Three Blind Mice


AUTHOR: HELEN
SUMMARY: This is for Debs (Damnskippy) based on her Millennium Challenge. Details below:
What if what was predicted for the year 2000 had come true? What if all the computers crashed, there was no electricity, no heat, food stores dwindled, and chaos ruled the streets? What would have happened at Angel Investigations?
Challenge: Set mid-S1 sometime after Hero. Cordy has the visions, Wes has just joined the group and New Year’s Day hits with a bang. The human population is in chaos and the demon world is taking advantage of it. Cordy is deluged with visions almost constantly due to the increase in violence in both the demon and human worlds. Wes and Angel are going nuts trying to save the helpless but at the same time they’re both worried and scared about the damage all the visions are having on Cordy. Add in the search for food, trying to keep warm (even in LA it gets cold in the winter), and the fact that Angel’s blood supply begins to dry up and things get dicey. You can add in a struggling and beseiged Kate if you like that character.
I, of course, would LOVE a build-up of closeness between C/A with eventual smut, but if you can’t work that in at least the promise of romance.
RATING: R
POSTED: 17 Aug 2004
CATEGORY: ANGST / ROMANCE / SMUT
CONTENT/PAIRING:
WARNINGS: Violence and Graphic Sexual Content
FICPIC CREDIT: DamnSkippy
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) I’ve speeded a few events along to fit in with the story. Also, water isn’t a problem. Not true to RL I know, but this is fiction so bear with me! Also HUGE sloppy kisses, snogs and hugs to Cali for the beta and Debs for the cheerleading and the fab pic!!


ficpic_threeblindmice


CHAPTER ONE

“Dontcha just lurve time travel?”

Forgive the sarcasm or not since, well… it’s kinda my forte. What I really mean is that I hate time travel. Think of a big, black suck-the-life-out-of-you black hole then add in a whole new world of pulling, spinning and ugh, puking. Believe me science fiction can keep it. Really… just keep it far, far away from me.

I also have this new perspective on New Year. Forget fireworks and bubbly; think of all the lights going out, no phones, radio or TV, no money for food… hell, even the food that was left soon went. All in all not the best party I’ve ever seen or ever want to experience ever again. It didn’t end with the night either, or the next or the one after that.

Typically in the end it was up to us to save the world, or my head, which was essentially the same thing since the damned visions were about to cause it to implode or something. Trust me, fried brain wasn’t in it. Okay, enough with the imagery. You get the picture, right?

One Month Earlier…

The vision didn’t just knock Cordelia off her feet. It catapulted her back the three ft between her and Angel’s desk with helplessly out-flung arms nearly knocking the lit candelabra off his desk.

Lucky for both of them Angel had been surreptitiously watching her, flicking looks up from the creased and well-fingered sheaf of handwritten papers in his hand. Seeing the by now familiar seizure when it first hit, he was already up and with one hand swept the candelabra up while wrapping an arm around her back, hauling her to him rather than let her crash onto the un-giving surface of his paper strewn desk.

Under his hand Cordelia’s back arched and face scrunched up in pain while slim hands crushed and twisted his plain black sweater at the neck, unknowingly pulling their bodies closer, lost in the not so pleasant thrall of yet another vision. Her third one that day. Not good, not good at all. The glow from the candles lit her face with an unsteady orange glow and Angel mourned the exhausted sweep of black under her eyes even as he did the only thing he could do to help her, listened intently to every stuttered word falling from too pale lips.

“Sternack demon… sewers, North Alameda-”

In the middle of it, Wesley swung in through the door from the outer office so fast he skidded on the scuffed hardwood floor. Dropping the prized bag of scrounged apples to take the candles off Angel, he brushed Cordelia’s long dark hair off her face, removing his hand quickly so as not to crowd her when she blinked rapidly. It was a false alarm. The vision wasn’t ready to let go of her yet. Cordy spasmed again.

“-it’s shedding its skin and…” her shudders of revulsion were strong enough that Angel felt every single ripple, “there are people too. God, they wanted food and went raiding to get it.”

The blinking was real this time as were the tears of pain sparkling on those self-same lashes as she whispered, “That’s it that’s all I got.”

Angel unclenched his jaw to say soothingly, “It’s enough. Get some rest and we’ll back soon.” Keeping hold of her shoulders while Wesley dragged over the chair from the window he watched out of hooded, concerned dark eyes as she sank into it. To his eyes she did that too carefully as if her bones were old and brittle and might break.

If the visions were happening to anybody other than Cordelia Chase he was convinced they’d have broken already. Guilt raked with steel talons. The prom princess was gone and he was torn about that, among other things. Wesley rising up from solicitously handing her a glass of precious bottled water caught his gaze, twisting his lips as he easily read the vampire’s thoughts. Cordelia’s suffering concerned them both but Angel took it very personally.

“Ready?” asked Angel shortly, it wasn’t really couched as a question.

“When you are.”

Hating the helplessness but knowing that delaying to try and offer comfort would only prolong her pain, Angel settled for striding to the makeshift weapons cabinet he’d installed upstairs to save precious seconds. The old file cabinet had sticky drawers, but thumping the top first had them sliding right open, “Sternack’s, they like to use human skin during the replenishment process, right?” Angel asked, tossing Wesley a distracted look as he rummaged.

Finally something he did know off the top of his head, “unfortunately, yes. Twice yearly they come to the surface, consume twice their weight in fresh meat and then slough off the old skin. Afterwards, using the removed skin off their victims they form themselves a new one using a mixture of saliva and …”

“Hey! Enough of the details and get with slaughtering already, God!” The irate voice loudly interrupting from Angel’s office had both man and vampire stilling for moment before Angel promptly tossed the ex-watcher a throwing axe from the drawer and a scimitar sword from the rack next to it.

Who needs pep talk? Nothing got the two males moving faster than a pissed Cordelia, half their weight or not. Grimacing and miming for silence Angel, now gripping his favourite broad sword with its plain hilt and bronze pommel, snagged his leather duster and lead the way out. Cordelia wanted this vision taken care off pronto, but no more than Angel did. Then he could get back and … what?

Try and take care of her? Yeah, as if he was doing such a stellar job of that right now. Fury at fate’s merciless indifference had never felt so useless, but it was good for keeping his darker, violent side well oiled.

Outside Angel’s apartment building night held sway in a way previously unimagined by the citizens of the City of Angels, before the Millennium bug dropped them back in the dark ages. Nowhere in the world worshiped the automobile as much as California with LA being the brightest of temples. That being so the quiet, utterly complete blanket of night was a singular shock, with nary a single pair of headlights to break the black on black of a city without power, fuel or the means to defend itself from the creatures that thrive in the dark.

Even the quiet lasted only as much distance as it took for the demons to feel comfortable they were out of Angel’s immediate range. After that they owned the place with distressingly few exceptions.

Without gas for the Plymouth getting around had been a major problem. That was until Angel and Wesley had stumbled onto an overlooked gas station with a set of keys to open the sealed underground tanks. Filling up was dangerous to the say the least, especially with none of the pumps working. Typically Angel refused to let Wesley try it, despite the ex-watchers very logical argument that being a vampire Angel was every bit as susceptible to fire as humans. That wasn’t the point he said shortly refusing to be swayed. End of discussion.

Now, night vision goggles firmly in place Wesley sat in the passenger seat with Angel driving. They looked ridiculous but after the goggles, whipped of a Wolfram & Hart security guard, had saved his life a time or two Wesley no longer found them such a nuisance.

The yellow hazed landscape was no better for being visible. Gutted cars stripped of everything remotely useable hung limply off curbs with the bare metal of the wheel digging into the sun-softened tarmac. Fire gutted apartment buildings lined the street on both sides with streaks of soot rising up to scorched roofs caused either by careless tenants or possibly marauding demons.

That was the problem with civilisation being yanked back by a millennia, thought Angel driving with his mind only half occupied with navigating. The demons promptly lost their shyness in the face of world turned blind and helpless. Looking back it was even worse than in Angelus’ day, at least then the humans knew how to light fires without matches, heat their homes and grow their own food. Now thousands were dying and it was all thanks to having no power.

The dead were hastily buried, the dying soon followed them and everyone else was left living a half life, still shell-shocked that this nightmare was real and that there was nowhere in the world that could offer them any help.

Wesley interrupted his doom-laden train of thought, “What a truly awful mess. Do you ever despair if what we do makes a difference anymore? I mean, how do we truly know which is the subject of the vision with so many possible to choose from?”

Angel heard the screams and wails too but was so busy trying not to get mentally transported back into his evil past to make any mention of it. However, that kind of talk from Wesley was bad enough to have him throwing the ex-watcher a frowning look. Great all he needed was Wes giving up hope. Frustration roiled, coiling him tighter and leaving him wondering how he was supposed to have enough hope for both of them when he could hardly bother getting up out of bed some afternoons?

“We go where the powers send us, Wes, and hope they know what the hell they’re doing,” was all Angel could dredge up as he pulled in. He hadn’t been this happy to arrive somewhere in a long time. Being a borderline evil creature, soul or not, making small talk was bad enough, but offering encouragement was his idea of hell on earth. One of them anyway.

“Is this it?” Chain link fencing separated the highway from the storm drains beneath them.

Getting out Angel quickly explained, “North Alameda has several access points, but this one has a maintenance section big enough for an ambush, so it’s the first stop.”

“Sounds reasonable,” agreed Wes too brightly climbing out too and unsuccessfully hiding the nerves he still battled with. He needn’t have bothered, Angel didn’t have a problem with nerves, reasoning who is braver; the one who feels nothing going into battle or the one who fears it yet still gives his all? “Let’s go before Cordy starts sharpening the butcher’s knives.”

Landing with a crunch on the smooth concrete the pair snuck down into the sewers with Angel taking point and using every one of his preternatural senses to seek out and identify problems ahead. Only problem was the smell of humanity was rife, along with sweat, fear and adrenaline. A potent mix to a starving vampire and his mouth watered enough that he was forced to swallow convulsively.

If Cordy and Wes knew the things he did to stave off that gnawing ache in his gut they’d stake him. Screw it, he might just let them. Forget that and focus before a stake between friends becomes a moot point. Good advice pity that voice kept getting fainter by the damn day.

Maybe it was that hunger but he located the humans in the dim dank interior before the demon and rounding a bend met the sharp end of some serious looking weaponry, “Hold it right there, fool, my boys and me, we got here first so the food’s ours. Do yourselves a favour and turn around.” The voice was young, brash and meant business.

Taking off the goggles rather than risk getting blinded by the rather ingenious lanterns in a bottle their blockade had strategically placed in the tunnel, Wesley focused on one of the man-shapes tucked behind a huge dirty grey inlet pipe and tried reason, “We don’t want the food, there’s a Stern-”

“Everybody’s interested in food… ‘less their already dead that is. You dead, boy?”

Depends who you’re asking, “You’re in danger. There’s a Sternack waiting for you,” Angel advised neutrally, keeping back and trying to appear harmless with not so much as a single aggressive bone in his large intimidating body.

Equally dark eyes narrowed in a taut cynical face under a navy bandana, “I may be young but I ain’t dumb. You coming in here tells me you knew about the stash. Man, that’s all I need to know.” Smirking Charles Gunn tightened his finger on the crossbow’s trigger, held in cold steady hands, “Besides, you’re too late,” he advised, raising his voice to be heard deeper inside, all without taking his eyes off Angel and Wesley, “Yo! You about done, Chain? Time to head out, Bro.”

“There are more of you?” Wesley turned to Angel, “Well, if that doesn’t ring the dinner bell nothing will.” The message, along with tellingly raised brows, was loud and clear. Angel nodded and tucked in his chin raising his hands as he walked closer, “You can choose to believe me, or you can die. It’s up to you”.

Stiffening Gunn walked out from behind his shelter too, each sure stride rife with aggression, “Far enough, man, or I stick you with this. Think I’m not serious?” his eyes had a deadly quality that Angel recognised all too well. The gritty resolve to survive coupled with the will to strive and win shone through the murkiness of the sunless underground.

“I know you will,” Angel replied softly not stopping his slow advance; keeping the man’s eyes locked on his with a sure skill borne of his predatory nature. An element the battle-hardened street fighter sensed but couldn’t pin down in time.

Was this guy nuts? “Dude, who are you?” he had to ask. Unwillingly his palms went damp but the hands holding the crossbow remained steady enough. Another step and this fool was dead. No one took what Gunn had marked for him and his people. It was dog eat dog world and he was nobody’s dumb bitch. Still, he swallowed and sweat trickled down the nape of his bald neck.

“My name is Angel…” the still soft tone came from behind Gunn’s right shoulder, “And I lied, you don’t have a choice.” Eyes wide Gunn spun, expertly folding his body to change his position. What the fuck? “How did you…” stupid question the bastard was a vamp, had to be. Gunn’s mercurial temper soared with half of it aimed at himself.

How he’d got under his guard he’d analyse later the young black decided, kill first ask question later. There was always the other one, right?

“Gimme that,” Angel snarled aggravated by the sharp tangy scent of angry blood steaming off the street hoodlum and snatched the crossbow from strong resisting hands. Unseen by anybody Wesley dived and rolled on the hard cement floor, coming up just in time to ram the head of the axe into another hoodlums gut before he could drive his long knife tipped spear into Angel’s back as he staggered from a powerful right hook.

The tunnel erupted as more joined grinding to a halt only when Angel grabbed up Gunn in a headlock to save Wesley getting his throat slashed. At a standoff everybody froze when into that tense heaving for air tableau, a hair-raising scream splintered the strained silence filled with unimaginable horror; chilling them effortlessly as it went on and on before abruptly finishing with a gargling choke.

“What the hell was that?” Gunn asked removing his hand from Angel’s clenched jaw then dragged his gaze away from snarling fangs to stare down into the deeper darkness. His mind immediately turning to the men he’d left up that tunnel.

Oh God, no. “Chain!” a strong shove got him free of the vampire, “Answer me, man…” heedless of danger Gunn started to jog with the crossbow held at the ready and his expression fierce.

“Wait, it knows you’re here,” Angel’s warning fell on deaf ears and cursing kamikaze rescue-ee’s who refused to let them selves be saved, charged after him with Wesley at his side.

Unaware that it was the vampire and his cohort keeping pace with him, Gunn rounded the bend they’d re-conned so thoroughly before, stopping dead when a firm hand wrapped around his elbow, yanking him back from a deadly swipe that would have taken his head clean off. As they watched the razor tipped tail imbedded in the cement wall whipped free and retracted inside the bowels of the demon. A steaming hiss drew they’re collective gaze to the belly of the beast, an accurate description as it turned out.

Massive hindquarters resting in a squat and covered in peeling yellowed skin was Angel’s first impression. Then a monstrous head turned, slowly looking up from its crushed meal to pin the puny figures it had deliberately lured using the pitiful wails of a fallen comrade. Something that size should be ungainly, but Sternack’s where able to morph into any shape, flattening its skull or body at will.

It lunged, they charged.

~

“Thank God for rainfall. That’s all I can say,” whispered Cordelia as she laid her head against the cool tiles of the shower stall. The apartment building roof housed a tank that collected rainfall in addition to using the reservoirs. So, a shower was possible even if drinking the stuff was a bit hit-and-miss without the sanitation services offered by the water company.

She was in-between bouts of angry frustrated tears and her cheeks were hot. Then yet another hot poker stabbed between her eyes making her moan, she gave it full vent in the hope it would offer some release and missed the sound of the elevator cage door being thrust back.

The first inkling she had she wasn’t alone anymore was from a knock, knuckles rapping three times on the door. Jerkily Cordelia’s head lifted from the tiles. Damn, had he heard her whinging? Crap crap crappitty… she reached down and hurriedly turned the water off, “Hello, yes, what…?”

“It’s me,” a muffled voice identified itself through the wooden panel. Cordy’s eyes rolled. Well, yeah I figured that Angel, Wesley would have waited until I was good and ready. Her head gave a protesting twinge that barely raised a flicker on her wide-eyed fast thinking expression. If she let him see her with her face all puffy like this he’d never let it alone, either that or go into full brood mode, driving her insane.

The remnants of soapsuds pooled and drained by her bare feet. “I’ll be out in a minute,” she called out then worried at her bottom lip with sharp white teeth wondering frantically if that sound too out of character? Maybe a bit more fire would convince him to leave her alone, she raised her voice again injecting some bite, “Geeze, can’t a girl get a shower without being stalked by the dark and brooding one around here?”

Then just in case that didn’t put him off she yanked the towel, his towel, off the ring to wrap it sarong style around her dripping body; using one corner to scrub at flushed, tear swollen cheeks and eyes. All the while silently cursing and wishing uselessly that nature had designed tears to leave no trace. Sheesh, was that too much to ask?

Angel wasn’t buying it and propped a shoulder against the frame, crossing his arms as he did, fully prepared to wait her out, “Humour me. I’m… worried about you.”

He’d heard her moans of pain and then the telltale hitch of breath that always followed a bout of tears. A couple of months ago he wouldn’t have dreamed of pushing, but things were different then, immeasurably so. For one thing Cordelia wasn’t being pummelled daily by the debilitating visions.

Concern spiked when she didn’t answer straight away so Angel straightened, wrapping long fingers around the doorknob but refrained from turning it, “please,” he added in a deep voice roughened with worry. In the kitchen he could hear Wesley pottering and hoped the Englishman stayed there. More often than not Cordy used him as a buffer when she didn’t want Angel confronting something to do with her or the visions and was wily enough to end up deflecting him. Something he didn’t want to have happen now.

On the other side of the door, standing wrapped up and surrounded by the steamy heat Cordelia sagged and puffed out her cheeks, frustrated at being unable to ignore the pleading note in that gruff tone. Reluctantly giving in and eyes downcast, feeling a flush crawl up her neck she stepped over to the door and almost growled, “Fine, I’m humouring… and next time I’m making a damned appointment for a shower when there are no idiot Neanderthal males around to spoil it.”

The door was yanked open before she’d finished and her towel clad figure stood framed by a backdrop of warm steam thanks to an oil fired boiler, “Satisfied,” she asked tartly with a smouldering glare. Stepping back before he got singed Angel’s eyes zeroed in on Cordelia’s only to have them drop from his as she went to push past. She didn’t want him to get a good look at her face he realised.

Unthinkingly one black clad arm rose up to form a gentle barrier preventing her escape. Foiled, Cordelia’s head snapped up knowing unless she was willing to barrel through she was trapped, “Back off, buddy!” she snapped, stubborn chin firmly tilted and eyes snapping sparks, “You wanted me out, so I‘m out. Next time… wait until I’m done before stamping your feet, okay. That kind of concern I don’t need.”

Shame at being caught wallowing in self-pity was the catalyst for the sudden temper, but she was helpless to tamp it down even knowing she’d regret it later on. You couldn’t miss the pain behind the fire and Angel dropped the barricading arm, wide shoulders slumping while he cursed the selfish need to know what was going on with her, “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

Do you ever, almost tripped off her tongue but it was only an automatic waspish retort and not truly meant so she caught it and instead heaved out a sigh, wishing she dared let go of the towel so she could rub at gritty eyes. Closing them worked well enough, she shook her head and sidestepped to stop his turning away, “No, Its me… I wasn’t thinking. Just ignore me, okay. Bad vision… headache and stuff. You know the drill?”

He did all too well, “I just wish you’d lean on me- I mean us a little more. Let us help.” He’d even prefer a return of the snark and bitching about the visions. Anything was better than this new stoic silence, almost as if she just didn’t have energy to complain anymore.

His dark eyes usually so impenetrable held a pleading light and a lump formed in her throat. “Are you offering a shoulder to cry on?” she joked awkwardly, trying to dispel the new edgy feel of intimacy and all too aware of bare feet shifting on the floorboards and wet strands of hair snaking around bare damp shoulders. Cordelia was being a tiny bit facetious. You couldn’t be around Angel for longer than five minutes without realising how much he hated being close to humans. His personal bubble was way bigger and thicker than hers and that was saying something.

“If that’s what you need, yeah, they’re big enough.” Angel offered solemnly without hesitation.

Wow, he was serious. Hiding uneasy surprise but less successful in ignoring a spurt of honeyed warmth Cordelia felt a real smile stretch her lips, “They are that, big guy.” The silence stretched into a pause and as a peace offering she leant in to press her cheek fleetingly against his left shoulder, feeling a strong hand sweep over the delicate curve of her spin before she stepped back.

“Thanks, I erm,” That brief contact felt so good and him so reassuringly solid she nearly went back for more. Oh my God, I’m turning into a mushbag just because my vampy boss is being sweet and gentle and…

The shock faded and behind the dull throbbing in her head something bloomed and unfurled. Before it faded and self-consciousness reared its head again she rested a hand on his chest so he’d be in no doubt, whispering impulsively, “It’s nice to have friends.”

God, he’d missed that tentative smile or any smile for that matter. “It is that,” Angel agreed slightly husky and tucked his hands in his pockets to give them something to do other than tingle.

Free now, Angel let his eyes roam over her face knowing she wouldn’t object. He was being over-protective and probably intrusive but he’d never had friends like her or even Wesley before. Not when he was human, not when he was Angelus roaming the world with Darla, Dru and Spike and certainly not with the scoobs. It terrified him at times just how easily the need to stay remote and apart could get breached by the contrary need for closeness and… acceptance.

I’m an evil murdering demon seeking redemption in an insane world. I don’t need, want or deserve friends. The silent litany rang hollow as it sometimes did around Cordelia who generally drowned it out.

On the chair next to the shower her towelling robe lay draped. Feeling awkward and seeing the goose-bumps breaking out on her arms Angel spotted the pale lilac and bent down to scoop it up; dropping it carefully around her shoulders before picking up a strand of dark wet hair, “You’ll catch cold,” he warned softly then let it drop to quirk a brow, “just a friendly warning.”

In response and as he watched an arched brow climbed, “Yeah well, somebody who shall remain nameless and brooding used all the towels earlier. Trust me, you are so lucky I found one that was dry enough to use.”

~

He should have listened to his instincts; the ones telling him that a night-raid was a bad idea, but he’d let the need to get there first drive him on. So now Chain and Bonner were dead and gone, two more friends needing a marker on the cement wall they used as a memorial to their dead. In a few days their faces and monikers would be painted alongside Alonna Gunn, his dead little sister.

Pain welled, as did his eyes, turning them liquid enough to reflect the tired landscape of LA as seen from the uppermost shell of a room in the building they called home. Before him the map of the stars was laid out, clear for once and struggling to appreciated by the preoccupied man.

Alonna’s face swam before his minds eyes, “I was never going to let anything happen to you…”

Chain, sincere and earnest, “Yo, Gunn, we need the food, man. Stocks are low c’mon it’ll be a breeze…”

The vampire intruded next, “My friend had a vision of you for a reason. The powers want you for something and until we know what it is I want you to keep this and remember us.”

Gunn had resented the card and its implication, snatching it rudely, “I don’t need or want your help. I’ve been around, seen and done things. Don’t think just cos you saved us tonight-”

“Maybe you don’t need help but I might. Keep the card.”

The plain white card with the printed logo was currently burning a hole in his denim jacket pocket. He’d meant to throw it away but something wouldn’t let him. Those damned instincts again and ignoring them for a second time seemed way too much like flipping fate the bird. Not a great idea.

~

Sitting at the kitchen table Cordelia’s eyes dropped to the bowl Wesley had just placed in front of her, “What is it?” she asked uneasily. Her gaze came back up to catch Wesley giving Angel an uncertain look before sitting down at the table.

“Stewed apples, very nice I assure you and not too crunchy or chewy for with a sore head,” offered Wesley eyeing his own bowl with feigned enthusiasm as he dipped the spoon into the sticky mess. His waiting blue eyes never really left her face.

There was that damned lump again, stuck fast in her throat. Ogod, ogod! He’d made this messy gloop out of their only solid food thinking it would save her more pain. Cordy gave him a blinding smile, “Wow, that’s just… great. I love stewed apples, reminds me of.. of.. camping.” Ugh, talk about reaching. Don’t even think about doughnuts, or steak or fried chicken and fries, pizza… shut UP!

