Darkness and Daylight

Cordelia / Angel Fanfiction & Art by Lysa Whitmore

SEASON OF SOLACE

41:     Kingman's Bluff Cemetery, Westside, Sunnydale

“I brought you a little something to eat.” Drusilla gently stroked Spike’s hair as he lay upon the makeshift pallet, her red-tipped fingers gliding through the soft blond strands. 
 

Lifting his arm that was draped over his eyes, Spike glanced toward the source of the noise he had been hearing.


Over in the corner, a young girl was tied to an exposed pipe by a long black scarf. Her tawny blond hair hung straight to her shoulders. Big brown eyes welled up with tears, red cheeks already stained with them. Her bottom lip poked into a permanent pout, quivering woefully.


“Looks like a tasty li’l bit,” Spike admitted. He was feeling hungry, but Dru’s touch was too good. It had been much too long since he had her attention.


Drusilla traced the fading edge of a bruise now greenish against his pale skin. “My Angel beat you badly. Naughty Daddy.”


His mouth tightened up. Spike shifted against the mattress as he made an effort to point out, “He didn’t get away unscathed. Gave as good as I got.”


What had started out as a little fight for old time’s sake had turned into a bloody battle. Fists flying. Power. Bloody punches. Feral growls. Unleashed rage. Pain. Sharp, dull, throbbing pain. The taste of fear in the air. He’d enjoyed every second of it even if he did come out worse for wear. It had been too long since he had seen Angelus fight that way for something he wanted, soul or none.


Keeping the curvy brunette safe was obviously important to him. They had looked to be a right lovey-dovey pair, the two of them cozied up together in the moonlight. The fear he had sensed during the fight had been for her. He wondered what that meant to the Slayer.


It might be interesting to find out if Buffy knew about their little tête-à-tête in the graveyard. Spike figured he would think about that later. Right now, he did not want to move away from Drusilla’s touch.


“Shall I rub away the pain?” Dru asked while massaging his temples.


Spike moaned a little, trying not to smile. “Go ahead, luv. It hurts everywhere.”

42:     Shady Hill Cemetery, North Central Sunnydale

Having borrowed Bev’s car, Angel parked the Plymouth at the small parking area at the bottom of the hill. It was a short walk up a curved path to the top where they picked out a grassy spot slightly away from the cemetery itself. The trees were behind them, the lights of Sunnydale below with the sky stretching almost endlessly toward the horizon.

“Here is fine,” Cordy told him. It was far enough away from the cemetery not to interfere with her enjoyment of her dinner plans.

She opened up the large navy blanket her grandmother stored in the hall closet to use as a ground cover. These might only be her exercise clothes, but she had no intention of ending up with grass stains.

Angel set the picnic basket down in the middle after Cordy settled down on one side of the blanket. He backed off looking awkward about joining her there. “Get down here, doofus.”

Bev had gone out of her way to prepare for Cordelia’s little surprise. Now that she thought about it, Cordy figured that her grandmother’s enthusiasm for picnics by moonlight might have led to the fact that she thought Angel was her boyfriend.

It was just food, after all. What was so sexy about that? This was not the beach. It was a cemetery for crying out loud. Not exactly a romantic spot despite the skyline view. Cordelia simply thought Angel might like to try out a few new tastes. After all, he had liked the fries.

“You know I don’t like to eat by myself,” Cordelia patted the spot beside her. He knelt down next to her, silent as always, just watching as she opened the basket. “Besides, tonight you get to taste everything.”

“Everything?” he asked with a dark glint in his eyes. “I’m sure I remember that you declared yourself a no-snacking zone.”

Cordelia busted out laughing just over the sheer fact that Angel had tried to crack a joke. “Not me, you dork!” Reacting, she pushed at his chest with both hands until Angel let her have her way and tumbled down to the blanket. “Keep your fangs to yourself.”

For the next half hour, they nibbled their way through the contents of the picnic basket. The little sandwiches were all different. Cordelia would tear off a bite of one and then hand it to Angel for a taste. She adored watching the expressions on his face when he found something he liked or hated.

The chocolate pudding was a mutual favorite, though Cordy had been too busy watching the ecstatic way Angel licked and “mmm’d” his way through his to care much about her own.

He drank down a cup of blood while she sipped on a Capri Sun. When he was done, she handed him the remainder of her drink. “Take this. You’ve got blood breath and I’m not going to—”

“What?” asked Angel with the straw still in his mouth. Removing it, he licked at a stray drop of juice clinging to his lip.

Cordelia straightened up from her side-lying position so close to his. “We’re going to train next, right? I don’t want you breathing on me with blood breath.”

“I don’t breathe, Cordy,” he pointed out, brow furrowing.

“Oh, yeah, well,” Cordelia shrugged while nervous butterflies swarmed inside her. She knew why, too. Exactly why. “Whatever.”

Picking up the trash that had accumulated, Cordelia shoved it back into the picnic basket and closed the lid. Angel was on his feet by the time she finished and was staring down at her. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Training? Honestly, that had been her plan, but it was not exactly on her mind at the moment.

Watching him take pleasure in something as simple as food made her wonder about other things. Like the way her skin had flushed hot at the soft rumble of delight purring from his throat, or the velvet softness of his tongue scraping across the seam of his lips. Her own lips tingled, feeling swollen. She pressed them tightly together and lifted her fingers to them as if to stave off the sensation.

Good thing Angel was already standing because Cordy felt like grabbing him, running her fingers through that spiky hair of his and finding out what his lips felt like under hers.

“Get a grip,” she counseled herself. This was Angel. He might be Buffy’s ex, but the Slayer was hardly out of the picture. Throwing herself at him was out of the question.

“Cordy?” Angel was looking at her strangely, a mixture of confusion and amusement wavering across his face. “Am I supposed to be gripping something?”

Answering hastily, “No,” Cordelia stared back somewhat indignantly.

There was no question that he was teasing this time. “Then it’s something you’re suppo—”

“That’s right,” she snapped back. Cutting him off, Cordelia could not believe where her imagination was taking her. If she did not know any better, she would think that he was flirting with her in a dirty old man kind of way. “I’ve gotta get a grip on this training thing. So let’s get started.”

Angel held out a hand to help her up. “We’ll start with something simple and go over some basic moves together.”

Suddenly, she was nervous about it. “Maybe you should just show me first.” It was not a lack of trust. Cordy knew he would feel her trembling if he touched her.

The thought that she was no longer completely in control of her feelings or the situation thrilled and scared her. Certain that he could hear the way her heart was racing made it beat even faster. She felt nervous in his presence for the first time since they started patrolling together, and not because he was a vampire.

A puzzled look settled on his face for an instant, but Cordelia caught it just before it vanished behind the emotionless mask he usually reserved for the Scooby Gang.

His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed something intangible down. Agreeing with her request for a demonstration, Angel simply said, “Okay.”

Removing his coat, he folded it neatly and placed it next to her on the blanket. As Angel leaned down for a moment Cordelia could not prevent the slow sniff of tantalizing scent wafting close, some kind of combination of vampire, manly goodness and cologne. He noticed, of course, but Cordelia said nothing. A girl had to breathe, after all. It was not her fault that he smelled good. The crazy idea about wanting him to rub that scent all over her, well that might have been her issue.

Their eyes met again as Angel began to unbutton his shirt revealing a white undershirt stretched over the tightly compacted muscle below. She tried to look away, to focus on the grass, the fringe of the picnic blanket, or the shiny lacquer of her clear nail polish, but it was impossible not to watch as his fingers nimbly pressed each button through the holes.

“I didn’t know there would be a strip show,” Cordelia joked, feeling the tension drain away a little. “Too bad. I would’ve brought some cash for your g-string.”

“Too bad I’m not wearing one.”

Muttering, “That was evil,” she watched as Angel pulled the material of his shirt out of his waistband and shrugged it off his broad shoulders.

“Here,” he held it out to her.

Cordelia tossed it onto the pile created by his coat as if it scorched her fingers. He stepped back onto the grass silence settling between them until the only sound was that of the birds in the trees. She leaned back on her hands to watch him closely as Angel gracefully stepped through a series of motions.

Watching Angel as his body stretched and condensed with such harmony of movement caused her to relax. There was strength in every simple move, in the line of his pale body against the darkness beyond, each motion fluid and even.

Knees bending, he crouched slightly causing his pants to stretch tightly across his powerful thighs. Cordelia stopped studying the grace behind the exercise and was suddenly caught up by her sensual response to it. Watching the play of muscles beneath his taut skin, the hands that stretched open-palmed toward her, Cordelia shifted her legs together pressing the ache between them.

Capturing her bottom lip between her teeth, Cordelia let them sink in to the point that she could no longer stand it. The distraction was not enough to put a stop to her wandering imagination. She knew the strength he could wield, the gentility of his touch, and wanted both. 

An uncontrollable need to feel him against her brought her to her knees, and then to her feet. Cordy took a step forward stopping when Angel straightened up, facing her. His eyes dropped to her mouth and then to her breasts before sliding up to her throat where his gaze lingered before meeting hers again.

“God, what am I doing?” Cordelia cursed her own stupid hormones. Half-turned away so that she stared out into the darkness of the trees lining the cemetery.

She sensed Angel step up behind, felt his presence closing in. “Tell me,” Angel’s voice cracked with need.

Looking back toward him, she saw his hand hovering at her shoulder before he dropped it to his side. “Obvious, much? You’re a hottie. Momentary insanity, I guess.”

The purely male smirk on his face widened into a grin. “You think I’m a hottie?” Angel pointed out further evidence, “Your grandmother called me edible.”

“Don’t let it go to your head,” Cordelia warned playfully. “Bev doesn’t know you’re a eunuch.”

His grin faded fast. Seconds passed by during which he looked like he was going to explode. Cordelia held her ground, meeting his furious gaze over her shoulder. It might be mean, but at least Angel was no longer looking at her as if he was going to help her to fulfill her every fantasy.

Starting loudly, “I am NOT a—,” Angel could not even repeat the last word.

“Pfft! Like it makes a difference?” she asked with a sad twist.

Angel assured her otherwise. “Oh, it does.” Though her eyes shifted away from the intensity of his, she felt his hunger spiraling again threatening to consume her. “It makes a hell of a lot of difference, especially for you.”

So close.

He was as close as he could be without actually laying a hand on her. Cordelia’s heart thumped heavily in her chest as she shifted around to face him. “Why for me?”

“Do you really have to ask?” His mouth was just a whisper away, tempting her without deliberately leaning in.

He wanted her, too, in the same insanely hungry way.

The word was hardly a sound on her lips, “No.”

Part of her knew it long before now, but she had been avoiding the truth. The fact was that Drusilla’s crazy predictions scared her. She might want Angel, but she couldn’t risk Angelus when the vampiress had seemed so certain that Cordy could make him happy, perfectly so.

“I’m not going to lose control, Cordy,” he promised solemnly while his fingertips followed the curve of her cheek, thumb moving to press against her mouth. “You can trust me.”

Wrapping her hand around his wrist, she dragged it down to thread her fingers through his. “Angel, I do trust you, but I—”

The subtle roaring in her ears grew louder and Cordelia suddenly realized that it was not internal. She turned with Angel to look skyward. Lights arced across the night sky, some trailing streaks of fire as they hurtled to the ground.

“Oh, a meteor shower,” Cordelia realized having never seen one except on television. It was breathtaking, and despite what it meant this night, still seemed romantic. She was standing under a starry sky, holding hands with Angel, and watching the shooting stars fly by. “Maybe we should make a wish.”

Cordelia could not see his expression as his gaze was focused to the sky, but she caught the way his jaw tightened. He was all business when he directed his gaze back to her to say, “This is it. Watch for the crash sites. The prophecy indicated the sign would reveal another sacrifice.”

Cordy found it difficult to switch gears with her fingers still entwined with his. “I suppose so. Let’s hope no one goes up in flames this time.”

“They’re falling into the ocean.” Angel noted that most of the meteors were beyond the distant line of the beach and the lights of the harbor.

Not so sure about that, Cordelia watched as a distant point of light got larger and larger in the sky above them. “Why doesn’t that one have a tail like the others?”

Glancing up, Angel simply yelled out a warning, “Run!” The bright ball of flame was headed straight for them.

Their path took them through the middle of the cemetery. In her running shoes, Cordy managed to avoid the perils of the sticklers growing around the edges of the stones, but the ground was uneven. Angel had a tight grip on her hand and pulled her along a little faster than she could manage. It was not until she looked over her shoulder that she stumbled.

The source of the heat and roaring sound was almost on top of them. She lost Angel’s grip as she fell toward the ground, but he caught her. Lifting her into his arms without a hitch, he kept running toward the gully at the other side of the hill.

They reached it a moment too late.

The meteor slammed earthward with devastating force obliterating the east side of the cemetery, throwing up rock, dirt and dust as it punched a small crater into the ground. When the dust settled the only noise was that of the squalling birds settling back into their nests.

Moonlight dappled bright light across Shady Hill casting its spooky mysteries as long shadows. On the edge of the gully, covered in dust and hidden by the deep shadow of the trees were Angel and Cordelia. She lay sheltered in his arms, but unmoving, a trickle of blood dripping from her forehead onto the rocky ground below.

43:     Shady Hill Cemetery, North Central Sunnydale

Struggling into consciousness, Cordelia’s eyes fluttered open, then blinked closed again. The effort forced her back into the darkness as time slipped by without notice offering momentary freedom from the shock of being slammed into the ground. Foggy-headed, she awakened to a heavy weight pinning her down.

Hard to think, hard to breathe.

Pain forced her to move, her hand instinctively slipping across rough rock and bladed grass toward her throbbing injury. Sticky moisture clung to the left side of her face, congealed blood clotting the wound closed. Cordelia stared at her bloodied fingers piecing together what happened.

It came in rapid replay. Kissing Angel. The meteor. Falling. Being pulled up into his arms. Explosive debris and the force knocking them down. The ground coming up fast.

No, something wasn’t quite right with that, Cordelia’s slowly concluded. Her hand slipped down contacting another, Angel’s. Though her thoughts were muddled, it finally clicked. She had never actually gotten around to kissing him. Damn. No, no, that was probably a good thing. Angel was off limits in the Tall, Dark & Hottie, but no-bone category of guys. Buffy’s territory.

Oh, and hello, note to self: he is a vampire. Her hormones needed a reminder of that little factoid.

Cordelia’s fingers curled around his hand, an unsteady sigh escaping her throat at the contact. She tried to clear the last remaining cobwebs. At least she had the satisfaction of knowing that he thought she was hot, too. Not that Angel actually said the words, cos that would require actual conversation. No, he had to be cryptic about it.

Not that they could do anything about it. “Angel.” Turning her head to look his way, she ignored the pain it took to move, his name coming out more as a little cry.

His body half-covered hers. Cordelia instinctively knew that he had taken the brunt of the impact from the debris before they both slammed into the ground. They were on the edge of the gully. Not so close that they were in danger of falling, but in a position that made it difficult to squeeze out from under him.

More alert, seeing that Angel was not moving, she lifted her hand to his shoulder and tried to shake him awake. “Wakey, wakey! C’mon, Angel, don’t do this to me. You don’t breathe, so how am I supposed to know that you’re okay?”

All she managed to do was leave a trail of bloody fingerprints on his skin. Angel’s muscles were densely packed, his shoulder a rock that would not budge. Cordelia’s attempt to awaken him had no impact.

Inching forward, she pressed her mouth to his ear and yelled his name again. Up in the trees, the birds flapped their wings, squawking in reaction, but Angel showed no sign of consciousness.

The only thing that kept her from panicking was the fact that he was not a large dust pile. She wrapped her arm around him, pulling close, letting her rhythmic breathing settle her down. Pressing her cheek against him, she lay quietly gathering the strength to move.

As soon as she got out from under him, Cordelia figured she would call for help. Not that the Scoobies even had phones of their own. They had pagers and a series of emergency codes. Too bad there wasn’t one for this. Then remembering that her cell phone had been cancelled along with all of her father’s other credit accounts, she realized that making a call was not an option anyway.

“Time to move, big guy,” Cordelia muttered as she attempted to scoot her way out from under Angel. The lower half of her body was completely pinned beneath him. “Urgh! Maybe I shouldn’t have given you that chocolate pudding.”

Panting from exertion, and no closer to freedom, she puffed up her cheeks and let out a whoosh of air. “Okay then, I suppose I’ll just stay here for a while.”

A deep male voice sounded from the tree line just out of Cordelia’s line of sight. “That won’t be necessary. I’ll take care of this.”

Rescued! And it wasn’t even Buffy & Co.

Cordelia craned her neck up over Angel’s body. Garbed in dark blue from head to toe, the stranger wore an unmistakable shiny silver badge. He was a bald, muscular tough guy. Just right for lifting large objects. Perfect timing. Maybe a little too perfect, a scary vibe raced along her nerves.

“How’d you know we were up here? Maybe you were just checking things out.”

“I saw the car at the bottom of the hill. Classic.” The police officer reached up to remove his dark sunglasses revealing dark black eyes.

Mr. I-Wear-Raybans-At-Night probably thought that made him look mysterious or intimidating. Um, he was probably right. Cordelia noticed the subtle leer behind the otherwise friendly expression. Jerk. “A little help, Officer. Kinda stuck here.”

“Maybe you deserve what’s coming.” He chuckled now, a gravely sound that crept along her spine. “Your boyfriend’s a vampire. Did you know that, girl?”

Sensing real danger now, Cordelia curled her fingernails deeper into Angel’s shoulder. It still got no reaction. This cop was giving her bad, bad vibes. She watched helplessly as he reached down and pulled up a broken branch from the ground, one end angled into a sharp point.

There was only one thing she could imagine he was planning. Fear gave her the strength to pull her body free. Cordelia scrambled to her feet, standing unsteadily at the edge of the gully between him and Angel. “He’s none of your business.”

“But you are.” Dropping the branch to the ground, he stepped forward grabbing her shoulders.

Pulled close, Cordelia noticed instantly the glittering of inhuman eyes as the mask of human features began melting away. His touch became almost painfully hot as heat emanated from his body. Eyes wide with fright, she watched as the demon’s true face was revealed.

“Tonight you have been marked for my master.” The demon’s hand slipped down to capture her flailing wrists. Cordelia kicked at his shin, lifted her knee toward his groin only to cry out as it contacted a rocky exoskeleton. “Be calm. You will only do yourself harm.”

“Maybe your master won’t want me.” Cordelia tugged hard when he moved to hold her other wrist into a single-handed grip. She broke free, but only momentarily.

That evil chuckle sounded again. What was it with bad guys who always thought they were gonna get the last laugh.

“I think you’re making a big mistake, buddy.” When he started moving toward the lower section of the cemetery where the remnants of the path led back to the parking area, Cordelia planted her feet and forced him to drag her. “Do you know who you’re dealing with? Cordelia Chase is nobody’s sacrifice.”

Now focused on getting her down the hill, the demon slung her over his shoulder and trudged on. Yelling out to Angel again, Cordelia hoped that he would finally wake up. “Get your ass over here! Kidnapping in progress. Sheesh! There’s never a Slayer around when you need one.”

The demon slapped her bottom just hard enough to sting. Outraged, Cordelia let out a curse, but it only seemed to amuse him. “Let me go, you bastard.”

“I am surprised the vampire let you live this long,” a guttural growl emerged. “Or that one such as you remains pure.”

Cordelia stopped struggling, propped her elbow on his shoulder and looked over her shoulder. “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean? My purity is none of your— anyway, it’s not an issue. My vampire boyfriend back there took care of that earlier. Starlit picnic. A little Tai Chi. Some serious boinking.”

“You lie, Noisy One, I would smell it on you.”

Eew.

Looking back, Cordelia watched as Angel’s prone form got smaller and smaller as they moved away from him. Her gut clenched tight in fear, not only for herself, but also for him. He had been unconscious so long. Any serious injuries he had sustained were not immediately visible, just scrapes and bruises. She had not had time to check him out for anything worse.

Please be okay.

Without more than a moment’s pause, Cordelia made another attempt at escape, again a futile one. This demon was almost Slayer-strong, as strong as Angel now that he had regained his full strength. “My friends will find you, kick your ass and rip your head off for this.”

Walking down the line of tall scrub bushes separating the parking area from the main part of the cemetery, he made the final turn. “I am not interested in your friends.”

The demon stopped short of the police car parked next to the black Plymouth. A third car was parked next to the other two.

“Maybe we’re interested in you, tough guy,” Faith clocked him in the jaw with a quick jab of her fist. A grunt of pain sounded and he wavered on his feet, but held on to Cordelia.

Giles stood on the other side of the opening in the bushes, holding a crossbow. “I suggest you carefully set Miss Chase down.”

Rubbing her fist in the palm of her hand, Faith walked forward as the demon took a few steps back. “Yeah, put her down. Come play with me.”

Mok ari cha shuna sey. Ra vinor Slayer eosun.“ The demon growled a warning adding something more extensive in his own language. “De sua Varstrae gataru ona duaranta. Jo nahn. Preot mayla rek Tavrok mystarus."

Faith merely cocked her head. “I don’t know about you, Rup, but I’m taking that as a threat.”

Abbreviating the translation to the key point, Giles said, “It is a warning not to interfere with the Rites of Tavrok.”

Faith took another step forward. Pointing out to the contrary, “I’m all for interfering.”

Cordelia let out a short scream as the demon spun her around to stand in front of him as a shield. His clawed hand with thickened skin rough against her own, he held her by the neck. Both Faith and Giles held off their approach. With the demon’s grip tightening, Cordelia thought he was about to crush her throat, but he stopped just shy of it.

“He needs me alive,” Cordelia got out over the rumble of his growling discontent. She was being dragged back up the hill.

They were in the narrow space between the gully and the forward edge of the meteor crater. Faith suddenly looked behind the demon, gave a nod and called out, “Angel, take him out.”

The demon whirled, releasing Cordelia out of necessity, and crouched into a defensive posture. It sent Cordelia toppling toward the edge of the crater. She fell with a piercing scream silenced as the air was knocked out of her when she hit the ground. Scrambling for purchase, she managed to find a tentative handhold.

