To Be A Wife


AUTHOR: CORDELIA’S DESTINY (aka JULIE)
SUMMARY: Angel and Cordelia go undercover in a new case.
RATING: NC17
POSTED: May 2003
CATEGORY: ROMANCE
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A
WARNINGS: None Listed
FICPIC CREDIT: CALIFI
AUTHOR NOTES: Thanks to RGW for her ideas! I don’t know if this fic would’ve continued without you.


ficpic_califi_ToBeaWife


Part 1

“So, what exactly am I doing, again?” Cordelia rasped breathlessly. Angel’s lips on her neck were unbelievably distracting and Cordelia abandoned any attempt to maintain coherent thought. She shuddered as his tongue grazed her, burning an invisible mark into her skin.

“You’re pretending to be my wife,” Angel whispered, restrained laughter in his voice.

“Oh.” Cordy replied, her eyes sliding shut as he kissed a trail from her neck up to her earlobe. “Yeah. Right,” she continued absently. Her hand stole up to grasp the back of his head, running her fingers over the short hairs at his nape.

“Just think of it as acting practice,” Angel reasoned, the vibrations of his low voice sending sensations coursing through her like warm honey.

His mouth left her ear but his strong arms stayed wrapped around her waist, his hard stomach against her back. Cordelia’s body hummed with the desire he had so quickly kindled in her. Just minutes before they had been standing outside the club, three feet apart, friends and business associates, and now they were acting the part of passionate lovers, entranced by each other.

Funny how it wasn’t as difficult as Cordelia had imagined. They’d taken this case thinking they could solve it without any undercover work, but all their stealthy surveillance and interviews of witnesses had only exposed more questions. The last resort had been for her to play the part of his wife, or more appropriately, be the bait.

Angel Investigations had been hired by an Anogic demon, a friendly human/demon hybrid that lived peacefully among LA’s highest social circles. Their physical appearance was virtually identical to a human’s, and a little make-up hid what telltale markings did exist. Their other demonic attributes—the ability to see through walls and melt metal with a glance—were able to be used surreptitiously if at all.

The original phone call from the demon had been a test to Cordelia’s newfound patience. He’d been frantic on the phone, demanding to speak with “Mr. Angel,” claiming that it was a matter of life and death. Cordelia almost hung up on him; he’d been talking so fast that she couldn’t understand what he was saying.

“Hey, calm down, mister,” Cordelia had ordered sternly, earning another stream of frantic babbling from the other end of the phone.

“No, YOU listen!” She had no patience for unprofessional behavior. Was it too much to ask for the man to slow down? Sheesh, like the world revolved around him, or something. Self-centered, much?

“Angel is not in,” she stated, her statement only agitating him further. “Stop!” She ordered. “take a deep breath, and tell me your name first.”

“Jeremy Falkirk,” he stated, obviously annoyed to be interrupted with mundane details.

“Oooo K,” Cordelia wrote his name down, her eyebrows arching at the very un-demon name.

“All right. Now tell me what’s wrong. Angel will help you if he can.”

The demon did as she asked. As Jeremy told her his story, Cordelia’s eyes grew wide with disbelief. Her pencil moved rapidly over the page, the light scratching the only sound in her quiet apartment, save the tinny voice coming from her telephone. She took voluminous notes, stopping a few times to change pages. This case was unlike any they’d ever had.

“Well,” she began after he’d finished. “I’m sure that Angel Investigations would be happy to take your case. I have to run it by Angel himself, of course, but I’m certain he’ll want to help you.”

After his profuse thanks, she set the phone back into its resting place, and stood silently, trying to process what he’d told her. His wife had been abducted. His very human wife. She’d known what he was when she married him, but she hadn’t cared, he said, because she loved him. His demon roots had never interfered in his life before, and he had no reason to think they ever would. He was wrong.

Less than two days before his phone call to Cordelia, Jeremy and his wife had attended a posh dinner club in West L.A. His wife, Jessica, had excused herself to go to the ladies room, and that was the last he saw of her. Frantic, he called the police, who’d coldly informed him that a missing-person’s report couldn’t be filed for 24 hours. The officer’s voice was tinged with a sarcasm that said Jessica had left Jeremy on purpose, and Jeremy was too dumb to figure it out. Angry and upset, Jeremy returned home, pacing his floor, trying to figure out what to do. Around midnight, he received a phone call from someone claiming to have his wife.

The caller was not human.

Daniel, as the caller identified himself, claimed that Jeremy was just another charlatan, living as a human when he should be honoring his demonic heritage. Daniel stated that unless Jeremy agreed to work for him, his wife would be held captive indefinitely. When Daniel explained what his work would be, Jeremy’s stomach lurched. There was no way he could do as they asked; he had to find another way to save his wife’s life. That’s when he decided to call A.I.

Angel’s early investigation uncovered the fact that Jeremy wasn’t the only one who’d been violated like this. There were seven other men who’d suffered the same crime, and their wives were still missing. The common thread was that they were all living as humans, ignoring their demonic natures, and their wives had been abducted at the same club. Angel had even witnessed the tenth abduction, but he’d been unable to follow them to the location where they were holding the women. The only thing he could do was inform the distraught husband of the situation and return home frustrated with the lack of success.

Wesley had suggested the idea of using Cordelia as bait. After all, Angel, as a vampire, could be characterized as a demon, and that could be used to their advantage. He wasn’t living completely as a human, but he was definitely turning his back on the evil that other vampires embraced. It was agreed that the men whose wives had been abducted would spread the word in their social circles about Angel’s demonic characteristics and that Cordelia was his human wife. The rumors had been in place for two days, and Jeremy agreed that it was probably enough time for all of LA’s upper echelon, including the brains behind these abductions, to know the minute details.

Cordelia was amazed that Angel would put her in such a precarious position, but he’d agreed almost before Wesley had finished suggesting it. Cordelia put up a token resistance, but the idea of going undercover was intriguing. Besides, she reasoned, Angel wouldn’t let her get hurt. Would he?

So here she was, locked in Angel’s embrace, mixing with the elite of LA’s society. Under normal circumstances, she’d be giddy at the opportunity to make so many promising contacts. Now, though, the only thing she could concentrate on was how good Angel’s sweet-nothings had sounded.

She tried valiantly to clear the fog of passion he had induced in her brain, but her attempts were short-lived as Angel’s fingers lightly stroked her stomach and drove her to distraction. His lips found her shoulder again, teeth nipping her gently, and he began to sway with the music that drifted over them from the direction of the dance floor.

“D-don’t you think—“ Cordelia had to clear her throat and begin again. “Don’t you think this is playing the part a little too well?” She reasoned, trying to pull out of his embrace and put some distance between them. His arms didn’t budge.

“What part, honey?” Angel responded. The endearment, coupled with the expression in his deep eyes, reminded her that they had an audience and she should keep her voice to a whisper when talking about their business here.

“Uhh, nothing.” She said, her smile wobbly. This time, when she grasped his hands and pulled, he released her, and she backed away. The distance restoring her equilibrium, she put their plan into action. Cordelia glanced around her at their companions. Jeremy had set them up with a few of his friends, couples he and Jessica socialized with frequently. They were oblivious to the entire situation. Jeremy had told them that Jessica had had a family emergency and was in New York.

“I have to visit the little girls’ room, Angel.” She smiled sweetly, her own gameface once again firmly in place.

Angel nodded briefly, acknowledging her verbal signal. “Don’t be gone too long,” he warned, his smile laced with the convincing hunger of a man in love with his wife. ‘Too convincing,’ Cordelia thought.

As she tore her gaze from Angel’s and turned to walk away, a voice to Angel’s right said, “That’s some woman you’ve got there, Angel.”

The appreciation in Mark’s voice was evident. Angel turned to look at Jeremy’s friend, just in time to see the man’s gaze sweep up and down the back of Cordelia’s retreating figure, his eyes lingering in appreciation on Cordelia’s butt. “Where was she when I was single?” Mark added wistfully. It was well-known that his marriage was less than fulfilling. Rumor had it that he was between mistresses and in full-fledged hunt for a new one.

Eyes narrowing, Angel replied, “Oh, we’re VERY happy.” His tone implied that he wouldn’t tolerate any more of Mark’s “appreciation” of Cordelia.

Cordelia had gladly left Angel’s side, desperately wanting to cool the heat he’d created with his overacting. At least she thought it was overacting.‘Okay, Cordelia, get a grip. Shake it off. Be the Oscar-winning actress you are. You can do this,’ Cordelia chanted to herself.

She wove through the crowd, locating the hallway that led to the women’s restroom. She paused briefly, looking back to see if Angel was following her as they’d planned. He was no longer standing beside Mark, but she wasn’t sure where he was. Scanning the room, she spied him ambling towards her from the direction of the bar.

Satisfied that Angel was following her, Cordelia pushed through the door. Almost immediately after she entered the darkened hallway, a steely arm wrapped around her middle and a sweet-smelling cloth covered her mouth. Just before she succumbed to the darkness, she heard Angel’s angry growl and the thud of a fist connecting with flesh.
Part 2

Angel’s anger nearly consumed him. Seeing some overly-muscled creep with his arms around Cordelia had unhinged him, loosing his demon and making it difficult to spare the life of this worthless man. Angel’s fists connected repeatedly with the attacker’s face and body, denting his ugly features and reducing him to a whimpering, bloody mess. Hearing Cordy’s groan and seeing her sitting up was the only thing that kept Angel from snuffing her attacker’s life.

Cordelia slowly placed her hand on her forehead, her thoughts fuzzy. When her vision cleared, Cordy took in the pulverized features of her assailant who was now spread-eagled on the dingy hallway floor. She glared at Angel, sending him her patented Geez, you’re a moron! expression.

“Angel!” Cordelia hissed. “The guy’s unconscious. If we wanted any information, we won’t get any from him now.” She grabbed the hand that Angel offered and struggled to her feet as gracefully as a micro-mini and five-inch heels would allow.

Angel’s dispassionate features showed no remorse for his treatment of the thug. In his opinion, the guy was fair game; Cordelia wasn’t to be touched by anyone except him. Well, maybe Wesley, but even Wesley would be walking on thin ice if he touched Cordelia with intentions beyond friendship. It belatedly occurred to Angel that his thoughts didn’t exactly sound boss-like. More in the neighborhood of stalker-like. He shrugged off the uncomfortable thoughts and concentrated on his woozy seer.

“He wasn’t our guy,” Angel explained simply. “Not a demon.” He placed Cordy’s hand in the crook of his elbow and led her out of the hallway and back onto the main floor of the club.

“So!” Cordy argued in a whisper, her exasperation clearly evident. “Maybe he’s got brainless human henchmen working for him.” She didn’t want tonight’s trauma to be for nothing.

“I saw the last abduction, remember?” Angel reminded her. “There’s an MO here. Tranq dart, then abduction by brainless demon henchmen.” Angel guided her back to the group of Jeremy’s friends.

Cordy muttered, “Figures. First time I go incognito and I attract some dim-witted, beefy Jethro trying to cop a feel.” She plastered her famous 1000-watt smile firmly in place once more. “Remind me why I agreed to this again?”

“I think it was ‘helping the hopeless,’ as you like to put it,” Angel reminded her.

“Uh-huh,” Cordy returned grudgingly through clenched teeth and sighed. “I did sign up for this, didn’t I?” Giving in to the inevitable, Cordy realized she needed some alcoholic sustenance to continue with the charade. “Get me a drink, would you, Angel?” She asked. “Something fruity.”

He smiled briefly and released her arm. With a last look that said “behave yourself,” Angel turned and threaded his way through the crowd toward the bar.

The alcohol had definitely been flowing freely during Cordelia’s brief foray into the dangers of the club’s bathroom hallway. The wives, Cynthia and Jennifer, were waving wine glasses as they gossiped. It was their third round, if the empty glasses on the table were any indication. Jennifer’s speech flowed nearly uninterrupted as she scathingly dismantled every other woman in the room, from hairstyle to footwear, all comments and haughty looks poorly concealed behind her diamond-encrusted hand. Cynthia giggled frequently at Jennifer’s comments, a laugh that grated on Cordelia’s nerves. It was a high-pitched titter that Cordelia supposed was intended to sound like tinkling glass, but actually sounded more like a baby hyena with it’s tail smashed in a car door.

Jennifer momentarily paused in her catty attack on L.A.’s society when she saw Cordelia standing alone. “Where’d that scrumptious husband of yours take off to, hon?” Jennifer asked. “You shouldn’t let that one out of your sight for long,” she warned, the sticky sweetness of her phony smile not reaching her blue eyes. “He’s a prime target.”

Any answer Cordy would have given was preempted by the advances of Mark, Jeremy’s libidinous friend. A smile, undoubtedly meant to be sexy, became a drunken leer as he perused Cordelia’s features. He sauntered over, taking advantage of Cordelia’s lack of companionship to make his move. Cordy braced herself for the onslaught of sleeze.

“Cordelia,” Mark propositioned, “Is your father in prison?” A sly, toothy grin stretched across his face.

Cordy struggled to keep from rolling her eyes as she played along. Ironic that he would use that pick-up line, she thought wryly as she recalled her father’s felonious activities. “No, why?” She asked innocently.

“Well, he should be. He stole the stars from the heavens to put into your eyes.” Mark smirked, proud of himself for getting the lame line right.

“Ha, Ha! You’re so funny, Mark!” Cordelia said with false brightness, her headache intensifying as the cheesiness increased. She was infinitely relieved when she saw Angel returning to her from the bar, a pink drink in one hand, a scotch on the rocks in the other.

Handing her the pink beverage, Angel snaked his arm around her waist and brought her hips in line with his. She shivered as his hand caressed her hip, Mark’s lame come-on forgotten, Angel’s cool fingers brushing the bare skin between the silk scrap of her top and the cloth of her skirt. Her eyes slid shut at the narcotic-like bliss his touch inspired. Get a grip, Cordy! she berated herself. The last thing she wanted was a replay of the earlier inner gooiness at the feel of Angel’s hard body next to hers. He lowered his lips to her ear, looking to the casual observer as if he were murmuring passionate phrases to his lover. Cordelia was chagrined at the disappointment that surged through her when the words from Angel’s mouth were far from lover-like.

“We’re not getting anything useful here tonight,” Angel whispered. “Let’s make our excuses and leave. We can rethink this tomorrow and try again.” His lips brushed the sensitive skin under her ear, undoubtedly for the visual effect, but the physical effect was powerful.