“You went camping?” Angel asked with a sly smile as he sat too, lounging back with both legs outstretched and taking up half the space under the table with their length. Settled comfortably now, dark eyes slid over her with deceptive blandness, skimming over the turquoise vest-top, cream and blue printed skirt and dainty bead decorated sandals with bare toes peeping out.

Despite being seated all the way over the other side, Cordy could literally feel the table shrink to a teeny tiny postcard size. Why is men can’t just… ya know, sit at a table for crissake?

Then catching the inference even she couldn’t miss hazel eyes narrowed and she waggled the sticky spoon at him, “Yes, smarty-pants even I’ve been camping,” across from her Angel’s brows brow rose in challenging disbelief.

Darn, when had he got her pegged so well? Honesty forced her to add, “Okay, fair enough it was pretty much luxurious camping, but hey- room service was out. That count’s, right?”

“Sure, it counts,” replied Angel agreeably still with that slight smile. Not that he could have said anything else with Cordelia looking fiercely determined to defend her definition of camping. It was enough he’d got a little rise out of her and brought some colour back to her cheeks. Angel was satisfied with that.

Cordelia forgave him since she was still wallowing in the fuzziness from earlier and more importantly wanted a change of topic, “So how did the slicing’n’dicing go? Since my heads not spitting open anymore I’m guessing- good.” The bowl was half empty now, thank god.

“Interesting evening,” mumbled Wesley trying not to give into the urge to lick the bowl for the dregs, “Your victim turned out to be a rather venomous young hoodlum with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Titanic.”

“Good-looking?”

“Cordelia!”

She smirked hearing the affronted censure from both of the men in her life then blinked, going for innocently defensive, “What am I a nun? Can’t a girl even ask anymore, geeze?”

Angel and Wesley harrumphed turning her lips up impishly higher which she promptly hid behind another mouthful of soggy apple pieces. God, they were so easy to wind-up. Just look at them, both so full of offended masculinity you’d think I’d asked if the guy was well hung or something. Now there’s a thought… nah, better not. Friends or not honorary girl friend wasn’t a title she’d ever give the not so angelic one.

Shoving away the discomforting thought that maybe Cordelia wasn’t so happy with her celibate status, Angel sat up and forcibly smoothed out his frown while admitting, “It got a bit hairy but we killed the demon in the end only not before it got one of the kids, unfortunately.”

Sighing heavily Angel’s gaze turned inward, fingers tapping a light tattoo on the wooden table-top, “The leader interested me… he had guts.” Not to mention a light in his eyes that Angel recognised having seen it numerous times all over the world; bitter grit in the face of insurmountable odds. A long time ago that wilful spirit would have been similar to waving a red rag to a bull, the bull in this case being himself.

“I have another word for it,” grumbled Wesley rubbing a hand over his Adam’s apple and thinking back to how close it got to being slashed in two. If he never saw those kids again it would be too soon.

“Yeah, well I guess living like they do being all nicey nicey is a bit much to ask,” guessed Cordelia with a frown, losing interest in food despite the still empty ache of her belly. The spoon dropped with a clatter and her eyes came up to find Angel staring at her. He’d been doing that a lot lately.

“Hello, Angel… staring much,” Cordy said pointedly. Angel didn’t answer or change his expression one iota. Disquieted by the intensity of that glazed look Cordy raised a hand and leaning forward clicked two fingers in front of his face; seeing his pupils dilate she asked worriedly, “Are you, okay?”

Startled Angel was jolted to realise he hadn’t known he’d been staring at her as if in some kind of trance. “Sure,” he dropped his gaze immediately, praying she’d leave it that and scrubbed his palms over his face, hiding and hoping she didn’t put two and two together. He should have known better.

Looking at him something occurred to Cordelia and she blurted it out, “Have you been eating… I mean drinking…” her eyes closed in annoyance at the slip, “whatever?”

Caught, Angel looked up to answer only to find the smoothly rehearsed lie stuck on his chest somewhere. He closed his mouth again, inexplicably stumped and what followed was a pause that had Cordelia’s belly sinking. Then, before she could quiz him any more he straightened up to listen and his gaze turned fixed under frowning brows. Cordelia blinked at the sudden change only to find the chair empty and him gone. Flummoxed she turned to Wesley seeing him shove back his chair, his expression confused and worried.

“What’s up with him?” her dark, freshly washed hair tossed in waves as she jerked her head towards their disappearing boss.

“No idea, I suggest we go and find out.”

Reaching the office floor they heard it too and scrambled for Angel’s office. The harsh screaming continued and Angel’s broad, powerful silhouette already filled the window frame. In the alley running alongside the apartment building a young woman was running from a gang of three vamps howling and chasing after her; heaping torment by catching then letting her go only to prolong the game and her hope, jumping on cars to use the rusted hunks of junk as launch-pads to corner her again, laughing demonically as the terrified girl dived under their wildly waving arms.

“I’m going out,” announced Angel softly and pushed away from the frame heading with unnatural speed for the outer office and the exit. Unsurprised Cordelia nodded without taking her eyes off the nightmare scene below.

“I’ll come with you,” Wesley said reaching for his jacket tossed on the couch earlier.

Angel didn’t turn or slow down just tossed over his shoulder, “No, stay with Cordelia. I won’t be long.” The tone brooked no argument.

Wesley nodded, recalling how Angel hated leaving her alone when he was kicking demon ass so close to home. To the ex-watcher it seemed as if the vampire was afraid of LA’s other demons, now aware of her status as Angel’s sear, thinking up a distract/attack ploy to break in and harm her. Wesley only hoped that never occurred to them.

Turning to face him Cordelia stopped him cold with her usual brutal bluntness, “I know I’m stating the obvious here, but we have to find a way out of this and preferably before we all die horribly.” Her expression was so serious Wesley felt a sinking in the pit of his belly; afraid she was having another vision. “I mean, if we don’t do something pretty damn quick then we’re right back where we started. Ice Age none withstanding of course.”

“I don’t see what we can do, Cordelia. Humanity became accustomed to having unlimited electrical power and built everything on the assumption that it, or something to replace it, would always be there. Without it we’re blind too.”

~

Across town it was ghostly quiet along the palm-lined street. The house had once been beautiful, open plan and airy with floor to ceiling glass windows spanning almost every exterior wall. Inside, every gadget known to man and a fair amount that hadn’t yet reached the consumer market had held pride of place tucked away in discreet shelving and cupboards so as not to ruin the ambience when David Nabbit entertained.

Those days were long gone with the gadgets being no more, stolen or destroyed during the threeraids made by hungry desperate humans; with the last one resulting in the house being set ablaze in fury at finding not a scrap of food. He’d hidden during each one and only snuck out hours after when he was sure they were gone.

With the incentive of the house removed that should have been the end of his hiding in the basement. Not the case. Now the demons came tearing in and it didn’t take long for the beleaguered ex-millionaire, computer whiz to realise they were not interested in spoils. So, precious laptop case banging against his short legs David ran, and ran and ran with his heart in his mouth, pounding away between whistling breaths for air; while for some reason a nursery rhyme kept spinning round, sounding off in his head.

…Three blind mice, three blind mice,
See how they run, see how they run.
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a thing in your life,
As three blind mice.

He had to find the vampire with a soul. Where was Google when you needed it?
CHAPTER TWO

It had only been a few days since the last time but he needed more. Hunger was a living thing in his dead body, gnawing from the inside out and screaming erratically in his head. It was simple; Angel had to feed or lose it completely and maybe do something he regretted.

Cordelia was asleep on the couch in his apartment, a pain in the ass when you’re trying to sneak out, but after a trial period it seemed he needed privacy more than she did courtesy of him being a vampire. As Cordy said… anything to keep him sane and non psycho-ey. At the time, not happy with that blunt statement Angel had pointed out they both meant the same thing, but Cordy had just shrugged and retorted; yeah well, that’s cos it goes double for you.

Angel was beginning to recognise a pattern, namely that he never won an argument with Cordelia unless he threatened her with something she considered icky.

Wesley was sleep upstairs on another couch a circumstance that combined sometimes had him dumbly shaking his head and wondering how the hell he, one time Scourge of Europe, had ended up playing house with two willing humans.

Now was one of those times, when he was forced to use every stealth tactic he knew to get out of his own place to go hunting, and all because he didn’t want them to know what he was reduced to doing. Despising himself was bad enough without facing it off them too.

~

Billy Nyan celebrated his tenth anniversary as a vampire in true Billy style. Meaning filled with pain that wasn’t his own and a viciousness that was bred to the bone. Gerry, his riding buddy was lying flat on the floor, boots off and feet up on the stone ledge ringing the fountain, wallowing in the drowsiness of over-eating; content to just kick back and belch at the appropriate spaces.

Liquored up and feeling as if they owned the night they were enjoying a good old fashioned barbeque under a velvet night sky. Beside them the aridly dry fountain with its frolicking mermaids acted as a contrarily civilised backdrop, with the still smooth stone flags of Arcadia Square they’re tranquil garden beneath the bone white disc of the moon.

“Man, do I feel bloated or what? That last one was a bit overdone, maybe. I think I prefer ‘em raw than barbequed.” The wine bottle tilted as Gerry took a swig, handing it over when Billy threw out a questing arm, fingers waggling in mute demand.

Grasping the relinquished bottle Billy poked at the fire, letting air between the lumps of charcoal to keep it hot and carelessly setting of tiny sparks to spatter over the bricks ringing the fiery mass. He shrugged, “We left her in too long is all. Lucky we didn’t kill her too soon. Dead’s useless.”

“Like us you mean?”

Settling with his back to the fountain Billy snorted and tossed Gerry a smirk, slurring a little as he retorted, “Speak for yourself, I ain’t useless,” the bottle was filled with a mixture of blood and whiskey, brought from a newly opened vamp speciality store down on Caesar Boulevard. It went down like ambrosia and Billy couldn’t help waxing lyrical about their changed un-life, “Hot damn, this is the life. The way it’s s’posed to be… no hiding what we are and what we do, just letting it all hang out.” The bottle’s contents swished as he swung it to give an encompassing wave.

“Yup, millennium bug has my vote,” then as sometimes happens Gerry was hit with a drunken wave of lucidness that lasted only long enough for him to turn his head and ask, “What do you think’ll happen if they fix it all, you know get the power back?”

“Never happen,” next to them the blackened bundle started to moan, a low despairing sound. Still deep in frowning thought and aggravated by the noise Billy picked up a boot and threw it at the tortured woman, snarling “Shaddap, I’m trying to think here- dumb fucking human. Jeeze, Ger, I thought you finished her off?”

Spreading his hands the still prone Gerry looked wounded, “I was full. Save her for later if she’s still alive.”

Before Billy could give an opinion on that suggestion a new voice intruded from the darkness outside the fire’s glow, sounding deep and chillingly assured, “I wouldn’t be making any plans for later if I were you.”

Both vampires found they’re feet before more than a few stunned seconds passed. Then staring with feral yellow eyes the pair stood tense and ready for action, minutely scanning the darkness. They didn’t have to search far before a tall leather-coated figure stepped into view from one side. Neither recognised him.

Footsteps echoed on the stone steps leading up to the small circular enclosure situated in the middle of the once pristine square. Taken aback and staring the pair tracked the stranger’s features searching hazy memories and coming up with nothing; dark hair slightly spiked and slashing brows dominating a hard human face. Confused by the sudden confrontation, Billy double-checked watching the stranger’s movements and scenting the air with delicate precision.

This guy was definitely not human. “Who the fuck are you?”

Chasing them down would be too much effort, Angel shrugged nonchalantly and kept his expression neutral wanting to keep their alarm to a minimum and emotions off-balance, “Who cares, what’s in a name? You don’t know me and anyway…”

Angel paused but kept on closing the distance until he was close enough to finish, “… I don’t need yours to kill you.”

There was a disbelieving pause as if the vampires were stumped to find there was a snake in their Garden of Eden after all. Hearing that deadly certain statement Gerry goggled then shared a look with the notoriously eruptible Billy, “Do you even know what we are? Or, are you just loco?”

“Shut-up, Gerry,” Billy murmured tilting his head to assess the newcomer, a cold light glinting in the amber depths of his vampire eyes, “if the guy wants to party who can blame him, I like to party too.”

“I can see that. Did your momma never teach you not to litter the place,” Angel asked his voice soft with detached amusement and using the mini debate to stroke his demon, coaxing it to the surface with the promise of a treat. It didn’t need so much coaxing these days.

The antique English gentleman’s cane was tucked out-of-sight behind his right leg. Made from sturdy mahogany and being ivory tipped on both ends of the double handled stick it made an innocuous yet brutal weapon in the right hands. Halting to stand with both legs braced Angel kept his body relaxed and still, emptying his mind of distracting clutter.

“Screw you,” Billy sneered, “I ate my momma,” he added boastfully, flexing brawny shoulders as he squared off.

“Original,” deadpanned Angel with a tip-tilted smile that didn’t reach shadowed dark eyes.

Gerry ignorant of the nature of the beast stalking them so subtly grinned evilly, recognising the signs and more than willing to throw down too. Greasy brown hair framed his vampire face as he shook his head playfully, “you’ve done it now, gone and pissed him off, shouldn’a done that, boy.”

Impetuous and arrogant they didn’t wait to assess the danger further but charged him as one, their bellowing rush timed perfectly to coincide with one another. Gerry dived to the left, in a dizzingly quick semi-circle bent at the waist to make a smaller target and aiming for the middle torso while Billy went on the right, leaping high to catch the newcomer’s head in a brutal lock.

This multi-angled attack normally wrought confusion and deadly hesitation in their opponents and their confidence was recklessly high. Billy didn’t see the cane only felt it when it was whipped up and across his brow exploding above vulnerable ridged eyes.

Angel lashed the cane down in time to catch the second vamp with the downswing, shattering a cheekbone as it connected with a uniquely audible fleshy crack. Spraying enraged spittle Billy recovered first and howling madly lunged with hooked fingers, fangs snapping. Rage and momentum only took Billy so far for the first time in a decade and Angel sidestepped using one hand to swing the cane up, easily deflecting the reaching arms and breaking one in the process.

Routed with debilitating speed, Gerry was left rolling on the stone flags gibbering at the pain and holding a hand to his shattered cheekbone. A few feet away and hugging his injured limb Billy looked into the interloper’s face seeing clearly for the first time the cold deadly purpose staring back at him then mourned the red mist of blood-lust as it abruptly drained with the realisation that this stranger was far more deadly than they’re viciousness combined.

“What the fuck are you?” he asked dumbly afraid. Not human that’s for sure.

By now a wary Billy was backing away as the tall stranger advanced with a slow steady tread, “You’ll find out,” was the cryptic reply before one black arm swung back, knee’s bending to deliver a crippling blow to Billy’s left knee as the retreating vampire whirled to make his escape. It caught him, sending him sprawling with the bottom half of the leg resting at an odd angle while his agonised scream rent the square.

Spinning on one heel Angel caught Gerry trying to sneak up behind him with a graceful arcing kick that had the vampire staggering back then laid him out again with a roundhouse punch. Satisfied his prey was staying put for a while Angel turned back to the other one, tossing back a short, “I’ll get to you in a minute,” Gerry too out of it to understand simply groaned.

Less than a minute later and with the fledglings defeated without getting in a single blow of their own, their nemesis set about satiating the hunger that drove him. Gerry was first with Billy lying broken and helpless, agonisingly aware he was next; shuddering and watching as Angel vamped out to sink razor sharp fangs into the young vampire’s throat, draining him of what blood remained inside a demonically charged body.

When he got round to him Billy was barely conscious, but was able to ask the one question spinning around his pain-wracked head, “Don’t get it… Why vamp on vamp? … loadsa food.”

Angel didn’t have to think as he hunkered down, “Not for me.”

Finished, Angel rose from his knees to stare dispassionately down at the sunken face of the monster he’d fed off. Then leisurely reaching inside his duster he withdraw the ornately carved wooden stake for the second time and stabbed it deep into Billy’s chest, sending him off in a cloud of dust.

Standing to his full height all he could think was that it was barely enough and despair clouded Angel’s mind. Vampire blood was already half bled of the nutrients he needed; a poor substitute even for the vile pigs blood he used to just about tolerate. For now he got by day by day, but he didn’t know how long he could go on like this.

A low moan interrupted his hopeless thoughts and had him swallowing convulsively as the smell of old fear; burnt flesh and encrusted blood teased his nostrils. Oh God, how much of this was he supposed to take? When was enough, enough? Dragging feet took him over to the bundle wrapped in charred tarpaulin.

Puffing out an unnecessary breath, Angel reached down and tried to pull back the edges stopping when the blackened bundle gave a pained guttural moan. No matter, it was enough to see the burnt, blistered remains of a middle-aged blonde who not so long ago may have been attractive and enjoying the freedom of later life before age truly set in. Now she was little more than a corpse waiting to happen.

With intensive hospital treatment she would die later, without it she was perhaps minutes away from slipping off. Assailed with blood hunger Angel clenched his fists, swallowing hard as drool pooled in a mouth tingling with the urge to get close, closer and closer until…

Hauling it back Angel knelt down besides her, struggling not to let his demon slip its leash and whispered, “I’m sorry.” Sorry for what he wasn’t sure, wanting to finish her off, maybe. How to comfort someone who’s been this horrifically tortured and who, if they have any sense left, knows they’re dying. Should he lie and say she’s gonna be okay?

“They’re gone,” he offered instead, “and can’t hurt you anymore. I promise.” And he wouldn’t either Angel added silently to himself, more of a desperate command really.

The woman’s breathing got laboured, rattling in her chest with a last spell of consciousness before her soul gave up, “hurts… fire… why?” The last was said on a sob and Angel realized she was remembering the pain rather than feeling it.

Because vampires being demons feed on pain, anguish and terror every bit as much as blood; he couldn’t answer her. Falling silent Angel ducked his head looking anywhere but at her, part of his guilt was that he hadn’t done what he had to save her. He’d done it to save himself. Self-loathing rose up to choke him.

Nothing changes no matter how I try. I still am and always will be a mindlessly driven fiend. Why do I keep letting myself believe Cordy when she tells me I have a purpose, only to find out I don’t. Nothing ever really changes.

“They’re coming again I can hear then,” mindless terror filled the woman’s voice and Angel rushed to reassure her, uselessly as it turned out. The synapses in her brain where going haywire with the physical body breaking down. Her, “oh please, please please,” drilled into his head and he saw tears drop down from her eyes in a mostly unmarred head. The vamps hadn’t wanted the neck burnt to a crisp.

“I killed them, they can’t hurt you.” Angel told her roughly closing his eyes and dropping back his head to try and clear the thickening fog of temptation, starting with a jolt when a hand latched on his arm.

“You do it. I don’t want to be here anymore,” she whispered in a rasp struggling to focus on him and speak as her lungs started to give up, juddering in a chest that would no longer rise to allow air in. Her last struggle in this life would be to die unless he was willing to help her.

Dumbstruck Angel stared thinking only that he must have heard her wrong and that hoarse please was nothing more than his own wishes being transferred from one side of his starving brain to another. A trick sort of, “What did you say?” he asked low and incredulous.

“Please… kill… me.”

She must have seen him kill the others, “I can’t… you don’t know what you’re asking.”

Jerkily Angel tried to yank his gaze away, but dark eyes filled with sorrowful needs of their own wouldn’t leave her face. Inside, hope and hunger clashed then clung to rake and hiss at the weeping soul. Later he would think of this inner battle being the worst since arriving as a newly ensouled vampire on the dark, damp shores of New York at the turn of the century.

She wants me to do it, so why not.

Dying or not it doesn’t give you an excuse.

I won’t hurt her and she doesn’t need it anymore but I do, dammit. God help me I need it.

Don’t do this, if you give in now the next time will be so much harder. Resist, or her face will haunt you every bit as much as the others.

Lost to it all Angel was only dimly aware that he’d unhooked the hand from his arm to raise it up and it was the faint smell of blood and the painfully, slow mere echo of a pulse that finally drew his unfocused his mind to it. It made no difference as pain and a howling soul were drowned out by the insistent throbbing chant of pure dumb need.

Face silently changing with a ripple and no growl his fangs pierced then slipped into soft flesh, unerringly seeking the best channel for that dreadfully sluggish flow.

~

Me again, future me that is. Just wanna make something clear here…

Angel can be the most aggravating pain in the ass ever and there are times when I wonder why I stick around. For example, there I’ll be sitting at my desk maybe and he’ll come striding in, slamming back the elevator cage as if he had a personal grudge and riding a black cloud of tension to storm into his office without so much a howdy, morning or where’s my coffee.

As a way of infecting everybody else with his surly bad mood it’s unbeatable and pretty much instant. Leaving me in his wake, standing there hands on hips, mouth open and shaking my head wishing I’d stayed in bed and not frickin’ bothered.

Do I really need this? I’d ask myself; …um, hole and head ringing any bells? Duh, of course I don’t, do I look insane?

It gets better. If I’m in the right mood I’ll snap back and he’ll bite and so it goes on and on and on. Jeeze, he’s worse than Xander for sulking only a heckova lot scarier when he’s doing it, what with the whole black on black thing he’s got going and I’m not talking about the clothes, that’s another story.

So, why do I stay? Good question, it’s not for the benefits package that’s for sure cos, hello, there isn’t one. Okay, so is it the work, you know job satisfaction and all that crap? Ugh, get real… I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been truly, sincerely thanked by the people we save, lamebrains.

So that leaves pretty much the people, Wesley and the surly meister of brood himself. Hah, contradiction in terms much? Maybe, but… and it’s a bigger but than I would have ever believed before coming to LA, for every time he has me spitting mad and aching to bury a mop-handle in his chest there are those eureka moments where I’ll remember that he’s my friend and not just my pain-in-the-butt boss.

Never used to be that way, in fact time was I couldn’t wait to shut-down and get out, sloughing him and the dreary office off like a constricting disguise with nothing more than a careless shrug. Didn’t last long though, he has this way of making you care about him, and yourself, without actually trying too- dammit.

During a good moment I think of him as sorta, ya know, addict or something. Not that I’ve mentioned that to him since well, I kinda like my head where it is. But, can you picture it? Angel, tall and big in all the right places, I’ve seen him nearly naked and trust me he’s seriously ripped, being helpless about anything? But that’s the point- he is. I figured him out ages ago. Angel doesn’t hide away because he’s afraid he’ll lose it and start chomping, or not so much. He’s afraid we’ll all see how easily the need to do it drives him nuts. Guh, men!

He acts all hero-ey, saves people from their worst nightmares night after night and then comes home moping about how he’s not doing enough and that’ll never be enough, blah blah blah. Actually, I get that, contrary to popular opinion I’m not some dumb airhead with a pom-pom constantly stuck up my ass. I was Queen of Mean for a reason and no one’s more surprised than me that the King of Brood and I get along- sort of… most of the time.

Basically, I understand Angel, in fact to me he’s an open book and the thing I love most is that he can’t figure me out for the unlife of him. Just the way I like it. Keeps ‘em on their toes.

Anyway, so there I am standing watching Angel make mincemeat out of a pair of vamps without him knowing it when he goes and does the unthinkable! Yup, starts chowing down on a victim. Oh crap and double crap, now what the hell am I supposed to do…?

~

Torn, Cordelia stood frozen feeling leaden while conflicting thoughts raced like quicksilver through her mind. Shout out or stay quiet and back away, two simple choices with not great consequences whichever way she went. One half was terrified of what tasting human blood again might do to his self-control, selfish maybe but true. While the other half faced brutal reality and the fact that the woman was as good as dead, wanted him to do it and he needed it.