Above, her captor realized he had been fooled into thinking the vampire was conscious and ready to fight. His mistake cost him Cordelia. There was nothing to do except to run. Faith started to pursue him, determined to knock him down. He was their only lead. Besides, he had obviously been planning to make Cordelia the next sacrifice mentioned by the prophecy.

The hell if she was going to let that happen.

Giles had not thought of that when he suggested they check out the crash site. It was visible from their position at Trinity Church Cemetery and seemed like it had come down near Cordelia and Angel’s location here at Shady Hill. Neither one of them had suspected trouble until they spotted the police car. Remembering that a cop had picked up Karla Brewer the night she disappeared suggested he might have a similar plan.

She did not figure on him falling for the old distraction ploy, but was not going to knock the fact that he did.

“Faith!” On the ground, Giles was leaning over the crater’s edge holding on to one wrist as Cordelia reached up with her other hand.

He had barely caught her before she fell, but his grip was failing.

Hearing him, Faith stopped and spun around. A huff of frustration sounded as she realized the demon was going to get away. She leapt across the gully they had crossed during the chase. She could not see Giles’ face, but the sound of his voice urging Cor to hold on told her she needed to haul ass to get there before he dropped her.

She had gone too far to make it. Another twenty yards separated her from Giles’ prone form when Angel barreled out of nowhere to pull Cordelia to safety. Faith had never seen anyone, even a vampire move so fast. “Way to go Angel!” she shouted out.

The strength and speed used to bring her back to her feet had Cordelia wavering in shock. First, it was Giles, but then— omigod! Angel, it was Angel standing there and she had never been so happy to see anyone in her entire life.

Tears of relief glistened in Cordelia’s eyes as she hugged him, her cheek pressed against his chest, arms winding tightly around his waist. A subtle rumble sounded beneath her ear. Instantly, Angel’s arms enveloped her. Reeled in tight as he held her close and nuzzled his cheek against her hair Cordelia wanted to be… needed to be closer still. 

Angel’s hold loosened and a tiny moan of complaint escaped her throat at the loss as he pulled away just enough to look at her face. Too many emotions choked her up. She managed his name. It came out as a whisper, a needy sound swallowed up by the dark depths of his eyes.

Taut with tension, Angel’s gaze slid from hers to look at the dried blood caked to her temple and the trail it left along her cheek. He followed that trail with his fingertips, smoothing her hair and tucking it behind her ear, noting the darkening areas on her throat where the demon held a little too tight.

For a moment, he had murder in his eyes, and then it drained away. All that was left was need as he stared down at her plush lips parted invitingly so close to his. Cordy shifted in his arms, her warmth melting into him.

Irresistibly drawn together, their mouths met in a soft velvet kiss steeped by tender concern, expressing relief. Over in a moment, the soothing press of his lips left her gasping. They pulled back an inch, both staring in shock at what they had just done.

Parting lasted only a moment. Cordelia trembled at how good it felt to kiss him, a jolt of tingling warmth centering deep inside. Her palms slipped up the cotton shirt over the hard contours of his chest, her fingers slipping up to his shoulders toward the nape of his neck.

The slide of his hand down to the small of her back brought Cordelia closer still. A soft moan sounded against her lips containing a hint of the hunger he had found so hard to control. Now he just needed to taste her, to assure himself that she was alive and in his arms. That one brief kiss was not nearly enough.

Ravenously, he kissed her with the silky slide of his soft lips over hers. Again and again. Feeling her warmth soaking into him as her body angled closer, thin lycra and cotton poor barriers between them. Her mouth was eager against his, just as needy. He gently sucked at her bottom lip, heard her anxious mewl as her fingers threaded through his hair.

Letting her take what she wanted before delving into the warm recesses of her mouth, Angel shuddered with need at the slide of his tongue against hers. When he moaned into her mouth, Cordelia echoed back, their arousal climbing despite their bruises. Her body writhed catlike against him, unconsciously rubbing her breasts against his chest, hips shifting closer to his body’s hardening response. Angel’s hand splayed open across her back, moving with long, sure strokes against her spine.

“Damn, I’ve gotta get me some of that,” Faith dimpled at the sight. Walking up next to Giles who had half-turned away from the kissing couple, she tugged at his now wrinkled tie. “Told ya so. Those two are hot.”

Noting that Faith went right back to staring at them, Giles deliberately cleared his throat. The second time, Angel and Cordy turned toward the sound, both looking dazed and slightly irritated by the interruption.

Until now, it seemed like they were the only two people on that hilltop. They stood within each other’s embrace, frozen in realization of what had happened. Then it sank in, the enormity of those kisses. Slowly, they slipped apart, eyes focused on the ground and then daring to meet.

“Cordy, I shouldn’t have—,” Angel let her go, backing off a few inches. A subtle growl built up at the loss of her touch, trapped there by the guilt welling up at a fast pace.

Cordelia did not want excuses. He obviously thought kissing her was a mistake, but she did not want him to think that they were so important to her, either. “Geez, Angel, just ‘cause I’m happy you saved me doesn’t mean I’m that grateful.”

She turned away from him to walk past Faith and Giles who stood slack-jawed at their sudden change of behavior. Angel pushed past them to follow her ignoring the fact that it was probably better to let the subject drop.

“I was concerned about you, Cordy,” Angel caught up with her. “Things got out of hand. I wanted to make sure you were okay and then—”

“Then you got carried away with a little tonsil hockey.”

Catching her elbow in his grasp, Angel whirled her around to face him, a hint of anger glinting as he stared downward. “Is that really how you want to play this? I won’t apologize again.” 

“For what?” The fast move had left her head spinning. Everything that happened seemed to come crashing down on her at once. Cordelia managed a casual shrug. “On the scale of bleh to earth-shattering, I’d rate it as no big deal. So drop it.”

It was a helluva big deal, Angel wanted to argue but kept his mouth shut. He was too busy trying to control the urge to yank her back into his arms and shatter every memory she ever had of being kissed by anyone else. Frustrated with his own weakness, angry at her reaction, he let her go.

Angel seethed with the need to tell her that her body betrayed her, that he knew the throbbing pulse at her throat, the beat of her heart, the scent of her arousal. Instead, he decided to let her have it her way for now. He would do as she asked, “Consider it dropped,” but not before he took his turn at biting back, the demon in him unable to let it go completely.

The words tumbled in freefall from his mouth, a venomous hiss against her ear. “After all, it didn’t mean anything. You’re not Buffy.”

Cordelia staggered back, wavering on her feet, eyes no longer focused. Her hand went up to her head, her injured temple throbbing. Now everything was spinning, not just her head. She blinked in slow motion, watching in a fog as the stony expression on Angel’s face blurred. He said something, reaching out for her. Then the world fell away.

Her legs crumpled beneath her as she blacked out.  

44:     Mercy Hospital, Westside, Sunnydale

For the second time in the space of a day, Cordelia escaped from the clutches of darkness holding her in its ethereal grasp. Consciousness returned, this time to the sound of muddled voices and distant beeping. Even before she opened her eyes, she knew where she was: Sunnydale’s Mercy Hospital.

“She’s awake,” Faith’s voice sounded even before she could get out a decent groan of discontent. This was the last place she wanted to be and she did not care who knew it.

Buffy let out a dramatic sigh. “It’s about time.” Oh, great, just who she wanted to see right now. Not.

“Thank heavens,” Giles’ relief was clear, which made her feel a teensy bit better. Until he added, in typical no nonsense fashion, “I should probably pop back to the cemetery soon. I wasn’t quite finished gathering rubbings off of the obelisk.”

Gee, thanks. Abandon me for an old rock why dontcha. The incentive to actually open her eyes was not overwhelming at the moment.

Willow yelped, “Ouch, you stepped on my foot.”

“Sorry,” Xander muttered from close by. “Are you sure she’s awake?”

Maybe if she kept her eyes closed, they would all go away. Cordelia tried it for several seconds, but could feel the weight of their concern looming over her. Lifting one eyelid, she peeked out. Nope, it wasn’t just the angsty vibes. It was them leaning over her bed staring at her.

“Geez, give a girl a little breathing room.” Cordelia smiled until she had them all smiling back at her. “Not that I don’t deserve the attention, but why am I here?”

Xander gasped instantly jumping to worst case scenarios. “Oh no! Cor has amnesia.”

She raised an eyebrow, glancing around at the faces in the room noting that there was one face conspicuously absent.

“The doctors said it was probably just a concussion.” Willow hit him on the arm. Asking Cordelia just in case Xander was right, “Do you remember your name? Your address? Us?”

Cordelia flicked a look toward Faith who stood cross-armed, staring at Willow as if she was the one who had been hit in the head by a meteor fragment. “I think…,” she lifted a hand toward the small bandage covering her wounded head. “Yes, I’m almost sure my name is…Buffy Summers. Who are you people?”

“What!” Buffy, Xander and Willow parroted their shocked reactions.

“Perhaps you should try that again, Cordelia,” Giles pursed his lips in response. “Without the drama, this time.”

Glancing up from the IV tubing that had caught her attention, Cordelia grinned at him. “You’re no fun.” Then to the rest of them, “I don’t have amnesia, you dorks. I just don’t remember how I got here.”

Faith supplied her with an answer. “Angel carried you to the car. We brought you here.”

“We got Giles’ Code 6 page,” Buffy shifted so that she was sitting on the edge of the bed. It sucked that they had a code for meeting at the hospital. “They told us what happened.” 

Cordelia eyed Giles and Faith. “Um, they did?”

“It’s cool, Cor,” Faith immediately alleviated her fears in that direction. “We just went over the details about the meteor and the creep who attacked you.”

“Oh, good.”

Buffy gave her an odd look. “What’s so good about it? You’ve been marked as the next sacrifice in some demon ritual.”

“I have other plans. Demon rituals are out this year.” Cordelia squashed the fear that threatened to bubble up.

“Angel & I won’t let anything happen to you.” Faith’s confidence bolstered her up a bit, but she was quick to see the way Buffy reacted.

The two Slayers stared silently at each other until Buffy finally broke down to say, “The rest of us aren’t exactly cheering for the demon. We’ll be around.”

Cordelia’s eyes shifted around the room again as if half expecting to see Angel stepping out of the shadows. He was not there. She had not missed him the first time. “Pfft. Like I want you guys hovering over me all the time.”

Although, a little hovering would not be so bad if it was the right person. Even if he was kind of a jerk at the moment.

She half-listened as Willow reminded her that it was not just this kidnapping demon she had to watch out for. Drusilla and Spike were still out there somewhere, too.

“So where’d the big guy run off to?” Cordelia tried to sound casual about asking. “Did he decide to go to the Blood Bank for a snack?”

The room fell silent for a moment until Buffy admitted to being a little confused about Angel’s whereabouts. “Angel’s not here. Left about an hour ago. Said he had something to do.”

“So much for being concerned about my safety,” Cordelia huffed. Part of her stubbornly determined to stay angry with him. He’d had the nerve to compare her kisses to Buffy’s. “Wacky and Blondie could come in at any second, no invitation required.”

Faith let out a short laugh. “C’mon, Cor, give the vamp a break. You started it.”

“Did not.”

Then Buffy asked, “Am I missing something?”

They both responded, “No.”

Giles scrubbed a hand over his mouth and jaw, cleared his throat and walked over to stare out the window. Frowning at him, Cordelia wondered how long it would be before Buffy whined her way into making him tell her everything that happened at Shady Hill.

“Angel asked me to stay until he got back,” Faith explained that he planned to return all along. “That was right before these guys showed up.”

“We ran into him in the hall.” Xander shrugged it off uncertain why it seemed to be a big deal to any of them. “Dead Boy’s always been the mysterious type. He didn’t say what he was up to.”

Willow gripped the side rails as she leaned in, “He looked kinda upset. I tried to ask how you were doing, but all I got was a grumpy growl. He just told us where to find you, said he had something to do, and then stalked off without another word, even to Buffy. That was rude, dontcha think?” 

“Typical,” Cordy plucked at the neckline of her hospital gown, trying not to think about the way she could not get enough of him. Just the thought of those kisses and the way his big hands molded her body against his made her warm all over.

“You’re looking kinda dazed,” Willow pointed out, concerned.

Xander agreed, “And flushed.” He put a hand to her forehead. “Maybe I should get the nurse.”

“Sheesh! I’m fine, Xander. My head hurts a little, but I promise not to pass out on you.” Cordelia pushed his hand away. “Where was all the concern the last time I was in this joint?”

Ducking his head, Xander looked hurt. “Hey, I tried.”

Cordelia sighed and squeezed his hand. “Yeah, you did.”

They were still holding hands when Angel walked in the door. He met Cordelia’s gaze, looked for an instant as if he was going to rip their hands apart, and then simply stepped out of the way.

“Bev!” Cordelia smiled instantly upon seeing her grandmother standing there.

Xander was standing in her path as Beverly Quinn made her way to Cordelia’s bedside. “Out of my way, young man. It’s rude to stare.”

They all backed off and stared at the older woman sitting beside Cordelia, almost alike except for the passage of years between them. “Who is she?” Buffy had to ask as she moved over to stand beside Angel.

“Cordy’s grandmother.”

The two of them were talking, caught up in Cordelia’s explanation of interrupted picnics and a meteor shower. Buffy wasn’t sure what unsettled her the most: the idea that Cordelia actually had a grandmother or the fact that Cor had explained away patrol as some kind of a picnic with Angel.

“Did you know?” Buffy asked Xander and Willow. After all, they had known Cordelia most of their lives even if it was as their childhood nemesis.

No, they answered with the shake of their heads. Xander leaned in even closer. “I always assumed aliens dropped her off at her parent’s house,” he said loudly just to gain their attention.

“You must be Xander Harris,” Beverly surprised him. He grinned until she seemed to be inspecting him from head to toe. Apparently, Grandmother Bev had the same ability to make you feel like a squashed bug just by looking at you.

“Uh… yes, Xander, that’s me.”

“I understand that you used to date my granddaughter.”

Suddenly nervous under her scrutinizing stare, Xander shoved his hands in his pockets and shuffled his feet. “Yes ma’am.”

“Call me Bev,” she told him. “When young men call me ma’am, it always makes me feel like a naughty school mistress.”

“Grandmother!” Cordelia gasped through the noise of Xander’s squeaky response.

What was it with guys? Bev technically qualified as a senior citizen even though she still looked about twenty years younger than her actual age. They got flustered and gawky around her.

One by one the introductions were made. Though Giles was pleasantly polite in his very proper English way, Bev found him a little starchy. That made him an easy target for a little teasing. “I think I’d prefer it if you called me ma’am, after all.”

Giles fiddled uncomfortably with the tie that seemed too tight around his neck, let his gaze wander from face to face— all of them amused— and finally pointed at the clock. “Oh dear, is that the time? I really must be going. And you three,” he ushered Buffy, Xander and Willow toward the door, “need to finish that project… for school.”

“Project?” Xander asked then let out a choked cry as Buffy elbowed his stomach and Willow stepped on his foot. “Ow— of course! The school project.”

They exited with hasty goodbyes and well wishes. Cordelia was relieved to see them go. Who knows what they would have said. Or what Bev would have said considering those oh-so-wrong conclusions about dating Angel. Although, it might have been worth it to see Giles pass out on the floor if Bev kept up with her flirtation. Bev might be nearly twenty or thirty years older than the Watcher, but she obviously still had it.

Cordelia was still smiling at the thought when Faith caught her attention. “Cor, I think I’m gonna grab a coffee, give you guys some time.”

Faith closed the door behind her leaving Cordelia alone with her grandmother and Angel. Her grandmother sat beside her, still holding her hand, looking back and forth between them. “I could cut the tension with a knife. What’s going on?”

“It’s nothing,” Angel answered. After all, Cordelia had been the one to say they forget all about it.

Cordelia huffed, “Nothing! Ugh, that is just… oookay, it’s nothing.”

It wasn’t ‘nothing’ she felt when she looked at him. Anger, frustration and a whole slew of things, but it definitely was not ‘nothing’. Cordelia saw that he had stopped to change before picking up Bev. “You changed clothes.”

Though Angel was surprised by the subject change, he was grateful for it. “Yes, I didn’t want to show up at Bev’s home looking—”

“Like you’d just been hit by a meteor?”

“Well… yeah.”

Bev admitted, “Though I was surprised to see Angel standing on my doorstep without you, I’m glad the news came from him in person and not by a phone call.”

She held out her hand to Angel, who stared at it for a few seconds before taking it. Bev pulled him down so that he sat on the opposite side of the bed and then casually moved his hand so that it covered Cordelia’s. “Whatever happened to upset you two, I’m sure it’s nothing that can’t be forgiven considering tonight’s events. There are far more important things than lovers’ squabbles. One of you might have been seriously injured.”

Cordelia remembered how she felt seeing Angel lying unconscious as the demon picked up that pointed branch. Still angry, a nasty thought flashed by. Too bad she saved him. If she had not interfered, he would be a big cloud of dust.

“I know you wouldn’t want that,” Bev went on, forcing Cordelia to face the truth.

“Not really.” Her gaze slid up to meet Angel’s inquisitive one. Since he seemed so eager to hear her answer, she tagged on, “Well, I wouldn’t want you permanently hurt. Not seriously, anyway. Maybe just tortured a little. By me, of course.”

That only brought a smirk to that handsome mouth of his. “Cordy, there are some games we shouldn’t talk about in front of your grandmother.”

Snorting, Bev simply said, “Don’t mind me,” while Cordelia slapped her free hand over Angel’s mouth.

“Omigod! I cannot believe you just said that.”

It wasn’t anger that caused her to hold breath, pressing her lips closed tight as she leaned closer. She was barely containing her laughter. What was it about Mister Usually Monosyllable Guy and his ability to turn their relationship— in her grandmother’s eyes anyway— into a kinky romance? 

“Bev knows I’m kidding.” Angel reached up to drag her hand down.

Cordelia snatched it out of his grasp. “Pfft!”

He was not kidding. There were probably many ‘games’ vampires liked and it did not surprise her that pain was one of them. While the spark of her own curiosity made her tremble, it left her wondering what else Angel liked.

When Bev lifted her hand away from theirs, Cordelia expected Angel to extract his own. He curled his fingers around Cordelia’s hand, turning it, his thumb circling her palm. Then his other hand reached up, fingers threading through her hair and edging the tape holding her bandage in place before he dropped it down to his thigh. “If I could take back what happened, I would.”

Did he mean the meteor, the fact that some creepy demon cop planned to kidnap and sacrifice her to his demon god? Or was he taking back the fact that he kissed her and had the gall to compare it to being with Buffy?

“It’s that easy, Angel.” Considering that he’d saved her life twice tonight, Cordy figured she should cut him a little slack. She offered him a way out, “Go ahead. Take it back.”

Angel stared back, sorely tempted to respond to her little dare in a way that did not involve words. “It’ll have to wait.”

“No, it won’t.”

“Trust me, it should wait.”

They glared at one another until Bev finally broke the silence. “Sheesh! Young people nowadays have to complicate everything. What is so blasted difficult about kissing and making up?” She threw her hand up in surrender and then changed her mind about it, stubbornly crossing her arms. “Go on. Say you’re sorry. I don’t care about what, just do it and mean it.”

The amusement in Angel’s eyes was apparent. Cordelia could not really blame him for succumbing to her grandmother’s wishes. After all, Bev certainly had a way of getting under your skin.

When the bright glint faded, Angel’s expression turned serious again. He pressed a brief kiss into the palm of Cordelia’s hand before closing her fingers around it. “I’ve never known the kind of fear I felt tonight. Seeing that meteor coming down at us, knowing what might happen, what it meant, I suppose I just reacted.”

“You suppose?” Cordelia’s huff was followed by her grandmother’s soft, “Ahem.”

“Cordy, you know I want you safe. I’m sorry that you’re here, that I couldn’t stop any of this from happening.” Angel got off the bed, standing at her side and Cordelia knew that his apology was not going any further tonight. Not with Bev at their side.

Even though it wasn’t exactly going to give away any Vampire or Slayer secrets just to admit he was a jerk for kissing her and comparing her to his ex. He was so going to pay for that later. She was already making a list when Bev reminded her that it was her turn.

Prompting her to say something, “If you take much longer, I’ll be happy to show you how it’s done.”

Cordelia was about to say, “Go ahead,” when she realized that Bev might actually take her up on it. Instead, she irreverently stuck her tongue out. “You wish,” to which Bev merely laughed in response. Then she could not resist adding, “Better grab the chance while I’m bruised and tied up to an IV pole. Just tell me I’m not gonna be in here for a week and I’ll let you have your wicked way with him.”

Rolling her eyes, Bev promised, “Darling, I may be in great shape, but even I don’t have that much stamina.”

Snorting softly, Cordelia turned to speak to Angel only to notice that he was no longer at her side, but had taken up a position by the door. “Hey, where are you going?”

“Faith’s coming,” he nodded toward the door. “I should go.”

“I’m not done with you yet. Come here for a sec.” Cordelia pushed the bed covers aside and climbed out of bed. “Whoa!” She grabbed her IV pole with one hand and the flap of her hospital gown with the other. “Kinda breezy back there.”

Bev coughed, “There wasn’t much to see anyway. In my day, that was called dental floss, not underwear.”

Angel mused that if he asked what color, Bev would be happy to supply him with the information. She made Cordelia seem tactful in comparison. Standing beside Cordelia again, he told her, “Take it easy for a day or two. I’ll see you around.”

“You’re leaving me?” Cordelia could not hide the surprise in her voice. Okay, okay. So what if she’d wanted to stake him a while ago? That was then, this was now.

She wanted him here with her.

“I’ve asked Faith to keep an eye on you tonight.”

Cordelia glanced toward the door where she knew Faith was going to show up at any second. Angel had already said he had heard her outside in the hall. It was not that she did not trust Faith when it came to taking care of unwelcome visitors. She just preferred Angel to be there.

“Okay. Faith. Great.”

Though she tried to sound enthusiastic about it, Angel looked a little suspicious, or at least confused. “Was there something else?”

“Not really,” Cordelia answered evasively, adding a casual shrug. “I just wanted to thank you for bringing Bev to see me.”

