There is really no need to—,” only to be cut off.

“No,” Buffy dragged out the word with gritted teeth. Considering that might be better than actually feeling something else, added, “Okay, yes, but that’s all it was.”

Faith could only shake her head in pity.

“Angel understands the danger of such folly,” Giles shook his head. “He would not likely risk the loss of his soul. However, tonight has been a trial for everyone. With Cordelia in such danger, it might provoke Angel into behaving less rationally.”

Wesley concurred with a nod. “Vampire instincts are rather strong when it comes to those close to them, although that is generally reserved for members of their own bloodline.”

The two Watchers seemed caught up in dissecting the rationale behind Cordelia and Angel ending up in bed together. It seemed a lot simpler to Faith.

“Cordelia is at times rash,” Giles noted causing Buffy to grunt in agreement. Though it surprised him that she would overlook the potential consequences of the curse, it might be explained simply enough. “Teenagers are often swept up by their hormonal urges.”

“Someone should keep her hormones to herself,” muttered Buffy.

Xander took exception to that. “Cordelia was upset. It wasn’t her fault.”

“If Angel’s soul remains intact,” Wesley suggested, “perhaps things did not go as far as you suggest.”

Faith considered the fact that Buffy was just blowing things out of proportion. “What exactly did you see through that keyhole?”

There was a long pause until Willow finally answered when the other two refused to volunteer the information. “They were fighting. And kissing. That’s when Cordelia told him about his soul. Then door opened,” she shuddered at the memory, “and we got caught.” 

Curiously, Giles asked, “What about Angel’s soul, specifically?”

“It’s permanent,” Buffy answered with a hint of awe sounding in her voice. After all that had been said she still couldn’t get over the idea.

Everyone was too stunned to respond and the room fell into silence again for several seconds until the only sound was the repetitive ticking of the clock. Giles and Wesley shared an amazed look as they each considered the import of this news. 

“My God,” Giles could only whisper the words when he finally found his voice, “Angelus.” 

Wesley quickly picked up the idea enthusiastically. “The threat would be gone. With Angel’s soul secure, he would… still be a vampire even if guided by a conscience,” he sobered slightly. “That is hardly a suitable relationship for Miss Chase to pursue.”

“Suitable or not,” Faith grinned at the prospect, “I’d like to see you try to stop her. I wasn’t so keen it at first, but now that I know him, Angel’s cool.”

“He took advantage of Cor last night,” Xander spat furiously. “He deserves the pointy end of a stake. Her grandma’s dead, she got kidnapped and then Dead Boy swooped in for the rescue all Don Juan-like.”

Giles grimaced. “Yes, I can see where you are coming from. However, despite the fact that neither of us approve of Cordelia being intimate with Angel, it sounds as if you are fairly certain it has happened.”

Another snort sounded from Faith as Xander went into denial mode again. “Nope. We saw nothing. So we can’t be certain about being certain.”

“Ah,” Giles knew better than to go there, she noted, watching him struggle with his response. Finally, he settled on steering away from sex and back to the important issue of the curse itself. “You say that Cordelia told Angel his soul was permanent?”

Wondering aloud, “How’d she know?” Faith figured it had been more than wishful thinking. Cordelia might have been as distraught and hormonal as Xander and Giles suggested, but not stupid.

“I was going to ask that,” Wesley held up a finger showing his interest.

A clipped answer followed from Buffy, “Drusilla.”

Some missing puzzle pieces fell into place. Cordelia had been hush-hush about her first experience with Drusilla. The vampiress had said something to her, but Cor was not willing to tell Faith what that was. She had gone all red and then pale and changed the subject so cunningly that Faith forgot about it.

Both Giles and Wesley had that contemplative far away look, their mouths set into grim lines. It was the younger Watcher who pressed on with their original line of questioning. “So you are certain that they…”

“Pretty certain,” Buffy answered glumly. Then her mouth tightened up as she added, “Certain that Cordelia made him feel sorry for her, that’s all.”

“Yeah right,” Faith threw her a look of pity. “While you and Xander are in Denialsville be sure to take the full tour.”

Both of them glared back for a second before turning to Willow, as if expecting her to take their side. Faith was interested to see which side she was going to choose: the Angel’s-an-evil-bastard side or the Cordelia’s-a-seductress side. The look of panic on Willow’s face was priceless. She pressed her lips together as if determined not to say a thing. That lasted 2.5 seconds.

“I-I’m certain that we didn’t wake up dead this morning,” Willow chirped clasping her hands behind her back. “Either Angel’s curse is cured or they didn’t do it.”

For a second, Faith thought that Willow was going to weasel out of giving them a real opinion. She shrank back out of the circle they had formed around the room clearly uncomfortable being the center of attention, yet surprised them all by adding, “But I kinda think they did.”

“Oh, dear,” Wesley shook his head. Repeating what he had said before, “Angel may have a conscience, but he is still a powerful vampire retaining some measure of demonic influence. That is definitely not something any girl should be involved with.”

Buffy turned beet red and was working her way up to a comeback when Faith butted in with, “Hey, you ever think that Soul Boy might’ve done you a favor? You’re all worked up about Angel getting laid, but you should be grateful for it. Since Cordy’s no longer cherry, that means she’s no longer sacrifice material, right?”

After the two Watchers got over their immediate embarrassment, they stumbled for a response. “There is no guarantee the demon referred to purity as a virgin state,” Wes covered his discomfort by focusing objectively. “For example, the demons of the Harthankoora tribe consider their females pure until they have killed their first mate. Or the—”

“So you’re saying that Cordelia is still in danger?” Alarmed, Faith thought she had found a bit of good news for her friend. Not that they were friends anymore after yesterday. “I guess that means the best thing to do is have Cor stick it out with Angel until this is over.”

No one seemed fond of the idea. Giles suggested that they simply had to be vigilant. “The demon that attacked you may not come alone next time. It would be best if you or Buffy remained with Cordelia at all times. The rest of us will continue to follow the signs of the prophecy.” 

“Angel won’t like that,” warned Buffy knowing it to be true, a mask of resignation slipping across her face, “but the fact is that he can’t be there all of the time.”

Willow looked like she’d betrayed her best friend— both of them. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I-I know it’s painful. If it was Oz falling for someone else, I’d be upset, too.”

“That’s right. You’ve been on the other side of that coin with Xander.” Faith watched as Willow gaped at the reminder. “But that was different, wasn’t it, Will? You two were cheating.”

“Uh— I suppose so,” she admitted, blushing.

Xander turned red, too. “That was different… and so not a subject I want to talk about right now.”

Neither did Willow by the sound of it. She rushed to change the subject. “Giles, Cordelia wants to come over today. She needs some help to arrange things for her grandmother.”

“Me?” The question slipped out before Giles realized that Cordelia had no one to rely upon for funeral matters. Faith knew that he would shoulder the responsibility just as he always did. Giles was cool that way. “Yes, of course I will help her.”

Still, he pointed out that it would be necessary for one of the Slayers to accompany them. Just because it was daytime did not mean that they could relax their guard. Buffy glanced at Faith and said, “I’ll do it.”

“No way,” Faith stood up from the couch and cocked her head to the side. “I got it covered.”

Unfolding her legs, Buffy rose from her sitting position, and stubbornly crossed her arms. “You honestly think Cordelia wants you around?” Her meaning was all too clear. Cordelia would hate her for her part in Bev’s death.

“Better to have her pissed off than dead,” Faith countered adamantly. “You’ve been up all night.”

“You’re not exactly in top shape.”

Faith shrugged carelessly. “It’s nothing. It only hurts when I smile.”

Staring wide-eyed as the Slayers argued over who was going to take morning guard duty, Willow suggested diplomatically, “Maybe you should flip a coin.”

“I’m going,” Faith snapped, brown eyes intense. “I owe it to Cordy to protect her. Bev died because I fucked up.”

Willow cringed “F-fouled up?”

Glancing toward Giles, she caught his somber expression. “Yeah.” Faith knew that she was not likely to keep Cordelia’s friendship after this. 


105:     The Foyer, Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

They squared off in the foyer, Angel and Cordelia standing silently across from Faith and Giles. Awkward was not the word for it. It was downright painful. No one seemed to want to be the first one to speak. 

Normally, Cordelia would just break the ice. She tried now, but the words caught in her throat. There was censure, sorrow and concern in Giles’ eyes, his lips pressed tightly closed as he looked at the two of them. Faith looked ready for a fight, but she always did.

It was Angel who finally broke the silence. “I appreciate you coming here,” he looked Giles in the eye, “for Cordy’s sake,” phrasing it as if he thought it was a burden.

Cordelia was puzzled for a second until she realized that the last time Giles had been to the mansion, Angelus and Drusilla had tortured him for information. There was a twinge of guilt in Angel’ voice knowing that the simple act of being here was enough to bring back the memories of that time.

“Naturally, I want to help,” Giles took the hand Angel offered after only the briefest pause. The irony of it struck hard knowing that Giles was willing to help and protect her despite the fact that Angelus had killed Jenny Calendar.

She thought she’d been holding it together pretty well until Giles’ attention turned to her. “How are you holding up?” Thank God for Angel standing there next to her. The last thing she wanted was to look like a blubbering idiot in front of Buffy’s Watcher.

Assuring him, “I’m fine,” as she slipped her fingers through Angel’s to clasp his hand tight. When he squeezed back Cordelia felt herself relaxing and everything she had wanted or needed to say came pouring out: Drusilla hiding her from the demon, Bev having a will that would need tending to, the need to file a report with the police, wanting to see Bev at the morgue, and make funeral arrangements.

Giles promised to help with everything that needed to be done. “I hesitate to say this now,” he added, “considering the circumstances, but we must discuss what is to be done about seeing to your protection.”

As Angel had suggested, Giles seemed to think it was possible that she was still in some kind of danger. Hello, not a virgin anymore. Cordelia did not think that needed pointing out after Buffy hightailed it straight to Giles’ place this morning.

“The final signs of the prophecy will make their appearance in the days and weeks ahead.” He reminded her that it might be some time before they could let down their guard. “I presume any fulfillment of this prophecy will ultimately require Cordelia’s participation as a sacrifice.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Angel practically growled his response. She could feel the tension building up just by the subtle change in his grip.

With her free hand, she stroked her fingers down his arm. “No, it won’t happen. You won’t let it.”

For a moment, she got lost in Angel’s eyes.

Cordelia had confidence that Angel could protect her from this. And just in case, she was still planning on more training sessions. She only hoped that Bev’s funeral would go smoothly and that nothing else would distract them from putting her grandmother to rest.

“We’ll get through this,” Angel promised her softly.

A harrumph sounded from Giles catching their attention. Faith nudged him with her elbow and shook her head, but he didn’t notice. Cordelia was too curious to ignore it. “What’s the secret?” She suspected it had something to do with her and Angel. 

“No secret,” Giles hurriedly explained. “There is something I need to discuss with Angel.”

Cordelia raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?” her voice dropped dangerously. There were some subjects she considered closed.

“With the ongoing danger, I believe it is best to consolidate our efforts,” Giles missed the glare in her eyes turning to surprise. “The mansion is the best place for everyone to hold up for a few days.”

“Here?” Cordelia glanced over at Angel wondering how he was going to react. Having Buffy and the rest of the Scoobs here was not a pleasant thought.

A heavy silence thickened the air until finally Angel commented, “Fine.”

“What?” Gaping openly, Cordelia pictured Buffy catching her making out with Angel. Demons were the least of her problems. “Now?”

Defending Angel’s decision, Giles listed his own reasoning for suggesting it in the first place. Knowing that the Crosathnam demon had already tracked Cordelia down once, it was likely that it could do so again. There would be no need to house her with one of the others, keeping the Scoobies’ families safe. Since the mansion was not in a heavily populated area, they might have a chance to keep a low profile.

“We cannot sit idly while the demons gather strength,” Giles warned them. “We need a stronghold against attack and I believe this mansion will provide it.”

Angel was already thinking of weaknesses in the perimeter defenses and how they might go about fixing them. When Giles stepped up and suggested they sit down to work out some details, Cordelia gladly left them to their man-to-manpire chat. She was anxious to talk to Faith.

There were some things Cordelia needed to get off her chest. “I didn’t expect you to be here.”

Still staring over at Giles as he and Angel walked toward the study, Faith jerked her attention back to Cordelia giving her a gruff response. “It was me or B.”

“This bodyguard thing is more of a pain than I imagined.”

Cordelia expected Faith to joke about her needing to get used to it if she planned to be rich and famous some day. The joke never came. Just an uneasy silence as Faith crossed her arms over her chest and looked back down the hall.

She seemed closed-off and uncomfortable. Guessing that it had to do with being witness to whatever Buffy said about her when she got to Giles’ place, Cordelia let out an indignant huff. “Buffy Big Mouth blabbered that I was with Angel last night. Guess Giles loved hearing all about it— not.”

It was a statement rather than a question. Faith barked a laugh. “Yeah, he knows. Everybody knows.”

“I suppose I’m now the bitch from hell… again.”

Faith let out another laugh, but this one was tainted with remorse. “That’s my title.”

Not getting it, Cordelia asked, “Why?”

“It’s obvious.” This time Faith looked straight at her, standing stiff as a board.

There was not anything as obvious as a neon sign that Cordelia could see. “You say something to piss Buffy off?”

“No. Don’t you get it?” She looked stunned and uncomfortable about saying anything else. “Bev. Bev died because of me.”

“Enough with the— hey!” she stalled as Faith’s words sank in. Taking a step forward, Cordelia told her, “I saw everything.”

Wracked with guilt, Faith stumbled over the words, “It was an accident.” She stared back, jaw tightening as she waited for Cordelia to chew her up and spit her out.

“I know that.” Cordelia realized the reason for Faith’s evasiveness. “Bev would be the first to kick your ass for blaming yourself for this. As it is, looks like I get first dibs.”

Faith flashed a grin, but it faded again just as quickly. “Bev was cool. I never meant for her to get hurt.”

Deciding to let Faith get this out in the open, Cordelia found herself swallowing back another bout of tears. She let her hair fall forward shadowing her face as she took in a deep breath before looking up again. “Fighting demons, even if you’re a Slayer, must be tough when you’re trying to protect other people, too.”

“It doesn’t change anything,” Faith scowled, angry at herself and the situation. She let out a noxious curse pushing away Cordelia’s outstretched hand. “Some Slayer. I’m such a screw up.”

She gave her a little room, but did not back down. “You’re my friend.”

The seconds passed without any comment, but that dimpled smile appeared again. Cordelia nabbed the opportunity to change the subject. “Buffy’s just lucky it was you who showed up. She’s overdue for some ass-kickage of her own. My clothes were in trash bags.”


Cordelia shuddered again at the atrocity. “Trash bags.”

“Maybe we should check on the guys,” Faith leaned over to peer down the hall again, “just in case.”

Either she was not the only one good at changing subjects or Faith was actually concerned about the discussion going on in the study. “Why do I get the feeling they’re not just talking about defense strategies? Giles wouldn’t have the nerve—”


“Ooh, he’d better not,” Cordelia started down the hall with Faith trailing after her.

Angel was the first to look up at their arrival. He was standing by the fireplace, the wood cold and ashen much like his stony expression. His dark eyes flicked back to Giles who turned toward them. “Ah, girls, there you are. We were just finishing up here. Perhaps we should get started. Is... is everything alright?”

Ignoring him, Cordelia walked up to Angel, silently searching his face for signs that he’d been subject to some kind of inquisition. Angel said nothing. His hand swept up to cup her face, eyes softening as they lingered over her mouth. She relaxed at his touch, instinctively knowing that whatever they’d been discussing, it hadn’t affected his feelings for her.

Behind her, Faith’s voice contained a little bite when she asked Giles, “Did you ditch the lecture like I said?”

Lecture? Cordelia glanced over her shoulder before turning around completely. “What are you talking about?” It had better not be what she was thinking. And if it was, a certain Watcher had better produce the right answer. Otherwise, he would end up having to dislodge the family jewels from his nostrils.

Though Giles was not psychic, he could definitely read her body language. Right now, it was shouting at him. He looked back at Faith who seemed to realize she unwittingly unleashed Cordelia’s fury. “Sorry, Rup,” she chuckled.

“We were discussing perimeter defenses,” Giles responded truthfully.

Moving a step closer, Cordelia propped her hands on her hips. “Good answer. What lecture, Giles?”

“Take a wild guess,” Faith looked like she was the only one having fun with this.

Who needed to guess? It was obvious that Giles had prepared some speech about Cordelia being too young or Angel being too dangerous for them to be together. “It’s none of your business.”

Giles didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “Perhaps not, but when things settle down, it would be prudent to conduct some tests. I understand that you believe your soul is now secure,” he said to Angel.

“Yes.” There was a thread of anger weighting the single syllable down.

That did not stop Giles from continuing on now that the subject had been forced upon him. “If the risk of Angelus—”

“Angel’s not going to lose his soul,” Cordelia snapped. This was all out of some sense of concern for her, she realized, but that did not make it his decision. “Giles, you’re not my father. I’m old enough to have sex if I want…with anyone I want.”

Pursing his lips closed, Giles agreed with a curt nod. “I cannot judge you for whom you love, Cordelia, but allow me the courtesy of concern— for both of you.”

Her anger faded when she saw only genuine feeling in his eyes. Promising him, “It’s safe. I know it is.” The knowledge that Angel’s soul was secure made Drusilla’s shared vision seem plausible. She was not ready to divulge that to anyone without understanding it fully.

“I hope so.” Giles sighed deeply. “For now, the immediate issue is converting this mansion into our command center.”

Cordelia could not hide her feelings on that matter. “Ugh. That idea is right up there with corduroy making a comeback.”

“Until the danger is over, it’s for the best.” Angel had already agreed to it. He tried to assure her that it would be okay, but he did not sound very thrilled about it, either.

“Guess we’ll be moving in,” Faith sent her an apologetic smile.

Making a sour face, “Fantastic,” Cordelia’s lip curled. “It’ll be like Summer Camp with the Scoobies. I can’t wait.”   

