The Long Road


AUTHOR: JEAN-VIC (aka Alex)
SUMMARY: Angel is alone and in a deep depression over the death of Cordelia and the loss of the Shanshu. He sees no reason to continue fighting and spends his days locked in his apartment, occasionally coming out to kill the odd vampire or two. This changes however when someone he never thought he would see again returns to set him on the path to his destiny. Reunited with Wesley, Angel must choose his future and the fate of the world.
RATING: NC17
POSTED: 6 Oct 2006
CATEGORY: Action/Adventure / Romance
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A, S/B – Set in Los Angeles ten years after Not Fade Away
WARNINGS: Sexual Content and Violence
FICPIC CREDIT: Laurendecec
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) This is a new and improved version of my old fic, Angel, Cordy and Redemption, so the story may be familiar to a lot of you. Hope you enjoy it regardless.
2) Dedications: I want to dedicate this to everyone who supported me in this. That applies to Jetterhunni, youpin, angelsgirl, Cherelli, Giselle, nikkiwawa and littleangel, and everyone else who read this story and supported me. Means a lot. I also want to thank the woman who taught me most of what I know, Lysa. You helped make this fic what it is and I hope to continue to learn from you for future stories. Love you all and couldn’t have done it without you.


ficpic_thelongroad


Part 1

Angel opened the door to his apartment. It was small and dark with bare walls. They were a sickly grey colour and the only decoration on them being a few drawings above the bed. The apartment was almost in complete darkness, except for the light streaming in the open door, as it was below street level. It was an apartment that was shut off from the rest of the world, which suited the owner perfectly as he didn’t want to be a part of the world that had scorned him all these years.

There was a bed, a wooden cabinet, which appeared to be antique, a table with two chairs and a small kitchen space. That was all the apartment consisted of. It was very Spartan and it was the perfect home for the warrior. They needed no possessions as all they cared about was the fight. Angel didn’t care about the fight anymore though. He stopped fighting a long time ago.

He hung up his coat and walked over to a cabinet by the back wall, placing his stake inside as he opened it. There were a number of weapons from daggers to a broadsword inside the cabinet. It was his favourite broadsword but he hadn’t used it since the battle in the alley behind the Hyperion hotel. Broadswords weren’t necessary while hunting vampires.

The cabinet clicked shut and he started towards the fridge, which when opened, bathed the room in light. The darkness cowered from the light which took some of the gloominess away. A cup full of blood was on the second shelf as it silently beckoned for Angel to take a drink, not denying his hunger, he removed the cup and closed the fridge door allowing the darkness to return and retain its unyielding grip.

The chairs were hard and unwelcoming as he sat down at the table, with his drink, and started his usual brooding stare into space. The space, which was actually a patch on his ceiling, was filled with thoughts of his life and visions of days gone by when he had a mission, a purpose, a destiny. A life worth living.

Forcing himself to think of other things, his mind wandered to the night’s events and caused him to wonder if he should go out again. He decided against it as he wanted to get plenty of rest before the next night came.

It was an important night that was very special, and painful, for him. Every year he did the same thing on this night but it was what he wanted. He had done it for the past ten years after leaving Wolfram and Hart. He had been alone since that night when he made his last stand against the Senior Partners, a stand that had saved the world.

After the battle behind the Hyperion, he left Spike, Illyria and Gunn. His battle was finished as he had averted the apocalypse by destroying the Circle of the Black Thorn and the army of the Senior Partners. Without the Black Thorn, the apocalypse that the Senior Partners had set in motion could never come to pass.

He had been a major player in the apocalypse and had averted it but he didn’t get the one thing he wanted more than anything else, redemption. He was still a vampire with a soul that would have an eternity of suffering and remorse. He had signed away his Shanshu and all his hopes and dreams of redemption had gone. They were, like he wished he was, dead and buried.

The past ten years of his life had been filled with depression while he lived alone, no longer fighting the good fight or helping the helpless. The most he did was force himself to leave his apartment for a few hours to kill the odd vampire. That was the extent of his fighting now. After these insignificant vampire slayings he would return to his cold, dark cell beneath the streets of Los Angeles where the thoughts of the life he could have had tormented him relentlessly.

The cold glass of blood gave up its last drop. Angel began to undress, checking the time on his clock as he did so. Four a.m. The back of his alarm clock clicked as he set the alarm function to on. His bed was soft and welcoming as the warmth beneath his quilt enveloped him, his eyes closing and allowing him to fall into a deep sleep. He had vivid dreams every night. The dreams were of things he wanted but couldn’t have, causing him to lose any sense of peace when he was awake or asleep, the life that could have been haunting him relentlessly.

* * *

A finely furnished room with weapons filling the back wall, the sword that Cordelia had used still not replaced, was Angel’s locale. He looked at the window and saw a spectacular view that laid Los Angeles bare and revealed all its dirty little secrets that he was employed to defend. He didn’t understand why he was here. Why was he back at Wolfram and Hart?

Two loving, gentle hands touched his arms. He looked down and into the face looking up at him, two angelic eyes returning the stare. Her perfect eyes weren’t alone as a perfect smile joined them. Love filled Angel’s heart when he saw her beautiful face. Was it real? Was he back to change the past? Was this his chance to save Cordelia and have the one woman he wanted more than life itself?

“The Powers That Be owed me one and I didn’t waste it,” Cordelia said as she held Angel’s face in her hands. “I got my guy back on track.”

No. Those words reminded Angel of what was coming and he knew that he couldn’t allow it to happen, not wanting to lose her again. He tried to speak but he was paralyzed, his attempts at movements also failing.

“Cordy I…” The words came out of his mouth but they weren’t his own. He didn’t want to say that.

“We take what we can get champ, and we do our best with it,” she explained as tears started to form on her lower eyelid.

Cordelia began to cry. Angel was screaming, inside himself, for freedom. He wanted to be set free from this prison so he could stop what was coming.

“I’ll be seeing you,” she said as she turned to leave, her voice cracking as the tears left her eyes.

She turned and walked away but when she got to the door of Angel’s office, she stopped and looked back at her champion briefly. He was lost. He was walking but he wasn’t in control. He was, as Skip once said, in there but he wasn’t driving.

Unable to resist it any longer, Cordelia succumbed to her temptation. “Oh what the hell. One for the road.”

Cordelia ran up to Angel, smiles on both of their faces as they prepared to share their first and last kiss. He didn’t want to smile or let this kiss happen because if it did, he would lose her again.

His large, muscular arms wrapped around Cordelia as he pulled her in close to his body while they shared a long and tender kiss. She did the same and gave herself fully to him. Their kiss was made salty by the tears on their lips. That didn’t matter though. All that mattered was that they were finally together, if only for a moment. The phone rang and Cordelia slowly, but reluctantly, ended the kiss.

“I don’t have to get that,” Angel whispered, looking deeply into Cordelia’s eyes.

He knew now that he was a prisoner inside his body and a prisoner to his destiny. No matter how much he tried, nothing could change what his life was meant to be: suffering. He could go back in time and relive it all but it would all be the same. No matter what he wanted or tried, he could never change what he was and what he was destined for. He resigned himself to that and watched as the rest of this all too familiar scene played out.

“That, you have to get,” she replied even though she knew what it meant for her.

Angel rested his forehead on Cordelia’s for a moment, while she adjusted his suit and tie, and then moved towards the phone. Cordelia wiped the tears from her cheeks as she prepared to leave her one true love, Angel, forever.

“Oh… and you’re welcome.” The tears were about to fall again as she took one last look at her champion.

A feeling of happiness filled her because she had saved him but she was also heartbroken that she had to leave him. She knew he would be alright without her though, saving the world like he always did and for some strange reason, she knew she would see him again.

Angel answered the phone but he didn’t do anything. He wondered why he wasn’t speaking. Then it hit him, he was in control again. He dropped the phone and turned around to find nothing but an empty room. Cordelia was gone again and he was alone, the realisation that he was a prisoner to the will of the Powers That Be and was trapped in the destiny that they set out for him, hit him full on. When they did leave it up to him though he was too late to change what they had already set in motion. That was his punishment, not the curse but the title of Champion for the Powers That Be.

* * *

Angel awoke to the ringing of his alarm. His frustration in his dream came through and he smashed his alarm clock with his fist. Holding his head as he sat up in bed, he closed his eyes and tried to calm down. The dream was still fresh in his head and he was struggling to compose himself.

Never had his dreams been that vivid and never had his dreams been so enlightening. Now he knew why his life was so bad and why he was meant to suffer. Somehow though, he had always known. His life was the way it was because the Powers That Be had made it that way. Fred’s description of them as the Powers That Screw You had never been so relevant.

The alarm clock was useless but his watch, which was sat in the top drawer, read 5 p.m. He rushed from his bed, showered and got dressed because he was already late enough as it was.

Black was his colour of choice as usual. His clothes were the usual black with the shirt, trousers and shoes all sporting this colour. A long black coat flowed behind him as he opened the door and stepped out of his apartment and into the world. The black clothes would give him significant cover, against the night sky, from eyes that he didn’t want seeing him.

The date on his watch read May 22nd 2014. It was the right date and he hadn’t slept right through. He opened the door that led up, from his basement apartment to the street, and set off for his destination.

* * *

Angel arrived at the cemetery, the hundreds gravestones scattered on the grass surface marking the resting place of those lives that were no more. Trees stood proud and tall on both sides of the cemetery forming a protective barrier for the lost souls among the dead.

It was very light in the cemetery as the moon cast its silver glow down upon the dead. Angel walked past many gravestones with a careful step trying to avoid any disrespect. Some graves were familiar and he recognised them as soon as he passed them but there were new additions but there always were, with the new grave tally reaching six.

Angel kept looking for the grave he wanted. There was a great feeling of loss and despair inside him when he saw the grave, the grandest one in the whole cemetery. The Wolfram and Hart salary he earned had bought it. It was something worth owning unlike the fancy cars and fine tailored suits.

Cordelia only deserved the best and that was what he wanted to give her. Why wouldn’t he? He loved her with all of his heart and had never recovered from her death. Every year on the same day, he visited her grave to talk to her and to just, in a sense, be near her.

Her presence was always felt and even though she was gone, he felt like she was there with him. When he tracked a vampire he always felt as if she was with him, trying to protect him. He would lie in bed and was sure he could feel her hand gently caressing his arms, face or his hair.

He missed her terribly and got just one moment of happiness each year when he was with her. The cold ground was unwelcoming as he sat down by Cordelia’s grave and placed a bouquet of her favourite flowers in front of the headstone.

“Well, here I am Cordy,” Angel said as he adjusted the flowers so they were perfect. “I’m here all night, just me and you.”

There would be no answer and he knew it but he liked to talk to her, as if she was there, anyway. Whether she heard him or not, wherever she was, was unknown to him but he spoke as though she could.

“I’ve tried Cordelia,” tears falling from his eyes he just about got the words out, “It’s been ten years now but I still need you. I’m lost without you. I can’t get over you and I don’t think I ever will.”

The tears welled up in his eyes but he held them back not wanting to cry here or on this day. Crying on birthdays wasn’t supposed to happen as it brought about bad luck for the rest of the year. Superstition wasn’t usually something that he believed in but when it came to Cordelia, he was especially careful.

“I guess I should make it a proper birthday celebration then. So, Happy Birthday Cordelia. I hope they’re giving you a party up there.”

Angel leaned against the headstone and closed his eyes, the cold stone extending its reach through his thick coat to his skin where it met another cold surface. With a quick flick of his eyelids, Angel was fully alert and watching for any signs of movement as he heard a loud rustling close by. The dirt on top of a new grave was moving slowly causing Angel to stand up, pull a stake from his inside coat pocket and stand above the grave.

A pale, dirty hand appeared from under the dirt, the black dirt under the fingernails showing that it had clawed its way up. Angel remembered what it was like when he had to claw his way up from the cold, damp earth six feet below. He didn’t find a stake wielding vampire on the other side though. He found Darla. She wasn’t an awful thing to wake up to.

The vampire poked his head out and looked around and saw a man kindly offering his hand to help him out of the grave. The vampire smelled that Angel was also a vampire and with a smile took his hand. Angel pulled him up and out of the grave. The vampire wiped himself down but just rubbed the dirt into his finely tailored suit. Angel always wondered why the dead got finely tailored suits while some living people got rags.

“Uh, thanks buddy,” the vampire said, a little confused as to where his sire was.

“No problem,” Angel replied with a stern face.

With a quick extension of his arm the stake was buried in the vampire’s chest. His lifeless heart was the first to go as the vampire cried out in pain and fear as his body faded into nothing more than dust in the wind.

Angel brushed himself down and replaced himself by Cordy’s grave. He took the pencil from his pocket and rested it against the pad of paper. Eyes closed, he sketched from memory, Cordelia’s beautiful face gradually coming to life. He’d post it on the bedroom wall if there was enough room.

Fatigue was setting in on the old master vampire and his eyes started to close while he nodded off mid drawing. He was always tired now. His sleep was always troubled with dreams of Cordelia and the lost Shanshu, causing him to wake up not fully rested. He tried to fight his tiredness but it was too strong. His hand veered off and left a stray pencil line down the page as he drifted off slowly.

* * *

A smell passed Angel’s slightly inflamed nostrils as his ever active senses, still highly in tune with the surrounding environment, picked up on the close and familiar presence. It was hard to place the scent or the feeling he had when he smelled it. All he knew was that he had smelled it before but not for a very long time.

His eyes refused to open even though his body woke up, a quick jerk of his muscles showing up under his coat as they sprung to life like a well oiled machine. His eyes ached and begged to be left alone and not to be disturbed by the harsh light of the moon or the cold breeze in the air. He managed a squint but even that took a lot of effort. There was someone in front of him but all he could see was a blur.

“Typical. It’s my birthday and all you want to do is sleep.” The voice was soft and gentle and it could soothe Angel’s heart whenever he heard it.

The eyes that had been so reluctant to open suddenly burst open with a new found energy. It was that voice that woke them but it couldn’t be her. With a closer examination of the face before him he knew that it was her after all. There was no mistaking that face, those big brown eyes and that beautiful smile. The kind of smile that brightened any room or brought light to the darkest heart. His heart.

It was as if she had never left as he looked deeply into her bright, shiny hazel coloured eyes. The urge to kiss her lips filled his body and he just wanted to let it flow forth. The urge had to be suppressed though as there were too many questions. Why was she here? How was she here? Could she stay?

“Cordy, how?” he asked, confused and shocked while being completely overjoyed.

“Does it matter?” Cordelia replied with a smile. “I’m here. Just be happy for that.”

“But I-”

“Angel, stop talking.” Cordelia didn’t want all the questions. She just wanted to focus on him completely.

Looking into his eyes all her feelings flooded back as if she had never left. Love for him filled her heart. Resisting it was impossible, so she leaned to kiss him with everything she had. It was long and deep, like the kiss they shared the night she died.

The emotions ran high as she kissed his lips that she missed so much. His touch filled with her with a satisfaction only he could give her. His touch was soothing after hundreds of years longing for it. When she was with him, everything didn’t feel like it was spiralling apart and it was the still the same now. Despite missing all of these singular aspects of him, she missed him as a whole that much more.

Heaven wasn’t an easy place to live for hundreds of years when the man you loved wasn’t there with you but down on earth suffering. All those years, all she had wanted was to leave that place so she could be with him and shine a little mote of light in the darkness that was his life. Now she had that chance. Perfect happiness was a thing you found in heaven but this was the first time she had found it since dying.

Angel was hesitant at first but he returned the kiss, trying to savour every detail about her as he did. The feel of her lips. The way she smelled. The way her hair felt as he ran his hands through it. The way he loved her so much. They just stayed there in that moment for as long as they could but Cordelia knew she had a job to do, and ended the kiss. She hated that she had to though.

Cordelia rested her head on Angel’s and looked into his dark, intense eyes that she could lose herself in for hours. He returned the look and got caught in the beauty that was her eyes. They took all your worries away in an instant.

Memories of all those times that he felt like giving up only for Cordy to make it better with a combination of a loving look from her eyes and a big, beautiful, toothy smile. Whatever the reason for her presence, he didn’t care. All he cared about was that he had her with him again.

* * *

The lights were on the usually dark apartment that was Angel’s home. The two lovers, separated by dimensions for years looked deeply into each others eyes. This was the first time that Angel had had anything to see in his apartment but now he had the most beautiful face he had ever seen to look at. Their hands were together as they both squeezed tightly, not wanting to let go for the fear of losing each other again. Angel was afraid that if he let her go he would lose again. That was something he couldn’t do.

Cordelia looked at Angel and smiled, enjoying the feel of his big, strong hands enveloping hers. It was a nice sensation as his cold hands gave her a feeling of reality. Feelings flooded through her head as she tried to resist the temptation to kiss him again and make love to him forever. That wasn’t why she was here though and she had to finish what she came back to do.

“Angel, I’ve been sent by The Powers That Be,” she explained, her face no longer housing a smile, but a serious, focused look. “You need help.”

“I don’t need help Cordy,” Angel replied, the smile still broad on his face. “I need you, more than ever.”

“Angel,” Cordelia looked at him with a look that said, ‘I don’t believe you.’ “You’re not okay. You sit here day in and day out mourning me. You need to move on from me. I’m gone now and I can’t be with you now.”

“I can’t move on from you Cordy,” Angel replied, the smile gone from his face. “How can I move on from you? You’re all I think about Cordy. Twenty-four hours a day.”

“I know the feeling,” she replied as she stared into Angel’s eyes lovingly. He stared right back, a little shocked at what she had said. He had never really thought of her, thinking of him in heaven. He assumed she would be too happy to even care about a lowly vampire. “Angel, the fact of the matter is, regardless of our feelings, I’m gone. You’re still here and the world still needs its champion.”

“The world doesn’t need me anymore,” Angel replied as he stood up and turned from Cordelia. “I averted the apocalypse when I destroyed the Circle of the Black Thorn. I did what they brought me back for.”

“Not yet,” Cordelia declared as she stood up from the table. “There is still work to do Angel. The prophecy never specified how many apocalypses, fiends or minions of hell you would face.”

“That prophecy has nothing to do with me now. Whatever it says doesn’t apply to me. I signed away the Shanshu.”

“So you give up?” Cordelia asked with a hint of anger in her voice. “You stop fighting because there’s nothing left in it for you? That’s not the man I knew. He fought even if it seemed like there was no way to win. He fought just so he could help, even if he only helped one person. That was all that mattered.”

“That man died a long time ago Cordelia, along with my redemption,” Angel murmured. “He died with you.”

“Angel,” Cordelia placed her hands on Angel’s shoulders and turned him round so she could look at him. “The Powers want me to tell you that more is coming. There are more battles ahead, battles that can only be won if you fight them.”

Angel shrugged Cordelia off and started to pace up and down. The anger was boiling up inside of him as he thought of the Powers ad how they had used him all these years. Cordelia knew he was angry when she noticed the muscles in his cheeks contracting and pushing parts of his cheek outwards. The look on his face and in his eyes was something not unfamiliar to Cordelia and she knew that it never led anywhere good.

“Angel, the Powers-”

“What!? Need me!” Angel was fuming now, the feeling of responsibility to the Powers and his desire to do anything for them had gone completely. His dream had made his opinion of them more poignant in that it confirmed what he had believed for the past 10 years. “Maybe I don’t care anymore Cordelia!! They make my life miserable and then they expect me to do their bidding!! Everything that ever mattered to me in this life has gone because they allowed for it to be taken from me!”

“Angel, you need to fight,” Cordelia said with a sad tone on her voice. She was sad at his pain and distrust and dislike of the Powers. “They are giving you something.”

“What? My very own stake,” Angel replied sarcastically as he sat down. “I have given so much to make this world better yet still I sit here, cursed with a soul. Forced to walk this earth for all eternity without a shred of happiness until the day I die and go to hell where I will suffer for an even longer eternity. I can’t do it anymore! What is there worth fighting for anymore Cordy?”

“Me,” Cordelia replied as she placed her hand on Angel’s. “You could fight for me.”

“You’re dead!”

“I’m still waiting though. I wait for the day you die and join me.”

“Vampire, Cordelia,” Angel said with a patronising tone. “Can’t go to heaven.”

“Why does being a vampire affect you getting into heaven?” Cordelia asked. “Doyle’s here. He’s half demon. He is here because of his actions on earth, because the Powers redeemed him. He gave his life for us and all those people on that ship. It’s not about what you are Angel. It’s about what you do that matters. Your acts are all the Powers care about.”

“How can you know if Doyle’s there?” Angel asked, suddenly looking up, confused. “Buffy said that she was alone in heaven and it was a place without form.”

“There are hundreds of Heavenly dimensions,” she replied. “Ours has form. It’s a dimension for the champions of the Powers That Be. All of their champions are here. There are champions here from before you were born.”

“Why didn’t Buffy go there?”

“She isn’t one of the Power’s champions,” Cordelia explained. “She is a champion of the people. Besides it would have had form, she wouldn’t remember it though. Imagine being perfectly happy for around a hundred years in a perfect world. You’re with dead friends, family and then suddenly you’re taken from them. It would destroy you. Buffy lost most of her memories of heaven to sustain her sanity.”

“How can you do that?” he asked. “How can you exist in a place for champions when your friends and family aren’t there?”

“I never said we were restricted to just one dimension,” Cordelia replied with a smile as she disproved Angel’s assumption. She loved doing that. “No one is. Buffy wouldn’t have been either. It’s just like hell. You can travel to them all.”

Angel looked at Cordelia as she sat down again, a strange happiness had overcome him at the news she had given him. Now he knew that he could be redeemed even if he was a vampire. There was hope for him after all and there was something still left to fight for. He had a chance to be happy and to see his friends again. There was a chance to be with Cordelia.

A hand grabbed at Cordelia’s as he looked at her, a smile spread across his face. It provoked a return smile from Cordelia who was trying to memorise every detail of his face from his big, dark eyes to his cheek bones that just showed through his skin. He was perfect.

He was the love of her life and she knew why. The man she loved was a champion of the world and of her heart. One day would come where they could finally be together but when that day was, she didn’t know. For now she was just happy to be holding his hand and getting lost in his eyes.

* * *

Cordelia and Angel stood beside her gravesite. The sun was nearly up and Angel only had about 45 minutes before he had to get inside and hide from the deadly rays. The two of them stared lovingly into each others teary eyes. The hug they shared was long and tender, both squeezing to get as much from the other as they could. Neither of them wanted to leave each other again but destiny called for it. It would be a long time before she saw him again as it would hundreds of years in her dimension.

“You said the Power’s were giving me something,” Angel said as he held Cordelia in his arms.

“They’ve already given it to you,” she replied.

“What is it?” Angel questioned as he stopped hugging her.

“Hope,” she replied with a smile. “Hope that one day you may be redeemed. One day there will come a point when your acts as their champion far outweigh the acts you did as Angelus. When that day comes, you shall be redeemed and after that redemption comes, you may die fighting but you will know that you gave everything you had. Also, you’ll be with me which isn’t a bad thing.”

“I don’t know,” Angel joked.

“Funny,” Cordelia replied.

“I’m a funny guy,” Angel said with a smile, provoking a laugh from Cordelia. “Thank-you, for tonight.”

“You’re welcome gorgeous,” she replied playfully. “You needed some help and I was the one to help you. Ring any bells?”

Tears welled up in her eyes and defiantly escaped her eyelids and rolled gently down her cheek. Angel slowly wiped them from her cheek with his thumb.

“I’ve got to go,” she sobbed.

“Can’t you stay, just until tonight?”

“I wish I could but I’m needed elsewhere, and this is my off-ramp,” Cordelia said as she placed her hands on Angel’s face. “I’ll be seeing you.”

The tears were flowing fast now as she started to back away from him despite all her desire to stay. It couldn’t end like this, not without a proper goodbye, and Angel knew it.

Angel pulled her in and kissed her, her tears getting trapped in the groove between their lips making it salty. Memories of that night in his office flooded in and provoked them into kissing harder, the sound of their lips meeting and separating getting louder, little lines of saliva forming between their parting lips. Her hair felt tremendously soft as his hands ran through and gently caressed her scalp. They stopped the kiss and rested their foreheads on each others while they looked into each others eyes.

“Wait for me,” he said tearfully.

“Always,” Cordelia wept.

Cordelia stepped back but refused to part her hand from his despite the ever increasing distance between them. Her job was done but she couldn’t deal with leaving him again, once being hard, and frequent, enough. Their hands had to part when they reached a certain point and as soon as her flesh left his, a flash of light filled the cemetery and Cordelia was again gone. Why can’t I stay, she thought as she crossed back to her home dimension away from Angel.

Angel’s hand remained in the air. Cordelia was gone again but that didn’t matter at the moment as he would, hopefully, see her again one day. If he did, they would be together, forever. For now though he couldn’t dream of the day he joined her or dwell on how much he loved her and missed her. There was work to be done.


Part 2

People scurried along the busy streets of Los Angeles as the hot sun beamed its rays down upon their heads. Briefcases, tailored suits, shiny shoes were the norm in this city at this time of the day as people hustled and bustled to and from work, never stopping to examine their lives and see how they might improve it.

The same couldn’t be said for the man sleeping below street level in his lowly apartment that housed darkness and gloom. On the surface it was bright as the light shone on it but deep down, in its underbelly, darkness loomed ever hoping to arise and purge the light from the surface.

Unending was the sound of feet hitting the pavement above the apartment which echoed every noise as Angel slept, the pillow wrapped around his head in an attempt to block out some of the noise from above. The days of old where boots met soil were sorely missed. At least you got some sleep in those days.

Hours passed and the endless barrage of people slowly came to a halt, their days work done and their lives a little bit to closer to ending. Two sore eyes opened reluctantly and looked at the dark, bare apartment before them. Angel sat up and rubbed them as he tried to get a clear focus.

An empty feeling in his stomach was beckoning to the cup of pig’s blood that sat in the fridge. It was nasty compared to the Wolfram and Hart otter but it was food nonetheless. His legs were weak as he stood up and moved to the fridge, his feet barely leaving the floor.

There was a throbbing in his head that wouldn’t stop. Why? He didn’t have a heartbeat and that was usually the cause of throbbing. The fridge door opened and its light shone forth and dispersed the darkness. It was still a bit too intense for Angel’s tired eyes and he squinted accordingly.

Angel’s hands wrapped themselves around the cup, which was cold to the touch, as he psyched himself up to drink the vile tasting, motionless substance. This wasn’t right. He was a vampire, blood was meant to be appealing to him but just the thought of pig’s blood put him off. He had once told Darla that you get used to the taste of pig’s blood. It was a lie.

He brought the cup up to his lips and allowed the blood to slide down his throat, his eyes closing as he tried to fight through the taste. The blood was a little thick as he had put it a bit too far back in the fridge. He wished he had bought a microwave when he moved in but he was too high up on his self-flagellation and pity to tear himself away from the Spartan arrangement. To get it to go down he had to tip his head back slightly.

The throbbing in his head intensified as he did so. It stopped being a throb and became a pain. He brought his head forward to see if that helped. It did and the pain subsided slightly. He started to bring the cup back up again when suddenly, another, far greater pain hit him, the cup of blood fell to the ground and shattered. That was what Angel’s head felt like.

Visions passed by at an amazing speed as he crouched to the floor holding both temples in his hands. He could hardly see what they were depicting until some came into focus. Despite the excruciating pain, he took in every detail. It would be hard to forget though after this experience. Obviously that was why the Powers made them so painful.

* * *

There was a quiet street in his vision. It was long and isolated. There was no traffic or people except for a pretty young woman leaving an alleyway; in her hands was the handle of a stroller. There was a beautiful baby boy inside laughing at the motionless toy that lay beside him, his mother smiling as she watched her son that she loved more than life itself.

Angel could feel every emotion that he saw. He felt the baby’s joy and the mother’s undying love for him. Then, another presence presented itself in the alleyway behind her. Three shadowy figures appeared as they watched the mother and her baby stroll down the street. They stepped out and revealed themselves to be demons.

The fires of hell burned within their bright red eyes as they tracked the mother and child. The shadows parted around them, revealing bunched muscles and bright red skin covered with sharp quills and bone spurs. Tentacles curled around their chins and one drummed its sharp claws in an obvious signal.

Clothes obviously weren’t an issue as all that covered their bodies were small garments that wrapped around their waist and hid their more private areas. Three fingers on each hand were joined by a single thumb, their claws being long enough to be weapons in themselves.

They started after the woman and her son, walking at a slow pace so as not to arouse any alarm. If anyone saw them there would be more than just alarm. Their emotions and intentions could be felt in the vision and they were far from good. They started to move at a faster pace than before and headed directly for her.

She heard the sound of heavy feet running towards her and turned around, a bone chilling scream passing her lips as she saw the monstrous creatures approaching. Fear filled every part of her and she remained motionless in the street. One demon raised his long, muscular arm and opened his hand, slashing it sideways as he passed the woman.

In a flash the three assailants were gone, along with the stroller, leaving her hunched over, helpless and bleeding on the pavement. She stood up straight to reveal a ghastly wound that was barely keeping her internal organs internal, the blood flowing profusely as she cried for her baby.

Moments later she was nothing more than a corpse on the floor with the only sign that she had lived at all being the tears that were slowly rolling down her cheeks. They fell from her face and to the floor where they dried in the cold night air, all signs of her life gone in an instant.

* * *

Angel came to and found himself on the cold, hard floor. He looked around in confusion as to why he was on the floor. The after pain from the visions was still there and it was pounding away in his head and getting steadily worse as he stood up, his hands on either side of his head while he gently massaged his temples.

A pool of cold blood was on the floor from when he dropped the cup. He groaned and lifted his foot, hopping away from the mess towards the bathroom as he barely kept his balance through the mind-numbing pain.

“And they call this love.”

Relief filled Angel as the steaming hot water in the shower hit his naked flesh and washed away all the muck and grime that he always had on him. He was actually very clean but he felt dirty because of the creature that lay dormant inside him. That feeling would never go away until he knew that Angelus was gone forever.

Small bones in his neck creaked and cracked as he tipped his head back as he relaxed, the feel of warmth soothing his head as the vision pain started to subside. The shower felt great and he was really enjoying it but he didn’t have much time to lose. He would have to go out soon and find, and save, the woman and the baby from his vision.

Dark clothes were his choice, as usual, when he got dressed. His long black coat slid over his shoulders and wrapped itself around him. He picked up his broadsword, Byzantine axe and a stake for luck. The door to his apartment opened and a huge gust of wind blew through it nearly knocking Angel off his feet. He had to lean forward to keep upright.

The street was relatively empty with a few people occasionally walking by. The long, black Plymouth convertible was sat in front of the apartment, the roof down and the doors locked. It wasn’t a nice neighbourhood and leaving cars open was a dangerous game to play.

His key slid in the lock and with a quick turn the door swung open and Angel was in, sat down and ready to search for the woman. He had no idea where to look for her as no street was specified in the vision, the only thing he remembered being the smell. What the smell was he didn’t know but he would know it if he smelt it again and with that in mind, he dropped the roof and prepared to do a lot of scent searching.

It was a long and unsuccessful drive and Angel was starting to doubt that what he saw in his vision was actually going to happen tonight. He started to turn his car around to return home when he suddenly heard a bloodcurdling scream a few blocks over causing him to quickly turn the corner and speed down the road towards the sound.

It was another empty street and when he arrived the cause of the scream was nowhere to be seen. Then he saw her, a woman lying on the pavement, bleeding profusely. The car came to a sudden halt in the road and Angel jumped out. He tried to get to the woman to help her but he already knew it was too late. The wound was mortal and she was fading fast.

Angel looked into her eyes as the life slowly slipped from them. The woman gripped Angel’s forearm weakly as she lurched forward.

“Don’t try to move.” Angel didn’t want her to move and cause herself anymore pain.

“My baby. My baby boy. They took him from me.” Tears fell from her eyes as she struggled to get the words out. “Please, save my baby and bring him to me.”

Angel knew she wouldn’t last that long if another 2 minutes. He nodded regardless of this though. Why cause her anymore stress, he thought.

“I’ll bring him.” Tears were in Angel’s eyes now as he looked at this woman, helpless and on the verge of death but her first thought and only thought was the baby. He knew what that felt like.

“Bring him to me here,” she said weakly. “I just want to hold him one last time. Just one…last…ti-”

Gone. Another life was taken from the world and into the next and Angel had been helpless to stop it. He had failed before he had even begun. Now she was dead and the baby was somewhere with a bunch of bloodthirsty demons. Then it hit him. A baby.

He stood up and headed back to his car, a goal in his mind as he picked up the demons’ scent. This wasn’t going to be another baby lost and sent to hell. No! This one was going to have a chance. A life. A family. He couldn’t save the woman’s baby but he could do what she asked of him, save it. The car pulled off and he drove after the scent of the three demons and the baby.

* * *

Angel looked up at the abandoned building that loomed over him ominously as he looked up at its solid structure and tried to see any sign that could lead to the baby. The scent he had followed had led him here and it had gone inside. Caution was needed here as an out and out fight with these demons could prove to be an insurmountable obstacle in his path.

Despite the musty old building smell the scent he had followed was strong as he followed it through the open doorway. A strong smell hit him. It was herbal and could possibly be related back to a ritual of sorts as that seemed to be the only time demons became herbalists. It was coming from up the stairs, which Angel was a little nervous about climbing as their structural integrity could be called into question with a glance.

His step was careful and calculated as he climbed his way to the floor that housed the demons. It was the top floor of the building. He had never had such a scary climb up a flight of stairs and he was relieved when he finally reached the top ad placed his foot on level ground.

Chanting came from a room ahead somewhere. It was obviously a ritual after all and he was willing to bet a lot of money on the baby being involved with it. The scent that he had followed all this way was still strong but it wasn’t going in the same direction that the chanting was coming from.

Muffled voices were coming from a moderately sized room just ahead of Angel’s position. He would have to be quiet and he knew it, his feet now barely touching the floor as he elegantly moved, like a professional dancer in a ballroom, towards the room.

The voices got louder as he approached and it was surprisingly English. He pressed himself against the wall by the door and carefully leant out and looked inside at the three demons, who were now wearing very large human clothes which were badly out of style, gathered together in a circle. They hadn’t noticed him and they continued talking.

“What they using that baby for,” one asked.

“You should know why,” another replied. “They is sacrificing that there baby so they can use the blood to bring their Master to life.”

“Oh yeah, I ‘member now,” the first one said as he scratched his head, a faint smile forming and revealing his large teeth that looked as though they could bite through metal.

“By the way,” the third one chimed in having been quiet for most of the discussion. “That there slashing you did tonight was good. I seen a lot of slashing and I ain’t never seen slashing that good.”

“Thanks,” the second, and by appearances, the far more intelligent one, if you could call it that, replied proudly. “I’ve been practicing my slashing most days and nights. I thought I’d put these here claws of mine to good use.”

“It shows. That woman’s guts just fell out all over the pavement. I mean, clean up on aisle three.”

Laughter reverberated through the room and it even shook Angel behind the wall as it was so deep. It really did make them sound stupid and gormless. Surprisingly though, they spoke not unlike humans. What they had said though was cruel and it just served to remind Angel that he was dealing with heartless, soulless monsters that took pleasure out of destroying a young mother’s life.

Angel pulled the Byzantine axe from inside his coat and slowly laid his broadsword on the floor. If he wasn’t careful, the sound of the steel meeting the concrete would alert the three demons and that was a fight he knew he couldn’t win. He leaned around the door a little more and raised his right arm, with axe in hand, above his head. With expert accuracy, Angel threw the axe which glided through the air and buried itself deep inside the skull of the demon whose back was to the door.

Two pairs of demonic eyes watched as the lifeless corpse of their fellow demon feel to the ground with an axe buried in his head. They turned their attention to the door where a strange man, wearing all black and carrying a broadsword, stood, a smile on his face as the satisfaction of killing the demon that killed the woman sank in.

“Clean up on aisle three,” Angel said smugly.

Both demons snarled angrily and extended their arms and their fingers, revealing their long claws that could gut an elephant. They focused completely on Angel as he slowly edged himself into the room with his broadsword held at the ready. His eyes were intense and angry as he prepared for the fight to follow but the beads of sweat on his forehead revealed that deep down, he was anxious.

With its feet pounding, one of the demons attacked Angel with ferocious speed. It raised its arm and prepared to bring it down in a slashing motion and kill this man instantly. Angel was ready though and he positioned himself strategically to counter the blow.

The demon swung and his claw cut through the air, a quick high pitched whistle following it. Angel swung his sword in turn and it cut through the demon’s arm like a knife through butter. The demon shouted in pain as it collapsed to its knees while it held the bloody stump where its arm used to be. Angel raised his sword above his head and with a quick lunge, the demon was dead. After felling the demon he turned and faced the last one.

The demon turned its attention to Angel and examined him. It noticed something about Angel that it hadn’t noticed before. He wasn’t human. The air was cold that night and any human would be creating clouds with their breath. This one wasn’t because he wasn’t breathing. “You are not human?” the demon asked.

“No, could have been though,” Angel replied as he slowly moved forward.

“You are a vampire? You are a vampire and you fight demons?” the demon asked, confused.”

“That’s right. I also help humans and fight for the Powers That Be. Plus, I’m going to kill you and rescue the baby you took. Oh, and I prefer the term undead American.”

“You wanna stop that there sacrifice that be going on upstairs?” The demon asked with viciousness in its voice. “I won’t let that happen while there is life in my body!”

“Don’t worry, that won’t be for much longer,” Angel threatened confidently.

Two long arms extended on either side of the demon as it readied itself. The angelic face of the vampire before him morphed and revealed its demonic side. Angel raised his sword and waited for the inevitable charge. There it was, the demon was off and was galloping towards him.

With a quick swing the demon’s arm should be off but it wasn’t going to be that easy as the demon was anticipating that attack. It raised its arm and extended its claw, bringing it down at ferocious speed. Angel swung but his sword stopped dead as the demon caught it and flashed a big, toothy smile at him.

A hard and unforgiving wall met Angel’s head as he flew through the air. He lay on the floor and tried to compose himself. Time wasn’t with him though as the demon walked over with bad intentions in mind. Angel glanced up at the demon and tried to plan his next move. The effort he had to put in to stand up was an indication of the demon’s power. It had attacked once and that was nearly enough to finish him off.

Two fiery eyes watched as Angel stood up, in defiance of the demon’s power, and prepared himself for another attack. With a toothy smile the demon began to charge at the weak, barely able to stand, vampire before it. It extended its claws and raised its arm above its head. It got within touching distance and slashed at Angel who jumped up and over it with a somersault.

Balance was needed for the landing and it was achieved perfectly as his two feet hit the floor together springing him into a run. The demon was right behind him, his feet bounding on the floor in an attempt to catch the vampire. Angel dived forward, as the demon slashed again, and rolled grabbing his broadsword as he did so.

Using the demon’s momentum to his advantage, Angel readied his sword behind him. Seeing this the demon tried to stop but it was moving too fast. The demon watched helplessly as Angel swung the sword upwards and sliced the demon in two from its crotch up to its head. Two halves of the same corpse fell to the floor, in opposite directions, as a thick, green fluid oozed from the wounds.

He wiped himself down and carefully stepped over the two halves of the demon, trying to avoid the green fluid. The Byzantine axe was still buried in the skull of the first demon he killed and with a quick yank, it was out and after a little spit shine it was back in his coat.

The night wasn’t finished yet. He had found and killed the demons responsible for the killing the woman and taking her baby but now he had to find and save it. He had fought one demon properly and it wasn’t easy. How would he fare against, he assumed, a group of demons? That didn’t matter. All that mattered was the baby.

* * *

Ten demons circled a pedestal in the centre of the room. The baby was lying on top of the pedestal, not making a sound even though there was a lot of noise and activity around it. The demons were chanting something while they circled and they were repeating. One was stood in the centre burning herbs. That was obviously what Angel had smelt.

These demons were not the same as the ones he had encountered before. They had colourful skin that varied in pigment with each individual, some being shown in the room as there were blues, greens and a red. They also had a single shapely prehensile tentacle that grew from the base their skulls. They were far smaller than the demons he faced before and appeared to be much weaker.

Angel watched from the doorway as he planned his next move. All out attack was not an option here. Even though the demons didn’t appear to be built for conflict, they could be. Also, any attempt to save the baby could actually lead to the baby’s death.

Action needed to be taken soon though as the demons stopped circling and all turned to face the central demon and the baby. The central demon was blue and he wore an elegant robe that covered his entire body. It was blue like his skin as all the demons seemed to wear robes that matched their skin colour. The robes were covered in embroidery that was lined with crystals. The embroidery seemed to be the writing of a demonic language but Angel wasn’t sure.

“My brothers.” The demon stood in the centre started to address the others. “The time has come for the sacrifice that will bring our master forth. This baby is the key that will unlock the door that keeps our master from this place. Tonight, he comes and tonight, the end of the world begins!”

A loud cheer rose up from the demons surrounding the pedestal. Who was this master, Angel thought. That didn’t matter for the moment. Whoever he was, he obviously had the power to destroy the world.

“With the pure blood of the child, our master shall come forth and rid the world of the human pestilence and give power back to the minions of hell that once held it!”

Another cheer rose up as the, Angel assumed, leader informed the others of their master’s plan to destroy humanity so that demons could once again rule like they did in the days before humanity came into existence. Angel continued to watch as the central demon pulled a knife from his robe and held it above the baby.

This was it. He had to act now or the baby was dead. Angel stepped out from behind the wall, while pulling the Byzantine axe from his coat, and shouted for the attention of the eleven demons waiting for the knife to be plunged into the baby’s heart. All eleven turned to Angel as he threw the axe at the demon in the centre.

Dead. The axe was buried deep inside the skull of the leader who was now lying lifeless on the floor. The rest of the demons stared in shock at their dead leader. They were lost on what to do next until suddenly, one of the demons ordered for an attack. All ten complied and charged at Angel.

With his sword held high, Angel ran at the oncoming demons and prepared for the battle. Despite the onslaught that he was about to face, his first priority was the baby’s safety and with a show of his vampiric abilities, he somersaulted over the group and led them away from it.

He turned and readied himself. The first demon swung its fist but missed as Angel dodged the attack with relative and countered with a fatal stab through the demon’s chest. It let out a small cry of pain as its body contorted while it fell to the ground. One down, nine to go.

The rest of the group weren’t going to stop just because one had fallen at the tip of Angel’s blade and they continued the assault without mercy. All of a sudden, Angel was surrounded by nine very pissed off demons. He braced himself and watched every single one as he made sure that none could catch him off guard.

A squelch echoed through the large room as the tip of the broadsword pierced the jugular of one of the demons, its lifeless body echoing a thud as it hit the ground. So far so good but he knew he had his limits and it would only take a group attack from the remaining eight to finish him off. He raised his sword and waited for another attack while simultaneously planning his next move.

Fighting this intruder one on one was not an option and the demons knew it. Two shared a quick glance and a nod and jumped at Angel. Hearing the sound of shouts and bodies flying through the air, Angel turned around and swung his sword just in time sending two heads rolling away.

A severe pain filled Angel’s back forcing him to fall to the floor. He glanced back and saw that one of the demons had broken off from the main group and pulled the axe from its master’s head. It had then proceeded to throw it into his back.

With a quick tug the axe left his body causing him to shout in pain as the cold hard steel left his skin which snapped back over the wound like a piece of elastic. With his right arm now holding an axe the odds were a little more in his favour.

Angel turned and scanned the remaining six. They were all angry and they were all eager to get a piece of Angel and he knew it. His body was pretty badly torn up from the fight with the large red demon downstairs and from the axe in the back.

Blood was flowing from every orifice it could and he was feeling weak. If this group of six got wise and attacked as one, he’d be finished and quickly. He looked up and saw the baby on the pedestal oblivious to its surroundings, kicking its legs and punching its arms playfully.

There it was. The plan was right there and ready to be put into practice. His focus changed from the baby to the thing behind it and he readied himself. He gathered every last ounce of strength left in his body and took one last look at the six demons surrounding, bloodlust filling their eyes.

“Sorry boys,” Angel said with a smile forming on his face. “I’ve got to go. This was fun though. Let’s do it again some time.”

With that he was gone from the centre of the circle and was soaring majestically overhead, spinning and somersaulting for momentum. The demons watched but they could only move their heads at half the speed he was moving. He landed solidly on the ground and started into a run, his body aching from the cuts and bruises he had sustained in both fights.

Reaching out with his left arm, he grabbed the baby and pulled it in close to his body in an effort to protect it. His other hand was free and was also wielding the axe, but not for long as he drew back his arm and unleashed the axe with a powerful throw.

A whistling sound could be heard faintly as the axe spun and twisted in the air effortlessly, cutting any resistance as it went. The whistling sound was a relief for Angel as he knew it meant that escape and safety were but seconds away.

With a loud smash the window gave way under the sheer force of the flying axe and its remains scattered outwards filling the pavement with sharp, dangerous pieces of glass. Angel knew that would be painful as he leapt forward, with baby in hand, out of the smashed window, the demons watching helplessly as their pure blood sacrifice got away.

Lashing wind caught his ears as he fell towards the cold, hard, unforgiving ground 100 feet below. The drop was harmless to him, while being bloody painful, but it would kill the baby instantly. Knowing this, he twisted his body in the air, so that his back was facing the ground, and pulled the baby in closer to his body.

Oblivious to its surroundings, the baby cooed playfully as they hurtled towards the earth. Angel was ready for the pain that was going to follow but he wasn’t looking forward to it. He closed his eyes and focused on other things, mainly the baby. He focused on how small it was and how it felt in his arms.

Angel groaned as he smashed into the concrete. Blood trickled from his mouth as he rolled over slowly onto one side. He closed his eyes in pain and continued to groan as he tried to get a grip and focus on reality and not the mind-numbing pain he was feeling at that very moment.

His focus switched instantly from the pain to the tiny little life in his arms, which was totally dependent on him, when he heard the quiet sounds of the baby.

“Get him!!”

Angel looked up when he heard the shout from above. A demon was stood where the window used to be and was watching Angel like a hawk. He had to move or he would be caught. With everything he had he was just about able to stand. He wiped himself down quickly and hobbled over to his car that was parked just across the street.

Leather had never felt better than right at the very moment he sat down, his aches and pains fading slightly and turning into comfort. The baby was now on the seat next to him still cooing happily. He took a quick look at it and placed his key in the ignition. With a turn the car was active and its engine was humming quietly.

Five demons ran from the door and towards the Plymouth but it was too late as Angel pulled off and slammed his foot to the ground, changing gears as was needed. Within moments his car was doing sixty and the demons were but dots in his rear view mirror.

A smile formed on Angel’s face when he looked at the baby. Two babies had relied on him for salvation, from hell, in his lifetime. This one wasn’t his son but he felt a great deal of happiness knowing that he had saved this one and righted a wrong that he should have prevented a long time ago.


Part 3

The door to Angel’s apartment opened slowly. He entered with the baby he had saved earlier that night curled up his arms sleeping. Memories of Connor had prevented him from taking his eyes off the baby, which was in a fact a boy. With a light kick, the door shut slowly and it barely made a sound. Even if it had Angel doubted it would have caused the baby to stir.

Darkness filled the room but when Angel opened the refrigerator door the darkness again cowered from the light which filled the room in its place. For some reason, he always attributed the fridge to Cordelia. She always brought light to his dark heart.

Why am I looking in here, Angel thought. There was no food in the fridge except for a large amount of O positive and he doubted that would be sufficient for a baby. He didn’t need feeding anyway. He was sleeping soundly. The sound of the baby’s slow breathing was soothing and it just reminded Angel that he had taken a beating from a group of demons, fallen from a window 100 feet up, was taking care of a baby and was , after all that, extremely exhausted.

His legs felt like jelly as he moved over to the bed but its welcoming softness and warmth soothed his aches and pains. The baby wasn’t waking as he was gently rocked back and forth by his saviour, not that he knew that. Every now and then the baby would move his hands to his face and gently scratch its face. It was obviously a skill it learned in its sleep. Angel couldn’t help but smile at the tiny life in his arms.

Despite his happiness he couldn’t shake the sinking feeling he had in his stomach. No matter what he wanted, this baby wasn’t his and it wouldn’t have a life with him. Also, his feelings for the baby weren’t actually for the baby, but for his son Connor who he still felt in his arms every day.

The room was dark as Angel looked around. The apartment said it all. What sort of life could a child have when he had to live in a place that was shut off from the rest of the world? The baby stirred and he looked down at him again. This baby didn’t need him and he knew it. He needed a family that loved him and that could raise him as if he was their own.

That would have to wait for now though. It was late and everybody was asleep and Angel wanted to be doing the same. He would deal with the matter of the baby in the morning after a good nights sleep. By then his wounds would be healed and his pining for his son would have faded slightly. He pulled the baby in close and lay back on the bed with the baby on his chest. It was a nice feeling.

Silence surrounded Angel as his eyes got heavier with the only sound in the room being the sound of the baby’s breath and faint heartbeat. It was nice to hear and feel the weak thump thump on his chest as he drifted off. It was just like old times.

* * *

A gentle breeze was blowing through the smashed window on the far side of the room. One demon was looking out of the window at the world before it, an angry expression covering its face. It was one of the demons that had survived the fight with the mysterious intruder.

Bodies littered the ground after the battle. The elegant robes that the demons had worn were now just blood stained materials. The green blood that had oozed, and was still oozing, covered their robes. The demons that were still alive stepped carefully whenever they moved so as not to tarnish their robes with the blood of their dead.

The demon by the window was thinking carefully about what had happened earlier that night. The ritual they were performing was supposed to allow their lord to pass into the earthly dimension but the intruder had prevented that. Why? What did he gain from interfering in demon affairs and how did he know what was transpiring? Whatever the reason for it all, something had to be done.

Turning from the window the demon looked at the other five demons that had also escaped death. They were looking around the room at the bodies of their dead comrades and thanking the Hell god they worshipped for their lives. They all turned to the demon approaching them and stiffened up. It seemed to have some power over them.

“What has transpired here tonight shall not go unnoticed,” the demon, who was obviously in charge, said authoritatively. “We will inform our master of what has happened here. I guarantee that he will not leave the one that caused all of this unpunished. Humans! Disgusting creatures.”

“This one wasn’t human though,” another chimed in nervously. “No human could defeat the Rogor Knights. They were the finest warriors from the dimension of Rogoria. It will cost us thousands to hire more.”

“Yes, that is correct,” the leader replied thoughtfully. “This ‘man’ showed abilities that I would expect from a… vampire. Only a demon could do that and only vampires are demons with the visage of a human.”

“You mean-?”

“Yes,” the leader said with a smile as he realised what they were facing. “Come, we must depart from this place and inform our master of our enemy.”

“But what about the baby?” one of the demons asked. “Only the pure blood of the baby can raise our lord.”

“The baby can wait for now. Our master will be more interested in this new development.”

Nodding in agreement, scared for their lives in the hands of their master, a line formed next to the leader of the small group. All six of them extended their arms and opened their hands. In unison they all chanted the same words causing a bright light to form at their shoulders, travel down their arms and out of their hands. All of the small orbs of light joined in the air and the fabric of the dimension folded causing a swirling portal to appear. They all dropped their hands and walked forward through the portal to wherever their destination was.

* * *

The sun was shining brightly over the streets of Los Angeles but darkness, as usual, filled Angel’s apartment. It was also filled with silence as the baby slept again. It had woken in the early hours of the morning forcing Angel to rush to an all night store where he could buy formula.

Light breaths passed the baby’s lips and he made clicking noises while he slept. He had only just gone back to sleep so Angel was being especially quiet to avoid waking him and having to go through the long, arduous ordeal that was putting a baby, which has been woken up, back to sleep.

A look of exertion covered Angel’s face as he carefully backed away from the baby, with a cellular phone in hand, and headed to the bathroom so he could make a call. He had had the phone for ten years and he had used it twice prior to now. That just showed the lack of connection or interest Angel had with the world.

The bathroom door creaked as he shut it slowly so as not to make any noise. He sat on the closed toilet and, with the phone in hand; he traced the list of numbers on the screen until the one he wanted appeared. The person he was hoping to reach he had not spoken with in a long time and he wasn’t sure the number was the same. He dialled it anyway as he put his very basic knowledge of cellular phones to good use.

A loud ringing filled the beautiful office as the phone vibrated on the mahogany desk that was lined with papers and books on demonology. There was a wide variety of books in the office as a large bookcase covered most of the wall, all the books on it to do with demons, vampires, fiends of hell, demonic rituals, witchcraft etc. It was its owner’s pride and joy.