“That reminds me,” Angel pulled out the keys to the Plymouth, tossing them onto the bed where Bev could reach them. “You’ll need the car to get home tonight.”

Cordelia did not need to ask what Angel was up to, though he confirmed it when Bev suggested that he stick around long enough to get a ride home. “Thanks, but I’m just going to look in on… some relatives.”

“Can’t you wait for that?” Cordelia grabbed hold of his arm when he started to move away again. “Geez, Angel, you’ve just missed being hit by a meteor. You’re not invulnerable. I know you’ve got to be banged up and bruised, so don’t tell me this is the right time for a family reunion.”

A little lost with the whole conversation, Bev chimed in, “It is almost two a.m., a little late for social calls.”

“They’re night owls,” Cordelia explained without turning away from Angel. “Please don’t go tonight. Wait for Faith and Buffy.”

She knew he was going to refuse. Dark intent filled his eyes. There was no use in trying to change him mind about it. Cordelia closed her eyes as Angel curled his hand around the nape of her neck, his thumb rubbing at the spot behind her ear. He leaned forward, his forehead touching hers. Then she felt the cool press of his lips against her cheek.

“Maybe I should’ve had a second cup,” Faith nearly closed the door again when Angel called out to stop her.

“I was just leaving.”

Faith stepped back in. “Does she know the plan, GQ?”

“If you mean that you’re staying and he’s going,” Cordelia climbed back into bed and yanked the blankets up, “then I know.”

“Cool. So it’ll just be us girls for a while.” Faith moved past Angel and took a seat in one of the two bedside chairs.

After a brief look back at the three of them, Angel gently closed the door behind him. A second later, one of Cordelia’s pillows crashed against the doorframe and plopped onto the floor.

Bev patted Cordelia’s hand. “It’s not likely that the hospital would let Angel stay the night instead. Give him a break, dear. He’s obviously concerned about those relatives of his. With all of the meteors that came down, maybe he just wants to check in on them.”

Cordelia crushed her only remaining pillow between her hands and looked like she was going to fling it at the next person who mentioned the name Angel.

When Bev’s words sank in, Faith dropped her feet to the floor from their resting position at the bottom of the bed. “Damn.” She held up her hands and vowed, “I swear I didn’t know about that, Cor. Angel didn’t say anything about it.”

“Now ask me again what I think of the plan.”   

45:     Willy's Place, Midtown, Sunnydale

“Angelus, I don’t want trouble.” Nervously, Willy wrung his bar towel in his hands as he approached the two vampires locked in a struggle at the far end of the bar.

As far as Willy could tell, the sudden attack had come without provocation. Not that Angelus had ever needed a reason. With a lightning swift move, he had the other guy pinned against the bar and looked ready to rip off an arm or two.

“You two got issues, take it outside.”

Golden eyes flicked up drilling into his, issuing a reminder, “The name’s Angel.”

Maybe a dark, avenging fallen-from-grace kinda angel, Willy figured, a tiny whimper escaping at the menacing growl in that voice. He knew trouble when he saw it no matter what name it went by. Angelus dealt out death and enjoyed doing it. He had done so several times right here in this bar, sadistic bastard.

Willy figured it might be a good idea to cut him a little slack. Though rumors said he’d taken up with the Slayer’s crowd again, there was no use taking any chances with his own neck.

Judging by the bad attitude, the odds of putting a stop to this didn’t look good anyway. Willy had noticed him talking to the new kid, one of those young athletic types from Sunnydale-U with more brawn than brain; the kind that made easy prey for a vamp on the prowl and ended up as one of them.

Maybe the dumb schmuck made a pass at that curvy brunette. Whatever Angelus was asking, he apparently didn’t like the answer he got because the fledgling’s nose was now smashed, swollen and bleeding against the bar. With any luck, he would just dust the poor bastard and leave without doing any damage.

Even though Angelus had started a bar fight the last time he was here, denying this guy access was just as impossible as trying to keep the Slayer outta the joint. That’s why Willy had hired himself a bouncer to keep the regular riff-raff in line whenever Miss Fancy Pants got it into her head to show up. It also worked for times like these when someone with a rep strolled in like he owned the place.

Sometimes, it was just easier to let things happen. This would probably be over in less than a minute. “Don’t get anything on the barstools that can’t be cleaned up,” Willy grumbled a warning when Angel turned back to the struggling vampire within his grasp.

Deciding to look busy, Willy started to wipe up the peanuts scattered across the bar top. The kid couldn’t have been more’n a month outta the grave, he figured. Dumb as a post. Clueless. Willy had no idea what he’d done to piss off Angelus— no, Angel, or whatever, but it was probably too much to hope he’d survive to pay his bar tab.

With his face smashed hard on its surface, the young vamp pushed against the bar top using his hands for leverage, but Angel was too strong for him. The kid couldn’t break free. Willy stood far enough away to avoid getting hurt, but close enough to hear what was being said.

“I told you not to move.” Angel pointed out that he had made a brief attempt at civil conversation. That had lasted a few seconds, Willy thought, until the kid started to make a break for it. “My business with Willy can wait.”

Willy paused in mid-swipe leaving the peanuts in a small pile as he dropped the pretense of work. He waited for Angel to say more. To most around these parts, ‘business’ meant money. Openly listening now, he heard Angel tell the kid, “But it looks like you’ve got the answers I need.”

“Forget it, dude.”

In addition to keeping him pressed against the bar, Angel twisted an arm behind him almost to the breaking point. A painful grunt caused Willy to squirm as he watched. “Where are Spike and Drusilla?”

“I-I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

Willy cringed. The fledge was not only an idiot, he was a bad liar. As usual, Willy had some intel, but he wasn’t planning to give it away. Best to wait and see if the kid coughed anything up or got dusted and then he’d consider negotiating a deal.

Angel grabbed a handful of hair, yanking the vampire up in his seat. He pulled at a medallion hanging around his throat until the thin roped chain snapped. He held it up for closer inspection. Willy leaned in, too, simply noting that it looked old.

“This is one of a kind and it belongs to Spike.” Willy nodded in agreement. He had seen Spike wearing that. Not that either of the vampires seemed to notice or care what he thought. “So if you want to walk away from here, I suggest you tell me how you got this and where I can find him.”

“Spike wh-who?” The stuttered question preceded a painful cry as Angel pressed down on his arm, twisting it nearly to the breaking point. The fledgling pleaded with the crowd, but they simply stared back, eager for bloodshed. “C’mon dudes. Kick his ass. You can take him.”

Angel glanced over his shoulder, staring down the demon patrons, full gameface in place. They didn’t budge much to Willy’s relief. The last thing he needed was another bill for renovation of the bar. Replacing a table or two was one thing. An all out fight would rip the place apart.

Satisfied that they were not going to make any stupid moves, Angel smashed the other guy back down on the bar. Blood spurted from his broken nose. That had to hurt. Better him than me, thought Willy, recalling he was the one Angel said he had come to talk to.

“No help there,” a sadistic twist formed on Angel’s lips. “Now start talking or I’ll show you the real meaning of pain.”

The fledgling shook his head, a panicked look in his eyes red-rimmed from too much drink. “I ain’t a snitch. Find ‘em yourself.”

A snort sounded from Krognfer, the demon sitting on the next bar stool. One of Willy’s regulars, he was calmly sipping at his beer and snacking on the specialty of the day: deep-dish beetles, while keeping his third eye on the action.

Angel obviously was not planning to take no for an answer. “Mind if I borrow this?”

Grabbing the demon’s fork, Angel flipped it and caught it again, bringing it down hard on the vampire’s hand, the tines lodged in the fleshy space between his bones. Then he pushed back on it so that the bones separated just enough to create excruciating pain.

When the vampire’s scream died down to a whimper, Angel calmly began again, “Now I’m asking you one last ti—”

A huge hand came down on Angel’s shoulder and spun him around. A deep bass voice sounded somewhere above his head. “Willy said he don’t want trouble.”

Willy gasped as the bouncer’s balled up fist hurtled toward Angel’s face. Waving his hands in the air, he tried to signal him to stop, but it was too late. He had not intended for the bouncer to get involved. Usually, the sheer size of the demon was enough to intimidate the most unruly customers, but when he got violent people usually ended up dead.

The ham-sized fist moved faster than expected, clipping the side of Angel’s head, and knocking him to the ground. Willy gripped the edge of the bar, leaning over, eyes wide with shock. He hoped the blow had knocked the vampire out because if it hadn’t…., “Oh that ain’t good.”

Angel lay sprawled across the floor. Fully conscious, he glared up at the demon that was almost seven feet tall and built like a steamroller. The customers here at Willy’s had given him a nickname. It emerged on a growl. “Back off, Tiny.” The mountainous demon was anything but.

Without answering, Tiny moved to stand between Angel and the vampire he had been questioning. But the sudden safety net he provided gave the younger vamp a false sense of security. With a grunt of pain, he pulled the fork from his flesh, dropped it and stepped out to taunt Angel. “Not so tough now, are ya?”

Ignoring the fledgling’s remarks and his still-healing injuries, Angel rose to his feet, standing far enough away that he did not have to crane his neck up to meet Tiny’s determined gaze. “Out of the way. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Laughter welled within the crowd. They obviously thought Tiny could take him. Angel had news for them. When the big bouncer failed to give way, he used his speed to move around him. A powerful kick sent the demon hurtling forward. He landed on a table, the legs giving way toppling table, its contents and the demon to the floor.

With a gasp, the vampire he had been interrogating decided to make a run for the door. Angel grabbed him as he went past, tossing him around so that he crashed against the front of the bar landing haphazardly across several empty bar stools. “Come up with an answer, yet?”

“Sp-Spike, yeah,” was all he got out before Tiny returned to make another grab at Angel. “It rings a bell. English guy, nutty girlfriend?”

Ducking under the beefy arms that swooped out to envelop him, Angel slid down to the ground and kicked the demon’s feet out from under him. The big brute wobbled until he fell flat on his ass sending a shockwave out to the surrounding tables.

With a smirk, Angel turned back to his main quarry, jerking the vampire up by his collar. He sat him up on the barstool, while keeping an eye on Tiny’s struggle to return to his feet from the periphery of his vision. It did not take him as long as expected.

“I’m…,” Angel executed a roll across Tiny’s broad back while he was still hunched over placing a tight choke hold around his neck, “listening.”

“Um, it was a few nights ago.”

With a roar, the demon turned his upper body one way and then the other trying to shake Angel loose. He held on, tightening his grasp until he felt the struggling slowly start to diminish. “Go on,” he ordered through clenched teeth.

“There was a poker game in the back room.” The young vamp’s eyes went wide as they watched Tiny’s lips and face slowly turning blue. “This Billy Idol wannabe strolls in, says his name is Spike like that’s supposed to mean something.”

Willy coughed, “The kid is new. Give him a break. And try not to kill my bouncer. I paid good money for him.”

Releasing his hold, Angel let Tiny go. The demon flopped to the floor unconscious causing groans to sound from the audience. “Then maybe you should help the kid out, Willy. Between the two of you, I think it’s a good bet that you have all of the information I’m looking for.” 

46:     Trinity Baptist Church Cemetery, Eastside, Sunnydale

At this time of night the ride from the hospital to the ruins of Trinity Church took only ten minutes. There was little traffic once they passed through the downtown area. Giles normally came to a full halt at every stop sign and traffic signal, but the constant stream of questions coming from his passengers had him on edge.

“No, I do not know what kind of demon attacked Cordelia,” but described it to Buffy in answer to her question. “However, I did get quite a good look.”

Xander leaned in from the back seat. “So why aren’t we back at the library? We should be hitting the books, doing the research, looking for clues.”

Glancing at him through the rearview mirror, he could see anger and concern apparent on Xander’s face. To some degree, they all felt the same way. “We will,” he promised. “First, it is necessary to complete our work on the obelisk.”

It was faster to finish their task at the cemetery than to let Willow and Xander go back to the library on foot. Giles added, “Once we’ve secured the rubbings of the stonework, I can begin a translation. The demon mentioned the Rites of Tavrok, a vital clue.”

“How long will that take?”

“A clue to what?”

“This Tavrok guy writes stuff?”

Sliding them a look over his shoulder, Giles’ jaw tightened and he returned his attention to the road without answering.

“You said the demon was wearing a police uniform,” Willow piped up. “Why would he do that? It’s not like people wouldn’t notice creepy demon eyes or no real nose or hollow cheekbones or—”

Giles broke in as the thought occurred to him, “Perhaps the creature is able to disguise itself.” The police officer that led Karla Brewer away after the incident on Main Street had appeared human enough. His disguise was good enough to fool everyone, assuming Officer Clark was indeed a demon.

The fact was that there were a number of likely possibilities. Faith had not sensed anything at the time and tonight neither of them had noticed the name on the demon’s badge. If only they had been able to stop him before he escaped.

Capturing that demon would have saved them a lot of time and effort. For now, they were stuck following what evidence they could dig up, literally in the case of the obelisk.

Giles could see increasing evidence of minor earthquake damage the closer they got to the epicenter. Fortunately, the news crews had focused on the decimated church rather than the cemetery itself. He knew that come first light, the chances of discovery would increase and their window of opportunity would then close.

“I should be searching for that demon,” Buffy sounded frustrated, antsy at being cooped up in the car instead of out on patrol. “Someone has to know about this and I have a pretty good idea where to start.”

Giles relaxed his grip on the steering wheel recommending that they settle down. “Our priority is the obelisk. If the local authorities follow protocol, it will be moved into custody of either the university’s archeological team or the museum curator. Access will be limited if not completely cut off.”

“We get it done and then I’m outta there,” Buffy’s determination was clear. It was not that Giles felt that Buffy should not follow any lead she could find. He simply doubted she would find one. “As long as Demon Cop is out there, Cordelia is still in danger. I can’t guarantee that he won’t try to grab her again. Obviously has no idea what he’s getting into with that.”

“Yeah, why Cordelia?” Meeting Willow’s questioning gaze in the mirror, Giles admitted that he had not really thought about it. She blurted, “Don’t virgin sacrifices have to be, ah, virginal?”

That notion alone caused Buffy and Willow to giggle. Xander was not laughing. He sank into the shadows of his corner of the back seat, pressed his mouth into a straight line and blinked in owlish response. After a glance at the rearview mirror, Giles found his behavior to be rather revealing.

Though the girls might not instantly make the direct connection, it seemed apparent that Xander and Cordelia might not have gone all the way, in the vernacular. The demon disguised as Officer Clark had spoken of the Rites of Tavrok as only one part of a great undertaking. No doubt it was all intertwined with the prophecy. Giles had no knowledge of it, but he had a good idea where to look.

There was one clue within the demon’s rhetoric that he had understood. At least, he had a rough idea of the translation. It had referred to Cordelia as one of the Varstrae, which meant untainted or untried, or as the demon referred to her in English, one of the Pure Ones.

Considering her reputation, Giles found it quite ironic.

He steered his car into a convenient spot at the empty Trinity Church Parking lot. Most of the area was already cordoned off as a disaster zone dangerous to the public.

Virgin or not, it was intriguing that Cordelia Chase would be among the intended victims of the prophecy. The odds seemed dismally small, but then again, this was hardly the first time she had been the target of some sort of trouble. Willow’s snippy words might have been in jest, but they made him realize that the potential sacrifices might not be random at all. Instead of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, fitting whatever scenario the Scroll of Septarius described, there might actually be a reason they were chosen.

What in the world would these demons and vampires want from Cordelia Chase? Other than the obvious, he thought with an angry flush heating his neck. He could not stop the errant thought of her wrapped up in Angel’s embrace. Giles did not like it in the least, but short of locking Cordelia into a chastity belt—equipment that in hindsight should be requisite for slayers, too—he knew that he had no influence over either of them. 

A right to an opinion was quite a different matter of point. He had those aplenty.  

47:     Mercy Hospital, Westside, Sunnydale

Holding the pillow speaker in hand, Cordelia jabbed the nurse-call button for the third time. The voice at the other end held an audible sigh though the words were polite enough. “I’m sorry, Miss Chase. I’ve already spoken to your doctor about an early release, but he thinks it’s necessary that you stay until he makes rounds again in the morning.”

Bev and Faith listened in as Cordelia assured her, “But I’m fine,” hoping to convince her that was the case.

The nurse gave her the option of signing out AMA, which she explained meant she would be leaving Against Medical Advice. Cordelia was about to jump at the chance when she felt Bev’s hand on her arm. She glanced up to find her grandmother looking worried, shaking her head.

“You’re staying right here.” Her no-nonsense tone suggested that Cordelia should not try to argue against it. “That’s what the doctor wants. That’s what’s going to happen.”

Stunned for a moment, Cordelia realized that it had been a very long time since anyone in her family actually told her that she could not do something she wanted to do. It was an odd feeling that gripped her, stirring confusion and the notion that she should comply simply because Bev’s concern was genuine.

There was a click on the speaker and then silence. Apparently, her nurse was going to let her grandmother talk her into this, but neither her RN nor Bev knew what Angel was getting into. Cordelia could admit to herself that Angel could kick ass with the best of them. The thought of watching him in action even sent a little thrill up her spine, but there was dread, too.

She did not want him going into this alone. What if Spike was fully recovered? Dru was still dangerous, even though Cordelia doubted she would try to kill Angel. She had other interests. Boffing Angel was probably one of them. Maybe that’s what bothered Cordy the most.

“You don’t understand,” Cordelia huffed, tossing the speaker away so that it hung from its cord alongside the bed. “It’s not safe out there. Angel—”

“Seems like the type who can handle himself just fine.” Bev’s answer elicited a soft snort from Faith who stood near the door, feet planted and arms akimbo as if expecting Cordelia to make a break for it. “The meteor shower is already over. Other than a little aftershock or two from that earthquake, things are back to normal.”

Cordelia struggled with the notion of telling her grandmother that she was concerned about things that went bump in the night. Blurting out that Angel was a vampire and that his so-called relatives were blood-sucking maniacs probably was not a good idea. Although Bev did not fluster easily, Cordy did not want to burst the bubble just yet.

Catching Faith’s gaze, she sent a silent plea for some help convincing Bev to get her out of here. “Forget it, Cor. I like my ass just where it is.”

“That’s right,” Bev caught on instantly. “Angel would want you to follow doctor’s orders and he did ask Faith to stay here to keep you company. He obviously cares a great deal about you.”

Her heart raced in response to Bev’s romantic notions. Telling her that Angel was just a friend was a waste of breath. Bev had drawn her own conclusions and now there was no convincing her otherwise. Cordelia knew she was right to an extent, at least about the caring part.

Angel might have a ton of Buffy issues, but she did not doubt that he thought of her as a friend. There was attraction, Cordelia knew. Being aware of the fact that Angel looked at her in a certain way just made him a guy, an undead guy, but still a guy.

It was just that she got lost in his kiss. The feelings he had stirred up were like none she had ever felt before, even with Xander. She had wanted so much more. Even now, when she was angry with him, just the memory of his touch left a craving for more contact.

“I’ll cut you a deal,” Faith stepped closer to the bed. “Doc & Bev want you to stay. Give it a rest and I’ll call B to play backup for Angel.”

Reluctantly, Cordelia agreed. Even though the idea of Buffy patrolling with Angel made her curl her nails into her palms, she would rather have a Slayer with him than have him go it alone. Only one problem with the plan. “You’ve got no way to call her. The phones here in the room don’t get calls after 9pm and you won’t get a return call at a pay phone.”

Bev suggested, “What about the phone at the nurses’ station?” She looked a little confused as to why it was necessary for anyone to accompany Angel if he was just checking up on his family.

Knowing that Faith was not likely to bring up details to Buffy in such a public area, Cordy hoped that she would give up the idea. “You could always go yourself.”

“I’m staying.”

Yeah, no surprise there, Cordelia sighed, trying not to sound disappointed that her plans for a jailbreak were stifled prematurely. Well, it was worth trying.

Faith reached into her back pocket and pulled out a small Motorola flip phone. Frowning, Cordelia knew that it was one of the most expensive models costing nearly a thousand bucks, and only recently on the market. No longer in the position to pay for a cell phone of her own, she wondered how Faith could afford it.

“New phone?”

“Nifty, huh?” Faith flipped it open and punched in a series of numbers. Explaining, “I paged her. It may take her a while to get to a phone.”

As she pocketed the phone again, Cordelia asked where she got it. Being all mysterious about it, Faith shrugged, her cheeks dimpling with her smile. “A friend.”

“Oh?”

Faith shifted back from the bed, closer to the door again. Pointing to a sign prohibiting cell phone use, she said, “I’d better wait down the hall,” meaning that she knew better than to talk to Buffy about patrol in front of Bev.

As soon as the door closed behind Faith after her hasty exit, Cordelia turned back to her grandmother. That same worried expression emphasized the tiny wrinkles around her eyes and the soft crease furrowing her brow. “What’s going on? I’m old, not stupid.”

Now that they were alone, Bev had her cornered. “There’s stuff, but nothing you need to worry about.”

“It’s more than checking up on Angel’s family,” Bev guessed rightly. She moved her hand to cover Cordelia’s, which was still balled up tightly. “I can tell something is wrong.”

Bev had good instincts, and asked if Angel was mixed up in something dangerous. He seemed like the tall, dark mysterious type dressed in that leather coat of his, but it was more than just his sense of fashion. Her questions were born of concern, Cordy knew.

Opening up her hand, Cordelia threaded her fingers through her grandmother’s, subconsciously noting the fragile sensation of her fingers and the smooth texture of her skin. Their eyes mirrored each other’s being so alike, cloudy with concern.

“Did something else happen tonight that I should know about, a reason that you are so upset with Angel?”

“No,” Cordelia rushed to assure her that whatever scenario she was imagining did not take place. “Angel’s a good guy. Really. I…we…he kissed me tonight and had the nerve to compare me to his ex-girlfriend.”

Quirking an eyebrow, Bev reacted surprised, but said nothing. Cordelia struggled for a response. She did not like the idea of lying to her grandmother, but what could she say? Angel’s eccentric relatives were from out of town and they needed to be watchdogged closely. Tonight a demon had marked her as a sacrifice to its god. And, by the way, the hot guy you think is my boyfriend is a vampire who happens to have a soul.

