Protected


AUTHOR: ILLUSION (aka Allie)
SUMMARY: People from Angel’s life before Sunnydale are threatened, and Angel will do everything in his power to keep them safe, with help from an unlikely place.
RATING: R
POSTED: 25 May 2004
CATEGORY: BTVS Season 3 / Angst
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A with minor B/A
WARNINGS: Language and Violence
FICPIC CREDIT: ILLUSION (Link Not Working)
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) This is just a silly little ‘what-if’ that popped into my head and refused to leave. Also, I’m going to alter the events in Angel’s history a little. I’ll go into more detail when it comes up – don’t want to spoil my evil designs. The lullaby is “The Gartan Mother’s Lullaby”, lyrics by Seosamh MacCathmhaoil (Joseph Campbell). See end for pronunciations. For more information, please visit this wonderful site: The Gartan Mother’s Lullaby.
2) Season 3 of BtVS, up to ‘Lover’s Walk’. B/A are broken up, C/X are broken up, W/O are sorting things out. Wes and Faith are non-existent. Sorry, I just couldn’t work them in. This story takes place AU a few weeks after the events of ‘Lover’s Walk’, after Cordy’s all healed.
3) THANKS & DEDICATION: A huge thank you to Amanda for all of her help and encouragement. I know I’ve been bugging the Hell out of you Amanda with my endless PM’s and babbling and insecurities. I’m so sorry! :sorry: I just want to say thank you so much for all of your advice, patience and support, and for inspiring me and encouraging me to write again. It really means a lot to me. :hug:


ficpic_protected


~*~ Prologue ~*~

The Sunnydale High School Library doors flew open with a resounding crash against the walls that shattered the still night. A man that appeared to be in his early twenties ran through the swinging doors, two precious bundles cradled tightly in his arms as he looked about wildly. He was already aware though that this room, like the rest of the building, was empty.

Ineffectual moonlight trickled serenely through the large windows that bordered the room, oblivious to the man’s frantic dash around the front counter and through the open doors into the private office beyond. His hurried footsteps never faltered, regardless of the almost pitch black darkness.

Carefully he placed his burdens upon the well-worn brown couch positioned to his right up against the wall, and flinched as a soft moan sounded from the larger of his cherished load. He knelt beside the sofa, barely thinking to reach out to the desk beside him and flick on the lamp there.

Scooping up the smaller of his two treasures, he set his crying five-year-old daughter beside him, holding her close to his side with one hand, while the other moved to staunch the steady flow of blood that seeped from the through-and-through wound in his wife’s abdomen.

The cool fingers of her right hand caught his in a feeble grip before he could touch her though, and a choked sob escaped the man’s throat. She moved her other hand soothingly through his shoulder-length brown hair. Blood on her palm wet the messy strands, darkening them to black. “Shhh,” she murmured in a fragile whisper, bringing their entwined fingers to her lips and kissing his hand lovingly. Her husband cupped her middle-aged cheek, the pad of his thumb tracing the fine worry-lines that came from a life rich with smiles and laughter. Absently he brushed aside a few errant caramel tresses and tucked them behind the delicate shell of her ear. Still touching her limp hair, he didn’t notice the dirt or oiliness. None of them had been truly clean for days.

Gently extracting his fingers from hers, the man shrugged out of his black leather jacket, again attempting to tend to his wife’s injury, but she weakly shook her head. She dropped her already bloodstained left hand to rest over the wound, blocking him from it rather than applying pressure, before looking toward their young daughter. Obeying her unspoken command he wrapped his jacket around his little girl’s tiny shoulders, enveloping her completely. The heavy garment fell halfway below his daughter’s scraped knees. To generate some heat and warm her small shivering frame, he rubbed his hands rapidly up and down along her upper-arms. “I’m sorry, babygirl,” he whispered brokenly, eyes glimmering with unshed tears even in the dim glow of the desk lamp. He couldn’t let them fall. He couldn’t let his daughter see just how afraid he was.

The girl gave him a small lopsided smile despite her own fear and uncertainty, and her father managed a brief watery smile at her bravery, pressing a loving kiss to her forehead. Pushing her little arms into the overlarge sleeves of the jacket, the girl took a step closer to her mother. Large round blue eyes still leaked moisture as they came to rest on the older sweat- and dirt-streaked face before her, her mother’s head lying against the arm of the sofa. “Is Mommy gonna be okay?” she asked, her question directed to neither one of her parents, but both.

The woman forced a bright reassuring smile to her face that made her husband’s heart ache with longing and anguish. “Mommy’s… just tired, baby,” she told her daughter, her soft tone meant to comfort not only her little girl, but her husband as well. She knew he was terrified, for both of his girls. Knew he was distraught. But she wouldn’t tell him that her whole upper body was almost numb with a cold that had nothing to do with the chill night air. She wouldn’t tell him that long before the cold had begun to spread, she’d lost the feeling in her legs. She couldn’t tell him.

Leaning forward, the little girl kissed her mother’s cheek, just like her mother kissed her every night after tucking her into her bed at home. That bed, that home, that life, was so far away now. Head turned away, the youthful-looking man squeezed his eyes shut against the burning tears. He sucked in a long ragged breath and forced them open again, the salty liquid kept at bay for the moment.

He returned his gaze to his wife of nine years, his best friend for almost twice that, blue eyes meeting her deep jade, and he saw the truth there. He saw the acceptance. He saw what he wouldn’t let himself acknowledge, even now. Drawing his daughter back to his side, he held her tightly, desperately, trying to shelter her. “Em…” he cried, pleaded, one saline droplet escaping his eye and running down his ageless cheek.

Emily just smiled, a smile as peaceful as the moonlight outside. Her eyelids fluttered for a second as tears slipped out the corners of her eyes to fall down the side of her face onto the threadbare couch-arm. Following the actions of his daughter, the man leant forward, brushing a kiss against his wife’s cheek, then the faint crinkle at the corner of her eye, kissing away her tears, even as more fell down his own face unbeknownst to him.

He choked back another sob as Emily’s cold hand reached up to his cheek, her thumb weakly but tenderly brushing away the moisture coursing down his face. “Emily…” His lips met hers, moving against them so softly, so sweetly, Emily’s determined composure wavered slightly, and she had to turn away after a moment. She couldn’t let her husband see her as anything but calm, and at peace. She knew what needed to be done to protect him, as well as their daughter.

She felt her husband’s forehead rest against hers and turned back, nuzzling his wet cheek, running her fingers through his tousled straight hair. His face dropped down beside hers to nestle in her hair in reply, and she could hear him sniffling as he tried to regain control of himself. “It’ll be okay,” she murmured. “He’ll find us here. T-the Watcher… will come. And the Slayer… He’ll find us,” she promised her despairing husband as his face finally drew back to look into hers once more. It was only that hope that made it possible for him to do what he had to do.

One hand still firmly holding his daughter, the man trailed his free hand down his wife’s older-looking face, fingertips skimming the fine column of her unblemished neck down to the delicate dip where it met her collarbone. Resting in the hollow there, on a strong silver chain, was a small pendant of the same metal, slightly bigger than a quarter. His fingers traced its familiar raised surfaced, elegantly decorated with a sun and three stars encircled by an ancient rune that symbolized fidelity.

It was a token not only of loyalty and belonging, but also of protection.

Both his wife and daughter wore the tokens. They signified that protection was granted to the people he loved by someone far more powerful than him. It was the one reason for which he could feel some small measure of relief. He pressed his open hand over the pendant, over her chest, feeling the slow throb of his wife’s heartbeat beneath his palm, and knew his girls would be safe here, under this being’s protection.

But he had to leave.

Her confidence strengthened his resolve. It always had. Finally drawing back, the man allowed himself one final caress of her lovely face. She was beautiful, in spite of everything. In spite of the tears, the dirt, the fatigue, the years. The past four days on the run. He loved her with everything he had. “I love you, Em,” he whispered. “I’ll always love you.”

“I love you too,” she replied, smiling again, and closed her eyes peacefully. After a moment, they reopened, and fell upon her daughter. At once the five-year-old lunged back to her mother, wriggling her arms around her neck, the supple leather of her father’s jacket flapping below her hands. Despite her waning strength, Emily wrapped her daughter in a fierce hug. “I love you, sweetie,” she told her baby. “Make our guys smile a lot for me, okay?” She wouldn’t ask anything more than that of her daughter – it wasn’t her daughter’s responsibility to take care of them. She already knew that they would take care of each other.

Her husband couldn’t help but smile softly at the request, even as their daughter promised that she would and returned her mother’s words of love. The smile disappeared as Emily looked over her daughter’s shoulder to her husband. “T-Take her out of here…” she told him firmly, leaving no room for argument. Though the command was steadfast, her voice was breathier, faint. “Make sure… she’ll be safe…” Unable to deny her, knowing she was right, but also unable to find his voice, he nodded once sharply. Reluctantly he slipped his hand around his baby girl’s waist, drawing her back to him and turning her in towards his chest. He felt her tears pool in the threads of his shirt, wetting the dark blue fabric against his shoulder. The bottom was already soaked with his wife’s blood. The man comfortingly caressed the soft curls of her caramel brown locks, the same light brown locks she had gotten from her mother. His other hand gripped Emily’s tightly, almost to the point of painful, but neither let go.

Abruptly the man pulled his hand back and stood. The movement wrenched a cry of protest from his daughter as he held her effortlessly in his arms, taking her away from her mother, but she kept her head buried against his chest. Emily closed her eyes once more while a peaceful contented smile graced her lips. He switched off the desk lamp, and stopped. For the longest while he just stood there, gazing at the still lithe and trim body of his middle-aged wife, his sight ignorant to the slowed bleeding of her stomach wound. He watched her chest rise and fall with her deep steady breathing, eyes following the single last tear that escaped beneath her eyelid and rolled down her temple, but the woman he loved never opened her eyes again.

He turned and left the office.

Closing the door with a soft click behind him, he strode with purpose toward the opposite side of the library. Even as he approached the caged section, his eyes assessed its strength and capability for concealment. The bars of the door were thick and narrow, the preexisting wide mesh having been replaced with a heavier, denser one. Hinges were reinforced and bolted. Darkness hung thickly in the spaces between the shelves of rare and important books, enough to hide a small child. The access slot on the front was large enough for a book or a hand, maybe a slim wrist, but not an arm, and there was more than an arms-length between the door of the book cage and the enclosing walls. He knew that it was strong enough to hold the werewolf.

It was the safest place for his babygirl until she was found.

Reaching the cage door he found that the keys were nowhere in sight though. He cursed under his breath and crossed quickly back to the bench, reaching over it with a fumbling hand. Anxious fingers danced over the dusty surface of the shelf below the countertop until they stumbled across the hard jagged metal edges of small objects that clinked lightly on their smooth metal loop. Snagging the ring of keys in relief, he quickly moved back to the book cage, inserting the right key after a couple of failed attempts, and swung the door open with an eerie creaking of metal.

He deposited his daughter gently on the floor and crouched down before her. “I want you to stay here, princess,” he told her, swallowing hard. “Stay hidden, and stay quiet.” He pressed a long desperate kiss to her forehead. Then, he pulled her close, hugging her ardently, dropping another kiss to her hair. “I love you, and I’ll be back as soon as it’s safe. I promise.”

“I love you too, Daddy,” the little girl responded. Her father wiped at his eyes vigorously, before he pulled back and forced himself to move away. He grabbed the cage door as he moved quickly back over the threshold. “Daddy!” Even as she ran forward the door slammed closed with a heavy clang between them, masking the man’s distressed sob. One shaking hand shoved the key back into the lock and twisted until he heard the click of the lock engaging. Fingers laced through the small holes in the mesh wiring, he rested his forehead against the cool metal. He looked down into the watery blue eyes set in his daughter’s pretty face and again saw none of the tearstains and smears of dirt and blood and grime. She was just as beautiful as her mother. Just as innocent.

Reaching his hand as far as he could through the access niche, he took her small hand, drawing it up to the opening. He pressed the ring of keys into her soft palm and closed her little fingers around it. “Don’t make a sound, and don’t come out,” he beseeched her again. “Don’t open the door for anyone but him, babygirl. And don’t trust the Slayer or the Watcher. Stay away from them. Don’t give these keys to anyone but Angel.”

“I won’t, Daddy,” she promised him, nodding her small brunette head in understanding. He released her hand and nodded his head encouragingly towards the shelves along the back wall of the enclosure. Clutching the keys tightly to her body, the little girl walked across the small dark cage to the deeper shadows between two of the furthest bookshelves. She slipped between them, pressed her back against one, and slid down it to sit on the cold linoleum floor, her knees tucked up to her chest. Unmindful of the intense darkness surrounding her, her wide azure eyes sought out her father once more, and again saw him nod reassuringly. The dark didn’t bother her, despite her very young age.

“I love you,” the man whispered again. Then he pushed his body away from the metal door and turned away, booted feet carrying him swiftly away from both his wife and daughter – his life – and out into the empty night.

Complete silence returned to the deserted high school building for several endless moments. The little girl did everything her daddy had told her, keeping her petite frame pressed back against the shelves and the wall, enshrouded protectively in deep obscuring shadow, not making a sound. After a few minutes, her tiny round ears caught the sweet sound of a gentle breathy voice singing.

“Sleep O babe, for the red bee hums the silent twilight’s fall,
Aoibheall from the gray rock comes, to wrap the world in thrall.
A leanbhan O, my child, my joy, my love my heart’s desire,
The crickets sing you lullaby, beside the dying fire.”

A soft smile danced across the little girl’s lips as she listened to the familiar lullaby. She felt her tears cease falling though her eyes were still wet, and a warm feeling spread throughout her tired cold body.

“Dusk is drawn and the Green Man’s thorn is wreathed in rings of fog,
Siabhra sails his boat till morn, upon the Starry Bog.
A leanbhan O, the paly moon hath brimmed her cusp in dew,
And weeps to hear the sad sleep-tune, I sing O love to you.”

Her mother’s voice drifted pleasantly on the still air to the girl’s keen ears, muffled only slightly by the closed office door. She closed her eyes, suddenly less tired despite the soothing melody. Memories rose behind her eyelids.

“Faintly sweet doth the chapel bell, ring o’er the valley dim,
Tearmann’s peasant voices swell, in fragrant evening hymn.
A leanbhan O, the low bell rings, my little lamb to rest,
And angel-dreams till morning sings, its music in your breast.”

Her mommy’s tender smile. Loving green eyes. Her daddy’s shy lopsided smile, and twinkling cerulean blue eyes that matched her own. Safely wrapped within the warm covers of her bed at home, her parents whispering that they loved her as they tucked her in. The sweet rose perfume as her mother leaned down to kiss her cheek, and her father’s strong sandalwood and masculine scent, making her feel so safe, as he pressed a kiss to her forehead. Rose and sandalwood.

“Sleep O babe, for the red bee hums the silent twilight’s fall,
Aoibheall from the gray rock comes, to wrap the world in thrall.
A leanbhan O, my child, my joy, my love my heart’s desire,
The crickets sing you lullaby, beside the dying fire.”

The singing continued as the old lullaby began to repeat. It comforted the young girl, even as the voice grew fainter and fainter.

And after a while, the singing stopped.


~*~ Chapter One ~*~

Cordelia let her heels drag as she wearily followed her equally exhausted companions down the hall towards the library. It was two in the morning, almost abnormally cold, and her Manolo Blahniks were covered in various shades of demon goo, irreparably damaged. She didn’t even want to think about the dirt and demon blood that covered her slacks and cashmere sweater, and was embedded under her fingernails, which were now in desperate need of a manicure.

Ahead of her, a disheveled and slightly limping Giles pushed open the swinging doors, holding them wide until all of his young charges had filed in. Buffy headed over to switch on the overhead fluorescent lights, and they flickered to life, illuminating the expansive library, but doing nothing to heat the frigid room.