Guilt was a bitch too and the painful truth she’d been hiding from herself was suddenly sitting on Cordelia’s shoulder grinning evilly. She’d let him get away with hiding the fact that his blood supply was gone, choosing instead to believe Angel’s dumb lies rather than face stark reality and then try to find a solution that didn’t exist anymore. Ain’t denial great- not. Whoo boy, she was never sticking her head in the sand about anything ever, ever again.

One baby step at a time Cordelia backed away, never taking her eyes off him. The fact that she could scared the crap out of her too, that Angel would ever be so engrossed to not know she was there, when normally she couldn’t open an eye-lid without him complaining she was making too much noise when he was sleeping. Heart pounding she cringed when he dropped the arm and lifted his head, dark hair facing her as he stared in the opposite direction. Don’t turn around, Angel, please!

Someone wasn’t listening and his head whipped around to pin her with unreadable brown eyes. Halting, Cordelia swallowed and tried a nervous smile, “Angel, wow, fancy seeing you here. I’ve just arrived and-,” damn that didn’t work. His eyes narrowed into slits as he stiffly rose to stand and eye her brightly coloured hot-pants and tunic-top as if they were peacock feathers at a funeral.

She’d seen it he could see it on her face. Angel’s lips tightened with a hot rush of temper, “What are you doing here, Cordelia?” Sheesh, could he get anymore gravelly?

Fury bubbled inside him mostly directed as himself but there was more than enough left-over for her. As he watched her expressive eyes skittered all over except for him. Those hazel eyes never looked at him directly once he’d turned to confront her. So, she couldn’t even look at him now. Resentment swamped him. It was just like Buffy all over again… Angel was being a bad vamp and needed punishing again. Bitter rage had his teeth grinding while he waited for her pitiful excuses.

“Would you believe… fresh air?” Angel didn’t reply just looked at her without expression, darn, “no, well okay then…”

The problem with Cordy and nerves was they made her angry. The problem with her temper and Angel was it made her defensive, like now. Cordelia closed her eyes gathered her courage and opened them to glare right at him, “How about I was following you to see why you were sneaking off like that and boy…! Am I glad I did.” If he wanted the truth then that was what he was gonna get.

Her temper stoked his to hotter bringing with it the added twist of scalding shame. He hid it well, stepping over the now dead woman to prowl closer, “Liked what you saw, did you?” That soft tone always reminded Cordelia of Angelus, a good enough reason to hate it with a passion.

Tossing her hair, Cordy planted one hand firmly on a hip before quirking a sardonic brow, “Sure, what’s not to like?” her free hand swept over the miniscule remains of Billy and Gerry before clashing gazes with him again, “You have your vamp showdown or maybe I mean chowdown and then as an encore,” Angel stiffened glaring and daring her to bring it up, yeah right, like that ever stopped her, “the kiss of a death to a dying woman. Gee, can’t you tell I’m impressed?” her voice shook a little but Cordelia held her ground, tilting her chin stubbornly.

Unbelievable, no one since Drusilla had so recklessly pushed him. Only Cordelia wasn’t mad she was just Cordelia. It was a case of strangle her or get going, choosing the safer none hands-on approach Angel stalked stiffly over to the cane lying abandoned on the floor, bending bent down to swipe it up with every move rigidly furious.

So Cordelia despised him now, so be it. That made everything so much easier Angel lied to himself. Maybe now he could make some headway in getting over the urge to treat her with kid gloves.

“I don’t want to talk about it, Cordelia. Get moving were going back,” Angel growled at her as he passed by obviously expecting her to follow him to just like that.

Cordy goggled at his swiftly moving back and the second hand anchored itself on a rounded curve of a hip. Uh, no way was he getting away without talking to her. “Well I do want to talk about, Angel, and I’m not going anywhere until we sort this out.”

Halting Angel spun on his heel, smiting her with his eyes, “There’s nothing to sort out. I’m not your pet, Cordelia. I don’t need anything from you except for you to do as your damn well told.” He didn’t need her to like him or … care. Angel left that to the humans and the pressure in his chest was just aggravation nothing more.

Her eyes narrowed to slits at the tone, “Still not moving.”

With a final fuming glare hot enough to singe Angel shrugged and turning strode away, “Fine, stay there and get yourself killed then.”

One, two, three, four … Cordy counted to twelve before she was confronted with a seething vampire and her eyes widened seeing he was in full fang face. “Do you have a death wish?” Angel growled low crowding her deliberately.

“No,” she muttered defensively crossing her arms. He was standing way to close for comfort. Cordy refrained from rolling her eyes. Gotta love his predictability, should she tell him short of Angelus his intimidating her was next to impossible by now.

“Then what the hell are you doing standing here in the middle of a demon infested city all alone. In fact, while were on the topic you could have gotten yourself killed just following me.” Angel roared fists clenched with frustration seeing the lack of fear in her eyes. Why could he never get through to this woman that he wasn’t some snot-nosed kid she could wrap around her little finger?

She hadn’t even thought of that, but it hadn’t happened so it was irrelevant and Cordy dismissed it. Besides there was a tickle of recognition at the back of her mind bugging the crap out of her then it hit her. This reminded her eerily of yesterday and how she’d reacted after getting caught crying in the shower. Oh lord, he was using anger as a shield to hide the fact he was ashamed.

As revelations go it wasn’t exactly a shocker on the genius scale but still it was worth a shot. Time to change tactics from aggressive to understanding mode. Cordy’s expression softened, “Look, I’m not judging you for what you did here, not saying its right either, but being a team means not lying to your friends. Angel, you should have told us you were starving.”

Caught out and taken aback Angel found himself stepping away, shaking his head resignedly as his face melted back into its human visage, “Why, what good would it do? You can’t do anything about it.” Besides he’d been sure she couldn’t handle it.

Just like her and the visions, Cordelia sighed heavily settling quelling eyes on his averted face. “Yeah well, I found out anyway so what good did lying do?” So what if that went for both of them she wasn’t going to potentially turn into killer-gal if she didn’t get any pain relief. Not yet anyway.

Understanding was the last thing he’d expected, Angel flicked a wary look up at her face. Was she for real? Where were the hysterics, or was she saving it for later when his defences where down? She looked normal, fed-up but normal, he shrugged broad shoulders, “I don’t know, nothing I guess.”

Angel was calmer and she now knew what his deal was; it was a start. “C’mon broody-boy, let’s go home before I get spotted as haute cuisine or something.” Snagging an arm she forced him to walk with her which he did falling into step beside her.

Angel was confused to put it mildly, “That’s it, no-“

Cordy interrupted, “Big blue doe eyes teary with accusation and disappointment followed by weeks of silent recrimination and being shoved to one side. Nah, can’t be bothered but…” she turned to face him, pinning him with an arch stare, “If I hear about you feeding of a human again no matter how-“

“I won’t be,” now it was Angel’s turn to interrupt with a small helpless smile tugging at his lips hearing the stern warning tone. All that was missing was the poking finger, “and I have one for you. Next time you try wandering the streets alone at night I won’t be so easygoing about it, clear?”

Pfft, when he was ever easygoing? “As crystal, bossy-boots. Who’d want too anyway? These shoes are killing me chasing after you for the last hour.”

~

Wesley was looking glazed, and to be blunt he was feeling it too. “Mr Nabbit… David, I assure you that my employer will return soon. I assumed he was downstairs but obviously he had pressing business to, erm, take care-” Wesley faltered and came to a stop knowing it was, as Cordy would out it, lame. Where the devil we’re they?

After an hour of trying to keep the rather excitable young man before him calm the Englishman was frazzled and seriously displeased, although he kept that to himself. Inside he was seething though and determined to make a stand about being kept out of whatever loop necessitated Angel’s leaving with no message or anything to indicate when he might return. Unacceptable.

He only hoped Cordelia was with him or fireworks on the vampires return was guaranteed. David Nabbit was sweating, mildly irritable for someone of his placid nature and reminded Wesley of one of the nervier rabbits of Watership Down. Oh, what he wouldn’t give for some green fields, blue skies and problems no bigger than a stupidly arrogant farm cat or a megalomaniacal general grown too long in the tooth.

Dragging his groggy mind back to the late night visitor currently gracing his rumpled bed turned couch Wesley rubbed a hand over his short dark hair, trying to rub some sense of control back into it. Squabbling voices from outside the office windows offered him a suggestion that relief was at hand- finally.

Angel and Cordelia having spotted the lighted candles from the street decided to face the music rather than let Wesley stew and sneak in the back way. “Hey, Wesley, look I know we must have given you a surprise and all with us both… Oh, Hi who are you?”

Angel had to gently remove her from his line of sight to the see the little man sitting scrunched up on the office couch clutching a battered grey plastic laptop case. A searching glance at Wes garnered an eloquent roll of blue eyes. Wesley was looking stoic and forbearing meaning even his patience was severely stretched.

“This is David Nabbit, one time billionaire and computer whiz. He says he has a cure for the Millennium bug,” announced Wesley hands behind his striped pyjama clad back, deliberately not giving any warning as a petty revenge for being lumbered with him so unexpectedly.

There was a speaking pause as that sunk in, predictably Cordelia spoke up first, confusion clearing to mild sarcasm, “Cool, pity it’s like over a month too late, but hey, better late then never so they say.”

“Um, that would be millionaire actually and yes, Ms Chase is it?” Cordy nodded raising comic brows when Nabbit looked everywhere but straight at her, “I know I’m kind late but then it all caught me by surprise too.”

That touched a nerve. Where we’re the nerds when they’d needed them the most? God, she’d been tripping over then in high-school and then when it was their turn to save the day the world went to hell. “The millennium bug? Yeah right, what planet were you on? It was all over the news and boy did they get it wrong, huh? So much for passing without a hitch.” Bitterness was rife in the acid scorn.

Finally connecting with a hot glare Nabbit shifted restlessly on the old sagging couch cushions, “No, I mean the virus that wiped out all the work that been done to fix it. The one Wolfram and Hart paid a demon called Gundry to create for them.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

“You’re kidding?” asked Cordelia.

Nabbit shook his head darting a look at the dark intimidating figure that dominated the room despite his watchful silence. Careless of Angel’s affect on their visitor Cordelia threw up her hands, “Dammit, I knew there was a reason I hated those guys but… ugh, this takes the cake and the icing,” she fumed starting to pace.

“I think you mean the biscuit?” Wesley inserted helpfully if absently.

“Whatever.”

“Wolfram and Hart paid a demon to help them set back the world a thousand years?” asked Angel seeking clarification as the urge to commit violence, preferably on lawyers, spiked. The hand braced on the wooden rail separating the tiny reception from the office went white knuckled the only physical sign of his feelings on hearing that.

Sensitive to the atmosphere David Nabbit shook his head then nodded, looking bemused and more than a little unnerved, “Well I don’t know about… well, maybe- possibly. All I heard was that Gundry created a virus specific to Microsoft who had produced all operating systems since 1998 to be complaint,” as he went on his voice got stronger focusing on his beloved topic, “But the virus changed it all. It even went out as an automatic update and they didn’t spot it in time.”

“So that’s why?” Wesley intoned in disbelief backing away in disbelief to perch a hip on Cordy’s desk, “It’s so simple but it explains a lot.”

“Yeah, like how we should let Angel kill them at the next opportunity. Who needs mercy with scum like that?”

“Cordelia!” Wesley was shocked.

Over by the useless coffee pot and flipping dark strands out of her face Cordy retorted, “What? I work for a blood-sucking fiend. I’m contractually obliged to be blood thirsty.”

“I think it’s a good idea.”

“See…,” Cordelia smiled triumphantly until it sank in and she whirled to level a wide eyed stare at Angel behind her, “You do?”

“Maybe not the killing, but definitely worth a visit.”
CHAPTER 3

Daylight, unkind and indifferent painted the landscape of LA. First with the rose gold of dawn and then later, when the muggy heat set in and the haze of smog drifted down, with a white glow that blinded as the besieged human population un-boarded their doors and windows to face yet another day of degrading animalistic scrounging.

In the midst of it all and screened to seem as wasted as the rest of the city one tall building stood proud. Inside it, creamy white walls met scrupulously polished tiled floors, interspersed with rich copper carpeting to muffle and preserve the hushed professional solemnity, a sterile cleanliness to add a glossy veneer of fresh vitality over the rank odour of corruption and pure evil. Wolfram and Hart during business hours at its worst.

“I don’t know about you but I didn’t sign up for this. What good is a big fat paycheck when the rest of the world’s gone back to bartering to survive? It’s a wasteland out there and we’re stuck in our little gilded cage.” They were walking between conferences with Lilah piled high with files as per usual. Lindsey had his hands shoved deep into dark grey pants pockets.

Hips swaying thanks to towering heels, Lilah Morgan scowled and checked for potential eavesdroppers before risking a reply. “Quit bitching, Lindsey, before you get overheard and the both of us killed,” she hissed back with a warning gleam slicing out of cold eyes.

Adding, “besides, would you rather be out there mucking it with the natives or in here living a life of luxury?” A quick flick of a wrist to check a dainty Rolex had the frown grooves digging deeper.

“What luxury, power? Face it, we got burned, Lilah, and we’re not getting out of this any time soon.” Lindsey scoffed sourly, passing the verbal ball and glowering when other Wolfram & Hart employees passed too close for comfort.

Gym, sauna, movie theatre, two restaurants and a laundry on demand service were available at each fully equipped apartment complex, in magically cloaked locations dotted around the beleaguered city, accessible only by the law firm’s staff. The tip of the iceberg and still none of it was enough for Lindsey who itched to escape.

Who cares about movies when there’s nobody making ‘em? Hell, even watching old epics did nothing except remind him how even history was looking healthier than the world today.

Thanks to him. He’d located and recruited Gundry, which with hindsight had been a bad, bad mistake.

Lilah saw the brief flicker of guilt crossing the boyish handsome face of her rival and smirked, waiting until they were almost inside the room before leaning in to whisper, “Whose fault is that? I asked you at the time if you knew what you were doing, remember?”

That stung. Smug bitch. “I was doing my job,” the mantra was getting old- fast.

“Tell that to the mirror and get over yourself,” Lilah sneered timing it so they were passing through the polished wooden double doors. With no time now for a retort Lindsey fell stonily silent and simply found his seat amongst the dozen or so ringing the expansive walnut table.

This next meeting on the day’s agenda convened in the conference room attached to the Special Projects Division headed by Lindsey and Lilah’s boss, Holland Manners. Sitting in a sprawl and only half listening while doodling mindlessly on his pad, Lindsey felt frustration roil up. Mixed with guilt it was a seething mass in his gut, acid snakes wrestling and writhing inside; threatening to bust him right open as they swelled.

Screw this. His life was supposed to have been wonderful, powerful and oh so different than before. Bitterness added to the frustration and guilt was the final straw.

“Why are we even here?” the words flew out of his mouth without conscious thought and looking up Lindsey saw he had everybody’s aghast attention. Suddenly he couldn’t care less that he’d interrupted Holland giving some spiel about a demon clan with negotiations problems involving their new non-human supplier of, whatever the hell it was.

The pen landed on the table with a clatter in the abrupt silence as he pushed up to sit forward. “Are we just marking time or what? I’m serious, can anyone tell me what goddamn use is a lawyer with no legal process to administer or twist round.”

At the head of the table Holland hid a wince as his protégé had one of what he labelled his ‘fits’ where discretion flew out the window at high velocity. At times he wondered if he’d made a mistake choosing Lindsey McDonald but then his abhorrence for self-doubt would reassert itself. The boy just needed coaching.

Unruffled and composed Holland sighed heavily as an opener to the soft yet steely reply, then gentle smile in place reproved, “Lindsey, I think any discussion about your workload or our changed circumstances should be handled separate to this meeting. I’m sure you agree.”

Under the table a mortified Lilah kicked him hard, stabbing his shin with a pointed shoe just in case he’s missed the warning Holland could so skilfully layer under that smooth as silk affability. Stupid bitch, did she think he didn’t know just how far over he’d crossed the line. Problem was for Lilah that she lived in fear of him dragging her with him and that suited Lindsey just fine.

Hell, yanking her chain was sometimes the only highlight of his day.

Not now though, “Certainly, Sir, excuse my outburst,” the apology was immediate and burned the back of his throat. One of these days apologies weren’t going to make it past Lindsey’s reckless streak and then he figured he was as good as dead.

Later Lindsey resorted to hiding, knowing that Holland would want to dissect his dissatisfaction and force him to face his own culpability, not something he wanted to dwell on right now. Tin-can hockey in the underground car park, filled with lovingly polished ranks of cars acting as silent sentinels served that purpose, as well as giving him an outlet for the edgy restlessness that grew stronger and more intrusive every day.

The stick’s head hovered over the concrete as Lindsey braced, staring utterly focused down the lane towards the narrow goal he’d marked with two yellow traffic cones. His neat burgundy tie was askew and the white shirt’s top button undone while rolled up sleeves revealed forearms that flexed with sinewy muscle. Working out was another new obsession aimed at giving him something to do than go stir crazy.

“Steady… steady,” angling his hips Lindsey swung watching the follow through that sent the can careening across the concrete and shooting between the cones, “Oh yes, and he scores. I am the man,” loud crowing and one short victory dance later Lindsey, unable to completely hide the western swagger, made his way over to swipe up his third beer, tipping back his head to let the cold fluid drain down.

“Bored, Lindsey?” asked a deep voice behind him.

Recognising it, Lindsey stilled then slowly dropped the hand holding the beer. He didn’t need to look; was in fact a little afraid to although you couldn’t tell that from the resigned smile that curved his lips. When he spoke it was perhaps the first time his superiority complex wasn’t along for the ride too, “What do you think, Angel, and here’s me thinking it was obvious what with the tin can and all,” he returned flippantly.

Movement to the right had Lindsey turning to level reddened blue eyes on his nemesis. The vampire stood a few steps in front of his cronies, the leather coated frame standing straight and assured, a solid mass of pending retribution. Fuck you, Lindsey’s eyes gleamed with the unspoken retort and reckless as ever he saluted them with the half full can in his hand, “So, what can I do you for you folks?”

Idly wondering if he was crazy Lindsey kept his hands up and away from his pockets so they’d know he wasn’t triggering any silent alarms.

“You can start by telling us about Gundry and his virus,” Angel suggested without preamble and sauntered closer, brows lowered over eyes that promised things were going to get nasty. Behind him the British guy and the girl hung back, standing protectively in front of a nerdy looking little man. Lindsey recognised him or thought he did.

Wondering when the rest of evil inc were going to descend, Cordelia kept scanning the shadows cursing Angel and his habit of trusting fate, or maybe she meant flying in the face of it. Next to her Wesley was similarly involved in keeping a weather eye on the exits.

Dismissing Nabbit, Lindsey jerked his mind off the human trio and back to the approaching vampire. As far as the question went he didn’t even have to think about it, his decision was already made, “Sure, Kezzra demon a real Jekyll and Hyde character, interesting to work with, lives at 1125 Canadia apartments on Cincinnati.”

Tutting Angel shook his head, “That was too easy, Lindsey, try again,” even knowing it probably wasn’t necessary he couldn’t resist giving into the temptation to hurt this human, accepting that had been his intention from the moment Wolfram & Hart got mentioned. Back a few months loathing had been instant the second he’d laid eyes on the man and hadn’t abated since.

Tense Cordelia stifled the urge to hurry things along, knowing she was still skittish after last night. Then added a silent, yeah, and who wouldn’t be? Watching an illusion crumble into dust like she had yesterday was not her idea of fun. As frustrating as Angel’s stubborn nobility could be at times, knowing it was wavering was pretty damn scary. So it didn’t take a genius to recognise that a second confrontation with someone he genuinely despised–- not a great idea.

Pity she hadn’t figured that out earlier.

“Predictable as ever Angel, can’t recognise the truth even when it’s tossed in your face.”

Lindsey, watching Angel’s slow approach didn’t try and evade or retreat; one it wasn’t in his nature and secondly it would only make it worse, so bracing himself he lifted an arrogant chin and waited. Fifteen ft became zero in a micro-second and seen as a blur nevertheless when that pale hand wrapped around his throat to lift him off the floor Lindsey had already taken a deep breath which instantly moaned out between pain tautened lips.

“I’m telling the truth,” words got hoarser as air quickly became an issue regardless, eyes watering he pushed on, “You think I like this?” he asked bluntly both hands pulling uselessly at a thick steel encased wrist.

All to aware how little it would take to snap that mortal neck and ignoring the pathetic attempt to gain freedom Angel’s eyes narrowed, “I think you’re a sick bastard that likes getting hurt every bit as you like hurting others, its that martyr complex you have. What’s up, Lindsey, are all those years of bible study finally catching up with you?”

Inside Lindsey was laughing at himself realizing finally why he kept returning here of all placed. Damned do-gooder vampire. He kept on being drawn down here away from the safety of the vamp detectors, for this. On some obscure level he’d been waiting for Angel and his buddies to turn up and save the day. My hero. Analysing himself or his own actions had never been a strong point for Lindsey but the flip side to that was he hardly ever questioned himself.

“Maybe I want you to go see him, Angel, go figure.”

“Why?” Angel gave an extra little squeeze for good measure, hiding the glint of guilty pleasure from his human companions but making sure Lindsey saw it. The urge to do worse was almost more than he could withstand and only the stark knowledge in Lindsey McDonald’s face had so far saved the corrupt human from facing a bloody end one dark lonely night.

That and the fact that he could always change his mind if the mood took him; even Angel needed some fantasies and that was one of the rare ones that remained almost guilt free.

Despite the crushing pressure Lindsey stayed mute and out of a red, congested face stared directly into the dark hell reflecting back out of onyx eyes. One day soon he was going to ask Angel if Cordelia Chase and the ex-watcher knew just how much of a monster he really was, soul or not.

They understood one another; Angel dropped him. “I asked you why?”

“I never expected this,” Lindsey wheezed and then coughed, rolling onto his side to curl up like a baby while his oxygen starved body struggled to recover, “I thought it would mess things up a bit, cause a little bit of mayhem but not like this… obliteration of everything.”

Wesley shared Cordelia’s visible feeling of disgust. “You slimy sack of-“

“You reap what you sow,” chimed in Wesley only a little pompously but enough to earn an eye roll and a hard poke off Cordelia.

Rolling over on his back Lindsey wasn’t finished. “It’s going to get worse too. No longer forced to squeeze themselves in whatever dark tight spot they can find, the demons are breeding fast. They learnt it from us that numbers count for everything, pretty soon it’ll be us that are outnumbered ten to one.”

“And whose fault is that?” growled Angel.

Stiffening Angel’s fists clenched with renewed rage. Seeing it Cordelia literally leapt forward, squicked at the idea of watching him dangle the man like a fish on hook again, arm steady as rock as he squeezed the life out of him.

“Wait.” Outstretched arm stopping just short of his stiff frame she said, “erm- why don’t we go see if he’s telling the truth, Angel, before you throttle him and then find the lead’s a dead-end?” Well, it sounded reasonable to her and the plus point was they got to leave- like now would be good.

Then looking for back-up she turned to Wes, pulling an exaggerated grimace as an extra prod, “Don’t you think, Wesley?”

She needn’t have bothered, Wesley was already coming forward to intercede, as usual discomforted seeing Angel assault a human no matter how reprehensible, “I concur. It is our best step forward, Angel,” he spoke up earnestly and let out a relieved breath to share a speaking look with Cordelia when the vampire nodded and stepped away.

“Don’t you just love democracy,” goaded Lindsey from the floor.

Cordy swung back, “Oh shut-up you, a-hole, I don’t want your blood splattered all over my clothes.”

Repartee or not the relief was short-lived, “You guys go first. I’ll be with you in a minute.”

He didn’t even look at them when he said it. Cordelia didn’t like the sound of that one little itty bit and her scowl reflected that fact pointedly, “Oh but-“

“Now, Cordelia,” Angel interrupted and turned his head to raise a quelling brow, his expression inflexible. She didn’t move and he could literally see the wheels turning inside that glossy beautiful head. She was worried about him. Irritation melted, “I won’t be long,” he offered only because it was her and some sixth sense had her relaxing and nodding, accepting his silent promise.