106:     Angel's Mansion, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale


Long years had passed since the mansion sheltered so many humans under its roof. Even before the fire it had been a lonely place abandoned by the owners for a faster pace in the big city. Furniture in most of the second and third floor rooms remained shrouded by white sheets, but time had still taken its toll. Dust thickly layered the covers. Old cobwebs hung in tattered shreds next to new.

Ghostly legends of the haunted mansion on the hill kept most of the locals away. A perfect locale for vampires, Angelus had claimed it when his growing clan required suitable accommodations. Having a real roof over his head was always preferable to the way some of his kind existed. Boards over the broken windows kept out the light making it easy to move around within the interior.

Upon returning to Sunnydale Angel had seen no reason to abandon the mansion. Like his Southside apartment, it held memories better left undisturbed, but not so easily forgotten. Situated on the second floor, the master suite opened up onto the central hall where the landing overlooked the main foyer. Bedrooms lined opposite sides of the hall with a single guest bathroom at the far end.

Running water was not a problem though the pipes sometimes groaned with age. A few rooms previously occupied by Angelus’ minions would still be habitable enough. Downstairs, the old conservatory remained intact much like it was when Buffy had closed the gateway to Acathla’s realm sealing his doom. Spike & Drusilla had used the old Housekeeper’s room near the kitchen and laundry when they were here. Being on the ground floor had made wheelchair access easier.

All of the rooms down there were clean and uncluttered. Angel spent most of his time in the study or in the basement training room. To his sensitive nose a hint of old smoke lingered throughout the mansion. Still, it was suitable enough for his houseguests.

Two by two they invaded: Watchers, Slayers and their trusty sidekicks. Armed with an array of weaponry, books, equipment and supplies they scurried back and forth unloading the cars parked outside. Chattering enough to wake the dead they shouted out to each other in passing. This time of day, he normally slept, but today that was impossible with Cordelia out of the house and potentially at risk. The desire for sleep was there, but he had pushed it aside, ignoring it.

Angel watched from the shadows above leaning against the balustrade. One of them had propped open the front doors to make it easier to move things inside. Daylight poured into foyer across the tiled ceramic flooring. Even from the sheltered darkness he could smell the sun, felt its heat. Until they shut the doors he could do nothing but watch them work.

Hours had passed while Cordelia was out taking care of police reports and funeral arrangements. Though she’d been guarded by Faith and Giles, he worried for her safety and hated the helpless feeling that sat in his gut when she walked out of his sight. Planning their return might have been the best thing to do, but there were too many distractions.

Mainly, he kept thinking about having Cordy back in his bed listening to her husky demands for more, her tight heat surrounding him. Or imagining taking her on the rug in front of the fireplace as the fire’s glow flickering over the smooth silk of her skin. The fantasies just kept coming and for once Angel didn’t have to push them back to the dark recesses of his mind as being something forever denied to him. Instead, he let his mind settle on his favorite chair and smirked wickedly at the thoughts of what they might do there.

When Cordy arrived home again, safe despite her excursion, all he’d wanted to do was back her up against the nearest wall to show her he belonged inside her. A quick smack on the lips and a cheeky grin was all he’d gotten because the entire gang had barged in just behind her. Buffy’s pinched expression showed as she tried to hide the anger and hurt she so obviously felt. Hiding nothing, a scowl crossed Xander’s face the second they laid eyes on each other.

Sooner or later Angel knew he’d have to put that boy in his place.

Catching him glaring at Xander, Faith passed by carrying a large duffle bag, dimpling in amusement. “We’re the good guys. No need to rip any heads off yet.” She winked at them knowingly when Cordy leaned up to whisper, “Missed you.”

Angel crossed his arms over his chest in order to keep his hands off her. “So how’d it go?”

“Everything’s settled,” she said slowly, her lashes dipping down to fan her cheeks. Angel could see her love for her grandmother in her eyes when she looked up again. “We had to make special arrangements to have her buried next to my grandfather. After the earthquake with the church being in shambles, they weren’t going to allow it.”

That didn’t surprise Angel considering the devastation left behind. His questions on the matter had to wait long enough to acknowledge Willow’s tentative entry into the mansion. She paused just inside the doorway, her curious gaze falling upon Cordelia standing so close to him before it trailed up the stairs. He heard a little ‘eep’ out of her before she scurried after the others who’d headed toward the kitchen with bags of groceries.

Rupert Giles followed, his arms laden with books. His fellow Watcher was similarly burdened, but was too busy gaping at the interior of the mansion to notice Giles had stopped. Bumping into him, Wesley apologized, “Sorry, old chap.”

A flash of annoyance appeared on Giles’ face before he hefted the books higher in his arms. Asking where he should put them, “Research?” 

“Down the hall,” Angel suppressed the growl he felt building up at the thought that these men were intruding in his personal space. The study was his quiet domain, a place where he could focus and reflect, or relax. There was no doubt it was the best room for conducting their research, so he didn’t hesitate to offer it despite feeling territorial about it.

Turning their attention back to the conversation, Cordelia explained that she’d had to kick a little ass to get someone to listen. Even then, it had taken a special request from the mayor to approve the burial. Angel was surprised that someone like the mayor would get involved.

“Faith seemed to think he would jump at the chance to help,” she admitted to some surprise of her own. “Maybe he felt guilty about shutting down the Bingo Hall. Mayor Wilkins wasn’t exactly Bev’s favorite politician.”

Buffy emerged from the back hall again, stalking determinedly toward the front door they had opened just enough to get inside leaving a wedge of bright light across the floor. She paused, glancing over at them with daggers in her eyes, hand gripping the brass door handle. “We’ve got stuff to bring in.”

The words were Angel’s only warning as Buffy fully opened up the doors. Sunlight burst into the foyer sending him scrambling up the staircase at a fast pace, his skin steaming from the heat. “Gah! I can’t believe she did that,” Cordelia started after her only to be stopped by Faith.

“Let me handle it,” Faith turned her back in the direction of the stairs. “You check on Mr. Crispy up there.”

Angel wasn’t physically hurt. His skin still felt warm, and was reddened with a light burn, but he hadn’t been exposed to the sunrays long enough to scorch the flesh. It stung more that Buffy would use one of his natural weaknesses to inflict a little pain. The warning was enough to tell him that’s all it amounted to. She wasn’t out to kill him, just make him hurt like she did.

“Buffy did that on purpose,” Cordelia griped as she hurried up the stairs to join him on the landing. She held out her hand. “Let me see.”

“I’m fine, Cordy,” his assurances weren’t enough. Apparently, she had to see it for herself running her fingers across every bit of exposed skin looking for burn marks.

Gentle fingers smoothed over his wrists, forearms, up to his neck. Though it wasn’t what she intended those tender touches were turning him on. Angel watched the contrasting concern and relief flit over her face each time she checked out a new area only to find that he was telling her the truth. He held onto her waist keeping her close, but let her explore until she was assured to her satisfaction.

Mesmerized by the way her teeth tugged at her lip with worry, the soft escape of her breath against his skin as she leaned close, Angel swooped down to press his lips to the corner of her mouth. A sound, half gasping surprise, half moan dragged from her throat.

Sounding almost perturbed about it, “You’re okay,” her eyes sparkling with pent up fear. Thinking the worst of what might have happened only made her angry. “Don’t scare me like that.”

A hard push knocked him into the wall, Cordelia following, her body pressing tightly against his. The aggressive move stirred an equal response. Quickly aroused, Angel tangled his fingers in her hair to tilt her face up for another kiss. This time lips parted for more than just a teasing peck.

Their mouths meshed together in clashing hungry need. One after the other. Tasting. Licking. Pressing urgently for more as husky moans sounded between them. Cordy’s hands clutched at his shirt. As if his kiss was the only thing that could prove he wasn’t hurt more than he said, her passion sparked by anger. 

Just seconds more and Angel planned to stop. There were things. Important. But he couldn’t get past the fact that Cordelia’s soft lips were warm against his. That her mouth tasted so damned sweet and hot. Or that he wanted to bury himself inside her.

Angel caught hold of her hips aligning their quickly aroused bodies. Even splayed across him, she still wasn’t close enough. Reaching down he grabbed her ass. She gave a soft grunt of surprise against his mouth as he yanked her up onto her toes. The thrust of his hips hit her just right letting her feel the hard ridge of his arousal.

Panting his name, “Ang—,” she was cut off by another kiss.

Cordelia moaned into their kiss chasing his tongue back into his mouth. A nudge of his knee parted her legs. Angel wedged one hard thigh between hers. Denim and dense flesh rubbing against thin damp silk. She wound her arms around his neck now desperate for more than friction.

Breaking the kiss, Angel nudged her back to her feet, hot gaze burning into hers. Saying what he wanted without saying a word. The hot flash of want in her eyes told him all he needed to know. Curling his fingers around her wrist, he took one fleeting glance down at the empty lobby then led her through the open door of the master suite. Cordy didn’t bother looking back. She followed him inside and kicked the door closed behind her. 

107:     The Factory, Westside, Sunnydale

Paint over the factory windows blocked out the light. Built back in the 30’s, the old brick building had closed down in 1970. Originally designed to manufacture its new invention, the Flexible Straw Corporation had moved to California after the Great Depression. A variety of other inventions by its founder were also created there, but the dangers of Sunnydale and business opportunities in larger cities forced the shutdown of the plant.

Newer facilities had been built nearby closer to the railroad and the shipyards. The old factory remained abandoned for the most part. Over the years it served as a sleeping place for vagrants and a den for some of Sunnydale’s unsavory types. It was sizable compared to the crypt at Kingman’s Bluff, but not as easy to defend against invasion.

Nicolau Cibran strode into the central chamber with unhurried grace. He paused just inside the door to remove his hat and gloves, tossing them and his car keys onto the surface of a pile of packing boxes. The stylish cashmere/wool blend overcoat he wore was handed to Anton who greeted his master with a respectful nod.

There was no need for them to speak of what Nicolau would find there. A telephone call to the apartment had informed him that Isobel had a present for him. He had sent her out on a hunt last night. Business had taken him back to see Kalesh, the demon priestess of Amolon. Her displeasure at the loss of the Pure One was evident, but Nicolau’s natural charm convinced her to give him the time he desired to capture Cordelia Chase.

“Leave her to me,” Nicolau’s soft words and platitudes had easily won the priestess over. She agreed to his wishes. There was time to let him have his way. As long as the Pure One was captured alive, no harm would be done to their plans.

Kalesh was using the human gang leader, Mike ‘The Undertaker’ Mooney, and his rowdy band of bikers to gather the items needed for the next stage of the prophecy. He was not privy to the details of her meeting with the representative of Wolfram & Hart. The priestess seemed equally taken with lawyer Jake Devries. Somehow that just left a bad taste in his mouth.

It would please him to put that human in his place, but Nicolau was no fool. The man was merely a representative to his superiors. Where there was one there were many. When his cell phone rang and the news came that Isobel requested his presence at a factory on the west end of town, Nicolau knew they were one step closer to attaining what he wanted.

Anton sported two black eyes and a broken nose. Smudges of blood not his own had marked his cheeks. Yet his minion wore a smug smile as he led his master toward the back wall. From across the room, Nicolau heard the rattling of chains, saw Isobel deliver a roundhouse kick that delivered too hard a blow knocking her captive out, momentarily grinning upon hearing, “Wake up, I am not yet finished.” Isobel always did enjoy interrogation games.

Two minions held the ends of a thickly linked chain. They too were marred with dark bruises and an array of wounds from their battle. The chain was attached to the iron manacles around their captive’s wrists. White skin was streaked red with blood. Deep marks from fangs and fingernails crisscrossed the vampire’s bare flesh.

It was impossible to tell if this was Spike just by looking. Unconscious, his body had slumped down to his knees, upper body held up by the pressure of the chains. His head hung down at an angle that prevented Nicolau from seeing his face. If this was Drusilla’s childe and lover, this was indeed worthy of his attention.

“Isobel,” the soft sound of her name on her master’s lips was enough to pull her attention to him. She turned to him, golden eyes bright in her true face, lips stained red with blood. Crimson drops were scattered across her clothes, her skin flushed from recent feeding and the excitement of making her captive scream in pain.

She was in his arms in an instant of seeing him. Their mouths met passionately tasting each other and sharing traces of blood from her victim. The blood of a vampire was different than that of the humans from which it fed. It tasted of death, eternity and power, and this one was no minion.

Ending the kiss, Nicolau pulled back noting that Isobel had also sustained minor injuries during the earlier fight. Most were already healing, but a long scrape dug a deep path across her left cheek marring her beauty even if only temporarily.

Throat thickening with rage, he bared his fangs in a sneer. Demanding truth, “Who did this?” His fingers trailed along the edge of the wound.

Glancing toward her captive, Isobel took a moment to answer. “Drusilla.”

He sensed no other vampires here. “She escaped.” It was not a question. The fact angered him, for it was Drusilla he hoped to find here. There were questions he had for the dark-haired vampiress that had nothing to do with Cordelia Chase. The Pure One was for Kalesh. Though it did not appear that she had been captured either.

“Yes,” Isobel’s face morphed into her softer human features making her appear to be a wounded innocent. Though he knew well what the transformation was intended to do, Nicolau was not fooled by it. Still, he let her get away with her pretty pout.

“And what of Cordelia Chase?”

There was only one trace of her left behind, Isobel explained. Some blood-stained clothes were found in an adjacent room. “She was not here when we arrived. The others searched, but found nothing.”

Nicolau presumed that was the reason for her little inquisition. Considering the now unconscious state of the vampire hanging limply from the chains, he wondered what news Isobel had discovered.

It was Anton who spoke up for Isobel. “All is not lost, master.”

“That bastard hasn’t told me anything,” Isobel pushed herself out of Nicolau’s arms to storm over to her tortured captive. “Spike’s loyalty to Drusilla is difficult to break.”

Nicolau knew that much without having him tortured. “Do whatever it takes to find her—and the Pure One.”

“Anything?” Isobel raised a brow, her lips twitching in sudden amusement. Turning back to Spike who was starting to stir, she was already planning her next move.

When Nicolau asked Anton to clarify his comment, he told him that Drusilla revealed that a Miss Edith had taken tea with the Pure One. Perhaps the next step to finding Cordelia Chase would be to locate the elusive Miss Edith and force her to talk.

After listening to Anton’s theory, Nicolau threw back his head and laughed. He turned and walked over to the overturned table he had noted upon his arrival. Crouching down, he picked a small object off the floor. “This is Miss Edith,” Nicolau introduced his minion to the porcelain-faced doll.

“I—I did not realize,” Anton looked completely humiliated for suggesting that a doll held the answers to his master’s current problems.

“This prim and proper miss has been through a lot today,” Nicolau propped the doll on his palm and primped her brown curls into place. “She should not be left in such a place as this, Anton. Take her to the apartment. We will watch over Miss Edith until her mistress comes for her.”

Confused, Anton took the doll from Nicolau’s outstretched hand. Staring down at the goggle-eyed doll he wondered what power a child’s toy could hold over someone who could make his powerful master feel such fear.   

108:     The Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

Leaning up against the banister Angel felt Cordelia’s arms around his waist. Palms scraped up the front of his shirt and then settled down as she pressed into his back, her lush breasts soft and warm snuggling closer. A husky sigh emerged from her throat, a half joking complaint. “Tell me again whose lame idea it was to invite the Scoobies.”

There was no need to go into that. Cordelia simply expressed his own frustration with this temporary invasion of his home. It amazed him how quickly he could get caught up in the need for sex. Making love to Cordy was a revelation. Something he hoped she found half as meaningful.

People in love had sex—as long as there were no gypsy curses involved. There was no need to feel guilty about it. Angel hoped that dragging her off to the bedroom had not been a mistake. It was spontaneous in a way he rarely allowed himself to be, too used to needing to stay in control.

It was Cordy that blew his vaunted self-control. Being with her, inside her, giving her everything he had made him want it and her even more. Their current circumstances interfered with that. He had discovered that he loved her and that made wanting her all the more irresistible. Fear and a need to show her that he cared came out physically instead of with the reassuring words he wanted to say.

Angel caught her hand lifting it up to kiss the center of her palm. Despite liberal use of gently fragranced shower products he could still detect the subtle aroma of their lovemaking. Intoxicating. The more they touched, kissed or made love his scent became imprinted on her skin.

Just her nearness was enough to spark strong emotions of lust and tenderness. With the memory of taking her so fresh in his mind, the open way she urged him on, told him what she liked, and yet lost the ability to form a coherent word near the end of it, Angel found it hard to focus on the activity in the foyer below. Closing her fingers over the kiss he held it against his chest now staring blindly at the tiled pattern on the floor below.

“We’ll survive this Scooby drama somehow,” Cordelia tried to sound encouraging.

Pulling her around to face him, Angel saw that she’d changed into casual clothes, the kind he once would’ve been surprised to know she possessed: jeans softly hugging her curves and simple sweater. A high knot held her hair off her face. Only a few strands escaped to tease her cheeks.

Angel’s mouth twisted wryly as he fought off the urge to kiss her again. “Survival might be an issue if we get caught.” A hand guided her hips as he effectively trapped her between him and the banister.

Getting caught was the last thing on their minds when they’d been kissing earlier. It wasn’t even a glimmer once the bedroom door had closed them off from the rest of the mansion. As soon as they were inside Angel voraciously swiped his lips across hers again wanting to consume her completely.

Claiming their succulent heat one last time, he trailed his fingers down to fondle her breast before rasping thickly, “Take off your panties.”

Flushed with excitement, Cordy paused for a heartbeat before slipping her fingers underneath the hem of her skirt. The little scrap of scarlet material had slid down her thighs in seconds, damp with desire, to encircle shapely ankles. Stepping out of them with one sandaled foot, she’d used the other to kick them away.

No time existed for sweet, passionate lovemaking, but the lusty glint dancing in her hazel eyes told him it didn’t matter. They’d both needed it, wanted it. Cordelia had fumbled with his belt, got distracted by the bulge formed by his erection and rubbed her hand down his length. Brilliant instincts or not, it caused him to buck up against her cupped palm. If she’d touched him much longer that would’ve been it.

