Displaced


AUTHOR: CydneStorm
SUMMARY: Angel returns from Sri Lanka to find that Cordelia has had an epiphany of her own.
RATING: NC17
POSTED: 14 Jan 2007
CATEGORY: Angst with some Humor and lots of Sexual Tension
CONTENT/PAIRING: A/C with A/C/W Friendship
WARNINGS: Sexual Content
FICPIC CREDIT: CydneStorm
AUTHOR’S NOTES:
1) Decided late last night to try my own challenge.
2) This part was written rather quickly, so apologies if that or the absence of a beta check shows. Promise to do better with the next part, and in the meantime, be kind.


ficpic_displaced


PROLOGUE

Her face buried inside splayed palms, Cordelia helplessly waited for the burning ache inside her head to subside. It had been almost two hours since the vision. Evil had been defeated, an innocent saved; and still, the physical anguish lingered. Tired of being a pathetic lump on Wesley’s sofa, she cautiously lifted her head; then risked a slow flutter of her eyelids. The costly mistake renewed her stomach’s sickening churn, and ignoring the concerned looks thrown in her direction; Cordelia closed her eyes, temporarily content to wait a little longer.

The visions were getting worse, or maybe, she was getting weaker as human frailty fell victim to the mystic messages not meant for her. Pretending that she was okay, soon wouldn’t be an option. With each recovery taking longer, her friends were bound to get suspicious. And if the worried glances were any indication, they already were.

Fate hadn’t only dealt her the wrong hand, Cordelia realized. Each time Wesley and Gunn stood against a demon from her vision, they risked their lives for a mission that wasn’t meant for them. One by one, they had joined the battle against evil, each believing they were doing their part for the greater good. But the sad truth was, they were hardly more than innocents themselves, trapped by circumstances beyond their control.

Buffy had died; and Angel consumed by grief, had left in search of answers. And just as they had during his first crisis of faith, they stayed, they fought, and pretended nothing had changed.

But everything was changing. Reality was stepping out of the dark shadows and into the harsh light of day. Real friends turn to one another in times of need, but for the second time, Angel chose to be alone rather than find solace in their friendship.

How long would he be gone this time? His epiphany had taken months after Darla’s reappearance; and losing Buffy was ten times worse than any failure he might have felt over Darla. The weight of Cordelia’s final realization was almost unbearable. Angel may not come back this time. What good was redemption, or the promise of his shanshu, if he’s lost the only person he’d want to share it with?

A few slow, steady breaths and Cordelia let her own epiphany seep in, replacing hopelessness with determination. She would grieve later for the loss of her friend; because right now, it was time to take back control of her life.
Cordelia forced her eyes open again, this time willing away the pain searing through her skull. “Wesley, we need to talk.”
PART ONE

Wesley studied the dingy hovel Mr. Atherton insisted on calling an office. Far worse than their last hastily obtained space, it appeared even the rodent population had left the ramshackle dwelling in search of better accommodations.

“A thousand a month, you say.” Wesley stroked his chin, rolling his eyes in Cordelia’s direction. “The place is… it’s rather-”

“It’s a dump.” Cordelia interrupted, irritated by Wesley’s stammering grope for a politically correct description. “And we’re not taking it.” Meeting over, she grabbed Wesley’s arm and yanked him outside, slamming the rickety door behind them.

With her new lease on life, Cordelia was determined to shed their old image of the odd little detective agency that took on strange cases pro bono. They would be a force to be reckoned with. But this new lifestyle required an office that reflected their new image. And suddenly in dire need of working capital, Cordelia Chase sprung into action.

“I think I know how we can afford the kind of place we want.”

“Given our financial situation; dare I ask if it’s legal?”

“Legal? Probably. Ethical, I’m not so sure. But let me worry about that while you figure out how to contact The Powers-and check in with Gunn. I don’t want his people getting hurt because they’re picking up our slack with the demon fighting.”

“Cordelia, I am still the boss; right”

“Of course you are Wesley.” Cordelia answered, something akin to a grimaced smile contorting her face. “Now scoot. We have work to do.” And with that, she was off on her newly, self-appointed mission.

Wesley, left standing on the sidewalk, questioned for the umpteenth time if they might be rash in their decision. It wasn’t that he disagreed with the unlikelihood of Angel’s return; but rather, he had expected Cordelia to reject the possibility until the bitter end. She must be heartbroken, he reasoned. Why else would she be so determined to erase any evidence of Angel from her life.

~~~ ~~~

“Your call was really out of the blue, Cordelia.”

“Things have been hectic these last few months. I-” Cordelia consciously softened her body language, lips stretching into a demure smile, her eyes sparkled with just the right hint of seduction. “Look who I’m talking to about hectic. You must be one of the busiest men in LA.”

“So how are the guys? Is Angel out defending a helpless from demons?”

“Why talk about Angel when you’re so much more interesting.” Her perfect smile frozen in place, Cordelia brushed her fingertips across his knuckles, just enough for him to feel the friction of their touch. “Besides, Angel left almost three months ago, and no one’s heard from him since.”

“Wow. Wasn’t expecting that. You okay?”

“The truth is,” Cordelia began then pressed her fingers against her lips and tilted her head down

“It’s been really hard being on our own with demons to fight.” And after just the right pause, she lifted her face to share a dainty flutter of long, dark lashes. “Not to mention the financial burden of keeping up that big hotel.”

“I had no idea you were having a rough time. Why didn’t you call me sooner?”

There was a time when manipulation was a prized asset. Then friendships formed and loyalties were sworn; and slowly, personal wants became less important. Using David Nabbit’s concern to her advantage would probably haunt her later, but it was a price Cordelia was willing to pay; and a sin she was prepared to atone if necessary.

“Because this is my problem. I can’t expect you to swoop in and save me.”

“Of course you can. I have more money than I know how to spend.”

“That’s very gracious of you David, but it may be a long time before I can pay you back. And if something more intimate were to happen between us, I’d feel cheap.”

“No strings Cordelia. Just let me help you.”

“Well… If you insist.”

~~~ ~~~

“Jeeze Wesley, will you stop looking a gift horse in the mouth?”

“But shouldn’t there be contracts to sign?”

“For the last time,” Cordelia shouted throwing her hands into the air, “it’s a personal loan with no interest, and no minimum payment. David said we can pay it back whenever we want.”

“Damn Barbie, that must have been one hell of a date.”

“Excuse me?” Being indignant after a night of prostituting herself was a little harder than Cordelia expected. She may not have technically exchanged sex for money, but the dirty feeling clung to her skin just the same. “David Nabbit loaned us the money because he believes in what we do-and I don’t appreciate the slur on my good name.” Cordelia added at the last second, delivering a glare angry enough to disintegrate anyone foolish enough to challenge her.

