Darkness and Daylight

Cordelia / Angel Fanfiction & Art by Lysa Whitmore

SEASON of SOLACE

141:     Federal Correctional Facility, 35 Miles NE of Sunnydale

“You’re not my lawyer,” Harry Sims narrowed his gaze upon the man in the Armani suit. The business card said it all. The firm of Wolfram and Hart was all too familiar to him. “Holland Manners is my lawyer. Not that I’ve seen his ugly mug for a while.”

 

Jake Devries tried not to smile. “He has moved up in the firm. I’m handling your case now.”


“That no good sonofabitch promised me freedom if I followed his lead. Instead, he left me in here to rot.”

Sims obviously thought he was a fool. It was all there in the file. The firm had a long relationship with the man. When they lost his case it was actually a victory of sorts. It was damn difficult to put your own client in federal prison without tipping anyone off.


Almost as difficult as it was going to be to get him out again.


“You’re a level three precog, Mr. Sims. Don’t pretend you weren’t aware that I was coming.”


“Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn’t.” He smiled again in a knowing way that would have given anyone who didn’t work for Wolfram & Hart the creeps. Devries had seen and heard too much to let it bother him.

The firm employed a number of psychics and precogs. Sims had been one of them. Technically, he was still getting paid. Someone of Sims’ qualifications did not usually get into this kind of situation. You’d think the ability to predict the future would keep you safe, warn you before you got into something you couldn’t escape.


Apparently self-preservation didn’t apply when your employers were Wolfram and Hart.


It wasn’t Sims’ lack of skills. The firm acted to block certain thoughts from his mind. No matter how many visions came to him about why he was in prison or the purpose of this meeting, they scrambled their meaning. Holland Manners kept him in the dark for good reason: he was a pawn in a very important game.


Long aware of the Prophecy of Septarius the firm had maneuvered itself to come out of this with a position of power. The Senior Partners weren’t worshippers of Amolon, but were all too aware that it was better to be on his side should his effort to come to Earth succeed. They hoped it didn’t. After all, the Senior Partners had their own goals. That’s where Devries came in acting as the firm’s representative to Amolon’s high priestess, Kalesh, to insure they maintained a foothold in the new Earth regime.


For the moment they were considered the equals of the two key groups that would form a triumvirate of power. Nicolau Cibran’s vampires and The Undertaker’s gang were nothing compared to the combined might of the firm. The Senior Partners of Wolfram and Hart deserved a bigger take and they planned to get it.


Controlling one of the five Pure Ones would allow them to maintain a hold over the others. Their pawn could be used as leverage. Without the bone relic mentioned in the prophecy it had taken the vast resources of the firm and a dozen bloody rituals to link someone of their choosing to the events to come. Holland Manners had made it happen and now it was Devries job to seal the deal.


As of tonight they would have someone else on the inside, one whose abilities would allow Devries to play the right cards at the right time. Win, lose or draw. The firm played to win and it didn’t matter whether Amolon succeeded so much as the Senior Partners got what they wanted.


Even now the web was closing tighter and tighter around him Sims remained calm and unaware that his life was about to take a turn for the worst. “I’m here to send you home.”


“Back to Sunnydale?” That surprised him and things rarely did.


Devries opened up the hidden compartment in his leather briefcase and removed a preloaded syringe. It was the only way to get something like this past the guards without putting a sizable hole in your monthly allowance of petty cash.


“What the fuck are you doing?” The cuffs scraped noisily against the table as Sims pulled as far back as he could. “What is that shit? I hate needles.”


“Trust me, Mr. Sims. If you want to get out of prison tonight this is the only way short of a body bag.”


Taking hold of his arm, he jabbed the needle through the orange jumpsuit straight through to his deltoid muscle and pushed 0.5cc of the potent, virtually untraceable drug. While Sims was still reeling from the initial hit, Devries put the syringe back into the secret compartment and closed his briefcase.


“Where are you going? I thought you were taking me home.”


“No, Mr. Sims, not quite yet. These things take time and I can’t be around when it happens.” He headed for the door, but paused when the woozy prisoner called out a final question. “When you wake up Kalesh will be waiting.”


“Who’s Kalesh?”


Devries promised, “You’ll find out soon enough.”  

142: The Master Bedroom, Crawford Street Mansion

A void of darkness stretched before her. Black, black, black. Hopelessness weighed heavily as it settled into her chest as she ran a finger along the clothes in Angel’s closet. “One more reason why I so need to go shopping.”

“Not until we get this situation resolved,” Angel said beside her. “I agreed to take you out tonight, not let you endanger yourself by running all over town on some shopping spree.”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia huffed. “Like I could afford it. Besides, who said anything about Sunnydale? L.A. is only a couple of hours away and I don’t think anyone there is out to sacrifice me. If I was really going shopping it wouldn’t be at the Sunnydale Mall.”

Lowering her lashes, she felt a little misty-eyed over the memory of endless hours of buying whatever she wanted. It hurt that she didn’t have that anymore, but at the same time it seemed kind of silly now. She sniffed and followed it up with a laugh, her eyes twinkling as she looked up at Angel who seemed to be at a loss for words.

“Don’t worry about it, broody boy. We’ll find something in here for you to wear on our date.”

“Uh, Cordy… I’ve been dressing myself for quite a while now.”

Her eyes dropped down from his black shirt to his black pants. “Yes, and isn’t that obvious. Not that I don’t like that Dark Knight thing you have going on because it’s sexy, too, but every now and then you’ve got to lighten up a little. Wear something that doesn’t make you blend into the shadows.”

His voice was quiet as he said, “I’m a vampire. That’s what I do.” As if it might be akin to sacrilege to wear something other than black.

“Just like our resident Billy Idol wannabe? Real blendy. Not.” With that platinum blonde hair and his colorful ratty t-shirts, Spike was hardly the type to fade into the background.

Angel leaned back against the wall next to the closet, relaxing back against it and crossing his arms over his chest. “Maybe I’ll borrow something from him, then. That t-shirt from the Grateful Dead concert…”

He was having a hard time keeping a straight face. Cordelia jabbed a finger into his stomach. “Good thing I know you actually have some taste. If you take me out on our first date dressed like that I’ll stake you myself. I want to go somewhere classy, not to the Doublemeat Palace.”

“First date?”

“Okay, so we skipped a few steps,” Cordelia had to admit that it wasn’t his fault, “but when did you ever take me out on a date?”

It wasn’t exactly a trick question, but Angel couldn’t seem to come up with the right answer. “Ah ha! Gotcha there, buddy. Technically, we haven’t had one yet.”

Standing straight again, he pointed out, “There was the picnic at Shady Hill.”

“The one I set up? The one where I ended up in the hospital after practically being hit by a meteor and, might I add, getting picked as the next Miss Future Sacrifice?”

“Yeah.”

Cordelia pressed her lips together and shook her head. “Doesn’t count.”

“We went to the movies,” he tried again.

“That doesn’t count either. That was before,” she reminded him. That didn’t count as a date. “It’s different when you’re together.”

“We were together. You sat next to me. I bought popcorn.”

Remembering that he’d given in to her desire for a bag of buttery goodness stating that a movie wasn’t a movie without it, Cordelia grinned. That had been a great two hours and not because of the movie itself. They’d become friends. Real friends. Good friends.

But it wasn’t a date. “We were just friends then. That was Team Chase taking up pre-patrol time.”

“Technically, that’s what we’re doing tonight. Pre-patrol. We can’t forget the dangers that are out there. Not for a minute.”

Cordelia sighed. “We won’t. Please, Angel, this date is important to me. We can still dress up, have a good time and be careful.”

“It’s just that I don’t—date. With you, yes, I will, I want to, but before, not really.”

“Oh, c’mon, you dated Buffy, right?” she asked while contemplating the black shirt with the thin white stripes or the black shirt with the silver buttons. “I know you two used to meet up at the Bronze.”

“That was different.”

“How so? A guy and a girl sitting together, talking…okay, with you back then maybe not so much of the talking and way, way less of the dancing—we’ll have to work on that.” She put both shirts back in the closet and moved on to the next. “Maybe the Bronze was a bad example. You two had to do something fun.”

He paused for a moment as if wondering whether he should be telling her. Cordelia raised an eyebrow and waited. Finally, he said, “We went ice skating.”

Jaw dropping, she gasped, “You skated?”

“No, not exactly. She was skating alone at the rink. I, uh, was following her.”

Cordelia chortled and went back to browsing through his clothes. Pointing out to him, “Broody stalker mode is different than date mode.”

Wryly, Angel added, “And then we were attacked.”

“Oh, God, as if I needed a reminder of how pathetic you two could be. Please tell me that you had one decent date. I almost feel sorry for Buffy.”

“We went for coffee once.”

That settled it. Buffy deserved her little pity party. “Oookay. I’m sure that was…nice. Let’s start with Dating 101. Lesson One: Clothes. It’s all about the clothes.”  

143:   Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale, 2:10AM

Fingers reached down to the liquid pooled on the parquet floor rubbing together to test its consistency. A messy path of it trailed up the staircase. Footprints. Random droplets along the banister.

Passing in front of the soft glow of the hall lamp created a silhouette against the old wallpaper yellowed and worn by time. The trail led to an ajar door on the next level. It creaked as it was opened and closed shut.

The sound of a running shower was unmistakable.

Something on the floor caused a stumble. Sandals. Raising one up by its gilded strap showed a broken heel dangling by a thin connection. The shoes were moved to a tidy position under a chair to prevent further mishaps.

A red heap lay across the threshold of the open bathroom door. A sodden dress and tiny scraps of silky undergarments.

The foggy mirror showed no reflection.

Standing beneath the pulsating spray, Cordelia closed her eyes and tilted toward the water letting it run rivulets down the contours of her face and body. The shower felt glorious melting away knotted tension in her muscles.

Angel certainly gave her a workout tonight making moves she had never practiced. All of that strength and agility. Scary sexy. The simple seduction-on-the-beach scenario she planned had taken an unexpected turn.

They so needed to finish what they started.

Steam engulfed the interior of the shower. Her skin soaked it up. Hot. Just like Angel liked it. Anticipation made her tingle under the pulsating spray. She craved the touch of his hands, cool and wet, slipping across her heated skin, those knowing fingertips tracing droplets from one erogenous zone to another.

Just like the rain.

If only he would hurry up. They had slayers to patrol the perimeter and make certain it was secure. There was no need for him to do it himself. He was supposed to be here doing things that made her toes curl.

Stupid interfering prophecy.

Angel had really made an effort to make things special tonight. Out on the town with her guy. Romantic table for two, the ambiance, his adorable attempt at sweet talk. The fun of watching him eat—or at least strategically maneuvering food around his plate. Topped off with a stroll on the beach.

Perfect.

Until the clock struck midnight and their date turned into a creepy Wes Craven film. ‘Nightmare at the Marina’ starring Cordelia Chase.

Too bad memories couldn’t be edited the same way as films.

She’d keep the perfect Cordelia-Angel parts and leave the rest of the evening on the cutting room floor. Romantic dinner, hot boyfriend and seduction on the beach: IN. Spying, evil vampire bitch and ferocious storm: OUT.

Isobel was not what she expected despite having seen Angel’s drawing. Blondie so owed her a new pair of shoes and it certainly looked like she could afford it.

Just an observation.

Envy had nothing to do with it!

Much.

Turning around, Cordelia folded her arms on the tiles and leaned in letting the water sluice down her back. Despite the surrounding heat she shuddered at the memory of the beach.

Just how long had Isobel been there—watching them?

She’d been out there in the dark, amber eyes trained on them, waiting patiently, so patiently for the right moment to interrupt. Not because she had planned the perfect attack, when they were alone, and vulnerable, focused totally on each other.

No, Peeping Tomasina had other ideas roving around that one-tract mind of hers that involved Angel. Wasn’t it obvious that he was already taken? Guess she didn’t think a human ‘pet’ was much competition.

Pfft!

She obviously didn’t know Cordelia Chase.

The sudden chill of the outside air rushed in as the shower door opened.

All thoughts of Isobel vanished instantly. Angel. Her breath hitched in anticipation. Rushing ahead to the promise he’d made to make things up to her tonight. Ready now, she pressed her hands flat against the slick tile, body taut, waiting for his touch and the length of his hard body against hers.

A moan escaped in her eagerness, wanting him inside her without a moment longer passing by.

A cool touch pressed against her skin.

A hand.

Cordelia’s head snapped up from its relaxed position, eyes wide with the realization that it wasn’t Angel standing behind her. Skin crawling terror hit. The hand whipped up to smother her scream.

Streaming water splashed around them, but her assailant took no notice as she was jerked back and whirled out of the shower stall, naked and vulnerable. The bathroom mirror had partly steamed over. Cordelia could only see the outline of one reflection.

Frissons of fear caused her heart to beat rapidly. It was a vampire. Female. Isobel? Here. Now.

Impossible! The mansion was supposed to be a safe haven. She had Angel protecting her, two slayers, the watchers, a few spells and a couple of sidekicks! What more did it take?

It was Willow’s fault. Had to be. Willow must’ve screwed up the spell.

Cordelia struggled in vain, twisting and kicking, but ultimately unable to break the strong hold upon her. Reaching down to scratch at any body part she could reach, she came away with a handful of silk, the pattern unmistakable.

A muffled question sounded beneath the restraint of the hand over her mouth just as a cheek pressed against hers to whisper closely, “It’s time.”  

144:   Eight Hours Earlier, Glebe Park, Central Sunnydale

Irony.