Mark was obviously put-out that his conquest of Cordelia had been thwarted. He glared at Angel and sipped his martini. Cordelia met his eyes and shivered at the ruthlessness she saw. He quickly shuttered his gaze, and Cordelia was left to wonder if she’d just imagined it.

Cordy turned to Jennifer and Cynthia. “Thanks for a fun evening, girls,” she said insincerely, but attempting politeness. No one was going to say that Cordelia Chase was ill-mannered.

“Of course!” Jennifer returned, her own insincerity dripping from the words. “We must do this again soon.” Her statement was followed by Cynthia’s hyena giggle.

Angel grabbed Cordelia’s hand and they hastily exited the club. Once on the street, Angel didn’t release Cordy’s hand and she didn’t try to take it back. It felt right, somehow. Neither of them dwelt on the thought, but the feel of her warm hand encased in his was pleasant, and Angel wasn’t about to give that up.

***

Cordelia lay on her bed, counting the ceiling tiles and contemplating the state of her emotions. Angel was ensconced in the living room, asleep on the couch as he had been every night for the past month since his apartment was bombed, but Cordelia had never been more aware of his presence than she was tonight. Unbidden, the feelings his touch had unexpectedly created kept replaying in her head. Every time she thought about how it felt to be held by him, the slow fire in the pit of her stomach grew hotter. She turned over restlessly, ruthlessly pummeling her pillow and finally burying her face in it.He’s your boss, Cordelia! she lectured herself sternly. No “salty goodness” vibes there, okay? You have to work with him. Workplace romances are in poor taste. You see him every day, he lives in your apartment, he sleeps under your blankets, he showers in your bathroom, rubs your towels over his . . . Oh, make it stop! Just stop thinking! She tossed again, flinging her blankets off her heated flesh. I’ve just been without sex for too long. Yeah, that’s it. Not since that creep Wilson. He made me swear off men, and now I’m all torqued up. Nothing else! Cordelia continued her attempt to convince herself.It can’t be Angel. He’s a vampire, for Pete’s sake! Okay, so he’s a totally hot, hard-stomached, broad shouldered, full-lipped, smoldering-eyed, strong-armed hottie, but . . . Oh, this is NOT helping!! Cordy rolled over, mutilating her pillow once again in frustration. Damn pillow’s even out to get me! she groused, sending the offending object sailing towards the door.

In the living room, Angel heard the soft muffle of the pillow as it connected with the other side of the closed door. He could sense Cordelia’s unsettled state, and his own mind was in total sympathy. He had played his role of doting husband to the hilt tonight, and he was surprised at how much it had affected him. Cordelia was a beautiful woman; he’d known that since Sunnydale when he’d found her hiding in a dumpster full of severed body parts. But before tonight, he’d never considered her to be his beautiful woman.

Sure, he was territorial where she was concerned, but he’d considered that to be a result of her status as his friend and seer, not anything more. Now he wasn’t so sure. She’d dressed to kill, as she always did, but he hadn’t ever noticed just how soft her skin was, how good her hair smelled, or how perfect she fit in his embrace. He hadn’t felt anything this right since Buffy, and even that hadn’t been so fantastic at the end of his tenure in Sunnydale. In short, Cordelia’s presence was messing with his mind and heating him up faster than he’d thought possible.

There was another, more easily admitted reason for his overacting tonight: getting Cordelia worked up was a kind of fun that Angel didn’t have very often. The demon in him liked the emotional torture, and while Angelus would have ended the manipulation with pain and death, Angel was heading down a more dangerous road: falling in love. He’d intended to fluster Cordy and give himself the satisfaction of gloating in the power he’d realized he had over her, but he hadn’t intended to be affected himself. He was dangerously close to losing his heart to his beautiful seer, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for that.

Angel sighed and sat up, running his fingers through the short spikes of his hair. He knew he wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight, so he might as well be awake. He walked into the kitchen, pausing at a cabinet and removing a mug.

In her room, Cordelia sat on the edge of her bed, staring into the mirror on her wall. Her haggard appearance, highlighted by the dim light, only served to more firmly cement her bad mood. She stood up abruptly, flung open the door, and marched into the kitchen. She flung open the door to the refrigerator, only to have Angel’s hand brush hers as she reached for the milk and he for the container of blood. The sparks that flew between them as their skin brushed could have lit up the room. Their eyes whipped towards each other, and Cordelia’s heart stopped as she bathed in the heated intensity of Angel’s gaze.

“Cordelia,” his deep voice broke the silence. “We have to talk.”
Part 3

Cordelia’s breathing became shallow as she stared into the velvet darkness of Angel’s eyes and processed what he’d just said. Talk. Pfft. Yeah. I can’t think with him this close, and he wants me to talk? she thought frantically.

“Cordelia–,” Angel began, trying to frame his words appropriately. One verbal misstep with her and he’d be crucified. Or staked. Either one involved wood, which was not a pleasant prospect.

Angel wanted to apologize for his lascivious behavior earlier, even if it was for the sake of pretense, but he wasn’t quite sure how to say it. He knew that she had been affected by him; her heart rate had increased and her body temperature had skyrocketed. The scent of her desire had been like a drug to him; the warm vapor of it wafting like steam through his nostrils and infecting his blood with her own unique essence. The power of that scent had driven him to increase his loving caresses. Cordelia’s obvious distraction and inability to maintain coherent thought at his touch only fueled his demon’s hunger for conquest.

Justifying his actions had been deceptively easy: he told himself that it was only acting, nothing more. His demon could get his rocks off and no one would be the wiser. The problem was that he’d fallen so deep into the character of himself as Cordelia’s husband that he’d pushed her too far. When she’d escaped him to lure the bad guys into kidnapping her, his head had cleared, and the remorse he felt at his behavior squelched any satisfaction that his demon might have savored.

He shifted uncomfortably every time he thought about what Cordelia must be thinking. Angel could only imagine the confusion she must be feeling at having her boss and friend make a pass at her. She still thought he was in love with Buffy. Hell, he thought he was still in love with Buffy. At least until tonight.

These thoughts raced through his head in less than two seconds, and he realized that rehearsal was not an option at this point. Might as well jump right in.

“Cordelia, I’m—“

“Couldn’t sleep, either, Angel?” Cordelia said with forced cheerfulness, effectively cutting off his good intentions.

“Um, no, I wanted—“ Angel tried again, momentarily flustered at her interruption.

“Blood? Of course you do. You didn’t get to eat all night.” Cordelia grabbed the container Angel had been reaching for out of the fridge and closed the door forcefully, nearly catching Angel’s hand in the process. He jerked it out of the way, thankful for vampire reflexes, and moved back as Cordelia shoved past him.

Opening the spice cabinet, Cordelia perused the contents as if she were trying to decide which pair of shoes would match her latest outfit purchase. In other words, as if the fate of the world rested on her decision.

“Nutmeg?” She queried, turning to look at Angel in the half-light, squinting as she took in his confused expression. “No, I don’t think so. Nutmeg is kind of Thanksgiving-ish, and it’s June, so—“

“Cordelia,” Angel tried again, “I think we need to—“

“Ahh! Chili powder!” She held up the small bottle triumphantly. “That’s what you need! Spiciness is always good, don’t you think?” She smiled brilliantly at him, then turned toward the mug he’d retrieved from the cabinet earlier.

The combined impact of Cordelia’s smile and the horror of blood tainted with chili powder momentarily distracted Angel from his mission. “You are NOT putting chili powder in my blood,” he warned. “If you must put something in it, put cinnamon; at least I’m used to that.”

“Pfft.” Cordelia huffed, rolling her eyes. “Adventure is the name of the game, Angel. You really need to try new things once in awhile. Take a walk on the wild side.”

Leave it to Cordelia to think that fighting demons and occasionally saving the world weren’t exotic enough.

Trying to get back on track with the apology, Angel began: “I want to apolo—“

“I mean, really, Angel. Fighting demons and occasionally saving the world isn’t exactly exotic for you.” She noisily stirred the cinnamon into the mug of blood. “Now going on vacation, THAT would be a change. Someplace tropical. Put this in the fridge for me, would you?” Cordy shoved the container of blood into Angel’s hand and turned to push the buttons on the microwave. “I mean, it’s not like you could get a tan or anything, but I could have some fun and you would at least have a change of scenery. Meet new people. You know, broaden your horizons a little.”

“Cordy—“ Angel set the container on the counter, fridge forgotten.

“You’re so broody all the time; if you would just loosen up a little, you could have so much more fun. Now take Wesley. He’s changed, loosened up. Not so much the stuffed shirt anymore, you know?”

“Cordelia—” The warning in Angel’s voice was clearly evident. He took a step towards her, but she ignored it.

Cordelia continued as if he’d been silent. “You should talk to him, find out what helped him. Maybe he could give you some point—mmph.” Her seemingly endless babble was silenced by Angel’s mouth on hers.

Angel had been staring at her, tuning out her chatter, when it abruptly occurred to him that there was only one good way to shut her up. Not that he minded.

His lips rested firmly on hers, kissing her gently but insistently. Cordelia froze, her eyes sliding shut as the heat that had been collecting in her body since earlier that night rushed to the forefront and scorched her. At her hesitance, Angel gently flicked his tongue against her closed lips, and she squeaked in surprise.

Cordelia’s head was spinning. She’d seen the guilt in his eyes when they’d stared at each other over the open refrigerator door, and it terrified her. The last thing she wanted was for him to apologize for kissing her. Seeking an escape that didn’t require a total retreat, she’d taken the first excuse she thought of and tried to wing it. Obviously, it didn’t work.

As Angel’s tongue touched her lips, she realized that he was kissing her, really kissing her, and there wasn’t anyone watching. The knowledge that he actually wanted to kiss her was enough to elicit Cordelia’s complete cooperation in the matter. She flung her arms around his neck and opened herself to his kiss.

Angel intensified the contact, sliding his tongue inside her mouth and briefly touching hers. The feel of her hot mouth was like the first sip of a cappuccino; scorching, but intense, heady flavor. His arms wrapped around her back, one hand caressing her shoulder blades, the other toying with the place where her pajama pants met her tank top. He grasped her tightly, bring her hips against his, aligning their shadows into one.

Caught up in the storm of Angel’s kiss, Cordelia was frantically trying to keep up. She stroked the back of his neck, her hands in his hair, and savored the feel of his lips on hers. Had she been able to form a coherent thought, she might have wondered at the irony of the heat that such cool lips were able to ignite.

Suddenly, the intensity was too much.

Cordelia’s choppy breathing sliced the silence as she pushed back from Angel’s chest and fought for control of her thoughts. Angel let her go, any remorse for his actions at the club totally eclipsed by this behavior; he now felt a hundred times guiltier.

I can’t believe he kissed me. Cordelia’s mind raced frantically. Her eyes widened as she realized that his expression was now several degrees guiltier than it had been earlier. Oh, god! He didn’t want to kiss me? What the hell is he doing? Why would he kiss me like that if he doesn’t want me? Cordy reasoned. But if he doesn’t, I’ll just die if I say something and he shrugs it off or apologizes.

You have got to apologize for this. Angel berated himself. You’re her boss! She must be so confused. But, oh, god, her mouth. . .

He’s my boss! What am I thinking??? Starting something with Angel would be a disaster. He’s in love with Buffy, damn it! He doesn’t want me. Not really. Being rejected by Xander Harris was bad enough. Angel’s rejection would be ten times worse. . .I can’t take this. I’m not going to think about it anymore. Just shrug it off, and stop, Chase!!

“Well, that was good rehearsal for tomorrow night, Boss,” Cordelia commented, trying to reestablish the boundaries of their relationship. “Maybe we should rehearse how you’ll react if someone hits on me again.” As soon as she said it, Cordelia inwardly cringed. He never responded well when she criticized his protective nature.

“He wasn’t hitting on you, he was molesting you, Cordelia,” Angel argued, his eyes narrowing, apology now firmly on the back burner. He could still feel the intense passion of a few minutes ago, but it was quickly fading in favor of anger at Cordelia’s reckless words. “I was rescuing you.”

“Well, maybe I didn’t need rescuing,” Cordelia shot back, digging the hole deeper. She regretted having started this, but her embarrassment at being so helpless was fueling her irritation. “I was just fine, I could handle it.”

“Sure,” Angel said patronizingly. “You were heading straight for unconsciousness. Although you looked pretty confident when you were handlingMark.” He knew he sounded like a jealous lover, but Mark’s advances had tweaked him and since he wasn’t here to pulverize, he unfairly took it out on Cordelia.

“I wasn’t handling anything of Mark’s. He’s a creep! How could you think I would even do that?” She exclaimed, hurt by his insinuation. “It’s not like I asked him to tell me that lame ass come-on line.”

“Uh-huh,” Angel’s tone said exactly the opposite. He leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms, his expression closed.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Cordelia asked, her voice rising in anger. “Are you suggesting that I asked to be attacked?”

“Well, it’s not like you dress demurely, Cordelia.” Even as the words left his mouth, Angel knew he’d just blown it. Big time.

“I will dress any way I damn well please, you undead jerk, and I will not apologize for it.” Her chin raised in defiance, any holes in her heart opened by Angel’s kiss now firmly closed again.

Angel opened his mouth to attempt apology one last time, but once again, his attempt was cut short.

“Don’t! Just stop. I think enough has been said already.” She glared at him one last time, a look that burned him to his toes, then swung around and marched to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

Great. Angel thought, rubbing his hand over his tired features and sighing. Just great.

So much for apologies.
Part 4

Cordelia’s night had not been pleasant. She frowned as she looked at her tired expression in the bathroom mirror and discovered that even make-up wasn’t going to hide everything today. Muttering, she cursed Angel’s roller coastery behavior and shuffled around the bathroom, trying to look presentable before Wesley showed up. She hadn’t ventured out of her room or the bathroom yet this morning. Let Angel stew in his own juices for awhile. He deserved the silent treatment; hell, he deserved a good deal more than that.

Choosing an outfit only made Cordelia more bitter. She’d pulled out a pair of her favorite comfy jeans, the ones that fit her like a second skin and were worn and soft in all the right places. She’d also selected a silk tank top with beading and ribbon shoulder straps, but after she put everything on and looked in the mirror, Angel’s “demure” comment came rushing back and her blood boiled. She knew she looked sexy as hell, and the last thing she wanted was to be demure. Willow was demure back in high school and look where it got her: weird friends and social leprosy. She took one last look at her reflection, and mumbled, “Demure, my ass,” then turned around and headed for the door, her head held high.

In the living room, Angel was folding his blankets and tidying up the couch. He heard Cordelia enter the room behind him, but he didn’t turn around. He wasn’t sure he could face her wrath this morning. Maybe it was better to wait until Wesley got there to act as a buffer between them.