The phone continued to ring and Angel saw no sign of it being answered anytime soon. He took the phone from his ear and began to set it out down on the receiver when he heard a voice on the other end. The voice was familiar and it was the voice of the person he wanted. Replacing the phone at his ear he spoke.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hello, who is this?” came the reply.

“It’s Angel.”

Silence. Everything on the other end just seemed to go dead as soon as his name was spoken. That was to be expected. All that could be heard down the phone was the rain pattering on the window pane. Typical London weather.

“Um… Angel… uh-”

“Are you okay Giles?” Angel asked when he heard Giles struggling to speak.

“Uh… yes. I’m fine,” Giles replied as he tried to compose himself. “I thought you were dead. I was told that you had died in the battle with the army of the Senior Partners.”

“No I didn’t die but I might as well have been dead.”

Giles couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Angel was alive and he was phoning him. Why would Angel phone him?

“Who told you I was dead Giles?” Angel asked curious as to who would say such a thing. He did have a fair idea though.

“Spike did.” Giles had just said the name Angel was expecting to hear.

“Well no, I’m not dead, well, not completely. That doesn’t matter now though Giles. I need a favour of you.”

Giles cringed when he heard the word favour. When it came to Angel he felt far from generous. After what happened to Jenny Calendar, he’d never been able to look at Angel the same or hold the same respect for him that he once did. He couldn’t just turn him down though. It wasn’t gentlemanly to do so.

“What is it?” Angel could tell from Giles’ tone that he wasn’t too happy about it but he couldn’t care about that now or feel guilty for Jenny. The baby was more important.

“I have a baby here.”

“A baby!?” Giles asked quickly, fearing for the safety of the child. He knew Angel had a soul but he couldn’t trust him.

“Yeah, I rescued him from a group of demons who were hoping to sacrifice him. They wanted to raise their master.”

“I see,” Giles said suddenly intrigued. “I take it you want me too do some research for you.”

“No, this fight’s mine,” Angel said abruptly. “I don’t want anyone involved in this.”

“Then why did you call me?” Giles asked.

“Well I wanted you to tell me where I could find Willow.”

“Why,” Giles asked. He didn’t trust Angel as it was so he wasn’t going to give up Willow’s location without having a good reason to.

“I need someone to take care of this baby, raise it as their own. I need someone to love it and give it a good life, all of the things I can’t. There’s no one better than Willow for this. Her power will keep this baby safe and her nature will give this baby everything it needs.”

At that instant, a little of the respect that Giles once held for Angel returned. “Willow is living in Los Angeles.”

“That’s great!” Angel shouted, overjoyed, down the phone putting his dark, brooding image at risk. “Where can I find her?”

* * *

Six demons stood in a large room. It was mostly empty apart from the large table in the centre of the room, two statues positioned symmetrically on either side of the room and a throne at the end against the back wall. In the throne sat another demon.

This one was different from the others. Its body shape wasn’t the same and it was larger. Most of its features were hidden in the shadows with the only features showing being its long fingers, on the arms of the throne, and its intense red eyes.

None of the demons dared approach their obvious leader. They could tell from his slightly squinted eyes and his long fingers gently tapping the arms of the throne that he wasn’t happy.

“You come before me with news?” the leader asked, his voice soft and gentle unlike most other demons.

“Y…Y…Yes my lord,” one of the six, who were now huddled tightly together, replied, its fear showing in its voice.

“Then please, tell me.”

One of the demons plucked up the courage and stepped forward. It was the demon that had commanded the other five while on Earth. Its power, while in the presence of this new commanding figure, was gone.

“My lord, we began the ritual-”

“But?” He was no fool and he knew that from their behaviour something had gone wrong.

“But… we couldn’t finish it due to… unforeseen circumstances.” The demon was terrified and it was yet to look at its master. It had been kneeling since leaving the other five.

“Unforeseen circumstances?” There was a hint of disbelief in the leader’s voice. “Tell me minion, what were these unforeseen circumstances?”

“It… it was the vampire with a soul my lord. He has returned.”

Thinking for a moment the leader, his fiery red eyes trailing off, contemplated the affects the vampire with a soul could have on his plans. He rubbed his chin with his long fingers and then returned his gaze to the demon stood before him.

“How do you know it was the vampire with a soul?” He asked.

“It was a vampire my lord but he fought us, his own kind. No vampire would do that without a soul.” The demon was proud of his assessment of the situation and felt a little more at ease.

“You are not at fault,” he said reassuringly causing the demon to finally pluck up the courage to stand up and look at its master. “The vampire with a soul is not an easy adversary to face. You did well just to escape with your lives.”

All six demons smiled in relief. Their leader wasn’t at all angry and their fears had been unfounded. A smile crossed his face that filled the six demons with a huge feeling of joy and relief. They had all thought that this trip back to their home dimension would be their last.

“Yes, you are all very lucky to have escaped the vampire,” the leader reminded them. “This means that I will have to lead proceedings on earth now. The vampire with a soul, I believe his name to be Angel, can only be beaten by a strong adversary, an adversary like me.”

“Yes my lord,” the six demons chimed in together.

“Angel does not know me yet he must know that I am a force to be reckoned with. To do that, I must do what he failed to do.”

Broad smiles filled the faces of the six demons that were still smiling at their leader who lifted one hand from an arm of his throne and pointed at the single demon stood before him. Another broad smile filled the imageless face as bolts of green lightning shot from his fingertip and struck the demon.

Smoke rose from the demon’s burning body as it screamed in agony. All cowered in fear as their master laughed heartily at its minions torment. The screams started to fade as the life started slipping away from the demon. Seeing this, the lighting was ceased, the smile still covering the leader’s face as the badly burned demon fell to his knees and then flat to the floor, dead.

The ones left watched, terrified, as their leader rose from his throne, the shadows still concealing every part of him.

“You think that this Angel is a match for me!?” The leader shouted. “I am no mere vampire! I am Lord Danandril, mighty ruler of Lirtast. No vampire, whether he be ensouled or not, will stop my plans!”

Still the lowly minions still huddled together as Lord Danandril spoke. He returned to his seat though and his voice returned to being soft and gentle. They considered that to be more terrifying.

“For my plan to come to fruition, I must come to Earth myself and lead proceedings from there,” Danandril said quietly.

“Yes my lord,” the others replied in unison.

“Prepare yourself Angel for I, Lord Danandril, am about to make a house call.”

Evil laughter filled the hall as Danandril planned his next move. He was greatly looking forward to meeting the legendary Angel. Combat though was not his plan and neither was revenge. All he wanted was to defeat Angel so that he could fulfil his dreams and bring about the apocalypse. Danandril knew that his power greatly exceeded that of Angel’s but fighting was not his forte. He would defeat Angel another way, a better way.

* * *

Moonlight reflected off the shiny black surface of the ‘67 Plymouth convertible. Angel looked at the house he was pulling up to and carefully scanned for the number. He had to be sure this was the right one. Then he saw it, the number that Giles had given him. It was the right house.

Tiny gurgling noises came from the baby which was in Angel’s free arm. He looked down at the tiny boy in his arms. He was fed, changed and ready to go to his new home and family, if they would take him that is.

Angel opened the door and stepped out of the car and onto the road, which was very quiet as it was a suburban street. He was careful as he stepped out as he didn’t want to drop the baby because of clumsiness. Even vampires who had supernatural abilities still had lapses of clumsiness, even one as old as Angel.

“Hey Will, come here.”

A small, thin woman was stood at the window looking out at the strange man who had pulled up outside. She was attractive with dark skin, dark eyes and dark hair. Her face was nicely proportioned but her looks were ruined by her intense look and seriousness that seemed to always be there no matter what the situation.

“What is it Kennedy?”

Another woman walked in to the living room but she didn’t go to the window but stayed by the door. She was fairly attractive with brown eyes, red hair and pale skin. Her eyes were gentle and the smile that was always formed at the corners of her mouth displayed innocence.

“There’s some strange guy outside,” Kennedy said, her eyes still focused fully on the man on the street.

“So. Is he doing anything suspicious? Is he interfering with our lives?”

“No,” Kennedy replied sheepishly.

“Then what are you worried about?” Willow asked rhetorically as she left the room.

Kennedy smiled and replaced herself on the couch with the magazine she had been reading. She told herself that she had to be less paranoid all the time as it wasn’t healthy but she just couldn’t seem to lighten up. It must have been the slayer in her always suspecting evil around every corner, even if it is just some guy getting out of the car.

Two knocks rapped against the door. Willow appeared from the kitchen and headed for the door. Kennedy was up straight away and looking at who was there. It was the man! She turned and headed to the corridor but by the time she got there the door was already open.

It couldn’t be him. It just couldn’t be. Shock, happiness, fear and relief all filled Willow as she looked at the angelic face of her old friend. Was it really Angel? He was supposed to be dead. If it was then she was truly delighted to see him but if it wasn’t she was preparing herself to be freaked out.

A smile crossed Angel’s face when he saw Willow. Her face was as pretty and innocent as ever, the little curves of a smile at the corners of her mouth adorable as ever and just as much of a comfort as they used to be. Eleven years on and she hadn’t changed a bit.

Willow took a deep breath and finally got the words to pass her lips. “Angel?”

“Hi Willow,” Angel replied with a smile.

As quick as she could Willow leaned in for a hug but Angel had to stop her as she approached enthusiastically. She looked down at the thing getting in the way of her and Angel’s hug. It was a baby. Her face suddenly changed completely and her mouth moved into a circular shape and her eyes lit up.

“Aww.”

Maternal instincts kicked in and she instantly held out her arms and took the baby from Angel while all he could do was smile. Now he knew that Willow would take the baby. He wasn’t sure that the woman behind Willow, who was staring at him with angry, suspicious eyes, would be so keen.

“How did this happen Angel?” Willow asked while she kept her focus completely on the baby. “I thought vampires were sterile.”

“Vampire!?” Shouted Kennedy as her slayer instincts kicked in.

“Yeah, wh-”

Angel couldn’t finish his sentence as he was tackled to the floor by Kennedy who threw punch after punch. None were getting through as Angel kept his arms up and over his face.

“Kennedy! No!” Willow shouted.

She didn’t listen and kept pummelling Angel with her powerful punches. He groaned a little under her brute strength but she wasn’t doing any damage, which was surprising considering she was a slayer. Lying there taking a beating wasn’t an option for him though and with a quick flick of his legs he was on top of Kennedy who was still punching wildly.

“Calm down!” Willow pleaded.

Angel had had enough and he pushed Kennedy’s arms to the ground and leaned on them so she was unable to move. She continued to struggle despite its pointlessness.

“Kennedy, he is on our side!”

“He’s a vampire Willow! They’re all monsters that are better off dusted!”

“I agree with you one hundred percent but my dusting isn’t due yet I’m afraid,” Angel said as he released Kennedy and stood up. He was trusting that he and Willow could explain his situation. “I’ve still got too much to do yet.”

“Kennedy, Angel is a vampire with a soul. He is good.”

“Like Spike?” Memories of that tumultuous year in Sunnydale flooded in as she remembered Spike and the great help he was with a soul. The world would have ended if it hadn’t been for him giving his life in the hell mouth, even if it was just for Buffy.

“Yes, Spike has a soul like me but I started it all. The having a soul thing was mine until it became the latest fashion!”

Kennedy looked Angel up and down one last time and came to the conclusion that if Willow trusted him then she could trust him. She nodded at Angel to signal that she accepted him without actually accepting him. Angel nodded back and followed them into their house after a formal invitation from Willow.
* * *

Silence fell on the Rosenberg household as Angel asked them to take the baby. They were both in shock at his request, and overjoyed. Two lesbian women having children was a near hundred percent no. Only small percentages of gay couples got to have children. This was their chance.

Angel watched them both as they thought long and hard about their decision. He had a good feeling that they would take the boy and with a slayer and a witch as parents, he would be very safe. He smiled at the baby playing with Willow’s hair and he remembered the same image from years ago as Cordelia held Connor.

The amount of times he had wished he could go back to that time and right all the wrongs were uncountable. If he could go back he would stop Holtz from ever taking Connor, stop Skip tricking Cordelia into leaving Earth for Jasmine’s dimension and he would make sure his group of friends stayed together. Those wishes would have to remain that though as that time had passed.

Willow looked up from the baby in her lap and towards Angel. A smile crossed her face. She wanted the baby but she needed more before she took him. With a loving gaze she questioned Kennedy’s decision. Kennedy smiled and nodded in agreement. The baby was theirs. First though she wanted to know…

“Why us Angel?”

“This baby is more important than you’ll ever know,” Angel explained. “Powerful forces could be coming for it and I can’t leave him in the hands of a normal person. You are arguably the greatest Wicca alive today and you are in a relationship with a vampire slayer. Who better to protect this baby?”

“Oh, that’s the only reason is it,” Willow ventured, hurt that her power was the deciding factor.

“No,” Angel replied quickly. “Willow, when I was in Sunnydale, I never met anyone with as big a heart as you. You would just spread love wherever you went even if it was to people you hated. You were a wonderful person and I know that if you raise this baby, he’ll be a wonderful person one day as well.”

That settled it for Willow and after getting over the initial emotion of his words she excitedly told him. “We’ll take him Angel.”

A broad smile crossed Angel’s face when Willow wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly. He returned it instantly and enjoyed how it felt to have done good again. It was the first time he had felt it in ten years.

“How can we ever repay you Angel?” Willow asked holding his hands in hers.

“Just love him and give him a happy life. That’s all they need and that’s all I need to be happy.”

Willow nodded and hugged Angel again. Time was pushing on though and he had done no patrolling or anything else that night. He wanted to go out and get a few solid hours in before dawn.

Reluctantly, after a few minutes of receiving thanks, hugs and kisses from Willow, he left. The wooden door shut behind him, the baby he had come with was now inside with its new family. Angel looked to his right and saw the living room window.

Happiness. That was all Angel could see when he looked in the window. Two women’s lives had just got ten times better because of the new addition to them. A small smile formed on Angel’s face as he watched the two new mothers play with their son. He would be happy in the knowledge that the baby was with two wonderful women.

The cold night air was coming on as it got closer and closer to midnight. Angel closed his coat and turned from the window to return to his car. With his hands in his pockets and his head down he returned to his car and to his lonely life as a champion.

* * *

A loud crashing and cracking sound filled the large room in the abandoned building, where the ritual was supposed to be held, as the fabric of space and time split and opened a gateway to another dimension. A swirling vortex appeared in the centre of the room which sent every item in the room hurtling outwards and away from the portal.

Through the portal stepped six demons, one of them being Danandril. His appearance was hidden under a large hooded robe in case someone who shouldn’t have done saw him emerging from the portal.

He examined his surroundings carefully. This was his first trip to Earth and its design was a wonderful thing to behold even for a demon of his calibre. He removed his hood but not until he was in the shadows on the far side of the room.

“Earth, it is an amazing thing to see,” Danandril remarked to the other five in attendance. “It is not how I was told it was.”

“Earth has grown in the centuries gone by and matured into what you see before you now. This is but a tiny portion of the world seen through a broken window.”

“Seeing the world is not my priority,” Danandril said. “I can see it when I rule it. Now, I want to destroy Angel so our plans can go unhindered. I cannot do that through combat. I must break his spirit, his will, demoralise him and take away all hope in his life. Only then can I truly destroy him and all he stands for. Only then will our dreams come to fruition.”

“My lord, how do you break something you do not know?” one of the demons asked bravely.

“I know Angel better than you might think,” Danandril replied with a sly smile forming on his face. “I learned of Angel years ago while I was planning all of this, on the advice of my good friend Sahjhan who was having his own trouble with Angel. The prophecies all pointed to him being the one who would stop apocalypses. I couldn’t allow that so I learned of him and his life so I could beat him when, and if, I met him. I had scouts drop in every year and find out what had been happening in his life. It wasn’t difficult for them with his fame being so widespread.”

“What did you learn Master?”

“I know the person that has had a bigger affect on his life than anyone else and I know that if this person were to be involved, he would be focused on them and not so much on us,” Danandril explained.

“You mean bring them to our side?” another demon asked.

“No, I mean bringing them back into Angel’s life so that I might use their presence and their acts therein to break him.”

“How will you do it Master?”

Danandril had an evil smile on his face. “Find me the cemetery that holds the grave of Cordelia Chase and take me there.”


Part 4

Contemplating his life, if it could be called that, Angel sat alone slurping blood from a glass. The sound filled the otherwise silent apartment. Foul to the taste it just served to remind him that he was a monster: a vampire.

Blood was supposed to be a comfort for vampires but in his case it was nothing more than a curse that he had to live with until that day when he would feel the sweet release of death. That was a day he longed for. Not yet though. There was still too much to do.

Why? Why had his life taken the turn that it did? Why was he the one that was destined to bear the cross of the champion despite his inability to do so? He wasn’t sure that he could do it anymore even though he had been visited by Cordelia. It had helped but it hadn’t been enough to put him back on the path.

That was the responsibility of another point in his life. One day he was supposed to be a champion again. So much time had passed since he’d thought in those terms it felt strange. Yet he could sense it inside him without knowing when that point would come.

Brooding wasn’t making any difference though and he knew it. Standing up, Angel rubbed his tired eyes and prepared for bed. That was a release in itself, the soft, warm bed welcoming him and giving him nothing but comfort. He sometimes wondered why life couldn’t be that way.

With his buttons undone and his belt unbuckled, his clothes slid off his body to reveal his well toned, muscular figure. Despite all of the conflict and trials he had faced in his lifetime his skin was relatively unharmed with only a few scars being visible. There was a faint scar on his chest but it was hardly noticeable. It was the scar from the worst wound he had ever received, a wound that literally broke his heart. It was the wound that Buffy had inflicted on him in order to save the world from Hell.

The bed sheets were cold to the touch as Angel lay down. It didn’t bother him however as his skin matched the cold surface perfectly. His tired eyes started to droop as the grip of sleep took hold. He didn’t fight it but rather gave into it completely allowing himself to sleep even though the world outside called to him to do his duty as a champion.

* * *

There it was: the grave of Cordelia Chase. The biggest one in the cemetery, it lay in the center of a segregated section of grassland. Its shiny marble surface shimmered in the moonlight highlighting the words on its face.

“Cordelia Chase, beloved friend and courageous hero.” recited Danandril as he read the words inscribed on the marble headstone. “Touching really. To think that a vampire wrote this is quite sickening.”

Danandril watched from the shadows under a tree as his minions dug at the earth in their attempt to get down to the coffin that lay six feet below them. The slow process annoyed him. It took willpower to resist the urge to destroy one of his minions.

Despite the time it was taking to get to the coffin, every grain of dirt that was removed brought him a step closer to fulfilling what he had planned for the vampire. He knew though that he would invariably have to make more plans in his battle to bring about the apocalypse. Angel was no ordinary foe and would not be beaten easily.

He could see the dirt filling the spaces between skin and fingernails as his five minions dug tirelessly at the earth. As tireless and loyal as they were the disdain on their faces, at the task set for them, was clear to see. They did not understand the role that Cordelia had to play and that was leading them to feel such contempt for him. He didn’t care though as his wisdom far surpassed theirs and he himself knew the plan that he was unfolding.

Danandril held a vial in his hand. It was empty but it was integral to his plot and he knew that he would have to fill it soon. That would require his leaving this dimension and travelling to the one that housed what he needed. What he needed was not all too unfamiliar to the vampire.

Half an hour passed before the minions reached the solid coffin lid. It was a poor show from demons that were supposedly stronger than humans. Danandril rose from his perch on top of a gravestone and positioned himself at the side of the grave.

The wooden lid had a gold plate on top of it but the writing was obscured by the dirt that had over time filled the engraving. Insects swarmed all over it but they scurried away when the light caught their beady eyes. It was a tight squeeze for the demons that had to get down inside the ground and lift the coffin up and out.

“I do not have the time to spare as you make a pathetic attempt at lifting that burial box,” Danandril’s impatience grew with every passing minute. “Have that box out of the ground within the next five minutes or my fingers will start to get a little twitchy!”

Under the threat of death the demons worked a lot faster. A smug grin covered Danandril’s face. The power he held over his minions was a great asset to his cause and he cherished having the power and control he did.

His long, bony fingers ran along the lid of the coffin and felt its texture. The gold plate was cold to the touch and the engraving on it was written in English. It was hard to see under the dirt that filled it so he ran his fingers through the markings.

“Forever with us,” Danandril read from the markings, his face scrunching up slightly in disgust. He stood up straight and looked at his minions with his fiery red eyes that shone with the light of a thousand rubies. “This vampire is truly sickening isn’t he?”

He could see that his minions were to preoccupied catching their breath to listen to him. Disrespectfully he lifted the lid of the coffin and allowed for the stench to escape and bring them back to reality. The body inside hadn’t even caught his attention. It was just another tool to him.

“Take this back to the place of the ritual and wait for me there,” he commanded. “I have to retrieve something to allow for this event to take place this night. Do you understand me?”

“Yes Lord Danandril!” replied the minions in unison.

At once all five lifted the coffin, with a great amount of strain and effort, and were walking towards a secluded part of the graveyard where they could leave safely without being spotted. Danandril watched until they were out of sight.

He glanced around quickly and made sure that there were no prying eyes watching him. For a demon of his power he was terribly paranoid about being seen and he took it very seriously. With no one in sight he began to chant in his home language, Lirtastian.

Extending his arm while chanting, the fabric of space and time began to distort. Swirling violently, a portal formed in the spot where Danandril had been pointing causing everything near to be either sucked into or sent hurtling away from it. Spinning like a cyclone on the sea it howled like a thousand winds colliding. This was his gateway and despite its appearance, Danandril stepped through. Within seconds the portal had gone taking Danandril with it, restoring the delicate fabric of space and time.

* * *

Everything was familiar. Angel was standing in a sporting goods store with people around him running frantically to escape something. A knife was in his right hand and something heavy in his left. Looking down he saw the angry face of his son, Connor.

“I really do love you son.” In control of neither his words nor actions Angel watched his hand tighten around Connor’s throat.

As the grip tightened around his throat Connor winced slightly as his breathing was slowly cut off and his ability to talk limited. “Yeah, so what are you gonna do about it?” Never had he seen Angel like this. No longer were his words laced with promises of a better life or apologies for past failings but pure remorse at what had to be done and determination to do it.

“Prove it.” Angel swung his arm and slit the throat of his only son. In that instant, the deal made with Wolfram and Hart went through and Connor’s life was changed forever. Now, Angel felt for the first time in years that he was no longer needed.

Angel awoke with a shout and sat up rapidly in his bed, the images of that day where he lost his son were fresh in his mind and bombarding him mercilessly. He looked around and realised he was at home. Resting his head in his hands he sighed deeply even though it was pointless.

Large beads of sweat dripped from Angel’s body and onto his bed covers. Every drop was cold to the touch but he felt extremely hot. Wet strands of hair soaked his fingers as he gently rubbed his head. Why was he dreaming of Connor now? He hadn’t had a significant dream of him in years.

It was the baby bringing back bad memories. It all seemed to be against him at the moment. He had a soul tormenting him, the Powers That Be tormenting him with their duty and now his son was tormenting him. What did he need to do to catch a break?

Then it dawned on him. He couldn’t just go on like this. He had seen the baby and that had stirred things up. What he needed to do was find Connor and make sure he was okay. Only once since the fight with Hamilton at Wolfram and Hart had he seen Connor. It wasn’t social, just a quick check that he had survived.

Self pity was the cause. He was so wrapped up in his own little problems that he didn’t even have the time or decency to check on his son. At least he had been right about not being able to give his son what he wanted.

The decision was made and Angel was up, out of bed and heading for the bathroom. The shower clicked on and the boiling hot water cascaded downwards and hit the glass barriers. Angel tested the water with his hand and stepped in. The water was a relief and it took away the cold that he had to feel everyday. It couldn’t take away the cold inside though.

Dressed, clean and set to go out Angel headed for the door. He had spent a little bit of time psyching himself up to see his son again. A phone box stood across the road from his apartment. After a quick search through it he would know where to find Connor living.

The door swung open and Angel stepped out. The excitement had got a bit too much however and he hadn’t realised the time with the only realisation coming when the rays of sunlight hit his skin. He grunted and jumped back inside as the searing pain filled his face and smoke rose from his smouldering flesh.

“I’ll go out later,” he said as he shut the door.

* * *

A humming noise resonated from the engine of the ’67 Plymouth as Angel drove slowly down the streets of Los Angeles. The moon was out and shining brightly, reflections of its pure white surface bouncing off the bonnet of the car. Angel leant on the car door with his left arm resting his head on his closed fist.

Contemplating seeing his son again forced a smile to emerge on his usually pensive face. It wasn’t going to be a social call even though Angel wished it could be. Years prior, Connor had made it clear that he knew what Angel had done. He accepted that they were family, but that was as far as he wanted it to go.

The street Connor lived on was nearby and Angel could feel the butterflies in his stomach getting larger and a lot flutterier. He didn’t care about that though. It was just a natural reaction to seeing your son for the first time in ten years. Would Connor remember him if he did make it social?

This was it. Connor’s street. It seemed like a relatively quiet street which relieved Angel. At least Connor would have a degree of safety in his life. From what the phonebook had said, Connor was living in an apartment on the tenth floor of a very fancy apartment building.

With a shudder and a jerk the car’s engine was dead. A creak filled the quiet street as the door opened and Angel stepped out. It was followed by a bang as the door shut. The sound of the humming engine was still ringing in his ears as he approached the alleyway on the side of the building. That was his window into Connor’s life.

Upon scanning the building side he found a way up to the top. It came in the form of a fire escape that had a very questionable integrity. He slightly bent his knees, kicking downwards quickly to send himself soaring upwards towards the first rung of the fire escape.

A frightful clang sounded when Angel got a grip on the banister. He held on tightly not wanting to drop after only just recovering from the fall he had sustained while saving the baby. His back was still hurting after that and his years out of action were showing considerably.

Despite his worries about the long fall to the ground, Angel scaled the stairs, a frightful creak sounding with every step. With vampiric athleticism he jumped onto the adjacent roof of the next building so he could see Connor’s. There were a few windows on the side nearest him and he carefully studied each one, ears alert and eyes alert for any sign of Connor.

Each room in the building was finely furnished and decorated. He wasn’t surprised as this was a good part of town. Only the best was what he wanted for Connor when he was a baby and it seemed like it had come true. Mahogany lined furniture and top of the range technology in every room. It was a lot better to the loft he had lived in once.

A door opened inside one of the apartments which attracted Angel’s attention immediately. Anticipation filled every fibre of his being as he waited to see who was entering. The anticipation disappeared when a pretty brunette walked in the door. She looked like Cordelia from a distance.

That wasn’t a great start. He couldn’t find his son but he had a reminder that he wasn’t with the woman he loved. Angel stood up and prepared to leave. He didn’t want to stay and stalk his son all night. It wasn’t healthy, even if health wasn’t an issue for him.

Sadness filling his heart, Angel turned to leave but as he did something caught his eye. He looked back and saw the woman with brunette hair kissing a young man who looked like… Connor. Angel spun around quickly and replaced himself in a crouching position so he could see what was happening.

The woman came to the window and opened it slightly but slightly was enough for Angel to hear what was being said. He listened intently to what Connor and the woman were saying.

“You look absolutely gorgeous tonight,” Connor said as he pulled the woman into his body. “You know what I have planned for you tonight?”

Angel pulled his head back as he heard the words leave Connor’s mouth. It didn’t help that he was saying it to a woman that looked like Cordelia.

“They were supposed to get rid of that,” Angel remarked.

“Come on,” Connor’s significant other said. “We need to say goodnight to Liam before he goes to sleep.”

Liam. They had named their son Liam. Tears filled Angel’s eyes and a smile crossed his face when he heard that name, his name. Connor had named his son Liam! He was a grandfather. Wiping the forming tears from his eyes he stood up and followed there movement into the next room.

Connor and the woman Angel presumed to be his wife kissed their son goodnight. He was a small boy, not much over five years old, with dark eyes. His hair was short and styled. He looked a lot like Angel just like Connor had done. Perhaps this was how Connor looked as he was growing up. Maybe this was his chance to see what his son had looked like as a young boy, the chance he missed.

After taking one last look at his son and his grandson, Angel jumped from the top of the building and down to the alley floor. The drop was a big one but it didn’t even faze him as he landed gracefully as if gravity had no hold on him. Street lights and moonlight reflected off the shiny, metallic surface of the car as he opened the creaky door and climbed in. With a quick turn of the key the engine was again humming quietly and, with relief, happiness and love filling his heart, he drove off.

* * *

The rotted shell that used to house Cordelia’s essence lay exposed. A corpse on a ritual slab surrounded by emptiness and near silence. Beyond this large chamber containing the central pedestal mumbled demon voices came from the adjacent corridor.

“What is the master planning Cael?”

“I don’t know Quinlan, but I don’t like it,” replied another. “He is powerful indeed but he is risking everything that has been planned by intentionally picking a conflict with the vampire.”

“I agree,” Siosk added. “Angel didn’t need to be brought into this. We could have performed our operations in secret. He would have been none the wiser.”

Jaled paced around and kept his eyes away from the gaze of the others. “We must say something to him. We can’t allow this to go on. Now he is trying to bring Angel’s woman back to disrupt him. It won’t work! It will just serve to anger him.”

“We-”

Their speech was cut off suddenly when a loud crashing sound came from the large room. They all ran inside and waited for their master to appear from the portal that was slowly forming in mid-air.

The howling winds could be heard again as various objects in the room flew around. It was as if a small vortex had formed in the centre of the room and was now hurtling objects and debris around at a remarkable speed. Even the demons had to shield themselves from some of the things that were flying.

Finally at full size, the silhouette of Danandril could be seen walking through the never ending cyclone towards the entrance to the portal. Eventually his form became whole and he stepped forth into the room, an evil, satisfied smile on his face. He quickly entered the shadows and hid from the view of any non-minions who might be watching.

A vial was in his hand when he extended his arm to close the portal. It was full of a green fluid that shone like a neon sign.

“I have returned, my brothers, with the key to our success. Come forth one of you and take this vial from me,” Danandril commanded.

Ashka bravely stepped forward and with a quick snap of his hand he had the vial and was again away from his master’s reach. He looked at it suspiciously not knowing what it was he was holding.

“What do I do with it my lord?” he asked nervously.

“Use this.” Danandril extended his other hand and held out a small knife. Reluctantly Ashka stepped forward again and took it as quickly as he could. “Make an incision on the woman’s wrist.”

“Yes my lord.”

Carefully placing the knife on the body’s wrist, he made a slight incision. Nothing happened. This was usually the time that blood spurted from the wound but her blood had dried up in her veins a long time ago.

“Now, pour the blood into the wound and step away,” Danandril said.

He lifted the vial and removed its lid carefully, not wanting to spill any. A foul smell came from the vial as its content’s odour escaped into the surrounding air. As he tipped the vial forward the green blood rose to the top of the vial and slowly escaped the rim and fell towards the wound on the body’s wrist. As soon as the blood was in Ashka stepped back towards his brethren.

A broad smile filled Danandril’s face as he watched a bright light fill Cordelia’s body as the blood of the Mohra demon did its work. The others weren’t so sure of what was happening but they watched regardless, their trust in Danandril’s greater wisdom being the only thing holding them there. There was suddenly movement in the wound and the travelling of the green blood up the arm was quite apparent. As a small green vortex swirled in the wound it closed and as the green blood reached Cordelia’s heart…

* * *

Gentle blue waves lapped against the sandy shore. Bright beams of light shone down on the world from the sun as it warmed the ground, the sand, the sea and the people living there.

Cordelia wriggled her toes as the water passed through them slowly and tickled her feet. The feeling of the sand between her toes being washed away was magnificent and she felt as if she could stay in this moment forever. She could if she wanted to. She did wish that Angel was there with her though.

It had been just over a year since she saw him last and she was missing him terribly. Knowing that he was nowhere near finished fighting, as only days had passed on earth, a deep sadness filled her. In this dimension it would be hundreds if not thousands of years before she saw him again. It was going to be hard and she didn’t know if she could make it down the long road to seeing him again.

Someone appeared beside her. A smile crossed her face when she realised who it was.

“What is it Wesley?” she asked, the smile on her face getting wider.

“Are you okay?” The British accent was still there along with the gentleness of his voice that made the accent so appealing.

“I’m fine Wes. I just-”

“Miss Angel,” Wesley interrupted. Hundreds of years away from Earth didn’t mean he was any less in tune with the emotions felt there. Most of them were felt in this dimension but the bad ones were far less noticeable. Sadness still existed but despair didn’t.

Cordelia nodded. Wesley removed his hands from his pockets and sat down beside her. As he placed his arm around her she rested her head on his shoulder.

“I know that it’s hard for you, but… you will see him again, I know it,” Wesley said reassuringly.

“I know I will but… the wait will be so long.”

“At least your wait won’t be eternal.” Wesley remarked, memories of Fred rushing in, not that they ever left.

“Oh, I’m sorry Wes I’ve bee-”

“Not to worry. I can live with it now. I will miss her and I will never see her but I know that part of her lies with me and always will.”

Cordelia lifted her head and looked at Wesley. A smile was on his face as he looked back. It wasn’t a full smile as he had started to think about Fred and that always brought him down, even in a dimension of pure bliss.

“Come on, I’m sure Doy-”

Cordelia jerked forward as a severe pain filled her body.

“What was that?” Wesley asked.

“I don’t kn-”

Cordelia jerked forward again as the pain intensified. Another wave hit and she fell back and lay on the sand. As the waves of pain hit her she convulsed violently, the screams showing how much pain she was in.

Wesley inspected her and tried to find what was causing the pain but he could see nothing. How could this be? Pain was not something that was felt here.

“Cordy!? Cordy!?” Wesley shouted.

Cordelia didn’t respond but continued to convulse violently. She was still screaming as the pain got ever worse, the sight of Wesley frantically trying to help her not making her feel any better. A flash of light came and for a second she was no longer in her dimension but somewhere else. Another flash came and she was back on the beach, convulsing violently.

Wesley watched in horror as her body slowly started to disappear into nothingness. The sand beneath her was slowly coming into view as she started to disappear from view.

“Hold on Cordelia!” Wesley shouted again as a great fear filled him at the thought of losing her.

The pain inside stopped and Cordelia stopped convulsing but she knew that something was wrong. She could feel herself slipping from reality and into something else. Fear covered Wesley’s face when she looked at him. It did nothing to instil confidence.

“I guess this is my off-ramp,” Cordelia joked despite the fear she was feeling. “Take care of Doyle.”

Wesley nodded dolefully as Cordelia closed her eyes weakly and faded into nothingness. Where, moments prior, Cordelia had sat there was nothing now but sand and sea. Cordelia was gone.
* * *

Angel writhed around on the floor as severe vision pains hit him full on in the head. As usual they were obscure until certain points came into focus. He watched as the images flashed by and hoped it didn’t involve anymore babies.

Then he saw her, huddled behind a dumpster, naked, alone and vulnerable. He could feel her pain and sorrow. One image was close to her face and he felt a great swell of pity when he saw the tears falling from her eyes.

The vision pain stopped along with the vision and Angel opened his eyes. Looking around his apartment he could see nothing but her beautiful face crying in the dark as she cried out for a saviour. In a flash he was up and out of the door with his coat.

The car was ready to go and within seconds he was speeding down the Los Angeles roads towards her. All the vision showed of her location was a street name and a dumpster. It wasn’t much but he didn’t care. He had to find her.

* * *

A great swell of pain filled her. In her mind was only instinct and before this sudden burst of feelings and awareness, nothing. Instincts replaced the dark void that was left by the memories that she didn’t have or the lack of coherence of thought to make a judgment.

Her instincts were telling her to run and with that her eyes shot open and revealed a world of pain, anguish, confusion and hopelessness. Despite this, her heart was beating and life filled her veins. Cordelia was alive.


Part 5

Panic filled Cordelia’s mind as she looked around the room and saw six pairs of beady eyes watching her like hawks, eyes that belonged to demons. She knew that she couldn’t stay here as demons were dangerous. At least she knew that much in the void of thoughtless instincts. As quickly as she could she stood up and ran from the room. The demons tried to chase her but on command from their leader, they let her go.

Cordelia ran from the front door and out into the cold night air, the breeze making her body cold all over. When she wrapped her arms around herself, she found that she was completely naked. Shrieking in horror, she ran for the nearest cover.

An alley would have to do for now. She just wanted to get out of sight as quickly as possible. Crouching behind a dumpster she tried to make sense of things as best she could. How could she do that when she remembered nothing? She tried to think but nothing was coming. Tears fell from her eyes as she tried even harder to find the answers to her returning. She sat there and prayed that someone would find her, help her and take away her fears and loneliness. Never had she longed so much for someone to save her.

Fear filled Cordelia’s heart as she hid behind the dumpster in a strange, dark alleyway. Her naked body glistened in the moonlight as she rocked back and forth in an attempt to keep herself as warm as possible. Instinctual thoughts ran through her mind. Why was she back? Who brought her back? Why couldn’t she remember anything from before waking up?

Nothing made sense. There were images in her mind that she attributed to this place, but she couldn’t identify them. They were faces without names. There was a lean man with dark hair and glasses. A black man with no hair who was well built and well dressed. Also there was a skinny girl with long brown hair and a pretty face.

The last man she could remember felt different from the others. He seemed to be more important to her in some way. He was tall and very handsome. He had intense eyes that were like needles piercing into your very soul. His eyes also displayed an old soul. Troubles seemed to be in his life as his brooding appearance shone through over everything else.

She didn’t remember him but as he stretched a hand out to her she wanted to take it. And not just that – she wanted to talk to him, to let him help her, to curl up against him and revel in these feelings of warmth. Of safety. How could a complete stranger feel like the best friend she’d ever had? Only minutes ago she’d been naked, vulnerable and oh so terrified.

People walked past the alley, their voices raised after a good night out on the town. Cordelia pulled herself in further behind the dumpster. She was confused and lost but she knew that nakedness wasn’t something that should be seen by strange eyes.

A small whimpering noise came from Cordelia’s mouth as she wished that the drunk passers by would just pass by. She was afraid for her safety while they were near and she caught herself wishing for the strange, handsome man from her thoughts to come and save her.

The drunken group of people moved on and Cordelia felt a degree of safety again. She knew that her whimpering had not gone unnoticed as a drunken man stayed behind. She saw him begin to edge into the alley on spaghetti legs, peeking more and more around the dumpster the further in he got.

“Don’t be afraid,” the man said as he grabbed at his crotch. “I ain’t gonna *hic* hurt yer.”

* * *

The usual humming of the ’67 Plymouth’s engine was now being replaced by a roar as Angel sped down the streets of Los Angeles, the reading on the speedometer exceeding 70mp/h. The street lights and the moonlight barely had enough time to reflect on the car’s surface when it was moving at such a speed.

Fear filled Angel’s head and clouded his thoughts as he searched frantically for Cordelia. He didn’t know where she was, what she was doing, who she was with, if anyone, or if she was safe. That feeling of uncertainty was eating away at him as the time passed and the time that Cordelia wasn’t with him lengthened.

It had been years since concern for another had been as high as his was now, the last instance being Fred. The memory of Illyria eating away at her was still fresh in his mind and the thought that he could have saved her haunted him every night.

He knew he should hate that they’d brought Cordelia back. She’d been in heaven. At peace. Happy. She deserved that. He should be fighting to send her back, but he couldn’t. They’d sent her back to him and already everything was a bit sharper and brighter and sweeter and the thought of touching her – smelling her – was enough to send him to his knees. God, he wanted to sweep her up in his arms, to hold her so tight that nothing could rip her away again, to save her. This time, he would save her.

Gratefulness for the pain was also in his mind as the relentless imaginary scenarios played out in his head. They all portrayed him stepping in like the white knight and rescuing the fair damsel from her torment. This always led to them marrying and living happily ever after. If only fairytales were real.

Images from the vision were still fresh in his mind and the emotions that he felt were running free and bombarding him. The fear and confusion that Cordelia could feel was adding to his own and disrupting his thoughts. If he couldn’t think rationally he couldn’t find her.

In frustration he sighed pointlessly as the air passed his nostrils. A smell. It was familiar. From where though? Angel sniffed again and continued to follow it down the street. He knew the scent but he couldn’t place it. The frustration built up even more as he desperately searched the corners of his mind any recollection of it.

It suddenly hit him when it got stronger, the gates to his scent memory bank bursting open and revealing its identity. It was from the demons he had fought three nights prior. The demons performing the ritual had been out recently, the strength of the scent indicating that they were in a group, and they had been carrying something large and wooden. A coffin perhaps, which coincided perfectly with her return.

A broad smile filled Angel’s face when he came to the solution, no matter how lucky he was to have come across the solution in the first place. He knew that he would come to it in the end. Nothing could escape his scent memory bank. He just wished that it didn’t have such a low yield.

The pedal nearly broke under the sheer force of his foot as he kicked his car’s speed up a notch. The wind lashed at his face as he sped through the cold night air. Squinting was making it harder to see the road but it was necessary.

* * *

“So what’s a pretty girl like you doing all alone?” The drunken man asked as he approached Cordelia.

She backed off slowly as the tears fell from her eyes again and whimpering pleas of mercy passed her lips. The ability to form words was still lost to her and only incoherent mumblings were in her intellectual grasp.

The pungent smell of beer and cigarettes covered the man’s hands as he reached out to wipe the tears from her eyes, the smell hitting her hard and driving a sharp reminder that she was back to reality.

“Don’t cry now,” the man slurred. “*Hic* I’m gonna make those fears go away.”

Cordelia watched as he struggled with his belt and trousers. Fear was still her main emotion but now she was experiencing repulsion. It hit her hard when the man revealed his short, grubby member that hung, barely, from his crotch.

An equally grubby hand fondled it and gently rubbed it up and down. It slowly started to harden and extend as he got ever closer to her. Cordelia continued to back away but her retreat was stopped when he got a sudden burst of co-ordination, jumped forward and grabbed her head.

Dropping to his knees he removed his hand from around his now fully extended member and placed both hands on her knees. With a quick push both ways her legs were open and she was fully revealed, the soft pink skin between her thighs beckoning to the man to take what he wanted. Another whimper left her mouth. She knew what was coming but she was too weak to fight it.

“This ain’t gonna hurt a bit darling,” the man said as he moved in closer and prepared to enter and violate her.

Cordelia closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable. Licking his lips the man again wrapped his hand around his grubby penis that was undulating with desire, and moved in closer. His bad co-ordination was all that had kept him out this long.

A bright light suddenly hit the man in the eyes and it was accompanied by loud roaring noise. With one hand covering his eyes he looked out of the alley and at the light which he discovered was an oncoming car. The car was getting dangerously close to the alley but he wasn’t scared as it was too narrow for a car to fit down.

A loud screeching filled the street and the alley as the car stopped just metres away from the entrance. The man paid no attention and returned his focus back to Cordelia and the vacuous space between her legs that he was desperate to fill.

“I’m gonna take all your troubles away,” the man said with an evil grin forming on his face.

Just as the tip of his penis touched Cordelia’s skin the man was yanked backwards and slammed into a wall. His brain rattled around in his skull as a barrage of punches pummelled his body and face. Suddenly, the pain was replaced by a feeling of weightlessness. But just as soon as the pain had gone it returned again as he landed on the corner of a dumpster behind a little fence.

Cordelia still whimpered in fear on the floor as she waited for the man to enter her and take what he wanted. It was a pleasant surprise when a gentle, loving hand touched hers and caressed it gently. Slowly opening her eyes the man from her thoughts came into view. Through no doing of her own a smile crossed her face.

Tears of joy left her eyes and the feeling of relief was overwhelming. She leant forward quickly and hugged Angel with everything she had. Two strong arms wrapped themselves around her and pulled her in, threatening to never let go. She knew that he would help her. Her saviour had finally come.

* * *

Silence filled Angel’s dark apartment with the only sound being the heavy breaths leaving Cordelia’s mouth. Angel watched her as she slept, curled up on his bed, the thought of lying next to her as she drifted off still fresh in his mind. She had wanted him to hold her as she lay and he didn’t refuse. It had confused him a little that she wanted him to lie with her considering she was yet to talk or even remember anything besides him.

The cold blood in his mouth that he had been drinking for nigh on half an hour slid down his throat, the smooth texture caressing it gently and soothing the dull aching pain that had sprung up. He had struggled to withhold his tears that were desperate to flow, as he was holding Cordelia in his arms. His sore throat had come as a result.

When he was holding her he could feel her pain emanating from her body. Her vulnerability was high and her need for solace and comfort was something that Angel could not resist and would not deny her. For as long as she needed him, he would be there doing everything he could for her. He wasn’t going to let anything hurt her.

The last drop of blood left the rim of the cup and fell into Angel’s open mouth. He wiped away the residue around his mouth and proceeded to place the cup in the sink which was already full of empty cups. That reminded him that he needed to wash up.

Fatigue was setting in and he longed for his soft, warm bed but he didn’t know if sleeping next to Cordelia at this stage was a good idea. Would it be a violation of her privacy? Would it be taking advantage of her vulnerability? No, it wouldn’t be. She had wanted him to lie with her earlier. What would be so different now?

With that in mind Angel pulled back the bed quilt and, without undressing, slid into bed next to Cordelia. Her body moved when the bed moved under his weight and he waited for the scream. She had nearly been raped earlier that night and that was surely going to cause her some psychological damage. Nothing though. There was no rushing from the bed and cowering in the corner like she had done in the alley. At least now she was wearing clothes.

They had been in Angel’s wardrobe all this time, not being used, just serving as a reminder to him of days gone by. Her pyjamas, even after all this time, smelt absolutely amazing as the perfume she had worn years ago was disturbed from its dormancy in the fabrics and was now floating around the room, intoxicating Angel, who couldn’t resist drawing in needless air just to smell her.

The scream didn’t come to Angel’s amazement but Cordelia was still stirring beneath the bed clothes. Her soft skin was rubbing smoothly against Angel’s as she kicked her legs slowly in a subconscious attempt to get comfortable.

For a moment, as her skin touched his, Angel was sure he could feel his heart beating as his love for this woman returned fully to him. Its true nature had been lost for years beneath the gloom of his heart but now it was returning to the way it once was and all that filled his head was her.

The stirring and the rustling of the bed clothes stopped as Cordelia once again settled down to rest. Angel felt as though he could stop holding his breath even though he was constantly holding it. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as the soft, shallow breaths touched his skin.

Eyes closed, he waited for the sweet release of sleep. He knew that it wouldn’t be rested though as he would be totally aware of what was happening around him. That wasn’t as important as his desperate need for rest though.

The heaviness in his eyes was easing and he could feel himself drifting away into the realm of dreaming where his life was good and complete. The realisation that his life was good came when he felt a soft, warm hand wrap itself around his body and pull him in close. Even in her dreams Cordelia wanted to feel his presence and Angel was glad for it. He’d forgotten how much he wanted to feel hers.

* * *

Angel turned from the pile of dishes in the sink when he heard Cordelia stirring. He hadn’t slept much. All he had done was lay next to her and savoured every moment that he got to feel her sweet touch. When he did sleep though his dreams were, for the first time in a long time, pleasant.

He watched as Cordelia slid out of bed, the dim light catching her skin and making it glisten, the tan still there even after ten years in the ground. She stood up and instinctively stretched, her breasts protruding even more than usual as they were pushed to the surface of her night shirt, and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

A yawn came and Cordelia’s mouth gaped open. Her yawns were quiet but she let out a small sigh when she finished. Angel smiled at her. It was as if she had never left. She walked towards the table, her legs wobbling as she tried to gain her balance.

“How are you feeling?” Angel asked as he moved to the table and pulled Cordelia’s chair out for her. She seemed to be having difficulty grasping the physics behind it. He wasn’t surprised. She had been dead for ten years and was really only living on instinct.

Cordelia looked at Angel and struggled with the words. He could see the determination in her face as she pushed and pushed for the words to form in her throat and leave her mouth. It wasn’t happening though and Cordelia was getting more and more worked up. In a fit of rage and frustration she slammed her hands down on the table, hurting them in the process.

Angel rushed to her side and knelt down. He cupped her hands in his own and rubbed, where she had hurt them, gently. She looked at him tearfully.

“I know it’s hard for you, not being able to speak, but I know that you will be able to soon,” Angel said as he looked into Cordelia’s big, brown eyes. “In all my life I’ve never met anyone as strong as you. Everything that you ever faced, you beat. It may not seem like it now but you can do this Cordelia. You’ll win this in the end.”

Cordelia smiled as a tear fell from her eye and down her cheek. Angel extended his thumb and wiped it away before leaning in and kissing Cordelia on the forehead. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the feel of his lips. There was a desire in her though that wished he had kissed her about six inches down from her forehead.

Angel stood up and walked back to the sink. He wanted to make her breakfast but there was nothing but a large supply of pigs’ blood in the fridge. He would have to go out when the sun set and get her something.

As he turned around after finishing his washing, Angel could see that Cordelia was tugging at her clothes in a manner he knew.

“Do you want to take a shower?” Angel asked with a smile on his face. The nod from Cordelia that followed was enough to convince him, the smile and the urgency speaking louder than words. They had to.

A scrape and a jangle sounded as Angel dragged the shower curtain back to reveal a clean, shiny shower. He had been depressed for ten years but he hadn’t forgotten the importance of a clean home, even if you are dead.

Cordelia eyed it suspiciously as she tried to remember how to work it. She didn’t know how she would, seeing as how she struggled to pull a chair out from under the table. She jumped back when Angel pushed the button that allowed for a sudden burst of water to flow forth. Angel looked at her as she grasped his arm tightly and buried nearly all of her face in it.

“It’s okay Cordy. It’s just a shower. See?”

Angel put his hand under the water and showed her how harmless it was. Inch by inch Cordelia pulled her face from his arm and released her grasp of it accordingly. A smile crossed her face as Angel made hinting noises at the shower. Carefully and slowly, she extended her arm and placed her hand under the warm water that cascaded down.

“Okay then,” Angel said as he started towards the door. “I’ll leave you to it. Just get undressed and get in. I’ll check on you in fifteen minutes.”

The door knob twisted in his hand but he didn’t go through the now open door. A small hand holding his arm was stopping him leaving and pulling him back into the room. Angel looked at Cordelia as she pleaded with him, her eyes never leaving his. With very simple hand gestures she signalled that she wanted him to shower with her.

Another set of simple hand gestures told him that she wasn’t able to wash herself. Angel could believe that after the chair debacle. He wasn’t sure about it considering her condition. He knew it wasn’t a sexual thing but he didn’t feel comfortable about it after her near rape the night prior.

Cordelia twisted her mouth up into a range of shapes and sizes until she settled on one that she felt was right. From the shape of it Angel could only guess that she was trying to say please. Her eyes just added to that conclusion as they continued to relentlessly plead with him and play with his emotions.

With a quick nod Angel agreed and Cordelia’s eyes were no longer full of pleadings but joy and delight that he said yes.

Cold skin was barely noticeable when it was covered with warm water. Cordelia was noticing this as she stood with her back to Angel as the water fell down on them and gently soothed them. Cordelia was making sure that she was touching Angel. She just wanted to feel his touch as much as possible. When she was touching him she felt safe.

Lather formed in between Angel’s hands as he rubbed them together. That was what he was doing but all he could focus on was Cordelia gently leaning against him, her wet hair falling on his chest and her hands grasping his thighs.

Velvet. As Angel’s hand carefully traced her body it was as if he was stroking velvet. The lather on his hand left traces behind on Cordelia’s skin as he moved his hand around and gently caressed her skin. At first he started with her shoulders but he slowly moved downwards, following the shape of her curves, towards her stomach. He moved his hand in a circular motion but after a while he moved his hands slowly upwards until he was cupping her breasts and gently massaging, her nipples standing pert and hard beneath his touch.

Her breathing got louder and more rapid as she savoured every moment, her eyes closed and her mouth open as she tilted her head back to rest it on Angel’s chest. He knew he had to move on but he wanted to just linger at her breasts a little longer.

The feeling of her warm skin against his was fantastic and it served to bring up longings and desires that he hadn’t felt in a long time. While he wanted to love her first he also, being a man, wanted to turn her around and kiss her tenderly while carefully inserting himself into her and making passionate love to her for as long as was possible.

