Cursed


AUTHOR: CHELLE
SUMMARY: Angel has been back from Hell for a while and it’s Halloween.
RATING: NC17
POSTED: 12 Nov 2008
CATEGORY: Angst
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A
WARNINGS: Violence, Language, and a little Sex
FICPIC CREDIT: N/A
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) This story was created in response to a prompt submitted by Starlet2367.
2) The prompt: (BtVS years) A haunted house, Willy’s, Cordy driving Angel’s car


Cordelia Chase stared at the Bunny costume hanging on the door of her antique armoire in her massive bedroom. Automatically the fashion hemisphere of her brain did a mental check. Had anyone worn such a costume in the last couple of years? After a quick scan and catalogue of her near perfect memory of every outfit ever worn by anyone she’d ever known, she came across another bunny costume.

Willow Rosenberg. She had worn one two years ago.

Chewing on her bottom lip, Cordelia eyed the outfit, pondering a change. No. She would go with the Bunny. It was the best choice for the night and it wouldn’t be as if she were exactly repeating a costume Willow had worn before. After all, Willow’s costume had been made of some kind of synthetic fluffatude: complete with sewn in zipper, slippered feet, and floppy ears. The only thing made of fluff on Cordelia’s was the little white tail meant to pin on her backside. Plus, it was perfect for tonight. Not because of it’s deep crimson satin or the way it hiked up high on her hips. Not because its tight fit and low cut neckline made her a full cup size bigger. What made it perfect was that it was simply the vainest most self-absorbed costume that she owned; therefore, her sturdiest suit of armor. And tonight she needed that armor more than ever.

Oh she had other armor along with a whole stash of weapons. Shields made of Gucci, Versace. Swords in the form of a quick quip, jabs at others to make her appear totally shallow, heartless. But those were her everyday assortment. And they certainly served their purpose to fight her everyday battle. Convincing the world that a self-absorbed, shallow, self-proclaimed queen could never be deep enough to know what really went on in the world. Could never see beyond her manicured nails and her daddy’s credit card. But she could see. More than they knew.

Buffy and her friends – even Giles – had no idea what she could see. They thought they knew evil because they knew about demons and vampires. Pfft! She’d known about them forever. They were the easiest ones to spot. So corporal that she could almost choke on the darkness that radiated from them, making it all the more difficult to act as if she was oblivious to their existence. Granted, they were evil, but just like everything else in life, evil had its levels. Vampires and the demons that had run amuck in Sunnydale for ages were not the only evil in the world. There were others that walked among humans unseen, forgotten. The Ancient Ones. Waiting, watching for a chance to break some veil that seemed to separate them from the real world.

Luckily the “real world” couldn’t see them, couldn’t sense them. And in that lay all human safety. For it seemed that those who could not see them or sense them, could also not be touched by them, hurt by them, forced to do their bidding in order to bring them back into the world.

“Never let the Ancient Ones know you see them,” Cordelia’s great-grandmother had whispered to her long ago, just before her death. “And never tell another human about it. Most would never believe you and the one‘s that do believe are never to be trusted. There are human monsters too, Cordelia.“ Cordelia had been only seven years old when her Great-Gram had set her on her path, helped her define who she would have to be. “It is how I’ve survived so long. The monsters are looking for us, dear. Those of us that can see. Those of us that know things we should not know. We are their only way back. I had hoped the cursed gift would die with me. Your grandmother nor your mother ever showed any signs of sensing them. But you, my dear, are like me and my mother before me. And you must do what we have done. Close yourself off, hide your open soul and questioning mind. They can sense those with deeper thoughts, farther vision. Shut off your senses as best you can and simply……..pretend. Pretend they are not there, pretend you don’t see them, pretend you are not what you are.”

That night Great-Gram had passed away. Great-Gram’s pretend life had ended, and Cordelia’s had began. It was the first night of Cordelia’s “pretend” life. The first night that Cordelia didn’t call out to her mother and father. The first night that she didn’t cry because “there might monster in the closet, or one pacing outside her window” during one of their many searches for one of her kind. Whatever “her kind“ was.. Somehow, even at seven years old, she knew that what Great-Gram had told her to do would protect her, and all those she loved. So, she had kissed her parents and said goodnight. Pretending to fall fast asleep, pretending not to hear the scrape of claws on her window screen, pretending the floor boards weren’t creaking under heavy hoofed feet, pretending she wasn’t the one they were searching for.

Taking the costume from the wooden hanger, Cordelia forced her mind away from the past. Tonight the Ancient Ones, as her Great-Gram had called them, would be out in full force, they always were on Halloween. Her parents had taken yet another one of their weekend vacations and conveniently not taken her along and there was no way in hell she would be alone with so many out. Nope, tonight especially she had to appear as just one of the human herd. A silly, shallow, vain, teen out for a night of fun. Not a terrified freak cowering in her room.

*****

Angel was feeling on edge. Guess that happened after you spent what seemed like a hundred years in hell only to be brought back, insane, and trying hard to pretend that everything was normal. Well, as normal as things could get in his existence.

Angel had parked his car a few blocks away from his destination, opting to walk the rest of the way, watching as human children dressed in their worst nightmares or as their favorite cartoon character began to fill the sidewalks of Sunnydale. He puzzled over how such a night had become more about plastic masks and Hershey bars than about its true purpose.

Now the once sacred holiday consisted of Frat parties, innocent faces on a sugar high, and marathons of bad B movies playing all month on television. It was ironic that the evils that preyed on humans three-hundred-sixty-four days out of the year usually took the one night off that humans actually wanted to be terrified. Reveled in the adrenaline thrill that being frightened gave them.

Angel crossed the street, sidestepping two adolescent boys with silicone blood and gore glued to their faces. The boys jumped back into his view and roared at him, giving him their scariest pose.

Angel stood still in front of them, staring at them as if they were insane then morphing his face, giving them a roar of his own.

“Holy Shit!” One of the boys yelled as they ran away, laughing. “Did you see his mask! That was sooo cool!”

Angel shook his head as he morphed back and continued walking, trying not to let the smile in his mind slip down to his face. He couldn’t even scare humans tonight. He guessed it was because none of them truly knew what scary was. None had ever faced real evil. Even Buffy and her pack of followers didn’t know genuine evil in its purest form. Oh Giles had volumes on every demon they would probably see in this realm. But Angel had seen things that no human would probably ever see. He’d been to Hell and back – literally – and what he had faced there at the border of Hell had been unlike anything he had ever felt or seen. Even Angelus was a lightweight compared to the Ancient Ones.

Looking around at the squealing kids that dotted the dark sidewalks, Angel wondered how they would feel if they knew what he knew. Knew that Hell wasn’t a deep cavernous steam bath beneath the Earth, or a psychological state of the human brain. Hell was real and tangible. And Sunnydale wasn’t just at the Hellmouth, it was the Hellmouth. And not any simple Hellmouth either. It was The Gateway to the worst dimension of Hell. The Hell reserved solely for demons.. The Border of the demon Hell was smack down right on top of the little unsuspecting town. A thin invisible veil the only thing separating the border patrolled by the Ancient Ones and the bustling streets of Sunnydale. It was part of the torture and torment of Hell. Being pulled into the abyss while still able to see the world you could no longer touch, be a part of, trying to escape, the Ancient Ones always on your heals, eager to bestow unimaginable agony and suffering. They were the guardians between the realms. The jailers who were as much a prisoner as any other thing in that dimension. But they were able to walk the line that separated the two worlds. Always searching for a way out of their service. Angel had lasted longer than most on that border, destroying two Ancient Ones before finally being over powered by them, entering into a world that had almost cost him his sanity and his soul.

It had been beyond his darkest imagination, the few months that had felt to him as if a hundred years. But if he had to choose he knew he would do it again in an instant. Because, although he had not admitted it to anyone, he had actually gotten something from his time there. Or more accurately, left something behind.

The fact that he hadn’t told Buffy about the lose of Angelus in Hell flooded him with guilt. He should have told her. Let her know that Angelus was no longer a threat to humanity. But he was a coward. Avoiding the inevitable. Because the moment he told her that Angelus was gone she would want to pick things up where they had left them. And he would have to talk to her about his feelings. Or lack there of.

Sure, he cared for her. But after their night together it wasn’t what he wanted, what he thought it had been or would be. He had been so obsessed with her after he first saw her through her parent’s window. Whistler had given him hope, telling him that helping the Slayer would make him worth something again. And so, to him, Buffy had represented the world of good. The world he had never been accepted into, even as a mortal man. He supposed now that he looked at it from a little distance that he had wanted her acceptance – body and soul. As if Buffy accepting him into her heart, into her body, was some sort of redemption. A symbol of acceptance and forgiveness for Angelus’ atrocities and Liam’s life as a rogue.

But their night together had left him wanting. Sure it had been sweet and comforting, but somehow he had expected …..fireworks?….all consuming passion? Instead, being with Buffy had made him feel frustrated and a little guilty. Sure the few seconds of bliss that every man experiences at the moment of climax had made way for Angelus, but that was just a trigger that had sent him out, not an indication of Angel’s true feelings.

He wanted something….more. Deeper. Stronger. He supposed he was reaching. Trying to grasp something he didn’t deserve or that possibly didn’t even exist. The only time he had even glimpsed that something had been a couple of years ago, sitting in that stupid teen bar at a little round table talking to Cordelia Chase. She had been so fascinating that night, switching from playful frivolous banter to deep thought in one sentence. Flashing a smile that he had never seen on her face before – or since for that matter. He had always found her attractive. He supposed his body reacted to her just as any other man’s would. But that night, there had been something about her, about being there with her that made him want more. But when Buffy had shown up, quickly leaving after seeing Cordelia, things had changed. He had gone back to the table, not wanting to end his night with Cordelia, assuring himself he would check on Buffy later. He had approached the table, intent on continuing their conversation, maybe even taking a walk. But as he approached the table, a different Cordelia greeted him. All practiced flirtation and big plastic smiles. He had been so disappointed and marked it up to his extreme physical attraction to her. He must have wanted there to be something more there so badly that he had convinced himself she was deeper than the shallow pool she swam in.

Or maybe it had been Angelus. Maybe Angelus had wanted her so badly that he had played with Angel’s mind, his emotions. He had often tried little tricks on Angel when he had been in residence. Creeping into Angel’s thoughts, feeding his fears. Angelus would have known what thoughts Angel had of Cordelia that night. How much he had wanted her.

Tearing his mind away from dark thoughts, Angel finally spotted the large brick house on the corner, draped with cotton cobwebs and screaming with a sound system of scary noises from all the windows. He cringed. Spending a Halloween night at the Sunnydale High School PTO Fifth Annual Haunted House was the last thing he wanted to do. But he needed to see Buffy. Needed to tell her the truth. Maybe he could get her alone long enough to talk to her, explain things a bit. He only hoped that she would take it well, would still allow him to help. Because, in a way, following her to Sunnydale had been a step to redemption, putting meaning into his existence. It just hadn’t been the girl that had redeemed him, it had been the act of helping, of doing good. And now that he had tasted that satisfaction, knew that he could help, he didn’t want to stop. Bracing himself, he pushed open the door of the large home, entering the massive living room where the pre-party was taking place.

Angel spotted Buffy in an instant in the crowded room and watched her for a moment before approaching. Xander Harris was leaning close to her ear, obviously trying to speak above the noise of bad teen mood music, and Buffy was smiling. A thought suddenly occurred to Angel. How many times had he himself made her smile? Once, maybe. But here was a perfect picture of what she should be. Happy. Suddenly his reluctance to tell her the truth seemed foolish, self-serving. She deserved the truth, about everything. Keeping it in just kept her wishing, believing, in something that did not exist.

Making up his mind, Angel made his way through the throng of teens and the few parents, determined to get her alone.

*****

Cordelia checked her make-up in the rearview mirror, straightened her bunny ears, and took a deep breath. Harmony’s Halloween party was the first invitation she had gotten from the “A” crowd since her shunning by the shallower members of Sunnydale High. But of course, like all groups that occupied the upper crust of society, eventually her wealth and status had deemed her forgiven. Oh, she knew that this was her probationary period. They would be watching her every move during the party to make absolutely sure she was one of “them” again. God, she felt like a Stepford.

Shaking her melancholy mood, Cordelia looked back into the mirror and smiled the smile that she had practiced down to an art. The plastic, superficial, I’m a beauty queen and I vote for world peace smile. This is good, she told herself. These were the people she belonged with. Easier to pretend there is nothing inside of you deeper than your pocketbook when you hung out with people no deeper than theirs. Getting out of the car a sense of relief washed over her at not spotting one AO on the way to Harmony’s. Maybe tonight would not turn out too badly. Harmony always did throw a great party. She would have a good time, at least a decent time. And if it took the whole party to convince herself of that fact well then so be it. Straightening her shoulders, she began to walk to the door, ignoring the catcalls and whistles from some of the football team members drinking outside.

*****

Forty-five minutes later and Angel still had not gotten to talk to Buffy alone. Instead, he found himself walking with her through a horribly homemade haunting, complete with black garbage bags, peeled grapes, and really bad monster impersonations. The only thing remotely accurate was the continuing theme through the house, the story of an ancient evil being banished to the edge of Hell. Oh, they had almost all of the story wrong, but it seemed they had looked up just enough information – undoubtedly from the internet – to come just close enough to give Angel some pause.

He glanced at Buffy who had been content to avoid direct eye contact for most of the evening and took her arm, pulling her to the back of the group of giggling kids.

“We need to talk.”

“About what, Angel?” she asked with a sigh of frustration, keeping pace with the group ahead as they approached a room with a title written in marker above the door. It read “The Banishment” in red letters made to look as if they were dripping blood.

“There are some things…..particularly one thing….It’s about my time ” Angel looked at the backs in front of them as they walked, “my time away,” he continued softer as they entered what appeared to be the finale of the story, a small back room with a door leading outside.

“Angel,” Buffy answered just as softly when the guide introduced the last exhibit. “Can’t we just pretend for one night that you are a normal guy and I’m a normal girl out together?”

“No, that’s just it. I’m tired of pretending. Pretending I’m something you want me to be.”

The guide shot Angel a fierce look meant to hush him as the occupants enacting some concocted ritual began their show. Both Angel and Buffy stared forward, holding off the pending storm while the haunted house reached its anti-climatic ending. Angel leaned his back against the wall behind Buffy and stared seemingly at the three women sitting around a table, a bowl filled with dry ice in the middle. The women, parents he was sure, wore grave and serious faces as they began to speak, waving their hands around the bowl dramatically with each word.

“Exsilium sepono proeliator immortalis supplicium curtail abyssus ambitus,” the three spoke in unison.

Angel froze.

His body, usually cold, felt as if it was on fire. Pain shot through him so intense that he had to bend slightly at the knees just to keep from falling.

“Buffy,” he called to her for help.

Buffy didn’t answer, her face a grim mask as she continued to watch as the women celebrated.

Okay, she was mad. “Buffy,” he tried again as another wave passed through him, this time succeeding in bringing him to his knees.

“And the villagers were free of their immortal torturers, the hell warriors that had terrorized them for centuries,” their guide and narrator began his conclusion. “But beware!” he was all theatrics. “there are those who say they walk amongst us, unseen, unheard, forgotten. But although we have forgotten them, they have not forgotten us and are always searching for a way back into our world.”

Angel’s pain eased as the group began to file out the back door of the house. Confused, he looked to Buffy again, “What the hell was that?” he asked.

Buffy turned and looked, a frown of confusion and then one of anger crossing her face.

“I’m sorry, I know I was loud but……something’s wrong.” He ran a hand through his hair and noticed he was shaking. Shaking!

Buffy turned and stomped from the room to the yard outside.

“Buffy, wait!” Angel called and followed. “I know you’re mad,” he tried softer when he caught up to her. He didn’t want this to go badly, that hadn’t been his intention. And she was scanning the backyard full of partiers, her eyes passing right by him. Christ, he knew she was young, but she didn’t have to act like a baby about it. She was going to have to face some hard truths whether she wanted to or not. “Buffy, ignoring me won’t make what I have to say any less painful.” When she continued her little charade, Angel’s patience began to run thin. Reaching out for her arm as she began to turn he said, “Buffy, Angelus is………”Angel’s words faded. He stood motionless as he stared down at his hand. The hand that had been reaching out to take hold of Buffy. The one that had passed right through her.

He couldn’t think for a moment, could barely wrap his mind around the sight.

Xander’s voice broke in on Angel’s shocked silence, drawing his attention. “Where’s His Royal Impotency?” was the wisecrack first out of the boy’s mouth.

Buffy shrugged, “We had an argument. When I looked up, he was gone.”

“Typical,” Xander snorted.

“Don’t,” she warned, her eyes still half scanning the crowd as if to catch a glimpse of his retreat. “I don’t understand why he would just leave.”

“I didn’t.”

“Isn’t that what he does? Stalks, broods, leaves, maims, kills…..” Xander’s words overlapped Angel’s unheard answer.

“Xander,” Buffy warned again.

Giving up, Xander moved close to his friend, slinging an arm around her shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go see if Giles still has any of the good stuff left.”

Buffy gave a small smile, “He buys the full size bars ya know.”

“I know. I raided his stash two days before Halloween last year,” Xander confessed as the two friends headed down the sidewalk.

And just like that, Angel thought, he was forgotten. Or maybe not forgotten. Maybe they were just used to his usually routine. He had to admit, he had been the king of avoidance, using his power of speed and stealth to get him out of any uncomfortable emotional situation. But damn it! He had wanted to talk it out this time. Wanted to come clean. And now…..now he was invisible. Angel raised his hand in the air. At least he could see himself.

What had happened? Angel’s thoughts began to rewind to the haunted house when he had doubled over in pain. As he thought, he absently leaned against a nearby tree and crossed his arms. The tree was solid behind him, supporting his weight. Angel stepped away from the tree and turned toward it, running his hand over the rough bark. Okay, so he could touch trees. He bent to the ground, brushed his hand over the grass, picked up an empty plastic cup and let it drop to the ground. And it seems other things as well. So people were the only thing affected by the invisibility. He leaned against the tree again and felt the burning he had felt in the house before creeping up his spine. What was that?