Dragging her hand away, he’d brought it to his mouth, bit the fleshy part of her hand just enough to turn it red. It just spurred her on. Faintly, he recalled the frantic way they’d tugged on each other’s clothes. Her blouse unbuttoned. His shirttail hanging out of his pants. It just wasn’t happening fast enough.

Angel whirled her around fast so that her back and buttocks were flush against him. Her hair settled in messy disarray over their shoulders. He nudged it out of the way to scrape his blunt teeth against her throat, and a wet kiss at the juncture of her jaw.

“Bend over,” he’d instructed giving her a little push in that direction. “Put your hands against the corner of the bed.”

Cordelia flashed an eager grin, bent down so her ass was in the air and peeked at him over her shoulder. The skirt of her dress angled up, but still covered everything revealing only the toned muscles of her spread thighs and calves. “Like that? C’mon, Angel, hurry. Now.”

Gravel voiced, “Just like that,” Angel unzipped without taking his eyes off her. Loving the fact that she submitted, but demanded attention almost in the same breath.

With a little flip, he tossed the back of her skirt out of the way. Took a moment to soak in the sight of Cordelia’s golden skin, ran his hands across the warm flesh of her buttocks. Shiny damp with arousal, he didn’t need to touch her to know she was ready, but he did so anyway rubbing two fingers over her wet center giving her clit a couple of gentle whirls.

Trembling, Cordelia let out an unintelligible sound that urged him on. Angel shoved down his pants just to get them out of the way. He fisted his cock stroking moisture across the broad tip before thrusting forward. Tightly surrounded, the tight wet heat was nearly his undoing. Angel stilled, hips thrust forward, buttocks clenched when he was fully sheathed, panting instinctively to gain some semblance of control.

“Oh—ah!” She trembled below him as if the quick entry was almost too much to take. Body taut, need burning in her gaze as she glanced back, Cordelia pleaded, “Don’t stop.”

Hands on her ass, Angel pulled back slowly watching as each inch of his cock came into view, shiny with her wetness. The snug grasp of her body fought to hold him there. She bucked against his hands, but he pulled back until only the tip remained inside her.

A drawn out, “Yes,” hissed through her gritted teeth as he thrust back hard. “Do that again. You feel so good.”

The words broke what little control he had. Angel pounded into her from behind, his hips working back and forth. Nothing better in this moment, tight and hot, the quick-slow drag of cock and cunt made silence impossible. The wet slap of skin on skin accompanied their orchestral grunts and Cordy’s noisy orgasm. He would have laughed at her efforts to muffle the sound if he had not been so close to coming.

Making her lose her ability to mouth off at him might be a useful skill. One not likely to be available when he needed it. He’d definitely settle for this. Watching Cordy go up in sparks with him inside her was worth any trade off.

Angel reached around her hip, pressed his fingers down through the downy curls to stroke her at the same fast pace. She came again, less intensely, but it was enough to set him off. He lost his perfect rhythm. Letting go her clit he grasped her hips with both hands and rode her until he exploded, jerking hard inside her.

They collapsed onto the bed in a heap of sweaty skin and tangled limbs. Panting for breath, his body echoed hers. Their clothes were caught in wrinkled gathers between them except where they were joined together, reluctant to move. Conscious of his weight bearing down on her, Angel had withdrawn his sex, not bothering to hide the groan of pleasure at the sensation.

Twisting around side by side they kissed softly, slowly in contrast to the fast pace they had set. If they had been alone in the house without anything else to distract them Angel knew this would have been just a prelude to the rest of the evening. If he had his wish they’d still be curled up in bed. Instead, he had tasted the soft moan she made against his tongue while they kissed and then reluctantly left her to rest while he went to clean up.

Cordelia had let him go, a sultry smile on her face. Not wanting to make anyone suspicious, Angel decided he should step out of the room while Cordelia changed clothes. That assumed their visitors had not heard anything or guessed what they had been doing.

From the looks of things, they had not. Everyone downstairs seemed to be occupied by their task of unloading the cars. They seemed to have brought enough supplies and food to last for weeks. Angel hoped this was not going to take that long, but from Giles’ descriptions of the prophecy and the timeline it revealed, he knew that it might be some time before this was over. 

“Whose lame idea was it to invite the Scoobies, again?” Cordelia emerged from the bedroom having changed into casual clothes, her hair now tied up in a high knot. His senses were already awake and keyed in to her slightest touch. The casual way she wound her arms around his waist and leaned into his back left him feeling strangely happy.

Angel covered one hand clasping their fingers. “It’s necessary.”

There was no need to remind Cordelia of the reasons. Whether they liked it or not the mansion was going to become their base of operations until they’d settled this business about the prophecy. It was not a perfect plan, but better than nothing.

The decimated wing of the mansion, charred from the fire, was partially open to the outside. Rubble blocked most of it, but anyone searching the perimeter could find their way in. It smelled of mold and other growing things that had cropped up inside it. Only the thick doors and a grand corridor separating out the two wings had saved this part of the house from going up in flames.

“I know,” she conceded with a sigh. “That doesn’t mean it sucks any less.”

Putting up with houseguests was unpalatable enough for Angel without adding on the complication of ex-lovers into the mix. He knew Buffy well enough to believe that she would focus on the job and do what needed to be done to keep Cordelia safe and find the demon responsible for killing Bev. But he was not naive enough to think she would let it go so easily especially when it came time to talk about sleeping arrangements.

Buffy was not the only one he was expecting protestations from, but Angel was at the stage where he did not give a damn about their opinions. He did not want Cordy to be embarrassed about being with him, but he was not about to let anyone interfere with it either. There was only one place in the mansion he wanted her to stay, partly to ease his mind about her safety when they slept, but mainly for the admittedly selfish reason of wanting the woman he loved in his bed.

Still, he put that aside to offer her the option of a place of her own. “We should talk about room assignments,” Angel cautiously brought up the subject to which he got a soft groan in return. “There’s no need for anyone to use sleeping bags again.”

After a lengthy pause Cordelia shook with laughter forcing him to shift around to see her ear to ear grin. “Let’s put Giles in with Xander.”

“And you say that I’m evil,” Angel raised a brow and tried to decide if she was being serious. “The mansion has plenty of room for everyone to have their own place.”


The light dancing in her eyes drew him in like a beacon. He clasped her waist pulling her closer with a hard little tug. Bending his head, Angel captured her lips, kissed the hell out of her mouth until she pulled away panting for air. “Where will you sleep?”

Cordelia stared at him as if he had asked a trick question. She glanced back toward the master bedroom before sending him an angled look. Propping her hands on her hips, “I could bunk with Buffy,” she shrugged casually. “We could always compare notes.”

Good thing he knew hell was not going to freeze over anytime soon. He let Cordelia’s suggestion pass with a brief smirk. Not wanting her to misunderstand his offer, Angel clarified, “I want you with me—if you won’t be uncomfortable about the others being around.” 

“Let’s review what just happened,” she snorted softly obviously amused by his effort to be chivalrous about her reputation. “As much as I think I’m going to like quickies, the idea of groping in dark corners just seems so Junior Year. I don’t care what they think, Angel. If we’re together, we’re together.” 

109:     The Kitchen, Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

The smug bastard had actually offered to cook for them. So what if it was his house. Xander had been quick to remind Angel, “You’re a vampire, not a fry cook. What do you know about it?” 

“A good deal more than you,” Angel’s growl gave him shudders, but Xander had not given up his space in front of the stove. He had been assigned to put away the food and make dinner, so that was exactly what he was doing.

Efforts to make grilled cheese sandwiches had not gotten very far. First, there was the fun of finding the frying pan. Then there was the trick of turning on the stove. It was not the kind where you turned the knob and the heat just came on. He got the idea that it was not even electric. When he turned it there was a strange odor coming from it.

“It’s a gas stove,” explained Angel who pulled a box of matches out of drawer. “You have to light the pilot light first.”

“I knew that,” Xander snapped, but stepped back to let the vampire do it. Watching carefully to make sure that he could do it again, he saw the way the flaming match nearly licked the tip of Angel’s finger as he held it against the burner. A blue flame flickered to life burning too high. Angel blew out the match and rubbed his fingers as if he had enjoyed the heat against his skin.

Angel turned the knob down a couple of notches to a low flame, telling Xander how to moderate the heat. Then he had left the kitchen to go check on the others. Whose lame idea was it to put him in charge of the food? Oh, yeah. Xander had to blame himself for that one.

The Watchers were busy organizing their library of research materials while the two Slayers were doing the heavy lifting. Cordelia and Willow stuck to organizing bedding and the sleeping quarters. Dead Boy had his nose into everything.

When they all stopped working long enough to eat their sandwiches and chips, he had not bothered to drink the blood Xander saw in the refrigerator. Nor did Angel bother to try the bite of grilled cheese goodness that Cordy offered him. Sourly, Xander recalled that he had not been so reluctant that time with the fruit smoothie, slurping at her straw like he did not have blood cooties.

That was before Xander knew there was something going on between Dead Boy and Cordy. Well, before his suspicions were confirmed. If there was any lingering doubt about what happened up in that bedroom last night, the discussion about their room assignments nailed it.

Willow looked fidgety when Angel started to talk about his plan for their sleeping arrangements. She had been helping Cordy with dusting and the doling out of the sheets. It was hard enough to imagine Cordelia Chase with a duster—unless that image came with a French Maid’s uniform, and then it was surprisingly easy, but watching her play hostess was downright disturbing.

“This is a large house,” Angel had started out. “There are too many ways for enemies to get in. We should split up the strong fighters between the three floors.”

By strong fighters, he meant the Slayers and himself. Xander was not going to try to argue that one. He knew his capabilities and that was good enough for him. He did his part in a fight even if that did not involve super strength, vampire speed or any fancy karate-judo-kickboxing moves.

“I’m on the second floor, so I suggest Buffy and Faith take the first and third.” Angel explained about the housekeeper’s suite down the hall not too far from the kitchen. The third floor room might seem remote, but they needed a presence up there for anyone who might try to climb in from the roof.

Faith volunteered to take the third floor. “What can I say? I like to be on top.” She had been looking at him when she said that and Xander really hoped his instant reaction to the images in his head was not obvious to anyone else.

“That leaves me on the bottom,” quipped Buffy as she okayed the decision unaware that her words also set off naughty sparklers in his thoughts involving a Slayer sandwich.

It was not really a surprise that Angel would put Buffy as far away from him as they could get. Having the ex love of your life sleeping nearby was not exactly a comforting thought, Xander realized.

“There are a couple of good rooms on the second level,” Angel had gone on to tell them. He did not look too pleased about it, but told Giles and Wesley that they could choose between them.

Apparently, they were located on either side of the master suite. Giles thought that to be, “A fine idea.”

Buffy casually inquired, “What about the rest of the guys?”

She even managed to ask it without looking at Cordelia, but even Xander knew that was the hot topic of the day. No one actually asked the question, but everyone wanted to know the answer. Where was Cordelia going to sleep? Xander quickly came up with some ideas he could live with. Maybe she would share with Faith. That might be fun. He could approve of bed sharing between those two any day. Hell, he would even approve of them having a hot lesbian affair if it meant Angel would be keeping his hands off Cordy.

Unfortunately, his ex was not likely to go for fulfilling that particular male fantasy. Cordelia did not keep them in suspense. She knew exactly what Buffy had meant and gave her the answer she expected. “I’m staying with Angel.”

Buffy’s mouth tightened, but she said nothing. Neither did he, although Xander called himself ten kinds of coward for keeping his mouth shut. He gritted his teeth as Cordy stepped closer to the vampire, their shoulders brushing close together, but otherwise not touching.

“That’s rather inappropriate,” the new Watcher spoke up when no one else did. He had gone up a notch in Xander’s book. “You might be eighteen, but Angel is a vampire.”

Silently cheering him on, Xander waited for Cordelia to chew him up and spit him out again. Which she did. Ouch. He doubted Wesley would try that again. Giles looked a little pained for his colleague as if he had already tried that and forgotten to warn him off.

They would all have to live with the fact that Cordy had made her choice. It sucked, but there was nothing that Xander could do about it. He could only hope that having Giles and Wesley on either side of the bedroom would act as a deterrent to activities that did not involve sleep.

“I thought Xander & I could stay near you, Buffy,” Willow piped in trying to divert the uncomfortable vibes from the couple in the center of the room. “We’ve still got our sleeping bags. And it’ll be fun, don’t you think?”

A smile wavered as Buffy chirped, “Fun. Sure. Loads to be had.”

Since the girls volunteered for kitchen cleanup duties, Xander decided to take Spike’s car back before it got too dark. Willow offered to go with him, but he suggested that she stick around for Buffy’s sake. She agreed, but gave him a look that told him she got the hint that he just wanted to be alone for a while.

When Dead Boy found out that he had not returned the car this morning as ordered, he was not exactly pleased. Xander figured Spike would not need it during the daytime. To a teenage boy, any car was better than no car at all, even when an evil bloodsucking maniac vampire owned it. One errand had led to another and suddenly it was late.

Angel had suggested he just keep it until morning, but he had promised to bring it back. He did not want Cordy to owe Spike anything. It might have been Angel who borrowed it in the first place, but it was done to get Cor to safety.

Now the light of day had faded from the sky. Orange turned to grey turned to black. He drove toward the west end of town with his mind on his ex-girlfriend. Having had the big hate for Angel from early on, watching Buffy give her heart to a guy who was definitely not worth it, and everything they’d gone through with Angelus, it was hell seeing Cordelia in love with him now.

What the heck was it with Sunnydale girls? Okay, so it was true he had mucked it up with Cordy. That was his fault. He could not blame her for breaking up with him. And he was lucky that she was sort of a friend—the word had never strictly applied to them. Honestly, he did want Cordelia to be happy, but did it have to be Dead Boy?

Nearing the edge of town, Xander got his thoughts into gear reviewing his plan. It was simple, really. Park the car. Leave the keys in the ignition. Run like hell.

Just because Spike had been talked into loaning his DeSoto to Bossy Vamp did not mean he would overlook the fact that a human was returning it later than expected. Spike might just decide to think of this as Sunnydale’s version of Meals on Wheels. That was something Xander did not want to consider.

The factory was now dead ahead. Xander gulped. He could see light streaming from inside the old brick building. Paint covered the windows making it impossible to see inside. Not that he was going to get that close. Heading for the parking area, he saw a sleek black car parked out front. Slowing down to get a closer look, the tires made an unmistakable crunch against the pebble covered parking area.

Spike had a visitor, someone who was obviously not into leaving his car in a gross state where it stunk of old beer and cigarettes. The BMW gleamed in the moonlight reflecting the sky above and the outline of the factory.

Concluding that Dead Boy had probably been right about waiting until morning to drop the car off, Xander kept driving. He did not like the look of that car. Not here in the old warehouse area by the docks. It was more out of place here than he was. He turned the car around slowly hoping that the noise was not going to attract attention.

Just as he was picking up speed, a figure darted across his path. All he saw was the flash of a lithe figure and a flowing gown come to a stop directly in front of the car. Xander slammed on the brakes and the DeSoto slid to a halt. Breathing heavily from the shock, he watched the woman walk forward, her eyes meeting his through the windshield.

His gaze followed hers as she walked around, opened up the passenger door and slid inside. Still staring, Xander could not seem to break away from her dark piercing eyes. “I know you,” her dulcet tones sounded soothing to his ears. He could listen forever.

“I’m Xander.”

Drusilla patted him on the cheek. “Of course you are, my pet. Now be a good boy and take me to my Angel. We must arrange a rescue.”

“Spike?” Somewhere in the back of his mind, Xander wondered why he was having a conversation with a vampire, especially this one. But he could not seem to make the effort to try to get away.

Settling her skirts tidily around her, Dru told him, “No, not my Spike. That nasty little blonde has her claws where they don’t belong. She wants what she can’t have, so he will have to play with her for a while.” 

“Play?” Xander turned to look at her briefly as he took his foot off the brake. If Spike was playing what was that screaming he heard coming from inside the warehouse? It seemed imperative that he do as Dru asked and take her to Angel. “It’s not safe to stay. We should go.”

Drusilla nodded, “To my Angel.”

“Yes, to Angel,” he repeated dutifully and stepped on the gas pedal peeling out of the parking lot as fast as he could go. Halfway down the street, Xander asked, “Who is it that needs rescuing?” He did not give a flip about Spike, but he worried that someone else had gotten caught up in this. Maybe Drusilla had been rescuing other potential sacrifices like Cordelia.

“Miss Edith,” Drusilla told him deadly serious. “She’s in grave danger and I want her back. My Angel will rescue her. Or you will, won’t you, my pet?”  

110:     The Kitchen, Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

Their system was down pat: Buffy washed, Willow dried and Cordelia put the dishes away. She was the most familiar with where everything belonged. Only the fact that Willow’s constant presence kept her from having a necessary talk with Buffy made it frustrating. They both needed to get this out of the way. The longer it was delayed, the more frustrating it got.

Blurting out what she really wanted to say was on a five second countdown. Angel had asked her not to push it when she said that Buffy was going to hear about it. Being pissed off that her ex was dating someone else was understandable, but trying to injure him out of pure spite was another. Five seconds—that was about as tactful as Cordelia could be.

Buffy, decked out in rubber gloves, was scrubbing hard at the bottom of the frying pan where Xander’s cooking efforts had created a dark crusty mantle. She tackled it like it was any other demon. It was the last thing left to clean. “There won’t be any supposedly non-stick surface left after this.”

“It’s not like Xander knows how to cook,” Willow defended him by reminding that he had volunteered for the job. “And we did say that we’d help with clean up.”

“Yeah,” Cordelia let out a little snort. “He ran out of here fast enough.”

The vigorous pan scrubbing stopped long enough for Buffy to glare in her direction. “And why do you think that is?”

“Xander has a severe allergy to cleaning up? One look at his bedroom will tell you that. Not that I blame him.” Cordelia propped a hand on her hip and leaned against the counter. “Next time, the guys take their turn.”

Willow added, “And Faith,” not forgetting that the other Slayer had gotten out of this job because it was her turn to patrol the grounds.

Angel had taken both Watchers to another part of the mansion to discuss a potential vulnerability in their overall defensive strategy. He had definite ideas and was not the least hesitant in conveying them. In fact, Cordelia thought his take-charge attitude was kind of a turn on. But then, lately, anything about Angel was sexy.