It was not lost on Buffy as she made her escape. Slipping out of the mansion. Dashing across the thickly overgrown lawn to the iron wrought fence. Up and over. Scaling it like no ordinary human could.

Running. Fast. Faster.


As if her life depended on it. Escaping, truthfully. Something she thought she had tried and gotten out of her system. So much for being grown up about everything. When she made that deal with herself it was before Angel came up with the lamebrain idea to team her up with Spike.


Spike! Like she was going to spend a minute in the company of that peroxided pest if she could avoid it? Not.


There was no shirking of duty here. Not for her. No siree! This was just an early start on evening patrol. Spike could wait back at the mansion. The less he roamed around her town the better.


Was she so awful that Angel would do this to her? Team her up with Spike. God! It was not like she wanted to send him to hell. Much. Or that she did not have her own reasons for teaming him up with Cordelia Chase.


It was not like he didn’t get anything out of it.


If Cordelia had thought of this...no surprise there, but no. Angel managed to dream up this torture session plan. Yep! Cruelty. Revenge. That had to be it. Not that he admitted it. No, he claimed it was just strategy.


Huh.


Right. His strategy was stinky with payback as far as she was concerned.


Wasn’t it torture enough that she knew it was her own stupid fault that he hooked up with Cordelia, or having to watch the two of them ready to go out on the town? Now she was supposed to babysit Spike.

No way.


They were all talking about the plans for tonight. Getting things straight. “We have to cover as much ground as possible,” Buffy recalled Giles’ words to the group while Wesley unfolded a map of Sunnydale.  It sounded like good advice right now as she put some distance between her and Crawford Street.


Another potential sacrifice was up for grabs tonight and it was their job to do the grabbing before Nicolau’s crew got to him.


Buffy could deal with that. Whatever it took. It was the job.


But did the job really have to come served up with a side of Spike? Worse, Giles had done nothing to try to talk Angel out of it.


“Brilliant,” he’d said making her wonder if the Oxford Dictionary came with another definition that made more sense: Brilliant. adjective. Exceptionally lame brained or insanely stupid. Prone to making evil decisions about ex-girlfriends and/or protégés.


“Looks like it’s you 'n me, Slayer.


Buffy didn’t know what made her feel worse: the anger at Angel, Giles’ betrayal, or the little rush she felt when Spike spent the rest of the planning session staring at her in that gleeful, almost sinister way. She knew then that he was going to make her night hell and love doing it.


Not that she would let him. These prophecy things never happened until midnight. Once she had her assignment, there was no need to stick around to let Spike get a head start on the personal torture session that Angel and Giles had all but approved.


And that wasn’t her only reason for wanting to get away. The next time she turned a corner and found Cordelia and Angel….


Ugh!


Buffy didn’t know what she’d do. So she ran. Outracing the sun as it streaked across the horizon holding a grip on the last traces of day.


Faster.


The rushing wind whipped at her hair, engulfed her footsteps, stung at her skin. Her heart raced, too, but only with the thrill of her defiance. A burst of speed carried her past houses, across streets, and into the empty playground at Glebe Park.


Slowing to a stroll just as the sun disappeared, Buffy stopped in front of the park’s swing set. The seats were still swaying as if only recently abandoned. Smart kids. No playing outside after dark. This was Sunnydale, after all. Home to the Hellmouth.


She sat down on the swing. Just sitting. Remembering the carefree days of her past. When she was a kid, her dad would sometimes take her to the playground. Push her on the swing.


“Higher! I want to go higher!” she remembered calling out.  When the swing was at its zenith, she used to jump out. For a moment, it felt like she was flying.


The memory of it tugged hard at her heart. Buffy nudged the sandy ground cover with the toe of her boot. The swing swayed an inch or two before settling back. One hand gripped the linked chains followed by the other. She pushed again, harder this time, setting the swing in motion.


Back and forth, almost effortlessly carried higher, but then, letting gravity take its hold again slowing her down. There was something missing. It was not fun anymore, not like when she was little.


“Want a push, luv?”


Spike.


He had found her.


Hurdling out of the swing, Buffy landed steadily on her feet and whirled around to face him. “What are you doing here?”


Spike grabbed the chains of the swing pulling himself up and over the seat to sit in it, but leaned forward to brace his elbows on his spread knees.  He was smirking at her. Not saying a word.


Buffy glared back, but could not stand the silence without wanting to punch his smug face in.  Demanding an answer, “Why are you following me? It’s hours yet before we have to be at the Bus Depot.”


That was their assignment. Stake out the Bus Depot. Buffy could already tell that this was going to be a yawner—except for the Spike factor and having to keep him under control.


“You ran. Thrill o’ the chase an’ all.”


“Go away, Spike. I don’t want you here.”


He got up and loped over to stand in front of her. Up so close the scent of cologne and cigarettes tugged at her senses. It was not as disgusting as she hoped. For an instant, she figured it would be easy to recognize him in the dark.


Alone with Spike in the dark? Buffy blinked away the thought as his voice dipped low to ask, “Where is it you do want me?”


Ugh.


“Stop pestering me.” Buffy felt her fingers twitch at the impulse to reach for her stake. “If you really want me to show you, I will, promise or no promise.”


His tongue wagged out a bit as he laughed. “Not today, Slayer. We got a job to do.”


“Not until midnight. I don’t need you around until then.”


Lifting a hand to his chest, Spike let out a dramatic sigh. “I’m hurt.”


Buffy was not falling for that one. She rolled her eyes, glanced over her shoulder and wondered how far she would get if she took off in the direction of Old Sunnydale Cemetery.  Spike was fast, but Buffy knew the territory and it was easy to get lost in that place. 


“Thinking of running again?” he chuckled. “Go ahead. We can play Kiss-Chase as long as you like.”


“Gross! As if I would give you that kind of satisfaction.”


“Mind telling me what kind you would be giving me, then?”


Ignoring the urge to shove him away, Buffy glowered at him instead, hoping that she looked sufficiently stern. “You’re on my team. That means I’m the boss of us, get it? You meet me at the bus depot at a quarter to eleven. I’m going to patrol.”


She got to the edge of the playground before Spike fell into step beside her. “Looking for a fight, are you? Sounds like fun. S’pose I should tag along.”


Frustrated at the way he could wind her up so easily, Buffy asked, “What part of ‘I’m the boss of us’ don’t you get?” and then stalked off knowing he would be following.

145:     The Marina, South Central Sunnydale, 8:45PM

The Dry Dock Ristorante and Oyster Bar’s name sounded more like a sailor’s dive than a five-star restaurant. The Who’s Who in Sunnydale simply called it Arturo’s after its long-term manager who retained just a touch of his native European accent. Outside of the Country Club, which remained members only, this was Sunnydale’s best. Classy, it came complete with penguin-suited waiters, mood music, fantastic service and a glorious view of the beach.

One end of the beach lay cloaked in darkness as it stretched out for half a mile along the coast while this area glowed day or night. The majority of local businesses were on the other side of the marina, but most of them kept early hours.

Lights strung out along the shore shimmered on the ocean’s soft waves as they rolled toward the sand. Cordelia tucked her hand into Angel’s arm as they stood on the edge of the parking area watching the waves. The ocean seemed so big tonight. After staring at the walls of the mansion for days and days the mild ocean breeze and hint of salt sea in the air was invigorating.

She smiled up at Angel only to discover that he was perusing the perimeter with a tactical eye rather than enjoying the view. “See anything worth looking at?”

Angel’s attention immediately snapped back to where it belonged. A slightly guilty, freaked-out look shot her way as if he was scrambling for an explanation. The wind caught an errant strand of her hair blowing it across her cheek. He lifted a hand to trace the outline of her face with his fingertips, his thumb straying close to her rosy lips.

There was a thickness to his voice when he answered. “You.” The dark intensity of his eyes swallowed her up making her forget what she was going to say about him and cheesy excuses.

Because he meant what he said.

It left her glowing and jittery all at the same time. Cordelia threw her arms around him completely forgetting that she was crushing her gown and his suit in the process. She melted into him as Angel’s strong arms wound around her waist to pull her closer.

Maybe it was just the taste of freedom she was getting tonight, but their first official date felt more important than any she had ever been on before.

When their hug finally loosened, Cordelia moved just enough to see his face. It was hard to read his eyes, but whatever else was there she saw love. By now it shouldn’t surprise her, but it did every time. Thrilled her.  It was almost scary how loved she felt.

Her hand slipped from his broad shoulder up to Angel’s face, warm palm against his cooler cheek. “Just in case I forget to actually say the words later on—thank you for tonight, Angel.”

His head dipped down, mouth parting to kiss her, only to hover above the perfectly painted curves of her lips. Just when Cordelia was about to close the gap, her already rapid pulse jumping another notch in anticipation, he took a detour down to the soft skin of her throat.

Open mouthed, the rough buds of his tongue rasped against her skin, and the edge of his blunt teeth tugged softly. The sensation jolted low and deep within her. “Oh my God,” she quaked with want as his hands swept along her waist and hips.

Clinging to his shoulders, Cordelia found it difficult to stand. Her legs suddenly felt like jelly and she wanted, oh, how she wanted nothing more than to get totally lost in Angel’s caresses. The anticipation of her after dinner plans buzzed inside her and she did not want to wait.

Angel had other ideas. “Maybe we should go inside.” Reaching up to take her hand, he kissed the center of her palm before threading their fingers together.

A little mewl of frustration made its way to her lips. She nearly suggested they forget all about dinner to drive along the coast and find a secluded spot. Even though he would probably make love to her anywhere she wanted him to, the very public parking lot at Arturo’s was probably pushing it, especially tonight.

Besides, it would not be fair. Remembering what a fuss she’d put up in talking Angel into bringing her here, she tried to let go the images flashing through her head and to ignore the hot throb between her thighs.

“We have a couple of hours before we need to patrol,” Angel started moving toward the restaurant’s front entrance. “There’s plenty of time. We don’t need to rush.”

Speak for yourself.

Cordelia flashed him a look that made his mouth quirk. Oh, he knew exactly how hot he had gotten her. From the sound of his voice, and his slow progression to the door, he was not exactly unaffected, either.

“Let’s not talk about patrol. That’s for later. Right now we’re just a hot young couple on a date.”

Smiling at the notion, Angel paused long enough to adjust his tie and brush the fresh creases out of his lapel. With a snort, Cordelia tugged on his hand. “Okay, GQ, let’s go inside before they cancel our reservations.”  

146:     The Highway Interchange, Northeast Sunnydale, 8:55PM

Gravel crunched under the tires as Giles slowly maneuvered the car off the road into an empty hillside lot. Turning the headlights off he sat back in his seat to focus on the view ahead. His eyes slowly adjusted to the streetlights shining on the cloverleaf of merging highways leading from US 101 and Route 17 into Sunnydale.

Would this be the route their quarry would take?

Bound by law, granted freedom’s breath, a momentary respite returning him home to waiting arms at the mouth of hell.

It was Oz who had suggested that the prophecy eluded to a prisoner, one who had either been released or escaped. The Scroll of Septarius remained full of unsolved riddles, but it unerringly seemed to be counting down to the ultimate event that would allow Amolon to gain access to this dimension.

Preventing the demon’s followers from gathering the requisite sacrifices needed to perform the Rites of Tavrok seemed key to stopping him.

Though they now had Karla safely hidden in the mansion it seemed that Kalesh had already performed the mystic rites upon her. Something had certainly been done to the girl. She was no longer herself.

The discovery of the priestess’ identity was important. Nicolau Cibran clearly did not realize that slip would cost him. Now it was left to them to take advantage of it.

The only question was how.

He needed time to think. Opportunities for silence and reflection were rare at the mansion where there were too many interruptions and far too many distractions.

“You shouldn’t be on your own tonight,” Buffy had sounded legitimately concerned for his safety. “Maybe you should stick with me. Spike’s got a car. He can watch the highway.”

They were long past the days when it was necessary to patrol with Buffy whist she honed her skills. Perhaps nostalgia should have forced him to take her up on it, but he had to prioritize things now.

Without knowing he was doing it, Angel had come to the rescue by reminding her, “Buffy, there’s a reason I want you to team up with Spike tonight. The Bus Depot is the most likely transport site. If a fight is going to break out, we should have two strong fighters in the middle of it.”

All Giles had to do was watch the highway and report any suspicious sightings.

Though he didn’t particularly care for Spike to be anywhere near Buffy, he knew she wouldn’t let down her guard. For now, the vampire seemed to be toeing the line.  It suited their plans for the moment, and Angel’s reasoning was perfectly sound.

He felt a twinge of guilt at the look on Buffy’s face when he agreed with Angel. It was not his intention to hurt her feelings, but he knew her too well to miss the sharp look in her eye or the brief tightening of her chin. Like Angel, he too had his reasons for going ahead with their plans.

It was still early. Not yet 9pm. He’d left the mansion in order to find some solitude. He had brought his notes and a small reading light in case he needed to refer to any referenced material. For now, he was going to sit here quietly and let his thoughts come to him.

Whatever was going to happen it would take place in the hour surrounding the stroke of twelve, as the prophecy scroll predicted. So far it hadn’t been wrong. 

147:     Arturo's at the Marina, South Central Sunnydale, 9:00PM

“Welcome back to the Dry Dock, Miss Chase,” greeted Arturo coming at her with open arms and air kissing her cheek. “It has been too long. You are becoming too beautiful to deprive an old man of such a vision.”