Not gonna happen.

“We haven’t known each other very long.” Though, in some ways, Cordelia felt like it was forever. “I wish things had been different, y’know.”

Bev nodded, “Me too,” looking a little puzzled by the turn in the conversation.

“You’re the only normal thing in my life right now,” Cordelia explained with a soft hitch in her voice. “I don’t want that to change.”

Rebar and breakups, tax evasion and prison, losing everything, and now demony death threats made her want to sign up for another life. It was almost frightening that Bev meant so much to her so quickly.

Just like Angel, the thought whispered in her head. 

48:     Kingman's Bluff Cemetery, Westside, Sunnydale

The door crashed against the stonework propelled there by a powerful kick. Dust and spider webbing flew up from crevasses filtering the moonlight that beamed into the candlelit space of the small mausoleum. An old family crypt, a rarity amongst the common gravestones at Kingman’s Bluff, held three carved stone coffins.

Angel stepped in, his body looming large against the doorframe. The dust slowly cleared. His eyes adjusted immediately to the change in the light, spotting Dru standing in front of a gaping hole in the floor. Earthquake damage had opened up some kind of cavern below.

Pale in the candlelight, her eyes glittered and a knowing smile played upon her blood-red lips. Gleefully, she clapped her hands and then twirled around at the edge of the precipice careless of the danger, arms opened wide. “Daddy’s here!”

Spike’s voice echoed up from the cavern, “Like I bloody well didn’t guess.”

“You’re late,” scolded Drusilla sliding a glance toward the stone coffin where her latest victim lay. Peeking up at Angel with a guileless expression, she explained the dead guy’s presence. “The naughty man shouldn’t roam around the bluffs at night.”

The scent of blood was thick in the air. Drusilla had obviously had her fill. The fact that she brought her victim back to the crypt suggested that Spike might not be back to par. His mouth watered at the tantalizing scent, but his stomach twisted at the disgust he felt because of it.

Grabbing Dru by the elbow, he hauled her away from the rocky opening. She let out a little growl and moved even closer despite the barely contained fury on his face. “I’m not here for dinner,” Angel pulled her hand away from his inseam. He released his tight grasp on her wrist, his hand moving up to her face forcing her to meet his gaze. “This is where you tell me what you’re after. I want to know exactly what you said to Cordelia.”

A naughty giggle sounded in her throat. “Just a little girl talk, is all.”

“You threatened her, Dru, frightened her.” Angel remembered the look on Cordy’s face. Hell, it had frightened him, too. Drusilla had plenty of time to kill Cordelia if that was her plan. There was something more going on here. “Tell me what the hell you said. Do it now. I’m already more than a little pissed off.”

“Oh, I can tell.” The wicked glint in those big doe eyes of hers only strengthened. She leaned into him again, her mouth up close to his ear as she whispered, “I promised to show her what pleases you.”

Angel jerked away from her, stepping back to stare at her expression. Dru wasn’t Darla. Lies did not simply spring from her lips. Her words were often shrouded by confusion, but she always spoke the truth. He was too stunned to ask why, but the question was all too apparent.

Standing in place, Dru lifted her head to look at the ceiling of the crypt. There was nothing but darkness overhead. She took hold of her long skirt, swishing it back and forth, turning slowly in a circle. Facing him again, Dru looked down, eyes dazed, but not from dizziness.

“I followed the stars home,” she said, “to you. They sing of dangers too terrible to name. When I see you, I see her. I see death, a future without happiness, but for me.”

Perhaps Drusilla had seen something involving the current crisis and their mission to put a stop to this demonic god’s arrival. He kept silent despite the need to demand what she knew about Cordelia’s connection to this prophecy.

“It surprises you, the pull she has on your heart. You want her,” there was a hint of accusation followed by a curl of her thin red lips. “The Slayer fades from your dreams. She is no longer the face you see.”

It did not matter that Dru was right, Angel admitted. He did want Cordelia. When he closed his eyes, hers was the face that fueled his fantasies. No amount of self-derision, lecturing, or meditation seemed to change that. Now he had the taste of her on his lips, knew the fire that stirred within him in response to hers. Denying it was not going to change a thing.

“You’re not to go near her,” he growled. If it was jealousy fueling Dru’s efforts, the danger to Cordelia was even greater, especially since it appeared there was not going to be a way to convince her she was mistaken.

He had staked Darla when Buffy’s life was on the line. The enormity of his actions still caused him pain. She had made him, damned him to this existence, but sending her into an eternity of hell brought no satisfaction. To save Cordelia, Angel knew that he would make any sacrifice necessary.

Drusilla closed the small gap between them, wrapped her arms around his waist, snuggling against his chest. He moved his hands to her thin shoulders, prepared to push her away. Angel knew he would stake her if he had to, no matter that he was the cause of her death and subsequent rise into darkness and insanity. Guilt gnawed at him.

He let his hand run down the length of her loose hair, soothing her when he was the one in need of it. Angel could deal with her jealousy. He could try to ignore his growing feelings for Cordelia. What he couldn’t dismiss was that Drusilla had seen all of this in a vision. “You saw death?”

Sounding like a frightened child she whispered, “The blood, it calls to me.”

“Who’s death, Dru?” He needed to hear it from her lips. Had she seen Cordelia’s death? The questions raced through his head too jumbled to make their way to his lips. Closing around a fistful of hair, Angel yanked her back, his eyes rimmed with gold. “Tell me what—?”

Spike cut him off, suddenly standing at his side. “Get your hands off Dru. You can’t touch her. Don’t want you touching her.”

Realizing that he had been so caught up with what Drusilla was saying that he hadn’t noticed Spike climbing out of the cavern, Angel angrily let go pushing the vampiress into Spike in order to take up a better position. “I’ll do more than that if Dru doesn’t give me some answers.”

“Here about your little kitten?” Spike chortled as he moved Dru into a safer spot. She only moved in close behind him, her eagerness obvious. Praising Spike for coming to her defense, she winked at Angel as her lover continued to bait him. “Got claws, that one. Tasty bit by the scent of her. Must be nice curling up with that warm little pu—”

“Don’t say it,” warned Angel. “I didn’t come here for you, Spike. Those bruises will be nothing next to what you’ll get if you get anywhere near Cordy.”

Every murderous instinct inside him rose up straining for release. He had more than enough reason to kill Spike. Not that he should need one. Cordelia’s voice sounded in his head, ‘Hello, soulless vampire’. The justification was there if he went for it.

“I’m not planning on shagging your chit, Peaches. Don’t get so testy.” Spike took out a pack of cigarettes and a silver lighter from his back pocket. Lighting one, he took a long drag, clearly giving Angel a chance to bite back. Spike would just as soon fight as not, but Angel wasn’t taking the bait.

He ignored the smoke blown in his face as he stood nose to nose with Spike. “Get out of Sunnydale. Leave tonight.”

“Dru says we’re stayin’,” Spike shrugged as if he had no choice in the matter. He didn’t, really. “She’s got this thing about seeing to your happiness. Says we’ll all pay for it if that cuddly pet of yours dies. Considerin’ that you almost sucked the whole bleedin’ world into hell the last time you didn’t get your way, I think I’ll let the bint live.”

Scowling, Angel’s jaw clenched tight. Only a thin line of control kept him from crushing Spike’s nose with his fist. “Just stay the hell away from Cordelia. That goes for both of you.”

“Blood and death: that is all I see.” Drusilla nuzzled her cheek against Spike’s shoulder, a pout on her lips. “Blood will spill. Death will bind us.”

“Dammit, what does that mean? Give me some details.” Fear resounded in his voice. Angel saw the glint of satisfaction in Spike’s blue eyes, but he ignored it as he focused on Dru. She had to have the answers. Getting them out of her in some coherent form was the challenge.

Slowly, Drusilla detached herself from Spike’s weak embrace to saunter in his direction, a look of fear and awe masking her face. “Love her, my Angel. For if not, her path will set the darkness free.”  

49:     Kingman's Bluff Cemetery, Westside, Sunnydale

Angel emerged from the dusty confines of the crypt serving as Spike & Dru’s lair. Though a dreary hole in the ground was just what he expected of Spike who had only commented that the crypt was a fixer-upper, it did not have enough velvet and lace to suit Drusilla’s taste. He doubted they would stay there long.

A soft rustle caught his attention, head cocking in the direction of the subtle shift of footsteps along the cropped grasses in the cemetery. Staring in to the fog that had rolled in over the bluffs encompassing the grounds in a knee-high mist, Angel saw movement ahead. A shadowy figure slipped closer and even superior night vision failed to breach the gloom.

For a split second, his senses warned of danger. A tingle spawned by an age-old instinct. Then recognition hit even before proximity and the moonlight revealed the intruder’s identity, Buffy. The tension remained. Her expression held purpose. This was no routine patrol. No coincidence that she had crossed his path tonight.

“So this is where Spike hangs out,” Buffy twirled her stake and tapped it against her leg. “A little low-rent compared to the factory, but harder to track down.”

“You were looking for Spike?”

Aghast, Buffy answered, “No, you actually. Willy wasn’t very talkative tonight. He seemed upset about his bouncer getting into a fight. So I had a little stake-to-heart chat with some vamp at the bar.”

Surprised that the vampire he had questioned stayed at Willy’s, Angel looked for confirmation, “Broken nose?” If so, the kid was having a rough night. A smidgeon of guilt settled in his gut.

She nodded. “That’s the one. I don’t think he likes you, by the way. He was more than willing to tell me where to find you.”

Yes, Angel figured he probably thought she was trying to track him down to slay him. The fledgling obviously was not up on Sunnydale gossip. “You found me. Now we’re leaving.”

“What about them?” Buffy jabbed her thumb in the direction of the crypt, sensing them inside. “I thought—”

Angel walked past her, forcing Buffy to follow. “Let them be.”

“Seriously?”

“Don’t ask questions,” Angel picked up his pace away from the crypt toward the outer edge of the cemetery. “Just stay out of their way.”

Stunned by his words, Buffy pointed out, “That sounds like a nice way of telling me to shut up and mind my own business.”

He was asking a lot without giving Buffy details. Angel knew she was going to push for more, but he could not tell her everything. Not when Dru’s vision involved his desire for Cordelia and seemingly the likelihood of Angelus’ return.

Still trailing after him, she followed up with, “Not that this version is much nicer. I ought to be in their face, not giving them free reign of Sunnydale. The last time those maniacs were in town, they weren’t exactly model citizens.”

Stopping, Angel let her catch up with him. She deserved something in the way of a response. “This is about Cordelia. It ties into the prophecy and has something to do with the reason she was chosen as a sacrifice.”

“Okay,” she looked alert and thoughtful, “I’m listening.”

“Drusilla came here to warn me, to share her vision of the trouble ahead. Buffy, if I don’t follow through with this, Cordelia is going to die.”

Buffy frowned, “That just sounds like Spike making threats. I should—,” she half-turned around to head back toward the crypt. Angel grabbed her arm, holding her in place.

For a moment, Buffy looked ready to fight. Then the resistance against his hold relaxed until she stood quietly beside him. Angel recognized that this was merely a standoff and not acquiescence to his demand. He knew that if Buffy caught either Spike or Drusilla taking one misstep, especially if it involved a human life, their existence would be forfeit as far as she was concerned.

One more reason not to let her enter that crypt was the recently drained corpse lying in plain sight on the floor. For now, he needed Drusilla in one piece. There might be more to discover about her vision and Cordelia’s role in the prophecy. Spike would have to be there to keep Dru in check. Whether he liked it or not, they were going to be in town for the duration.

As the mist swirled at their feet, a long silence stretched between them. Once, this kind of quiet enhanced their connection to each other, bonded them closer, but now the void was filled with suspicion and doubt, secrets.

“Sooooo, subject change?” Buffy searched for something to say, but all she could think about was the fact that Angel was so concerned about Cordelia that he was willing to let Spike & Drusilla get away scot-free. “Cordelia has a grandma. That’s a surprise.”

Angel started walking and Buffy fell into step beside him. When he said nothing, she prompted him again, “Not to you, though. You brought her to the hospital.”

Grunting an acknowledgement, Angel knew that she was fishing for information that Cordelia was not prepared to share. Buffy took a roundabout way of getting to the point and then finally asked, “How come you knew about Grandma Bev and we didn’t?”

“Cordy trusts me,” he answered noting the stung response. That implied Cordelia did not trust them. Perhaps that was true to a degree, at least with something so personal.

Until now, he had not considered that implicit trust. Considering the lack of it that first night back with the Scoobies when she had poked him in the gut with a stake, and then warned him against snacking on her neck, things had taken quite a turnaround.

“Oh,” the tiny sound emerged from her throat. Awkwardly, Buffy tried to shift the topic again. “I take it Bev doesn’t know. About you being…”

“A vampire?” The way her voice trailed off made Angel realize that she still had a hard time admitting it to herself. “No, she doesn’t.”

Buffy stopped at the edge of the blacktop leading away from the cemetery. She stared off into the distance as if checking for traffic. The mist was thin here, too light to cause a problem with seeing on-coming cars. The road was empty. Angel asked her what was on her mind.

“The picnic was a cover-story for Bev, right?” Buffy guessed wrong. Even as she said it, there was doubt in her eyes, “Just a way to explain why Cordelia was out on patrol.”

He could not help but smile at the memory of Cordelia feeding him little samples of tasty foods. Or the way her pupils dilated and her pulse quickened as she watched him move through the standard forms of Tai-Chi.

“That’s right.” The lie easily passed his lips without a shred of guilt. There would be no sharing of those memories. Angel wanted to keep them to himself. It was curious that Buffy was taking such an interest in what Cordy and he were doing while on patrol.

Silence won out again as they walked the yellow center line of the empty access road. It led back toward the Main Street crossroad. The subject changed again, but once more Cordelia was the topic of conversation as Buffy voiced concerns about Cordelia going out on patrol.

“I’m thinking it’s too dangerous.”

Buffy’s arguments were compelling. They were not far off his line of thinking. If it was just Drusilla’s mysterious threat, he could deal with it, but his childe had seen a future filled with blood and death. He could not easily protect Cordy unless she was with him. Buffy and Faith had duties of their own to perform. Though he trusted them to guard her, it was not the same as being there.

Unless, of course, he was the cause of the blood and death Drusilla predicted.

“One step at a time. We’ll deal with patrol when it comes up. Cordy isn’t ready for it.” Though he made it sound simple enough, Angel was not naive enough to think Cordelia would make it that easy. If it was up to her, she would have been here to give Drusilla a piece of her mind. Then it occurred to him, “Cordy sent you here, didn’t she?”

“No,” Buffy answered quickly. “It was Faith. She paged me.”

Angel was surprised. His words stumbled a bit, “Faith, right.”

Still frowning, Buffy suggested, “So, umm, I figure we should try to track down this Demon Cop guy. We should start back at Shady Hill.”

His first instinct was refusal, but Angel bit back the words. Going there with Buffy seemed wrong, especially after throwing her name in Cordy’s face after their kiss. Just the thought of it made him want to find a dark corner to sit and brood, but there was no time for such self-absorption.

The danger to Cordelia was real, albeit cloaked in prophecy. He was not going to let anyone sacrifice her to their cause. Determination alone was not enough. Angel needed help and Buffy was offering it. Unhesitatingly, he suggested, “Let’s cut across Maple Court. We’ll get there faster.”

50:     Early the Next Morning, Mercy Hospital, Westside, Sunnydale

“There’s a conspiracy at this hospital.” Cordelia kicked her covers toward the end of the bed. “When I say I’m fine, the doctor is supposed to believe me. Helloooo! Faith, did you hear a word of what I’m saying?” 

Looking a little distracted, Faith stopped rhythmically tapping her fingers on the wooden arm of the chair. “Doc is holding you captive.”

“That’s right!”

The room door opened and Buffy slipped through closing it behind her. “What? So they aren’t going to release you this morning?” She had obviously overheard Cordelia’s rant.

“No,” Cordelia huffed. “Dr. Frumpypants stopped by at the crack of dawn to tell me that 23-hour Observation meant I actually have to stay here that long.”

Faith interjected, “But since she came in after midnight, it’ll be tomorrow morning before she gets her release papers.”

“Anything wrong?”

“No,” snapped Cordy.

“Yes,” Faith countered just as quickly. “That debris clipped her in the head. She’s just a little…,” Faith sounded out a cuckoo whistle, “cranky this morning. The doc figured the world could use a break before letting her back out there.”

Hazel eyes narrowed at the sight of Faith’s dimpled smile. As much as she hated to admit it, her head still ached. Sleep hadn’t come easy last night. In fact, she’d been awake most of the night talking to Faith about one thing or another. Mainly Angel and her hope that Buffy found him before he ended up in a dustbin.

Before Cordy could question Buffy about it, she told them, “I thought I’d relieve Faith for a couple of hours before I have to be at school.”

“Yeah,” Faith agreed, “I could use a shower and some clean clothes.”

Cordelia’s eyes widened at the prospect of a couple of hours alone with Buffy. Just great. Not. Buffy flopped down in the other chair, stretching out her legs. She was wearing a cheap knock-off that did nothing for her figure, or significant lack thereof. Cute shoes, though. Glancing down at her orange hospital gown, Cordy figured she would just keep her opinion to herself for now.

Besides, she had more important subjects to cover. “Did you find Angel before he got to Spike and Drusilla?”

“No.” Buffy’s answer caused Cordelia’s chest to tighten up as she held her breath. Faith paused by the door, turning back around to listen. “He was just leaving the crypt when I got there. Kingman’s Bluff.”

“He’s okay, right?” Cordelia’s fingers curled into the pillow she pulled onto her lap. “You don’t look gloomy or depressed enough for it to be bad though you do have dark bags under your eyes.”

Gaping, Buffy got up and walked over to the window where there was enough of a mix of light and shadow to produce a decent reflection. Whining a little, “We were up most of the night.”

“Oh,” and Cordelia’s heart sank at the flood of images that followed. She could still hear Angel’s words ‘After all, you’re not Buffy,’ echoing in her head. “Sounds cozy.”

“They were patrolling, Cor,” Faith pointed out what should be obvious. “I take it Angel dusted those two.”

A little pause followed before Buffy admitted, “No, actually. He warned me off.”

“What?” Cordelia heard Faith’s voice overlaying hers.

Buffy shrugged. “He said it had something to do with Cordelia. That Drusilla saw… well, whatever she saw, it was bad.”

Cordelia wondered if Drusilla told Angel everything she had said back at Trinity Church. ‘Heartache, pain and death will be your prize, sweet kitten.’ Drusilla had shared a vision of that future, one that frightened her. That was only a part of it. The rest was all about Angel.

Each time she saw him, Cordelia felt less and less petrified over the notion of possessing the ability to elicit a passionate response from him. No matter what Angel said after that kiss, he was lying his ass off. She knew when a guy enjoyed kissing her and he was so into it. Just the thought of it made her tingle, wanting more. Those cool lips demanded a response, insistent, urgent, needy, and with just the right amount of tongue. He kissed her with his whole being, mouth and hands, and needy soul. Holding her close with big, skillful hands, stroking her body closer.

Yeah, he was definitely into her. That’s what scared the hell out of her, thanks to Dru’s little chat about the future.

Angel might be into her, but he was did not want to be. He practically barked Buffy’s name afterward, telling her that their kiss had meant nothing in comparison. Liar. He had to be lying. It should not matter. After all, Cordelia Chase was so not interested in Buffy’s cast-offs even if this one could make her melt.

So why did the idea that Angel had spent the rest of last night with Buffy cause her stomach to twist into knots?

“Angel wouldn’t tell me much,” Buffy rambled on. “So we ended up going after the Demon Cop that attacked you. Patrolling together was kinda like old times.”

“Seems like Angel was thinking about old times a lot yesterday,” Cordelia slowly folded her arms over each other, holding on. She glanced at Faith who frowned, but knew what she meant.

If anything, Cordy’s words brought a hopeful little smile to Buffy’s face. “Really? We didn’t talk about us, but sometimes you don’t need to say much, y’know. It was good, though.”

“So you got the demon?” Faith’s impatience was clear.

Buffy shook her head, “No. The goodness was just getting back into old habits.”

“Some habits need to be kicked.”

The two Slayers were glaring at each other. Cordelia sat back on the raised head of her hospital bed and watched their silent little power struggle. Buffy obviously did not like being told what to do, especially when it concerned Angel. A confused pout appeared, vanishing quickly as she told them, “We tracked the demon for a while, but lost the trail.”

“It looked like a man,” Cordelia pointed out, “until his face melted away.”

“Giles said he was in a police uniform. He thinks he’s the same creep that took Karla Brewer,” Buffy explained.

Faith reminded them that their trip to the Police Department had turned up zilch. “The cops don’t even have anyone named Clark on their payroll.”

“Whoever he is, he says I’m supposed to be sacrificed,” Cordelia reminded. “I’d appreciate a little slayage before it gets to that point. Feel free to rip his head off while you’re at it.”

“There’s still time.” Buffy sat down again. “The sacrificing usually happens at the end and Giles says that’s weeks away.”

Cordelia really felt comforted… not. “Gee, thanks.”

“No problemo.” Missing or ignoring the sarcastic little huff following Cordelia’s words, Buffy advised her, “You’ve just gotta keep things in perspective.”

51:     That Night. . .

“Last one,” Cordelia delicately filed Faith’s pinky fingernail into a smooth oval as she sat cross-legged on the edge of her bed. The back of the Slayer’s chair was positioned flush with it, Faith straddling the seat and leaning over. “Which one, Sunset Red or Volcano?”

Cordelia’s impromptu salon session came at the end of a long day. There was only so much television and gossiping the two of them could cover, especially since Faith was not very big on coughing up details. During the morning, Cordy had napped making up for the hours of the night when she had not slept.

She woke up when a delivery guy showed up with some flowers, a gorgeous mix of colors that brightened up the neutral tones of her hospital room. “They’re from Angel.” A little smile turned into a big grin as Cordelia confirmed her theory by opening the attached note.

“So what’s it say?” Faith was not shy about asking. “Doesn’t seem like a guy who’s got it bad for his ex if you know what I mean.”