Normally, he would have let the others take the lead in the decision-making and just go along with the plan. He would be there to help them, but not do anything that would steal Buffy’s thunder, heaven forbid. That had all changed since they started teaming up as if Angel suddenly realized he was free of that leash that tied him down, held him back.

She had always known Angel was hot. Pure aesthetic value alone was sky high. He was definitely more than just eye candy, though. Cordelia sensed she was just scratching that broody surface and wondered what it would be like to bring Angel out of that shell a little more. God, if today’s totally hot quickie was any indication it was going to be hard—really hard, she smirked inwardly—to keep their hands off each other in public.

But then, it was not so much their hands that Cordelia worried about. Even now, she felt excited, her body tingling and warm. Pushing aside any guilt that lingered over thinking about sex with Angel instead of mourning Bev, she told herself it was what her grandmother would want anyway. She would be the first to tell her to live her life, to take as much as she could from it, and be with the man she loved.

It would have been interesting to see Bev’s reaction if she had discovered that Angel was a vampire. Cordelia had been determined to protect her from the truth, but the truth just had a way of coming out here in Sunnydale. Knowing Bev, she would have treated Angel like anyone else she cared about. The thought of her grandmother’s capacity for love—not to mention taking in stray relatives—still surprised her especially since Bev had pointed out that they had so much in common.

Thinking about it distracted her from Angel’s entry into the kitchen. Normally, Cordy would have noticed the moment he walked into the room. Buffy noticed first. Either her Slayer or ex-boyfriend senses alerted her to Angel’s presence. She met his gaze, nudged Willow with an elbow, who got the hint by putting on a too-bright smile.

“Hi, Angel,” she waved her damp dishrag by way of greeting. Cordelia noticed that he was looking past Willow to her. “We’re almost done here. Everything’s clean and shiny—except for the frying pan.”

Angel might have heard Willow muttering about Xander’s valiant efforts to cook for them, but Cordelia knew his thoughts were all on her. She could see it in the subtle tension in his shoulders and the stark look that spoke volumes. Keeping his distance, Angel still managed to renew that tingling desire she felt deep down. One sweep of his eyes across her mouth caused her lips to part. The intent stare left her trembling at the thought of bedtime and the fact that it was still hours away. She wondered what Buffy and Willow would do if she jumped him right here and now.

Cordelia grinned at the thought and for a second, Angel was equally distracted by whatever signals her body was giving him. He shifted around nervously as he stood in the doorway, rubbed a hand over the back of his neck and looked like he found it hard to remember why he was there.

Finally, it came to him. “Done? Willow, yes, good, we need your help with a spell.”

“A spell?” Willow tossed the dishrag aside practically bouncing her way toward the door. “What kind of spell? I have ideas. Lots of ideas.”

Before turning to leave, Angel looked back at Cordelia one more time the barest hint of a smile on his face. Willow’s incessant questions about what they had planned could be heard all the way down the hall. Cordelia had to laugh at her enthusiasm. “Eager much?”

Buffy let the frying pan sink back into the now-grey depths of the dishwater. “Willow just wants to help. We’re all here to help.”

The tone made it clear Buffy would not be here if she felt she had a choice. Propping her gloved hands on the edge of the metal sink, she stared down into the cloudy water as if looking for something else to say. Cordelia snagged the opportunity to get back on track. She was five seconds away from letting Buffy have it before getting distracted.

Without Willow or Angel around, it did not even take that long. “Maybe if you’d just do your job and track down the demon that killed Bev you wouldn’t have to be here.”

“Don’t go there,” Buffy’s jaw clenched. She turned to face her, one hand still on the sink, the other now dripping water on the floor, unnoticed by either of them. “I’ll do what it takes. I’m sorry about your grandmother, but you know this is the last place I want to be right now.”

“That doesn’t give you the excuse to take it out on Angel,” she snapped back coolly. “That stunt you pulled earlier nearly left him a crispy critter.”

Buffy looked guilty about it for a fraction of a second. “I warned him to get out of the way.”

“Not fast enough.”

It was clear that Buffy thought Cordelia had stolen Angel away from her despite the fact that the Slayer had been the one to call it off between them. Not to mention that she was also the one to throw them together on patrol night after night. Now Buffy had the gall to be snippy about it.

So maybe she would mention it. “We’re together because of you. It was your idea to have us do the Team Chase thing. Two hotties stuck together on patrol—you get it.”

By the pinched, red look on her face she certainly did. “Angel thought you were just a spoiled bitch.”

Cordelia shrugged.

“He was supposed to make you see sense and make you quit,” Buffy admitted the fact as she pointed a drippy gloved finger toward her. “But you’re too stubborn for that. Or you just decided it was a good time to get your hooks into Angel.”

Cordelia knew it was dangerous to rile up someone who could break her in half if she put her strength into it, but at this point she didn’t care. Ignoring the rudeness of the pointy finger, she stepped forward, using her height to give her the tiniest advantage over Buffy’s natural intimidation factor. Well she could be damn intimidating, too, when necessary.

“Why would I want to spend time with a Slayer-whipped vampire? Angel wasn’t even on my radar back then. It just took a while to see that he wasn’t quite the lapdog I thought he’d become.” Cordelia watched Buffy go a shade paler.

“Am I supposed to like the fact that you’re with Angel now,” Buffy’s hazel eyes were pinpoints of anger glaring through narrowed lids. Sarcasm dripped thickly, “Fine. I really love it that you can be with him when I can’t. You’ve got what you always wanted.”

“Yeah, guess I do.” Cordelia quickly agreed. It might not have been intentional to fall in love with Angel, but it felt good to say it. “Angel finally took the blinders off, Buffy. He loves me now, so I suggest that you just back off. Now that we’ve discovered the truth about the curse there’s nothing to hold us back.”

Buffy squirmed visibly, her grip on the sink making squeaky rubber noises as it tightened. Any final doubts she had about Angel and Cordelia having had sex were about to be cleared up. It hurt like hell to ask, but Buffy needed to know. “Are you really sure about the curse thing?”

With her usual no-holds-barred policy, Cordelia gave her a smug smile. “We’ve field tested the permanent soul a few times if that’s what you’re getting at. Total bliss was had, so don’t even try to suggest otherwise.”

The pain on Buffy’s face was obvious making Cordy the tiniest bit aware that it might not have been necessary to wipe her nose in it quite so hard. There was no response so she reminded her, “Even you should be happy that Angelus is no longer an issue.”

Not that it really made up for Cordelia getting Angel, but it was better than nothing. Buffy did concede that point. “It’s a relief.”

That was something, she supposed, but this little chat was not exactly going to make the hurt feelings go away. Cordelia figured she could deal with it, but wanted Buffy to be clear that she was not going to put up with her getting nostalgic about the Buffy and Angel Show. “That’s over now.”

Buffy snapped, “You can’t control what Angel feels.”

“Hello! My point exactly.”

“I’ll deal,” Buffy let out a grunt of discontent, “but I’ve been served enough helpings of bitch today. I’ve heard enough.”

Cordelia raised a brow. Was that actually a white flag of truce or just a brief pause to gather up steam for another confrontation? “Fine with me. Topic closed. Now are you ever going to finish with that frying pan? There are so many other things I’d rather be doing.”

The sudden sound of Xander’s voice echoed back to the kitchen, “Yo! Dead Boy. Get out here. Drusilla wants to see you.”

Dru was here? Cordelia watched wide-eyed as Buffy instantly went into Slayer mode. She whipped out Mr. Pointy from its belted spot behind her back and darted out the door.

Arm outstretched, Cordelia called out to warn her. “Buffy, wait!” Too late. There was no stopping her now. 

111:     The Lounge, Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

Drusilla enjoyed her homecoming. Full of shock and fear, excitement, it was like a little party full of slayers, dashing men, pretty little kittens, and her sire. All that was lacking was her own darling Spike and Miss Edith.

The soft, scrumptious boy who had brought her back to the mansion rushed to stand in front of her, a willing shield against all harm. How eager he was to please her, so easy to control, to bend to her will.

Few things surprised her. The future whispered its secrets in her ears. Scary secrets out of her control, some wickedly evil, a delight to the demon she had become. Yet also so abhorrent she could not comprehend its existence. How naughty it was to want the bad things. To enjoy them again and again.

Miss Edith knew her secrets. She heard them all, listening so loyally keeping all of the sinful things to herself, never telling, never saying a word. Dru’s personal confessor.

Now she was lost. Stolen away by the bad man. The one who had once risked Angelus’ anger by wanting her to sin against her sire. Such a pretty one all dark and elegant, but he was not her Angel. He left her cold. The sight of him had stirred no passion, no interest.

The misty swirl of time let her peek at his future. She shared it with him, a dark certainty. The time had come. Now. Darkness swirled around her. Gleeful shudders wriggled inside her like a thousand tiny spiders. This was going to be so much fun.

Daddy could stop it all in time. He could save his precious pet, his new little love if he was lucky. Only if he was very, very lucky. Possibilities and little glimpses had come to her so long ago. Stray thoughts. Confusing dreams. Dark visions. Disparate threads now coming together.

Drusilla’s smile smeared across her face, a slash of red lips on pale skin. Within a few moments after her musky young man, Xander, announced her presence and his own return, the Slayer ran into the room holding a pointy stake in her rubber-gloved hand. Not a very friendly start, but that didn’t matter. She would as soon see the walls smeared with Buffy’s blood than let her hold sway over the heart of anyone Dru considered hers.

Not yet. Not now. The time for that would come later. For now Buffy Summers was only a nuisance, a little splinter under her skin. Dru hissed and curled her sharp red nails to form a claw.

“You are so gonna get staked.” Buffy rushed forward only to pull up short as Xander leaped between them.

Holding up a hand, he begged like any loyal minion, “No, don’t. You can’t.” Drusilla’s thoughts strayed to the possibility of making that so just to annoy the Slayer. That might be fun, but he was such a cuddly warm human.

“Try me.”

Lagging behind the faster Slayer came Angel’s Cordy. One moment of focus revealed the intimate turn in her sire’s new relationship. A jealous flash burst forth inside her like a hundred darts pricking at her skin, one quickly smothered by delight. So much alike they were, yet unique, like sisters.

“Buffy, wait!” Cordelia reminded her, “Dru saved my life, so less of the staking first and asking no questions thing.”

Countering, “She’s got Xander,” Buffy edged closer.

Standing behind Xander, stroking a hand through his thick dark hair, Drusilla leaned forward to whisper into his ear. “I do.”

Xander sniggered.

A foot connected with a locked connecting door as another Slayer kicked it open bursting into the room. “What the hell is going on?”

Drusilla eyed her warily. An unknown factor. This one scared her. Unpredictable. Backing off, she moved out of harms way urging Xander to make them listen, “Tell them.”

“She needs your help. Can’t you see that she’s hurt?” Xander growled out his anger at the lack of concern. “Put your stakes away.”

“No way,” the dark one moved to block the exit closing off a chance at escape. “Wait—it’s you. You’re the chick who took Cor.”

Angel’s pretty pet confirmed it. “Faith, this is Drusilla.”

“Nice to meet you,” the Slayer’s dimpled smile awarded no trust. “It’s not that I’m not grateful. You saved Cor, so I’ll give you a break. Leave now before I turn your bony ass into a dust pile.”

Drusilla stepped out from behind the wall of Xander’s protection. They thought her vulnerable, in need of it. How quickly they had forgotten. “You will take me to Angel.”

“No,” Buffy pointed toward the door with her ducky yellow rubber glove. “Out. Now. Angel doesn’t want you staked. Doesn’t mean I won’t do it.”

The threat was inconsequential. Drusilla barely heard it as she sensed her sire. He stood on the landing above flanked by two human males and a vaguely familiar little redhead. The girl held her attention for an instant. The little witch was in a whirlwind, her eyes on Dru’s new toy.

Quavering, she asked him, “Are you okay?”

Such latent power. It was hidden deep, soon to emerge. Drusilla stared her way as dark flashes passed across her inner eye. Such hatred. So much pain raging inside. What a surprise to find such potential destruction inside the little mouse.

The rush of it spread through Drusilla who felt its wake distracting her from the grim expression on her sire’s face. To come here when she knew it would be unwelcome meant she would have to face his wrath. She had done only what was necessary to ensure it, enthralling the boy to do her bidding, taking only a little taste when he begged for it so nicely.

No, she would have to face Angel. The thought of it was enough to make her long for the days when no soul held him back. The pain often lingered, but his attention was worth every moment she had to endure his wrath.

With one graceful leap over the balustrade, Angel landed on his feet. Straightening up, he walked forward, nudged Xander out of harms way and put his hand around her throat.

“What are you doing here?” A growl accompanied the demand setting off delicious tingles inside her. Reminding her again of lusty nights of pain and pleasure. How bad she was to think such thoughts. Angel had his little kitten now.

Cordelia’s scent was thick upon him. “Does she please you, my Angel?” Oh, she did. She really did, Dru smiled knowingly. What fun if Cordy would tell her all— because Angel would say nothing.

Glancing toward the wary brunette, Drusilla wondered if she would share. Details, that is. Even Dru did not think she would share Angel though the naughty idea made her titter inside.

“I asked you a question.” He released her none too gently sending her a step back.

Pouting at his lack of acknowledgement, Dru dutifully responded. “There comes a time when every girl needs her Daddy. I’ve come home.”   

112:     Trinity Baptist Church Ruins & Cemetery, Eastside, Sunnydale

Across town, the clouded sky provided the perfect shroud to cover illicit activities. At the cemetery behind the ruins of Trinity Baptist Church, Mike Mooney’s gang worked to dig out the obelisk from its entrenched location.

“Heave to it, men,” Mike ordered from the top of the crevasse. “We got an hour to get this back to base before Kalesh gets bitchy about it.”

Always giving out orders, the demon priestess was not one to take failure lightly. At least Mike had never discovered if she was the forgiving type. It was only the fancy European types who got away with it like that swanky vampire. Nicky Boy could try his schmoozing and ass-kissing without him around to see it.

That hot blonde of his was much better to look at, but Mike wasn’t born yesterday. He recognized a killer when he saw one. Isobel was definitely not the type he would want to cross paths with on a dark night. Guessing they had that in common, Mike reminded himself that the gang did not call him 'The Undertaker' for nothing.

Still, he had more important things to do than think about a nice piece of ass. He was in this for the power and money he would get when Amolon made his way to Earth. After that, women would be falling at his feet. Just the thought of it forced him to reach down to adjust his fly.

“Get your collective asses in gear,” he barked when the heavy obelisk budged only two feet off the ground. “Crank it up a notch.”

They had gotten a break. Someone had already done most of the digging. The obelisk stuck out of the sand like a giant stone dick covered with strange markings. Mike had no idea what any of it meant and honestly did not give a crap. All he knew was that Kalesh wanted it, so she was gonna get it.

Stomping over, he flipped the switch on the automated pulley to a high speed. The metal cord attaching it to the rope work that was already wound about the stone monument pulled taut vibrating with tension. Finally, it began to move. His men scrambled out of the way. Climbing back up the ladders they had used to get down into the trench, they made it up top in time to guide the obelisk onto a flatbed.

“Good work,” Mike pounded the nearest man on the back, his way of showing that he wasn’t going to have to kill anyone tonight for pissing him off. “Get it covered up. I want to be out of here before some cop or that nosey Slayer we’ve heard about turns up.”

The truck’s wheels dug in hard as it pulled away from the edge of the crevasse. Deep tire treads gouged the ground leaving muddy marks on the asphalt of the parking lot.  

113:     The Factory, Westside, Sunnydale

Taking the opportunity to recover a bit while her sire distracted his blonde inquisitor, Spike kept his head down. So far the bitch had gone easy on him. Toying, really. She got off on giving him pain. Lucky he did not mind roughing it up a bit. 

Drusilla’s escape meant he got to stick around to enjoy the fun. Didn’t matter as long as she was out of harm’s way. Instinctively, he knew she would go straight home to Daddy. It made him want to puke at the way Captain Forehead could still get a wobbly-kneed reaction out of her. If the soul was not enough to put her off, nothing would.

“Excellent work, my dear Isobel, but I must take my leave” Spike overheard her sire preparing to go. The two of them were doing the kissy-faced routine again. Refusing to watch, he listened in disgust as they reveled at being one step closer to obtaining their goal.

Isobel had not asked many questions yet. She had been having far too much fun getting him ready. Chaining him up, stripping him down, leaving raw red welts and clawing bloody streaks into his skin, bruising deep. No, the fun was just starting.

“Stay, Nicolau,” the soft plea was seductive. Not at all like the cast-iron bitch Spike knew lay beneath that deceptive exterior. He could hear the pout on her pretty lips. “Don’t you want to watch?”

A chuckle sounded from her sire. He knew her game. “I have seen enough to know this will take a while, even for you. Spike is resilient. He will not be easily persuaded to talk.”

Damn bloody straight.

“Never fear,” Isobel assured him that she would discover the hiding place of the Pure One. That would be easy enough for Spike to avoid revealing since he didn’t know a damn thing about it. But Isobel’s promise to extract Drusilla’s whereabouts left Spike less confident when Isobel purred, “I never fail.”

Looking up, Spike watched through narrowed eyes as Nicolau put on his coat, hat and gloves. Even if the accent was not a dead giveaway, his froo-froo manners were a clear sign that he was not from around these parts. Sunnydale tended to get all sorts, but there was something about this particular vampire that seemed familiar.

“Come, Anton, bring the little miss,” ordered Nicolau. His minion held Drusilla’s doll like it was precious. His master had declared it would bring Drusilla to them. The idea might seem crazy, but Spike knew it to be true. He wondered how well this vampire knew his sire and why it was so important that he find her.

Nicolau took no notice of his scrutiny as if Spike was just a lowly thing, a means to get what he wanted. From the sound of it he wanted Dru—and something else. The only thing he could guess they might be after was the cheerleader. Drusilla’s recent obsession with Angel’s new pet made her the obvious choice.