Playful tired banter had been passing between Buffy, Willow, Oz and Xander ever since they’d killed the Chyai’ark demons they’d been hunting earlier that night. Cordelia ignored them, shivering and stalking her way towards the long rectangular center table where she slumped down into one of the uncomfortable wooden chairs. With a pronounced sigh she removed one of her ruined heels, intent on treating her cramping toes to a short massage. Cordelia rubbed the dainty digits vigorously between her hands in an effort to warm them, and decided she definitely deserved a pedicure after this, as well that manicure.

“When did demons stop going ‘poof’?” Xander complained, hopping up onto the counter of the front desk, much to Giles’ chagrin. Oblivious to the annoyed look, he tossed his shovel to Buffy who caught it with ease. “I liked it better when they went ‘poof’. No messy clean up jobs post-slayage. Nope, just kill ‘em and dance the Snoopy-dance among their ashes. Now it’s all shovels and digging and burying. Could demons be a little more considerate?” he grumbled. He grimaced as he reached over to knead the aching muscle of his left shoulder, having jarred it during the earlier fight.

Cordelia allowed herself a small amount of satisfaction at his pain as she slipped her heel back on. It couldn’t begin to compare to what he’d done to her in recent weeks, but it was something. Just nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine shoulder twinges to go and they’d be even. She continued to watch in silence as the Slayer made her way over to the book cage where all of her weapons were kept, a heavy mace swinging lazily down at her side, while Willow and Oz walked in her direction.

“Maybe we’re doing something wrong?” Willow suggested as she took a seat opposite Cordelia, next to Oz. “We could have done some more research before going after the Chyai’arks. I could take another look… Or maybe there’s a special potion we can make that will disintegrate demon remains? Or… or maybe Buffy should have used a bigger mace?” she babbled. The redhead then directed her ramblings to Buffy’s Watcher. “Do we have a bigger mace? You never did tell me why it’s called a mace…”

Willow trailed off when Oz lightly took her hand, squeezing gently. “I think Buffy killed them good,” he assured her, as always his face deadpan. The young Wicca grinned shyly at her laconic boyfriend, before her body tensed with guilt and she drew her hand back. The couple had tentatively begun to give their relationship another chance, and she didn’t want to push things.

Noting her friend’s discomfort, Buffy quickly picked up the conversation. “It’s not the size of the mace that matters, but how you use it,” she quipped with a sly grin. “And besides Will, with all the practice we’ve had killing demons, I think we’ve got it just about right,” she said, dropping the dirt encrusted shovel and swinging the aforementioned weapon in a slow but deadly arc through the air as if to demonstrate.

“Yep. Shark demons ain’t getting any deader. Point, set and match to the Scooby Gang!” Xander added.

“Chyai’arks,” Willow corrected automatically, though her efforts were in vain when Xander merely shrugged indifferently. Still, she was smiling again. The redhead seemed a little more at ease with their slaying accomplishments that evening.

Cordelia rolled her eyes at the whole exchange, blowing a stray strand of chestnut hair that had fallen out of her ponytail from of her eyes. She was tired, sore, dirty and messy. Cordy just wanted to go home, enjoy a nice long soak in her bath, slip into her bed, and pretend this whole sorry evening had never happened. Two and a half hours of trudging through cemeteries, sewers and woods, in heels, followed by a measly five-minute fight, in which the only way she’d managed to contribute was to get in the way of Willow’s fall when one of the demons had shoved the redhead. How did she let herself be talked into these things? Making a vow to never let a certain stake-happy blonde and her cheating band of misfits drag her demon slaying again, she was relieved when Giles called a ceasefire to the pointless argument.

Giles cleared his throat to pre-empt any more sad attempts at wit as he moved behind the counter. “As enthralling as this conversation is, I think we are all in need of hot showers and warm beds. You all have school tomorrow,” he reminded them as he began to gather his belongings, intending on heading straight home himself. As he passed by, he gave Xander a pointed look. The teenage boy didn’t take the hint. In fact, when none of his charges gave any indication of leaving, Rupert Giles lifted his head from his task of collecting his personal books and papers, giving all of the children a stern glare. “I do believe I told you all to go home.” His voice held a note of frustration.

“Sure thing, oh brainy Watcher of mine,” Buffy retorted good-naturedly, eliciting an exasperated sigh from the man in question. “Just gimme the key to the weapons cage so I can put away all my toys and we’ll be on our way,” she finished with a smirk. Her slim fingers gripped the mesh and rattled the door to underscore its locked condition.

“Ah,” Giles exclaimed, somewhat embarrassedly, and began patting his pockets in search of the elusive keys. Coming up empty he began searching the counter and under-shelf, shuffling papers and opening draws. When he was still strangely unsuccessful in his hunt the Watcher concluded that they had to be in his private office, and turned toward the small room. When he reached out to grasp the door handle though, he was suddenly stopped short, a flash of memory informing him that something was odd. “Oh my…” he muttered absently, hand falling back to his side.

Buffy’s senses immediately went on alert at the concern she heard in her Watcher’s voice. “Giles?” she asked, getting a firmer grip on the mace still clutched in her hand. “What is it?” she continued when the older man offered up no immediate explanation.

For a moment Giles still didn’t answer her, looking between the closed office door and the front entrance of the library. He took a couple of steps away, mumbling something to himself, then made a motion like putting one thing down before reaching to pick up something else to his left. Xander spun around on the desktop to watch the curious behavior. Mimicking the action of putting on his coat, Giles took another few steps towards the entrance, stopped, and walked back, his attention once more focused on the closed door to the office. He nodded once curtly, as if satisfied, and then began shaking his head in confusion.

“Giles?” Buffy said a little louder, suddenly beside him. Only the counter separated them.

The unexpected close proximity of her voice startled him out of his thoughtful reverie. “Ah, yes… Well, I’m certain now that I left the door to my office open when we left. I came out after checking some last minute details,” he told them, and again made the action of setting down the volume he had been using for his research. “I set down the text, then collected my axe and coat,” his hand moved to the side again, “put my coat on, then we headed out to hunt down the Chyai’arks. I didn’t close the door be–”

“Giles!” the blonde yelled this time.

“Someone’s been in my office, Buffy,” Giles finally stated simply.

Not needing anything more, she hefted the mace and easily leapt the counter, landing between her Watcher and the closed door, while Xander slipped off the counter behind Giles. Buffy dropped one hand from her weapon to check that Mr. Pointy was still tucked into the waistband of her jeans, and then placed the hand on the doorknob. Her senses gave her no hint as to what to expect within the darkened room, if anything. Whoever or whatever had been here could have been long gone by now, but she was cautious anyway.

Firmly clutching the handle in one hand, mace in the other, she flung the door open abruptly to surprise any intruders. The sharp metallic tang of blood instantly flooded her nostrils as she quickly returned her spiked weapon to a two-handed grip and lifted it above her head…

Her blue eyes widened as they fell upon the scene within the room. Buffy lowered the mace, arms dropping to her sides, and it slipped from her limp fingers to the linoleum floor with a heavy thud. She didn’t even notice. “Oh God…” Wood scraped harshly across linoleum as the others leapt out of their chairs and rushed over to the bench to find out what was wrong. Buffy stepped over the threshold but remained there just inside the doorway, wrapping her arms tightly around herself.

Giles pushed passed her while everyone else peered over the counter and Xander peeked around the doorframe. Willow cried out and turned to her boyfriend, burying her face in his chest. Oz held her, a look of distress in place of his own usually stoic expression. “Oh man,” Xander exclaimed quietly. He moved to Buffy’s side and took her in a tight hug.

Cordelia was numb. Unable to say anything around the hitch in her throat she just watched with rapidly moistening eyes as Giles knelt beside the body of the woman on his sofa. Her skin was a creamy white, even paler against the dark brown material of the couch. Drying blood covered the hand resting on her belly, where a large bloody wound had bled heavily through her white blouse and around down her sides. A dark congealing stain had spread out from beneath her back on the cushions. The hole in her stomach clearly went right through. Her eyes were closed and a peaceful look graced her dirt-smudged, almost elfin features.

Even as Giles checked for a pulse, Cordy knew that the woman was dead.

“Dammit,” Giles muttered. He sighed heavily, leaning back and removing his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. “She’s dead,” he informed the teenagers needlessly. “I don’t recognize her.” His voice was sad, weary. They’d all seen too much death in their lives. Replacing his glasses and moving his hand again, he pressed the backs of his fingers against the woman’s cheek. “She’s still slightly warm. I doubt she’s been here more than an hour.”

Willow lifted her head, wet eyes wide in alarm. “What are you saying…?! Could she…?! Would she still be alive if we’d gotten back sooner?!” she asked hysterically, tears streaming down her face.

Giles at once shook his head. “We can’t blame ourselves, Willow,” he told her. “I don’t think there’s anything we could have done for her. Whatever did… this,” he gestured towards her fatal wound, “to her, is the one responsible for her death.” His trained eyes looked over the body, letting the rational side of his brain take over so that he didn’t give in to his agitation and dismay. He didn’t know this woman, and had seen many – too many – nameless bodies during his career as a Watcher to normally feel shocked. But to find her dead in his office disturbed even his carefully controlled emotions. Wanting to protect the children from any more grief, Giles nodded his head toward the outer room. “I think perhaps you should all wait outside.”

Oz immediately agreed, leading a trembling Willow back to their seats at the table, but Buffy resolutely shook her head. Swallowing the bile rising in her throat, she said insistently, “I’m okay.”

“Me too,” Xander said, not quite as firmly. He wasn’t about to leave Buffy though.

The librarian’s gaze slipped passed them to Cordelia who still stood on the other side of the counter. A shaking hand pressed against her mouth, eyes leaking silent tears, Cordelia finally noticed Giles’ stare, now accompanied by that of Buffy and Xander. “I’m staying,” the cheerleader choked out in response to the questioning looks. Wiping away her tears, Cordy then dropped her hand and crossed her arms over her chest, hugging her upper arms. Her chin rose defiantly. “Don’t even try,” she said, cutting off Giles’ attempted protest as she moved around the bench. “I wanna know what bastard did this to her.”

The venom in Cordelia’s voice surprised Giles for a moment, so unused to seeing this depth of concern from the girl, but he forced himself to ignore it. Knowing it was useless to argue with the determined teenagers, he returned his attention to the woman’s body, hoping to discover something that might lead them to whatever had done this.

Firstly, Giles checked her pockets for any identification. He found nothing, not even loose change.

He looked at the body next. Blood covered her hands and drenched her shirt. Between her splayed lifeless fingers, the edge of the tear in her shirt was visible, hinting at the injury hidden below. The material of the sofa beneath her had soaked up the blood seeping from the wound in her back, creating a relatively small puddle of darkening blood that had spread out passed her slim jean-clad hips. Beneath the curtain of wavy light brown hair falling across her neck Giles could just make out another bloodstain, possibly a vampire bite.

But though there was a lot of blood present, there wasn’t nearly as much as there should have been. There was also no sign of a struggle in the meticulous office, nor on the woman’s body.

“She wasn’t attacked here,” he quietly informed the teenagers behind him. After all, they had remained to hear this. Even so, he kept his voice soft and soothing so as not to startle them further. “There’s not enough blood. If the culprit knew that this was my office, she may have been attacked elsewhere, then left here specifically. Perhaps for the purpose of a warning, or to throw our emotions. She might have been… arranged here, to mock us…” Giles added. His tone was colder now, breaking. Anger and grief rose inside him as his mind flashed back to last year, when he had found his beloved Jenny’s body arranged on his bed, surrounded by a sea of rose petals. Her eyes staring up at him, lifeless… Giles shook his head forcefully to shake away the bitter memories of what Angelus had done to Jenny. To him.

“You… You said, ‘attacked elsewhere’,” Cordelia realized, stunned. “Not ‘killed’. She died here, didn’t she? She was left here… alone… to die.” Fresh tears slipped down Cordelia’s smooth cheeks as Giles looked up at her and merely nodded his confirmation, and her heart cried out to this woman. She knew what it felt like to be alone. Hurt. Abandoned.

Cordelia had never truly hated anyone before, not even Xander. Even after he’d broken her heart and betrayed her trust. She had thought that she hated him, with every fiber of her being. But this woman had been attacked, taken to a strange place, and left to slowly die alone. Cordy wondered if the woman had a family. A family that would be worried about her, wondering where she was, or when she would be coming home to them. And she felt pure icy hatred for whatever had done this to her and her family.

Giles watched the myriad of emotions visible in the young brunette’s eyes for a moment. Fear, anger, empathy, sorrow, hatred… He was beginning to understand that there was more to the sharp-tongued girl than he would ever know. Again though he had to force his attention back to his unpleasant but necessary task.

Aside from the blood, her skin was marred by smears of dirt and sweat, her hair dull and slightly tangled. She didn’t appear to be a homeless person though – her hair was too well kept despite its current unclean state, her clothing was too nice, her skin soft and her figure trim and fit, even toned from training. At a guess he’d take her age to be in the mid-thirties, maybe even older if the years had been kind to her. She was also wearing a silver necklace and a wedding ring, the gold metal of the band barely visible beneath the blood staining her hands. Giles noticed the ring was of an intricate Celtic design. Her eyes were closed, her face quite serene in death. She looked angelic.

Finally, carefully, Giles reached out to gently cup the woman’s jaw, turning her head aside to examine the mark he had originally thought to be a vampire bite. Her head moved easily, rigor having not set in yet. Instead of two punctures neighbored by shallower abrasions from the other teeth, like he had expected, there were merely two small smudges of blood. No wounds to explain their curious presence, other than perhaps she had brushed a bloodied hand against her neck.

He next turned to the wound in her abdomen. Gently taking hold of her left wrist, he lifted her hand away from the injury to get a better look. Again, he was able to move her arm with little resistance.

“Oh dear Lord!” He leapt to his feet, releasing her arm as if it had burnt his hand, hastily backing away from the woman’s body.

The hole in the flesh beneath her blouse was ragged, but roughly round in shape and smaller than what he had imagined. Due to the nature of his lifestyle, his Watcher-trained mind had automatically assumed her death was supernaturally related – maybe the claw of a demon, a horn. Talons, barbs, spines, or some other bony protrusion, depending on the physiology of the particular demon involved. Maybe even a weapon like a sword or staff or spiked club.

He was genuinely shocked to recognize the bullet wound in the woman’s abdomen.

Buffy had instantly taken a step closer to the shaken librarian at his alarmed exclamation, but he held out an arm, preventing her from moving any nearer. He was shocked to realize that he allowed these children to witness horrific demonic acts, confronting them with evil and the supernatural every day, involving them in a world and a war that would terrify not just others their age but anyone, and yet he was trying to protect them from what was this time most likely a result of human immorality.

Because this scared him.

Stunned by the reaction of her usually imperturbable Watcher, Buffy pushed her way passed the flustered man, heedless of his attempt to hold her back. She stopped just beside the woman’s body, and stared in astonishment at the bullet wound in her abdomen. “She’s been… shot?!”

Giles tried to shepherd the startled teenagers behind him from the room even as he addressed her. “Buffy, we should leave. I think that… that in this particular situation, we should call the police.” His Slayer didn’t move, her gaze still intent upon the woman. “Buffy! We need to leave!” Giles’ raised voice and uneasy tone barely elicited a start from the girl.

“I know this,” she murmured distractedly. Giles paused in his efforts to remove the children from the office. Curiosity at Buffy’s statement was quickly overruling his better judgment and the instinct to protect Buffy, Xander and Cordelia. He watched the blonde teen crouch down next to the sofa, her small hand reaching out to pick up the pendant that lay against the woman’s skin, scrutinizing it closer.

“What is it?” Giles asked her. He hadn’t taken any notice of its design previously. He’d only paid attention to her wedding ring because it signified that she was married, which was information that might have aided him in discovering her identity.