“You were there. You heard what Angel said.” Lifting the card out of its small envelope, she stared down at the single word written there. It wasn’t even an apology, just ‘later’ as if that was some kind of threat hanging over her head. “Pfft, he didn’t even say ‘Get Well Soon’ or ‘Sorry I Was a Jerk’.” It was signed with an ‘A’ rather than his full name.

Shoving the card back into the envelope, she tossed it onto her bedside table. If he thought a bouquet of flowers was going to make up for comparing her kisses to Buffy’s then Angel had another thing coming. “It just says ‘later’ as if I don’t already expect him to come see me. Hello, I am languishing here.”

“Yeah,” Faith’s sardonic snort drew a sideways glace from Cordelia. “You got it real tough.”

Cordelia turned on her side, propping her head in her hand. She plucked at her hospital gown with the other. “Who designs these things, anyway?”

Not long after lunch, Bev came over with some of her stuff. Much to Cordy’s eternal gratitude, she discarded the dreary hospital gown in favor of an emerald green pair of silk short pajamas that came with a matching robe.

“I didn’t realize they would be quite that short,” Bev had pointed out the way the robe barely covered the top of her thighs. “Oh well, at least those young doctors will have something to brighten their day.”

Her grandmother stayed most of the afternoon until Cordelia finally reminded her that this was her Bingo Night. “Don’t stick around on my account. Faith says the gang is planning on bringing pizza and resear— school stuff over.”

It took a little more pressure, but Bev finally agreed to go. Cordelia sent her off with a warning to be home before midnight.

“I won’t turn into a pumpkin, dear.” Laughing cheerfully, Bev pointed out that she was no Cinderella.

Glancing at Faith who was no help at all, sitting there closed-mouthed with that knowing dimpled expression on her face, Cordelia told Bev, “It’s just that there’s gonna be….”

“What?”

Hmm. Good question. How did one say that there was going to be a plague of locusts in town by midnight tonight without actually saying the words ‘plague of locusts’?

“Nasty weather tonight,” Cordelia told her only to experience a sinking feeling for lying to her grandmother.

Bev opened her purse and fished around for her car keys. “Funny, but I thought the weather was supposed to be perfect for the next couple of days.”

Just going for the truth, “Well, uh, it’s actually not that kind of storm. It’s a plague of locusts. Nasty bug things,” Cordelia shuddered.

“Locusts,” Bev let out a curious huff. “Not exactly the weirdest thing I’ve seen in this town. Sounds like I should put the top up.”

Faith waited until the door closed behind Bev before commenting, “That hardly fazed her. Maybe you should rethink the part about keeping her in the dark.”

“No freakin’ way.” Cordelia was not about to go there. “I want to be able to have a conversation that doesn’t have the words demon goo or vampire dust in it.”

Rummaging through the gym bag that Bev brought, full of clothes and personal items, Cordelia pulled out her makeup bag. She flicked a look toward Faith’s nails and sing-songed, “Someone needs a manicure.”

“Somebody stake me.”

“I’ve seen walking dead with better manicures than that,” Cordy wrinkled up her nose as she took a closer look. “Angel’s hands are so…so…”

The snapping of Faith’s fingers in front of her face got her attention. “Enough with the drooling, Cor. Sheesh! Screw him.”

Thoughts about Angel were not so easily shrugged off. When Cordelia said as much, Faith gave her a hard stare. “I wasn’t saying you should. Just screw him. It’s the best cure I know to get a guy out of my head.”

Cordelia stared back, wide-eyed and helpless to prevent the flash of heat flooding her cheeks because it was all too easy to imagine. Being skin to skin with Angel was a frightfully thrilling prospect. “Angel’s cursed, a no-boner. One moment of bliss and we get Angelus, so… not a good idea.”

She started filing Faith’s nails. After a few seconds, Cordy felt her heart thudding in her chest as her friend pointed out, “For a vamp, Angel’s kind of a gentleman. Who’s to say he wouldn’t just be willing to get you off?”

Sensing the barely restrained laughter in Faith’s voice, Cordelia focused on her task. For some reason, this just was not the same as talking to Harmony or one of the other cheerleaders about the guys at school. She could run rings around them when it came to talking about this stuff.

When you did not have much practical experience, it was critical to talk a good game. So why was her tongue suddenly knotted up? A soft voice in her head suggested maybe because it actually meant something this time.

“Hellooooo, he’s a vampire.” Faith should get that being a Slayer, after all.

Faith snorted, “Did that make a difference when you had your tongue down his throat? I don’t think so. Face it Cor, the vamp is a hottie. If I thought I had half a chance, I’d love to take him for a ride.”

“Hey!” Cordelia’s head snapped up.

“Watch the nail file,” laughed Faith as she held her hands in the air narrowly avoiding being accidentally stabbed. “Just saying you should make your move now before Buffy realizes what she’s missing.”

Tugging Faith’s hand back into position, Cordelia resumed shaping her nails into smooth ovals. “Angel’s a friend. That’s all. It can’t be anything more than that.”

Cordelia finished the rest of Faith’s manicure in silence announcing, “Last one,” when she was satisfied that her friend’s fingernails no longer looked like ragged claws. “Which one, Sunset Red or Volcano?”

Faith never had a chance to answer. There was a very brief knock on the door. It swung open to reveal Buffy holding a huge smiley-face balloon with dangling blue and yellow curly ribbons, Xander carrying three pizza boxes, Willow holding what looked like a plant potted in a ceramic frog, and Giles clutching a couple of worn leather-bound books to his chest.

“We’re here to save the day!” Xander grinned widely. “Chasing boredom away. Bringing munchy goodness. Bearing gifts.”

“Hee! I like that part,” Cordelia tossed the nail care items back into her makeup bag and put it aside. “Gifts are always welcome.”

Buffy tied the ribbon onto the top bed railing. “It was this or ‘Congratulations, It’s a Girl’.” The yellow smiley balloon was humongous. “The gift shop was about to close.”

“Hence the froggy?” Cordelia asked as she took the plant and set it on the table next to Angel’s elegant bouquet. She figured the gift shop was running low on the good stuff by this time of the evening.

“No,” Willow patted the ceramic butt of the chubby frog pot, “I just thought he was cute.”

Cordelia’s eyebrow arched. “Cute? Not the word I was thinking.” At Willow’s look of confusion, she cleared it up for her, “Tacky.”

“I see you’re feeling much better,” Giles commented as he stepped in to referee any ensuing argument. None resulted. Cordelia tagged on a thank you to Willow whose frown and pout vanished.

“I feel fine,” Cordelia assured Giles when she turned her attention back to him. “The doctor is keeping me another night, though. He thought he saw something funky on one of my tests.”

Murmurs of concern sounded throughout the room. Giles asked, “Which test?”

“Some brain thing,” she waved it off. “Something about activity that shouldn’t be there which was weird. He said it might be the new tech using the machine, so he wants me to have it repeated in the morning. No big.”

“Cor, you got hit by meteor debris. That’s not exactly small potatoes,” Xander lost that usual quip in his voice sounding all too serious. He put the pizza boxes down on the end of the bed and sat on the edge, but struggled to speak further.

“Enough with the doom and gloom.” Cordelia squeezed his hand for a second and smiled, “You’ll have enough to worry about if you let my pizza get cold.”

As they gorged themselves on pizza, the group talked over Giles’ discoveries and their knowledge to date. The Watcher had found approximate matches for the demon who attempted to kidnap Cordelia. He showed her two pictographs and read out the descriptors. Though both he and Faith had seen the demon, Cordelia had an up-close and personal view.

“It doesn’t say here that he had bad breath, but trust me. Eew!”

Giles stared down at the open book she had handed back to him. “Yes, I’ll be certain to make note of that,” he commented dryly. “So it’s official. Our demon is—”

“A Crosathnam mercenary,” Angel cut off the Watcher’s revelation with one of his own as he stepped into the room closing the door behind him.

Looking a little put out, Giles closed his book. “Precisely.”

Cordelia met Angel’s gaze, holding steadily for several seconds until she started looking for signs of injury. There were none to be seen. The evidence from the meteor shower was long gone and the deep bruises from his fight with Spike had finally faded away. He looked good, very good. All she could think about was Faith’s advice.

Her body awakened instantly at the thought of it, licks of fire rushing along her chest and throat, tingles settling into an achy sensation between her thighs. It was probably too much to hope that he did not notice. So there was no use worrying about trying to hide it.

Flicking her gaze back up to his, “I thought you’d be here later.” Placing an emphasis on the last word left no doubt that she referred to his card and to his promise.

“Hey, the sun hasn’t fully set,” Buffy pointed out the potential danger. There was only a glimmer of it left along the horizon. “You were in a hurry to get here.”

“I came through the tunnels.”

Cordelia watched Buffy step closer to Angel. “What’s the rush? You already sent me flowers.”

Not that she was keeping score, but Cordy figured the look on Buffy’s face as she looked over at the gorgeous bouquet was definitely worth a few bonus points. “I thought your grandmother gave them to you.”

“Nope, Bev bought me new nail polish and the latest Cosmo.”

“Oh,” Buffy tried to sound like it did not matter, but failed miserably. Still staring at the flowers, she commented, “They’re very pretty.”

No longer attached to an IV, Cordelia climbed out of bed, not bothering with her slippers. Walking over to Angel, she stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “Thank you for the flowers.”

Before he could say anything, she turned away to ask Giles, “So what else do you know about this Chrysanthemum demon?”

“Crosathnam,” corrected Giles as he adjusted his tie. “Its unique abilities allow it to produce detailed disguises making it relatively impossible to detect. However, like most bipedal species, it is vulnerable to any weapon that is sturdy enough to pierce its hide.”

The problem was not going to be how to kill the demon. It was finding him in the first place. Angel had one suggestion, “This demon can’t be working alone. We know from our first encounter the night we found the relic that there has been an influx of demons and vampires who have come to Sunnydale for the ritual. Someone has to know more about it. I’ll start at Willy’s.”

“Um, assuming they even let you in the door,” Buffy seemed to doubt it. Cordelia looked puzzled enough that she was given an explanation. “Willy has a bouncer now. There was a fight. Angel apparently bounced him pretty hard yesterday.”

Gaping, Cordelia turned around to face Angel. “You don’t look like road kill.” She eyed him up and down again looking for any sign of injury she might have missed. 

“Should I?”

He sounded more amused than pissed off, the corner of his mouth tugging in that telltale way. “Guess not,” she shrugged casually, “considering you spared Spike & Dru their creepy unlives again.”

Any hint of a smile vanished replaced by a stern look. “We’ll talk about it later.”

“Maybe I want to talk about it now.” Cordelia had to crane her neck up they were standing so close. “I sent Buffy after you. Wasn’t a Slayer enough help?”

Angel exchanged glances with Buffy, a look that Cordelia caught, but could not explain. Though she figured it had something to do with their little walk down memory lane last night. Not knowing what they talked about or whether Angel let Buffy do more than just reminisce about old times was driving her crazy with curiosity.

Hands on her hips, she was too focused on Angel to notice the way the silky material of her pajama top strained at the top button until his eyes dropped down to her cleavage. They strayed further down to the exposed length of her smooth legs before taking the slow trek back up. He had a way of making her body tingle just by looking at it.

“Trust me, Cordy.”

Dru was the one she did not trust. There was no telling what she had said to Angel. It seemed clear that he had gone there to dust them both, to put an end to the danger they posed.

She had been afraid for him going there when he was still recovering from injuries. It did not surprise her that Angel could face down Willy’s burly bouncer without any serious injury, but those two were another story. It was not just physical danger to consider. Drusilla’s wild imaginings were uppermost in her mind.

Sending Buffy was done to protect Angel, but Cordelia had thought it would be insurance against him discovering what Drusilla had in mind. Buffy knew none of it, Cordelia was certain. If the Slayer had a hint that Dru planned to teach Cordy how to make Angel a very happy vampire, their conversation this morning would have been a lot different.

That was only the half of it, though. The rest of the vision truly scared her. The part about blood and death, demons and destruction, pain and woe made her wonder if real happiness was even something to consider. Or if it was all Drusilla’s way of hinting that Angel was about to lose his soul and take her down with him.

She had to know what Drusilla revealed to him.

“Just so you know I’m not dropping the subject,” she warned him stepping back so that she had a little more space. Only he moved right back into it. “Later—”

Her voice trailed off as Cordelia noticed Angel’s attention was focused over her shoulder where Xander, Giles and Willow were still standing. Before she could glance that way, he reached down to pick up the silk robe piled up at the foot of her bed. Wrapping it around her shoulders, Angel held it, waiting for her to put her arms through the sleeves.

Tying her belt into a bow, Angel’s icy gaze melted again as he saw the quizzical look on her face. “You looked cold,” he explained with a stuttered pause.

“Thanks,” Cordelia muttered turning slowly to find the others looking anywhere except at her. “Why do I get the feeling one of you three was staring at my ass?”

A wheezing cough sounded as Giles looked up from his open book. “Well, I assure you that it wasn’t me.”

The laughter that followed broke the building tension in the room. Giles managed to turn the conversation back to his discoveries on the Crosathnam demon, the Rites of Tavrok and details gleaned from the obelisk.

“I am very close to determining the identity of the demon god described within the prophecies,” he announced. “Several symbols on the obelisk narrow the list quite considerably.”

Angel asked several questions that made a lot of sense…to Giles, anyway. Cordy had no idea why it was important that a whosiwhatsis symbol was placed above or below the whatchamacallit one. She just found it interesting that Angel seemed so involved in the whole conversation, like he was determined to ensure that this particular Big Bad did not actually get to enjoy the apocalypse.

“Excellent,” Giles looked pleased. “I had not considered the possibility that the two symbols represented a divergence from the original form. That would mean,” he flipped through several pages of the book and mumbled his way through one or two passages, “there are only two possible candidates.”

“Go Angel,” whooped Cordy semi-enthusiastically. “Moving along now. Let’s get to the part where the evil uglies are planning to sacrifice me. Priorities, that’s all I’m saying.”

Giles no longer looked so thrilled at divulging the details of his research. “Ah, yes, well perhaps we should discuss that in general.”

“We can discuss it in plenty, too,” Cordelia insisted. “Don’t skimp on the details.”

When Giles turned pale and muttered, “Oh dear,” she started feeling a little queasy, too. Whatever news he had on the subject was not going to be pleasant.

Wavering on her feet a little, the ache in her head throbbing a bit, Cordy felt her back shored up by the hard wall of Angel’s torso. His hands were a reassuring weight against her shoulders. Her breath caught in her throat, trapped there as she waited for Giles to break whatever news he had about the demony plans for making her a sacrifice.

“The Crosathnam demon spoke of the Rites of Tavrok,” Giles told the group in general. “It is a ritual shared by a number of demon cultures that require cross-dimensional transit. Some of these creatures possess godlike powers. They can access our dimension in some partial or minimized form, attaining worshippers despite their limitations in interacting on this plane of existence.”

“Not those kind of details, Giles.” There was a little growl in Cordelia’s voice as she told him, “Skip ahead to the part about me.”

Angel’s thumbs were moving along the knotted muscles of her shoulders, slipping up to the tight cords of her neck instinctively massaging away the tension there. No one noticed his hands beneath the veil of her hair. They were all caught up in the horror that Giles was divulging and even though Cordelia heard what he was saying, it was hard not to focus on Angel’s touch.

“There are usually several victims involved in the ritual,” Giles explained with a gulp. “Karla Brewer was the first chosen. You are obviously the second.”

Willow obviously remembered details of the future parts of the prophecy. “There are three others, so five in all.”

“Why Cordelia?” asked Xander.

Buffy let out a laugh that seemed rather out of place. “Sorry,” she apologized when everyone turned to stare at her. “It’s just that I was remembering what we were talking about in the car yesterday.”

Joining in on the fun, Willow’s tittering turned into a series of little snorts. She could barely breathe as she shared the joke with Cordelia, “Y’know…virgin sacrifices,” who gave her an annoyed look.

“So, what’s your point? It’s not like I don’t qualify as sacrifice material.”

Angel was statue-still behind her obviously having understood what she meant. Great. Now everyone knew. Though his hands stilled, their comforting weight did not disappear as she thought it might.

Willow slapped a hand over her own mouth when she realized no one else was laughing. She should have left the hand in place because her jaw gaped open as soon as she let go. “Oh. Really?” Staring at Cordelia as if she had suddenly transformed into a different person, and then back at Xander who turned beet red before slinking into the corner of the room, Willow stuttered in surprise, “Gosh. I..I…You never….Wow, I…I’ll just shut up now.”

“You’re a virgin, Cor?” Grinning, Faith spoke up for the first time since the others had entered the room. She looked surprised, but not remotely judgmental.

“What’s the big deal? Is it so hard to believe that I’m just very selective?”

“No. It’s cool,” Faith shrugged. At least she was talking to her when the others all seemed incapable of putting two words together. “I was just thinking,” Cordy saw mischief dancing in Faith’s eyes as she glanced up at Angel standing behind her. “There’s one sure way to avoid being a virgin sacrifice. Find someone to pop your cherry.”

Practically leaping into action, Cordelia moved out of Angel’s gentle hold to walk across the room. She snatched the old demonology book out of Giles hands and blindly started to flip through the pages.

“I don’t think you’ll find that kind of instruction in there,” Giles held out a hand for his book, fear for its safety written on his face.

She shoved it back at him. “What am I supposed to do, hold auditions? The winner takes care of my little problem?”

“Cordy—”, she heard Angel issue a low word of caution.

Anger brewed in his eyes as she whipped around to face him. “If that’s all that’s keeping me from being sliced and diced on some demon altar, then I say Faith has the right idea. It should not be that hard to fix this. Hell, even Xander has the right equipment.”

Angel struggled with stormy emotions. She could read the subtle changes on his face and caught a glimpse of gold and amber glinting in his eyes before the warm brown depths returned. One glimpse of fury and then his face was a calm mask again making her wonder if she imagined it.

Reason returned for them both as Cordy took in long gasps of air, settling down. “Well, I wouldn’t do that.”

There was no response. Did she honestly expect Angel to volunteer? Impossible, even if he wanted to.

When the awkward silence stretched out to an uncomfortable length, Giles finally cleared his throat, taking the initiative to speak. “There is no certainty that links Cordelia’s…ah… circumstances with that of the prophecy, although it is likely the chosen sacrifices will share some common ground.”

“The chrysanthemum guy told me he needed my purity,” Cordelia pointed out. “I got the hint.”

“He referred to you as one of the Varstrae.” Giles looked intrigued by her words rather than taking them at face value. “Purity could mean many things. A virginal state is certainly one of them, but it could also refer to a purity of heart, of spirit, of something meaningful that is necessary to the ritual or to the demon for whom the sacrifice is being made.”

“So not helpful,” Cordy rolled her eyes.

Picking up his other book, Giles told her, “Now that you mention it, I think that I recall a line or two that might give us more information. Unfortunately, the text is in a dialect of ancient Sumerian that I am somewhat unfamiliar with. Some of the subtleties of the language could be lost on me.”

“Oh.” Cordy blinked at the significance of his words feeling queasy in response. Giles had actually admitted he did not know everything.

“The Watcher’s Council is sending someone to assist us,” he announced. “We are actually very close to making the discovery ourselves, but they felt it necessary.”

Buffy leapt to her Watcher’s defense, “You were doing great on your own. Why should they butt in?”

Adjusting his glasses higher onto the bridge of his nose, Giles gave her a slight smile. “If the events of the prophecy all come to pass, the effects will have worldwide impact, far more than just the Hellmouth. I am not beyond accepting a little help.”

It seemed to Cordelia that any more details were going to have to wait. Giles told her that he did not want to get into the actual descriptions of the sacrificing itself because he felt it unnecessary. He was more concerned with the reasons Cordelia had been chosen. Knowing that might provide some insight to the ritual itself and a way to forestall the fulfillment of this prophecy, he was open to looking at this problem from new angles.

“Tonight marks a significant event within the timeline of the prophecy,” Giles told them drawing confused looks from most in the room.

Xander asked, “Locusts?” The rest of his question was obvious. How were locusts in any way significant to anything other than being creepy insects?

“Not the locusts themselves, perhaps,” Giles said, “but the timeline. There is nothing within the scroll to suggest another event within the next three weeks. It bothers me,” he admitted.

Faith turned around in her chair so that she was no longer straddling it. Hearing that tone in his voice must have weirded her out as much as it did Cordy. “What’s up with that? Why nothing?”

“Maybe the scroll is missing something,” Buffy suggested only to be told that the scroll containing the prophecy was found intact.

Nibbling at her bottom lip, Willow paused to say, “It’s like the demons are waiting for a big event, storing up resources.”

Cordy followed up with, “Do demons eat locusts?” The others gave her odd looks for her seemingly random question. “They like the beetles at Willy’s place. Maybe the locusts are like energy bars or something.”

She shrugged at Buffy’s “Gross!” and Xander’s “Ugh!”

Everyone turned to Angel who simply said, “I don’t eat them.”

“Duh, vampire,” Cordelia rolled her eyes at the look of horror on his face. “Dork, no one said you did.”

Her question was not completely off base. According to Giles, “There might be some merit to your suggestions. I don’t doubt there is a reason for the length of time between events, though at this moment I have no working hypothesis for it. As for the locusts, each event is vital to the fulfillment of the overall prophecy. Whether the locusts are simply a visual sign or the snack of choice for this demon god is anyone’s guess.”

The group discussed other findings after debating the sign versus snack theory. It was getting late and the hospital operator finally announced the end of visiting hours. Giles indicated that they should leave now, but there was still time for one of the two Slayers to make a short round of the cemeteries.

“Just be home before midnight. It won’t be pleasant if you’re caught outside when the locusts arrive,” he warned them.

Buffy sighed. “I’ll stay here and watch Cordelia tonight. Faith’s been cooped up here all last night and most of today.”

“Thanks for volunteering.” Cordy did not like the way she made it sound like saving her life was a chore.

“I’ll do it, B,” Faith stood next to Cordelia. Then her cheek dimpled, “I’m sure Cor said something about giving me a pedicure.”

Cordelia slipped her a playfully murderous glance. “Slayer toes are way different than fingers. I’m guessing you wear those clunky boots for a reason.”