Good grace didn’t come into it though, “Okay, but it better just be a minute, tops. This place gives me the heebie jeebies,” she shivered for extra affect turned away then swung back, “No killing, you promise?” His face spoke volumes, “-Just checking, jeeze.”

Then snagging a silent and watchful Nabbit’s arm as well as Wesley’s she stalked off, taking the lead with slightly battered flats click clacking on the concrete now she was no longer in sneak mode; with both men in tow.

Watching her leave Angel’s gaze was caught for a microsecond by a sweetly curving ass loving concealed by clinging leather pants the colour of caramel and cream. Still in a sprawl on the floor Lindsay failed to notice the slightly absorbed hesitation before the vampire turned his not so welcome attention back on him.

They were alone. Not one to lie and wait to get stomped on Lindsey pushed himself back up to stand on unsteady feet, “So now what, you finally going to make good on one of those threats, Angel? C’mon on, we both know you don’t have the stones.”

Angel tucked that away for a later fantasy where he didn’t just stand there and take it. “Today’s not your day to die, but I am going to add another warning-,” a sucker punch to the gut had Lindsey doubling up and retching onto the concrete of the car-park, leaning in Angel grinned and whispered, “that was just to get your attention, a tickle so to speak. Now…you better be listening.”

Slowly circling him Angel got to his main concern about this sudden and unprecedented turncoat action, “I don’t expect an ambush at this address your so anxious for me to visit, because if there is and I escape… then you get to die.” He meant it too and was the reason why he hadn’t wanted Wesley and Cordelia to overhear, more evidence of how protective he was of his relationship with the two humans.

Bent at the waist and grimacing, Lindsey spat to get rid of the bile then shook his head, running a quick trembling finger under his nose before straightening to say in a pained rasp, “Told you I want this fixed just as much as you. There’ll be no ambush.”

Satisfied to some degree Angel turned to leave, halting when Lindsey called out with some of his usual spark, “Just so you know I’m on the level, I have another little tid-bit for you.”

Distrust dropped in a blanket of unease, brushing it off with an irritable shake of his head Angel carried on walking, “Always want the last word don’t you, Lindsey. I have better things to do.”

“Cordelia is dying.”

That got shockingly instant attention and Lindsey held up a warding off hand, swallowing a hidden strike of terror at the expression on Angel’s face. This time he hadn’t even seen the vampire’s approach until he was there in front of him, silent and murderous. Babbling, Lindsey explained himself, “Look I know what you’re thinking, but its true. I’ve seen a report; the visions were never meant for a human. Ask her, she has to be hiding it. The next vision could be her last.”

~

Before it hit, Cordelia found herself pinned by a pair of glittering brown eyes staring remorselessly out of a tight pale face. They’d been standing waiting by the sewer exit with her leaning back against the wall, fingers tapping impatiently against her thigh silently counting the seconds and vowing to herself that if he was even a second over she was going back. Then he turned the corner and all she could think was what the hell was his problem and why did Angel look like he wanted to pick her up and shake her.

Ookay, what have I done now?

Angel was scared and angry and not dealing well with either. Ever since Doyle’s death he’d struggled to maintain a balance between keeping his distance and keeping them safe. Distance they’d not let him keep and eventually he’d given ground seduced by the temptation of family, only now she was dying and stupidly he felt betrayed.

Cordelia was dying and she’d been lying to hide it as if she didn’t trust him to help her deal with it. Unexpectedly that hurt the most. He’d thought they had more than that. Lindsey couldn’t have picked a better revenge for that punch in the gut and Angel was still reeling as he closed the distance between them.

Wesley and Nabbit may as well not exist for all they didn’t even impinge on his mind, focused unerringly as it was on a blinking and flummoxed Cordelia. His face must be a picture and Angel didn’t give a rat’s ass. Cordelia is dying… Cordelia is dying… dying…

No, No and NO! He’d saved her before when things looked grim and he was going to do it again, even if it was from herself this time. I can’t do it… carry on with her ghost in my head tearing my heart out with the memory of a big smile and knowing she’s gone because of me. The visions were for him and while she had them she was his responsibility. Trying to convince himself that he had a choice to care or not was a joke and all it had taken was three words to convince him of that.
The vision caught them all by surprise. Angel caught her as she tumbled jerkily into his reaching arms.

~
Standing in nothing more than her panties and bra before the mirror Cordelia wearily leaned against the plain ceramic sink, cold and uncaring under her shaking hands. The reflection wasn’t flattering; sunken eye sockets with pained pools in a ghostly face and against that backdrop of sickly white the shocking evidence of deep red blood around her nose, streaking visibly across damp cheeks where she’d swiped at it.

Oh God, I look like a hag. At that errant thought a mirthless laugh escaped unglossed lips. A few weeks back she’d started to complain constantly about having to do without cosmetics, until fed-up Angel told her to quit moaning and she was stunning anyway. At the time she’d been too proud to admit he’d made her day, a pity since she was pretty sure he wouldn’t be barking that at her now.

At least the vision got them out of Wolfram & Hart in one piece, detouring around the waiting demons that had somehow found out they were working towards fixing the 2000 catastrophe. The vision images were still crystal but the rest was a blur with echoing voices.

”Cordelia, dammit, can you hear me?” Angel was holding her, no surprises there.

“She’s having a vision.” Trust Wes to state the obvious.

Angel was impatient with a hint of panic, “I know that, Wes, it’s just…”

Interrupting she blurted out the details in fits and starts, stammering to get it out and make sense of the freight train whistling and juddering in her head. Voices faded in and out.

“Let’s get out… back… leads too…”

“What about…”

“Later”

The next thing she knew she was being carried, her legs dangling free and in the rush a shoe came off to fall unnoticed to the sewer floor. Her cheek rhythmically brushed against fresh cotton smelling of laundry detergent and the tiniest hint of cool male spice. Underneath, hard immovable planes of muscle acted as a cushion, while steel bands cradled her effortlessly.

The feeling of weightlessness was disorienting but so much better than trying to struggle along on her own unsteady and one bare-foot feet. Finally the vision headache’s first punishing grip receded enough for her to lift her groggy, pain stabbing head, “I can walk,” she mumbled embarrassed despite the crashing pain and pushed weakly against Angel’s chest. As a distraction the warm sticky flow dripping on one hand, alerting her to the blood streaming from her nose was unbeatable.

Oh God, she’d stained his shirt. “Let me go.”

Dizzy, nausea bubbled threateningly and tears stung. “No,” he’d said shortly. And that was that.

Angel had insisted on driving back to the office before heading out and she wasn’t sure but Cordelia thought she’d stayed in the back with him, the blanket draped securely over the both of them. Well that was a first. Then back in his basement apartment he’d even threatened her with Wesley as babysitter until she’d convinced him alone was better.

She’d been lying, alone wasn’t better but the one she wanted with her was him and he definitely needed to be on the Gundry guest list so she kept that to herself, settling for shooing them all out and using impatience for peace as a prod.

But not before Angel laid down the law. She’d been lying on his bed with Angel sitting next to her hip looking down at her all stern and strangely knowing. Cordelia’s stomach dropped even further, guessing that somehow, some way he knew.

Uneasily she jumped into the silence, “Angel, I-“

His hand squeezed hers demanding she stop, “Whatever it is- it can wait. Rest, Cordelia.”

Her hand felt strange in his large one like a songbird trapped in an ivory cage. Uh oh, there was that skin-tingling intimacy again brushing aside pain like so much flotsam. Her smile was uneasy, “Ever think to yourself I need a vacation? Well that’s me, I was thinking Disneyworld. Evil stepmothers I can handle, you know?”

It didn’t work and intensity of that probing gaze didn’t dissolve. “Don’t doubt it. Now, I mean it no exceptions, rest.”

Relaxing and thinking the worst was over Cordelia nodded.

Angel burst her bubble, “And when I get back you and I are going to talk.”

Remembering that last conversation before the guys took off her eyelids drooped to screen suddenly careening emotions. Angel at his no-nonsense, stubborn best. Against the odds the relief had been incredible and weakening with the downside being that denial was no longer possible. Pretending was over… Cordelia Chase, ex-bitch of Sunnydale was belly clenching, crap inducing scared; the kind of fear that consumes you from the inside out, making your bowels stand to attention.

Without permission a keening sob forced its way up. Choking on it Cordelia bit her lip tasting blood to no avail. Horrifyingly this time it wouldn’t be held back.

“Oh God, I don’t wanna die,” her head hit the glass with a despairing thunk and shaking hands covered wet cheeks, but die she would and not next decade or year or even month; soon.

She’d been an unwilling horror-stricken witness when her aunty on her mother’s side died in hospital a long time ago. She’d never forgotten the horror of it. The chase’s had been visiting after a routine operation that should have gone smoothly. Only her aunt had an embolism while they were standing there and it was if she became a fountain of blood. It spurted everywhere, even streaming out of her eyes as she swayed, lurching about the bed reaching for them, while her mom screamed and screamed fit to burst young Cordy’s ears until finally the nursing staff barrelled in, answering the blaring alarm and shoving them out of the room.

Her Aunt Teresa had known she was dying, you could see it in her red welling terror-stricken eyes. Ogodogod… “Please, make this stop,” the plea was whisper thin with hopelessness.

Now the pressure in Cordelia’s head was a vice, screwing tighter as a matching terror wrenched it hard and fast. Pressing the heels of her hands to her temples she swayed, vision swimming with tears that streamed, as did her nose to splatter deeply red into the sink. Freezing to stare down at the bloody patterns diluted with drops of water Cordelia became strangely calm, after all so much of her life was about blood these days. Maybe she should donate it to Angel?

Hands dropping to clutch the sink again Cordelia slid her eyelids shut, fighting for calm. Memories of her life flashed behind the closed lids; arguing with Buffy over Angel and refusing to believe he was a vampire, Xander turning away at the hospital after she’d rebuffed him, Russell Winters cornering her in his mansion and the sheer relief when Angel appeared out of nowhere to save her. Then Doyle, his face melting away as the half-demon died so they could live.

Dammit, why me? Why did you have to give the visions to me, what’d I do?

Shocked to the core her head shot up, eyes glaring at herself with a fire re-lit in the shadowed depths. Whoa, where had that come from? “Okay, that’s enough! You need a refresher of why whining and crying doesn’t work. Didn’t you see enough of that in good ole Sunnyhell?”

Angrily she ran the tap, scrunching up the washcloth to wet it before roughly wiping away any evidence of weakness. “Giving up is for losers and Cordelia Chase is *not* and never will be a loser. This vision-thing is not gonna beat me and no matter what I won’t just… curl up and die like some schmuck.”

Finished she finger combed her hair, puffing out her cheeks to take away the gaunt shape of too prominent bones. In the mirror Cordelia’s reflection stared fiercely determined back at her, “I’m strong, stronger than anyone knows, even Angel. I will get through this. Its gonna be okay.” There was colour back in her cheeks. Okay, so far so good c’mon keep it going; you can do this.

Rising back up from the depths had never been so hard but the euphoria of making it was already intoxicating. Hands planted on the sink Cordelia leant in delivering the fait accompli, “Surviving my life so far hasn’t exactly been a picnic and I’m still here, so what’s one more little miracle against all that?”

Two pinched cheeks and one practice of a big smile later and Cordelia was ready to face the world again, or at least their tiny portion of it, “Hope springs eternal, I like it.”

~

Gundry lived in a part of town that looked like maybe squalor would be more than a few steps up, at least until you got past the mystical barriers that cloaked what it really was… a luxury complex complete with power. Craning his neck to see the uppermost floors Wesley felt a wistful sentimentality for the clear, steady and most importantly un-flickering yellow glow from a few of the windows.

“Looks like we hit pay-dirt,” Angel murmured similarly scanning for details; automatically logging the layout and identifying potential hot spots for trouble; thinking to himself that two centuries of stalking was at least good for honing the senses and skills for tracking prey, or when required avoiding detection.

“It would seem so,” agreed Wesley pulling down the goggles and touching his jacket lightly, reassuring himself that the throwing axe was still where it should be.

“I- I don’t- maybe we should um… come back. I could go back at least and you two can do whatever it is-“ trailing off David Nabbit shifted on both feet, arms still wrapped around the laptop case as if it held the Holy Grail. If it fixed the technology crisis Angel was willing to build it a shrine.

“You’re better off with us,” denied Angel leading the way and sparing him only a glance. Not to mention if the man was being hunted he wanted him far away from the apartment and Cordelia. Angel had learnt his lesson with Barney, the now very dead demon auctioneer.

“We may need a software expert to deal with this creature anyway,” added Wesley offering a reassuring smile and thinking to himself that the ex-millionaire should count himself lucky he wasn’t having to face Cordelia, who was bound to feel the need to derisively point out the damp patches that circled both armpits, dipping nearly all the way down to the dishevelled blue shirts scraggly hem.

As for Angel, he was in what the Englishman termed the vampire’s ‘battle mode’, where sympathy or understanding for mortal fear took a back seat to necessity. However, for the ex-watcher it came much easier bearing in mind it wasn’t too long ago that his own nerves had been similarly hovering too near the surface.

Working at Angel Investigation was changing that. Thank God.

“What was the number again?” asked Wesley as they walked up to the touch-pad speaker phone at the entrance doors, surprised to be able to feel the hum of electricity all around them, as if the last month’s lack had made him super sensitive to something that he’d once taken for granted.

It was David Nabbit who got in first, “1125 but don’t bother ringing it. If its one of Ultra Securities I created the program it operates off.”

While Angel spared a moment to marvel that the man had managed to string a whole sentence together without stammering, Wesley caught on to his meaning, “You left yourself a back door, a key almost?”

Nodding Nabbit hesitated to think before reeling off a string of numbers. Not expecting success Angel keyed them in and was utterly unable to hide his surprise when the lock audibly clicked back, “it worked,” he stated dumbly, reaching for the long metal handle to check the sturdy door was indeed passable, swinging it open effortlessly.

“Well yeah- I told you,” David shrugged ducking his head sheepishly and basking in having discomforted the seemingly unflappable vampire.

Impressed and hiding a smile Wesley walked through, passing Angel with a careless, “so, now it’s open let’s make use of it before we get found and booted out again.”

Angel was missing something he just knew it, “Booted, Wesley?”

“I have been known to use slang in the past, Angel, it’s hardly a red-letter day,” was the dry reply floating back from somewhere further inside.

After being so long in the dark the chandelier dangling from the foyer ceiling hurt his eyes. Squinting, Angel shrugged irritably and gave it up, holding the door open with absent civility for the other human to enter before him.

~

Gundry was pottering, tinkering with his treasures the way a fictional King Midas may have done with his hordes of gold. Saucer-wide milky blue eyes blinking the small green skinned Kezzra demon ran long spindly fingers over cold metal rods and moulded plastic luxuriating in the feeling of power garnered from creating something that worked smoothly, efficiently and met all of his expectations.

Lost in his own little world the unexpected knock at the door had the demon freezing and drawing in on himself like turtle into a translucent shell, “Who is it?” he called out in a weedy voice, hatign the idea of visitors and hoping he could send them on their way without having to bother focusing on their petty business.

“Lindsay MacDonald of Wolfram & Hart has sent us with an urgent request.”

The voice was precise, uncluttered and annoyingly one Gundry couldn’t ignore. Wolfram & Hart were benefactors worth pandering too. “Darned human’s, never know when to leave a demon alone to get on with his work. Seriously, if Mr McDonald wants his time-machine *on* time and properly commissioned then he should…”

The door crashed back before Gundry had ambled over more than halfway and still in mid-grumble, leaving the demon shocked and stumbling back, staring at the ominous man more than twice his height filling the now open doorframe.

“Did you say time-machine?”

… A few minutes later and Gundry was still flapping, gibbering almost at having three stranger’s interfering with his treasures. David Nabbit was in hog heaven while for once Wesley joined Angel in being left, dumbly shaking their heads and wondering if techno babble really was another language.

Not liking the feeling of being impossibly ignorant Angel concentrated on what he did understand, lifting and dumping the thin and delicate little demon onto a counter where his sneaker clad feet swung at least three foot off the floor, “Your not moving from there until you tell me about this virus you let loose.”

Blinking at the looming vampire Gundry shrugged shoulders no wider than a child’s, “What’s to tell I was asked to do one specific to dates and targeting operating and imbed systems. It was almost too easy.”

Hearing the indifference and resisting the urge to reach out and do some damage, Angel growled long and low then straightened from the intimidating stance he’d taken up. Then moved off to pace, trying to think and calm the simmering emotions leftover from the post confession-vision-Cordelia scenario of earlier.

Knowing it was a dumb question Wesley asked it anyway, “Can it be reversed?”

The simple answer was, “no.”

Crossing his arms Angel’s eyes narrowed intently, “What if we go back in time to do it?”

What happened next still boggled the mind as he was suddenly reminded of Lindsay’s Jekyll and Hyde comment. At the mere mention of his precious invention being confiscated Gundry seemed to swell, in a very literal sense.
CHAPTER 4

The stairs to the office remained unchanged from pre-millennium; grungy and poorly lit, but only a little dirtier as Cordelia and Wesley became more proficient with a mop. Not Angel though, being a vampire and more used to sewers he seemed not to notice accumulating dust and grime, unless it was happening inside his home- then of course the roof came off.

Nabbit lugged the case up the first flight in an absent way that had Wesley half convinced it was in fact a well camouflaged mutant body part. “That demon was cool. Wow, the way he swelled up was just… so, so cool. Reminded me of the incredible hulk ya know. I have all the comics, been collecting them since I was kid so I’m kinda an expert on the subject.”

Hiding a smile Wesley agreed, “Yes, I see your point now you mention it.” Then added silently to himself that of course generally speaking the hulk wasn’t trying to rip the heads off the good guys, but still there were definite physiological similarities. Speeding up a bit, Wesley led the way with the now loquacious Nabbit still chunnering on behind him.

Nabbit wasn’t finished, was in fact still juiced from the excitement now the sheer terror was fading, “And the way you saved, Angel… Wow and double wow, I could never have done that in a gadzillion years.”

Blushing high on his cheeks with embarrassed pride, Wesley brushed it off with a graceful gentlemanly shrug, “Thank you, but we are a team you know and Angel, despite his supernatural abilities does sometimes stray too close to the proverbial fire and then needs yanking back.”

“That’s what you guys do?” Nabbit was impressed and a tiny bit envious.

Nodding Wesley smiled again, forcing his lips into a depreciating curve and struggled manfully not to let his chest swell, or his head for that matter. Mainly because they were now almost at the office door and Cordelia could spot an over massaged ego at a hundred paces, not to mention always feeling the need to bring things distressingly back into perspective.

Opening the shuttered glazed door with some relief and hoping that Cordelia was feeling sprightly enough to be seated at her desk, Wesley frowned, disappointed to find it empty. Unaccountably worried the ex-watcher turned rogue demon-hunter and now associate of Angel Investigations headed straight for the stairs down to the apartment below cage hardly aware of David Nabbit following on his heels.

The staircase was wide and struggling to keep up, Nabbit flicked Wesley a searching look before getting up the nerve to ask, “Is there a problem?” Being a nerd had a way of making a guy sensitive to nuances.

Edgy, Wesley already had his hand on the heavy door ready to slide it back when he answered, “I’m not sure yet… Cordelia!” Wesley’s voice echoed in the dim recesses of Angel’s sanctuary before he’d even fully entered.

“Kitchen,” was the short and impossibly relieving holler. Feeling like an idiot, Wesley pulled back from his sprint in time to stroll casually through the archway, sending a probing gaze over the weary but stunning woman standing attentively over a bubbling pot on the hob. The smell permeating every square inch of the homey range and table’d area was disgusting to put it mildly.

A denim skirt with a writhing dragon printed to curve over one curvy hip led the eyes up to a summery yellow halter-neck, teasingly highlighting still golden skin as a background to dark streaming locks of brunette hair, left loose to cascade down said back.

Unconsciously imitating Angel, Wesley pushed his hands in his pants and ignored the smell, not hard with such a vision of carefree health and beauty even if it was from behind, “You’re obviously feeling better?” he asked neutrally, hiding the relief and then couldn’t resist adding, “I hate to ask but what on earth is that you’re concocting?”

The horror in his tone had Cordelia whipping around to hold the stained wooden mixing spoon threatening aloft, “Hey, I do not concoct… I, uh dabble…,” dark head tilted the spoon waggled as she paused before hitting on the words she wanted, making her smile triumphantly, “with innovative new ways to cook boring old, emphasis on old, apples.”

His stomach clenched, Oh God, she’d used the last of the apples, “Oh, well in that case I look forward to trying it,” Wesley lied as best he could and moved deeper in to prop up the white refrigerator door, arms crossing over a plaid shirt and tan jacket, both of which had seen better days.

Turning back Cordy tossed him a scowl, not in the least fooled, “Better than just plain old stewed. Trust me, you’ll love it.”

From experience those words were the death toll to any appetite Wesley had. “Aren’t you going to ask how it went?” he asked desperate to change the subject before she insisted on a tasting.

“Sure, that was next. Where’s Angel?” her over the shoulder sweep took in the hovering Nabbit but had no luck finding tall, dark and broody. Eyes widening Cordelia promptly high-jumped to the wrong conclusion and the spoon hit the counter with splatter, “is he wounded or something. Geeze, Wes you should have told me-“

“Angel is fine,” the Englishman interrupted raising an elegantly boned hand to halt her before she could stride past him; brows rising over the wire rims of his spectacles that she’d think otherwise. “In fact it went well. If you don’t count the fact that our host morphed from Kermit the frog to a giant troll like creature in a blink of an eye, then nearly ripped Angel’s head off. Thankfully I-“

“But Angel’s okay?” interrupted an anxious Cordelia, no-nonsense hands planted on her hips. For some reason it was important she get confirmation of that fact before relaxing. After her parents Cordelia had been determined never to depend on anyone ever again. But even before all of this, fate, it seemed had disagreed and her damned emotions weren’t listening either. Losing Doyle had been the dam buster and so far she hadn’t been able to cement over the cracks and halt the trickle.

“Yes, I told you he was,” frowning unhappily at the interruption coming as it did at what was for him a crucial point, Wesley sighed and reluctantly gave in to the demand thrumming out of hazel eyes staring unwavering and expectant right at him. His hand dropped. “Angel has gone to consult the Oracles.”

Stunned Cordelia belatedly snapped her hanging jaw shut. The Oracles, why? A horrible idea of why flitted into her mind. He’d guessed about the visions that much she was sure of and that was bad enough. Anxious temper lit in her belly, if he dares…

Off to the side and still with only one foot in the kitchen proper, Nabbit was nodding excitedly in agreement, dark hair flopping around his flushed peter pan face, “I can’t believe there are actual Oracles. Wow, I wish I’d known, just imagine it…”

God, is this guy for real? Impatience reared and bypassed the newly revealed layer of compassion that came with the job of being Angel’s seer. She flashed the man an impatience glance, “I don’t have too and from what I’ve heard your not missing anything,” finished with that abrupt dismissal Cordelia turned back to Wesley, hands splayed up; the picture of annoyed incredulity, “Why? I mean they haven’t deigned to see him the half dozen times he’s tried before. What’s changed?”

Taken aback, Wesley frowned at her waspishness then leant back and re-crossed his arms before replying dryly, “Well, I imagine it has something to do with the time machine of Gundry’s we’ve found,” his blue gaze turned introspective and lisp pursed before going on to add, “but I have to admit Angel seemed more determined than usual to impose on them.”

Cordelia blinked twice and watching her carefully Wesley admired her poise, “Time Machine?”

His smile was rueful all too aware how outlandish it sounded, “Yes, I know impossible to believe isn’t it, but so far the signs point to it being genuine.”