He thought of the room. He’d been trying to talk to Buffy. To tell her about Angelus, to open up a discussion about the nature of their relationship. And ….. His thoughts trailed…… the women. The ones at the table. They had said……what had they said? ……Exsillium sepono ….proeliator immortalis supplicium curail abyssus ambitus…….Oh, no. Oh, shit! They had gotten the curse down with just as little accuracy as they had the story. But, it would seem, enough to have caused a real curse. He went through his mental Latin translator. They had said something close to “banish the tortured, immortal warrior beyond the curtain – or veil maybe – to the border of Hell”

The heat passed through him on a stronger wave this time and a familiar taste ran down the back of his throat. He should have remembered that taste, the feeling of heat washing through a cold body. A sound that could almost be defined as a laugh escaped his mouth, full of bitterness and a little left of sane. He was on the border of Hell. Again. And soon they would sense him. Drag him back down to the darkest nightmares beyond anyone’s imagination. Where Angelus waited to claim him again. He scanned the area. One of the Ancient Ones had to be close. That was the taste in the back of his mouth, the one of burnt ash. Their personal calling card to the hunted, damned souls.

He wouldn’t stay. Not this time. He had killed two of them before. He could hold them off until he found a way back. Giles would know. But how the hell would he be able to get anything from the Watcher? No one could see him.

Convincing himself he would find a way, Angel began to move through the yard and then down the street. He had to keep moving, they would begin tracking him soon if they hadn’t already. And the less Ancients he had to face the better.

*****

The party had been a huge mistake. She should have known it would not have been that easy to blend right back into the flock. Of course there would be some kind of test. She should have expected it, seen it coming. But Holy Crap! What a freaking disaster.

Her test had been handed to her in the form of a drunken Ricky Stanton – current running back of the Sunnydale High football team and the one and only boy she had ever had sex with. He had been a little drunk then too, if memory served, and had taken all of three seconds to “fulfill her every fantasy“ – he had slurred the words into her ear in the confines of the car. Wow, what a turn on. Of course she supposed she should be thankful for his brevity because in those three seconds he had been rough enough to turn her off of the physical stuff indefinitely.

Unfortunately, he had not gotten any smoother. Catching her by the arm, he had pulled her into a back room at the party occupied by a few of his friends, informing her that the only way to get rid of the smell of loser from her skin was to be with him again. While a couple of his closest friends looked on of course. What a joke! As if she had had sex with Xander, or anyone else for that matter. “So you smell loser on me?” she had asked in the dingiest voice she could muster, adding a little pout for good measure.

“It’s all over you, baby,” he whispered in her ear and tried to kiss her neck.

Pulling away, she asked, “So, you’re saying I reek of loser from the last guy I slept with?”

“I can smell it all over you,” he smiled at the look of fear on her face. Female insecurity, worked every time.

“Well, I guess I’d better go find someone quick, asshole,” her tone changed to a whipping lash. “Because you were the last loser I let touch me.”

Cordelia closed her eyes as she made her way out of the house and down the walk. Harmony had been furious. Evidently she had “fixed” things up between Ricky and Cordelia. Her angry words bounced around in Cordelia’s head. “You told him what? He was your ticket back, Cordelia! How am I supposed to show my face around you at school now?”

God, what a nightmare. All she wanted to do was go home. Go home, hover under the covers in her room with a good book and pull a Scarlet O’Hara on her disastrous “come back”.

She had just taken a deep breath and almost made it to her car, determined to think about it all tomorrow, when she caught sight of Angel walking ahead. He was staring sightlessly forward as he walked, apparently in deep thought. Great, just what she needed. For where Angels tread Buffys were not far behind. It was all she needed for their little circle to witness her humiliation. Now more than ever she needed her mask fully in place. If not for Xander, Buffy, and Willow for the vampire stalking up the sidewalk. He was a particular crack in her wall. Twice she had let her guard down around him. The first time could be explained away to everyone. No one else knew she could tell a vamp from a human. And to be honest, her vampdar had been out of whack the first time she laid eyes on Angel, letting a “salty goodness” remark escape her lips before realizing what he was. It must have been the soul thing that had thrown her off.

The second time, however, there had been no excuse. She knew what he was. Still she had sat with him at the little table as he waited for Buffy. Talking about cars and old movies, forgetting herself, everything she had been taught, had practiced. For the first time in … well …. forever she had forgotten her Gram’s words and let herself free if only for a few moments. Luckily Buffy had moped in, her life in full drama. (Pfft! At least the Slayer was powerful enough to kill the things that haunted her. ) By the time Angel had returned to their table, Cordelia had regained herself, wall in place, fortress secure.

He had seemed deflated when he returned to find her that way and in truth it had disappointed her. But she knew the reality of things. If he knew what she was and thought that it was important that Buffy know too, he would bark like the lap dog he was. Even worse, if he turned into Angelus again….. Well she didn’t want to think what that demon would do with the knowledge.

Nope, his great bod and puppy dog eyes would not get to her this time. He was what he was. A demon. And off limits.

Keep the mask on, she told herself, prepared for a confrontation as he neared. His eyes focused on her for a moment, scanned her up and down, focusing intently on her outfit before returning to her face. She hadn’t felt self-conscious in the bunny suit until that moment. She had worn it for the reaction it would cause in everyone else, to continue the game she played, the trick on them all. But Angel. For some reason she wanted to crawl under a rock or throw a raincoat over herself. Because the look Angel had just given her wasn’t the look the boys from school gave. One that said “Wow she’s hot! Must be dumb and shallow too.” The look Angel had given her made her aware of every part of her that was exposed. And the parts that weren’t. She waited for his comment, or even a nod of acknowledgement as Angel reached the sidewalk next to her and then……passed right by. She watched him, his gate angry and purposeful, reaching out and grabbing the cane held by one of the drunken teen partiers as part of a costume. The boy fell to the ground, the cane obviously his only source of vertical establishment. The boy shook his head and looked around, confused, and like he might just lose whatever concoction that had gotten him so smashed.

“Gee,” she called after, not able to help herself. The war in her mind and heart over wanting to be noticed and not be noticed coming to a draw. “Buffy try to send you to Hell again or is it just Angelus paying a visit?” Of course she knew it wasn’t Angelus, she could sense that monster a mile away. This was just Angel in full brood and a little pissed. She should have just let it go, but he had walked right passed her! Without even a word. Even though his look had held a thousand of them. It was just that she couldn’t seem to translate if the look had been one of disgust…..or approval?

Angel stopped, still as stone before turning to her, his brows down in a frown. “You see me,” his deep voice nearly rasped out.

“Yeah,” came her sing-song sarcasm peppered with a little hurt at his disregard. Remberthewall, rememberthemask. Catching herself, she flipped her hair to one side, all ice-princess. “Just taking up for my friends,” she gave a head nod to the still stunned second stringer on the ground who looked like he could puke at any moment. The one who’s name she didn’t even know, much less counted as a friend. “It’s rude to push my friends around and I would appreciate it if you at least try to act hu….well civil at least.” With that, she turned on her spiky heels, chin held high, and beeped off her alarm on her car down the street.

He was beside her in less than a second, hesitated, then reached out and grabbed her arm, turning her around to face him.

“Hey!” God, she was tired of grabby male hands tonight.

But Angel ignored her protest and simply stared down where his hand had hold of her. Very slowly he looked up at her, but didn‘t let go. “You see me,” he repeated with amazement. “And I can touch you.”

“Uh, no you can’t, buster,” she snapped, pulling her arm away and turning back to her car.

Angel felt the burning spike up the back of his neck again, the bad taste in his mouth. The Ancients. Fuck, he didn’t need this right now. He knew they could sense him and as soon as they caught up with him….. He was not going back. Not ever. He’d burn in the sun before he was taken back to Hell by one of those bastards.

Angel moved around her, blocking her from stepping off the curb and reaching the driver’s side door. “Cordelia,” he said with as much patience as he could collect. “I need you to listen to me. I’ve been cursed.”

“Well, duh. Isn’t that your whole bio. Cursed vamp with a soul, cursed vamp with a Slayer for a girlfriend, cursed vamp who can’t…….”

“Cordelia, tonight. Tonight I was cursed. No one can see me. Except, for some odd reason, you.”

When she looked at him like he was insane, Angel stepped back onto the sidewalk and stood still, waiting for the next person to walk by. Cordelia’s eyes grew huge as the trick-or-treater passed right through him.

“What…..?” Cordelia trailed off as Angel walked back to her side. Reaching out, she made contact with his chest. “How can I feel you? You’re real, I feel you,” she reiterated while her hand roamed from chest to shoulder.

“I don’t have time to explain now,” he took a quick scan around. “And I’m not really sure why you can see me. But because you can see and hear me, I need your help. I need to get to Giles. Figure out if there is a reverse for this idiotic thing.” He looked around again.

Cordelia didn’t like the way his eyes kept searching, he seemed a little off. Nervous? Did Angel even get nervous? “Why are you looking around like that?”

“We need to go,” he said, his eyes still scanning, the heat now radiating his whole body. Grabbing her a little too hard, he pushed her toward her car.

“Hey! Again with the hands,” she shot, pushing him away and standing her ground. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what you’re so afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid!” He snapped his head back to her, his tone and stance making her take a step back. Christ, he didn’t need her scared. How could he get her to help him if she was terrified of him? It was just that he didn’t like to hear Cordelia call him afraid for some strange reason. He didn’t want her to think of him as weak. Even though it shouldn’t matter to him. Why did he care?

“I’m sorry,” he calmed. “It’s just… You probably won’t believe me. Being human you can’t see them or sense them.”

Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest, innocently pushing up her already elevated cleavage. Angel would not look down. He would not look……God, her breast were amazing.

“Excuse me,” Cordelia drew his attention back to her face. So the look had been approval. She hid her delight, secretly hating herself for finding pleasure in his appreciation of her body. “We’re not going anywhere until you tell me at least a little about what is going on.”

Angel paused for a moment, trying to think how to continue, ignoring the growing warning shooting through his body. He did owe her something if she was going to help him. Even if she wasn‘t going to be in any danger. “You know that they call Sunnydale the “Hellmouth” right? You’ve heard Giles or the others call it that?”

Cordelia nodded her head but still kept her distance. Noticing something about the vampire before her. He was confident even though he appeared a little worried. And he kept scanning around before looking back at her, like a warrior waiting for a fight. Primed. Dangerous. This was not Angel. Not the one she knew, the one that followed behind Buffy or sulked in corners until someone called his name. This Angel was full of aggression. Buzzing with the need to fight or get the hell out of the way of whatever he thought was coming.

“Look,“ he continued. “I’m here, but not here. I’m….stuck, I think…on the edge, or the border might be more accurate.” Jesus, this seemed so hard to explain. “I’m walking the border of a demon Hell, Cordelia. And the things that patrol that border sense me, are after me probably by now. They are beyond your imagination, Cordelia. Think of a demon’s demon. Something that would put fear into the things that hunt humans. I’m walking in both world’s, that one and this. I can touch some things, it appears, inanimate objects, but not humans. I can see and hear and smell them just as always, but it’s like I don’t exist anymore. Except, to you. Understand?”

“No, not really.” But it didn’t matter. She tried to remind herself that this was Angel, the vampire, the demon, the one that carried Angelus around with him. But how could she not help? She knew how that felt, walking in a world where no one really saw you. Oh, maybe in her case it was just metaphorical, but still, the idea. She knew.

Angel stared at her, watching her expression change, watching that counterfeit wall drop in an instant. This was the Cordelia that had sat and talked with him. This was what he thought he had seen that night, the person who had attracted him and drawn his interest. The one he had wanted to know more about.

Cordelia had to help him of course. Oh, she could fool herself for a moment and act as though the fact that he needed her, Cordelia Chase, to help him didn‘t thrill her beyond what she was comfortable admitting.. But it did. Someone needed her. Angel needed her. “Come on,” she moved to the car door acting put out by the effort it would take to help him, trying to convince herself and him that doing so was a great hardship. He followed her lead, going to the passenger side. “I’ll take you to Giles and explain what’s happened. Maybe he can help.”

“Cordelia,” Angel looked over the top of the little red car, grabbing her attention before they got in. It wasn‘t fair that he was asking this of her. She had apparently come from the party a few houses down. He imaged she had probably been having a great time too. How could she not have been having a great time looking like that? She had just gotten that idiot Xander Harris out of her life, barely escaping the break-up with her life. From what he understood, the rebar had come very close to some vital organs. At least that is what her chart had said when he had snuck into the hospital. He should just walk away. Leave her alone. Let her go back to that big house down the road, flirt with boys, get grounded for pushing curfew. But she was his only hope of finding out how to reverse the curse. If there was a way. “Thanks,” was all he could offer now. Later, he promised himself. Later I’ll find a way to repay her.

She blew out a long breath she’d been holding, trying to relax herself, shaking the thrill of him needing her from her stupid head. Being around Angel was dangerous, and she really shouldn’t be inviting anymore danger into her life. “No problem.” But it was a problem. Getting mixed up with Angel and his curses was a huge mistake. Hadn’t she learned anything from Buffy’s tragedy? “We’ll go see Giles and he will fix it,” she said to herself more than him as she reached for the handle. She would make sure he could help him then she was gone. Self-preserved, behind the wall. The tall, dense, lonely wall.

“Shit,” Angel’s voice stalled her hand on the door.

“What?” Cordelia looked at Angel, following his eyes to a far yard down the street.

Terror. Shear terror consumed her. There in the shadows of a large oak tree stood an Ancient One. Staring straight back at them. It had been years since she had dared look directly at one of the monsters. And then it had been in profile, with a little more distance than it stood now. It was massive. The upper part of its body was similar to a human. Okay, a human with oversized muscles and a sprinkling of …. scales? . It’s bluish, gray skin was marred with something down one arm but from the distance she couldn’t tell if it was writing or scars. At the end of the arms, its human looking shape changed into something more along the lines of misshapen hands with long, sharp, dagger-like claws. It’s legs were also massive, fitting its size, but were more animal than anything, with joints opposing that of a humans and covered in hair. It’s feet where hoofed. Mounted atop its head were a set of enormous horns that curled slightly then pointed out. It’s mouth, if you could call it a mouth, was parted slightly as it sniffed the air, showing off a set of terrifying fangs. And it’s face. It’s face was something she could not describe or place, unlike anything she had ever seen or wished to see. And the image of that hellish face wavered every so often just like the top of asphalt on a hot August day, as if it were behind a wall of heat. It’s eyes. It’s eyes were fire, flames that flickered and burned……they were burning…….a hole right through Angel.

It wasn’t after her. Didn’t even seem to notice her really. It was after Angel. This was his demon. This was the thing after him. His monsters were her monsters. And he could see them and they could see him.

“Hurry up! Get in!” Angel ordered.

A thought paralyzed her. Self preservation kicked in. ‘Never let them know you see them’, her Gram’s voice echoed through her mind.

They would know. If they saw her with Angel, knew she could see him, they would know.

Angel pulled the door handle hard and jumped into the little car. Thank goodness Cordelia couldn’t see the Ancient. It couldn’t hurt her, being human and unable to see or feel the overlap of dimensions and that thought put his mind at ease somewhat. Relieved some guilt. But he wasn’t ready to give up on his fight to stay in the world just yet and if he couldn’t get her moving, his fight might be over before it began.

“Cordelia, come on,” he called from the car.

What was she going to do? She could ignore Angel. She was good at that. Then the AO would go away wouldn’t it? That was the way it had always worked for her. Careful not to ever let them get too close for fear that they would find out she could be touched by them. Always letting her eyes focus just long enough in their direction as not to look suspicious but not long enough as to appear able to see them. She could do it.

But Angel.

He needed her help. How could she do that to him? Could she actually leave him, listen to them capture him, take him away or worse?

The answer came quick and sharp.

No.

She couldn’t. She would not leave him alone as she had always been to face this. Quickly, she got in the car and started the engine. The Ancient let out a piercing call, louder than she had ever heard, and began a dead rum toward them.

“Cordelia, I know you can’t see it, but we’ve got company. And we need to move. Now!”

He didn’t know. He hadn’t realized that she had looked right at it. “See what? Where?” she asked the question she already knew the answer to as she started the car. She would help him, but that didn’t mean he had to know about her curse.

“Headed right this way. Go.”

Cordelia pulled out of the spot quickly, going as fast as she could down the residential street. “Crap,” she ground between her teeth as she swerved to miss a group of kids.

Angel’s head was turned, watching for the Ancient she was sure. Was he following? Her heart raced. She’d gotten so used to their presence, so used to pretending that they didn’t exist. But now that one was actually following her she could feel fractures in her wall. She had to keep calm, couldn’t let Angel know. She reminded herself of what had happened when she had thought about telling Xander her secret. Right before his betrayal. No. She could never do that again. Never risk it. Never trust someone enough.

Making up her mind to keep Angel in the dark, she stole a glance in the rearview mirror, a small, inaudible gasp escaping her mouth at the site of the demon picking up speed behind them, running like a bull in full charge. Her eyes shot to the road before her, her resolve back in place. She wouldn’t look again, not because she thought Angel might notice her looking, but because she was afraid to look, afraid to face the monster that had been searching for her all her life.

Turning back around halfway, Angel stared at Cordelia’s profile, his eyes hooded by his serious brow. She had gasped, he had heard it loud and clear. Suspicion crept into his mind. The fear coming off of her in waves could be explained by the situation they were in, that he was putting her in . But the gasp. His peripheral vision had caught a glimpse of her looking into the rearview mirror, and she had gasped.

Angel glanced back, the Ancient was growing smaller in the frame of the window. They were losing the creature. But it wouldn’t be for long. He knew how tenacious the things were. Their tracking skills were unmatched. He was going to have to find a way out of this and quick.

“I think we lost him, for now anyway,” Angel turned back around in the seat.

“Good,” Cordelia’s voice came in a calm practiced manner. Even her fear was ebbing a little. Maybe she hadn’t seen. Except that her knuckles were turning bone white from her death grip on the steering wheel and ….there….she had glanced again, the pupils of her eyes adjusting, focusing..

Crap. She couldn’t quit looking in the mirror, no matter how hard she tried. She wanted to be free and clear of the monster, verify it for herself that they had lost him, for now at least.

“Turn here,” Angel ordered softly, choosing not to call her out on her ability to see the Ancient. Apparently there was much more to Cordelia Chase than met the eye, and there would be time enough to find it all out. But right now his situation was becoming more serious, more deadly. Because if Cordelia could see them, that meant…..he didn’t want to think about what that meant at the moment. For now, losing that bullhead behind them was the first order of business.