Cordelia enjoyed his touch and the feel of his hands slowly moving over body. Her enjoyment sparked something within her. It made her want something from him. She felt empty and she had a deep longing to be filled but by what she didn’t know. Whatever it was it was making her uncomfortable not having it.

As the soap rinsed off their wet bodies, Cordelia turned to Angel with a smile and looked into his eyes. They were deep, lonely eyes that longed for a loving heart to take away the pain. How she wished it could be her. With that thought she extended her arms up to Angel’s head and placed her hands on the back of it as she gently pulled his face down to her level and his lips close to hers.

Angel was very tempted to just give in to the urge and Cordelia’s desire and give her what she so clearly wanted. Their lips were almost touching, Cordelia’s breath brushing across his face and into his mouth as if she was breathing new life into him.

Their mouths slightly ajar and ready to receive the other, they were almost together in a beautiful, passionate kiss. No. He couldn’t. In the split second before their lips met Angel pulled away and removed Cordelia’s hands from behind his head.

Cupping her face in his hands Angel explained to her, “I can’t Cordelia. Not when you’re like this. Not when you’re vulnerable. It wouldn’t be right of me to do so no matter how much we want it.”

Cordelia’s eyes saddened and the look of heartbreak filled her face. He wanted more than anything to give her that kiss but he loved her too much to do it also.

“I’m sorry,” Angel whispered as he pulled Cordelia into an embrace underneath his strong arms.

* * *

Never in his tenure at the basement apartment had Angel been so petrified of going down the stairs and inside. Usually it was the highlight of his day. How could he go down though knowing that he had failed Cordelia for the second time in a day?

He had decided that it would be best if he went in search of those responsible for Cordelia’s resurrection. Despite his happiness that she was back, he cared more for her happiness and right now, Cordelia’s happiness was in short supply.

There had been no luck in his hunt and nothing turned up. Returning to the alley where he found her presented nothing towards a clue. He had been expecting whoever was responsible to be nearby as she couldn’t have gone far just minutes after waking up. Obviously whoever had done it had quickly relocated.

Now he had to face her again and give her the disappointing news. Three times in one day. Her face when he left, the tears she had shed when he told her he was leaving for a while, were still in his mind and giving him these reservations about going back to her. On top of that he couldn’t even give her the kiss she desired in the shower. He shouldn’t have showered with her in the first place and he was regretting doing so. There was a consolation though and it rattled in grocery bag as he slowly descended the small flight of stairs.

Cordelia jumped as the door burst open but Angel’s combination of raised hands and reassuring words brought her heart rate down. She waited expectantly at the table as she could see he wanted to say something. Even after the time they had spent apart she still knew Angel like the back of her hand.

With a small, urging nod from Cordelia Angel knew that she wanted to hear what he had to say. “Um… Cordelia… um ha… Now I’m losing the ability to speak. Um… I couldn’t find the ones who did this to you. I’m sorry.”

Cordelia stared blankly at Angel who had a very apologetic look on his face. She thought about it and ventured all the avenues of what it meant until she came to a conclusion. “Hmm.”

She shrugged her shoulders and returned her attention to the book she had fished out of Angel’s bedside table. Reading it and understanding it were two different things and she was barely able to do the first.

Angel was a little confused at her response but he felt it better that he didn’t push his luck. With that in mind he lifted a white plastic bag and placed it on the table in front of Cordelia. Again she lifted her eyes and stared at what was before her. More blank looks.

“I thought I’d get you some things seeing as you’re going to be staying here now,” Angel said as he rummaged through the bag. “First off I got you some… uh… crocodile… chocolate things.”

Cordelia picked up the chocodiles and inspected the outer packaging. When the realisation of what they were came back to her she tore in to the packet without hesitation and began to eat. It was her first solid meal since returning and Angel was a little wary of its nutritional implications but it made her happy.

“I also got you some Evian water. I know how much you hate tap.”

Cordelia paid no attention to the water but focused instead on the chocolate and cream melting in her mouth and gently sliding down her throat.

“And finally I got you…” Angel waited. He looked at Cordelia with a big smile on his face as he attempted to raise her curiosity and excitement. Her focus changed completely to him so it had apparently worked. “The newest edition of… Marie Claire!!”

The chocodiles dropped to the floor as she reached out frantically for the magazine, a huge toothy smile covering her face as she flipped through the pages. Couldn’t remember words, people or places but she could remember Marie Claire and fashion.

At least now he knew that it was Cordelia and not a higher power.

“Okay then,” Angel said as he started to move away from Cordelia and over to his bed. “I’ll leave you and Marie Claire alone for the night. I’m sure you have a lot of catching up to do.”

Angel felt a tug on his arm as he walked away and he looked back to see Cordelia looking up at him with her beautiful eyes and smile lighting the room. Her mouth began to contort as she tried to speak and Angel knelt at her side. He rubbed her hand to let her know that her inability to speak was okay, and in some cases a joy, and that it would come back.

He stood up again and turned around. “Angel?”

Was it real? Was he just dreaming about something that he wanted? He had to know and he turned to face Cordelia. “Thank-you… Angel.”

It was real. “You said my name? You said my name! You remember my name? You remember my name!”

Broad smiles crossed both of their faces and in that moment of pure joy Angel leant in a kissed Cordelia, giving her the single thing that she wanted most. She returned it instantly and revelled in that moment of complete joy. She carefully explored his mouth with her tongue and took in every detail. Angel did the same, the nobility he had shown before going straight in the trash.

Stopping their kiss Angel looked deeply into Cordelia’s eyes. “I can’t believe you remembered my name, remembered who I was.”

Cordelia opened her mouth again and contorted it slightly as she thought of the words. “How could I… forget… my Angel.”


Part 6

The slow rise and fall of Cordelia’s breasts were all Angel could see under the thick layer of bedclothes that covered her slender body as she slept. Watching her sleep was fast becoming a favourite pastime of his. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed it, memories of watching her post vision naps quickly flooding in. She was yet to catch him doing it but he constantly had the apprehension that she would wake up and catch him in the act, giving him one of her “soul losing talks.”

A month had come and gone since the night that he found her naked, scared and vulnerable behind a dumpster. It didn’t seem like a month but more like days. That was because he loved having her back and time flies when you’re having fun, even for vampires that knew no such thing as flying time while they lived out their immortality.

Vulnerability was no longer an issue now. She had adjusted well to being back and every day she got visibly better. Her inability to talk had gone, but so had the clinginess which Angel was less happy about than he showed. While outwardly he was happy that she could talk, part of him begged for the silent days where she spoke with hand gestures and eye signals.

Leaving the apartment was an issue though as she was yet to do it. Day and night she stayed in the apartment and watched the T.V, which Angel had been forced to buy, and read the magazines that he bought her. Then, when he returned from hunting, she would complain about the apartment’s décor and the lack thereof. He was hoping that the old Cordelia would return, the one who fought her hardest to make the world a better place no matter what the cost.

Angel stood and moved to the sink with the empty cup in hand. A great swell of relief filled him that he had finished his blood and wouldn’t have to taste it again until the next night. Cordelia stirred when she heard the clang of metal as the cup hit the sink bowl. She wiped her eyes and, unbeknownst to him, watched Angel lovingly as he cleaned up.

How she wished that his chiselled body could be on hers at that very moment. He wouldn’t of course. The kiss they had shared the night she said his name was still fresh in her mind and it haunted her dreams as she wished that he would give her just one more so she could explore every detail of his mouth and savour every moment of his touch.

Nobility was the problem though. Angel was too damn noble and he wouldn’t give her that moment of pure sensual release that she craved. He wouldn’t because of her situation and because of his curse. The curse. She had never hated that damn curse so much.

Angel turned and saw her eyeing him. Her beautiful hazel eyes knew everything about him and nothing he tried could hide what he felt from her. He returned to his seat by the bed, which he had gladly given up for her in exchange for the worn out couch, and just stared into her loving eyes that drew him in and took away his fears and doubts.

“How are you feeling?” Angel asked as he held Cordelia’s hand, which was tightly squeezing his.

“I’m okay,” she replied with a smile. How did she do it? It never ceased to amaze Angel that she, despite what she was going through whether it was visions or being resurrected, never stopped smiling. “I’m a little hungry though.”

“Well how about I make you some eggs and some toast?” A smile crossed Angel’s face. He knew how much she loved eggs and toast.

“Ooh, goody!” Ripping the quilt off herself, Cordelia ran to the table and sat in anticipation. “I’m surprised that after all these years you still know how to cook.”

“Me too,” Angel replied as he whisked the eggs at vampire speed. “I haven’t done much cooking seeing as I’m not… um…”

“A foody.” Cordelia smiled sweetly when Angel turned to her. He tried to keep a straight face to express his displeasure but he couldn’t resist her beautiful smile.

“It was hard at first, not being able to cook for you and the others. That was one of the things I missed.”

“Yeah right!” Cordelia scoffed. “The world’s champion, with all of his duties and responsibilities, missed cooking eggs.”

“I didn’t miss cooking eggs,” Angel replied as he turned back to the bowl full of yolks. “I missed spending time with my friends… and you.”

Cordelia looked down and wished she could take back her little outburst. Never had she fully contemplated the loneliness that Angel had to face every day. Since hers, Wesley’s and Fred’s death he had been truly alone without a friend to turn to. There was always Gunn but he wanted to fight, which meant Angel having to see Spike and Illyria everyday. She understood why he wouldn’t want that.

“I suppose you saw them in heaven,” Angel said as he placed the pan on the stove. The toast was next but all he had was a grill in his oven. It wasn’t as quick or as easy as the toaster they used to have at the Hyperion. “How are they all?”

“I wouldn’t know.” Cordelia watched as Angel attempted to put pieces of bread in the grill, jumping back every time it sparked.

“You mean, they weren’t with you?”

“No, all I can remember is being alone for hundreds of years. Nothing had form but there was peace. Peace in the knowledge that my friend’s would be okay and that they would beat whatever was coming.” She stood up and took the two pieces of bread from Angel. With a quick movement of her arm the bread was in. Replacing herself at the table she continued. “Anyway, behold my surprise when I return and find out that you gave up your Shanshu and the fight, Wes was brutally murdered by a wizard known as Cyvus Vail and Fred was destroyed from the inside by an ancient demon known as Illyria. Oh, and Gunn was badly wounded by a group of vampires and lying in a pool of his own blood after you defeated the army of the Senior Partners.”

Angel contemplated what she had said as he prepared himself to flip the bread over. What she described was very similar to what Buffy had described. Obviously she had been right when she visited on behalf of the Powers; all memories of heaven are wiped upon resurrection to prevent the downward spiral into grief, remorse and eventually insanity.

A shiver of excitement ran from head to toe as Cordelia eyed the plate of eggs before her. Without a seconds hesitation her fork was digging at every morsel and quickly shovelling it into her mouth.

Angel watched as Cordelia gorged herself and with a hushed voice remarked sarcastically, “So beautiful.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing. Just keep eating your eggs.” Cordelia didn’t need to be told twice and continued to eat rapidly. “I’ll be going out again tonight Cordy. I want to find whoever did this to you before they do it again.”

A great swell of pain filled her heart. She didn’t want him to go out. She wanted him to stay with her.

Angel felt the same. He wished he could take her for himself because every moment that he had to be near her, look at her, smell her was another moment that made him want to die. He couldn’t tell her though. It was better all round if they kept it strictly platonic. A quick glance at her in her small nightdress that barely concealed her breasts made him want to rethink that decision however.

* * *

Danandril paced up and down in front of his throne, his arms behind his back, his hands tightly clasped together. The darkness in the room covered every inch of his body except his eyes which shone with the fires of a thousand suns.

News on Angel had arrived from one of his scouts and it was neither good nor pleasing. The scout understood that in the split second between his neck snapping and the release of death. His news, Angel wasn’t distracted, like he first intended, and was still hunting them like animals.

This wouldn’t do. How were his plans for the apocalypse going to progress if he was being constantly hounded by Angel? Plus, there was news that the watcher’s council had started taking notice after various slayers discovered apocalyptic activities taking place around the world. Angel was bad enough without the Watchers’ Council and Academy of Slayers sniffing around.

Thoughts rushed through his head as he tried to form a coherent plan. So far, nothing. His head, normally swarming with schemes, was now empty. Plans weren’t coming and were being replaced by a fear of failure. Angel was the only one who could stop him so how could he stop Angel from stopping him? Distraction had yet to work but…

With an evil smile crossing his face Danandril walked away from his throne and towards the large door, lifting the hem of his robe off the ground that was thick with dust. He fingered the embroidery that was hand woven into the garment and recited the words they spelled out in his head, “Llirdryn with us.”

Every demon in the room beyond turned its attention to the door that had swung open quickly to reveal the large framed outline of their leader. Even his minions had yet to see his face and it deeply disturbed them that they knew not what he looked like. Without facial expressions they didn’t know his mood and that kept them constantly on edge.

“Destruction.” The single word said so little yet it said so much. “We have tried distraction but it has failed and served only to drive Angel to hunt harder for us. Destruction however. That is the key. Angel is the only one on the face of the Earth who can stop us. How can he hope to stop us when he is dead? Tonight my brothers, the vampire dies.”

Confused glances and bewildered stares filled the faces of every demon in the place. Eleven demons had attempted to perform the ritual but Angel had been too strong for them. Now there were five, how would it be different?

Quinlan raised his hand and ventured the question, “How can we defeat Angel now if we could not before?”

Laughter filled the empty room and caused more confused glances and bewildered stares. Danandril returned his head to its natural position and eyed everyone before delivering his answer. “You do not face Angel. You think that any of you could stand face to face with him and come out with your head still attached to your body?”

“How do you plan to defeat him then Master?” Jaled asked, Danandril’s ever vague speaking doing nothing but confusing and frustrating every demon there.

“An old enemy of Angel’s still exists,” Danandril began. “A powerful enemy that would be a powerful ally to our cause.”

“Who my lord,” Ashka asked eagerly.

“Wolfram and Hart,” Danandril replied.

“The inter-dimensional law firm?”

“Yes, just like the one in Lirtast,” he explained. “They are old enemies with Angel and I’m sure that any opportunity to destroy him would not be passed up, especially after his destruction of their offices ten years ago and the murder of their most powerful benefactors. I have heard that they have new offices now. I will go there tonight and make a deal with them.”

“But your identity will be revealed my lord,” Siosk shouted urgently.

“I have been here a month now Siosk and no one has taken notice of my presence. No one knows me here. That will all change though soon.”

They all watched him as he left their presence and returned to his throne room. They trusted his greater wisdom but making deals with Wolfram and Hart was not something that should be undertaken lightly, or something that would please Llirdryn.

* * *

Angel emerged from the bathroom with a towel around his waist and a cloud of steam behind his back. His hair was slicked back and the water was dripping rapidly from his firm pectorals. Cordelia watched his every movement and bit the end of her index finger while she admired his perfect form.

He scurried towards the kitchen without paying any attention to Cordelia and grabbed the black trousers he was going to wear while he hunted the culprits behind her return.

“You’re going out again?” Cordelia asked in a whiney tone. “Can’t you just stay in tonight? We could snuggle up on the couch and watch reruns of Days of Our Lives.”

“There is a group of demons out there who brought you back to life causing you great deals of stress and pain in the process, and could very easily do it again to someone else, and you want to snuggle?” Angel looked at her with a look of ‘do you really think that’s gonna happen.’

“I just want to spend some time with you but I guess demons and other squidgy things come first!” she huffed. “It was a good one as well. Jenny is coming out of a coma and she finds out that Greg has only married her for her inheritance money which plans to spend on a trip to Tahiti with his secret lover.”

“But I thought Greg was–” Cordelia eyed him suspiciously as he began to talk about Day of Our Lives. A small smile formed in the corners of her mouth. “Look, I need to go out and find these demons before they hurt anyone else.”

“No, you just want women to fall at your feet and worship you like ‘Oh my big, fat hero’,” Cordelia said mockingly.

“You think I’m fat?” Angel was visibly hurt by her statement and his added touch of pressing and sucking in his stomach made him look even more so.

“No, you look good, but I wish you would stay here with me.”

“I’ll spend time with you when I get back,” he assured her.

“And we can snuggle?” Cordelia asked, a big smile that revealed a set of perfect teeth crossing her face and lighting up the room.

“Should friends be… snuggling?”

“We’re not friends Angel,” she said, the smile fading from her face to be replaced with frustration. “We feel more than that and you know it.”

“Maybe we do but if we let it be more you could get hurt and I can’t allow that.”

“But—”

“I’m going to get dressed,” Angel said as he shut the bathroom door behind him and ended the conversation. He wished he didn’t have to but he wasn’t going to be dragged into another of those ‘we should be together’ talks. There was too much to be done for all of that. He didn’t know how he was going to get out of the front door though without her attacking him again.

* * *

An hour had passed and Angel had yet to find anything. He partly attributed that to the fact that he was yet to take his mind off Cordelia. Leaving her, to hunt demons, was getting harder the closer he got to her and the more his feelings for her resurfaced.

Every night for the past two weeks he had searched every abandoned building he could find. At first he hadn’t even had that to go on but Cordelia’s slow movement back to normalcy helped him as she gradually revealed more details of where she had woken up.

Nothing though. Every abandoned building was just that: abandoned.

He was seriously considering giving up for the night and returning home. Then, a scent caught his attention as he took a deep breath in a last ditch effort to find any clue. The scent was familiar and it wasn’t human. Perhaps this was it. Perhaps he had finally caught the scent and tonight was the night he exacted revenge for the pain Cordelia had had to suffer.

With his long coat flapping behind him, he set off after the scent, the wind lashing at his face and causing his shirt and trousers to cling to his skin and reveal every detail of his muscular shape.

Another half hour and another abandoned building. The scent was strong now and whatever he was hunting was close by, inside the building was the best bet. He trusted his nose and its scent following capabilities. It had never failed him and even after 260 years it was still going strong, getting better in fact as the years went by.

The rotted wooden door fell to pieces upon contact as Angel walked in. A musty smell filled the building and by the looks of ground floor the building hadn’t been used in over half a century. It was dark and everywhere he looked he saw trash, broken furniture and other household items. It was obviously an old apartment block.

With every step Angel took more dust flew up into the air. He tried to fight back a cough and a sneeze but the sheer amount of dust cascading down onto his face was too much.

It was a muffled sneeze as Angel buried his face in his hands so as not to make noise and give away his position, if their was anyone to give it away to. Heavy footsteps above provided the confirmation he needed and as quickly and quietly as he could he traversed the stairs, which had a very questionable integrity.

The top floor was no better. If it hadn’t been for the flight of stairs he wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the top and the ground floor. Dust covered every inch of the floor and made it seem like it had been snowing indoors. There was a benefit to that though as every movement that had taken place in the past weeks was nicely preserved in the multi layer carpet of dust.

From what he could tell, three people had come through and it was on that very night. Two sets of footprints were large, he assumed male, while the other was rather small. The frequency of the footsteps showed him that the two men had been running while ‘the woman’ had been casually strolling along behind.

Watching his step and trying to keep his noise to a minimum Angel followed the footprints. One of the males had stopped and engaged in a struggle with the female. From the large pile of dust he could see that the male involved was a vampire.

Female footprints, two male vampires fleeing her. That could only mean that a slayer was here and she was hunting vampires. One was dead and the other was…

The wall behind Angel smashed open and a cloud of dust filled the dark hallway. As quickly as he could he ran for cover, not wanting to get into a needless fight with a slayer. He watched from the shadows as the vampire cowered against the wall and begged for mercy.

All Angel could see was the hole in the wall and nothing more. The slayer was yet to appear.

“Please,” the vampire begged as he looked at the figure approaching him through the wall. “Have mercy. I swear, I won’t kill again. Please.”

A bone chilling scream passed the vampire’s lips as a stake flew through the hole in the wall and pierced his heart. He lifted his hands and gestured stop but it was no use. With his mouth open his body disintegrated and left nothing but a pile of dust on the floor. There was already enough of that.

Moments passed but nothing moved. The vampire was gone but there was still no sign of a slayer. If there was a back exit Angel felt stupid for having waited around. Just in case, he edged his way out of the shadows and started back towards the stairs, venturing a glance into the room that was now exposed by the wall cavity.

A sudden pain in his face and the feeling of weightlessness came before Angel smashed into the wall and fell face first into the pile of vampire dust. Now he knew, the slayer hadn’t gone but had been waiting for him to show himself.

He rolled over onto his back and looked through the wall to see the face of the slayer. Through the shadows he saw the shape of a woman he knew. When her face, pale as snow with hints of blue, slowly appeared through the cloud of dust his mind was jogged to his annoyance. That was a face he didn’t want to see again.

Illyria tilted her head and smiled, her blue, vacant eyes examining every inch of the man lying on the floor before her.

“Hello Angel.”

* * *

The office was finely furnished, mahogany desks and chairs placed decoratively around the room that fit in nicely with the mahogany bookcase that was filled with books from all ages. A computer sat on the desktop along with other desktop items. Windows allowed for a spectacular view of the whole city and laid bare its dirty little secrets.

“Yeah well tell Henderson that if he doesn’t sort out the Shenlon clan I’ll boil him alive!” A tall man entered the room, his dapper suit speaking louder than words about his position with Wolfram and Hart, the large amount of paperwork indicating a high ranking position. He took his seat and immediately set about working on all of it.

His work was interrupted however by a sudden flashing of light that threatened to blind anyone who looked directly at it. With his arm over his face he looked at the purple-grey jelly-like substance hanging in mid-air and waited for the figure inside it to emerge.

Without a mark to show for walking through the jelly, a strange demon entered and stood in the centre of the room. He wore elegant robes that were embroidered. His eyes were like two raging suns and his gaze threatened to burn the soul out of you. Skin trouble was apparent though and the wide range of scars on its grey surface told stories of his past.

“May I help you sir?”

“Yes you may,” Danandril replied.

“Well, first things first. My name is Justin Balderas, head of Wolfram and Hart’s Special Projects Division.” Justin’s face was filled with pride as he announced his coveted position.

“My name is—”

Cutting him off Justin said, “Danandril. We have files on you down in records. You were quite a menace in your day, weren’t you? A Granok demon that fought alongside Sahjhan, slaughtering thousands of innocents, before we here at Wolfram and Hart made you all immaterial. Of course, you escaped that little spell didn’t you, jumping dimensions before we could cast it, a dimension called Lirtast I believe.”

“You were the ones who made my brothers immaterial!?” Danandril shouted angrily. “You were the ones who cursed them to walk eternally without the joy of killing, pain and suffering!?”

“Yes, we did but how may I help you?”

“If this was not vital you would already be dead human,” Danandril threatened. “I have a problem with an old enemy of this firm and I would like some assistance in destroying him.”

“Who are we talking about?” Justin asked. “We’re an inter-dimensional law firm that represents the worst evil in the universe. We have a lot of enemies.”

“Not like this one,” Danandril replied, his face a picture of seriousness that matched his deep voice. “I need some assistance in killing Angel but it won’t be—”

“Done,” Justin said cutting Danandril off again. “He’ll be dead within two hours.”

“Two hours? Back in my day a foe worthy enough to draw the attention of the Senior Partners did not go down in two hours. Now it’s all about the quick kill, not getting your hands dirty, instead of brutal battles of wits and skill, to the death. No one fights like that any more, fights where the Earth shook beneath your feet. Now, one phone call and a worthy adversary is little more than dust in the wind. You people are so jaded.”

* * *

“Illyria,” Angel said as he looked up at her. “Never thought I’d see you again.” He lifted himself off the ground and wiped himself down.

“You never thought that you would see me, one of the people you abandoned, again.” Illyria stepped through the hole in the wall. “We thought the same. We trusted you and you left us as the dragon sounded its last cry as your sword pierced in its gut did its work. You took that sword as you left. You didn’t forget your sword but you forgot us.”

“Yeah well, you haven’t got faces that I like looking at,” Angel replied. “You wear the face of one of my best friends and Spike looks like Spike which is bad enough to put a chaos demon off. Speaking of, where is Spike? Why aren’t you on your leash?”

“You compare me to an animal!?” Illyria swung her fist and sent Angel flying with a powerful punch. She watched Angel lying on the floor and smugly asked, “Could an animal do that? Or this?”

Illyria ran towards Angel, her feet pounding on the weak wooden floor, dust flying up and forming a nearly opaque cloud. Angel turned around but only to be met by a barrage of punches. Punch after punch was met by block after block. Nothing Illyria could throw could hit him. She threw one more but she missed and was caught in Angel’s counterattack.

Two sharp jabs landed in her face and a powerful kick to the stomach sent her flying backwards to their original position. She lay on the floor and watched as Angel approached slowly.

“Nice try Illyria,” Angel said. “You might want a fight tonight, with me, but as long as you look like you do, we won’t be doing this. So you can just find another way to vent your feelings.”

“I have no other way.” Illyria swung her leg and caught Angel’s, sending him crashing to the floor. As she got to her feet she honed in on Angel and picked him up. With a crash another hole appeared in the wall as he was sent through it. He groaned as he landed and looked up at the ceiling above him. A thick cloud of dust cascaded down around him causing him to cough as he took needless breaths.

A proud look filled Illyria’s face as she circled him. He was lying helpless at her feet and her thirst for revenge was close to being quenched. A severe look of disdain was in her eyes as she looked at the sorry excuse for a man before her.

“You left us Angel. You abandoned those who fought with you, risked their lives to help you and yet you feel no remorse. You sicken me. I felt a great swell of pity as I watched Gunn bleed but all he could focus on was you. He was your friend and you abandoned him!”

“I had to,” Angel said, the gravity of Illyria’s words hitting him for the first time. He didn’t care about her or Spike, but Gunn. That was a different matter. Gunn was his friend and he left him for dead.

“You had to?” Illyria questioned. “You had to? What would be so bad that it would cause you to leave your friend, your last friend, to die?”

“I had no hope,” Angel replied, tears filling his eyes. “I had lost everything that ever mattered. I just couldn’t… I couldn’t face that.”

“Coward!”

The words hit hard but they weren’t true. “Coward? I’m not a coward. I was just… lost.”

“Ha,” Illyria scoffed. “Spike has told me why you left. You went from king of the world to nothing in a day. You lost your fancy toys, your nice suits, your nice cars and you lost your precious destiny to him, a true champion. You are a coward who could not face fighting evil when there would be no reward at the end. You sicken me.”

The mention of Spike’s name and the revelation of his words caused anger to bubble up inside Angel. “Cowardice Illyria?” With a quick kick into the ground Angel jumped up and somersaulted backwards in the air, catching Illyria in the face and sending her crashing backwards. “It’s a little bit more complicated than that.”

Illyria rose to her feet and wiped away a small patch of blood that had trickled from her mouth. Angel watched her like a hawk and morphed his face to reveal his vampiric features. “Cowardice? We’ll see. Let’s finish this.”

With a powerful lunge Angel was hurtling through the air towards Illyria who raised her fists and prepared herself. They connected and fell to the floor but Illyria forced him off with her powerful legs as they landed. Angel flew forward but regained his balance with another somersault.

Just as Illyria got to her feet she was met by an onslaught of punches and kicks from Angel who was unrelenting in his attacks. She was helpless before him as he brutally beat her down, causing blood to flow from every possible orifice. They got closer to the window but still he wouldn’t stop, shouts of exertion were now aiding him and making his punches even harder.

He finally stopped just inches away from the window and looked into Illyria’s far off eyes that were neither here nor there. Blood covered her normally pale face and it gurgled up in her throat as she tried to speak. Stepping back, the full weight of his actions hit him hard. He severely disliked Illyria but he never wanted to do this to her. He didn’t want to do this to anyone.

Illyria collapsed to the floor and lay at Angel’s feet. He so wanted to leave her there after what she had said but he couldn’t. No matter his feelings he couldn’t leave a person lying on the floor, helpless and bleeding. He knelt at her side and attempted to lift her off the ground.

Before he could react though, Illyria lunged and positioned herself on top of him, the blood trickling from her face dripping onto his. A stake lay next to him. It was one she had used earlier. She picked it up and looked into Angel’s eyes as he struggled to get free.

“Now you will feel what Gunn felt as you left us. You will feel nothing but emptiness and darkness as the hell that spawned you takes you back!” Illyria dangled the stake over him and smiled evilly. Despite her strides towards humanity with Wesley, she was still a demon at heart. “Goodbye Angel.”

Without remorse Illyria quickly and forcefully brought the stake down.


Part 7

A whistle sounded as the sharp edge of the stake cut through the air and plunged towards Angel’s heart. The smile on Illyria’s face showed just how happy Angel’s death would make her. She had good reason to want him dead after the way he left them in the alley ten years prior.

Fear filled Angel’s eyes as he watched the stake plummet down to his chest like a comet. He wasn’t afraid of dying-in fact, he longed for it-but he was deathly afraid of leaving Cordelia behind; alone. That was all he cared about. Her safety came first to him and if death took him away from her then he had no taste for it.

His perception of time had slowed and everything crawled by as if Angel’s fear of losing Cordelia was meant to be prolonged to punish him even further. Everything he had ever done was fresh in his mind as he awaited the sharp, wooden release. Connor, Cordelia, Angel Investigations, Buffy, all of it. In that moment, he saw it all and he realised just how pointless it had all been. None of it had made a difference towards his fate or the fate of the world, which after this, would be hanging on a very one sided balance.

This couldn’t happen and he knew it. This wasn’t his time and it would be awhile before it came. His destiny was still there to be fulfilled and he still had a long road to travel until he reached his final destination.

Knowing his time wasn’t up yet, Angel’s vampire reflexes kicked in and without even thinking he crossed his arms over his heart and blocked the stake. The sting of the wood brought him back to reality and the time that had seemed so slow was now flying by as he struggled to think.

With a sharp kick Illyria was off and Angel was free to stand up again. That was good enough for the time being. He gave the stake in his arm a quick pull and groaned as the muscles snapped back into place over the bruised bones leaving a bleeding trail on his broken skin. Another bandaging session for Cordelia, if she remembered how to do it.

Illyria watched as the stake fell to the floor and rattled around. “You are quick Angel,” Illyria remarked. “I should have known that after all of my sparring with Spike. He is better than you though. He told me so himself. How is it you can react just as quickly as him?”

“You’ll find that Spike lies a lot,” Angel enlightened the demon with a ragged breath .

“But he told me of the fight he defeated you in,” Illyria said thoughtfully. “The one with the cup where you got the stake in the shoulder.”

The memories of that fight flooded in. The feel of the stake in his shoulder, Spike’s fists viciously pummelling him and the feeling of complete worthlessness all fresh in his mind as if they had happened that very day. He knew why he lost though.

“That’s another thing; Spike gets his kicks off one fight and assumes one victory makes him better than all. I bet he never told you of the four I won.” Angel was now smiling while circling around Illyria.

Illyria thought back on all the stories Spike had told her about all his great victories. Slayers, demons, Angel, but she couldn’t find any in her memory where he actually lost to Angel. “No he didn’t.”

“My point exactly,” Angel said. “Now, can we end this pointless discussion and get back to this? I have company at home and I’m kinda late as it is.”

“I have never seen a vampire so eager for death before,” Illyria said confidently as she contemplated the look on Angel’s face whenas he will turn to dust. “Why do you seek death?”

“I don’t, but push me further and you’ll beg for it, if you last another ten minutes that is,” Angel threatened.

Anger filled her face and her heart at Angel’s words. He doubted her power and that was not something she tolerated easily. “I will last another thirty!”

Angel smiled and remarked with certainty, “Yeah, and if you’re lucky you’ll be unconscious for the last twenty.”

Illyria could take no more of his insolence and as quickly as she could she set off into a sprint that was directed straight at Angel, a shout of anger and determination leaving her mouth and echoing off the bare walls that were lucky to be still standing.

A smile formed on Angel’s face. Pushing her buttons filled him with a renewed confidence. He had undermined her power base and, in her anger, taken away her focus. Angelus was gone but the ability to manipulate and get underneath the skin of others was not lost to him. Finally, a break.

Nothing but air was between her fingers when she lunged forward as Angel dodged her effortlessly and countered with a spinning back kick to her head, sending her crashing into the wall. She turned to face Angel, rage filling her eyes, and attacked once more but he was again too quick and with a readjustment of his position, punch after punch were sent volleying into Illyria’s face.

The floorboards creaked and threatened to give way as Illyria fell to the floor, the blood that had slowed flowing thick and fast once more. With a blurry vision, she looked at Angel who loomed over her, pure contempt for him filling every fibre of her battered body.

“This ends now,” Angel ordered. “We’ve fought and that’s the end of it. Our feelings are out in the open and that’s as far as it goes. I don’t want to see you again but if I do, I’ll kill you. Understand?”

All she could do was nod. Angel stepped over her and limped to the door, the energy driving him in the fight now fully sapped after the barrage of punches he delivered to her face. He walked down the stairs, towards the cold and fresh night air that beckoned to him, as carefully as he could, his imbalance combined with the weak integrity of the stairs posing a serious threat to his already dwindling physical health.

* * *

Danandril stood at the doors to his throne room and scanned the faces of every Trepkos demon before him. They were all brutal, unrelenting killers that could only be employed if the money was right. Their eyes were black and empty, everything they needed to see being on the battle field. Their skin was a green-yellow colour with tints of black all over. A large, solid plate of pure bone covered the top of their head and was said to be a brutal weapon when used as a ram.

Their muscular figure made Danandril very confident that killing Angel would not be a problem, their sheer numbers also adding to that belief.

“You are all mighty warriors,” he began. “You are the ones who will destroy the vampire with a soul, Angel. He is not an easy opponent and some of you will die fighting him. Preparation is the key to fighting Angel and if you are not prepared, you will not be returning.”

He watched them all, their faces becoming slightly outraged and more determined. That was what he wanted. “I will give you two days to prepare yourselves here. You are free to scout Angel’s home and learn of him but you are forbidden to engage him in combat. Anyone who does will answer to me.”

After a quick nod of his head Danandril returned to his throne room and left the Trepkos demons to train under the supervision of Siosk. He was followed by Quinlan who had unofficially made himself Danandril’s right hand commander.

Waiting until his master was seated Quinlan bowed and began, “Is it wise to challenge the vampire so soon my Lord?”

Danandril stared at his minion with a smile. It never ceased to amaze him how much these creatures mistrusted him and his wisdom. “Yes I am sure Quinlan. Angel may be a warrior of the highest calibre and a champion but he is no match for a legion of Trepkos demons.”

“I just think that challenging him so soon is a mistake my Lord,” Quinlan explained. “The vampire is bad enough but now we have Slayers after us and the Watchers’ Council. I think now is the time to remain inconspicuous.”

“Inconspicuous?” Danandril rose from his chair and stepped close to Quinlan, his long brown hair nearly blocking the smaller demon’s view. “You think I should remain inconspicuous when Llirdryn awaits? I have a duty Quinlan, to my Master, and I will not allow a vampire with a soul to stop that! The longer I wait the stronger he gets and the further I get away from bringing our plans to fruition!”

Quinlan had no answer but instead watched as Danandril replaced himself on his throne, brushing his hair behind his ears as he did so.

“Now, Quinlan, I wish for you to oversee the Trepkos’ preparation. Make sure they are informed of Angel’s capabilities and make sure that none of them attempt a solo effort.”

“And what will you do my Lord?” Quinlan asked, afraid now that he had clearly angered Danandril.

“I am going to return to Lirtast for a day and find the scriptures I need. Until I return Quinlan, you are in charge.”

With a bow Quinlan turned and left Danandril’s presence. A smile crossed Danandril’s face as he contemplated the success of his plan and the death of Angel.

* * *

Cordelia’s eyes widened as she watched the drama unfold on the T.V. Her mouth gaped open and the piece of chocodile inside threatened to fall from it. Swinging open and banging into the wall, the door caught her attention straight away and caused her to jump suddenly. Her heart raced beneath her breasts and she placed her hand over it to try and settle its rhythm.

Angel stood in the doorway, beaten and bloody, and stared into space, the pain overcoming him and forcing him to weakly call, “Cordelia?” Unable to stop it, he collapsed through the door.

Without question or hesitation Cordelia rushed to his side. With great care she propped his head up on her lap and gently stroked his forehead while she inspected his wounds.

“Who did this to you, Angel?” she asked as she stared at the nasty gash in his right forearm which she had revealed by pulling back his blood-stained sleeve.

“Illyria.” His eyes were far off and they didn’t seem to be focusing on anything but the pain. “It was Illyria. I found her killing vampires and she attacked me. We fought…”

“Fought? It looks more like a demolition.”

“Really? Well you should see her.” A slight smile formed in the corners of his mouth.

“Can you stand?” Cordelia asked, the look of concern not going unnoticed. “If you can get to the couch I can patch you up.”

Groaning through the pain, Angel stood up and with his arm around Cordelia, limped to the couch. Small drops of blood fell from his head and landed on the worn fabric of the old, grey cushions. With his eyes closed he just relaxed and let Cordelia get on with it.

With a quick yank, buttons flew off in all directions giving Cordelia a chance to joke, “Finally I get your shirt off.” Usually he would counter that with a lecture about their situation but right now, the smarting aches were his main concern. All he had to reply with was a sly look and a cheeky grin, well, a grin that remained in the limits of his pain threshold.

“How did you get home?” she asked as she searched the kitchen for supplies, finding only a few bandages and sticky tape. That was all he needed being a vampire. There weren’t many wounds either, but the ones he did have were nasty and enough to contribute to his overall weakness.

“The car was nearby. I just had to endure an excruciating walk to get there.”

Cordelia placed her leg between his and leant on it as she carefully applied the bandages. Any other time and Angel would have been eyeing her long legs. She enjoyed letting him drool over her figure, a pure vision of hotliness. His stare boring into hers’ made her feel delighted like no other ogling stare had done before.

There was a nasty gash on his firm chest and even though she was doing a job she enjoyed feeling his defined muscles beneath her touch. It was the same with his upper arm and not able to resist she gave it a quick squeeze not moving her hand an inch.

Minutes felt like seconds and the instant Cordelia removed her hand from his flesh and announced she was finished; a mewling sound came from Angel. He’d forgotten how good her gentle touch felt on him. It seemed to warm his cool skin as if blood was flowing through it. It might have been; with every touch from her lovely fingers, she was making him feel as though his heart was beating again.

“How’s that feel,” Cordelia asked as she rubbed Angel’s cheek. “Better?”

“Much,” he replied. Placing his hand on the nape of her neck he pulled her down to his level and planted a tender kiss on her forehead. “Anyway, your job isn’t done yet.”

“Why?” Cordelia asked, confused to his meaning. She had patched up every wound.

“I want you to take me to bed,” Angel told her.

“What.” She felt as though the chocodiles she ate had come back up and lodged in her throat. Was he serious? He wanted to go to bed with her? “But I thought you didn’t want us to do… you know… that.”

Angel realised the way he’d worded his last sentence had thrown her a bit and was quick to explain, “I need you to help me over to the bed. I don’t think I can get there on my own.”

“O…kay, can we just rewind Cordy’s little outburst?” As carefully as she could she helped Angel to his feet and walked him to the bed, lying him down gently when he got there. “I’ll just be on the couch.”

“Stay with me.” They were both caught off guard by his request but neither of them refused it. As carefully as she had patched him up, she slid in next to him, moulding her lithe body to his strong form. As he slowly nodded off, she rubbed his head gently which caused soothed moans to roll off his dry lips as he wallowed in her touch.

* * *

The door to the apartment shut and Angel awoke becoming suddenly alert to everything around him. Cordelia watched as he held his fist in the air in preparation to fight any intruders. When the realisation that it was only Cordelia hit him he relaxed again and took a seat on the edge of the bed.

Rustling came from the brown grocery bag in Cordelia’s hands as she removed its contents. Eggs, bread and a few pints of blood all covered the worktop when she had finished.

Lurching upwards to his feet Angel asked, “You went out? Alone?”

“Yeah,” Cordelia replied as she put the pigs’ blood in the fridge. “I figured that if you could go out and get beaten up, I could go to the grocery store.”

“Was everything okay?” he asked as he moved closer, placing his hand on her shoulder to reassure himself of her presence.

“It was fine Angel,” she replied, turning to face him and look deep into his big, dark eyes. Placing her hand on his cheek she told him: “I’m fine.”

The feel of her warm skin against his cheek felt amazing and Angel longed for her to leave it there forever. Just this little connection between them made him plump with love and longing.

“I did get to thinking though,” Cordelia began. “I should have been with you last night, helping you, protecting you.” Tears welled in her eyes at the thought of something worse happening to Angel.

“You shouldn’t be protecting me Cordy,” Angel replied wiping the silent tears falling from her cheeks, his cold skin making her feel as though the tears would freeze on her face. “I should be protecting you.”

“No,” she snapped. “I want to patrol with you, hunt with you, fight with you. I want to be close whenever someone or something tries to take you away so I can stop it. I can’t lose you!”

“You won’t lose me Cordelia. I promise.” He was doing no such thing. In his line of work he was staring down the barrel of a gun everyday. A gun that had wooden bullets. A gun that could still kill his seer, his Cordelia.

“But what if I do?” she was struggling to withstand the tears. Just the thought of losing Angel nearly killed her. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tight, never wanting to let go. “I’ve never known anyone like you, Angel, and I feel that my world would end if you died.”

“But I won’t die Cordy,” he assured her. “I’ll always be right here with you.”

“Train me anyway so I can be ready,” she pleaded. “If anything happens that you can’t fight alone, I need to be prepared.”

Angel brooded on it for a few moments, his gaze never leaving a small patch on the far wall. He finally came to a decision and let go a hushed “Fine.” It drew a smile from Cordelia’s face and she hugged him harder. It was still a little early for that and her overexcitement aggravated his still unhealed wounds.

* * *

Both Angel and Cordelia moved elegantly together, their movements mirrored and fluid as if they were one. Cordelia twirled the sword around her head as the moves instantly came back to her as if they had never left. Having Angel wrap his arms around her and guide her manually had helped though. Feeling his bulk surrounding her completely gave her the assurance needed to trust that she could do it as well.

Angel’s wounds were fully healed now. His extra pint of blood, complete with cinnamon and umbrella, had really helped him make strides towards health. He was still a little sore in places but feeling Cordelia move against his body was soothing those aches and causing another, very apparent one to spring up every now and then. At least it gave him the chance to have a break.

Angel moved Cordelia away and looked into her eyes. “Now we’re gonna do this properly. Me vs. you, sword fight. Can you handle that?”

“Yeah. I’m not sure you can though. You stiffen up on me and you won’t stand a chance.” A cheeky smile covered her face and Angel was barely able to resist a laugh.

“Don’t make fun of the teacher,” he warned mockingly. “Now, when I say go, you come at me and we’ll see what needs to be done. I won’t use my full strength but I will use my full range of manoeuvres.”

“Is that a come on?” Both Angel and Cordelia were a little taken aback by her statement but they both decided to let it slide. What they felt for each other was nothing new and they felt no need to get defensive about it.

Trying to get past what Cordelia had said, and his own desire to do what she implied, Angel demanded, “Let’s just do this Cordy!”

With the signal they were off, Cordelia heading straight for Angel and pushing the offensive. All of her moves were little basic things and he parried them easily enough. The clanging of metal on metal was frequent as the two blades connected.

“Good, good. Remember balls of your feet.” The concentration in her eyes suggested she wasn’t listening but the sudden change in her posture and technique showed that she had been.

Angel spotted a flaw in her offence and looked to exploit it but as he pressed Cordelia parried and with minimum effort, turned his offence into hers and slammed him into a wall, placing her sword at his throat.

“Kicked your ass,” she joked. “You always told me to watch out for holes and you had a gaping big one mister.”

“How—”

“You were so focused on pressing on me, and who can blame you, that you forgot your own defence.” Cordelia stepped back and prodded her sword into Angel’s chest. “I guess I’m the master now Obi Wan.”

Angel pushed the sword aside and slowly stalked Cordelia as she backtracked, their eyes never leaving each others. A sly smile was forming on his face and Cordelia was getting a little bit nervous as to what he had in store for her. Her smile said it all and it just spurred him on even more.

They neared the bed but neither was paying attention to their surroundings. They were too caught up in each other. “Well if you’re the master can you dodge… this!?” Angel lunged forward, lifted her up and spun her around in the air, giggles of delight and small screams of terror escaping Cordelia’s mouth. As she slapped playfully at his head and shoulders, they both fell onto the bed with Cordelia landing on top.

Their faces were close and their lips were almost touching. They never removed their gazes from one another, the fires of lust burning in their eyes and in their loins.

“I think we better get up Cordy,” Angel remarked.

“No, I don’t think we should,” she replied, closing the distance between them and placing her warm, full lips on his. His eyes were wide open as she explored his mouth. He really wanted to get her off but he just couldn’t seem to find the wherewithal to do it. Finally giving in, he returned the kiss, exploring every detail of her mouth and savouring the moment. The sparks in her eyes fascinated him but it was the small muffled moans that were killing him. He was ready to fall off that cliff…

The door swung open and banged against the wall to reveal two demons standing just beyond the threshold. Angel and Cordelia looked at them and before they could do anything the demons were inside and attacking.

“Time to put your training to good use,” Angel said as he jumped for the first demon, knocking him to the floor where he was vulnerable to the barrage of punches Angel was sending into his face.

Cordelia went right for the sword she had been using, the sight of it stopping the second demon in its tracks. “Oh come on. Are you telling me that a demon is afraid of a little sword?” It didn’t take mocking lightly and without a second thought it attacked sending Cordelia straight into defence mode.

Angel launched one last punch into his demon and with little effort snapped its neck. He quickly moved to aid Cordelia but the sight of a sword piercing her attacking demon’s gut showed him she could handle it.

“What were they?” she asked.

“Trepkos demons. Warriors. Whoever sent these obviously has money to burn and a serious problem with us.” He started to explain Trepkos demons to her but his attention was suddenly drawn to the metallic jangling noise coming from the doorway. A look of terror crossed his face when he saw the green surface of the hand grenade. “Run!!”

Scooping Cordelia into his arms, Angel set off into a run putting his vampire speed to good use. Within less than a second they were through the door but it wasn’t enough. When they reached the top of the small flight of stairs, the explosion behind them sent them flying forward, the sheer force of it knocking Cordelia unconscious.

Angel lay on top of her for a moment before a searing heat on his back brought him back to reality. With a quick glance round he saw that he was a little bit on fire. It was out after a quick stop drop and roll but he was still worried about Cordelia who was just lying motionless.

“Cordy. Cordy, answer me! Cordy!”

“She can’t hear you vampire, and soon you won’t be hearing anything.” Angel turned when he heard the deep, gravely voice and saw twenty Trepkos demons, all angry, all focused. Their target: him.

“So you’ve come to kill me.” Angel stated. “Who might have put you up to this?”

“A mighty ruler and leader, Danandril,” the head of the troop replied. “He wants you dead vampire, before he starts the apocalypse.”

“Ah, that old mantra.” Angel was engaging in conversation to the outward appearance but he was also scanning every single avenue he could take that didn’t mean Cordelia and he didn’t make it to morning.

“Enough talk vampire. You die now.”

“Funny, I was going to say the same about you.”

Without hesitation the Trepkos demons charged, their feet bounding on the floor and causing the whole street to shake beneath their sheer force. Angel was big but he paled in comparison when it came to size.

One on one wouldn’t work here. He would get surrounded to fast and be a lamb to the slaughter. Evasive manoeuvres were what was needed here and with that he kicked his feet into the ground and sent himself hurtling over the small legion, landing behind them effortlessly.

The ones at the back were now easy pickings and with a speed that the Trepkos didn’t possess he broke the necks of the back two. He then turned his attention to the remaining eighteen. His chances of survival were small but his odds were now slightly better at least.

Again they all attacked without hesitation but again Angel was too quick for them. A somersault over them granted him a better position which he used brilliantly. Reaching out for the nearest Trepkos he pulled it in close to his body and broke its neck.

Now he could even the odds. Grabbing at its feet, he swung the dead Trepkos around, using its hard head plate as a weapon. Bones crunched as the head plate smashed into Trepkos after Trepkos, screams of pain sounding with every single blow. The original twenty were now a lowly ten. It still wasn’t enough though as one of the Trepkos took advantage of a hole in his defence, throwing him to the ground and proceeding to stomp him.

Angel shouted in pain as the incessant stomps connected with his already injured body. He was helpless now. Ten Trepkos demons stomping you into the ground wasn’t something you got up from. As the demons did their job all Angel could do was stare at the motionless Cordelia. His life didn’t matter to him; only hers did.

The demons suddenly stopped kicking him and just stared at him. One of them reached to his back pocket and pulled out a wooden stake. It was new, hand carved that very night. Angel could smell the friction and the heat caused from it. The Trepkos leader dangled the stake ominously over Angel and smiled evilly.

“Goodbye vampire.”

Just as he was about to bring the stake down the Trepkos’ head shattered suddenly, his brains and other various bodily fluids spewed forth all over the other demons and Angel. All nine looked at the woman standing next to them with blue hair and pale skin that had tints of blue.

Suddenly they attacked Illyria without thinking but she was too much for them, batting them aside like flies on the end of a swatter. Her strength was unknown to them and incomparable. Some tried to flee but they were cut off and instantly killed viciously and brutally.

Angel could do nothing but watch as the demons that had nearly killed him were torn to pieces by Illyria. Why was she saving him? Just two nights earlier they had beaten each other to bloody pulps and now she was saving him. What was her motive? There had to be something in it for her. Illyria wouldn’t help him without expecting something in return.

The last of the Trepkos was destroyed and Illyria returned to Angel, offering her hand to him to help him up. Angel didn’t trust her but he didn’t like lying in a pool of Trepkos brains.

Now standing, Angel looked Illyria deep in the eyes, eyes that were empty and unfeeling, and tried to surmise why she had come for him. “Why did you… why?”

“If it were up to me, Angel, you would already be dead,” Illyria replied. “I did this as a favour.”

Confused, Angel asked, “A favour to whom?”

He looked over her shoulder and saw two men. One was tall and handsome, a serious look on his black face. “Gunn?” Angel couldn’t believe it was him. He was alive. There was another man beside him though. He was lean, average height and good looking. His bleach blonde hair needed work though. A cocky grin spread on his face instantly infuriated Angel. “Spike!”

“Good to see you as well mate.”

A cough sounded behind Angel and he weakly turned around. Before him stood a beautiful blonde woman. She was small, thin and a sly smile was on her face. Her arms were linked behind her back and she was twisting her foot on the ground coyly.

Angel couldn’t believe what he was seeing and all he could say was, “Buffy?”


Part 8

“Buffy?” Angel couldn’t believe his eyes. It was actually her, in the flesh. She was stood right in front of him, hands linked together behind her back as she twisted the toe of her shoe into the ground coyly. Angel stood up and rubbed the back of his head, which had taken a beating from one of the Trepkos demons, never taking his eyes off her.

The small fires in the road, which had spawned from the large one in his apartment, danced in her eyes while her smile lit the street. She was exactly the same as the last time he saw her. She was thirty-three now but she still looked like the beautiful young blonde he had fallen in love with years ago. Her outfit told him she was out for a purpose, its tight fit and sporty theme indicating she was looking for violence.

“Why are you—?”

“Giles sent me,” she cut in quickly. “He wants me to investigate a suspected apocalypse that is coming… with your help.”

“My help?” Angel was a little taken aback by that statement. Giles wasn’t known for his trust in Angel and it was a rare thing when he willingly allowed him and Buffy to ‘pair up.’

“Obviously he was right about you being a major player given the little spat you had here,” Buffy noted. “Someone wants you dead if they sent twenty Trepkos after you.”

“Well who doesn’t want the prat dead?” The thick cockney accent stirred something deep inside Angel, an anger that rarely ever reared its head.

“Spike!” Angel said, the disdain in his voice as subtle as an explosion. “Why are you here?”

“Buffy came for help, I offered it,” Spike replied as he lit a cigarette and took a drag on it.

Angel tried to say something but was quickly stopped by Buffy. “I don’t want bickering from either of you. We have a job to do and help from both of you will be appreciated.”

Angel again tried to reply but the quiet mumblings coming from the semi-conscious Cordelia drew his attention away. He rushed to her side and held her head in his hands. He tried to get her to talk but all he could get was incoherent murmurings.

“Buffy, I’ll help you, but first I want to get Cordelia somewhere safe,” Angel said as he frantically searched her body for wounds or injuries. “Spike, do you have anywhere we can go?”