Then of all the things she could have focussed on, she confounded him by explosively pointing out, “Uh, hello, the oracles are ancient foretellers of… whatever. What would they know about time travel? No, there has to be another reason.” And boy! Wouldn’t she like to be a fly on that particular temple wall.

If this has anything to do with the visions… then that’s *it* and the worst I’ll do is stake him. So what if I hate the visions, if anyone’s gonna get rid of them it’s gonna be me and include some serious getting stuff off my chest and right into their smug, know-it-all faces! The linoleum floor was a blur under her feet.

Watching her pace the small confines, gnawing on one thumbnail it took a second for Wesley to follow where she was going. “They are a link to the PTB’s and besides what else could it be? It’s the only slim-to-nothing lead we have.”

~

“We can’t help you,” the woman said seemingly without a trace of regret.

“It is not our place to intervene. So, we will not,” the man added with even less compassion. Of the two he was the first Angel wanted to throttle. If these were supposed to be the good guys then he was pretty certain he was never going to fit in. Nor want too.

And they say vamps feel nothing. What would it take to wipe that half smirk off his face? His jaw clenched thinking it was a tantalising question and if this meeting didn’t turn out the way he wanted it, then tonight was possibly the night they’d all find out. Angel no longer cared who they represented. There where no humans here, nobody he who’s opinion he cared about and the need to unleash his increasing frustration and fear for Cordelia was intense.

Both gold and blue painted figures stood coolly impervious to the frustrated rage consuming the vampire standing before them, an emotion strong enough to send streaks of furious energy rebounding off walls made entirely of grey veined white marble.

They’d stated their position and now it was time he made his clear too; fairs fair, “I really don’t care what your place is. Cordelia didn’t get a choice, so you don’t get one either. If it makes you feel better here’s you damned gift.” Reaching inside his coat Angel then tossed something tiny fisted in his large hand.

The claddagh ring landed with a metallic ring on the cold stone floor before their sandaled feet, both oracles followed its path until it came to rest and then the woman bent to pick it up, sliding Angel a surprised glance when it lay on her open palm.

“This trinket once meant the world to you didn’t it? Yet, it now means so little than you can part with it as easily as if it where nothing?”

The ring had left a cold imprint on his skin, closing his fingers to dispel it, Angel answered her without hesitation; “It’s a ring, a piece of metal. I’m more concerned with saving a life right now.” He wasn’t being a martyr and memories of sitting in the dark, that ring taking pride of place on his desk while he brooded endlessly about Buffy, seemed a lifetime ago.

Behind the black swathed pair a tunnel of towering archways led every deeper into their emotionless realm, every steep curve and perfect line a statement of simplicity and in this case, freezing resignation.

The man less impressed than his counterpart picked up the ring from her hand and made a show of dropping it to the floor, “It makes no difference. We will not intercede again. Now leave us.”

Angel intercepted the hand that with one negligent wave would banish him from their temple, their merciless arrogance doing more to unravel a hundred years of abstinence than a river of hot pulsing blood could ever do.

“Don’t push me,” he warned then let the hand go. Shocked the pair eyed him warily now, realising for the first time that his uneasy deference of the past was absent this visit.

Shifting, angry and restless Angel, settled narrowed eyes on the woman, sensing she was the less intractable of the two oracles then asked pointedly, “So, you *can* help me but you won’t, is that it?”

The voice uttered so flatly was deep, dark and throbbed with seething menace. His patience never good when lives were at stake was severely stretched already, since getting in here had been a feat in itself and took long enough to have drained it dry.

In response there were two reluctant nods, with both still eyeing the so called tamed beast that had suddenly freed itself from the cage to prowl their tiny and hallowed slice of reality. Their protection lay in refusing admittance, redundant since they’d already let him in and now it seemed he refused to be banished.

“I have to ask you to reconsider,” he gritted out aiming for civil and missing by several yards. Her gaze flickered, unsure and he forced his body to relax muscle by muscle, adding, “please?” The iridescent white glow suffusing the temple hurt his demon sensitive eyes but his gaze never left the woman’s.

There was a pregnant pause and then in response she sighed heavily enough to set ebony ringlets bouncing and added to the movement by shaking her head, “We cannot act directly. The last time was out of our remit and I- we nearly lost our place here. You will have to look elsewhere.”

Angel wouldn’t accept that and he shook his head. There *was* no one else could help him. His mind raced, they were foretellers, that was their job, so perhaps forcing them to admit Cordy was in peril would weaken their resistance? “It’s true that she’s dying isn’t it?” Even asking the question had a pain blooming inside; enough to have his voice a mere whisper in comparison.

She wavered as a spark of emotion flitting briefly over a more humane expression, “Yes, she does not have long.”

It was too much and against his will self-control snapped. The human face contorted like quicksilver to reveal thick ridges and ivory fangs as he advanced until coming to a stop, dark and stormily intent with only inches between him and them. A looming testament to demonic rage, conspicuous and horribly out of place in the stifling, emotionless void of the temple.

“Then why did you give them to her in the first place? I stood here and you told me… another door. That’s what you said.” Almost incoherent the question steeped with accusation came out as a strangled, inhuman roar and scraped his throat to burn rawly.

Into the still echoing shiver of that pained explosion, the man interjected, “Doors shut,” with a cool smile; unknowingly warping the symmetrical and jagged lines of blue adorning his cheekbones; ignorant of the fact that topaz eyes traced the shimmer of taut golden flesh recalling how a single hand, gripping the face hard enough could crack cheekbones like gossamer thin sea shells.

“Not this one,” lashed back Angel demonic eyes drilling into the ancient seers, stilling the urge to dig his fingers into those merciless eyes and rip his goddamned face off. “I’m finished with you, all of you. Stop sending her the visions because I won’t act on them. How’s that for non-intervention.”

Bitterness was rife along with an unhealthy dose of loathing. No wonder they needed slayers and watchers, only they’d miscalculated with him; their new toy. Especially if they thought he’d accept that while he could save any dumb blonde in the street who’d gone in a dark alley with stranger he was helpless to save one of his own who fought side by side with him…

The man blinked, his expression turning stupefied with unpleasant shock for a moment before recovering. “You can’t refuse, that is your role. You are the champion.”

Melting back to human as he backed away Angel shook his head ironically, dark eyes equally artic; “Do you think that matters to me? Soul or not I’m still a vampire.”

Seeing them continue to stare blankly as uncertainty deepened, he quirked a brow then added with a shrug of wide shoulders, “Hell, who knows maybe I was just bored and Doyle intrigued me. You sought me out, remember. It wasn’t me knocking at your door. Think about it.”

That possibility stated so coolly shook them enough that the woman grappled with her wits and stepped forward, black draped body stiff with annoyance at this unexpected curve in their plans. “But your redemption, will you give that up with so little done to make amends?”

Angel didn’t respond at first, deliberately walking a slow circle around the now stiff pair, scenting a new fear as it occurred to them that if he wasn’t one of the good guys anymore; that could mean… Then finally he leant in to whisper, “Ask me another.” A dark and slightly savage satisfaction tinged the mirthless smile flashed at them, white teeth and all.

Right in that moment he meant every word. This so called journey of his was much more complex than he was making out and his ambivalence would sometimes depend on whether he was feeling any type of attachment to humanity. Not helped by the fact that taking orders had never been his forte which was essentially what the visions were.

It had been okay when he thought he’d been working for a force for good, but if Cordelia died because of the visions then Angel was switching sides, to his own. Bloody vengeance *was* his speciality even if he was a little rusty. Practice makes perfect. It wasn’t going to come to that though, he wouldn’t let it.

Another pause, deeper and deathly silent fell as the oracles digested that implicit threat. Sparing a swift speaking glancing at her consort the woman swallowed and conceded, “In that case maybe there is something we can do, but there will be a price. A token if you will of your commitment.”

Satisfied, Angel focused on her and put the other one out of his mind. “That’s more like it. Go on, I’m listening.”

Stopping directly in front of her with his dark head lowered, tensely Angel waited, knowing he wasn’t going to like what she wanted of him and ready to pray he could complete whatever task she set. Cordelia’s pain wracked face swam before his minds-eye, an unnecessary boost to his determination.

“There are some might argue that you’ve earned a reward, but be that as it may or not and since you are so insistent I will give you a choice, vampire.”

Confusion coupled with alarm had Angel stiffening. There were choices and then there were impossible choices. Were they playing him, the only reward he’d earned was his own personal hot-spot in hell?

The pause was deliberate and the man replied first his distaste evident, “You can either have a permanent soul…”

“… or remove the visions from your friend,” the woman finished then held up a starkly warning hand when Angel went to speak without thinking. “Bear in mind that a cure for her is already within your grasp.”

Brows lowering Angel frowned. More riddles, just what they didn’t need. Then his expression cleared realising it didn’t matter since they’d offered him what he’d come for. “Find another door. Cordelia gets left alone. Try texting,” he suggested dryly, swept by giddy relief. He’d done it, Cordelia was safe.

~

The drive back to the office and home was done with dawn chasing the Plymouth as it speeded down the deserted road, tail-lights acting as red beacons in the twilight as Angel took the last corner with reckless abandon, hands almost crossing on the wheel and tyres squealing. Parking up without bothering with the usual camouflage he vaulted out and sprinted the few yards to the buildings stone entrance; beating the rising sun by minutes.

Stopping outside his door with a hand already reaching out to open it Angel stopped and drew back, puffing out a breath. All the way here he’d been consumed with the problem of how to tell Cordelia he’d arbitrarily had the visions taken from her; now home he was still no nearer an answer. As for her reaction; shrieking harpies came to mind as it was pretty much a dead cert she was going to be mad enough to spit nails. Or, and even more likely, sharpened steep-tipped stakes.

Not so long ago she’d been willing to kiss anyone, him included, in an effort to get rid of them the same way she got them. Everything would be hunky-dory if her perspective had stayed that way but somehow in the intervening months she’d started to identify the visions with her own self-worth. Dangerous and untrue, the problem was how to convince her of that with the timing stinking like it now did.

“Just tell her the truth. That she’s more important to you than the visions,” he murmured to himself, dreading the confrontation as he slowly grasped the handle ready to slide the barrier aside.

It was a good idea, except for the part where she accused him of being selfish and then raged that not *everything* around here revolved around him and what *he* wanted. He could see it in full technicolour; hazel eyes flashing, cheeks blood red and hair electrically on end, swishing as she paced with hands that gesticulated wildly, alternating with a stiff finger stabbing the air inches from his chest.

Along with the dread was some shame too. He was a vampire; she was a human and little more than a girl. Where was his detachment when he needed it? Damned if he knew. All in all his earlier satisfaction had lasted no longer than it took for him to realise she might never talk to him again, or contrarily, only when she wanted to flay him with her acid tongue between bouts of frigid silence.

His spine quivered. Coward. “She’s gonna kill me.”

Steeling himself Angel quietly drew back the doors only to whip up his fearfully lowered head when the sharp, coppery tang of blood hit the back of his nostrils. Instantly he was hit with a myriad of sensation, chiefly guilt at the hunger and then panic, wondering why it was there. “What the…”

He lunged deeper inside, head lashing from side to side in a panicked search while an awful fear crashed down, “Cordelia, Wes?” The deep call reverberated in his ears and was still ringing when he spotted them on the couch. Or rather Cordelia was lying on the couch with Wesley kneeling worried, dejected and afraid beside her with one slim hand in the hunched Englishman’s grasp.

At the foot of the couch stood David Nabbit and another man the vampire dimly recognised; Charles Gunn the street hoodlum from Cordy’s last vision. Sweeping scan for danger finished Angel strode over, tossing the coat carelessly aside and not taking his gaze off Cordelia’s waxen face.

Nabbit gasped seeing the vampire appear from nowhere while the tall brawny street-fighter stiffened into a battle ready stance, unnerved at the speed he closed the distance. Wesley simply looked up with red-rimmed eyes. The ex-watcher had been praying Angel would come home soon while afflicted with dread about his reaction when he did.

He’d been weeping Angel realised guts clenching with growing horror, “What’s wrong, what’s happened…?”

“She had a vision not long after I got here,” Wesley stood with difficulty his knees stiff from his vigil, his face was fixed in utter solemnity, “She collapsed before she could tell us anything.”

Angel stared. A vision, God no! He couldn’t have been too late, even his ill-fate couldn’t be that tragic could it?

Taking Wesley’s place beside the deathly still girl Angel picked up her limp hand in his large one, the fingers dainty and delicate but far too still without even a flutter to give him any hope. Disbelief fought with dazed grief and horrible suspicion. This couldn’t be happening. “How long?” he asked hoarsely, having to swallow twice before he could continue, “how long has she been like this?”

Discomforted by the stunned emotion blazing from a creature he firmly believed was incapable of any type of feeling. Gunn turned his head to stare fixedly into space, trying not to think how closely it resembled what he’d felt killing his sister. He shouldn’t be here, wished he were anywhere else, but leaving now seemed… wrong. Next time he was strangling his damned curiosity before giving into it.

Eyes moist and struggling with a closed throat of his own Wesley answered, “I’m not sure, perhaps an hour.” A glance at a mutely nodding Nabbit reassured him his sense of time was accurate enough.

An hour, just before he finally got to see the oracles. Don’t think about that yet. She looked peaceful in a way, as if she were sleeping. His thumb traced the line of a brow, sweeping whisper-light down one high cheekbone and stopping where her jaw met her ear with fine wisps of soft hair sliding to meet the tender stroke.

The two men watching shuffled their feet, looking down and then away; both knowing they didn’t belong there. Wesley went to help when Angel picked her up only to stop when the vampire vehemently shook his head.

“I can handle it,” he said in a rasp unable to meet the equally grieving eyes of the human. Refusing any help in carrying her gently to his room, her slight weight nothing to someone of his unnatural strength

Cordelia was his responsibility. Unwillingly to him a tear tracked down his cheek leaving a wet and icy trail. Turning towards his bedroom, over-bright brown eyes caught another pair, recognising the wary distrust of the young stranger. It didn’t slow him down one iota. Who cares why he was there; all that mattered was the unresponsive woman in his arms. She was warm but her pulse was too thready, the heart-beat slow and deep as if conserving what it could before stuttering to a stop.

Halting just inside the door Wesley watched with a heavy heart as Angel lowered her to the bed then tugged the comforter up to drape it dreadfully carefully over her body, covering the summery yellow top that had so briefly brightened the passing night.

To his eyes the vampire moved slowly as if in pain, lingering before letting her go completely as of he could keep Cordelia with them just by physical touch alone.

To Angel it seemed that her face was even paler against the deep burgundy of his bedding. Seated next to her with her hand still tucked in his and gazing sombrely down, he felt more tears threaten and gritted his teeth, willing them back. After a century who knew better than he that tears were useless? He ran a hand over the stinging closed lids.

Shutting the sight of her lying there didn’t send her way. Just as he’d know it would that bright smile rose up to haunt him, memories spilled up from a deep well he hadn’t known existed in his mind; Cordelia flirting in the Bronze, confident, assured and determined that he wouldn’t ignore her; then later here in LA, filled with relief when he gave her the job that had led to this utter deathly stillness.

She was slipping away from them, fading before their eyes second by second, a grain of sand at a time. Panic surged bringing with it a stubborn refusal to let fate take another loved one from him.

Vaulting up the vampire began to pace never leaving the bed by more than a few feet, eyes locked on its precious cargo, “She had a vision?” he asked without looking at Wesley stood in the shadowed doorway.

“Yes,” was the simple answer said tiredly with a ring of defeat.

Unbidden a large hand swept the contents of a dresser violently away as Angel gave in for an instant to the savage impulse to rampage. “I told them no more visions!” His voice thundered, somewhere between human and demon.

Jumping Wesley sucked in a breath watching wide-eyed as the vampire he’d come to consider as a friend slammed his back into the wall, fisted hands pressed to his temples, fighting to retain control of his once notorious temper. The urge to cross his fingers and hope Angel won the battle was instinctive and based on the fact that a violently enraged demon was the last thing they needed right now.

This wasn’t helping and he knew it. Railing, screaming, cursing and the dumb need to smash things could wait for another day. Hauling back on the reins of his seething emotions, Angel shook his head almost juddering with the effort it took. It took longer than he liked but it worked.

The hands dropped and he stared at the bed. “How could it be too late?” Angel was muttering unaware his useless pleas were being said aloud. “They said she didn’t have long but…”

They hadn’t lied but they’d been economical with the truth. God, he hated them. Forget them for now, concentrate on Cordelia. He had so much he wanted to say to her and now he might never get the chance. He could tell himself he’d never had the words before but the truth was that he’d been too scared to voice them, convinced that if she knew how much she mattered then someone up there would realise it too and steal her away from him.

Stupid, so very stupid. Dropping his head back to haul in an unsteady breath Angel opened his eyes and began walking back to the bed, his tread soft and face anguished, talking to her as if she could somehow hear and understand, “I was going to tell you… explain how the visions don’t make you who you are.”

The deep voice was rusty and Wesley jerked to attention, listening while the lump in his throat got bigger and grew spikes. Oh God, I can’t bear this. Angel baring his soul was almost too much and his head swam dizzily as grief sharpened. Men do not cry. The pitiless litany was decades old and just as uselessly untrue now as it had been as a five-year-old, locked away alone in a dark cupboard.

The mattress dipped under Angel’s weight but Cordelia was too far gone to notice the slight shift as she turned into him. “I know you think that the compassion and the strength you’ve found are all bound up with them, but it’s not true. They were there all the time it’s just that you didn’t need them before now.”

Vision blurring Angel blinked and tucked a few stray strands away from her face, leaving the pads of his fingers resting against the pulse in her neck, willing it to kick up a beat and for her to wake up. “When you wake up I’m going to find a way to make you understand that-“

His voice wavered so he stopped hearing a sniffle from behind followed by an awkward clearing of a throat. The pressure in his chest was like a vice. Sucking in another choppy breath he didn’t need, Angel kept eyes burning with unshed tears on her still beautiful face, “Then I’m going to make sure you know how important you are for you, to me… to us. I don’t need a seer, I need you and I promise you won’t have to worry about the visions ever again.”

Leaning down so his lips hovered over her smooth forehead, Angel traced her features from innocently curving lashes to full lips that even now pouted. This close Cordelia’s moist breath washed over the skin exposed by the v-neck of his sweater and her skin was fragrant with a scent uniquely hers.

Pain flared and spread. Everything about her was so familiar she might have been his own reflection. The saddest part was he’d never let her see how absorbed he would get in watching her; helpless not to analyse how she moved, looked and expressed herself. Learning off her and taking it all in like arid desert sand.

Dropping that last centimetre Angel smoothed his lips in a lingering caress, murmuring against her skin, “I’ll never give up or leave you alone in the dark. I’m going to get you back, I promise.”

Then fired with a ruthless determination not to let fate snatch another loved one away Angel leant back up, rubbing both hands over his face, scrubbing those tears that had slipped out away before turning his head, “Wesley, come in and shut the door.” His voice was surprisingly firm. Wesley’s leaden heart picked up.

As soon the as the door was shut Angel stood, staring across the distance, gritty resolve stamped on his sometimes hard features. “The oracles said I have a cure for Cordy within my grasp. Between us we have to figure out what that means.”

~

Even dawn couldn’t break the festivities completely and the club was still humming with conversation and throbbing with music, sprinkled with the odd shattering of glass as vicious fights broke out all over the single storey and cavernous building. Business as usual for what once an expensive dance-club for the young, and desperately trendy, now turned demon free-for-all with a nightly banquet that lasted for hours before the sobs and screams died away- literally.

Lenka was beautiful; once a proud and sought after Afro-American model she was now the ebony queen of the club, a cunning vampire with a stunning head of elaborate cornrows and long braids with the added impact of being tipped with human teeth instead of the more usual beads.

Dressed head to toe in skin-tight russet coloured leather she slid through the throngs of demons with sinuous grace, an innate skill that in no way reflected her mood. Reaching her destination with swift strides, a long delicate hand swept aside the tankers of blood covering the round table of the booth, “Raja, I’m in a shitty mood and its *all* your fault, baby.”

Raja was a huge Kihitte demon, which with the single exception of walking upright on two legs resembled humans not at all. The most striking feature of his kind was a thick elongated skull shaped like a bullet and almost entirely red.

Blinking its triple lids Raja stood to tower over the smaller, infuriated figure who didn’t cower despite the difference in their sizes. “They eluded us by not returning to the entrance they arrived from. It is not my failure but yours for not telling us the souled vampire had a seer with him.” The perfectly accented English coming from him, the less human of the two, seemed eerie.

It only ignited her temper further and she goggled at him, “Wha… you trippin, damn, I aughta bounce you outta here, dumb shit. Don’t you be layin this on me. Who got you this gig, dumb fucker?”

Eyes blazing gold Lenka reared back to see the demon better. “I got some serious shit goin’ down tonight that I can’t put off and what I got to say when this O G gets here, huh? Nuthin’ that’s what.”

The booth cleared as they faced off, “Tell him the truth.” Raga suggested grimly.

“Are you not hearin’ me? I said we got trouble comin’. I know you ain’t suggesting I blow this wacko off, cos otherwise I’d say you been smokin’.” Hand on one richly coloured hip, Lenka sneered revealing gleaming pearlescent fangs.

“Hardly, I leave the drugs to humans and you vampires,” he indicted the immediate area around them with one fiery red hand, its double jointed fingers long and deceptively thin for a such a large creature.

In one corner a male vampire had a female pinned to the wall, her legs around his pumping hips as they fed from each other, blood seeping from the vicious wounds. They stood out simply because they were standing directly beneath a fluorescent light but similar scenes of feral carnality were echoed around the club.

Truly worried Lenka shook off the insult, who gives a fuck? “You owe me, Raja, for real and when this-“

A hand curved around her ass from behind, sliding between the cracks to lightly finger her. Infuriated, Lenka whipped her head around fast enough to send the braids swinging only to halt the tirade and grin slyly when she saw the buff half naked male vampire waiting for her. Glaring at Raja she turned back laying a palm on smooth copper skin, “Momma, won’t be long, baby, now be a sweet boy and wait for me in the office, okay?”

Wanting to send him off happy and make sure none of the other bitches here thought to trespass she grabbed his balls in her hand, squeezing roughly through black rubber and then bringing them flush slid her tongue betweens his fangs, aiming deep and purring when he bit her hard enough to draw blood. Aroused she shoved him away, “Go… and I find any other hookas cream on that dick, I’m gonna bite it off, ya hear?” Grinning he saluted once and melted away into the heaving crowd.

Watching him go her expression turned frosty, “Raja, go fetch me a time machine or when this goes down you are in for some serious hurtin’, ya feeling that?”

~

“Are you sure that’s what the oracles said, the cure is within your grasp?” Wesley asked for the third time in as many minutes.

“Yes, Wesley, that is *exactly* what she said to me,” impatient, Angel paced. He remembered clearly her expression when she’d said it too, as if she’d known he would need it soon. Pity he hadn’t realised the significance at the time.

Wincing at the sharp retort Wesley puffed out a breath, leaning a hip against the wooden foot board and crossing his arms, forehead furrowed in thought. “Okay, let’s think about this logically. We have a problem, which is Cordelia in some sort of coma apparently damaged from the visions… and- according to ancient seers; you have the cure within… you.”

Oh my Lord, “It can’t be… can it?” Blue eyes wide and blinking Wesley returned Angel’s horrified stare.

Shaking his head, Angel paced ever faster a blur of agitated movement in the too small room. “They can’t have meant that. It makes no sense.”

Only it did, Angel stopped pacing, “Do you think it’s possible?”

“That by giving Cordelia some of your blood she would be healed by its demonic properties without being affected since she is still alive and-“

“Yeah, Wes, I get the picture. Do you think it’ll work?”

“Well, at this point in time I see no harm in trying.” Solemnly the two tall and dark haired men turned to glance at the tucked-in figure on the bed. “If we make it a small amount then if she should… then, well it won’t be enough to, um,” Faltering Wesley stopped rather than say it aloud.