Buffy angled the small circular accessory so that her Watcher could see it. “A sun and three stars…” she described.

There was a lurch in Giles’ chest as her words triggered his memory. He stepped closer to her and the token, already knowing what he was going to see emblazoned on its surface. “Surrounded by the rune for ‘fidelity’,” he finished for her. “The Order of Aurelius,” he whispered uneasily.

Buffy gently brushed aside the woman’s hair, moving to take the necklace from around her neck.

“Don’t!” Giles shouted, surprising her so much that she instantly pulled her hands back away from the chain, holding them up beside her head as if in surrender. “Step away from her, Buffy. Right now,” the Watcher instructed her in a quieter but no less commanding voice. The Slayer finally did as she was told without argument.

Giles wordlessly ushered the children from the office, absently closing the door behind him. Sensing his worried contemplation, they allowed themselves to be herded back out to the main area of the library where Oz still sat at the table comforting Willow, both of whom looked up as the others approached. Before they could ask what they had learnt, they noticed the agitated Watcher still standing by the counter, and their concern was turned towards him.

Clearly deep in thought, the older man began to pace across the floor as Buffy, Cordelia and Xander moved to take seats at the table. After several long moments, the library eerily silent but for the scuff of Giles’ shoes on linoleum, Buffy couldn’t take the suspense any more. “Gi–”

“I’m sorry, Buffy. All of you,” he interrupted. “But this… This disturbs me greatly,” he muttered, again becoming lost in his thoughts. Just before the room threatened to descend into tension-filled silence again, Giles turned vaguely to face them. His eyes remained unseeing though. His mind was focused elsewhere. “Buffy, I need you to go and see Angel. Bring him here.”

Buffy looked at the man in disbelief, but he remained oblivious to her shock and merely resumed his pacing. It had been only a matter of weeks since her Watcher and her friends had learned of Angel’s return from Hell, and by no means had that relatively short amount of time eased their fears or anger. Especially for Giles. Angelus had murdered Jenny, and tortured him for hours, for pleasure. Buffy didn’t expect Giles to ever trust Angel, or forgive him, so she was surprised that he would even request the vampire’s presence. “Um, Giles…?” she began, only to be cut off once more.

“Now, dammit!” Giles shouted again. His roiling emotions already had him on edge, but even so he was ashamed at his outburst. Buffy was not to blame for what Angelus had done, nor did she or her friends deserve to bear the brunt of Giles’ temper. They were all shaken as it was by the evening’s events, and they didn’t need to witness his own mounting distress. He forced his feet to stop pacing, removing his glasses from his face and rubbing the bridge of his nose again. Giles took a moment to calm himself by vigorously cleaning the lenses of his glasses, before he finally lifted his apologetic gaze to the group of stunned teenagers. “I… I-I’m sorry. Please, Buffy, just bring Angel here. I need to speak with him,” he told her, his voice gentler and forcibly calm. Still, he was troubled by the presence of a token of Aurelius on this woman’s body, and how the vampire might react to it. “Just… Do not tell Angel anything about what has happened,” he added.

Not wanting to upset her Watcher again, Buffy simply nodded her response without protest, and Giles’ attention immediately returned to his thoughts, seeing her agreement. The blonde bit her lip nervously at the thought of having to see Angel. She was concerned for her Watcher, the man who was like a father to her, and how he would deal with being face-to-face with her ex-boyfriend, since he was already uncharacteristically jittery at just the thought. She was also concerned about seeing Angel herself. It had only been three weeks since she had made the decision to stop going to see him at the mansion, and she was trying to keep her distance, for both their sakes, and it still hurt so much. Her duty came first though, and if Giles could set aside his anger and grief to ask for Angel’s help, then she could push down her own pain.

Buffy drew herself up from her chair resolutely and turned toward Cordelia. “Would you mind driving me over to Angel’s please?” she asked the brunette.

Still too stunned by what had happened already that evening, and Giles’ recent outburst, the most scathing rebuff Cordelia could come up with was, “Just let me grab my keys.”


~*~ Chapter Two ~*~

Riffling through her bag, Cordelia finally came up with her car keys and purse. Buffy waited for her patiently at the head of the table. “My car’s in the parking lot,” Cordy informed the blonde needlessly as the two began to head for the door, with Buffy in the lead.

The Slayer was almost to the library’s entrance when she realized that Cordelia was no longer following her. Turning, she saw the other girl stopped only a few paces away from the center table, her wide-eyed gaze fixed upon the book cage in front and to the right of her. “Cordelia?” she questioned. When the brunette didn’t respond, Buffy started to get irritated. Enough had happened tonight already that they didn’t understand, and Buffy was sick of being confused and scared. “Cordelia!” she called again.

Cordelia waved a hand to silence her. Her eyes remained focused on the caged area of the library, and on the dark shadows between the bookshelves inside where she was certain she had seen a slight movement. With the overhead fluorescent lights casting their sickly glow down upon the room, the shadows weren’t too deep, and as she stared into them Cordelia began to distinguish the faint outline of something small huddling in one of the slim spaces, hidden in the darkness. A little girl.

If she hadn’t moved Cordelia wouldn’t have even noticed her, and she felt another pang in her heart. First, the woman left to die alone in Giles office, and now… How long had she been in there? How long might she have remained there, unnoticed and ignored by them all, if she hadn’t moved? Cordy knew what it felt like to be ignored. By Xander and Buffy and their friends. By her parents.

Within her hiding place the young girl was so still now that Cordelia didn’t dare turn her gaze away for a second, for fear of losing her amongst the shadows once more.

By now Buffy had returned to her side, turning her blue eyes in the direction Cordelia was facing to try and discern what she was looking at. Xander, Willow and Oz were watching from the table, and even Giles had noticed the brunette’s fixated stare, drawn out of his contemplations by her faltered steps. “What is it, Cordelia?” he asked gently.

“Shhh!” Cordy hissed. Ignoring their questioning looks, she took a small, slow step towards the cage, trying not to scare the girl inside. No more movement came from the shadows. Cordelia continued her slow advancement towards the girl’s prison, keeping her own movements as unhurried and unthreatening as possible, until she stood in front of the mesh enclosure, just to the right of the locked cage door. With her hands in plain sight, she eased herself to the ground. She now sat cross-legged on the cold linoleum, so that her face was almost at the little girl’s eye-level, and her form was less imposing. “Hi there,” she said gently, smiling tenderly into the shadows.

No reply.

Behind her she could tell that the Scoobies were confused by her actions, but Cordelia didn’t stop to explain. Her concern was for the little girl. “My name’s Cordelia. You can call me Cordy if ya like.” She didn’t ask for a name in return. She didn’t want to frighten the child any more than she had to be already. “I go to school here. Well, not now, because its nighttime, but during the daytime I do. This is the library. It’s full of really old, really dusty books that smell funny.” She scrunched up her nose in a comical expression of distaste, still smiling. “I don’t like to read them much. They’re boring.”

Cordy’s genuine smile never wavered, her voice was soft, and her tone was rich and warm, comforting the small girl. If she looked hard enough into the darkness, Cordelia could see two round glistening eyes watching her as she spoke.

By now the others had realized that there must have been a child locked inside the book cage. Giles discreetly resumed his search for the keys, while the others stayed silent and still, not wanting to startle the child.

“Do you like to read? I never liked it much at all. But I like fairytales. Magical places and castles and beautiful princesses with lots of pretty dresses. Brave handsome knights fighting big scary dragons. It’s so exciting,” Cordelia continued on. “You wanna know what else I like? I like dancing, and playing games, and I like to sing, but I have a really horrible voice!” she admitted with a conspiratorial grin.

“I’ll say,” Buffy mumbled in good-natured agreement, smiling a little.

Cordelia ignored her completely, but she noticed the youngster inside the cage start slightly at the quiet sound of Buffy’s voice, and quickly resumed. “And I like horses. I have a horse named Keanu. He’s so beautiful. I like kitty cats too. Do you like kitties? Ya know, one Halloween, I dressed up as a big ginger cat, with a long fluffy tail, and long whiskers! It was really cute!” She decided to leave out the bit about everyone’s Halloween costumes coming to life and turning the children into demons and ghosts and army soldiers. Absently twirled a lock of chocolate hair around her fingers, she searched for something else to talk about.

“You have pretty hair.” The girl’s voice was quiet and hesitant, but she shifted a little closer to the edge of the shadows enveloping her tiny frame. Finally seeing movement and hearing the child talk, some of the others gasped, having not really believed that Cordelia was actually seeing anything in the dark recesses of the book cage until now.

Cordelia’s smile just widened however, and she reached up and removed her hair from its ponytail, shaking her head until the thick dark glossy mane fell in soft curls over her shoulders. “Thank you! I’ll bet you have pretty hair too. Would you like to come out and let me see it?” she asked gently.

Cordelia could sense the girl’s uncertainty and fear, and she didn’t want to push her. She smiled brightly and spoke to the young girl in an easy and warm voice that she was surprised to find was coming naturally. There was no one to act for here, no one to impress or protect herself from. Just this little girl and something in her heart that made her want to reach out and hold her, and keep her safe.

“I promise that you’re safe. You don’t have to come out of the cage. But I’d really like it if you would come out of the dark and show me your pretty hair. No one can hurt you in there, sweetie, and these people,” Cordy gestured behind her, “they are good people, and they are my friends.” She pointed over at the small group of her fellow teens at the center study table. “Over at the table there, the girl with the red hair? That’s Willow. And the boy next to her is Oz. The dorky-looking one is Xander,” she added with a smile.

“Hey!” Xander objected indignantly.

Cordelia grinned briefly, and heard a giggle from the shadows. She moved her hand to point behind her left shoulder to Buffy. “That’s Buffy. And behind her? That’s Giles,” she finished the introductions. “You’re safe here. They won’t hurt you. I won’t let anyone come closer,” she vowed honestly, even as she realized that the girl had no reason to trust her either.

To her amazement and delight, she saw more movement in the shadows. Rising to her feet between the walls of her hiding place, a small dirty sock-clad foot emerged first as the girl stepped out into the light.

Dressed in dirt-smudged light yellow flannel pajamas adorned with small brown monkeys, her slim little body was swallowed by a man’s large black leather jacket. The bottom of the jacket swished around her legs just above her ankles as she inched her way along the back wall until she stood opposite Cordelia. In the dip of her open collar rested the same silver sun-and-three-stars pendant that the woman in Giles’ office wore. Her round cheeks were smeared with dirt and still wet from recent tears. Dark circles from days of restless sleeps surrounded reddened blue eyes that glistened with fresh moisture. Her hair was dirty and limp, but a beautiful caramel brown that would have fallen in soft curls, like Cordelia’s own, down to the middle of her back. The small girl’s hair and angelic features were exactly the same as those of the woman lying on the sofa, whom Cordy had long since guessed was the child’s mother. Clutched tightly to her chest was the ring of keys Giles had been fruitlessly searching for. She looked to be only four or five years old.

Cordelia’s smiling lips trembled and her eyes filled with tears at the sight of the drying blood staining the girl’s pajama pants, the bottom of her top, and her hands. She was so scared for this little girl, and so angry at whoever had locked her in a cold dark cage and left her mother to die in the next room. But she couldn’t let it show. Forcing herself to keep smiling, Cordelia ignored the cries of concern that came from behind her. “See, you have very pretty hair too,” she said.

The girl’s small button nose scrunched up in a similar fashion to how Cordelia’s had, and despite her distress Cordy couldn’t help but grin at the action. “It’s all yucky and dirty,” she told the older brunette, pulling at the slightly oily tendrils.

“Well, that means when it’s clean it’ll be even prettier,” Cordelia promised. “It’ll be just as beautiful as your eyes. They’re a very pretty blue, ya know? Like a summer sky. I like summer. Do you like summer? Do you like to play in the sun?” she asked.

“It’s warm and nice.” The little girl shrugged. “Nighttime’s better. The stars are all twinkle-y, and I like the Moon, ‘coz She’s bright and pretty,” the girl said, giving Cordelia a shy crooked smile that melted her heart and almost made her forget about her concern and anger.

“Yeah, She is pretty,” Cordelia agreed, mildly surprised by the young girl’s use of the pronoun ‘She’ when referring to the moon. “You’re not afraid of the dark?” Cordy asked. Caramel curls bounced around her face as the little girl shook her head. “Wow! You’re really brave! I was always afraid of the dark. I still am sometimes.”

Cordelia paused for a moment, thinking. She was still worried about the little girl, especially now that she could see her properly, and was wondering if she had any injuries, or if all of the blood was her mother’s. Cordelia didn’t want to ask though. She didn’t want to bring up the girl’s mother, because that would lead to questions that she didn’t think she could bear to answer. But she couldn’t leave the girl locked up in the cold book cage any longer.

“I know you’re scared, sweetie. And I know you don’t really know me. But I’m really scared too. I’m scared that you might be hurt, or cold, or afraid. Will you come out of there for me? Please? You’re safe here. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

The girl bit her lip as she took an instinctive step forward towards the warm comforting woman speaking to her. She had promised her daddy that she wouldn’t come out unless it was Angel, and she wasn’t supposed to give the keys to anyone but him.

But her daddy had always told her that she should always, always listen to her instincts. She hadn’t known what ‘instincts’ were when her daddy told her that, but he had knelt down in front of her, and placed his large rough hand over her beating heart. “Listen here,” he had told her, then placed his other hand to her tummy, “and listen here. Heart and tummy. If these tell you something, you do it, no matter what. You trust these, okay babygirl? Because they will never lie to you.”

And right now, her tummy and her heart were telling her to trust Cordy. Her tummy and her heart weren’t sure about Cordy’s friends, especially the Slayer and the Watcher, but they were sure about Cordy.

“I’m not s’posed to come out unless it’s Angel,” she told Cordelia quietly, even as she moved a little closer to the edge of the cage.

The cheerleader’s eyes widened. Similar reactions of shock and curiosity ran through the rest of the Scooby Gang, while the Watcher stiffened in apprehension and suspicion. Oblivious to his growing concerns, Cordelia’s complete attention remained on the young girl. “Angel? You know Angel, sweetie?” she asked.

The child nodded mutely.

Cordy gave her a genuinely warm smile, but inside her thoughts were a mess. Her instincts were telling her something. They were telling her that this little girl not only knew the ensouled vampire, but actually knew who and what he was as well. Something in those expressive light sapphire eyes gave Cordelia a feeling that this child knew that the things that went bump in the night and the monsters under her bed were real, and yet wasn’t afraid of them. Even so, she was reluctant to talk to the girl about vampires and risk terrifying her more if her intuition turned out to be wrong.

Taking a deep breath, Cordelia decided to go with her gut feeling, and prayed that it was right. “I know Angel too. He’s special, isn’t he? He’s not like us. And that makes him very special.” The girl hesitated, eyes wide and round, but she slowly nodded once more.

“I beg your pardon?! Cordelia…!” Giles tried to interrupt her disapprovingly, however Cordelia darted a glare at the man that instantly silenced him.

She turned back to the girl. Cordy gave her a reassuring grin. “He’s, ya know… grr,” for a second her fingers curled into pretend claws in the air beside her head and her face scrunched up again, this time in an imitation of a vampire, curling her lip back over straight white teeth and non-existent fangs, before her expression returned to normal as she finished, “isn’t he?”

The girl’s eyes grew even wider, this time with surprise, joy, and just a hint of indecision as well, even as an amused smile lit her face at Cordelia’s impersonation. It was clear that she understood Cordelia’s meaning, and she stepped even closer to the cage’s mesh barrier. “Do you really know him, Cordy?” she asked quietly. Her intelligent gaze searched Cordelia’s hazel eyes hopefully. She didn’t ask if they all knew him, just Cordy.

Cordelia beamed. “You bet I do!” she assured her. “And we can bring him to you. Will you wait for him out here with me?”