“Just offering,” shrugged Buffy who followed Giles toward the door. “Goodnight.”

“Sleep tight,” Xander quipped, “don’t let the locusts bite.”

Willow waved her goodbyes.

“Coming, Angel?” Buffy turned around in the open doorway fully expecting him to give her an affirmative answer. Cordelia might have enjoyed the shock on her face when he told her no if she was not so busy watching Angel himself.

“I’m giving Faith the night off,” Angel told her.

Buffy definitely did not look happy with that idea. “But the nurses won’t let you. Hospital policy—”

“Isn’t a problem,” Angel cut her off. “I took care of it. Faith needs a night off and you should be at home tonight. After all, Joyce won’t want to be alone when the locusts hit. There is no guarantee some of them won’t get inside the house.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought about that,” Buffy’s worries shifted instantly. “I guess that’s a good idea. So it’s great that you’re taking your turn standing guard.”

There was a flicker of doubt in Buffy’s eyes as Cordelia watched them saying their goodbyes. Nothing in their words or actions suggested that their patrol last night had ended with the two of them locked in a passionate embrace. She supposed Buffy would have been more than happy to share the details if that had been the case.

The angst in the air made her want to gag on it. Cordelia turned away from the sight of the pair only to find herself facing the colorful bouquet Angel had given her. The tiny cream-colored envelope lay on the table next to the flowers. Cordy picked it up and pulled the card with its single-word message into view.

‘Later’ it read.

Cordelia heard the door click and the familiar voices of her friends faded away behind it. Slowly glancing over her shoulder, she found that Angel was leaning against the door, watching her with a lazy, yet purposeful expression.

Maybe it was a silent message that his big frame blocked the only exit. If so, her body reacted as if a thousand butterflies took flight within as she gave in to sheer anticipation. Whatever he meant by it, Cordelia knew one thing with certainty.

Later meant now.

52:     Mercy Hospital, Westside, Sunnydale

A click of the door shut out the world beyond Cordelia’s hospital room. Random sounds faded: a ringing phone at the nurses station, intermittent bleeping from an IV pole, the rattling cough of a patient down the hall, and the muted voices of the night shift staff. On some level, Angel remained aware of it all, keyed in to anything out of place. 

Right now, the focus of his highly attuned senses stood only a few feet away, taut as a bowstring as she watched him watching her. If he had learned one thing about Cordelia, it was that he would not have long to wait to hear what was on her mind.

Brow arching challengingly, Cordelia’s relaxed tone belied her body language. “So this is later,” she tossed the small card bearing his message onto the tray table.

Angel silently admitted that the one-word note tortured as much as it teased. He hoped that it conveyed his intention to pick up their conversation where they left it. The flowers were simply a gift, not a method of atonement. If he was expected to eat his words, she was sure as hell going to do the same.

Having accepted the flowers, thanking him despite the potentially cryptic note attached, she did not seem half as surprised by the gesture as Buffy, who went pale and wide-eyed upon realizing the flowers came from him. Vaguely, Angel wondered at Buffy’s reaction when Cordy leaned in to kiss his cheek. Being very distracted at the time by the lingering warmth against his skin, he had neither noticed nor cared if it bothered his ex.

Being here had little to do with Buffy, but it was still difficult to push the thought of her completely out of his mind. Angel felt a knot of guilt that would not go away. The fact that he had used their relationship to get back at Cordy was contemptuous. He had dug down deep, biting back with words he instinctively knew would hurt the most, a demonic reaction for something that scraped at his all too human emotions.

Cordy had demanded that he take back what he said at Shady Hill after their kiss. He had every intention of trying to fix that, especially since it was apparent there would be no miraculous bout of amnesia to save him from doing so. However, Angel’s plans to explain his momentary insanity would not be accompanied by an apology for kissing her.

That kiss had been spontaneous and ultimately unavoidable. The tension between them had been building up like a simmering volcano. It was not one-sided attraction, but both of them had their reasons to fight it. He was too confused by the intensity of his feelings to sort out hers. On his part, their growing friendship was a source of so many positive emotions and experiences that Angel did not want to chance losing it, but when Cordelia said that the kisses meant nothing to her, that she experienced better, he knew she was lying.

Angel stalked closer without breaking eye contact, half-expecting to set off an internal defense mechanism in the form of a verbal attack. She was watchful, silently waiting for him to speak, no doubt expecting him to spill his guts by way of apologizing. She would have to hold her breath a long time for that to happen.

They had other important things to discuss, too. Not just their untimely kisses. Cordy’s safety was high on that list. The Crosathnam demon remained at large. The threat he posed was real. Angel intended to personally protect Cordelia or ensure that one of the slayers was at her side when he could not be there.

Drusilla’s words played heavily on his mind, far too much to ignore. Hinting that Cordelia had a destiny that involved him, she spoke of their closeness, new family ties, of blood & death. Just when Angel became concerned that Dru was predicting Angelus’ return, she seemed to offer him more evidence. Cordelia’s blood would spill, she had predicted with a surety he could not refute.

That was only part of what Dru told him. She had enticed him with other things from her visions or her equally vivid imagination. Angel knew that Dru had said something to Cordelia back at Trinity Church that scared her, something about him. Since then, the tension between them had become nearly palpable. If she had suggested half as much to Cordelia as she had said to him, it was no wonder Cordy had been second-guessing his every move.

“Love her, my Angel. For if not, her path will set the darkness free.”

That was his greatest fear, losing his soul, setting Angelus loose upon the world again. It all seemed within the realm of the possible if he gave into his desires. Hoarsely, he said, “I can’t,” as his grip on her arms tightened a notch.

When she leaned in closer to console him, she promised, “Oh, but you will,” only to draw further ire. Angel thrust her away, not wanting to hear more of something that meant he was going to put Cordelia in danger. Not put off by the rejection or his rough move, Dru fell to her knees, collapsing forward, reaching out to steady herself by grasping his legs.

How innocent she looked as her cheek nuzzled his groin. A slow grin appeared conveying a reminder of every intimate or wicked thing that had ever passed between them. For a moment, he thought Dru had plans to seduce him, and she did in a way, by making him listen.

Drusilla’s black lashes fanned across the curve of her alabaster cheeks. “Do what you do best. Make her yours,” she pleaded opening her eyes again to drown him in their depths. He got hard fast under the weight of her stare as if she had taken his cock in hand and dragged her wet tongue root to tip. “Let her find solace in your arms. Let her take you into her body, then again, and again, and again, and again. Until you spear her heart. Until you live inside it forever.”

The vivid picture Dru had painted was arousing as if she had tapped into his new cache of Cordelia fantasies. He pinned himself to the wall as her nails curled into his thighs, afraid to admit that he might welcome an excuse to seduce Cordelia. His childe seemed to want him to have one. Effortlessly, she rose to her feet, fingers skittering across his covered erection. “All for her,” she gave him a pout.

Growling out, “Enough, Dru,” he dragged her hand up to his chest. “I’m not here to play games. I want answers.”

Whatever the nature of the threat in Drusilla’s vision, she was not able to or interested in providing any details. Maybe she had just decided that telling him to seduce Cordelia would be a fun way to force the soul out.

As much as he wanted to believe that the threat to Cordelia was not real, that Drusilla’s seductive advice was just a trap in the form of a lie. Or a false vision he could ignore, he knew it to be real. This was not one of those times Dru thought it might be fun to lie to Daddy just to be punished for it. This was a warning. The threat against Cordelia’s life was all too real, but was he the source of that threat or her savior?

There was the curse to consider. Angelus unfettered. That would not happen. He could not let it.

Angel wanted to say that the curse should be no concern for Cordelia. Not for a friend. Yet, this was fast becoming more than just friendship. It was different than before, too complicated a feeling. Angel was not sure what to call it. He liked Cordy a lot. Simple. Easy. True. That was not even the half of it because the easy emotions were colored with lust making Drusilla’s predictions out to be less crazy than he wanted them to be.

Desire chipped away at his resolve slowly revealing itself to be far more powerful. Angel wanted her. Simple and true, but wrapped up in too many complications to count. Far more than was safe by any measure. These yearnings needed to stop.

Achieving a perfect moment of unguarded bliss a second time might be impossible. His awareness of the risk might negate it completely. Now that he was aware of the danger, he felt that he had some level of control over his actions. He could take things so far, but no further. Do things that focused on her feelings, not his. Never forgetting who he was, or what he was, being physical and not emotional.

Sex with Cordelia would be far different, too. His demon did not retreat into the depths of his subconscious when he allowed himself to fantasize about her.

The images that painted his thoughts were often red with lust, crimson with blood, and sizzled hot. Tonight, he had learned that she was a virgin, a status that surprised most in the room at the time, but strangely enough, not him. His instinctive reaction was an overwhelming rush of possessiveness.

There might even be some wisdom in Faith’s cheeky remarks considering Dru’s warning. The slayer told him that he should take one for the team and help Cordelia out with her little problem. Maybe she was right, but it could not be so easy when Dru predicted a deadly outcome.

Logically, as a friend, Angel knew that he should step aside to let someone else handle the issue. There would be no threat from the curse, no risk to the world, or to Cordelia, only his sanity.

So, who would it be? He growled inwardly at the torturous thought, denial and anger shooting across raw nerves. Xander Harris. The little whelp obviously never knew what to do with Cordelia when they were a couple. Expecting him to man-up now was just laughable. After his betrayal, Harris was probably the last person Cordelia would want to sleep with.

Who, then, Rupert Giles? Ridiculous. Except that during one of their patrols, Cordy had been in over-sharing mode and told him that she thought Giles was hot for an older guy. “It’s probably the accent,” she had theorized. Amused at the time, Angel now wondered if she would find it attractive if the watcher’s voice box was ripped out and handed to him.

Well, it certainly would not be some random schoolmate eager to make a score. Angel mentally cleaved his way through an imaginary sea of young men with a broadsword, leaving a heap of corpses behind. Cordelia must have found them lacking in one way or another, he smirked at the thought of their shortcomings.

Getting angry about it was not going to solve anything. Nor would imagining himself in the role of lover be anything more than a study in masochism, self-torture. He could not have her, not the way he wanted her, again and again, until she belonged to him, again and again, until Cordelia loved him as much as he was afraid he was capable of loving her.

Just looking at her now made his body stir. It would be easy to reach out and to pull her into his arms, but this was not one of his fantasies. Self-denial was his daily routine, and he ignored the crude whispers of his demon urging him get on with it. Make her pay for comparing his kisses to untried boys and untalented men.

This was not about revenge. Her words still hurt, even as he denied their validity. Angel needed Cordelia to acknowledge their mutual desire in order to understand the need to avoid any mishaps in the future. He would no longer let her believe that her kiss meant nothing, or that he felt more for someone else than he did for her.

Drusilla’s words echoed, “Love her, my Angel.”

He was frightened for her, but just selfish enough to want to claim what little he could for himself. She needed to know where he stood, where they stood. It was a precipice from which any misstep would cause them to fall into darkness.  

53:     Mercy Hospital, Westside, Sunnydale

Cordy’s heart was racing, feeling like it was going to leap right out of her chest. A sound that super vampire hearing had to detect.

Anticipation had her reeling inside as she watched him prowl closer like a panther on the hunt, those dark sexy eyes trained directly on her. He was not here to talk about the flowers or to explain his cryptic message. The flowers were just that age-old polite thing to do, but Angel had never been a gentleman.

The note was all about taunting her, stirring her up. Talk about mixed signals. He promised to take back what he had said, but falling back into old habits had not said a word to her since he had closed the door. Monosyllable guy had returned, even if he did look hot.

Inwardly grumbling, Cordy realized that she was not supposed to be thinking about Angel’s hotness factor. But, helloooooo that was hard to do when he was standing right there looking so intense.

Turning toward him, Cordelia took a step forward, her feet bare. The chill of the speckled flooring went unnoticed, but the way her body leapt inwardly in reaction to his nearness did not. Her tingles had tingles. All she had to do was reach out in order to trail her fingertips down his chest.

Something stopped her. It was the thought that despite the fact that they were alone, Buffy still stood between them. Instantly annoyed, she said, “Funny, but I thought you were supposed to be eating your words right about now, chowing down on them, in fact.”

Wrong thing to say if that scowl meant anything. Apparently, they needed Bev to act as interpreter or referee because all Cordelia could detect was the low grind of his teeth.

“What?” Cordelia asked when Angel remained silent. Eyes narrowing suspiciously, she wondered if he was planning to say nothing at all.

Maybe Bev’s assumptions about their supposedly kinky romance bothered him. It was a little unsettling to have your grandmother nose into your love life especially when it was no such thing. Cordy shoved that thought aside. If anything, Angel had been amused by Bev’s comments.

No, the reason for the silent treatment was another B-word altogether. Ooh, if he really did compare her to Buffy, he was going to be deader than usual when she finished with him.

“When you said later, I didn’t realize you meant the next millennium.” Lifting her hand, she covered a wide yawn. Feigning boredom, Cordelia turned back toward the tray table to examine her flowers more closely.

Just because Buffy ended the relationship did not mean that Angel was even close to being over it. Cordelia knew that Angel felt some attraction toward her, but vampire though he might be, he was still a guy, and she was still Cordelia Chase. Faith was right about one thing. If she wanted anything more than friendship with Angel, this was the time to act, before Buffy realized what she was missing.

Cordelia could sense him right behind her. He had moved closer when she turned away. She fingered the delicate petals of one flower while waiting for him speak, to say anything, but she did not have the patience for it.

Whirling around, butting into him, she tilted her head up and told him what she wanted to hear. “You were so not thinking about Buffy when you kissed me. I do not need a hormone detector to know when a guy wants me. As for you, buddy, let’s just say—”

Angel’s kiss swept softly across the warmth of her lips. A muttered protest faded to a sigh as the light between them vanished, as her eyes closed. Gently, his fingertips skimmed across her hips, flesh rasping against silk, moving upward, leaving an internal wake of fire.

Cool leather could not hide him from her touch. Kneading his biceps, she reached up, brushing her hands across his broad shoulders to wind her arms around his neck.

Cordelia pulled herself closer, instinctively pressing her breasts against the hard wall of his chest. Her fingers combed through the short hair at the nape of his neck, nails curling, scraping softly. The sound Angel made deep in his throat echoed into her mouth as she touched her tongue to his as it licked her plump lower lip.

His gentle, almost tentative touch altered instantly. There was nothing but want in the way she kissed him, acceptance in her touch and the way her body clung to his. Hiding her feelings was the last thing on her mind even if the worries that still remained huddled in the darkness.

A gasp of remembrance sounded as they parted for an instant. Cordelia half-lifted her lids, seeing only the way Angel stared at her mouth as if letting her up for air had deprived him of something vital. She rubbed her cheek against his, breathing a sigh across his skin and felt him shudder in her arms.

Angel’s large hands stroked a wide path along her spine still layered with silk. His touch left her blood humming, her body flushed. Almost desperately, she sought out his mouth, her eyes slamming shut again as their lips collided.

He kissed her until her breath ran out, tracing the line of Cordelia’s jaw with soft kisses and his teasing tongue before coming back to her mouth for more. Pliant lips molded hers, tasting, nipping, leaving her gasping and mewling, opening up to him.

Hot, yet trembling, she felt almost panicky with the need to be closer, to touch him. Cordy dragged his coat off his broad shoulders. It hung at his elbows until Angel reluctantly dropped his hands away from her hips. Tossing the coat onto the bed, Angel’s potent gaze held hers. She ached to feel his hands on her skin this time, but there was something in those eyes that kept her from asking for it.

Recognition that this was dangerous, that they had both won and lost their fight to make the other pay for words neither one of them meant. Not that she would actually admit it. In Angel’s arms, Cordelia could see herself falling for him in a way she had never done with anyone, but it only took one thought of Drusilla’s predictions to remind her why it was a bad idea.

His name poured from her lips with a warning. Cordelia took half a step back only to stop when Angel reached toward her. Dazed by his haunted eyes, she wanted to take back the words that sounded next, “We can’t.”

Angel traced the curve of her flushed cheek, fingers lacing through her hair to cup the nape of her neck. His thumb rubbed softly along the line of her jaw. “We can. Just this,” he pressed his lips to the beauty spot on her cheek. “Here, tonight, this is safe, Cordy. Trust me to keep you safe.”

Those last words whispered across her mouth, his lips hovering temptingly close to hers. In truth, she wanted more. Urging softly, “So kiss me, already,” Cordelia flashed a smile as Angel closed the gap between them.

They kissed until the night nurse caught them making out in the corner. She had come in after a brief knock, but Angel had only reluctantly broken their kiss. It was a tough choice to decide who was more embarrassed, but Cordelia decided that the nurse took the prize. Mumbling something about forgetting her stethoscope at the desk, she bolted out of the room, closing the door behind her.

“Think we should’ve told her it was around her neck?” Angel asked slowly.

Cordelia leaned back against the wall again pointing out, “She could’ve been the demon guy. What happened to being my bodyguard?”

“I’m guarding it,” Angel curled his hand around her hip, rubbing his thumb along the elastic waistband of her shorts. Her robe had somehow come undone.

Rolling her eyes at the smug smile twitching at his lips, Cordelia poked a finger at his chest. “You heard her coming.” After all, with vampire speed, Angel could have been in the chair pretending to be reading a book or magazine before the nurse took a step into the room.

“Maybe I did,” he confessed, dropping his head to close his mouth over hers.

Clinging to the kiss, Cordelia stood on tiptoes as he started to straighten up and move away. Her hands went up to his shoulders again to pull him back into her embrace, but his hands closed over her arms, his body tensing. Cordelia dropped back to her feet and gazed in the direction of the window as Angel moved toward it, suddenly intent upon listening to something she could not hear.

He lifted one slat in the Venetian blinds covering the windows to stare out into the darkness. “It’s happening. They’re coming.”

“Who?” Cordelia grew wary. Moving up beside him, she placed her hand in the crook of his elbow and leaned in to lift up another slat of the blinds. The parking lot was illuminated outside. The darkness beyond was thick, yet seemed to be moving, swarming.

“The locusts,” Angel explained as he dropped the slat back into place. Reaching over, he pulled on the cord for the curtains, closing them over the windows. “It’s time.”

In a matter of seconds, muffled screams could be heard from ground level. Then a roar of white noise drowned the sounds. It went on and on. Cordelia jerked back as random splats hit the window two-stories up from the ground. “They can’t get in here, can they?”

He did not even hear the question, Cordy realized when she saw Angel holding his hands to his ears. At supra-human levels, the noise the locusts were creating was obviously painful. It was etched across his face. Backing away from the windows, she put her arm around his waist, leading him toward the door figuring that the further they got away from the noise, the easier it would be for him.

Cordelia grabbed for the door handle, but the commotion she heard on the other side told her things were not going to be quite so simple. A slice of light showed beneath the door, shadows blotting it out as the sound of running footsteps pounded on the floor. Shouts came from the hallway, “Close the fire doors, close the fire doors.” 

There was no fire, but the swarming insects had managed to get into the building and were already showing up on the upper floors. The hospital staff was trying to block the locusts from getting into the patient rooms. Cordelia realized they were trapped inside for the moment, but the thin space between the door and the floor was just large enough to allow unwelcome buggy visitors to crawl through.

Grabbing a towel from the bathroom, she shoved it into the crack beneath the door. Standing again, Cordelia looked up at Angel who was watching her with a bemused expression on his face, hands now at his side. She reached up to cup his cheek. “Are you okay?”

“The worst is over, but they’ll be everywhere for a while.” Angel advised that they stay put.

“Eew.” Cordy felt she already had more than enough experience with bugs for one lifetime. She danced away from the door with a hip-hop toward the bed as she looked around to ensure that none of the locusts had gotten into the room.

Moving forward, Angel took two handfuls of silk robe into his grasp. He slipped the robe off her shoulders pulling it taut around her arms, bringing her a step toward him. Cordelia went willingly, sliding her hands around his waist to the muscular planes of his back. He felt so good beneath her fingers.

A secret smile crept onto her face as she lifted her eyes toward his. “Go me!” Cordy murmured to herself just before Angel’s lips touched hers.

The kiss was gentle like the first of their kisses tonight. It ended far sooner than Cordelia wanted. Her newly discarded robe lay at the bottom of her bed pooled against Angel’s leather duster. She stared at it for a moment thinking thoughts that brought a little sigh of frustration to her lips.

“Time for bed,” Angel’s words caused her to jerk out of her thoughts, a rosy flush coloring her skin. He pulled back the top sheet and blanket, standing by with an expectant look on his face.

With a crooked eyebrow, Cordelia gaped, “Excuse me?”

Angel swiftly dropped the bed linen. “I only meant…,” his voice dropped off as he struggled for the right explanation. Finally muttering something about the late hour, thumbing toward the wall clock, reminding her that this was a hospital and she was still a patient, Angel eventually managed to make his meaning clear.

“Oh. Whatever,” Cordelia climbed into bed, pulling the sheet over her legs. This obviously meant that the kissing part of the evening was over. Trying to hide her disappointment, she launched into a discourse on the evil doctor who refused to release her to go home today.

54:     Mercy Hospital, Westside, Sunnydale

Settling into the bedside chair, Angel listened as she rambled on from one subject to another. Avoiding, he knew, the one thing they should be talking about. What happened between them tonight was not something to skip over. Even though it had not gone beyond kisses and chaste caresses, it was only because Angel had forced himself to hold back.

He had been playing with fire and he knew it. Making certain that Cordelia knew it, too, seemed necessary. It was the right thing to do.

Angel leaned back in the chair, watching her talk, noting the way the light played across her face and the way her lips glistened when she paused to lick them. He counseled himself to say something to convince her that there could be no repeat of tonight, no more kisses without consequences, but he could not bring himself to say the words when he did not want to believe them. Instead, saying nothing, Angel listened to her story, more attuned to her voice than the words themselves.  

55:     The Library, Sunnydale High School, Eastside, Sunnydale

“The only thing I learned tonight,” Buffy told the gang as she plunked into a chair at the research table, “was that Willy has a special on chocolate-covered locusts.”

Cordelia scrunched up her nose, “Eew, gross.”