“Ouch! Retract the claws, girl. I was joking.”

“Well it’s not funny.”

Having little doubt that David Nabbit went home with anything more than false hope, Cordelia’s virtue simply didn’t merit Wesley’s immediate concern. It was how to help his young friend deal with the heartache she so cleverly disguised, causing his current quandary.

“Could we please get back to your meeting with Mr. Nabbit.” Wesley insisted with a stern voice he hoped would reaffirmed his position. “Now, assuming for the moment that accepting Mr. Nabbit’s offer is prudent, I suggest we look for suitable office space.”

“There’s no assumption,” Cordelia asserted. “Because, I’ve already found a place; and it’s perfect.”

“Please tell me you didn’t sign a lease on an office Gunn and I haven’t even seen,” Wesley implored, giving up his subtle attempts to remind Cordelia he was in charge.

“I had to Wesley. David is giving us a year’s lease at half the rent.”

“Cordelia, have you forgotten the rent is paid on the hotel for another month? Good heavens, the way you’re behaving one would think you’re desperate to leave.”

“Desperate?” Cordelia halfheartedly denied. “We talked about this…all of us. And we agreed it was time to move on.”

Wesley looked to Gunn for support, but receiving a wave of surrender instead, accepted that he was temporarily outnumbered. “I must insist that all future commitments will made together.”

“Fine by me.”

“Thank you. Now would it be too much for Gunn and myself to be informed where we will be working?”

A brief hesitation, followed by a visible cringe then the words stumbled from her lips, “1823 Sunset Blvd.”

“Hey, isn’t that your old place?”

“No.” Cordelia quickly answered before Wesley could agree about the familiar address. “Our old place was blown to smithereens in the big bang. And our new office is on the top floor.”

Gunn appeared fooled by the charade, but in all fairness, Wesley doubted the young man truly understood the driving force behind Cordelia’s newfound ambition. Despite her denial, he could see the despair as she dismissed their old place. And the choice to return had to be difficult, regardless of David Nabbit’s generous offer. So for now, he would remain silent, and support Cordelia’s endeavors. After all, Wesley reasoned, for once, it seemed as though time was on their side.

~~~ ~~~
Discarded canvases scattered around his feet, all failing to capture every detail perfectly; Angel’s fingers tightened around the worn-down stick of charcoal as he applied the final touches. Perfection, his mind sighed, letting the charcoal slip from his fingers.

Three months, three days, and sixteen hours had passed without her enchanting laughter and warm touch. And now, the endless hours trapped inside the slow-crawling ship felt like an eternity. But months of solitude was a small price for clarity.

Having left to mourn a loss that appeared to have no end, Angel instead, found closure; the easy discovery bringing in a rush of guilt and remorse. He loved Buffy, nothing would change that, but they had not been in love for a long time. Afraid of letting go and moving on, they had clung to a moment, believing it defined what they should be. And sadly, it took this young woman’s death for him to realize it was time to embrace the life he’d been granted.

Giving the canvas one last scrutiny, and satisfied with the flawless rendering; Angel gently packed it away. A gift for Cordelia, a private glimpse into the sunlight that warmed his soul, even when he didn’t deserve it. Contentment filling him with each mile that brought him closer to home, sleep finally came.
PART TWO

“Wesley! I met with…”

The large muscular frame, the monotone layers of black, the expectant look. Cordelia froze mid-step, unable to speak or pull back her disbelieving stare.

Lips stretched into a goofy grin, his eyes twinkled with the gleeful enthusiasm of a child racing downstairs in anticipation of ripping through the colorful wrappings, and finding that one perfect gift under the tree.

It was a dream, Cordelia rationalized. She was still in bed, waiting for Dennis to wake her with a cup of steaming coffee to soothe the agitations of another restless night.

“Ouch!” But a hard pinch to her arm dispelled any illusion of sleep.

Head spinning and vision blurred, she saw the outstretched hands moving toward her; and with just the anticipation of his touch burning her skin, Cordelia instinctively stepped from his reach.

Angel slowed his stride, confusion overshadowing his previous excitement. Surprise he had expected, but this uneasiness he sensed, the tense line of her lips pressed together, and her nervous retreat, felt like a kick in his gut.

“Cordelia?” He called out in low, raspy whisper. And met with silence, Angel took a step closer; and despite Cordelia’s visible apprehension, attempted to connect with her again.

But before his words could form, a startled, “Good heavens,” followed by a grunted, “Whoa man,” sounded; and hearing Cordelia’s relieved sigh, Angel backed off, offering Wesley and Gun a hesitant nod instead.

The untimely intrusion breaking their strained reunion, Angel looked around the lobby for the first time since his arrival. Except for the obvious attention to cleanliness, the hotel looked much as it had when they moved in. Shelves were empty, supplies packed; and boxes, some sealed and others half filled littered the lobby floor.

“Why are we packing?”

~~~ ~~~

Cordelia stepped out onto the balcony, anxious to enjoy the cool night air, and the rest of her drink without Dennis’ disapproval. No wonder people excise ghosts, she mused. Who knew they were such worrywarts?

“The doctor said I could have an occasional drink, Dennis. Besides, I won’t need the pain medication much longer.” She yelled into the apartment, receiving a hard thump against the glass for her trouble. “Fine, be mad. But the line for pissed off forms here.”

Wesley’s recap of his conversation with Angel hadn’t been surprising. A grunt here and there followed by a few nods, then Angel taking off without saying a word. It wouldn’t have gone any differently no matter who had told him about their plans, Cordelia reasoned. Although, she admitted, hiding out in her apartment like a coward while Wesley dealt with Angel, did up the guilt a notch or two.

Feeling a slight wane in her conviction, Cordelia reminded herself that Angel’s untimely return wasn’t a twist of fate. And try as she might, there wasn’t reason for her to believe anything had changed. Whether now or later, the silent warning screamed inside her head, this move was inevitable; because it was only a matter of time before he would leave her again. “No more,” Cordelia shook her fist against her heart’s desires, determined that Angel would never hurt her again.

Resolve shaky but intact, her thoughts turned to hopes of finally getting a peaceful night’s sleep. But first, she had a disgruntled ghost to pacify.

“Dennis, get ready to apologize because I’m not-”

The almost soundless flutter of the dark coattail caught her eye, a startled gasp blowing only seconds before the wine glass shattered at her feet.

“What the hell are doing?” Cordelia demanded, her voice breaking from the jolt of her back hitting against the railing.

“We need to talk.”

Waves of doubt and guilt faded as anger rose up taking their place. Angel had disappeared for months without a word, and needing to talk, was his explanation for leaping onto her balcony.

“I’m not having this conversation, Angel. Wesley already explained everything.”