The girl grinned back at her. Her heart and tummy were still sure about trusting Cordy. She shuffled her sock-clad feet over to the door and raised the ring of keys in her small hand, holding them up to the access slot, just inside the cage.

Slowly, Cordelia stood and also moved to the cage door, extending her hand palm up through the opening to allow the girl to place the keys into her waiting hand. The child did so without hesitation. Rather than ask Giles, Cordelia simply tested a few of the keys until she found the right one and finally heard the click of the lock releasing.

She swung the door open, then gently extended her hand towards the little girl, and waited.

A small hand slipped instantly inside hers, and Cordelia held it tightly, reassuringly, as she led the girl out of the cage. “Thank you, sweetie,” Cordy told her, her words filled with relief and happiness. “You did great!” Still smiling, she turned to face Xander at the table, tossing him the keys to her Corvette. “Take Buffy to get Angel. I’m staying here with her,” she informed them all, nodding her head down to the girl in question.

Both Xander and Buffy looked towards Giles in unison to see what the Watcher was making of both the situation and the command issued by the cheerleader. But Giles could only shrug in response, still too confused and conflicted by the turn of events to even think of arguing against Cordelia’s resolve. His thoughts revolved around the tokens of Aurelius that adorned the throats of both this young girl, and the murdered woman – her mother – in his office

Buffy sighed heavily, and then beckoned to Xander with a movement of her blonde head. “C’mon, Xand. Looks like you’re driving.”
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Angel slammed down the receiver of the phone, running a hand through his hair in frustration. Elbows leaning on his knees, he dropped his head into his hands and tried to fight back the tears that burned in his eyes, begging to be allowed to fall.

Still no answer. Not on the home phone or the cellphones. And there’d been no answer for four days now.

Angel was terrified about what that might mean.

With no answer by now, despite countless calls over the past few days, Angel knew that the family had long since left their home. The only thing keeping him from jumping into the Plymouth and speeding out of Sunnydale to find them was the knowledge that he wouldn’t know where to even start looking, if they had gone to ground. And more than likely, they were eventually headed his way anyway.

So Angel stayed where he was, seated on the edge of his bed, worried, aggravated, and growing more and more scared with each moment that passed.

And he dialed again.

The phone at the other end of the line had just rung for the fourteenth time when Angel heard the sports car rolling up the driveway outside the mansion. Even distracted and anxious as he was, the vampire recognized the rev of the engine as that of a Corvette. The Corvette owned by Cordelia Chase. His senses were also alerting him to the sudden presence of the Vampire Slayer. Primal instinct rose up within as the demon in him reacted to the nearness of its natural enemy. As always though, the small part of him that was remotely human shoved away those violent feelings and the bloodlust that accompanied them, but it was harder this time. His baser demonic instincts were already too close to the surface as it was in his current agitated state-of-mind.

And this time only served to remind him of how futile it had been when he’d tried to separate man from demon in the recent past. He had tried for the sake of Buffy, her friends, Hell, even Rupert Giles. It was easier for them to think that he was one of two opposing entities within the one body – man and vampire. But there was no separating them, because the man didn’t exist. The soul didn’t change who he was, or what he’d done. He was still a vampire, a murderous demon with all the instincts and desires of his kind. He was still capable of all the atrocities he had committed in his past, just as he was equally capable of enjoying it.

The soul just made him care.

Angel dropped the receiver heavily into its cradle on his bedside table again and pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. He took several deep unneeded breaths to calm his nerve-wracked body, then angrily swiped at the moisture welling in his eyes and stood abruptly, not even bothering to avoid the debris still strewn about his bedroom as he headed for the stairs.

Shards of glass, ceramics and wood crunched under his heavy combat boots where they littered the floor throughout most of the rooms of the mansion. Windows were shattered, furniture overturned or completely smashed, and every now and again walls bore crumbling scrapes and holes from where some piece of furniture had been thrown, or even where Angel’s fist had impacted, the force of the blows leaving deep gouges in the stone.

With no contact from the family for four days, and no way to help them, Angel’s frustration, anger and fear were taking over him. His knuckles were still raw and bloodied. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets as he reached the bottom of the staircase and stopped.

Waiting there for a moment, he realized this was the first time Buffy had come to the mansion since she had told him that they couldn’t see each other anymore. And it didn’t surprise him that the realization didn’t hurt as much as it once would have. He’d known that things between them couldn’t work ever again since he’d returned from Hell. Angel had tried, just in case he could be wrong, but he didn’t feel the same way anymore. He couldn’t. Not when they couldn’t accept each other for what they were. Slayer and vampire. Girl and demon. A part of him still loved her, but he could never love her completely, and he could never be what she wanted him to be – human. Normal.

He closed his eyes against his thoughts. Right now, he couldn’t even feel bitter about the loss. Maybe all that he had really lost had been a fantasy, but he wished he could feel the hurt. Even that would be better than the numbness he felt about it right now. Anything to distract him from the fear and helplessness he felt at the loss of contact with the family. Restlessness and dread had driven him to insomnia. This was the first time in four days that he had even closed his eyes for more than a few moments, other than crying, and he hadn’t yet really allowed himself that particular luxury either. And the anxiety had grown worse tonight. He felt something, something close…

The vampire opened his eyes again as he heard the two heartbeats approaching the front door, and a low, dangerous growl escaped his throat upon recognizing the scent of Buffy’s companion as Xander Harris. The boy’s presence wasn’t likely to help his agitation. He could already feel his demon roaring beneath the surface of his outwardly human features. Angel’s jaw tightened and his hands clenched into fists in his pockets, determined to fight back the change. He just wanted to find out what they wanted and then get rid of them. As much as he might have wished for a distraction, the truth was that if they got in his way right now he was likely to tear their throats out. He didn’t want to be thinking of anything else but the people he really cared about.

Buffy didn’t knock as she pushed open the heavy oak door and peered into the darkness beyond. “Angel?” she called out tentatively as she stepped into the foyer, with Xander close behind. The immense building was usually only dimly lit with lamps and candles anyway, but tonight there wasn’t even a fire going in the hearth to light the living area. The dim moonlight filtering through the windows only offered enough of a glow to prevent her from running into anything as she moved to the center of the atrium. The soft echoes of her boots on the stone floor made the entire building seem empty, lifeless.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Xander drawled quietly, Han-Solo-style. He crossed his arms over his chest, tucking his hands beneath his armpits, and started to bounce from one foot to the other in an effort to block out the bitter cold. He heard something grinding against the stone beneath one of his sneaker-clad feet. “Huh?” Xander stepped aside and squinted down at the floor, but it was too dark to make out anything.

Angel remained silent and allowed himself a small predatory smirk at the fear he could sense emanating from the boy, and even from the strong young Slayer. He pressed himself deeper into the shadows as he silently moved around the perimeter of the room.

Calling his name again, Buffy winced, hearing a little of her fear creep into her voice. A cold shiver shot down her spine, and the fine hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as her body instinctively tensed in readiness. She could sense the vampire somewhere in the deep shadows, but Angel was too good to allow her to know exactly where. What the Hell did he think he was playing at? One of her hands unconsciously moved to rest over Mr. Pointy.

Angel itched to toy with them some more, but he wasn’t in the mood to deal with an irate Slayer afterwards. Still, as he moved noiselessly behind them he couldn’t resist slamming the door closed with a loud crash, causing the boy to shriek as both he and Buffy jumped and spun around towards the startling sound.

“Don’t do that, Deadboy!!” Xander exclaimed. He hoped no one noticed his still slightly shrill voice, or his shaking hands, nor the embarrassed red flush of his face.

Buffy glared at Angel, though she was barely able to see his face in the dappled moonlight spilling across his pale features, and tried to force her body to relax. The vampire stared back at her without a trace of emotion, except for the small quirk at the corner of his lips. “What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded heatedly.

Angel’s eyes narrowed slightly as guilt warred with the demonic thrill he felt at scaring the two teens, and he growled imperceptibly at the slip of his control. He knew he shouldn’t be taking his frustration out on these innocent kids. The sooner he found out why they were here and got them to leave, the better. For them. Probably safer too. “Sorry,” he muttered, mostly sincere, his usual expressionless mask slipping back into place. He walked across the living space, deliberately making a noise with each step now, and, after righting it from its resting place on the torn sofa cushions, he switched on the only unbroken lamp for the humans. He could see just fine in the darkness.

Buffy blinked rapidly against the sudden illumination and allowed her eyes time to adjust, then gasped as her eyes took in the sight of the trashed living area. Almost every piece of furniture was destroyed, most lying in various broken heaps of wood, fabric and metal at the bases of the walls. Small fragments of rock dusted the piles and the surrounding floor, dislodged when the items had impacted the bare stone above. Most of the heavy drapes still hung from the shattered windows but now bore large rents and tears where the smashed panes of glass had shredded them. Personal belongings were interspersed amongst the wreckage – books, scattered papers, artworks and sculptures, weapons, a destroyed antique clock; all ripped from their rightful places and thrown or smashed in rage.

“Oh! Ugh!” Xander complained as he looked down, sounding thoroughly revolted. His face was contorted into a grimace of extreme disgust. Buffy followed the direction of his gaze, where they could now see what Xander had stepped on. “Believe me when I say I’ll be burning these shoes when I get home!” the boy continued. Thick curved splinters of ceramic lay at his feet, tinted dark reddish brown from the dried blood that coated them, and resting within a larger splattered pool of more dried blood. The mug of pig’s blood had exploded against the stone where Angel had thrown it more than a day ago, spraying its contents everywhere. Many of the bloody slivers were now embedded between the treads and in the soft rubber sole of Xander’s battered sneakers.

Biting back her own nausea Buffy returned her attention to the vampire still standing silently across from her and Xander. Two or three days worth of stubble roughened his chiseled jaw, his hair disheveled and without product. His shoulders were tense, muscles corded and rippling beneath his black shirt, and though his expression was as unreadable as always, he was giving off a darkly dangerous vibe that heightened her worry. “What happened here?” she asked him softly, the worry evident in her voice.

Already unapproachable, Angel folded his arms across his chest in a move far more threatening than casual. He heard the Slayer gasp again as she saw his bruised and blood-encrusted hands. “Nothing,” he answered her gruffly. “It doesn’t concern you.” The tone of his voice warned her that the subject was closed.

Buffy blinked, incredulous. Okay, so she had told him that they had to stop seeing each other, but that certainly didn’t mean that she didn’t still care about him. When she had found him in the woods in nothing but trousers, his mind lost and animal, she had spent every moment that she could trying to help him get better.

His recovery had taken weeks. Weeks of slipping out during the night to bring him blood from the butcher, of staying with him for an hour here or there when she could get away with it, of talking to him in his feral state until one night when she stopped by he was finally becoming more lucid. After that, each time she had stopped by to see him she had found him even more coherent than the last visit. Until finally he had almost seemed himself again. His tortured body still ached, he wasn’t up to his full strength, and both his sleeping and waking mind were haunted by nightmares of the centuries of pain and torment that he had endured, but he was getting better. And she’d realized that he didn’t need her to take care of him anymore. So she’d walked away, because them being together was too dangerous.

But looking at Angel now, and surveying the destroyed furnishings of the mansion, perhaps she’d been wrong to leave him so soon. What if he was descending back into the madness she had slowly dragged him out of? He seemed on edge, distant. Buffy stared into his intense obsidian eyes, seeing something wild, primal and dangerous dancing in the gold flecks that had crept into his irises, but also intelligence and recognition. She had never really been able to understand Angel’s expressions and emotions, but the signs she read in his gaze gave her hope that it wasn’t too late to help him again.

She took a cautious step closer, raising a hand reassuringly toward Angel.

Suddenly Angel was directly in front of her, his hand painfully gripping her extended wrist with an immovable strength that suggested he was far more recovered than she had believed. More than he had ever let her know. Fear spiked in the pit of her stomach as his chest rumbled with a deadly snarl and his human features melted away to be replaced by hard angular lines, thick bone and gleaming razor-sharp fangs. His nostrils flared once as his blazing amber eyes slid from her face to the hand clutched firmly in his grasp.

“Let her go!” Xander cried out, the only thing he could do against the powerful demon restraining his friend. Now his entire frame trembled in fear. The vampire didn’t even acknowledge his presence.

“Ang–” Buffy began to whisper timidly.

Topaz orbs snapped back to her blue, silencing her protest. “Where is she?” he demanded. His voice was quiet, but so full of fury and desperation that it chilled the human children to the core.

When Buffy didn’t immediately answer him, Angel’s grip tightened, instantly bruising the delicate flesh of her wrist and eliciting a whimper from the girl. He heard bone grind together as it threatened to snap. Right now, Angel didn’t care about the pain he was causing her. The small trickle of fear that he had enjoyed earlier was now a crashing river of terror. He barely noticed it. His senses were reeling from the familiar scent on her hand and her flesh.

Emily.

And blood. Emily’s blood.

Buffy had touched Emily. Tonight. And while there was none of her blood anywhere on Buffy, the heavy coppery scent of it clinging to her skin and clothing told Angel that a lot had been spilled. His concern and fear multiplied tenfold. What about…?

“We came to get you!” Buffy blurted out, almost desperately, pained tears slipping from her eyes. It didn’t matter to her how Angel had known why they were here, or even which of the females he was asking about. She just wanted him to let her go. “She’s at the library!”

Just as suddenly as he had grabbed her, her arm was released, and Buffy at once stumbled back to Xander’s side, clutching her injured arm close to her chest. Angel still didn’t care. His vampiric face shifted back to human, or as close to human as Angel would ever be, and he swept passed them towards the front door. His boots crunched heavily through the broken shards of bloodied ceramics.

“Take me there.”


~*~ Chapter Three ~*~

“Almost done!” Cordelia said with a smile, tossing another wad of water-soaked paper towel in the trash bin. She tore off another sheet from the dispenser on the wall, folded it several times, and moistened the resulting bundle under the sink’s tap. The little girl was perched on the edge of the adjacent washbasin where Cordelia had lifted her up, swinging her legs idly and peering over her small shoulder at her cleaner reflection in the wall length mirror behind her. “Face me again, sweetie,” Cordy coaxed her gently.

After Buffy and Xander had left to get Angel, Cordelia had led the small girl over to the study table and drawn out a chair. The little girl had climbed up into the overlarge chair with no hesitation, trusting the older brunette completely. Once she was settled comfortably on the edge of the wooden seat, she had allowed Cordelia to carefully check her for any injuries. Cordelia still never asked her name.

Willow and Oz had remained silent throughout the examination, content to just watch Cordelia’s tender ministrations as she continued to speak to the girl, smiling and laughing in a carefree way that they had never before witnessed. Giles had taken the opportunity to retrieve several of the rare volumes from the book cage. He had been alternating between scouring their pages, cross-referencing certain passages and muttering to himself when Cordelia had finished her hunt for injuries, thankful to have found none, and taken the little girl to the women’s bathroom. After using the lavatory and washing her hands, she’d let Cordelia try to clean her up a little.

The girl turned her head around and tilted her cherub-like face up, scrunching her eyes shut. Cordelia carefully wiped the improvised sponge over the little girl’s rounded left cheekbone, washing away the worst of the smudged dirt, tearstains and a small smear of blood to finally leave the girl’s face relatively clean. Grinning, she playfully dabbed the wet paper against the tip of the girl’s crinkled little nose, garnering a giggle from her.

This girl really was adorable. Her face was still smooth and round in her youth, only just starting to become more defined, and her eyes were large and bright with the natural uncontainable energy of a child. But her delicate pixie features and light brown curly hair told Cordy that this girl would grow into the same beautiful angel as her mother, soft and lovely. And yet there was something strong and striking about her high cheekbones, oval-shaped face and full lips that Cordelia could only guess came from her father. Her blue eyes were intense, penetrating. So full of intelligence and passion, so deeply soulful, yet twinkling with mischief, life and youthful delight. Cordelia wondered if she got those from her mother or father. And what about that sweet shy lopsided smile?