“This isn’t the way to Giles,” she protested even as she turned.

“They’re extremely gifted trackers. We have to throw him off a little if we’re going to make it to Giles without the demon catching up to us. Here….pull over here.”

Cordelia parked the car behind a classic convertible. The kind that was kept in good, authentic condition. Not like the souped-up models at Saturday night car cruises by the local Auto Antique Guild. She turned off the engine, “Now what?”

“We change rides. He’ll track us to this car and before he can pick the sent back up again, we’ll have a few miles on him,” Angel explained as he got out of the vehicle.

Cordelia followed. Good God! She watched as Angel approached the beautiful piece of machinery. He wasn’t actually going to steal it? Was he? “Please tell me we‘re not adding Grand Theft Auto to this evening’s agenda,” she put her thoughts into words.

“Steal?” he sounded offended. “ It’s mine.” He pulled out the keys and proceeded to get in. On the driver’s side. “Get in.”

“You seem to be forgetting something. You can’t drive.”

“I’ve been driving since before you….make that since before you’re grandmother was born,” he tossed the comment.

“And when say, oh, Sunnydale’s finest stops us because, gee, there’s no one actually in the driver’s seat, how will your many, many years of driving experience help us out of that situation?” her brows raised, waiting for his reply.

“Fine,” he tossed her the keys and moved across the seat to the passenger side.

Normally, Cordelia would have been thrilled by the fact that she was going to drive the beauty. But normally, she wasn’t running from a Hell beast and trying to save Angel from eternal damnation – or at least another hundred year stint So she settled for a quiet pleasure as she slipped into the car, situated herself on the leather seat, and cranked the old baby up. What a piece of machinery. “Giles?” she asked, making sure this one switch was enough for now.

He nodded and only the panic that she was pressing down in her mind kept her from smiling at the look on his face. He was an over protective parent letting someone hold his baby for the first time. “Don’t worry. I’ve got too much respect for it to do any damage,” she assured and pulled away from the curb.

*****

As they turned into the parking lot of Giles’ complex, Angel stared over at Cordelia. She looked good driving his car. The wind blowing through her thick chestnut hair. The bunny ears had been tossed to the backseat as soon as the first whip of wind had almost taken them, leaving her hair free to dance around her face. A “what if” ran through his mind as he watched her. What if Buffy had never walked in the night he had been sitting with Cordelia at that table? Would he have gotten to know the real Cordelia then? Or would her barrier have shot up anyway? He had wondered that night if it had been a fluke, a misjudgment of character to think of her as someone deeper than others. Someone worth getting involved with. But now he knew. There was no mistake. Cordelia Chase ran deeper than any human he’d ever met. Her impenetrable wall was proof of that. Only the deepest body of water needed a dam that strong to hold everything in. Or out.

The lot was crowded. A loud party in the second building most likely the source of scarce parking space. So Cordelia found the only empty spot in sight, three units down from Giles’. After pulling in, she turned off the car and handed Angel the keys. He was staring at her again, he’d been doing that almost the whole way to Giles’. “What?” she finally asked. “Are we getting out, or not?”

He knew he should be moving, racing to the Watcher’s apartment as fast as he could. But he had to know something first. “When did you start to see them?” He asked because he had to. It couldn’t have been for long, maybe tonight was her first time. Maybe whatever connected her to him had made them visible to her. Maybe it was his fault.

“Who?” she pretended and began to check her windblown hair in the mirror. Not that it needed it, it actually looked kind of great in a rebellious sort of way. But she had to distract herself. He was looking at her and God help her she wanted to tell him. Needed to.

Why wouldn’t she talk to him? Why pretend that she hadn’t seen the beast? “Cordelia,” he reached up and turned the mirror away from her, unable to stand her avoidance. “You saw it. I know you saw it. How long? Was tonight the first time?”

Cordelia grabbed the mirror, pulling her face back into her view. She began to dab at her lip glass but noticed that her fingers trembled and opted for a quick digit comb through of her hair. “No wonder the women in the forties and fifties wore scarves, this hunk of metal really does a number on your locks.”

Okay, he was getting pissed now. This stupid act might sit well with everyone else, keep her in some kind of safe zone. But she wasn’t safe. She had seen the monster. And that meant it could hurt her. He found that he couldn’t stand her fake attention to her appearance any longer. Grabbing her by her wrists, he jerked her hands away from her hair and turned her, probably a little too roughly, but damn it, she was going to talk to him.

Cordelia’s eyes grew wide as her body was jerked roughly, her attention demanded physically by Angel. She stared at him, her expression changing. She would not tell him. She couldn’t.

“Damn it, Cordelia. Talk to me. You’re willing to help me. Let me help you.”

It wasn’t his surprisingly rough treatment of her that did her in, or his statement about her helping him. She would have helped him no matter what the consequences. She knew that somewhere deep inside herself. It was his offer of help to her. He said he would help her. Oh, he couldn’t really help her. She knew that. But to tell someone. Someone who might understand. He could see them. It would feel so good just to say it. Just once. Tell him.

“Eighteen years, one month and seventeen days,” the words tumbled out of her mouth. She hated the fact that her lips had trembled a bit when she said it. She’d wanted her voice to come out strong, as Angel’s had when he had explained to her about the Ancient Ones. A warrior, ready to fight through his fear.

“What?” for some reason her answer didn’t seem to make sense right away.

“You asked me…” she tried to bring strength back to her voice but it seemed unreachable, “how long. Eighteen years, one month and seventeen days.” Crap, tears wouldn’t help them right now. They had to get out of the car, into Giles’, find the reverse spell or whatever Angel needed to get him back to his dark, broody, corporal self. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t tell anyone, Angel. I don’t even know why…..Crap. Let’s just get out…..”

Angel slipped his hands from her wrists, to her hands. His cool fingers squeezing slightly. “God, Cordelia. Why haven’t you told anyone? Do you know what that means? If you can see them they can harm you. It all makes sense now. That’s why you see me. I’m in their domain. How have you survived this long without……” he didn’t want to finish that. Suddenly the what if game seemed a horrible game. What if they found her out? Took her. Did the things he knew them capable of doing. To Cordelia.

God, his hands felt good, holding hers, pouring strength into her. “I wasn’t the only one in my family apparently with the curse. My great-grandmother and a few others too. She, my Gram, was the one that taught me how to shut myself off. Of course, I never knew exactly what the Ancients were or why I could see them. Gram never told me that. But she tried to help me in her own way I guess. ‘Pretend’ she used to tell me. So I did. I pretended they weren’t there. I pretended who I was and who I wasn’t. And after a while, it just became, life. A way to survive.” Crap, it was spilling out of her so fast, too fast for her to shut herself up.

“And none of them have ever acted as if they sensed you, knew that you could see them?”

She shrugged, “They’re always around. I think they do sense something, here in Sunnydale. But, I guess lucky for me there are a lot of supernatural distractions. Probably hard to track a freak in a town full of freaks,” she gave a shaky laugh that carried no humor.

“You’re not a freak, Cordelia. And I don’t think you’re cursed either.” He searched his brain for all he knew of the old stories and lore about the Ancient Ones. They had walked the Earth, able to move between dimensions freely until they had been sent permanently to the border. But there was another part he couldn’t remember, something about the way human’s had protected themselves from the Ancients before they were cursed behind the veil.

“Let’s go,” he let go of Cordelia hands.

She was glad to drop the subject, she felt drained and more afraid than she had in a long time. Afraid that Angel would betray her secret, afraid that the monsters would finally catch on now that her defenses seemed to be failing her, afraid that there might not be an answer for Angel at Giles’. The last fear made her stomach roll. How could she witness that? Knowing what was happening to him and being powerless to help? That would be Hell itself, not the border or edge of it.

She slipped out of the car and followed Angel, trying to stay up with him. His strides were sure, purposeful. Well, she though, at least he had hope that there was some sort of answer to his problem in 201A. She hoped he was right. She wanted that answer for him more than he could ever know. He had suffered enough hadn’t he? Turned into a vampire, cursed, sent to Hell by someone he cared for, sent back, anointed with yet another curse. God, no wonder she felt close to him. He bore all of those things just as she did. Sure, some people knew about his problems, but he kept mostly to himself, not letting anyone in, close. Except for Buffy.

And why in the world did that bother her? Shouldn’t he have happiness. Well, not that kind of happiness. But shouldn’t he have love? Shouldn’t everyone? If she thought anything of him, shouldn’t she want that for him? Happiness. With Buffy. Except, she didn’t like the way he was with Buffy. His walls were just as strong as the ones Cordelia had built around herself when he was around Buffy. So scared he would make a mistake: a bad boy in the principal’s office, a delinquent in the confessional. Holding back his strength and his nature because he felt…..what? Not good enough? That wasn’t love? Was it? It certainly wasn’t the type of love she wanted. She wanted to be an open book to the person she loved. Acceptance, warts and all. Except, there in lay the problem. For her anyway. Because she could never be open with anyone about who she really was. Well, okay, she had told Angel. But that didn’t count. Not really, she lied to herself.

Angel walked with a purpose, a mission. To find a way to help Cordelia. Sure she’d managed to keep herself under their radar for years. And maybe she would have lived out her life never giving the monsters a clue as to who she was. But what kind of life was that? To hide everything about yourself, never letting anyone near enough to truly know you, love you?

It disturbed him a bit that he had thought about: Cordelia and love. But it was natural wasn’t it? He wanted a good life for her, a full life. She was helping him, and in some way he felt strongly connected to her, probably because he was so strongly attracted to her and probably because they shared being cursed. And love was a natural thing to wish for someone. Especially a young girl. Well, technically a young woman, evidently she was over eighteen. But that didn’t matter of course. He just wanted her to be……happy? Was that why he was so determined? He wasn’t sure. He wasn’t really sure what he was feeling. The only thing he did know was that in the search for his fix, he would find hers. Because he couldn’t think about her not being safe. He needed to know she was safe. Cordelia Chase would live without the nightmare that had been haunting her all her life. That was one thing he would make damn sure of.

*****

The evening had been warmer than most Halloweens even for California and because of that fact, Giles’ windows as well as most of the unit’s windows were open. Cordelia and Angel walked to the front door, the voices of Xander and Buffy filtering through the screens.

“Great. Just perfect.” Cordelia said under her breath.

Angel didn’t want to face them either, and, lucky for him he truly didn’t have to. But he knew Cordelia was cringing at the prospect of facing her idiotic ex. “It’s alright. You can do this. Just don’t let him get to you.” He gave her the pep talk, wishing he could be seen, that he could glare at Xander and put some fear into the boy. He would like that. To see Xander practically piss himself, and he could make that happen, in front of Cordelia. Then he could show Cordelia that the fool wasn’t worth her stress. Xander had weaseled his way into Cordelia’s life, her heart, only to treat it like shit. The only consolation that Angel had was that she would be alright, because she hadn’t loved him, not really. He knew, even though he wasn’t quite sure how, that Cordelia, when in love, would tell her secrets and if not break down her wall, at least throw a rope over it so that the one she loved could get in, get close.

Of course, she had told him. But that was out of desperation. They had been thrown into her secret by the stupid curse the women had accidentally placed on him. She had had no choice but to tell him. So her telling him didn’t really count. Not really. He didn’t know why he should feel depressed at that thought. That her telling him had been out of force, not will. But it didn’t matter now. They were here. She would speak to Giles, get the info they needed, and fix the problem. For both of them.

Cordelia turned to the door, took a deep breath, a knocked.

Oh, her lucky night just kept getting better, she thought as Xander opened the door.

“I need to speak to Giles,” she said in her haughtiest tone, full of ice, barrier solidly in place.

Xander stared like a deer caught in headlights as he looked at her. His eyes roamed over her, down, up, down again. When he finally reached her eyes, he seemed to catch himself. “Hello, Cordelia. I didn’t know there was a Hoe-lloween party on this side of town. But I must say. You should win the door prize. Where did you get that thing, Sluts-R-Us?”

He was all verbal intimidation, Angel knew it. And he knew it was because Cordelia intimidated him physically. She was a goddess compared to anything that kid deserved. Before he knew what he was doing, Angel opened his mouth to say something.

“He can’t hear you,” Cordelia said before the words came out.

“Who can’t hear me?” Xander asked, a little fear in his voice as he looked around outside. Had she brought one of the football players with her?

“No one, never mind. I really need to speak to Giles. There’s something, important that I need help with.”

“He’s not here,” Buffy joined Xander at the door.

“We came to raid his candy,” Xander continued a little nicer. He hadn’t actually meant to be so mean to Cordelia, but she was just too much. Too pretty, too confident, too everything. It made him so uncomfortable. It was why he had gone after Willow he supposed. Now there was a girl he could handle. Cordelia was just……Cordelia. “He was on his way out for a date if you can believe that,” Xander rambled on. “Never thought he would date again after Ms. Calendar. But he said we could stay if we wanted.”

Cordelia looked at her side to Angel. She could almost feel him flinch at the name of the teacher Angelus had killed. She sent him a sympathetic look and brushed her hand against his in support, willing him strength the way he had offered her strength in the car.

“Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“Why do YOU need to talk to Giles,” Buffy tried to stop the rudeness that came out in her voice, but damn it. Cordelia had already gotten her grips into Xander. Looking like she was tonight……well, it didn’t look like she was prowling for anyone to “talk” with.

“Tell them,” Angel urged. He couldn’t stand the way they both looked at her. If they knew, they would help, and focus their attention somewhere else besides Cordelia. Xander’s insecurity and Buffy’s jealousy were making them cruel and he didn’t like to see Buffy acting out as she was. Even more so, he didn’t like the fact that they were hurting Cordelia. Even if she hid it well.

“Alright,” Cordelia sighed as if the agreement was hard to make.

Angel knew it would be difficult for her to explain. Hard to get out even. It had been hard to tell her when he thought she didn’t know about the border and the Ancients. He waited patiently. He wouldn’t get frustrated or push her. He would let her take her time to try and explain.

They were going to be there for a while.

“Angel’s been cursed, again. Somebody put a spell on him and now he walks a dimension in which no one can see him or touch him but me. And, as luck would have it, our dimension happens to be smack dab on top of or intertwined with this other dimension which also happens to be the border or edge to a demon Hell dimension. You know, the one you sent him to. And there are these monsters that are after him to torture and take him back. And if we don’t find Giles and find a fix for what has happened it may be more than a hundred years- in his life- that you see him again.”

Wow! Angel thought. Straight to the point, no drama, no theatrics. She was great, concise, and to the point. He loved it. No guessing at what was going on. He imagined this must be part of her real self, maybe something that she always let slip through. Truth in everything. He believed anyone that was ever with her, friend or lover, would always know exactly where they stood and how she felt. Wouldn’t that be wonderful. Never to guess if you were doing the wrong thing, making the wrong move. To just know. Who you were and what you felt.

“How’s that?” she threw back over her shoulder.

“Perfect,” he looked at Buffy and Xander expectantly. It was clear as it could be.

Buffy rolled her eyes, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re the only one who can see him, touch him? And why would that be I wonder when he barely knows you. Despite your every attempt to push yourself at him.” Buffy knew she sounded like a jealous child, and she had to admit that she was a little peeved at Cordelia faking closeness with Angel, but something had to be done. Someone had to take her down a notch. She just couldn’t stand seeing her in that ridiculous Playboy outfit, demanding to see Giles, then telling her that Angel was somewhere where he could only communicate with her!

“Cordelia, I understand that you want to get back at Xander for what he did,” Buffy tried to be kind. She did feel a little sorry for Cordelia and worked with that emotion as much as possible. She would not be cruel, she would try to be as polite as possible. She would not, could not stoop to Cordelia’s level of desperate ploys to seek attention. “But coming over to Giles’ private residence dressed like that,” she motioned to the outfit, “then using my horrible guilt over sending Angel to hell to get what you want won’t work. I feel sorry for you, Cordelia. You don’t understand how to have real friends. What a sacrifice it is to put yourself on the line to keep the people you care about, and some you don’t, safe.”

Buffy started to shut the door and when Cordelia would have reached out to push it open, Angel stopped her. “Let it go,” he said softly, still staring at Buffy as the door clicked shut. How could she at least not find out if it were true? It wasn’t completely unbelievable. Nothing was in the Hellmouth. But she didn’t even try. Because it came from Cordelia.. A realization came over him then. He cared for Buffy, that would never change, but she wasn’t the bearer of all that was pure. He’d made her into some kind of Savior. Some kind of measure for what was good, what was right. But she was just a girl. With no more wisdom than the rest of them. No more knowledge of the true purpose of existence. She’d been handed her fate and was dealing with it. Not very well, but still, she was trying. He hadn’t seen love through the window of her home when he first became to know who she was. He had seen a lifeboat, a way out of his despair.

He looked at Cordelia, then began to pace. This wouldn’t include Buffy. Even if he could convince her with words from Cordelia that only Buffy and he would know. Besides, Cordelia didn’t want them to know about her “condition” and bringing them into it would likely cast it into the light. Would they bring her into the fold then? Because of her curse? No, by the reception she had received she would probably be treated like the “freak” she called herself. Maybe not by Buffy. But Xander would use it. Even though he would hate himself someday for doing it.

“We could always just wait here,” she offered, feeling as if she had failed in some way. Maybe if she was more like them they would have listened. Maybe she’d been too blunt. But time was of the essence, wasn’t it?

“No,” he leaned against the wall and thought for a moment then pushed away. “Knock again.”

“What? No.”

“Knock again.”

“And say what?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Cordelia looked at him suspiciously but turned toward the door and knocked.

Buffy opened the door, “What is it?” she said in a defeated breath.

Cordelia didn’t know what to say. She looked to Angel who was making his way around her. Watched as he passed right through Buffy and entered Giles’ apartment. “Cordelia, I have had a long night,” Buffy said in an I-have-the-weight-of-the-world on my shoulders type of way. She wanted to snap at her. Make some snide remark about how they had all dumped her, not just Xander. How she had laid in the hospital, alone. Her only visitor Xander. But he hadn’t stayed for comfort, hadn’t hung around outside her door to see how she was, to wait for her to work through her anger. The moment she couldn’t forgive him instantly he bailed. It had been all about his feelings of guilt, not her injuries, both physical and emotional.

She had thought she was becoming close to them. As close as she could let anyone get. But the only reason they had tolerated her at all had been because of Xander. That was now crystal clear. So it wouldn’t matter what she said to Buffy or anyone else. They wouldn’t get it. Because they didn’t know. Because Cordelia Chase was shallow. Not deep and thoughtful. She didn’t have problems because she was rich and pretty. Right?