Suspecting a spell would prevent him from following, Angel grabbed Cordelia, spinning her around to face him before she could make it back inside.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass about Wesley.” The angry glare and tight hold remained, but his voice calmed to husky whisper as his head dipped bringing their faces closer. “I want to know about you.”

“Okay.” Cordelia seemingly relented, her expression softening to match Angel’s tone. “Let go and we’ll talk.”

Angel didn’t say anything. Just a slow shake of his head as his hands slipped from Cordelia’s arms and slid around her back.

“Don’t,” rushed from Cordelia’s lips as she wrestled her arms between them, getting her body trapped even tighter inside Angel’s hold.

Her warm breath blew against his throat, her heartbeat thumped against his chest; it wasn’t the welcoming embrace Angel had anticipated, but holding Cordelia felt too good to give up. And for the first time in a very long time, the soul, so quick to caution against his desires, remained silent.

“Talk to me Cordelia.”

A faint shake of her head reinforced her earlier refusal, and thinking only of breaking free, Cordelia squirmed inside the snug embrace. Their bodies rubbed against one another, her resistance creating a friction too dangerous for either to ignore.

Angel slid a hand into her hair, his fingers curling around the soft strands as he forced her to look at him. “Stop fighting me.”

Cordelia froze against the raspy plea, anger giving way to the uncertainty reflected in the dark eyes staring down at her. The night air turned hot and sticky, clinging to her skin. And everything that made sense twenty-four hours ago began to fade into a jumbled mess of confusion.

“Cordy? You in there?” Gunn’s voice rang out as his fists hit against the door.

“You have to go.” Cordelia didn’t try to feign a demand, but instead, delivered her request for what it was. A concerned appeal that Angel not remain and force Gunn to challenge him.

There was a slight flicker of hurt, but it quickly iced into anger. Cordelia believed he would hurt one of his own. Her suspicion wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility; but rather, a truth Angel didn’t intend to share. Not while Cordelia trembled in his arms, waiting for an answer.

“Trust me Cordelia. Invite me in, and tell Gunn to leave.”

The request took Cordelia by surprise, realization dawning too late to hide the confusion clouding her eyes. “I can’t.”

Angel realized his standing invitation was probably still intact. But unsure, whether the oversight was proof of their indestructible friendship or simply that Cordelia hadn’t expected him to come for her, he chose not to test his theory with one of her watchdogs sniffing a the door.

“I will be back Cordelia…and we will talk.”

Angel was gone in blur of motion, his departure as silent as his arrival. The encounter was over, but her body continued to tremble. And sucking air into
her lungs, Cordelia leaned against the wall before her knees could buckle under her.

“Cordy,” Gunn yelled again giving the door another hard whack.

“Coming,” Cordelia yelled back, already thinking up the white lie she would tell her friend.

~~~ ~~~

Cordelia shoved the box aside, rubbing her temples before starting on the next one. She was tired, and her head hurt; compliments of another sleepless night and overwhelming apprehension. Angel had assured Wesley he would stay away until they’d finished, but with every creek of the old hotel, her back stiffened and her eyes darted into every corner.

Last night had merely been a temporary setback, Cordelia reminded herself for the umpteenth time. Angel coming back to LA had made things harder, but it hadn’t altered her plan. And once settled into the new office, she would be back on track.
Then the only thing left was convincing The Powers to take back the visions. Without the visions, Angel wouldn’t need her anymore. She would be free of the mission, and free of Angel. Pushing up her sleeves as high as the bruises would allow, Cordelia wiped the sweat from her brow and reached for the last box.

“Need help with that?”

Angel’s arms appeared on each side, his hands sliding over hers as he took the box, placing it onto the stack. Caught off guard, Cordelia stumbled forward, her body tensing when his hands gripped her waist.

“Careful,” Angel practically cooed into her ear. “You might hurt yourself.”

“If I was hurt, which I’m not, it would be your fault, not mine.” Cordelia snapped, pushing down the surge of unexpressed anger and resentment swelling up inside her. “I thought you were going to stay away until we’d left.”

“I was, but I needed to see you.” His head leaning closer with each word, Cordelia shivered when his cool breath blew against her neck. “I wanted to tell you that I’m going to let you leave…” His head dipped until his lips almost brushed against her skin. “…for now. Let you get this little game of playing detective out of your system.”

“Let me? Little game?” Cordelia jerked her head around, her eyes glaring at the egotistical vampire cornering her. “You arrogant bas-”

“Don’t Cordelia.” Angel warned, voice solemn, his barely hidden scowl indicating he wasn’t up to arguing. “I don’t want to fight with you.”

“I don’t want to fight either.” Cordelia admitted, as much to herself as to Angel. “I just want this to be over with.”

She felt Angel’s hands slip away, but her flesh still tingling from his touch, Cordelia thought he might still be there. A part of her wanted him to be there, asking her to stay.

~~~ ~~~

“It’s gonna be a long while until you work your way out, but I know you well enough to know you will. And I’ll be with you until you do.”

The hotel quiet and empty, not a sound or movement perceptible even to honed senses, Angel closed his eyes, bringing the memory closer.
He ran his hands down the sides of the canvas, smoothing out the edges crimpled from the tight clench of his fingers. He would wait, give the sketch to

Cordelia once she understood as he did.

“Nothing about us will ever be over, Cordelia. You of all people should know that.”

PART THREE

“What’s your poison?”

“Scotch.”

“We’ve got a pretty good show tonight. I think you’ll like it.”

“Counting on it.”

Angel tossed a twenty and leaned back, resting his elbows on the bar. He couldn’t care less about listening to the ear-splitting screeches of demons in search of the right path or Lorne living out his fantasy of a flashy Las Vegas megastar. The only show Angel was interested in had just walked through the door.

As if on cue, a soft melody began to play against a backdrop of muffled conversations. The tragic ballad befitting his predicament, a man lost without his woman and edging on the brink of desolation; Angel suspected Lorne was having a little fun at his expense.

Drowning out the melodic cries of the lovelorn, Angel perused his way up spike-heeled boots and tight pants, following a trail of leather wrapped curves to the clingy silk blouse showcasing the perfect glimpse of cleavage. Shades of charcoal dusted around her eyes, brown and hazel muted into the background of dark-hue cobalt.

It had been a long time since Cordelia dressed this way; and knowing this attention to detail hadn’t been for him, a guttural growl rumbled through Angel’s chest that had patrons scurrying to the far ends of the bar.

To those without intimate knowledge, Cordelia exuded confidence. The slight quiver of her bottom lip, her eyes nervously darting around the room, expertly camouflaged from every admirer except one. A slow sweep, her muscles tensing just a little more as she passed over each unrecognizable face, until finally spying her target. Still oblivious to the dark, penetrating eyes following her every move, Cordelia made her way to a small table in the far corner.