Cordelia reigned in her wandering thoughts as she discarded the wet sheaf of paper and placed her hands on her hips. “All finished!” she announced, flashing the girl her megawatt smile.

That crooked grin reappeared, dazzling her, and displaying tiny pearly white baby teeth. “Thank you, Cordy,” the little girl replied very politely. Her smile quickly slipped away again though. Exhaustion, fear and grief were beginning to catch up with her.

Helping her down from the porcelain basin and setting her on her feet, Cordelia tried to comfort the girl. “You’re very welcome. And don’t you worry, ‘kay? Angel will be here soon,” she promised, and was glad to see another smile flicker across the girl’s features. It was just as brief as the last, but she could see that her words and the reminder of the vampire’s impending arrival reassured the smaller brunette. “C’mon. Let’s go back and wait for him in the library,” Cordelia finished. She offered the girl her hand.

Again, the young girl took it instantly. In fact she had held tightly onto Cordelia’s hand almost constantly ever since emerging from her makeshift prison. The only exceptions had been during Cordelia’s injury inspection and the recent quick wash of her hands and face. The youngster had stayed close to her side as they left the library, and Cordy had noticed the girl’s uncertainty around Giles. Her blue-eyed gaze had flicked over to Giles several times while they had still been in the same room as the Watcher, almost as if she was wary of him, more so than of the other strangers surrounding her.

Cordelia flipped off the lights in the bathroom as they exited, then led the little girl by the hand back down the darkened hallway to the library. She pushed open one side of the swinging double doors and held it. “In you go, sweetie!” After the little girl had slipped inside, Cordelia followed. They passed by Giles at the front counter – still huddled over a growing pile of books, and still mumbling to himself – continuing back over to the center study table where they resumed their seats opposite the witch and werewolf who were now speaking quietly to each other.

The little girl stayed silent now, her eyes still stealing glances at the occupied Watcher, but mostly staring sadly at the closed office door. Her trembling lower lip was caught between her teeth and her eyes welled with fresh tears that she bravely held back. She didn’t let go of Cordelia’s hand.

Several minutes later, Cordelia knew that Angel had finally arrived outside.

She didn’t hear her Corvette pull up though. It was when the little girl suddenly turned to face her again, relief and happiness shining in her moist eyes and a weary but hopeful smile upon her full pink lips, that she realized the girl somehow knew, sensed, that Angel was close by. But the young girl did and said nothing more to announce Angel’s arrival.

Despite her forewarning, Cordelia screamed a little along with Willow as they, Oz and Giles were startled by the library’s double doors all but exploding open, crashing against the walls bordering the doorway.

The little girl screamed too, but her voice was full of joy at seeing the vampire sprinting into the library. “Angel!” she squealed ecstatically, releasing Cordelia’s hand and jumping down from her chair in time to be scooped up into the vampire’s ardent embrace. His muscular arms wrapped tightly around her slender frame, almost crushing her to him, while her much smaller limbs were flung around his neck in return. The sleeves of the leather jacket she wore dangled below her hands down his back. Her pajama-clad legs were half-wrapped around his broad torso, and she buried her head against his shoulder, glad to finally be in his arms. Safe.

“Oh God!” Angel hugged her frantically, one trembling scraped-knuckled hand moving to her back, holding her firmly to him, and the other cupping the back of her head as he pressed a relieved kiss to her soft caramel hair. “God! Sweetheart!” His whole body was shaking in anguish and intense relief.

Tears were streaming freely down his pale cheeks by the time Buffy and Xander finally caught up and ran into the library, only to be stopped, stunned, by what they saw. The growling volatile demon they’d found at the mansion was suddenly a distraught, emotional, and loving man towards this little girl. Buffy and Xander were too shocked by the complete reversal in Angel’s behavior to do anything but stay where they were, and watch the vampire and small child. The Slayer now leant heavily against the counter, Xander again comforting her, rubbing his hand against her back, while Giles walked slowly around the center of the room, closer to the table and the other seated teenagers.

“I’m sorry, Angel!” The little girl was now weeping against his neck. “Daddy said don’t come out unless it’s you! I promised!” she sobbed, looking quickly over at the now-open cage. “He said give the keys to you! But my heart and my tummy said it was okay! And you and Daddy always say listen to my heart and my tummy! I’m sorry I broke my promise!”

Angel drew back to look her in the eyes, still clutching her tightly. “Shhh! It’s okay, baby! It’s okay!” He pressed a long kiss to her little forehead. “Heart and tummy is good! You did the right thing, sweetheart! You don’t have to be sorry!” he whispered emotionally, laying his stubbled cheek atop her small head. Angel understood that her father must have locked her inside the library’s book cage to protect her, and made her promise not to come out for anyone but him. And he knew that that nothing would have made her break that promise, but her heart and her tummy – her instincts. She had been raised to always follow her instincts, regardless of anything else.

Turning her head back in towards his chest, she rested her own cheek against his shoulder, closed her eyes, and finally allowed all the tears she’d been bravely fighting to fall. She cried; all of her fear and worry for her daddy, and Angel, and for herself. All of her sadness for her mommy. Her frustration, and pain, and tiredness. It all came out in fat salty droplets that rolled heavily down her cheeks, soaking the black material beneath her face. The little girl’s tiny fists clutched tightly at the collar of Angel’s shirt through the supple leather covering her hands as her entire frame shook with sobs, and she felt Angel’s rough strong hand rubbing her back soothingly, lovingly, promising her that he would make everything okay.

Angel’s eyes were pressed tightly shut as he whispered words of love and comfort to the little girl, and promised to protect her and her father. He already knew that Emily was gone. The thick aroma of her drying blood that emanated from Giles’ office was overwhelming his senses, almost swallowing the soft rose perfume and natural feminine scent of Emily herself.

But his sensitive hearing could detect no heartbeat.

Unsteady legs could no longer hold them both up, and Angel allowed himself to collapse to the floor, hugging the girl tightly on his lap as she cried. Tears squeezed out from between his shut eyelids and fell silently down his face, the cool liquid dropping onto the crown of the girl’s small head. His large hand caressing her hair unknowingly smeared the droplets through the light brown strands, and he just held her close, letting her cry, and making sure she knew that she was finally safe. For the past several days he knew she had been scared, and yet so brave for someone so young, not letting her fear and grief overcome her. She had known that she needed to be brave and strong, so that her da could get her and her mommy to safety, and so she had been. She was so much like her mother…

Now, it was his turn to be strong. He bit back his own grief, and clenched his eyelids so tightly that no more tears could escape, vowing not to shed another until he knew that this little girl and her father were safe from the people that were hurting them, hunting them. Until every last one of those people were dead by his hand, and the bastard responsible for murdering Emily was made to pay.

Slowly, eventually, the girl’s sobs subsided until they became little breathless hiccups. Angel cupped her face gently between his hands, leaning down to press soft kisses against each of her moist cheeks. “Hush, baby,” he murmured. His thumbs smoothed away her tears. “Are you hurt?” he asked quietly, receiving a small headshake in reply. The vampire had already known that all of the blood on her pajamas was her mother’s. “Okay. I need you to stay out here for a minute, while I go… While I go check your Mommy, okay?”

The little girl nodded her head in understanding. “Okay, Angel.”

Suddenly attentive, Giles misunderstood Angel’s words, not comprehending the unspoken ones between him and the child. He couldn’t allow Angel to think that the woman was still alive, because he suspected that the vampire’s fury upon discovering that she was dead would be terrifying. “Angel–” the Watcher began.

Amber-streaked eyes suddenly glaring at him made him stop, afraid to go on. “I know,” Angel interrupted brusquely, growling low in his throat. He didn’t give the alarmed librarian any more thought as he turned back to the little girl. “You’ve been so brave, baby. I’m so proud of you. I need to leave you for a little while, but I’ll be just in there,” pointing to the office, “and I promise I’ll be back real soon. And when I come back, we can go home, okay? I want you to stay here with…”

He looked up to the seat next to the one she had been sitting in, and was surprised to see that the person the child had come out of the cage for, the person her instincts had told her to trust, was Cordelia Chase.

Stopping for only a brief moment, Angel realized that his own instincts were telling him the same thing. “I want you to stay with Cordelia. Will you do that for me, sweetheart?” he finished. The young girl nodded right away. Angel rose easily to his feet again, lifting the girl with him and hugging her firmly before setting her on her feet on the wooden chair she had just vacated. As she settled down again, his eyes slid down to meet Cordelia’s.

The Sunnydale Razorbacks cheerleader was crying openly, just as Buffy and Willow were. There was even a hint of moisture in Xander’s eyes, which he hastily wiped away with the sleeve of his shirt. The stoic Oz was frowning hard, and Giles’ trained mind was still processing too much information to allow him to fully see the anguish of the vampire and girl.

Cordelia’s hazel eyes stared deep into Angel’s chocolate brown, and more tears slipped down her cheeks. She had never seen anyone so vulnerable, so desperate. He was asking her, begging her, to take care of this little girl. Trusting her with something extremely precious to him, and leaving his soul and his heart bared open to her in those dark soulful eyes.

She couldn’t deny him.

Didn’t want to.

No words passed between them. Angel didn’t voice his plea, and Cordelia didn’t vocalize her pledge to protect the young girl. The understanding was unmistakable, expressed clearly in their eyes.

Angel turned and left them, ignoring everyone else. Without a sound, passed through the open doorway that isolated the area behind the counter from the rest of the library, and opened the door to the small private room. Slipping through the opening once it was large enough, he closed the door almost silently behind him, his gaze immediately falling upon the couch along the wall.

Emily lay on the brown sofa, her eyes closed and face tranquil, as if peacefully sleeping. Her still beautiful middle-aged face was marred by streaks of dirt and sweat, evidence of the family’s days on the run from their pursuers, and showers only long enough to refresh and scrub away the worst of the grime. The dark blood covering the lower half of her body was still clotting, her body still cooling.

Her husband had left her and their daughter here not much more than an hour ago. Left them here, knowing they’d be found by the Watcher, because it was too dangerous to take them to Angel directly. He couldn’t risk leading his hunters there. So he’d left them here, alone, in the dark, his daughter locked away – all to protect them.

Angel had sensed something happening tonight. He had felt them nearby. Felt him, as he had always felt the younger man when he was close.

The vampire moved the chair that was in front of Giles’ desk. Drawing it up beside the couch, he sat down wearily, and dropped his head into his hands. His eyes were burning again, but his vow not to shed any more tears, to be strong for Emily’s daughter, prevented him from allowing them to fall. “I’m so sorry, Em,” he whispered brokenly.

He forced his head up, finally looking at her uncovered wound. Gunshot. Near the center of her stomach. It had probably taken half an hour or more for her to die. A hospital probably wouldn’t have been able to help her – Angel could already tell that the damage inside was severe. The only comfort he took was that the bullet would have also damaged her spinal cord. She’d had no feeling in the lower half of her body before she died.

Reaching up a hand, he lightly caressed her smooth pale cheek, before pressing a soft kiss to it. “I’ll take care of them, Emily. I’ll protect them, I promise,” Angel whispered to her.

And while he didn’t know if he believed that a converse to Hell existed, he knew that somewhere, Emily was safe, she was happy, and she heard him.

Angel trailed his hand down to her necklace, lifting the token from the hollow at the base of her throat. He turned it in his fingers, and smiled bitterly at the memory of the day he had given it to her.

~ New York – 1987 ~

Emily smiled shyly at the vampire standing in front of her in living room of his own apartment while he fastened the silver chain behind her throat. Her eyes drifted quickly to her boyfriend standing off to their side, watching her nervously. She gave him a reassuring grin as she dropped her hair back against her neck, glad to see his lips quirk a little at the corner.

“I think I’m the one that’s supposed to be reassuring you,” he murmured softly. Her love, her purity, her understanding, and her strength awed him, as they always had, and always would. She was shy, soft-spoken, and yet she was the strongest, most compassionate, warm-hearted, accepting woman he had ever met, and he loved her for all of it. Her faith in him, in Angel, constantly astounded him.

Angel chuckled, grateful that the awkward atmosphere had been somewhat eased. It was strange that he was so nervous, when this was something that they all wanted. Emily’s boyfriend had spoken with him about this more than a month ago. He’d wanted her to have Angel’s protection. It was something that had been granted the moment the vampire had met the enchanting young woman, but both he and Emily’s boyfriend wanted more than unspoken promise. Needed more, because of who they were.

And somehow, miraculously, she had understood, and wanted it too.

His large pale hands took her left hand between them as he caught her eye again. “Are you sure about this?” he asked her. He’d asked her a hundred times, but the reply was always the same, and always delivered without hesitation.

“Yes.”

One of Angel’s hands moved back to the token of Aurelius he had just placed around her throat, tracing its familiar design. “This means that you’re protected not only by me, but the entire Order. I’ll always protect you.” His dark gaze looked out from beneath his tousled jaw-length hair toward her boyfriend now. “He’ll always protect you.” He returned to her jade-colored eyes. “No matter what, okay? This doesn’t bind you to him. Even if you were no longer with him, we would always be here for you, and keep you safe,” he promised her.

“I believe you,” Emily said softly, simply, truthfully.

The vampire took a deep steadying breath, before lifting her hand to his mouth, pressing a light kiss to the heel of her palm. Then, his face shifted; fangs elongated down passed his lips, eyes became a fiery gold, and bone thickened over his brow, nose and cheeks. Holding her emerald green gaze, Angel used his fangs to lightly scratch the surface of her extended palm, closing his lips over the twin wounds and quickly lapping away the blood he had drawn.

Emily never flinched.

Angel sealed the slight wounds with his tongue, and then abruptly pulled back, dropping his hands and shoving them into his pockets as he turned his vampiric face away from her ashamedly. The rich intoxicating flavor of human blood, even so small a taste, still tingled inside his mouth, taunting him, tempting him, urging him to take more. He couldn’t look at her.

And so Emily leaned over and kissed his cheek. She understood what he was feeling, but it wasn’t necessary. She accepted them both, cared for them both, just the way they were. The vampire melted from his face as he turned his astonished gaze back to her, and saw all of her emotions shining from her expressive eyes. “Thank you, Angel,” she told him honestly, and smiled happily. Then she turned to her hesitant boyfriend and hugged him. “Thank you, too,” she said, kissing him sweetly on the lips. “I love you.”

“I love you, Em,” he replied, an amazed whisper, pulling her deeper into his arms. His gaze met Angel’s over her shoulder, and he smiled, grateful.

And he held Emily close.

~ End Flashback ~

Angel had claimed her, placed her under the protection of Aurelius, to protect her from the darkness of the world he and her then-boyfriend had dragged her into. Vampires, demons, beasts, all would know that she was under the protection of Angelus and the Order of Aurelius. If they tried to harm her, they would have to answer to him.

Fingers tracing the fine white scars on the heel of her bloody left palm, Angel knew that the mark hadn’t been enough to protect her. He had never regretted marking her, claiming her, placing her under his protection. His one regret was that it still hadn’t kept her safe. Not from humans.

He shook away the memories, wiping at his eyes before the welling moisture there could fall, still determined not to break his vow. Gently, he took hold of the gold wedding band that encircled her finger, and slid it from her hand. Dried blood on her hand and the interweaving design of the metal made it stick to her skin fleetingly before it came free.

Angel slipped the ring reverently into the pocket of his slacks for safekeeping. Until he could return it to Emily’s husband.

Then, he reached up behind her neck, unclasping the chain. As he withdrew his hands again though, his fingers brushed her throat and he felt something flake away. He could suddenly smell the sharp reawakened scent of blood on the side of her throat. Brushing her hair aside, he saw the two small smears of long-dried blood, yet no wounds beneath the crusted marks.