As if on cue, a knock sounded on Cordelia’s front door. Dennis, ever the gentleman, opened the door to admit a fresh-faced Wesley. He was the picture of efficiency: carefully pressed khaki trousers, a blue button down shirt open at the collar, and sparkling glasses. His arms were laden with research material and a box of donuts from the shop around the corner from Cordy’s apartment.

“Good morning, Angel,” he greeted. “How did it go last night?” He deposited the books and papers on the dining room table and carried the donuts to the kitchen. He encountered a grouchy Cordelia at the coffee maker.

“Hi, Wesley,” Cordelia said emotionlessly, not even looking up at him.

Wesley raised his eyebrows in question, finally realizing that Angel hadn’t answered his question. He turned back toward his boss in the living room.

“Angel? I asked what happened last night,” he repeated.

“I heard you the first time, Wes,” Angel stated. “Nothing happened. It didn’t work. Someone else took a shine to Cordelia and I had to take care of him.”

Cordelia coughed behind her fist, a sound that suspiciously resembled “bullshit” in the midst of all the hmmffing and clearing her throat.

Wesley gave her a stern look. Cordelia ignored him.

“I gather that you two had a falling out of some sort,” Wesley postured, sounding very British.

“Well, let’s give a medal to Captain Obvious over here,” Cordelia snarked under her breath.

Angel cleared his throat, knowing that an explanation would not be easy. “We both said some things that we shouldn’t have.” Understatement was always a good thing, wasn’t it?

Cordelia raised an eyebrow haughtily, still refusing to look at him. “Maybe you did,” she stated.

“Well,” Wesley stated, following the tense silence at Cordelia’s comment. “Whatever happened, you two need to put it aside. We have a job to do here, and you’re in the middle of it, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“Did you forget who’s boss here, Wes?” Angel snapped, feeling a need to gain some control of the situation.

At Wesley’s obviously hurt look, Angel sighed. “Sorry, Wes. You’re right. We do have a job to do and we shouldn’t let emotions get in the way.”

Still not in the mood to play nice, Cordelia couldn’t resist adding bitterly, “You could’ve thought of that last night.”

“Cordelia, how many times can I say I’m sorry?” Angel asked, throwing his hands up in exasperation.

“Maybe if you’d try it at least once then we’d get somewhere,” she said bitterly, remembering that he’d never apologized for anything yet. Not that she’d wanted him to. About the kissing, anyway.

After a moment of confusion, Angel understood what she meant. He’d tried to apologize about 10 times last night, but none had ever actually been verbalized. “I’m sorry for what I said, Cordy,” he said softly, his tone begging her to look at him.

She finally swung her hazel gaze to his brown one, but her expression was still stony. The look they exchanged was a conversation in and of itself.

“Forgive me?”

“I will play the good girl because I have to, but I will NOT forgive you yet. I’m not ready.”

Relief flooded through Angel at the beginnings of a truce between himself and his seer. He smiled inwardly as he realized that he’d get to touch her all night, and that would make up for a lot.

Wesley, ever the realist, moved to the table. “So, now that that’s taken care of. . .Let’s get to work.”

***

Expecting a replay of the previous night’s groping, Angel was in for some bitter disappointment. He and Cordelia walked into the club and she took off toward Jeremy’s friends without waiting to see if he was following. When they got there, she grabbed a glass of wine from a passing waiter and joined Cynthia and Jennifer, her back to him. Every so often, she’d glance over at him and blast him with an icy glare, then swing her head away haughtily. Since she hadn’t spoken to him since that morning, he wasn’t certain if she was playacting or if she was really still that angry. He suspected that it was a little of both.

Angel turned his attention to Mark and Jeremy’s other friend, Kenny. Kenny was married to Cynthia, the one with the weird laugh, and he seemed to be totally enamored of her. While Mark was a womanizing snake, Kenny seemed to be a genuinely nice guy. Kind of chatty, but nice, nonetheless. He immediately engaged Angel in a conversation about the late 1960’s Corvette he was restoring, and Angel began to relax a little.

From her vantage point a few feet away, Cordelia could see some of the tension seep out of Angel’s shoulders as he talked with Kenny. Mark had been distracted by a floozy waitress, and Cordelia was glad that she wouldn’t have to suffer his sleazy attention tonight. The last thing they needed was another scene.

“Looks like the honeymoon’s over at your house, hon.” Jennifer’s catty comment interrupted Cordelia’s thoughts and she tore her glare away from Angel long enough to give her best Queen C haughtiness to the nosy socialite.

“Oh, he’s just being a jerk lately. Overprotective.” She sipped her wine as she thought about how far she should take this. Hell, might as well get some good acting practice in.

Her proud gaze softened, tears forming in her eyes as she entreated Jennifer to understand. “I just love him so much, you know?” Cordelia sniffled. Her voice dropped to a pained whisper. “I try to look my best for him, and he criticizes me! He thinks I want other men to hit on me.” One hand covered her now trembling mouth, the other, holding the wineglass, hovered over her neckline as if she were worried about her outfit’s appropriateness.

Amazed, Cordelia saw Jennifer’s expression transform. Some of the cattiness disappeared and sympathy replaced it. Realizing she was in the presence of a scorned woman, Cordelia knew she’d played her part right. Last night’s flaunting of her “happy” marriage must have intensified Jennifer’s bitterness at her own failed marriage. Her husband was picking up other women in her very presence, and that must hurt, even if he wasn’t very good at it.

“The nerve!” Jennifer commiserated, patting Cordelia on the shoulder. “Men can be so insensitive. I mean, do they realize what lengths we go to for them?” She shook her head, glaring over at Angel. She stopped abruptly, turned to Cordelia and looked her up and down. “You look fantastic, girl. Don’t ever let that man stifle you. You should be displayed as the beautiful queen you are, not hidden like a mousy housewife.”

“I know,” Cordelia straightened, wiping a stray tear from the corner of her eye. Damn, I’m good! she thought with satisfaction. “It’s just that I want him to be happy,” her voice was wistful, just the right mixture of pain and longing.

“Of course you do, dear,” Jennifer reassured, squeezing her arm. “I think you need a margarita to cheer you up.” She flagged down the waiter passing their table again. Cordelia fleetingly thought about how easy it was to get alcohol even though she was underage. Something should be done about that.

As Jennifer ordered her drink, Cordelia’s eyes drifted over to Angel. He was still fully engrossed in his conversation with Kenny, and since Cordelia knew it couldn’t be about demon hunting, it had to be about vintage cars. She smiled as she thought about his limited list of viable conversation topics. Her gaze wandered down to his hand, which was firmly grasping his drink. His strong fingers wrapped around the glass, the blunt thumb rubbing the condensation gently, back and forth, hypnotizing in its rhythm. Her mouth went dry as she watched the absent stroking. She was instantly transported back to last night, when that same thumb had grazed her lower back, brushing her tattoo and playing with the hem of her pajama top as his mouth had hungrily devoured hers. The memories were scorching in their force.

“Isn’t it hot in here?” She asked huskily to no one in particular.

“Here you go, hon,” Jennifer shoved the margarita glass into Cordelia’s empty hand, removing the wine from the other. Cordy automatically took a sip, grimacing at the amount of alcohol. Having been distracted from Angel’s hands to her drink, her eyes searched him out again. This time she met his gaze. His eyes darkened when he took in her flushed face and open mouth, but he wasn’t going to let himself get sidetracked. Cordelia’s eyes widened when she saw him jerk his head, as if to signal her that they should leave. She had stomach-churning thoughts about finishing what they’d started last night, but those flames were doused the minute she figured out that he’d motioned in the direction of the bathroom, not the exit.

She sighed at the inevitable call of duty. Using their prearranged signal, she adjusted her purse on her shoulder and set down her drink. “Excuse me for a minute, Jen,” she said to her companion. “I need to freshen up.”

“Of course,” Jennifer returned absently, her eyes narrowing as she took in her husband’s antics with the forward waitress.

Angel excused himself from his conversation with Kenny when he saw Cordelia take the hint and saunter off to the back of the club. He followed her surreptitiously, determined to avoid a fiasco like last night. He frowned, also determined to avoid the force drawing his eyes to the sway of her graceful hips as she walked.

Cordelia’s heart pounded as she pushed open the entrance to the hallway. Last night’s events played over in her head, causing her to hesitate briefly, but she pushed on.

Angel trailed close behind, blending into the shadowy corners of the dimly lit hallway. He could hear her heartbeat in the stillness, assuring him that she was all right. He watched as she disappeared into the ladies’ room, stifling the urge to run in and grab her, take her home, and make her his, all under the guise of “It’s too dangerous; I need to protect her.” The only thing holding him back was the realization that there was probably no other way to successfully solve this case. That, and he knew that Cordelia would have no qualms about kicking his ass if he ruined things again tonight.

Cordelia stood at the counter in the bathroom, gazing at her reflection in an attempt to regain her composure and berating herself for being such a coward. She was scared. She could admit that. The part she couldn’t admit was the abduction wasn’t the only thing that was scaring her. Think about it later, Chase. She admonished herself. You have work to do. After a convincing amount of time had passed, she exited the bathroom.

Before the door even closed behind her, she heard a small pop and felt something sharp sting her neck. Her hand automatically going to the source of the pain, she removed a small dart from her skin.

Had consciousness remained for a little longer, she would have sworn she heard a low growl from behind her. As it was, the last thought she had before the fuzziness turned black was that Angel had better behave himself this time because she was NOT going to go through this again.

***

Cordelia woke abruptly, no fuzziness at all. She opened her eyes, sat up, and shreiked at the sight before her.

“Oh.MY.GOD!!” she exclaimed in shock. “What the hell are YOU doing here?!?!?”
The familiar brown eyes of Alexander Lavelle Harris looked back into Cordelia’s as her mouth hung open in amazement.
Part 5

Earlier
Angel watched from the shadows as Cordelia exited the ladies’ room at the club. He saw her raise her hand to her neck and remove the tranq dart form her skin, and he couldn’t help the low growl of anger that escaped him. He sank further back into the dark corner as the rumble reverberated in the hallway.

It was against every fiber of his being to just stand back and watch as his best friend was abducted, but he couldn’t see any other way to get answers in this case. He cursed Wesley and his suggestions as his worry for her safety increased.

As he watched, a blue-skinned demon slowly crept out of a doorway opposite of the ladies’ room. Glancing up and down the hallway, the demon knelt down near Cordelia and checked for signs of consciousness. Finding none, he gathered her up in his arms and left the way he came.

Moving with complete silence and preternatural speed, Angel followed. He’d parked the Plymouth in the alley near the club’s rear exit, and he was able to jump in and follow the black sedan holding Cordelia, her captor, and his companion.

Trailing a few car lengths behind, Angel followed for several minutes. Recognizing landmarks that they passed, Angel discovered that they were headed deeper into the posh jungle that was Beverly Hills. The sedan slowed and pulled into the driveway of an immense estate surrounded by an imposing iron fence. Angel parked the Plymouth a ways up the street and watched as the sedan pulled through the gate and disappeared behind the house.

“Hang on, Cordy. I’m coming for you,” he promised silently as he wrenched open the car door and sprinted towards the fence.

***

“H-Hey, Cordy,” Xander smiled weakly, as if he was in total despair but trying to make an effort.

“Did YOU do this?” Cordelia demanded, mystified. Her mind didn’t want to believe it. She and Xander had had a rocky break-up, but she still couldn’t fathom the idea that he’d be behind this scheme.

He met her gaze, his distress evident. “No, Cordelia, I didn’t. I got here the same way you did; somebody shot me with some kind of a tranq dart and the next thing I knew, I woke up here.” He gestured to the room they were in.

Cordelia took in her surroundings. She was in the middle of a luxurious king sized mahogany bed, laying under a burgundy damask comforter and being supported by what must’ve been at least fifty pillows of all shapes and sizes. The room was huge; a massive chandelier hung from a vaulted ceiling, and the wall across from the bed sported a huge marble fireplace, complete with an intricately carved mahogany mantle. The light was low, and a few dozen candles were placed intermittently, effusing the room with a golden glow, shadows dancing on the muted beige walls. In short, it was a million-dollar love nest.

Her eyes narrowed as she took in the most dire feature of the room: the doors. They were huge oak panels, at least 10 feet tall, with heavy iron hinges. The worrisome part was that there were no doorknobs or handles. The doors fit together seamlessly, no light coming from anywhere around the edges.

Turning back to Xander, she asked, “Do you know why you’re here?”

“No.” He answered, his frustration evident. “I was out with Anya shopping and I—“

“Wait,” Cordelia interrupted. “Anya? As in ‘I’m a man-hating vengeance demon’ Anya?” Her tone was incredulous.

Xander looked embarrassed. “Um, yeah. We’re sort of–, well, sort of dating.”

Cordelia had her mouth opened, ready to launch a scathing attack at Xander for being so stupid to date a vengeance demon, when she realized that she’d been making out with a demon herself lately. And loving it. She smiled wryly.

“What’s that look for?” Xander asked defensively.

Cordelia thought fast. She wasn’t about to tell him what she was thinking. Did she want Buffy to know she’d been making out with Angel? Xander’s loyalties had always been clear.

“Nothing, Xan. I just realized that it wouldn’t be all that unusual for you to choose a demon to date. I mean, look at your selection. Sunnydale isn’t exactly crawling with girls who are willing to put up with your lifestyle.”

“Well, she’s not really a demon anymore. She lost her powers when the wish you made went wrong. She’s been living demon-free since then, and she seems to be happy.” His eyes softened as he thought about his girlfriend, and Cordelia realized then that she’d forgiven him for how he’d wronged her. She didn’t know when it had happened, but she’d grown since then and she could get past it.

“Well, I’m happy for you, Xander, but as usual, your life choices have led to a major problem.” Cordelia proceeded to fill him in on everything Angel Investigations knew so far.

“So what do you know?” She asked after she finished.

Xander shrugged. “Not much. They let me out for an hour or two this morning, fed me lunch, and brought me back up here. They must have drugged my food, because I woke up next to you. You woke up about 15 minutes after I did.”

“Did you see anything downstairs?” Cordelia prodded.

“There are at least 20 other people being held here. There are also at least one guard for every three prisoners. I counted 7 around the perimeter of the dining room. There was no way to escape; I looked.” His frustration was evident as he continued. “I sat next to a woman at lunch. The guards didn’t seem to care if we talked, so I got some more information from her. She said that her roommate had tried to escape. She was shot in the courtyard, and they put her body on display for a week for everyone to see. Apparently they haven’t had any escape attempts since then.”