Normally, Spike would not hesitate to give up the girl, but if he knew Angelus, the arrogant bastard had his little piece of fluff tied to his bed. Then again, this was not Angelus, just his bleeding heart soul. He could not imagine Angel letting the chit out of his sight.

Wherever the girl was Angel would be there. That was where Dru would be. Considering what Spike already knew it was a good guess that they would all be holed up in the mansion. Realizing that he knew more than he thought he did, Spike warily eyed Nicolau and Isobel wondering what Dru and her visions had gotten them into this time.

The moment Nicolau left, Isobel turned on her heel to face Spike who now made no pretence of being unconscious. Her cool blue gaze swept across the wounds she had already made admiring her handiwork. Catching her shiver of anticipation, Spike took the opportunity to tell her she was wasting her time.

Smirking, “Torture me all you want,” he figured he might as well tell her it was a waste of time. “You won’t get anything from me.”

“Oh, but I will.” Isobel glanced over at the two remaining minions who controlled the pulley of chains set up to hold him in place. Ordering them to comply, “On his feet,” they did so instantly.

A jerk of the heavy chains yanked him back into a standing position. The excess links rattled as the rest pulled taut. Spike clenched his teeth at the strain on his muscles, but it felt good to move. He stared back at Isobel imagining what he might do when he got loose.

“Got nothing to tell you.”

Isobel reached out to trace a fingernail down the center of his chest pressing just hard enough to leave a thin red trail behind. Her hand opened up continuing its downward path, nails scraping at his thigh, palm skimming close to his loins and getting a reaction. “By the time I’m through you’ll be begging to tell me everything.”

His scarred brow quirked upward, “Best get on with it, then.”   

114:     The Lounge, Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

“Let me get this straight,” Angel stood in front of Drusilla who was now seated in the lounge surrounded by the rest of the group. “You want my protection.”

How the hell was he supposed to refuse? He owed her for coming through for Cordy. Dru had saved her during that demon attack, gotten her to safety. Any other time Angel would have expected jealousy, but his childe seemed to have an agenda of her own.

Dark bruises and scrapes covered her face and arms. They were healing, but there were many of them. Anger ripped through him. “Against what? Tell me who did this to you.” The rough edge to his voice had the others looking nervous, but he did not care. He wanted answers.

Unfortunately, Drusilla was more evasive than usual. She spoke in riddles describing a wolf and its mate who chased the darkness, played with the sun, and hungered for power. “You do not know them as they know you.”

Whoever was responsible was linked to the attack and to this prophecy. Dru knew far more than she had let on. It had never been easy to tell just how much she understood and what was her own whimsical fantasy. Now she had come here looking for help just when they were trying to create a safe place for everyone.

Xander had led Dru right to them. Though it was likely that she already knew Angel was here, he had let her through the front door. It had already occurred to him that there would be no barrier against vampires. That was one of the spells he had been discussing with Willow and the watchers. Though Cordelia was here, along with the others, the mansion was technically not her home.

Just the thought of her caused Angel to glance her way. Cordelia was pacing in front of the fireplace arguing softly with Faith over the idea of trusting Drusilla. Neither of the slayers wanted the vampiress anywhere near the mansion. It did not matter that she had saved Cordelia’s life—only that she was soulless, evil and prone to enthralling anyone in her path.

Speaking of which, Angel had to make it clear that was not permitted. “Dru, release Xander from the thrall. No mind games.”

Drusilla pouted prettily while Xander plumped her pillows obviously liking the extra attention. The boy paused to tell him, “That’s stupid. I know what I’m doing,” before perching on the arm of her chair.

Reluctantly, Dru agreed to do as Angel commanded. She stared deeply into Xander’s eyes, whispered a few words and sat back to watch. The utter adoration and trust on his face turned to horror as he realized that he was practically offering her his neck. Leaping  to his feet in a panic, he quickly backed away.

“Get hold of yourself,” Faith jerked him to a standstill. “You’re fine. It’s not like she kept you around as a snack.”

Angel would not have ruled that out as a possibility. This was Drusilla, after all. She was still a hunter at heart. Getting her to understand that the people living here were not potential meals might be difficult. He considered what he would have to do to get her to convert to his diet of pig blood. Even on a temporary basis that was next to impossible.

When he announced that he was going to offer Dru sanctuary, the expected protests erupted. He was relieved that Cordelia supported his decision, yet understood the fact that she seemed wary about it. The watchers were reserved, but wanted to gain access to what knowledge she might possess about the prophecy. Knowing that she could not be fully trusted, they proposed limits on her freedom to move about the mansion.

There was one other thing that needed to be cleared up. “Where is Spike?” If Dru had been alone when she was attacked, her wayward childe might be doing anything from playing a round of kitten poker to staging a massacre.

Angel managed to pry out the fact that Spike was a prisoner. The news galvanized him into action. He moved toward the door already thinking of weapons and access into the factory. “We should move quickly,” Angel announced his decision. “We’ve got a chance to turn the tables on them. Get some real intel from an insider.”

They looked ready, eager for a fight even though it meant saving Spike of all people. Angel caught Cordelia’s determined gaze. She wanted this, too. Anything that might end this threat. Something that would lead her to finding Bev’s killer.

Instantly, the heated rush that swept through him at the thought of battle cooled. He did not want Cordelia in the middle of it, but it was not safe here at the mansion yet. Their defenses were not fully ready. Dru was in the building. And he would be leaving them to go after someone who might already know to come here.

“I’ll go alone.”

“What if you’re walking into a trap?” Cordelia grabbed his hand holding him in place.

Angel cupped the back of her head, pressed his lips against her forehead despite the gawking audience. “Then you’ll be safe here with the others. If Spike talks, they’ll know to come here. The rest of you need to keep working on those defenses. Get Willow started on those spells.”

“I’m on it,” Willow promised.

Giles suggested that he take one of the slayers along, but Angel refused. This plan was better anyway. He would do this on his own. There would be no one there to hold him back.   

115:     Thousand Oaks Drive, Westbound Lane, Central Sunnydale

Though the sounds of the night screamed for attention Angel tuned them out. The roar of the engine, night air whipping across the metal car frame, and voices carried by the wind faded from his notice. Driving as if on automatic pilot, he saw the way forward, but his thoughts were neither on the road nor his destination.

It was not the mission ahead that kept him distracted. The rescue plan was simple: no plan at all. He would deal with the details when he got there. Even then, he was more concerned about what to do with Spike after the rescue. Bringing him back to the mansion when two Slayers were in residence would be like tossing a match into a keg of gunpowder.

With Cordelia’s life still in danger, Angel did not need that kind of distraction. None of them did.

But it was going to happen.

He owed a debt to his childe for saving Cordelia. If it were not for Dru’s involvement, rescuing Spike would be his last concern. After all, it was not that long ago Spike tried to kill him. Letting him get what was coming to him might have been tempting, but that was water under the bridge now. If Drusilla had not acted on visions Angel guessed had to do with his future— and Cordelia’s, he knew Spike would not have been a target.

Spike’s rescue had become his duty. He swore to get it done. He owed Dru. Besides, whoever had him was trying to track down Cordelia through Spike’s relationship with Dru. That was someone Angel wanted to get his hands on. If there was any chance of finding out who was behind all of this, he had to take it.

He wanted answers. Wanted to stop whoever was behind this whole scheme. Ensure Cor’s safety.

Then he could graciously kick his guests out of the mansion. A little time alone with Cordelia was not really too much to ask. For now, privacy was not going to be easy. Having the Scoobies around gave Cordelia an excuse to avoid certain subjects that they needed to discuss. Sometimes he caught her staring at him with some unfathomable look on her face that filled him with dread.

She would blow it all off if he questioned her. Making it seem like he was imagining it all, “Like you don’t have enough to brood about already?” After a patented eye roll, she would just put it down to indigestion. Patting her stomach dramatically, “I wasn’t the one who put Xander in charge of the cooking.”

What the hell was so important to keep secret? Angel knew her well enough to back off for a while, but he worried that she had reservations about him or their future as a couple. Whatever it was the idea of him finding out about it scared her. He could sense that much. Dru had been typically vague. Cryptic messages were the norm for her, but this was the first time that Angel really cared about their ultimate meaning.

Maybe the fear he sensed was just his own and his own doubts were getting in the way. Thinking about Cordy roused powerful feelings. Too many of them. Just like the clamor of the night coming at him all at once without the ability to ignore; because it was not just his soul responding, but his demon, too.

Unlike his relationship with Buffy where his human love tangled with demonic hatred and an obsessive drive to destroy any hint of tender emotion, Angel’s love for Cordy garnered no inner opposition, maybe because the soul was permanently tethered now. Sometimes he and his demon were a little too much in tune. It built into a deep sense of love and lust, passion and possessiveness, and a deep-seated desire to wreck havoc on anyone who threatened her.

The steering column creaked as Angel’s grip tightened. Stepping on the gas, he sped through the Main Street crossroads ignoring the sharp blaring horns and screeching tires. Quick reflexes made maneuvering the Plymouth through the traffic easy. He barely spared a conscious thought for it letting his mind wander back to the moment they had said goodbye.

Even now, the taste of Cordelia’s kiss lingered on his lips, the warm imprint of her hand on his cheek still palpable. Angel recalled the concern clouding her lingering gaze as she had stepped back to let him leave. This was something he had to do. She knew it and let him go without further argument.

Cordelia had waited until he was in the car to say, “Come back in one piece. I don’t do the Florence Nightingale routine.”

Angel had immediately recognized the tone. Saw through it. Sensed the way Cordy tried to hide her fear. This was not the first time he had noticed that she tended to distance herself from anything that might hit too close to home by lashing out with that caustic tongue. Her inner bitch, as she called it, was as much of a shield as it was a source of strength. He was beginning to see that Cordelia cared a lot more about things than she let on.

Despite admitting her feelings for him and being so responsive to his lovemaking, Cordy still put up barriers between them. Those things she kept to herself. Though she gave herself to him so eagerly, trusting in him completely when they were in each other’s arms, there was a point where she held back. He did not fully understand what he was sensing. Only that Drusilla’s vision was at the bottom of it.

There was something more that she left unrevealed. Whatever it was bothered Cordy enough to keep it secret. And that pissed him off. He did not like surprises. It was not like Cor to hold her tongue about anything—or so he thought. Getting to know her was a constant revelation. Every day he discovered new depths, but this propensity for keeping things from him definitely needed to stop.

This was about the future, presumably their future together. He did not like the fact that it frightened her enough to hide it.

Faster than he thought possible, she had invaded his soul, seeped deep into his pores, into his very being. It was still early in their relationship. Caught up in the discovery of being in love, it was far too soon to expect Cordy to understand the depths of his need for her. That it was not just human emotion that bound them together.

Being with a vampire meant she was in for more than just nights of energetic sex. It was also about possession: for a night or forever. What Cordy could not know was that it was already too late. Heart and soul, he loved her, but in the shadowy depths where his demonic urges were constantly restrained, Angel fought a losing battle.

He was beginning to understand what it must have been like for his sire who had defied the Master to stay with Angelus. Darla was truly obsessed with her ‘stallion’ sticking with him through his bloody escapades and countless infidelities, giving her childe power over her that was in many ways surprising. Until the gypsy curse changed him. That was too much, even for her.

Comparing his love for Cordelia to Darla’s obsession seemed twisted, but this was far more than infatuation. She was the most human person he knew. No one accepted him for who he was like Cordy did, both the human and demon aspects. She had a healthy respect for the dangerous side of him, but wasn’t about to let it frighten her. Now that the loophole in his curse had been closed, there was nothing to fear from Angelus.

For the first time in ages, Angel was starting to think of himself as one person again and not two disparate halves of a whole. Doing so came with complications. He was listening more to tempting thoughts he might have once pushed out of his mind. The instinct to claim Cordelia by vampiric custom grew stronger with every moment spent together. Just thinking about it twisted him in knots.

Putting his claim on her meant releasing his tight control, letting the demon within him loose long enough to make its mark, trusting himself to do it without getting carried away by lustful whims or sadistic urges.

Reining all that back in was never easy, but doing so when she was in his arms might prove impossible. Oh, the things his demonic side would love to do if there were no restraints. Angel gripped the steering wheel and growled low in his throat. The idea of letting that side of him touch Cordelia in any way repulsed him, but every time he looked at her it was there in his thoughts.

Do it. Just let it happen. You know you will.

Being apart only made it worse. Even now, instead of focusing on the mission ahead, Angel pictured how it might happen. Unable to get Cordelia out of his head, he stopped fighting it. He dreamt up dozens of scenarios all of which ended with his mark visible on her throat.

They were making love…

Eyes closed in ecstasy, Cordelia wrapped her arms around him, holding on to his broad shoulders. Fingernails dug into his flesh as her pleas urged him on. “Make me yours, Angel. I want you forever.” He slid inside her tight heat and tried to give her just that. In full control, he tempered her wild streak slowing things down to let them both savor every second of it.

Nuzzling the smooth column of her neck, he kissed her pulse point tasting the warm skin beneath the velvet of his tongue. Cordelia quivered with her second—no, third, orgasm before Angel made his move. Desire licked low and hard as he kept a steady rhythm, gentle, almost lazy in the way his body thrust into hers.

Angel gazed deep into her trusting eyes. “You’re mine.” An eager purr of agreement sounded he opened his mouth over her throat. Sliding his fangs deep, he marked her as his own.

He was capable of tenderness and gentility, but wondered if it was possible to remain in total control of his instincts. Making love to Cordy was the one thing that seemed to make him lose it. Could he ever maintain that much control? The word ‘impossible’ came to mind. Being honest about it, the odds were not good.

This was not just some deluded fantasy to him. Angel realized he was thinking about it as if it was going to happen. The need to claim her was rooted too deep inside him to ignore.

Cordelia’s cooperation was another issue. The act itself was not painless. By design, it was a sensitive area. Visible scars were not exactly her favorite subject though this one would be her choice. His only hope was to distract her long enough to lessen the sting of his fangs.

Planning ahead, gaining her acceptance, managing to maintain a tight hold on his instincts. Some things were just meant to happen when they happened. Maybe this was one of those things. The only way that particular scenario would play out was if Cordelia knew and fully accepted what the mark would mean.

That meant not only finding the courage to explain what he wanted, but risking her negative response. He did not think she was ready to make that kind of commitment, which suggested he should not do it.

Knowing that did not exactly mean he could stop it from happening. Without getting her consent, Angel knew there would be hell to pay. Yet, the thought of just doing it had considerable appeal. Once it was done, she would learn to accept it.

They were arguing...

As usual, Cordy thought she had the upper hand just because she was doing most of the talking. Pulse racing, fiery-eyed and confident, she was too tempting to resist. They were in the alley behind the Bronze. Some half-drunk punk had not been able to keep his hands off her and ended up on the floor with a mouthful of loose teeth. She had not wanted a scene. 

“I was handling it.”

Angel figured the guy had been doing most of the handling. It was not a trust issue. He knew Cordy’s loyalties were with him. This was not just an issue of jealousy. It had to do with the simple fact that another man had touched what was his.

That was just too much for the primitive part of his brain that was obsessed with her every breath. Without thinking about the consequences, he walked her back until she was trapped between him and the brick wall of the Bronze. Cordelia continued to mouth off at him, adding that his caveman behavior was a real turnoff.

She was lying about that one.

He pinned her wrists to the brick. No words. No explanation. No warning. A shake of his head as his features shifted, a flash of fangs and it was done before she had time to take a deep breath. Angel released her wrists, gentling her with his hands as her hot blood filled his mouth. He lapped at the wounds sealing his scent deep into in the flesh, a sign to others that she belonged to him.

Especially overly friendly ex-boyfriends.

A slow smirk slid across his mouth. He could definitely see it happening that way. Cordelia could rile him up inside faster than anyone he knew, but she stoked his lust at the same time. That was a dangerous combination. It took a lot of restraint to hold off on the urge to use his hands when they argued.

Touching her in the middle of a fight would be too much of a temptation. Angel did not want it to happen that way even though the idea gave his demon a thrill. He wanted Cordelia to be completely aware of what that mark meant and willing to accept it.

They were patrolling…

The thrill of the kill coursed through him as Angel stood over the dead body of the Crosathnam mercenary. He would not threaten anyone ever again, much less harm Cordelia. The loud crunch of bone as Angel had twisted its neck was satisfying.

Having Cordy watch as he used his strength and skill to protect her was a turn-on. Angel could tell she felt the same. Flushed with excitement, “You looked so hot doing that,” she lifted her mouth for his kiss.

“You’re mine,” Angel stroked her cheek feeling the heat bloom across her skin. “I’d never let anything hurt you.”

Their bodies crashed together like a pair of magnets. He ate out her mouth, stole her breath until she had no choice but to pull away for air. A long hot stare followed and he could see the want in her eyes, scent her arousal. His cock was like an iron bar tenting his pants. She slid her hand across it and gripped him hard.

It was all they could do to get back to the car. Parked on the far side of the cemetery it was secluded. Not that either of them cared about an audience just then. Their bed was just too far away.

Cordelia climbed into the back seat of the Plymouth and eagerly beckoned to him to follow. “C’mon, Angel,” she dragged him down next to her.

Straddling him, Cordy’s heat centered on his erection giving him a spontaneous little lap dance that fired them up even more. He unbuttoned her blouse in record time, stripping it away, and reaching up to cup her lace-covered breasts in his palms. She shuddered at the sensation of his tongue dipping into her cleavage, and let out a moan of want when he pushed the lace out of the way to toy with a nipple.

They did not bother to get naked. That took too much time and they both wanted this now. He yanked her skirt out of the way while Cordy fumbled with his zipper. Angel let out a low grunt as her soft hand closed around his shaft. He reached down to tug her panties aside.

Slowly taking him in, she muttered, “You’re so big this way.” Angel guided Cordelia’s hips down until he was fully sheathed. He kissed her lips softly, instructed her to ride him and guided her into a rhythm that nearly blew the top off his head.

He was close, so damn close to coming. Angel needed more, needed to fill her to the brim, pour himself inside her. More, he needed to taste her, to mark her to show the world that Cordelia was truly his. She was so beautiful, his completely, riding him to ecstasy with her head thrown back, eyes shut tight as she gripped his shoulders for support. All his.