Cordelia had been eating up that kind of attention since childhood. She had almost forgotten what a flirt he could be. With his salt and pepper hair and moustache, he was an unchanging fixture at the marina’s premier restaurant. The fact that he still remembered her from before even though it had been over a year since she had been there did not surprise her.

When Arturo’s attention turned to her date, she made a start at introducing them, but faltered as she saw the twinkle leave his eyes, and his bright smile drop away. There was fear on his face as he looked at Angel.

Confused, her eyes darted up to recognize barely restrained hostility on Angel’s face as he stared back at Arturo. Tense seconds passed as they stared each other down.

They stood in the short entry hall separated from the main dining room, far enough away from curious eyes that no one noticed when Angel grabbed Arturo by the arm to drag him through a door marked ‘Employees Only’.

“What are you doing?” Cordelia hissed as she followed along. Wondering if this was some crazed attack of jealousy, she tugged at Angel’s arm, futilely attempting to get him to break his hold.

Angel warded her off with his free hand. “Stay there, Cordy. I’ll take care of this.”

“No way! Don’t hurt him.”

She gasped when Angel shoved the man, now near retirement age, against the wall. He switched holds, wrapped his hand around his neck and lifted him up on his toes.

“Who the hell are you?” Angel growled demanding the truth.

Cordelia squeezed in between the desk and their locked position at the wall. “This is Arturo, the restaurant manager. He’s just a sweet old man. He always flirts that way. Don’t kill him.”

With his face red under the pressure, Arturo hoarsely cried, “He’s a vampire. Run!”

“Not in these shoes,” she quipped, now getting the feeling that there was more going on than an obsessive jealousy. It was rare that humans could recognize vampires on sight alone. “Angel’s my boyfriend. I know all about him.”

Angel reached out with his free hand to shove her behind him. Barking out, “He’s a demon—!” just as Arturo’s human visage morphed into something red and scaly.

The music from the front hall masked her involuntary shriek. Jumping backward out of the way, Cordelia landed blindly on the desk behind her scattering its papers onto the floor. Her hand landed on something large and heavy, a paperweight. Snatching it from the desk, she raised it up to bash the demon over the head.

At the last second, sensing her movement, Angel’s hand whipped up to wrap around her wrist. “Wait!”

Cordelia slid off the desk when Angel released her arm. Assuming that Angel wanted to torture the demon for information, she retained her hold on the paperweight. “I’ll give you one piece of advice, whoever you are. Talk fast or Angel will seriously kick your ass. What have you done with Arturo?”

The tight hold around his throat had been released. Angel kept a restraining hand on his chest. The demon did not bother to fight against it. “I—I am Arturo. This is me.”

Her jaw dropped.

“It’s okay, Cordy,” said Angel, now calm. “I recognize the species. It’s a peaceful race of anthropomorphs. Shape-shifters.”

“Good guys?” Cordelia already had more than her share of shape-shifting demons and was not quite ready to accept the idea that this was really Arturo.  Once before Angel had mentioned that not all demons were evil, but the concept had not really grown on her yet.

“I would never hurt you—or anyone—Miss Chase,” the demon crossed his hands over his heart. Or the place on his chest where a human heart would be. “Sunnydale is my home. My customers are like family to me.”

Cordelia tossed the paperweight into a nearby chair. Propping her hands on her hips she, pointed out, “Your home sweet home just happens to be on a Hellmouth. Excuse me for being a little suspicious.”

“These are strange times, Miss Chase. I understand your concerns, even if I do not understand your choice of a partner. There is only one dangerous creature standing in this room and it is not me.”

It completely wigged her out to hear his adorable accent coming out of that mouth. He asked Angel to release him. “You know that I won’t harm her, vampire.”

With a nod, Angel dropped his hand back to his side. “If we’re finished here, Cordelia and I have reservations for dinner.”

Arturo morphed back into the familiar face she had known since she was a little girl. The fact that his appearance had not changed much over the years suddenly made so much sense to her.

“Dinner?” Sounding intrigued yet slightly horrified, Arturo inquired, “Miss Chase, you obviously know about this vam—“

Their reservations had been under the name Chase to ensure they got the table they wanted, and Cordelia realized that she had never gotten around to officially introducing them. Nevertheless, she did not like the disgusted tone in Arturo’s voice when he used the word vampire when addressing her boyfriend.

“Angel. His name is Angel.”

Suddenly pale at the mention of the name, Arturo’s eyes turned to coal. “This is Ang—Angelus?”

“That’s right,” answered Angel darkly before Cordelia could correct him. She chose to stay silent about it figuring that Angel had his reasons.

Looking uncomfortable again, Arturo edged toward the office door. “You’re certainly not the innocent little girl I remember, the one who enchanted us all with her smile.”

Cordelia felt like he was crushing a precious memory. Blinking back the first onset of tears, “That’s the Hellmouth for you. Grow up fast or not at all.”

“She’s a survivor, Arturo,” said Angel while looking straight at her. Closing the short distance between them, he smoothed a hand up her back; it settled at her shoulder. “Before you jump to any more conclusions, Cordelia is with me of her own free will.”

“There is no enthrallment at work here?” Arturo admitted his surprise, but did not drop the subject. “Your influence must be very strong, Angelus, to reel her into a life tainted by darkness. I have heard of such humans who become addicted to the thrill of being bitten—”

Angel growled low in his throat, and took one step forward, his hands curling into fists.

“—and allowing vampires to drink their blood.”

Cordelia interjected, “Angel doesn’t bite me, and it’s none of your business if he does.”

Angel’s eyes clashed with hers for a second before he turned his attention back to Arturo. “This conversation is over.”

“No it’s not.” Cordelia stubbornly crossed her arms over her chest. “First off, I came here to have a romantic dinner and I’m not leaving until I get it.”

“We’re not staying here. I’ll take you somewhere else.”

Closing the door when he made a move toward it, she shook her head. “Sorry, Angel, but I can’t let you leave it like this. Even if Arturo turned out to be a demon, I’ve sort of known him all my life. He’s just worried that you’re snacking on me.”

Angel looked furious. “My bloodrights are none of his concern,” he said gutturally, “and it doesn’t matter what he thinks about me as long as he leaves you out of it.” 

“You’re not evil anymore,” Cordelia rolled her eyes at something she figured was a non-issue. She used to joke about her neck being a no-snacking zone back when they first started patrolling together.

“My soul has nothing to do with it.”

The words were soft, leaving her confused, thoughtful, and a little scared.

Letting out a self-derisive grunt, Angel turned away, running a hand across his face and neck. She could sense his tension from three feet away, but could not make her feet move in that direction.  Her head was swimming with questions.

Arturo’s beat her to it to ask one of his own. “Did you say ‘soul’?

Making his response as brief as possible, Angel explained the situation. When asked why he lied in the first place, he said, “I didn’t trust you enough to tell you the truth. Cordelia’s life is in danger.”

“But not because of you."

“No! I love her. She loves me. We’re in love.” When his little tirade was finished even Angel looked stunned, but Cordelia was smiling.

Now if only she could get him to repeat that little speech in front of Buffy and Isobel. The slayer could not seem to let go of the past, and frankly, Cordelia was getting tired of it. Unfortunately, Buffy was not the only blonde dreaming of Angel. Or Angelus, as the case happened to be.

“That’s a relief,” sighed Arturo. “Thank you for the truth. I could not permit you to continue to take advantage of Miss Chase if that was the case.”

For a peaceful demon, he seemed to be pretty confident about being able to stop a powerful vampire from doing what he wanted. Arturo explained, “My people are indeed a peace-loving species, but we are not without skills. I required the truth and so you gave it to me. Had I determined Miss Chase to be enthralled or that your true intentions would lead to her ultimate death, I could have affected an influence that might have saved her.”

Angel admitted that while he had read about anthropomorphic demons, he had not known they possessed abilities like that.

Could his power of persuasion get Isobel to stop lusting after Angel? Or get Buffy to stop acting like she was some scarlet woman who had stolen her man away?

“Generally, we don’t want it known,” explained Arturo as he opened his office door. “So it is not. When you leave this room, your conscious minds will be unable to recall what happened here.”

“No, Arturo!” Cordelia rushed to his side, holding onto his arm with both hands. “I think you could help. There’s this blonde—”

He stopped her with a raised hand that requested silence. Good thing, too. Cordelia had not actually planned to say what she was thinking. Not in front of Angel, anyway.

“Our code prohibits using our abilities for selfish purposes or personal gain.”

“Oh. Well, in that case, never mind. I’ll just handle it myself.”

Angel actually looked amused by her words, but whatever he was thinking went unsaid as he turned to Arturo with a request of his own. There was nothing to lose in speaking the truth now.

“Maybe there’s something you can do for us that won’t go against your code,” Angel began. “I mentioned that Cordy’s life is in danger. There’s a prophecy…”  

148:    Basement, Crawford Street Mansion, 9:30PM

Miss Edith’s porcelain hands lay neatly her lap as she sat propped upon the basement steps, third from the bottom. The skirt of her red velvet gown spread out not quite covering her shiny satin shoes. Two matching bows neatly held up her curly-cued hair. Long-lashed doll’s eyes were open, staring forward.


Miss Edith was pretty.


All of the naughty things she did stayed hidden deep inside her where it was eternally quiet and calm and serene.


Miss Karla was not pretty.


Not on the inside where she was tainted. Used. Thrown Away.


No, the girl was not at all pretty anymore. No longer bright, no longer open. For all the quiet surrounding her, she screamed from within, a clamor that Drusilla could not miss.


Karla’s hands lay open in her lap as she sat propped against the basement wall. The shackles chained her still frame to one of the iron rungs, protection from the dangers she might do to herself. Scrapes on her legs had been bandaged neatly, grass stains still evident on her clothes. The symbols on her skin remained visible. Blond strands escaped the clip in her hair leaving it at odd angles, messy. Her eyes were open, staring forward.


Drusilla stared back unblinkingly for countless minutes until she could no longer remain stationary. The images swirling in her head compelled her to get a closer look. She took a tiny step forward barely noticeable. Testing the waters to see if she would be stopped.


The floor above was completely empty now. No one called out to demand she stay away.


“They’ve all gone, Miss Edith. Out, out for the evening. Left us all alone. With her. Oh, what shall we do?”

Drusilla swayed a step closer to the girl, still hesitant, but curious.


. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.


“Shall we be good tonight, or naughty? Daddy told us to be good. Made us promise not to play with the girl. Watch over her. Nothing more.”


Drusilla took another step forward, and another, hesitating only when she expected censure.


. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.


“She has secrets, our little Miss Karla does. Things we need to know. We should ask her. Talk to her. Make her talk. Make her tell the truth. Make her scream if we have to.”


Drusilla stopped when her skirts brushed the girl’s leg. Close. Close enough to hear the steady beat of her heart, and smell the blood running through her veins until it tempted her to spill it.


Blood was pretty. Like red velvet oozing across the floor.


Drusilla crouched down, closer, so close, and let her fingers graze the girl’s pulse.


. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.


“They’ve done things. Dark things. Oh, so terrible. Twisted, terrible things until she wants them, needs them. Until she’ll do anything for her master.”


Anything. Bent to his will. Submissive.


Drusilla smiled thinking of Angelus.


. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.


“She lies awake, yet sleeping. Tucked away. Far, far away where no one can find her. So deep the monster can’t find her. It grows impatient.”


Drusilla swiftly drew her hand away cradling it as if burned.


. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.


“The girl is scared. So very scared. Deep, deep down inside where the monster can’t find her. We can find her, Miss Edith.”


Drusilla stared deeply into Karla’s blank eyes. “Mummy will save you and then you will tell me everything.”


. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.  

149:     Arturo's at the Marina, South Central Sunnydale, 9:45PM

Cordelia glanced at the clock in the front hall again just to be certain. “Weren’t our reservations for nine o’clock?”

“Yes. The clock must be wrong,” Angel concluded only to frown when he looked at his watch. “That’s strange. My watch shows the same time.”

Was it something to do with the prophecy? First an earthquake, then that meteor shower and now a fast-forward time warp. 

“Well that’s another one for Giles to figure out. At least we’re here now. I hope that Arturo hasn’t given our table away. That’s him over there.”

Pointing to a distinguished looking man with salt & pepper hair and a moustache, Cordelia added, “He’s a demon, by the way, so don’t go all grrrr on me the second you’re introduced.”

“Thanks for the warning. What kind of demon?” Angel kept his voice down as they approached the main room.

“No idea. Never asked.”

Angel’s eyes narrowed as he focused on the man in the pinstripe suit. “What if he’s dangerous? We should be suspicious of all demons right now. No telling if they’re a part of Amolon’s cult.”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia waved off his concerns. “Not Arturo. He’s one of those good demons you told me about. I’ve known the truth about him forever. Since I was a kid. It’s not a big deal. Trust me when I say you can trust him.”

The fact that Cordelia never knew demons existed until a couple of years ago didn’t faze them. Her words felt like the truth to both of them, and Angel saw no reason to distrust a demon she had known for so many years. 

“My dear Miss Chase, you are here at last,” Arturo caught sight of them, approaching with arms open wide. She called out his name and happily presented her cheek for their traditional air kiss. “Next time you must not stay away so long. You are far too beautiful to deprive an old man of such a vision.”

Cordelia gushed over the attention and proceeded to introduce Arturo to Angel. “Ah, yes, Mr. Angel. I do hope you will allow us to prepare something special for you this evening. My personal chef is a marvel.”