Cordelia grimaced. “I can see why.”

They sat in silence for a moment, processing what they’d each learned.

Cordelia looked up into Xander’s face. “It’s good to see you, Xander. Even if we’ve been kidnapped.” She smiled at him, the forgiveness evident in her face that she’d been unable to extend two years earlier.

“Thanks, Cordy. Guess we’ll have to sit here and wait for Deadboy to rescue us, huh?” He looked chagrined at the prospect of encountering Angel again.

“Like I want to see Buffy, either. But you know they’ll come for us.”

“They always do.”

***

Outside the gate, Angel surveyed the scene. He could sense the hum of an electric current running through the metal, so he knew scaling it would be a problem. Well, sometimes being a vampire came in handy.

In a move that Cordelia would’ve said was showing off, Angel jumped noiselessly over the 15 foot fence, coat billowing. As he landed, a guard came rushing towards him. He dropped to the ground, rolled, and came to his feet several feet away. As he stood, his energy waned. Some powerful force was draining him of his strength, reducing him to the weakness of an out-of-shape human.

Angel had no time to adjust to the sensation. The guard came at him again; this time, Angel tried to kick the guard’s feet out from under him, but it amounted to little more than a tap. The energy it took to deliver it was almost more than he could spare. Growling in frustration, Angel turned quickly and stumbled toward the fence and safety. Just as he approached the fence and began to feel his strength increasing, he felt a sharp tug on the back of his jacket, pulling him away.

Part 6

Using the last of his remaining strength, Angel jerked away from the hands that were trying to restrain him. He lunged for the fence, careful to avoid touching the electrically charged metal. As if he’d crossed an invisible barrier, his strength returned in full force, surging through him powerfully. His limbs tingling, he jumped over the fence and escaped into a dense copse of trees and bushes nearby.

After hiding in silence for several minutes, Angel cautiously looked out from behind a large tree trunk to check for guards. He knew now that he couldn’t get to Cordelia in the mansion, and the thought that she would have to stay there indefinitely sickened him.

He cursed Cordelia for agreeing to the scheme, Wesley for suggesting it, Jeremy for hiring them in the first place. But most of all, he cursed himself for allowing her to be put in such a precarious position. He had known that there would be no foolproof way to protect her, but he’d felt heat sweep through him at the idea of her soft lips on his, and he’d let it cloud his judgment. Now he called himself a thousand kinds of foolish as images of her being killed or tortured surged through his mind. His guilt increased second by second, a sharp knife that twisted and burrowed in his gut as he was forced into inaction by the mystical force protecting the compound.

The only shred of hope he held on to was the thought that this trip didn’t have to be a total failure. He would come back with something useful even if he had to kill everyone in sight to do it. Cordelia was not going to stay in there any longer than necessary if he had anything to say about it.

For once in his unlife, fortune seemed to be smiling on him. Just as he was reviewing his extremely short list of options, a guard passed near his hiding place on a perimeter check. Ten seconds later, the guard was unconscious and in the brush with Angel. His mouth set in a grimly determined line, Angel tossed the man over his shoulder like so much baggage and raced for the Plymouth.

Cordelia’s Apartment

Wesley paced the polished hardwood floor of Cardelia’s living room, his left shoe squeaking rhythmically in the stillness. Angel and Cordelia had left for the dinner club around 7 p.m.; it was well past midnight and they weren’t back yet. Wesley knew that their plan had been at least partially successful; if the perpetrator hadn’t abducted Cordelia, they would’ve returned by now. The one thing that worried him was whether or not Angel was going to be able to retrieve her once they’d received the phone call from the kidnapper.

The sharp ring of the telephone jarred Wesley out of his thoughts, nearly causing him to stumble on the edge of the rug. After stopping momentarily for his balance to return and his heart to regulate, he lunged for the phone, grabbing it in the middle of the third ring.

“An-, uh, H-Hello,” Wesley answered breathlessly. He’d almost answered “Angel Investigations,” which would’ve proved awkward, to say the least.

“Angel.” The caller stated. It was a demand, not a request.

“This is he,” Wesley lied, not wanting to anger the caller by saying that Angel wasn’t there.

“You are a traitor to demons everywhere. You have been found unworthy and will be punished.”

An uncomfortable silence followed, intimidating in its length.

“By now, I’m certain you’ve realized that your wife, or, more accurately, your employee, is missing,” the voice was deep and gravelly, as if the owner had small stones lodged in his voicebox that rattled as he spoke.

Wesley, startled by the fact that the caller knew of their undercover scheme, still managed the foresight to press the “record” button on Cordelia’s answering machine. As he did, the apartment door swung open violently. Angel stormed in, dragging a figure in black behind him.

Wesley motioned wildly to him, pointing at the phone. Angel’s face darkened as he stilled, silencing the moan coming from his captive with a solid, muffled punch to the face.

“You have Cordelia?” Wesley continued worriedly.

“Yes, I do. And, might I say, she looks—,” he paused again, “delectable.”

Wesley growled, an unusual sound coming from him, but appropriate nonetheless. His voice lowering to a threatening timbre, he asked, “If you touch her, I’ll—”

“You’ll what, exactly?” the caller interrupted. “You don’t even know who I am. You don’t know anything about me. You’re not a threat, so don’t even pretend that you are.” The arrogance in his words was tangible, crackling over the phone lines and adding a level of intimidation that was infinitely more effective than mere words.

“What do you want from me?” Wesley asked, his words infused with desperation.

“Oh, just a few things. If you want your Cordelia returned to you, I suggest you do exactly as I ask.” He took his time with the words, as if he were doing his taxes rather than holding someone’s life in his hands. “By midnight tomorrow, you must deliver the Slayer to me.”

Wesley was taken aback; this was a demand they had not anticipated. “The Slayer? What do you want with her?”

“Silence!!” the voice hissed. “My motivations are no concern of yours. I understand you have a, hmmm, attachment to the slayer. Your successful completion of this request will prove to me your loyalty.”

“So if I bring you the Slayer, you will release Cordelia to me?” Wesley asked, playing dumb, hoping to get the caller to reveal more information.

A low, evil laugh reverberated through the line, sending chills up Wesley’s spine. “Are you joking? I have a powerful vampire at my beck and call and I only plan to use him one time?” his tone was incredulous. “You will have several jobs to complete for me before you can even think about getting Cordelia back.”

“I want to talk to her,” Wesley demanded. “I want proof that she’s okay—”

“I will not allow that. I have, however, taken the liberty to show you that I do, in fact, have her in my possession. Check in your mailbox; the proof is there.”

“You’ve left something in our mailbox?” Wesley repeated for Angel’s benefit, who raced out the door. Wesley had stomach-churning visions of fingers in boxes or pictures of Cordelia’s mutilated body. The caller’s next words only served to confuse him further.

“She has someone familiar to keep her company. I assure you, she is quite safe, and very, very comfortable.” The way he said that last word made Wesley uneasy.

“What do you—”

He was interrupted again.

“You have until midnight tomorrow to bring me the Slayer. If you do not, Cordelia will be on the auction block the next morning. There are several buyers who will pay handsomely for a Seer, especially one as luscious as she.”

Wesley could almost see the evil smile on his face as he verbally leered at Cordelia.

“Bring me the Slayer.” He then stated an address for delivery.

The line went dead just as the front door was violently shoved open and Angel returned, carrying a manilla envelope and a glossy 8×10 photo. He shoved it into Wesley’s hands.

With barely controlled rage, Angel ground out through clenched teeth, “I have to get in there, Wesley. Find a way.”

Wesley looked down at the photo in his hands and his mouth dropped open in shock.

Cordelia lay on her back under a purple cover, eyes closed, shoulders bare, fingers burrowed in the hair of her companion. Xander’s dark head rested on her shoulder, his mouth tantalizingly close to one naked, rose-tipped breast peeking out from the edge of the blanket, a small, contented smile on his face as he slept.
Part 7

Xander glanced nervously at Cordelia who had risen from the bed and was checking out the room. There wasn’t much to see, but it was something to pass the time. It also gave Xander a moment to collect the thoughts that were ricocheting off the walls of his brain like a million superballs set loose at once.

He’d awoken two hours earlier, warm in the type of cozy comfort one only gets when sleeping skin to skin with another human body. He’d slowly opened his eyes, smiling lasciviously as he focused on the voluptuous breast so close to him that was begging for his mouth, then frowning as he realized something wasn’t quite right. His first thought was, “when the hell did Anya get a boob job?” He jerked his head up with a snap as he realized that he recognized this breast; it just wasn’t Anya’s. He hadn’t seen this bit of goodness in a very long time. Xander felt dread build in the pit of his stomach as his eyes traveled up the golden column of skin, reaching the beautiful face of his sleeping ex-girlfriend.

Anya was going to kill him.

He’d quickly adjusted Cordelia’s clothing to cover her and located his shirt, slipping it on and buttoning it up in haste. He had no idea how long it would be before Cordelia came out of her drug-induced nap, but he didn’t want her to know what had happened. His experience with unpredictable women had increased significantly since he’d started dating Anya, and he knew that Cordelia was made from a similar mould. It was better that she was ignorant about this.

Xander had instinctively known that he’d been drugged and positioned like that with Cordelia. There was only one possible explanation. Sighing, he tried not to think about the look on Anya’s face as she looked at the picture she was bound to receive.

“Whoever this guy is, he had enough sense to hire a decorator,” Cordelia’s words interrupted his worried thoughts and brought him back to the present. “The color palate is fantastic.”

“I guess you would know,” Xander said absently, watching her riffle through drawers and rearrange knickknacks of fertility gods and phallic symbols.

Cordelia frowned as she rattled chains and manacles attached to the wall near the fireplace. “Kind of a kinky motif, though. Who does he think we are, thwarted lovers with a bondage fetish?”

“If he really wanted us to rekindle the flames of our lost love, he’d have found a smaller room with less light,” Xander quipped. “I saw a walk-in linen closet on my way back upstairs earlier.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Ha, ha, Xander. Funny.” She strolled unhurriedly back across the room. She gasped and stopped abruptly as she neared the end of the bed.

Xander followed her gaze to a black circle hiding among the leaves of a silk plant above the fireplace.

“Oh, god, is that a camera?”

Well, he’d tried.

***

Wesley slipped the offending picture back into the manila envelope and hid it under a stack of books on the table. The image was forever burned in his brain anyway, so there was no need to keep it for reference. He didn’t think Angel wanted the reminder either.

Turning to his boss, he asked, “So what happened?”

Angel filled him in. “I don’t know what that force was, Wesley, but it was powerful. I felt as though someone had completely drained me of strength. If I’d stayed there any longer, I wouldn’t have been able to stand.”

“And him?” Wesley motioned to the unconscious man in black.

“A guard. Maybe we can get some useful information out of him.”

Wesley didn’t want to bring up the picture again but he couldn’t see any way to avoid it. He cleared his throat. “What shall we do about Xander?”

Angel’s jaw clenched as the photo’s contents flashed through his mind once again. He knew it was a set-up—Cordelia wouldn’t be with Xander willingly again—but it slashed him nonetheless.

“I guess we should call—,”

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

“—Buffy.”

Angel reached for the door, opening it to find the subject of their conversation on the other side, flanked by Giles, Willow, a very distraught Anya, and, horror of horrors: Riley.

Angel growled menacingly and Buffy frowned.

“Hi, Angel,” she stated simply.

“Buffy,” he returned. He stood there, waiting.

She raised her eyebrows questioningly. “Can we come in?” she prompted.

“Oh, um, yeah,” Angel sounded reluctant, flashing a warning glare at Riley. God, he hated that pretentious mama’s boy.

“Angel,” Riley greeted through clenched teeth. Obviously he wasn’t happy to be here, either.

“Riley,” Angel ground out. Thoughts of their last meeting echoed in both their heads, Angel’s memories bringing a small smile of satisfaction at the smack down he’d dealt this kid.

There was a hurried exchange of greetings between Wesley and the present members of the Sunnydale gang.

“I assume you’re here about Xander?” Wesley asked, getting right to the point.

Giles nodded, answering for the group. “Xander was abducted yesterday. Anya received a call earlier today demanding that she produce Willow in exchange for Xander. She asked for proof that he was alive, and she received an e-mailed photograph of he and Cordelia. . .” Giles trailed off, as if uncertain whether he should explain the photo.

“We’ve seen it,” Angel said, his expression implacable.

“My poor Xander,” Anya wailed, “trapped in there with that heartless bitch—”

“Don’t say that about Cordelia,” Angel demanded threateningly. “She’s changed.” At the disbelieving faces of Willow and Buffy, he added forcefully, “She’s different. You don’t know her anymore, so don’t pretend that you do.”

His tone said that the conversation was closed, eyes threatening the life of anyone who dared bring it up again, either.

“Anya, did they say why you and Xander were targeted?”

She looked at Wesley tearfully. “They said that I was a traitor to demon-kind everywhere. That I had to pay for turning my back on seeking vengeance.”

Wesley looked at Angel. “It fits the MO.”

Angel nodded tersely, then turned and picked up his sword, cleaning the blade in preparation for their upcoming assault on the mansion.

Wesley explained the situation to Giles. “Apparently this guy has some kind of business going, extorting money out of reformed demons.” He told them about the force field preventing Angel from getting in.

“Does it affect just demons, I wonder?” Giles mused.

“I think it affects anyone with supernatural ability,” Angel stated quietly, looking at Buffy.

Riley spoke up, earning a frown from Angel for making his presence known. “Well, I don’t have any supernatural abilities, just extensive training. I’m willing to help.”

Angel ignored him, but Wesley nodded his agreement.

“What did they want in exchange for Cordelia?” Buffy asked.

“You,” Angel stated simply, his hard gaze meeting her surprised one.

Part 8

Giles looked perplexed. “I can think of several reasons why someone would want to abduct or kill Buffy; we deal with that on a regular basis. But why not just abduct her or kill her outright?” he wondered.

Wesley jumped on Giles’ intellectual bandwagon. “Yes, and why would they ask Anya to provide Willow and Angel to provide Buffy? Why not just have Anya provide Buffy and use Angel for something else?”

“Guys, I think you’re forgetting something important,” Buffy pointed out. “I’m not exactly easy to kidnap, even if the baddie has a tranq gun. Been tried before. Never works out very well.”

Giles nodded, “That’s true.” He looked disappointed that his fledgling theory died young.

“Not only that,” Buffy continued, “But Willow isn’t very easy to steal either. She’s become a pretty powerful Wicca and I don’t think anyone could hold on to her for very long.”