When his mouth lingered at her throat and the teasing nibbles caught her attention, Cordy showed no surprise, only acceptance. Caressing his face, she nuzzled her neck closer, her hand sliding around to run her fingers through the hair at his nape. “Don’t stop. I want it.”

There was no hesitation on either side, just love and acceptance.

Snapping out of his thoughts, Angel realized that he was getting aroused. Cordelia was not even here and he was ready for her. Lately, he felt like a walking hormone around her. All it took was a glance from across the room. Stolen kisses and touches only teased them both.

Angel felt annoyed that the Scoobies were here during this stage of his relationship with Cordy. He longed for nights where it was just the two of them. He missed their time alone together, even when it was just out on patrol. Remembering that trip to the deli where she’d fed him French fries, it reminded Angel just how different he was with her around.

When this was over, he would have to talk to Cordy about it. Let her know just what she meant to him. He hoped to hell that it did not scare her because her fear was not going to stop it from happening one way or the other. Angel wanted his mark on her, to lay claim to her in a visible and permanent way.

He was in deep and knew it.

Angel wanted to go deeper still. Make fantasy a reality in whatever form it would take to make it happen. Tie her to him in ways she would not really understand or might find shocking.

Hell, it was shocking for him. Angel had never claimed a woman like that. Not even Buffy. Vampires took mates, but rarely human ones. Those relationships tended to be one-sided, the woman being more of a concubine, little more than a slave to the whim of her lover. That certainly was not what Angel envisioned when he thought of claiming Cordelia. 

The future was too uncertain. Angel knew that he wanted Cordelia, loved her more than he thought possible, and wanted her by his side. Getting her through this crisis was his primary focus, but the temptation of planning beyond it stirred up new hopes.

Anything resembling a hope for happiness was usually dashed by an influx of guilt. He did not deserve it, but that was not going to stop him from reaching out to hold on to it as long as possible. That meant keeping Cordelia safe, and keeping his mouth shut about wanting to make an official claim.

She was about to bury her grandmother. The last thing Cordy needed right now was a possessive vampire hovering over her every move, fantasizing about blood rights and mating rituals.

Angel did nothing to suppress his angry growl letting it roll around deep in his chest. Thinking about it that way trivialized the powerful emotions he was feeling. There was nothing insignificant or meaningless about wanting to claim Cordelia. It meant everything. If only he could make her understand that.

They were on a moonlit beach…

The moon overhead was nearly full and bright as it hit the water along the dockside. Angel had to shake off the temptation of thinking up another scenario. He had arrived at his destination.

When slowing the Plymouth to a stop, the sounds Angel had blocked out rushed to his ears. Reality slammed into him full force. Seagulls squawked overhead. Waves washed along the ragged shoreline, rusted old barges and the warped pylons along the wharf. Hinges creaked on the old warehouse doors. Nothing out of the ordinary immediately drew his attention—until a scream of pure agony echoed through the canyon of metal buildings.

Instant recognition hit: Spike.

With a single motion, Angel bounded from the car leaping over the passenger side door. Vamping out before his feet hit the ground, he felt his facial bones shift, fangs extend, and his body become denser. He crouched low, eyes shifting from ground to building looking for the best path from here to the factory.

The screaming was a good sign. It meant this was not going to be a wasted trip. Spike was still alive to be rescued. More importantly, it meant the one who captured him had not left yet. Drusilla had described vampires, and not the Crosathnam demon that had originally been after them.

It was possible that this cadre of vampires were the ones who had hired the demon in the first place. Either way, one of them was certain to have more information about Cordelia’s part in this prophecy, and Angel was determined to get it.  

116:     The Factory, Westside, Sunnydale

Spike squinted at his captor through his one good eye, pain spearing him back from the grim hold of unconsciousness. Isobel had removed her stylish leather coat and gloves, claiming not to want to ruin them. It left her wearing only a body-hugging black leather mini dress that clung to every shapely curve and a pair of stilettos. Her beauty was just another weapon in her deadly arsenal making her look soft and vulnerable.

The cold-hearted bitch was watching him, eyeing the landscape of her handiwork across his skin. Bruises, knots and shallow wounds covered his torso. Blurred vision prevented him from getting a clear view, but he saw the spreading smile and the glint of her fangs as she stepped closer.

“Try that again, luv,” Spike’s speech slurred through his swollen lips where a deep split formed. “Don’t think you’ve scratched that itch yet.”

High on causing him pain, forcing his screams and having another master vampire at her mercy, Isobel looked eager for the next round. Chained, beaten and bloody, there was no doubt he was right where she wanted him. Her almost heady laugh cut through the ringing in his ears.

Thought he was amusing, did she? Through the hazy fog clouding his brain, Spike recalled what she had done to him. Gritting his teeth against the urge to howl, he noted the slackened chains and lunged forward.

Even though she never flinched, her eyes widened a fraction, and her smile dimmed just enough to make Spike realize Isobel had thought he was incapable of attacking her. Inches away, he was jerked back into place, his arms stretched out above his head, scuffed boots barely touching the ground. Beavis and Butthead, her two pasty faced minions, grunted as he strained against their strength.

Instead of censuring him for trying to rip out her throat, Isobel seemed impressed. An almost dreamy look lit her gaze. Walking up to him, her high heels clicked on the concrete surface of the factory floor. “Aurelius men have such stamina,” Isobel cooed into his ear, her hand brushing over his shoulder, nails digging in just enough to let him feel it. “Don’t fight me, cousin. I can take away the pain. Cooperate. You know what I want.”

The melodic sound of her voice at times soothed and tempered him between acts of sheer malevolence. His shirt hung in tatters from his shoulders, jeans opened and clinging to his frame, torso littered with torn flesh and smeared blood. Fuck if she was not also turned on by it. Spike could smell her excitement. It kept him sane to know he had that one bit of power over the bitch.

Not that he could do much with it at the moment.

Isobel wanted something beyond the pain: the truth about Dru’s whereabouts. It had something to do with Angelus’ chit, the cheerleader. If it was just a matter of giving up the goods on that feisty little puss, Spike might consider turning tattler.

But she wanted Dru, too.

It only made sense that Peaches would keep his pet close at hand. There was only one place Dru would go during a crisis—straight home to dear old Daddy— and that meant keeping mum about the mansion.

Funny thing was that Isobel never directly asked about him. He half expected her to blabber on about Angelus this or Angel that. Instead, she asked him for details about Cordelia Chase as if she did not even know there was a connection. If that was the case, Spike was not about to enlighten her. The less talking he did, the less likely he was to spit out something she could use against him.

Dulcet tones and soft touches accompanied her plea, “Tell me, Spike. Tell me where to find them.” Isobel nipped at his earlobe. Her hand slipped down to the open fly of his pants, her fingernails combing through the dark wiry hair at his groin and getting a reaction.

“Not bloody likely.” A groan escaped. Head tilted back, a shudder of hatred and lust wracked through him. Fuck if he was not getting a bit turned on by it, too.

A heavy headbutt knocked her back. Isobel stumbled away from him, the shock and pain momentarily frozen on her face giving him a thrill. She lifted a hand to her forehead, gaping at him for having the audacity to fight back. Or maybe it was just the fact that he had not fallen for her seduction scheme.

As expected, the bitch made him pay, another blonde bint who had it in for him. Had a good right hook, this one did. His left eye was already swollen shut and felt like he had been walloped with a tire iron. Not as sharp a jab as the Slayer’s, mind you. Isobel had her own tricks. Liked to play with her nails, claw bloody trails across his skin and let her tongue follow the drops of blood. He had lost a lot. Felt dizzy with it to the point that he had almost forgotten this was torture.

There was something familiar about Isobel and her sire. He could not pinpoint it. He would remember if they had met before. Snotty bastards and their sadistic mates were hard to forget. He considered that she might just remind him of Darla. The notion turned his stomach. As sickening as the idea of staking one’s sire was to a vampire, Spike was not exactly teary-eyed over the fact that Darla was dust. 

Her ivory skin was splattered here and there with red. Lifting a coated finger, Isobel dripped the blood across her tongue as he watched, and then closed her lips around it. She savored it rolling her wet tongue around until every drop was gone. “Mmm, you do taste divine, but playtime is over now.”

The hairs raised on the back of his neck as Spike saw her reach for a nail gun that had been left behind on one of the factory shelves. “My aim might be a little off,” she pointed it directly at his chest and then slowly tracked downward inch by inch, “but some targets are more challenging than others.”

His good eye popped open wide. “Oy!” Spike dodged the first shot by swinging his body out of the way. One hit his thigh, another wild shot lodged in his boot next to his big toe. The minions who held his chains pulled hard to get him back into place as he dodged nails. They were laughing hard which unintentionally released some tension on the chains making it easier for him to move.

Vamped out, he roared in pain as a third nail speared a little too close to its intended target. Isobel’s eyes gleamed with satisfaction. “Got you.” She walked close once his chains were pulled taut again. “Tell me about the pain, Spike. Does it hurt?”

She grabbed the end of the long nail protruding from his jeans and pressed it at an angle deeper into his flesh. Snarling, “It tickles a bit,” he refused to tell her it hurt like the devil. Yes, it bloody well hurt. He would like to take a rail spike to her tender bits and see what she thought about it.

Digging it in a little deeper, Isobel growled back in frustration. “Do you play games with your sire? There is no safety word here. No chance to stop the pain unless you tell me what I want to know.”

“No,” the guttural sound emerged from his throat barely recognizable to him. “Finish it. Not gonna tell you squat.”

Yanking out the nail, Isobel plunged it into his abdomen again before hurling it to the floor. “Do you have any idea how angry Kalesh will be if the Pure One continues to elude us? Kalesh is unforgiving. Even the most loyal do not escape her wrath. My sire fears nothing except the power she holds over our future.”

Who the bloody hell was Kalesh? Spike tried to focus through the searing pain. “Bitch, you won’t have a future. Gonna see to that myself,” he muttered almost to himself. A slap across his face caught him off guard when his thoughts wandered, imagining encounters in the dark, and Isobel’s dust blowing away on the wind.

“Pay attention,” demanded Isobel harshly. “There is but one way out of this, Spike. I need answers. We do not require your sire’s capture for our plan to succeed, only the human. Why do you protect Cordelia Chase, and what is she to you?”

Not a flipping thing. He caught himself from saying it managing to twist his words to, “None o’ your business.”

That husky laugh returned as she twirled a finger around the edge of the lower wound where the denim turned dark with blood. Her nails scraped along the fabric covering his thigh, her fingers brushing lightly over his open fly on a down stroke.

A voice came out of the shadows overhead, “Am I interrupting?” a figure standing on a crossbeam that held up the roof. Spike recognized it instantly as Angel’s.

Isobel whirled away to search for the intruder while snapping an order to her minions to stand their ground. They held his chains in place, actually tightening their hold a notch. Spike felt his arms and spine stretch painfully, but he felt invigorated. Though unexpected, Angel’s arrival could mean only one thing: his rescue.

“Lost your bloody advantage now, luv!” Spike grinned for an instant before flinching at the sharp twinge from his split lip.

The swarthy vampire to his right overheard. “There is but one of him, idiota. We are three.”

“Basta,” Isobel gestured for silence. “Do not be foolish, Tomas. Can you not hear the confidence in his voice? Be ready.” Her beautiful face twisted form into that of the true vampire: prominent brow ridges, golden eyes, sharp angles and deadly fangs.

Spike lost track of Angel in the rafters. Moving fast, he sprung agilely from the steel beams down to the floor. The others were just as disoriented and called out warnings each time they thought they saw a shadow. Finally, he stepped into the light, a tall, dark imposing figure draped head to toe in black.

While he was sizing up the opposition, Isobel stared at the newcomer, anger visibly melting as recognition struck. An anxious quiver sounded, “A-Angelus?” mixed with anticipation as she took a step toward him. “Unbelievable, it’s really you. Everyone thought you dead it has been so long since your name has been heard.”

“Only everyone who was anybody”, Spike cut in. If Angel’s instincts were not rusted solid, he would realize that Isobel was twittering like a star-struck schoolgirl over meeting Billy Idol face to face.

Angel’s gaze narrowed as it slid from Isobel to him. It looked like Captain Boring was not amused by his little attempt at levity. Hell, he was the one who was captured in order to give Drusilla time to escape, chained and beaten, nearly seduced into telling everything. If he wanted to joke about this sodding rescue attempt, he deserved it.

“You’ve got something that belongs to me.” That was not exactly how Spike would have put it, and tried not to chuckle at Angel’s attempt at playing master. But who was he to complain if it got him out of these chains and back to Drusilla’s side. “Release him now.”

With a nasty little smile, Isobel walked back to Spike’s side. She stepped under his chained arms. “Secure him,” the quiet orders were given to her lackeys. To Spike, she stepped closer, ran a hand along his chest from behind and whispered, “Ruin this for me and I will have your head.”

Isobel was off again to chat it up with Angel pretending to consider his release. Spike knew better. He hoped Angel had half a brain to figure that out.

“Angelus, I have waited too long to meet you,” she purred, her hips swayed seductively as she moved toward him. “My sire has told me many tales of your escapades. There are few who can rival your vicious deeds. I have been eager to discover more ever since I met Darla. She claims you are quite the stallion.”

Did she really think he was going to fall for that load of crap? Bollocks. Soft curves and long legs, and a sharp pair of fangs would not distract him. Or would they? Deep down, Peaches was still Angelus: ego incarnate. This new groupie was another piece of blonde fluff, one of his favorite types. Spike silently cursed the bastard. Suddenly, the odds on his rescue were not looking so good.

“You have the advantage,” Angel moved closer though clearly keeping an eye on all three of them. He must have realized that while Isobel was unknown to him, her sire was someone he had known in the past as Angelus. “Who is your sire?”

Spike noticed that she was not so quick with the introductions. Playing coy, Isobel just smiled. “One who will not be pleased if I am harmed. Angelus, please believe we had no idea you were in Sunnydale.”

For once, Soul Boy was not denying his rightful name. As long as Isobel did not sniff out the fact that Angel had something extra on board, it looked like his bluff might work.

“Would knowing have made a difference?” Angel looked like he could not give a crap one way or the other. “I’m here for Spike. Release him.”

Isobel shrugged one shoulder. “Now that you are here I need him no longer. I do not need him to tell me where to find Drusilla. If you are here, then it means she went to you. I presume there are a number of locals who know of your lair.”

Sodding hell! The chit was not stupid. She was putting the pieces together too fast for Spike’s liking. Angel was not too keen on it either if the dark look on his face meant anything. Knowing where to find Drusilla meant they could find Cordelia, too.

Before Isobel could say anything else, Angel wrapped his big hand around her throat dragging her from the ground so that her tiptoes barely touched the concrete. The menacing look on his face was enough to frighten anyone. Isobel looked like she was creaming her panties instead. Choking the bitch could not kill her, but it hurt like hell and made it hard for her to talk.

Angel obviously did not like her knowing where to find his luscious little pet.

The two goons ran up to flank them. Angel hardly twitched in response to their bared fangs. He flung Isobel through the air directly at the one on his left. She screamed in fury, probably at the indignity rather than the pain as they crashed to the floor in a heap.

With a quick extension of his arms, two stakes appeared in Angel’s hands. He whirled to attack the second vampire. Spike was actually impressed even though he had never had much reason to kill his own kind in the past. The nifty armaments almost made Old Broody Pants look cool—not that he would ever admit thinking it.

Though caught off guard, his opponent was quick to parry the first blow dodging the next with equal efficiency. He sensed they had been around for a while. These were not ordinary blokes by any means. They had captured him, after all, reasoned Spike.

Never one to sit on the sidelines, even when chained, Spike urged, “Put some muscle into it, Peaches. That’s the ponce who nearly tried it on with Dru before Blondie over there put a stop to it.”

Angel did not need instructions, but it felt too damn good to finally see Isobel and her goon squad get it where it hurt. This one was fast, but he tried to get too fancy. The bugger tried some jujitsu move that Angel was more than qualified to counter. Angel got him as he flipped through the air and sent him to the concrete flat on his poncey face.

Plunging one stake into his heart, Angel held the other one up defensively as Isobel screeched for her remaining underling to attack. Spike noticed her voice was hoarse from the squeeze put on her throat and wished he had been the one to do it. One big difference, though. Kept squeezing, he would have done.

A cloud of dust exploded around them, billions of tiny bone shards and ashen flesh. Instead of settling slowly to the ground, it billowed through the air when the other guy made a steamroll move in Angel’s direction. A blur of motion tumbled them onto the floor. It knocked him hard against a piece of heavy equipment.

Good job it was his just head getting knocked around. Angel wedged a leg between them hurling him off. Spike’s gaze followed right along watching him crash on top of the table with a heavy thunk. Its wooden legs broke and the table fell sending Dru’s favorite china cup to the concrete floor.

Cringing, he saw it shatter into a hundred pieces. First the doll, now the cup. Dru was going to be in a right rotten mood when she found out about it.

When Spike focused on the fight again, he noticed that the stakes had disappeared back into the devices bound to Angel’s forearms. Now it looked like he wanted to make a point with his fists. Angel actually let him get back to his feet only to make him pay for it. Powerful punches bloodied his face staggering him.

Efficient jabs made Angel’s moves seem practiced as if beating the other vampire to a pulp was something he did day after day. He lowered his fists purposely leaving his guard down to draw his opponent in, taunting him when his movements got clumsy.

Anger turned furious when Angel kicked his legs out from under him. All but daring him, “Want to try that again?”

Isobel circled around them, watching every move. She bent down to pick up one of the broken table legs. Instead of coming up behind Angel, she left her man to his fate—which was going to be being dusted as soon as Angel quit toying around. If Spike did not know better, Peaches was taking out a little bit of revenge against the poor sod.

“He’s magnificent, isn’t he?” Isobel’s husky voice came too close for comfort. She was back beside him. He had lost sight of her momentarily while watching the fight.

Spike tried to shrug, but his arms were pulled tight by the chains binding him. “If you like that sort of thing,” he hesitated answering. Silly bint.

Her answer was almost a purr, “Oh, I do.”

“Just a hint, Issy,” Spike glared irreverently. “If you want to keep that pretty face, I suggest you give him whatever he wants.”