But little did they know, she did sympathize with Buffy. The Slayer did have the weight of the world on her shoulders. And she looked depressed. Well, she always looked depressed. But tonight was different. Cordelia could sense that she was truly sad.

“Trick or Treat!” the kids behind her broke the silence and Cordelia moved to the side, letting the fairy and Harry Potter character shove their bags out in front of them. Buffy left, returned with a couple of handfuls of brightly packaged chocolates, and turned back to Cordelia in silence. Never inviting her in, but waiting.

“Never mind,” Cordelia said.

Buffy started to shut the door and then paused half way. “Cordelia,” she caught her attention as she was turning away. “I’m glad you’re alright. What happened to you shouldn’t have happened.”

“Oh,” Cordelia was struck speechless for a moment. Lifting up her hand, she touched the spot where the rebar had struck and absently rubbed it. “The impalement,” she smiled a little because, well, she was uncomfortable and a little caught off guard. It was the first time anyone had said anything about what had happened.

“Yeah, that too,” Buffy said before she shut the door.

Cordelia realized then that she had meant Xander, his betrayal. “Thanks,” she whispered to the door.

*****

What was taking him so long? Cordelia paced by the side of the apartment, careful to stay in the shadows. God, he was rubbing off on her. She was lurking! Actually lurking in the shadows like some, some, creature of the night. Okay, make that more like a candidate for petty theft, she thought to herself as she saw Angel climbing out the loft window above, dropping a duffle bag to the bushes below to conceal the sound of the fall. He, of course, made no sound, as he dropped to the short grass in front of her.

“What’s all this?”

“Books. As many as I could find that might help us.”

“Us?”

He didn’t answer as picked up the bag and waited for her to lead the way to his car.

Cordelia heard a suspicious clank when he began to move with the bag in his hand. “Books huh?” she shot back as they made their way through the pools of light from the poles above.

“And a few weapons,” he patted his jacket. “In case we run into an Ancient again.”

“Can you use them?” she asked when they reached the car.

“You saw me knock the cane from your friends hand in front of the party. I can touch inanimate things. Remember?”

“He wasn’t my friend.”

“I know,” he said as he threw the bag in the backseat and got in.

“Besides, I didn’t mean can you touch them. Because obviously you can. I just meant,” she started the car. “Do you know how? To kill it I mean,” she couldn’t help the hope in her voice. Was it possible that there was a way to destroy them?

Angel hated the hope in her voice. He could kill them. He knew how. He’d learned it the hard way though. But it wasn’t easy and he hoped like hell she never had to see him do it. “Yeah, I know how,” he answered softly, his eyes trained on the road as they pulled out. He couldn’t look at her. Partly because of the possibility that she might see him kill one. The brutality of it would definitely turn her stomach. But also he couldn’t make eye contact because of what he had to ask of her next. But he need it, if he was going to be strong enough to face one of the demons.

“We have to make a stop,” he finally said.

“A stop before where? I’m not sure where we’re going. Are you?”

“We need a place to sit down and rest so I can study these things. Some of them are in Latin, which is no problem. But others. ….I’m not sure I’ll be able to translate.”

“We could go to my house,” she said and he turned to look at her profile, noticing the way she fidgeted with the bodice of the outfit she wore. She was self-conscious now. Xander had done that to her. With his juvenile comments. More so to make himself feel better than to make her feel bad.

“You look great, by the way,” he commented. “The outfit…it‘s…..,” Christ, how did you complement someone in a civilized manner about how delicious they were without coming off so……perverted? He had looked at a Playboy or two. Hell, he’d even been to one of the old clubs back when they were new. But never before did he want to personally thank Hugh Hefner for making the signature uniform. Not until now. She looked as good as any Bunny he’d ever seen. Better. Yeah, better even. All that crimson satin, hugging curves that made him think thoughts that he had previously believed only came from Angelus. Not horrible thoughts, but dark enough that he believed couldn’t be imagined by someone good. It was why he had gone for Buffy. She had made him think of purity. Of white weddings and picketed fences. But these thoughts about Cordelia were borderline dark, possessive. And were shocking him to his core. When had this feeling started creeping in? Visions of him stripping off the tight garb ran through his brain. The sound of the material ripping as he pulled it from her body. God, she would look great under there, feel great too. And there was nothing pure or sweet about what he wanted to do to her. What he wanted her to do to him. Angel swallowed and shifted his position in his seat. His peripheral vision caught her glancing to him now and then. Why was she looking as if she were waiting? They had been heading out and he had said…..oh yeah. “You look….pretty,” he settled on the most civilized thing he could think of.

Pretty? That’s what her outfit inspired in a male who had lived as long as he had? Seen probably hundreds of beautiful women. And of all those, she ranked as…..simply, pretty. She didn’t know why the comment bothered her. It was nice, as compliments go. She liked being pretty, as vain as that sounded. And she should be grateful that he found her ….pretty….God, she could barely think the word. But she didn’t want to be merely pretty to him. She wanted to be….what? Hot. Desirable. Irresistible? It was insane, she knew. She had seen the way he had stared at Buffy when she refused to help. As if the realization hurt him in some way.

Maybe she just wasn’t his type. Maybe he liked short blondes with no boobs. Some men did. Or maybe he was just trying to make her feel better after Xander’s comment. She had to remind herself why he was with her anyway. She could see him, therefore she could help him.

“Well,” she continued their planning as if he hadn’t given the compliment. Even though she should really thank him. But she didn’t want to. Not for pretty. God, she was vain. “We could go to my house. I want to get out of this thing anyway and my feet are killing me.”

“What about your parents. I mean, I know they can’t see me but still.”

“They couldn’t see you if you were solidly in place in this dimension. Not all the way from Miami anyway.”

“They left you alone?” he said incredulously to her profile.

“I am eighteen. I know you’ve got well over a hundred years on me but technically I’m an adult.”

He ignored the way his spirits rose when she confirmed her age again. She was definitely that, he thought as he looked at her body again. Fuck, he was a pervert. Then he made a mental note to remove that newly acquired word ‘fuck’ from his mind. He didn’t need the images that it conjured in Cordelia’s presence. “No, I mean. They leave you alone knowing what you’re going through? How you have to deal with what you see?”

“They don’t know,” she kept her eyes trained on the red light they had stopped for.

“Why?”

“I just never told anyone. Gram told me that no one would believe me and I think she was right to do it. I’d rather spend my life pretending instead of in a padded cell somewhere, drooling from too many anti-psychotics.”

Angel reached over and removed her right hand from its death grip on the wheel, holding it in his for a moment while she stayed silently still, staring at the red light. “I believe you,” his voice was soft but poured strength into her.

How did he do that? Make her feel so strong with a simple touch, a few words? He made her believe that anything was possible, that maybe her life wouldn’t always be like this. “Thanks,” she finally said and turned to him staring into his deep chocolate eyes.

He wanted to kiss her. The thought and need came quick and urgent. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and kiss her. Kiss her until she forgot about Xander Harris, her absent parents, the Ancient Ones, world hunger, war, the economy cri………a loud HONK broke his thoughts and he let her hand slip out of his.

“Okay!” she shot back to the car behind them. She so had to get a hold of herself because if they had sat there any longer, holding hands like that, she would have kissed him. And made a complete and utter fool of herself. “My house to research but where to first?”

He didn’t like her all business tone. And he was seriously considering ripping out the whole engine of the car behind them as it honked again.

“I’m going,” she said to the headlights in the rearview mirror. “So?” was for Angel.

She was waiting for him to tell her their stop. Great. “I have to pick something up.”

“At your place? Do you have a place?”

“I have a place,” what did she think, he hung out in crypts or something? “But I’m out and I need to stop for a supply,” he cringed even as the words came out.

“A supply of wha….ooohhh.”

Shit, he hated this. She would be totally disgusted now. He’d only drank in front of one other human and that had been Buffy and she had been revolted by the sight. And she was the Slayer. With all of the things she had seen, he would have thought…..oh well, he needed it. He couldn’t risk his strength. Not with Cordelia on the line.

“So, butcher shop?” she guessed hopefully. Surely he didn’t mean something fresh. At least not fresh and walking on two legs.

“Normally, yeah.”

Thank goodness. But then what did he mean by normally?

“But it’s too late. My supplier is closed by now. I have to get it…..somewhere else. And that‘s where you come in.”

“Okay. Why don’t I think I’m going to like or want to agree with any of this?”

“Because you’re not. Believe me, if there was any other choice, I would never ask you to do this.”

Do what? He wasn’t asking her to…..oh no. He had said ‘pick up’ hadn’t he? Her hand fluttered to her neck quickly before she could stop herself, visions of Angel holding her, crushing her close, his face buried in her neck. She flushed, every ounce of blood rushing to her face at the erotic feelings that image brought to life within her. God, she was sick. Why would that turn her on?

Angel noticed her coloring, one hand covering her throat as she drove. Christ, she thought he wanted to bite her? Well, he did. But she didn’t know that, not the part about the wanting to anyway. “No, I don’t mean you. I would never bite you,” he said to reassure himself and her. “We have to stop at this bar. Willy’s. The only problem is……” she was going to hate this, “it’s a demon bar. And tonight it’ll be packed. Most demons don’t roam on Halloween. Kind of like their night off.”

Cordelia thought about what a demon bar must look like. All of Sunnydale’s midnight elite gathered in one dark watering hole. Great. Just great. And she was human, dressed like a bunny, and Angel was invisible. “Couldn’t you just grab something off the street. You don’t have to kill anyone. Just a sip or two. I read in a book once where the lead character hypnotized his victims. He didn’t kill them, just took enough to survive and sent them on their way. A little light-headed, but alive.” She was so ashamed of herself for even suggesting it. She knew she was probably tempting him to do something he had an urge to do anyway. Shoving a bottle of gin under the nose of an alcoholic. Go on take a drink. One won’t hurt you. God, she was such a jerk.

Angel stared at Cordelia in disbelief. Did she know what she was saying? Well, she did know about one thing. Vampires did have special powers. At least after certain ages and only if consuming real human blood, not the preserved kind from a hospital bank, and especially not animal blood. Just over two-hundred now, he could feel some of his gifts beginning to stir. But to take from a human. Could he stop? Would he? Wasn’t it wrong? A rape in some way? “The bar is better,” was his answer.

“Alright,” she said, not apologizing for the suggestion even though she wanted to desperately. “Tell me how to get there.”

*****

He was right. Willy’s was packed. And he’d been so nervous about taking her to the dangerous dive that he had left the weapons he’d confiscated from Giles’ in the convertible outside. Of course, when he moved to retrieve them just as they stepped into the bar, Cordelia had reminded him that they would do no good here? Right?

Right.

Because he was invisible to everyone and everything else in this dimension. And if anything went wrong. Well, it just wouldn’t. He couldn’t think like that. Too much of a distraction.

He had given Cordelia some safe words to tell Willy. Well, safe for her. If the bartender played along, understood that he was dead if he didn’t, then she should be alright. Angel stood by Cordelia as she leaned over the counter and whispered her message into Willy’s ear, her body stretching in the outfit she wore, gaining some glances from the demons that actually went for human women.

He decided at that moment that Hugh Hefner was not his favorite person and deserved no ’thank you’ for such a creation. In fact, the man should be in prison for designing such an outfit. He looked at the Slaimyn demon that was stirring in his seat and growled. The creep downed his drink and started to get up, licking his lips as he watched Cordelia pull away from Willy. Fuck!

“It’s alright,” Willy announced loudly to the bar, his hands in the air as if to calm a crowd.

God, he was such a bad actor. Angel just knew he was going to screw up.

.“No body panic,” Willy continued, drawing more attention. “The Allu Succubus is just here for a moment. After she has what she came for she will be gone. Won’t you?” he looked at her as if he never wanted to see her back again.

Cordelia heard a few demons gasp. Gasp? Demons gasped? And the quiet in the bar turned back to its original dull roar.

Angel’s muscles relaxed as the Slaimyn took his seat, smiled as he saw the demon shake off a quiver.

Willy disappeared behind the bar for a moment and Cordelia wanted to ask Angel what it had meant. Her message to Willy. But she didn’t dare blow whatever cover he had bought her. He had instructed her to pull up her walls as strongly as she could. Turn her fear into desperation. Maybe if they sensed it, they would think she was in desperate need of whatever she had come for.

Willy sat two bottles on the counter. “That’ll by fifty bucks,” he whispered under his breath.

“Fifty dollars?” Cordelia thought about her forgotten purse in her little red car. Crap, she was driving around and didn’t even have her license with her.

“Tell him that I’ll consider the cover he gave you a duty. And the bottles,” Angel was leaning on the counter now, staring at Willy’s face, eager to get back fully to the real world and give him a visit he wouldn’t forget, “a personal favor.”

Cordelia relayed the message and Willy flinched a little, then pushed the bottles toward her.

“Thanks,” she smiled stiffly and tried not to run for the door.

When they were back in the car, she asked, “So what’s an Allu Succubus?”

Angel shrugged as he placed the bottles on the floorboard beneath him, trying to ignore the way his hand shook when he touched them. Christ, he was running on empty. They needed to get to her place. “Have you heard of a Succubus?”

“Yes,” she answered sharply. Not liking that Willy had used a mythical – well, by the reaction at the bar apparently not mythical – creature who killed men or took their strength by having sex with them in their sleep.

“Well, an Allu Succubus is it’s equivalent to demon males. They can take their power, sometimes kill them.”

“Oh.”

“Damn it! The weapons!”

“What?”

“There gone. The bag’s still here. Not that any of these thugs would want books. But….shit….we needed those weapons.”

The air in the car felt thick, their mood deflated. The tension from the visit to Willy’s and the fact they were unarmed weighing heavy on them both.

Silence consumed their fifteen minute drive to her home. Angel was glad really. He hadn’t wanted to risk her life. He had been almost certain that the charade would fool the demons. The crowd that hung there wasn’t the brightest of the dark-side alumni but the thought of what might have happened to her didn’t sit well with him. Suddenly he wished he had taken her advice and just nabbed someone off the street. Better to hurt them than Cordelia. He wouldn’t kill them. At least he didn’t think he would. He had never really tested the theory. Because it was wrong. People would have thought it was wrong. People like Giles and Buffy.

But why should he care? What was wrong was that he had placed Cordelia in danger. All because he was afraid of himself, of what he was. More, of what she would think of him. “I’m sorry,” he finally broke the silence as they pulled into the long drive of her home.

“What for?”

“I shouldn’t have had you do that. Go into Willy’s. It might not have worked. And then…..I’m sorry.”

“Pfft. You needed it. And I was wrong to tell you to drink from someone. I shouldn’t have tempted you like that. I know it doesn’t work like in books and movies, all neat and tied loose ends. I’m sure there are consequences to drinking from a human, and well….I’m sorry.”

He’d just put her life in danger and she was apologizing? And worried about the consequences for him if he drank from someone? He didn’t know what to do with that, the feeling it created. Her concern. And were there consequences for drinking from a human? Hell yeah. Increased power, speed, abilities. He probably could control a victim’s mind after taking his first sip. Leaving them alive, unaware of what had happened. But the word victim echoed in his mind. For that’s what they would be if they had no choice.

*****

The house was huge. It’s stone façade and small turret on one end gave it an almost castle-like feel. It was beautiful. But an image of Cordelia roaming the big empty palace, waiting to cross the path of an Ancient, sent a chill through him.. What had it been like for her? Especially as a child? He was surprised she hadn’t spent her first eighteen years in that padded cell she had talked about. The madness of it would drive anyone crazy. Except for her.

He watched her unlock and open the large front door. The house wasn’t completely dark. A sprinkling of light from a lamp here and there illuminated it enough just to see the way. He imagined that she had left them on not out of irresponsibility, but out of purpose. It wouldn’t be a good thing to come home and find an Ancient in your living room. With the lights on there would be no element of surprise to give her away. She would be prepared, able to pretend.

Angel waited for her to lead him to the stairs, but she headed for a hallway stretching toward the back of the mansion instead. Probably a guest room. He’d gotten so comfortable with her he’d just assumed…..yeah. Like the two of them were going to get all cozy in her teenage bedroom. He had to remind himself that he had drug her into helping him. Not by force. But her nature had not allowed her to say no.

Pulling the duffle bag up higher he paused with her outside two double doors. She opened them into a spacious suite with French doors that appeared to lead to a pool area, although the sheer curtains hid some of the view. He thought about what that view would look like when morning came, the burning alarm clock to his skin.

“Well, this is it. My parents let me redo this part of the house when I turned sixteen. I like it better than upstairs.”

Oh, it was her room. But it didn’t look like a teen’s room. Well, to be honest he’d only seen two teen girl’s rooms: Buffy and Willow. But theirs had been cover with posters and knick knacks and all the things collected through years of change in a young life. Cordelia’s room looked, well, like her. Mature. Stylish. The room of a woman. Comfortable enough to feel at home in but beautiful enough to be on the cover of a magazine. Yeah. Just like her.

Angel tossed the bag to the floor and took out the bottles from Willy’s he had placed inside when getting out the car. “Is there a bathroom or something,” he held the bottles in his hands.

“Why, are you going to bathe in it? Please tell me your not going to bathe in it.”

“No! I just thought, ya know. I’d just go get it over with.” He didn’t want to disgust her. Not in this beautiful room, not as she looked at him as if he were….just a man.

“Oh,” she mistook his eagerness to down the blood as quickly as possible. “Not very tasty huh? I guess it would be kind of thick and salty.”

“Actually it’s…..” he broke off and tried desperately to erase the craving as he glanced down at the bottle . “I just don’t want to disgust you…..I mean…..I know it’s disgusting.”

Angel was looking at the bottle like she looked at molten-chocolate cake. Oh, it was for her. He was embarrassed by what she would think of him. “Well, in theory, yeah. It does seem a little gross. But my Dad’s favorite delicacy is Hawaiian style roasted pig. I remember our trip there last summer. We had a luau and we all ate it. I mean, if you think about everything we do to take care of ourselves or feed ourselves, a lot of it is pretty disgusting. And now that I think about it, sitting around a six inch high table while the carcass of a pig is ripped apart, all the while its eyes staring lifeless into the party is a lot more disgusting than you downing a bottle of thick red liquid. Really, if you think about it, it’s not much different than a transfusion, it’s just getting inside differently.” She looked at him. The situation completely rationalized in her own mind.