A subtle gesture summoned a waiter to their side. “Phillip, please see that Mr. Angel and Miss Chase want for nothing this evening. They are my special guests.”

Perfect.

Everything was just how Cordelia imagined it would be.

She was thrilled to be out of the mansion for the evening. It was so exciting to dress up for a change, to see and be seen. How long had it been now since she was able to take little luxuries for granted?

People kept staring, and honestly, who could blame them? They looked gorgeous together. One of these days Angel would have something with a little more color in his closet. For now, she had to admit to being a little more impressed with his style than she thought she’d be. The clothes might be monochromatic, but they were all quality, designer-made, and not the off-the-rack variety. A few items were severely outdated, but some of them were actually coming back into fashion again.

Trust Mr. Packrat to keep them all.

Keeping clothes a moment longer than was popular was not something she was used to. She had always the one who had the latest look. By the time the wannabes had been able to catch up fashion dictated a change and she’s not only be on it, but own it, too.

Times had changed, but there was a line Cordelia was determined never to cross. Even though she was practically destitute now, she would never, ever, bow down to the softer side of Sears.

Tonight, she was dressed in red. Last season’s designer wear, but it was gorgeous. Normally, she would not have worn it again, and it so hung in the back of the closet, practically forgotten until she realized that none of the necessities Buffy, Willow and Xander had stuffed into trash bags would be appropriate for her first real date with Angel.

The dress was perfect for the L.A. charity event that her parents had brought her to not long before their financial crisis hit. Talk about a turn around. All of a sudden, they had become the charity cases.

She glanced around at the faces in the restaurant a little nervous at whom she might spot in the crowd. Seeing only strangers, a relieved smile lit her face and the tension faded.

Angel noticed the shift of energy. His fingers reached over to touch her arm as they as they followed Phillip toward the center of the room.

“Happy?”

Squeezing his arm, she smiled up at him. “Don’t be a dork. Of course I am.”

There was just one dark cloud hanging over their evening out together. She felt a lot like Cinderella dressed up for the ball, eager to have the time of her life with Prince Charming, but knowing that once midnight rolled around the fun would end. 

No use in whining about it.

The fact remained that they were at the marina not only to have dinner, but because it was a potential route for Sacrifice #3 to arrive in Sunnydale. That was hours away. Frankly, Cordelia had better ideas than to sit around and think about all the ways an ex-con could sneak into town.

Their reserved table for two was a cozy spot near the center of the room equally distant from the front entrance as it was from the emergency exit in the back. Angel sat where he could keep a subtle watch on both, a fact that did not escape her notice when he kept scanning the room for potential threats.

“Eyes on me, Angel. You’re only a few inches away from the hottest girl in Sunnydale and you can’t stop staring at the door. There is something so wrong with that.”

A guilty shade darkened his eyes as they snapped back to hers.  “We could’ve been followed.”

“I thought that was what the fast getaway and the sneaky circling the block was for,” she rolled her eyes. “Hey, maybe that’s the reason we got here so late.”

If it was, Angel wasn’t admitting it.

“Relax. In the letter he wrote youNicolau promised to leave me alone for a while.”

Angel glowered for a moment at the mention of the other vampire. His fingers slid up to the silverware on the table tracing the bladed edge of the knife. “He probably meant it at the time, indulging me in my desire for my pet. The moment he discovers I have no intention of joining his scheme all deals are off.”

“What are the odds he’ll figure it out tonight?”

It was impossible to say that Angel completely relaxed after that, but Cordelia had to give him credit for trying. They spent ten minutes looking over the menu trying to come up with something Angel would eat.

“No, you cannot just order French fries and ketchup. You might be undead, but sheesh, try to live a little.”   

 

150:     The Temple of Amolon, Subterranean Sunnydale, 10:30PM

 

Defying Nicolau’s orders to stay put tonight, Isobel left the safety of their new lair. A subterranean cavern was hardly her style. It provided none of the comforts she was used to in her admittedly pampered existence.

It would be one thing if her sire had the time to distract her, but he was busy tonight. Summoned by Kalesh to the Altar of Amolon. Anytime the old hag crooked her finger in his direction that was all it took to steal him away. The fulfillment of the prophecy and their master’s plan was his obsession.

Isobel understood that.

Clearly, this summons was something to do with the impending rituals tonight, but that didn’t stop it from grating on her nerves. Anything that stole her sire’s attention away was enough to earn her disdain.

She could not fault him for his narrow focus on the job at hand because the promise of supreme power that lay nearly within reach was too close to ignore. The method being used to attain it disturbed her. Despite her century and a half with Nicolau, it was at times like these when she remained something of an outsider.

Affiliating with demons was acceptable if they were the ones taking orders. To see a master vampire like Nico submit his will to Kalesh angered her. Admittedly, the high priestess was unique.

Kalesh might look like an ugly old woman, but one glance into her ageless black eyes was all it took to understand her power. Every time she came close Isobel could feel it in her bones. As if eternity was crumbling to ashes from the inside out, death and decay following in her wake.

It frightened her.

So she stayed as far away from the demoness as she could get.

Unfortunately, their chamber was formed from the natural limestone of the cavern. Its walls dripped slime, the uneven ground was hell on her shoes, and the only place to sleep was the top of their steamer trunks.

Hardly a haven to escape to.

Anton was busy tonight, too. Out on a mission for Nico. He might have provided a few hours of distraction.

There were a few humans around, but they were off-limits for now. Everyone was under strict orders to leave them alone. Huh. Greasy and unwashed, they tended to turn her stomach. She wouldn’t want one of them anyway. Her tastes were much more refined than that.

The cavern’s main entrance was deep in the woods away from the normal paths taken by hikers, but it was not that far removed from the edge of town. Easy enough to sneak away for a few hours to find something to amuse herself.

That club was nearby. What was it called again? Something metallic. Oh, yes. Bronze. Just the kind of place she liked to go for some fun and a quick snack.

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if Angelus and his little pet were at The Bronze, too! Just the distraction she needed right now. Nico insisted on giving him what time they could to decide on joining them, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t play with them.

“Push him too hard and he’ll make you regret it, little dove.” Nicolau’s advice had come after she petulantly demanded to know why he was writing letters instead of going after the girl.

Isobel had other ideas. “Capture her and Angelus will follow.”

Her sire found that funny. “Do that and he will beat a bloody path to our door. Trust me when I say that won’t get you what you want.”

A shudder of anticipation brought a soft moan to her lips. Nicolau had kissed her, his mouth gently teasing. She wanted more, but there was no time to play. He had to go to Kalesh. Rituals, always more rituals. A bloodletting here, a group chant there. She was just happy that this would all be over soon.

Then nothing would stop her. 

151:   Dingos' Van, US101 Access Road, NW Sunnydale, 10:35PM

 “Don’t look now, but I think we’re being followed.” Xander pressed his nose against the small glass window in the back door of the van to get a better look.

Willow moved over to look out the other window, but tried the optimistic approach. “Maybe they’re just going the same way we are.”

The headlights of several motorcycles had appeared behind them way back at the State Street junction at Parkdale Cemetery. It was not exactly the scenic route to take for visitors going to Sunnydale Park. Plus, it was after dark, and way past time for a picnic.

From the driver’s seat, Oz asked them, “Police?”

One motorcycle approached so closely that the glare from the headlights dimmed. A scraggly bearded bald man with a strange symbol tattooed on his cheek made eye contact with them. The biker lifted his gloved hand to point toward the side of the road.

“Pull over!” he shouted loud enough to hear.

Gulping, Xander shook his head. “Unless the cops have new uniforms, I’m guessing not.”

Checking out the side view mirror, Oz was not entirely surprised. “Are they vampires? Maybe they think we’ve got Cordelia.”

They looked human enough, Xander supposed, but all the undead types did until the last second when they showed their fangy side. “Don’t stop to find out. Lose them!”

Oz put his foot down harder on the gas pedal causing the blue 1974 Ford Econoline van to lurch in protest as it sped down the otherwise empty road.

Squealing when the motorcycles picked up speed, Willow waved her hands around in a nervous display. “Drive faster, faster, Oz!”

A droll reminder followed, “This isn’t a Mazzerati.” The chance of outrunning those bikes was nil. They were faster and more maneuverable than the old van.

That did not mean Oz was out of ideas.

Running the red light at the intersection past Shady Hill Cemetery and Maple Court Road, the van turned sharply into the elite property development that contained the most modern estates in town. “Maybe we can lose them in here.”

Willow moved back up to front and practically fell into the passenger seat. “Do you know where you’re going?”

“Buckle up,” Oz held out one hand to steady her. “The Dingoes played a few gigs in the neighborhood. Private parties. We made the rounds a few times.”

Driving past the first big house, locally known as Kendal Corner, he turned the van onto a gravel road that led toward the far section of the property. The gravel crunched under the tires bouncing noisily off the metallic bottom of the van. The wheels kicked up a cloud of dust and tiny rocks forcing the motorcycles to slow down and fall back.

“They’re still coming,” warned Xander as he jostled around in the back trying to hold his balance and keep an eye out the window.

Oz hoped that the dust cloud would mask the van when he made the next turn. The gravel road ended diverging into a small cluster of maintenance roads. After only a short distance, he cut off the road crossing an open field and pulled in behind a small stable.

“Is this going to work?”

Rushing up to join them, Xander leaned over the seat. “We’re sitting ducks. The van is baby blue. Not exactly the stuff of cloaked ships.”

Moonlight was intermittent. Dark clouds crowded the sky floating in from the south providing some cover for the van parked in the deep shadow of the stable.

Shutting off the headlights and the engine, Oz motioned for silence with a finger lifted to his lips. “Not so loud. Listen.”

Xander and Willow clamped their mouths closed following instructions. The sound of engines and the slow crunch of gravel got closer and closer. The bikers were moving slowly, searching, but it was impossible to tell how many of them were out there. Or if they knew that they had left the main road.

“I think they’re going away,” whispered Willow literally on the edge of her seat. With a gulp, she reached for the door handle, and opened the door, pausing briefly when it creaked on its hinges.

Though he normally appreciated Willow’s curiosity, Oz was not certain that it was a good idea to take chances. “Maybe you shouldn’t—”

“Will, no,” hissed Xander just before he scooted up to the front and followed her out the open door.

Oz sighed deeply, shook his head, and then did the same. He caught up with Willow and Xander at the corner of the stables. “See anything?”

Nodding, Willow jerked back from her peeking position and flattened herself against the stable wall. Eyes wide, her brow furrowed as she mimed a biker holding onto the handlebars. She pointed toward her eyes before making a spidery movement with two fingers toward Xander who scratched his head, looking confused.

“You know I was never any good at Charades.”

Willow clapped a hand over his mouth just as a gruff yell sounded, “Over here!”

Lickety-split they ran back toward the van only to see a motorcycle come around the other side of the stable. Making a run for it, they headed for the open door, trying to scramble inside. Before they could climb in, the second motorcycle came to a sharp stop on the driver’s side of the van kicking up dirt. One of its two riders hopped off the back.

“Get out kid,” the biker growled at Oz as he made a move toward the driver’s seat.

Suddenly wishing there was a full moon tonight Oz opted for trying to reason with the man. “It’s just us. We’re not hiding anything—or anyone.”

The bikers had gathered in full force now surrounding the van. “Do we look like the cops?” he barked a laugh. The others chuckled right along. “We don’t want you. We want the van.”

“Oh,” Willow tugged on Oz’ t-shirt to get him to back out of the van door. “We kind of need the van tonight. I’m pretty sure there’s a rental place somewhere on the other side of town.”

“Nice try, girlie. Close the door, back the fuck away, and no one gets hurt.” He climbed into the seat, hands flexing on the steering wheel as he waited for her to comply.

The three of them shared a look, a shrug and a nod of agreement choosing to move back toward the stable. As soon as they were out of the way the van started moving and the other bikers started circling to get into position behind it kicking up dust and dirt as they disappeared around the corner one by one.

Xander stepped away from the stable wall to face Willow and Oz. “They sure didn’t act like vampires. Why would a bunch of bikers want your van?”

“To put something in it that they can’t carry on their motorcycles,” Willow guessed.

It seemed reasonable. Oz pointed out, “I use the van to carry the Dingos’ equipment to our gigs. Good thing I unloaded it before we came out tonight so we’d have a safe place to stash the prisoner once he’s found.”

“So much for that idea,” sighed Willow as they started to walk back the way they came. “What now? There’s no time to call the police about the van even if we did have a phone. We’re supposed to be at the train station—like now.”

Xander stopped when they reached the gravel path that led back to the main road. Lights were shining from the windows of the house on the corner. “Hey, isn’t that Harmony’s house?”

Without waiting for an answer, he started to walk across the carefully trimmed lawn toward the front entrance. Willow hissed at him, “You don’t think Harmony will help us, do you? She’s not going to give us a ride to the train station. Doesn’t she blame you for corrupting Cordelia’s cool factor?”

“She should be thanking me,” Xander pressed his finger to the doorbell. “Now she’s the leader of those numb-brains who used to hang around Cor—The Cordettes.”

“So what are they now, the Harmonizers?” After a long pause, both Willow and Xander doubled over with laughter stopping only when Oz cleared his throat loudly.

Looking up they saw that the front door was open. Harmony stood there glaring at them. “Well, well, if it isn’t Cordelia’s favorite geek and red-headed sidekicks.” 