“Spike doesn’t.” Gunn stepped forward and slung his axe over and onto his shoulder. “But I do. We can take her to the hotel. She can rest there; familiar surroundings might be good for her.”

Angel scooped Cordelia up into his arms, her head drooping onto his broad chest. Buffy watched Angel carefully when he was with Cordelia. The way he was with her was too friendly for her liking but it was Angel, he was like that with everybody. “Great. Can we go now?”

“Sure thing man,” Gunn replied removing the axe from its perch on his shoulder. “Do you want me to drive?”

“I’m way ahead of you Charlie boy,” called Spike who sat enthusiastically in the driver’s seat of the Plymouth.

* * *

Angel gently rested Cordelia on the bed in room 217. He lowered her head gently on to the fluffy pillows, like he had done when she had her post vision naps, and gently caressed her cheek with his hand. Buffy was stood at the door waiting for him to follow her but he didn’t want to leave Cordelia’s side. He just wanted to stay with her and watch her.

Buffy watched, her arms crossed in front of her chest, as Angel stroked Cordelia, the love and care he showed her not going unnoticed. She was a little concerned about Angel’s proximity with her but she doubted it was anything other than a strong bond of friendship. This was Cordelia after all, bitch and ruler of Sunnydale high and very low on the list of Angel’s desires.

The topic of Cordelia had come up one night when Buffy and Angel had been patrolling together. His assurances that he had no attraction to Cordelia had been enough to calm her nerves. The kissing had helped.

Now would be no different. They had probably just become friends. Probably.

“Angel?” Buffy whispered in an attempt to rouse Angel from his trance. “Angel, we need to go.”

Angel didn’t turn his gaze from the beauty before him, his eyes fixated on every single movement she made from the gentle licking of her lips to the small whisperings of his name. Every time he heard it he grasped her hand a little tighter and hoped that she would feel him and wake up. “I’m not leaving her.”

Slowly edging forward, Buffy entered the room, her eyes trained on the large frame that was practically smothering Cordelia. His desire to protect her was high and it wouldn’t be an easy task to get him to leave. “I know you care for her but if we don’t go she won’t be here for you to care for,” she informed him as she placed her hand on his shoulder. “Just come with us now and you can be back here before midnight.”

“So you expect me to leave her here alone for anyone, or anything, to get her?” Angel asked, the frustration in his voice shining through but not masking his fear.

“Gunn said he will stay with her,” she replied.

The sound of Gunn’s name sent a chill down Angel’s spine. Gunn was the last person he wanted to see. He was overjoyed that he was alive but how could he face him after leaving him to die in an alley. What sort of friend would do that? Obviously he wasn’t a very good one.

Why Gunn was alive was confusing though. The last time he set eyes upon him his insides were almost outside.

Angel finally looked away from Cordelia for the first time since they had found him. As he came to stand upright his eyes met Buffy’s. He had missed her eyes and the quiet innocence within them. Old feelings rushed back as the endless green of her eyes swept him up in a flush of unspoken words and hidden desires.

A small smile formed at the corners of Buffy’s mouth and forced the same on Angel’s. Despite his longing to stay near Cordelia he had a job to do. Buffy was counting on him. “Let’s get to work,” he said as he took one last look at Cordelia, drawing the conclusion that stopping those responsible for the attack would be better in the long run.

* * *

Gunn sat behind the reception desk, his complete focus centered on the small handheld console he was holding. He had switched off to Spike’s ramblings minutes prior, the incessant talk of Angel, whose names varied from sentence to sentence. Illyria was, as usual, captivated by Spike who had over the years become her mentor in place of Wesley.

“It’s not bloody right!” Spike replaced himself on the red couch by the office window and put his feet up. “That ponce left us ten years ago and now he expects just to waltz back in here as if nothing happened.”

“His abandonment tastes like offal in my mouth. It shall not be forgotten easily.” Illyria continued to stare up the stairs as she waited for Angel to reappear.

“What’s the sod gonna do this time? Is he gonna walk off again if this fight doesn’t go as well as he hoped?” The pillow under his head was sent flying towards the stairs in Spike’s frustration. “I still don’t get why Buffy asked for his help. We could have handled it just fine.”

“Her heart is full of him,” Illyria replied, her eyes still focused on the stairs. “He fills her head and her soul. There are things between them that are left unsaid and feelings unshared. Unless they are expressed, they will be forever connected, never able to get free of the restraints that hold them.”

The words hit Spike like a stake in the heart. Was it true? Did Buffy love Angel? Was that the reason that she wanted him so badly? Was that the reason she hadn’t taken her eyes off him since finding him? Was that the reason Spike was so angry with his return? Did he know deep down that it was true?

Not knowing the answers but fearing what they were, Spike rose from the couch and left the lobby through the back door. Being outside might help him think a little clearer and vanquish those fears that again, he was second to Angel in Buffy’s eyes.

Ten minutes passed before Buffy and Angel emerged at the top of the stairs. Illyria finally removed her stare from the stairs and positioned herself between Angel and Gunn. Her protectiveness of Gunn’s face, which was not displeasing to her eyes, was high.

“Where’s Spike?” Buffy asked as she looked around the lobby.

“Just follow the hum of the radiation,” Angel replied smugly, drawing nothing but a scowl from Illyria.

“He went outside.” Gunn looked up to tell them but his eyes met Angel’s along the way. The exchanged glance didn’t last long, Angel breaking it as soon as he could. Gunn knew why, the guilt of leaving him was obviously eating away at him.

“Well he needs to come in,” Buffy began. “We have to load up.”

Illyria started toward the double doors Spike had gone through. “I’ll get him.” Her eyes lingered on Angel longer than he liked. It was as if she was studying him and preparing for a future attack. The way he had beaten her in their last encounter should have been indication enough for her not to try it again. This was Illyria though who was very proud and probably wouldn’t take a loss that easily.

“Are you sure you’re okay with this, Angel?” Buffy had noted Illyria’s disdain for Angel and the tension between him and Gunn. There was nothing to observe between him and Spike however, their dislike of each other stretching back to the days of Angelus. “You don’t have many friends here and if you keep getting looks like that I doubt you’ll survive the night.”

The response he gave her filled her with hope that what she wanted was not such a far off dream. Looking into her eyes he replied, “That’s why I’ve got you.”

* * *

Normally the foul stench of the sewers filled the air but now the unmistakable scent of the Trepkos demons dominated the small space between the sewer tunnel walls. Angel and Spike were tuned in and leading Buffy and Illyria after the scent.

Spike led the way, followed closely by Illyria, while Angel and Buffy hung back. Angel had wanted to lead but Buffy had felt it best to let Spike have something that would the keep the arguments to a minimum. Plus, she wanted Angel nowhere near Illyria.

Angel looked at Buffy and asked, “So what are we dealing with here?”

Buffy looked back at him, his intense eyes enveloping her and taking her fears away. “Giles has been researching since you phoned him and he has found texts referring to a mystical Order that wish to bring about the rebirth of their master. From what he can tell, they’re here in LA.”

“Seems the whole Hellmouth scene is getting old,” Angel replied. “Apocalyptic demons all seem to be gathering in LA.”

“Yeah, I heard about that whole thing with the Senior Partners.” Angel didn’t want to think about that night. It was something he just wanted to put behind him. “From what I hear, the world wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”

“I was part of it.” While he had been the major catalyst in the chain of events that stopped the Senior Partner’s apocalypse, he knew that he couldn’t have done it without his friends, Spike and Illyria. “Who told you anyway?”

“Spike.” Buffy’s reply shocked Angel. He would have thought that Spike would have taken the credit. Obviously he didn’t know Spike as well as he thought he did.

All four continued on for a while, again in complete silence. Angel was brooding over things that had happened recently. Cordelia’s resurrection, Buffy’s arrival, Gunn, Spike and Illyria showing up and now an imminent apocalypse. Somehow he felt that it was all connected and not in a good way.

“Sure was a bloody lot of ‘em,” Spike observed, the strong scent overpowering even his cultured nostrils. “Whoever sent them after you wasn’t messing around.”

“I think there was about twenty of them,” Angel informed them. “If all of you hadn’t shown up they would have finished me off.”

The small procession halted when Spike raised his hand. Voices in the distance could be heard and the ultra-sensitive vibrations of vampire eardrums picked up every word. Angel heard it as well, the deep croaky voices sounding and echoing off the solid concrete walls.

“What are they saying?” Buffy asked, in a hushed voice, as she watched the determination on Angel’s face as he tried to pick out ever word.

“Something about… Lord Danandril. He’s… angry. He’s angry because the vampire with a soul is still alive.” Angel continued to listen in. Hearing demons referring to him made him a little more determined to know what was being said.

Shadows moved at the end of the tunnel as the demons moved away. Spike burst into a sprint after them, not wanting to let them get away. He came to as sudden stop and turned as Angel grabbed his arm and yanked him backwards.

“What are you doing, you pillock!?” Spike pulled himself free of Angel’s grasp. “You’re letting them get away!”

“If we follow them we have a better chance of finding their lair than if we alert them to our presence,” Angel replied.

“If we catch them we can make them tell us where to go!” Spike was angry now. Angel had just strolled back in and made himself king again. “You can think you’re the boss man all you like, but I’m going after them.” He turned to leave again but he was pulled back. Without thinking, he retaliated with a sharp jab that sent Angel staggering backwards.

Buffy watched as Angel regained his balance and sent Spike crashing to the floor. She knew she had to stop the fight but part of her wanted to let them iron out their differences. The sight of Angel pummelling Spike made her change her mind though.

Without thinking she broke up the two, who were now locked in a grip as they sent hard punches into each other’s faces. Her slayer strength helped but she hadn’t calculated how much stronger Angel would be now. Obviously Giles had been right when he had told her that vampire strength increases with age. She could feel that Angel was just as strong as her now, if not stronger. Feeling his strength made her glad that he was Angel.

“Break it up!” she demanded. Neither of them argued but they did send evil looks each other’s way. “I know you two have a lot of problems but this isn’t the time for it. We have a job to do and if we don’t do it there won’t be any world left. Remember?”

Angel smoothed out his coat and adjusted his collar. Spike wiped away the small spot of blood that had trickled from his mouth.

“The little woman is right,” Illyria said. “No matter my desire to see Spike beat and bloody Angel, my desire to save this world is greater.”

“Save your own skin more like,” Angel argued. “Oh and Spike wouldn’t beat and bloody me either.”

“Aren’t you forgetting the last fight we had,” Spike reminded him, a cocky smile on his face.

“I wasn’t myself,” Angel replied, hanging his head as he thought back on losing to Spike. It was a day he would never forget, and not because of the loss. On that day he realised that he wasn’t the man he was supposed to be. He wasn’t the champion he was supposed to be. Still, to this day, he wasn’t the man or the champion he was supposed to be.

Spike turned away with a small disbelieving chuckle. It amazed him that Angel couldn’t admit that he was no longer the best. He couldn’t admit that his little grandchilde had surpassed him.

“Enough,” Buffy interrupted before anyone could say anything. “Look, those demons are getting away and we’re no closer to finding their lair.”

Angel and Spike nodded and all four once again started after the demons. Their scent was still strong and their chances of finding the lair were high.

* * *

From what Angel and Spike could tell, the demons they had been following had gone into a grate on the sewer walls. All gratings led to areas that were big enough to house a group of demons. While they were not completely sure, it was the best they had to go on.

As quietly as he could, Angel removed the steel grating and placed it to the side of the now exposed tunnel. With a quick glance backwards he gestured for Spike, Buffy and Illyria to follow him. No one argued and in single file they trudged down the wet, dingy passageway.

Slimy drops of cold water dripped from the low hanging ceiling causing everyone to jump in surprise when they dropped down their backs. Even vampires didn’t like the sensation of freezing cold water running down their spines.

The sound of speech echoed down the narrow tunnel and bounced off the shiny concrete walls. Angel and Spike could hear every word and what was being said was neither English nor human.

The need for quiet was urgent and all began to speak in hushed voices. “Looks like we found our squatters,” Angel remarked with a quick glance towards Spike.

“Can you make out how many?” Buffy asked, her curiosity peaked by the little exchanging of glances between the vampires.

“Not exactly,” Spike began. “From what I can hear though I would say there are at least ten demons down there.”

“Not to bad then,” Buffy replied. “We can handle ten.”

The small group came to a small opening that was engulfed in shadow. It was the perfect cover for them while they planned their attack. The demons were in sight and Spike’s estimation of ten had been right. There were five Trepkos demons that had obviously stayed behind for safety purposes and five demons that Angel recognised instantly. It was the group that had tried to kill the baby.

“Anything in terms of a plan?” Spike looked immediately to Angel. Despite his lack of respect, he recognised that Angel was more the strategist while he was more the go to guy.

“We fight,” Angel replied.

“A little bit more specific.” Spike looked at the group before him and waited for his orders.

“We kill them all.” After the words passed his lips, Angel set off into a sprint and headed straight for the demons that had tried to kill the baby. Spike, Buffy and Illyria all followed suit.

Spike instinctively went after the opponents that would prove the biggest challenge to him, the Trepkos demons. Illyria responsively followed Spike and went after the Trepkos demons as well, not wanting to see Spike hurt and wanting to challenge herself. Buffy didn’t follow Spike but instead went for the large door on the far side of the room.

The five demons that Angel headed for responded accordingly and despite their lack of fighting ability they stood their ground and waited for the onslaught. Angel delivered it when he reached them and without trying he snapped the necks of two of them. The remaining three stared him in the eyes and, with synchronicity, lunged at him sending him crashing to the floor.

The Trepkos demon that Spike was facing was proving to be no challenge and with minimum ease he disposed of it. Two more lunged at him but before they could connect Illyria sent them flying into a wall with a powerful missile dropkick. The impact between the wall and the Trepkos’ bodies was too much and they collapsed to the floor, writhing in pain. Helpless, they watched as Spike and Illyria went after the final two.

Darkness filled the room beyond the door that Buffy had entered. She had been surrounded by darkness all her life, being a vampire slayer, but this darkness was different, all encompassing, reaching into every crevice and fighting away all light that tried to manifest.

Two bright, red ovals hung in midair on the far side of the room. From here, Buffy couldn’t see what they were. She was compelled to investigate and cautiously crept forward, only to be stopped when the ovals moved. Suddenly they lifted three feet into the air and a deep voice sounded.

“Welcome slayer,” the voice said.

“Hi,” Buffy replied calmly. “I take it, from this whole creepy act you’ve got going on, that you’re the leader here.”

“Correct slayer,” the leader replied. “Obviously, seeing as we are on separate sides in this war, I can’t let you live. I am obliged to know your name beforehand, however.”

With a smile, that was hidden beneath the darkness, she announced, “I’m Buffy, the vampire slayer, and you are?”

“My name is Danandril.”

Without warning, the ovals that were Danandril’s eyes moved forward at incredible speed as he ran towards Buffy. Not even her slayer reflexes were quick enough to repel the attack and out of nowhere came a sharp pain in her stomach as Danandril’s fist made easy work of her human flesh.

Blow after blow came and Buffy was helpless before the onslaught that Danandril was delivering. She tried her very best to deflect his attacks but the majority penetrated her normally steadfast defences. Her own attacks, which were few and far between, failed to do much damage to the solid flesh they were hitting.

For the next few minutes, that seemed like eternities, all there was was pain. Never before had Buffy been subjected to anything like this and instantly she knew that she had no taste for it. Finally, the pain ended after her limp body crashed into a wall and gave into its solidity immediately.

Two sharp claps sounded and the darkness receded as torches, on both sides of the room, allowed their fluid like flames to burst forth. Buffy could feel herself fading but she still had enough left to look upon the demon that was slowly approaching her. An evil was spread across his face and fear filled Buffy as she saw the world’s end in his eyes.

Angel’s flesh stung as the claws of the three demons on top of him scratched away and tore his skin away. Fighting through the pain, Angel was able to kick two off, sending them hurtling towards Illyria who had just finished off her Trepkos. The final one continued scratching and biting but with a quick twist Angel was able to snap its neck.

The sight of Illyria smashing two demon skulls together in a shower of blood, brains and various other fluids was enough to disgust most people but Spike got a strange sense of joy in seeing Illyria destroying everything in her path. Maybe it was the smile on her face that reminded him of Fred’s smile that emerged when she solved a scientific calculation.

Small pools of blood formed under Angel as he lay on the floor and tried to gather himself after nearly being torn to pieces. Looking up, he saw Spike stood over him as he extended his hand to help him up. Angel was amazed. A kind gesture from Spike. Something was wrong with him.

Wiping himself down Angel asked, “Where’s Buffy?”

“Haven’t seen her since the brawl started,” Spike replied with a hint of concern in his voice.

Both looked around the room and both came to the same conclusion when they saw the door at the far side. Buffy had gone through in an attempt to find whoever was in charge. Without thinking, both ran to the door. With a crash it fell to the ground as the combined strength of both vampires took it off its steel hinges.

The room was dark and a musty smell filled the air. It was the smell of magic, the hint of herbs giving it away. Towards the back of the room two red lights shone like rubies. Neither could tell what it was until a quick blinking motion revealed they were eyes. Both were ready to go forward and fight whoever this demon was but before they could take a step forward they were sent hurtling backwards when something heavy smashed into them.

Dim light was all they were afforded in the main chamber but it was preferable to the pitch black of the room beyond the door. Even their vampire eyes were struggling with the intense, endless black. They were too used to living in light conditions now that electricity was everywhere around.

Angel looked and found an unconscious Buffy lying on top of him and Spike. Whoever that demon was, he had beaten a slayer and from what Angel could tell, with very little effort. As gently as they could, Angel and Spike lifted Buffy off and stood up, preparing for an attack from the leader.

“Illyria, get her out of here!” Spike demanded as the footsteps beyond the door grew louder.

“No, you need me to help you fight,” Illyria replied stubbornly.

“I need you to protect Buffy, Illyria,” Spike urged. “Me and Angel don’t matter.”

“He’s right, Illyria,” Angel began. “Buffy is all that matters.”

Reluctantly, Illyria nodded, scooped Buffy into her arms and ran back towards the grating. All she could think about as she ran back through the sewer tunnels was how much she wished Spike would be OK and how much it would kill her if he wasn’t. Over the past ten years he had become her rock and without him she doubted she could carry on.

The footsteps behind the door approached and each step made the vampires stop and take notice of how worthless their lives had been. If this was it, what had it all been for?

“Kind of a bummer us going out to some demon,” Spike said with a chuckle. “I always thought it would be you doing me in.”

Angel turned to Spike, a look of “how could you say that?” on his face. Returning his gaze to the door, and after a few seconds thought on Spike’s words, Angel solemnly replied, “Me too.”

The large framed figure of the demon slowly edged out of the shadows and its appearance was revealed. Angel recognised this demon immediately as a Granok, just like Sahjhan. “We need to be careful here, Spike” Angel warned. “I’ve faced a Granok before and they’re not easy opponents. This one seems even more dangerous.”

“Taking out a slayer, I should bloody well think he’s dangerous!” Spike replied in an angrily sarcastic tone.

With a bow, Danandril greeted Spike and Angel. “Welcome to my home vampires. I am glad you came to visit. Especially you Angel. You’re quite a little annoyance, aren’t you?”

“Too bloody right,” Spike agreed.

“And Spike,” Danandril began. “Not a prominent figure in this apocalypse but a dangerous foe nonetheless. To have you both here so I can dispose of you in one go is quite a privilege. But, before I kill you both, I feel I must introduce myself. My name is Danandril, leader of this fine Order that you have decimated tonight and stand in ruler of the hell dimension, Lirtast.”

Not concerned with the formal introductions, Angel asked, “Look, I can see you’re one of those well spoken, polite big bads but can we just fight and be done?”

“So be it, vampire,” Danandril said as he moved into an aggressive fighting stance, determination spread across his face. “Tonight, you die!”


Part 9

Angel and Spike prepared for the coming attack that Danandril was about to launch. Angel’s prior meetings with Sahjhan had taught him how formidable Granoks were. This one could be counted as a more powerful opponent than even Sahjhan considering he defeated Buffy and didn’t have a scratch on him.

He was quietly confident though. Angel knew his own capabilities and he knew that Spike would put up a good fight. Despite his feelings toward Spike, Angel knew that he wouldn’t want anyone else at his side in a battle.

“We do this together,” Angel said as he glanced quickly at Spike. “You take him on the left and I’ll take him on the-”

“No, I’m taking him now!” Spike burst into a sprint toward Danandril, a shout of determination echoing around the old water cleansing plant.

Danandril smiled and effortlessly blocked each of Spike’s punches. Despite Spike’s best efforts, he couldn’t penetrate Danandril’s defences and within seconds of beginning his attack, he was sent flying towards the side of the room as a powerful punch connected with his face.

“Idiot.” Angel watched as his grandchilde flew into a wall before preparing for his own attack.

“I expect you to be more of a challenge, Angel,” Danandril said with a wry smile. “Your strength should be double that of Spike’s, considering your age. Plus, I have heard of your fighting abilities from Sahjhan. He told me he was surprised that a vampire could put up such a fight.”

“Well you’ll find I’m full of surprises.”

With a kick into the ground, Angel was in the air and somersaulting above Danandril’s head, the thick, musty air filling his face and blowing through his styled hair. He landed with ease and spun on his heel sending a powerful kick into Danandril’s back, causing him to fall into a forward stagger.

A small grunt passed Danandril’s lips as Angel pummelled the back of his head with powerful, bare fist strikes. Never had he felt a vampire possess so much strength. Angel was only two hundred and sixty yet he punched like he was three hundred and sixty. Perhaps it was his bloodline. Being blood linked to the Master couldn’t have been a bad thing for a vampire, considering he was so closely linked.

His last punch was useless as Danandril spun and caught Angel’s fist just inches away from contact. Danandril spun Angel around by the arm as if her were a rag doll, and, after ten revolutions, released his grip, sending him crashing into a wall.

Blood trickled from Angel’s mouth. Every inch of his body ached and he felt as though it would give way beneath the pain that seemed to break even his extra resilient threshold. As he stood his legs creaked, his body cried out for relief and the needless ragged breaths passing his lips were doing nothing to stem the steady flow of throbbing that felt like an eighteen wheeler crashing into his already lifeless body.

Sweat bathed his palms as he thought about the consequences of failing here. It was a thought he had to put to the back of his mind but what if he did fail? It was all on him and no one could beat this. It was too much for him to face alone but that was exactly what he was, alone. Single-handedly he had to bear the burden of the title world’s champion when he was the furthest thing from being a champion. How can I possibly beat Danandril and save the world when I can’t even save myself?

Suddenly, an angry and better prepared Spike lunged at Danandril and laid into the demon with unrelenting punches that didn’t even seem to be touching the surface of the demon’s hardened body. While the vampire delivered blow after blow, all Danandril could do was laugh heartily at his opponent’s feeble attempts. He was surprised that Spike was such a legendary warrior. Angel was no challenge but he was a bigger challenge than Spike.

While still laughing, Danandril wrapped his long, bony fingers around Spike’s lapels and tossed him across the room again. This time however, Spike was ready and with a rare show of acrobatic prowess he landed on his feet, a cocky smile filling his face.

“That the best you got?” Spike opened his hands and held himself in a ‘come get some’ gesture but Danandril was having none of it, shrugging off Spike’s taunts as arrogant idiocy.

Despite the pain and the doubt he was feeling, Angel knew that he had to get up and keep fighting. If he didn’t fight, Danandril would get free and wreak havoc upon the world. No! He couldn’t let that happen. Cordelia needed him to pull through this; Buffy needed him to pull through. Without him they would be lambs to the slaughter.

No! I’m not going to run away this time! This time I am not going to let anything get by me and hurt my friends; hurt Cordelia! I am fighting for their lives, my friends’ lives and Cordelia’s life over all others! I WILL protect them this time!!

With the revelation in mind, Angel stood and called, to Spike, “Right, this time we do it together.”

“Well, this should be fun,” Danandril said with a smile.

As the two vampires slowly edged towards Danandril, a loud crash and numerous shouts could be heard. Within seconds twenty men, all dressed in military gear, appeared from the shadows in the entrance. There were outfits were all black with weapons attached in certain points. All twenty carried automatic machine guns and smoke grenades attached to their waists.

“Freeze!!” The leader of the squad shouted. “We’re sorry we’re late, sir.”

Danandril looked about as confused as Spike and Angel who had now left their fighting stances for a more relaxed stance.

“We’re trying to have a bloody brawl here,” Spike shouted at the soldiers. “Why are we being interrupted by a bunch of pansy American GI’s!?”

“We are Wolfram and Hart Special Forces,” the squad leader replied. “We are here to apprehend two vampires with souls.”

Angel and Spike looked at each other with shocked expressions on their faces. Wolfram and Hart was back and neither of them had known. After a quick glance at the soldiers, Angel turned to Danandril and said, “We’re gonna have to finish this another time. You CAN count on us finishing it.”

Seconds later, both Angel and Spike were gone, through the door and out onto to the streets. It was as if they had never been there. The squad leader ordered for some of his men to go after them but with their vampire speed they were too fast to be followed.

The squad leader approached Danandril and formally informed him, “Don’t worry, sir. Wolfram and Hart will dispatch more teams if I call it in. We will have them tonight and they will be dead by morning.”

A smile crossed Danandril’s face but a quick thrust of his arm twisted the squad leader’s head with a sickening crack. “I had them now you fool!”

The remainder of the squad looked on helplessly as their leader’s lifeless body collapsed to the floor.

“Soldier,” Danandril began. “Tell your employer that I am on my way to see him and that I am most displeased.”

* * *

Cordelia awoke with a start and nearly fell off the end of the bed as she thrust herself forward. Her breathing was heavy and cracks could be heard in her throat, fear filling every fibre of her being. All she could think when she awoke in that strange room, that had not been her home for the past month, was ‘where’s Angel?’

Tears escaped her eyelids as the worst thought possible came to mind. She couldn’t help thinking that Angel had been killed by the demon attackers and that she was now locked away inside the demons’ lair. Her rapidly gathering senses suppressed those thoughts however as she came to the conclusion that no icky demon would have such a nicely decorated bedroom.

The bedroom. Everything inside looked familiar. The purple walls. The thick curtains. The splendidly comfy bedspread that she had lay on numerous times, to her recollection. This was Angel’s old bedroom at the Hyperion. Did that mean that she had just awoken from a post vision nap and everything that she thought had happened had actually been a painless dream vision? Perhaps this was her time to right what her vision showed her would happen.

A creaking sounded as the door opened slowly. Cordelia leant back and peeked around the door to see Gunn entering.

Seeing her awake, Gunn exclaimed, “Hey, you’re awake. How are you feeling?”

Now Cordelia knew that it had all just been a horrible dream vision. Angel had told her that Gunn had died in the big battle with the demon army behind the Hyperion. If he was alive, that battle had never happened. It was true. She had a chance to stop it all and make all of their lives the way they should be.

Cordelia rushed from the bed and hugged Gunn tightly. It felt like an eternity since she had seen him last. That didn’t matter though. She was just tremendously happy that she got the chance to see him again, and make his life better by warning him of the dangers he would have to face.

Releasing Gunn from her grasp, Cordelia asked, “Has Angel stopped whatever I saw in my vision?”

“What vision?” Gunn asked, confused.

“Well, I just woke up from a post vision nap so I must have had a vision,” Cordelia replied. “Whatever I saw, did Angel kick its ass?” Please tell me he kicked its ass!

Gunn walked her over to the bed and sat her down. She looked deep into his eyes as he tried to find how to explain without sending her into complete overload. There was no easy way, he found, so he just came out with, “You didn’t have a vision.”

“Then… what’s… happening?” That fear and sense of loss that Cordelia had woken up with was suddenly back, and worse than before.

Placing his hand on hers, Gunn explained, “You and Angel were attacked at his apartment by a group of Trepkos demons. Turns out they were working with some big bad who wants to bring about the apocalypse. Angel, Spike, Buffy and Illyria all went to stop whatever this demon cult is planning. They should be back soon.”

“Oh.” There were no words. She had thought that she had a second chance to make things right before everyone’s life spiralled out of control. The dawning revelation that she was wrong was a little too much to handle at that moment in time. Nothing had changed. The life she had returned to was still as crappy as she remembered. What is there left worth living for?

“Angel?” Cordelia looked up when she heard his name and followed Gunn’s gaze towards the door, where she hoped to find her champion standing. Instead she found an awfully blue Fred.

“Angel and Spike are still fighting,” Illyria informed Gunn who was now standing. “They insisted I leave and bring the blonde back here.”

“Buffy? Is she okay?” Gunn asked.

Shaking her head, Illyria replied, “No, her injuries are grievous and I fear that without proper care she will not see morning.”

* * *

Fine furnishings filled the Wolfram and Hart office, the leader of Special Projects being well accommodated for his work in the most vital cog of the Senior Partners’ machine. A smile covered the cocky young face of Justin Balderas as he mulled over the two very significant deaths he had orchestrated for that night, deaths that would not go unnoticed by the Senior Partners.

His black walky-talky, which sat on his desk, began to crackle as a message came in from the team of Special Forces operatives he had deployed to kill Spike and Angel.

“Go ahead,” Justin said as he picked up the walky-talky and placed it beside his mouth.

“Sir, we failed to apprehend the vampires,” the voice said over the radio. “Oh and the demon leader here is coming to see you. Over.”

“Wrong.” Justin was suddenly ripped from his leather chair and pressed up against the wall. Danandril looked very angry as he held Justin at the throat and put significant pressure on his windpipe. “He’s already here.”

Danandril watched as the weak, worthless human that strutted around like he was king of the world squirmed in his hand. It brought a great deal of pleasure seeing the powerful become nothing more than worthless sacks of jelly that didn’t know the true meaning of power until it had them by the throat.

“We had an agreement, Balderas,” Danandril reminded him. “You were to provide the Trepkos demons, nothing more. Yet you have the nerve to send your lackeys to kill Angel and Spike!”

“I was just trying to help,” Justin replied even though it sacrificed vital oxygen. “I thought that it would be in your best interests that the vampires be destroyed quickly.”

“It would be in my best interests Balderas, but sending your soldiers to my aid has done nothing but undermine my power and I am not well pleased about that,” Danandril replied, an angry, threatening look in his eyes. “Now Angel sees me as an opponent that needs Wolfram and Hart assistance. That I cannot have.”

Tears formed in Justin’s eyes as he observed the growing look of desire to kill in Danandril’s eyes. He didn’t want to die, not now, not while he was still so young. “I’m sorry! Is there anything we can do to make this up to you?”

After a few moments pondering the question, Danandril replied, “There is something you can do.”

“Anything!”

“Angel proved to be more of a challenge in combat than I first anticipated,” Danandril explained. “I see now that if he attacks again, but with his full force behind him, I cannot win. To win I must learn of Angel and his friends. Learn of their relationships. Learn of their strengths and weaknesses. So, in response to your question, I need surveillance equipment set up in Angel’s base of operations. I want round the clock coverage and I want daily reports from you good people here at Wolfram and Hart.”

“Absolutely,” Justin replied quickly as he felt Danandril’s grip tighten.

“Good,” Danandril said as he released the small excuse for a man from his bear like hold. “And this time, I want no interferences apart from those I have specified. Do I make myself clear!?”

“Yes… uh… Lord Danandril.”

With his goals fulfilled and his position in the matter made clear, Danandril turned to leave. Before he formed the portal he made one last threat to the petrified, shivering Justin Balderas lying on the floor. “You run a powerful entity here, Balderas, and you work for very powerful beings. For that I do not care, however. Defy me again and not even the all seeing eyes of the Senior Partners will be able to find you.”

With an extension of his arm and a silent conjuring of a spell, Danandril was through the portal he formed and gone from the office. Justin stood up behind his desk and checked every inch of his room for any trace of the demon but found nothing. He was gone.

His hand still quivering, Justin picked up the phone and dialled in a number. When the other end picked up, Justin calmly requested, “Surveillance, please.”

* * *

Her tenure away hadn’t diminished Cordelia’s skills with a bandage and a cold compress. Buffy’s wounds needed delicate care and Cordelia was providing that as skilfully as she could in her relatively untrained, yet very talented, state.

These weren’t the worst wounds she’d seen in her time in L.A, with Angel coming home some nights barely able to walk. She missed those nights where it was late and it was just her and him. The others would have gone home to rest but she and Angel would just stay up and talk.

It was different now though. Angel avoided her when he could and now that Buffy was back he was obviously going to fall madly in love with her again. Cordelia’s eyes stung just thinking about losing Angel again.

“All done,” Cordelia said as cheerily as she could.

Gunn stepped towards the bed and gave Buffy a quick once over. He still couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “I just want to know one thing. What in the hell can do that to a slayer!?”

“It is no matter,” Illyria replied. “Spike and, to a lesser extent, Angel will defeat whatever it is.”

“I don’t think you’re getting it Illyria,” Gunn said, the frustration apparent in his voice. “Buffy is a vampire slayer, naturally stronger than vampires; vampires like our friends Angel and Spike. If this thing can do this to a slayer, what chance do vamps have?”

That last sentence struck a chord in Cordelia’s mind. What if Angel didn’t come back? She would be all alone. She couldn’t be alone, not now. She needed Angel to come back. What was her life worth if she didn’t have Angel?

“Look, Angel and Spike aren’t stupid,” Gunn began. “They’ll see that it’s futile, give up and come home. They won’t even consider finishing the fight.”

“Considered it but didn’t do it.” Angel’s voice sounded as the door opened to reveal both vampires. Cordelia wasn’t sure she could remember the last time she had been so happy to see him.

“Angel, you’re okay,” Cordelia said as she ran towards Angel and hugged him tight. He hadn’t noticed and she knew it. Why didn’t he notice? His eyes were focused on Buffy and his gradual movement towards her just let Cordelia know that she was slowing him down.

“I’m fine Cordelia,” Angel replied as he removed Cordelia’s arms from around himself. “How is she?”

“She’s doing okay,” Gunn replied. “I’ve seen worse. If Cordelia hadn’t given her the batch of TLC, I doubt Buffy would still be going.”

Angel took his place at her side and gently cupped her hand in his. He stared at Buffy’s innocent face as she lay helpless in his bed. Never before had he seen her in such shape and never before had he felt the way he did towards her. Strange, these feelings went a long time ago. Why are they returning now?

Cordelia looked on as he watched over her, the memory of Angel cupping her hand in his fresh in her mind. The forming tears stung again and she found herself using all of her energy just staying in the room for just another second. Never had Cordelia imagined that Buffy would come back into Angel’s life and take him away. She had just thought that Buffy was in Angel’s past. Obviously she was wrong.

“I need some patching up,” Spike said as he forced himself to look away from the ponce holding his girl’s hand. “Any offers would be appreciated.” Silence. “Bloody charming!”

“Cordelia.” The desperation in Angel’s voice gave Cordelia the hope that maybe he still needed her. A small chance was still a chance and she wasn’t going to pass it up for silly paranoia.

“Yes Angel?” Cordelia replied.

“Could you patch Spike up, please?” Maybe this is it, Cordelia felt the raw ache inside her. I’ll have to spend the rest of eternity watching Angel and Buffy living it up like the perfect couple they’re not. Times like these made her wonder why her life sucked.

* * *

The lobby was silent. No one had said a word since Spike had grunted a thanks to Cordelia who had bandaged him up. Now, the only sound that could be heard was the quiet beeping from Gunn’s handheld game and the clinking of Spike’s empty whiskey glass as it met the wooden surface of the desk.

Illyria was standing in the corner of the small office. Her eyes were wide open and they were focused completely on a small patch of nothing. Her usually restless tongue was still and her incessant complaints weren’t echoing around the lobby. Her face was a blank pallet and the thoughts that were running through her head could only be guessed at.

The subtle bitterness of the whiskey bathing Spike’s tongue didn’t lessen the bitter taste that came with imagining Buffy and Angel together again. Bloody ponce! He wished for Illyria to just wake up and complain so his head would be filled with another noise besides the smacking of lips he feared.

What was it about Angel that she found irresistible? It was a question he had pondered many a time and he was yet to find the answer. It definitely wasn’t his looks though.

A small smile formed as he revelled in that moment of pride.

Is it his champion’s heart? No, it can’t be. Angel is no match for me when it comes to being a champion. I chose my destiny as a champion while Angel had it forced on him by the Kalderash gypsy clan. Served him right as well. He deserved to suffer for all the dirty things he did and the gypsies gave him a doozy of a curse.

Nothing. Spike had rattled his brains many times over and he was yet to come to a solution as to why Buffy favoured Angel over him. Well, he wasn’t going to bother trying to find out anymore. It just wasted his valuable time, time with which he could be doing more beneficial things.

With that thought he took a large swig of his whiskey straight from the bottle.

Cordelia hadn’t taken her eyes off the stairs since finishing Spike’s bandaging. What was taking Angel so long? Surely he couldn’t just sit and stare at Buffy for hours on end. Cordelia forgot how long he had spent at her side when she was recovering from her sudden resurrection.

Her eyes were still stinging at the thought of losing Angel to the blonde harlot that was sleeping in his bed. She didn’t mean that and she knew it but the thought of anyone, besides herself, having Angel made her border on insanity. Glenn Close was looking like a realistic role model right about now. Does Buffy have a Bunny?

Jolted nerves got a sudden release when Angel’s large frame rounded the corner at the top of the stairs.

He rubbed his eyes, fatigue setting in and the sight of Buffy being the only thing he could think about. The colourful spots in his eyes even took her shape. His legs were wobbly beneath him and Cordelia rushing towards him and wrapping her arms around him didn’t help.

Her expectant smile beamed up at him but he pushed her aside gently. “Cordelia, I need to get to get to the fridge.” To him it was a general statement but to her it was a knife through her already fragile heart.

Another attempt. “Angel, maybe you should let someone else sit with her.” She hoped it worked but her hopes were based on weak foundations.

“No!” Angel snapped. “She needs me right now. She wouldn’t be like this if it wasn’t for me! This was my fight and she got involved.”

“Last time I checked, she came to you,” Cordelia replied. She hated seeing Angel torture himself and anything to help ease that guilt she would do. “This is more her fault than yours.”

Those words set something burning inside Angel. Buffy was lying in his bed, unconscious and who knows in how much pain and all Cordelia wanted to do was blame her. “What do you know!? You’re not out there fighting day in and day out! You’re here, out of the fray, thinking about your next shopping spree!”

Cordelia jumped back at his raised voice and made no attempt to stop him as he barged past her and back up to his room and to Buffy.

* * *

Angel slammed his head into the wall at the top of the stairs. He had just rounded the corner when the sudden regret of what he had said to Cordelia hit him. Why did I say that? I didn’t mean that. Cordelia had been an integral part of his mission and his life in their time together, not a sideliner who played a few rounds, and he knew it.

The front door had opened and closed and the sudden disappearance of the sound of crying told Angel that Cordelia had gone outside. If only she knew how much he wanted to go to her and make everything better.

What must have been going through her head? Did she think that he and Buffy were together again? That wasn’t true and never would be. They were finished for good and nothing was going to bring them back to each other, even if he wanted it. Knowing that he couldn’t stand and dwell on the past, Angel walked back to his bedroom.

Buffy’s perfume filled the air and Angel was suddenly intoxicated by it as he crossed the threshold. He remembered her scent from his tenure in Sunnydale, the way it wrapped itself around him and squeezed him into submission. Never again had someone’s smell done that to him.

Cordelia’s scent was different. It wasn’t the kind of scent that drove him crazy with a desire to be with her. It didn’t taunt him until he gave into it. No, Cordelia’s scent comforted him and made him glad to be alive, or undead in his case. No other scent could make him feel like everything would be okay and happiness wasn’t such a far off dream.

He remembered how he had felt the day Cordelia died. No one had seen how badly it affected him. They couldn’t have known if his plan was going to work. He acted like he was fine and like he was moving on. The relationship with Nina had meant something to him but in the end it was just a façade. When it came down to it, she wasn’t Cordelia.

There was only one Cordelia.

Idiot! He had been alone for ten years, moping around because she wasn’t alive and now she was back he was treating her like she was nothing. He didn’t deserve her. For four years of her life she gave everything for him and as soon as Buffy showed up he forgot all about her. Why? I don’t love Buffy. Or do I?

He had no intention of being with Cordelia, even though he desperately wanted to be, or Buffy but that gave him no right to treat Cordelia like dirt.

The thoughts were rushing through Angel’s mind at a mile a minute. Why was his life so damn complicated!? He had commitments to Buffy, to Cordelia, he was living with two people he hated and the friend that he left to die was downstairs playing videogames. It was all too much for one manpire.

There was no rest for the wicked though, not on this day.

When he turned he found Buffy, awake, a smile on her face and a needy look in her eyes. He looked at her beautiful face and a waterfall of emotions hit him, emotions to numerous to count. How do I deal with this one?

With a gulp he moved forward and took his place at the side of the bed. Gently he took her small hand in his and smiled as her bright eyes shone on him. While he stared at her and made her feel like she was the only one in the world he cared for, all he could think about was Cordelia

All he could think about was going to her, apologising and holding her forever in his arms. If only he could comfort her and let her know that he loved her and everything would be okay. She had to know that she was the only woman he wanted and no other could replace her. That was the problem with being a champion though. Sometimes, the things that you wanted had to be put aside for the things that needed to be done.

Cordelia needed him, as he did her, but Buffy needed him more.


Part 10

The smell of jasmine in the Hyperion garden wasn’t soothing. A small puddle continued to form at Cordelia’s feet as the silent tears fell rapidly from her eyes and threatened never to stop. Leaning on her hand and covering her mouth with it smothered any noise she might make but teased her further. Angel’s distinctive smell was on her hands and she didn’t know why. She thought he’d maybe held her hand when she was unconscious.

Now he was doing no such thing. Now he was sticking to Buffy like glue, the only time he would leave being in the search for food. Typical, even food comes higher on his list of priorities than I do. How times changed. Just weeks earlier he had been at her constant beck and call and separation from him was rare at best but now she would be lucky to get five minutes with him.

Damn Buffy! Typical strolling in like you own the place. Cordelia swiped the back of her hand across her eyes. Barking orders. Acting like the world revolves around you. Wrong! Cordelia wiped at her eyes again and stood up, stamping her foot as she did. Shame Angel wasn’t there to see it and beg for forgiveness, she thought to herself with a smirk. She tried to focus her mind on other things and began to fiddle with the flowers beside her. They were beautiful like… damn it!!

She stomped away from the flowers angrily, because even they made her think of Angel, and placed her face in her hands as she leant backwards with a groan.

A terrible thought entered Cordelia’s mind and a confused look entered her eyes. For a brief second she imagined how happy she would be if Buffy had stayed dead. She pictured it all. Buffy was dead, Angel was grieving and she was stepping in to save the champion in distress. Then Angel would fall in love with her and they would ride off into the sunset with their millions of dollars and lifetime supply of undead strength sun block.

Guilt swelled up inside Cordelia at the thoughts running through her mind, the thoughts not making her feel bad but the happiness she felt at the scenario. It wasn’t right thinking those things, not even when Angel was concerned. It was silly; her love for him was driving her to near sadistic tendencies. Pretty soon she would have to change her name to Cordelius.

That was Angel though. He had that effect on her. The way he made her love him with everything about him. His hair, his sinfully handsome face, his champion’s heart and his undying desire to make the world a better place to live.

Cordelia had noticed these things in her time with Angel. He was no longer Buffy’s little follower but a man with depth, morals, demons and angels. She had sometimes considered Angel to be her other half in that he completed her and her him. Whatever she was lacking he had and vice versa. They were the yin and the yang. Now we’re the yin, the yang and the annoying blonde!

“Hey.” Gunn’s deep voice sounded from the porch causing to Cordelia to turn to him. “How you feeling?”

“Okay, not great but okay,” Cordelia replied. “Just thinking about stuff.”

“A vampire being with soul come into that?” Gunn hadn’t seen Cordelia in ten years but he still knew her well enough to know when something was up. It bothered him that she was back but he put that to the back of his mind. Why dwell on trivial questions when you could enjoy being with your friend? That didn’t mean he wasn’t going to keep his eyes open, the memories of Jasmine and the creepy ass way she came into the world fresh in his mind.

“Yeah,” she replied, looking away again.

“I saw what happened before,” Gunn began. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I guess Angel is a little wound up at the moment. I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it.” I hope he didn’t mean anything by it.

Gunn stepped off the step and walked to Cordelia’s side. “Doesn’t mean it hurts any less.” He was talking about Cordelia and Angel’s situation but there were underlying tones in what he said.

Cordelia wasn’t oblivious to it and she instantly picked up on the fact that he was partly talking about the night in the alley. Angel, Gunn’s only friend left in the whole world, abandoned him and left him to die.

“Why don’t you talk to him, Gunn?” Cordelia asked. “I’m sure he can explain why he did it.” If not he’ll stutter madly trying to explain it.

“I might. I’ll try slipping you into it as well, a killing two birds with one stone kind of deal.”

Cordelia smiled at his concern for her wellbeing but replied, “That’s not necessary, really. Angel and I will work it out in the end. We always do.”

* * *

The sight of Buffy’s vulnerable, pleading eyes looking up at him made Angel feel things he hadn’t felt in a long time. I love Cordelia though. I want Cordelia, not Buffy. Why do I feel this now? Angel knew why he had those feelings though. I have these feelings because no matter how far away I am or how long it has been since we parted, I will always have feelings for Buffy. She has a part of me that no one else can touch. But now, Cordelia comes first in my life.

Angelus’ temptations beneath the skin were bad enough without his male, testosterone driven urges kicking in as well. It was a strange feeling though when the two hit him at once and combined the normal erotic desires of a man with the sadistic, blood-thirsty desires of the demon. He knew from experience that when they were mixed it was a very exhilarating feeling. Darla could have accounted for the same thing.

The warmth of Buffy’s hand as it grasped his felt wonderful. It made him feel alive when she touched him. Just the feel of her soft skin was enough to send him close to the edge. If she could see the things that were running through his head at that moment. He made high school jocks look like gentlemen.

It wasn’t her though. In his imagination the hand belonged to a brunette; the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. The warmth of the small hand was soothing and not a constant burden on his life. It wasn’t Buffy he wanted. He wanted Cordelia.

Angel placed himself on the edge of the bed beside Buffy and gazed into her big, green eyes. They were like emeralds catching the light. Years prior, she had been the light of Angel’s heart. She made his existence seem worthwhile and her presence made everything hurt less. Now Cordelia did all of those things.

Despite how happy being near her made Angel, he just wished that she hadn’t come back. When they were together things were difficult and strained. Her being there was putting a barrier between him and his dearest friend. That was what Buffy did just by being there. It wasn’t her fault Angel knew but he still caught himself wishing that she had not returned. He just wanted it to be him and Cordelia.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” Buffy replied softly.

“You took a pretty bad beating,” Angel explained.

“It’s okay,” Buffy began in response. “I’m a slayer. Slayers heal fast.”

Angel grasped her hand a little tighter. He closed his eyes and tried to banish the thoughts in his head. “You could have died.”

Buffy squeezed his hand and reciprocated the pressure to assure him that she was okay. She wasn’t going anywhere, not again. “I didn’t think you’d be this worried about me.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, your romantic life is a little hectic at the moment,” Buffy remarked.

Her statement was a little confusing and Angel had no qualms about asking what she meant by it. She explained, “I’ve seen the way you look at her, Angel. Cordelia is who you want, who you love. If there was a choice you would choose her over me.”

“Cordelia and I… we can’t be anything. Won’t be anything. It’s too dangerous.” What am I saying? Why am I discounting Cordelia and I before we’ve even had a chance?

A small chuckle sounded from Buffy when she heard that. She looked disbelievingly at Angel and stated, “You’re still playing that hand. Look, Angel, you have to stop the self flagellation and let yourself be happy.”

“You know better than anyone, Buffy, that that would be a very bad idea,” Angel replied. “Do you really think loosing Angelus on the world is worth my happiness?” That’s why.

Buffy thought about it. She wanted to see him happy but she knew that if he lost his soul, her worst enemy would be free to unleash a reign of terror upon the world. Now that Angel’s strength had increased she doubted if she could beat Angelus. The first time had not been easy.

“Look, why don’t you go and do something for a while,” Buffy suggested. “It’s not healthy for you to be cooped up watching over me all day. I’ll be fine.”

Angel wasn’t sure about it. He was a little worried that if he left her something would happen. That was the kind of man he was. He felt that unless he watched over people every waking hour they wouldn’t be safe. He didn’t enjoy thinking like that but so far it had saved a lot of people, Buffy included. Reluctantly he stood up and with a weak smile left the room. He was considering talking to Cordelia and apologising for snapping but he wasn’t sure how.

No matter how many apologies I have, I have still hurt people. They might forgive me but the actions can’t be changed. What I said to Cordy will always be there, forever haunting me. Whenever I look into her eyes I will always see the moment I shouted, scared her, upset and rejected her.

Knowing that his actions would never go away killed him. It was the same with every wrong deed he committed. Even now he still felt guilty about firing Cordelia, Wes and Gunn so he could go on a mad vendetta mission against Wolfram and Hart. Thirteen years on and he still hated himself for it. It would be the same with this latest set of screw ups.

* * *

Angel rubbed at his tired eyes as he descended the red carpeted stairs. Needless breaths passed his lips as he huffed and puffed, frustration building at his very complicated existence. The sight of Spike and Illyria in the office didn’t help but served to remind him that his life wasn’t a good one.

The opening of the door and the entering of Cordelia and Gunn made it all the worse. Their eyes bored into him and he felt like their stares were putting him to trial right there. How do you plead? The only answer he could give was guilty, guilty and guilty.

Cordelia’s moist eyes made him want to stake himself for making her feel that way. He had vowed after the whole Darla saga that Cordelia would never cry because of him again. For thirteen years that vow had held strong, ten of which she wasn’t there to make cry, but now weeks after she came back into his life the vow was broken. Bastard!

“How are you feeling?” The words were hard to say and Angel felt a great swell of relief when they crossed the threshold of his mouth. Now he had to face the eternal silence that came before Cordelia’s answer.

“Not bad,” Cordelia replied. “But not great.” Without another word she walked down the small flight of stairs that led to the main lobby. She took her place at the reception desk where she began sifting through papers and old documents. She didn’t know what she was looking at but it beat the awkward stares that she could share with Angel.

More than anything I want to make it up to you. If I could I would walk over there and take you in my arms where nothing could ever hurt you again. I wish more than anything that I could apologise and tell you how much I love you… but I can’t… for both our sakes.

He started towards her but a large, strong hand pressed into his chest and prevented him from going any further. Looking, Angel saw that Gunn was holding him back, an intense, serious look in his eyes.

“You and me need to talk,” Gunn explained before heading back out of the door. Without argument Angel followed.

The smell of the jasmine hit him like a bullet and memories of times spent in this very garden brought a small smile to his face and a pain to his heart. Well, the dry, shrivelled up walnut that used to be his heart, he thought.

Angel had seen some nasty things in his time but the look on Gunn’s face at that moment was one of the worst. He had dreaded this moment from the moment he set eyes on Gunn. Abandoning him and leaving him for dead. He had done some despicable things during his lifetime but he considered that betrayal one of his most horrible acts. At least in his evil days, he had no soul. What is my excuse now?

Minutes passed and not a word was spoken, uneasy stares and nervous glances being the only things passing between them. Angel thought Gunn might have been using that time to psyche himself up so he could pull a stake and drive it through his heart. The feel of the cold, merciless wood couldn’t possibly feel worse than the gnawing guilt he felt now.

Knowing he couldn’t leave it as it was, Angel began, “Gunn, I know what I did to you was disgusting and I know that I have no right to call you a friend but I am truly sorry. No matter how much I say that I know I can never make it up to you. What I did will always be there. I just hope we can work together for the duration of this until we can go our separate ways.” Phew! Wow, I didn’t stutter.

Gunn continued to stare. Angel wasn’t sure if he was taking in what he said or analysing him for an attack. Either way he was afraid of the end result. A look of anticipation was on his face as he waited for Gunn’s response but he was trying his utmost best to hide it.

“What you did on that day was unbelievable, man,” Gunn said with a hint of anger in his voice. “You left me bleeding and dying in an alley. I was alone and my only friend in the world had left me. By all rights, I should kill you right now for what you did. But I won’t because as far as I’m concerned… we’re cool.”