There it was again, that honesty. She had a knack of looking at a situation and breaking it down to basic fact.

“Want a glass?” she asked as he stared at her.

“Sure, thanks,” his voice was quiet and he tried to disguise the emotion that seemed to pour out with it. He was really going to drink blood in front of human. In front of Cordelia. Free of judgment. For once not feeling like a monster for what he had to do to survive.

“Great, I’ll be back in a minute. I’m starving, too. Do want something else while I’m in the kitchen?”

“I don’t do the food thing, don’t need it.”

“Okay,” she slipped off her spiky heels and rubbed her feet before sliding them into a pair of slippers. “God, that feels so much better. I’ll be back in a minute.”

Angel watched as she left. She seemed to have forgotten she still wore that damn outfit. And watching her walk away in it was even more enticing than any other view he’d had of it throughout the evening.

*****

Cordelia returned a few minutes later with a wine glass, two bottles of water, napkins, a fork, and a plastic container all balanced on a tray. He couldn’t help but imagine her in one of the old clubs, wearing that outfit, dipping down to deliver drinks to smiling men. Smiling because she was in that outfit. He didn’t like that image. Other men enjoying the view of her in the costume. He wish she would take the damn thing off. Well, he thought that was what he wished anyway.

Rising, Angel went to help her sit down the tray on the little bistro table near the French doors. It was all very domestic. Her handing him the wine glass, him sitting the napkins out and sitting the tray on the floor as she took her container, water, and fork off and laid them on the table. How long had it been since he’d sat down at a small intimate table with anyone? Hell, how long had it been since he’d sat down with anyone like this?

It had been a couple of years before, with the woman he was with now. At a table about the size of the one in front of him, except not near as nice.

Cordelia excused herself and moments later came back out of what appeared to be a massive closet, wearing a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Okay. He no longer hated Mr. Hefner. After all, now that the evidence was in, it clearly wasn’t Hugh’s fault that the Bunny outfit made her the hottest thing any man would ever see. It was clearly the woman herself. Because even though the little short and tee covered more skin than the crimson number had, she was still just as delectable. Even more so now that he could see her smooth legs out of those tight hose she’d been wearing. He shook himself and made a mental check that he wasn’t actually panting and forced his mind back to the night they had talked.

He thought of that night as she sat down in front of him, one leg tucked under her body. He had had such conflicting impressions of her. As he opened the bottle and poured a glass – the act making him feel more civilized, not nearly like an animal – he had to comment. “So that night,” he began as she popped open the plastic lid, the aroma of Italian spices filling the air. “You remember, a couple of years ago. We were talking at a table about the size of this one. Why did you drop your defenses then?“

“What do you mean?” she stuck her fork in the spaghetti, twisting around to collect a small bite.

“You were you that night. For a while at least. But then you slammed shut,” Christ, she smelled good.

She shrugged and concentrated a little too hard on her food. She was getting ready to reveal something important to him, he could tell. Oh, she was trying to be nonchalant about it, but he knew her now. He could read what was wall and what was her. “I thought you seemed nice. You were easy to talk to,” she took a bite.

Ah, that made some sense. She hadn’t known he was a vampire then. “But you found out I was a vampire eventually.” It was smart that she had kept her distance after that, only flirting with him flippantly as she did with everyone else. He took a drink and felt the rush of energy that first sip gave him.

“Angel,” she let out a breath and looked up at him across the small table as he took another drink, this one much more than a sip. He put the glass down, hoping he didn’t have any blood on his mouth. “I knew you were a vampire the first time I saw you. You think I couldn’t sense that? I mean, the soul confused me a little at first. But, I can see Ancients. Something you can’t even see normally. Not even with all your “vamp senses” on full alert.”

“Jesus,” he whispered. She was truly cursed. Most humans were blind to all that was paranormal in the world. A survival mechanism he guessed. Kept them sane. And those that could see the hidden things in the world were given tools to deal with it. The Slayer, her powers, for example. But Cordelia had no defense to it all. She was wholly human. And had dealt with this knowledge all her life.

“It’s no big deal. I’ve dealt with it long enough that it’s just normal. For me anyway,” she was concentrating on her food again. She wished he’d stop staring at her. It was making her uncomfortable. She didn’t want to seem like a freak to him. Not Angel.

“You are stronger than any person I’ve ever met.”

Okay, that wasn’t the response she had expected. She looked up and Angel was giving her that look again, the one she’d glanced at on the sidewalk when he’d noticed her in her costume. And yeah, now she recognized it for what it was. He wanted her. But not because she was wearing some skimpy Bunny suit. This was something different, deeper. And it scared the hell out of her.

“I’m done,” she looked down at her half-eaten meal. “I guess we should get started,” she motioned to the duffle on the floor next to her bed.

Angel pulled himself out from the moment, saving himself before he drowned in his thoughts and feelings. Research. He was here to do research. To get things back to semi-normal and to find a way to help Cordelia.

“Can you read Latin?” he asked her as he got up, taking the half empty bottle with him.

“Not enough to translate text,” she followed him to the duffle and watched as he opened it with his free hand. Wanting to help even if in a small way, she reached out and took the bottle from him. “Good grief, Angel! This is cold.”

He turned to look at her holding the bottle, as if it contained merely wine and not some animal’s blood. He shrugged and began to dig through the bag again. “It works, that’s all that matters.”

“Well, it can’t be good. Not like this. I’ll be right back.”

She was out the door before he could stop her.

Moments later Angel had found the book he was looking for. His back was propped against her massive bedside as he sat on the floor. He looked up when Cordelia reappeared, a large metal thermo mug held with both hands. “Find anything?” she asked.

“Not yet. Just vague references so far,” he commented.

When she got close enough, she handed the mug down to him. He wondered what she had done to the blood but was afraid to comment or ask. She stared at him with anticipation. She wanted him to taste it, and she wanted him to like it. So, he would pretend, even if it was……he took a sip……good. Great in fact. It was warm but not too hot and it tasted really good for animal blood. He could only imagine what it would taste like if it had been human. He mentally shook himself. He shouldn’t be thinking about the taste of warm human blood. It was why he didn’t normally let himself enjoy the blood he did take. The temptation was hard to fight.

“Well?” she asked, her eyebrows arched in a perfectly sculpted way.

“It’s good. Really good.”

She smiled. Really smiled and it almost seemed funny that the only true smile he had been given from her during the evening came because he liked the blood she had warmed for him.

“So, what vague things have you found so far?” she asked as she crossed her ankles and sat beside him on the floor.

“Well,” he looked back at the book, flipping through a few pages. “Here,” he stopped on one, took a sip of his dinner because it was really, really good and continued, “It says that the Ancient Ones, or the Diabolus Bellator -which means either the Devil’s warriors or warrior devils – had freedom to roam between the dimensions in ancient times in order to collect other demons and pull them into the demon Hell.”

“What time period is ancient times?”

“I’m not sure. It doesn’t say but that’s probably where the term Ancient or Ancient Ones comes from. And here,” he turned to the next page, “it says that only the Latro and their Sentinels kept the people safe from any of the Ancients that went rogue. But soon the power that they could exert over humans was too much of a draw and all Ancients went rogue. They were killing and torturing humans faster than the Latro could defeat them….”

“What’s a Latro?”

Hmmmm, he thought for a moment for a way to explain it. “A mercenary. A hired soldier. The best of all soldiers. They were brutal and fierce. They probably didn’t fight because it was the right thing to do, more so that they were paid. In some stories in history they were almost as bad as the armies or demons they fought. Only in it for what it gained them. Usually leaving villages in destitution after the price was paid.”

“And a sentinel? Is that like a guard?”

“Sort of, yeah, a soldier that stands guard, watches for the first attack.”

“What else?” she prompted.

“Well, it goes on and on about the Sentinel and Latro blood lines and that the Sentinel blood line ceased to exist?….or was severed…..but I can’t make out this part,” he indicated the page that had been damaged. Part of it unreadable. On the edge someone, probably Giles, had made a few notations. But because of his writing, also unreadable. Angel drained the rest of the cup and placed it on the floor beside him. He studied the page again, running a hand through his hair in frustration as he held onto the book with the other.

Oh crap! Why hadn’t she thought of it before. “The school has a website!” she exclaimed.

“I don’t think a high school website can help us with this, Cordelia.”

“Duh, of course not. But they have the email addresses of all the faculty members listed.”

“Do you think he’d check it?” catching on to her idea of contacting Giles in their own way.

“Probably not right now. The man is on a date. But I’m sure he’d probably check it in the morning. From what I’ve heard from everyone else he gripes and moans about the “written word being reduced to modems and high-speed cable” but secretly he’s addicted. He can find anything on the net. The weirder the more info. Surely if he’s on it all the time, he checks his mail. It’s worth a try.”

“Alright. It’s worth trying. But I’m still going to finish going through these.”

Cordelia got up and walked across the suite to the desk in the corner, popping on the computer screen and signing on to the internet.

Angel’s hopes at finding anything really useful were dwindling. The text he’d been explaining to Cordelia had been the best one. And it hadn’t told them anything they could use.

“There. Sent,” she said as she got up, leaving the screen on.

“How often and how many do you usually see around?” The thought of not getting any info until tomorrow made him tense. How was he going to keep Cordelia and himself safe until then?

She shrugged and sat back down beside him. “Well, on a good day none. But I’ve only had a few of those.”

“Lately?”

“Ever.”

He thought again about what living as she had must have done to her as a child.

“On a bad day? Four.”

“How many have you seen today?”

“The one that spotted you. That’s it.” she took a deep calming breath. She knew Angel was worried and so was she. “It doesn’t sound like a lot does it? But it seems as if they’re everywhere I turn.”

“It’s enough. Four too many.”

Angel didn’t know why he did it, compulsion, his need, hers, but as he laid the book down, he reached over and took her hand. “How did you deal, Cordelia? As a kid, how did you do it?”

“I don’t know.” God, she loved the feel of his hand, full of both strength and gentleness. “I told you my Gram taught me how to close myself off. But it was hard at first. Some nights I would cry. Not while the monsters were close of course, but I would complain to my mom and dad, before I knew I shouldn’t, that there were monsters in and around the house. They, of course, didn’t believe me. But it’s not their fault. I was so young. A child just scared of the monster in her closet, out her window. How were they supposed to know mine were real?”

“In your closet? As in, they come in the house?” he didn’t want to hear her answer, he really didn’t want to hear her say…….

“Yeah, sometimes.”

“Shit, we’re in for some night.” Angel thought for a moment, absently stroking her hand as he held it, weighing their options. “Does your dad have any weapons, Cordelia?” he assumed the answer would be no, but he had to try.

“He has guns,” at Angel’s hopeful look she hurried to continue, “but he keeps them all at the club.”

They were silent for a moment before Angel let go of her hand and stood. He started pacing, although she was sure he wasn’t completely aware of it. She’d seen him do this outside of Giles’ apartment. When he was in deep thought, he paced.

She watched in silence for a moment. He looked tired. Did vampires get tired? There was so much she didn’t know about what he was. Knowing someone existed and actually “knowing” them were two different things. But she would like to. Know him. Everything about him. What he’d been like as a human. What he was like in the first years after the curse had given him back his soul.

He took his leather coat off and tossed it over the desk chair by the computer and continued his path. Back and forth. Back and forth. A lion in a cage. Needing to run, to fight, to pounce if only he could escape the bars.

God, he was tired. Tired and…yeah…he could admit it….terrified. Not for himself. For some reason his problem had taken a back burner to Cordelia’s. He couldn’t fail her. He stopped and looked at her. She was still on the floor, her arms wrapped around her long legs that were now pulled up against her chest, her chin tilted and resting on her knees. She was looking at him, watching him.

Suddenly the thought of her life, lived alone in a secret she couldn’t share hit him like a bomb in the chest. What would he do if he couldn’t help? What if he found a cure for his current curse but not hers? She’d have no one to protect her then. He couldn’t fight them if he was fully back in the real world. He had to find out how to take her ability to see them away.

But he had promised not to let anyone know about her curse. Hadn’t he?

No. She had asked him not to but he hadn’t agreed. It was a sneaky loophole and she would probably never forgive him, but he needed help.

Turning to the computer, he asked, “Can I read your email? The one you sent Giles?”

“Sure,” she got up and walked to the desk. As she passed him, he got another whiff of her fading perfume and that wonderful natural scent. The one that was hers alone. It smelled like the ocean, fresh air off cresting waves. When she sat in the chair, he bent down close. Not because he could see any better than his super senses already allowed, but he could get enveloped in that smell this close. It surrounded him. She surrounded him. She was everywhere. Inside and out and he loved it, wanted to ……..

“Here it is,” she clicked on the icon and pulled up the message. “See, when you want to send one you just click on compose, then click down here on the large blank square. You type what you want in your message and you put in the address here,” she pointed to a section of screen and gave him a quick verbal lesson on sending, saving, and receiving mail, and then clicked back to the original message sent to Giles. Of course the message was just as he thought. It was all about Angel. Nothing about herself.

Now to get her out of the room. He was going to betray her and it would hurt when she found out. He pretended to read the email even though he already had and then stood up away from the chair. “Good, let’s hope he answers us soon.”

Cordelia, still sitting in the chair, closed her eyes and leaned her head to the side, massaging her neck? God, she was tired. She felt the heavy weight of Angel’s hands land softly on her shoulder’s, his fingers moving in a gentle message.

She was exhausted. His betrayal could wait. He would send the message as soon as she fell asleep.

“What time is it?” she asked in a sleepy voice that made Angel want to carry her to the massive bed, tuck her in, and join her.

Yeah, that’s just what she needed. Another demon complicating her life.

“One-thirty.” His hands grew a little surer when she made a sound of approval deep in her throat.

She took a deep, relaxing breath and raised her hands to cover his, “Thanks,” she breathed and turned around. Giving him a signal to stop. Even though he hadn’t wanted to.

God, his hands felt good. Too good. She had to remember why he was with her. Had to tell herself that if not for the curse it would be Buffy’s company he would be keeping tonight. Chaste as it would have to be.. No one wanted an Angelus occurrence. She wished she could help him with that. Even if it would be Buffy that benefited from it. But it would set Angel free. He would never have to worry about his own personal Mr. Hyde again.

Sighing, she turned around and stood when Angel’s hands finally dropped away from her shoulders.

He wished she hadn’t stopped him. He liked touching her. Like the sound of pleasure she made when his hands had worked the knots out of her shoulders. Wanted to hear that sound of approval again. And many more like it as he touched her in other places. But this wasn’t right. She was in danger. And the feelings he felt for her weren’t love. Were they? They were just getting to know one another. Besides, love didn’t feel like this. Of course, he’d never been in love before. But wasn’t it supposed to be full of quiet and contentment? A peace at knowing your place was set in the world?

He did feel something for her though. There was no mistaking that. But what he felt was neither peaceful or quiet. It burned through him, made him restless and edgy. As if there was a fire inside of him that wanted to reach out and consume her. Take her over completely.

And she was standing in front of him, smelling of ocean, wearing clothes that brushed softly across her skin, giving her comfort. Comfort he should be giving that skin.

He was staring at her again. She should move. She knew she should move. But that look in his eyes was paralyzing her. Drawing her in. Why did she trust him so much? They barely knew one another. Yet he seemed like the only being in the world that could ever understand her. Accept her for who she was. Was that friendship? Was it more?

He had to be strong. Adding another complication to their situation was wrong. But for some reason he knew that if he leaned down at that very moment, he could kiss her. And she would not stop him. But he had to resist temptation. Keep his iron will in place. He had to keep….God, she was wetting her lips. Not really an invitation. She looked more as if she wanted to say something. But ……Ah, fuck iron will.

Angel leaned down, his hand reaching around to cup the back of her neck. Their lips met in the space between them and …oh God, she was sweet. Sweeter than wine or warm blood, and that ocean smell, it enveloped him, crashed over him. She made some sound, a sigh maybe, her head relaxing against his hand and he pulled her closer, glad that he had taken off the heavy coat. Now he could feel more of her. His free hand moved to the center of her back and drew her in, fit her perfectly against him.

The kiss was slow. Deep.

Oh….he was good. And, was that a growl? God, that was sexy as hell. She had to get closer. She ran her hands up his chest slowly, glad he took that leather off earlier. He was granite. Pure strength. Circling her arms around his neck, she tilted her head a little more, giving him complete access, not caring that he might hear the little sounds of pleasure that kept escaping her throat.

He needed to be closer but he couldn’t press her against himself any harder without hurting her. Eyeing the wall next to him, he turned her, walked her back until she could go no further. That was better. He closed his eyes again, letting the wall do the work of his hands, holding her in place. He pressed against her, letting his hands slide down her sides, feeling the curves of her waist just above her hips. The feminine arcs he’d been staring at all night in that damn Bunny suit. Christ, he was hard as a rock. His cock pressed so tight and stiff against the zipper of his pants that it was borderline painful.

His lips left her mouth and kissed the soft spot behind her ear. She breathed deeply, dragging in all the oxygen he had denied her with his kiss. Good, he liked her like this, breathless because of him. He kissed a trail down her neck until he reached the tender spot between her neck and shoulder blade. This area was treated with not soft little kisses, but a long, cool lick. He smiled to himself when her hands reached up and tangled in his hair. This was passion. No shy little school girl afraid to touch him, but a woman, burning up as hot and fast as he was. This was Cordelia.

His mouth dove down again, and he was rewarded with a sweet little moan as he sucked and kissed, working the tender spot on her neck until she was moving against him in a rhythm that matched his own movements.

She was burning up. She just knew she would burn alive. Her skin was on fire, the cool touches of Angel’s mouth fanning the flames instead of soothing them. But this was wrong. Something was …. No, her mind screamed. “No,” it came out a whisper.

Angel didn’t hear it. At least he told himself he hadn’t. It was in his mind. He just expected her to say no. But even though her body was burning up as fast as his was, she had stopped moving. And then her hands slipped from his hair, crept down to his chest, pushing against him weakly, as if the act took great effort. “Angel, no,” she breathed again. “No,” her voice and hands much stronger this time.

He could barely tear himself away from her, but her last no had been laced with fear. He pulled his head up but kept her body firmly pinned in place.

“I can’t do this, Angel.” She kept her hands on his chest, a little barrier erected between them. Another one of her goddamned walls. “We can’t, Angel. I …. I.”