His concentration narrowed on his unsuspecting prey, Angel absently nursed his drink, a whiff of a grin tugging at one corner of his mouth. Although as uncomfortable as her informant, Cordelia covered her nervousness with a graceful yet unwavering determination. Other than a sharp wit, and a tongue known to make grown men cry, she had no real defensive skills; and Angel had to admit the woman’s savvy was impressive.

Cordelia slipping a photograph from the envelope clutched in her hand, Angel stretched forward for a better view; but even keen eyesight couldn’t pierce the murky illumination before she quickly snatched the picture away.

The informant shook his head, and Cordelia waved another fifty with one hand while jabbing a finger at his face with the other. A warning that he not play her, Angel suspected; and another grin tugged at his mouth until…

“I hear Crumb Cake’s Honey Bun found a new glaze.”

“Go away.” It was hardly more than a grunt, his intentness never wavering.

“Just offering a shoulder, Growly Bear.” Lorne grumbled back while motioning his order for another Seabreeze. “No need to get grizzly.”

“Cordelia was in here a few days ago; did you read her?”

The man was looking at the photograph again, and by Cordelia’s reaction, she was finally getting the right answers.

“Hard not to read an aura that’s screaming in your face. Kind of like yours is now, not that you’re actually looking at my face.”

“What did she want?”

“No can do big guy. Not unless you want me sharing your secrets-and stop snarling. The place is practically empty and it’s not even ten o’clock.”

Talk of secrets he couldn’t blame on his alter ego caused Angel to miss the last exchange between Cordelia and her informant. He pushed back the damning memory and refocused his attention on the present to find Cordelia already standing with the envelope securely tucked under her arm.

Swallowing the growl in his throat, he pushed from the bar, then stilled when Cordelia turned back and snatched the extra fifty from the table, raising an indignant brow at the man’s protest. And flashing a glint of amusement at the bold move, Angel took advantage of the delay, intent on greeting Cordelia outside the protection of Caritas.

~~~ ~~~~

Hoping to limit her exposure to LA’s less friendly nightlife, Cordelia had purposely parked near the entrance; but not in a million years did she expect to find Angel leaning against the hood of David Nabbit’s Ferrari.

Before she even knew it was happening, a soothing warmth washed over her; like a long hot soak when the bubbles last for hours. Angel and fizzy bubbles, the image brought a smile, for the brief second before her body stiffened and her expression cooled.

“Comfortable?”

“Nice car. It matches your blouse.”

Caught off guard by the comparison, her eyes zipped from the shiny red car to her shimmering red blouse. Although the odd coincidence was more than a little distressing, Cordelia wasn’t about to let Angel know just how much it perturbed her.

“I like them both. Now move so I can leave.”

“Which has the curfew?” Angel grabbed the keys before Cordelia could unlock the door, hungrily taking in the heat from her angry glare and the warm breath swishing from her lungs. “You or the wheels?”

“Neither. Not that it’s any of your business-and why are you here? You haven’t come near us for weeks.”

“I’ve been near, Cordelia. Just keeping my word and giving you time.”

“Then why now? Tonight of all nights?”

Angel’s timing couldn’t be worse if he’d planned it; which Cordelia suspected he did. They had put a lot of time and effort into tracking this informant, then convincing him the demon-killing vampire was no longer working with them. If Mickey saw her with Angel, he’d think they lied, and she could kiss goodbye any further help from the skittish half demon.

“Because you’ve had time.” Angel stepped closer, wedging Cordelia between his body and the car before propping his arms on either side of her. “And I miss you.”

Attempting to maneuver from the constricted space, her face blushed at the rush of memories from their last encounter, bodies rubbing, breaths heaving. So instead, Cordelia stilled, turned her head away and waited for Angel to back off. Time seemed to crawl, and it was getting harder to breathe. The air becoming hot and sticky again, much like it had that night on her balcony. And worse, the large frame holding her in place refused to budge. She hated that his closeness had this affect on her. It was just another indisputable proof that Angel was still a part of her.

“We’ve missed you too. Actually, we missed you for months.”

“I know you did.” Angel trailed his finger across her jaw line. “I shouldn’t have left.” He whispered, enjoying the slight quiver when his finger slid up her cheek and brushed the strands of hair from her face. “And I’m never leaving you again.”

“Stop it!” Cordelia shoved against his chest, the unexpected momentum causing him to almost stumble back before regaining his footing. “We’re not doing this.”

“Doing what, Cordelia?”

“This, you idiot.” Cordelia waved her arms between them. “You, with the hair touching and cooing like a lovebird.” Face red, nerves raw and tense, she clenched her fists as her body shook with a rage that threatened to consume her.

This… For them, the tiny pronoun spoke volumes of unspoken truths. As friends, he had abandoned her; but Angel knew that with each allusion to the lovers they would become, abandonment became betrayal.

Cordelia had betrayed him too, Angel reasoned. She promised her friendship and loyalty even as he warned her of the consequences, pledged her trust over and over again, even when he didn’t deserve it. But now, Cordelia not only wanted to abandon their future, she expected him to stand back and let it happen. And that was a mistake he wasn’t prepared to let either of them make.

“I know I hurt you.” Cordelia drawing back from his touch, Angel eased closer, all the while, gently maneuvering her against the car. “But you hurt me too.”

Cordelia didn’t know what to believe anymore. Except for bits and pieces nagged out of him, Angel had never willingly shared his feelings. Now, she couldn’t make him stop, and as ironic as it sounded, Cordelia almost wished things could to go back to how they used to be; her talking and Angel pretending to listen.

“I didn’t mean to-I didn’t…” And not finding the words, she simply shook her head.

“It’s okay. We just need to stop hurting each other.”

Cordelia looked into his eyes hoping to find some proof that Angel wasn’t just saying what she needed to hear. Whether he was or not, there was fear in his eyes, and Cordelia had never seen Angel afraid of anything.

“You’re right.” Her hand brushed across his chest, stilling when he tensed thinking she would push him away again. “But I need to go. The guys will worry.”

“You shouldn’t be out alone. I’ll drive you back to your…office.” Angel almost choked on the word, but it was something Cordelia needed, and as hard as it was, he intended to support her. That is, unless she took too long to realize leaving him was a mistake.

“Angel,” Cordelia stepped back, blowing a loud huff and rolling her eyes. “We just called a truce. Don’t ruin it by causing another argument.”

“I’m not the reason we argue. Now get in the car.”

“Give me the keys first. I don’t think you should be driving David’s car without permission.”

Too perfectly delivered for a slip of the tongue, her words stung with more force than any slap could. Cordelia driving another man’s car, wearing clothes that were probably purchased with his money. Angel folded his arms across his chest, letting the keys dangle from a crooked finger.

“You shouldn’t be driving that car, Cordelia.”

“Well that’s rather narrow minded. You have a car. You have a freakin’ convertible. And you’re allergic to sunlight!”

“Exactly,” Angel hissed. “I have a car, which means you have a car. We,” Angel jerked his finger back and forth between them, pointing from one to the other, “have a car.”

“Oh there’s just no talking to you.” Cordelia scoffed, rolling her eyes and waving him off with her hands. And deciding to let him argue with himself, she stepped around the arrogant vampire.

Angel’s arm looping around her waist, Cordelia’s feet left the ground as she let loose a scream that could wake the dead. But no one came rushing to her aid. Because there wasn’t a man or beast within hearing range willing to challenge her abductor.

Her trip ending almost as quickly as it began, she felt the hard jolt of her butt landing in the passenger seat. Angel following her halfway in, his nose brushing against hers as he strapped the seatbelt across her; Cordelia squeezed her eyes shut when a cool breathy, “See how easy it is, when we work as a team,” blew against her face.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” She screamed back, but composure regained too late, her answer came in the form of a slamming door. Anger undeterred, her tirade continued full force as Angel settled into the driver’s seat with Cordelia jerking around to meet him head-on. “You’re in big trouble buster. Things have changed, you can’t be bossing me around anytime you like.”

Having ridden this emotional roller coaster as long as he could stand for one night, Angel stretched across the narrow space of the sports car. Eyes glazed, his jaw was so tight with tension an audible crack sounded when he opened his mouth. “You’re right, Cordelia. Things have changed. And unless you want me to show you just how much…shut up.” Control little more than a brittle twig, he clenched his hands to keep from touching her. And his message obviously received, Angel quickly pulled away before he changed his mind.

Cordelia’s mouth opened and closed, the mousy squeak that managed to escape grating her last nerve. With the tattered remnants of common sense convincing her not to talk back, she jerked her head toward the passenger window, and accepted that Angel would have the last word — this time.