“She’s right,” Willow confirmed. “I don’t think there are many people who could keep me by force.”

Willow smiled forlornly and looked over at Anya. “And Xander, while we all love him, doesn’t have much going for him in the supernatural power department.”

“Or any other department,” Angel added half aloud, earning a few dirty looks from the pro-Xander camp.

Giles began pacing, lost in thought. “So,” he postulated, “the perpetrator abducted Cordelia for leverage over Angel, and Xander for leverage over Anya. His goal is to have Buffy and Willow both in his grasp. What possible reason could he have for wanting all of you, if not to kill you?”

“Money,” Wesley said quietly. “That’s the common thread in all the abductions. The demon running this show abducts someone important, then blackmails the victim into stealing something or betraying someone. I think he has some type of underground auction going on.”

Silence descended over the room as everyone thought about the situation. A loud moan broke the stillness, and Angel was on the semi-conscious guard in a matter of seconds, his sword at the man’s throat.

“You’re going to tell us what we need to know, or you’re going to die, slowly and painfully,” he said, pressing the blade of his weapon uncomfortably against the guard’s neck. His tone left no room to argue his sincerity.

“Please, I have a wife and children,” the guard whimpered. “I don’t want to die.”

Angel’s mouth curved in a cruel smile. His face shifted to his demon visage as he said, “Fine. You won’t. They will.”

The fear in the man’s eyes grew thicker. “W-What do you want to know?”

“Everything.”

***

After what seemed like hours of perusing the countless antiques and bondage equipment their luxurious cell had to offer, Cordelia was bored out of her mind. Just as she began to entertain the unpleasant prospect of small talk with Xander, the doorknob-less doors swung open dramatically to admit the last person Cordelia ever expected to see (well, besides Xander): Kenny, Jeremy’s “nicest” friend.

“Cordelia. Xander,” Kenny nodded to each in turn.

“Why are we being held here?” Cordelia demanded. She wasn’t about to pander to him; she didn’t care who he was.

“You’re leverage,” Kenny admitted. His grin turned carnal as he looked Cordelia up and down. “That photograph of you two in repose was quite artistic. I’m certain that Anya and Angel were very touched by what a beautiful picture the two of you made.”

“Xander,” Cordelia hissed, “What is he talking about?”

Kenny ignored her as he continued. “That was quite sweet of you to protect Cordelia’s sensibilities by covering her up, Xander, but it was really unnecessary. We’d already gathered the visual proof we needed of your safety.”

Xander clenched his fists and made a threatening step towards their captor. “I am so gonna—”

“You’re not going to do anything,” Kenny interrupted calmly. “You have no power here.”

“Enough with the evil power trip already!” Cordelia yelled impatiently. She’d had just about enough of Kenny’s posturing. “We’re your captives. We get that. We’re sufficiently terrified, please don’t kill us, yada, yada, yada. Now what exactly do you plan to do with us?”

“Nothing, yet. Angel and Anya have both been given a mission. They’ve been told to bring the slayer and Willow Rosenberg to me.”

“In exchange for us?” Xander asked.

“They think so,” Kenny added, smirking, obviously in love with his nefarious plans. “They won’t be leaving here, so they won’t be able to take you with them.”

“What do you want with Willow and Buffy?” Xander asked suspiciously, concern for his friends coming to the fore.

“They’re worth a great deal of money, you know. It isn’t every day that one can obtain a Slayer and a very powerful Wicca for one’s collection.”

“You still haven’t answered my question, moron,” Cordelia rolled her eyes, ignoring the glare that Xander gave her as she goaded Kenny. “What are you going to do with us?”

“You’ll be sold for your Seer’s ability. Your friend, here, will be disposed of.”

“You’d better start my bidding out at a decent price. Last time I was up for sale they tried to sell me for a paltry $2,000. I am so worth more than that,” she complained.

“Hello! Head on the chopping block, here!” Xander hissed, obviously miffed that she’d ignored the fact that his death sentence had been handed down.

“Pfft. Your precious Buffy will save you. Don’t worry about it,” Cordelia’s confidence was palpable.

Kenny frowned at Cordelia’s unwillingness to accept his plans. “Buffy and Angel will not have any power here. You have no hope. You are worth nothing but the price you bring at auction.” His speech seemed to convince him, his chilling smile returning.

“What’s with all the money, anyway?” Cordelia sniped. She gestured at the room. “It’s not like you don’t have enough already.”

“It’s not the money, dear, it’s the power,” Kenny said patronizingly. “Besides, the Powers that Be and I aren’t exactly best friends. This deal will allow me to significantly disrupt their plans.”

“You think they’re going to just let you wipe out their Champion and Seer all in one blow?” Cordelia asked incredulously.

Kenny only smiled, filled with the arrogance of a man who feels he’s already won.

“Have a pleasant evening, children,” Kenny added, turning on his heel and sweeping out of the room.

“Where’s the evil ‘Mua-ha-ha’ and requisite handlebar mustache?” Xander griped. “Geez, could this get any worse?”

“Yes,” Cordelia managed before she grasped her head and cried out in pain, sinking to the floor as the images flashed before her eyes.
Part 9

Wesley was encouraged: the information they’d gathered from the guard was extremely useful. The mystical force was actually only a 20 meter-wide ring around the compound, and once through that 20 meters, strength returned. The only problem was that the power drain was so debilitating that no one with supernatural abilities would make it that far without collapsing. There was one vulnerability: the ring was powered by shamans who chanted around the clock in a small, virtually unprotected compound to the south of the mansion itself.

Riley asked the guard what defenses the compound had against human attackers. The guard looked perplexed by the question; they’d never had any humans who were angry enough to attack them. Traitor demons were the only ones that his boss targeted, so humans weren’t a problem.

Wesley’s thoughts returned to the interrogation winding down before him.

“What can you tell us about your boss?” Angel asked the now malleable guard.

“I don’t know very much,” he answered, his honesty obvious on his face.

“What do you know?” Wesley encouraged.

“Well, he drives this old car he treats like a baby,” the guard said thoughtfully. “It’s a beaut: leather interior, burled walnut dashboard, the works. He’s got this weird blue color paint job. In the dark it looks completely black. Anyway, one of my buddies accidentally brushed his clipboard against the door when the big boss drove through the checkpoint. He nearly blew a gasket, he was so angry.”

“Is it a Corvette?” Angel asked through clenched teeth.

“Yep,” the guard said, surprised that Angel would have guessed accurately. “Late 60’s, I think.”

“That little—,” Angel hissed. He slammed his hand through the drywall nearest his fist.

Kenny was going to pay.

***

Cordelia winced as Xander placed a cool, wet cloth against her forehead. What she wouldn’t give for her painkillers right now.

“Cordelia, I had—,” he stopped, frowned, and started again. “You’re visions are so painful,” he stated obviously.

“Congratulations! You’ve won the magnificent toaster oven with matching ruffled cover,” Cordelia said dryly, her eyes closed as she tried to regulate the throbbing in her temples.

“No kidding, Xander. Was it the screaming or the twitching that tipped you off?”

“It’s not that, it’s just—,” Xander paused again, looking for the right words. “Okay, we knew you were working for Angel and that you got visions. It’s just hard to believe that you, Queen C, are in pain to help people.” She opened her eyes and frowned at him. His face implored her to understand and her eyes softened.

“I’m different, Xander,” she said quietly. “Working with Angel has been a life-changing experience for me. I have a purpose now. I’ve never had that before.”

The fact that she even told him that much was evidence to him that she had indeed changed. He said, “I’m starting to see that.”

They smiled at each other, his accepting, hers laced with pain and renewed friendship.

Xander raised an eyebrow, his expression boyishly reminiscent of their high school days. “So amidst all that screaming and twitching, did you see anything that can help us get out of this loony bin?”

“Oh, boy, did I,” she said, a genuine, Cordy-sized grin on her face.

***

“All I’m saying is that it probably won’t affect me. They only want to keep out demons and I’m not one. I think it’s worth a try, that’s all,” Buffy raised her hands in a calming gesture, backing up slightly as she spoke. Angel’s look was one Angelus would’ve been proud of and, truth be told, it scared her a little.

Angel kept his voice low as he answered. “This is not a discussion, Buffy. I’m going. You can come if you want to or not; I don’t really care one way or the other.”

Buffy looked hurt. “You don’t want my help?”

Angel said, exasperated, “Buffy, this isn’t about you.”

Her expression was still closed, obviously not wanting to accept his plans. Angel felt like throttling her. He didn’t have time for this; Cordelia was trapped and he didn’t want to wait around to smooth the wrinkles out of his ex-girlfriend’s ego.

“Look, Buffy. Cordelia is my best friend and I love her. I can’t sit here and wait for someone else to rescue her anymore than you could sit around and wait for someone else to save Xander.”

“You love her?” Buffy’s voice came out in a whisper. Her mind had shut down after Angel’s unintentional admission. It didn’t matter that she’d brought Riley with her; most of her heart was still tattooed with love for Angel.

If he’d had one, Angel’s heart would’ve sped up as he realized what he’d just said. Did he love Cordelia? He had to confess he didn’t know yet. He was certainly attracted to her. Every time he thought of her lately his body tightened uncomfortably. She’d given up so much for him and his mission, endured so much pain and suffering. In typical Cordelia Chase style, she had jack hammered her way in, cheerful, tactless and loving, and touched his soul in a way that no one else ever had before. But was he in love with her? Cordelia Chase, his seer and his best friend?

“Yeah, Buffy, I think I might,” Angel admitted. His bared soul shone through his eyes as he looked at her, and Buffy was heartbroken to realize that she’d really lost him.

Across the room, the rest of the apartment’s occupants crowded around Cordelia’s dining room table. They were poring over a crude map of the compound that their hostage had drawn, attempting to draft a plan of attack. Riley kept glancing over at Angel and Buffy’s low conversation, trying to be surreptitious, but everyone was well aware of his discomfort. It didn’t help that they kept having to repeat things because he wasn’t paying attention.

“So I’m going to disable the shamans, and Buffy and Angel are going to what?” Riley tried to enter the conversation again.

Giles looked frustrated. “We all need to hear this. Wesley and I have drafted a very workable plan and its important that everyone knows what they’re doing.” He glared at Riley, daring him to drift off again.

Buffy and Angel returned to the group. Buffy slid up beside Riley, grasping his wrist and drawing his arm around her shoulders. She needed his comfort right now.

Relief surged through Riley as his fears of losing her to Angel were alleviated. His competition didn’t exactly look happy. But then again, Angel never did.

Giles looked around the table, making certain that he had everyone’s attention before he began explaining.

“So this is the plan. . .”

Part 10

“So you’ve seen a way to get us out of here?” Xander asked Cordelia excitedly.

“Well, kind of,” Cordelia answered, scrunching her face up in thought. “It was more of a premonition. Sometime in the near future, one of Kenny’s henchmen is going to come and get us.”

“Well, that should be party central,” Xander grimaced, not liking this train of thought.

“Pay attention, Xander, Geez,” Cordelia said, annoyed. “As I was saying, he’s going to come and take us downstairs. In my vision, I saw a way to escape him. He’ll be distracted when we get to the landing on the stairs, and we can push him over the railing.”

“Won’t somebody, I don’t know, notice some ugly demon flying over the edge of a staircase?” Xander asked.

“I don’t know,” Cordelia said, disgusted at him for pointing out the holes in her vision. “I didn’t see that far ahead. The Powers are never very clear about these things. They just send me part of it and we take care of the rest.”

“Well, I don’t have to like it,” Xander griped.

“Welcome to a day in the life of Angel Investigations,” Cordelia commiserated. “We always fight blind, but at least we usually win.”

3.57 a.m.

Angel was at a level of unhappiness that was lower than his normal broodiness. Giles had explained their plan, and it was a good one, but that didn’t change the fact that he had to sit and wait around. Angel knew that the night was more than half over—he could feel the sunrise approaching—but he didn’t want to admit that they’d have to wait more than half a day to get Cordelia out of there. He blamed everyone for their delay, including himself, but blame wasn’t going to speed up or turn back the clock. All he could do was lay there, in the dark, surrounded by Cordelia’s scent but feeling farther away from her than he’d ever felt before.

He’d commandeered her bed before anyone could suggest otherwise. The Scoobies had set up camp out in the living room; Wesley had scrounged up some blankets and pillows from Cordelia’s closets. He’d taken Anya and Giles home with him; there was no sense in everyone sleeping on the floor if it wasn’t necessary.

Willow had claimed the couch, and Riley and Buffy were snuggled up on the living room floor, whispering. It occurred to Angel that he didn’t care in the slightest who Buffy was sleeping or not sleeping with. He was over that; Cordelia was all that mattered now.

Her scent drifted from the sheets and pillows, a mixture of clean-smelling bath products and her own earthy aroma, filling his nostrils and bringing a comfort that no other fragrance could.

It was a double-edged sword, though: breathing in Cordelia’s scent without her present, especially knowing her current whereabouts, was a kind of agony he’d never experienced before. It was like water torture; a slow and steady drip—drip—drip—drip—drip that kept him awake and painfully aware of his powerlessness.

The next 15 hours were going to be some of the most difficult in his unnaturally long life.

***

A feather-light touch drifted down Cordelia’s arm, causing her to twitch briefly in her sleep. She stilled as the sensation stopped in the palm of her hand and stayed there, swirling on her lifeline. Instinctively, she closed her fingers around the source of the contact, grasping strong, cool fingers. She returned the loving touch, stroking the thumb gently from the base to the tip, pausing to interlock their fingers.

Her eyes remained closed as she basked in the warmth of pure sensation.

Angel’s eyes were heavy-lidded as he looked down at the woman he loved, reveling in the millions of tiny sparks shooting throughout his body at her touch. There was a nagging thought at the back of his mind that it was a life and death imperative that he stop, enjoy the closeness, and leave it at that. But his entire body was humming with the anticipation of touching her at last, and he couldn’t imagine a situation where he would willingly stop this sensual journey they’d begun together.

Pushing all doubts away, Angel slowly lowered his head to the long column of her throat and kissed the hollow above her collarbone gently. Cordelia stirred, ignited by the enticing new contact, and maneuvered her mouth in line with his.

Angel took the gift she offered, lightly grazing her lips with his, tasting the sweet heat there. He repeated the contact again and again, never increasing the pressure or the speed of his gentle assault. Frustrated, Cordelia’s tongue ventured out, licking his full bottom lip, pulling it into her mouth and sucking gently.