“Disgusting,” Willow agreed, momentarily turning her attention away from the website on Ritual Sacrifices and its detailed jpeg files. “Though, I have read about places that consider that kind of thing a delicacy.”

“There’s still some pizza left, Buffster,” Xander tapped the box. “If you don’t mind the anchovies.”

Her stomach rolled at the thought. Post-patrol hunger was not an issue after watching Willy prepare bags of insects for tonight’s bar crowd. “I’ll skip the snackage.”

Except for dealing with demons with unusual taste in munchies, Buffy’s patrol had been fairly routine. Giles had kept the rest of them at the library researching stuff on Cordy’s Crosathnam demon. As usual, Faith was nowhere to be found tonight. After dropping Cor at the library, she had taken off again just when Angel showed up.

It was not Buffy’s business to keep tabs on Faith, but it was weird that she just took off whenever she felt like it. That had to irritate Giles, but he refused to talk about Faith’s behavior.

Buffy was more concerned about Angel’s behavior than she was about the other Slayer. As soon as the sun went down, he was stuck like superglue to Cordelia’s side. She had been out of the hospital for two days. She was totally fine. There were no signs of any kidnapping demony cops or trouble-making vampires around and yet everyone was hovering over her like Cor was some damsel-in-distress.

Lately, Buffy just had a weird vibe every time Cordelia and Angel were together. It was not anything she could lay her finger on. They stuck to their spot on the steps as usual, researching. Talking quietly, too quietly. Buffy frowned in their direction as she realized Angel was actually having a conversation with Cordelia.

Casually getting out of her chair, she stretched her arms over her head, her pert breasts moving beneath her thin sweater. She was about to walk over to join them when Xander asked again, “You sure you don’t want some pizza?”

It seemed like the only person who had noticed her attempt at gaining a little deserved attention was Xander. Giles’ nose was turned into a book and Willow was again focused on her computer screen.

“No,” Buffy sighed. Dropping the act, she walked over to the steps. “What are you two up to?”

Simultaneously, Angel and Cordy lifted their heads to focus on her. “Just talking,” Angel answered quietly though he was the picture of guilt.

Buffy noticed that he shut the book they had been looking at together, holding his finger between the pages to save their place. “About what? I think we have covered all there is to know about Crosathnam demons. I could kill one blindfolded.”

“Assuming we find it,” Xander pointed out, eavesdroppin

Glaring at him briefly, Buffy muttered an agreement, “Yeah,” before turning back to the two huddled shoulder to shoulder on the steps. “So what’s the research on tonight?”

She pointed at the book that had a modern glossy blue binding instead of the usual frayed cloth or worn leather of Giles’ ancient book collection. It had come directly off the library shelves.

“Nosy much?” Cordelia huffed irritably only to turn toward Angel who had given a gentle nudge. Snorting, “Well, she is.”

Angel held up the book so she could see the cover, still holding his place as if he was anxious to get back to the conversation. Surprised, Buffy felt her jaw gape open and quickly shut it. “Tai chi? What’s that got to do with the demon cop or the prophecy?”

“Cordy and I were going over some defensive techniques,” Angel explained with a shrug. “I promised— considering the circumstances, I want her to be prepared.”

Cordelia was smiling again. What was it about being a potential demon sacrifice that made a girl like Cordelia Chase smile so much? “Giles and I can show Cor a few moves. Not that she’ll need them with one of us around all of the time.”

Having heard his name mentioned, Giles offered, “We can certainly include you in our training sessions, Cordelia.”

“Thanks,” Cordelia stood up next to Buffy so that her natural height gave her the tiniest advantage, “but Angel plans to show me all of the moves I’ll need.”

Cordelia brushed past Buffy who tensed up as she read between the lines. She watched as Cor made her way over to the counter where the extra sodas were lined up. Popping the top of a Diet Coke, she took a long swig. A seemingly random comment followed, “Mmm, some things are just better cold.”

Buffy could not help but make a connection to between those words and Angel’s cool touch. Surely, Cordelia wasn’t hinting, was she? The snappy comments and the weird vibes and those huddled conversations on the stairs were just too much. This all added up to something she didn’t like, not one little bit.

No doubt Angel was just concerned for her wellbeing. He was just being protective of his patrol partner. Just look at the trouble she had already caused. Not only did they have a prophecy to prevent, they had to safeguard Cordelia from crazy vamps and melty-faced demons.

Poor Angel. Over-exposure to Cordelia Chase would cause anyone to act weird. It was just Cordelia’s influence that had him acting strange. Obviously, she was just trying to make Buffy believe that Angel was actually interested in her. Just like she used to after they had first met him. It was funny how Cordelia used to embarrass herself over Angel, but kinda strange how it was not equally hilarious now.

Thinking about it now left a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. Besides, it was not like Angel could actually do anything about it even if he was interested. Not that he was. Nope. He could not be.

Unsettled, Buffy tried to remind herself of the many reasons why she broke up with Angel in the first place. Sometimes, it was hard to remember.  

56: Mayor's Office, City Hall, State Street, North Central Sunnydale

“I guess you’re wondering why I called.” Mayor Wilkins was smiling at her in that same way he did on the bulletin boards at the bus stops. 

Faith shifted in the leather chair, feeling the weight of the cell phone in her front jacket pocket. “I already told you, I’m not interested.” She pulled out the phone to hand it to him. “Maybe you should take this back. No deal.”

“Don’t be so hasty,” the mayor tut-tutted. Reaching over to a sideboard against the wall of his office, he picked up a silver tray. “Cookie? My mother used to make the best chocolate-walnut cookies. There’s nothing better than homemade cookies and a cold glass of milk.”

Standing abruptly, Faith told him, “I don’t want your cookies or your phone.” She dropped the silver cell phone on his desk. “Whatever scam you’re running, I don’t want any part of it.”

She was about to move away when the mayor’s voice darkened authoritatively, “Sit down, Faith. You’re not going anywhere, yet. Just remember what I told you will happen if you don’t listen.”

Faith’s jaw tightened. Rage rose up fast. The anger flowing through her was close to uncontrollable. “Don’t threaten me,” she panted through the urge to hurl the mayor against the wall and bash his head with his silver platter. “You leave them out of this.”

“You should try some warm milk instead,” the mayor tilted his head. “I find it has a calming effect. As for your friends, you should have thought of that before.”

Eyes blazing fury, she stood her ground, refusing to sit despite the order Richard Wilkins had given. Her hands curled into tight fists held at her side. One mistake and now he had her under his thumb.

“Cooperate with me, Faithy, and you’ll be around to witness the birth of a god.”

Sneering at him, Faith was not one hundred percent sure what he was getting at, but it didn’t sound good. Was he mixed up with this whole prophecy deal? “Maybe I don’t like to watch.”

The mayor simply smiled again. Opening the right-hand drawer of his desk, he pulled out a long, flat box tied up with a pink ribbon. “Go ahead. Open it up.”

Sensing that she had no choice but to comply, Faith snatched the box from the desk. With one tug of the ribbon, it fell loose. She dropped it on the floor and smirked at the way the mayor’s eyes went wide as the ribbon curled up on his clean carpet.

“What’s this?” Faith demanded as she gazed at the contents of the box.

The answer he gave belied his matter-of-fact tone. “An ornate ceremonial dagger forged in the subterranean fires beneath Mount Hidaknui by the spawn of the demon lord Ornkadu. Just your typical pointy object. You do know how to use one.”

“I have a good idea,” Faith glared at him.

“You know you can’t kill me,” he reminded her. She’d seen that much. “Now take your present. You young people are so ungrateful these days.”

Faith didn’t bother to hide her sarcasm, “Thanks. What am I supposed to do with it?”

“Oh, there’s a certain someone who could interfere with my plans,” Wilkins let out a deep sigh. “We’ll go over all of that as soon as we deal with the issue of that dreadful place you’ve been living at. There are actually illicit things going on in that hotel.”

Snorting, Faith shrugged, “That and all the screwing.” A grin formed despite the fact that the mayor was still pissing her off.

“Well, it’s no place for my girl.”

Her smile faded quickly. “Just tell me what I gotta do.”  

57:     Thousand Oaks Drive, Sunnydale

Sunset left behind a biting wind that whipped along Thousand Oaks Drive. A storm front was moving into town, its dark, heavy clouds randomly obscuring and revealing glimpses of the nearly full moon overhead. Cordelia tugged her jacket closed, but the chilly air breezing around her legs and under her skirt made her wish she’d changed into her exercise outfit before leaving April Fools for the night. 

Faith walked at a brisk pace next to her seemingly unaffected by the first taste of winter. Dressed in her jeans and matching jacket, it did not look like the slayer was in a hurry to get to a hot date, but it certainly seemed like she was in a rush.

“Slow down, Speedy,” Cordelia jogged a few paces on her high heels and reached out to catch the edge of Faith’s sleeve. “I’d like to get there without looking— or smelling like crap.

A dimple appeared in Faith’s cheek an instant before her smile followed. “You’re planning to get hot and sweaty anyway, right? This is just a warm-up for your workout.”

The double-entendre was not lost on Cordelia who had had to tell someone about her make-out session with Angel. It was just too juicy to keep all to herself. Of course, she had sworn Faith to secrecy on the matter and had confidence that she would not spout off to the Scoobies.

The only thing was that there had not been any real decision between herself and Angel about what happened next. What was the next step and was it possible to even have one considering where that next step might lead? They were supposed to be friends, after all, she reminded herself.

It was a fact she had told herself many times since her release from the hospital two days ago. Most of her time had been spent at school, work or squeezing in a little time with Angel. Last night after the Scooby Meeting had ended, Angel brought her straight home. Giles had told them of the expected lull in demonic activity, a brief period of time when the demon worshippers were gathering strength before things started up again with a bang.

Despite the fact that Cordelia felt fine, Angel had wanted her to wait another night before they resumed their training sessions. Faith was not planning on taking over bodyguard duty until after midnight, so Cordy had convinced Angel to spend the evening inside the house with her instead of patrolling the perimeter.

He had given in to her plea for company only after she smiled and warned him of the potential dangers to her young psyche. “Bev is out,” she had explained that no one was home. “This is her Bingo Night. Or what used to be. She’s on a crusade now that the mayor has closed down the bingo hall. Pfft, somebody should tell him that Willy runs a demon bar.”

So they had ended up on the couch watching the Turner Classic Movie channel, a compromise between Cordelia’s choice of her favorite reality TV show and Angel’s discovery of a Charlton Heston flick. It had taken a while to get Angel to relax as he was in high-alert mode, but Cordy managed to convince him that he would hear something if one of the bad guys was breaking into the house.

A rush of warmth bloomed at the memory of curling up on the couch next to him and at the moment when Angel finally gave in to the urge to put his arm around her shoulder. How his eyes darkened to reveal an instant of longing that Cordelia could only begin to fully comprehend. All she knew was her own need to kiss him was overwhelming.

Angel moaned against her mouth as she palmed his face and pressed her lips against his, a throaty mix of pure want and defeat. He gave in to it long enough to make her melt inside, for the tingles of excitement to become an unbearable need to touch and be touched. 

Somehow, she had ended up straddling his lap. Cordy could not recall exactly how she had gotten there. It just felt right to have him between her thighs. The thought caused a flash of heat that seemed ten times hotter against the cool night air, but she could not stop thinking about it.

Kisses, hot and hungry, lasted only minutes numbering far too few for either of them, but too inflammable to let continue. Cordelia let out a short gasp against his throat as his hands cupped the weight of her breasts through the thin barriers of her blouse and bra.

Lifting her head a fraction of an inch, Cordelia’s eyes flicked down to watch as his teasing thumbs brushed lightly across the cresting peaks. Then Angel’s dark head obliterated the view as he leaned in to rub his cheek against one hardened tip before sliding his lips across her flushed skin to the bounding pulse point at her throat.

Cordelia shifted her hips, leaning closer. She could feel him getting hard beneath her. With her boyfriends, she would normally be the one to put on the brakes when things got to this point, but Angel was not just another guy and she was far from wanting to stop.

He must’ve seen it in her eyes because he looked all smug and male for a second before dropping his head to the back of the couch, closing his eyes and wrapping his arms around her. Cordelia tucked her head against Angel’s shoulder and tried to fight off the urge to protest. The soothing movements of his hands against her back tended to linger low on her spine; ineffective in curtailing the needy ache centered so close to its cure.

Cordelia shifted into an upright position propping her hands on his shoulders for support. Her bottom settled directly over Angel’s arousal causing him to buck upward in automatic reaction. His hands flew to her hips, holding her there as they both moaned in response, staring into each other’s eyes. Angel’s were full of unhidden desire, regret and guilt.

Deciding she was not going to let either of them regret anything that happened or let Angel start brooding about it, Cordelia pointed out, “Y’know, we’re missing the movie.” Not that she really cared about an old film that was not even in color. That just gave them an excuse to stop without mumbling apologies that neither one of them meant.

Moving back to his side, Cordelia deliberately reclaimed her previous spot, looking at Angel expectantly until he dropped his arm back around her shoulder. “Watch the movie,” she prompted when he kept looking at her instead. Someone needed to tell him to patent that smile.

Dragging her thoughts back to the present when Faith’s laughter filled her ears, Cordelia commented, “The only workout we have planned is a little Tai Chi. I’m supposed to be learning to center myself, to gain awareness of my surroundings and an understanding of body movement.”

“Uh huh.” The quirk of her brow suggested Faith had something else in mind. 

Cordelia protested, “Does your mind always move in such skanky directions?”

“You bet,” Faith quipped.

They walked on passing the crossroads at Maple Court where The Magic Box, a creepy store Willow frequented, was located. Unlike Mrs. Finkle, the store offered late night hours. Cordelia was grateful that dear old Finkface liked to get home to her ten cats. The woman was a stickler for closing right on the dot.

Actually, she was a stickler for just about everything and had her eye on every employee, customer and item in her store. The dress shop was not exactly full of haute couture, but Cordelia liked being surrounded by pretty things even if she could no longer afford them.

“I had to stop Mrs Finkle from calling the cops on you,” Cordelia revealed with a laugh.

While Faith had been fulfilling her promise to Angel by keeping an eye on Cordy, Mrs Finkle’s overly suspicious nature had gone on full alert. She had gone as far as warning Cordelia to, “Watch out for that one.” Apparently, Faith was not the type who normally frequented the shop.

“Yeah, I believe it,” Faith shrugged. “Your boss-lady is a snob. She took one look at my boots and for a sec, I thought she was gonna faint.”

Cordelia glanced downward noting the slightly mud-encrusted edge of said boots. “Um, yeah, they’re very…sturdy; no doubt a good way to hide your hammertoes.”

Joking about the whole bodyguard situation, they kept the subject light despite its serious nature. After an interior sweep under Mrs. Finkle’s watchful eye, Faith had retreated to the perimeter of the building making frequent patrols of the area. Loitering nearby had not gone unnoticed.

“No offence, Cor, but guarding your ass is a bore,” Faith admitted.

“That’s fine and/or hot ass to you,” Cordelia corrected with a grin.

Faith played along, teasing her, “Angel thinks so.”

After a pause, “Does he?”

“You’ve got to be kidding. Do you really have to ask?”

Well, no, but Cordelia liked the confirmation. Though she had to wonder if Faith was just basing her observations on what she had witnessed at Shady Hill, or if it was obvious to everybody. Cordelia purposely had not done a lot of thinking about Buffy having pushed all thoughts of her to the back of her mind.

Only it was not that simple. Explaining things to Buffy seemed complicated. Not that she owed Buffy an explanation. It was just that they were friends of a sort. And Cordy had a thing about girls macking on other girl’s boyfriends.

Ex-boyfriend, Cordelia emphasized the point. “Whatever. I just want to be ready if this demon attacks me again. This is so not how I imagined the whole bodyguard scenario. That usually involves stardom and a limo."

Complaining about the lack of action, Faith punched a fist into her open palm. “I hate waiting around. We ought to be doing something. Search this dude out and kick his ass. There’s too much going on in this town for someone not to know where to find him.”

“The usual snitches aren’t giving us anything,” Cordelia reminded that Buffy and Angel had already questioned Willy. “Nobody’s talking. Now we don’t even have the nightly disasters to clue us in to their evil schemes. Until the crap hits the fan again, things are dead around town.”

“Tell me about it,” muttered Faith who suddenly seemed to be in the mood to kill something. She kicked at an empty garbage can neatly upturned at the end of a driveway sending it flying onto the lawn.

Raising an eyebrow, Cordelia suggested, “Take it easy and save it for the demon. The only troublemaker out on the town tonight is probably Bev,” she added with a wry laugh as she told Faith about her grandmother’s plan to picket City Hall first thing in the morning. “She is out and about trying to drum up supporters from her bingo crowd.”

The subject did not seem to lighten Faith’s mood. “You should tell her to back off.”

Puzzled, Cordelia asked, “Why? It’s just a bunch of old ladies. The mayor isn’t gonna make a big deal about something like that.”

“No, he won’t make a big deal, Cor,” she agreed. “It’s politics. Guys like him just sweep things under the rug.”

Confident that Bev could handle it, Cordelia figured that her grandmother would have her bingo parlor open again by sunset tomorrow. “Mayor Wilkins won’t get away with it if Bev has her say. Just wait and see.”

As they turned north along the sidewalk on Crawford Street, Cordelia changed the subject. She had heard Faith talking about the mayor before, saying that he seemed like a nice guy. That she did not meet many nice guys that didn’t want something from her. So Cordy shrugged the whole thing off as Faith defending Mister Nice Guy.

It was easy to forget because the closer they got to the mansion the more her thoughts were focused on Angel. Slayers, mayors and grandmothers were not high on the priority list. For all of her intentions about getting some real training in, she could not help but wonder whether Angel would kiss her again, touch her in a way that left her wanting more.

Inwardly, Cordelia chided herself for wanting what she could not have. More like should not have. Angel was off-limits for so many reasons, the main ones being: cursed and vampire. Although the latter did not turn her off half as much as it should.

The front door swung open almost as soon as they had reached the steps to the mansion. Angel stood in the shadows of the doorframe, “I heard you coming,” he explained casually.

Faith cleared her throat and nudged Cordelia with her elbow. “Guess I’ll be taking off.”

“You could come in, too,” Angel invited, a little too awkwardly to be mistaken as completely genuine.

“Nah,” Faith declined the offer explaining, “I’ve gotta bolt. Gonna check out the Bronze. It’s been ages since I’ve hit the dance floor.”

Saying nothing, Cordelia just sent her a meaningful glare. Faith’s dimpled grin returned as she told them, “Have fun, you two. Since B gets day-watch, I’ll be at Bev’s by sunset tomorrow.”

A rumble of thunder sounded as Cordelia watched Faith jog down the pebbled drive, her dark brown hair bouncing around her shoulders. When her friend turned the corner out of sight, she let out a long breath she had not realized she was holding. Excited about the idea of being alone with Angel again, she felt a rush of nervous energy.

Not taking her eyes off of him, she heard the click-clack of her heels against the marble steps as she walked up to meet Angel. He was dressed for their training session in a black top and matching low-riding sweat pants, his pale skin starkly contrasting with his clothes.

“H-how was your day?” Angel’s tongue fumbled over the words as his eyes swept over her wind-swept hair before settling on her face.

Cordelia did not bother with a description of school or Mrs. Finkle’s suspicions. She stepped within arms length, still hugging her arms across her chest in effort to keep the cold out even though it was the last thing on her mind. “I missed you.”

For an instant, Angel’s body tensed, his eyes rapidly darkening until it seemed they would swallow her up. He reached out, his fingertips caressing her cheek with the barest touch before he dropped his arm back to his side. Cordelia felt a stab of disappointment hit when she realized no kiss was to follow.

A little confused, she stepped past him into the foyer as the breeze whooshed in through the open door. Angel looked out at the dense clouds, “The wind seems to be picking up. Smells like rain.”

Watching as Angel closed the door, shutting out the cold, Cordelia realized that she was not used to having to hint to be kissed. The guys she was used to were all mouths and hands. Though admittedly they were amateurs compared to Angel. A tiny little hello smooch would not have been rejected, or a long, hot welcome kiss for that matter.

Cordelia tossed the backpack that was slung over one shoulder onto the floor as she removed her jacket. “I see you’ve been practicing small talk,” she sounded a bit miffed. “Now that you’ve mastered the weather, maybe we can move on to more daring subjects— like your health, for instance.”

“Um,” Angel frowned looking ultra-serious as he reminded her he had no pulse.

Rosy lips fell open, “Oh, right, got me on that one.” Silence ticked between them for a few seconds. Cordelia Chase did not beg anyone for kisses, but she decided to give Angel a break. After all, his social skills were a little underdeveloped to the point of being almost non-existent.

Stepping close, she grabbed a handful of his cotton shirt and tugged him the rest of the way. Tilting her head up to meet his curious gaze, “Kiss me,” Cordy issued her little directive.

Angel’s brows lifted, mouth quirking at one corner. “I thought we were going to take things slow.”

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Cordelia remembered agreeing to that. After all, it had been her idea— sort of, but it had nothing to do with hello kisses. Angel did not wait for her to comment. His arms wound around her, reeling her closer so that her breasts pressed into his chest. Big hands slid across her silk blouse, one pressing between her shoulder blades, the other wandering up to claim a fistful of chestnut tresses.

Pliant lips covered hers, soft in their exploration, as cool as her wind-chilled skin. Cordelia’s lips parted beneath his. Her living breath warmed them both. Angel’s tongue dipped in gently, his mouth worshipping hers until she moaned into his.

The hands clutching at his sides slid beneath the cotton shirt he wore. Cordelia pressed her palms open wide spreading upward from the waistband of his sweats. Hard muscles rippled beneath her touch as she moved them up the smooth contours of Angel’s back. Clasping his shoulders, Cordelia tiptoed instinctively to press her belly closer still, a deep throb building within.

Angel ate at her mouth. He nipped gently at her lower lip, tongue licking at the soft inner flesh. The hand on her back slid down to cup her firm bottom, two long fingers pressing the material of her skirt into the cleft between her thighs where her rapidly dampening panties wedged against her, not moving, just holding her there. 