~~~ ~~~

“Wesley, I’m back.”

“Thank heavens. I was beginning to worry. What took you so-oomph!”

“Long?” Finishing Wesley’s question, Cordelia threw an annoyed nod at their unexpected guest.

It was bad enough that Angel didn’t think they could run the agency without him. With Wesley practically stumbling over his own feet, she wasn’t about to follow through on her earlier threat. Besides, what was Wesley going to do? Explain to the crazed vampire that accosting former coworkers was against company policy?

“Angel?” Clearing the unmanly squawk from his throat, Wesley half addressed half questioned. “This is…unexpected.”

“Wesley.”

Angel took an inconspicuous check of his surroundings, relieved when he didn’t detect Gunn’s presence. Whether estranged friends or sworn enemies, divide and conquer was an effective strategy. And as palpable as their discomfort was, putting Wesley at ease would be as simple as tapping into his elemental instincts—work.

“Cordelia tells me you guys have a case.”

She hadn’t mentioned the case; but Angel simply asking about their work, Cordelia felt the tug again. How easy it would be to slip back into the familiar routine and believe they could go back. Research, followed by discussion that Angel listened to as a perfunctory courtesy before going off to handle the threat on his own. For a long time their method of fighting evil worked, and made her feel safe. But as reality often does, it shattered her imperfect world, and with it, her imperfect safety net. With another notch of guilt, Cordelia belatedly remembered there were others to consider too. She couldn’t ask Wesley and Gunn to jump through hoops every time a confrontation with Angel had her reassessing the future.

“I’m gonna take off.”

Angel didn’t try to pretend he wasn’t irritated by her leaving, and Cordelia didn’t pretend to care. Snatching her purse from the drawer, she turned from his angry scowl and bid Wesley a quiet goodnight before closing the door behind her. Tomorrow, she would feel guilty over leaving her friend behind; tonight she needed to escape.

“Well,” Wesley wrung his hands uncomfortably. “This is…”

“Uncomfortable?”

“Quite.”

“So the case?”

“Ah yes, the case.”

Unsure of divulging confidential information with someone no longer a part of the team, Wesley was stalling. But unlike Cordelia, his resistance wasn’t fueled by personal motivation.

“I’m just curious Wes, don’t plan on getting involved with whatever you have going on.”

“Well then,” He relented, naively taking Angel at his word. “Christine Stevens, early twenties, discovered in an alley two weeks ago. Coroner determined cause of death to be a miscarriage. A rather violent one actually.”

“How so?” Angel questioned casually, as if feigning his interest out of courtesy.

“Her stomach exploded, and as a result she bled to death.”

“Why aren’t the police handling it?” Angel eased further into the perimeter, pulling a random book from the shelf and flipping through the pages.

“They did, as much as their limited resources allowed.”

“Limited resources? The police?” The book’s spine cradled in his hands, Angel snapped it shut and slid it back onto the shelf.

“The only identifiable DNA belongs to the mother.”

“Identifiable meaning human?”

“Precisely.” Wesley lifted his coveted research, displaying the overstuffed folder with a distinct air of pride. “We were contacted by the detective in charge of the case.”

Detective? Angel was unaware of any detective, an oversight he wouldn’t allow again. But as Cordelia took great satisfaction in pointing out, the building’s original sewer outlets were concreted over during reconstruction; which meant, around the clock surveillance would require the assistance of
someone less restricted by daylight.

Angel caught the slight rise in Wesley’s heart rate, his lungs working a little harder. He was elated sharing the rewards of his investigative hunt, but more important, only minutes from revealing the trespasser that put Cordelia in danger.

“And this detective,” Angel quirked a brow wanting Wesley to fill in the blank, “came to you because?”

“Spade.” Wesley conveniently took the bait. “He needed someone knowledgeable with the preternatural aspects of the case.

“As in Sam Spade?” Angel asked disbelievingly.

“Yes, strange as it is. However, he seemed rather ill at ease discussing the demonic parameters of the investigation, so I felt it best not to pry with personal queries.”

“Go on.” Angel encouraged, taking advantage of Wesley’s concentration to give their new accommodations a closer scrutiny.

“We tracked down a social acquaintance of the victim; but when we arrived, she was gone. According to the apartment manager, Miss Fleming left without giving notice or a forwarding address.”

His head slightly cocked, he took in the surroundings. The architecture was modern, with clean lines; nothing alluded to the old space they had shared.
“And you suspect someone or something didn’t want you talking to this woman?”

“It stands to reason.”

Angel eased into Cordelia’s chair, pressing his palms flat against the desktop. The surface was uncharacteristically free of clutter with only a few neatly stacked files, and what appeared to be a recent photo of the three in their new office.

“And what does this Detective Spade,” Angel rolled his eyes at the ridiculous cliché, “have to do with Cordelia meeting an informant at Caritas. Alone?”
“We were able to ascertain that Miss Fleming spent a good bit time with a Mickey Kyle. But as he was rather leery of meeting with us, Cordelia thought he might be more cooperative if she met with him alone.”