She wanted to tell him how much she wanted him, but what good would that do? She could never have him. Not that way. No one could unless they wanted to party with Angelus afterward. She pushed him again, a signal more than a real physical push and felt bereft when the cool of the room replaced his body on hers. He stepped back, staring at her with …..hurt? A little anger maybe? Well, good grief! He couldn’t be mad at her. He had been the one to kiss her, not the other way around. He should be thanking her for keeping a level head.

“Surely you felt that,” he finally said in confusion. “I know you felt it too.”

Had she felt it? Did he mean the earth-shattering kiss? The magnetic pull? She thought of her first and only time, the dark backseat, and Ricky’s clumsy hands. Then she thought of the kiss that she had just shared with Angel and wondered how she could ever have thought of sex as something unimportant. Maybe it hadn’t been her fault that things had felt so cold with Ricky. So quick and painful. Because she didn’t feel cold. Not with Angel. And what had passed between them had only been a kiss.

Her face flushed.

She suddenly felt too crowded, his eyes on her, his questions. What was he doing, torturing her? Of course she felt it, the whole blazing fireball. But he didn’t have to rub it in her face. She scooted out of the few inches of space that separated them. She didn’t want to talk about Angelus. It wasn’t like he didn’t know what would happen to him. Or maybe he hadn’t been intending to take it much further. A quick make-out session while they waited for answers, for their lives to go back to the way they were.

“I’m going to take a shower,” she tried desperately to get her traitorous breathing under control. Tried desperately not to feel hurt that he would play with her emotions.

Angel watched as she hurried to the bathroom, firmly locking the door.

He’d felt it.

True passion.

The kind that consumed. Made you not merely want someone but need them, require them to exist. And she’d…..gone to take a shower. He closed his eyes and buried his head in his hands. How could he be so stupid? Were his senses really that off? He’d thought he’d sensed a desperate desire in her. One that matched his own. But now he could sense fear. Maybe that was all it had been. The desperation of her situation taking her over, until she had realized who – or what – she was with.

He scrubbed his tired face with his hands, ran them through his hair. Well, he’d wanted to get her out of the room hadn’t he? Nothing like a vampire grinding you against a wall, scaring the shit out of you to get the job done. Mission accomplished.

Angel stepped over to the desk and sat down, clicked compose, and began his act of treason.

*****

Cordelia stood under the spray of the cool shower, willing her body to stop trembling. Terrified. That’s what she was. What if things had gone further? What if he had turned into Angelus? Surely he wouldn’t risk bringing on the consequences for what he was doing..

What was he doing anyway? Maybe this was just his way to pass time. Okay, that made her mad. He clearly knew now how attracted to him she was. It had taken great effort to get her body under control in front of him. And he had just stood there. Looking at her. She didn’t want to play this game that he was playing with her. She’d been burned too many times: Ricky, Xander. Oh, Angel was the master seducer of the group, there was no doubt of that. He was a vampire after all. Weren’t they supposed to have some kind of built in mojo. But why would he play with her emotions like that? They had been getting close. Hadn’t they?

Well, no more. She would help him, because, well, she just had to know that he would be alright. But after that he was on his own.

Her hand shook as she reached for the shampoo and the old musical song about washing a man right out of her hair circled in her mind. She wondered absently if they had a brand for vampires. Picking the bottle up, she filled her hand with the sweet smelling liquid and replaced the bottle, closing her eyes as she began to massage her scalp.

God, she had a knack for falling for the wrong guys. Guys that would treat her like crap, leave her, or tease her with something she could never have. She had to get Angel out of her system. Problem was he was already there, firmly situated somewhere near her heart, just left of her soul. Crap. She was really pathetic. Here they both were, in horrible danger. No answers for him, Giles’ useless books, the swords he had swiped stolen……

Swords!

Cordelia’s eyes popped wide open. Why hadn’t she thought of that before? Rinsing her hair quickly, she turned off the spray and reached for her towel. She would deal with her feelings later. Right now, she had to keep them both firmly in this world.

*****
Angel was propped up against the mound of pillows on her bed, arms behind his head, his black-booted feet crossed atop her comforter, the television on top of her antique dresser playing an old episode of Happy Days. He didn’t look up at her as she came into the room. So what? She wouldn’t let it sting. He was sulking because she hadn’t let him finish whatever he was going to finish. Well, too bad. She wasn’t going to be something he used in the moment and threw away tomorrow when he found out Buffy could see him again. Let him act like a pigheaded idiot. She’d still help him save his own ass whether he liked it or not.

“I’m going across the patio to the pool house,” she informed him. “I think I remembered something that might help us.”

He gave a nonverbal acknowledgement. A barely noticeable nod.

Jerk.

Cordelia opened the door. It was after two in the morning now with just a sliver of moon showing, but she could still see the glistening water waving slightly against the tiles of the pool. Making her way around, she reached the glass doors of the pool house and went inside.

*****

Angel clicked off the distraction of the television. He’d only turned it on to irritate her. During her little shower break, Angel had had time to think. What in the hell kind of game was she playing with him? She wanted him, he could smell it for Christ’s sake. But her rebuff had been confusing, then hurtful, and now….now he was pissed. She had erected that wall right back up. This time it had been in the form of her slender hands, pushing him away. But she had made it clear that even though her body had been screaming out that it needed him, her mind and heart were a different story.

Hell, she’d probably been terrorized by those demons for so long that she wanted to stay as far away as possible from the “darker” side of life. But why had she gone for Xander? He was fully ingrained in the “other side” of Sunnydale. Shit, the boy practically worshiped at the altar of Buffy. Patrolling, researching, but mostly getting in the way.

Maybe it was just him personally that she didn’t like. He had given her little choice to help him. Letting her know that she was his only way to connect with the world. Well, he didn’t care how she felt about him.

Okay, he did.

In fact, it stung like a motherfucking stake through the heart.

Well, she might not want him in her life but too bad. He was. And he would protect her from the Ancients no matter her feelings for him.

Getting up from the bed, he paced to the French doors, pulling back the sheer drape. She had run to the shower, now to the pool house. Was she going to keep this up all night? He had to get control of himself, of his anger. Mistakes were made when you got too angry. Angel rubbed the back of his neck as a strange feeling came over him.

*****

The pool house was dark and unfortunately her parents had covered the furniture and turned the breaker off for the season. Their little money saving ventures of late were getting slightly annoying. But she could see enough to spot the glint of metal on the wall. Her father’s sword collection. Her mother had thought it ghastly and banished it to the pool house two years ago. The swords were old, ancient probably, but didn’t that make them even better? God, she hoped Angel could use them. Maybe the swords would ease both of their moods. She maneuvered around the ghost-like furniture, with their crisp white cloth coverings.

When she reached the far wall, she stretched, taking down one of the swords, careful not to cut herself. She hoped it was sharp. It certainly was heavy. She’d have to come back for the others. Holding it by the hilt and pointing it down the way a child might carry scissors after a parent’s warning, Cordelia made the careful trek back toward the door.

She froze, dead in her tracks, ice cold terror creeping into her veins.

A pair of fire lit eyes stared back at her in the darkness of the room. Right next to the door. She hadn’t seen it, had passed right by it when she had walked inside. Her wall. Where was that damn thing when she needed it. She’d never be able to get that close to it. She couldn’t. She held the sword more firmly in her hands, willing them to quit shaking. She had to move. Although she had coolly averted her eyes from the monster, if she hesitated any longer, the beast might sense that she had seen him. God help her, she could hear its breath, the slight shifting of its giant body in the stillness of the room. She could do this. She’d been doing it all her life. Just pretend. Pretend. Acting as if she had paused to get a better hold on the sword, Cordelia walked carefully to the door, letting an old rhyme that her Gram had taught to her run a loop in her head. ‘Just last night upon the stair, I saw a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today, how I wish he’d go away,’ Even her mind’s voice seemed breathless as she mentally repeated it over again and again.

She saw his head move from the corner of her eye, tracking her as she finally reached the door. God, he was huge. His head nearly brushing the ceiling of the pool house She reached for the doorknob with one hand, the smell of sulfur and embers burning her nose.. She was just past him now, almost home free. But then her heart stopped, or at least it felt as if it had. She heard it move. Hot breath blew across the back of her neck, so hot that she knew if her hair had not been wet from the shower it would have been singed.

“Sentinel,” the word graveled through the hot breath blowing across her shoulder now, burning her skin. Why had she stopped? She twisted the doorknob just as the massive claws came down onto her shoulders, firm enough to still her, but not slicing through her skin. The slowness of the move scared her more than anything. As if the monster knew, now that he’d found her out, that there was no escape for her, no need for him to hurry whatever it was that he would do to her. He turned her around, the claws digging into her shoulders but not drawing blood.

She thought of Angel. He had no one to help him now. No one could see him, hear him, touch him. So her death would condemn him to Hell either way. Even if the Ancients didn’t get him, existing like that would be a hell in itself. Suddenly she remembered the sword in her hand. Unfortunately, so did the Ancient. “I see you have brought me a gift,” his voice sounded like the hiss of steam now, with deep graveled undertones. “Do not fear. I need no assistance in drawing your blood,” his mouth stretched then in what could only be described as a parody of a smile, his dagger like teeth dripping with anticipation. She pushed the heavy sword up, meaning to slice right between his legs, but he caught it easily and tossed it aside..

She opened her mouth to scream but nothing came. Oh, God. She was truly paralyzed with fear. A small animal caught by headlights, waiting for the smash and crash.. Saliva dripped from his mouth as he lowered his head to her, the drool burning her skin worse than its hot, foul breath. At least that sting had roused her muscles back into life. She struggled, even though it was apparent that it would do no good. She didn’t care. At least she would die fighting. At least she had tried.

The door to the pool house shattered, sending shards of glass and splintered wood into the air. Angel stood in the ruined frame, his face morphed, his mouth in a snarl. He was on the Ancient before Cordelia or the beast knew what had happened. One minute she was in its clutches and the next she was on the floor, watching as Angel rolled to the ground and out of the pool house, the Ancient in tow. He was going to die. Oh, God. That thing was going to kill him.

Remembering the sword, Cordelia picked up the heavy metal as best she could. “Angel!” she called out through the grunts and roars. The beast was swinging at him now, and caught his side with a deep cutting swipe. Angel’s thin black sweater turned even darker in that area, a circle of blackness spreading in seconds. Could vampires bleed to death? Oh, God she hoped not.

“Toss it!” he called as he twisted away from another fierce blow. The beast growled and gnashed it fangs.

Her toss was more like a slide, but at least it reached it’s mark. Angel picked up the heavy metal, swinging it with the skill of a practiced warrior. The beast roared, swung its head through an arcing of the sword and clipped Angel in the shoulder. Cordelia could see the strain on Angel’s face at that blow, the battle wearing him down. She felt like some helpless B movie actress, standing to the side while watching her friend murdered, awaiting her turn as she screamed. But what could she do? She couldn’t leave him. Never.

He had to get to the head. That would at least bring it down. At least that had been his plan when he had brought the sword up. But the damn thing had clipped him in the shoulder with a horn. That, along with the gash in his side was quickly draining his energy. He knew Cordelia stood inside the pool house, watching the battle in horror, but he couldn’t concentrate on her now. The fear that had consumed him for her when he had felt the heat crawl up his neck had almost immobilized him. She had been in that small place with the monster and he had let her go. His embarrassment, anger, and hurt over her rejection overriding his protection of her. He lifted the sword again and this time caught the monster between the eyes, the point of the sword going in through the densely armored skin only slightly. He pushed as hard as he could and felt it give more. The beast lost it’s footing through the pain and fell to it’s knees.

A red haze of anger burned through Angel at what could have happened if she had been alone. No one to protect her. He pushed more, hitting whatever counted as skull on the demon. Keeping the sword in place, Angel tried to dodge the monster’s flailing claws, ignoring the rips and tears in the flesh of his legs that he was receiving from the Ancient’s frantic struggle. You had to get dirty to kill one of these bastards. And he was going to enjoy every perverse minute of it. Letting himself free. His true self. Angel’s roar nearly matched that of the beast as he drove the sword through bone. A loud cracking sound echoing loudly off the wall of the main house. The monster fell back and Angel moved above it, driving the sword in until it hit the brick of the patio.

He heard Cordelia’s sigh of relief. He wished she had passed out or something. But women didn’t really do that anymore. He hated that she had to see the gruesome kill, the fact that it had only just begun.. Piercing the skull was just the start. He didn’t look at her as she called his name. Pulling the sword from the monster’s head made a horrible, wet sucking sound and he sensed her flinch.

Raising the sword above his head again, he sliced down, severing the head of the Ancient and kicking it away from the body. It wouldn’t be very fun if it came to and reached for the thing. Next he went to the chest. This was the bad part. The part he didn’t want her to see. Angel wished he could convince her to go inside the house, but there was no time to argue with her. And she would argue. He knew that.

He took the sword in his hands as if it were a small knife and knelt by the Ancient’s large body. Shoving it in the chest cavity, he broke through ribs and tore through muscle, working his way around with a stabbing and sawing motion. The heart was deep, so hunks of flesh had to be removed to get at it. He dug with the blade, with his hands, the dark blood burning his skin. He was running out of time. They didn’t stay unconscious for long. He’d learned that long ago. The hard way.

He grabbed the insides of the demon’s chest with both hands, pulling the chest apart, ribs splintering as he spotted his prize. The pulsing, enormous organ. He pulled it free, snapping arteries and tissue as he yanked the heart clear of the body. It beat in his hand, a gush of flaming blood burning his palm, running down his arm. Angel tossed it to the ground near the head, walked over, and stabbed it through. The Ancient’s eyes shot open as the heart beat out it’s last pulse, a roar dying on the demon’s lips.

There. It was done. Cordelia was safe. For now.

He looked across the patio. Time to face the horror. God, he was a mess. Coated in blood and gore. He could see her, but couldn’t quite make out her face. He blinked his eyes once….twice. She was wavering now, her form going in and out of focus. Oh, God. Had the Ancient done something to her? Was she disappearing? No. That wasn’t it. He took a step forward, he had to make sure she was alright. But his feet felt like lead. She said something but it garbled in his mind. He was sinking, falling, drowning. “Cordelia,” he whispered before falling next to the mutilated body, the blood loss too much to take, his body nearly drained.

“Angel!” Cordelia rushed to him. He was coved in the Ancient’s blood and almost the same amount of his own. “Angel, wake up,” she ordered as she grabbed his face in her hands. “Please wake up. Open your eyes.”

His eyes cracked open but he didn’t seem to really see her., an inarticulate rush of words spilling weakly through his lips. It was enough. She held on to him and said a little prayer. He was still with her. He had risked himself to save her, protect her. Had almost destroyed himself. But he was still with her.

Angel’s mind stirred. His thoughts were foggy, muddled. His senses coming online slowly, one after another. He smelled the ocean, fresh and clean. Cordelia. His eyes seemed too heavy to open so he didn’t even try. Maybe he was dreaming. Maybe he was dead. He sure liked the sensations running through his mind – or spirit if that was the case. Cordelia’s scent was all around him, wrapping him up in a cocoon of warmth. And the taste of that blood she had heated for him was in his mouth. And something…..else. God, it was even better than before. She’d obviously perfected her skills at preparing the stuff for him because it was wonderful. Delicious. Hot and spicy, coating his insides and feeding more than just his body, his soul. She was unbelievable. He had worried that drinking blood would disgust her and she had actually heated the stuff for him. Worried that it not only should give him sustenance but pleasure as well. He smiled, at least he thought he was smiling. Well, whatever she had done to the stuff this time was…..mouth-watering.

And that kiss. That sweet kiss that had defined everything for him. All that he had been missing. He envisioned himself kissing her, touching her. They were against the wall in her room, both frantic for a closer position. They were burning. On fire. But real flames began to leap at them, burn them. Cordelia screamed and panic shot through him. He was looking at the pool house now, flames licking their way up his neck. She was out there, trapped with an Ancient. “No!” his voice croaked out, as his eyes shot open.

Cordelia was laying next to him on the bed, fully clothed in her little short set and fast asleep. The leftover bottle, the one he had yet to drink from the night before stood empty on her night stand, the thermo mug next to it. He looked down his body to where Cordelia’s gentle hand was resting on top of one of many bandages on his bare chest.

Bandages?

He looked around the room. It was daylight. He could sense it even though the room seemed as dark as the night before. He glanced to the windows on the French doors which were thickly covered in layers of foil, a duct taped seal ringing the silver wrap. Not a speck of sunlight showed through.

He moved her hand over slightly, not wanting to lose the contact but needing to check his wounds. He moved slightly and lifted the bandage on his side. The wound was no more than what looked to be a pink scar now. In another day or two it would be as if it had never been there. He had never doctored his wounds before. He healed so fast it seemed silly. Why should he care?

But she did.

He must have been able enough to help her as she had gotten him inside before light. That could be the only explanation of how she had managed. His boots and shirt were off and he spied a laundry basket on the floor near the armoire, full of blood-soaked towels and wash cloths. Some of the blood his, some the Ancient’s. He looked at the windows again. And then down to the sleeping woman beside him.

She had taken care of him. She had seen him kill the Ancient. Seen him dive into its chest with his bare hands and pull out its heart. He wondered how long she had stood there after the deed had been done before coming to his aid.

Not long. He was sure of that.

She was exhausted. He could tell by her breathing. She lay with the side of her face turned toward him on the pillow, one arm at her side, one tucked firmly under the pillow. He wanted to kiss her. To wake her up and finish what had started between them the night before. Instead he pulled the cover that was folded at the end of the bed over her and brushed a lock of hair from her cheek.

Her sleepy eyes blinked a little then closed, “You’re awake,” came her soft, drowsy voice.

“Yeah,” he brushed her cheek again just because he had to.

“Good.” Her eyes remained firmly closed.

“Do you need something?” he only asked because he selfishly wanted to keep her awake, hear her voice again.

“Sleep,” she answered and snuggled deeper into the pillow.

Angel watched her as her breathing became deep again.

A decision came to him then. He would not seek the cure for his curse until he found hers. He was the only one who could protect her from the Ancients. And he wasn’t leaving her to deal with them alone. And if that meant he would never be cured. So be it. He thought of the body that must still be on the patio. Christ, he didn’t want her to wake up to that. The cleanup wouldn’t be too hard. A couple of days and the thing would be ash. Ancients decomposed quickly. But it would take about two days before it could be swept away. Right now he was sure the thing was still all guts and gore. He would just have to keep her from looking out until he could do the job of cleaning up.