Growling at him, Isobel dragged the jagged edge of the table leg across his cheek. “You?” The trail left a trickle of blood. “The Angelus of legend would leave you to rot. I know there is more to this than just saving your skin.”

Spike ignored the prickling pain and the distraction of the ongoing fight. “Gonna give you a bit of advice. Take ‘Gelus off the ruddy pedestal before it falls on you. He’s got an agenda. Whatever it is has got sod to do with me. There’s only one thing on his mind and she’s leading him around by his—,” he broke off suddenly realizing that he had said too much.

He knew it the moment the words were out of his mouth that Isobel was filling in the blanks. “Drusilla,” she offered up the suggestion even if it was off base. It made sense—if you were part of someone else’s clan, the sire acting on behalf of his childe. “She wants you back.”

“Don’t doubt it.” He was not so sure about that bit. After all, she had cheated on him with a Chaos demon, used him to get back to Sunnydale, and talked about him leaving her like it was some foregone conclusion.

“Angelus would never let his childe rule his actions.” Isobel turned to watch the fight for a moment before concluding, “He’s not just here for you. It’s the girl he wants.”

As she linked Angel to his pretty little pet, Spike’s eyebrows quirked up in surprise at the confidence in her voice. “The girl Dru brought home?” he tried to look bored. “Can’t really say. Had a right hard-on for the Slayer last time I was in town. Sexy little blonde, like you.”

“Nice try,” Isobel purred stroking his injured cheek. Bitch was too close for comfort, both physically and in getting to the truth. The fact that she knew it, too, was clear when she gave a little shudder and smiled. “There’s no need to lie to me, Spike. I’ll just ask him myself when he’s finished with Tomas.”

She was a cold-hearted little bint, he thought, but noticed her eyes stray toward her companion. A hint of regret flashed across her face vanishing just as quickly. “You do that.” Spike had a feeling if Isobel even mentioned Cordelia’s name she was going to get an answer she was not expecting. “Remember what I said, luv. Give the man what he wants. If it’s the girl, you can find another one. Plenty o’ them around Sunnyhell.”

“Not like this one.” Isobel smirked when he did not bother to deny it. “Cordelia Chase is one of five who possess the power to secure our future. You cannot imagine what it will be like. Perhaps Angelus does not know what he wants,” she added cryptically making him wonder what she had up her sleeve.

Spike did not know much about Angel’s chit except that she was a lot easier on his eyes than his ears. “What power?”

There was a moment of hesitation before Isobel admitted that she did not know all of the details. “The girl is to be sacrificed. That is all that matters. I prefer to dwell on the outcome.”

That was motive enough for Angel to dust her if she did not give up the goods. He knew that Angel was not here just to rescue him. Maybe that was his secondary objective, but the first would be to get any bit of information out of Isobel that he could.

“Which is what?”

Isobel turned away from the fight again. After a short pause to look him over, she tucked the broken table leg under her arm to free up her hands. Spike was about to call foul when she headed straight for his fly, but she only zipped it up and then fastened the two remaining buttons on his shirt. That was not going to hide anything. If she wasn’t so close to telling him what the hell was going on, Spike would’ve vamped out and bit her nose off.

It was just a matter of time before Angel had her back in his clutches. He only hoped the soul would not get in the way of ripping this bitch’s heart out.

“My sire and all my kinsmen will receive the power we’ve been promised. That should interest him enough to join us,” Isobel sounded smug about it. “Had I known Angelus was in Sunnydale I would have convinced my sire to approach him.”

It sounded like something that Angelus would have jumped at—except for the fact that he did not play well with others. A shot at real power might be enough to get him to toe the line for a while. But Angel was not exactly interested in the same things as he used to be. “You sayin’ that ‘Gelus gets it, too?”

Lifting the splintered wooden shard to dig into his skin again, Isobel grabbed onto his ear. Whispering into it, “Yes, cousin, and so would you.”

Stunned at her revelation, Spike was confused. He figured she was lying. This was just some trick to get him to talk. Isobel was hinting at a connection between them, Angelus and her sire. He did not know enough about the history of the Aurelius Clan to call her on it. The here and now had always been more his thing.

If he thought she was telling the truth, he might actually consider listening. This had to be her way of making a play to get out of here. Angel was about to cut down her last line of defense. Things were about to get bad for Blondie if she planned to get between Angel and his curvaceous kitten. That was not the safest place to be.

Spike warned her, “He won’t give up the girl.” There was no use denying it now. If he did not say something, Angel was going to in a matter of minutes. Might as well use it to see where the information led. “If he came here for her, then it means she’s on the loose. If it was for me, then he’s already got her.”

“There must be a way to convince him,” Isobel husked conspiratorially. “If Angelus joins us, so must you. I promise you will gain all that you desire.”

First it was torture. The seduction routine followed. Now she was playing on good old-fashioned greed. “Not a bleedin’ chance.” Isobel’s sire had something up his sleeve that involved Dru. And she wouldn’t be so quick to think the former King of Wank over there would hand over his new bed warmer if she knew about the soul.

He decided to put an end to their little game. “Just so there’s no misunderstanding,” Spike added smugly, “if he doesn’t crush your scrawny neck, I will.”

Isobel looked stunned for an instant. She recovered well, but was unable to hide her angry pout. Taking a step back she pointed her weapon directly at his chest. “You’re in no position to make threats.” Then glancing over her shoulder at the ongoing fight shrugged, “Angelus is rather busy just now. Want to bet he won’t get here before I dust you?”

The crunch of bone sounded as Angel put a sudden stop to the fight. He had signaled Spike to keep the conversation going once Isobel started to talk. Just how long did the chit think it took to take down one of her goons, anyway? It probably took more effort not to kill him. Guess he had heard enough, or at least decided that this was still a rescue mission after all.

“’Bout bloody time,” Spike muttered.

Distracted by the moaning vampire on the ground, Isobel whirled around to see what had happened. “Tomas,” she cringed as he writhed in agony barely able to hold back his screams of pain.

A broken back would not kill the vampire, but it would stop him from running out of here. He would serve as a spare witness if Isobel would not give up the goods on her sire’s plans. Spike had to admit he would not have bothered to keep him around.

Angel met Isobel’s gaze. He made no grand threats. “Come here.”

To Spike’s surprise, she actually obeyed the command without question and dropped the makeshift stake as a show of trust. “I invite you to join us, Angelus. You will gain more than you ever dreamed.”

“That includes you?”

She took the question seriously stepping even closer. “Yes. Nicolau indulges. I play with whomever I choose.”

Meaning she shagged them until they both lost consciousness, Spike interpreted.

If anything, the mention of her sire’s name made Angel’s already stony appearance grow colder. He grasped onto her hand and wrist with a swift move closing around them to twist it behind her. “I’m not interested in your games or your deals.”

“You refuse me?” Isobel gasped indignantly and started to make a serious effort to struggle against his hold, now realizing this was not actually foreplay, but a real threat.

Spike could not believe the chit was still standing. “Just kill the bloody bitch.”

Captain Forehead apparently had his own agenda. He did not even look Spike’s way.

“Isobel, isn’t it? I have a message for, Nico.” Angel already new her name. Knew her sire, too, he realized, well enough to call him by his nick.

Her teeth rattled when he gave her a hard shake. A little rough handling was just what was needed to get her attention. She was a vampire, after all, not quite as breakable as human women. He knew what buttons to press to get her to listen.

Isobel hissed, “Yes, Angelus.”

“The name is Angel,” he growled it. “Listen carefully. Here’s what you’re going to say…”

117:     The Factory, Westside, Sunnydale

“Tell your sire to back off,” Angel’s growl added to the underlying threat. His fangs were inches away, jagged and gleaming white against his bloodied lip.

Simultaneously terrified and turned on, Isobel focused on the red clot and shuddered at the thought of licking that small wound clean, tasting the power of his blood. Her tongue seductively traced the seam of her lips, but he seemed immune to her beauty and all too obvious interest.

The threat was real and she was no different in his eyes than the minions he had already defeated. Suddenly Isobel was afraid. She should lie to him, she considered. Tell him anything. But the truth might also sway his resolve.

“Angelus,” she tugged hard trying to wrest out of his hold. It served only to bruise her delicate ivory skin. Her voice still sounded husky, “We both know what he will say. Nothing will get in the way of his goals, not even you. I do not want you as our enemy. Forget the girl. Join us.”

Anger poured off him in waves, intense emotion and aggression darkening his eyes. He could break her if he tried. The bruising hold was nothing compared to his full strength. Even now, he was in control of his actions, but one wrong move might prove deadly.

Part of her wanted to see how far he would take this, entice him to further violence. Seduce him. He had already proven he was not easily swayed by her charms. Isobel was not the type to give up easily when it came to getting something she wanted.

It would not be easy, she sensed. He was obviously worked up about his human pet, if that was truly what Cordelia Chase was to him. Isobel was not stupid enough to think this was all about Spike. Not with the reputed history between Angelus and the rest of his clan. For now, there was no choice but to listen to Angel’s demands.

The next words out of his mouth confirmed one theory. “Stay away from Cordelia. If I catch you, your sire or your hired mercenary anywhere near her, Drusilla or anyone else under my protection I will take it very personally. Understand?”

He let her go so suddenly that Isobel stumbled back barely catching her balance. Her hand went to her wrist massaging away the dull pain, but she enjoyed the lingering sensation of Angel’s touch. A glance toward Spike suggested he was waiting for his grandsire to lose his cool. Isobel could feel the tension from there, simmering under the surface.

“It’s you who fails to understand, Angelus,” she refused to call him by the shortened version of his name. It only served to distract Isobel from her plan to convince him to join them.

One thing she would offer truthfully. “The Crosathnam is dead. My sire killed him for his incompetence.”

Angel took a step closer, his voice softening dangerously again, “Will Nico be equally displeased with you?”

“Doesn’t bloody matter,” Spike cut in reminding them of his plans to put a dusty end to Isobel for the torture she had put him through. They both ignored his rants, “Let me loose,” as he struggled against his bonds.

Angel had some reason for allowing her to warn Nicolau. Apparently, the fact that his childe’s uncouth progeny wanted revenge was not high on his list of priorities. The girl was his focus and, as of now, Isobel’s, too, and not just because of the prophecy. Who was to say there could not be a little fun before the final sacrifice? It made her wonder what it was like for Darla back in the days of sharing victims with Angelus.

For Isobel it was exciting to have someone warm and squirming between herself and Nicolau, crying in fear, pleading for freedom, for one last chance at life. “What is she like, your Cordelia Chase? Warm, vivacious, full of life, as beautiful as her photograph?”

His jaw clenched, the muscles working as Angel bit back a reaction, the only outward sign of his anger. All that raw power was just roiling under the surface. She wanted to experience it, but knew her curiosity had gone too far this time.

Hot jealousy stirred inside her as Angel barked, “Get out before I change my mind.”

“Bloody hell. I’ve got a permanent score to settle with Blondie,” Spike’s outrage was evident, but Isobel was more interested with the way Angel reacted to her interest in his pet. There was something more to it than protecting property. She had a notion that Cordelia Chase was everything she described and more.

Isobel was unused to men thinking about anyone else when she was interested in gaining their attention. Nicolau would initially be amused by the news that the great Angelus had turned down her advances. Then he would be angry that she did not persuade him to join them.

The promise of wealth and true power did not sway him to give up the girl as a sacrifice. It had to be more that mere possessiveness. As Isobel scrutinized Angel’s motives, she came to a startling conclusion that left her wide-eyes when the idea hit.

“You have feelings for her.” Having backed away, her footsteps taking her closer to the door, she stopped short realizing that Angel was not merely obsessed with his pet. He was in love with her. That went against everything she knew about Angelus, but she knew the power of love. Warning him, “The outcome will be the same. Cordelia Chase must be sacrificed as prophesized.”

That was a fact as far as Isobel could say. Nicolau might wish to put aside any scores that required settling between their clans and accept Angelus as one of them, but he would never ignore the prophecy. It was the one thing that had driven their kinsmen for hundreds of years. Now that they were on the brink of its fruition, nothing would get in their way. Not Angelus and certainly not his precious pet from Sunnydale.

“Get out, Isobel,” ordered Angel one last time. “You’ve said more than enough. Take the message to your sire and hope he has the sense to leave Sunnydale.” 

Defiantly, Isobel raised her chin a notch to vow, “We will prevail with or without you. Nicolau is determined to gain what has been promised when this prophecy is fulfilled.”

“There’s a difference between stupidity and determination. Nico has always confused one for the other.”

Snapping, “Bastard,” she took another step back only to yelp in surprise as a hand wrapped around her ankle.

It was Tomas.

He lay supine on the floor, a mass of bruised and bloodied flesh, broken. Isobel had always had a soft spot for the younger vampire who fulfilled her every whim, often while risking Nicolau’s ire.

“Don’t leave me with them,” he woefully begged to be taken back to the lair failing to understand how completely useless he was to her right now.

Isobel crouched low to take his hand in hers. Whispering a soft promise, “I will take care of you.” She glanced over at Angel who stood cross-armed, legs braced apart, glowering and waiting for her to comply with his demand. Maybe he suspected what she was up to, but he did not make a move to stop her.

Pressing Tomas’ hand across his chest, she firmly gripped his arm. Before he could react Isobel tossed his body onto one of the overturned table legs jutting up from the floor. An explosive burst of dust clouded the air. She had taken care of him as promised.

When it settled Isobel was standing by the door. “Farewell, Angelus. The next time we meet I suggest you give me what I want— or there will be consequences.”

118:     The Factory, Westside, Sunnydale

The heavy steel door slammed shut. Every passing second allowed Isobel more time to escape. Spike peered through swollen lids at Angel’s stony stance. Unmoving, he faced the door, time ticking away. He had always liked the chase. Any second now, he would take off after the bitch. Let her know just who he was and why he wasn’t going to let her get away with threatening Drusilla, or his lush little kitten—and not forgetting damaging Spike’s natural good looks.

Spike waited, but Angel made no move toward the door. Instead, he turned toward him, fierce demonic features fading back to a human veneer. “Let’s go.”

“’Bout time,” he grunted. Ignoring the fact that he could barely move despite the loosened bindings, Spike was already envisioning turning the tables on Isobel. “Get me out of these chains, mate. It’s not too late to pick up her trail.”

When Angel matter-of-factly informed him that they were going to do no such thing, Spike thought he had lost his mind. It was not anything Isobel had done to convince him to let her go. No, this was all Angel’s lamebrain idea.

“That little bitch tortured me,” Spike growled the reminder as if the bleeding wounds and bruises were not enough evidence. His arm dropped heavily to his side as Angel released him from one of the manacles biding his wrists. Wincing, he slowly curled his fingers into a fist. “She hurt Dru.”

Angel unshackled his other wrist setting him free. The weighty chains dropped to the floor, but the support they provided was also gone. Wavering on his feet, Spike tried to maintain his balance.

“This isn’t the time for revenge,” warned Angel pulling him back to his feet. “I let her go for a reason.”

Stupidity. Good reason. All he had to do was follow her back to her lair, put a stake through her sire and end this. “Yeah, that got something to do with the Angelus act? Don’t think I didn’t notice you know all about Blondie’s sire.”

Tight-jawed, Angel glared at him, a darkness showing in his eyes that Spike hadn’t seen since before the Slayer sent him on a little trip to hell. He had been soulless then and dangerous enough to scare Spike into a temporary alliance with Buffy Summers.

“Can you walk?”

Avoiding the subject was only making him more curious. Spike took a tentative step forward testing out the strength of his legs. “What makes you think he’ll give a rat’s ass about your threats? Not ex—,” toppling forward he let out a shout as his legs gave out.

A strong arm stretched out catching him mid chest and holding him up. Angel let out a grunt of irritation. “This is one reason we’re not going after Isobel. You’re too weak to fight.”

Bollocks. “Just gathering my strength.”

“But it’s not the main reason,” Angel said ignoring his attempt at bravado. “I made a promise to Dru tonight.”

Spike nodded knowingly. “She’s at the mansion.” He had figured as much. Ran straight home to Daddy.  “Let’s get on with it, then. You gonna give us our old room back? Good memories in that room.”

Coming to a halt, Angel let out a harsh laugh. “You’re not going anywhere near the mansion. I’ll set you up at my old apartment. You can stay there until you’re healed up.”

He gave Angel a weak shove. “The hell I am.”

“Dru’s safest at the mansion,” Angel knew exactly what he was protesting about.

It was not that he did not want Drusilla to be protected. It was the idea that she would be with Angel again. Even if her sire was all soulful at the moment and enraptured with the cheerleader, there was still that basic urge to be around him.

Spike didn’t want Dru doing anything that was going to get her staked. This wasn’t just a matter of protecting Drusilla. “You’ve got your girl stashed there, too. Well, don’t worry. I won’t hurt your little pet. Just let me see Dru.”

Hands on his chest, Spike tried to look sincere about it. Other than the obvious, he had no interest in Cordelia Chase. That was something he could put aside in order to ensure Dru’s safety. ‘Gelus could have his pet and he could have Dru. Simple. He started toward the door on his own hating that he walked like an old man in need of a crutch. No way was he letting Angel keep him from Dru.

Spike stopped dead in his tracks when Angel announced, “Buffy and Faith are staying there.”

“Quite the harem you’ve got,” Spike snorted. “No wonder you don’t want me horning in.”

Angel glowered at him and moved ahead to open the door. “That’s right, Spike. Now you know.” His voice smacked of sarcasm. “Now will you shut up and get moving?”

Spike kept on going. By the time they reached the Plymouth, he had worn Angel down by convincing him that in his current state he could not possibly be a threat to anyone at the mansion. With two Slayers around to keep an eye on things, there would be nothing he could do. Besides, he could be trusted. No, really. He had kept his mouth shut when Isobel was trying to pry the truth out of him.

Hell, he might even offer to help. After all, it would be one way of getting revenge on Isobel and her mysterious sire.

“Fine,” Angel sighed resignedly as he opened the driver’s side door. “You can stay—conditionally. No matter how tempted you are to go for his throat, Xander Harris is off limits. The same goes for the watchers. Don’t bait the Slayers into a fight and try to keep Dru from doing something stupid.”