Something was off, and though he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, the missing piece was unsettling. Keeping his ears primed for any usable information, Angel gave the room an intensive scan, until his eyes fell on the back wall. An expensive looking landscape of the city, no doubt purchased secondhand, Wesley’s various degrees and diplomas, and their brand new registered detective license…but not the squiggly sketch of Van Gieson’s statue. Cordelia had drawn it to help him find the demon in her first vision, then later framed it as a tribute to their fallen friend. She had taken it from the hotel, leaving only a shadowed outline in its place. Could Cordelia be so desperate to escape their past that she would destroy the precious memento, Angel wandered, and worried that his search of self-discovery had caused more damage than he realized.

“Angel?” Wesley called out, not getting a response; then stiffened when dark angry eyes turned on him.

“And you accepted that as a reason for Cordelia to be at Caritas, alone with a demon?”

“Technically, he’s half-demon.” Wesley contradicted with a touch of a challenge in his tone. “If you would like to explain the dangers associated with her decision, you’re welcome to take a stab at it. But word to the wise, Cordelia stabs back.”

“Right. You said no, and Cordelia-”

“I believe her response was bite me bossy pants.”

~~~ ~~~

“Yea, like I’m gonna believe anything you say.” Draining the last of his beer, Merl slammed the empty mug onto the bar and headed for the exit. “I’m outta here man.”

“Out there,” Angel motioned with a nod toward the exit, “doesn’t have a protection spell.”

Merl looked at the door just a few feet away then back to the ornery vampire. If he wasn’t afraid of getting his head ripped off he’d suggest the blood sucker get help for his identity crisis. But as the pair of menacing gold rimmed eyes glared down on him, Merle figured there were worse gigs than playing Renfield to Angel’s Dracula.

“Two rules. One, I get paid.” Merle took off again, this time putting a little more haste in his step. Scaly fingers securely gripping the doorjamb, he turned
back just long enough to deliver the final condition of his employment. “And two, you hang me upside down again, I tell that hot little number you’re payin’ me to spy on her.” Having no intention of waiting for the vampire’s retaliation, Merle dashed outside hitting the pavement at a full run.

~~~ ~~~

From his perch on the adjacent roof, Angel peered into the building’s only exposed window. The frantic hustle a few minutes earlier beginning to calm as the last of their wounds were accessed and bandaged.

Her small but loyal army tended to, Cordelia gave into her need for fresh air and stepped outside, providing a better view to inquisitive eyes. Hair mussed, clothes dirty, she had obviously joined the foray; the thought of her possible harm making Angel’s blood boil.

A blanket of bright, twinkling stars, the night sky was beautiful. Too bad she smelled like a week’s worth of unwashed hard labor. Nothing a good soak and scrub wouldn’t fix, Cordelia mused, and turning to find her ride, instead bounded into an Angel-shaped brick wall.

Her breath swooshed as strong hands gripped her arms jerking Cordelia against the hard, unbending frame. Two ebony orbs rimmed by flecks of gold flaring with rage; their encounter a few days ago paled in comparison. Overcome with fear, Cordelia stood frozen, the only movement inside her snug prison, uncontrollable trembling.

“I catch you fighting again, I’ll be paying Wes and Gunn a visit.”

With the span of a blink, she was free; the heavy clamp on her arms disappearing a split second before Angel. Face ashen, and knees a mush of flesh and bone, Cordelia slumped against the building, taking in deep calming breaths of cool air. Blood finally circulating through her veins and her head beginning to clear, she pushed up straight only to be startled again as Gunn rounded the corner.

“Girl you look like you just saw a-”

“Demon?” Cordelia finished. “Yea, they’re pretty hard to miss when there’s so many of them.”

“You okay, Barbie?”

“Just tired.”

“Come on. Let’s get you home so you can wash the stink off ya.”

“Oh like you smell all downy fresh.” Cordelia joked in an attempt to ease Gunn’s concern as well as her own apprehension. Following Gunn back inside to find Wesley, an eerie tingle bristled up her spine, and twisting her head around, she nervously glanced over her shoulder.

Gunn’s truck, a few of his crew heading out for a final patrol before calling it a night; everything she could see contradicted her fears. But Cordelia knew that beyond the illumination of a clear night sky and full moon, somewhere amidst the indistinguishable shadows, Angel was watching.

~~~ ~~~

Bert swung the sledgehammer, any additional leverage created by his extra limbs only managing to chip off a few fragments at best.

“This wall is over three inches thick.”

“Then put another tentacle into it. And keep your voice down. If we get caught…” Merl shook just thinking about the horrors the vampire could unleash when angry.

“I only got the four, and they’re arms not tentacles.”

“Oh, Octopus boy is sensitive. Well get over it, we have work to do.” Merle shot back his agitation as best he could with a hushed tone.

“Maybe I should desensitize your head, lizard breath.” Bert snarled displaying two jagged rows of short, razor-sharp choppers. Although he didn’t cotton to the slur on his appearance or lack of oral hygiene, Merl was no match for that suction cup of a mouth.

“Look man, we gotta work together. Drac wants that wall down.”

Bert was already taking another swing, his tenacity more likely rant-driven than a result of Merl’s encouragement. But whatever the compellent, this time a fairly large chunk of wall broke loose and crumbled to floor.

“Hit it again-Hit it again-Hit it again.” Merle chanted excitedly as Bert repeatedly rammed the heavy hammer, each swing harder than the one before it, until the surface collapsed under the relentless bombardment.

“I thought Dracula was a myth.” Bert questioned, staring up over one shoulder.

“He is…I think.”

“But you said-”

Merl dropped to his knees, joining his cohort in the heap of crumbled mortar. “Dracula is just the psycho vamp’s personality this week.”

“Like that Sybil chick?”

“Yea, only scarier. Like the stepmother.”

“Ooh, that old crow scared me.”

“Exactly.” Merl broke off one of the smaller chunks still clinging to the makeshift passage. “Dig Bert. Dig.”

PART FOUR

“It’s too small.”

The dreaded voice coming out of nowhere, Merle jumped, his momentum sending him on a collision course with his digging partner. Arms flailing, their loads of stone and mortar went flying, duel yelps echoing through the dank sewer tunnel.

“You did that on purpose, you…” Angel’s face expressionless except for an sinisterly arched brow, Merle bit into his tongue, effectively saving his neck in the nick of time.

Stepping over the debris scattered at his feet, Angel peered into the lopsided opening. “Make it bigger.” And satisfied neither lackey would risk disappointing him, dropped two crisp one hundred dollar bills as he made his way down the tunnel. “Don’t be here when I get back,” resonating behind him as his form faded into the emptiness.

“You can count on it, Oh Lord of the Dark.” Merle whispered a sarcastic comeback once certain the ornery vampire was beyond hearing range.

“Is that his name this week?” Bert asked as he hurriedly gathered the fallen rubble into a neat pile.

“Be quiet, the blood sucker has ears like a fox.”

“Wouldn’t he have ears like a bat? Hmmm… Do bat’s have ears?”

“Shut up Bert and get the hammer.”