The logistics of him staying with her until he could cure her weren’t really that difficult. No one else could see him and she had access to her room from an outside door. Anything he needed could be brought in without her parents ever knowing. Not that they were going to be a problem. It seemed as if they had already pushed her out of the nest. At least as far as they could before she graduated.

Sitting up, he stretched. He felt…..good. Not very sore at all but there was something…..different. He began pulling off the bandages, noticing that she hadn’t nursed the ones on his legs, his tattered pants still in place. Getting up, he tossed the crumbled bandages in the trash can next to the computer desk and noticed that there was a message, opened and displayed on the machine.

Giles. He must have answered their email. And it appeared that Cordelia had read it. Sitting down, he read the reply:

Cordelia,

From what I gather from your email, you are trying to convince me that Angel has been affected by the banishment of the Ancients. I find this highly unlikely. Are you sure you didn’t visit the school’s haunted house? I know they were planning on a theme along those lines? Of course their spells and understanding of the true order of the Latin words were far off the original one found in the Greek version of the legend…..

“Guess they were close enough,” Angel mumbled to himself. He didn’t like the way Giles was wording his reply. As if he didn’t believe Cordelia. He was treating her the same way Buffy and Xander had, just with a little more maturity. Had she really fooled them all so much? Did they really think that she was nothing more than a spoiled rich girl who would act on any impulse for attention?

…Of course, I can’t give you a direct reference because I seem to be missing some key literature on the subject. I won’t ask how you obtained these or if you even have them, but I do expect them back Monday morning. That you saw him is every indication, however, that he is not suffering from this curse. In the legend, only the Sentinels could see the ones trapped on the border. When the Ancients would try and slip in and out of villages by using the ability to disappear and reappear behind the veil that hides this demon Hell, the Sentinels were born. A balance of sorts. Keeping the balance in check and giving the humans a defense against them, a warning of sorts.

The humans then hired the Latro, mercenaries strong enough to kill the Ancients as long as the battle was about seven to one. But the demons were finally cursed to the border permanently. As for the Sentinels, their bloodline was severed. I made a notation in one of my books. One that seems to be among the missing. The Sentinels could still see them of course, never having lost their ability to see both sides. It seems that because the Sentinels could still see them, they could still be harmed by them. Eventually, one was killed by an Ancient. One of the Ancients drank of the Sentinel’s blood. No one is sure as to why or how the demon knew to do this, but the Sentinel blood released the demon from the curse. Allowing it to once again walk the two worlds.

The humans that found out about the Sentinel blood and its power feared what would happen if more were used. So they hired the Latro. This time, to kill the Sentinels. The very people who had helped protect the world from the demons. The Latro wasted no time wiping the Sentinel line from the face of the Earth. This is all very old and a legend at that. But if you have come into contact with Angel and he is trying to convince you to help him in any way, stay away from him. Let me know immediately if he contacts you again. I know you have been through a lot, Cordelia. And trauma can make us act out in ways that are destructive. Let me help you deal with things.

Sincerely,
Rupert Giles

He thought she was delusional. Or simply making it up. But what about his answer? Hadn’t his message gone through? He apparently had either screwed it up or Giles had refused to answer it, thinking it was Cordelia again, or maybe because he knew it was Angel.

Angel moved the little “rat” thing Cordelia had shown him how to use that moved the little arrow on the screen and clicked the “x” on the message, wanting it gone. Behind that message was another. The time on it was just a few minutes after the first. He must have answered the first one before reading Angel’s. It was very short.

Angel,

Cordelia must be mistaken in what she is seeing. Regardless of what is affecting you, it would be impossible for her to see an Ancient. Are you sure she is not seeing yet another one of our many species here in Sunnydale? It was Halloween. Possibly a costume? Whatever her condition or delusion, I will help the girl. But, you must stay away from her. Is that clear? I have spoken to her parents this morning, prompting them to call her. She has assured them she is alone now. I don‘t know how long you were with her, or even if you will get this message in anyway. But I will deliver it to you again soon. That is a promise. But Cordelia is safe and alone in her home now. And it will stay that way. Do we understand one another? You have done enough damage to the women in this town. Do not add another one to your list by convincing her she is part of some long dead bloodline. The girl has been through enough. Even if it were true, it would be hopeless. There would be no cure. The Sentinel line was not a curse, but a blood right. Their power inherent. Leave the girl alone, Angel. For Gods sake let her be.

There was no sign off. He couldn’t blame Giles for his hatred. The women he referred to had been and were the closest ones in his life: Mrs. Calendar, Buffy. But the email was enough info to let him know that his situation was hopeless. For as he suspected when he read some of the text the night before, leaving out a few bits as not to scare Cordelia, Cordelia Chase was a descendant of the bloodline. That had to be the answer. She was a Sentinel. The bloodline destined to warn the world about the Ancients. But now no one believed in Ancients. Humans tended to forget what they couldn’t see. Living in the moment of their short lives, forgetting their past. And that trapped them both. Because if Giles was correct, the cure to leave the dimension was the blood of a Sentinel. Cordelia’s blood. She was what the Ancients were searching for. And she was not only their key out, but his.

He glanced back at her on the bed. It would never happen. They would never get her. And he would never leave her.

Turning back around, he sat his elbows on the small desk, placing his face in his hands. She had read the messages. They had been opened on the screen. That meant she knew he had betrayed her secret and what she was and why. What would he do know? He wouldn’t leave her. But would she let him stay? She would have no choice. She had taken care of him and now he would do the same for her. She had been so selfless. Not running and cowering but waiting and watching the battle, hoping he would be alright. Taking him in and covering windows and wounds. Washing him, staying with him.

A horrible thought began to take root in his mind.

She had read the emails.

He turned in the swivel chair very slowly, and looked at her. He wouldn’t go to her, not at first. Surely she hadn’t…….but he remembered his thoughts as he had regained consciousness. He would test it first and find out that she hadn’t risked herself yet again. Rising, he went to her restroom, the window there was also covered as the ones in her room. Angel stood away from the window, not allowing the sun to touch him as he peeled back the tape and foil from one corner.

The patio was clear. No sign of the Ancient or the battle.

But it wasn’t because it wasn’t there. And that knowledge knotted in his gut.

He took purposeful, hard strides back to the room and lifted Cordelia in his arms on the bed. The arm under the pillow slipped out and hung at her side. There was a bandage dotted with blood on the side of her forearm.

The taste. The mouth-watering taste had been hers. The hot, spicy delicious taste that he had savored as he woke had been her sacrifice for his cure.

“Damn it! Cordelia!”

She roused and smiled at him a little. “Good morning,” she tried to stretch in his arms but his hold gave her little leave.

Sitting her back down against the headboard, he lifted her bandaged arm. “What did you do?” anger seethed from him.

He was mad? She’d saved his sorry butt and he was mad! She’d been thrilled to know that she was his answer, that the cure was there all along to give him. Of course, she had only cut herself enough to draw a little, hoping that it would be enough but prepared to go further when he woke if he needed it.

“Did it work?” she asked

“Did it word? Did it work! Hell yes it worked! I can’t see the damn Ancient’s bloody carcass that I know is out there on that patio,” he stabbed his finger in the air toward the French doors.. “Now what are we going to do! Christ, Cordelia! How am I going to protect you now?” he sank down and sat on the bed, pushing his hands through his hair.

“You’re not responsible for me, Angel,” although she couldn’t stamp down the feeling that crept its way into her heart at his words. “I’ve been dealing with this all my life. Last night was just….”

“Too damn close,” he looked up at her. She was sitting with her back against the headboard, her long hair framing her face in loose, messy waves, her eyes shining, her arm bandaged. She hadn’t given him much, thank God. He would know if there was more of her in his system.

He leaned over to her then and kissed her hard. Kissed her out of fear and anger. Kissed her because he couldn’t save her, kissed her because she had saved him, kissed her because he had to, because he loved her.

He loved her.

“Why?” he whispered against her lips.

She pulled away slightly, her shoulders still locked in his big hands, her breathing heavy. “Because you needed it, because it saved you.”

He shook her little, “And what about you?”

“You read the email,” she looked at him, her eyes full of emotion. “I’m not cursed. So there’s no cure.” She stared at him. Really looked at Angel. His face was so torn, panic in his eyes. For her. He was cured. He could leave. But he was there, worrying over her. Over something that just was. That couldn’t be changed.

This time it was Cordelia who leaned in and kissed him. Kissed him with everything she was, because he had stayed, because he cared Because she knew he wanted her, not because she was a cheerleader or looked hot in a sexy costume. But because of who she was, what she was.

Angel growled deep in his throat and….oh God, she loved that sound.

Turning her slightly by her shoulders, he laid her back across the narrow part of the bed, hovering above her, kissing her back fiercely. Cordelia pulled at his shoulders, urging him down, needing him closer. He lowered himself down onto her, pressing her into the soft mattress. She sighed and snaked her arms around his neck, nipped at his lips before diving back into the kiss.

Jesus, this was so much better than the wall. He could feel every part of her through the little clothing that separated them – his ruined pants, her soft short set. And, oh shit, the way her breasts pushed against the weight of his chest made him want to roar.

Unable to help himself, he began to move against her: a slow, subtle rhythm, simulating the vision taking form in his head of what he wanted to do to her, of what he would do to her.

Her legs slid open slightly, just enough to let him settle himself exactly where he wanted to be.

He moved against her again, pushing himself against the middle seam of her shorts. Cordelia made a small whimpering sound in the back of her throat. Her hands moved to his shoulders again, her nails digging into him, sending a little sting through his entire body.

He lifted his head and buried it into the side of her neck, kissing and licking his way over and around every sensitive spot. “Closer,” he whispered through the burning haze in his head. “I need to get closer.” He wanted more than close though, he wanted in. In her body, her mind, her heart.

He ran his hand down her side, finding the hem of her t-shirt and pushing it up a few inches, needing to get at skin. She was so soft and warm. But when his hand found the pucker of her healing wound a few inches up, he ran his fingers over it gently and raised his head. His face close to hers, he asked, “Does it hurt?” His voice was rough with desire, determined not to hurt her but finding it hard to go slowly.

“No,” came her nearly breathless response. God, he was crushing her. She could feel every part of him pressed against her, pushing her so deep into the bed she could hardly breathe. And she loved it.

Angel raised up and away from her, pulling the shirt up enough to see the wound. The stitches were still partly visible but dissolving and he ran his fingertips over the injury again, making her flinch. “I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?” he asked, worrying about the weight and pressure he’d been putting on it.

Pushing herself up on her elbows, she answered, “No,” and glanced away. Her hand moved down to cover the area. God, she’d forgotten about the awful looking thing.

She wasn’t hurt, she was embarrassed, and Angel hated it. “Don’t,” he pushed her hand away gently and positioned himself further down the bed, resting his chest between her legs. He pushed her shirt up more and kissed her wound. Whispered against her skin as she looked down at him, “It’s healing well. It looks much better than it did in the hospital.”

A sensation shot through her. A chill or maybe a shiver. “You were there? You came to the hospital?” she whispered so softly that he imagined only his ears could have heard the question.

He looked up at her, his face just above her exposed skin and nodded, kissed it again, and then ran his hand down the curve at her side above her hip. The curve he had intended to explore the night before. He kissed there too, losing himself in the taste and warmth of her skin.

Cordelia laid back and closed her eyes. She would stop him in a minute, but, God help her not yet. She wanted to enjoy the feel of his touch a little longer. The way it made her body burn and shiver at the same time. But she was risking it by letting him continue. Had she saved him simply to let one curse take the place of another?

“Angel,” she breathed heavily. “Angel, stop,” she leaned back up and pushed his head away with shaky hands.

He looked up at her, then crawled up her body, keeping her caged under his, pressing her back down on the mattress. He leaned down and kissed her. Hard. Desperately. And though she tried to resist at first, soon she was as lost as he had been, matching his passion on equal ground. As hard as it was, he pulled away. “Why, Cordelia? I know you want me. Maybe even as much as I want you.” He ground his hips between her legs and watched her eyes flutter closed for a moment. He was a bastard. He knew it. But damn it! Why was she rejecting him?

When she regained herself, she placed her hands on his shoulders. This time not grabbing them out of passion, but pushing at them slightly. That goddamn little wall again. Pushing him away. Separating them.

“Do you want to turn into Angelus?” she asked incredulously. “Because I sure as hell don’t want you to.”

Angel stared at her for a moment, his eyes roaming her face before looking back into her eyes. He was such an idiot. He’d been so concerned about her, the Ancients, being stuck on the border of hell, then not being stuck, that Angelus had been the furthest thing from his mind.

Okay, he was smiling. The jerk was smiling and that just pissed her off. “Ugh!” she pushed against him harder this time with her slender hands, her face full of anger. “Just get off me.”

He kept smiling like an asshole. He couldn’t help himself. It wasn’t him she had rejected last night. Not him now. She was afraid of Angelus.

He took her hands and pressed them down on the mattress above her head. “Cordelia,” he said her name, not even registering her small struggle, his lips an inch from hers. “Angelus is gone.”

She quit struggling. Froze. “What?” she breathed.

“He’s gone, Cordelia. I lost him. Or he lost me. It seems if you’re evil enough, once in hell you stay there. So that part of me did.”

“Oh,” she said in a small voice, suddenly more aware than ever of his body. His hands pinning hers, his chest crushing her breast, the rock hard bulge in his pants snuggled firmly between the vee of her legs. And Angelus was long gone. Suffering in hell as he should. Angel was free. Truly free.

Angel almost let out a chuckle when she strained up and took his mouth fiercely, but it died quickly on a groan. She was on fire again. Just as she had been the night before. And she was burning him up from the inside out.

He let go of her hands because he had to touch her again. And as soon as they were free, her fingers smoothed their way up his bare, broad chest. She took his face in her hands as she kissed him wildly.

God, he loved her like this. Hot. Passionate. Wanting him as much as he wanted her. No fear. He wanted her chest as bare as his, but he couldn’t stand breaking contact long enough to get the fucking t-shirt off of her. He lifted his hands between them as they kissed and grabbed onto the neckline of her shirt.

Somewhere in the distance, beyond the blazing heat of their kiss, Cordelia heard a ripping sound and felt cool air against her chest. And when Angel broke their kiss and raised up, she found the source of the sound. Her shirt was no more than a few rags laying on the mattress at her sides.

She looked at him but he was eyeing her lace bra now and she knew it would be a casualty as well. He reached down, seemingly hypnotized by the sight of the creamy cloth, or maybe by what was held beneath it. His hands came down slowly, stroked her breasts through the material. He ran his thumb over one tight nipple and then with both hands he tugged. A snap was the only sound made by the small scrap that held the thing together between her cleavage.

He didn’t look up at her. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her tight little nipples growing hard in the cool air. He shouldn’t have ruined her clothes, but he was getting impatient, desperate beyond the point of a slow, teasing strip to arouse her. He would arouse her in other ways, her promised himself. “I’m sorry,” he was still staring down, “I’ll buy you another one.”

That comment sent a whole new spike of desire through him. The thought of going into a store and picking out something strappy and sexy for her to wear only for him elicited a growl from somewhere deep inside his chest.

Oh, God. That growl again. It turned her on almost as much as his hands did. He was so wild. Free. She would have thought the fact of someone literally ripping her clothes off would have terrified her. But it didn’t. Because it was Angel. And she loved him like this. Out of control for her. Because of her.

Finally, he looked up at her. Kept eye contact with her as he slowly lowered his head, his pink tongue coming out, giving one beaded nipple a soft lick.. She arched back, her body a long, lean stretch of curves and hollows offered up to him. He licked again, a third time, then took her breast in his mouth.

Cordelia’s hands found his thick locks of hair, tangled in them as hi head gently moved. She felt a slight scrape across her nipple. Oh….God….his teeth. Teasing her. Her head cocked back, a soft moan escaping her lips.

“God, I love that sound,” Angel whispered, his breath cool against her breast. “Let me hear it again, Cordelia,” he went to the other breast, giving it equal attention.

Cordelia couldn’t help herself. The sounds escaping her now, although soft, seemed loud in the quiet room. But she didn’t care. She was lost. Trapped in the moment with Angel. She felt his mouth leave her breast and begin its way down her rib cage, her stomach, stopping for a moment at the curve of her waist, stroking it with his hand, kissing it softly.

His body reached the edge of the mattress, he let his bare feet slip to the carpet, then knelt at his knees on the floor. Cordelia’s mouth was slightly parted, her face flushed as she raised herself up on her elbows. She opened her eyes and looked down at him.

God, she was sexy. He’d been ready to peel off his ruined pants and bury himself deep inside her. But from the way he was feeling, things would be over too quickly if he moved that fast. He knew he couldn’t hold out long. Not this first time with her. His massive hard-on was already weeping for him to just fill her up already.

And he wanted to be inside her, needed it.

Positioned as he was, the smell of her arousal, that unique and spicy fragrance, hit him hard. He licked his lips. There were other ways to get inside.

Angel ran his hands against the elastic waist of her shorts. Gently, he hooked his fingers through the bands of both the shorts and the small silky fabric of her panties. He pulled them down slowly, enjoying the shivers he felt vibrating from her skin as his hands lightly brushed against her smooth long legs.

He tossed the garments aside and rose. Cordelia was still watching him, her chest rising and falling quickly. Crawling back up on the bed, he lay slightly to the side of her, his weight half on and half off her body. A perfect view of her face and the entire length of her body if he chose.

Cordelia laid her head back as Angel’s mouth descended on hers. His hand crept up to her face, gently stoking her jaw, her chin. His fingertips ran down the sweeping curve of her neck, played with one tight nipple, then drew down further to her flat stomach.

He pulled away from the kiss slowly and looked at her, loving the way her hazel eyes were dancing, sparkling. He slid his hand between her soft thighs. His finger was a whispered stoke as it lightly brushed against her. She gasped, her eyes closing, her head arching back at the light touch. He brushed against her again, this time with more pressure.

“Oh, God,” she whispered. “Angel,” his name came out on a breathy sigh.

Something was happening. She’d read enough steamy romance novels to know the delicious details about sex, but after her first time she wondered, frustratingly, just what an orgasm would actually feel like. She’d tried to explore the notion herself, but had never been able to go through with the…….independent version of sex. But….oh…..she was beginning to think that she was about to find out just how mind blowing one could be.