What!? That was it? All of my worrying and all I get is a “we’re cool?” Why was Gunn so calm about what he had done too him? In Angel’s eyes it was unforgivable but Gunn seemingly had no problem. “What do you mean?” Angel asked.

“When you did what you did,” Gunn began. “You weren’t yourself. I know it and you know it. That year had been tougher on you than any of us. You lost your son, Cordelia, Fred, Wesley and your Shanshu.”

“How do you know about that?” Angel had never told anyone about that. He wanted no one to know. It wasn’t the sort of thing that you bragged about for extra brownie points with the Powers That Be.

“Cordelia told me,” Gunn replied. “Anyway, as far as I see it, you were depressed and lost on what to do. Sure, it would have been nice if you had come to your friends but you didn’t because that’s not the kind of man you are. You like to bottle. I don’t blame you man because I know that when things get bad enough, we do anything without any thought for the consequences.”

Angel knew that he was talking about Fred. He doubted that he had forgiven himself for his role in Fred’s death and Illyria’s resurrection. Gunn knew what it was like to walk to the edge of hell with everything and come away with nothing. He knew what it entailed and because of it he didn’t judge.

“Thank you, Gunn,” Angel said. He was a little unsure still but he would take it anyway. He could at least say that he had a friend back. “When did you get so smart?”

A smile formed on Gunn’s face and with a tap on his head he explained, “That brain implant Wolfram and Hart gave me is still there. When they renewed it they renewed it permanently. Only the best for the price that was paid. Besides, how do you think I got this place? I used the brain upgrade, worked the system and now we got a free crib.”

Both men laughed as they walked back into the hotel. While Angel was happy with their reconciliation, he still had the major issue of Cordelia to deal with. He knew that as soon as he saw her, all that happiness would fade away.

* * *

Cordelia was sat on the grey, circular sofa when Angel and Gunn returned to the lobby. She looked at Angel scornfully while in her heart she felt nothing but pure love. It was angry love though. She was only human and Angel had hurt her feelings by shouting at her for Buffy.

Her look hadn’t gone unnoticed and the look of guilt and pain in Angel’s face gave Cordelia a strange sense of satisfaction. Yeah, how’s it feel chump!? She loved making him crazy and no one could do it better than her. All that had to be done now was deciding how long she would give him the cold shoulder. The longer he suffered at her expense the better.

“You got a phone call, Gunn,” Cordelia informed him. After that slight moment where she wasn’t focusing on Angel she brought her gaze back to his and revelled in the look that was returned. “I put the details next to the phone.”

She watched as Gunn checked out the message but she also kept one eye on Angel who was eyeing her relentlessly. It wasn’t a bad thing when Angel ogled her like that. It made her feel special that of everyone in attendance she was the only person Angel had eyes for.

As soon as Angel’s stare focused away from her she noticed. She followed Angel’s stare to the stairs and saw Buffy slowly walking down the stairs. Crap! A millisecond later, Angel was at Buffy’s side helping her down to the circular chair in the center of the lobby. Hey, you’re supposed to be ogling me!

Now Buffy was sat directly between her and Angel. As usual, Buffy is the only thing between me and Angel. She shook her head and stood up. It was getting very tiresome being near the happy couple and she took her place next to Gunn behind the reception desk.

Gunn was talking to the woman who had rung earlier which was making Cordelia’s eavesdropping difficult. His deep voice was all Cordelia could hear but she was pretty sure that Buffy would be whining away and dogs would be barking all around L.A.

“Okay Mrs. Jones,” Gunn said into the phone. “I’ll have someone come and look at that right away. Yes, we will try and have the demon squatters evicted tonight. Someone should arrive there within the next two hours. Do you have sewer access? You do, good. Okay Mrs. Jones. Thanks for calling.”

Cordelia watched as Gunn walked to Angel’s side and gave him a piece of paper. Angel looked over it and gave a quick nod. Buffy also looked over it and she nodded along. Both Buffy and Angel proceeded upstairs together. Cordelia watched them like a hawk but as soon as Gunn returned to her side, Cordelia asked, “What was that about?”

“A client of ours has an infestation of Skench demons in her apartment,” Gunn replied. “I asked Angel if he would go and deal with it. Get back into the swing of things on the helping the helpless side of business.”

“Okay, but why was Buffy looking over the details?” Cordelia asked a bit more frantically. Please don’t tell me she’s going with him!

“He’s taking her with him so she can work out some of those knots that she will have built up. I think it would be good for her to get a little work out.”

“You know what else would be good for her?” Cordelia asked rhetorically. “Boning Angel at the first chance she gets!” Slut! The thought quickly changed to, ‘Lucky slut!’

Gunn looked suspiciously at Cordelia before laughing. “You think Buffy wants to sleep with Angel?” Another laugh sounded as Gunn looked through Mrs. Jones’ file.

“Well, yeah,” Cordelia replied. “I mean, look at him. He’s handsome, strong, gentle and loving. He’s just so… grrr. Don’t you think?”

“No, but I do think you’re crazy.”

Cordelia slapped at Gunn’s upper arm until he looked her way. “I want to go with them.”

“To fight a group of Skench demons?” Gunn asked with a disbelieving look in his eyes. “You do know they fire projectile phlegm?”

Phlegm!?

“And, they aren’t bad when it comes to a fight, either,” Gunn continued. “It took me a few minutes to finish one off and I ain’t no push over.”

The thought of projectile phlegm was still running through Cordelia’s mind as she pondered how much detergent would be needed. “I want to go. I want-”

“To be near Angel,” Gunn interrupted.

Cordelia nodded but didn’t look at Gunn. She was afraid that more tears would fall just thinking about losing Angel again. There was assurance though as Gunn placed his large hand on hers and tapped it sympathetically.

“I’ll let them know that you’re going,” Gunn told her. It was a good thing that the only clothes Cordelia had left were of the sporty, action variety.

A smile crossed Cordelia’s face and she excitedly jumped up and down on the spot. Buffy isn’t taking Angel away from me that easily, not while I can stop it. She continually thought about her and Angel being together while she waited for them in the lobby. Any thought was better than projectile phlegm.

* * *

“Look, I don’t wanna talk about it, Spike.” Gunn was getting tired of Spike following him around. Even after eleven years together he was still wasn’t used to the cockney being around.

Spike hadn’t been happy that he had sent Angel to clear up the nest of Skench demons. He wasn’t being biased though. Angel was part of the team again and Gunn wanted to help him integrate.

“It ain’t right,” Spike said angrily. “He left us in that alley and now you want us to be a happy family again.”

“No, Spike, he didn’t leave us,” Gunn began. “He left me. You don’t like Angel so why are you getting so bothered by him leaving? It’s in the past and you need to get over it. He’s back, that’s it.”

Spike stopped following Gunn and just watched as he walked into his bedroom. It was the same room that he had shared with Fred when they both lived in the Hyperion together. Gunn had divulged many stories of there time in the hotel, not to Spike’s interest. The less he heard about captain forehead, the better.

He made no move to follow Gunn but instead waited for Illyria, who had been following silently behind, to emerge from her cover. “I know you’re there Illyria,” he told her but she already knew he was aware of her presence.

The shadows of the long hallways were perfect camouflage for her dark clothing and dark blue patches. As she stepped forward the darkness receded from her body to reveal her intense eyes and angry face.

“I feel it in you,” Illyria stated. “Your hatred for Angel runs rampant within your soul. I feel how you wish to destroy him… yet wish for him to live. You hate him, yet, you seem to need him. This confuses me.”

Spike turned quickly and looked Illyria dead in the eyes. “One thing you need to get straight is that I don’t need Angel, nor want him. He is nothing but a plague on my life. Always has been. He’s got in my way since the day I was sired.”

“You fear him,” Illyria replied.

“What!?”

“Angel, all through your life, has taken from you,” Illyria explained. “Now you fear he will take Buffy from you.”

“She’s not mine for him to take,” Spike assured her.

Illyria moved in closer and whispered in his ear, “You wish she was, though. I sense that great conflict awaits you and Angel in the very near future and all because of love.”

Before Spike could reply, Illyria left his side and walked down the corridor. Spike just remained in that one spot and thought about Buffy. He denied it but Illyria was right, he was afraid of losing her to Angel, and he had good cause to. Memories of Drusilla rushed back in. It was the same all through their history. Whatever was rightfully his, Angel took away from him.

Maybe she was right; there would be a conflict but who cares? Bring it on! With that thought and a cocky smile Spike continued down the hall and back downstairs. He had some drinking to catch up on.

* * *

The wind was blowing as the Plymouth sped down the road towards Mrs. Jones’ apartment. Initially they were going to take the sewer tunnels but the sun had set before they had left. They preferred this method of travel anyway.

Cordelia watched Buffy and Angel as she watched from the backseat. They were planning what to do when they reached the apartment. She, of course, had been relegated to the backseat so she wasn’t in on plan making. It was a very annoying situation and Cordelia was getting more and more frustrated.

Angel knew what Cordelia was feeling. It was written all over her face and he knew that she was feeling jealous of his proximity to Buffy. That jealousy was probably coming from two different areas of feelings. They were best friends and they had been “lovers,” if you could say they went that far.

Buffy needed him though and he wasn’t going to abandon her because of Cordelia’s jealousy. He would deal with Cordelia when the time was right, but for now he had to focus solely on Buffy. Whether Cordelia liked it or not, he wasn’t going to do it.

He wished that he could just abandon Buffy, though. He so wanted it to be just him and Cordelia, alone in the car on a late night car ride.

The twenty storey apartment towered over the three as they looked up its face. It was a surprising occurrence that Skench demons would nest in a public building. The screeching surely couldn’t have gone unnoticed. This couldn’t be right. Gunn must have gotten the address wrong.

A woman exited the front door and approached the car. With a smile she greeted them and asked, “Are you three from Angel Investigations?”

Angel’s face lit up when he heard that Gunn had kept the name. He quickly turned to Cordelia and excitedly whispered, “They kept the name!” The woman watched Angel and waited for his answer. He noticed she was waiting and quickly responded, “Yes, we’re from Angel Investigations. I’m Angel, this is Buffy Summers and this is-”

“Cordelia Chase,” she interrupted. Angel was a little taken aback by Cordelia’s sudden outburst but he shouldn’t have expected anything else. As long as she was angry with him she would make his life hard. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

All three got out of the car and followed Mrs. Jones as she led them into the building. It was dark inside and dirty. It wasn’t a building that was at the top of the real estate market.

“We understand that you have a Skench demon infestation, Mrs. Jones,” Buffy said as she scanned every room they passed. Her slayer instincts were highly tuned and she was ready for anything.

“Yes, noisy things,” she replied. “I can’t sleep while they’re here.”

Angel was still unsure about how Skench demons could infest an apartment building. He decided to just come forward and ask. “Mrs. Jones, how do the Skench demons go un-noticed in a public building?”

“It’s just this way.” Angel’s question had gone unanswered as Mrs. Jones continued to lead the group towards her apartment.

Eventually, they reached it. This floor wasn’t any better and it surprised them that a woman could live in such squalor. Mrs. Jones opened the door and pointed to the room that had been infested. All three tried to move in but Mrs. Jones held Cordelia back telling her it was too dangerous.

Angel and Buffy didn’t notice that she hadn’t followed them and continued into the apartment. Mrs. Jones led her away from the apartment claiming that they weren’t safe at such a close proximity to the fighting.

“I think we’ll be safe here.” A smile was on her face as she led Cordelia into a dark, dirty, musty smelling room. Dust caked everything and there was no telling what would be found under the many layers that had made the room look like a snowy Christmas.

Cordelia was pretty sure she could see a snow angel on the floor.

“Why are we here, Mrs. Jones?” Cordelia asked. “I should be helping Angel and Buffy.” And keeping Buffy’s filthy hands off my Angel!

“Please, call me Edna,” she replied, the smile still on her face and becoming rather creepy. “Do you like candy?” A strange sensation came over Cordelia as she looked at Edna. She knew something was wrong but she couldn’t place what.

Suddenly, the door burst open and Angel, closely followed by Buffy, entered with a very angry look on his face. “Get the hell away from her!” he demanded. The smile that had filled Edna’s face since their arrival now disappeared to be replaced with a very severe look.

“Cordelia, walk over to me,” Buffy said as Angel moved further into the room. Edna was watching him attentively and it was causing Buffy to fear for his safety.

Edna’s eyes were no longer a loving shade of green and her hair was no longer the usual octogenarian grey. Her eyes were pure black and her hair had been replaced by blue tendrils. Reptilian scales now covered her once wrinkled skin and gave the illusion of moisture.

A hole with four sharp teeth replaced her mouth and four sharp mandibles were positioned in a square arrangement around it. It looked as though they were used to hold food while she chewed or for her native dialect which seemed to consist of clicks and whistles. How she had produced human speech was now a mystery.

Her size had also increased and now she stood at seven foot tall. She would not be an easy opponent to face and all doubted they would be up to it. Her muscle mass had increased ten fold and she looked like an immovable force.

Buffy pulled Cordelia behind her protectively when she got close enough. She wasn’t fond of her but she didn’t want to see her get hurt. What sort of slayer would she be if she did?

Angel quickly flicked his head towards Buffy and Cordelia and told them, “Get out of here. I’ll handle this.”

“Angel, you’ll be killed!” Cordelia shouted.

“No, I won’t,” he assured her. “This fight, it’s me and Mrs. Jones. We got a thing going on and I’m not leaving ‘til this thing is dead.” Or I’m dead.

Reluctantly, Buffy led Cordelia way as she called Angel’s name. They both took one last look at him before he was out of sight and prayed that it wouldn’t be the last look.

Angel and Edna stood alone in the center of the room. Slowly they circled each other and analysed movement, stance, weak areas of the body and other things. Just a few seconds of such analysis could decide a battle and neither was going to waste it with needless chatter and exchanging of insults. This wasn’t fiction, it was real life.

Angel was keenly eyeing Edna’s mandibles. They appeared to be strong and he knew that he would have to stay clear of them. From what he could tell, every inch of her was dangerous and he would have to avoid getting close unless he knew that he would definitely be able to hit her.

All four mandibles snapped threateningly causing Angel to smile and say, “Well you’ve shown me yours so now I’ll show you mine.” Within seconds Angel’s face morphed and his vampiric features showed through. Just by manifesting the demonic side of himself he gave himself increased strength, speed and a greater sense of willpower and self-confidence.

“Foolish vampire.” Angel was a little surprised that Edna could speak without a tongue or lips to form the words. There was no movement as she spoke, just sound. “You divert your attention and your focus is lost. A warrior such as yourself should know this but no, you allow yourself to be fooled into believing I am your target. As you stand here preparing to attack me you forget the safety of those you are trying to protect. While you stand here your women are taken by one far greater than I; one I serve with my life.”

Angel reverted his face back to reveal its human features and asked, “What did you say?”

“Goodbye vampire.” The demon formerly known as Edna sprinted towards Angel and sent him crashing into a wall with a strong punch. He hadn’t seen it coming with his mind focused on Buffy and, more importantly, Cordelia.

Edna strode over arrogantly before stopping inches out of his reach. The thought to swing his leg and take her out had been running through his mind and she knew it. 1000 years of battle in the name of Danandril and Llirdryn had given her the experience and skills needed to fight a mere vampire.

“Do you know what he does with young, beautiful women?” Edna taunted. “I’ve heard of your deeds Angelus but Lord Danandril takes evil to a new level. The funny thing is, while you burn in hell forever, it won’t be the unbearable pain that torments you. No. The thing that will torment you will be knowing that you failed to save them and that they spent the rest of their lives on their backs with my lord between their legs!”

Angel’s face became a picture of rage as Edna laughed maniacally. No one will hurt them like that. No one will hurt Cordelia like that! No one!!

Quickly, Angel jumped up and kicked Edna in the face, the force of it taking two of the mandibles clean off. With a scream of pain and anger, Edna ran at Angel but he was too quick for her and within milliseconds he was behind her. Now was not the time for mocking though, he thought, and he ran towards the back of the room.

The shadows there enveloped him and now the hunted had become the hunter. From the shadows he could see all but could not be seen. This is why I wear dark clothes, he thought to himself as he watched as Edna searched for him without any success. He felt around and found a long steel pipe on his right side. As quietly as he could he picked it up and moved around to Edna’s side where the shadows were still thick.

“You’re a fool Angelus,” Edna called. “I would have killed you mercifully but you have angered me now. Now I will kill you slowly and painfully. It will be so gratifying to watch your face as I slowly devour you.”

Angel readied himself with the pipe in hand. “If you’re hungry,” Angel began before jumping out into the middle of the room behind Edna. As she turned he threw the pipe and mocked, “why don’t you have something to eat!?”

Before she could reply the steel pipe flew into her mouth and out of the back of her throat. With a gurgle and a desperate attempt to stem the flow of blood, Edna fell to the floor and waited for life to leave her.

Without time to admire his handiwork, Angel ran from the room and went in search of Buffy and Cordelia.

Three floors down he found them. Danandril had both slung over his shoulders. A great swell of anger bubbled up inside Angel as he looked at the smiling face of the demon leader. He could smile all he wanted though because he wasn’t going to take them, not like this, not without a fight.

“I know what you’re thinking Angel and all I have to say is don’t try it.” Danandril turned and walked away but Angel was close behind.

As he ran he morphed his face again and brought his fist back. Danandril foresaw it though and quickly spun around sending a punch into Angel’s face. He flew backwards and smashed his head on the steel pipes covering the wall. The collision was too much for even him and as he watched Danandril carry Buffy and Cordelia away everything went dark as consciousness slipped away.


Part 11

Angel groaned as he came to, his head feeling like it had been hit by a wrecking ball. His whole body ached and he knew that standing up was going to be a difficult task. The searing pain in his hand wasn’t helping either and it felt like it was on fire. Wait! Searing!?

Angel jumped to his feet when he opened his eyes and saw the flame that was engulfing his hand. He knew he wouldn’t find water here and as quickly as he could he removed his coat and doused the flames in the thick material. Holding the coat up to the light revealed the burn marks and Angel shouted in frustration.

Inspecting where he had been lying, Angel saw that the sunlight had been streaming in through the gaps in the boarded up windows. Sunlight was supposed to be a wonderful thing. It was supposed to bathe and warm the skin. Sunlight gave life, but for angel it only gave death. A very painful death.

God, sometimes he desperately missed Pylea.

Rubbing his head, angel began to leave for the stairs. All of a sudden, a thought came back to him. Where was Cordelia? She was with him not long ago. He thought back seriously on recent events. When he had been here with Cordelia it had been early night time. Now it was… mid-day from what Angel could smell. His vampire senses allowed him to have a deep knowledge of the time by scent alone. It helped when it came to avoiding sunrise, but not today.

More memories of the night before came back and suddenly Angel remembered fighting something. It was disturbing that he could only place the name Edna with the fight and he was afraid that he had suddenly acquired a taste for beating old ladies. When he remembered the demon Edna had become a great swell of relief swept over him.

There was something else though. It was nagging at him but he couldn’t place it. Not until he took a deep breath and sighed did he realise. As he drew the air in, he caught Buffy’s, Cordelia’s and… Danandril’s scent. That was it. Danandril had taken them! He decided it was time to leave and get to the hotel. He knew he couldn’t face Danandril alone. He needed Illyria and…

“Here he is,” Spike called from the stairway. “Bloody idiot is just standing here.”

Oh, why does my life keep taking these bad turns, Angel thought to himself before turning and facing the annoying one.

“What are you still doing here?” Spike asked as he approached. Looking around he asked, “Where’s Buffy?”

“With Danandril,” Angel replied.

“You let him get her!?”

“What, and you would have done a better job of it!?”

Spike kicked Angel in the stomach swiftly and proceeded to floor him with an uppercut that caught him dead on the nose. “That’s how you protect them you tit!”

As Angel looked up from the floor and wiped the blood from his nose he shouted, “What the hell, Spike?”

With a laugh Spike explained, “Sorry mate, I was making a point.” Spike continued to laugh as Angel got to his feet and made his way to the stairs.

Gunn appeared at the top and rounded the corner with Illyria close behind. “You okay man,” Gunn asked Angel when he saw his busted nose. “What did that?”

“Brain trust over there,” Angel replied with a gesture towards Spike.

“Hey! I was proving a point!”

Gunn looked around and saw that Cordelia and Buffy were no where to be seen. He asked where they were and Angel explained everything as briefly as he could. “Look, we need to save them. We have no idea what Danandril will do to them and from what his minion said, I don’t want to take the risk.”

“Finally we agree on something,” Spike said.

“Well first we better get back to the hotel,” Gunn told them. “We can’t go searching for them if you two are fried.”

“The scent won’t hold much longer,” Spike explained. “It’s weak as it is.”

“Then we don’t use the scent.”

Gunn and Illyria started down the stairs but Angel gestured for Spike to go first. Happily, Spike obliged and started down until Angel got his attention. “Spike, wait a second.”

“What do you want?” he asked as he turned. With a crash he hit the floor after a swift, hard punch from Angel. Rubbing his head, Spike shouted, “Ah you git! What the bloody hell did you do that for?”

Angel replied with a smile, “No reason, I just like hitting you.”

* * *

The sight of the orange horizon and the arrival of night was always a nice moment for vampires. Gunn had never noticed this before, but observing Angel and Spike, he decided that they became more active as night fell. It was almost as if the daylight hours weakened them somehow. They’d gone from mostly sitting or sleeping to walking around and strategising their rescue attempt.

The strategy came mostly on the part of Angel. Spike wasn’t into plans. He got bored easily and liked to fight, not plan. It was what made them such a deadly team. Any team would benefit from Spike’s fighting instinct and Angel’s sound strategies. Plus, both of them were lethal on the battlefield. They often had arguments about who was the better fighter but in all truth, if there was a margin it was only slight and both knew it.

That was something Gunn admired about them. They hated the very sight of each other but they didn’t fight. No. They got along and worked together. They would never admit but they were more similar than they knew. They were like brothers in arms.

Everyone had seen it, Gunn thought as he cast his mind back to their days at Wolfram and Hart. Angel and Spike bickered like boys with toys but they had their moments where there was no arguing or hate, just two vampires with souls talking and learning from one another.

The memory of Spike in the hospital, after Dana cut his hands off, was fresh in Gunn’s mind. He often thought of it when Spike and Angel were arguing. Spike never knew it but Angel spent more time at his bedside than anyone else. It was never said but Gunn knew that both of them liked parts of each other. Sometimes though, he just wished they could be like that now.

“No you prat, if we do that we’ll be dead in 2 seconds flat!”

“Look, Spike,” Angel began. “I know you think my plan won’t work but I’m telling you, it will. The scent is gone now so we can’t track them but we have a witch living right here in L.A. Why not do a locator spell? We’ll find Danandril far quicker.”

“That’s the problem right there,” Spike replied. “The quicker we get to him, the quicker we die. Plus, what if they’re even with him now. He could have them stashed somewhere.”

Gunn stood up and moved to the weapons cabinet. As he looked for his weapon of choice he said, “Spike’s right. If we do the locater spell, we should do it for both of them.”

“Fine, we’ll do that then.” Angel followed suit and looked through the cabinet. His favourite broadsword was there to his surprise. He hadn’t remembered bringing it away from his apartment.

“What about when we do find them?” Gunn asked.

“We save them. I’m not losing them again! I can’t.”

“That’s all well and good, Angel, but if we find Danandril there’s not one person among us who can take him,” Gunn explained.

Angel bowed his head and thought for a moment, the needless breaths and sighs showing his deep contemplation. “Look, I don’t know. I can’t think straight at the moment. Danandril has the woman I lo… look, we just find them and take it from there. And if we run into Danandril, we’ll just give him Spike to play with.”

Angel looked around at the group around him. He didn’t like all of them and he wished some had never set foot on earth but they were there and they were fighting. He couldn’t ask for more than that. “This is our chance to stop this,” Angel began. “Tonight, we can end this if we work as a team and do what has to be done. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. So what do you say we go and find Buffy and Cordelia and kill the son of a bitch that wants to hurt them?”

Spike lifted his head and, with a smile, replied, “Now you’re talking my bloody language!”

* * *

Willow left the kitchen as soon as she heard the knocking on the door. It was a strange occurrence at the Rosenberg household. In all their months of living in Los Angeles they had only had one visitor so far and that had been Buffy. It couldn’t be Buffy now though because she knew that she didn’t have to knock.

The door opened and revealed a group of people who Willow couldn’t recognize at first. After a few brief seconds she realised who was standing before her. “Angel?” Immediately noticing their distraught states, Willow invited them in. The group filed in and stood in the hallway before Willow asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Have you heard of Danandril?” Angel asked.

“No, why?”

Before Angel could speak, Spike abruptly said, “Look, can we stop with the formalities and get to the point!? Danandril’s the new big bad in these parts and he has captured Buffy. We need your help to find them!”

“He’s also got Cordelia,” Angel reminded him. “We thought you could do a locator spell.”

“Sure, no problem. It will take me a few minutes to set up and then I’ll do it. Just go and have a seat in the living room,” Willow said as she made her way upstairs.

Angel noticed immediately that the furniture was different. Now they had a black, leather suite. It was nice. It surprised him that he was so perceptive of the change because he was usually oblivious to these things. This was a house that was important to him though, he reminded himself as he sat down, so any change was probably going to stand out.

This house was now the home of the baby he rescued from Danandril’s minions over a month ago. It was scary to think that time had gone by so quickly when it had never done before, especially for him. The past month or so had been spent caring for Cordelia, or ignoring her more recently, but now he couldn’t help but think that tonight he would lose her forever. No. I will save her.

Saving Cordelia wasn’t an option, it was a must. She had left him once before and he was going to make certain that they were never apart again.

5 minutes passed and Willow still hadn’t come back. Where the hell is she!? Angel asked himself. Time was ticking away and still they were no closer to finding Buffy and Cordelia than they were before. The lack of progress was making him frustrated and he wasn’t sure he could just sit there much longer. He was very tempted to leave and try and find them himself but he couldn’t do that. He had to trust Willow which was easier said than done when he felt like he did.

“You okay, mate?” Spike asked as he looked at Angel. He was used to seeing him all broody and miserable but he wasn’t used to seeing him look worried. He didn’t know Angel could worry. Maybe he did love Cordelia as much as Fred had told him he did.

“I’m fine, but I’ll feel better when we have Cordelia… and Buffy.”

“Look, you can’t focus on them being gone,” Spike began. “You can’t think like that. If you have to think about them, think about saving them because we will save them. We can save them if we work as a team.”

The words rung in Angel’s head. Isn’t that what he said at the hotel? He couldn’t quite believe that Spike took notice of him.

“I’ve finished!” Willow announced as she ran into the room. “I know where they are!”

Jumping from his seat, Angel asked frantically, “Where?”

* * *

An evil smile formed on Danandril’s face as he looked at Cordelia and Buffy who lay unconscious on the floor. Tranquiliser darts were responsible for their incapacitation. It took two to put the slayer down. As their bodies went limp Danandril had rued not letting Angel see it. It was a shame he wasn’t there. He was coming though and he would arrive in mere minutes. Then he would have to make the choice.

It was fulfilling to defeat an enemy, Danandril thought, as he walked away. It was most enjoyable to defeat an enemy over something as trivial as what he had planned but many battles had to be won in order to win the war.

This war was different though. This war was the most important thing in Danandril’s life and it would soon come to a head. Millennia had been spent preparing for the apocalypse and he wasn’t going to allow a vampire to stop it. He was determined to see his master return to the world that was rightfully his.

The memory of losing the world to humans was fresh in his mind, every minute of every day. Once the world had been pure, full of demon kind but now it was tainted by primitives and half-breeds. The day that Earth had been lost to humanity was a day that broke his heart and nearly destroyed his will.

Seeing his master’s face as the dimensions closed around him had been one of the most horrific things he had seen and it drove him to free his master again. To this day he blamed her for what happened to his master. If not for her his master would never have been trapped between dimensions and the Earth would still be pure.

Not many things brought tears to a demon’s eye, if anything. That day though, it had caused many tears to fall from his eyes. He vowed that no tear would ever again bathe his cheeks and never again would the human pestilence take the world from his master. Never again shall I taste bitter defeat.

That vow had rung in his mind for generations and finally he was approaching the day of reckoning. Soon, the almighty Llirdryn would rise again and the world would be free of tainted blood and demon kind would rule for all eternity.

The smile appeared again when the sound of the ’67 Plymouth approaching could be heard all through the abandoned factory. With a beckoning motion of his finger, two Wolfram and Hart soldiers ran over and saluted their – for the moment – boss.

“Yes, Lord Danandril?” The salute was in perfect unison. Danandril often noted how tightly Wolfram and Hart ran their ship but it wasn’t surprising with the Senior Partners watching their every move.

“Take the women to their allotted places,” Danandril began. “When I contact you, synchronise your watches for 30 minutes. As soon as the time reaches zero, kill them. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Lord Danandril!”

“Good. I will keep them busy here, you won’t be followed.”

As quickly as they could the two soldiers ran towards Buffy and Cordelia and with minimum effort, lifted them onto their shoulders. With both arms outstretched, Danandril formed the portals for them and they ran into them as quickly as they could. Within seconds they were gone, along with the portals.

Casually, Danandril walked up to the second floor of the factory, overlooked the main working floor, and waited. Seconds was all it would take for Angel and his band of merry men to arrive, Danandril realised as the bright headlights shone on him through the main door.

* * *

Darkness filled the Hyperion. Angel, Spike, Illyria and Gunn had been gone for an hour and it was silent inside. It took on eeriness when it was filled with emptiness and silence as any of its tenants would account for. When it was silent it was almost as if the people the Thesulac demon had fed on were still there, talking.

The darkness parted in the lobby as numerous lights shone in and chased away the darkness. Flashlights. Flashlights attached to semi-automatic guns were the cause of the light. The holders of the guns were Wolfram and Hart Special Forces.

These men had once been part of the army and they were probably the best the American army had to offer, just like everything else. Wolfram and Hart was nothing more than a leech in the system of modern day government. What they had, it had usually belonged to a country first. They didn’t care though because they got what they wanted.

It had been the same all through time. Whichever country was in control was Wolfram and Hart’s power center. It spanned across empires such as the Persian, the Roman and the British and now it had a hold on America. It would be the same in the future as well and that was why they were such a powerful foe. They were bred from power to breed evil. It wasn’t a good mix and it was one that had plagued Angel’s life for many years.

Justin Balderas strode in cockily and surveyed the lobby with disdain. He preferred the in your face wealth that jumped out at you in his office, not the plainly stuck in the ‘50s look.

“Do a sweep of the building,” Balderas ordered. “I suggest you get started as soon as possible. We have around an hour to get everything in place.” As soon as he finished talking the surveillance technicians got to work.

The Special Forces teams ran off in teams of three and began their sweep. They treated each room like it was vitally important to their mission. First, they would come to a room and position themselves outside the door. Two would stand on either side of the door frame while the other would kick the door down.

With the door down, the two at the frames would run in, guns held high and sweep the room with the third coming up behind while keeping a look out for attacks from the rear. It was basic army training and these men had done it so often it had become second nature.

Balderas watched as the technicians unpacked their equipment and moved to their preset work areas. Balderas had not been unduly surprised to find detailed floor plans. The vast files on Angel in files and records detailed Gavin Park’s attempt at surveillance and with it came a detailed blueprint that was now being used by the technicians.

“How long do you think it will take?” Balderas asked the technician laying security in the office. “And tell me something I want to hear.”

“It shouldn’t take long, sir.”

“Good. Now, I wonder if they have coffee.”

* * *

Cordelia opened her eyes. The spot where the tranquiliser had hit was still sore and it just added to the soreness in her eyes that had barely opened over the last 24 hours. Deep down, she hoped that she would see a good thing when she opened her eyes. She hoped she’d see Angel.

Instead, she found a man toting a gun. His face was deadly serious as he watched her stirring, his gun pointed right at her head. She only knew he was aiming at her because of the laser sight that kept hitting her eyes.

“Hey!” she shouted. “Can you stop waving that thing in my face, please!? Lasers can blind people, you know!?”

“If that’s the worse thing that happens to you tonight, consider yourself lucky,” the soldier replied as he rested his gun at his side.

Suddenly frightened, Cordelia asked, “What do you mean by that?”

“Well, let’s just say I’m not holding this gun for my health.”

Now she was scared and wanted Angel to show up and save her, even though he was a major jerk that would be getting some serious downtime with the bitch inside. He wasn’t there though so for now she would have to deal with it in the only way she knew how.

“Hey, Buster!” she shouted, instantly getting the soldiers attention. “Yeah, you! Listen up, my name is Cordelia Chase and I don’t like being tied up and held at gun point! Now, you better let me out of these ropes or there’s gonna be hell to pay mister!”

The soldier couldn’t help but laugh. He had always liked feisty women. It was a shame that he would have to kill this one, he thought. With a smile he tapped his gun and just reaffirmed that he was the one holding it.

“Fine, buddy. You asked for it!” After a huge breath in, Cordelia let go of it all and released her primal scream on the poor, unsuspecting ears of the guard.

With a moan of pain he grabbed at his ears and tried to block out the noise as best he could. It was no use, the high pitched wail pierced the shield his hands made and dug down deep, rattling his ear drum and threatening to burst it.

After catching her breath, Cordelia asked, “You see what happens? If you don’t let me go I’ll do that for the rest of the night!”

* * *

What was the use in having slayer strength when it couldn’t be used to get out of ropes? Sure, it could be used to kill all manner of super strong demons but ropes? No, they were too strong for a slayer.

“It’s useless struggling sweet cheeks. I’ve got them ropes tied tight. Not even you can get out of them.”

Sweet cheeks? Had he just called her sweet cheeks?

“Do you know how stupid it is to get a slayer angry?” Buffy asked with a severe look in her eyes. “You’ve annoyed me. Do you know what that means? When I get out of here I am going to beat you into a bloody pulp!”

It was a threat, but an idle one and Buffy knew it. She just needed to buy some time though. She knew that Angel would be coming soon. He’d get her out. Of that she was sure.

* * *

“Welcome, Angel,” Danandril called from the balcony in the factory when Angel, and the rest of the group, got out of the car. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Slowly, the group fanned out and readied themselves, as per Angel’s instructions before their arrival. Combat wasn’t their first priority but in situations like this it was usually a foregone conclusion. Now though, if they did fight, they had Kennedy there as well.

Angel kept his broadsword at the ready as he moved over to Danandril’s right. He was completely focused on Danandril and just the sight of him filled him with anger. “I should have killed you in the sewers. You’re gonna pay if you’ve hurt them. I’ll make you pay, you bastard! Now tell me where they are.”

“Angel, I’m hurt,” Danandril replied with a sly smile on his face. “Are you telling me that you came for those women and not for me? I thought you would have realised that I should be your first priority.”

Spike stepped forward and shouted, “Look, we don’t care about your stupid games! Tell us where they are and maybe you’ll walk out of here alive. But we’ll probably just kill you for being a tit! I can’t actually believe that there is a bigger tit in the world than Angel but you’re living proof.”

“Is this really the time to be making insulting jokes vampire?”

“Who said I was joking?”

“Look…” Angel couldn’t say anymore. The thought of losing her was enough to take the words right out of his mouth. If he could breathe, the wind would have been knocked right out of him. And he was helpless to do anything about it.

He had failed again and because of him Cordelia would suffer. She was somewhere, alone, afraid and who knew in how much pain and all because of him. He hated himself for it. All the lives he’d saved would count for nothing if she died again. He was supposed to be a champion yet he couldn’t even save the woman he loved.

Finally, Angel decided to speak. “Danandril, let them go and we will leave you be. We will stay out of your way, just let them go.”

“What are you saying!?” Gunn shouted from across the room.

“I can’t lose them. I can’t lose her. Just let them go.”

“You bloody ponce. You’re selling us out,” Spike shouted. “If we leave this guy alone millions will die!”

Angel couldn’t look at any of them when he said, “I love her too much, Danandril. Please, let them go.”

Danandril rubbed at his chin for a moment as he thought about what Angel was asking. Just let them go? Was it something he should do? Angel was willing to give him free reign to save the woman he loved. Could it be that he and Angel shared a common bond, a bond where there love for something ruled them and drove their lives relentlessly?

“Your words are touching, Angel,” Danandril said. “But useless all the same. While I feel some degree of sympathy to your cause, I wouldn’t be evil if I just allowed the women to go free.” Danandril lifted his arm and revealed a walky-talky. “The women are being held at two separate locations here in Los Angeles. They are being guarded by soldiers who will synchronise their watches upon my command. When the 30 minutes count down, they will shoot the women.”

Angel hung his head sorrowfully but the rest of the group became even more determined than before. Then again, none of them had suffered loss on the scale that Angel had and probably never would. Now he had another loss to add to the list but it was one he had suffered before and one that would kill him if he suffered it again.

“You have a chance to save them, Angel,” Danandril began again. “It can only be you though. Your friends have to stay here while you go and be the champion. The slayer is at the docks and the brunette is in the abandoned building where I caught them and you killed one of my most loyal minions.”

“They’re both 25 minutes from here,” Gunn informed them.

With an evil smile and a glistening in his red eyes, Danandril replied, “Yes, that’s right. Angel, you have the chance to save the women but you can only save one of them.”

“What!?” Spike shouted.

“Two women, Angel. Two loves. 30 minutes. Which one are you going to save and which one are you going to sentence to death?”

“I can’t… this is-”

“Angel, you’ll find that life is full of little choices,” Danandril began. “This is no different. Who do you save, Angel? The choice is yours. Choose wisely.”


Part 12

Angel slowly backed the Plymouth out of the factory and started to turn it around. It was a slow process with there being so much broken machinery lying around. A few scratches on his car weren’t his priority at the moment though, Danandril’s revelation being the only thing on his mind.

Is it true? Angel thought as he squeezed the wheel tightly, the tension and apprehension building inside him to near unbearable levels. He leant back, resting his head on the seat, and tried to make sense of things. It hadn’t yet sunk in. Tonight either Buffy or Cordelia could die and it would have been because of him, because of his failings. It was a sickening thought and he was getting close to vomiting.

He brought his head forward slowly and stared for miles in front, the anger that was building up inside him making him shake, his jaw tensing and his hands threatening to crush the steering wheel with ease. It was the same as when he found Jasmine using her body to sleep with his son. At the time he had thought it was Cordelia and, after fighting back the tears, he destroyed a lot of things on his way back to the hotel, just to relieve that anger.

It was the same all over again. Again he was on the brink of losing her and if he did it would be without his true feelings being revealed. She would die thinking he chose Buffy, which wasn’t the case at all, and that would have been a horrible way to go.

What she was going through, Angel knew all about it. He had felt it in all of his victims as he cut a swathe across Europe and now Cordelia was being subjected to it. He had vowed Cordelia would never be subjected to that fear, uncertainty, loneliness and hopelessness but that vow had now been broken and Cordelia could die because of him. She might as well have been one of his victims.

Danandril’s laughter resonated from the factory as he waited for Angel to drive away. As soon as his wheels started turning the bastard would be on the walky- talky, happily giving the order for the count to start. Now he had to listen to his taunting laughs while he made the decision, if he could indeed make it.

There was so much to consider. Angel rested his head back again and stared up at the cloudy sky. Closing his eyes he began the long, painful process of choosing whose death warrant he was going to sign.

How could he do it? Angel punched the steering wheel with all of the strength he could muster. Two lives on his hands, the woman he loved and the slayer. Why was he being made to choose? He knew how. He was the only one who could make the decision because it was harder for him than anyone else.

Spike would choose Buffy because he loved her. There was no shame in it and it made Angel proud sometimes that his grandchilde was so loyal, loving and unwilling to compromise when it came to issues of the heart. He sometimes wished that that had been one of the things he had taught him, not the truly despicable things that he did impart.

Gunn was fairly indifferent with Buffy and would most likely choose his friend over the complete stranger. Illyria was completely void of emotion so their deaths would not faze her in the slightest. Kennedy was a slayer and would obviously pick a slayer because of her importance in the world.

That left Angel, the one man who had loved them both and knew the importance of both of them. Cordelia was important to him. She was his rock and without her he would be nowhere. More importantly, he loved her, more than life itself. Losing her would be like losing part of his heart or his soul.

But Buffy was the slayer, the world’s protector. Without her the world would constantly be in jeopardy. It was always in jeopardy anyway but her presence made it a little safer. She knew about making sacrifices and there was no doubt that she would do it again if it needed to be done. She had stopped more apocalypses than anyone else and too lose her would be like sacrificing the world He couldn’t do that, not in good conscience, not just for love. I need Cordelia and I love her, but the world needs Buffy more.

Angel looked into the factory and stood, looking down, his hands in his pockets as he helplessly waited for maybe the love of his life to die, was Spike. He was uncompromising in love. It ruled his soul and nothing else mattered when there was love. He had fought for his soul, and nearly died, just to be a man who Buffy could love. To him, love was all and without it there was nothing.

Turning his attention away from the factory and back to the vast land before him, Angel decided that he wasn’t going to lose Cordelia again. He had given so much for the world in his life that he wanted something back. Without Buffy, the World still had champions to fight for it and protect it from evil but without Cordelia, what did he have? The world needs Buffy but I need Cordelia more.

With a twist of the key in the ignition, the Plymouth’s engine came to life. The sound of it drew the gaze of Spike who knew the decision when he saw Angel’s face.

In the brief moments before Angel left, Spike could see the apologies in his eyes but he wasn’t sorry that Angel had picked Cordelia. For once, Angel was doing something because he knew it was right and because his heart led him to it, not because the moral obligations of the role of champion forced him into it.

With a weak smile, Spike watched as the Plymouth sped away from the factory and back towards the city. Slowly he brought his attention back to the smug look on Danandril’s face as he brought the walky-talky to his lips.

“This is Danandril. Start the count.”

* * *

The cold air hit Justin Balderas as soon as he left the Hyperion’s lobby and entered the garden. He quickly buttoned up his long coat and rubbed his arms as he walked away from the palatial building.

Everything was in place and the surveillance gear was ready to transmit back to the offices of Wolfram and Hart. Now the Special Forces members were filing away from the hotel, while still in attack formation, towards their M998 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, or Humvee, which were standard issue for all Special Forces teams at Wolfram and Hart.

Justin smiled as he looked up at the increasingly cloudy sky that looked like it could open at any moment. It was a good night for it, especially in Angel’s case. Pretty soon the skies would be unleashing their load upon Los Angeles, which would hide Angel’s tears.

Tonight, a new chapter would begin in the war against the forces of good and the first battle would be a resounding victory for the Senior Partners. Angel would sacrifice the woman he loved for the slayer, destroying his will in the process. His desire too protect mankind would be gone and the Senior Partners’ biggest threat would more or less be removed from the fight.

“Sir.” The team leader ran towards Danandril and saluted the head of Special Projects.

“Yes, Lieutenant Carter?” Balderas replied.

“Sir, we’ve just radioed in,” Carter began. “We will have confirmation of the link in a few moments.”

“Very good, Lieutenant. Let me know when we have confirmation.”

Carter saluted again before walking back to the Humvee where the team’s radio man was eagerly awaiting a reply from the surveillance team back at the office.

Another gust of ice cold wind reassured Balderas that he wanted to be back in his warm apartment at the office. Since Angel’s return to the scene, all major employees of Wolfram and Hart had to live in private apartments within the office building to safeguard against any unwanted interrogations. He always considered the new policy to be a waste of time because Angel had got past security before and he could easily do it again, even though it had advanced over the ten years of his dormancy.

“Sir, we have confirmation,” Carter shouted while giving a thumbs up.

“Finally!” With a smile at the thought of cosy warmth, Balderas rushed towards the jeep and gave a mental farewell to Angel. Within moments they were gone and the Hyperion stood silent again.

* * *

It was silent inside the factory, the only sound breaking it being the slowly dripping of water and Gunn and Kennedy’s breathing. Spike heard a lot more though. Gunn’s heart was racing, obviously because he was worried about Cordelia. Kennedy’s heart was beating differently though. She was anticipating something, probably a fight. Everyone knew how much she loved a fight.

Watching Danandril stride around arrogantly, as if he viewed himself as better, with a cocky smile on his face was making Spike progressively angrier. It was not something Spike liked to see, especially when the woman he loved was on the wrong end of a gun. Sure, he did it as well but he never viewed himself as better than anyone. The things I’ve done, how could I be better?

The fact that he might lose Buffy forever still hadn’t sunk in but as he thought about it, it became more of a reality. He had already lost her twice. He knew that three times would be too much. Once had been too much. What was he doing though? Nothing. He was just standing around and waiting for the time to tick away so his girl could have her brains blown out.

The statement rattled around in the solid confines of his mind making him anxious and furious. Was Buffy even his girl? As a vampire, possession seemed a sweet and simple deal – the predator owned its prey without argument or consent – but Spike had always been love’s bitch, for better or worse. There was a rare spark of humanity within him, one that he, Drusilla and Angelus had tried to clamp down and shove out over centuries and yet to no avail.

The man inside him wanted Buffy to consent, wanted her to love him and tell him and let him love her. It killed him that in the time she’d spent in L.A, she’d barely paid him any attention at all. He was the one who stood loyal to her, who fought by her side, who loved her more than anything – and she was treating him like he didn’t exist.

Anger boiled through him, the barely restrained rage reminding him of the killer submerged beneath his soul. Sometimes he found himself wishing he hadn’t got a soul for her, hadn’t suffered and broken to acquire something he thought would make her happy. Instead he wished that The First had made him kill her, made him break her and hurt her the way she had him.

Spike blinked, sucking in an unneeded breath. The anger passed and he opened his eyes, his heart filling with a familiar emotion whenever he thought of her. He loved Buffy, he doubted there was very much that could change that right now, and the most important thing was saving her life and returning her home safely.

Even if there was a part of him that wanted to drag her through the pain she’d put him through.

From the moment Angel had left, the frustration had grown and now Spike was clenching and opening his fist every few seconds just to restrain himself. He knew that if he thought, Buffy’s life could be put in jeopardy. If his lust to kick Danandril’s ass meant her death he would never forgive himself. Yes, restraint is what’s needed here.

But why was he restraining he himself. It was something he didn’t quite understand. He should have been kicking Danandril’s arse two ways from Sunday and saving Buffy. Their last fight came to his mind, the one where he had been tossed around like a rag doll, and he questioned what would be different this time.

He took another look at Danandril who was watching the group intently as he waited for the timer to reach zero. His cocky smile still hadn’t faded. Instead it was just growing each minute. The sight was all Spike needed to remind him how this time fight would be different.

It was different because this time he wasn’t fighting for himself or just to beat the other guy. This time he was fighting for Buffy. He could overcome anything for her. He should have been dead a thousand times over because of the demon trials, and he knew it, but he wasn’t because he over came for her. For her, he could beat anything.

With that thought he turned to the others and gave them a nod, accompanied by a sly smile. Gunn and Illyria knew exactly what that meant and they suddenly readied themselves.

“Hey, Danandril,” Spike shouted as he walked forward slowly. “We need to talk!”

With a push of his legs, Spike was hurtling towards the balcony where Danandril was stood. All the way there he never took his focus off his opponent and he didn’t intend to until one of them was dead.

The steel grating sent a sharp shock through his body as he landed, his boots not absorbing the impact well. Danandril turned to Spike slowly, the smile still there, and folded his arms in the sleeves of the elegant robe he was wearing. It was a different robe to the one he saw him in last.

“Nice outfit,” Spike mocked. “Not good when you’re in a scrap. Too bulky.”

“Thank-you for the tip, Spike,” Danandril replied as an evil smile spread from ear to ear. “This isn’t the robe I wear for combat, though. This is the robe I wear when I sacrifice worthless creatures like your slayer whore.”

With a scream of rage, Spike swung his fist straight at Danandril’s face. With the speed and power behind it, he was sure it wouldn’t miss. That was before he remembered how fast Danandril was though.

Danandril caught it with ease and smiled. “I am disappointed in you, Spike. The legendary dark warrior himself cannot even hit me. I’m not even dressed for a fight either, as you so readily pointed out. Perhaps it is time you stopped focusing on my apparel and started worrying which coffin would go well with the slayer’s complexion.”

Spike was suddenly off the ground and falling through the air after being easily thrown. Desperately he tried to regain his balance but his speed was too high. Within seconds of being thrown he collided with the wall and dropped to the ground 30 feet below with a bone shattering crash. Bloody good job I have vampire constitution, he quipped.

With a huge effort behind it, he got to his feet and looked back towards the action. Now it was a bit more level pegging. Kennedy was attacking from the left and Illyria was attacking on the right. Gunn on the other hand was waiting on the ground for a clear shot with his crossbow.

As much as he hated to admit it, he wished Angel was there helping him. He always knew that when Angel was fighting alongside, his chances of victory were far greater. For now though, a slayer and an Old One would have to do.

It soon became just an Old One. Kennedy’s unrelenting punches and kicks were meeting their target but they weren’t getting through. Not even slayer strength fazed him and that was no small feat. She had begun with quite simple techniques but moved gradually to more advanced moves to keep him off balance. First you had to get him off balance though.

Spike knew that he would have to get back in soon, Kennedy’s body lying prone beside Danandril affirming that thought. He was eager to get back in but he had to pick the right time. Pick your spots. In battles that were near impossible you had to take precautions and make sure you timed your attacks perfectly. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t last very long.

Illyria ducked below one of Danandril’s punches and, with a swift leg sweep, took his left leg away. As Danandril swaggered and swayed, Spike saw his opportunity. As he ran he thought, prepare for the worst bloody beating of your life!

The landing was smoother this time and Illyria’s barrage kept Danandril occupied. Quickly, Spike turned and began to lay into Danandril’s back. His hardest punches and kicks felt like bee stings to Danandril and he knew it but if he kept going he would find an Achilles heel.

Illyria swung again but missed, allowing Danandril the time he needed to grab her face in his huge hands, that looked as though they could engulf bowling balls, and slam her head into the wall. Cracks in the wall branched outwards from the point of impact and the usually durable Illyria was suddenly out cold and out of the fight.

Spike carried on as Danandril threw Illyria’s motionless body away but within seconds he had him by the throat. Spike knew that if he breathed, he would be taking desperate breaths now.

“Well, what have we here?” Danandril mocked. “Spike, vampire extraordinaire, trapped in the clutches of Lord Danandril, his chances of escape zero and his chances of survival… even less than that.”

Spike winced as Danandril tightened his grip while the annoying smile broadened on his face. If he could do, he would kick Danandril’s big, yellow teeth down his throat but it was impossible. He was never one to turn from a fight but even he knew that Danandril could not be beaten.

A sudden scream echoed through the factory as Kennedy launched herself over Spike, sending a kick into Danandril’s face. It still wasn’t enough but it got Spike free and Danandril off balance. He lost even more balance as Kennedy unleashed all of her slayer fury and power on the suddenly helpless demon. It even put Spike in awe of her abilities.

It continued on and no one interfered as Danandril took a beating like never before. There didn’t seem to be any way for him to retaliate until Kennedy stopped for a simple catching of breath. In battle against an opponent like Danandril, that was all that was needed.

As quickly as it had begun, it ended and Danandril once again had Kennedy at his mercy. He delivered his own punches relentlessly into her face, which did more damage to her than hers did to him. Blow after blow connected and with each brutal shot, another spray of blood erupted from her young, pretty face.

Spike watched in horror as Kennedy fell forward limply into Danandril’s arms and he, with ease, lifted and threw her to the cold, unforgiving ground 15 feet below. That was it for him. He wasn’t going to let Danandril hurt anyone like that again and there was only one way to do that.

With a shake of his head, Spike morphed his attractive features and showed the demon that lay beneath the surface. His demon didn’t desire evil like Angel’s had. No. His was different. His wanted a brutal, bloody battle and it wouldn’t stop until it won and destroyed every fibre of his opponent’s being.

“We end this now, Danandril!” Spike shouted as he moved closer gradually. He thought he knew how to get to Danandril and he was going to use that knowledge, as long as he was fast enough to use it.

He was off and like a bolt of lightning he reached his target in no time. As he expected, Danandril swung his right fist allowing him free access to his right side. With a quick duck under and a sudden onslaught of punches into Danandril’s right side, Spike thought he had begun to gain the upper hand.

As soon as Danandril tried to counter, Spike was away and moving to the next exposed side. It repeated on for a few moments but Danandril saw the technique and countered masterfully when Spike tried it again. How the bloody hell did he counter that, Spike asked himself as he flew towards the back wall again, his face aching from the quick left-right Danandril gave him.