“Not going to happen. This is going to work. So, how do we do it, just cut me and then her?”

Pondering, Wesley considered the issue for a moment before his expression brightened, “Wait, I have a better idea. I’m sure I have a syringe somewhere, neater all round I’d say.”

~

Good ole Wes, huh, and who knew Angel was a walking bottle of tonic for vision melt down? All seems a bit too easy to me but then I wasn’t exactly compus enough to vote, ya know. Anyway, it doesn’t matter; at least I didn’t grow a pair of fangs. One set of those around the office is enough if you get my meaning?

Not that there wasn’t a quirky little side-effect but we’ll get to that later, don’t want to get ahead of myself. Where was I? Oh yeah, so there I am lying on Angel’s bed looking all sweet and innocent while my nearest and dearest set about infecting me with some demon goodness. Not that I have a problem with that what with the alternative being a premature young and good-looking corpse.

In the end it didn’t take long and of course I didn’t feel a thing, too busy doing the whole vegetable thing. At least until that quirky little side-effect kicked coma notwithstanding. Some sorta freaky vamp mojo where out of the blue I started to hallucinate, or later thought I had.

Gotta love those PTB’s getting in one last dig. One minute I was floating peacefully and the next I was catapulted out of the fog, sucked in and tossed around, flailing like a stranded fish and wondering what the hell was happening to me now…

The room was spacious with a set of double glass doors leading through to a big bed. I’m not sure but I think it’s a hotel room. But the crowning touch was the lamps lit and dotted here and there. Uh huh, when did the power come back? Either I was in some kinda alternate universe or this was a vision. I can’t concentrate though and that thought slips away. Somehow I know I shouldn’t be in there and I’m afraid, nervous of somebody coming in through the door from the corridor outside. Best guess; I don’t have permission to be there.

Oh God, this is really bad. I hate fear. It makes you all sweaty and dumb looking with the huge bambi wide eyes and don’t even mention the shakes. My heart is beating like a drum, deafening and just what you don’t need when you’re trying to be stealthy and hear an approach. I snort, covering my mouth to stifle a laugh that has nothing whatsoever to do with humour. As if you can hear a vampire approach unless he wants you too.

My mouth drops open, that’s it! That’s what I’m afraid of… Angel. Before I can even begin to digest that fact the door behind me crashes open. I let out an involuntary and high-pitched yelp at the noise and whirl on my bare feet. Bare feet? My gaze drops to see pink toes then shoots back up skittering along the carpet to stop, staring at a pair of ominous black boots planted aggressively apart.

Ever watch a movie where the camera takes forever to pan up to the guys face, leaving you sitting there tossing up your hands and cynically certain that of course if it was you, you’d jerk your head right up and save the damned suspense. Doesn’t happen that way though. My eyes crawl slowly up dark pants over lean lips and upto a pair of crossed arms covered in thin black knit.

Oh shit on a stick, “I shouldn’t be here, right?” I ask smiling nervously as I back up.

Angel’s face doesn’t change and my eyes drop to escape that dark impenetrable stare. Questions choke my mind. Why are we like this, why am I so afraid and why is Angel staring at me like *that*?

Maybe it was the fear rising as unstoppable as the tide but everything went dizzy, blurring out of focus and the whirlwind picked me and tossed me through the air. A big part of me is relieved, hoping the next place I drop into actually makes some frickin’ sense; I was wrong.

Next thing I know I’m lying on that bed, whatever I was wearing torn open down the middle and a bare-chested Angel on top of me, kissing me as if he was never going to stop, or let me up for air. My head starts to spin, reeling in shock at that rough, rhythmic invasion while I twist my hands manacled over my head by one of his.

Now in a world that makes sense this is the part where I’d bite that tongue, start kicking and then scream like a banshee when I managed to get some air in my lungs. Only it didn’t happen that way. While the real me is watching helplessly this other me starts to kiss him back, arching up into that hurtful duel.

I guess I’m not the only one surprised. Angel freezes for an instant but doesn’t let me go, instead the kiss changes, becoming gentler as if knowing I wasn’t going to fight him made all the difference. The tempo and mood did a one-eighty leaving me gasping and aching for more. That’s when my heads starts spinning for real only in a good way.

The thing with fear is it sensitizes you and when it transformed into relief it left me quivering and able to feel the infinitesimal scrape of whiskers against my chin and cheeks, a sharp contrast to the cool slide of his tongue along my lips. That drawing sensation came back as if trying to drag me away and only Angel’s heavy weight kept me down, satisfying some primal need as the hard planes of his chest shifted possessively over me, his hewn arms a passionate cage.

It was pure madness and I was lost to it. Free now to roam my hands speared into the thick mass of his hair, nails scraping through the thick dark brown strands and down to his neck making him shiver and crush me closer, mouth open and suckling my neck; bringing the blood racing to the surface as I clutched his back with desperate fingers. At the back of my mind was the certainty that if he could, he’d meld us both together.

Reality shifted and then moved on without permission, losing minutes I could only guess at before catapulting me back into the storm only to find myself writhing and holding on for dear life; riding a wave of sensation like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. He was naked now having shucked his pants sometime during the minutes I’d been spinning away and I could feel the hard rasp of hair roughened thigh slide determinedly between mine.

Another shift making my bell drop with disappointment. Then I’m back and by now the air is thick with choppy heavy breaths, deafening along with the pulse drumming frantically in my ears. A moan escapes and his lips lunge catching the sound. Oh God, he won’t let me speak, every time she’d tried he’d cover her lips with either his mouth or strong fingers. Angel was still on top, only there was another huge difference. She was full to stretching down there and his smooth muscled back heaved and flexed under the pads of her fingers as she hung on for dear life.

Nuzzling into my neck his voice whispers to me, pleading and filled with dark demand, “Come for me…”

She was literally humming with cresting pleasure. Oh god, nearly there… nearly reaching that peak…

~

Cordelia didn’t just wake up and open her eyes. She bolted upright, face flushed, while panicked eyes jerkily searched the room. When she caught sight of Angel they widened even further and she let out a shriek. That wasn’t the end of it either, before the dumbstruck gazes of both Angel and Wesley she launched herself backwards, legs kicking out to frantically scrabble away, going so far that she fell off the other side in a tangle of sheets and mussed clothes.

Baffled Angel and Wesley shared a look and then leapt to help her. “Don’t come anywhere near me,” an enraged female voice growled. Righting herself with a yank of the sheet Cordelia’s dark head appeared over the other side of the rumpled bed, her glower screaming of fury and bright red humiliation.

Into the stunned silence she hotly accused, “What did you do to me, you big…fat… pervert?”

Pervert? Taken aback Angel halted and even retreated a little distance under the accusing glare directed straight at him.

Staring at the angry girl still crouched defensively on the other side of his bed Angel frowned both brows creasing to form a vexed vee, “I didn’t do… what are you… pervert?” he shook his head at the last and his face spoke volumes about offended confusion.

“Cordelia, I assure you nothing untoward happened while you were unconscious.” Wesley added in defence of the vampire, instinctively stepping forward to break the irrationally accusing stare she was still levelling at a silent but rapidly angering Angel.

Tossing dark strands of clinging hair aside, Cordelia narrowed her eyes, “Yeah right, then how come I…” a glimmer of understanding halted the hot words before she made the biggest mistake of her life. Dragging her gaze off him she blinked seeing the familiar bedroom she’d slept in peacefully many a time before.

No lamps, no glass doors, no naked Angel. A quick glance down assured her she was still dressed in the summery clothes she’d put on after the shower to cheer herself up. It didn’t take a genius to guess it had been a dream. Great, way to go to look like a retard, Cor. Oh shut-up.

Crossing his arms and already wanting to throttle her within two minutes of praying she’d wake up, Angel waited for an explanation. “How come you what?” he prodded shortly. Marvelling anew how no-one in all his two and half centuries had ever been as skilled at raising his temper. So much for staying by her side to watch her wake; then be on hand to offer comfort and a welcome back hug.

Dammit, she’d called him a pervert. Which was pretty ironic considering this time it wasn’t true and yet so many times in his evil vampire past the charge would have been justified.

She was wrong and analysing what, why and how to make sure it never happened again would have to wait until later. Knowing she couldn’t just claim a moment’s insanity and dive for the shower Cordelia gave the room a desperate glance, searching for an out.

She found one and latched onto the syringe laid carefully on a plate innocently perched atop the bedside table opposite. Whoa, had they drugged her, cos that would certainly explain a few things? “You did something to me and don’t say you didn’t cos I can feel it,” she lied then lifted her chin, “what was it, some kind of drug?”

There was a silence which Wesley reluctantly broke, “Angel’s blood actually.”

Uh huh, she definitely hadn’t heard that right, “Come again.”

Angel shrugged, uncomfortable but hiding it, “You were in a coma. We had to do something.”

Oh my God, she couldn’t believe she was hearing this. “So, what, you thought I’d be better undead than just dead?” Her voice was a lash of incredulity. Standing up Cordelia forgot about keeping her distance and stalked around the bed to stand toe to toe with him. Okay, so maybe not that close but it was enough.

Wesley winced knowing what she was thinking, “No, Cordelia, please calm down. Of course not.” He interjected desperately more than a little stunned at how quickly these two could strike sparks of one another. In fact on that topic he was still in the dark about how this argument had even begun.

“We were extremely careful not to give you too much; I promise you are in no danger of becoming a vampire.”

Cordelia didn’t buy it. “C’mon, Wesley, I lived in a hell-mouth for nearly all my life. You drink, you turn- and that’s simply how it is?”

He was confident in refuting her tart claim, “Not true, the council commissioned extensive experiments and there is a certain amount required before the demon can assert itself even in a nearly dead human.”

Large hands grasped her shoulders and squeezed gently to gain her attention, “Do you really think I’d put you at risk like that?” Angel asked quietly and succinctly.

Caught by the searing gaze and the soft voice, Cordelia opened her mouth and then closed it while a slight feeling of shame crept in. Thanks to that porno dream of hers she’d wigged out the instant she’d woken up and then used him both as a distraction and a whipping post. Temper deflated instantly with that realisation.

Nice little reality check, Angel. “No, of course you wouldn’t, the guilt alone would kill you.” Huffing out a deep breath she raised one unsteady hand to grab and drag the hair out of her face again, wishing irrationally that she could get a hair cut, “I’m sorry, okay? It’s been a bad day- in fact veto that and make it *year* so far.”

Okay, time to concentrate on the bright side, “So, does this mean I’m all healed and being vision-girl’s gonna be a breeze from now on?”
CHAPTER 5A

The temple’s white on white look was a blinding if effective backdrop for its caretakers, the strikingly adorned oracles. God knows setting the stage can be everything, thought Cordelia passing a cynical eye over the woman, trying to get a handle on the opposition to start working out some angles. She had limited success considering it only took a single glance to tell they had nothing in common.

Sheesh, talk about your Greek revival, black ringlets set in an elaborate coronet and gold painted skin turned the huge blue eyes mesmerising. If you were into that kinda thing.

“I’m guessing you know why am here. So, I’ll get to the point, I want it changed back the way it was.”

The oracle didn’t let her finish before starting to shake her head, “Impossible, the choice is made and cannot be reversed.”

Predictable much? Cordelia crossed both arms over her designer repro peach and black print blouse then arched a brow. “Maybe, but I didn’t make that choice and since it involves me, I think I should have been consulted, y’know,” she responded equally cool and composed.

The oracle gave a small shrug, moving off to walk gracefully to the centre of the temple. “What you think doesn’t matter, lower being, the vampire chose for you. Be content that your life means more to him than a permanent soul.”

A wave of one bejewelled hand produced an opaque cloud between them, but a stunned Cordelia was too engrossed in what had just been dropped into the conversation to give it more than a passing frown. “A what? Did you say permanent soul, as in no more Angelus or worrying about stray happy moments?”

The question was rhetorical. Then Angel appeared in the circle and dumbly Cordelia realised she was seeing a replay of his last visit here. Jaw dropped in disbelief she watched as he casually threw away the chance to remove the threat of his unsouled self.

Soon the mystical cloud disappeared and the oracle raised her hands, miming helplessness. “That was the choice, your visions or his soul. He chose to remove the visions.”

Noble but unbelievably stupid. Unable to stay still with the mixed bag of emotions knowing that unleashed in her, Cordelia did what she did best and started to pace with enough energy to light a city, chiffon skirt swirling about tanned legs; exclaiming as she did, “God, I don’t believe that guy. I mean, how clueless can you get?”

Heels clacking stridently in the normally hushed antechamber, Cordelia shook her head slowly sending the heavy ponytail swaying. She hated this. It drove her crazy the way he was always willing to save everyone else but refused to save himself. Didn’t the dumbass realise how much safer the world was when Angelus was securely caged? Think, Cordelia, think!

Resolved to finding a way to fix this mess, she halted and swung back, “Okay, lemme get this straight, would Angel’s blood keep my head from going kaplooey with the visions, or not?”

After watching her give vent to such utterly human and useless emotions, the oracle sighed impatiently and shook her dark head, “You speak in riddles, what does it matter, the visions are gone?”

Annoyed, Cordelia threw up a hand, “Duh! I know that. Just follow my lead on this one, okay- woman to woman.” The last was said with an edge of irony she couldn’t’ resist before prodding irritably, “So, would it?”

Pushed she admitted with marked reluctance, “It would, yes. The demon blood in you would continue to repair any damage sustained.”

Good to know, and now at least they were getting somewhere. Mollified, Cordelia pulled a face, happy to be impressed about something for change. “Cool, sorta semi-immortal only without the blood-lust and sunlight allergy, right?”

Clasping her hands in front by her pelvis the oracle adopted a reproving face, “You are still mortal, but any injury will heal quicker and natural disease cannot touch you.”

Better and better. God, this was so simple. Why was it everyone insisted on making everything more complicated than it had to be? Maybe living a couple of centuries wasted a few brain cells. Cordelia shrugged, “So, just gimme back the visions and we’ll pretend this whole thing never happened.”

Patience visibly stretched to the limit the oracle sighed before answering slowly as if speaking to a child. “I cannot undo what is done. Why are you fighting this, human, you didn’t even want the visions?”

Hiding a wince since that was undisputable; Cordelia dismissed it with a hurried wave. “So, I changed my mind, go figure. I do that sometimes.”

Uncomfortable, she prayed the oracle would simply accept the brush-off. How was she supposed to explain something she didn’t fully understand herself? Pared down to the basics she wanted to be an integral part of Angel’s mission and Girl Friday simply didn’t cut it anymore.

Knowing she worked better when she moved, Cordelia started off again, only without the frenzied pace, “Look, I get that Angel has already made a deal with you guys, but think about it for a minute. It’s a win-win sitch for you if he can’t go bad and I still have the visions.”

“Irrelevant.”

Frustrated, Cordelia wanted to slap her. Not a good idea. The trouble was finding a way of climbing inside the head of these guys, so you can figure out what twisted logic they were using and get what you want. She stopped and closed her eyes for a moment, reaching for patience.

“Not enough for you, huh? Okay, how about it’ll save all that hunting around for a new victim. Face it, it’s not as if there’s many Doyle’s floating around and I think we both know Angel’ll go nuts if he has to have another human hanging around. Trust me, he and crowds don’t mix.”

Silence reigned and those inhuman eyes didn’t blink once.

Throwing up her hands in exasperation Cordelia finally lost all patience of her own and exploded, “Just tell me what’s it gonna take, already?”

“I can’t give you the visions as they were. That link is broken and your destiny irrevocably changed.” Large blue eyes stayed locked on hers.

Being much smarter than she liked people to realise Cordelia recognised and zeroed in on the slight change of tone. “Fine, give them to me another way then. That can’t be the only link the PTB’s have between us and them. Geeze, I’m *asking* here, you can’t tell me you guys get an offer like that often. Hello, gift horse and mouth?”

Painted lips quirked a little at the blunt truth in that tossed out statement, “There are not so many willing to direct a being that was once a vile demon, even one seeking redemption.”

Tense Cordelia held her breath, she wasn’t sure but there was a definite change in the atmosphere. Crossing her fingers she kept her tone light and quipped “Look harder, his résumé’s good,” then added with an eye roll, “I’ll even referee for Gods sake.”

Not used to playing these sly games the oracle wasn’t certain if the time was right to play her hand. The silence lengthened before she gave into the urge to finish it. “Since you insist I may have an alternative source, perhaps even one much closer to home too.”

A squadron of butterflies took off in Cordelia’s belly. “Sounds good to me, do we have a deal then?”

Head inclining slowly the oracle nodded, hiding her own relief, “We do.”

Satisfied, Cordelia went to leave then turned back, shocked at herself for nearly forgetting, Oops! “Wait, what about Angel’s soul?”

“What about it?”

God, did these guys need *everything* spelled out? “With me still getting the visions, does he get a permanent one?”

The oracle looked resigned, “That wasn’t part of the deal.”

Cordelia wasn’t fazed, “So, I’m making it and don’t pretend I’m not doing you a huge favour.” Both brows rose, making it clear Cordelia knew she’d been played.

~

As soon as she was finally alone the female oracle felt a rush of displaced air and didn’t need to turn around to see who it was. Concern, relief and antipathy were an uncomfortable mix. Only the knowledge that she could now return to her passive role sustained her.

She turned. “It is done and she who would return must now find another vessel.” Formality was evident in every stilted word.

The voice that answered was as light as a dove but male for all its simplicity, “If there is another vessel she will find it. Of that you may be certain, but at least she will not have direct access to a champion.” He was made almost entirely of light; soft, muted and peaceful.

The female went to respond, but the male forestalled her, “The Nyazian prophesy is already changing and the writing fades now the souled vampire will no longer produce a miracle child. From that we are satisfied.”

A fourth shrouded and cowled figure stepped closer, drawing their reluctant attention. His mere presence added a heavy expectant air to the temple. Desecration did not necessarily need more than that. When he spoke the foul rasp had them instinctively stiffening with defensive distaste, “I concur and so our truce is at an end. If the threat returns then we will talk again.”

~

Gunn was feeling restless. He was itching to get back to his gang but despite that didn’t make a move to leave. What kept him there was the nerdy Nabbit, and the stuff he’d told him while the other two were closed up in the bedroom with the Lazarus chick. Now *that* was creepy, talk about a fast recovery.

Going back in time. He’d thought that stuff was pure science fiction but was willing to change his mind. After all, how many people were convinced there were no demons in the world? His philosophy was simple, the world was full of shit and more than half of it was scientifically impossible.

The kitchen was neat and clean and illuminated by a pair of quaint hurricane lamps, but the wariness of living on the streets refused to let him relax. One good thing, at least the vamp was snoozing now and he didn’t have to watch his back the same. The English guy was slowly driving Gunn crazy though, so he still had to be careful to keep a lid on his temper to keep it from blowing up.

Occasionally it leaked through. “Watcha watchin’ the door for, man? Chill, its daylight, meaning the worst of the bumping uglies are catching some shut-eye, like your boss.” The jerk of a round dark head towards Angel’s closed bedroom door coupled with the sneer made it plain who he was referring too.

Stiffening, Wesley levelled a quelling glance over the rims of his glasses as he slowly swivelled his head away from the door. “Cordelia has been through a lot, so excuse me for having concern for her welfare.” He replied frostily.

“Yeah, man, whatever,” Gunn shrugged and got back to scrutinising the rough diagram David Nabbit was drawing to explain how he thought the time machine might work. Not that he understood above three words strung together but it was a potential plan to get the world back to what it should be. Call him interested.

Unbidden, Wesley’s worried gaze wandered back to the door. He’d advised very strongly against Cordelia going out at all, but as per usual she hadn’t paid him the slightest notice. Worse still she’d refused point blank to tell him where she was going.

Her accusation of him being incapable of standing up to Angel if it came to it still stung, only more so because he couldn’t really refute it. Behind the wire frames of his spectacles Wesley’s thoughts circled, prodding and poking at the sticky problem of what to do and say when your two closest friends and comrade-in-arms start a pitch battle right in front of you.

Should he have taken Cordelia’s side when she ranted that Angel had no right to interfere and make arbitrary decisions for *her*. Or, agree with the vampire when he ground back that she had the visions because of him, meaning, he had every right to take them off her when they were killing her.

It was a tough one, but only because he didn’t have the nerve to tell her that as far as he was concerned he’d rather she was alive and visionless than the alternative. Guts and garters came to mind, being male was definitely a disadvantage when dealing with Cordelia.

Shaking off the introspection Wesley tried giving his whole attention back to Nabbit and the hovering Charles Gunn. Failing miserably when he froze thinking he detected a noise from Angel’s closed bedroom door. For a second the impulse to find an excuse to get up and escape was almost more than he could stand.

The impulse faded but something told Wesley that Cordelia was up to something, and he could only hope she got back before Angel re-appeared, demanding answers of him that he had no means of satisfying.

Meanwhile, lying back on the bed with both hands under his head on the pillow Angel was brooding, staring fixedly at the ceiling while scenes from the previous night kept replaying over and over. He’d only gotten about an hours sleep and even that had been purely through willpower.

Head still, his eyes burned a hole in the plaster. Hunger was sending him insane, it was the only explanation for Cordelia getting to him so much recently. Where was his detachment, the ability to just switch off and leave her stuttering and choking on the knowledge that nothing she said could breach his icy reserve?

Angel missed it and the comfort it gave. His thoughts wandered.

Back in Sunnydale Buffy had excelled at sending him to a guilt-ridden hell with nothing more than a haunted look out of sad blue eyes as she turned away, leaving him alone to mope in the dark. Cordelia preferred a more direct approach, as in verbally kicking his ass the whole way down and making sure he knew exactly how pissed she was. Consequences where never abstract with Cordy, but at least you always knew where you where with her.

Angel frowned darkly realizing the wayward drift of his thoughts. Whoa, when had he started comparing the two? There were no comparisons, Buffy was the slayer and Cordelia was his…friend. He relaxed a little then and some of the knots twining in his gut loosened. That explained it. She got to him because she was important. Friends are supposed to be important and that’s all it was.

It wasn’t like love or anything and he knew more than enough about that gut wrenching emotion to know. Pain and angst, guilt and sacrifice that was love; at least when he was involved anyway. Plus him not knowing what to do with her from one minute to the next was natural given his history, that and the simple fact that he was a vampire and she was a human.

His belly gave off a loud grumble of hunger and discomforted Angel turned on his side. Maybe he should give up on the idea of sleep and get up and face her. It was a long-shot but still possible that if he took the heat, she’d get over it sooner and maybe let him get a word in edgeways.

Then it hit him and the nebulous itch under his skin coalesced into one single thought. He couldn’t hear Cordelia’s voice and there was no way she’d go that long without chiming in about something.

“Dammit.”

Angel literally shot up and out of bed, stalking towards the chair to snatch up his pants and yank them on, cursing vehemently. He hadn’t taken her threat to leave seriously thinking she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Bad mistake, and since when did he know what was going on inside that convoluted head of hers.

Zippered up, the shirt was next and he thrust a hand down the sleeve tugging the burgundy fabric over one broad, tense shoulder, “Okay, on foot she can’t have got far.” True, but he’d have to wait for the sun to go down.

That gave Angel pause before he shrugged it off, filled with resolve, “Not good, but if she manages three miles an hour that still only makes it about what, 35 miles?” Meaning he could still catch up with her in the car. In the process of pulling on his boots Angel’s head shot up as a horrible thought occurred to him. Where are the car keys?

“Dammit!”

Seconds later Angel was heading for the bedroom door. He’d have to find and steal another car to chase after her *and* his Plymouth, and if she’d so much as scratched it…

“Where’s Cordelia?” he growled at a blank faced Wesley as he stalked into the kitchen.

The swift entry, intimidating stance and gritted tone didn’t bode well. Wesley swallowed hard, “um… Cordelia? Right, I think she-“

Still leaning over the kitchen table and looking up with a flash of irritable brown eyes it was Charles Gunn that let, or rather chased the cat out of the bag. “She took off about half an hour after you crashed. So, are we gonna go fetch this time machine or what?”