152:  Municipal Airport, North Outskirts, Sunnydale, 10:45PM

The Airport was tiny compared to those Wesley and Faith were used to seeing. It was hardly a major hub of activity. A single brightly lit airstrip stretched into the desert. One of the two helipads contained a small helicopter used by the local news channel to report on weather, traffic conditions and special events.

The motorcycle engine idled beneath them as Wes brought it to a halt on the edge of the parking lot. A chain link fence separated it from the small hanger and flight area. His booted foot touched the ground keeping them steady.

“We’ll need to find the easiest access point,” suggested Wesley as he examined the fence perimeter. “There should be a gate for vehicle entry and egress.”

Faith rested her chin on his shoulder as she sat behind him on the bike, sitting a lot closer than was necessary, mainly because she enjoyed the fact that it made her new watcher nervous, even though he was trying hard to hide it. She felt the stiffness in his shoulders and back as she leaned against him.

“Looks like it’s lights out around here.”

The main building was dark. Except for the lights shining brightly on the tarmac there were only a few low-intensity security lights on the building and the yellow glow of the lampposts in the parking lot. The airport was closed for the evening.

“According to the directory listings, the last in-bound flight was scheduled at eight o’clock. Should this be his destination, the man we’re looking for will be coming in on an unscheduled flight.”

A growl of thunder sounded overhead drawing their eyes skyward. Dark clouds crowded along the horizon. They felt the wind pick up. The orange wind cone near the concrete helipad was pulling hard in a northeasterly direction.

“Better find some cover while we wait.”

They found the gated entry into the hangar area. A single security guard sat in a box just outside, his attention focused on a boxing bout playing on a portable television set.

Wesley frowned as he calculated the odds of sneaking by undetected. “We need to get through that gate.”

Patting him on the shoulder, Faith promised, “We will.” After climbing off the bike, she dropped her backpack to the ground before slowly unzipping and removing her leather jacket, tossing it at Wes.

He caught it as it slapped him in the chest, but his attention was glued to hers. A skintight tank top of blue and black paisley design left little to the imagination. The way it clung to her perky curves revealed that there was only skin beneath.

When he finally looked up, Faith stood grinning, the dimples of her cheeks flashing in amusement. Wesley realized with no small embarrassment that he had been staring, but quickly surmised that was just the effect the slayer was going for. 

Still, that sort of thing did not seem very appropriate. “What are you planning?”

Without saying a word, Faith walked in the direction of the security booth, her leather-clad hips swaying as she walked. Wes reached up to loosen his tie, and swallowed hard. 

153: Municipal Airport, North Outskirts Sunnydale, 10:52PM

Rapping her knuckles on the wooden doorframe caught the guard’s attention. His head snapped around, blue eyes wide with surprise. The top half of the split door was open to the night air, while the lower half was locked between them.

“Sorry to scare you,” Faith raised one arm and leaned forward. “Guess you don’t get much action around here.”

The guy was young, mid-twenties, and kind of cute despite the dorky uniform. “No, not much.”

“Too bad for you,” she winked.

A squeak sounded from the spring in his chair as he stood up. “Can I—can I help you with something?”

Faith let her gaze travel slowly down the guard’s fit frame before popping back up to his bemused face. “Hope so.” 

154:  Municipal Airport, North Outskirts, Sunnydale, 10:54PM

From his position in the shadows, Wesley couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he could see the reaction on the guard’s face and prayed that his own had not been quite so obvious. It had not taken long to discover that Faith flirted with anything that moved, and Rupert Giles’ early warning about trying to control her came to mind.

Whatever seduction game she was playing had reeled the poor young man into her web. She stood close, touched him with her hand, and then pointed toward the road. The guard nodded, smiled at her with his model-perfect teeth, and made a move to go back inside the booth.

As soon as he reached for the telephone, Faith fisted her hands high above her head and brought them down sharply against his upper back. Wesley saw his head crash into the desk and his body slump forward.

Finally.

He turned on the engine to the motorbike and drove it up to the security booth just as Faith pressed the release button on the gate control. “That scenario was completely unnecessary. Do you always toy with your intended target before finishing a fight?”

“So what if I do?” Faith pulled out the handcuffs from the holder on the guard’s belt cuffing the semi-conscious man to a secure metal bar attached to the wall. Holding out a hand to Wes, “Duct tape.”

Wesley opened up her rucksack and tossed her the tape deciding that he was going to say nothing further on the subject. They had a job to do tonight. His concerns had to wait.

Ripping off a piece of duct tape, Faith was about to put it over the guard’s mouth. He came to just in time to ask, “Why?”

“Because I can,” Faith pressed the duct tape over his mouth and followed with a kiss leaving her berry-colored lip prints behind.

Wesley shoved the rucksack and jacket into her arms when she approached him. He was not pleased. “Get on. Time is getting short. We need to be in position.”

“Think you got me pegged?” Faith asked after swinging her leg over the back of the bike and snuggling up behind him. With her lips close to his ear, she added teasingly, “Maybe I just wanted to make you jealous.”

“Oh, Faith,” he harrumphed, “do be serious.”

“Where’s the fun in that?”

As she laughed, the thunder cracked loudly overhead drawing his eyes to the heavy black clouds blanketing the sky. The weather report predicted clear skies all week. The air smelled of static electricity, charged and ready to strike. Perhaps it was not the first time the weatherman had gotten it wrong, but the approaching storm felt more like an ill omen.

Once inside the gate, they headed toward the hangar. The doors were already wide open allowing Wesley to steer the bike directly into the shelter.

“We can watch the runway and the helipad from there,” Wesley pointed toward a set of windows on the far side of the hanger.

There were several small private planes inside the building and an area toward the back that looked like it might contain an office and supply rooms.

“I’m gonna check things out and make sure we’re alone,” said Faith before jogging in that direction. “We’re not the only ones looking for that prisoner.”

Wesley settled in at the window, his eyes trained on the tarmac, and wondered what he could do about Faith. She was a wildcard. From what he could tell, Mr. Giles had given her far too much freedom. This whole ploy with Mayor Wilkins had the girl up to her neck in danger. Somehow, he had to convince her that she did not need to do it all on her own.

However, it might be best to make it understood that the flirting had to end here and now. Whether or not it was her natural teasing or some sort of test, he found it to be very…distracting.

Faith bounced to a halt in front of him. “All clear. Looks like it’s just you and me for the next couple of hours—unless we get lucky.”

Lit by a hint of suspicion, his eyes narrowed. “Get lucky?” Wasn’t that an American term for…

“Nicolau and his cronies might show up,” Faith clarified, shucking off her jacket and tossing both it and the pack onto a tarp-covered box. “I haven’t staked anything all night. God, I hope he comes.”

Leaning against the wall at an angle where he could see her and still monitor airport activity, Wesley warned, “Let us hope he does not. Any encounter with him is likely to be one you can’t win alone.”

Scoffing, “You’re here. I could use a cheering section.”

The low blow rankled him, but outwardly, he remained cool. Perhaps he was not yet field-tested, but that did not mean he was without skills. Wesley was not about to be drawn into an argument on that subject.

Faith was far too cocky about her slaying skills thinking she could take on anything or anyone without any consequences to herself. Either she had not paid attention at the revelation of Nicolau as a Banished One, or did not understand the extent of his power.

“Nicolau Cibran is a favored childe of the Master of the Solaris, a vampire hundreds of years old, not a fledgling just out of the grave.”

He caught a hint of doubt in her eyes. Stubbornly, she raised her chin a notch. “That supposed to make some kind of difference? I stake him and he’s dust.”

“Would fighting Angel be different than a newly risen vampire?”

The word no was on the tip of her tongue, her lips already curved, denial glinting in her eyes. “Angel’s tough. He can fight—but I could take him.”

“The vampires you slay on a daily basis are nothing compared to the strength Angel wields, or the experience he has gleaned in the art of death. Do you imagine Nicolau, who is doubtless hundreds of years older, to be any less deadly?”

Faith paced across the floor, her jaw tight, glaring back at him. Turning, she headed back to her original position, crossing her arms. Anger flared up, but not directed at him. It was all too clear that she had not given it a thought.

While she stewed in silence, Wesley added, “Wherever he is he won’t be alone. By now he has increased his cadre of vampires.”

Faith leaned back onto the crate and shrugged flippantly. “They’ll get dusted, too, if they get in my way. Nicolau can’t be that tough.”

“I wouldn’t take that bet.”

A flash of lighting streaked across the sky, followed seconds later by the growling thunder. The approaching storm was moving in at an eerie rate, the wind picking up and visibility diminishing fast. Though the air was full of electricity, the rain had not yet begun to fall.

“Buffy killed the Master of Aurelius,” she had that ah-ha look on her face, “so why don’t you think I could take out someone who’s not even that powerful?”

His jaw tightened at the memory of the reports he had read before coming here to Sunnydale. Defeating the Master had not been a walk in the park. “Buffy died. It’s the reason you’re here.”

Pushing back to her feet, Faith stepped forward, shoulders taut, jaw tight. “Lucky for her she has nine lives.”

Snipping back, “You’re the one sounding a bit catty.”

One moment he was on his way to making a point and the next her anger reached a flashpoint. Faith snarled in fury, charged forward and flattened him against the wall, grabbing both wrists to pin him in place with her body.

Wes yelped in surprised at the unexpected move. The file on Faith was riddled with notes on her willfulness, defiance of authority, and temper. The quick move caught him off guard, his eyes widening as he realized it might not be wise to spark a slayer’s wrath.

Her chest heaved with panting breaths. Like the storm, she was ready to strike. With each breath, he could feel the hard tips of her breasts brushing his chest through the thin layers of their clothes. He was not certain as to how he could disentangle himself from this situation, and not simply in the physical sense.

“F-Fai…,” he started to speak, but it was difficult to concentrate on anything except his body’s involuntary response.

Feeling it, she stilled against him. Wesley gulped hard. Explanations and apologies swirled around in his head, but he could not form them into a cohesive sentence. It was so awkward, so inappropriate.

A dangerous glint replaced the red-hot anger. “What’s wrong, baby? Cat got your tongue?” Her hands moved to capture his head swiftly drawing it down to hers.

The Watcher’s Field Guide: When entrapped by a more powerful creature it is sometimes best to submit oneself to its will. Survive long enough to plot escape, find a defensive position, or organize offensive tactics.

Surviving a lip-lock with one’s slayer and protégée seemed strangely applicable to that particular lesson.

Willing his body to cooperate, Wesley flopped back against the wall letting his arms hang at his sides. His fists curled up at the urge to grasp onto the slim hips nudging against him. As slack as possible, he let her mouth explore his, managing to avoid the urge to kiss back.

Faith’s anger quickly dissipated. Wesley’s bottom lip was still trapped between hers when she stopped moving seeming to realize just what she was doing. A soft pop as she disengaged her mouth from his signaled that his strategy had worked.

Wide brown eyes darted up to meet his staring back as he did his best to look coldly unmoved by her rather incendiary technique. There was only a tiny crack sounding in his voice when she put both hands on his chest and pushed away slowly. “Faith, I do believe that our time would be better served by concentrating on our duties.”

“That’s really all you think about. I give you a chance to score some of this and you’d rather talk shop.” After a grunt of disgust or frustration, Faith walked back toward the crate and hopped up on it. “You gay? Getting hard doesn’t mean you don’t bat for the other team.”

“What? Certainly not!”

The dimples were back along with her teasing laughter. “Gotta admit it’s quite a bat,” she winked.

Choking on his response, Wesley found himself losing control of the conversation again. “Faith! Do try to remember why you are here. Cordelia needs your help. I believe you consider her a friend.”

“Yeah.”

The mere mention of her friend subdued Faith instantly. Her eyes slid over to the window where the first raindrops began to spatter across the double-paned glass. No sign of the enemy. Yet.

“Then let me help you help your friend, Faith. Heed my words when I tell you that Nicolau Cibran is a very dangerous vampire—and bringing him to an end will take more than a well-aimed stake.”

On the crate, Faith shifted forward attentively. “I’m listening.”

Before he launched into a discussion of expanding her skill sets, Wesley thought it best to close the door on tonight’s awkward indiscretions. “There will be no further mention or repetition of that kiss. I am here to train you and to help you stay alive. Are we clear on that?”

“Five by five.” 

155:     Arturo's at the Marina, South Central Sunnydale, 11:00PM

Angel tried not to balk at the cost of their meal.


What money he had he always spent conservatively. Haunted mansions came cheap, but apparently not evenings out with Cordelia Chase. That was going to take some getting used to, though admittedly this was a special occasion.


Financial matters vanished from his thoughts as he turned toward her. Cordelia was standing by the panoramic window gazing out at the lights of the marina. Without a word from him she seemed to sense him standing there, swiveling to her right. Her eyes lit up as she caught him staring, a happy smile spreading across her face.


Maybe tonight he’d done the right thing by taking her out. There was so much going on in her life right now that most people would be incapable of finding even a shred of happiness. Seeing that smile brought a lump to his throat. He swallowed it down.


He dropped the waiter’s sizable tip on the table, barely aware of it, and moved to join her.


Radiant in her red dress, Cordelia stood framed by the window with the lights of the marina sparkling behind her, their multi-colored hues reflecting on ocean’s rippling waves. He wanted to paint that memory, sketch the lines of her face, each tempting curve, stroke the brush across the canvas to capture the warmth of her lips and the contours of light and shadow on golden skin.


Just the soft sound of his name on her lips and he had to touch her.