~~~“~~~

The first stack of papers analyzed until nothing was left to pick apart, Wesley slid it to the side; a weary sigh escaping as he prepared to tackle the next. Page after page of evidence rehashed until crisp corners curled from the tight pinch of fingers and hushed conversation turned to agitated rebuttal.

“You’re wrong.” Cordelia quietly contradicted, rubbing the pads of her fingers down the paper’s side, as though its secret hid beneath the neatly typed ink. “I can’t explain it, but I know he didn’t do it.”

“You’re reacting to emotion, Cordelia. That’s a rather unscientific approach.”

“There’s a reason for that. I’m not a scientist.”

Cordelia took the top sheet from the messy pile, holding it up for Wesley’s perusal. “Detective Spade thinks the man is guilty just because he’s a demon. That’s not very detectivey.”

“Perhaps the good detective’s judgment is clouded by personal opinion, but his conclusion was drawn by facts. Mickey Kyle had the motive and the means.”

“Pffttt,” Cordelia offered Wesley’s know-it-all assumption. “Is that scientific enough for ya?”

“Yes, well, I doubt the police will remove Mickey Kyle from their suspect list because you have a feeling.”

~~~

Gunn’s whereabouts unknown, Angel listened for signs of his arrival as he watched the Cordelia and Wesley go about their work. Despite the current head butting, they had accomplished quite a bit in their investigation, tracking down leads and informants with very little to go on. His friends were managing better on their own than he’d expected; his pride colored only by his regret of not being a part of it.

Thoughts turned again to the third member of the group. Gunn was rarely around during his clandestine visits, making him wander if the young man had chosen returning to his roots over the day-to-day grunge work of a detective agency.

The fight he witnessed a few nights ago could have been a random attack rather than a vision, Wesley and Cordelia simply returning the favor by combining forces. Nevertheless, even with the added numbers, they suffered casualties. And determined that Cordelia would not be a victim because of his mistakes; Angel decided to act before she risked challenging his warning.

“Am I interrupting?”

Heads shooting up, their collective attention shot first to the door they assumed was locked then to their unexpected visitor.

“Angel.” Recalling another time the vampire had forced his way into their office, Wesley motioned for Cordelia to stay put before making his way to the front of the office. “Can I help you with something?”

“I want to make you an offer.”

“An offer?”

“I want to handle the visions.”

“That’s very generous of you, but we have-”

“I think it’s a good idea.” Cordelia headed toward the two men, the rough edge of Angel’s recent warning spurring a faster pace.

Accepting Wesley’s surprised stare for all of fifteen seconds, her hands snapped to her hips, presenting a display of confidence and defiance she neither felt nor deserved.

“It makes sense when you think about it.”

Cordelia would have laughed at her flimsy defense if not for the absurdity of their situation. Angel’s offer was a politely delivered order, making it possible for her concession to merely appear as her own. And staring up at the unshakable resolve glaring down at her, she wasn’t foolish enough to believe compliance was an option.

At the moment, Angel’s motivation was the bigger mystery. Not that she’d ask, or expect an honest answer if she did. It was possible that his refusal to let go was nothing more than a bruised and swollen ego. Angel might leave, but no one leaves Angel. His promised shanshu was just as likely a plausible motive. Although, Cordelia reconsidered, whenever more intimate causes made saving the hopeless unimportant, the mission was forgotten and friendships became disposable.

With a little luck, the incentive behind Angel’s relentless pursuit soon wouldn’t matter. Despite their unexpected caseload, Wesley was making steady progress in figuring out how to contact the omnipotent beings currently controlling her fate. Admittedly, the ritual coerced from a reluctant Lorne was a scary proposition, but for Cordelia, well worth the risk. No visions meant Angel wouldn’t need her, which meant she could finally move on with her life.

“You now want us to work with Angel?” Wesley asked, confused by Cordelia’s sudden change of heart.

“I didn’t say that,” Cordelia hissed, “I’m just saying if Angel wants to fight demons let him.”

~~~“~~~

A long, hot summer came to mind. Not that LA had been unusually warm, or remotely resembled lazy. Lives had been turned inside out…again. Loyalties had shifted, and alliances once trusted, now faced off…again. No, Charles Gunn reconsidered, the cliché didn’t fit after all; and whistling his tune a little louder, began to slow his approach. Whatever lay around the corner had picked up his scent at least three blocks ago. It just didn’t know he was ready for an ambush.

The familiar tingle prickling up his spine, Gunn instinctively shifted his stance. Weapon aimed and ready, he stepped into the dimly lit alley, unprepared for the demon laying in wait.

Arms crossed and heads cocked, the two men sized each other up in a silent stand off.

“Gunn.”

“Angel,” and without skipping a beat addressed his troop, “Since when do we take prisoners?”

“Wasn’t sure if you wanted this one dust,” Rondell declared begrudgingly.

Gunn scanned the familiar faces. Boys forced into manhood before they were ready. Loyal friends he trusted with his life, waiting for him to lead, trusting him to make the right choices and keep his people safe.

“He’s a vamp; ain’t he?”

“Cordelia might disagree.” Gruff, almost devoid of emotion, Angel held his opponent’s stare, while inwardly grappling with the surge of doubts threatening to burn him from the inside out.

“Tell you what, if she has any free time in the next few weeks, I’ll ask her.”

Rondell’s sight never wavering from the cold, dead eyes staring back, his finger squeezed against the crossbow’s trigger.

“Is this where I tremble,” Angel scoffed, “Or laugh?”

“No,” Gunn countered moving a step closer, “this is where you regret a bad decision.”

The young man instinctively guarding his territory, had understandably designated himself alpha male. It was an attitude Angel admired, but one he would only tolerate to a degree. “I do regret leaving my friends…and the mission.”

“Actually, I was talking about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that too.”

Relieved the time-wasted conversation was drawing to an end, Rondell shifted, aligning the arrow’s path with the lifeless heart, only to be disappointed by another interruption.

“Save your arrow for the next one, the vamp’s with us.” With a dull glint of distrust and resentment at calling off his crew, Gun added a deliberate, “for now.”

Utter shock taking over, Rondell dropped his guard; George and the others flanking his sides to voice their protest. “You have got to be kidding me, man.”

With rumors of vampires setting up a new turf and the demon in Cordelia’s vision needing to be dealt with, Gunn held up his hand, effectively cutting off a debate he didn’t have time for.