And he knew what it meant. As he palmed her token, Angel recognized that the bloodstains weren’t there by accident, that Emily had deliberately placed them there. Her final effort to protect her baby girl. He understood what she wanted.

She was asking him to bite her.

A vampire bite on her body would prevent any investigation into her death, despite the gunshot wound. There wouldn’t even be an autopsy – her body would be cremated almost immediately, especially being a ‘Jane Doe’.

Sunnydale cops were stupid, but not completely naïve. The authorities knew not to linger when it came to a vampire’s victim, and no investigation meant that there was no chance that her daughter would be found. That was why she couldn’t have gone to the hospital. She and her daughter would never have been safe there, even if it could have saved Emily’s life. The people hunting her husband would have found her, and their child… She couldn’t let that happen.

Angel couldn’t deny her this last request.

A single tear escaped Angel’s eyes, but he no longer cared. “I’m sorry,” he repeated quietly, even as his features changed to show his true face. His calloused thumb brushed against her throat, removing the last of the flaking blood, before giving it one final apologetic caress.

And with his hand, he turned her unresisting head, and slowly, almost tenderly, he pierced her throat with his fangs. The cool heavy liquid dribbled onto his tongue and he fought the urge to gag on the dead blood. He wouldn’t disrespect her further by refusing to take her blood. One gentle pull brought a mouthful of her thick lifeless essence into his mouth and he swallowed it quickly. Angel allowed several drops to ooze from between his lips and down her neck as he extracted his fangs, and then gasped as another flavor washed over his taste buds, piercing his heart with fresh sorrow.

Though cold, dead, her blood was sweeter, even tangy, and he immediate recognized the taste. Rich. Life-giving. Nourishing. Fertile. Angel touched two shaking fingers to his bloody lips, and then dropped them to her stomach, lightly caressing her abdomen, low, over her womb.

Emily had been pregnant. She probably never knew.

The urge to shout, cry, curse, scream out loud, and tear apart the room roared up inside of him, but Angel stubbornly refused to surrender to it again. He had to remember his promise to Emily’s daughter, to be strong for her. For now. He would surrender to his emotions when he found the son-of-a-bitch that had done this to Em, and not even God would be able to save the bastard.

So instead, now, he rose from his seat, wiped all evidence of the blood from his pale lips, closed his fist tightly around Emily’s token, and with one last mournful gaze at the body he left the room as quietly as he had entered.


~*~ Chapter Four ~*~

The main room of the library was deathly silent.

Angel’s despairing gaze flickered briefly across the room’s occupants as he moved back around the bench, stopping a few feet from the central study table. Buffy and Xander had joined the group there, and all had been waiting nervously for him to return from the office. The Slayer sat on the other side of Willow, while Xander had drawn up a seat next to her at the end of the table. The Watcher was leaning against the railing at the base of the stairs, obviously still mulling over the overload of information he’d already received that night.

And if Rupert Giles realized what was happening, Angel knew that he might have to kill him.

He hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but only for Buffy’s sake, for her friends. The vampire wouldn’t hesitate to do whatever was necessary to protect the little girl and her father. He’d promised Emily that he would protect them, and he didn’t care what it took to keep them safe. He never had.

Angel pushed away his defensive thoughts as his eyes settled on Cordelia and the child beside her. Having wiped away her tears, Cordelia’s face was a mask of courage, self-assurance, and purpose, determined not to let her worry show. But her warm hazel eyes betrayed the depth of her compassion, her concern, and her anger at whoever had hurt Emily and her daughter. Angel almost smiled. That she could feel such instant affection for the little girl that was still very much a stranger to her, such fury on her behalf, told the vampire that Cordelia Chase was a very special young woman. An amazing spirit that he wanted to protect, and know more of.

The smaller brunette was again holding tightly to Cordelia’s hand, and watching Angel intently with sad, knowing blue eyes. He walked slowly over to them until he stood in front of the little girl’s chair, before dropping heavily to his knees. Mind already mostly numb, he didn’t even acknowledge the pain that shot up his powerful thighs as his knees banged against the unforgiving linoleum; he only settled wearily back on his heels.

The little girl let go of Cordelia’s hand and slipped off her seat, crawling onto Angel’s lap and curling up against his broad chest. Immediately, the vampire’s arms enveloped her in a loving, protective embrace, and she couldn’t help but relax a little. She was safe. Warm, despite the coolness of Angel’s body. Almost home, wrapped up in his arms, and her father’s jacket. She just wanted her Daddy to be here with them now. Her Mommy…

Lifting her head from where it laid against his chest, the kid looked up into Angel’s dark brown eyes, her own glistening with unshed tears. “Mommy was tired,” she said quietly to him.

The vampire held her closer, leaning down to press a kiss to her temple. “It’s okay, baby. She’s sleeping now,” he told her, knowing she already understood that her Mommy would never wake up. And he hated it. He hated that she was still so very young, a baby, innocent, and she had already lost her mother, and her sibling. Worse, he hated that she understood why. That she was acquainted with death at such a young age. He wished she’d never had to know it at all. But all he could do now was make damn sure that she didn’t lose her father as well. Neither he, nor her father, would ever leave this young girl.

Nodding at his response, the child’s crystalline-blue eyes glanced at the again closed door behind the counter, and then returned to Angel above her. “I’m scared, Angel,” she admitted, her words almost a whisper, more tears slipping down her small cheeks. “Mommy’s alone. I don’t want Mommy to be alone.”

Angel had to rip his gaze away from her beseeching face before he too started crying again. As he raised his face to the ceiling, he clenched his eyes shut, and swallowed hard against the emotion choking his throat. Emily’s token slipped from his fingers, and he moved his large hands up to cup the back of the girl’s small head, lowering his face down beside hers until his lips rested beside her tiny ear. His voice was almost inaudible as he spoke, but he knew she would hear every word, and this was for her alone.

“You don’t have to be afraid, sweetheart, because your Mommy isn’t alone. Your parents love you so much. And they were gonna have another baby, to love just as much as they love you,” he whispered to her, desperately fighting back stinging tears. “Your little baby brother, or baby sister, was growing in your Mommy’s tummy, and now, the baby is sleeping too. So you don’t have to be afraid, okay? ‘Cause your little brother or sister will make sure that your Mommy will never be alone.”

Little arms stretched upward, circling around his neck, and the child hugged him tightly. “Okay,” she whispered in reply. “I won’t be afraid.”

Angel reached up a hand to quickly brush away the wetness that was starting to escape his eyes, and then moved his head back to look into the girl’s eyes again. “Will you do one more thing for me, darlin’?” he asked her, a faint Irish burr unconsciously slipping back into his voice. He retrieved her mother’s token from the floor where it had fallen, and held it up for her to see. “Will you hold onto this for me?”

When she instantly nodded, he slipped the two ends of the chain around behind her neck, and she lifted her limp hair to allow him to fasten it in place. Emily’s token fell lower than that of her own necklace, dipping almost beneath her pale yellow pajamas so that the cool metal rested against her breastbone. The vampire kissed her cheek tenderly once more as he moved back, getting a brief smile from the child. Then, he wrapped his arms around her and stood, rising gracefully from the floor and holding her with ease on his hip, while she laid her head tiredly against his shoulder.

And finally, he lifted his gaze away from her.

It didn’t move far though, shifting from one brunette to another. Cordelia Chase felt the gathering moisture in her eyes trickle down her cheeks as the vampire’s intense gaze settled upon her face. In it, she couldn’t even begin to comprehend the vast depths of his gratitude.

Angel stumbled over the right words to express his thankfulness and relief to Cordelia for taking care of the child now giving in to her exhaustion in his arms, but nothing was powerful enough. Nothing could properly tell Cordelia how indebted to her he was. So – succinct and direct it was.

“Thanks for looking after my girl.”

His words were minimal, yet the emotion behind them was anything but, and Cordy almost laughed at the simplicity of it. She grinned at him – the full megawatt one that she reserved for very few – despite her tears. “No problem!” she replied brightly, and just as simply.

Lips almost curling into a small smile, Angel nodded his dark head once. By the time he turned his gaze onto the rest of the group, the trace of amusement was gone. He spoke before the Watcher or teens could demand answers to any one of the multitude of questions rampaging through their minds, and though his words were again soft, none could find a voice to interrupt him.

“I need your help.” Candor had gotten him this far, after all. The vampire just wasn’t used to being so honest with these people. He took a mental deep breath before he resumed. “I can’t trust you. I won’t trust you, not with… ‘my girl’,” he added, adopting the affectionate moniker he had used for the little girl with Cordelia. “But I need your help.”

Giles barked out a bitter laugh. “And you expect us–?!”

“I ‘expect’ nothing!” The words were snarled out with such vehemence that they abruptly halted the Watcher’s incredulous tirade. Angel couldn’t blame the man for his reaction – had expected it, after what he’d done to Giles. But at the moment, he just didn’t care. “I’m asking for her!” His head nodded down to the little girl in his arms, who, in spite of the growling demon holding her, was drifting peacefully to sleep, eyelids fluttering heavily. “Her family is being hunted! But she’s innocent in this, Watcher. Her mother, was innocent…” He turned his head away from them as he trailed off, furiously blinking back fresh tears, before he was able to continue. “Her father was innocent, but he’s had to do things that he should never have had to find out he was capable of, to protect his family.” Angel paused, released a world-weary sigh from his dead lungs, continued again. “I won’t trust you with anything more than that, because I won’t risk endangering my girl more than she already is. So it’s a simple question, Rupert – will you help me protect her, or not?”

For long moments, silence filled the library once more. Giles kept his gaze locked with the vampire’s as he warily went over everything Angel had chosen to divulge to them. There were still so many things that deeply troubled him about this, too many unanswered questions. Who was the woman in his office, and what had actually happened to her? What was her, and her child’s, association to Aurelius? And their ties to Angel? Who was hunting the little girl’s family? Why? Why did the little girl need their protection…?

The final question that was raised by his overactive thoughts made him pause, and he realized that Angel had actually answered that one – she was innocent. Did they really need to know any more than that? Could he condemn an innocent child because of his own hatred? Because she cared for the creature that he despised and resented? Giles discovered that those were the questions that truly needed his concern. And now he knew his answer.

When the response to Angel’s query finally came though, Angel was surprised to find that it wasn’t from the Watcher.

“We’ll help.” Willow Rosenberg spoke with fierce determination. Though the meek redhead’s courage often failed her in other aspects of her life, like the prospect of bad grades, speaking up for herself when others put her down, admitting her personal fears and feelings, facing the endless hordes of demons and vampires that were drawn to the Mouth of Hell, frogs… nothing could make her conviction waver when it came to doing what was right. No matter how scared she might still be, she would do what needed to be done to protect the innocent. “Anything she needs, Angel.”

Angel’s eyes flickered momentarily to the teenage girl, and she could see the relief and gratitude in his gaze intensify until the chocolate orbs sparkled wetly from the overwhelming emotions. Next to her, Oz looked at her with a mixture of pride and love on his unusually open face. He squeezed her hand tightly in his own, reassuring her, and silently promising his support.

Tears were yet again blinked away as the vampire quickly refocused on the Watcher, waiting for his refusal, but Giles only lifted his tense jaw defiantly and returned the penetrating stare. Though neither ashamed nor awkward for having asked so much of a man that owed him nothing, that had every right to want his dust scattered upon the ground, Angel replied with only a tight nod and a quiet “thank you.” He knew that anything more than that would not be accepted. Because the only reason Giles had agreed to provide his help was because of the little girl that was in danger, and not because the vampire had asked for the aid.

Giles forcefully bit back the sour taste of resentment that had crawled up his throat, and relaxed the taut muscles of his jaw enough to speak again. “Is there anything that she requires right now?” he inquired with an air of civility so false, it almost made Angel cringe, but the vampire hid the reaction.

“Rest,” Angel informed them. “She’s exhausted. She wouldn’t have slept properly for days.” Four days. Fitful sleeps in dingy motels and the bitterly cold backseat of the car. Irregular meals of fast food and snacks despite a lack of appetite anyway. Infrequent showers and no change of clothes. Constant terror of being found…

Nodding his concurrence, Giles tried to settle his perturbed emotions with the comforting routine of removing and wiping the lenses of his eyeglasses. He withdrew his once immaculately pressed and folded handkerchief, now crumpled at the end of the day from repetitive use, and set about polishing the two curved ovals of glass within their wire frame. “I agree. It’s been a long and distressing day for all of us, and I fear there’s still worse to come,” he murmured, glancing toward his office, his thoughts on the upsetting scene beyond the closed door. He would send his charges home before he finally called the authorities.

Although Angel knew he couldn’t avoid telling Giles about what he had done to Emily indefinitely, he didn’t want her daughter to hear him. Even if Emily had asked it of him, even if it was to protect what was left of her family, the others wouldn’t understand it. And despite all of her trust and acceptance, even her love, the little girl was just too young to comprehend exactly what Angel had done. He’d prevented the child from ever being able to visit her mother’s grave. Taken from her the chance to ever say a proper goodbye, or have a place to go when she just needed to be near the mother that she had lost when she was so young, and remember how much Emily loved her.

There were other things that he needed to say before that admission though, and he went on. “She can’t stay at the Mansion though,” Angel told them. “I can’t risk her being seen in the sole care of a demon. If anyone, or anything, were to notice a child alone with me, she and her father would never be safe.”

“That,” Xander commented dryly, “and the place isn’t even fit for the undead right now, let alone the still living.”

Giles let the sarcastic comment slide, his mind already too full of other fears to puzzle over the boy’s meaning. He was somewhat relieved by Angel’s assertion that the youngster could not stay with him though. Despite her obvious, and disconcerting, comfort around Angel, Giles didn’t want a defenseless child to be left alone in the vampire’s care for any amount of time. “Well then, I suggest that… ‘your girl’,” Giles said, using Angel’s own words in reference to the small girl with no small measure of reservation, “should stay with Buffy–”

Angel couldn’t help the disbelieving laugh that escaped his lips. The sound only made the situation worse, instantly silencing and angering the already uneasy Watcher, and offending his young Vampire Slayer. But again, the vampire just couldn’t bring himself to care. “If there’s anyone that I trust the least right now, it’s you and the Slayer,” Angel admitted without apology. His ex-girlfriend’s blue eyes flashed with hurt and righteous anger, but he wasn’t fazed. “She’s not staying with Buffy.”

At that, Giles raised a dubious eyebrow. His hands paused in their task of cleaning his spectacles, his umbrage causing his long graceful fingers to press together with almost enough force to crack the prescription glass. The man didn’t even try to hide his wry amusement at the thought that Angel might presume Giles himself should allow the child to be kept in his home.

Whatever humorless mirth remaining on Angel’s smirking face drained away. “Not with you either,” he voiced quietly, needlessly.

The younger man’s hands trembled with barely restrained anger as he tried to replace his glasses upon the slender bridge of his nose, missing twice before he gave up in frustration and dropped his hand back to his side. “Indeed. Because you certainly weren’t invited,” came the brusque response.

“Enough!” Cordelia finally shouted, interrupting the intense battle of wills between the man and vampire. Her raised voice caused the little girl to stir against Angel’s shoulder momentarily, before settling again. Cordelia winced, but was glad she had spoken up.

She had determinedly remained silent for the past several long minutes, because she’d already made her own decision to help in any way that she could to protect the child. But this was too much. She was sick of the animosity adding to the already overwrought atmosphere. More than that, she was sick of the testosterone-based pissing-contest. Issues much? The only issue should have been the safety of Angel’s girl.

And that was the problem Cordy had decided to resolve right now. “My parents are away for a few weeks. Angel’s girl can stay with me. You can stay too, Angel.” She added, before Angel could even voice the condition. Giles’ mouth fell open, intent on raising his objections, but the cheerleader wouldn’t allow him the chance. She systematically shot down his protests, too. “No! That’s enough, buster! Angel’s girl needs sleep. We all do. So Angel and his girl are staying with me, and your interrogation of Mr.-Broody-Pants-Vamp can just wait until later, got it?”