After the slightest caress of her cheek he tangled a fingertip in one curling strand of hair slowly following it down to where it teased the curve of her shoulder. He heard a tiny sigh escape Cordelia as the trailing fingertip continued its path down her bare arm, and watched her eyes darken with awakening desire.


“We should go,” the rueful words came to him despite his wish that they could stay longer in that idyllic spot. Leaving meant that it was time to get to work.


“There’s still time,” she said, slipping her hand into his. “We can go for a walk on the beach.”


Nothing could have seemed simpler. He should have known by now that his ability to resist indulging Cordelia her every whim was nil.


Technically, the clock was already ticking. According to plan they should go back to the car to unload their gear from the trunk. One reason Angel agreed to Cordelia’s dinner plans at the marina was that this was one of the least likely places to be targeted when compared to the town’s other points of entry.


Although Angel would prefer to be in the thick of any fight, keeping Cordelia out of harm’s way was still his ultimate priority. 


The whole evening had flown by. Everything went perfectly despite their late arrival at the restaurant. Thanks to Arturo’s personal chef, the steak he selected from the menu was prepared in a tender cut, cooked au jus, only to the point that it was still red, but no longer raw.


He thought Cordy might balk at the sight of it, but she seemed more concerned if he liked how it tasted. It was the experience he enjoyed more than the meal itself.


Their white-gloved waiter had assistants who stood by to offer support as he served up their meal from a silver cart on fine china, creating and presenting each dish with a decorative flair. Angel had declined the services of the sommelier who rattled off a list of very fine Italian vintages from rote.


Arturo had stopped by their table once to ensure everything met their expectations. He offered Angel only one piece of advice before leaving them. “Relax. Enjoy tonight, my friends.”


After that, Angel had to admit that he let go the nagging concern that Nicolau would show up with a band of fresh minions to capture Cordelia. Even though he had given him his word, declaring a temporary truce, Angel did not trust him not to grab the advantage if given the chance.


They had certainly given him an opening tonight. One moment Angel was planning an exit strategy in the event of a surprise attack, and the next it simply felt unnecessary. All of his attention focused on Cordelia. She drew him into conversation, challenging him to keep up with her habit of jumping from one topic to the next. Often confusing, but never dull, she made him laugh like no one else could.


Now that dinner was over he couldn’t believe he had let down his guard that way. Or let the time go by the way it did. They had stayed so long the rest of the restaurant was empty, including the adjacent Oyster Bar, which normally stayed open until the wee hours of the morning, yet was strangely empty of customers.


Only Arturo remained in the dining room, patiently waiting for them to make their way to the exit. Angel heard the other workers in the kitchen, a few voices passing on instructions to leave certain cleaning activities for the morning. Their manager wanted them to head home now.


That was a fortunate coincidence. If by some off chance the marina turned out to be tonight’s hot spot of demon activity it would be better if there were fewer innocent bystanders around. Saving them would not be his priority.


The twinge of guilt he felt for thinking he would deliberately allow someone to die if it meant saving Cordelia—it did not last very long. 

156: The Basement, Crawford Street Mansion, 11:05 PM

Four times Drusilla turned away and went back to the basement steps where Miss Edith sat prim and proper in her red velvet gown. 

Daddy would not want her to play with Karla. He ordered her to leave Karla alone.

Good girls listened and did what they were told.

. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.

Drusilla rose gracefully to her feet waltzing slowly across the floor to see where fate would lead her. She twirled to a stop in front of Karla Brewer who huddled against the wall with her head in her hands.

Crouching low, Drusilla waited and waited until the girl lifted her terrified gaze, holding it with her own. “My eyes are the darkness surrounding you,” Drusilla stared into the well of Karla Brewer's stark blue gaze encouraging her to stare back, making a connection. “Look deep.”

The girl’s flesh felt hot to the touch, feverish, her cheeks a blotchy red, as if burning up from the inside. Clasping her head to keep her steady, Dru opened up the well of her thoughts to let Karla’s in.

Somewhere deep inside the girl had her secrets, the ways of things that they needed to know. The dark things that were done to her. Things that might protect Cordelia, to save her from the monster waiting at the mouth of hell.

Cordy was pretty on the inside. Like Miss Edith. Sometimes naughty, but bright and beautiful. Not like Miss Karla, tainted, full of dark whispers.

“Come to me. Come to me. I see you crouching in the dark. No more hiding.”

A faint sensation skimmed across her mind, a hesitant touch. Just enough to initiate the binding ties of a thrall. “That’s it. You are so far, far away. Closer. Be in me.”

A swift rush of thoughts surged forward. Light, and sound, and fury all at once with a wave of pure evil surfing behind it.

Karla, so silent for so long, started screaming, her mind filling up with dark imagery, pain and fear.

Jerking away, Drusilla scrambled back across the cement floor, pushing with her hands and feet to get away. The girl pulled on her chains, rattling them loudly as she called out the name of Amolon again and again.

Afraid of what she had seen, Drusilla ran to the stairs. She scooped Miss Edith off the third step and clasped her close to her breast. Pausing for a moment, Drusilla stared back at the girl, dark eyes wide with fear as she watched blood dripping down her wrists as she strained against her bonds.

The fresh scent made her mouth water, a haze filling her field of vision. Drusilla’s eyes shuttered closed as her tongue ran across her lips. It was then, in the dark, that she saw it staring, its eyes trained upon her.

On a scream her eyes flashed open. Sparing no further glances toward the terrorized girl chained against the basement wall, Dru dashed up the stairs slamming the door behind her so that it rattled on its hinges.   

157:     The Beach, South Central Sunnydale, 11:15PM

Standing on the deck, Angel surveyed the empty stretch of beach leading away from the marina. Dark and deserted it was ideal for a stroll. This was hardly the time for such an indulgence, but it was the second time Cordelia had mentioned it. 

There was an expectant sparkle in her hazel eyes bordering on excitement. Noticing the way her heartbeat picked up a notch, he could tell that she wanted this. It was not just anticipation of a walk on the beach. Telltale arousal clung to her skin, the scent stirring his desires. Maybe it was the moonlight or the simple fact that it only took one glance to turn each other on, or maybe he just had a really overactive imagination.

Either way, this was a bad idea. They were already late. Whatever caused that little time hiccup had put them behind schedule. He hated to say it, but this was not just any other night. "We're late, Cordy. Our watch started fifteen minutes ago."

The corners of her mouth dipped just enough to make him feel like an ass. This was supposed to be her special night out and now he was ruining it by reminding her they still had a job to do.

"Oh. Already?"

According to the plan, they would take up a position on one of the boats moored at the marina. Cordelia knew where Harmony's family kept their sailboat. It would give them cover, but provide a view of the harbor. If this were the target destination, they would be able to see a boat coming from any direction.

"There's not much cover on the beach, but it's pretty dark in that direction. We could still see any incoming boats and have time to get back before they disembark."

Cordelia squealed in delight jumping up to wrap her arms around his neck, rounded breasts pressing into his chest, body snuggling into his. He loved the way she fit against him, enjoyed the tease of the clothes against their skin, easily picturing how silky soft she would feel when he was able to peel those layers away. Muscles bunched beneath her hands as they slipped down to unfasten his tie and the top button of his black shirt.

The siren song of her words was pure temptation. "You. Me. Moonlit beach."

There were plenty of reasons to stick to the plan. Safety. Readiness. The off chance an escaped convict would use Sunnydale's marina to sneak into town. Or that a mob of demon-worshiping vampires would swarm the marina in order to capture him.

Cordy pushed the jacket off his shoulders. Angel shucked it off, draping it over one arm, while trying to figure out how to tell her that it would be better if they just stuck to the plan. Before he could say anything, she sank into a crouch, her palms keeping contact with his chest and abdomen on the way down, grazing his hips, and giving his thighs a squeeze before finally letting go. The jolting pleasure went straight to his groin, his shaft filling rapidly, lengthening, getting hard. Its tip felt tight, sensitive, rubbing against the soft cloth of his boxers.

A strangled growl curled up inside him as he tried to hold perfectly still, but he could not stop his head from filling with wild images. Soft hands stroking him firmly. Wet tongue sliding across his length. Hot mouth sucking him off.

Angling his gaze downward he fully expected her attention to be focused the same place as his, but her head was bent low, the soft cascade of her loose hair shadowing her face. "What are you doing?" The question rumbled low, gutteral. He wanted to hear her say it.

Those hazel eyes whipped up at the same moment her touch provided an answer. "Taking off your shoes and socks. You don't want to ruin them in the sand. Plus, walking on the beach in your bare feet...pure toegasm."

That was not exactly the 'gasm' he had in mind. Angel did not know whether to growl in frustration or just laugh at the misunderstanding. Here he was anticipating her touch, and the hot sensation of her mouth, and Cordelia was just planning an innocent moonlit stroll on the beach. Neither of which they really had time for.

He rubbed a hand over his face and neck, but that did not really help ease the source of the tension. "Toegasm," he muttered desperately wishing that he could stop picturing her sucking him off. Cordelia had a steep learning curve when it came to their lovemaking, mainly because her enthusiasm and curiosity took over any reasoned plan to go slowly when it came to introducing her to new things, or allowing her to be the aggressor.

For one thing, Cordelia was not hesitant about telling or showing him what she wanted. He was always ready, which seemed excessive since he once practiced control over his baser urges, but he could not stop wanting her. It seemed she felt the same way. God, he loved that she could not keep her hands off him. She was so tactile, and warm, and spontaneous.

One of these days, he would have to show her the benefits of patience and anticipation when it came to sex, but the future was still unsettled. All they could focus on was the here and now.

There was never enough time to work on their relationship, too little privacy, too much tragedy, and the ever-darkening shadow of impending doom. Tonight was a luxury even if it was going to be cut short by the necessity of patrolling the marina. Deep down, he was afraid they would never get the opportunity for the kind of closeness he imagined, and his heart ached, and the demon side of his nature raged. Whatever he had to do to save her, whatever was needed to make her feel safe, or happy, he would get it done.

Being alone with Cordelia even for a few minutes, just the two of them walking on the moonlit beach, sounded simple, yet suddenly so appealing. So, he gave in to her wishes. Like he always did, he mused, enjoying her touch as she removed his shoes and socks, and then rolled his pants up to his calves.

Cordelia slowly rose into a standing position again, her hands making the reverse trip, fingernails rasping along the cloth of his pants. She did not miss noticing his arousal this time around. Heat flooded her cheeks and her teeth tugged at her bottom lip. Her eyes closed when he touched her cheek with the back of his fingers, opening up slowly when he trailed a path down the curve of her throat.

Reaching back up, his hand gently clasped her jaw, lips hovering just above hers teasing them both. The sharp sting of her nails curled into his bicep urging him on. Angel bent down as he turned her head, exposing her elegant neck to the exploration of his mouth, the fingers of his free hand molding around the curve of her shoulder to hold her steady.

Arching her body toward him, instinctually responding to his desire with complete trust, she sighed softly at the trail of cool kisses across her skin, adding an impatient moan until his mouth opened up, blunt teeth scoring across the warm flesh he had exposed just enough to make her feel it.

His tantalizing touch skimming her throat again, as his mouth moved to the other side. The soft press of his lips preceded the nip of his teeth. Cordelia's heart thudded, his name sounding out as a moan, as she caged his head in her hands and sought his mouth.

Grazing her lips, he whispered a reminder, "The beach." Some things would have to wait until they were home again.

"The what?" Standing there with her face still tilted toward his, Cordelia blinked as if the meaning of the word escaped her. "Oh! Right."

Though Angel left his jacket draped over a deck chair, and his socks and shoes neatly tucked into place beneath it, Cordelia kept a firm hold on her designer shoes.

The sand scrunched under his feet and squished between his toes as they walked along the dry area of the beach. It was an odd sensation feeling the sand shifting around his feet. Good, but different. This was hardly his first beach, but it had been years since he had experienced one.

Cordelia held his hand and snuggled close as they walked along. It was easy to forget that they had another reason to be out here. He almost had.

His attention veered back toward the harbor. The waves were rolling in, crashing against the beach with more fervor than before. Dark clouds covered the moon and shadowed the horizon making it difficult to see any activity out in the water. The only lights in the distance were coming from the marina and from the red and green marker buoys that directed boats back through the shallower waters.

When he realized there was no sign of activity, Angel turned his focus back to Cordelia who had slipped her hand out of his to wander toward the water. The outline of her footprints in the wet sand led to her still figure as she stared out at the dark ocean, the white tipped waves lapping at her feet. The red dress and her golden skin stood out in stark contrast to her surroundings.

Hands in his pockets, Angel moved toward her at a slow pace, enjoying the view. She was so beautiful, his Cordy.

Sensing his approach, she flashed a grin over her shoulder and then took off running down the beach, peeling laughter trailing in her wake. Instinct forced him to follow. He let her run just long enough to make the chase interesting. When he caught her, Angel swung her up and into his arms.

Laughing and running had left her breathless. Cordelia wound her arms around his shoulders hugging him tight, her shoes still dangling from her fingers. "Told you the beach could be fun."

Her mirth, the energy bounding around her, and her smile sparked fire within him. He dropped the arm holding her legs up letting her body slide down across his to a standing position. The other arm kept a hard hold pressing her close.

Angel's hand slipped down to palm her rounded ass cheek as his mouth slanted down across hers, his hand wrinkling her dress as it caressed and squeezed. Opening up on a moan her lips meshed with his in rapid surrender.