“Rondell. George. You need to worry about the vamp nest in the old Clover warehouse.”

“And what will you be doing?” George challenged, stepping to the front of the group.

“Killing a Nequa’el demon. Now get movin’ and I’ll meet you back at camp.” Gunn tossed a look in Angel’s direction then back at his men, “Alone.”

One by one the men headed off, grumbles of dissension falling silent beneath the weight of responsibilities.

“So a Nequa’el.” Angel casually mentioned as he strolled past Gunn, making his way deeper into the alley.

“Yea, you know ‘em?”

“Not really.”

Gunn caught up with Angel’s stride, and squaring his shoulders, locked his sight straight ahead.

“Why are you doing this?”

“How do you know it’s a Nequa’el?”

“English looked it up in one of his picture books.”

“I want to help.”

“So you’ve said.”

Regret, forgiveness, trust, just empty words unless promises were fulfilled. With nothing left to say, the two men continued in silence.

“Because I think I can help.”

“How do we know we can trust you?”

“I guess I’ll just have to earn that.”

Momentarily lost in memory, innate senses missed the abrupt change, exposing Angel to the blow coming from behind. Gunn automatically flanked right as Angel sprung to his feet, spinning around and blocking the second strike. Knees threatening to buckle under the massive weight, muscles intuitively tensed, a heavy grunt pushing its way past tight-pressed lips as he shoved the demon toward the readied axe.

Gunn, confident of a swift victory, swung around fast and hard, his axe slicing through the air and landing dead center of its target. He felt an unexpected jolt, the handle vibrating inside his grip; then stumbled back in disbelief when the fine-honed blade practically bounced off the demon’s thick, crusty hide.

“What the fu-what the hell is this thing; rock?”

The demon already turning for a counter attack, Angel lunged for its back, locking one arm around its neck in a tight vice. A larger, stronger claw closed around his hand, the pulverizing force threatening to crush bone. Snarling against the pain, human features shifted, teeth elongated into sharp-pointed weapons and sank into a semi-tender patch of flesh underneath the beast’s jaw.

“You shouldn’t be alone right now.”

“Maybe, but I need some time to myself.”

“When will you be back?”

Gunn brought the axe down again and again. Each strike, harder than the one before it, buried the blade deep into the softer underbelly. The whites of his eyes paled, blending into the dark around them. His heart raced, breaths became wheezing gasps for air, sweat coated his face.
Angel tore into the demon’s throat, his own feral growls blending with the agonizing howls of his prey.

“This isn’t a personal attack, Angel.”

“The visions, battling supernatural elements, requires stability.”

“And I’m not dependable.”

“No, I’m sorry to say, you’re not.”

The demon beaten down with their combined assault, Angel’s relentless attack continued, undeterred by the smell of impending death.

“Trust me Cordelia. Invite me in.”

“I can’t.”

Staggering back, Gunn gave into exhaustion, collapsing to the ground. Blood, thick and black as oil, oozed from the demon, smearing across Angel’s cheek.

“It’s dead, man. You can stop biting it now.”

Nothing… Angel poured his rage into the lifeless piece of flesh, heavy grunts disrupting the dark silence as teeth gnashed against the leather-tough hide.

“Don’t Cordelia. I don’t want to fight with you.”

Disgusted by the scene of bloody teeth and mangled flesh, Gunn struck his fist repeatedly against Angel’s shoulder. “Let it go man. It’s dead.”

Energy spent, rage temporarily appeased, Angel let go, slumping over the dead carcass.

“I don’t want to fight either. I just want this to be over with.”

~~~“~~~

“Giles? You told Giles?”

Cordelia looked at Wesley as though he’d grown a second head, although, considering her wide-eyed shock, he might have sprouted a third.

Yes, Cordelia. I called Giles. Is there a problem?”

“Of course there’s a problem. What if he tells someone-what if Angel finds out?”

Her arms flailed at the absurdity of the man she’d believed to be intelligent, her fingers pointing accusingly at the idiot that had proved her wrong.

“Giles was most helpful in translating the ritual; besides, who would he possibly tell that would have reason to speak with Angel?”

Okay, he had her there. No one in Sunnydale cared whether or not she had the visions. And no one in Sunnydale talked to Angel except Buffy and she was gone. Oh God. Buffy is dead and Angel is heart broken. No. No. No. Cordelia silently wailed. No more guilt. Angel didn’t need her then and he doesn’t need her now.

“You’re right. I overreacted. So what does this ritual include, a ceremonial hat, live chickens?”

“Good Lord, Cordelia, nothing as grotesque as animal sacrifices. Although, as the bearer of the visions your blood is required – a minimal donation, I assure you,” Wesley quickly added when confronted with her horrified expression.”

“Okay, a little blood; what else?”

“I need to procure the tail feather of a dodo bird, and of course, the dodo bird being extinct for more than three hundred years, plumage may prove difficult to come by.”

“Blood, tail feathers. What else?”

“The remaining ingredients can be readily found in LA, so as soon as I can track down an apothecary that deals in rare antiquities and a shaman, we should be ready to begin.”

Cordelia had to admit, hearing how close they were to actually performing the ritual, anticipation was definitely overshadowing Lorne’s caution of playing with fire. So what if she got a little burned, the doctor had already told her it was only a matter of time before the migraines became life-threatening.

“Great! All that stands between me and a normal life is a dodo. I’ll be free Wesley. Free of the visions. Free of Angel.”

I’ll be free… I’ll be free… I’ll be free…

Excitement waned with each resonation, Cordelia shivered from the cold, desolation crawled over her.

No more Angel…

~~~“~~~

“Where’s my money?” Merle risked a cheeky attitude. He’d labored all day. He deserved it.

Angel reached into the drawer, and with a flick of his wrist tossed a fifty across the desk.

“What do you have for me?”

“I followed a pretty girl all day man, whadda ya think I got? You know,” Merle looked around the messy state of their surroundings, “most people tidy up a little when company’s coming.”

Hands pressed together, his chin resting on the tips of his fingers, Angel leaned the chair back as far as it’s springs could tolerate and said nothing.

“Well excuse me. Forgot this was a working relationship.” Merl jerked his fingers in front of his face, snapping quotation marks around the phrase. “Last I saw her, your squeeze and the professor were talking about vision rituals and being free of you.”

Angel’s spine stiffened, the added clench of his jaw sounding an audible pop. Cordelia thought the visions kept her tied to him. It was time she discovered the ties that bind, and Wesley learned a lesson in boundaries.

“But it don’t sound like they’ll be doing it anytime soon. The professor said something about needing a dead bird and a shaman.”

“The sewer tunnel?” Angel asked, abruptly changing the subject.

“Man you just don’t let up.”


TO BE CONTINUED. . .

THIS FIC APPEARS TO BE UNFINISHED


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