A deep rumble sounded from Angel’s chest as Cordelia’s forwardness fueled him. His hands left their neutral position, searching for a more advantageous location; fingers inching up her waist as their tongues entertwined, lazily searching for her breast. Finding it, his hand cupped gently, his thumb brushing the tip and sending hot-cold lightning through her, melting her from the inside out.

Their mouths separated and Cordelia finally opened her eyes, breathing heavily in the stillness, turning her gaze to this man who’d lit her on fire. The heat in his eyes was intense, consuming her with the level of his passion. Overwhelmed, Cordelia did the only thing she could do: she returned it with equal fervor.

Her hands roamed his body, his hands explored hers. Clothing disappeared, beautiful skin revealed, inch by tantalizing inch given attention and loving care. Angel’s hands seemed to be everywhere, stroking sensitive places that Cordelia never knew existed, but he ignored the one location that was throbbing agonizingly in anticipation.

In retaliation for his slowness, Cordelia’s hands ventured downward, stroking and grasping in ways that made Angel gasp for breath he didn’t know he needed. Finally, he reached for the place she’d been begging for. Their gentle battle continued as each vied for control of the situation.

In the end they both got what they wanted.

Her hand stroked him, the pace growing faster as he returned the rhythm on her flesh, a rhythm that was only made stronger by the quantity of emotions that passed between them. The pressure was building, and their eyes slid shut nearly simultaneously as the feelings became almost too intense to bear.

They stopped, hands hovering, pressure at its peak, and fell over the edge together with one last, feather-light stroke, spiraling downward in a waterfall of shared bliss.

***

Cordelia shot up in bed, heart racing, breathing heavy and uneven. The dream she’d just had was the most erotic, fulfilling thing she’d ever experienced. Her whole body throbbed with the pleasure she’d just felt, a pounding that seemed to echo in the silence of her prison.

She glanced nervously over at Xander, terrified for a moment that she’d acted out her dream-fantasy of Angel on her old friend. Her fears were alleviated as she watched his even breathing and saw that he was completely covered, asleep three feet away from her in the massive bed.

Once her heart regained its normal pace, Cordelia reflected on the experience in a more unbiased way. There was something about this dream that wasn’t right, something that wasn’t normal for her. Well, besides the dream-induced orgasm.

A small “Oh,” escaped her lips, breaking the silence as she realized what was wrong.

Cordelia hadn’t just dreamed about Angel, She’d shared this dream with Angel. His presence had been too strong for mere dreams.

***

Angel stood outside of Cordelia’s apartment in the darkest part of the night, just before dawn. He’d had to get away; the intensity was too overwhelming.

He’d awoken from one of the most erotic dreams he’d ever had, gasping as if he were alive, sweat covering his body in a fine sheen. It had felt so good. . .and so damn real. Even now, several minutes later, he swore he could still taste her, feel her hands insistent on his body, hear her gentle moans of pleasure.

The thing that shook him the most was the knowledge that she was there, really there, too. This was no dream; it was something infinitely more powerful.

His desperation multiplied exponentially, clawing at him, tearing him in two.

He had to get her back. It was a matter of life and death.
Part 11

Kenny’s Mansion

Cynthia stared across the room at her husband, Kenny. On her face was a loving smile, her eyes glowing with intense passion for her mate. But in reality, her insides churned with disgust at his arrogance and superiority. Her skin crawled every time she was in his presence. She knew what he was and she was well aware of his schemes, but up until now, she’d been powerless to stop him.

She and Kenny were Bulgari demons, a breed that could blend in with humans rather easily. Like Jessica and Jeremy Falkirk, what telling physical markings they had could be easily covered up with make-up. This characteristic, combined with a tendency toward violence in the males of their breed, made their species a very influential part of the demon underworld. Her husband, Kenny, was a kingpin in the demon mafia, having control over the entire Southern California area.

In short, he was a mean son of a bitch with a lot of power.

Cynthia’s father, much like Kenny in personality and temperament, had arranged her marriage to him when she was very young and Cynthia had had no choice but to go along with it. She’d hated her father her entire life, and her hatred intensified when it was transferred to her new husband.

She was determined to see that, ultimately, he would not be successful in single-handedly destroying the only demons that were trying to live decently. Not if she could help it. Until recently, her opportunities had been scarce.

Her chance to set things right had come from an unlikely source. She’d been contacted by an emissary for the Powers that Be—a man who called himself Whistler. He’d told her that the Powers had heard her frustration and wanted to help. The Powers had a mission for her, one that would result in the death and destruction of Kenny.

Her mission, until now, had been very low-key. She’d known when she’d seen Angel and Cordelia at the club what they were up to; she’d been instructed to suggest their agency to a frantic Jeremy. Her responsibility at that time was to make sure that Cordelia was successfully abducted and to keep an eye on Kenny as he mingled with LA’s elite.

Her other responsibility had been to keep watch over Cordelia and Xander as they were held in the mansion, but she’d been unable to locate them without calling attention to herself. She wasn’t worried about them, though; she knew that Angel and the Slayer would save them. The Powers had foreseen it.

Now, everything was in place as it should be.

In just a few hours, Cynthia would be poised to complete the third and final portion of her mission: to secure the soul of a vampire.

***

Awaiting sunset, Angel paced nervously in the living room of Cordelia’s apartment, everyone giving him a wide berth. Earlier, Wesley had approached him about a minor detail in the plan, and he’d been rewarded with a snarl and a flash of yellow eyes. From then on, everyone avoided disrupting the vampire’s preparation ritual.

The plan kept repeating in Angel’s head, each nuance being rolled around, mulled over, examined for flaws. It was extremely important that it go right the first time. If it didn’t, Kenny would be aware of his weakness and compensate, and it would be virtually impossible to free Cordelia.

Angel would not allow that to happen. Cordelia was coming home tonight; there were no two ways about it.

They’d decided that Angel and Anya would approach the gate with Buffy and Willow as the demands of their agreement with Kenny had stipulated. Willow and Buffy would be bound, tight enough to look authentic but loose enough to pull free if needed. Riley would wait until they were admitted, then sneak into the compound and locate the building that housed the shamans. The other four would continue into the compound and be brought before Kenny.

Further research had uncovered an additional characteristic of the shaman’s binding ring. The outer perimeter was indeed a power drain to anyone with supernatural powers, but for the entire section within the circle, magic was ineffective. It became even more important that Riley was successful. If he wasn’t, not only would they be trapped, but also Willow would have no power to fight with.

Riley, ever the special ops soldier, had brought a few small gadgets with him, one of them being a signaling device. He’d given the activator to Angel and kept the receiver for himself. Once Buffy, Angel, Willow, and Anya were in place, Angel would signal Riley to disable the shamans. Willow would perform a locator spell for Xander and Cordelia, and she and Anya would rescue them. Buffy and Angel would stay to kill Kenny and his henchmen, free the other captives, and then escape themselves.

It seemed simple, but Angel could foresee so many opportunities for error that his head spun.

One major flaw kept leaping out at Angel, but he couldn’t figure out a way to get around it: there were too many people involved. He wished he could just go alone, but it was impossible. He’d tried that already and failed miserably.

Now he had to rely on Captain America to be the lynch pin in the whole plan. He wasn’t comfortable with putting so much responsibility on Riley; he didn’t trust the guy. Not with Cordelia’s life.

Angel paused momentarily in his pacing to check the clock. Only a half hour left; 30 agonizing minutes of waiting, then he could be on his way to getting Cordelia back where she belonged: with him.

***

Cordelia and Xander sat nervously in their room, both starting at the slightest sound. Since Cordelia had revealed her vision to Xander, they’d both been anxiously awaiting its fulfillment. Now, as sunset approached, their apprehension grew worse. Every few minutes, one pair of eyes or the other would dart towards the doors, expecting them to swing open and begin the drama that would lead to their escape.

Any minute now.

The seconds ticked by with agonizing slowness. They comforted themselves with the knowledge that Buffy and Angel were working to get in here and rescue them, but they were still worried. Cordelia and Xander knew that even if they were unable to distract the demon in Cordelia’s vision, it would still be an improvement over their current situation. They felt like caged animals awaiting slaughter. At least then they’d be someplace other than this damned room.

At last, the doors swung open and a large man walked in. At first he appeared human, but Cordelia recognized very similar features to Kenny and she knew she was dealing with another demon like him.

He stood before them, sizing them up. Suddenly he spoke, startling them both in the silence. “Come with me.”

With that, he turned abruptly and marched towards the door. Xander and Cordelia meekly followed.

“Not much of a conversationalist, is he?” Xander whispered, earning a look of strong disapproval from Cordelia.

Cordelia felt an overwhelming sense of déjà vu as she traveled along the upper corridor beyond their room. Every aspect of this walk had been in her vision, and she knew that the landing where they’d be given their opportunity to escape was just ahead.

They turned a corner and found themselves in the exact location from Cordelia’s vision. She signaled to Xander, and he nodded. Together, they lunged at the demon’s back, using their combined weights to disrupt his balance, sending him toppling over the edge of the railing.

They turned to smile at each other, amazed at their success. Their smugness was short-lived, however, when Cordelia felt a strong hand grasp her arm.

“You little twits! What the hell do you think you’re doing? You’re going to ruin everything!”

Startled, Cordelia turned. Her eyes widened as she took in the very angry face of Kenny’s wife, Cynthia.

Part 12

Outside Kenny’s Mansion
11:53 p.m.

“I’m Angel, this is Anya. We have an appointment with Kenny for midnight.”

“Right. Let me just check my list,” the guard said, reaching for his clipboard. “Those the prisoners?”

“Yeah,” Angel said tersely, not in the mood for small talk.

“That blonde one there looks feisty. And the redhead. . .,” he paused, leering at Willow. “Sure you don’t want me to hold ‘em for ya for a little while?” He winked conspiratorially.

Buffy tensed, straining at her bonds. God, she’d love to punch that guy’s face in.

Angel smiled, acting as if he agreed with the guard’s opinion of the girls. He looked Willow and Buffy up and down, his expression just short of lewd. “I think I’ll keep them for now. Your boss is expecting me to bring them.”

“Yeah, I guess.” the guard sounded disappointed. He reached for a button on the panel and the large gate began to swing open.

Back to business, the guard continued. “Just follow the drive up to the main door and knock. The butler will escort you to the boss’s receiving room.”

Angel nodded and led the three women inside the gate, which began creaking closed behind them. Angel felt a moment of panic at the thought that they were now trapped, but he knew that it wouldn’t be for long.

Approaching the front door, they each turned to look at each other.

“Ready?” Angel said softly. The women nodded, each with a different expression on their faces. Buffy looked determined, Willow looked nervous, and Anya looked petrified.

Before Angel even had an opportunity to knock, the door swung open to reveal a short, portly man with thinning brown hair. The man smiled coldly at them, looking Buffy and Willow over thoroughly.

“Mr. Angel. Ms. Anya,” he greeted, nodding to both of them, now ignoring their captives. “The Boss has been expecting you.”

He motioned them inside the door.

“You may bring the merchandise and follow me.”

Buffy and Willow both frowned darkly at the insulting remark.

The butler led them along a richly appointed hallway, two stories tall, complete with marble floors and antique furniture. Their steps echoed in the stillness, each one increasing both their apprehension and determination. Angel tensed as they approached the door that would lead them to Kenny. His hand itched to reach for the sword concealed in the folds of his coat, but he held back.

Angel exchanged a look with Buffy, indicating his readiness to set their plan in motion. At her brief nod, he reached into his coat pocket and tapped the signaling device to Riley. Within minutes, he hoped, they should be able to fight back without any hindrances.

The butler reached for the double doors and swung them open, revealing a large, opulent room. Kenny obviously fancied himself some type of king, because he sat in a large chair on a raised dais, looking as if he ruled the world. A self-satisfied smirk rested on his face as he lounged comfortably, a cigar in his right hand.

Angel took in the scene, growling in frustration when he saw the entire picture. There, next to Kenny’s throne, were Cordelia and Xander, tied to the same chair, Cordelia straddling Xander’s lap.

***

Cordelia squirmed, bound and gagged, on Xander’s lap. He had bony knees, and they pushed uncomfortably into her backside. She hadn’t taken her eyes off Angel since he entered the room, and she was immediately concerned. She’d seen him look over at her and Xander and their compromising position, and his jaw had tensed. She knew if she’d been close enough, she’d also have heard him growl.

She desperately wanted to reassure him that she was okay and under Cynthia’s protection, but besides it being kind of hard to speak with a mouth full of cloth, she’d ruin everything. No, it was better to wait. What Cynthia had to offer was just too precious to be thrown away by being careless.

When Cynthia had grabbed Cordelia’s arm on the stairway, she and Xander had been terrified that their plan had failed. She’d recognized Cynthia immediately from the club, having had her hyena laugh etched forever in her brain. Knowing that she was Kenny’s wife was a cause for alarm, and Cordelia had attempted to pull free and run.

Cynthia’s grip had turned hurtful at Cordelia’s attempted escape. She’d dragged them both to a nearby alcove, eyes darting up and down the stairs and hallway for guards.

“Listen, you little twits. I’m not going to sit around and watch while you mess up my one opportunity to get out of this living hell.”

Cordelia’s eyes had widened as she recognized a potential ally in this angry woman. “But I thought—.”

“What, that I was madly in love with my husband?” Cynthia had scoffed, interrupting Cordelia. “That’s what he’s supposed to think.” She paused, eyes glowing with revulsion. “I hate that bastard, and I’m going to see him pay for everything he’s done to me.”

“So what do you want with us?” Xander had asked, not knowing the back story and a little confused as to Cynthia’s purpose in all this.

Cynthia had ignored him and turned to Cordelia instead. “You had a vision?”

Surprised eyes had answered her. “Yes, how did you—,”

“That vision was supposed to warn you to watch out for me when you came to this stairway, not push the demon to his death. Now I have to look like your enemy because you ninnies botched it up.”

The fact that Cynthia knew about Cordelia’s vision had made her suspicious. Another thought occurred to her, and she’d asked, “Did you have anything to do with the dream I had?”

“What dream?” Xander had asked, his eyes whipping towards her face. “You didn’t tell me about that.”

“Never mind, Xander,” Cordelia had snapped impatiently. She was not about to reveal her erotic dream fantasies of Angel to her ex-boyfriend.

To Cynthia, she’d said, “Well, did you?”

Cynthia had sighed, recognizing the futility of getting these two downstairs before she explained herself. “Yes, I did. The Powers approached me for help in exchange for destroying my husband. I don’t have time to explain it all. We need to get you to Kenny’s receiving room, NOW.” She started to pull them out of the alcove and down the stairs.