The shoes dangling from her fingers dropped unheeded to the ground cushioned by a sandbank. Clasping his shoulder, her hand scrabbled for purchase while the other grabbed onto the open collar of his black shirt. There was nothing languid or soft about their kiss. It was a hot, sweet duel of lips and tongues.

Cordelia broke away long enough to gasp for a breaths, licking her swollen lips as an impish glint appeared in her darkened eyes. He knew that look. Playful. Wanton. One promising a glimpse of heaven.

Releasing her grip, she curled her nails and grazed down the contours of muscles scoring across one hard nub as she passed. Her palm flattened against him, fingers arrowing down across his abs, which tightened reflexively, and passing the leather barrier of his belt.

This time Angel knew she was not aiming for his feet. Once again he was rock hard with wanting her, aroused to the point that it was difficult to remember they had a mission. All he could think about was her aroused scent, the taste of her mouth and warm flesh, anticipating the sight of her writhing against the sand as he buried his cock deep inside her.

Just one thin thread of reason remained. When her lips left his again so she could stare down at what she had captured in her hand, he let out grunted her name out in pleasure at her touch, and regretted that he was going to have to put a stop to this.

Cordelia's fingers splayed out to cover what she could, an eager little noise caught in her throat as she found her prize. He grabbed he wrist, trying desperately to find the means of saying no, putting an end to this before they left themselves in a vulnerable position. More vulnerable than the one they were already in on the open beach.

With her wrist restrained, she cupped him hard, forcing Angel's eyes to slam closed, and his head drift forward. He felt the fingertips of her free hand teasing at the curve of his ear, her cheek brushing against his, and her husky plea slammed into him with another wave of desire.

"I want to taste you. I want to feel you against my tongue." She licked her way across the bump of his Adam's apple as it bobbed heavily with a reflexive swallow, grazing his neck with her teeth.

Letting go of her wrist Angel made no move to stop her watching instead as Cordelia sank to the sand, the skirt of her dress a pool of blood red silk around her. The sight stirred up more than just arousal within him. It was all he could do to let her take the lead, to hold still as she unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned his pants, and slowly unzipped them.

When her hand brushed over his covered cock, any patience he had disappeared. He shoved his pants and boxers down over his hips exposing the heavy column of flesh, pale, laced with rippled veins, already hard. 

"Cordy."

Her name sounded more like a prayer as her fingers slipped around his thick girth, brushing through the small bush of dark hair at the base, stroking eagerly. After that, he couldn't say much of anything because her expression entranced him, full of love and lust, and because she was staring at his cock like it was her extra special dessert. He wanted nothing more than to feed it to her inch by inch.

The base of his spine tingled, desire tugging deep in his loins, as Cordelia's tongue lapped across his exposed tip, tracing her lips with the beaded fluid gathered there. His eyelids drooped heavily, eyes going amber, trained upon the pliant lips now framing his shaft as her mouth closed around him.

His arms hung heavily at his sides, hand itching to touch her, to wind his fingers into her hair, to clasp her head and slide his length even further, but he resisted the urge to make her take it all.

The soft hand surrounding him kept up its tight rhythm, grasping firmly, twisting, pulling while her wet velvet tongue flicked and teased. Her hot mouth slid along the thick rod of his cock, drawing hard, cheeks hollowing with each move. Little mewls tumbled from her throat melding with his stunted attempts at coaxing her on.

He could not string more than two words together as his body tightened, thrumming with escalating need for more of her touch, and the deep hollow of her throat. With great effort, he stopped his hips from bucking forward when her fingernails bit into the back of his thigh. The muscles there burned with the effort of standing upright under the pleasurable assault of her mouth.

A growl of thunder from the heavy clouds overhead added to the tension, echoing his need for release. Stroking across his skin Cordelia reached in to fondle his balls, her fingers gentle at first, doing nothing more than sweeping down to cup him in her palm.

Angel's eyes clamped tight. He felt himself losing it when her nails curled under him and the blunt edge of her teeth purposely scraped his shaft. Losing the battle to keep his hands to himself, he unsteadily fingered through her silky hair, skimming across the nape of her neck. Moving with her, yet dangerously close to holding on too tight.

Tension coalesced rapidly. Muscles tightened up. His hips started to thrust a fraction each time she took him inside. The hammering of her heart against her ribs filled his ears. His nostrils flared at the scent of her arousal mixed with his own. Her luscious mouth so hot, wet, surrounding him. It was all so good. Too much.

Fisting both hands in her hair when Cordelia clasped his hips trying to get leverage, Angel let out an incoherent growl as he started to come. The thunder overhead seemed to echo his sentiments. He burst into her mouth just as the first drops of rain splattered down from the heavens.

Each release jerked him forward. Her lips shone with fluid as the warm suction of her mouth kept up its ministrations until she had taken it all. Releasing him from between her swollen lips, she barely had time to curve her mouth into a wicked little smile before he reached down to pull her up to her feet and into his arms.

His lips crashed into hers, kisses altering with words of praise, and promises of long, slow loving later tonight. Now was another story. Their mission had not changed. It was still dangerous. Still necessary.

But they were not leaving this beach until they finished what she started, even if it was going to have to be one of their seemingly patented quickies.

The taste of himself on her tongue drove him wild. She was just as frantic, arching into him, careless of the rain pelting down in fat droplets.

Angel started to lower her to the sand, errantly thinking that he would later catch hell for ruining her designer dress, but their shifting position brought something into view that hadn't been there before. Standing downwind and in the periphery of his vision made it necessary for Angel to focus his gaze on the intruder. 

158:   The Beach, South Central Sunnydale, 11:46PM

Cordelia sensed his shifting energy a moment before he growled, “Isobel.”

The buzz of arousal distracted Cordelia for a few seconds where frustration at the interruption was more important than the danger it posed.

“Now?”

Now was so not the time for intruders, vampire or otherwise, but most especially the kind who lusted after your boyfriend.

Speaking of which, “Um, Angel, maybe you should put that away.”

He was already closing up his pants, but it was clear that Isobel had already gotten an eyeful. She approached slowly from the cliff side of the beach, amber eyes aglow from the vampiric contours of her face.

Except for the blond hair and ivory skin, she seemed more like a shadow against the sand dressed all in black. The collar of her coat gaped open into a deep vee hinting that there might not be anything underneath except her very stylish designer boots. Even if her designer boots did not belong on the beach, Cordelia found herself admiring them. They were European, and very couture— for a skanky, peeping, nymphomaniac.

“How long has she been there?”

“Long enough,” Isobel’s tinkling laughter grated on Cordelia’s nerves. Sharp ridges shifted into the soft human curves recognizable from Angel’s drawing. “I enjoyed the show immensely. This has been a deadly dull evening until now.”

Angel ignored the flirtation and got straight to the point by demanding to know if she had followed them. There were no signs as far as Cordy could tell of any other vampires around. If Isobel had come to the marina looking for the next sacrifice on the list, she had done so alone.

Chances were she had another target in mind, and Cordelia knew instinctively that Isobel’s interests were directed at Angel. Whatever she was doing here, it had to do with him and not the prophecy.

“Pure coincidence. I came to watch the storm,” she claimed while coming to a stop ten feet away.

Cordelia noticed that the wind had whipped up and the rain was starting to come down enough to be a distraction. Strands of hair clung in damp waves to frame her face. “We were here first, so you can head back to your secret lair. Wherever that is. Private estate this time?”

“I wish…,” Isobel looked perturbed enough to answer the question, but stalled as she realized what she was doing. With a glare in her direction, Isobel returned her focus to Angel. “Tell your pet to mind her own business. Better yet, tell her to leave. No one will bother her tonight.”

Cordelia fumed at not being addressed directly like she was not worth the effort. “No one tells me to shut up. And don’t think I’m about to let some vampire groupie tell me what to do.”

Angel sent her a sharp look, her name a warning on his lips. “Cordy.”

It was a good thing she understood that he didn’t want to provoke Isobel into doing something they’d regret or else she would think he was actually following through with the blonde’s demand by actually telling her to keep quiet. That would so not be good for his health.

Swiping a sodden strand of hair from her eyes, Cordelia picked up her shoes from the ground and took a step toward the restaurant. She hadn’t expected to get any further before Angel stopped her, but he seemed to think that putting some distance between her and Miss Fangs-a-lot was a good idea.

Right now, he just looked pissed and focused on Isobel, which was exactly where the vampiress wanted his attention to be. It was insane to feel jealous, but there was a twinge of it creeping along her spine where she probably should have been feeling fear. This was one of the vampires planning to sacrifice her to their Mole god. Fear would be normal.

All Cordelia could see was another female making moves on her guy, and that Angel was not in any hurry to stake her skanky ass.

“Angelus, we have much to talk about.” Isobel’s perfect pout promised more than just simple conversation.

Blondie still thought he was evil. That, or she just liked the sound of his name in her mouth. Cordelia narrowed her gaze and waited to see which way Angel was going to play this. She was cheering for the lure and dust approach.

“I got Nico’s letter.”

Excitement lit her eyes. She clasped a hand over her breasts, and let out a little gasp, as if Angel would really fall for that old trick. Hello, you don’t need to breathe. “Will you join us? There is so much to tell you. All you need do is turn your little pet over to Kalesh. You can have her back when we’re done—if you still want her.”

And turn out like Karla Brewer? No thank you.

“Maybe I like things the way they are. You can go back to Nicolau and tell him that I am keeping Cordelia. No negotiating. I don’t care what promises he’s making—she is mine and I’m not giving her up.”

Cordelia shuddered inwardly. God, he was so sexy when he was worked up like that. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who thought so. “There are plenty more like her to play with, Angelus. There’s me, for one. You know what I can do for you that she can’t.”

That did it. Cordelia hurled a shoe at Isobel hitting her shoulder and doing nothing more than startling her. “Back off, bitch! Hello, I am standing right here. Take your probably-ridden-by-every-vamp-in-town ass elsewhere because there is no way I am going to let some boyfriend-stealing skank make a play right in front of me.”

Somewhere on her right, Cordelia heard Angel let out a low growl. Just what he was complaining about was not exactly her top priority at the moment. Gripping her other shoe, she drew back and aimed for Isobel’s nose.

A hot curl of triumph bloomed in her chest, but turned cold and died when Isobel’s hand whipped up at the last second to catch the shoe. Surprisingly, she did not vamp out or fly across the sand all fangs and claws to rip her throat out.

That laugh of hers grated on Cordelia’s nerves. “Your lover is a vampire. When you can give him the kind of pleasure I can or know what he really needs, then you’ll understand why I won’t back off,” her eyebrow quirked up in challenge. “In the meantime, pet, you should learn your place.”

Cordelia felt like exploding on the spot. Plus, she had a weird sense of déjà vu like she’d had this conversation about Angel before only the tables were turned.

Tight-lipped, Angel had not budged an inch. He probably had some plan, a strategy, and now that she thought about it, her little outburst was probably screwing it up, but what the hey. Honestly, she didn’t care. “And what do you have to say about that?”

Angel’s jaw tightened, his mouth narrowed into a firm line until he snapped suddenly, “Shut up, Cordelia.”

Hurt welled up so fast she felt like she was drowning in it. He might as well have slapped her across the face. Reeling back a step, Cordelia felt her eyes sting with salty tears. Her throat tightened up with the effort of swallowing down her feelings.

It had to be an act. She was certain that it was a show for Isobel’s sake, but it still hurt like hell.

Isobel practically purred at the sight of Angel’s ire. “She’s quite the feisty one. I think Nico would like her, but you seem so attached and he is so busy making preparations.”

“You’re bored.”

“Utterly. If you were there…,” she looked practically orgasmic just thinking about it.

Angel walked forward decreasing the distance between them by half and Isobel was not so far gone in her lustful haze that she did not sense the danger. Her eyes snapped open wide. She held out a hand to ward him off, not quite trusting his intentions. It happened to be the one with the shoe.

Noticing, Cordelia demanded she give it back. That only caused more evil laughter to bubble up. She dangled the shoe from its strap and started to back away down the beach. “Looks like your little pet wants this back, Angelus. Come get it.”

“I’m not going to play games with you, Isobel. Come here and give it to me.” He held out a hand, his tone demanding obedience.

Isobel seductively licked the rain off her lips. “I could give you so much more. Meet with Nicolau. Give him the girl and he will share everything we have been promised. The Order of Aurelius will be great again and the children of Solaris will step out of the shadows to claim what is rightfully ours.”

“Tempting,” Cordelia sing-songed. “Not.”

Disdainful of the interruption, Isobel glared her way, but continued on with her plea. “Nicolau will share everything.”

There was an extra incentive in there, Cordelia supposed, waiting for Angel’s reply, yet keeping a subtle watch on the way Isobel twirled her shoe around like a dangling carrot. Putting up with Isobel’s antics was bad enough, but the rain was pelting down steadily, running rivulets down her skin and soaking her dress.

Angel’s shirt was plastered against his chest, and despite its dark color gave Isobel another eyeful of salty goodness. A little jolt of lust returned when Cordelia looked at him. Well, she could not blame Isobel for wanting some of that, but not when Angel belonged to her.

Of course, the blonde vampire did not see it that way. She was all over the whole pet thing. Cordelia never liked it when people made that assumption before they were a couple. Now that they were, it really kinda ticked her off.

What did she have to do—wear a neon sign? Girlfriend. Not a pet. Say it at your own risk.

“There’s a flaw in your plan,” Angel ground out. “I don’t like to share.”

Isobel’s face darkened, eyes rimmed with amber, her mouth tightening up.