She hooked one ankle around his calf, the heel of her shoe catching on his black sweats. Her short skirt edged higher. A whimper escaped her throat as the action brought her up against a hard ridge. Cordelia’s eyes flew open for a second as their lips parted, long enough to catch the steady, determined control masking Angel’s handsome face.

Cordelia pressed her flushed cheek into Angel’s shoulder, holding on as he rocked their bodies together once, twice and again. He shifted his hold, untangling them and Cordy’s legs felt like spaghetti as she stepped back. Angel let her go, but he looked as if he might snatch her back into his arms and forget all about the idea of going slowly.

Pfft, they seemed to have skipped a few steps along the slow route. Not that Cordelia minded. She had never felt so wanton before, so out of control. Angel’s touch was addictive. Though she did not consider herself a novice when it came to making out, his experience totally eclipsed hers. While that made her a little nervous, Angel was obviously just as affected by their kisses.

Kinda hard to hide the fact, she smirked inwardly as her gaze trailed southward. The visible tenting was a little more than Cordelia could handle, especially when Angel did not bother to try to hide it.

“Boy howdy!” Hazel eyes darted back up as a mischievous grin spread across her face. “I guess you do know how to say hello, after all.”

Amusement flitted over Angel’s face for a moment before settling back into that expression of controlled desire. Physical reactions aside, there was not any doubt in her mind that he wanted her, too. Under normal circumstances, Cordelia knew she would not hesitate to go all the way with him.

But these were not normal circumstances.

The reminder weakened her smiled. Cordelia sucked her lower lip into her mouth, catching it between her teeth. She looked away, her eyes darting around in effort to find something to say that was not, ‘I want to touch you now.’

“Great,” she muttered, turning and reaching down to snatch her backpack from the floor. “One little kiss and I’m a raving nymphomaniac.”

Straightening up, Cordelia noticed Angel rubbing a hand over his mouth. Her eyes narrowed and then widened dramatically as she realized he had overheard her little observation. “Maybe we should get to the Tai Chi stuff. I think I could use a little distraction.”

Angel reminded her, “Tai Chi is about focus and self-awareness,” his voice deeper than usual.

“Pretty self-aware at the moment,” Cordelia chimed. “Maybe we should skip to the ass-kicking part of my training.”

“You’re not ready to get rough and tumble.” Angel might not have intended his words to have a double meaning, but Cordy’s imagination had other ideas.

The room had not gone into total blackout the way it had the first time after Angel shut the door. Previously unnoticed, the glow of several candles brightened the semi-darkness of the foyer. The candlelight shone golden across Angel’s skin and deepened the shadows in the corners of the room. She glanced toward the end of the hall where a glimmer of light showed beneath the closed study door. “I need to change into my training clothes.”

Angel’s gaze flicked down to the backpack guessing, “The blue cling—,” when Cordelia’s amused snort cut him off.

“Eew, no,” she rolled her eyes. “Not the blue clingy one. As if I would actually wear that one again. It has meteor stains.” Adding on for good measure, “and that creepy demon touched it.”

All perfectly good reasons why that exercise outfit deserved to be burned in an eternal hellfire as far as Cordelia was concerned. “Can I change in there?” she pointed toward the study.

“Sure,” Angel answered and then quickly shut his mouth.

Cordelia paused in front of him, unable to resist commenting, “It’s the red one.”

She felt his eyes on her all the way down the hall, a notion Cordelia confirmed before opening the door. Tossing her hair over her shoulder, peeking back at him in the process she felt a burst of feminine pride as she realized he could not take his eyes off her.

If only that feeling wasn’t at war with her practical side that kept reminding her of Drusilla’s dark vision of the future. As the memories of that shared vision flashed through her mind’s eye, Cordelia shuddered.  

58:     The Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

Angel felt grateful that Cordelia took a while to change clothes. He needed to get a hold on his emotions, to curtail the urge to continue where they had left off. Cordy possessed a natural enthusiasm that made it easy forget her inexperience. Desire stirred low in his loins, still thick and heavy, as thoughts of a far more personal training session painted tempting images. Teaching her all that he knew about sex would be a pleasure in many ways.

The tragedy of their situation was not lost on him. He felt it acutely. So much that it quelled his arousal, anger at his own folly rising within him. He could not have her the way he wanted, not without risking everything. How many times did he have to remind himself of it? Angel knew it would not be the last.

He leaned up against the wall, head back, eyes closed as he soaked in the utter silence of the foyer. Beyond the dark stretch of the hallway, he heard Cordelia’s movements as she shifted her belongings and moved around the study. More distantly, the unique song of the night filtered to his ears. It soothed his frayed nerves.

When the door opened, he was ready to face seeing Cordelia wearing blood red, curve-hugging, midriff-baring Lycra— almost. Angel gulped instinctively.

“The basement is this way,” he thumbed in the direction of the door. “I’ve got it all set up for us,” and then adding unnecessarily, “for training.”

Angel opened the door and waved her toward the stairs. She smiled almost shyly, and in the next instant turned to jog down the stairs. Cordy had put her hair up in a ponytail that bounced wildly, but it was not what had his attention. Groaning inwardly, Angel told himself to focus on the training session. He needed to learn quickly about not letting Cordelia distract him.

“First, you will learn to awaken the Chi,” Angel instructed deciding to make this a hands-off session. The temptation to touch her, to guide her movements into the appropriate positions was strong. Giving into that need would not bode well for the rest of their lesson.

Following along with Angel’s example, Cordelia moved through the motions of the various Tai Chi exercises. He was impressed with how quickly she memorized the correct forms; though she tended to break from the rhythm of Qi Gong laughing over the names as he explained what each form was called.

Arms stretched out, Angel lifted up his hands, moving them back down through a form that loosened the joints of the shoulders, elbows and wrists. As Cordelia mimicked the fluttering arm movements, Angel spoke the name in Chinese, the sound rolling off his tongue.

Repeating it in English elicited another fit of giggles, “Wild Goose Looks for Food.”

“Oh, yeah,” Cordelia snorted. “Next time we’re in a bar fight, remind me to use that move.”

Annoyance flitted across his face. Angel straightened up from his slightly crouched position propping both hands on his lean hips making his shoulders look even broader.

“Cordy—”

“Sorry, sorry!” Cordelia stifled one last laugh and hopped in place. Coming to a halt, she pointed at her face, “Serious mode now. Teach me.”

Giving her one last suspicious look, Angel turned back into position. “We’ll start over.”

Cordelia nodded, “Ready!” automatically moving back to the first position.

Almost instantly, they started moving in sync side-by-side. Their bodies stretched and flexed as one, motion after motion following form until a light sheen of sweat glistened across their skin. Angel heightened senses keyed into the steady beat of Cordy’s heart, her slow, deep rhythmic breaths and the subtle lingering sent of her arousal.

She had joined him in silence for longer than he had imagined possible. Cordelia was a natural talker. She could hold up both ends of a conversation with ease. So, it was no surprise when she finally spoke, this time without breaking form.

“I told Faith,” Cordy confessed with a glance in his direction.

Angel finished another move before responding, “You mean about us.”

“The kissing part at the hospital,” she clarified. “I wasn’t sure, technically, if there is an US.”

That brought the exercise to an end. Angel straightened up, watching her for a moment as Cordelia continued to move through the rest of the form. She stared straight ahead instead of looking at him, but he could see the tension that built up in her shoulders.

Sensing her uncertainty, Angel closed his big hand around her upper arm whirling her to face him. Whatever clarity the Tai Chi session may have provided, it seemed only to have heightened her doubts.

Angel had enough of his own to worry about, especially whether or not getting involved with Cordelia was the right thing to do. God knows he wanted it badly enough. She had to know that much after what happened between them earlier.

The issue seemed clear to him, but Cordelia managed to make it confusing. “Are we together officially or unofficially, or are we just having a little fun? Y’know, a little macking on the side while—” 

“Stop,” Angel barked in effort to get a word in. Anger, frustration and confusion jockeyed for control as he tried to find the right way to answer her question. “If you’re asking me if I’m serious about this…about being with you, then the answer is yes.”

He heard a little sigh escape her lips, but she seemed to be waiting to hear more, so Angel pressed on. He released his hold on her arm, lifting his hand to cup her cheek. “There’s nothing unofficial about it, Cordy. Not if you want me the same way.”

“Yes.” Not even a slight hint of doubt sounded in her rapid response.

Briefly, Angel pressed his lips to hers, pulling back when she would have given him more. He sounded harsher than he meant to, but Cordelia needed to face facts before getting in too deep. Because Angel knew once he truly started to let himself think of her as being his, he would never want to walk away from this or from her.

“I’m a vampire,” he morphed into his natural features, hard ridges supplanting smooth angles. “You can’t ever forget that, or let me. There’s a reason I’ve been cursed and I pay for it every day with the memories of the countless people I’ve drained, tortured and left for dead.”

Cordelia paled slightly. It was an ugly truth, after all. Yet she looked deep into his ochre eyes to say, “I know all of that.”

“Cordy, I don’t want you to be one of them,” he stressed. “I lost my soul because I let myself forget about everything I’ve done, about the evil inside me. There is no guarantee that I—.”

“Whoa, buddy! There’re no guarantees for a lot of things.” Cordelia poked him in the chest. “You don’t need to rehash the exploits of Angelus. I have seen you evil, up close and personal. Not easy to forget.”

Shifting back into his human form, Angel relaxed a little at the fact that Cordelia did not scare easily. “What if I told you that I want you?”

“Duh! Ditto.”

Angel tried to fight off the smile that threatened to appear as he continued. He needed to know that she was ready for a relationship, partly blaming his failed love affair with Buffy because neither one of them knew what they were getting into. He was also fully cognizant of the risks. “I don’t know how far we can go, physically.”

Heat bloomed beneath his hand as a bright blush colored her cheeks. “As far as it’s safe, I suppose. Funny how they don’t cover soul lossage in Health Ed. It’s all about condoms and bananas.”

He lost his train of thought after that.

“So…umm,” Cordelia clasped her hands behind her back, swaying side to side. “I told Faith about us. She promised to keep it quiet.”

“Do you want to?” Angel asked suddenly picturing the hullabaloo that would follow any announcement that they were a couple. “Keep it quiet, I mean.”

Cordelia frowned thoughtfully. “Could we keep it between us for now? Part of me wants to tell the others, but you know what will happen.”

“Yes,” Angel nodded. “Buffy and Xander—

“They’ll freak.”

“It’s none of their business,” Angel growled at the notion that their two exes had any say in the matter. At the same time, he had to concede, “But they deserve to be told at the right moment.”

“And in the right way,” Cordelia totally agreed. Pointing out, “I’m pretty sure that ‘Bite me, Angel’s mine now’ won’t go over in a big way.”

That mesmerizing smile appeared on her face holding Angel captive and making him helpless to do anything more than smile back. Finally, he decided that Cordelia was right about waiting a while. Springing the news on everyone right now while they were in the middle of this apocalyptic prophecy, especially when Cordy was in danger and needed Buffy’s support, seemed like the wrong timing.

Angel pulled her into his arms, hands shifting over her shoulders and down to her waist, enjoying the sensation of so much bare skin. “We’ll wait to tell them.”

“Good.” Arms around his neck, she reached up to kiss him. The warmth of her lips lingered even after she pulled away.

Angel pulled the scrunchy elastic thing out of her hair, fingering through her long tresses. Even damp with perspiration she was beautiful, womanly beyond her years despite her innocence. He had meant to be frank with her so she would understand the risk she was taking. Still, he doubted she knew just how much he desired her.

That he had been fantasizing about her in ways that also fueled his demonic nature. Things she was nowhere near to being ready to experience yet. Angel felt his loins tighten just at the thought of it and quickly admonished himself for bringing such base thoughts into the realm of possibility.

Maybe it would not surprise her. Cordelia was passionate enough to have an active fantasy life of her own and he hoped he played a part in it. That was something he wanted to eventually explore. Angel knew they needed to take this slowly, but as they had already demonstrated that wasn’t likely to happen.

He had the ability to be patient when he wanted to be. For Cordelia’s sake, Angel planned to try. Slow was out of the question, but there was a difference between moving ahead and moving too quickly. Just to test the notion out, he kissed her with determined tenderness, finding his resolve wavering when Cordy let out a mewl of pleasure.

There was just one thing he needed to know before letting things go any further. It was a question he had been asking for a while now. One Cordelia stubbornly refused to answer.

Lifting his head, Angel watched her eyelids flutter open and the silent question forming on her still-pursed lips. He brushed his mouth across hers one more time before asking, “What was it that Drusilla said to you at Trinity Church?”

He felt her body tense beneath his hands. Cordelia blinked, and then looked away for a moment. Slowly, she lifted her gaze back to his. “The future, I guess. That’s what she does.”

“What future?” Angel wanted specifics.

Cordelia pressed her lips together. They opened with a soft pop as she told him, “Ours, I suppose. She showed me….”

Any elation Angel felt died when he remembered that Dru’s vision had frightened Cordy. “What?”

“It’s just that—,” she began only to falter. Then Cordy’s grin appeared, not as genuine as the last. Her eyes pleaded for him to press no further. “I can tell you that there’s a serious lack of limousines and red carpets.”  

59:     Angel's Mansion, Crawford Street, North Central Sunnydale

“Tell me,” Angel refused to be daunted by Cordelia’s diversion tactics. As they stood toe to toe, he laced his fingers through hers, softening the impact of his demand by stroking her palm. “Be honest, Cordy. Don’t keep me in the dark. What was so frightening?”

Cordelia squeezed his hand before hesitantly raising her eyes back to his, “You.”

Stunned, Angel jerked back dropping his hold on her hand as he tried to fit that revelation into the picture Drusilla had painted for him. He shook his head slowly. All he could think about was his fears of repeating mistakes he made with Buffy. That somehow his soul would be lost again and as Angelus he would renew his plan to target the Slayer’s friends for death, this time starting with Cordelia.

Only death would not serve as an escape, but a sentence to an eternity by his side. Angel felt sick at the surge of pure demonic lust that welled up inside him at the thought of truly making her his. It was a thought, an instinct he suppressed as other images flashed through his mind of her wrists bound, her body writhing as their lovers’ games went far beyond the point of pleasure.

He was a vampire with demonic desires, but that wasn’t what he wanted. Every remnant of humanity within him wanted something more. Voice thick with denial, “You know I’d do anything in my power to protect you, even from me.”

Angel touched his lips to her forehead before continuing, “Promise you’ll stake me if I—”

“Pfft! That’s a given,” Cordelia raised her brows and sent a look that suggested he was way off track. “I wasn’t talking about Angelus.”

That meant he frightened her, which was a hundred times worse. Looking for answers in her eyes, Angel saw only the slow buildup of a smile that started with a satisfied little smirk. Confusion kept him silent until Cordelia finally explained, “Drusilla showed me glimpses of my future. You were there— um, with me.”

Angel wondered just how far in the future Dru’s glimpse had taken them. “We’re still seeing each other?”

“Oh, yeah, a lot,” Cordelia clarified. “When I said you were with me, I meant you were with me. There was nakedness and…” a blush colored her cheeks as her words trailed off, eyes tilting upward as she got lost in the memory of it.

Fear diminishing, Angel began to realize the reason for Cordelia’s initial reaction to him. With their friendship so new, it was no wonder seeing something like that had frightened her a little, especially considering the curse. If that was all that was holding her back, Angel knew he could alleviate some of those fears. Not all at once, perhaps. Not even tonight.

Curious, he wanted to hear more. Confidence renewed, Angel stepped forward again. His fingertips slid over the curves of her hip spreading out to span her small waist. “Were we making love?” he asked, purposely phrasing it gently.

When her hands lifted to settle on his arms, he felt like purring at her touch. God, he wanted more, now. Somehow, Angel managed to keep still despite the urge to make that vision a reality. Despite sensing her early arousal, he knew Cordelia was not ready to make that leap in their relationship, even if it was somehow possible.

Cordelia’s tongue dragged across her lips. They parted as her gaze slipped down to his mouth. “Yes,” she answered looking back up at him.

There were limits Angel was holding to tonight, but that did not meant he could not push them a little. “Tell me what you saw. Did we kiss?” His lips captured hers briefly, only a tease as her head tilted up for more when he lifted his mouth away to let her answer.

As she opened her eyes that had drifted closed during the kiss, Cordelia let out a little mewl of protest, wanting more. “Yes,” she admitted licking her lips again to savor the taste of him, “but not just my mouth.”

“Here?” One hand moved up so that his thumb brushed the curved underside of her breast.

Cordelia nodded and a little pant escaped her throat as his hand turned, the back of his fingers moving across the outer curve and then shifting again to fully cup her breast in his palm. The Lycra proved a thin barrier as it revealed the budding shape of her nipple.

Before he gave into the temptation to bend his head down to drag his tongue across the peaking fabric, Angel moved his hand back to the curve of her waist. He settled for kissing her instead, a soft moan sounding between them inflaming the soft touch of lips into something more.

Mouths parted into a wet slip-slide of tasting and teasing. Like an addict, Angel could not get enough. He fluttered his tongue against the flat of hers eliciting a lusty little sound as Cordy’s arms wound around his neck, and crushed her body against his.

Maybe it was for the best when Cordelia reluctantly ended the kiss by settling her hand on his cheek. “Angel, wait. I have to tell you the rest.”  

60:     Giles Place, Oak Park Street, South Central Sunnydale

Having just settled down for a relaxing evening of light research and a hot cup of tea, Rupert Giles was not expecting the doorbell to ring. He had sensed that everyone was at a point where they needed to take advantage of this break in demonic activity. His Slayers needed a night off.

At a guess, Giles figured that it might be Faith stopping over to provide him with an update. A glance through the peephole revealed he could not be further off the mark. The visual distortion caused by the small glass revealed only an unnaturally enlarged pair of eyes and nose behind thick frames as his visitor leaned close to the door.

Giles stepped back and opened the door. The young man suddenly stumbled over the threshold righting himself after a moment. While pressing his hands down over his suit jacket as if straightening unseen wrinkles, he lifted his jaw a degree higher and spoke, “Rupert Giles, I presume. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce here. It is an honor to meet you.”

During the handshake that followed, Giles noted that they seemed to be sizing each other up. The young man was far from what he expected. The Council had not provided many details, just a rather vague curriculum vitae. Their primary concern was to send assistance as it now appeared that they had not only one, but two apocalyptic-level events that would endanger the security of the Hellmouth and the world at large.

His hand was soft except for the calloused edge of his third finger, which indicated to Giles that he did a lot of writing, typical of a scholar. The name Wyndam-Pryce preceded him. Like Giles’ father, his too had Council ties. That alone made Giles want to give the younger man a break for arriving a day ahead of schedule.

However, it was not simply scholarly expertise Giles required. Dividing his time between two Slayers was problematic. Buffy needed guidance and depended on him to provide it. Keeping her on track through the volatile course of her personal ups and downs was a handful. The world could not afford a lapse of concentration.

Neither did it help that Buffy and Faith were such disparate personalities. Much like squabbling siblings vying for the attention of their father figure, their relationship angled toward the competitive.

Faith needed something quite different than Buffy when it came to training. She needed control and temperance, someone she could not dominate into letting her have her way. Giles only hoped that appearances were deceiving when it came to Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.

“I understand that you narrowly beat out Gwendolyn Post for the job,” Giles said as he ushered him into the living room.

Apparently, Ms. Post did not have the necessary expertise in ancient languages required to deal with this current crisis whilst he did. Considering Faith’s sexually charged habit of manipulating the men in her sphere, through teasing or outright seduction, providing a female Watcher would have been an ace decision on the Council’s part. Putting Faith’s development as a Slayer into this young man’s hands was somewhat concerning.

On paper, his credentials were sparkling. What they did not mention was his experience in the field. Beaming proudly in response, he told Giles, “I have taken it upon myself to become extensively familiar with Sunnydale history, the origins of the Septarius scroll in your possession, and with the rather illuminating reports about my Slayer.”

Giles pressed his mouth closed and then offered his new comrade some tea. “I believe you will have better luck with Faith if you let go any preconceived notions about her.”

“Luck is immaterial,” he sounded certain of it. “It is my duty and therefore I will and must succeed.”

Oh, dear. Giles lifted his cup to his mouth hiding his smirk behind it. Idealism was hardly going to make an impression on Faith. It might be amusing to see how she reacted to her new Watcher especially since she had already protested that she neither needed nor wanted one. And yet it was necessary.

“When might I be able to meet her?”

The enthusiasm to get on with his new role was strangely annoying, and yet equally familiar. Giles could remember his own nervous anticipation at meeting Buffy for the first time. Whilst he had not expected to become Watcher to a second Slayer, acting as such on Faith’s behalf had been a challenge. They had only just settled in to a steady working relationship building up the trust between them.

“Not tonight,” Giles sounded a bit perturbed. When Wyndam-Pryce’s brows shot up in reaction, he knew that he had noticed. Tempering his voice, he explained why. “I gave everyone the night off.”

Jaw dropping in reaction, he clipped, “Evil doesn’t take the night off, Mr. Giles, neither should Slayers.”

Giles watched him set down the teacup and rise to his feet. Perhaps this young man needed a little lesson in the realities of dealing with his new assignment. “Very well, then. I think it’s a good bet that you’ll find Faith at the Bronze.”

“The Bronze?” A frown appeared. “Is that a sort of nightclub?”

“I thought you’d researched Sunnydale extensively,” Giles could not help but mock the new Watcher. Enthusiasm was one thing, but overambitious idealism could be dangerous especially considering.

“Only what’s important.”

Showing him back to the door, Giles gave him directions to the eastside club. “A word of advice...”

“Yes, Mr. Giles?”

“Don’t underestimate what’s important to your Slayer,” he said. “These girls are young women with interests and…desires like any other. Stick to the training, but do not try to run every aspect of Faith’s life. That’s the road to failure.”

Mulling over the advice, he gave a curt nod, obviously still chock full of his own ideas on the matter.

“After you’ve seen and heard enough,” Giles told him, “come back here. I’ll fill you in on a few details you might not have read in the reports.”  

The Next Scenes          Map of Sunnydale          Scene-by-Scene Guide


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