“Wesley?”

Pinned by familiar, furious onyx the ex-watcher mentally groaned then sent a swift and silent apology through the ether towards the absent young woman. “She wouldn’t listen to me. Insisted on going out and utterly refused to tell me where she was going. What could I do?”

“You could have woken me,” barked Angel slamming a fist into the archway on his way back out, “Where are the keys to the car?” he snarled, then proceeded to open drawers and slam them shut after a quick rifle.

Angel looked like as mad as a staked bull and Wesley, following reluctantly from the kitchen, took a second to figure out what he was searching for, hardly able to hear the furious undertone over the noisy and agitated search.

“Car keys, oh but…they’re here,” he announced and held them up to dangle from his fingers having taken from his pants pocket.

Closing his eyes Angel took a mental step back then snatched them off Wesley, his broad frame disappearing back into the kitchen before the Englishman could blink. Slightly offended at the brusque response to his helpfulness he followed.

From the table Angel looked briefly up from his quick scan of the drawing. “Wesley, you take Nabbit and Gunn to Dora’s and bring the time machine here. I don’t think we should wait until dusk.”

“I thought we’d decided it was safer to operate it from a location away from here?”

“I’ve changed my mind,” replied Angel shortly, refusing to meet his gaze and left it that. “Given the fact we got chased out of Wolfram & Hart, we can guess we’re not the only people interested in it. It’s safer here.”

Wondering why Angel hadn’t thought the same the night before Wesley sighed heavily and pulled his glasses off for a quick clean, preferring to see the vampire only as blur when he asked, “What about Cordelia?”

“I’ll wait for her here. If she doesn’t turn up by nightfall I’m going after her.” That was the real reason why he wanted the time-machine here. One night was okay, but if he had to search for Cordelia the delay could lose them their only opportunity to reverse the technology crisis.

~

The door into the office opened and feminine footsteps clattered across the upper floor before descending the stairs to the basement quarters. Sliding the door back Cordelia halted in mid-step when a quick sweep found the apartment empty.

“Hello! Hey, where did everybody go?”

Dropping her purse on the couch on her way through to the kitchen she bent to sneak a peek in though Angel’s open bedroom door. Why was Angel up, did something happen? “Great, what did I- “ turning on her heel Cordelia bumped into something large and solid that hadn’t been there a second ago.

“Where the hell have you been?” asked a low voice very, very softly.

Having nearly jumped right out of her skin, Cordelia took a step back, opening her mouth without thinking about it, “Angel, you big, dumbass, you scared me. God! Lurking in the dark much?”

Scowling and expecting a swift apology followed by a few swift backwards steps she was a little unnerved to find he did neither. “Daylight or not the streets are dangerous. You know that. So, I repeat where-have-you-been?”

He had that intent tight-assed and pissed expression on his face, the one that spelled big trouble in neon letters. Dammit, where was Wesley when you needed him? Hmmm, all in all a big confession about the reinstated visions suddenly seemed a really dumb idea.

“I needed some air, big deal.” Shrugging a slim shoulder Cordelia took a step back to get some much needed distance only to find he matched her. Uh huh, the jerk wanted to throw down again- fine, she lifted her chin to eyeball him, “Um… you’re crowding me, Angel, as in…air’s becoming an issue again.”

That only pissed him off more, “You’ve been gone for over 4 hours, that’s a lot of air.” His dark eyes bored into hers, darkly intent and piercing.

Locked in silent combat and not touching at all Cordelia couldn’t keep up her anger. Her gaze dropped then shot to the open bedroom, zeroing in on the big bed visible through it. Blushing profusely she jerked away again and defensiveness had her spine stiffening, “So, I went out for a while, big wup. Some of us actually like the sun, remember?”

Her voice shook. Why am I breathless for God sake? He was too damn close that was why, Cordelia could feel him through the thin layers of their clothes and that bizarre dream was still way too fresh in her mind. Oh no, so not going there.

“Not good enough, Cordelia.”

When she took another retreating step Angel did the same, his blood boiling with the not so subtle brush off. All that was missing was her usual acid advice to- get over it. Like hell, he’d been sitting down here going nuts thinking she could be lying hurt somewhere and that he couldn’t help her. Angel crossed his arms to keep from picking her up and shaking her.

“I know you, remember,” his voice was a hypnotic rasp and it sent shivers skittering down her spine while her thought process scrambled. God, would the real Angel please step up, where was Mr. Touch Me Not, when you wanted non-confrontational?

The back of her knees hit something immovable, but Cordelia didn’t dare turn around, transfixed by the slightly cruel cast to his hard features. Angel leaned in shaking his head slowly, “C’mon, Cor, you can do better than that, where’s that inventive imagination of yours, hmm?”

There’s nothing like being slowly but surely stalked to remind you just how intimidatingly large Angel really was, or for that matter how scary it was being the centre of his utterly fixed and undivided attention.

“Imagination…I…don’t erm,” An arm came up to cage her in and this close she could see the darker striations in his eyes. It was unbelievably creepy, mostly because it was kinda arousing- eww gross! Oh my God, where did that come from?

Hazel eyes widened with shock. Fed up, creeped out and scared of the nameless heat shimmering to life between them Cordelia finally resorted to touching him, rearing back she smacked his arm away and then planted a restraining hand squarely on the centre of his chest.

That done and sucking in a lungful of oxygen she let rip, “Hey, earth to psycho! What- did my hair go blonde in the sun, will you just quit it?” Hazel eyes smote at him with indignant fury and more than a little fear. “What is your deal recently? I mean, I always knew you were weird but-“

Angel froze at the dig about Buffy. Why would she mention Buffy, this had nothing to do with the slayer? Cordy pushed him away again and he let her while his brows formed a vee, “What’s being blonde got to do with worrying about you?”

Okay, so Angel knew he was acting strangely but the edgy confrontation with the oracles followed by the shock of thinking she was dying, and then their fight had all contributed to making him go stir crazy waiting for her.

That gave her pause and she cocked her head frowning disbelievingly. “You just stalked me half way across the room because you were a little worried about me?”

Put like that he got her point, Angel rubbed the back of his neck and stepped away, “not a little, a lot worried about you.”

With a comfortable distance between them both relaxed as the lightening rod atmosphere dissipated. This time Cordelia could hold his intense gaze. Angel shrugged and shoved both hands in his pants pockets, “I’m sorry, okay.”

He paused thinking it through and she was struck by how he didn’t flinch from keeping eye contact as he added softly, “You scared me, I thought you’d either skipped town or got attacked and I was stuck here…unable to protect you.”

If that wasn’t the guilt trip to beat all others, Cordelia didn’t know what was. She sighed, truth time. “Okay, okay, I went to the Oracles,” she blurted out cringing and expecting an instant return to aggression.

There was a weighty pause, “You went to see the oracles?”

She felt an idiotic grin pull at her lips and cringed again, “I did.”

Angel ignored the spurt of anger, half of it self-directed for not guessing she’d pull a trick like that, “And…what did they say?”

“Oh lots of stuff,” Cordy obeyed the impulse to move and made a beeline for the kitchen, feeling his eyes bore into her back. “How your blood in me means I can have the visions without my brains turning into mush, y’know stuff like that.”

That wasn’t all of it, Angel would stake his un-life on it, “No, I don’t know Cordelia, what else?” He followed her into the kitchen and shut the empty refrigerator door to force her to stop prevaricating.

Cordelia puffed out a breath and darted him a quick look, “I’m keeping the visions.”

“The hell you are, I made a deal.”

Standing there surrounded by the neat kitchen they clashed, “I unmade it, or more accurately, I made one of my own.” The air charged once again, turning combustible.

Topaz mixed with brown in his eyes and Cordelia rushed into speech, “I’m not dying anymore and if you thought losing me the visions would get me out of your hair- then you were dead wrong. I’m here for the duration, Angel. Get used to it.”

She had no idea how those simple words leeched every atom of his anger away like it had never been. Did she really mean that? If he had a heart it would be thudding, “I didn’t do it too-“ Angel faltered and sucked in a fortifying breath of his own, “Cordy, I need you more than I need the visions.”

They both froze then, hardly daring to breath at the content of that admission and teetering on the edge of an unforeseen precipice. Cordelia gulped, what did he mean by that? Inside, an old flame sputtered to life and this time she didn’t stamp it out. Opening her mouth Cordelia was about to say something dumb when the office door upstairs crashed open, unfreezing Angel who was gone in the next instant.

“Damn…”
CHAPTER 5B

Overhead the sky was clear of all but a few scudding clouds to mar the moon in its bed of star-studded ink. Around them, boxy blocks of darker shadow squatted along the sidewalk in unrelieved black, all except for one at the furthest end from where they sat and watched.

“How come they got lights?” asked a disgruntled Gunn from the backseat of the Plymouth.

Scrunched between Nabbit and the more robust Charles Gunn, Wesley peered up and across the street with the night vision goggles firmly in place, “There are several sites all over the city with power. Obviously somebody in that club has a connection with Wolfram & Hart.”

He clicked, “That the evil law firm you mentioned?”

Huddled in her jacket for warmth, it was Cordelia that answered the young street fighter, piping up from the front passenger seat, “One and the same, Evil Inc in the flesh, or undead flesh- take your pick.”

Her accompanying shrug was eloquent. She’d been quiet until then and content to let the guys bicker in the back, feeling a little guilty and wondering if maybe she should have suggested Wesley sit in front with Angel. But proprietary feelings for both her seat and the vampire next to her had kept the offer between Cordelia’s teeth.

I can’t believe I nearly told Angel I love him. What boil on the brain did that seep out from? Ugh, thank God for Wesley and his habit of interrupting. Okay, I care about Angel and Wes in my own way, but that’s a *long* way from being all sappy and in lurve- yuck.

As they watched, the front doors of the club opened to emit a trio of staggering vamps amidst a pumping beat. “Hey, isn’t that the Blade soundtrack?” asked David Nabbit, a thoughtful frown flitting over his face.

Smiling Cordelia slid Angel a sly look, “Unfortunately, yeah. Kinda blows away the illusion about vamps being cool doesn’t it? If you were dumb enough to have any that is.” It was a low blow but genuine opportunities to take a pop at Angel’s vamp mystique were rare, or so she reasoned. Besides she needed the distraction from her own thoughts.

Unlike the old Queen C days of not so long ago her tone was full of mischief. He took it in that vein and merely met her bright gaze with a sardonic one of his own, “Very funny, let’s concentrate shall we,” the ever so slight glint of a smile in Angel’s eyes didn’t reach sculpted lips, “Lots of bad guys and one stolen time-machine, remember.”

After a beat he dragged his gaze off hers, realizing that for the first time he needed the reminder himself. Chest still tight with leftover worry, all he could put it down to was that too much was happening too quickly without any respite to assimilate it. Cordelia nearly dying ranked pretty high on that list and despite the urgency, Angel had trouble pulling his preternatural senses away from listening to and monitoring her life signs. Lucky for the both of them he didn’t need to feel for a pulse.

The Plymouth was parked a couple of blocks down from the booming club, close enough for them to watch the comings and goings, but with sufficient distance not to be noticeable with the lights off. Slouched down inside they were all wearing dark clothing with even the usually colorful Cordelia having dressed for the occasion in a navy tracksuit and padded jacket.

She still looked pretty hot. Discomforted, Angel pretended he’d been checking out the alley across the street and that she was merely in his line of sight. When his eyes kept wanting to stray back, he gave up and palming the keys opened his door, “I’ll go check it out and come back.”

Heedless of his wanting to escape, Cordelia wasn’t having any of it and neither were the others, starting a mass exodus from the car, “We’ll all go, it’s better to stick together-“

Angel blocked her sliding out from his side and kept a firm hold of the door so she couldn’t bypass him; “Like you said they’re vamps- so am I…and that means I get to recon and you get to wait for me here.”

Standing with one arm bracing on the rear seat cushion Wesley frowned, flanked still by the other two human men. Gunn, deciding he’d had his personal space crushed enough for one night, ignored the vampire to vault over the Plymouths gleaming black hide, landing squarely on booted feet.

Then, aggressive as usual he drove his point home, “I don’t know about the others, but I ain’t getting left behind to sit like some lameass and wait on you. I’m going too.” Gunn didn’t care what they said about this vampire, he didn’t trust him.

Meanwhile before Angel could do more than work up a scowl, Cordelia planted a hand on his solar plexus and shoved hard enough that if he breathed he’d have collapsed like a balloon, “I’m not staying behind either. I feel like a meal waiting to happen just sitting here.”

As added incentive she jiggled her heavy backpack, “Besides I have the supplies remember?”

She didn’t add preferring to keep him in sight, which if she thought about it was probably a throw back to the days she spent pacing the office floor while he was out fighting the latest demony uprising. One of the problems with growing close to Angel was he stopped being the omnipotent vamp champion and started being a dust cloud waiting to happen if she wasn’t there to personally prevent it.

The logic of her preferring to get closer to the vamp-infested club escaped him, and maybe if he wasn’t distracted yet again by the lingering warmth of her hand on his body, Angel would have said something to that effect. As it was he simply gave her a blank look and retreated up the sidewalk, tossing back over a leather-coated shoulder, “Fine, just try not to attract a horde.”

Yeah, right. Rolling her eyes Cordelia refrained from commenting on the absurdity of that comment and simply stood up and smiled reassuringly at a visibly terrified David Nabbit.

His Adams apple bobbled under that smile, “Look, why don’t I stay here? I mean, you guys are the expert and I’ll just y’know, get in the way.”

Taking his elbow Cordelia gave the limb a reassuring squeeze and advised, “David, trust me, staying in the car alone is not a great idea.”

Following in Angel’s wake, she fixed a questioning look at the newest member of their group, still trying to decide if she trusted him or not, “Are you sure about this stool-pigeon of yours? I mean, it’d be a disaster if this turns out to be a waste—“

“I’m sure. Lee’s an old friend and he’s solid.” That was possibly the only thing about this mess Gunn was certain of. “If he says he recognized the demons and they hang out here- then I believe him.”

Scowling and picking up his pace, Gunn left the too-pretty, white girl behind, edgily aware of the sharp intelligence shining out of those eyes. All he could think was how come she never looked at her demon boss with such suspicion? It didn’t make any sense to him.

“Okaayy,” pursing her lips and watching him eat up the distance to catch up with Angel of all non-people, Cordelia raised both brows and turning asked Wesley, “What’s got him so spooked? Geeze, touchy much?”

Wesley was only too happy to offer an opinion; “I can only put it down to hormones. It’s that awkward age.”

Still hanging onto Nabbit, Cordelia’s grin stretched from ear to ear, “Bitchee…I’m impressed, Wes.”

“Thank you, I have my moments.”

~

Angel led them up a side street, coming out on an alley running alongside the club. Approaching slow and cautious with their backs pressed to the wall and hugging the shadows, they watched as vamps cavorted outside the open doorway, spilling out light and noise. This close, they could hear the screams of terror and pain layered under the heavy beat.

“Sounds like they’re having a real party in there, shame to break it up,” said Cordy sarcastically, slapping Angel’s shushing hand away and meeting his pointed glare with a sharper look of her own that just screamed. Don’t you shush me!

Already annoyed by her stubbornness, Angel stopped to hiss at her, “If you don’t like it, go back to the car.”

Unfazed, since she’d already got her own way she shook her head, “And let you go in alone with just these guys, um… no. You need a woman to inject some sense into you.”

The five of them where huddled in a tight group to minimize visibility while they sussed out the opposition. There was that pointed look at him again, realized Gunn irritably. What the hell did she mean by that? The reckless impulses surging through his body seemed to sense her disapproval and wilted a little.

Wesley was much less affected and his retort was coolly laconic, “This from the woman who barged in on one of the most unpredictable forces known to man or demon, and then laid down the law?”

“Easy peasy,”

“Will you guys just shut-up, or do you really want to get caught?”

At the fierce tone of that reprimand, Wesley just about managed not to shuffle his feet like a naughty schoolboy. Cordelia simply mimed a zipper over her lush lips and fluttered her lashes; dimly wondering why getting a rise out of him was twice as much fun as it used to be. Then it dawned on her and she relaxed. This is so not love. Love is doe eyes and calf looks, and eeww with the farm animals- way too House on the Prairie for me.

Bemused, it took a snap of terse fingers in front of his face for Angel to realize he’d been staring nonplussed at Cordelia. Turning to face an impatient Gunn, he blinked and resorted to stone-face.

“Are we gonna stand here all night, or save the damned world already?”

“Right; save the world,” shaking his head to clear it, Angel tucked Cordy’s playfulness to the back of his mind. A long scrutinizing look later his expression turned thoughtful, “By the looks of it the entrance fee is bring your own dinner.”

Grimacing, Cordelia could tell where he was heading, “Ugh-God! I hate playing cringing bait; it goes against my nature. Can I pretend to resist?” She was only half joking.

Wesley was unconvinced at best, “Angel, I don’t know if that will work. You may look quite the bruiser, but three men and a woman could be taking it too far.”

Buoyed up by the genesis of a plan Angel gave a rare smile, “Slurring my vamphood, Wes? Shame on you,” a deep growl accompanied the last and Gunn and Nabbit instinctively took a few steps back from the revealed vampire within. The smile turned feral, making Nabbit almost swallow his tongue, “Just try and look cowed, okay.”

“Man, I could never get used to that,” Gunn shook his head at Wes, “Does he do that a lot?”

~

The club was a mass of bodies and not a pretty sight if you weren’t into S&M or blood letting generally; in other words a demon paradise. The dance floor was heaving and spilled out into the walkways and corners with a sea of pale hands raised in ecstasy, as if trying to catch the stray beams of strobe light that pierced the gloom in staccato flashes.

Unknown hands grabbed at her as Cordelia followed Angel and more than once the vampire had to bare his fangs to get them to reluctantly let loose. Already tense, Gun got tenser when he noticed a female vamp eyeing him up and down, analyzing every inch with hungry fervor.

Wesley was suffering the same kind of perusal. Concerned, he tapped the vampire on the shoulder “Um, Angel can we hurry up because I have the distinct impression that the idea of ownership is too authoritarian for such democratic vampires as these.”

Worried too, Angel threw up his hands and spun in a circle, searching the walls for exit signs, “I’m trying. Anybody spot a door conveniently marked private, let me know, okay?” The blood laden air of the club wasn’t exactly helping him concentrate either he realized as his head spun with renewed hunger.

“Got one,” grabbing his arm Cordelia pointed ahead and to the right, “Just past the cage, see it?”

The cage was being emptied of its last doomed occupant as a burly vampire, dressed ridiculously like Elvis, picked up the terrified man by his ragged clothes and threw him into the hysterical and impatient crowd. The poor human was gone in seconds, dragged screaming to the floor.

Sickened by the sight, Cordelia grimly suggested, “What say we get this done and get out of here before they realize they’re out of chow?” Nobody disagreed.

“C’mon,” Angel led the way, pushing past the clinging vamps to surge through feeling the urgency of the situation escalate by the second. It didn’t take a genius to guess that if this went off, then it would go off in a big way and none of them would have a chance against such odds.

As they moved Angel snagged a hand of Cordy’s tightly in one of his, keeping her tucked in close then leant even closer to ask, “You still have the smoke bombs don’t you?”

~

Lenka was on pins. “How long does it take to check out an itty-bitty piece of metal?” Trademark leather this time in cream creaked as she paced from the door and back again, shooting the innocent wood a baleful glare.

“Calm yourself, Lenka. He will be done soon,” Raja advised. Not that he disagreed since the contraption did look basic, being no more impressive than an old-style movie projector. His resignation was an added irritation and one that she could at least scratch.

“Calm myself he says,” the female vampire shoved away from the wall she’d been sullenly leaning against and turned her infamous temper on the hapless red demon. Her fangs flashed as she all but spat, “Fool, this is my place and what goes on here I should know about. How they even found out about our plans is what I wanna know. If we got a rat I’ll stake ‘em personally.”

When the rumor of a time machine got circulating they’d all been interested, an interest that hiked further when news of it being stolen by the souled vampire sped about. Stealing from the Senior Partners was one thing, but once that had already happened it was a whole new ball game; one with big cash stakes.

Forgetting about the deal she’d negotiated involving ridding LA of its do-gooder vamp, immediately Lenka had begun making plans to steal it for herself, plans that got scuppered when the order came from Wolfram & Hart to retrieve it for *them*. With no choice after the failure of the assassination attempt she’d agreed, but it still rankled like a sonovabitch and she was choking on bitterness.

Before she could really work herself up into a towering rage the harsh lights in the corridor flickered and then went steady again just as an alarm stared to blare out stridently. It was the fire alarm.

“What the fuck-“

She got no further before the door at the furthest end of the corridor banged open and a tall leather coated figure walked through it followed by four others. Topaz eyes widening Lenka stared in stark disbelief certain she was seeing a mirage as an unknown vampire invaded her private turf, followed by four…humans?

Stunningly it fell into place then and her dead heart sank seeing Angel and his cohorts stride closer as if they had every right to be there. All she could think was this couldn’t be happening, but that didn’t change the reality of the menacingly intent group heading straight for them; the vampire leading his troops with the fluorescent lights electrically stark on five dark heads.

“I want my time-machine back, Lenka.”

“How the hell did they get in here?” she hissed at Raja then tore her gaze off the new threat to look at the demon when his only response was a strangled gurgle. That was when she saw the slim shaft protruding from his throat. Speechless, she watched him topple to sprawl face down on the dirty floor with straw colored fluid pooling under his head.

One threat dealt with, Cordelia started to reload never taking her eyes off the statuesque vampiress. Angel, seeing the female shake off her shock and tense for a fight, increased his pace and Cordy kept up all the while aware of the others arrayed behind them. Bringing up the rear to protect Nabbit, Gunn rolled his shoulders with his stubborn chin bullishly thrust forward as they closed the distance. Finally it was time to rock and roll.

Unfreezing and with her wiry body going tight as a spring and ready to lunge, Lenka faltered seeing the pretty brunette load a fresh bolt into the small crossbow. The idea of charging before the human could complete the action flashed across the vampire’s mind, until she saw the knowing gleam in the souled ones eyes.

As she watched Lenka saw his lips move in silent warning, “Don’t even try it,” the others probably didn’t even hear him. It was obvious she’d never make it to the human woman.

She blinked undone by how quickly everything was unraveling. Thinking fast Lenka did a mental catalogue of options. She could try and fight her way out or maybe yell for help. The problem with both scenarios was that the first could get her staked and as for the second; with the fire alarm going off, the building would be emptying fast.

Backing away, frustration turned her already vicious visage hateful. “You’re too late,” she spat glaring, “Naddomlac is already here and he’ll crush you for this.”

Then, out of time and furious at being forced into retreat Lenka dived for the door she’d pacing outside for over half an hour, slamming it shut with her back to the painted panels. “We got company.” She warned the tall, darkly shrouded occupant.

“I know,” a graveled voice replied.

The creature was dressed from head to toe in multiple layers of pungent grey, black and purple rags and when he moved the scrape of metal on metal came from somewhere under the mass of tattered fabric, not dissimilar to the sound of feet bound with chains.

“You know, but-“ she didn’t catch on fast enough.

Another crossbow magically appeared from under the rags and before she could grasp the danger the trigger was depressed, releasing the bolt to bury deep. Doubled-over, Lenka gasped at the searing agony in her chest just as the door slammed opened with enough force to propel the vampiress forward.

The shot had missed her heart. Surrounded, the instinct to survive had Lenka giving off an enraged screech as she yanked out the bolt. Then eyes wild with equal parts blood-lust and sheer fury, she leapt at her betrayer, only to be brought up short when her elaborate braids were snagged from behind, almost tearing the strands from her scalp.