“Tell Nico I’ll expect him to contact me. You’re right. We need to talk face to face. Just one thing before you go, Isobel. I want to make one thing perfectly clear. Don’t ever approach me again when I’m with Cordelia.”

The threat only made her shudder. Isobel said nothing else. Sliding her gaze toward Cordelia, her upper lip curled scornfully. “Whether or not it is by your choice, the Pure One will be sacrificed on the altar of Amolon. Get in the game, Angelus, or Nico will take everything. You’ll be nothing. Less than nothing.”

“Pathetic, much?” Cordelia muttered under her breath, but apparently loud enough for a vampire to hear.

Isobel grabbed the shoe she was holding with her other hand curling it around the heel. With a quick flick of her wrist, the three-inch heel snapped leaving it hanging from a thin attachment. Petulantly tossing the shoe into the sand, she smirked in pure satisfaction.

“You so did not go there!” Seeing red, Cordelia grabbed the sharp piece of driftwood from the sand at her feet. Before she could say or do anything else, Angel’s big hand curled around her wrist as the other pried the makeshift weapon away.

Struggling futilely against his unbreakable grasp, Cordelia shoved hard against his chest, but she might as well have tried to topple a rock wall. “Let go of me! I’ll kill her. Angel! Don’t just stand there. Do something. She broke my shoe.”

There was that laughter again.

“I’ll buy you more shoes, Cordelia,” he said roughly. “Don’t concern yourself with it. Isobel belongs with her sire, and I want you back home in my bed. We can pick up where we left off.”

Caging her jaw in one hand, he bent down to claim her lips, the rain sliding between them. She hoped it was not all for show because it felt too good for that. Angel’s eyes lingered on hers for a moment asking for silence.

“You’re really letting her go—again?” This was the second time he was planning to let Isobel walk away. She understood that Angel did not want to start a fight while she was there. Overprotection was his thing.

In his haste to get rid of her he was also forgetting that she could be just as useful to them as a hostage. “Personally, I’d prefer to see her in chains.”

Angel obviously hadn’t considered the notion of capturing Nicolau’s mate to use as leverage, but she could practically hear the cogs churning in his head. Could he risk it with Cordy there? Would he be able to get Isobel back to the mansion and keep Cordy safe at the same time? Did he want to deal with the kind of hell Nico would rain down upon them?

Or maybe he was just thinking about the scary things the rain was doing to his hair.

“You wouldn’t dare,” barked Isobel angrily. One look at Angel’s face reminded her that Angelus would do anything he pleased. It was part of his appeal. “Nico would never forgive you for it. You would be throwing away everything that will be within his power to grant you.”

Angel shifted his weight in preparation to move. A streak of lighting hit the sand nearby leaving a static charge in the air. Cordelia let out a surprised shriek while Angel held up a hand to ward off the flash of brilliant light. When Cordelia’s eyes refocused she saw that Isobel was gone, but not so far that Angel couldn’t go after her.

“We need to get off the beach,” said Angel cupping his hand around her elbow to lead her back toward the car.

Pulling out of his grasp, Cordelia pointed toward the cliffs looming above the other end of the beach. “There she is! If you run I’ll bet you can still catch her.”

Ocean View Drive hugged the edge of the cliffs. They were steep, but probably not too dangerous for a vampire to traverse. Cordelia wondered if Isobel had a car up there. This end of the beach was at the far side of town.

Though it seemed like he might have gone through with it, Angel obviously had other ideas. “Cordy, we have to let her go. I am not leaving you alone to run after her.”

“Fine.”

It was not fine. Isobel had managed to turn her perfect night into a night of hell. Even the weather had turned ugly. Cordelia bent over to pick up her shoes. Holding up the broken one she let out a sad little whimper.

The thunder crackled overhead, the worst of the storm already past them, the lightning flashing further north. It had to be close to midnight by now, she realized. Except for Isobel and her bad timing, there was no sign of any stray convicts using the marina as an entry point into town.

Then again, they had been a little distracted by Isobel. Long before that, actually. She hoped the third sacrifice was not grabbed and nabbed by Isobel’s cronies when their backs were turned.

“Cordy…”

Angel hovered at her side, looking awkward and in danger of tripping over his tongue. His broad shoulders slumped with a sigh, but the action called her attention back to the clinginess of his wet shirt. Even soaked through and with crazy hair he was gorgeous.

“Okay, so it’s not fine,” she huffed. “It pretty much sucks to be told to shut up by my own boyfriend in front of some skeezy blonde bitch who wants me dead.”

“But Cordy, I—”

Poking him in the chest with the toe of her broken shoe, Cordelia cut in, “Oh, I know. You didn’t want her to think your little pet had opinions.”

Angel held up his hands in denial. Shaking his head, “That wasn’t—”

“Then why didn’t you say something, tell her to go to hell, or better yet just stake the bitch?” Cordelia’s bare foot stomped on the sand without the usual sound effect, but it got her point across. “You let her think she might have a chance with you.”

His hands came up to frame her face. “Cordy, I’m sorry. That deception might give us an advantage one day. I’m going to hold onto every card I can until this plays out.”

“But you told me to shut up.” She did not hide the hurt in her voice this time.

“Isobel thinks I’m Angelus, that I’m like her. Soulless. Cordy, in her eyes, by rights I should have slapped you down for daring to speak to her—or worse, give her the privilege of ripping out your tongue.”

Cordelia felt her tongue contract at the thought of it. She gulped. “So you’re saying I got off lightly?”

“As far as Isobel is concerned, yes,” Angel admitted, “but you know I would never let her hurt you.”

“That would be so much easier to believe if she was tied up in the trunk of the car, dontcha think?”

Angel leaned in until their foreheads touched, his hands sliding to her nape, thumbs caressing her cheek. “There’s got to be a way out of this that keeps you safe. Let me find it. Threatening Isobel is not the way to gain Nico’s trust.”

“I just wanted tonight to be perfect,” she sighed and felt the touch of his lips against her forehead.

He pulled back far enough that she could see the dark pool of regret in his eyes. “Me too, baby. I’m sorry it worked out this way.”

Tracing a fingertip from button to button on his shirt, Cordelia plucked at the one closest to his belt buckle. “When we get home, I suppose you’ll just have to spend the rest of the night making it up to me—a lot.”

Unfortunately, they were not likely to get home again for another hour or two. The mission still came first, and Cordelia knew that going in. The fact that Isobel had shown up without any henchmen suggested that the marina was not going to be tonight’s target—assuming they knew that information themselves.

Giles seemed to think the demon-worshippers had to follow the prophetic signs just as they did, which meant they still had a good chance of locating the next victim first. It had to be close to midnight by now, which meant something could be happening right now, or an hour from now.

If they did not get to him first, the guy would end up like Karla Brewer. So would she, if they ever got their hands on her. She shivered at the thought. Angel must have seen it because he pulled her close and rubbed his hands across her skin trying to create a little friction.

“We should get you dried off. Let’s get to the boat. They probably have some towels onboard.”

“Killjoy. Maybe I like the view from here.” Pulling him closer, she heard the squish of their clothing. A smile flirted across her lips as his mouth closed over hers in a kiss that was entirely for her and not for show. His lips were gentle and full of promise leaving her aching for more.

Any minute now, they would have to stop. Any minute. She felt the waves lapping at their feet, the storm surge and the tide rolling in. All the anticipation she had been feeling before Isobel’s interruption came rushing back. For a second she wondered if they were going to make it back to the car much less home again—then Angel’s head jerked up from its favorite spot.

“What’s wrong?” Cordelia looked around frantically, but the beach remained empty.

Angel grabbed her by the hand and nodded toward the restaurant. “It’s our pager. I left it in my jacket pocket.”

That meant, “Someone spotted our guy.”

They ran back to the deck. Cordelia was breathing hard when they got there. Even though she was in great shape again and her rebar injury was now fully healed, it was hard to keep up with a vampire running on wet sand.

Asking curiously, she panted, “What’s it say?”

Giles had added specific location codes onto their established system starting with the number ten. Each number represented tonight’s assigned entry port. A ten signaled them to meet at the bus depot to back up Buffy and Spike. Eleven was the airport.

Dread caused Angel’s voice to dip low. “Code six.”

That was one of their emergency codes. Instantly recognizing it, Cordelia knew that her perfect night had just gone from bad to worse. “Oh no! The hospital.”

159: Heading North Toward Mercy Hospital, 12:09AM

“Can’t this bucket of bolts go any faster?” Cordelia complained when they seemed to be slowing down. For some strange reason there was actually traffic despite the late hour.

Angel weaved through it like the cars were standing still. Taking a sharp right onto Maple Court sent Cordelia sliding toward the car door. She grabbed the dashboard for stability, but it did nothing to ease the tightening knot in her stomach.

Someone was hurt.

One of the teams must have run into Nicolau’s goons. Faith? Giles? God, even Xander. It scared her to think about what might be wrong. Fighting vampires was not exactly a safe activity even for Buffy or Faith, especially when they were so organized and ready for it.

On an approach vector from the north side of town half of Sunnydale’s police force was headed their way, sirens wailing, and their blue and red lights cutting through the dark. The added blare of a fire engine sounded as it raced across the intersection from the Fire House on the far side of town.

Cordelia realized they were headed toward the hospital. “What’s going on?” Baring the occasional apocalypse they did not normally trigger this kind of 911 response.

“Hold on!” Angel jammed his foot down on the gas pedal. The car swerved cutting directly across the white line to avoid a speeding van.

Shrieking his name, Cordelia squeezed her eyes closed, holding on for dear life as she waited for the crunch of metal that didn’t come. Her heart was a thick lump of fear in her throat. She slowly opened her eyes to see that they were safe and now on a direct course for the hospital.

Even though Angel had things under control, Cordelia felt like every nerve she had was shaking. “I said go faster—not drive like a maniac!”

Angel seemed distracted, checking the rearview mirror even as he kept the car on a straight path down Thousand Oaks Drive. “Did you see it?”

“See what, my way too short life flashing by? Hello, my eyes were closed!”

“The van that almost ran us over—it looked like Oz’ van,” Angel’s brow scrunched down. He was obviously wondering what Oz, Willow and Xander would be doing driving away from the hospital after getting a Code 6 page.

Cordelia figured it could not be the same van. “You didn’t notice who was driving?”

“Not Oz.”

It was a non-issue as far as she was concerned. Angel’s supernatural reflexes saved them from becoming roadkill. Case closed.

That was the least of her concerns. Someone was hurt, someone she possibly cared about. Her shoe was broken. Could it be fixed? Maybe there was hope for it. The red dress was another story, soaked by rain, and battered by wind and sand.

Freaky weather. Only in Sunnydale!

That totally unexpected storm popped up out of nowhere. It was still raging in the distance. They were soaked to the skin. The top of the convertible had been down all this time drenching the car. Everything was wet, but it hardly made a difference now. At least it was no longer pouring down.

An orange glow lit the buildings ahead like an aura. “I smell smoke,” Cordelia’s nose twitched up at the acrid scent. “What’s burning?”

The scent must have been even more potent for Angel, but there was no need for him to answer as they pulled up alongside Mercy General’s outermost parking lot. There was no missing the source of the smoke. A thick black haze had spread out from the Northeast corner of the hospital where the back end of a helicopter was sticking out of a 3rd floor window. 

160:     Thousand Oaks Drive, Central Sunnydale, 12:10PM

“Dickhead!” Mike roared at the disappearing taillights of the black convertible that nearly got them all killed. “Did you see that crazy shit? Fucker!”

Any other time and he woulda gone after that guy and made him pay for scaring the crap out of him. See how he liked the taste of brass knuckles. Give him a chance to hang out with the guys—chained up to the back of four bikes moving in opposite directions.

Maybe later. Couldn’t be too hard to find a car like that in this rinky dink town. Right now he had business. Never let it be said that the Undertaker don’t take care of business before pleasure.

“You assholes in one piece back there?”

A glance in the rearview mirror showed his men and that fancy pants lawyer, Jake Devries, were sprawled across each other, the floor, and the body bag containing their precious cargo.

“Barely,” snapped Devries as he reached back into his open briefcase for a syringe containing a yellow liquid. He had dropped it. The cap was off exposing the needle. “A moment later and this drug might’ve ended up on the floor instead of our body-bagged friend here.”

There was not much traffic on the east side of town at this time of night, so Mike kept glancing in the rearview mirror to see what Devries was doing. He did not trust that Armani-suited bastard any more than he did the blood-sucking law firm he worked for.

Scowling, Mike told him to shut the hell up. “Just get to work.”

One of the men pulled the zipper down on the body bag revealing the pale, cool body of Harry Sims. The fucker looked dead, but he wasn’t. Some fancy drug that probably cost more than Mike took in his last heist was what did it. Who knew what lawyer shit Devries had to pull to get Sims’ body out of that prison before fake dead turned into stone cold dead.

Maybe the guy had some balls after all taking a chance like that. Kill off one of the Pure Ones and he would be facing Kalesh’s wrath. And that was something Mike would not want to witness. He’d seen some scary as hell demons in L.A., but that ugly old bitch made them all seem kinda cuddly.

Devries held the syringe upright over Sims’ chest. He jabbed it down and used his other hand to press the plunger rapidly injecting the yellow drug into Sims’ heart. 

A minute passed by. Nothing happened. The guy still looked dead.

Mike slowed to a halt in the middle of the street so he could look over his shoulder. “One of you jerkoffs better know C.P.R. or we’re gonna be neck deep in demon shit. 

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