“You are not the only creatures that can adapt,” Danandril mocked as he looked out over the carnage before him, that he was responsible for. “When will you people learn that I cannot be beaten by half breeds, primitives and a fallen Old One?”

He turned to walk away but three soft thudding sounds coming in quick succession followed by three sharp pains in his back got his attention. Again he turned and looked at the group before him, his eye instantly catching Gunn who still had his crossbow aimed at him.

“We’ll learn when you become invincible,” Gunn jested.

A smile crossed Spike’s face when he saw the look of horror on Danandril’s accompanied by the sight of three arrow bolts in is back. After a quick, enthusiastic ‘ha’, he said, “Bloody brilliant! We give him all we’ve got and all it takes is three bloody arrows. Priceless! Try and adapt to that mate!”

With a look of contempt for all of them, Danandril dropped to the ground and pushed the arrows further into his back. Within moments, Gunn was beside him with the crossbow aimed at his temple. Spike stood on the other side and laughed heartily about his downfall.

“I can’t bloody believe it! This is the first big bad we’ve had in ten years and all it takes to kill him is a quick, sharp shot from a crossbow. Can you believe I lost to this guy!? I’ve beaten slayers but I can’t beat the big bad with the arrow allergies! Pissing marvellous!!”

“Shut up, Spike!” Gunn shouted. Spike didn’t argue and kept his taunts to himself. He was dying to get another one in before Danandril popped his clogs though. “Now Danandril, let the girls go.” The smile suddenly disappeared from Spike’s face as he remembered Buffy. “If you let them go, we let you go free. I know that three arrows won’t kill you because your race of demons is particularly resilient. That’s why these are laced with poison that will wear off in a few hours. If you don’t let them go I will put another three in you and that won’t wear off.”

“No!” Danandril pleaded. “Please don’t kill me! I beg you!” Allowing his enemies to see his weakness and fear of death was not something that Danandril liked to do but he couldn’t die, not now. Making him reveal his weakness was not something that would go unpunished.

“I won’t kill you if you help us.”

Spike walked over and shoved Gunn into the wall. “Have you gone completely starkers, Gunn!? If we let this guy live he’ll do more damage!”

“I doubt it, Spike,” Gunn replied. “We’ve put the fear of God in him.”

“Trust me mate, that doesn’t apply to us demons.”

Both watched as Danandril outstretched his hand and, with as much strength as he could muster, formed a portal. It swirled violently, the purple and blacks merging and a foul wind blowing from within.

“Walk through it,” Danandril said weakly. “It will go wherever you want to go.”

“I’ll go for Buffy,” Spike said urgently.

Gunn grabbed his sleeve, pulled him back and warned him, “What if Angel has gone to save Buffy? Cordelia will die!”

“Trust me mate, Angel’s gone for Cordelia. I think he’s finally decided to follow his heart and not his duty. Maybe next we can get him to smile,” Spike joked before walking into the portal, the only thing on his mind: Buffy and the docks.

* * *

Angel pulled on the handbrake and the Plymouth grinded to a halt outside the building Danandril had told him Cordelia was in. He hoped that Danandril had told him the truth because there was only 5 minutes left before she was killed.

With a deep breath in Angel picked up Cordelia’s distinctive scent. It was her favourite perfume – which he never remembered the name of – and lavender from sitting in the garden. She didn’t actually sit in the garden much but it always seemed to mix into her scent. Maybe she sat there while he slept.

Come on, focus Angel, he told himself as his mind wandered. You have to save her.

Quickly he got out of his car and entered the building the dust hitting him as soon as he opened the door. He was thankful he didn’t breathe as he walked through the dust cloud that could rival the smog outside. Then he remembered that he did have to breathe to locate Cordelia. And again he found her scent in the air mixed in with all the dust that would clog his nose up for a while.

Taking two steps at a time he silently ran up the stairs and followed the scent, never wavering from his course and not intending to stop until he had her. He was aided by the sound of voices carrying from the top floor which just confirmed his belief.

In all his years his scenting and hearing had honed to such a degree that he could locate someone in a building just from strength of scent and sound. It was handy in situations like this when he had no time to search the building slowly to find his target.

Within less than a minute he was on the top floor and following his senses down the long corridor. For some strange reason, he didn’t recognise anything. It was probably because he had been too focused on getting rid of the Skench demons the last time and fighting Edna. It did worry him though and he wondered if he had been given a fake scent to follow.

“Listen, buster.” No, that was definitely Cordelia’s voice. There was no mistaking it when it was raised and being used to deride another. “If you think you can get away with this you’ve got another thing coming. Someone will come for me and then you’ll be in for it.”

Through the door, Angel heard the soldier reply, “I’m glad I get to shoot you now. You’ve been talking my ears off for the past half hour.” A rapid beeping followed and a gun was cocked. “Time to say bye-bye.”

The door gave easily under the force of his kick and he strode in with a very displeased look on his face. The soldier turned and aimed his gun, the laser sight showing up right where Angel’s heart was.

“Just walk away, pal. This has nothing to do with you. Walk away and I won’t kill you.”

“I was just about to say the same thing to you,” Angel replied.

“Alright, you asked for it.”

Angel winced as three shots fired and three tiny bullets ripped through his flesh, flew through his chest and back out the other side. The force of them sent him crashing to the floor but he wasn’t finished yet. He fought through the pain and stood up, his back to the soldier and the bullet wounds in his back clearly visible, wounds that would have killed any normal man.

Turning with a snarl, Angel revealed his face that now had a ridged forehead, golden eyes and two large fangs that looked like they could cut through nearly any material. “I don’t like it when people shoot me!”

Suddenly he bounded forward towards the soldier who screamed and let loose with his gun. Dozens of bullets left the semi-automatic and tore into Angel’s body without any mercy for their target. Still he ran though, the pain and the desire to fall to the floor paling in comparison to the need to save Cordelia.

With ease, he pulled the gun from the soldier’s hands and delivered a quick, sharp blow to the face that sent him falling to the floor. He wasn’t getting up anytime soon.

Now, onto Cordelia who was sitting against the back wall, her hands tied and her face bruised. He returned his face to its human features and walked towards her, a smile on his face. He kneeled down and looked lovingly into her eyes while he untied her ropes. “Are you okay?” he asked softly.

A slight smile formed on her face at the joy of him coming for her but it soon faded when she suddenly remembered what he had done to her just days earlier. Sadly she replied, “No. You hurt my feelings.”

* * *

It was awkwardly silent inside the lobby as the group patched themselves up. Kennedy was badly beaten and Spike had rushed her off to the hospital, much to his annoyance, but Buffy had been very strict about it. He wouldn’t turn her down, even if he wanted to.

Buffy had gone upstairs after receiving a little first aid from Cordelia. She was staying in Wesley’s old room, which he used for overnight research. She had stayed there before getting the beating from Danandril and having to stay in Angel’s room.

Illyria was out with Gunn as he tried to dig up any information on Danandril. He didn’t know why but Danandril seemed familiar, more so than he liked, and he wanted to find out why. He needed to know whether he had defended him in court or helped him with a deal of some sort while he worked for Wolfram and Hart.

Cordelia had given Illyria and Buffy her expert first aid skills but Angel had been left to tend to his own wounds. She had brutally thought, ‘don’t animals lick their wounds?’ She felt guilty for it now and was glad she hadn’t said it. As bad as she felt and as much as she longed for her and Angel to be happy again, it was time to make him feel as bad as he made her feel in a way that only she could.

There was a limit to what she could do though and she knew it. She couldn’t blatantly hurt Angel because that was just plain horrible. As mad as she was, she still loved him and would do nothing that would hurt him. He had already had too much pain in his life and she wasn’t going to add to it.

No, this was about making him crazy. It was about making him feel like she was unattainable and that he had missed his chance to be with her. It wouldn’t hurt him but it would send a shock to the system to realise that just because they were in love she wasn’t going to collapse into his arms whenever he beckoned.

Angel’s eyes burned into the back of her head but she remained silent, never sparing him a glance as she settled into her seat, checking the frayed edge of her band-aid.

“Here, let me help you with that -” He walked over swiftly, reaching for her arm but Cordelia pulled back, her glare making him freeze.

“I got it.”

Angel looked confused. “Cordy –”

“I said I got it!” She stood, brushing past him without a second look. Angel’s face crumbled, his hand jerking out to stop her, latching onto her arm. Again, the look she cut him made him swallow and pull back.

Cordelia had to fight the tingle beneath the skin, his very touch evoking goose bumps across her skin. God, she missed him. Missed his hands, his arms, and his smile. And she hated him for making her feel that way.

The problem was, she loved him more.

“Cordy, please, can we talk about –”

“Don’t you have someone short, blonde and full of epic tragedy you’d prefer to talk to?” Cordy interrupted, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “I wouldn’t wanna hold you up or stand in your way. If memory serves right, people who do that tend to get shoved aside anyway.”

Hurt flashed in Angel’s eyes and he took a step towards her. “I didn’t…I’m sorry.”

Cordy’s face was blank, her eyes vacant. “And if you think I give a crap then you’re as stupid as you are a jackass.” It hurt to say it but it had to be said. Angel couldn’t be allowed to treat her that way, no matter what the circumstances.

She turned around slowly and without another word walked into the bathroom, locking the door behind her.

Hurt, and feeling guilty because he knew she was right, Angel looked down and fought back the tears. Everything he wanted was standing but meters away but never before had it felt so far away. He turned around and started for the stairs, cursing his very nature as he went.

* * *

Angel sat on his bed and stared lovingly at the picture of Cordelia that had been in his bedside table drawer. It was a beautiful picture. She was smiling in it, her hair in a bob and a small amount of makeup, not that she needed it. From what he could remember, that was the hair style she had in late 2001. It had always been his favourite style but he never asked her to change it. It was her hair after all.

The picture was going to be one of the only ways he would see her smile for a while. He had hurt her, which was the one thing he hated above all others. Everything he did as Angelus paled in comparison to hurting her. It was something that killed him and made him hate his very existence.

It was going to take a lot for her to forgive him but he was prepared to do anything to make it happen. It was Cordelia after all. Nothing was impossible when doing it for her. Not even dying for her would be a problem. Dying for her would be an honour, just knowing that your death was going to preserve hers.

He stopped stroking her smiling face when a knock sounded on the door. It was a nice surprise to see Buffy standing there but he would have preferred a certain brunette. He smiled and watched as she walked in slowly and sat beside him.

She had sprayed fresh perfume on and it wafted around him with every movement she made. He couldn’t help but picture pink streams of clouds floating around him like he had seen in Fred’s cartoons years prior.

With a smile she placed her hand on his and gave it a slight squeeze. It felt nice to feel her touch but it was strange. Years ago, something as trivial as that would have floored him but not anymore. Now he was floored by the sight of Cordelia, the feel of her touch, the smell of her perfume among other things. He was floored by the way her radiant smile could take away any sense of loss or hopelessness and replace them with hope, meaning and happiness.

“How are you feeling?” Buffy asked as she gently stroked his chest. Her fingers were passing over the bullet wounds bringing a little sting to his chest. It wasn’t a problem; it was just nice to feel something other than the cold of the night. He wouldn’t have felt that cold if he had known that things were right between him and Cordelia. Just knowing he had her friendship brought warmth that was unparalleled.

“Okay, a little sore, but okay. You?”

“Tired, relieved, sad, and happy. You name it and I feel it.”

Angel looked down into her eyes and searched them for the answer to the question that he knew was on her mind. He had never had a problem reading her before. It was a skill he had always had. Spike could sense emotions and perceive things on an emotional level but Angel did exactly the same on an intellectual level instead. He could feel, just from her heart beat, shallow breaths and gentle caressing of his chest that something was wrong.

His stare always evoked an answer from her and all he had to do was wait for her to open up to him. That wasn’t always easy though, especially when what she had to say would be a huge thing in one of their lives, if not both.

Eventually his penetrating eyes got down deep enough and Buffy said, “I could have died tonight. Usually I’m all for the death trip – and I’ve taken it a few times to prove that statement – but thinking that I could have gone tonight scares me.”

“Why?”

“Well, if I’d died tonight, I would have never been able to tell you that I… that I love you.” As soon as the words passed her lips, she hung her head and hid her eyes from his. She began again. “I’ve been thinking recently about the last time I saw you in Sunnydale and the things we said to each other. Well, I think I’m ready to settle down now and I want to settle down with you. I love you, Angel.”

It took him a moment to digest that, an anxious knot bundling in his stomach as he stared into her eyes, soft and hopeful.

I love you.

Her words echoed around his mind, so familiar coated in the sound of her voice, and as distant as something he never thought he’d hear from her mouth again. He waited for the dizzying high, the flash of joy that had once accompanied the statement. And yet those emotions sat at the very bottom of the pile, preceded by the consequences, the terrifying lows and the pain of having to let down a woman he had once loved more than anything.

There had been good times, good things they’d done together, moments they’d shared, and yet so much history stood between them, the pain and the bad from the times they’d been together and those without each other – those they’d shared with other people.

He’d loved Buffy once, and with all his heart, but she no longer consumed him, no longer remained his very first and last thought, no longer was what he needed for himself anymore. That honour belonged to someone else now, someone who was great for him even when he’d been too stupid to realise it.

“Buffy, you will always be a huge part of my life and no matter how many years pass, what we had will always be special to me. You will, in some form, be in my heart forever. That’s just how love is. I don’t want to be with you, though. My heart belongs to someone else, someone I love more than life itself.”

“Cordelia?”

“Yes.”

Buffy turned away and moved up the bed slightly so that they no longer had any physical contact. Angel hung his head, knowing that he had hurt Buffy making him feel terrible. It was something he hated doing, no matter what the circumstances. He couldn’t deny his feelings though. Cordelia was the one he loved and the one he wanted to spend his life with, for as long as she lived.

* * *

She had seen it coming, felt it deep in her gut when his eyes had dropped from hers, his face closing up and pulling away to put some distance between them. She knew he didn’t want to hurt her, would have given anything not to hurt her – but he had to.

And that made it difficult to hate him.

Buffy released a breath, running a hand through her hair as silence stretched thin between them, neither her nor Angel sure of what to say or how to react following his revelation. Finally, he spoke.

“Are you okay?”

Buffy blinked, closing her eyes when tears threatened. She breathed in deeply, regaining her control and getting to her feet.

Like a true gentleman, Angel followed.

“I guess I missed my chance, huh?” Buffy asked, crossing her arms as she stood opposite him, not really sure what else to do with her hands.

“I’m sorry, Buffy.” Angel said softly. “I mean, I can’t apologize for falling in love with Cordelia. She’s my best friend. She’s everything I never knew I wanted. But I am sorry for hurting you.”

Buffy nodded, managing a weak smile she said, “I understand.” When Angel raised an eyebrow she felt laughter bubble up in her throat, some of the weight lifting off her shoulders. “I do. I’m not exactly happy about it but I am happy…for you.”

When Angel didn’t say anything, she continued. “I won’t stand in the way, Angel. I thought I was what you wanted but if I’m not…then I want you and Cordelia to be happy. And I wish you both all the best, I really do.”

Angel reached for her hand then, albeit a little awkwardly, squeezing her fingers between his. “Thank you, Buffy. That means a lot to me.” He sighed, looking pained. “Truth is, I don’t even know if Cordelia will take me back. I haven’t exactly been the perfect guy – ”

“Nobody’s perfect, Angel.” Buffy said. “You just have to tell her you’re sorry. And tell her how you feel.” She swallowed, emotion clogging her throat. “Just promise me one thing, Angel.”

“Anything,” he replied immediately.

“Don’t make the same mistakes you made before. If she’s the reason – “she cut herself off before she said something ugly. “If you love her, then fight for her. Don’t let her go. Don’t let superficial things come between you, like the inability to make love.”

Angel stared at her, listening carefully.

“Just love her everyday and treat her as if the world would end without her. Will you promise me that?”

It took a few seconds but slowly, Angel smiled, nodding. “I promise.”

“Okay.” Buffy said. “I’d like for us to be friends, Angel. I’d like to try that.”

“Then we’ll be friends.”

Buffy wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tightly. “Then everything is okay. Goodbye, Angel. I’ll be at Willow’s from now on. I’ll be around to help if this Danandril pops up again.”

“Well we can’t do it without you,” Angel said as she broke the hug. “I’ll be in touch.”

Nothing more was said and with a tearful smile, Buffy walked away from her first love for good. This was it. They were officially finished.

She took the stairs down to the lobby one shaky step at a time, managing to compose herself by the time she reached the ground floor. Buffy wasn’t entirely sure what she was going to say to Cordelia but she knew she had to say something.

It *hurt* that Angel had chosen Cordelia over her but she couldn’t hate the other girl for that, she hadn’t done anything wrong. And she was different to the girl Buffy knew so many years ago – she was a strong, kind young woman, who had tended to her injuries with a big, bright smile that hid a broken heart.

She approached Cordelia when she got to the lobby, startling the other girl who stood to face her instantly, offering her a smile.

“Hey.” Cordy said. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, kind of.” Buffy replied, cutting to the chase. If she stayed too long, it would hurt even more, and she was trying and beginning to come to peace with it all. “You’re very lucky to have him, Cordelia.”

Cordelia’s face scrunched up in confusion and she raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry?”

“I need you to promise me that you’ll love him and cherish him the way I should have done. Promise me that you’ll make him happy and always love him.”

Cordelia looked coolly at her. “Okay, did you hit your head during the fight?”

Buffy’s lips quirked up at the edges. “Please promise me that much.”

“If you’re talking about Angel, I think you missed a chapter in the plotline.” Cordelia said, leaning against her desk. “I’m not small, blonde and full of angst, so loosely translated, I’m not on Angel’s most wanted list.”

“Insult aside,” Buffy narrowed her eyes, “He loves you. Very much actually. I know because…” She bit her lip, pain lacing through her chest. “I just know.”

She waited until she caught Cordelia’s eye, holding her stare for several seconds. “So before I go, I *need* you to promise me.”

“Cryptic much?” Cordelia asked, rolling her eyes. “I don’t know what you want from me Buffy. I can’t promise you anything. Not right now.”

Buffy’s body slouched then, her hands rising up in defeat. “I know he hurt you. And I don’t wanna be the one to have to tell you he’s sorry but you should know that he is. And that he’s gonna do everything he can to make it better.”

Cordelia said nothing, her face a mask of indifference.

“Will you at least promise to give him a chance?”

Cordelia didn’t say anything for a minute, seemingly mulling it all over in her mind. Finally, she turned to Buffy, shrugging lightly. “Fine. I promise.”

“Thank you.” Buffy nodded. “Goodbye, Cordelia.”

With that, she turned and walked out of the lobby, leaving Cordelia staring behind her, surely pondering the extent and potency of Angel’s feelings towards her. If she did realise just how important and beloved she was to him, Buffy had a feeling Cordelia would be forgiving Angel a little bit sooner than intended.


Part 13

The afternoon sunlight shone in through the crack in the curtains. It was a warm day and the sun was toasting everything it touched. The dense curtains had blocked the sun but now they had been pulled ajar and allowed for a small area of the room to bask in the wonderful warmth.

Angel avoided the sunlight that was streaming in and looked down towards the lavender garden. In the midst of it lay Cordelia sunning herself, her skin glistening as tiny beads of sweat formed in the intense heat. She was a beautiful sight for sore, tired eyes. It was nice just watching her like this and Angel had no intentions of stopping soon.

The skimpy bikini she wore left little to the imagination, the very sight of her making Angel ache. Her curves lay exposed, calling out to him and begging for him to do all manner of things to her. He wanted to feel her supple breasts beneath his hands, feel her warmth wrap itself around him as he made her his own.

God, he wanted to taste her.

That wasn’t a likely scenario though at the moment. It had been two days since he had saved her from being shot but they still hadn’t really spoken. It had been the longest two days of his life. He’d barely managed to approach her without stammering – an unfortunate road-block that Spike had found all too amusing for Angel’s liking.

It destroyed him, killed a part of him that he desperately wanted alive, every time she gave him nothing but a disdainful glare and mouthful of scathing words. It hurt worse than death, worse than anything Angel had ever experienced or caused, to have the woman he loved look at him with hate in her eyes.

He could hardly blame her, what she was doing being completely warranted after he had hurt her. Caring for Buffy wasn’t wrong but pushing Cordelia aside when all she wanted to do was help him, care for him and love him was.

Focusing on Buffy made it easier to be away from Cordelia and it took his mind off the hopelessness that was their situation. Despite that, it was still no excuse to push her away.

Now it was another item on his atonement list and it was going to be a while before he could check this one off.

Angel watched as Cordelia picked up all her stuff and walked inside but not before she replaced her white dressing gown. It slid on silkily, gliding across a flawless, bronze surface and clinging to her like a second skin.

Perhaps she was doing it on purpose. Maybe she knew that he was watching her and was making herself look absolutely irresistible – which wasn’t difficult – just to taunt him. She knew she was beautiful and she knew that he wanted her and she wanted to make him squirm. If that was what she was doing it was working like a charm.

It was not a new thing her making him crazy. Every moment of everyday she made him crazy just by being. Every breath, every moan, every time she gently bit on her lip or the tip of a pencil made him crazy but now it was worse. Now, for the time being, she was unattainable and the thing that should have been his alone was being used as a weapon against him.

The door opened suddenly and Spike strode in arrogantly declaring, “Gonna need to borrow the car tonight, big guy.” He must have seen the crestfallen look on Angel’s face because his eyes narrowed in concern. “You alright?”

Angel silently closed the curtain and took his place in the armchair where his pads of paper sat. Without a word, he picked up a piece and began sketching. Spike was squinting, staring curiously at his work. Angel ignored him, knowing he’d work it out soon enough.

Slowly, the slim, soft curve of Cordelia’s jaw began to form beneath the charcoal, her hair sleek and dark as midnight, her smile brilliant even against the stark white background.

With a wry smile, Spike said, “Oh, I see.” He moved further into the room, dropped onto the couch and put his right leg up on it. “So you’re having woman troubles then? Yeah, I saw the way Cordelia looked at you the other day and God knows I’ve heard the way she talks to you. What did you do to her, mate?”

“Spike, I don’t want to talk about it.”

Spike pulled a cigarette from the pack in his jacket pocket, lit it and took a long drag. After blowing the smoke from his mouth, he said, “Look at your sodding history! You left Drusilla because you got bored, you left Darla because you got a soul, you left Buffy because you got…well, none – and now you’ve managed to screw it up with the only woman you’ve never wanted to walk away from!’ Spike grinned toothily. ‘Well, I’m free if she wants a piece -”

“Shut up, Spike!”

“Calm down, gramps,” Spike said with a laugh as he stood and headed to the door. “I’m just pissing about – sort of.” He paused. “But don’t be a twat about this. Don’t let another one go because of yourmistake. Not this one. Whatever you’ve done or said, just make it up to her. She’ll come around. I’ve seen how she’s been looking at you recently but I’ve also seen how she looks at you when you ain’t lookin’. She’s angry mate but she still loves you.”

There was a pause before Angel responded, tearing his gaze away from his drawing of Cordelia. “Thanks, Spike.”

“No problem, but you owe me one.” Spike walked from the room but shouted back, “Taking the car for a spin.”

Angel paid no attention. Even if he said no, Spike wouldn’t have listened. With one last look at Cordelia’s picture, he stood up and headed for the door. It was time to make things up to her.

* * *

The sunlight followed Cordelia through the door when she came in from the garden. She carefully held her dressing gown in place as she closed the door. She knew wearing a dressing gown that used to belong to Fred was a stupid idea but Angel had seen her in it which made the risk of losing it worthwhile.

Angel didn’t know that she had caught him watching her but she had and it had been a wonderful experience to make him squirm. She wasn’t arrogant but she had to admit it, she was hot and Angel was a man. Well, he was a male vampire and all men had a direct link from their brains to their… packages.

She had seen him as she lay on her back. Her sunglasses had shielded her eyes from the harsh rays but they had also shielded her eyes from his intense gaze. Vampire vision or not, he couldn’t see through the dark lenses. His weakened vision in the day didn’t help either.

As much pleasure as she got from making Angel all hot and bothered, she couldn’t deny that she felt it as well. As much as she wanted him to suffer, her objective was to make him act. She wanted the lust to fuel him, to force him into making a move. She longed to feel his hands caressing her skin, his lips kissing hers and his gentle thrusting as they finally made love.

Yet, while it was hard to deny him what she herself wanted so much, it could be fun.

No matter how hard it was to do, it had to be done. Cordelia Chase did not let people walk all over her without giving something back. Angel had hurt her and she was going to make him feel the way she’d felt when he’d pushed her aside.

Cordelia walked into the office quickly and grabbed her clothes from the hooks. She had been lazy before and hadn’t got undressed upstairs. There had been no one around then either so she had thought it safe to get undressed. What would be different this time? Plus, she didn’t want to go upstairs and risk a confrontation with Angel. Not now. She just wanted him to simmer with the thought of her nearly naked body.

She reached around and loosened the bikini top string. It released its grip on her body and slid down gently, following the curve of her breasts as it did so. With one hand she kept her exposed breasts covered and with the other she pulled the bikini thong down just enough that it could slide down the smooth surface of her legs unaided.

Naked and vulnerable, Cordelia realised the need for speed when she heard a door close upstairs. That either meant someone was going into a room or someone was coming out. Seeing as both Spike and Angel were in their rooms already and Gunn and Illyria were out, it had to be one of the two resident vamps.

I hope it isn’t Spike, Cordelia thought as she took another look down at her naked body. The crude opinions of a cockney are not what I need right now.

Without hesitation, she reached for her bra and pants and quickly put them on but not before doing the usual rushing-to-get-pants-on dance. The bra was easy but this time the strap gave her trouble even though it never had before.

With a quick glance into the lobby, she could see feet on the landing as someone walked towards the slightly spiralled stairs. They were moving slowly as if caution was needed for the approach. That could only be one person: Angel. He was obviously coming for one of his stutter talks.

They were pathetic, but adorable all the same and they were one of the many things about him that she loved dearly. They also made her want to scream sometimes because he thought that he could get around her and be forgiven by being cute. She was too pissed at him right now to forgive him though.

Quickly, she pulled her dress up to her waist and buttoned it up. Now all she needed was her blouse and with vampire-like speed, she put it on, buttoned up the front and confidently strolled towards her desk. She acted like she had no idea Angel was there and began sifting through the files that Gunn had neatly arranged in the filing cabinet beside it.

The sudden stop to the sound of feet on the carpet and the increased sound of rustling and throat clearing told Cordelia that Angel had seen her and was preparing his speech.

Cordelia rolled her eyes impatiently, not bothering to turn around. “Is there something you want?”

Now the stuttered response would follow and the natural order of things at the Hyperion hotel would be restored. “Uh… uh, I just wanted to see how you were. You. Cordelia. Cordy.”

Drawing her eyes away from the files that she wasn’t actually focusing on, Cordelia sent Angel a look of ‘what the hell are you babbling on about?’ He looked down, ashamed, with his hands in his pockets, until she said, “I’m fine. I’m just looking for something Gunn asked for.”

“Can I help?” he asked as he moved to her side.

“Not really. I wouldn’t want to disrupt the daily routine you have going for you.” She cocked her head in mock contemplation. “You know, brood, brood some more, spend the majority of the afternoon moping in your bedroom and categorizing and alphabetizing the reasons that you’re life is so terrible?” She shrugged. “You should probably leave the dirty work up to people who actually give a damn about others. You wouldn’t understand the system we have set up here anyway,” her voice lowered into a sarcastic drawl, “just like I don’t understand what it’s like to be a champion like you and Buffy.”

She could feel Angel move away. His body didn’t resonate heat like humans and when he was near there was a chill in the air. That was also partly because his mere presence sent shivers up her spine. It was exhilarating just being near him and she missed him as soon as he stepped away.

“I uh… noticed you were sunbathing earlier.”

A slight smile formed on Cordelia’s lips. She hadn’t actually thought he would admit seeing her like that. She knew that he wouldn’t admit that he liked what he saw.

“Did you enjoy it?” Angel asked as he closed the gap between them slightly.

“I did. Working for a vampire hardly allows daylight hours.” She shot him a sharp look. “Maybe I’ll take your advice…spend less time thinking about you and your mission and go on a shopping spree instead.”

Her smile was brittle, and she could tell she was hurting him by the way he simply stared at her, his eyes wide and pained. All Cordelia offered him was a blank, emotionless look that asked, ‘are you done?’ The answer came when he gave a slight nod and walked away slowly, his back hunched, his shoulders low and his head hung.

It pained her to see him like that and it made her feel terrible that she had to make him feel like that. He had to know though. He had to know what it was like when the person he loved pushed him away and made him feel unneeded, unwanted and unloved. If he treated her right though, she might let him off a little sooner. Until then, he’d know what it was to hurt.

* * *

Fluorescent lights shone brightly as the medical staff rushed around the room frantically. Orders were being barked and the tension was high. There wasn’t much time left and there was no room for failure here.

Justin Balderas watched everything from behind a glass window, his arms folded and his right hand rubbing at his chin as he contemplated the ramifications of what had happened. He knew one thing, the Senior Partners would not be happy if when they found out. After all, their plans rested on Danandril killing Angel.

Seeing a creature of Danandril’s stature and power in a near death state was unsettling to say the least. Demons like him were supposed to be the rulers of worlds and the destroyers of them as well. But here was one, feared in his home dimension, lying in the Wolfram and Hart Emergency room being treated by the best doctors the Senior Partners could find for arrow wounds.

If a creature like Danandril could be brought down by arrow bolts, what else could Angel’s group face and overcome?

Justin had heard the stories of Angel Investigations before. They were intriguing. The things that Wolfram and Hart had thrown at them, they had faced and defeated each time. In the end the only thing that could have possibly defeated them was themselves. And from what he had read in Files and Records, it was close to happening.

The burden of running an evil interdimensional law firm had taken its toll on the group and the cracks had started to show. It was only the return of Cordelia Chase that set Angel back on the path and it was only because of her that he was able to defeat the Circle of the Black Thorn.

It was happening again. Angel had been depressed, alone and Cordelia had returned to him. She saved him again and now he was fighting again. If he was fighting with her at his side there was no doubt that he would be a formidable, maybe even too formidable for Danandril and the Senior Partners.

A door swung open as the head doctor entered the room. Justin followed the flight path of the gloves that the doctor removed and threw across the room. He slowly brought his gaze back to doctor and waited for the update.

“It seems that the arrow bolts were tipped in poison,” the doctor began. “That was why he seemed so weak. The effects would have worn off eventually and he would have been fine.”

“So all of this was down to poison?” Justin asked, the relief overcoming him as he realised that he might get to keep his head.

“Yes, it was a weak poison but it can have diverse effects on different subjects. Unfortunately, Lord Danandril is a subject that has a bad reaction to it before recovering.” Balderas followed every word as it left the doctor’s mouth as his smile got progressively larger. It had all been a hoax set up to make them afraid, make them take notice that Angel Investigations was back.

“How long will it be before he is fully recovered?”

Balderas waited as the doctor thought back on his many years studying demon medicine at one of many medical institutes run by Wolfram and Hart. The answer came and the doctor informed him, “He should be at 100% within a few days but he will be talking by the end of the day if you need to speak to him.”

“Thank-you, doctor,” Balderas said with a smile. “I will inform the Senior Partners of your stellar performance today. They will be very pleased.”

With a smile, Balderas left the observation room and back into the main corridor. A security guard stood as stiff as a board beside the door. The guard’s Beretta M1951, semi-automatic single action pistol lay holstered on his right leg but he was ready to draw it at any moment.

“Guard,” Balderas began. “Keep an eye on Lord Danandril for me. Radio me as soon as he wakes up. You know the frequency.”

“Sir, yes, sir!” The guard shouted with a salute as Balderas headed down the corridor.

Dealing with Danandril was important but there was something else he had to do first. His attention was needed in the basement in the secret surveillance room he had had set up in light of Danandril’s demands. It was time to check in on the family.

* * *

Monitors beeped incessantly as they took vital readings from Kennedy’s still, unconscious body. Willow sat by her side, their hands linked together, the only thing stopping Willow squeezing it being the look of helplessness and innocence of Kennedy’s face.

It was strange seeing her like this. Never had Kennedy been helpless. After all, she was a slayer. There wasn’t much that could put a slayer down, especially not one in her prime. Something had hurt her though. Something had fought her and beat her with the intention of destroying every last bit of her.

Willow remembered how it felt wanting to do that to someone. It was exhilarating, but terrible. Whatever this thing was, it took pleasure in hurting people and Kennedy wouldn’t be the last.

If only she’d listened to her and not gone off with Angel and Spike. They could have handled this Danandril guy alone. They were both powerful vampires, the older of them possibly being just as strong if not stronger than a slayer. They could have handled it.

But no, Kennedy wanted battle. That was her failing. Slayers needed a desire for battle and the kill but only in the line of duty. Kennedy wanted the thrill of the battle and the kill outside of duty as well. She took pleasure in combat where she shouldn’t do. It was the mechanism for defending the weak and the helpless people of the world, not a toy to give its owner pleasure.

What frightened Willow the most though was that Kennedy reminded her too much of a very young, confused and bloodthirsty Faith. The Faith that found pleasure in the darker sides of life. If not for Angel she probably would have still been a rogue slayer running around causing death and mayhem wherever she went.

Kennedy was different from Angel and Faith though. Angel was able to help her because they formed a common bond of two people in search of redemption for their past deeds. Kennedy had no connections to Angel however so he couldn’t help her. The only one who could really understand Kennedy at this time would be Buffy.

She had faced just about everything a slayer could face and she had her bad times with it along the way. If anyone could help her deal with the burdens of slayer life and help her find a way to quench her thirst for violence, it would be Buffy.

A knock sounded on the door and was followed by, “How is she?” Buffy walked into the room and sat beside Willow, her hand taking Willow’s as she did. A little squeeze reassured Willow that she was there and she wasn’t alone.

“The doctors said that she’d be fine and that she was making remarkable progress,” Willow told her. “Apparently they’ve never seem someone heal so fast.”

“Well I doubt they get many slayers in ER,” Buffy joked. “Speaking of, was it wise bringing her here? I mean, supernatural beings don’t really come into a doctor’s field of knowledge.”

“I know, but the state she was in…”

“I know. I know.” Buffy sat forward and cupped her other hand around Willow’s. With a smile they both leant in for a hug. It wasn’t the first between them and it wouldn’t be the last.

Willow pulled a hand free and wiped the forming tears from her eyes. Her voice cracking, Willow asked, “Can you help her, Buffy? I’m afraid she’s going to get hurt if she carries on the way she’s going. I can’t lose her, not after… Please, help her.”

* * *

Angel watched the sun set on the horizon from a shady spot in the hotel attic. Its orange glow was soothing but its warmth was something he could never again feel. It saddened him constantly that it was summer in Los Angeles but it was winter in his heart.

The only thing that warmed his heart in recent years was now treating him like dirt on her shoe. It killed him when she was angry with him, even though he deserved every icy word that passed her lips. The worst thing though was not knowing whether it would pass or not. It made him crazy to think that he might have lost his dearest friend forever.

Clothes won’t make it better this time, he mused.

With a glimmer the final ray of light disappeared over the horizon and Angel stepped out of the shadows and into the open doorway. He sighed as the gentle breeze ran through his hair and caressed his scalp. It was a nice feeling but he was only there because it reminded him of Cordelia.

Years prior she would stroke his head when he had a headache. It made it ten times better when she did that. She did especially well because she knew firsthand how bad headaches were, even though his were but a fraction of her vision pains were.

Now though, his headache was just going to have to be eased by the cool breeze but it was no comparison.

Angel turned suddenly when he heard the door creak open. Illyria’s blue figure strolled in, her head tilting as she went and her walk uneasy. Her face made it clear that she didn’t understand Angel’s presence.

“This place, why do you come here, Angel?” Illyria asked as she stopped at his side.

“I like it up here,” he replied, his gaze never leaving the city stretched before him. “I like to watch the city, never still, never silent, never aware of the dangers that lurk in the dark, or the champions that protect them.”

“Do you believe yourself a champion, vampire?”

Angel glanced at her quickly as the corners of his mouth raised slightly. “I used to, but now… I don’t know what I am anymore. I haven’t known for a long time.”

“Could it be true that we share a common bond, Angel? We were both once great beings, revered, needed and assured of our place in this world. Now we are but mere shells of what we were, hopeless remnants of an age gone by. Worthless and pathetic like the dying breath of a lowly insect beneath the foot of man.”

Her words ringing true in his ears, Angel turned and looked at the face of his old friend but now all he saw was an impostor, an impostor of the woman that should have been at the forefront. Nevertheless, what she said was true. They were both nothing anymore, their roles taken by other, more deserving people and their hopes and dreams taken away on the wings of eagles to a place long forgotten by the mind of humanity.

“We have different reasons for our positions, however, Angel,” Illyria began again as he stared intensely into her icy blue eyes. “I feel lost on my place because I have lost my power and my eternal kingdom that shone like a beacon for all to see.” She turned from Angel and looked out at the expanse of city before her. “You are lost because you have lost the one thing that kept you on the path, kept you searching for that purpose and light. You are lost because you lost-”

“Cordelia.” Illyria looked at him again, her head tilting as she watched his eyes. She obviously saw Cordelia there as he thought of her, her face etched on his mind’s eye. “All I ever wanted was to feel like I had done something with my life. Instead, all I found was her.”

“Unlike me, Angel, you can still have your purpose. I can sense that she wants to be your purpose again. It is written on her face and on her heart. Without you, she is miserable, even though her vicious tongue says different.”

Could it be true? Was Cordelia miserable without him? If she was, he was going to try and make it right and make both of their lives that much better. With a smile, Angel walked away and out of the door.

He could feel Illyria’s eyes following him as he left. If he could he would have thanked her but his feelings towards her still prevented him from making that leap. There was still too much of Fred in his heart to thank the creature that destroyed her.

As quickly as he could he walked down the stairs. He didn’t want to seem too eager but the thought of making everything right was too good to draw it out.

He rounded the corners of the long corridors and moved ever closer to the lobby where Cordelia would undoubtedly be. She would be pottering about doing something, either half-hearted filing, gossiping or chilling out on one of the sofas.

They used to spend their downtime together back in the good old days and they had shared many laughs together in them, laughs that they never experienced with anyone else. It was nice to know that you had something with someone that no one else could touch no matter how hard they tried. It made their relationship that much more special.

Those moments had been wonderful, although he never told her. He regretted that. He should have told her how he felt about her sooner and maybe their lives wouldn’t have taken the turns that they did. Perhaps they could have taken a better road to their fate instead of veering off onto the highway to hell.

Angel rounded the final corner and headed for the lobby landing. From there he would see Cordelia and he would finally make her his, forever. He reached the top of the stairs but what he saw was not what he had expected. Cordelia and Spike were sitting on the sofa together, laughing.

That laugh, only he had brought it out before. Now it was open for all to see because of Spike.

The smile on Angel’s face faded and he slowly walked down the stairs and towards the fridge. It was moments like this that made him desperately crave blood, even though the thought of being eternally bound to it made him sick.

He crossed the lobby to the sound of laughing. Spike suddenly asked, “You alright, mate. You look half dead.” Another laugh erupted from Cordelia’s mouth causing the coffee she was drinking to spill a little bit.

“I’m fine, Spike. I’ve just got a bit of a headache.”

“That’s funny; I have a bit of a headache an’ all. Must be from the walloping I got from Danandril before Gunn stuck it to him,” Spike said with a smirk as he thought back on the sight of ‘the almighty Danandril,’ being beaten by three little arrow bolts.

“You have a headache?” Cordelia asked as she wiped up the droplets of coffee on the floor. She sat up and gestured for Spike to put his head back. Gently, she rubbed his head. “How’s that feel?”

“That’s bloody heaven.”

Angel watched from behind the reception desk as he sipped on his glass of blood. His face was like stone but his heart was falling to pieces as Cordelia gave Spike a massage that only he had had the pleasure of feeling prior to this. Miserable? Obviously, Illyria’s sensing abilities were way off because Cordelia was anything but.

“I’m gonna go out and do a little patrolling,” Angel said as he put the half drank glass of blood back in the refrigerator. “I’ll be back in a few hours. If there are any messages for me-”

“We’ll all die of a heart attack,” Cordelia chimed in. “Your social life isn’t exactly living which goes well with your complexion.”

With that his heart felt like it went from torn to ripped apart and without another word he walked out of the lobby and into the dark, cold night.


Part 14

Angel stood motionless on the balcony outside of his bedroom. He had returned from his patrol an hour earlier but he still wouldn’t go back in. Instead he watched Cordelia, sleeping in his bed, her soft moans of dreaming permeating the solid wooden door. Her slow, gentle breaths were like music to his ears.

It took him back to all the times she had stayed with him because it was too late to go home. He would just hold her while she slept, not sleeping, not moving, just watching her and savouring every moment where it was just the pair of them. They never had that anymore.

It was strange. They weren’t exactly getting on but she still slept in his bed. She never slept there when he was there but this was the second time he had come home to find her there, curled up, asleep and an open book lying face down on the floor.

The moon shone brightly, through the tiny windows on the door, and highlighted the beauty of Cordelia’s face. No matter what time of day, her beauty radiated outwards for all to see and it captivated hearts. It looked like a face sent from God.

Realising that watching her like this could constitute as stalking if anyone saw, Angel slowly twisted the door knob and snuck through the bedroom to the door on the other side. Her scent filled the room and drew him in. Quietly, he draped his coat across the chair where he spent many a night drawing. He still had Cordelia’s pictures, the ones she didn’t know about.

It wasn’t easy to tell her that he had been in her room, drawing her, some nights as she slept. If he had been evil the drawing would have been left to remind his potential victims that he was always around and could strike at any moment. Also, it let them know that he could have already taken them if he had so wanted to.

It had been an effective tool in his evil days and it had even scared the slayer. That was the only thing that Angel ever remembered scaring Buffy. All the things she faced on a daily basis didn’t really faze her but the thought of Angelus in her bedroom as she slept seemed to terrify her, and her friends. It sometimes made him wonder how a normal person would have dealt with it, not that any of the victims subjected to it dealt very well.

He found himself thanking all higher powers that he was not evil at that moment in time and that Cordelia was in no danger. That scared him more than anything else. If he was to ever lose his soul he would undoubtedly target her and make her life a misery until either he killed her or someone killed him.

Another moan sounded and Angel moved to the bedside. As carefully as he possibly could, he sat down on the edge of the bed and started to slowly stroke Cordelia’s hair and face.

Her skin was soft and her hair smelt wonderful. If he could, he would have just laid down beside her and held her until she woke, but it couldn’t be, not now, not after what he had done. No, he had to give her space and let everything cool down between them before he made any silly moves.

The continued moaning and murmuring forced her lips to part slightly. Angel watched as her tongue slowly glided across the smooth surface. The residual moisture created a shiny film along the surface of her perfectly rounded lips.

Without a thought for the consequences, Angel leant in and gently pressed his lips to hers. They met perfectly. Without moving, Angel just left his lips there, his eyes closed, and took in every feeling, every emotion that came with feeling her lips beneath his.

After a few moments, he finally pulled away and gently wiped his finger over her mouth, the wetness coming off as he did so. She moaned again, this time pleadingly, when he removed all contact between them. He knew the feeling. Just losing that sensation was torture. Hell had nothing on this and he would gladly take it back over feeling that loss again.

But the loss was a wonderful thing while it was terrible. It was nice just to feel something other than the cold. Only she could warm his heart and as soon as they parted the chill descended again.

Losing that warmth for good was a terrifying thought, and after what he saw the night prior perhaps it wasn’t so far off. Cordelia and Spike relaxing on the sofa and laughing like they were best friends. It hurt and he wasn’t afraid to say it. That was something he never wanted to see again.

He used to have that with her in years gone by, their closeness unrivalled by anything else. Now he had lost his best friend because of his stupidity when Buffy was around. He had thrown away the only good thing in his life again and getting it back seemed like an impossible feat.

The thought was too horrible while being so close to her, her beautiful face looking up at him, her lips calling to him again and her scent torturing him. He couldn’t be near her with these thoughts, not if he wanted to remain sane. With that in mind he stood up and headed to the door.

* * *

It was quiet in the lobby with only the occasional rustling of Angel’s paper breaking the unusual silence. Standing behind the counter, Cordelia could tell that he wasn’t reading it. Every now and then he would watch her. He’d go back to pretending to read when she moved, even slightly.

She couldn’t see him of course, her eyes focused on the latest issue of vogue but she could feel his stare boring into her. His eyes were so intense that she just knew when he was looking at her.

Why he was staring was anybody’s guess but she had boiled it down to two options. One, guilt was setting in and he was plucking up the courage to apologise, and she sure as hell deserved an apology. Or two, he wasn’t quite sure whether making an approach would result in another confrontation.

In the past he would have be on the receiving end of one of her poison tongued speeches that dug down inside him and overloaded him with guilt. Then he would have skulked off to his room and brooded for days on end until he finally grew a pair and got up the courage to apologise for his wrongdoings.

Of course, this was Angel. It would take a while yet for him to find a way to apologise. She knew he wanted to but he never seemed to be able to get it out without stuttering like an idiot. No, he’d have to brood over how to do it for a while longer yet.

It was clear that he wanted something from her in terms of a relationship. Buffy’s sudden disappearance told her that. Obviously he had finally stood up to Buffy and let her know that she wasn’t who he wanted to be with.

At first that had been a shock to Cordelia. Angel, turning Buffy away, and then Buffy giving some speech about how she should not waste her chance with Angel. True, she shouldn’t, but he needed to suffer a little bit more yet.

That one moment showed promise in itself. It showed Cordelia that Buffy was no longer the centre of Angel’s world and that he was willing to turn her away even in the face of having a few weeks of torture. In her books, that showed there was a definite desire on Angel’s part to have a life with her and if he got a move on and made the right move, she would happily forgive him and give him what he wanted.

Of course, he still had to make that move. She didn’t know how, when or what move he would make but she did know that in time Angel would step up and make it right. He always did and then things would be better than ever between them.

Cordelia’s train of thought was broken as the sound of Spike and Illyria training in the basement got suddenly louder. From the sound of it, Illyria was winning the fight and the argument that had suddenly flared up.

Spike had been so good to her the night before, surprisingly. At first she had thought he was teasing her, but then she found that he was being completely genuine.

They had talked for nearly an hour. She had told him everything that was happening between her and Angel, how she was feeling, what Buffy’s presence had done to her. He had listened to every word and he had given some advice when she was finished. Behind his sharp tongue and usual lack of respect for Angel there was genuine understanding.

She had discovered that Spike wasn’t all scathing with an ego to match and that he could put aside his feelings and really listen. And unlike others who might try to work their way around to the truth, he cut straight through the crap in a tactless and ‘to the point’ manner.

Spike’s face softened, his voice lowering as he stepped closer, “Look, I’ve known Captain Forehead for a long time and I know that he never had hurting you in his mind. Sometimes he just acts before he thinks – something we have in common – and makes himself into a right ponce.”

Thinking about it, Cordelia had realised that Spike was right. Maybe his way of saying it needed work but what he was saying was true. In her heart of hearts she knew that Angel had never meant to hurt her. If anything that was the last thing on his mind.

“Does he deserve a bit of torturing? Yes,” Spike continued with a smile, the thought of seeing a hurt Angel making him a little too happy. “Should you let his one mistake ruin what you have? No. In the end, he’ll make it right. If he doesn’t then he’s more of a twat than I first thought.”

Startled out of her thoughts as the door to the basement burst open and slammed shut again, Cordelia watched as Spike walked away from his training session.

“Stupid bloody tart!” he shouted as he walked across the lobby. Mockingly, he said, “Ooh, look out, here comes Papa Smurf’s bitch, the almighty bloody Illyria spouting an almighty load of bollocks!”

Angel peeked over the top of the paper when he heard the office door slam shut and Spike’s ramblings quieten. He couldn’t help but focus on Cordelia though who was now rummaging through the fridge. When she re-emerged she had some orange juice and a container of blood.

Within minutes it was in a cup and into the microwave. As it warmed up the smell permeated the solid confines of the microwave and drifted around the room, teasing Angel as his hunger grew to an unbearable level.

Maybe she wants to talk to me, Angel thought. She must be ready to forgive me if she’s making my blood.

Cordelia always used to make his blood. He would wake up every day and find her there, glass in one hand, Connor’s bottle in the other and a beautiful smile that really got his day off to a good start. Perhaps they could finally get back there after this talk.

“Spike,” Cordelia called just as Angel was about to get up and go and thank her. “Could you come here a minute?” Before he could fully get to his feet he was back down in his chair, watching and hoping that Cordelia didn’t see him getting up. Realising the blood wasn’t for him really deflated the happy mood that he was getting.

“What is it?” Spike asked as he came out of the office and stood beside Cordelia behind the counter.

Angel wanted to hear what she had to say and he listened intently. “I just wanted to thank you for last night. It meant a lot to me. I know this isn’t much but it’s the only way I know how to thank a vampire.” She took the blood out of the microwave and handed it to Spike.

What the hell happened last night? Angel wondered. Whatever it was it warranted a cup of warm blood. What could it have been? Spike, doing something for Cordelia that meant a lot to her? He had a mind to go and casually ask what happened in a friendly, passing way, but he quickly reminded himself that his actions had lost him that right.

It hurt to see her smiling at Spike the way she was. She didn’t smile at him like that anymore, not that he deserved to see her like that. It was still a terrible thing to see that someone else was getting what used to be his.

He watched as Spike moved his stare between the cup and Cordelia before finally taking a swig. “A bottle of whiskey would have done it.”

“Okay then, I’ll buy you a drink tonight. What do you say?” Cordelia asked with that big, beaming smile that made Angel’s hear melt every time he saw it.

The thought of a free drink was obviously a happy one for Spike as it brought a smile to his face. “Yeah that sounds alright. What time should I pick you up?”

What was this? First Cordelia was making Spike blood, the blood that she used to make for him and now they were going out on a date? Maybe he really had lost her.

No, it wasn’t a date. It was just Cordelia being friendly and offering to buy Spike a drink as a thank you. Still, Spike was getting to spend quality time with her that she should have only reserved for him. Plus, she never offered to do anything for him as a thank you, except make him waffles which he hadn’t been able to taste.

I can’t watch this any more, Angel said to himself as he stood up and made his way to the stairs. He needed to be alone. Seeing Spike and Cordelia like that was just too much to take but he also needed the quiet. He needed to figure out he could make it up to her and how he could make that smile, that was now lost on Spike, his again.

* * *

Cordelia looked up at Angel lovingly, her eyes shining and her smile brightening up his dark room. Lead on a piece of paper was a bit different to the real thing though and no amount of drawing was going to bring that smile back.

For hours now he had been sat in his room staring at the faces in his pictures and wishing for their return, but he was also trying to figure out how he could make it up to her. Whatever he had tried before had never gone down well so now he had to find a way to make her want to be with him again without making her angry.

It wasn’t an easy thing to do, especially after what he had done. Sometimes he wished she had been in the room when he told Buffy that he wanted to be with her. If she had heard that there might not have been a problem because she would have seen how he felt.

Besides, it wasn’t likely that she would listen to him now. She was too busy getting friendly with Spike and planning their date. No, not a date. A friendly drink, that’s all it is, Angel reminded himself. A friendly drink that she should be having with me.

As much as he knew that it was just a casual, friendly drink, it didn’t stop him being terribly envious. He would have given anything just to be Spike that night just so he could be the one sat with her, drinking with her, laughing with her.

Taking her out, just the two of them, for a meal or something had always been one of the dreams that he never got to fulfil. Now he had a second chance though. As soon as he made things up with Cordelia he was going to take her out for a meal. It would be the perfect way to show that he was serious and that she was the only one that he wanted.

Then it occurred to him that he had to get that far first.

Three quick knocks on the door broke the silence in the room and Angel’s train of thought. For the first time in a few days it had been a nice thought and not the ones that were filled with him losing Cordelia.

He hoped it would be Cordelia coming to talk to him to sort everything out but one quick sniff confirmed that it wasn’t her. Well, it wasn’t Cordelia but Gunn was a preferable choice to either Spike or Illyria. “Come in.”

Angel didn’t move his eyes away from the picture on his lap as Gunn entered. Looking at him might give too much away. He didn’t want anyone to know how he was feeling, that wasn’t the way he liked to do things. If he let on that he wasn’t 100% then how could they trust him to lead them?