“Wait!” Cordelia had exclaimed, tugging at her imprisoned arm. “What did the Powers ask you to do for them?”

Cynthia had frowned, annoyed by Cordelia’s continued interrogation. “The females of our demon species have the power to link minds and souls. The Powers called upon me to connect you and Angel in your dreams, and to bind Angel’s soul.”

Cordelia’s mouth had dropped open in shock as Cynthia’s words sunk in. She had been so overwhelmed that she hadn’t even reacted when Cynthia dragged her and Xander downstairs into Kenny’s receiving room. She had protested a little when Kenny gloated over their capture, praised his traitorous wife for her actions, and tied Xander and her together on the chair, but her mind had still been numbed by Cynthia’s declaration.

Bind Angel’s soul? That was so many good things and so many bad ones all rolled into one.

Now, as Angel stormed into Kenny’s receiving room, Buffy in tow, the bad side seemed a whole lot clearer. Cordelia suddenly realized just how tenuous her bond with Angel was. A shared dream and a few kisses in the kitchen didn’t exactly amount to lifetime commitment. Even so, Cordelia knew that she was bound to Angel in a way that she’d never been connected to anyone before.

Somewhere between being flooded with visions by the Vocah demon and being sent here, Cordelia had fallen in love with the introverted vampire. If their dream truly was shared, she knew that he at least had an attraction to her.

But did he love her?
Part 13

Kenny’s Receiving Room
12:17 a.m.

Angel’s head spun with a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. He wanted to run over and yank Cordelia off of Xander’s lap and into his arms, then drag her home and make her his. He wanted to, but he knew he couldn’t. He knew it was his possessive nature reacting to the sight of Cordelia sprawled on Xander’s lap, but his demon didn’t want him to acknowledge that. His eyes locked with Cordelia’s, and he tried to communicate his love for her in his stare, but he knew that he probably just looked angry. More accurately, furious.

He turned his attention to the demon who had engineered this mess. He stepped forward, flanked by Buffy and Willow. Anya hung back, staring nervously at Xander.

“Kenny,” he growled. “I’ve brought what you demanded.” He grabbed Buffy’s elbow, shoving her toward Kenny so hard that she fell to her knees. “The Slayer, in exchange for Cordelia.”

A slow, smug smile spread over Kenny’s face. “That was not our agreement. I told you that you would be doing several jobs for me; this was only the first.”

Angel’s jaw clenched. “I won’t be doing anything else for you. I’m finished. Release Cordelia.”

He flashed his demon’s face. “NOW.”

Kenny’s gritty laugh reverberated in the room. “You’re going to challenge me? You are nothing,” he spat. “You have no idea what kind of power I have.”

“You’re the one who’s wrong,” Angel warned, taking another step closer to Kenny. “What do you want Cordelia for, anyway? She can’t do anything for you.”

“A seer is worth a great deal of money,” Kenny said, motioning for a guard to step between himself and Angel. “And one as beautiful as Cordelia, well. . .I’m certain her new owner would find several uses for her.” He smirked lewdly.

Angel swallowed the intense rage sparked by the demon’s innuendo, schooling his features carefully. “And the others? Buffy, Willow and Xander?”

“The same. Buffy will be sold, accompanied by a drug that will give her owner complete control over her, but not lose her supernatural abilities. Willow will have her power removed from her and it will be sold separately. And the boy, well, he’s not much good anymore, is he? He will die. As will his pitiful girlfriend, and you, if you cross me.”

Kenny rose from his chair and began to strut up and down the dais. “This is about money and power, my boy; the two most important things in life. You are too concerned with good and evil. You should look at the bottom line once in awhile; your life would be a whole lot happier,” he advised, sounding for a moment more like a chastising father than a demon mafia boss.

“Happiness isn’t healthy for me, but killing you would be a definite pleasure, so I’ll risk it,” Angel said, ignoring the guard and moving closer. He was stopped as two other demons grabbed him from behind and held him.

Before he could break free, Kenny directed Angel’s attention back to Cordelia and Xander. A demon stood behind each of them, a wicked looking knife at each throat. Angel glanced back at Anya; her situation was the same.

Buffy took that opportunity to jump from her knees, using her now unbound fist to bludgeon the guard nearest her. She was quickly subdued.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Kenny admonished, shaking his head. “Xander must not be very comfortable like that. Buffy’s eyes widened and she stifled a cry as she saw blood trickling from Xander’s neck. His eyes implored her to wait for a better moment.

“The next time you try something that stupid, he’ll be needing a shorter coffin,” Kenny threatened. He turned, sitting back down on his throne. “Ishmael!” he yelled.

At his command, a small, bearded man dressed in crimson robes approached from the side of the room. He knelt before Kenny, raising his gnarled hands to his tonsured forehead and then to the marble floor.

“Your desire, master,” the old man said respectfully, his eyes on the floor.

Kenny smiled evilly. “Begin the ritual to extract the power of the witch,” he commanded.

The guard holding Willow shoved her forward as the shaman stood up, moved toward her and began chanting.

“Ooh me mach macheli ludi nec cherum.”

Willow struggled, trying to invoke her power in the hopes that Riley had been successful. She felt nothing. The guard pushed her directly in front of the shaman.

“Al mahachla ken tira seru,” the shaman’s voice began to crescendo and he lifted his hands, beseeching the gods for power. With glowing fingers, he reached towards Willow’s head.

***

The Shaman shrine, near Kenny’s mansion
12:17 a.m.

Riley crept noiselessly along the outside of the shrine. Through the glowing windows, he could see four robed men surrounding a low flame. They chanted incessantly, their palms and faces raised, gray beards and tonsured heads shining in the firelight. They swayed to the rhythm of their words. If their mission hadn’t been so evil, they would have been beautiful in their harmony.

Right now, though, Riley wasn’t allowed to appreciate beauty of any kind. Not even Buffy’s, he thought bitterly. She’d said she was in love with him, that Angel was in the past and Riley was her future. It only took one trip here to change her tune. Now Riley didn’t know what to think.

Digging up his military training, Riley pushed the negative thoughts to a dark corner of his mind and shoved them in a box marked “think about later.” He padlocked it. Twice. Damn it, that mental imagery crap never worked.

But angry vampires certainly did.

Almost too late, Riley caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He ducked, narrowly avoiding a sword aimed for his head. Rolling, he came up with his crossbow cocked and ready. He aimed, shot, and fired in a heartbeat, his attacker disintegrating.

Riley moved against the wall, protecting his back. More vamps came at him, each weighing him, looking for weaknesses. The first lunged, snarling, only to be staked viciously. Another two attacked him, drawing him away from the wall. Riley kicked one swiftly behind the knees, sending it sprawling to the ground, then delivering a swift uppercut to the other and a stake to its chest. Angry, the one on the ground attacked again, then others from all directions, and Riley kicked, punched, flipped, rolled and staked until he was winded, and still they kept coming.

Several minutes and a lot of dust later, Riley had the last one on the ground.

“Have fun in hell,” Riley hissed, the vampire exploding into dust.

He stood, dusting his pants off, and turned to face the shrine. He looked up, eyes widening, just in time to see a huge battleaxe swiftly descending toward his neck.

Part 14

Riley didn’t have time to think as the battleaxe descended. Not having enough time to roll away, he ducked, protecting his head with his arms and steeling himself for the blow, only to have the weapon glance off his back. He looked up though the cloud of dust, surprised to find Wesley, grinning and clutching a stake.

“Thought maybe you could use a little help,” Wesley said, smirking and very pleased with himself.

“So Giles sent you?” Riley asked skeptically.

Wesley frowned, not happy that Riley considered him a weakling. “I’ll have you know that I’ve been trained extensively in martial arts and other forms of combat.” Wesley straightened his stance, adjusting his jacket and lifting his chin in defiance. “I am quite an—.”

“I don’t have time for this,” Riley interrupted. “Thanks for saving me. Now, what are you doing here? Giles wouldn’t have sent you just to fight.”

Wesley ignored the implications in that statement. “Right after you left, we found more information about the incantation that the shamans are using. They can still perform magic, but everyone else is powerless.”

“So?” Riley said, frowning. “We just kill them, and then Willow can do her thing.”

“That’s not all,” Wesley continued. “The spell protects them as well as the compound.”

Riley’s gaze turned toward the mansion, feeling a sudden helplessness as he realized that Buffy was trapped.

“We can’t stop them?” Riley asked, worried.

“I didn’t say that,” Wesley smiled like a little boy with a big secret. “We have this.” He held up a small scroll, yellowed with age.

“And that is. . .” Riley prompted, irritated at the wasted time.

“Our secret weapon.”

“I thought you said magic wouldn’t work,” Riley said, confused.

“This is their magic. It will work,” Wesley said confidently.

Riley grabbed it out of his hands and turned back toward the shrine. “Then let’s go, watcher-boy.”

Wesley pouted. “Hey, return that to me at once. You don’t know what you’re doing.” He trailed along after Riley.

“Fine,” Riley whispered harshly as they approached the building. He shoved the scroll back into Wesley’s hands. “Just shut up and do it already.” He paused, then: “What?”

Riley’s question had been prompted by the look on Wesley’s face. “We have another problem,” Wesley said, gesturing to another wave of vampires approaching them.

“I’ll take care of them,” Riley said confidently. “You just do the spell. Quickly.”

***

The shaman’s fingers glowed blue as they slowly moved toward Willow’s temples.

“Buffy!” Willow yelled. “Do something!!” She continued struggling against her attacker, but it was as hopeless as a moth trying to escape an elephant.

Across the room, Cordelia tensed, preparing to make her move. Cynthia had loosened their bonds as Kenny argued with Angel. With everyone distracted by the shaman and Willow, she realized that now was as good a time as any.

She sprung up and back, away from the knife, sending an elbow jabbing into a soft spot in the demon’s belly. He grunted and clutched his middle, and Cordelia took the opportunity to knock the knife out of his hand. It flew and landed near Cynthia, who picked it up and concealed it in the folds of her coat. Xander had acted nearly simultaneously with Cordelia. They retreated towards each other, backs facing, and fought the demons as best they could.

In the ensuing chaos, Buffy and Angel jumped into action. Angel gut punched the demon guarding him, and kicked Buffy’s guard under his chin, knocking him out cold. He revealed his weapon, grinning evilly, swinging the blade in a wide arc, then stabbing it into the heart of his unconscious enemy. The remaining guard circled him warily. Angel feinted left and the remaining demon fell for it, giving Angel the opening he needed. The demon’s head severed cleanly from its body, Angel’s sword flashing as it descended.

As soon as Angel had incapacitated her guard, Buffy leapt towards Anya, freeing her with a well-placed kick to her captor’s head. The powerful blow stunned the demon and he sunk to his knees, giving Buffy enough time to whip out her sword and thrust it through his heart.

“Go!” She yelled at Anya, pushing her toward the door and rushing toward Willow.

***

The vamps just kept coming, tiring an adrenaline-depleted Riley Finn. He kicked one, impaling it on a nearby tree branch and ripped the head off another. Dust covered him, a fine coating that softened his features. Sweat trickled from his temples, running a track through the grime on his face.

“Hurry, Wesley!” He grunted, thrusting a stake through a vamp and kicking another back. “I can’t hold them back much longer.”

Just in time, Wesley finished the incantation. On the final word, a chorus of terrifying shrieks sounded, accompanied by a flash of bright light that reduced the remaining vamps to dust.

Wesley smirked at Riley. “Not so useless now, am I, soldier boy?”

***

In time with the flash of light at the shrine, Willow felt a huge charge of energy, as if someone had plugged her into a wall socket. She narrowed her eyes at the shaman in front of her, put on her “nobody messes with me” face, and began her own incantations. At her words, the blue glow in the shaman’s fingers began to inch up his arms, making them shake uncontrollably. He quickened his words and Willow matched his pace, eyes flashing.

Buffy, now confident that Willow could take care of herself, rushed to help Xander. Having been separated from Cordelia, he was backed up against the wall with only a chair between him and the demon. Buffy grabbed the demon’s ponytail and yanked him cruelly around to face her.

“You need to deal with me,” she commanded, planting a powerful right cross on the demon’s jaw.

Angel had had to subdue three more guards on his way to help Cordelia and he almost got there too late. He watched her stumble to the floor, then struggle as the demon tried to subdue and strangle her. The instant before the demon’s hands encircled her neck, Angel grabbed its head and ripped it clean off, kicking the body away and grabbing Cordelia from the ground.

He hugged her fiercely, wrapping his arms around her body and burying his face in her hair. She grabbed him with equal force, trembling from her exertion and terror, just glad to be safe in his arms. They separated in time to witness Buffy’s beheading of the demon.

All four of them turned to watch Willow. By now, the pulsating glow that had once been in the shaman’s fingers had moved all the way up his arms and was now a glowing ring around his neck. He began to choke, trying to chant, but nothing would come out except wheezing. He gasped for breath, and Willow chanted louder, lifting her chin and jerking free from the demon who’d held her.

Slowly, the glow crept up the shaman’s face, light spilling out of his mouth, nose, and ears. Willow raised her hands, eyes flashing, and the light reached the shaman’s eyes, streaming from them like two high-powered flashlights. Suddenly, the light flashed in one intense burst and the shaman exploded, a billion sparks of light flying in every direction like fireworks. The guard who’d been holding Willow fled the room in terror. Willow dropped her hands to her sides and blinked, then swayed and stumbled. Xander ran to catch her.

Buffy and Angel’s eyes met as they both realized they’d forgotten about Kenny in their concern for Willow. They rushed for him, only to see him on his knees with Cynthia’s sword at his throat.

Kenny had watched the entire battle from his throne, his expression changing from arrogant confidence to utter terror as the battle progressed. The terror didn’t last long, however, and rage consumed him. He had jumped up, lunging for a distracted Angel. He was stopped as a sword was leveled against his neck.

It took him a minute to realize that his former captives were all too far away to be holding this weapon. He followed the broad blade to the face of his wife, his eyes widening in disbelief.

“Baby, put the sword down,” he said softly, trying to sound tender, but the hatred in his eyes ruined the effect.

“Don’t you ever call me ‘baby’ again, you bastard,” Cynthia spat, pressing the point of her weapon more firmly against his throat.

Kenny realized she meant business. His face contorted in what was supposed to be hurt and despair, but that emotion didn’t reach his eyes, either. “Why are you doing this? I loved you, protected you.”

“You’re a heartless son of a bitch and you know it. You’ve never loved me, only the power I can give to you. I’d be dead if you could’ve figured out a way to take it from me.” Her eyes narrowed and her voice dropped to a deadly whisper. “You’ve made my life a living hell and I plan to take your head as compensation.”