More a statement than a question, her words effectively and convincingly informed them all that the topic was closed. For now, at least.

While everyone could only gape at the young woman, vampire included, Cordelia snatched her bag from the table and stood with a protesting squeal of wood on linoleum as her chair jerked back in her haste. She turned to the end of the study table where her ex-boyfriend was seated, and extending her hand in silent request for her car keys. Though startled by the reminder that he still had the objects, Xander immediately dug into the pocket of his baggy trousers to retrieve them. He had barely remembered to properly park her Corvette and lock it, after Angel had leapt out of the vehicle before it had even come to a full stop outside. Xander quickly handed the keys over, despite his own misgivings about letting her leave with the demon she had so nonchalantly invited to be her houseguest. He was more eager to avoid becoming another casualty of the unleashed wrath of Cordelia Chase.

Her heels clicked harshly against the floor as she spun and strode purposefully toward Angel. When she finally came to a stop in front of the stunned vampire, she raised her perfectly sculpted eyebrows at him in stubborn defiance, almost daring him to challenge her.

He couldn’t. He was beyond grateful for her intervention, and especially thankful for her offer, because turning her down just wasn’t an option. There was nowhere else he and his girl could go.

And besides, Angel knew better than to even try to argue with the astounding young woman standing before him.

Her elegant eyebrows arched regally, hazel eyes staring into his obsidian, dauntless and determined and gorgeous. Classic Cordy. He couldn’t deny that there was something both lovely and incredibly sexy about this dark-haired beauty. In the past few minutes he’d learnt more about Cordelia than he had in all the time he had known her, and he realized that he hadn’t known her at all. No one really knew her. She was stunning in her exuberance and her fiery tenacity, sexy in the intensity of her passion, her confidence and even her insolence, yet softly exquisite in her tenderness and compassion. It was a combination that stirred a response in both the vampire and the illusion of the man.

A powerful burning hunger was aroused in his demon as it gazed upon an equal, a challenge. It craved the sensual creature before it, lusting for that lithe body, scorching passion and firebrand personality. Whilst the small taste of humanity that his soul afforded him longed to feel the affection and warmth he’d already seen her display, to discover every captivating aspect of this young woman’s heart and soul. Wanting, needing, her trust and her friendship.

Angel was left reeling in the wake of his sudden and overpowering reaction to this young woman, but he obstinately forced the emotions aside. He couldn’t be thinking of anything but the little girl in his arms right now. Keeping her safe, and ensuring that her father made it back to her. To them.

The child in question was looking up at him now, a pleading look in her fatigued cerulean gaze. He realized that he still hadn’t replied to Cordelia’s ‘offer’, though the cheerleader had certainly made it clear that he didn’t have a choice in the matter. Maybe she had already realized that he really didn’t have any other choice. Either way, Angel finally responded. “Thank you.”

Cordelia beamed cheekily. “Don’t thank me yet. Camilla, our housekeeper, is on holidays with her family at the moment too. You’ll be doing your own laundry and fixing your own O-pos, bub,” she warned him playfully.

Angel smirked, deciding to play along for a while. “I think I’ll manage. I’ve been doing alright on my own for the past century,” he deadpanned. Then he grinned, adding in a sly conspiratorial whisper. “I even know how to work those new-fangled contraptions. What do you call them? ‘Washing machines’?” he joked.

Cordy gave him an exaggerated look, as if impressed. “Wow! Domesticated Vamp. Are you housebroken too? Because you better not make a mess on any of our carpets,” she playfully warned.

Angel was rewarded with another impossibly wide grin when he chuckled in response. He couldn’t help shaking his head in amazement at her perceptiveness, and her natural ability to make him feel at ease. Cordelia had effortlessly diffused the serious and potentially awkward moment. Her sarcastic good-humor and teasing had helped to relieve the tension that had settled across his shoulders, if only slightly, and for that he was all the more grateful to her. He was feeling more and more comfortable around this young woman, which he realized had been the intent of her brief detour in the conversation all along, since he would be staying in her home for an indefinite period of time, and any unease between them would have only made things painfully awkward. Cordelia Chase was definitely full of surprises.

Even as he whispered another thanks though, an impatient cough sounded from the Watcher in front of the table.

With a heavy sigh Angel dropped his gaze back to the girl on his hip, momentarily ignoring Giles. She was finally sleeping, perhaps the most peaceful rest she’d had in days, and Angel was loath to wake her. But he couldn’t put off telling Giles of what he had done any longer, and he desperately didn’t want the child to hear any of it. He cupped the small head resting against his strong shoulder, smoothing his hand over her tangled caramel curls. Kissing her forehead tenderly, he then lowered his lips to her ear. He murmured her name, too softly for anyone to catch, gently coaxing her from her slumber.

Drowsy eyelids twitched in shallow flutters as she yawned and slowly came awake. The little girl was still too tired to lift her head from the comfortable hollow where Angel’s shoulder met the broad expanse of his solid chest, and instead only raised her azure eyes to his chiseled features. Another yawn escaped her. Sleepily, she murmured, “Angel?”

He pressed a loving kiss to her cheek this time. “Shhh, baby. I’m sorry I had to wake you,” he apologized to her, “but I need you to wait with Cordelia again, okay? Just for a little while.”

Reluctantly, she gave a groggy nod of reply and allowed him to set her back down on the floor, but reached up and grabbed his large hand, holding it tightly, unwilling to be parted with him again so soon. Her small pajama-clad legs shook with exhaustion, and she cuddled up next to the vampire’s leg, leaning against the muscular limb to support her own weary body. Angel had to fight back the overpowering urge to immediately lift her back up into his arms where she was safe, and warm, and loved. Where he would let her sleep forever if she wanted to.

But he knew he couldn’t do that. Not yet. Not even after he had spoken to the Watcher. Only when her father was home, and safe, would he allow himself to rest with her.

Angel forced himself to gently move the little girl away from his side, but kept a hold of her warm hand as he wrapped her tighter in her father’s jacket. When he raised his eyes back to Cordelia though, to ask her to look after his girl once more, he saw that Cordy already had her hand outstretched encouragingly toward her.

Both watched as the kid finally released her intense grip on Angel’s hand, and placed her small hand in Cordy’s. “C’mon, kiddo. Let’s wait by the door for Angel, ‘kay? Then, we can go home to my place,” Cordelia promised the girl with a warm smile, and received a brief nod in response. The older brunette led the child passed Angel to the library doors, stopping before actually exiting the room though, and allowed the little girl to lean against her side. She could tell that neither vampire nor girl wanted to be out of sight of the other any more than they already had been tonight.

Angel was left to face the hostile Watcher and confused teenagers at the table.

Giles cleared his throat again before anyone could speak. Behind him, Buffy, Xander, Willow and Oz remained surprisingly silent, perhaps not so surprising for the latter, but he doubted their silence would last when he finally spoke. “What do you intend to do about the body?” he asked bluntly.

The children at the table gasped. “Giles!” Willow protested, horrified.

Giles had expected their reactions. He had even expected the sickened glare that Cordelia shot at him as she drew the little girl closer, one hand moving to cover the tiny ear that wasn’t pressed against her leg. What he hadn’t expected was the unmoved, almost calm demeanor of the dark-haired vampire before him.

“Keep your voice down please,” Angel asked quietly. His appearance was still unperturbed as he simply folded his arms across his chest. He was beyond feeling any more pain or outrage or anguish at Emily’s death. The Watcher’s words were nothing compared to that loss. Now, he only wanted to make sure that the little girl didn’t hear Giles speaking that way about her mother. “I need you to call the police,” he said in answer to the younger man’s question. He kept his voice at barely more than a whisper, a level he knew that the girl couldn’t overhear.

“And what would you have me tell them?” Giles scoffed, yet complied with Angel’s request and lowered his tone. “Perhaps you have forgotten, but I was a suspect in another murder quite recently,” he spat back bitterly as the memory of medical examiners wheeling Jenny’s covered body out of his apartment on a gurney rose in his mind. “If you think that I can report a body to the police, and not be investigated as a sus–!”

“There won’t be any investigation,” Angel interrupted Giles’ rising outburst. “Sunnydale cops are stupid, but they’re not completely oblivious to what goes on in this town. They know by now not to linger when it comes to a vampire’s victim. There’ll be no investigation, and no autopsy. Her body will be cremated before sunrise,” he informed them all, voice empty of emotion. Inside, he was torn by the fact that he wouldn’t even be able to claim her remains for her family. But preventing an inquiry meant that there’d be no search for Emily’s relatives. He’d done this to protect her daughter, and that was all that mattered now.

Giles was mystified. “The woman was shot! How in God’s name are they to come to the conclusion that a vam-…” His words trailed off as insight suddenly hit him, and his dread was confirmed by the guilt visible in Angel’s eyes. The vampire never flinched as the glasses that had remained in Giles’ grasp now slipped from his fingers and fell to the floor. One of the lenses fractured from the impact. The Watcher’s shaking hands curled into fists, knuckles quickly turning white from the pressure. “You monster…!” His voice, even now still quiet, shook with fury and disgust.

“Oh my God…” Buffy whispered, shocked, revolted, as she and the others came to the same realization – Angel had bitten the dead woman. Willow was ashen-faced, her eyes so wide that white showed all the way around her irises, and the trembling hand clamped over her mouth indicated that she might be sick. Xander was speechless with outrage, not even able to summon a dry quip as he usually did to hide his fear. Normally devoid of expression, Oz’s face was pale and drawn.

Even if Giles had allowed himself to consider the reason behind Angel’s actions, he couldn’t see passed the defilement of the deceased woman’s body. But the realization that he couldn’t do a damn thing about it burned like acid in the pit of his stomach. Defiantly, he stepped forward. His limp from the injury he had incurred earlier that evening was almost imperceptible. The vampire’s gaze followed, until Giles stood scant inches away, glaring up at him threateningly. “I hope that when that little girl finds out what you did to her dead mother, she drives a stake through that blackened dried up walnut you call a heart!” he seethed under his breath.

Angel stared back unblinkingly. “If that’s what she wants, I’ll hand her the stake,” he replied, still speaking in soft, infuriatingly calm tones. “I will tell her myself when she is old enough to fully understand what I’ve stolen from her, and I’ll tell her how sorry I am. But I won’t apologize to you. And I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect my girl,” he informed them. His last sentence was loud enough that Cordelia and the child heard it as well.

Giles’ eyes widened as he stared into Angel’s darkened gaze and saw the cold determination and lack of remorse evident there. So alike the eyes of Angelus as the soulless demon had stood over him and casually detailed how he was going to torture him, and yet so different. Without a soul, Angel’s impenitence came from deriving pleasure in causing pain. But ensouled, this wasn’t about pleasure. This was necessity. Giles took a step back from the vampire. “You’ll uphold the claim, then,” he stated audibly, rather than asked.

Giles now knew without a doubt who had initiated the claim.

As unnecessary as an answer was, Angel gave one anyway, and gave it with no reluctance. “Yes.”

Moving away completely, Giles turned fearful eyes upon the young naïve brunette that had so rashly offered her home as shelter to this creature. He needed to warn her. “Cord–”

Cordelia never let him finish. Giles’ statement and Angel’s response had been loud enough for all to hear, and she had already seen the depths of Angel’s resolve, his desperation to protect the ones he loved. “I think I can figure that one out myself, Giles,” she told him, and despite her air of nonchalance, the Watcher knew that she was deadly serious. She already knew.

Angel would kill to protect his girl.

And that thought didn’t scare her as much as it should have. She’d be stupid if she weren’t scared at all, but Cordy couldn’t help but feel glad that the little girl leaning drowsily against her side had someone that loved her so completely. She would need that love in the months to come.

A sad smile graced Cordelia’s lips and renewed tears burned her eyes, but she held them back as she turned to the others. There had been enough crying tonight. “Angel, his girl, and me are gonna go home now. I think there’s a bubble bath with your name on it!” she continued with a brighter smile to the little girl, ruffling her hair playfully. “C’mon, Broody!” she called the vampire, and jiggled her car keys in her other hand.

Angel turned away from the Scoobies, pausing only long enough to let his gaze linger on Giles’ office door one final time, one final goodbye, before he moved over to join Cordelia and the little girl. He immediately scooped the child back up into his arms, pressing a long kiss to her forehead as he held her tight. Wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his hips, she happily snuggled into his embrace again. She laid her head against his silent chest, and let her heavy eyelids fall shut once more. The tiny girl was asleep even before Angel had followed Cordelia through the swinging library doors.

Giles couldn’t stop them.

For a long while, silence descended upon the room yet again, until Xander finally broke it.

“Uh… All those who think letting a defenseless child and Cordy leave with the vicious killer, raise their hands,” he quipped humorlessly, extending his own arm up into the air.

“That’s enough Xander!” Giles snapped, angrily retrieving his broken spectacles from the floor. He turned to face them and fixed them all with a stern and unrelenting glare. “I want all of you to go home. Now. None of you are to come in here tomorrow. And none of you are to go near Angel or that little girl. I won’t have any of you accidentally provoking him and- and…”

“Getting ourselves killed?” Buffy offered, shuddering at the memory of her ex-boyfriend’s cold eyes. None of the teens understood what Giles had meant by the ‘claim’, but there had been no mistaking Angel’s unpitying response.

“Pr-precisely,” was all Giles could manage.

Willow looked around fearfully at the others, and took minimal comfort in the firm grip her boyfriend still had on her hand. “But what about Cordelia? I mean, Angel wouldn’t actually hurt her, would he? He has a soul now!” she babbled, on the verge of hysterics. Oz reached behind her to rub a soothing hand against her back, bringing his lips to her ear to whisper comforting words as well.

“Angel won’t hurt her,” Giles said, visibly relieving Willow until he finished, “unless she were to pose a threat to the safety and well-being of that child.”

Though initially alarmed, the redhead forced herself to fully process Giles’ words. “But that’s good, right? I mean, she’ll be okay, because she wouldn’t hurt Angel’s girl. So Angel won’t hurt her, right?” she asked. Her words were a plea for Giles’ reassurance.

The Watcher thought about it honestly before he answered her. “I… I don’t believe he will hurt her, Willow,” he assured her. “I hope that I am correct. As long as she is careful, and nothing she says or does can be construed as a threat against that child’s life, then she is safe. My only fear is that Angel is a vampire, and an unstable one at that, from what we have witnessed tonight…”

“And you didn’t even see the Mansion,” Buffy interjected. “It was trashed, Giles. He’d destroyed just about every piece of furniture in the building. Angel’s freaked. He already knew there was something going on with this family. Somehow, he knew, and I think it drove him crazy,” she admitted fearfully.

“Indeed.” The Watcher absorbed the information. It only made him more certain of what he already knew. “That is why we cannot assume exactly what Angel will consider a threat. Buffy, when you see Cordelia in school tomorrow, check that she and the child are alright.” Giles felt no shame in being distrustful of the vampire. His concern was for these children. “Also, make sure that she is properly aware of just how careful she needs to be. Remind her that she can change her mind at any time if she doesn’t want Angel staying with her. We still have the spell to reverse a vampire’s invitation. She’s not alone in this.” The Slayer nodded at the orders. “Now, I want all of you to go home. Don’t come into the library tomorrow unless it’s an emergency, just in case there is an investigation into this woman’s murder. I don’t want any of you involved.”

Willow glanced over at the office at the reminder of what lay inside. As if any of them would ever forget. “We don’t even know what her name was,” she whispered sadly, fresh hot tears slipping down her cheeks.