“How you feeling, man?” Gunn asked as he sat down on the sofa beside Angel. He had to move a few dozen drawings first however.

“I’m fine, Gunn. Really,” Angel replied as he closed the pad of paper and stood up. “I just needed a little quiet, you know. It’s all getting a bit hectic with the whole Danandril thing.” He moved into his small kitchen space and poured himself some blood in a glass.

Gunn smile as he looked at all of the pictures of Cordelia. “Yeah, hectic with the whole Danandril thing. Thing is, we haven’t heard anything about Danandril for the past few days. And we have no clients at the moment.”

“Yeah well I’m keeping an open mind. He could be back at any minute and I want to be prepared for that,” Angel replied as he sipped at his blood. “I wouldn’t want Danandril doing something under our noses without us knowing it.”

Angel watched as Gunn leant over, picked up the pad and began flicking through the pages, each one depicting a different Cordelia, each one happy, smiling and not angry. “It’s a good likeness,” Gunn said. “I forgot that you can draw her really well, almost perfectly.” Without another word he launched the pad to the other side of the room.

Angel just sipped at his blood as he watched the pad fly, hit the wall and then crumple up on the floor. “I also forgot that that’s the only thing you’re good at when it comes to Cordelia. Look at you, man, sitting up here feeling sorry for yourself ‘cause of the way she’s treating you. News flash, you deserve it.”

“You think I don’t know that, huh? You don’t think that I spend every goddamned minute of the day reminding myself just how much I deserve it? I know that I deserve it. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Angel put his glass down and prepared himself in case Gunn was planning on trying anything. Toe to toe with him, Gunn said, “Yeah, you don’t have to like it. But there’s something else. She may be treating you badly but you don’t have to sit around and take it like a chump. You should be down there, taking it on the chin and fighting for her, not giving in at the first sign of trouble.”

“How the hell would you know?” Angel asked, even though he knew that what Gunn was saying was true, even if he couldn’t admit it.

“How would I know? I’d know because I’ve seen firsthand what you can do to her. Remember the whole Darla saga? Yeah, me and Wesley had to see her everyday putting on a brave face, giving us the ‘everything’s fine’ company line while she badmouthed you.” His face dropped when he heard that, along with his heart. It was horrible to think of Cordelia badmouthing him.

“Yeah, we saw her acting like she was happy but we all also had to listen to her crying in her bedroom where she thought we couldn’t hear her. She used to whisper your name and beg for you to come back to us.” His face started to hang even more now. Had he really had that much of an affect on her? It was hard to believe that he could hurt Cordelia in such a way, especially when she was all happy and smiling around Spike.

He hung his head in shame as Gunn walked over to the small bedroom and picked up the pad of paper. “But do you know the worst thing about it all? The visions. Every vision that came to her was killing her more and more and each one was more painful than the one before. You know how much it hurt me and Wesley to have to look at her when the vision stopped and for a few brief seconds she would look around the room hopelessly? She was looking for you, bro, but you were never there.”

Gunn shook his head and continued, “And look at you now. You’re still not there. She is hurting inside and I know that she is desperately searching for you, waiting for you to get off your ass and be there for her.” He tried to fight back the tears that were trying to flow because of Gunn’s revelation but it was getting harder with every word spoken.

“You want this back?” Gunn asked as he held up the drawing and pointed to Cordelia’s smile. “Then work for it, bro.” Before leaving he gave Angel the drawing back and comfortingly placed his hand on his shoulder.

It was all true. Every word that had passed Gunn’s lips was true. But more than that, he was right. Now wasn’t the time to be sitting around waiting for a miracle on Cordelia’s part. No, he had done that too much. No, now it was time to let her know that even though she was treating him dirt, he was still there for her, he was sorry and she always came first in his life.

The only sound in the lobby was coming from the small office in the corner. Spike and Cordelia were inside watching the T.V that Spike had put in there, along with his X-Box. Even from the landing, Angel could hear the cheesy dialogue and corny music on the show Passions.

It was quite a sad thought. A vampire like Spike watching a show like Passions. It made him wonder how he had ever lost to him. In all honesty he should have whipped Spike and beat the love of Passions out of him.

He approached slowly and listened to Cordelia’s laugh. It was a laugh he loved to hear. It was just all out, nothing held back, just Cordelia as she was then and there. She was just amazing, putting herself out there for the world to see. In her time she had taught Angel how to do that but she had died before she could completely pass on her skills.

So he was still a bumbling fool when it came to talking to people.

Casually he strolled into the office and said, “Spike, can I talk to you for a second?”

“I’m a bit busy at the moment, gramps,” Spike replied without taking his eyes away from the cheap drama unfolding before him. “Can’t it wait?”

“Spike, come out here before I drag you out!”

“Ooh, Caveman Brow’s getting pissed at me.” Angel sent him an ‘I’m not in the mood for your crap’ glare and Spike gave in. “Alright, I’m bloody coming. Tell me what I’ve missed when I get back, Cordelia.”

Angel stood just outside the door as he talked to Spike. He wanted to get a message across to Cordelia but without disturbing her. He didn’t really want to talk to Spike to do it but it was the only way.

“Look, I know that you and Cordelia are going out for a drink tonight,” he began. “But, I don’t want her just going to any old place. So here.” He held out a wad of, what looked like, fifty dollar bills.

Spike kept shifting his wide eyed stare between the money and Angel before asking, “What’s this? You want me to bring you back a bit of skirt?”

“I want you to take Cordelia somewhere nice, somewhere where she can just relax, put her feet up,” he explained. “I just want her to have a good time, even if it is with you. Can you do that for me?”

“A nice place? And you’re paying? Bloody right then! Don’t you worry, mate. I’ll take her somewhere really classy.”

With a smile, Angel replied, “Thanks, Spike. Oh, and look after her.” He got no reply as Spike just stood there and counted the money. His job for the day done, he set off back to his room.

Cordelia leant over and looked out of the window of the office and watched Angel as he walked back up the stairs. She couldn’t quite believe what she had just heard. Angel had given Spike money to take her somewhere nice. He wouldn’t be there but all he cared about was that she had a good time.

It was certainly a grand gesture but did he do it? She would have thought that Angel would have been going crazy because she was having a night out with Spike. Obviously she was wrong which was kind of annoying considering that she wanted him crazy, not encouraging her to do the things that should make him crazy.

God, what an annoying jackass! She thought. Well, it’s gonna backfire on you, bucko because I am gonna go out and have a great time and when I get back I’m going to shout it to the heavens.

* * *

Cordelia walked through the garden but not even the strong smell of jasmine could soothe her aching head. It was usually nice to sit in the garden after a night out and wind down but tonight she just wanted to crawl into her… Angel’s bed and sleep for a year and a half.

At least it would be quiet in the hotel with Spike still out drinking away the last of Angel’s money. The only sound in there would be the occasional creaking of floorboards in the higher floors, which still freaked her out, and Angel lurking around trying to relive his whole creature of the night, stalky days. He obviously thought it was a huge turn on, but surprise, she wasn’t a 400 year old skank called Darla.

The door slid open and in she walked but as soon as she stepped over the threshold, there he was. He didn’t talk or even acknowledge her existence. He just sat there and sifted through the many files that had built up over the years.

She wouldn’t have minded but he was between her and the fridge where they kept the water. It was too late and she was too tired to be insulting him now. These weren’t the proper hours for it and she wouldn’t be able to get out her best lines if she wasn’t sharp.

As she skittered along across the floor in her high heeled boots, Angel looked up and actually noticed her. He had probably known she was there all along but was trying to act all cool just to annoy her. Well she had news for him. Only she had the right to annoy at the moment.

“Oh, hey, Cordy,” Angel said as he returned his focus to the files. “Have fun?”

“Well, I would have done,” she replied. “When I heard that Spike was spending a load of money on me to take me somewhere fancy I was all excited but…” She suddenly realised that she wasn’t supposed to be talking to him, not now. Right now she was supposed to be making him feel like a lost puppy wit no hope left in life.

“But what?”

Cordelia just slumped into a chair and replied, “Nothing. I’m not supposed to be talking to you, remember? So this conversation stops here, mister. Besides, I have a banging headache and you’re just making it worse by yakking.”

“You have a headache? You should take some pills.” He suddenly disappeared from sight behind the counter but he re-emerged with a glass in hand and a container of blood. At first she had thought he was actually going to get her some pills but no he just wanted to feed his own face.

With a groan, Cordelia pulled herself up and out of the chair. “If you’re going to drink blood then I’m going to bed. Seeing that is the last thing I need. Headache and the ick factor are not a good bedtime story.”

The stairs looked like Everest as she stood at the bottom and prepared to climb. Why did there have to be stairs when she felt this bad? The problem was, Angel used to carry her up the stairs when she had her vision headaches so she had become unaccustomed to walking up them with one.

“Cordelia, wait,” Angel called. Slowly she turned around and looked at him, her eyes full of disdain for him preventing her going to bed. She hoped he saw it and thought twice about bothering her. “Don’t you want your pills?”

The look disappeared as she moved her gaze towards the glass of water and pills in his hands. She so wanted to smile, thank and hug him for looking after her but she couldn’t. Could she? Couldn’t she just give herself that? No. If she did he’d think he was in her good books again which he so wasn’t.

He was getting there though.

“Uh, thanks.” That was all she could say. What else was there to say? She had been horrible to him yet he was being… Angel. It was like he didn’t care that she was treating him badly and all he cared about was her wellbeing. It suddenly came back to her why she loved him.

“You’re welcome,” he replied before going back to the counter. “Oh,” he called before she continued up the stairs. “You look really beautiful tonight.”

“Yeah, save it, Angel. I don’t need compliments from you. Besides, wouldn’t they be better used on Miss. Not-Over-Herself-Yet?”

The thing was, she did need his compliments and what he had just said meant a lot, considering she felt like a bag of crap. If she could have she would have kissed him for that but again, it still wasn’t time. He still had a lot of penance to pay.


Part 15

“I really can’t believe you, Spike.” Angel turned away from his grandchilde and took a seat on the sofa. Just listening to Spike was giving him a headache, plus the news that the 500 dollars he had given him had all gone.

“What, you told me to take Cordelia somewhere nice and I did. You could show a little gratitude,” Spike replied.

Angrily, Angel stood up and got in Spike’s face. In a raised voice he said, “You took her to the dog races! That money was for a table at a nice restaurant but you go and blow it on some greyhound called Misty Boy!” He turned away again, the urge to punch Spike getting a little too much to resist.

“The bookie gave me good odds. Besides, Cordelia had a good time so why are you moaning?”

“Really didn’t look like it, Spike,” Angel told him. “I knew giving you that money was a bad idea. If I’d kept it I could have taken her somewhere nice when we’ve resolved all this. Now I’ll be lucky if I can take her to a hot dog stand.”

He walked away from Spike and headed out into the garden. It was shady under the balconies that jutted out from the sides of the building. Anyway, burning up in the sun would be a lot more preferable to spending anymore time talking to Spike.

Sometimes he wished that he had kept Cordelia away from all of this and continued to live in his small apartment with her. One, they could have avoided the Buffy situation and still been together, if indeed they had been together, and two, he wouldn’t have to see, hear or speak to Spike.

As valuable as Spike was to the fight, he was an infuriating character. It seemed like he existed just to be annoying and to cause trouble. As much as he doubted it, Angel had a feeling that something bad was going to happen because of Spike, something that none of them could predict.

“Was that Angel?” Cordelia asked as she descended the stairs. She had heard the door close while making her way to the lobby and the raised voice and the sight of Spike pointed to Angel.

“Yeah,” Spike replied as he lit a cigarette and switched on his X-Box 360. “He’s pissed that I took you to the races. Seriously, you enjoyed yourself, didn’t you?”

Cordelia glanced out of the door and briefly looked at Angel who was stood, his eyes closed and his arms crossed. While walking to the fridge she replied, “Did I enjoy spending the night surrounded by losers and wasters, coming home with a migraine and spending two hours trying to get the smell of sweat and fear off me?” She looked at Spike with a ‘what do you think’ look before returning her attention to the fridge.

When she had finished rummaging she placed a cup and a container of blood on the counter. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Spike watching her. Obviously he had liked having his blood made and wanted some more of the Cordelia special.

After a few minutes in the microwave the blood was done and Cordelia placed it on the counter before pouring herself a glass of orange juice. Spike appeared at her side and reached out for the cup but he pulled his hand away as she slapped at it.

“I made your blood yesterday, Spike, but that was to say thanks for the little talk we had,” Cordelia told him. “This is for Angel. He was really sweet last night so I wanted to thank him without, you know, thanking him. I’m sorry if you thought it was yours.”

“It’s alright, love,” Spike replied as he made his way back to his games. “I’m not that hungry anyway. One thing though. Making Angel’s blood? Won’t that give him the wrong idea? I mean, I thought you wanted him to sweat for a while, which you have my full support with by the way.”

Cordelia smiled before telling him, “I do want him to sweat a little. But he was kind to me last night, regardless of what I’ve been saying to him. He showed me that even if I treat him horribly, he’s still there for me, he still loves me, if indeed he does.” She looked at the cup of blood again. “I just want him to know that I appreciated what he did. It doesn’t mean I’m gonna start sleeping with him.”

“Well I guess you know best.”

“I do,” she said as she walked away. “I just wish everyone would start to realise it.”

Now the next thing on the agenda: shower. Two hours of showering the night before and she still felt dirty. Stupid Spike. Nice gesture but he could keep them from now on.

Cordelia’s scent hit Angel full on as he walked back into the lobby, his head a little clearer and his urge to hit Spike lessened. Her wonderful scent was accompanied by the strong smell of blood, warm blood, in fact, fresh from the microwave. She had made Spike’s blood again, probably as a thank-you for the night out, even though she had obviously hated it.

Before getting his coat from the office, he checked his watch to see how much time was left before he had to meet a client. Usually Gunn would handle the daytime clients but he had spent the night with his gang.

As he put his long, black coat on, he told Spike, “I’m going to meet a client.” He still didn’t feel right going to meet clients, even though Gunn had encouraged him to do so. He had abandoned them all after the battle in the alley and now he was one of the group again. As much as he wanted it and was happy for it, he still felt awkward. “I’ll be back in a few hours if anyone needs me.”

“I wouldn’t count on that, mate,” Spike replied, his eyes still glued to Crash Bandicoot. “Ain’t you gonna drink your blood before you go?”

My blood? Angel looked at the cup on the counter again before a smile formed. Without another word he walked over, picked it up and drank it slowly, the feel of it wonderful and the sensation that came with knowing it was made by her, even better. It wasn’t forgiveness by any means but it was a step in the right direction.

With the last drop drunk, he set off into the basement and down into the sewers, his head full of thoughts of Cordelia and his heart tingling as he felt the void between them start to close.

* * *

Danandril paced slowly in Balderas’ office, his wounds not yet completely healed, as he waited for the young head of Special Projects Division to return with the surveillance footage of the past few days. After what had happened during his battle with Angel’s group, the surveillance would be very useful in defeating them.

Anger boiled inside him every day as he thought about losing to a group of primitives, half-breeds and her. He was the almighty Danandril, feared across dimensions and revered in Lirtast. Now he had been defeated and shamed.

After his first taste of defeat millennia ago, he swore he wouldn’t taste its bitterness again. He had though and if he had not been able to keep that promise, how could he keep the one he made to his master?

The door to the office opened and Justin walked in with a smile on his face. Danandril turned to him immediately, his desire to see what the surveillance cameras had picked up peaked. He watched intensely as Justin loaded it onto his computer in silence, the smile never moving, never fading or leaving his young face.

Within minutes it was up and Justin waved Danandril to his side and showed him the state of the art technology in action. “You see? Now we have complete access to what our local heroes are doing. Nothing they do, want, need, feel, et cetera, will be hidden from us.”

“Very impressive,” Danandril replied, his voice still wavering weakly as he spoke. Even he had been brought down to such a level. It made him wonder what else Angel and his friends could do. “Keep in mind, Balderas, I want to defeat this group and exact my revenge on them for what they did. It is not just about raising my master anymore. Now it is about destroying Angel and his friends as well!”

“I’m getting that,” Justin said as he flicked through the transcript his surveillance team had made. “With all the information we have here it should be no problem, the battle aside of course. It will be a lot easier than fighting blind though.”

Danandril stood up straight and moved away from the computer. Again he was pacing the office as he thought, his eyes closed, his hand scratching at his chin and his breathing significantly louder. He could hear Balderas flicking through the pages but his mind was too focused on the plan that was brewing.

Nothing was coming together in his mind. A plan just seemed too far off at the moment, his faith in his own ability weakened. But then he heard it, on the monitor, a conversation between two members of the group, as far as he could tell. And then as if by magic, his mind clicked into gear.

After a while things started to flow and the plan started to take shape. Everything he knew about Angel and his group and everything he had experienced with them was all contributing to his scheme.

Eventually he opened his eyes and turned to Balderas. “I have it,” he began. “That sounds like Angel and Charles Gunn talking. Is it?”

Justin looked at the screen and saw that it was Gunn and Angel. He told Danandril, who asked, “They are talking about the one called Cordelia, no, and how much Angel loves her. Is this a commonplace occurrence?”

After flicking through the transcript, Balderas found Angel had had conversations about Cordelia with Spike and Illyria as well as the one with Gunn. In all of them he had been pushed to talking about it. He obviously wasn’t much of a talker when it came to his problems. “Yes,” Balderas began. “He has spoken to Gunn, Spike and Illyria about Cordelia and how much her treatment of him was hurting. From this it looks like he has thought about nothing else, but her, for days.”

“I expected as much,” Danandril said after he heard that.

Moving to the window, Danandril continued, “There it is then.” Justin was lost on what Danandril was seeing apart from a vampire who was madly in love. What did that help? Danandril sensed the confusion and explained, “I brought the Chase girl back to be a distraction to Angel because of his love for her.”

Still nothing was coming to Justin so he just listened and waited for it to become clear. “To defeat Angel and his group I need to ensure that while I move one way, he is looking the other. Angel will not come for me if he is focusing on his woman and the ones who do come for me will be too small in number to challenge me.”

Now Balderas understood what he was saying but there was something he didn’t understand so he asked, “Why don’t you distract them all and make it even easier?”

“Charles Gunn.” That was his response but after a few seconds he carried on. “I need him if I am to raise my master. To keep Angel away I will use the Chase girl but Spike and Illyria will go for their friend, Mr. Gunn. Spike and Illyria are no challenge to me, unlike Angel. The fire that drives a champion has been doused in him but if it was to awaken, he could beat me. He would find a way to do so and that I cannot risk.”

An evil, sly smile had formed on Balderas’ face and he asked, his interest peaked, “How do you plan on doing it?”

“There is one that I have read of who could handle this for me. He could subdue the group and bring me Charles Gunn. His strength would ensure that he could keep Angel away from the Chase girl long enough for me to do everything that is needed to raise my master.” With a smile Danandril formed a portal and prepared to walk through it.

“I need to travel to Lirtast to gather the rituals I need to raise my master. This is it Balderas. If this goes as it should, I can bring my master back and defeat Angel Investigations in one fell swoop.”

Without another word, Danandril entered the portal and within seconds he was gone leaving Balderas alone in his office. After the portal had completely disintegrated he picked up the phone and tapped in a number. When the receiver was picked up on the other end, he said, “This is Justin Balderas. I’d like to speak to Mr. Suvarta please.”

* * *

Punch after punch came Buffy’s way but none of them could match her speed and with ease she dodged them. Occasionally there would be one that posed a threat but she was able top parry them away expertly. Her trick in battle: keep moving. If she kept moving she would be harder to hit. Angel had taught her that.

For the first year of her slaying duties, before she undertook any sort of training with Angel, she relied mainly on her strength to defeat her opponents. Against weaker opponents it was sufficient but against the cream of the demon crop other tactics had to be employed if victory was to be achieved.

She had learned a lot from Angel when it came to combat technique. He could offer her more in that area than Giles could, despite the fact that he was a fantastic Watcher. Sometimes she wondered whether beating Angelus would have been possible if not for Angel’s training.

This was a different fight altogether though. This was just simple sparring with Kennedy. The only problem was that Kennedy seemed to be going full out, as if she actually wanted to hurt Buffy. So far though she had been unable to penetrate Buffy’s solid defences.

After a while Kennedy got a little too eager and her anger, at not being able to hit her, got a little high. Of course that led to a silly mistake that a veteran like Buffy could easily exploit and use to gain the upper hand.

That she did and within seconds Kennedy was on the floor while Buffy stood over her, her bodily position and complete readiness for any attack making it impossible for Kennedy to continue.

With a smile, Buffy helped Kennedy up and asked, “Can you tell me where you went wrong there?” She knew this was torture for Kennedy but it was necessary. Her recklessness, as Willow said, could lead to her downfall. Buffy couldn’t allow that if it risked Willow’s feelings, and she just didn’t want Kennedy to die anyway.

“I got too wound up,” Kennedy replied, her shame at failure clear. “I got sloppy and you took advantage of my mistake.”

“That’s right,” Buffy continued as she followed Kennedy over to the bench for a drink. “If you can learn to control your anger and let it flow throughout the fight, and not just in one huge burst, you can use it to your advantage. Sometimes, your anger will win you battles as it has me but the majority of the time it needs to be channelled into your technique and power, not one massive, enraged assault.”

Kennedy took a sip of her water and wiped the sweat away from her brow. “If I had controlled my anger I would have beaten you. It was the same with Danandril. If I had controlled it I would have won.”

“Kennedy I seriously doubt…”

“What? That I could beat you and opponents like Danandril if I was calmer.” Kennedy stood up and gestured to the training mat in the centre of the room. “What happened on there supports me on that. You couldn’t move to attack me. You were pinned, constantly moving away because you knew if I got within range I would have had you.”

Buffy stood up. If she lost she would be the first to admit it but she wasn’t about to admit losing a fight a she had in complete control from the word go. “I was moving because I knew you would make a mistake. I could see you getting angrier as the fight went on, I was just waiting for the right moment. You’ll learn that it isn’t always best to dominate a fight from the start, but instead just to wait.”

A triumphant ‘ha’ was the response she got as Kennedy walked away, but before she left the basement, she said, “I knew you couldn’t stand, or admit, that I am the greatest slayer alive. It’s been clear ever since you awakened my full power and you can’t handle it. Well, I’m going to prove to you, Buffy, that I am the true slayer on this Earth and I’ll do anything I have too to do it.”

Stood in silence, Buffy thought about what Willow had said and suddenly she understood her concern. Kennedy’s arrogance was much worse than she first thought and, from she had just heard, potentially dangerous. She knew now that she would have to watch her and make sure her attitude didn’t hurt anyone.

* * *

Not even the boiling water cascading down from the showerhead could make Angel feel clean. There was something about killing a slime demon that just gave him a nagging feeling that he was dirty, the fact that he had seen Cordelia possibly playing a part in that. Still though, after an hour in the shower he still felt unclean.

After another few minutes he stepped out and wrapped one of Cordelia’s pink towels around his waist. A manlier towel had been his aim but no one had done his laundry for a while and he had been too busy brooding. His laundry had once been Cordelia’s job. Well it wasn’t a job because she did it voluntarily out of the kindness of her heart.

He had lost the right to that though when he shouted at her. The blood had been a nice surprise however; a surprise that he thought wouldn’t come for a long while yet. That was Cordelia though, never linear and just when he thought she would do one thing, she did another.

Five minutes were spent on drying before Angel cleaned his teeth, human and fangs, and shaved, his face not having seen the sharp edge of a razor for three days. It was a difficult process without a mirror but he had had 260 years practice. That still didn’t make him exempt from tiny cuts that frustrated all men, even vampires.

Angel wasn’t looking up as he walked out of his bathroom and into his bedroom and his attention was only diverted by a small cough followed by, “What are you doing with my towel? My pink towel? My pink, frilly towel?”

The towel nearly fell from his waist as he jumped back, his hands desperately grabbing at the pink, frilly towel that was keeping his privates protected from Cordelia’s eyes. “Cordelia. I didn’t hear you in here.” He couldn’t help but notice a small smirk on her face.

“Me neither,” she replied. “I couldn’t hear anything when I came in so I just…” Her eyes led Angel to the many drawings on the sofa. Usually he kept them well hidden but getting the slime off had been his first priority, not hiding his small gallery’s worth of Cordelia portraits. “So I just started snooping. But don’t worry; I’ll get out of your way. I’m sure you have more important things to do than talk to me.”

With his hand still firmly wrapped around his towel he rushed in front of Cordelia and blocked her exit. “Cordelia, wait.” Her arms folded across her chest, she listened for what he had to say. “Can we talk?” Without another word he followed her to the bed and sat beside her.

“Cordelia, what I did to you… it was wrong.” The response of ‘pfft’ told him everything. “I was just confused when Bu- she was here. Seeing her reminded me of how badly things can get when I’m in a relationship.” He looked down and stopped for a moment. Her could feel her staring, her eyes boring into him but they were different. They were no longer angry but rather, hopeful.

He looked up again and stared deep into her eyes and said, “Knowing what happened between me and Buffy scared me because I knew it could never work and I didn’t like the thought of never being able to have something with you.”

“That doesn’t make what you did alright.”

“I know that and it has haunted me since it happened,” he replied, his eyes dropping again. “I just know that I want us to be okay again.”

Cordelia stood up and stood in front of him, her arms still folded. “That’s all well and good but how do you plan on making things right? As much as I wish it was, an apology isn’t enough, Angel. There needs to be something else, something that shows me it isn’t empty.”

Angel reached out, took Cordelia’s hands in his and pulled her down to the bed gently. “I don’t know what I can do to prove it to you. All I know though is that in my life, I’ve been stripped of everything except some flesh that bleeds and I’ve been robbed of everything except a soul, a soul that needs you.” He noticed her eyes glistening as tears formed beneath the lids but he still had one more thing to say, something he should have said a long time before now. “I love you.”

She couldn’t fight it any longer and a single tear finally escaped and rolled down her cheek. The fact that he loved her had been obvious for a long time, just as her love for him had been, but hearing it was something else entirely. With what he said came a rush of emotions, happiness and fear being the main ones in the rush. Happiness that he had finally said it and that what they had was real, but fear that what he had said was true and that they could never have anything beyond a friendship.

But even if they could never be together, they had transcended friendship. Their lives were entwined now; every action on the part of one affected the other. Could they just be friends though? Was it possible after he had admitted loving her?

The simple answer was no. Loving Angel and not being with him was impossible, the only thing preventing it last time being Jasmine and her death. If she had been allowed to meet him at the bluffs she would have told him how she felt and made her desire to have a life with him clear. This time there was nothing to stop them. This was their second chance and why should they waste it?

It was clear on Angel’s face that he was waiting for her response and she wasn’t about to deprive him any longer. “Angel, what you did to me hurt more than you know. I never thought you would hurt me like that again and in all honesty my trust in you is shaken.” As Angel dropped his head she placed her fingers on his chin and lifted his gaze to hers. “But, that being said, I love you too. I love you too much to let what you did get in the way of what we both want, what we both need.”

“If we start something, it could ruin what we have and I don’t want that. I can’t lose you, not again.”

“Do you truly love me, Angel?” He nodded and smiled before she replied, “Well if you love me just half as much as I love you then you should know that nothing can come between us.”

“How can we be sure that-” Before he could carry on, Cordelia halted his speech by pressing her lips to his. She placed her hands on his cheeks and pulled him in, making sure he couldn’t break their union. There didn’t seem to be any attempt to do so though and he placed his hands on her hips and pulled her body close to his. As the kiss went on, his hands slowly moved up her back and into her hair where he let it slip through his fingers as he held her.

Finally they broke apart and looked into each other’s eyes, the smiles on their faces making it blatantly obvious how they felt about what they were doing. Gently, Cordelia stroked his cheek and with a smile asked, “So, now can you be sure?”


Part 16

Hours felt like moments as Angel lay watching Cordelia sleep, each one more precious than the next. It was said when time flies when you’re having fun. He had always attributed it to good times in general and this was a very good time.

Time flying by at a speed immeasurable was something he had experienced before. He had lived for 100 years with a soul and the years had dragged on. The five years where he had had friends, had known Cordelia’s love and had been happy had all flown by and at the end he could do nothing but look back and wonder.

Where had the time gone? Could he have done things better? Sometimes he wished he could just go back and change the mistakes of the past and make up for all his wrongs. He wished he could go back and make a life with Cordelia, the life they should have had first time round. If it wasn’t for the constant interference of the higher powers, they could have been happy.

No, they would have been happy.

There was something there that no one else could understand. They had a closeness that was unrivalled. They completed each other.

After 260 years of lies it was a relief.

As much as he had loved Buffy when they were together, they just didn’t have the same closeness or friendship. Their relationship had been mainly a physical thing but it developed as they had seen the good in each other. But his love for Cordelia had stemmed from knowing her on a level that transcended friendship.

Sometimes he wondered if they had transcended love altogether and had achieved something that surpassed that emotion, something stronger and unbreakable, something that would endure through all eternity.

Angel didn’t move as Cordelia nestled into his chest, her warm breath blowing over his bare skin but instead smiled as soft noises passed her lips, whisperings escaping from the world of her dreams.

His name was among her murmurings and that always made him happy. It was nice to think that someone was dreaming of him when he had spent many a night dreaming of them.

This was the seventh night that they had shared a bed, but that was as far as their bedroom relationship went. They both knew the dangers of getting physical. His apology and their first real kiss, since she had been back, had come one week ago. It had been a good week, a week that they had spent together. When there was a client, they saw them together. When some evil needed killing, they were there with weapons in hand.

One thing he knew was that he was loving every minute of their time together and was looking forward to so much more.

They had even found time to do some training. It had been neglected since Danandril’s demon soldiers had first attacked when Angel had been living in his small, basement apartment. After that, a whole plethora of things had stood in the way.

When they started again though it had been as if they had never finished training. Cordelia was still as nimble, agile and skilled as she was before. Never had anyone he had trained, living or dead, picked up the skills so quickly or been able to use them so well.

Even though they had spent the week together, training and doing all manner of other things, he still felt bad. There was something missing. He knew what but it was something that terrified him beyond belief. He had never liked it and it was one of the things he was adamant he wouldn’t do.

It had to be done though if he was to make Cordelia happy. There were things he couldn’t give her and things he could. As much as he hated it, he would do it for her. If he had to, he would take her on a date.

* * *

Danandril smiled at the fine specimen before him. It would be more than enough to handle Angel and his friends and give him enough time to prepare for his master’s return. This one needed to be able to keep Angel away from the Chase girl and Danandril had every faith that he could do so.

Balderas had been the one to find him. Danandril had been in Lirtast for the past week searching for the books that contained the rituals needed to raise his master, Llirdryn. He had been right to leave the responsibility to Balderas who he considered, by all accounts, an absolute imbecile.

“Hello, it is a pleasure to meet you.” Danandril added an introduction. “I trust Mr. Balderas has told you what we want you to do.”

A vampire stepped forward from the shadows of the office and looked Danandril up and down. He was obviously unfamiliar with Granok demons but Danandril didn’t expect any vampire to be intelligent. “Yes, he informed me of what you wanted.”

The vampire’s accent was heavy. He was certainly not from North America, but not many with notorious reputations were. He had noticed that most notorious vampires came from Europe, the most famous two coming from Ireland and England respectively.

“So, do you agree to the terms of our agreement? Danandril asked.

“You want me to take away Angelus’ woman so that you can raise some all powerful master without Angelus’ interruption?” the vampire asked, a smile on his face. “Angelus has been a long time rival of mine and I would be glad to take care of him for you. There is one condition though. I and I alone, get to kill Angelus.”

An evil smile crossed Danandril’s face. He liked the idea of a distracted Angel, one that couldn’t bother him or delay his plans, but he liked the idea of a dead Angel even more. With a handshake, Danandril said, “We have a deal.”

* * *

The familiar smell of the sewers was heavy in the air as Angel and Cordelia stalked through them in search of the demon terrorising their client. If the description was right, it was a prio motu demon, hired by an angry ex ‘business’ partner, to kill their client.

He was a shady character, one that Angel didn’t trust right off the bat, but as Cordelia had said, “payment is payment.” She knew that he hated protecting the scumbags of the city, but they paid the bills. Thankfully, she no longer had the visions from The Powers so all they could do was rely on the customers who came through the door, not her head.

Fatigue was setting in though. They had been searching for hours and she was getting sick of the same, dark, dank walls and the pungent stench that was completely drowning out her newest perfume.

“Couldn’t we have left this one to Spike?” she asked as Angel stopped and sniffed at the air. How he did it was beyond her because all she could smell was stinky sewers. “Besides, wouldn’t he be better at this than you? I mean, he is a fighter and he did beat you the last time you fought him.”

For the first time since leaving their client’s grotty flat, Angel focused on her. His eyes showed just what her last sentence meant to him. “Cordelia, I told you what happened in that fight. I wasn’t at my best, unlike him, and I had no desire to beat him. I just wanted the Cup. Believe me, any other day and I would have Spike beaten.”

He turned away again but quickly spun round and added. “You remember when he came to LA in ’99? I was at my best and I beat him. In battle, Cordelia, extenuating circumstances are just as important as the fight itself. If your heart and mind aren’t in it, you haven’t got much chance of winning.”

Cordelia did remember that. It was strange thinking back all that way to a time when she didn’t love Angel. It was hard to imagine not loving Angel. Loving him had been the biggest part of her life since she fell in love with him and thinking of a time without it was strange, and scary.

He had been so brave when Spike came to town though. Spike had attacked first and Angel had seen him off easily and made Buffy’s struggles with Spike seem quite pitiful. But he had held out through the torture as well just to protect a ring, just to ensure that a vampire like Spike couldn’t go out in the day.

When she thought of it, why didn’t she love him back then?

Angel had been right though. There was no one better than him when it came to a fight. She had watched him over the years and admired his strength and power, but admired his elegance at the same time. Watching Angel in battle was like watching a dance, perfectly choreographed and performed flawlessly.

She got to see it firsthand in their training sessions that they had recently resumed. If even an ounce of his skill rubbed off on her, she could be classed as a wonderful fighter.

Next time Gunn calls me stick figure Barbie, I’ll kick his ass, she mused.

And on the plus side, when she trained with Angel, she got to see him in a vest where his muscles were all nicely highlighted and every tense, every flex could be seen. It wasn’t the physicality of the sessions that made her hot, it was the muscles.

All of a sudden, Cordelia bumped into Angel, her happy thoughts shattering and her feet coming firmly back down to the ground. His sniffs were loud and there was a grumbling sounding in his throat. He was deep in thought and she knew that if she could see his face he would be frowning.

“It’s near.” That was all he said before he pushed on. Another thing she admired: his unwavering focus. When he set his mind on something it would take a lot to stop him and right now he was determined to find this demon.

After a few more minutes tracking, Angel stopped again and just stood still. He turned to face a piece of grating on the wall before it flew towards him and a big, blue, furry demon with large horns and teeth ran out. It went straight for Angel but he was able to avoid its powerful, but slow, attacks and return some of his own.

Cordelia knew when she should get involved in fights and when she shouldn’t and this fight went into the shouldn’t category. She watched from the sidelines and prayed that her man could get through this one.

All Angel seemed to be doing was dodging, but what he was really doing was studying every movement, every attack, and every aspect of the demon so he could counterattack effectively. His dodging carried on for another minute or so before he finally lashed out.

In a flurry of movement, Angel sent his own punches slamming into the demon’s face. After a few punches he would change his position and stance, keep his enemy moving and make a change to his attacking manoeuvres. On the balls of his feet he sent two quick jabs at the prio motu and then, transferring all of the weight onto his left leg, connected a spinning heel kick to the prio motu’s head sending it crashing to the floor.

Without a second glance at the demon, Angel rushed to Cordelia’s side. “Are you okay? You weren’t hurt?”

With a smile and a gentle caressing of his cheek, Cordelia replied, “I’m fine. I was nowhere near the fight and if I had been, you would have made sure I was safe.” Cordelia looked over his shoulder and saw a wet, but empty floor where the prio motu had been lying after being beaten. “But, I’m not what you should be focusing on right now.”

Angel followed Cordelia’s finger and a look of disbelief as he stared blankly at the spot where he seen the prio fall. “I didn’t expect him to have survived that. His neck should have snapped. I put all my strength into that, as well.”

“Look, that’s not the issue here,” Cordelia told him. “We have an angry demon on the loose and you’re worried about the strength of your kick.”

“Right, well I’ll go after it again but you are to go back to the hotel,” Angel said as he looked to where the prio had run. “I don’t want you getting hurt. Climb the first set of ladders you find on the way back.”

Cordelia nodded and turned to leave when Angel called out, “Before I go. Tonight, I want to take you out somewhere nice, just the two of us.”

“Are you asking me out on a date?” She could see it in his eyes that he wanted to cringe badly but he held it back. That must have taken all of his strength, never mind the kick to the prio’s head.

“Yes, I want to take you out on a date.” Wow. Was it real or had he missed the prio motu completely and kicked her? This didn’t feel right. Angel was offering to take her out on a date, a date where you spend money, eat food, and drink wine and other various date things? It just seemed alien to her when it came from his lips. Angel and date didn’t belong in the same sentence, or even the same paragraph.

But, as strange as it felt, it felt incredibly right. Dating Angel was a good thing and his asking, despite his complete horror at doing so, was a sign of progress. In one week he had gone from desperately seeking her forgiveness to asking her out on a date. There was only one thing she could say.

“I would love to go out on a date with you. Now, go and kill that thing so you can get home and get ready.” Without another word she turned and headed for the first ladder back. She could feel him staring at her and she could sense the smile on his face as he turned and started tracking again.

Now she had to get home and start getting ready, but not before dancing around her bedroom squealing giddily because she was going on a date with Angel.

* * *

There was a gentle murmur in the air throughout the restaurant. Angel looked around suspiciously as he scanned for any possible danger. Deep down he knew there was none, but his instincts made him check anyway. Plus, after 260 years surrounded by evil, he was always on his guard.

The large, candlelit room was filled with the gentle aroma of the scented candles and the delicious smell of the numerous meals being served. From the smell, Angel was already assured of the restaurant’s quality. Now he knew that it was definitely a four star establishment.

The prices on the menus also assured him of that.

Angel returned his focus back to his own table and the beauty looking back at him. A warm, radiant smile formed on the face he considered perfection a look of pure love shone in her eyes. That look was warmer than anything he’d ever felt and made him feel more alive than ever before. Even more than when he was alive.

When she looked at him like that everything just seemed right. He was sure that if his heart could beat it would break his chest and sometimes he wondered how this feeling didn’t constitute as perfect happiness.

A man dressed smartly appeared at the table and asked, “May I take your order, madam?”

“Can I have the soup to start, please and the… what do you suggest?”

“The casserole is wonderful, madam. It is one of our more popular dishes and our chef’s speciality.”

With a smile, Cordelia replied, “That sounds great. I’ll have that please.”

“And to drink?”

“Um, I’ll have the ’61 Chateau Latour, please.”

“Excellent choice, madam,” the waiter said as he took Cordelia’s menu. “And for the gentleman?”

Angel hadn’t looked at the menus. Solid food didn’t sustain him and he couldn’t taste it so he hadn’t bothered choosing a meal. “Uh, I’ll have the same, please.”

“Excellent choice, sir,” the waiter said with a bow. “Your meals shall be along shortly.”

Cordelia turned to Angel again and smiled. “Thank-you for bringing me here, Angel. It’s wonderful. And to think, you, paying these prices. You must really love me.”

The only reply he could give was a smile and a nod. Really, he was horrified with the prices, not that he had seen them yet. He wasn’t going to show it though. The whole evening was about being with Cordelia, just the two of them.

After around fifteen minutes, the waiter returned with two bowls of soup in hand. Angel took a deep breath when they were placed on the table and counted up all the dollars he would have to fork out for such high quality bowls of soup.

He really did miss the old days when he could buy a cup of ale, a tavern wench and a room for a few bob. Now two portions of soup cost more than three nights at the tavern back in Galway.

Angel grimaced as Cordelia slowly ate her soup, and begrudgingly ate his. Usually she wasn’t so sophisticated but the upper class surroundings seemed to have gotten to her. He didn’t blame her, but he much preferred her being herself. That was the woman he loved, not the woman who took small sips of the soup on her spoon.

Eventually they finished and the waiter brought the main courses. Again the smell gave Angel an idea of what he would have to pay and he wasn’t happy with what it was suggesting.

“Is everything alright?” he asked as he watched her take another forkful. “I mean I’ll have them take it back if it isn’t.” Then maybe they’ll give us it free of charge.

“Don’t worry.” She leaned across the table and rested her hand on his. “Everything’s perfect. And even if it wasn’t, I’m just happy we’re here together.”

“Yeah, me too.” Suddenly, all thoughts of cost had gone and he was just happy being with Cordelia, at long last. There was nothing but them and that was what he liked. Just them, just like it used to be.

As they sat in silence and stared into each other’s eyes lovingly, the waiter appeared at the table again. With a small cough he drew their attentions and with a growl, Angel asked, “What?”

With a slight bow before speaking, the waiter said, “I am sorry to bother you, sir, but there is a man at reception looking for you. He said it was urgent.”

“Did he say who he was and what he wanted?”

“No, sir.”

As usual problems sprung up when he was with Cordelia. What did it take to get one evening alone with her? He knew he couldn’t just go and see who needed him so he looked at her, her smile and nod telling him that it was okay.

Angel walked speedily towards the reception so he could quickly get back. When he got there he found Gunn, who looked prepped and ready for a fight.

“What is it, Gunn?”

“Yo, Angel, we got a nest of vamps giving my boys some trouble,” Gunn explained. “I know you’re busy at the moment, bro, but I think we need a little more muscle than Spike and Illyria alone can give.”

Angel looked at Gunn and then back through the door at the table where Cordelia was sat, still eating and looking beautiful. No, nothing was taking him away from her. Too much had got in the way since her return, and before it, and now he was going to give as much time as he could.

“Look, Gunn, I’m sorry but tonight is too important for me to leave,” Angel told him. “Tonight needs to be about me and Cordelia and I’m not giving that up to fight a group of vamps. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to find someone else.”

With a smile and a pat on his shoulder, Gunn replied, “That’s okay, bro. I understand. Ain’t no trip. We can deal without you tonight.”

“Well, if this vamp group is as bad as they sound, you could use the help.” He took a pen from the reception and wrote something on Gunn’s hand. “Go to that address and you’ll find all the help you need.”

“Okay. I’ll talk to you later, bro.” Gunn gave Angel the black handshake that involved a lot of complicated moves that Angel was lost with. Not even his vampire reflexes could keep up. After a few moves, Gunn pulled Angel in for the hug and then left. Before completely leaving, he said, “Oh, and good luck keeping your hands off Cordy tonight. She is looking damn fine.”

Angel smiled as he watched his friend drive away before returning to the table. Cordelia looked up with a smile as she took one final forkful. She pressed her fingers to her lips as she chewed just to show she couldn’t talk but was trying her best to finish so she could. Everyone did it. Others would lift their index finger in a ‘wait one moment gesture.’

Angel smiled as he watched her chewing that last morsel as fast as she could. While he waited for her to finish he held her hand again and just gazed into her big, bright eyes. Who needed the sun when he could look at those eyes everyday?

Again the waiter appeared at the table just as they were settling. “I trust everything was to your satisfaction?”

“Everything was delicious.”

“Excellent. Would you be interested in viewing the dessert menu?”

Angel tried to hide his horror at the thought of another course but Cordelia’s smile made it clear that he was failing.

“No, thank-you,” Cordelia said. “I couldn’t eat another bite.”

With a bow the waiter said, “Very well, madam. I shall bring you the bill.”

Angel’s mouth hung open as he stared at the small piece of paper before him that was right now eating into his savings. Out of the corner of his eye, Angel could see the waiter, towel over arm, wearing the required stoic look even though he was sure the waiter took great pleasure in handing out bills.

He could also see Cordelia trying not to laugh. Obviously eating him out of house and home was funny to her.

Pointing to the price of the casseroles, Angel asked, “Fifty dollars? Fifty dollars!?”

“Is that a problem, sir?”

“Not really, but that’s travelled in price, hasn’t it? What was in it? Venison?” Again he could see Cordelia trying not to laugh. Now she had buried her face in his unused napkin.

With a cough, the waiter replied, “No, sir. Will there be any problems making the payment?”

Angel kept his eyes fixed on the tiny white paper and replied, “There shouldn’t be but I might have to contact Zurich and move some money around.”

“You truly are a funny man, sir.”

“Not as funny as these prices.”

* * *

A cool breeze blew through the Plymouth’s slightly open windows as it glided across the surface of the Freeway. Its destination only Angel knew even though Cordelia had asked numerous times. His response was that it was a secret that she would be better off not knowing about.

The conversation had ended there and they had remained in near silence since. She was still terribly curious of where they were going but she knew she would never get out of Angel. After everything he had endured in his life, why would her nagging have any affect on him?

Occasionally she would glance across and see a small smile on his face. It was nice to see him smiling but not when it was slightly smug. They got enough of those from Spike.

After about thirty minutes driving, Angel finally stopped the car. He had asked Cordelia to close her eyes as they pulled off the freeway and she still had them shut. She hadn’t even taken a quick peek.

The stillness of the car, and silence within, pushed her curiosity a little too far and she asked, “Where are we, Angel?” There was no response except for the groaning of the roof as it reclined into the back of the car. “Okay, Angel, not funny. I would like some straight answers before the night is through and not just your cryptic, freaky, Angelusesque behaviour.”

Again, nothing but the sound of Angel opening his door and getting out. In frustration, Cordelia huffed and folded her arms across her chest. Within seconds, Angel was on her side of the car and her door was opening. Her hand in his, she stepped out and followed Angel’s lead.

The ground was uneven beneath her and the air was colder than before. Angel wouldn’t have felt it but didn’t he have the sense to know she would? As they continued towards the wherever they were going the answer became a sure no.

Sounds filled the night sky as they walked. Seagulls cried, grass rustled in the breeze, their feet trudged along the ground and the sea lapped against the shore. That sound struck a chord in her mind but she didn’t know why. There was something about the coast that she knew she should know but she couldn’t place it.

As her mind tried to recall what was so important about the coast, Angel lifted the blindfold on her face.

Before her was one of the most beautiful views she had ever seen. The sea was calm and gently caressed the shore. It shone as the moon and the stars reflected of its near still surface. Now she remembered the spot. It was the cliff that they were supposed to meet at when she realised she loved him, before she was taken away and hers and Angel’s lives were destroyed.

A smile formed and she looked at Angel, the smile on his face causing hers to grow. “Angel it’s… it’s beautiful.” She pulled him in close and squeezed him tightly.

“I guess we finally made it, huh?” Angel said. “Now I can tell you what I should have told you twelve years ago.”

Cordelia pulled back and looked him in the eyes. “Go ahead.”

“My life is not a good one,” he began. “No matter what I did I couldn’t find the happiness I longed for, not that I deserved it, and I never thought I would. There were always moments though, glimmers that gave me hope that maybe happiness was a reality for me. Those glimmers always faded though.”

Tears bathed Cordelia’s lower lids as Angel continued on. “You were one of those glimmers but you faded as well. You came back to me though. You’re here and we have our chance. Now I see that we were supposed to have something. We were supposed to be happy.”

“Not perfectly though. Never forget that, mister.”

“No, not perfectly, but who needs perfect happiness when I have you?”

Cordelia wiped the one tear that had fallen from her cheek and looked back at Angel. “I love you, Angel.”

Without another word, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled herself up slowly to meet him with a kiss. When they finally broke apart, they just stood on the cliff, holding each other and watching the tide meet the shore.


Part 17

“So how did it go last night?” Angel asked as he walked down the stairs.

Gunn looked up from the Daredevil comic he was reading and replied, “It went well. One of my boys got a little banged up, but apart from that we got away clean. I don’t think it would have been so easy without Buffy there.”

“She was at Willow’s then,” Angel concluded as he poured himself a glass of cold, fresh-from-the-butcher’s-blood. He liked it warm, but sometimes he felt he needed to return to old habits. After all, he wasn’t on a pleasure cruise. This was redemption and redemption was a bitch.

“Yep, just like you thought. Looked like she was living there to me. Sleeping bags on the floor, suitcases behind the sofa.”

Angel thought for a moment as he sipped at his blood with every swallow being followed by a shudder and a cringe. “If she’s living there then she can’t be here permanently. She must be here for something else, something temporary. Maybe I’ll go and see her later on, find out what’s happening.”

“Yeah and while you’re there, maybe you could offer the illustrious services of Angel Investigations,” Gunn replied with a cheeky, yet eager smile. “Offer her a bed in one of our many rooms so she is better positioned for when we need some slayer strength.”

Angel shot him an ‘are you serious’ look before explaining, “I was brought back to help people, Gunn, and I would be very happy to help Buffy in any way possible, including giving her a room, but I couldn’t do that in case it bothered Cordelia. She and Buffy don’t get on when they’re together and after what happened recently I don’t want to bring bad memories back to the fore.”

He knew that Gunn could understand that. He wanted to help Buffy, but he didn’t want to bother Cordelia by doing so. After all, she was the most important thing in his life now and Angel knew that Gunn had felt that with Alonna and Fred.

Returning his gaze back to page 15 of the comic, he said, “Yeah, it wouldn’t be fair on Cordy. We should leave it. Besides, we don’t need any more problems.”

Angel looked up from his drink with a suspicious look in his eyes. “Speaking of problems, where are Spike and Illyria?”

“Spike’s sleeping and Illyria’s in the basement counting.” Angel gave Gunn a bemused look. “Oh, sorry. She counts the molecules in the air. Don’t ask me why. It keeps her quiet, at least.”

Before Angel could reply, the phone rang and Gunn answered it. He listened in on the conversation. He could partly make out what was being said on the other end with his vampire hearing but he was also focusing on the sound of footsteps approaching.

He knew who was coming by the frequency of the footsteps which gave him and indication of leg span and he knew only one person in the hotel with that leg span.

“Good morning all.” Angel turned and watched with a smile as Cordelia descended the stairs with a spring in her step. “And a very good morning to you, my one and only.”

Angel pulled away as she stood on the tips of her toes to kiss him. “I’ve just drank blood.”

“Oh good. I thought you were pulling away because I had bad morning breath.”

“What? Haven’t you brushed your teeth yet?” Angel asked. If she hadn’t he had to question why she was fully dressed.

As she poured herself a glass of orange juice, she replied, “Yes but sometimes it doesn’t go away until you drink something.”

For a moment they just stared at each other while they sipped at their respective drinks. There was nothing else in the room as far as they were concerned. It was just them, but that changed as soon Gunn’s shouting ripped them from their personal bubble.

“What!?” Gunn shouted. “Are you kidding me? Look, calm down, Rondell. Look, I know this is bad but it won’t help the boys if you’re panicking. I’ll come over now and help you out and maybe we can figure out how this happened. Okay, see you later.”

“Trouble?”

Gunn put the phone back on the receiver and gave Angel a serious look. “Yeah, four of the guys were killed last night, two are missing and the rest are all injured. I’m going over there now.”

“Let me come with you,” Cordelia called as he opened the door, and she finished her orange juice, which she had chugged.

“Fine but we need to leave now.”

Cordelia grabbed her coat, and her first aid kit that was still stored below the counter, and ran after Gunn who had already left the lobby. Angel grabbed her elbow before she could get out and pulled her back.

His face a picture of seriousness, he told her, “I don’t want you there. If something bad has happened to Gunn’s friends, something could happen to you. I can’t allow anything to happen to you, not now.”

She smiled and assured him of her safety with Gunn before puling him down to her level. Their lips met for a brief moment before Angel said, “Be careful, and take care of Gunn.”

“I will.” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek before running out the door with Angel staring after her.

* * *

Cordelia took a moment to enjoy the warm sun beaming down on to the roof of the hideout. It still looked no different from when she and Wesley had saved Angel from his tiny prison inside. All of this was before Gunn had joined their team of swashbuckling demon hunters, as Wesley liked to call them.

She glanced over at Gunn who was pacing impatiently. They had been waiting for 15 minutes since Rondell had told them to wait on the roof and still he hadn’t come up. Cordelia still maintained that street smarts, fighting prowess and expert stake handling were no substitute for good manners.

“Gunn, you need to try and calm down a little. We’ll get this sorted out.”