“But, baby, maybe we can work something—” his words were stopped as Cynthia’s blade sliced through his voice box.

“I told you never to call me ‘baby’ again.”
Part 15

Silence reigned in Kenny’s throne room as his newly cleaved body lay in front of his wife. Cynthia stared at her former husband for a moment, then smiled ruthlessly, wiping her bloody blade on his shirt. She gave her sword to one of her guards, and turned to face Angel Investigations, et. al.

“My mission to the powers is nearly complete,” she said, very gracefully for someone who had just beheaded her husband.

Angel’s lips brushed Cordelia’s ear as he whispered, “Do you know about this?”

Cordelia shivered at the light touch and whispered back, “The Powers asked for her help. They want her to bind your soul.”

His face a mixture of shock and awe, Angel stared at the female demon. He said nothing as she walked regally towards him and placed her hands on his chest. She closed her eyes and began to speak.

“May the soul of the Warrior Vampire, the Champion of the Powers that Be, the protector of the helpless and hopeless, be forever thus. May his cause be strengthened by the power found in happiness and love. May he never forget his past, never worry for his future, never waste his present. May he fulfill his destiny and serve the Powers faithfully.”

As she spoke, her hands became hot, scorching Angel’s chest and burning straight through to his soul. He cried out, his eyes glowing briefly. Then the sensation was gone and Angel’s eyes slid shut.

Angel felt a warmth throughout his body that he’d never experienced before in his life as a vampire. It was fading quickly, but it was as if every dead cell in his body had been given a glimmer of life, warming him to the very fiber of his being. He opened his eyes, locking them on Cordelia’s.

Cynthia smiled at the couple, so obviously in love. They had so much in their future; they had no idea what was in store for them.

“The Powers are pleased with their Warrior and his soul mate,” Cynthia said, smiling warmly at Angel and Cordelia.

Buffy had watched the entire exchange with growing anger. She was skeptical that anything was legitimate to bind Angel’s soul—after all, Giles hadn’t found anything—but the spectacle had looked real. If she knew Angel, though, (and she was sure she did), he wouldn’t risk Angelus to test it out. Her eyes narrowed at Cynthia’s “soul mate” comment, upset that the demon’s gaze encompassed Cordelia and Angel, not Angel and herself. She desperately wanted to change the subject and break up the charged air flowing between Angel and Cordy.

“Weren’t we supposed to save some other people here?” Buffy asked, irritation obvious in her voice.

Cynthia’s eyes narrowed at the harsh tone of the little Slayer. “I will free them, Ms. Summers. Angel Investigations has satisfied its end of the deal and your services are no longer needed.”

With that, Cynthia glided toward the door and exited, her guards following closely.

Cordelia’s Apartment – 4.27 a.m.

Angel had never before known this level of contentment. He sat sprawled on Cordelia’s sofa, its owner draped over him like a blanket, her head resting on his chest. His arm wrapped around her back and his hand curled comfortably just centimeters below her breast, warmed by her skin beneath the cotton of her shirt. He brought his other hand up and smoothed her long hair away from her sleeping face, admiring the smooth profile.

He was so blessed to have her. And for a Damned being, that was saying something.

She was still an enigma to him. She lit his body on fire with her kisses, but it was her soul that had truly enflamed him. Cordelia, in all her tactlessness and bluster, matched his soul in a way that no one else ever had. She took him at face value, looking at the dichotomy of vampire and man as an asset, not a detriment.

For that, he’d given her his loyalty and his heart.

The Sunnydale gang had left just 30 minutes earlier. Riley, upset over Buffy’s wishy-washy attitude toward him, had left immediately after the mission was completed. Giles had thought it best for the rest of them to leave as well; Anya was completely overwrought, Willow was drained, and Xander’s neck needed stitches. Buffy was the only one who seemed okay, but Angel knew better. His parting conversation with her confirmed it.

He and Cordelia had walked the group to the door, Cordelia giving hugs goodbye. She had even started to hug Buffy, but one glance at the icicles shooting from the Slayer’s eyes was enough to make her reconsider. She had been shaken by the hatred she saw there, but Cordelia knew this had to be resolved if she and Angel were to have a chance at happiness. She gave silent visual approval to Angel, then excused herself to the bedroom.

Angel was grateful that Cordelia saw the need for this conversation between himself and his ex. Buffy needed to hear, once and for all, that Cordelia wasn’t the rebound skank: she was his soul mate and she wasn’t going anywhere.

On the way back from Kenny’s mansion, Buffy had reconsidered her opinion on the risk of releasing Angelus. If this soul binding was legitimate, it was worth the small risk. She could have Willow standing by with the curse, just in case. Any chance that she and Angel could be reunited was worth any risk.

As soon as the door shut behind her friends and Cordelia disappeared into the bedroom, Buffy’s features softened and she lunged at Angel. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she hugged him tightly, ignoring the fact that his arms remained at his sides. Pulling back, she looked up at him coquettishly through her long eyelashes.

“I’m so glad they’re gone,” she said, smiling tentatively. “I’ve been waiting to be alone with you since we got here.”

When he didn’t say anything, she continued. “Isn’t there someplace else we can go. . .to be alone together?” She emphasized “alone,” and Angel knew he couldn’t hold out any longer.

He knew instinctively that this was going to be worse than the break-up talk.

“Buffy,” he began, gripping her shoulders and gently pushing her away. “I can’t do this.”

Buffy feigned ignorance. “Oh, I know! In Cordelia’s apartment, that would just be wrong. On so many levels. So lets go someplace else!” she grabbed his hand, trying to pull him toward the door.

“No, Buffy.” Angel held his ground. “That’s not what I meant and you know it.” He ran a hand through his hair in frustration.

He tried again. “I meant what I said last night, Buffy. I’m in love with Cordelia.”

“No, you’re not.” Buffy said confidently, a stubborn set to her jaw.

Angel was shocked. She dared to question him on this? She of all people knew that he didn’t throw the word “love” around lightly.

“I am, Buffy. You have to accept that,” he said harshly.

“You are not in love with Cordelia Chase,” Buffy argued adamantly. “She’s a conniving, manipulative little bitch who whines if she doesn’t get the best of everything. She’s manipulated you into thinking she’s something she’s not. She knows you’re the best and she wants you, even though she knows you’re mine.”

Angel’s eyes had narrowed at Buffy’s careless words, the irises darkening until they were as black as his pupils. His jaw clenched painfully.

Buffy missed the warning, too caught up in her own pain and denial to notice. “You can’t love Cordelia and she can’t love you. She doesn’t have a heart, just a country club membership and a Visa Gold Card.”

Angel moved so quickly that Buffy didn’t even see it until she felt the excruciating pain in her upper arms as he gripped them brutally. “Don’t you eversay anything like that about her again. You never took the time to look past her image and see the beautiful heart underneath.”

“I. love. Cordelia, Buffy. Deal with it,” he growled, shoving her from him and turning away in anger and disgust.

“Angel—” Buffy realized she’d gone too far, desperation having driven her to drastic measures. She reached a hand out to touch his shoulder, and he whipped around, snarling at her.

“Just go home, Buffy,” Angel said, weariness lacing his harsh tone.

“I just want—,” her voice broke. “I just want back what we had. I love you, Angel,” she whispered, tears pooling in her eyes.

Angel’s eyes melted a fraction, but the anger and mistrust were still present. “Buffy, what we had is over. You have something great waiting for you at home and you don’t recognize it. Riley isn’t my favorite person, but he is a good guy, Buffy. He doesn’t deserve this.”

Buffy choked back a sob; these words, more than any declarations of love for Cordelia, convinced her that she’d really and truly lost him. If he still loved her, he wouldn’t be championing Riley.

With one last, longing look at Angel, she nodded, then turned for the door. Silently, she opened it and exited, shutting it behind her.

Now, alone with Cordelia in her apartment, Angel was finally at peace. He knew his life was far from perfect, but the fact that happiness was within his grasp brightened the horizon in a way that had never been offered to him before. He gently caressed Cordelia’s sleeping face, then picked her up and carried her to the bedroom.

Angel laid her down on the bed and slipped in beside her, arranging their bodies into one lumpy shape in the darkness. Gripping her tightly, he whispered, “I love you, Cordelia Chase. Forever.” He reverently kissed her forehead, the drifted off to sleep in the security of her warmth.

***

Cordelia awoke with the feeling that she was forgetting something really important. She struggled to open her eyes and remember, but she was so comfortable that she almost couldn’t bring herself to. Something big was draped halfway across her body and her arm was asleep. She slid her heavy eyelids open and flinched, finding herself not more than two inches away from Angel’s face.

He was awake, staring at her, and Cordelia was so startled that she froze until he blinked and his serious expression shifted into something softer.

“Hi,” he said softly, smiling, the corners of his eyes crinkling up slightly as he reached out a hand and brushed unruly hair away from her cheek.

“Hi,” she said, smiling back sleepily, raising her own hand to stroke the side of his face.

They stared at one another for a moment, enjoying the touch, basking in the warmth of each other’s love, even undeclared.

Angel said it first. “I love you, Cordelia.”

Cordelia’s smile turned wobbly, but she didn’t cry. “Angel, I love you, too. I don’t know how it happened, but—,”

“Me, either,” he answered. “But I know it did.” His expression turned fierce and he grasped her around the waist, pulling her close. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you again, Cordelia. I promise.”

“Angel, don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Cordelia said, rushing to an explanation as he began to argue. “No, listen. We face danger practically every day, and there’s no way that you can keep me safe all the time. I realize that. But I know you’ll do everything you can to keep me from being hurt, and I’m thankful for that,” she explained, mollifying him.

“You know,” she said, a secret smile stealing across her face, “I would’ve been a lot safer if I knew how to fight,” she hinted.

“Fight?” Angel asked innocently, acting as if he had no idea what she was talking about. “I don’t know, Cordelia. You’re kind of, well, girly,” he insulted, trying to hold back the grin that was threatening to break free.

Her mouth dropped open in indignation. “Girly? And you’re such a manly man yourself, Mr. ‘I spend 30 minutes on my hair in the morning.’ You’re such a dweeb.” She socked his gut playfully.

“Dweeb?” His grin turned naughty as he said, “you are going to be punished for that, Cordelia.”

She recognized the look in his eyes and shrieked, laughing as she tried to pull away from him. He held fast, and she had no hope. “Oh, you’re asking for it,” he said, then attacked her, tickling her mercilessly.

Cordelia’s shrieking stopped abruptly as his touch turned lighter, making her gasp at the new sensation. She had arched her back in an attempt to get away from him, but now it was in an effort to get closer. His fingers stroked her sides lightly, from her hips to her underarms, all the way up to her fingertips, and her senses became so overloaded she felt tingles in the ends of her hair. He continued stroking, and she slowly sank back down into the mattress.

He stopped, and she opened her eyes and stared into his. “I want you so bad, Angel,” she said bluntly, a huskiness in her tone.

“And I want you,” he returned, sinking his body down onto hers, aligning them perfectly. Gently and reverently, he brought his head down to hers and kissed her.

One taste, and neither could get enough. Cordelia attacked Angel voraciously, not willing to wait for anything. Her tongue thrust into his mouth, seeking his and rubbing against it sensually. She pulled one leg out from underneath him, bending her knee and placing her foot on the mattress for leverage. She pushed, sliding herself higher up underneath him, and every nerve ending in both their bodies screamed at the friction. She repeated the action, rubbing her tongue and her body against his simultaneously until the heat it created became almost too much for both of them.

Angel took control of the situation, reaching his hands down and pulling off Cordelia’s shirt and bra in motions that were so swift she almost didn’t notice. She whimpered at the loss of his mouth on hers, but she was rewarded for her sacrifice as he bathed an aching nipple with his tongue. She buried her hands in his hair, then down his back and shoulders, tracing his shoulder blades through his shirt and setting his skin on fire. He sucked rhythmically at her breast, lightly grazing her with his teeth, and she arched her back off the bed, moaning.

Cordelia grasped both sides of his head, pulling him away from her breast and back to her mouth, her tongue seeking his once again. Frustrated, Cordelia yanked his shirt open, buttons flying, and shoved it down his arms. He threw it aside, then melded them together once again, skin against skin. She brought her legs around his hips, rubbing herself against him, and Angel growled against the heated contact.

Cordelia dragged her mouth away from his. “I can’t wait, Angel. I need you.”

Angel agreed completely. In mere seconds, the rest of their clothing was gone, and he stretched out on top of her, his cool length fusing to her heated one. One hand slid down to cup her backside, squeezing gently.

“I love you, Cordy,” he whispered, kissing her lightly and joining their bodies into one.

The feeling of Angel inside of her was so intense that Cordelia’s heart stopped for a moment, her jaw dropping. Her wide eyes stared into his as he held there, waiting, his control hanging by a fragile thread. She breathed again deeply, returning his declaration: “I love you, Angel.”

That was all he needed. He buried his head in her neck, moving slowly within her, then increasing the pace as she arched against him. He kissed her throat, her chin, and finally her mouth once again, their tongues sparring. His pace quickened, increasing along with the intensity of sensation and desire. Cordelia reached the peak first, scraping her nails down his back and wailing, every cell in her body shimmering with pleasure. She opened her eyes just in time to witness Angel’s moment of pure bliss, his body shuddering, then slowly sinking down to rest on hers.

Cordelia smiled in the half light and lovingly stroked his back as he collected himself. He raised himself up on his elbows just about the time that Cordelia was starting to feel all tingly from lack of circulation.

“Hi,” he said again, this time his voice laced with the pure contentment only sated lovers can manage.

“Hi, yourself,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows at him saucily and laughing. Her expression turned thoughtful. “Hmmm . . . what else can I say to insult you?”

“Huh?” Angel said, perfectly clueless.

“Shhhh!” Cordelia said, her finger to her lips. Her voice dropped to a stage whisper. “I’m trying to figure out how to get my boyfriend to ‘punish’ me again,” she said, then giggled, smiling widely.

“I think that could be arranged,” Angel said seriously. “Although I think the last punishment wasn’t severe enough,” he added, his lips curving into a wicked smile. He immediately dropped his lips to her collarbone and began kissing her, moving down between her breasts and to her belly, his destination clear.

“I think you might be right,” Cordelia said breathily, her eyes crossing as he reached his goal.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Cordelia had coherent thoughts just waiting to be brought out. Those could wait for later, though. Right now, Angel was all that mattered.

He loved her, and she had given him perfect happiness.

Nothing could be more right than that.


…THE END…


 

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