Smirking inwardly, Spike slid into the passenger seat and shut the door. Looking at the convertible, he commented, “Nice ride. You forgot to say what happens if I take a shine to Cordelia.”

Angel revved the engine. Though he said it with a smile, “Don’t,” his eyes glittered with deadly earnest.  

119:  The Lounge, Angel's Mansion on Crawford Street

“Go fish,” Xander smirked from behind his cards drawing a glare from Faith. He gave her a shrug. “Hey! It’s not my fault that I have no sevens.”

There were other games Faith would rather be playing and they did not involve cards or Xander Harris for that matter. Buffy was out patrolling the grounds while she got stuck babysitting Vampirella. She glanced at Drusilla who pressed her own cards to close her chest as if anyone would really bother to cheat.

“Your turn,” Faith sighed with boredom.

Drusilla took a peek at her cards then turned her dark brown eyes upon her as if boring deep into her soul. “I will have your fives, Slayer— both of them.”

Having forgotten what cards she possessed, Faith fingered through the handful of playing cards finding the five of hearts and the five of spades. She frowned. Two fives. Go figure.

While handing them over, the click of Cordelia’s heels approached across the parquet floor. “You do realize you’re playing card games with a seer. Dru gets visions, hello!”

Faith tossed the rest of her cards face down on the table. “Screw this.” The fact that Drusilla won all three games suddenly made sense. Glaring accusingly at Xander, she barked, “You knew about that, didn’t you?”

Xander kept his mouth shut and shrugged earning him a smile and a pinched cheek as Dru leaned close. Jumping out of her chair, Faith warned her, “Keep your mitts off the goods. Angel told you to lay off.”

“Yeah,” Xander agreed and leaned as far away as he could get while still seated. “No pinching.”

A snort sounded from Cordelia. “At least it was your cheek this time.”

Keeping Drusilla occupied while Angel was away had been a challenge. At first, Faith had been amused over Xander’s enthrallment and his reaction once it wore off. What was it with that boy that kept Dru coming back for more? She was toying with him, but not in an obvious vampire-victim way.

“I can’t believe you three are playing cards,” Cordy’s irritation cut clearly through her thoughts. Mulling over Xander Harris was like trying to solve one of the mysteries of the universe, unfathomable, but potentially worth exploring. “Angel is out risking his life to save Spike.”

Faith inwardly agreed. She would much rather be kicking some ass alongside Angel than playing babysitter. “Stop pacing and just chill, Cor. It’s not like he was gonna let any of us tag along.”

She understood what was bugging Cordelia. Not doing anything was getting to her. Willow was with Wesley and Giles planning some hocus-pocus defenses. They’d refused any extra help. Buffy was patrolling, which was a good thing because it meant she was out of their hair for the moment, but someone had to stick around to keep an eye on Dru.

Rising gracefully from her chair, Drusilla moved to Cordelia’s side and draped an arm around her shoulder. Faith watched every little move, ready for anything, but there was no sign of nervousness on her friend’s face. She simply accepted the comforting gesture as it was intended. “Do not fear for Angel, my sweet. He will return to us.”

The way she said it made it seem like there was going to be one big family reunion. Faith really did not like the sound of that.  

120:     Angel's Mansion, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale

The cobblestones crackled under the tires as the Plymouth slowly made its way up the winding drive. A small figure darted directly into the path ahead. Standing just outside the range of the headlights she was close enough to make out her familiar silhouette. Angel applied the brakes bringing the car to a halt.

Over the idling rumble of the engine, Buffy’s voice sounded out from the shadows. “What’s he doing here?”

Spike let out a laugh. “Lookee what we got here. Buffy Summers. If you’ve come to beat me to a bloody pulp, you’re a bit late for that,” he called out.

“What did I tell you about not baiting the Slayers?” Angel softly growled a warning, reminding Spike to behave. “Don’t make me regret bringing you here any more than I already do.”

“She’s either the welcoming party—or the solution to your problem. Might as well enjoy it if she plans to have her way with me while I’m weak and helpless.”

Angel did not bother to respond. With that mouth on him, Spike was likely to meet the wrong end of a stake before long and he was not entirely opposed to having a front row seat.

Approaching from the periphery, Buffy walked over to the passenger side, her eyes widening as she got a good look at Spike. Bloody and battered, he was a mass of dark bruises, scrapes and gashes. “Who did this?”

It sounded more like curiosity than genuine concern, but Spike twisted it to his own liking. “Jealous, luv? I’ve been having a little fun with another blonde.”

Ugh. Buffy glared at him in disgust. He was out of his mind, but Spike was not the only one who needed his head examined. “Angel, you better get him outta here.”

“He’s staying.”

Buffy still was not used to Angel having his own opinions. She guessed he had always had them, but he used to let her have her way. That had all changed now that Cordelia was his girlfriend. She did not know who or what was to blame for the changes in his whole personality, whether it was his trip to hell, his permanent soul, or if new girlfriend was just rubbing off on him. God, it hurt just thinking about it. Whatever the cause, she did not like it.

Before choking up, Buffy quipped, “Then he’s your problem. See you inside.” Neither one of them had a chance to respond. She darted straight down the driveway in the direction of the house.

“The chit is gonna spoil your surprise,” said Spike watching her run.

Angel took his foot off the brake and kept going. Surprise was not exactly the right word for it. By the time they stopped in front of the mansion, everyone was filing out the front door except for Buffy who had apparently seen enough. Automatically, he scanned the group for Cordelia finding her leaning casually against the threshold. Cordy hung back watching him from her elevated position at the top of the steps.

So beautiful.

One look caught him up in a swift surge of possessiveness. Seeing her waiting there for him, hazel eyes full of love and concern. All of his earlier fantasies flooded back causing a heavy ache in his loins, his cock rubbing against the crease of his pants as it stiffened to thoughts of her touch. Christ, he wanted her.

Holding perfectly still Angel savored the way her skin flushed subtly under his gaze as if she knew the direction of his thoughts. He focused on her lips as they spread into a slow smile imagining their softness, anticipating the kiss he would give her when he got up there. Spike’s arrival necessitated that he temporarily put aside personal indulgences, which he would. Any second now.

Dragging his eyes away from Cordelia’s, he noticed Giles’ mouth seemed to be moving. “Oh, for God’s sake, man, have you not heard a word?”

No, he had not. His grip on the steering wheel tightened as he realized the extent of his distraction. “I…”

“Took a few blows to the head,” Spike pointed a thumb in his direction by way of an explanation. “Let the kitten fix him up with a bit of TLC and he’ll be right as rain.” He sent Cordelia a wink with the one eye that was not swollen shut.

Standing next to the car, Willow glanced from one vampire to the other. “Looks like you need it more.”

“You volunteering, Red?”

She gulped loudly and then squeaked, “No.”

Wesley put a reassuring hand on Willow’s shoulder. He had gotten to know her a little bit better over the past few hours, having been working closely with her on a few mystical defenses for the mansion.

Knowing where Spike fell in the ranks of Clan Aurelius, he addressed his words directly to Angel. “I caution you to reconsider this action,” Wesley beseeched him.

Bringing Drusilla here, a highly unstable vampire, was dangerous enough. Adding Spike to the mix would only add to their problems. Though it appeared the younger vampire was riddled with injuries, it was only a matter of time before they healed. “You know all too well the kind of damage these two can inflict.”

Nudging past him, Drusilla bent over the passenger door to inspect Spike’s wounds. She licked at the blood in between kisses. “Let mummy take care of you. I promise to make it all better.”

Angel ignored them. Informing the watcher, “I’m counting on it.”

Still seated and waiting for his erection to subside, Angel ensured that the flap of his coat covered the evidence of his arousal. He was not certain if Spike had tried to cover for his lapse of concentration or if he was just taking an opportunity to comment on his relationship with Cordelia.

Most of the group seemed surprised that Angel planned to use the other vampires to his advantage. “We can use Spike’s strength and Drusilla’s visions. I’ll take any advantage I can get if it means protecting Cordy and putting a stop to Nicolau’s scheme.”

The name distracted Drusilla from tending to Spike. She hissed, “Nasty man. He has poor Miss Edith.”

“Nicolau,” Wesley rolled the name over on his tongue. “The name sounds familiar.”

Giles’ jaw tightened up, realizing the reason for such familiarity. He had questions for Angel, but this was not the most appropriate venue for them. “I suggest we continue this elsewhere. Faith, please escort Spike to his room and make certain he remains there.”

“It’s B’s turn. I’m supposed to be a vampire slayer, not a vampire sitter.”

Emerging slowly from the car, Spike joked through the pain, “Come closer. I’ll show you where to sit.”

Without a blink, Faith jabbed her elbow into his ribs. Spike grunted, doubling over and spitting blood. Just as fast, Drusilla backhanded Faith sending her reeling a step before regaining her balance. The Slayer lifted a hand to her lower lip dragging a hand across it, coming away with blood smeared across her knuckle and forefinger.

Through the white rage that flared up inside her, she heard Cordelia call out, “Faith, stop playing around and come inside.”

“Aw, c’mon, Cor. I was just getting warmed up.” Faith smirked and considered giving Drusilla something to think about. She took a step closer.

“That's enough!” Angel leapt over the side of the car and put himself between the two females. “This isn’t the time for insults or tempers. Faith, can you deal with this? No violence unless it’s warranted?”

She pressed her lips together, clearly not okay with it. Every instinct she had urged her to slip her stake from the waistband of her jeans and plunge it deep into Spike’s chest. She would save something special for Dru, the crazy freak. “Yeah, I can deal.”

“Dru, take care of Spike,” Angel ordered firmly reminding her of the fact that she had promised to behave. “I’ll send Xander up with some blood.”

Xander choked, “What? Why me? I’m not letting that thing near my neck.”

Behind him, Cordelia snorted, “Blood from the fridge, doofus.”

“Oh.” That sounded better to Xander. The idea of handling the container of pig blood was gross, but at least he was not going to be Spike’s midnight snack.

“We’ll need more,” Cordy caught Angel’s gaze reminding him that their supply was going to run out with three vampires in the house. “What about some O-neg takeout from Willy’s? Wouldn’t the real thing help with those wounds?”

Wesley looked impressed. “Excellent suggestion, Miss Chase.”

“Geez, how many times do I have to tell you to call me Cordelia?” She rolled her eyes at him and missed seeing the flush creep up his thin neck. “Or even Cor or Cordy, like my friends do.”

Clearing his throat, Angel gave Wesley a hard stare. He could not blame the watcher for being attracted to Cordy. She was beautiful, annoyingly charming, and could twist a man up in knots without even trying. But she was definitely taken and Angel had already discovered that he was the jealous type.

“That’s very kind of you… Cordy.”

Spike chuckled as he advised, “Better watch it, ponce,” and then winced in pain as Faith grabbed his arm to lead him toward the stairs.

“Three flights of stairs,” she smirked. “Four if you count these. Gonna make it or do you need me or mummy dearest to carry you?”

“Sod off,” Spike snagged his arm away. “I’ll do it.” He stared down at the first step and willed his legs to hold steady. “Bloody nerve you got, Slayer. Makes me feel all unwanted.”

He looked up at Cordelia as he said it, playing for a little sympathy. She liked vamps. One in particular. There was not a whiff of fear about her. And it would not hurt to get on the chit’s good side considering she was Angel’s little bed warmer.

Cordelia crossed her arms as she watched his approach. “Of course you’re unwanted, Spike, but come in anyway. Try not to bleed on the furniture.”

One by one, Drusilla, Spike and Faith filed past her followed by Xander who wrapped his hands around his own throat as if to say this was going to kill him. Cordy reached out to muss his hair. He yelped and jogged a couple of steps until he was out of her reach. Willow yawned, “Oz can take me to the butcher shop in the morning. He’s back from his gig in Braeswood.”

Scrunching her nose at the neighboring hometown of their rivals from Fondren High, Cordy huffed, “Like those blockheads have any taste in music—or anything else that matters.”

“History? Science?” asked Wesley in passing as he followed along behind Willow. He, too, paused long enough to get an answer.

“Duh, fashion taste.” Emphasis on stuff that matters, Cordelia decided to take it easy on him. He was kind of cute for a stuffy British guy. She flashed a little smile that made his jaw drop open a little. “Fondren’s cheerleading outfits are the essence of fugly.”

A heavy sigh sounded. Blocked from entering, Giles tapped on Wesley’s shoulder. “Do go in. Unfortunate designs in cheerleader fashion are not our chief concern.”

Cordelia frowned as she realized they were no longer her concern, either. She had to step down from her position as head cheerleader because of her father’s little financial fiasco. Now thanks to this stupid prophecy it was dangerous to go anywhere including school.

She put that thought out of her mind as her attention turned to Angel. “Are you planning to stay out there all night?” Below, leaning casually against the side of the car, Angel had waited until the others went back inside. Cordelia remained where she was, a sultry smile curving across her lips.

“Just picking my moment.” He pushed away from the car and walked toward her, too slowly for Cordelia’s liking. She had been waiting all of this time to hold him, show him that she missed him. Now the anticipation of it made her shiver.

The shadows shifted revealing more of his face as he came closer. A gasp caught in her throat. “You look— are you okay?”

“It’s nothing. A few scrapes. 

Cordelia’s eyes narrowed as they traveled head to toe looking for any sign of further injury. She suspected the reason he had walked so slowly had less to do with teasing her than because he was in pain. “Just how bad are these scrapes, buster?”

She crossed her arms, glaring at him as she waited for the truth.

“They’ll heal, Cordy. Vampire,” he pointed at his chest, which earned him one raised brow.

“Don’t try to play tough with me. I know I said I wasn’t Florence Nightingale, but I’m not about to let my boyfriend walk around with festering wounds.” Making her point, she raised the second eyebrow and silently dared him to defy her.

Stepping closer, Angel felt his mouth twitch as he fought a smile. “I have to talk to the Watchers about what I discovered tonight. You should be there, too. Afterward, we can discuss what’ll make me feel better.”

Cordelia quietly stared at him just long enough to make him wonder if he had said the wrong thing. Maybe that had not sounded as sexy as it did in his head.

“If—if you want to,” he added, now worried that he made her uncomfortable.

Cordy took a step back. She shrugged one shoulder. Sounding far too indifferent for Angel’s liking, she said, “Maybe.”

Wanting to fix whatever he did wrong, Angel made a move toward her only to run into an invisible barrier. “What the—?”

“Guess it works on you, too,” Cordelia’s curiosity was almost satisfied. When Willow had finished casting the spell, she had informed her that it would only work if a human lived in residence at the mansion, and was not just visiting.

“Hello,” she recalled herself saying, “last time I checked you guys were human, too, with the possible exception of Buffy.”

“Don’t you mean Faith, too, because they’re both Slayers?”

Willow obviously missed her point. “No.”

She supposed that Spike getting through the barrier after her say so qualified him as test subject number two, the first being Drusilla after Willow first cast the spell. Now there was just Angel who was staring at her in a way that suggested he knew why she was suddenly freaking out. Apparently staying in your boyfriend’s mansion and rescuing your worldly belongings from plastic trash bags was not enough to qualify as actually living there.

Part of you had to believe that it was home.

“Are you going to invite me in?” His open hand pressed against the invisible energy barrier.

Two short steps brought her back to the threshold. Cordelia raised her hand and threaded her slender fingers through his. It made her vulnerable to any move he made, potentially allowing him to yank her outside, but he still couldn’t cross without her express consent.

“Welcome home, Angel. Come in.”

The moment the barrier vanished, he pulled her forward into his arms, their hands still connected. With an arm around her waist, he twirled them around once so they were back outside away from prying eyes. Angel had his back against the wall, leaning at a slight angle. Slipping his hand from her hip to shoulder blade, he brought them into full contact their bodies perfectly aligned.

Cordelia sighed against his lips, her warm breath coffee flavored. He kissed her, a soft sweep of his mouth across hers, and again as she opened up to the dip of his tongue, tasting, teasing its soft center enticing her to chase him.

She grasped his shoulders, held on, and squirmed against him because she could not get close enough. Wanting to touch his skin, even if it was just a few seconds of contact, she maneuvered her hand down his chest. She paused at the hard nub of his nipple, rubbing over it twice and eliciting a low groan from Angel who was kissing his way across her jaw toward the chord of her throat.

He rubbed his mouth against her pulse, and then opened up to drag his tongue and teeth across that spot. Her free hand cupped the nape of his neck. The other continued to tug the hem of his shirt out of his pants, skittering underneath to flatten her palm against him.

Tempted, her fingertips slipped downward reaching below his waistband just to touch the little curve of soft belly on his otherwise hard frame. Angel’s hips lurched forward crashing into hers. He felt so good. She wanted to be with him now, upstairs in their bed. Naked. Skin on skin. Just their hands, and mouths, and whatever he was doing that set her on fire.

“Where’d they go?” Willow called out their names, sounding closer and closer, acting like a bucket of ice water.

Angel pulled his head away from Cordy’s throat, dark eyes darting to the doorway. He was not about to move just yet even though common sense told him they needed to stop. Deep inside he felt the urge to keep going, let Willow get an eyeful so she would go away. Moving his hands to cup Cordelia’s face, he gave her one final quick kiss and set her back on her feet.

When Willow popped her head outside to look around, she found them standing two feet apart. Cordelia was no longer wore any lipgloss. Her formerly perfect hair was now in soft disarray. Clothes wrinkled. Standing with his back to her, Angel’s attention was at his waist—or somewhere below it.

Gaping as she realized what she had just interrupted, Willow felt heat flood her cheeks. She darted away so fast that Cordelia started to laugh, her grin spreading wide. “I guess we should go in.”

Angel finished tucking his shirt in and folded his leather coat closed before turning around. Growling softly in frustration he willed his body to relax again. He looked over at Cordy who was still smiling, hazel eyes twinkling, her mouth slightly swollen and the soft skin of her neck reddened. Maybe the interruption was a good thing considering where he might have taken it. He was not certain that tonight was the best time for added complications.

“Let’s go inside. I know who’s behind all of this,” Angel told her as he reached out to take her hand. “What’s more, I know why.”  

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