Giles softened at the girl’s ongoing distress. It was too late to prevent any of the teens from being involved. They’d already witnessed the worst of this mess, and Cordelia had invited a monster into her home. Giles could only hope that he would be able to keep them all safe in the coming days, maybe weeks. “Go home,” he told them more gently. “Try to get some rest, all of you.”

Wordlessly, the teenagers rose from the table, moving together to leave the library. Giles was glad to see them giving comfort to each other as they left through the same swinging double doors that his other young charge and Angel had disappeared through minutes before.

With a troubled sigh, he finally replaced his glasses, ignorant of the flaw marring one of the lenses, and limped silently into his office to make his call.

Alone.

His fingers stumbled across the keypad, dialing the by now far too familiar number. As he waited for the line to connect, his vacant stare fell upon the woman’s body draped across his couch. Twin trickles of deep crimson now disturbed the once smooth milky column of her throat. Her face remained peaceful.

“9-1-1. What is your emergency…?”


~*~ Chapter Five (A) ~*~

Muted green radiance from the dashboard lights cast a sickly light across the Cordelia’s features, leaving the rest of the vehicle’s interior in gloom. Her eyes flicked to her rear vision mirror, amusement curling her lips into a genuine smile.

Seated in the back passenger-side seat, Angel naturally cast no reflection in the small rectangular looking glass. The little girl fast asleep on his lap appeared to be floating several inches above the leather, snuggled up against an invisible barrier that prevented her from physically touching the backrest.

The streets of Sunnydale at three in the morning were devoid of both pedestrians and traffic, and so Cordelia risked a quick half-glance over her shoulder at her passengers.

Angel was slouching slightly, allowing the little girl to lie comfortably on her side against his chest, her slim legs stretching out across the leather beside them. She looked more peaceful now, her exhaustion having dragged her into a deep slumber, but even in sleep one of her small hands clutched desperately at the black material of Angel’s shirt, afraid to be separated from him again. Afraid to lose him.

The vampire’s eyes were closed too. It stunned Cordelia that he was so at ease with the young girl, when he had only ever seemed uncomfortable in the presence of others before now. His head was lowered beside hers, a whiskered cheek resting gently atop her caramel head. One arm encircled her back, wrapped protectively around her tiny middle, whilst the large pale hand of the other was lifted up to cup her cheek, cradling her even closer to his chest.

Both were peaceful, if only for a moment.

Cordy’s eyes turned fully to the road again, checking for traffic as she flipped on her blinker to make a right-hand turn. She completed it safely before her gaze flitted again over her shoulder to the back seat.

Grimy bloodstained yellow pajamas and once vibrant yellow socks now encrusted with dirt were still a stark contrast to the solid wall of black that supported her. Angel’s ebony slacks and shirt seemed to obscure the tiny child in nothingness. Even the coal-colored leather jacket that engulfed the little girl’s shoulders only seemed to make her smaller, more helpless – innocence enshrouded by darkness.

A thin line formed between Cordy’s delicate brows, her own impulsive thoughts unsettling her. The car slowed slightly as the brunette diverted a little more of her already wandering attention from the road to peer further into the inky blackness of the backseat. Little more than a silhouette beneath the soft top of the convertible, the vampire was a motionless shadow, deeper than the night murk. The lack of lighting made his ivory skin appear darker, more like smoke. It made Cordelia think of a winter sky that has been overcast for days.

The flawless gray was only broken at his jaw, shifting to the shade and texture of raw charcoal due to a few days worth of whisker growth. Healing purple-brown bruises stained the flesh of his hands, and the blood covering his knuckles was crusty, a rich rust-color, the wounds that had spilt it also mending.

There was a statuesque quality about Angel, so still as to be carved from smooth cool stone. But in this moment as she stared at him, he reminded Cordelia more of the gargoyles of gothic architecture rather than Greek sculptures featuring idyllic male physique. Not monstrous but strong, ominous, protective, determined. A sentinel in the night. A guardian.

The car decelerated a little more. Cordy’s gaze became slightly vacant. No – ‘darkness’ was definitely the wrong word to use here. Angel was a shadow by nature, but there was nothing dark about the unconditional love he felt for the little girl.

So engrossed was she in her musings that Cordelia let out a startled yelp at the unexpected sound of Angel’s gentle voice. His exact words went unheard as she refocused her gaze on his ashen face. He didn’t seem to have moved, not even opened his eyes.

“What?”

Angel quietly repeated his previous comment. “You should watch the road.”

“Oh.” Cordelia nodded, before his words finally registered. “Oh!” Russet curls lashed her cheeks as she whirled her head almost violently to face forward again, eyes widening in alarm. In her distraction, her foot had eased from the accelerator pedal, and the Corvette was drifting dangerously close to the right-hand curb, her tires almost kissing the pavement. A harsh gasp sounded from her lips as she jerked the steering wheel to the left, producing a light jostle for the vehicle’s occupants before she righted their course along the thankfully empty street.

Cordy allowed herself to finally expel the panicked gulp of air she’d taken in a slow deep exhalation of relief. She heard Angel’s still maddeningly calm tone behind her, accompanied by the barest tinge of amusement lacing his rich suede-soft voice. “Want me to drive?”

“No, but you could try wearing a seatbelt!” she shot back, her voice not quite as firm as she would have liked. Angel didn’t reply. The young woman briefly glared icy daggers at the emptiness in the rearview mirror, before resolutely fixing her eyes on the road ahead. She now only turned to her mirrors to check the non-existent traffic, refusing to steal any more peeks into the dim backseat.

Irritation simmered beneath her skin. Her body shifted restlessly, and itching fingers tensed their grip on the wheel, but her annoyance wasn’t directed at Angel. She silently berated herself for her wayward feelings. In one night, all of her carefully guarded emotions had been thrown into turmoil. One look into those wide cobalt eyes, sparkling wetly with salty tears, and the impenetrable emotional wall she had erected around herself, around her heart, was crumbling.

Too close.

She shouldn’t have allowed herself to get so damn close. As Cordy indicated and maneuvered the Corvette around another turn, she forcibly tried to calm herself, to regain the control that Queen C prided herself on, that allowed for more rational judgments.

A Rubik’s Cube. That’s how she had always thought of herself as. An incomprehensible blend of vibrant colors, deliberately jumbled up in a fascinating but misleading design so that you could never really see the real sides. But if you looked hard enough, the patterns hinted at the solid truth hidden deep within the puzzle. A challenge – complex and almost impossible to solve, unless given devotion, patience, and understanding.

And frustrating as all Hell in the process.

Where a Rubik’s Cube could hide it’s answers with a simple twist and an exuberant new color arrangement, Cordelia had always concealed her emotions through acerbic barbs and an untouchable presence. Prevented anyone from getting too close, and having the power to hurt her. But now…

Too weak.

On display tonight had been a Cordelia that was in complete opposition to the image she had carefully constructed to portray to the world. The weaker Cordy. The Cordy that had not only needed to gain the little girl’s trust, but had wanted to. She had let her empathy – her mutual feelings of hurt, abandonment, and even a little bit of fear – manipulate her actions, and so had made the mistake of letting her guard down.

And now the sides of the Cube were spinning wildly, gradually revealing more and more of the solution, and Cordelia needed to do something before it was too late. Before she was hurt again.

She had let herself get close to someone once, and just look where that had gotten her – betrayed, alone, and with a rebar through her stomach, the piece de resistance of her sorrow and humiliation.

Cordelia wouldn’t let that happen this time. Guiding her vehicle up her driveway, the Sunnydale High head cheerleader vowed to herself that she wouldn’t allow her emotions get involved again. She had promised to help protect the vampire’s girl, and she would follow through with that pledge, of course. But letting said vampire and girl into her home didn’t mean that she had to let either of them into her heart.

Resolve re-established, Ice Queen veneer fortified in place once more, Cordy halted the car at the front gates that guarded the Chase mansion. With a flourish she extended her hand out her lowered window and rapidly punched in the key code to gain entry to her home. While her elegant finger depressed the numbers with a little more vigor than was perhaps necessary, a heavy groan of grating metal indicated her success all the same. The iron gates swung apart slowly, granting the convertible and its occupants passage through to the opulent grounds beyond just as tiny droplets of rain began to fall.

Cordelia finally pulled up in front of the grand house at the end of the drive and killed the engine. Seizing her handbag from the passenger seat in one hand and yanking on the car door handle with the other, Cordelia hastily exited the parked vehicle. She swung around impatiently to observe the vampire as he delicately climbed out from the backseat, shoving her door closed as she did so.

Despite Angel’s deliberate care, the echoing slam of Cordelia’s car door startled the small girl in his arms from her sleep. The vampire’s dark eyes snapped to the older brunette in silent angry reprimand.

Cordelia felt horrible for having woken the worn out little girl. An apology immediately leapt to the tip of her tongue, but she obstinately pressed her ruby-painted lips into a thin line to thwart the repentant words. Her face betrayed none of her remorse or shame; an eyebrow rose haughtily, hands found purchase on her hips, and she returned his cold stare, ignorant of the cool drizzly weather that was uncharacteristic in Southern California even for winter. Then with a dismissive toss of her long mahogany tresses Cordelia turned and stamped swiftly in her goo-covered Blahniks towards her front door.

And hated herself more with each step.

Angel growled softly, but bit back any other form of reproach as he soothed the momentarily spooked child, stroking his hand reassuringly over her tangled hair. He gently pushed his own door shut and strode after the young woman.

The only acknowledgement that Cordelia gave as he followed her was to raise her keys and aim them back over her shoulder, depressing the little button on them with her thumb. Her Corvette’s alarm system activated with a tinny double chirrup.

Extravagant rosewood doors barred them from further access to the large residence. Stopped on the front step, Cordelia flipped through the keys on her chain with practiced ease to locate the one that would unlock the huge double doors. She slid the jagged metal into the keyhole as the vampire came up behind her, and one deft twist disengaged the deadbolt on the other side. Another flick of her wrist rotated one of the handles, allowing her to push one heavy door open and step into the foyer beyond. Only then did she look back at her companion.

Angel still stood in the same place he had stopped moments before, not moving to trail her inside. He said nothing, keeping his face curiously blank now as he simply watched her, insignificant specks of rain occasionally falling upon the alabaster skin of his face and midnight black of his clothing.

“Well?” Cordelia asked him expectantly, and a little irritably. “Aren’t you invited in already? I said you could stay here.”

His reply was detached, almost un-interested. To Cordy he seemed to be the Angel she had always semi-known again – the reclusive and detached vampire half-hidden in the shadows. “You said I could stay with you. That’s not necessarily an invitation into your home. Just an implication of one. It’s not enough to let me in,” he informed her with a slight impassive one-shouldered shrug; mindful not to disturb the bundle in his arms any further.

Interesting though the revelation undoubtedly was, to someone like Giles maybe, Cordelia merely nodded, as if to herself. Earlier she had readily invited Angel to stay, but now she paused. Not quite hesitation, but more a chance to gather her wits. It would be all too easy to simply close the door and shut the vampire out. Shut this whole messy ordeal out, and treat herself to that hot bath she’d promised herself only an hour ago, though it seemed like days. But shutting everything out wasn’t an option, because Cordelia Chase never took the easy way out. She’d given her word to help Angel, and she wasn’t about to renege.

A puff of air was forced passed her lips in a sigh, and she held the door a little wider. “Well, come on in, Grr-Guy,” she declared, seemingly indifferent. Her other hand absently gestured him inside.

Angel didn’t move. Pain sparked in his eyes, his jaw muscles tightened. The distress filtered over his previously composed features – dozens of little hints that betrayed his volatile emotional state, and reminded Cordelia that this was a very different Angel to any she had witnessed before. The vampire glanced down at the child, before unflinchingly meeting Cordelia’s direct gaze. “My girl needs an invitation too.” Barely disguised guilt made his voice gruff.

Cordelia’s eyes dropped in astonishment to the tiny brunette in Angel’s arms, lips falling apart uselessly as her brain stopped working altogether, unable to even begin to comprehend what his words could mean. Oblivious to the attention, the youngster dozed on against Angel’s shoulder. For a short time Cordelia forgot all about her façade, and could only manage a mumbled, “I… I invite you both in”. Only when the vamp stepped inside the house did Cordelia snap out of her mystified haze to firmly close and deadbolt the door again. With almost automaton precision she turned to the small plastic panel beside the entryway to reset the security system.

“So… what now?” she asked in an attempt to regain her wits, forcing all of her confusing thoughts aside. Whatever it meant, Cordelia couldn’t allow herself to slip again.

Suddenly Angel looked a little uncomfortable, unsure of how to ask for more help. Nothing else had mattered earlier except making sure that his girl was safe. Now that she was though, the vampire seemed almost shy talking to Cordelia, a boyish sort of uncertainty that made a small affectionate grin spread unbidden across the young woman’s lips.

“Uh… she… She needs sleep, and… And she’s barely eaten or bathed in at least four days. Maybe… I mean… She needs a bath… and some decent food, too,” Angel answered tentatively, running one hand through his short dark hair and unwittingly tousling the already scruffy locks.

The little girl’s face lifted up at the prospect of something to eat, her sleepy eyes fixing beseechingly on Angel’s. “Ice cream?” she asked hopefully.

At that Angel chuckled, nervousness forgotten. “Not tonight, sweetheart,” he told her softly, disappointing her. But he knew she and her parents had eaten little aside from take-out since they’d left their home behind them, and he wanted to get something a little more substantial than ice cream into her belly. “Tell you what, let me make you something healthy tonight,” he smiled as her nose scrunched up automatically at the mere mention of the word ‘healthy’, “and you can have ice cream tomorrow,” he proposed the deal.

Drooping eyelids drifted closed, and Cordelia assumed that the youngster had fallen asleep again. A few seconds later though her eyes crept back open and she nodded her agreement, apparently having considered the compromise and found it acceptable.

The vampire smiled thinly, relieved by the easy capitulation. He knew for a fact that there was a fierce and rather unfortunate stubborn streak in the girl’s family. “Okay. Now, let’s see about getting you properly cleaned up, shall we?” One of his thumbs idly skimmed her slightly dirt-smudged cheek, tracing a line in the fine dusting of cool rain droplets that shimmered upon her skin.

“Bathrooms are upstairs,” Cordelia interjected abruptly into the ensuing stillness. If she was determined to maintain her neutral appearance, then she knew she had to escape the tender scene in her foyer, and now. The menial chore of running a bath was just the distraction she needed.

Without waiting for a response the young woman spun quickly in her soiled shoes, heading for the staircase and hiding her briefly shaken resolve.

Angel didn’t immediately move to follow, watching Cordelia’s brisk flight from the room contemplatively. Almost every trace of the warmth and understanding that the young woman had exhibited earlier that night was gone, and all that seemed to be left was disinterest. The abrupt one-eighty in her demeanor made him confused, disappointed, and just a little bit angry, but those emotions trickled away quickly like water cupped in his hands as a sad weariness consumed him.

He was tired. Tired from having not slept in four days, and knowing he wouldn’t be able to sleep any time soon. Tired of fear and rage, and the inability to do a damn thing about either. Despite Cordelia’s valiant attempts to ease his concerns about staying with her, nothing could make him forget the sight of Emily – pale, almost cold, dead. Her blood thick and cool on his tongue, still haunting him, still nauseating him. Her baby…

Angel shook his head slightly, shaking himself out of the recent memory before it could drag him down. For now, all of his conscious efforts needed to be focused on his girl, and trying to bring her father safely back to her. As much as he wanted to know why Cordelia had suddenly thrown up an emotional wall in his face again, as much as he wanted to know more about the woman behind that wall, he didn’t have the time or even the energy to fight her on it right now. He could only hope that her change in attitude wouldn’t lead her to retract her invitation to stay with her.

Because he really didn’t have anywhere else to go.

Breathing out a weary sigh, Angel finally headed up the stairs.


…TO BE CONTINUED…

THIS APPEARS TO BE AN UNFINISHED STORY


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s