Clawing her fingers she turned and raked at Angel’s face, spitting in frenzy as her base nature took over. Nearly entwined as they grappled the air thickened with ranting curses until, both bigger and stronger, Angel peeled her off and threw her away to slam into one of two small file cabinets, dislodging the decanter of brandy perched on top to fall and shatter along with the sealed bottle of blood meant either as a chaser or mixer.

When Lenka came back at him, screeching like a maniac and holding the jagged remains of the alcohol soaked crystal aloft Angel met her with the bolt that had already pierced her flesh once before. He didn’t miss the heart.

A thick silence fell and Wesley shut the door firmly behind him, sealing them inside the small office as the gang ranged up to stare at the single demon standing between them and time machine. Face stinging from a myriad of scratches, Angel crossed his arms and sent a scathing look at the still figure of the mysterious Naddomlac.

“You need to learn to shoot, Lindsey.”

“About time you got here. I was running out of time and excuses.” Tossing back the concealing hood and peeling off the copper mask Lindsey asked, “How did you guess it was me, this stuff stinks?” *This* was the odorous rags and he held them up in case they’d missed it the first time.

“Naddomlac is an anagram of MacDonald.”

Watching the vampire struggle not to sniff up, Lindsey’s broke into an evil grin, “Nice to know you’re not as dumb as I thought.”

Cordelia was the first to recover and irrationally she was annoyed by this latest little twist. “Okay, two things; firstly only I get to insult Angel and secondly…what the hell are you doing here, evil lawyer boy, turning over a new leaf?”

Tossing the discarded mask on the room’s single desk to land next to the coveted gadget, Lindsey sneered, “Not exactly. I knew you guys were gonna fuck up, so I made back-up plans before Lenka and her buddies could spoil it. Good thing I did too.”

Unimpressed, Angel joined Wesley in his anxious inspection of the missing time machine, rudely pushing past the costumed lawyer. “We’d have got it back, so your white hat wasn’t needed, but thanks anyway.” He couldn’t have meant it less.

A tense minute later and satisfied with Wesley’s nod of relief that all was well, Angel straightened and looked Lindsey over with chillingly suspicious eyes, “So, tell me…does Holland know you’re moonlighting?”

Unrepentant, Lindsey didn’t bother trying to hide his motives, “Right now I don’t give a crap and besides if this goes the way its s’posed too, he won’t remember and I’m back as the number one protégé.”

In the tiny pause that followed while Angel mulled that over, Cordelia gave up on sentry duty and losing patience butted in, “Look, as thrilling as this all is we’re still hanging out in a vamp hot-spot. What say we move it along and save the chin-wag for somewhere a bit safer?”

Beside her Nabbit held up a single finger in a timid vote, “I like that idea.”

~
Safety was a commodity in short supply so they made do with an abandoned church a few blocks down. Built recently without concession to earlier traditions in ecclesial architecture, the structure was made of mirrored glass and red brick with a single white spire, or at least it had been. Now the glass was shattered and the red brick scored with paint in riotous colors depicting various obscenities.

Inside and grateful for the moonlight, Cordelia did a slow spin on her heels, taking it all in and she wasn’t impressed. “The Church Of The Way, what does that name mean exactly? On the way to what; heaven, hell, the nearest seven-eleven with a coffee concession? Cos, I hafta tell ya I’m not getting any paradise vibes about this place.”

The furniture that you’d expect any church to have was all gone, dragged off or burned away in the fire that had scorched the walls on all sides and still hung heavily in the air. If it hadn’t been for the wonders of flame proofing the whole place probably would have burned to a cinder.

“What’s in a name?” Gunn’s voice echoed as followed her, instinctively checking the darkest shadows and listening intently for shoe scuffs or the skittering of claws, either rodent or demon. “It’s just a place they used to control folks.”

Mentally cataloguing the bitterness Cordelia pursed her lips and shrugged, stepping back as Angel lugged in the time machine, which according to Wesley was a damn sight heavier than it looked.

It was cold and the body heat she’d built up from their walk was dissipating quickly. Hugging her arms around her body, Cordy asked the burning question, “So, what do we do, just fire it up and point it at a wall- then, hey presto, you’re back in the past?”

“Essentially, yes. We dial in the time and date we want, hit play and walk into the projection. That’s it, pretty ingenious really.” Finished with the limited assembly quicker than he’d expected thanks to David Nabbit’s assistance, Wesley’s blue eyes swept the assembled ragtag bunch whose sole ambition was to save the world. Lindsey he skipped.

Catching Angel’s slow shake of his head the Englishman understood the futility of trying to offer reassurance. They could hold a two-hour debate and still not touch the most basic of questions the idea of time travel inevitably brought up.

Nodding, Cordy swallowed back the twenty or so doubts bubbling inside. A firm sweep of a hand over the curve of her neck, pulling her in for a too brief hug did wonders for quieting the riot in her belly. Craning her neck she offered a fleeting but sincere smile of thanks to Angel now standing solid and comforting behind her. Affection from him was rare and despite her own independent nature, all the more precious for it. So, maybe I love him a little. Oh shut-up!

For all his bravado now he was here, Gunn’s nerves started to make themselves known, “Wait! Hold up a minute. If this works are we gonna wake up afterwards and not know what we did”?

It was a valid question Wesley conceded, and one he at least had an answer too. “We have some experience with changing the past, or Angel does and he kept his memory. Plus, my reading of Gundry’s notes suggest that the time-travelers themselves are exempt from the physical ramifications of whatever they change. Meaning-”

“Meaning, if you want the short version. Yeah, you’ll remember, but no one else will know what happened.”

“Yes, thank you Cordelia. I was getting to that. As I was saying we should simply return and step back into our lives, only hopefully radically different than the ones we left.”

~

A feminine groan filtered out from long dark strands sticking to a pale sweaty face, “I just wanna die, can I somebody- anybody?”

Wesley rolled his aching body over and cracked open an eye, then sat up too fast and immediately wished he hadn’t, “Christ, it worked. I don’t believe it bloody *worked*…”

Angel didn’t bother trying to get up yet, letting his senses do the walking for him, “Believe it. Everybody okay?”

Another deep voice spoke up from his left, “I’ll let ya know…soon as my guts stop spinning and my head heaving.”

It took a second to realize why that sounded wrong, Wesley frowned then offered helpfully, “I think you meant-“

“I know what I meant. Ever heard of a joke, English-?”

“I’m okay, I think.” Nabbit kept it simple since talking offered the queasy sensation in his belly too much temptation.

“- y’know light humor, razzin’-“

“Ugh, will you guys shut-up! Oh God, I’m gonna puke.”

That got Angel at least sitting up and even he had to pinch the bridge of his nose and swallow hard. “Okay, lets just take it easy, take stock and then see if the floor stops doing the can-can.”

Mollified, and still flat out Gunn gave a tiny grin, “Oh good, you too.”

“We really should get moving. Time is of the essence,” Having said what he felt it necessary to point out, Wesley got back to massaging his throbbing temples.

“You first,” suggested Cordy snidely then puffing out an aggrieved sigh she pushed up her butt and levered up on both palms. “Crap, I don’t believe we have to go through that again to get back.”

That unpleasant thought garnered a chorus of groans and a gruff compliant from her boss, “You just *had* to mention that didn’t you?”

~

Los Angelus at the turn of the new Millennium was a sight for sore eyes and even sorer heads. Only, seeing it as it was and should be was exactly the incentive they needed to get back into the groove and their butts moving. First things first they needed an office with good Internet access.

Chewing a nail Cordy alternated between checking lock picking progress and looking out for stray cop cruisers. “Tick-tock, Wes. It’d just be our luck to get caught breaking and entering, y’know.”

Since he’d only begun the tricky job perhaps twenty seconds earlier Wesley straightened and gave her an offended look, “I’m done,” the door swung silently open on healthily oiled hinges. “Mr. Nabbit, after you.”

Gunn followed them and Cordelia went to do the same until a gently restraining hand curved around her elbow. Reluctantly looking up, Cordy found Angel staring at her and for once he wasn’t looking inscrutable.

“Something’s bothering you, what is it?” He wasn’t talking generally and they both knew it.

He’d asked and opening her lips Cordy let rip, “I can’t believe you left Lindsey MacDonald, Satan’s Toady to guard our way back home. Are you insane?!”

Short and succinct, but still she was breathless and the smoulder in those hazel eyes was hot enough to singe and aimed straight at him, Angel took a second to enjoy the view; hiding the guilty pleasure he got from the jolt it gave him. Cordelia had wanted to say something at the time but everything had happened too quickly and biting her lip afterwards had only made the simmer steamier.

“We needed somebody to keep the projector on and the gate open. He was the best choice since this part of the mission is the most important.”

“I could have-“

Unconsciously his fingers tightened around her upper arm, “I wasn’t leaving you back there on your own.” The inflexible set of his jaw was mirrored in his tone. Angel softened it deliberately, “Lindsey knows if he did anything I’d take it out on him in this time. He won’t dare try anything.”

The conviction of his need to protect was incredibly touching and soothed most of her temper. And knowing it was the best he could offer in a bad situation Cordelia accepted it, albeit reluctantly. Puffing out a breath she dropped her gaze to his chin, unnerved by the searingly intent look gleaming out of onyx eyes.

“Fine. I just hope and pray you aren’t underestimating how much he hates you.”

It was dark and quiet with the drone of traffic muted and far away. Despite the urgency they both felt, it was a strangely intimate setting.

“I’m not,” he replied low and deep and Cordy could swear she felt the tiny vibration of that rich timbre echo in her body. Had he stepped closer or something? She licked her lips and dragged her gaze from his; only just realizing she’d been staring at the firm curves of his mouth.

I didn’t want to kiss him- I didn’t… and that look in his eyes wasn’t need, it was just Angel being his usual over dramatic self. Get a grip already!

She felt like a coward but still… “Let’s go in. I’m cold.”

Inside the office they’d chosen Nabbit was seated at the desk, laptop open next to him and plugged into an outlet. The laptop had been living an exciting life recently and both Gunn and Wesley were hovering over his shoulder so that three faces were gazing at the flickering screen with identical expressions of mingled hope and anxiety.

“How’s it looking?” asked Angel, casually taking the opposite side of the desk from the one Cordelia leant a hip against. Palm braced on the pale surface his expression showed nothing but polite interest, a mask to hide his shock at the current of awareness that had slipped under his guard outside with Cordy.

For a second the urge to lean in and kiss her had been undeniable and he was still reeling. Powerless not to he flicked her a look and caught her gazing back looking equally as puzzled. Damn, caught. Abruptly focusing back on the screen Angel forced his mutinous attention to follow what David Nabbit was doing.

“When the bug hit at New Year had I enough time to create a program to cure it, but by that time I was too late. Right now I’m uploading it to Microsoft using the same ploy as Gundry. Once it’s done it’ll go out as an automatic update to all Microsoft users. Then when Gundry tries it in a few days the virus should be recognized and deleted.”

Back in his element David Nabbit was all business and his demeanor was assured.

“Should be?” queried Cordelia sharply. Angel caught the leap of fear in her pulse even with the distance between them and irrationally wanted to throttle the human for causing it.

“Nothing is absolute,” murmured Wesley absently, “but it worked for Gundry the first time round. We just have to keep our fingers crossed and when we get back to our time we’ll know if it worked.”

The little bars finished their work and the message that came up had them all slumping with relief, “Successful,” grinned Nabbit, “we’re all done here.”

~

The trip forward in time was every bit as excruciating as the backward one. In the few seconds it took Angel to realize he was back on terra firma he heard a too familiar noise that had his eyes shooting open. It was the sound of a crossbow being drawn back and locked in place. Ignoring the shooting pains in his skull Angel searched for the cause of it.

He didn’t have to look far. “Well, well, lookee what dropped out of the wall? I always knew you were a roach, Angel.”

Cursing himself, Angel stared past the very pointed wooden bolt aimed at his chest and straight up into the face of Lindsey MacDonald. It was still night and dark with the lights off, but he could see clearly that Lindsey’s suit was as immaculate as ever and the god-awful smelling costume wasn’t in evidence anywhere.

From outside the sound of passing traffic added to the infinitesimal buzz of electricity, emanating from generators housed in the basement of the church in vibrating along his spine. So, they fixed the world, but at the price of his existence.

Carefully raising his hands, Angel asked, “Couldn’t resist could you, Lindsey?”

“Now you mention it, no.”

Delighted and cocky with it, Lindsey felt like a king as the others groggily came too and then realizing he was there, rolled over to stare up at him with wary anger. God, how long had he wanted to have them like this? Too long and now it was payback time.

Dragging a chair over with one loafer shod foot Lindsey didn’t take his eyes, or the crossbow, off the vampire lying still as death on the polished floor of the church as he gently lowered himself into it.

Moonlight and the white glow of the exterior floodlights painted the surreal tableau of four figures lying frozen in place before an armed man. Forcing himself to calm and not give into the seduction of this new power, Lindsey asked, “Did you really think I’d pass up an opportunity to catch you weak and helpless?”

Before Angel could respond an irate female voice growled from just to the left of the vampire, “You ungrateful sack of sh-“

Lindsey wasn’t foolish enough to take his eyes off Angel, adrenaline could do wonders for a human, never mind a vampire facing death, “Now- now, unless you want your boss staked sooner, I suggest you keep quiet and let me do the talking.”

“Crowing,” corrected Wesley, rising up on one elbow to slowly wipe the sweat off his forehead before it could drop into his already painfully stinging eyes.

Sluggish from the torturous travel through time his mind spun, searching for a means to save his friend. Overly dramatic or not, death would be preferable to standing by and just letting it happen. Sometimes Wesley surprised even himself. Now wasn’t one of those times.

The following silence was tense, heavy and ominous. Over it the combined heartbeats were deafening with no other noise to cover them and Angel tuned them out.

“How did you know I’d be weak and helpless, Lindsey, that wasn’t in the brochure?” He asked with a quirked brow, using cool detachment as a goad to try and tip the human into making an error he could take advantage of.

Frustratingly Lindsey’s smirk only got wider, “Caught that slip did you? Yeah, you’re right, that other me didn’t just sit and wait for you to show up-”

“He used the time machine.” It wasn’t a question and Angel’s round of silent self-recrimination turned up a notch. He should have guessed, but he’d been more concerned with fixing the mess than getting safely back. He didn’t dare look towards Cordelia as her breath hissed in annoyance. He didn’t need to he could feel her glare like a brand on his cheek.

Shifting on the hard seat Lindsey sat back, getting comfortable with his legs outstretched. “That’s right, snuck right into my office and told me what went down. Pretty eye opening for a Tuesday morning before lunch I can tell you. Knocked me off my stride too.”

“You should try living it,” snarled Gunn still wondering why he was being so careful to keep still. He didn’t care of the vamp got dusted- did he? Just cos he owed him… Oh hell, he’d just answered his own damn question.

“I’ve been watching you all week, knowing that in this other pocket of time you were racing around trying to save the world I was already living in- weird huh? And just the kind of brain teaser I love too.”

A quick glance round showed none of them were in a position to take him down. Panic and irritation spiked and she struggled to contain it. Did this guy love the sound of his own voice or what? “Hello! Cramping here, get to the point already, geeze.”

Obligingly Lindsey got to the punch line, “He wanted me to arrange a little welcoming party for when you guys got back- if you made it that is. So, here I am.”

Angel spread his palms, “You’re alone though. So, where’s the rest of the welcoming committee?”

As they watched Lindsey’s face turned solemn and standing back up he sauntered closer until he was standing over the vampire once more. “I changed my mind,” he admitted softly, stretching the moment out as he sighted along the bolt. “Don’t get me wrong, I want to stake you so much I can taste the dust already, but…”

Smiting him with her eyes and the picture of spitting fury just waiting to happen, Cordelia jerked to sit up and finished it for him, “But you figured that if you did that we’d find you, rip your heart out and feed it to you within 24 hours, right?”

Breathing shallow and heart thudding in her chest Cordelia knew only that she meant every word. Her palms were sweaty and cold with horror and she clenched them. Angel was not going to die. No way no how. Eyes narrowed she caught a wary look from boyish blue eyes and willed him to understand it wasn’t just a lame threat.

Shaken, Lindsey hid it with a shrug, “Something like that, yeah.”

For the first time Cordy could recall, Lindsey’s cunning and intelligence was reassuring, she didn’t relax though- couldn’t until Angel was safe. If she had to talk the little shit to death she’d do it. Her fake grin was more of a snarl. “Good call. Does that mean the shows over and you get to leave- like now would be good?”

“In a minute,” Lindsey had barely finished speaking before he depressed the trigger and Angel’s cry of pain sent a dart of panicked grief and rage straight into Cordelia’s heart. Against the harsh sound of her hoarse scream of denial, Lindsey dropped the crossbow with a clatter and backed rapidly away as the other human’s all lunged up as one.

By the exit Lindsey stopped and turning on one heel called back, “That’s for the punch in the gut I got told about. Now, we’re even…until next time, Angel.” The door slammed behind his departing back.

On the floor Angel was writhing and cursing, his face twisted into a grimace of agony with one hand curled around the bolt protruding from his right shoulder before disappearing into his body and digging hard into the wood beneath. He was skewered.

Blood coated his hand and ringed the wood to sullenly ooze out and trickle down black leather. Stricken, Cordelia crouched next to him on her knees. For a second, Angel focused on her and his other hand found hers, accepting the comforting squeeze.

Sensing Wesley nearby Angel sought him out, “Take it out.”

Swallowing bile and still shaking a bit himself, Wesley asked, “Wouldn’t you rather wait-“

“Now, Wes.” Even weakened the tone brooked no argument. They had no idea if Lindsey was lying about being alone and Angel wasn’t willing to leave it to chance.

Pale and wide-eyed Cordelia cradled his head with her knees, cushioning him as he arched; rocking back and forth, teeth gritted against the pain while Wesley grasped the bolt and gathered his strength to yank it out.

~

“I still want to find him and geld him, or something equally as painful and permanently damaging. Dammit, he scared the crap outta me.”

“No…and don’t you think that’s a bit bloodthirsty, Cordy?” Not that he wasn’t enjoying it; her obvious need for revenge was doing wonders for taking away pain and soothing his raw ego for getting caught with his pants down.

Cordy had patched up a bare-chested Angel more times than she could count and felt nothing more than sympathy. So, what the hell is going on with me now? Close wasn’t close enough and every time her fingers touched his skin she wanted to slide her palms all over the rest and see where all of those intriguing bulges led her.

What is this? Danger over; I now get to turn into Slutty the vampire slayer and crawl into Angel’s lap. Screw that!

“Cor?”

She didn’t look up thinking somehow he’d read her mind, “What?”

Like anything new he wanted to poke it to see how it worked and this new side to Cordy was intriguing as hell for reasons he was too fuzzy to analyze. “Blood thirsty much?”

Ah, that one she could answer. Cordy took her eyes off the bandage she was arranging fussily around his shoulder to catch amused dark eyes and conversely wanted to hit him, “Um… lemme think… no. I thought you were a dust-bunny, Angel. Not exactly the highlight of my day, y’know?”

She was right. Wincing he pulled out a sheepish smile, letting his lips curve fully and eyes sparkle with repentant lights; a hint of rogue hidden deep in those midnight depths.

“Dork.” Helplessly her own lips twitched.

Ever since they’d got back to the apartment Angel been acting a bit strange, but then so was she so she let him off. Right now giddiness was allowed. Besides it was kinda cute coming from the Prince of Brood.

Because this new intimacy seemed to invite it she let her eyes linger on his face. Tracing the strong bones that gave his face the brooding handsomeness that had caught her eye the second she’d spotted him in Sunnydale. Saints and sinners, the opposite ends of the spectrum and yet he managed to look like both at the same time.

Oh God, don’t start that again. Move dammit. Think about something else and cover him for up for chrissake.

Relinquishing her seat nestled between his spread thighs Cordelia dumped the left-over bandages back in the first aid box and removing the stool, motioned for him to come closer, holding up his shirt, “sit up, lazybones,” she instructed and docilely he did.

Full for the first time in too long the demon was stated enough for Angel to enjoy being level with her chest for purely male reasons. Not just level either but close too. When she threaded his sore arm into the sleeve her breasts jiggled under the vest top. Seeing it his mouth went numb and then exploded with moisture. Unfortunately that wasn’t the only hungry reaction his body gave off.

Dammit, he’d known he shouldn’t have let her cajole him to take those painkillers. Too late, Angel realized his head was swimming, meaning the tight control he used to maintain those barriers between him and the rest of the world was weak.

Weaker than he thought.

God, he only had to lean forward maybe two inches and his lips would be brushing the nipple that had puckered under the navy cotton of her top. He groaned long and low making Cordelia freeze thinking she was hurting him.

“Are you, okay?”

Looking between the cage of her arms with the shirt draped over one shoulder and halfway around his back, Cordy found glazed brown eyes staring guiltily back. Zeroing in on his parted lips she couldn’t help but notice how rosy and moist they were…and wow, who knew Angel’s eyes could go that warm melted chocolate color?

That’s it, I’m officially going insane. Giving herself a rough mental shake she poked him, repeating, “Angel, are you okay?”

He blinked and jumped like a scalded cat, “Sure, um…I’m fine. Here, I’ll finish,” dazed by the rebellious fire of lust in his belly Angel stood, simultaneously sliding out to the side and desperately making sure his enlivened crotch didn’t brush against her and give him away. He was never touching so much as an aspirin *ever* again.

Just then the sound of the elevator came to him. Saved by the bell. He pounced as soon as Wesley pushed back the cage door. “Wesley, what did Gundry say about the side-effects of what we did?” There had to side effects that was the only explanation.

Taken aback by the urgency Wesley blinked. “According to Gundry, before our impetuous friend Gunn killed him, there aren’t any. Apparently when we traveled back to this time each one of us merged with and *became* the Angel, Cordy and Wes of this time; creating one individual again.”

Forgetting her own and Angel’s kooky behavior, Cordy rolled her eyes, “So, that’s why I have the strangest little flashes of doing things I know I haven’t been doing recently. As in, I remember doing my nails yesterday sitting at my desk and yet…look at this, do these look manicured to you?”

Thrusting out the offending hand for inspection she waggled the fingers to show off the lack of polish and uneven edges of her nails.

“Now you mention it, no,” admitted Wesley cautiously, wondering if he was saying the wrong thing. Then his eyes widened behind his spectacles and he pulled up his sweater to show a pale patch of hip, pointing to the thin red scar running up his side, “And I still have the scar from my run-in with that Sternack when we met Gunn.”

There was a pause while they considered the facts. Then Cordelia hit the nail on the head, “Ugh, too complicated for me. All I care about is that we fixed it- job well done. Let’s just get back to living a normal life…well, as normal as our freak-filled existence can be anyway.”

Angel’s head shot up from checking his fly, “Hey,”

“Pfft, I didn’t mean you, dumbass.”

~

The Oracles were not pleased to be revisited and it took several hours a lot of determined wheedling to be admitted. Finally they must have realized Cordelia was prepared to wait all day and night if she had to.

“Why have you summoned us again, lower being?”

“I’ll be quick so unruffle, okay? I just want to know that the deal is still on even though we changed everything back.”

“What you did changed only your world, not here. The deal remains unbroken.”

“Cool. So, how permanent is Angel’s soul again?”

~

Geeze, those Oracles, huh? If you stuck a rock up their asses you’d have a diamond in a day. Anyway, so now you have it, the whole sorry sordid mess. Okay, maybe not so much of the sordid but give it time. At least I still have the visions and the guys of course and the world has power again.

Do I care that the people walking down their lighted streets, driving their cars and eating out of fancy restaurants have no idea what we went through to get it back for ‘em? Um, *yeah* cos guess whose still shopping at the Pennysaver?

Whatever, right? We know what we did and what we went through. Pity the peace didn’t last though and, boy, did we piss off the bad guys or what? Cos, the next time they came at us they went straight for Angel- or rather Angels head, in big twisty and drive you insane kind of way.

I just wish I’d realized that at the time but that’s not my story, that’s his.


…THE END…


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