Angel loved the look of her while he was touching her. He stared at her, felt the warmth of her deep breaths against his face. Slowly, he slip one finger inside of her, brought it out and slid it in again, picking up a rhythm as he repeated the action over and over, his thumb brushing against the perfect spot with each small thrust and repeat.

Her hips rocked against his hand and he felt the twitch of his cock, still trapped within the confines of his pants, as if the thing was reaching out, jealous, eager. He looked down the length of her body, down to where his hand disappeared between her legs, watched as her hips rolled against him. Christ. He had to taste her. Removing his hand, he wrapped his arms around her, kissed her as he situated them more comfortably on the bed, laying her down so that her head rested on the pillows at the headboard.

He hovered over her, parted her legs again with his. His big arms caged her as he savored the kiss for a moment, then broke away, shifting farther down the mattress. He kissed the curve of her waist, her hip, making his way down inch by inch. He brushed his hand down the inside of her thigh. Then, he lowered his head, opened his mouth, and licked her.

“Oh, God,” he heard her gasp and a self-satisfying smile spread across his face. He traced up her pick flesh again with his tongue and her back arched up off the bed. He kept going, getting deeper and deeper inside until he got a true taste of her. He closed his eyes as he swallowed, groaned as the taste of her slid down his throat. Better than her blood. Placing his hands on her thighs, he opened her more, needed to get deeper. He brushed his mouth from side to side, nuzzled into her. Felt her grab the sheets and arch off the bed. God, she was going to come any second now.

He growled, clamped onto her thighs and split her wide, diving in deep with his tongue, pulled out, then flicked over her most sensitive spot, before diving back in. Finding a rhythm that drove her over the edge.

Cordelia shattered, coming violently. Her body pulsing with liquid sparks of pleasure. She heard a scream before realizing it was her own voice. She arched, bucked but Angel held her down, dragging out the orgasm, his mouth blissfully ruthless.

When he felt the last shudder run through her body, Angel raised his head, prowled back up the length of her body, settling his weight on top of her.

She looked up at him, her eyes glassy, a small smile on her face.

He slid into her slowly. And although she was more than ready for him, stretched to accommodate him, she was so tight he was suddenly afraid he might hurt her. “Are you alright?” God, was that his voice? It sounded ragged, strained.

“More than alright,” she looked at him, stroked his strong jaw. He was so big, but the pressure of him pushing his way inside of her was exquisite.

His muscles tensed, bunched at his shoulders, as he pushed himself in to the hilt.

They both gasped with pleasure.

He drew his hips back, pushed in again, His hips began to rolled into her, stilled, then rolled again. She felt his hand go between their bodies. He stroked her, his hips still moving in that sweet relentless rhythm.

Cordelia’s head kicked back. It only took a moment before heat gathered inside of her, exploded.

The contractions of her orgasm gripped him, stroked him. “Oh…..God, Cordelia” he whispered. His head dropped down beside hers as more of his weight pressed down on her. His hips pulled back quicker, his thrusts harder. She opened her legs wider as his pumping rhythm became wilder, more urgent. He whispered something unintelligible against her ear and she wrapped her arms around him, feeling the muscles in his back tightening. He kicked his head back and roared as the orgasm took him over. Spasms shook his whole body, his large frame tensing as he pushed himself in hard.

She felt him pulsing inside of her, aftershocks quaking through him.

He collapsed on top of her, his full weight making it almost impossible for her to breath.

Realizing he was crushing her, he rolled to his side, taking her with him. He kept himself in, not wanting to leave, and wrapped his arms around her.

Angel held on to her, quiet, desperate to keep her cocooned in his arms. Away from danger.
*****

Angel walked down the long hallway to the main part of the house, taking a right at the great room and into the massive kitchen. He paused a moment as he took in the excess. He had never seen so much stonework. This place was like a goddamned palace. And every smooth, hard surface was spotless. Thankful that the kitchen truly did face east as he remembered, Angel moved around the center cooking island, careful not to step into the dwindling light that still shown somewhat through the large, uncovered windows. The refrigerator wasn’t completely empty, but sparse enough that he had to struggle to find her something.

Protein. She needed protein because of the little donation she’d given him. And fluids. Lots of fluids.

Reaching in, he took out eggs, cheese, and milk and a few other items. He wished there were more. An omelet seemed such a pitiful offering to her after everything she’d done. After everything they had done together. As he set the contents in his arms down on the island, he thought of the hopelessness of Cordelia’s situation.

No.

He struck part of the thought from his mind and altered it. Their situation. It was their problem. Not hers. It would never be just her problem again.

But Giles had let them know that there was no cure.

He stared at the food he’d spread out on the cold counter, not really seeing anything but Cordelia in front of him.

She wasn’t cursed. Therefore, there was no cure.

No hope.

Angel bent down and opened a few cabinet doors until he came across a pan, sat it on the burner, lit the stove.

He found a bowl, a whisk. Everything he needed.. Everything except an answer.

What the hell was he going to do?

But Giles had said there was no cure.

Fuck that! He cracked the first egg.

At sundown he would pay a visit to the Watcher. Gules was going to find a cure, whether he knew it or not.

*****

Cordelia lay in her warm bed, the empty plate on her nightstand next to her. She was blissfully stuffed. And sore in places that shot a small thrill through her body when she thought about it.

Now that had “fulfilled her every fantasy”. Much more so than five seconds on the backseat of a car. She stretched and rolled onto her side, glad the windows were still covered in the foil. She didn’t want to see the leftovers of Angel’s battle with the Ancient, not when she was feeling so……wonderful.

And it hadn’t only been the mind blowing sex. Afterwards they had talked. In the quiet, stillness of the room, Angel had told her how he had felt the moment he realized he had been freed of Angelus. How he had wanted to tell someone but couldn’t bring himself to because of the expectations Buffy had put on him. He talked about his first years living with the curse, how his soul had remembered every horrible act committed by Angelus, especially the murder of his family.

Cordelia had told him about her life with her parents. About how she had dealt with the problem of seeing the Ancients as a child.

They had talked in hushed tones in the dark room, their bodies still entwined. It had been so intimate. Special.

Cordelia closed her eyes and breathed in deep. She could still smell him on her sheets, her pillow. That mixture of leather and a subtle, natural spice.

He had left only moments before, kissing her and telling her that he would be gone for only a while. Her parents were due back Tuesday morning but that was still more than two days away. When she had told him, he had said that he would stay with her until then. “And when they come home?” she had asked him. “We’ll figure it out then,” he had answered her and kissed her again.

She had offered to go with him to his apartment to pick up his things, but he had adamantly refused. At first it had hurt her feelings a bit, even though she was really too tired. But he had explained that he didn’t want her out, spotting anymore Ancients when he couldn’t protect her.

Cordelia didn’t point out to him that the last Ancient they had spotted had been right outside and that the next one could be easily as close. It didn’t matter where she was. They both knew it. But still he had taken her cell phone with him and put the cordless house phone by her side. Then he kissed her again, which made her smile that he seemed to have to kiss her between gentle orders. He cared for her. Truly cared. And he was coming back.

She snuggled deeper into the covers, exhausted but for the first time in her life, too happy to sleep. She didn’t care if the Ancients did come out tonight. She wouldn’t let them ruin this. This time with Angel was hers and she would grab it with both hands. And if an Ancient did finally get her? Well, better a short life having loved someone deeply, than one lived as a lie in self-imposed solitude.

Thinking of Angel, she finally drifted off to sleep, a true smile on her face.

*****

Angel nearly jogged the distance to his car in the parking lot of Giles’ apartment complex. He had found his answer. He couldn’t wait to get to Cordelia. She would be free. And he would be the one to free her.

“So it was true?” a young man’s voice carried from the streetlamp near Angel’s car. Xander.

Angel stopped by the vehicle. God, he didn’t have time for this, but he couldn’t seem to let it go. “Yeah, it was true.”

Xander was quiet for a moment as he stared at Angel, then he casually looked around, “I don’t see Cordelia, so I assume you’ve gotten everything you needed. No need to keep her around now, huh? Of course, who’d want to? Am I right?”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Xander’s words had come out clipped and angry, but Angel’s senses told him it was hurt, not anger that spurred this death wish of a confrontation Xander was trying to pull. Angel reminded himself that the kid was just that, a kid. He reached for the handle of his car.

“Buffy called me,” Xander acted as if Angel wasn’t trying to leave. “Told me that you broke things off for good.”

Standing in the opened door of the convertible, Angel’s jaw twitched. That was far from the conversation he had had with Buffy just before he had headed for Giles’ apartment. It had been mutual. Sad and heartbreaking for different reasons on both sides, but mutual all the same. He wouldn’t respond to the jab. Because any response he had now would be nonverbal. And probably a little bloody.

“She’s not a virgin you know. Cordelia. Just wanted to let you know before you found a way around that pesky curse of yours and screwed with her body and mind like you did Buffy’s/”

Angel had him pinned against the light pole before Xander could take another breath. “What goes on between me and Cordelia, or me and anyone else for that matter is none of your goddamned business.” He let Xander’s lungs struggle a moment before dropping him, watching as the boy’s knees gave out and he ass-planted it on the cool grass.

Leaning down, real close to Xander’s ear, Angel whispered, “And as for the sacred “virginity” that you’re so worried about. You don’t know how much I don’t give a shit. Only little pricks that are afraid of their own dick worry about who came before, what they might have to contend with.” He pulled his head back a little, his body crouched in front of Xander’s. “I suspect this is all coming out because you’re jealous, and more than a little pissed at me because you think I took something, or someone of yours. And common sense would lean toward that someone being Cordelia. But we both know that’s not who you’re pissed about. Right? Your never loved her. You didn‘t know what to do with her. Scared the shit out of you too much for you to love her. “

Xander raised his eyes, full of hate, and stared a burning hole right into Angel. It was a cold and deadly stare, one Angel could almost respect.

“No. You’ve loved someone all along that you think you can’t have. Think you don’t deserve. Well, you’re right. You don’t deserve her. But hell, I don’t deserve Cordelia either.”

Xander’s brows furrowed a little at the change in Angel’s tone. More pissed big brother now than angry demon. What the heck was going on?

“Grow some balls, Xander. If you love Buffy so much, tell her. Quit going home with a damp shoulder every time she needs a good cry. There are other ways to be strong for her than physically.”

With that, Angel stood up and made his way to his car, leaving Xander in the pool of light, thinking about how stupid it had been to goad Angel and how right the vampire was. About everything.

*****

God, she was so beautiful, sleeping as if she didn’t have the horrible side effect of her bloodline running through her veins, ruining her life. Angel dropped his bag, slipped off his boots, and stripped free of his clothes. Sliding beneath the covers, he gathered her against him, loving the way she smiled a greeting to him before she even opened her eyes. “Hey,” her voice was drowsy, sexy.

“Hey,” he whispered back, tucking her securely under his arm, her head resting on his chest. She sighed in contentment for a moment before raising her head, her eyes open and shining with happiness. He had put that emotion in that hazel gaze. She turned into him, began peppering his chest with little, warm kisses. “Did you get everything you needed?” she asked.

More than she knew. “Yeah.” He closed his eyes when she smoothed her hand up his abs, stopping at his chest and circling his nipple as she continued her little make-out session, moving her head closer so that her lips could reach the base of his neck. He grew instantly hard. And although he was more than enjoying her confident exploration, he couldn’t get lost in the moment. There were other, more pressing matters to deal with before he could lose himself in her. His body tried to protest his mind’s lead as she nipped his ear and flicked at his flat nipple with her finger, running her hand down his chest and up just to start the whole process again.

His body covered hers so fast that the air rushed from her lungs. Even so she managed a small giggle at his impatience. He leaned his head down and kissed her hard, dove right in, reveled in the way she met him in the assault, her tongue plunging right back, massaging, stroking. He loved that about her. How her passion seemed to rise with his. No fear. No hesitation. Good. There were so many more ways to make love than the blissful time they had spent together that afternoon. There were things he wanted to show her, ways he wanted to please her. And it thrilled him that he could share each one with her.

But he had to free her first.

Cordelia loved the feel of his cool lips against hers. God, kissing him was a sensual and erotic experience in itself. Tiny shivers ran down her spine as his lips grew gentle, brushed against hers. He began to whisper something she couldn’t quite understand……another language maybe? But it sounded beautiful on his passion roughened voice. When the little chant or poem or whatever it had been was over, Angel raised his head, a strange look on his face.

“That was beautiful. What was it?”

He didn’t answer, but raised himself up and back on his heels, lifting her up by the hand. Cordelia sat up with him and followed as he rose from the bed and led her over to the French doors. “Angel? What’s going on?” there was a nervous quiver to her voice.

“Don’t be scared. I just want you to tell me what you see,” he began to peel away a square of foil from a pane.

“No, Angel. Please. I don’t want to see that thing decaying out there in the moonlight. Not while we’re here together.”

Angel ignored her and worked away the last bit of tape, freeing the window from its cover.

Cordelia looked away but Angel grabbed onto her chin gently and urged her to look out.

Cordelia gasped and Angel’s heart began to sink. It hadn’t worked. Goddamn it! He was going to kill Giles. He was going to take his…..

“Oh my, God,” she gasped. “You cleaned it up……except…..you couldn’t have because I cured you. Right? I cured you…..so you couldn’t have because you couldn’t see him or touch him.” She looked at Angel for confirmation. “I cured you, right?” There was real fear in her voice this time.

“You cured me,” he smiled and brushed his hand down her cheek. It had worked.

“I don’t understand,” she shook her head, her mind trying to calculate the possibility of what had happened.

“It’s your cure,” Angel’s hand settled on the side of her face, his thumb stroking a soft rhythm against her cheekbone. “I went to Giles tonight, after I made the stop at my place. I told him there was no way I was leaving him alone until he found a way.”

“And he just magically popped a cure out of his head?”

She looked so suspicious. Christ, she was too smart for her own good.

“Well, yeah. Sort of. I mean, when we contacted him earlier he didn’t really believe us. All of his answers were hypothetical. When I finally convinced him that what had happened to me had been real….” Okay, it had been more than simple convincing. “I told him how you had always seen the Ancients. How some of your ancestors had seen them too. He gave me what he thought might work.”

“The words. The ones you whispered. What was it? A spell?”

Angel nodded. “And it worked. You’re free, Cordelia.”

She smiled. Huge. Bright. Sunshine for his cold dark world. But the smile began to fade, his sun set.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s so stupid. I feel…..,” she backed away and walked to the bed, sat down, and stared at the small pane of glass. “Thank you, Angel,” she whispered with more emotion in her voice than he could bear.

Walking to her, he sat beside her, took her hands and urged her to face him. “You’re happy. Right? This is you extremely…..happy?”

She was. Part of her was bursting with happy. No more Ancients. No more wall. No more freak show of a life. But where did that leave the two of them? God, she was an ungrateful bitch. Here he had just saved her life, given her a new existence and all she could think was would he stay? Now that he was cured, that the threat to her was over. Why would he? Sure they had had outstanding, mind-altering sex. And she was hopelessly in love with him, as crazy as it seemed to be able to fall so fast. But those were her feelings. Not his.

“Cordelia, talk to me. You’re scaring me a little here.”

“I’m just….I just…..” leaning in she gave him a tight hug. “Thank you, Angel,” she whispered in the tight, awkward embrace. “Really. Thank You.”

What the hell was that? A stiff, strange squeeze. Some kind of “friendship” hug. A prelude to “it was nice….but”.

Before Cordelia knew what had happened, her back was pressed against the mattress, an angry, urgent, and …oh….very aroused vampire, crushing her. His mouth captured hers, he kissed her deeply, desperately. It was drugging, earth-shattering. She had been worried about something. Hadn’t she? She couldn’t really remember now. Oh……she was cured……that’s right. And Angel, he was free. Not just free from Angelus or the border of that awful hell. But he was free to leave her now that she was no longer in danger.

Except.

This didn’t feel anything like a goodbye.

Angel lifted his head, stared down at her. Hell, he had to get it out. Had to know if what he was feeling was one-sided. He’d learned with Buffy just how much damage could be done by keeping your feelings bottled up, unspoken. No matter how hurt the other person might be at the revelation. If Cordelia didn’t feel the same way he felt for her, better to get it over with now. Deal with the agonizing pain of it.

“I love you,” he said the words he’d never offered to anyone.

The sun was back again. That glorious, beaming smile of hers lighting up his world.

Cordelia threw her arms around his neck, hugged him against her. “I love you, too,” she whispered back.
*****

Hours later, Angel looked out the French doors, all now open to the moonlit night. Cordelia had wanted them that way. “I don’t have to worry about what I’ll see anymore, do I. Because of you.” He had wanted to howl when she gave him that credit. Selfishly wanting her to owe everything to him. Her freedom, her crumbled walls, her heart.

Angel looked down at her, sleeping against his chest. He had to take better care of her. He’d made love to her three more times after their little confessions of love to one another, showing her a few of the new ways they could come together. He’d worn her out and could have still had more. He would never get enough of her. But he had to pace himself. She was still young, human at that.

He looked back out to the night, reminding himself to thank Giles. The son-of-a-bitch had done it. Found a cure. Well, not actually. More like a transfer, or a shift.

Angel’s eyes caught a glimpse of fiery eyes, glinting several yard away from the pool house. The thing must smell the still decaying carcass. Angel looked over at the dead Ancient that had nearly decomposed into ash.

Yeah, but it had been a fair exchange. Her sight of the unholy border, her ability to be touched by them, hurt by them, for his ability to protect her. To love her.

The Ancient who had been walking closer to the house, now paused, catching sight of Angel. Their eyes met, the Ancient let out a snarl, but didn’t move closer. Finally the beast looked at the downed monster and back to Angel, holding a standoff with his blazing eyes for a moment before turning. His gait was slow as his massive body made its way across the yard, its eyes never leaving Angel’s as it began to leave.

“That’s right,” Angel whispered. “Keep walking motherfucker. You can’t touch her now.”

“Did you say something?” Cordelia stirred in his arms, lifted her face to his.

“Just that I love you. “

Cordelia smiled, reached up and kissed him, then pulled him down into the covers with her. She draped her body over him a little, buried her head in his neck, kissed him there and stayed, her warm breath tickling his skin, running a fresh wave of need through his body.

“I love you, too,” she whispered.


…THE END…


 

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