He stopped his pacing; stepped out of the groove he had made in the roof, and walked over and stood beside her. “How can I calm down when four of my boys were killed last night?”

“I know you’re upset but you, Rondell and everyone else knows the risks involved. They all chose to fight for the cause and they gave their lives for it.” She stroked his arm as he stared down at the floor, the pain in his eyes obvious. “You should be proud of them.”

“I am proud, but there’s dying for the cause and there’s dying horribly,” he replied as he walked away angrily.

“What do you mean?”

He turned back and said, “I mean, they only just found the last piece of Joey and when they found Mikey this morning, screaming in agony while he died slowly, he had no arms and no legs.”

Nothing more was said between them as they waited for Rondell to show up. As soon as the steel door grinded open, Gunn barged past her, his shoulder knocking her a little to the side. On any other day she would have told him what would happen if he did that ever again, but she understood his pain. She had seen it before and she knew firsthand that he didn’t deal with it well.

“You said you’d be five minutes,” Gunn shouted as he walked towards him.

“Sorry, G. I was dealing with something downstairs.”

“Whatever, just tell me what happened!”

Cordelia felt as though she would need to get between Gunn and something before the day was done. He was angry, upset and was being very aggressive towards anything that moved. She was worried that if Rondell said one thing out of place, he would be on the floor.

Gunn folded his arms as he waited for Rondell to explain. “We got word that you and your little team hadn’t cleaned all the vamps out. Joey said he saw a vamp scouting the place out. So we suited up and went after it.”

“Were you ambushed?”

“Look, just keep quiet for a minute and let me explain,” Rondell said, a frustrated look in his eyes. Cordelia didn’t blame him. Here he was single-handedly trying to deal with losing friends and hold the place together and there was Gunn, in his face, demanding answers.

“So we went outside and there it was just waiting for us in the street. There was a big smile on its face, but it was evil. It was like he already knew he had beaten us.” He paused for a moment, his eyes glazed and focused on one spot. It was the look that people had when they were thinking and it was clear that one thing was dominating his mind now.

He shook his head as he snapped out of his little daze and continued on. “So we set up the usual strategy. Ten on the right, ten on the left and the rest attack it head on. We did that but…”

Gunn looked at Cordelia confusedly before getting Rondell’s attention again. “But what?”

“But he was too good for us. He beat us back, one by one. When people attacked he would break arms, legs and for the four unlucky bastards who died, he broke necks.”

“Carry on, Ron.”

Rondell looked into Gunn’s eyes before telling him, “We fought but we lost. In the end there were just 20 of us, lying in the street, looking at the dead bodies of our friends, trying to nurse our own wounds and listening to the screams of Mikey and Joey as he carried them away.”

“Ron, it wasn’t your fault,” Gunn reassured him. “We’ll find the son of a bitch and kill him for what he did. You and the crew will just have to sit this one out, though, because this is too dangerous for you. I can’t see anymore of my people die.”

“Okay, G, whatever you say.”

Cordelia stood beside Gunn and asked, “Was there anything about this vampire that you remember distinctly, something that may help us find him.”

It was clear that Rondell was trying to remember but it was also clear that the memories were also too painful to remember. Sometimes, the mind blocked out the horrible things to save itself and she doubted it was any different here.

“Uh, I remember he had a strong, Spanish accent. Oh and this morning, when we found Mikey, he tried to say something that sounded like it began with an R. That could just be delirious ranting though.”

“Thanks,” Cordelia said with a smile. “That will help.”

As Gunn and Cordelia started to leave, Rondell called out, “I hope your vampire friend – Angel, I think – is good because he’s not gonna have it easy with this guy.”

“Believe me,” Gunn began. “Angel’s the best fighter I’ve ever seen. He’ll be able to handle this vamp.”

“Well just keep in mind that this vamp beat all thirty of us without even vamping out.”

Suddenly, the fight didn’t seem so straightforward. Now they weren’t facing an ordinary vampire, they were facing some sort of ultra vampire. Both of them knew, no matter how good Angel was, he was going to have his hands full.

* * *

From the shade of the alleyway, a vampire watched as a man and a woman left the hideout and got into their truck. A sly smile was on his face as he thought about the fact that they neither knew of him nor that he was watching them in that very moment.

Even after all of the years he had spent roaming the earth as the undead, he still revelled in the hunt and the inevitable fate of his victims. Never had he let one of his prey escape and now would be no different.

Danandril had shown him the man and the woman on the security monitor at the offices of Wolfram and Hart. If he had heard right, they were known as Charles Gunn and Cordelia Chase and they were the two people that he needed to capture.

The plan that had been laid out before him was simple enough. He captured both Chase and Gunn whereupon he would deliver Gunn to Danandril. He would keep the Chase woman for himself because Angelus would search for her which would keep him away from Danandril’s plan.

He had only agreed because he got to deal with Angelus personally, something he had wanted to do again for over 200 hundred years. There was unfinished business that needed to be dealt with before either of them left the world, if they left it at all.

“Truly beautiful,” he said as he watched them drive away and he got a good view of Cordelia’s face. “Angelus still has wonderful taste. Well, at least I know he will give his all to find you, my sweet. Finally, after all my years of waiting, I will get the true battle with Angelus that I want.”

The smile still fixed firmly on his face; he turned and walked away into the dark shadows of the alley.

* * *

Spain, 1114

A cool night breeze passed over Romero as he walked onto the manor balcony that overlooked the town. It was hot and stuffy inside and it didn’t help that he was being constantly called for and sent to and fro. Now his day was finished, he just wanted to relax in the cool outside.

He often wondered why only the cool breeze of the night could calm him after the long, hard days he had to endure. It wasn’t ordinary to enjoy the night, not with the reports of things walking the night, preying on the hapless people not locked up indoors.

Even with the horror stories that circulated in the local tavern, he wasn’t fazed. If anything, he would welcome a visit from one of those creatures.

As he thought on that, a man clad in black robes stepped onto the balcony, his face hidden beneath his hood. Romero glanced his way but did nothing. He didn’t care if there was an intruder. It wasn’t his house, so why would he? As far as he was concerned, the less his master had in his possession, the better.

“It is late, my boy. Why do you sit alone out here where you are vulnerable, where no one can help you?” His voice was soothing. It was soft and respectful. As the stranger spoke, Romero felt cared about, not like he was surplus to requirements.

The question was a fairly simple one though and Romero knew the answer straight away. He had known it for a long time. His answer was simply, “Even if there was someone here to help me, they wouldn’t grant me the time.”

An ‘ah’ passed the man’s lips. Obviously he had heard it before, or he was just feinting caring. It wouldn’t be the first time. His master had done that many times, and then he got what he wanted and returned to his usual, domineering ways.

“Why do you believe this?” the intruder asked, his head slightly turned towards him. From what he could see he was an elderly man, the wrinkles on his face telling him that.

The question was not a new one for him. In his lifetime he had heard it many times and every time he had given the same answer. “All my life I have served someone higher than I, someone deemed greater because of a title, a title that has ruled my family for generations. I have had to sit and watch as my whole family served that title, and what they got for it in the end.”

“Ah, you are a servant in this house.”

“Everyone in my family is, or should I say, was,” Romero explained. “They’re all dead now, except for me. But even though my family gave their lives in the service of this house, nothing is warranted me. Still I am spat upon; still I am treated like a rat from the street and everyday I find myself hating the people of this world even more.”

The strange man chuckled at that. Romero didn’t see how his story was funny. “You hate this world, I know. You hate the human pestilence that walks upon its surface. You wish to be above them so you can make them feel the pain you, and your family, have felt for so many years.”

The strange man turned and looked at him, a smile upon his face. The sight of it caused him to jump back in horror. It was not a human face. His face was white, his lips and nose were scrunched up and large fangs protruded from his mouth.

“You are afraid of my visage? You fear the fires of hell that you see burning in my eyes? You fear that death has finally come for you?”

Romero stopped his slow backtracking and stood perfectly still, his eyes gazing into the golden eyes looking back.

“No,” the strange man began again. “You do not fear my face, or the hell and death you see within, but the hope that you see within my eyes. It terrifies you that a creature, such as myself, can offer you so much, so much that the human’s cannot.” He smiled again. “It scares you to know that I can offer you everything you’ve ever wanted.”

“What are you?” Romero asked as he moved in closer.

As he pulled his hood back, the man replied, “I am your saviour. I can save you from the human pestilence and give you a life among the elite beings of this world. I can give you the power that you so crave, the power to be greater than all who walk the earth. The power to be greater than those who are deemed your betters. I can give you a title above theirs.”

Was it true? Was this the answer he had been searching for, for so long? Did this man have the power to make him a being greater than any man? “How can you do this for me?”

“All it takes is but a moment of pain, and then you shall be whole. Let me show you a world of wonders, my boy. Let me make you whole.”

He couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. All his life he had dreamt of being better than he was, dreamt of being greater than those above him. Now he had the chance to be and he wasn’t going to pass it up. With that he nodded, the man smiled, leaned in and bit down into his neck. After a moment the pain subsided and there was silence.

The silence seemed to have stretched into eternity, but now it didn’t seem so unrelenting and as his senses returned, the silence was broken by the sounds of the world. They were all familiar sounds but they sounded muffled. As he listened he heard the sound of a man singing a song, his voice soothing.

Romero knew the sound. It was the stranger who had come to him and offered him power, a power greater than any man. He opened his eyes and looked for the man but all he saw was darkness, and the feeling of something in his eyes. As he thought about it, he realised that he was beneath soil.

Naturally he closed his eyes to keep any dirt out of them, and began to dig upwards. Why was he underground? Then it hit him. He was dead. He had been bitten the night before by the strange man, who was obviously… a vampire.

He continued digging and didn’t stop until he felt the cool night breeze on his skin. Deep breaths filled his lungs but they were pointless. Breathing was just a natural reaction but after a few moments he stopped. As he crawled from the shallow grave he searched for the man singing.

Eventually he found him sat at the foot of a tree. He was no longer wearing the black robes, but was wearing regular attire. He approached him slowly and was welcomed by a smile and a hearty laugh.

“Ah, you have arisen, my boy. I was wondering when you would wake up. Even after a few thousand years I am still impatient.”

“Where am I?” Romero asked.

“You were found on the balcony in the early hours and they brought you here,” the man explained. “They didn’t see you as important enough to buy a plot of land so they dumped you in a field.”

Romero looked around and tried to familiarise himself with the area. He knew where he was after a few minutes. He was on the outskirts of the many acres of land his master owned.

“I feel strange,” he told the man.

“It is a strange time after you first rise but it will subside after you feed. Plus, after your first feed comes the power I promised you last night.” The man stood up, placed his hand on Romero’s shoulder and led him away. “Soon, my boy, you will become a true elite, a true member of the highest order: The Order of Aurelius.”

Romero thought for a second before he asked, “What is your name? I must know if I am to spend, I suspect, eternity with you.”

With a smile and a in a proud voice, he replied, “I am The Master.”

* * *

An orange tint coloured the sky and the Earth as the sun set with practiced bravado. Angel watched and waited inside the Plymouth, the tinted windows protecting him from the naked rays. Within minutes the sun would be gone and he would be free to get out and walk down the garden path to Willow’s front door.

He didn’t feel right being here, knowing that Buffy was inside. After everything that had happened, being near Buffy kept him on edge, the fear that he would alienate Cordelia always there, filling his mind and determining his actions. He knew that Cordelia wasn’t some slave driver but her feelings meant a lot and he wouldn’t risk hurting them.

After a few moments the sun was gone and he stepped out of his car. The cool early evening air was refreshing against his skin. He had been pent up in the hotel all day. Sleep hadn’t been an option even though he had wanted to lose himself in it, desperately. No matter what he tried, worrying about Cordelia dominated his thoughts.

It had been a relief when she had called and assured him that she was safe. She had said it with a slight mocking in her voice. As much as he didn’t want to hear that, it was a huge relief to know that nothing had happened. He had wanted her to come to visit Willow and Buffy with him but she had already promised Gunn that she would go for a coffee with him.

Going with him was better anyway. Gunn needed a friend right now and Cordelia really wouldn’t have appreciated spending time, no matter how small, with Buffy.

When he reached the strong oak door, he knocked and waited for the reply. Within seconds the door was opened and before him stood Buffy.

“Angel?” The confusion on her face was apparent. He didn’t blame her. He hadn’t thought he would be seeing her again, even though he wanted to, and he was sure she felt the same. “What are you doing here? Is there a problem?”

“No,” he replied. “I just wanted to come by and say hello, see how you and Willow were doing.”

“Oh.” She poked her head out of the door and looked everywhere in the garden. “Isn’t Cordelia here with you?”

Angel stared into her eyes. They were full of hope and sadly, love. He knew what she wanted. She wanted to know that Cordelia wasn’t there, why and if everything was okay in their relationship. “No, she’s out with Gunn.”

“Oh, Gunn,” Buffy replied with a slight smirk on her face.

“Yeah, a few of Gunn’s friends were killed last night so they’ve gone for a drive. I think he wants to clear his head and she said she wanted to be there to listen to him.” A sly smile formed when he thought of the next thing he could say. “I guess that’s what friends are for.”

The smirk disappeared and she asked, “So you two are okay then? You sorted out all that mess?”

“Yes, we’re together now.” He couldn’t honestly say that it didn’t feel awkward saying that to Buffy, but he also couldn’t honestly say that it didn’t feel a little good, especially after what he had just seen.

She brought her head back and leant on the door frame. Her eyebrows were raised and her mouth was slightly open. “That’s good. I’m happy for you.” He could tell from her face that she wasn’t. She really wasn’t doing a good job of hiding it. “Well, come in then. I’ll just go and tell Willow that you’re here.”

He walked through the door as she ran up the stairs and made his way into the living room. The sofa was just as he remembered, soft and comfortable. The room’s décor was warm and welcoming also and Angel felt a little of his uneasiness fade.

His eyes were drawn to a bright red sleeping bag behind one of the chairs. He listened to see if anyone was coming to the living room and, when he found there was no one, walked over to the bag.

He picked it up and brought it to his face. After a deep breath, he returned it to its resting place and took a seat. He had the scent fresh in his mind as he sat and he analysed it while he waited. One thing he knew from the scent: Buffy wasn’t using the sleeping bag.

The scent was older. It was a dusty smell, as if no one had used it in a while. He considered that a little strange. Why would they have a sleeping bag out in the living room when no one was using it? He pondered that thought until Buffy and Willow entered the room.

“Hello, Angel,” Willow said with a smile. “I didn’t think I’d see you around here again, seeing as you’re so busy at the moment with this Danandril guy.”

“It’s been quiet recently, ever since Gunn shot him,” Angel explained. “We haven’t heard anymore since then. It’s been nice just being able to help the clients and spend time with my friends without worrying about some big evil apocalypse hanging over our heads.”

Angel looked towards the door when he heard the clinking of china. Standing there before him, his face stoic and serious, was Giles. “I’m sorry to say it, Angel, but that is exactly what we have hanging over us.”


Part 18

Angel stared into Giles’ cold, serious eyes, not even breaking his gaze away long enough to notice Willow leaving the room.

He found it hard to believe that another apocalypse was coming. It wasn’t something he wanted to believe, not with everything in his life just starting to make sense. There was no denying the look of seriousness on Giles’ face however. That alone told him something was coming and no amount of wishing it away would change it.

“So there’s another threat. Whatever it is we’ll deal with it.”

Caught mid sip of his tea, Giles swallowed hard, a heavy grunt clearing his throat of the tepid brew. “This is more than a casual threat, Angel.” Leaning forward he narrowed his sight on the vampire. “If my suspicions are correct, the next apocalypse is imminent.”

“And by imminent you mean…?” Arms stretched out in front of him, Angel opened his palms, the slight shake of his head gesturing for something a little more specific.

Giles shaped his fingers into a pincer like shape in the green wool as he removed his glasses and brought them to meet the hem of his cardigan. “Hard to tell.” He wiped the lenses in a circular motion as he explained, “We have been receiving more and more reports of apocalyptic activity. Cults are being a lot louder about their activities, demons getting braver, not to mention stronger, et cetera.”

He released the material from his grip and replaced his glasses in one swift movement, blinking as his eyes readjusted. “And slayers are being killed more frequently.” His tone showed no feel of sadness to the normal man, but Angel was picking up a small cracking in his voice as he spoke. “Ten of my top field operatives have been killed this week alone.”

Buffy glanced at Giles who had taken a seat on the sofa and was hunching forward pinching the bridge of his nose before returning her attention to Angel who was still waiting for an explanation. “We think it’s going to happen here. That’s why I came here and why Giles has come.”

Angel’s eyes narrowed as he looked between the two sat before him and realised that nothing had changed. “You’ve been suspecting this for a while, and you’re just telling me now.”

Unable to hold the dark, questioning eyes drilling down on her, Buffy sought a temporary reprieve from the dull stains marring Willow’s carpet. If Giles was going to offer a defence he should have done so by now, and accepting that a rescue was not part of his immediate plans, Buffy crossed her arms and reluctantly met Angel head on. “Technically I did. When I first got here I told you that Giles suspected there was an apocalypse and he had sent me to stop it. You agreed to help and we went after Danandril.”

Angel walked to the window and stared out at the houses across the street, unable to stomach looking at them. All along they had known about the apocalypse and Danandril’s involvement, but they hadn’t felt he was important enough to be told the truth. He had people to protect, people he loved, and yet still they kept information from him, the vampire they were still incapable of trusting.

Eyes closed and with a gentle exhale, he placed his hands on his hips and dropped his head. He knew this wasn’t the time for personal disputes. There were more important things to deal with first. “So, Danandril is the big bad we need to beat?”

“Yes,” Giles said before Buffy could, “but I believe you already had ample opportunity to defeat Danandril. You chose to save Cordelia instead while your friends spared his life. I hope you know that your actions, along with those of your friends, may have doomed us all.”

Angel spun round quickly and moved towards Giles, ignoring the fact that Buffy had stepped between him and the man accusing him of causing the trouble.

“You’re blaming me and my people? We did the best with what we knew, unlike you.” Despite Buffy’s presence, Angel moved in closer, pointing his finger at Giles who seemed relatively unfazed. His heart thumping at a greater rate beneath his skin told a different story however.

“You should have told us what Danandril was doing and we could have stopped this. But as usual the Sunnydale alum are the only ones who are capable of stepping up to the plate and delivering.”

“Angel, you’d better calm down, now!”

He knew Buffy was right and he moved away, rubbing his eyes and temples as he tried to cool down. With arms folded across his chest, he looked at them again and asked, “So what now? We take him out again?”

“If only it was that simple.” Giles removed his glasses again and cleaned them as he thought of the words to say. It was hard enough informing Angel of coming danger, but to tell him the rest was a more difficult task, one that needed more delicacy considering his recent display of temper. “Evidence tells us that he is not alone in this. The books I have read, so far, all indicate that he can’t do anything without help.”

“Well that’s a plus then because as far as I know he has no…” Angel wished he could finish that sentence, but he knew it would be a lie if he did. His mind rushed back to the night Danandril took Cordelia, and to the guard he had fought to free her. It wasn’t so much the guard, but the name of his employer. “He already has help.”

A thin bead of perspiration lined Giles’ upper lip as the colour slowly drained from his face. His eyes moved from side to side rapidly as he eagerly awaited the rest of the information. When it didn’t come he asked frantically, “Who, Angel? I must know immediately.”

“Wolfram and Hart.”

“The Trinity are the first of allies mentioned,” Giles quickly offered. “However, it appears Danandril will require two others in order to bring about the apocalypse.”

“And they are?”

“I’m not entirely sure. The text mentions two others, but it doesn’t name them.” Taking a moment to gather his thoughts, Giles pinched the bridge of his nose and mulled over recent research. “Danandril is likely the one referred to as The Initiator. Although he might not be directly responsible for its occurrence, I don’t believe there can be an apocalypse without him.”

Information was sparse, but they had successfully challenged threats with less to go than this. “So what’s the plan?” His question met with silence, Angel slowly rolled his head from Giles to Buffy then back to Giles where he impatiently urged an answer. “The plan?”

“Basically we need to wait,” Buffy chimed in. “We continue on like we have been doing and see if anything develops. Like you said, Angel, it’s been quiet. If anything happens we’ll know about it.”

“Okay,” he agreed with a half-hearted nod, “but I want you to tell me if you find anything. I have people to take care of so I need to be the first to know, no matter what it is.”

“It would be much simpler if we were all together,” Giles said after downing the last bit of tea in the bottom of the cup. “It is a way to travel between here and the city.”

“I’d invite you all stay at the hotel, but…” Angel glanced at Buffy, her head dropping instantly as his eyes met hers. “I don’t think it would be a very good idea at the moment.”

“Ah yes, the little tiff between Buffy and Cordelia.” Buffy looked at him, her mouth open in shock that he knew. “Willow told me,” he explained with a smile. “In this case, perhaps the world’s safety should come before…personal needs.”

It hit a nerve and Angel preferred not to look at them. Instead he made a move for the door. “I should go.”

“Angel wai-.”

Brushing past the pair, Angel headed toward the door, ignoring Giles’ protest.

“Angel, I know how much Cordelia means to you, but please think-”

“Do you?” He loomed over Giles, his tall, broad frame nearly engulfing the smaller man. He had heard Giles talk about how he understood his feelings and how duty came before personal needs, but was that what was really going on?

Sixteen years earlier, he had killed Jenny Calendar and used her body to torment Giles in a horrific way. After that there was no denying that the Watcher had harboured deep feelings of resentment towards him, and with good cause. Was this part of that deep-rooted hate?

“You say you understand, Giles, and perhaps you do, but before you tell me that I should not let personal feelings get in the way of my duty, examine yourself and find out why you want to tell me this. Is it really to help, or is it because you possibly want to see me lose everything that matters to me?”

A cold breeze hit Angel as he walked to the car. Right now he just wanted to get home, but he could feel Giles’ stare following him. Unable to ignore it before getting into the car, he turned and called, “If your reasons are pure then I’ll listen, but if not, I’ll be in touch.”

* * *

Angel huffed as he approached the hotel doors. He hated what he had to do, especially today. Gunn had just lost some of his friends and now he had to tell them all that there was an apocalypse coming. He knew Spike and Illyria would be up for the fight, but it was Cordelia and Gunn he cared about.

He had started the day happy. Everything in his life seemed to be working out. He was firmly in a relationship with Cordelia, a relationship that, unlike others, seemed to be going somewhere.

But now he wasn’t so happy. In the space of an hour he had learned that an apocalypse was coming, an apocalypse that could have been averted long ago. He had experience with apocalypses and so far they had never gone well. The only one he had faced in LA had seen him lose Cordelia. What if this one was the same?

He couldn’t lose her again, not after just getting her back. The first time he lost her he felt like he would die slowly and painfully. Each day he felt as if his still, dead heart would break and he would become nothing but dust. It had got better when she woke from her coma, but he lost her again. his time he swore, not again.

“Angel?” Spike strolled into the courtyard, his cocky swagger in full swing. “Why are you lurking at the window? You’ve not gone evil have you? I mean, as much as I can’t stand you, I really don’t wanna hear Cordelia moan on after I drive a stake through your heart.”

“Shut up, Spike,” Angel said as he moved away from the window. “I’m just trying to figure out how to tell Gunn and Cordelia that there’s an apocalypse coming.”

His mouth curled up at the corners into a joyful smile. “There’s an apocalypse coming? Finally, I get to see a bit of action. I’m sick of sitting around here all the time doing nothing, but waiting for you to get one right in the heart and for Cordelia to sunbathe in that tiny bikini again.”

“From the sounds of it we’re going to see a lot of action,” Angel explained.

“Well, I suppose you better get to telling them, then.” Spike gestured to the door with a nod. “Me, I’m gonna go and see if I can find anything out from some of my contacts. I’m behind you all the way, though, mate.”

“If I catch you watching Cordelia sunbathe, I’ll watch you sunbathe straight after.”

* * *

Cordelia’s eyes sparkled with a smile as he entered, but Gunn’s eyes were sad and tired. Angel sent a quick smile Cordelia’s way but he didn’t hold it for long. Instead he just moved in and kissed her on the forehead.

Next came Gunn. This was the awkward part. The small coffee table was sturdy beneath him when he took a seat on its edge. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay, man,” Gunn replied, his eyes never leaving the small handheld game he held before him. “I’m still a little shook up, but right now all I care about is getting past this and killing the son of a bitch who hurt my boys.”

“You ever need anything, Gunn; you know I’ll help you, but right now we have something else we need to deal with.” Angel stood up and looked between Gunn and Cordelia. “I’ve been to see Buffy and Willow.”

He knew he suddenly had Cordelia’s attention when she pulled the mug away from her lips and placed it on the counter. He could see she was listening intently for the rest when she crossed her arms, tilted her head and squinted her eyes slightly. She wanted more than he had given her.

“I wanted to see how things were going so I dropped in,” he explained. As soon as he finished he noticed that Cordelia’s expression seemed a little less harsh and the corners of her mouth had turned up into a smile. “We were talking when Giles showed up and gave me the bad news.”

It was clear that Cordelia was shocked, but Gunn was playing it as business as usual, as usual. “What’s the bad news?” he asked.

“Well, Giles told me that there’s an apocalypse coming. It’s a big one. We might have to join forces to beat it.” Now came the reaction. He hated being the bearer of bad news, but some things had to be said.

“There’s an apocalypse coming?” Cordelia asked. He winced a little as he waited for her reaction. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to kick this one’s ass as well.” There it was. She was ready to get stuck in with the big bad slaying where she would be most vulnerable.

“Well, I’m up for it,” Gunn said with a smile, drawing Angel’s attention back from the endless thoughts of losing Cordelia running through his mind. “After what’s happened, I want to take on every hell loving son of a bitch that comes our way and I wanna send them back to the hell they came from. Who knows, maybe I’ll take this new vamp out along the way.”

Angel sat in front of Gunn again and tried not to think about Cordelia. The only way to do that was to get down to business. If he stayed focused and got the job done quickly, he could avoid anyone getting hurt. “Are you sure you’re okay with this? I mean, if you want to focus on getting this vamp, I’d understand.”

“I’ve learned something over the years,” Gunn began. “No matter what I, you or anyone else wants. Whether it is personal revenge missions or a new truck, the fate of the world comes first, no matter the cost to ourselves. I learnt that from you, bro.”

As Gunn stood up and walked over to the counter, Angel smiled weakly and looked towards Cordelia as she drank her coffee and read through the new vogue, the impending doom not bothering her in the slightest. After what she’d been through in her lifetimes, he wasn’t surprised she was unfazed. The problem was, he was still daunted by the thought of losing her.

* * *

Sitting alone had always been one of Angel’s favourite pastimes and now was no different. The quiet helped him think, and the cold night air gently running across his skin kept him focused. Every now and then he would look down and watch the people go about their business, each of them unaware of anything happening around them. He wished he had that ignorance.

Disregarding the things he didn’t like helped for a time but it almost certainly came back to haunt him later on. He could just ignore the fact that she wanted to get involved and help beat this thing, but then would he be haunted by it as he watched his world crumble around him?

The fact of the matter was, he loved Cordelia more than he had loved anyone before her. He didn’t choose to love her, and sometimes in the past he wished he didn’t, but loving her wasn’t a choice he could make, nor was it something he wanted to lose.

Loving her was like staring at a perfectly bright light. There was no darkness, no evil, just purity. She was a radiant soul that deserved more than she had been afforded but she never quit, never stopped doing what she knew was her duty. All to help the helpless. It was why he loved her.

There were others like her, but they were few and far between. Champions were common, but champions who did what they did just to help weren’t. Buffy was a champion, one girl chosen from millions to protect the world from evil. But, that was the point: Buffy was chosen to hold that destiny, but Cordelia chose her destiny, her duty.

Angel never realised it until recently, but he had slowly fallen more and more in love with Cordelia after he stared into her teary eyes as she lay helpless in a hospital bed. As she lay there however, her thoughts had not been about herself, but about the people she needed to help, the people she wanted to help.

He wished he had discovered his feelings before he did. Would he have ever discovered them if Fred hadn’t called him on it? What could have been if he had known those feelings way before the day he found them? Could they have been happy?

Happiness. It wasn’t something he knew intimately. There were moments where the darkness subsided and the light shone through, like when Connor was born. Aside from those brief glimmers, happiness was just a word that he said but never truly understood.

That wasn’t true anymore, however. Ever since he had been with Cordelia he had known nothing but happiness and that light had not yet gone out. It flickered now and then but after a quick tap it shone to its fullest again.

But therein lay the problem. All his life he had been in darkness, but now he was surrounded by light. In his long life, no matter what he did, the world never granted him any sort of prolonged period of happiness, but she had. How did he just move past that if he lost it?

“I sense confusion.”

Illyria was standing next to Angel within moments of when he first sensed her presence.

“Not in the mood to share, Illyria,” was the only reply he afforded her.

Illyria’s icy blue eyes stared into his, digging down deep in search of something disturbingly familiar. “You think of her when there are more urgent matters upon us.”

“In a world of darkness everyone needs a ray of light.”

“This human provides you light?”

Angel looked at her and replied, coldly, “Just as much as your world gives you light.”

She looked away and out towards the expanse of the city. He glimpsed pain in her eyes as she turned from him. She brought her gaze back to his own when he asked, “Do you miss it?”

“You cannot comprehend the importance of my world,” she began, anger replacing the glint of longing in her eyes. “It is beyond the understanding of lower beings.”

His knowing smile rattled her more than Illyria was willing to admit, even to herself. She dismissed him, “Now, bleat at me no longer. We’re done.”

Angel followed behind as she walked towards the roof entrance. “So you’re not going to answer the question.”

Again she looked him dead in the eyes but the frustration behinds hers was building. What was this? Was he finally going to get the answer he wanted and show her his feelings with her own? “Yes, I do. I miss it day in and day out. I feel it calling me from beyond the grave, its pull nearly too much even for me.”

He could see that she knew what he wanted, the dilemma in his mind, and the pull of divided loyalties.

“You sacrifice your heart to those lost and now your immortality burdens you.” Illyria circled him, each step strategically placed as she eyed her prey. “The human is fragile, her time evanescent; yet you cling to hope and question the duty you swore to uphold.”

She positioned herself in front of Angel, forcing him to connect with her icy stare. “You inquire of my desires when you seek justification for your own. Fate will not take pity on you, vampire. You alone must choose. This woman and her needs or your duty to protect the helpless.”

Without another word she left the rooftop and Angel was left standing alone, again. Like everything else in his life, it was there for a time, but in the end it left him forever. Cordelia had left him once, but she came back. One person in the entire world who hadn’t abandoned him and had given him everything she could, even her life.

So what did he do? How did he protect Cordelia in all of this and ensure that he never lost her again?

* * *

Angel was greeted by the sweet smell of papaya as he entered his room. He knew the smell. It was Cordelia’s shampoo. The thought led him off on a tangent. He pictured her standing beneath the shower head, the water running down over her perfectly toned body, her skin glistening in the light. It was a thought that pretty much drove him crazy every time it came to mind.

He walked over to the bathroom and peered through the crack. It was only ajar slightly but he could still see Cordelia quite well. He watched intently as she ran her hands through her hair, the shampoo lathering. His eyes drifted down towards her round, firm bottom. The water and the resulting shine made it even more irresistible.

His eyes traced back up the hour-glass shape of her body as she turned around to rinse her hair. Her breasts were wet and soapy but he could still make out two firm nipples through the white barrier. Angel followed a line of soap that was slowly moving down the centre of her stomach. Within moments it was wavering just below her pelvis.

Unwittingly, Angel growled with desire. It got a reaction from Cordelia but he moved quickly enough to avoid being seen. Now he just needed to cool down before Cordelia finished because unluckily the effects didn’t wear off straight away.

The cool breeze of early evening was pleasant as Angel stood on the balcony, his eyes closed as he tried to relax. The moon glistened in the sky, the face on its surface looking down and watching him.

“Hey, are you okay?” Cordelia asked as she appeared at his side and placed her hand on his shoulder. She had put on her pyjamas, the ones he loved. She had on a t-shirt, chequered bottoms and big fluffy slippers that were shaped like rabbits. He had bought them for her when she had first been brought back, to keep her feet warm in his cold basement apartment.

“Yeah, I’m just thinking about some stuff,” he replied. “Cordy, would you ever consider leaving LA and this life behind?”

Cordelia thought for a second. “What are you talking about? I’ve known you for a long time, but this is the first time you’ve gone all bizarro world on me.”

Angel hung his head, clenched his jaw and exhaled. “This apocalypse is coming and it got me thinking. What if something happens to you, Cordy? I can’t lose you again.”

“And you won’t,” she assured him. She walked in front of him and looked into his eyes. “Believe me when I tell you, I’m not going anywhere. Nothing’s going to break us up again.”

“How can you be sure?”

“How can I doubt what my heart is screaming at me?” She smiled that sweet smile that made his heart melt whenever he saw it. No matter what the problem, that smile could make it better.

He leant down and kissed her gently, his lips brushing against hers before he pulled up again.

“So when are Buffy and the others coming over, then?” Cordelia asked, her eyes expectant as she waited for the answer.

“What?” Angel couldn’t quite believe she had asked that.

“When are they coming to the hotel? The old group has pretty much gone so we need all the help we can get. That means Buffy and her band of proto losers need to come here.”

Angel shook his head and huffed. “I told them not to come here because it would bother you. I didn’t want Buffy to be here if it upset you.”

“You are so adorable. Angel, I’m past that now. Yes, you were wrong but you apologised and we’re okay now. We’re together. Why would I be bothered by her?”

“I just wasn’t sure that you would be okay with them being here.”

“Well I am so you can tell them they are welcome here anytime.”

With a smile he told her, “You are amazing.”

“I know,” she replied as she made her way back into the apartment. “Bothered by Buffy. Ha. You make me laugh sometimes. How can I be bothered when I know for a fact that you never watched her shower?”

The smile on Angel’s face disappeared completely. He turned around to look at her through the one closed glass door. She was stood with her arms folded, her head tilted and a questioning stare. She turned and walked from the room but Angel was close behind.

“Cordy, wait. Can we talk about that?”


Part 19

Cordelia breathed heavily as she lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling, her eyes glazed over and her face projecting a surprised expression. It was a pleasant surprise and the smile told no different.

“Wow!” she said in between breaths. “I mean… wow.”

“That’s a fair assessment,” Angel replied through his content smile. It took a lot to make Angel smile, but Cordelia had done it. And the reverse: it took a lot to surprise Cordelia.

“That was amazing.” She brushed stray strands of hair from her glistening face. “I thought Groo was good, but that… where did you learn that?”

His hands provided a nice buffer for his head against the wooden headboard. “When you spend 100 years of your life with a vampire who spent her life as a prostitute, you learn a few things.”

“Now I understand why she was so desperate to get you back.” In two quick movements, Cordelia was on her side and resting her head on Angel’s firm chest. The feel of his cold skin against her cheek couldn’t bring her out of her daze, the oblivion she was staring into presenting her with a question. “Why are we still here?”

It was a confusing question that seemed to stem from nowhere, and through squinted eyelids, Angel looked down and focused on the top of Cordelia’s head. “What do you mean?”

“Well isn’t this about the time that you go all grrr and I run screaming in terror?”

“Only if I achieve perfect happiness, which I obviously didn’t.” When the final word left his mouth he realised how bad that sounded and waited for the rebuttal, a very aggressive rebuttal if he knew Cordy as well as he thought.

Suddenly the intimate moment was broken and Cordelia sat up. She glared at him through burning eyes, the anger glinting inside the hazel. Yep, he knew her. “Are you saying that Miss. ‘Oh-please-shut-me up’ can give you perfect bliss but I, a vision of hotliness, can’t?”

“Um…”

“You cannot say that that was not perfect, Angel,” she said with folded arms. “You haven’t moaned that much since I pulled that rebar out of your chest and I… well four times says it all.”

Angel smiled from ear to ear despite the scolding. “What are you smiling about, dumbass?”

“If you could see what I can, you’d know.” All of a sudden the anger behind her eyes faded and the brightness came back. She folded to the gentle pull of his strong hands and placed her head in the nook between his shoulder and chest.

Her bright smile was shining through a layer of pain, however. As much as she had made his lack of soul lossage a joke, it hurt. What did it mean if he couldn’t achieve perfect happiness with her? Did it mean that he didn’t love her as much as he had loved Buffy?

That thought alone made her feel like her heart had been ripped out and torn up in front of her, by Angel no less. Sure she didn’t want him to lose his soul, but it hurt to know she could never give him what Buffy could.

No matter what she had told Angel the night before, Buffy being there was a problem. How could she be in the same room with her when she knew she could never be what she was to Angel, despite the fact that she was better than her in every way? She was Cordelia Chase, not a stupid little Cry-Buffy, but Angel would always love her more.

“It’s bothering you, isn’t it?” Angel asked as he ran his fingers through the long strands of her hair. He knew she’d try and deny it but he knew her too well to fall for it.

“What’s bothering me?”

“You’re bothered because I didn’t achieve perfect happiness, aren’t you?”

“What? That’s ridiculous! Why would I would be disappointed that I didn’t give you perfect happiness?”

Her voice said more than she meant it to. Through super hearing he could detect imperfections in her voice, and through his 100 years of lying and deceiving, he could see through any fabrication. “Because you’re jealous of Buffy.”

“I’m jealous of her,” she scoffed. “Oh, please. Frankly, I’m happy that I can’t give you perfect happiness, because if I could our world would kaleidoscope. Now I know we can have sex as much as we want without any danger of Angelus coming back.”

Angel smiled as he twiddled her soft hair around the tips of his fingers. “You think I loved her more than I love you.”

“Well you obviously do or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” He didn’t know what was stranger: the logic or the fact that he understood it.

“If I told you I loved you more than I ever loved her, would you believe me? Would you believe me if I told you that nothing in this life or any other could mean as much to me as you do?”

“How can I believe what you can’t prove?”

He sat up and took her with him, turning her body so she faced him and pulling her forwards so she was sat on his lap, her legs wrapped around him. With his hands firmly in place in the small of her back he leant down and rested his forehead on hers, his eyes staring into the beautiful pools looking back.

“I didn’t lose my soul, Cordelia for the simple reason that I didn’t want to,” he explained. “As I made love to you I looked into your eyes and I looked at your face and I saw how beautiful they were, and it scared me to think that I might never look at them again and love you. It scared me to think that I could hurt you.”

The tears bathing her lower eyelids only spurred him on to make sure she knew how he felt. “It scared me to think that I would never be able to hold you or make love to you again, or feel your body next to mine. I couldn’t lose that. I couldn’t lose you, not again, so I held on. Even if I held on for just a minute, it was another minute where I was with you.”

His fingers glided across her skin as he wiped the tears away from her cheeks and brushed the stray strands of hair from her eyes. “It’s not a case of ‘I didn’t lose my soul because I don’t love you as much as I loved Buffy’. I didn’t lose my soul because I love you more, so much more that I will hold on.”

“Is that true?”

He had no response for her aside from pressing his lips to hers gently and running his hands up her back and into her hair. She returned it immediately; her tears making it taste pleasantly salty, as they lay back down.

* * *

Angel and Cordelia descended the stairs slowly, hand in hand. Three rounds in the bedroom had really taken it out of them and the news that Buffy and co. had arrived didn’t help. They had wanted to just spend the whole day in bed, but of course, an apocalypse was coming.

Neither of them noticed Buffy watching them from behind the counter, where she was helping Giles lay out all their files and research material. She tried not to focus on them but she couldn’t help glancing their way every now and then to see if they were still together.

Soft, red cushions welcomed them as they collapsed onto the sofa near the office. Cordelia rested her head on Angel’s chest while he stroked her hair and cheek. His gentle touch drew quiet sighs as she got closer and closer to nodding off.

Spike walked out of the office and took a long look at them. “What’s the matter with you two? You both look shagged out.”

Angel replied, “Yeah.” Then he suddenly opened his eyes and asked, “What!?”

“You know, you two look tired,” Spike explained. “You’ve only been in your room. What can you do in there that’s so… tiring?” A cheeky grin appeared on Spike’s face.

“Spike!”

“You’ve shagged the bint.” Angel didn’t deny it but rather hid his face behind his hands. “Ha ha, you bloody have, as well. And here we all were thinking you were eternally neutered.”

Spike started strutting around, mimicking Angel. “‘Hi, I’m Angel, Champion of the People. I can’t get laid so women don’t have to feel pressured. I just want a loving relationship.’ Yeah, it worked for a time but now you’re just another bloody man looking for a good bang from his missus.”

Angel looked around the room, but tried to avoid eye contact with anyone, the sound of Spike’s giddy laughter ringing in his ears. One night of making love to Cordelia and it was already broadcast news.

The awkward silence filling the lobby was louder than any other form of noise. Through the deafening quiet however, Angel could hear Buffy’s heart pounding beneath her chest as it betrayed her stern visage.

It seemed to drag on until Giles broke the silence with an authoritative clearing of his throat. “Yes, well, as interesting as Angel’s… sex life is, we have things to do. The apocalypse won’t wait for a more convenient time, I’m afraid.” Giles looked at Angel. “If you could please wake Cordelia, we can begin.”

It didn’t take long to rouse her but she wasn’t happy about it. After she had wiped her eyes they walked over to the counter, a little wearily, where Giles was explaining his findings. Angel couldn’t help but notice along the way that Buffy was still staring, the intensity of her eyes boring a hole straight through him.

Everyone looked at the book Giles had opened in front of them. Like Wesley, he was probably going to tell them his findings and quote the text as proof. Angel never had any belief that it would be done as well as it was by Wesley, but he wasn’t there anymore. If he could have his way, there would be another Englishman in the hotel at that very moment.

“Well, ever since I found references to an apocalypse, I have been researching every book I thought would speak of the subject,” Giles explained. “We are in luck because I have come across numerous references to it.”

“And?” Angel noted that Gunn looked impatient. The recent loss of his friends had reinforced his hatred of the demon world and it was obvious that nothing would bring him more pleasure than killing as many as he could.

“Well, as I have already discussed with Angel and Buffy, Danandril cannot bring the apocalypse about without allies,” Giles replied. “As far as we know he only has one so far, but we could be mistaken. Sometimes the enemy does not show itself until the very end.”

The book scraped along the counter top as Spike spun it round to see what they were looking at. “Any idea who these allies are or are we fighting blind?”

“Er, no, we have names that should give us an idea of what we’re fighting.” As he tried to formulate the next string of sentences he removed his glasses and rubbed them on the hem of his shirt. “Originally all I found was The Trinity, which we have ascertained is Wolfram and Hart, and The Initiator, who I believe to be Danandril. I have found two more names in some of Willow’s books. They are The Elite and The Ancient.”

“Well they could be bloody anything,” Spike said as he pushed the book back towards Giles. “So while you were rambling on you could have saved time and just told us we’re looking for a pissing needle in a haystack.”

“A haystack the size of LA,” Cordelia added before closing her eyes and returning to her the nook she had made for herself on Angel’s upper arm.

Angel was looking down at her as she linked her arm with his and gently squeezed his muscle. He could feel Buffy staring and he was sure he could hear the steam hissing from her ears.

Gunn thought for a moment, his face pensive and his eyes looking to the beading on the walls. “Rondell said a really powerful vamp killed some of my boys. That could be the ancient seeing as vamps get stronger as they age.”

“Strength is measured differently by humans,” Spike said. “What’s strong to you might be weaker than me or Angel.”

“Nah, he said this one was stronger than Angel, and they’d know considering they fought him way back.”

Seven questioning stares shot Giles’ way because now it was time for his knowledge to take over. “It’s a possibility that this vampire you speak of could be The Ancient. Do we have any idea of where this vampire resides?”

“Gunn’s friend said he was living near to their hideout,” Cordelia told him, her contribution to the discussion done. It was the only thing she remembered or cared about when she was as tired as she was.

“I’ll check it out.” Spike was already on his way to the basement when he finished the sentence, his cocky swagger taking on a level of determination and drive.

“I suggest you take Buffy,” Giles called. “If this vampire is as strong as people say then a slayer will come in handy.”

Kennedy walked after him, but called back, “If he needs slayer help then it might as well be the strongest one.” No one bothered to stop her. What use would it be?

Giles quickly glanced over everyone and noticed segregation, intentional or not. “Perhaps if we break up into small groups we can get more done. Two groups?”

“Sounds fine, but I want to take her upstairs first,” Angel said as he scooped Cordelia up into his arms. “She’s too tired to help us.”

All the way up the stairs he could feel Buffy’s eyes burning a hole in his back, possibly to get to Cordelia. He knew it was a bad idea to invite them over even if Cordelia had said to do so. As long as he was around, Buffy and Cordelia couldn’t co-exist, but it was more Buffy than anything else.

On the surface it seemed Cordelia wasn’t bothered by Buffy’s presence which was good. He just hoped Buffy could reach that level of maturity sometime soon.

* * *

Spike’s nostrils tingled as the fresh, blood laced air passed them. The strength of it forced him to momentarily stop and analyse every inhalation.

After a moment he got everything he needed and he set off again with Kennedy close behind. They hadn’t said anything to each other since leaving the hotel. It was no secret that Kennedy hated vampires. He didn’t blame her. It was her job. But if she got in his way or jeopardised the mission, he would be very happy to teach her why two slayers had fallen against him in battle.

From what Buffy had told him, Kennedy had been strange since being beaten by Danandril. She had become arrogant and determined to show her skills. Buffy had sparred with her daily since her beating and each session ended the same: Buffy putting Kennedy down and getting an earful of threats about how she was the strongest of all slayers and would prove it one day.

Spike knew that Buffy wouldn’t usually stand for that sort of thing, but Kennedy was Willow’s bird so she wouldn’t do anything. He, on the other hand, had no connection to the witch and would happily show Kennedy a thing or two.

After another quick sniff he knew that the blood was coming from two blocks over and it was inside a building. The dulling of the scent told him that something was blocking the complete odour from reaching him.

There was another smell in the air though, one that made his senses tingle and called him, the pull of the scent routing his synapses and driving him on. “Vampire. I hope you’re ready for a brawl cos this vamp’s near.”

“I’m ready for any vampire,” she replied. Spike noted the arrogant smile on her face. He knew it well because he had carried it a lot in his hundred – plus years existence. “Whether it’s you or an ancient vampire, I will stake it too quickly for response.”

“Sure you will, luv.” Spike stopped again and took a deep breath. He thought for a moment before continuing with the discussion. “If I had a quid for every time I’ve heard slayers say that I’d have… well, a quid. Still, the one who said that ended up on the wrong side of my fangs.”

Kennedy jumped ahead of him and pushed her hand into his chest, her superhuman strength halting his passage. “So you think you can beat me? Soul or not, I have no problem dusting you right here.”

“Peaches, you’d be dead before the stake left your pocket,” he replied as he pushed her hand away. “Now, I’ve got no desire to kill you so let’s just get a bloody move on and find this vamp.”

“You couldn’t even beat Buffy so how can you hope of beating me?”

“Well, for one you ain’t Buffy which puts you in a bad spot,” he explained. “I’ve never seen a bird fight like her. And second…” The air rushed by as Spike grabbed her and slammed her into a wall, in less than a second, and held her at the throat. “I could take you that quickly.”

He noticed the fear in her eyes and released her from his grip. Dusting off his coat, he set off again. She was following behind but she put greater distance between them this time. Her breaths were faster, heart rate quicker and the smell of fear was pouring off her. He’d put the fear of God in her and soul or not, it felt bloody good to still be able to do that to a slayer.

They walked in silence until they reached a building that Spike was positive contained the source of the blood. It was human and the strength of the scent told him it was still fresh. The vamp he sensed was inside and it had recently fed. That caused two problems. One, it would be in top shape and harder to beat, and two, they hadn’t got there quickly enough to save the victim.

It was dark inside. If the place had electricity then the board had shut it down. It wasn’t your typical abandoned building. It was much cleaner than others and it didn’t have the faint smell of overnight hobos. What it did have however was a strange eeriness that even Spike was put off by.

He couldn’t explain it but something made him feel strange. The sensation he got as he got nearer to the vampire was like nothing he had felt in a long while. It was a stranger but it was also familiar, as if they were connected across the ages by some unseen bond.

It hit him when he had felt this feeling last. It was the day Drusilla sired him and she took him back to their hotel room. As he entered he felt someone watching him, looming in the doorway, completely engulfed in shadow. Whoever it was he had never met or seen them, but he felt connected. When he stepped forward and revealed himself to be Angelus, the feeling disappeared.

Why he felt that in the presence of Angel that day still puzzled him, but now he was feeling exactly the same thing.

“What’s the matter with you?” Kennedy asked. He looked at her and realised he must have looked a lighter shade of pale.

“Why do you bloody care?” Spike replied cynically. “Not ten minutes ago you were threatening to off me. Now you’re checking up on my health.”

“Yeah well ten minutes ago I didn’t think you could compromise the mission. If you’re not at the top of your game then you’d better not fight. I don’t need you in the way.”

Spike laughed. “Yeah, right. Believe me, luv, if anyone’s getting in the way it’s you. I am at the top of my game.”

“Then what’s the hold up? You’re just standing there looking all confused.”

“This vamp feels familiar and I can’t place why,” he explained, his eyes distant and vacant.

“And that sends all your motor functions into meltdown? Come on, we need to get up there and find out if this vamp is connected to the apocalypse!”

Spike spun round and moved in close as he reminded her of how close she could be to having her neck snapped if he wanted it. “I need a clear head, you stupid cow! I can’t bloody fight properly if I’m getting fuzzies about a vamp. I need to work this out before I move on.”

“Fine.” Kennedy turned away for a second before spinning around and swinging her leg at Spike’s head. Her foot smashed into his temple and he flew into the wall behind them, the decades old plaster giving easily under the force. The dizziness set in and he lay helpless as she ran past him and up the stairs.

He quickly rubbed at his head and noticed a spot of blood where her iron toe had nearly crushed his skull. “Bloody harlot! If she ain’t already dead, I’ll bloody murder her!”

Getting up was harder than he first anticipated and he fell back down straight away. The kick to his head had done more damage than he first thought and he had to sit for a moment. Eventually the grogginess subsided and he set off after her two steps at a time.

He was but one floor away from her when he heard a loud crash as if someone had been thrown to the floor, hard. That could have gone either way and he wouldn’t know until he got there.

Within seconds Spike was stood in the doorway and interrupting the vampire looming over the unconscious slayer. As the vamp came into view the feeling that had been bothering Spike passed away and he felt normal again. It looked as though that was true of the vampire as well, who shook his head and turned to face the door.

Spike noticed that he wasn’t of American descent. He looked Hispanic but with pale skin. His hair was long and black and he was well built. It was hard for vampires to lose their build when they were sired so this one had obviously been very physical in his time. From his senses, Spike was sure that this vampire was far older than he was.

“You are of the Order of Aurelius?” the vampire asked as he paced slowly in the shadows, occasionally coming out just enough for the moon to catch his face.

“Yeah, one of the elites, me,” Spike replied with a cocky smile. He was never one for authority but he respected the power in his lineage. The blood Aurelians carried was powerful, more so than regular vamps. “So I’d watch your step if your looking for a scrap.”

“Fighting has never been my passion, but I have no qualms about fighting you, even if you are a brother.”

His mouth open in shock, Spike tried to wrap is lobes round that little titbit of information. He had been certain that only three of the Order remained and no more. Angel, Dru and himself. “You’re an Aurelian?”

“Yes. I am Romero, elite among elites.”

“If that’s true why haven’t I heard squat about you?”

“Because you’re ignorant,” Romero replied as he continued to pace on the old floor. “The old ways of the vampire have long been forgotten by all but a few, as have the vampires of legend.”

Taking note of his surroundings and preparing his first move, Spike took a few steps forward, hoping to gain the advantage in any way possible. He could sense that Romero was far stronger than him so he would have to outclass him rather than outmuscle him. “If you’re talking about vampires of legend, you’re looking at one of them.”

Romero also stepped forward to prevent Spike getting any form of advantage. “Really? And what might you be called?”

“Name’s Spike.”

“Ah yes, the famous Spike,” Romero reiterated with a smile. “The only vampire in recorded history to defeat two slayers. That is no trick, my friend. I have known many vampires who could defeat slayers without breaking a sweat. The only difference was that they never encountered them, or looked for them like you did.”

“I’ll tell you, it ain’t a stroll in the park.” Spike was now trying to keep him occupied. He could see that Kennedy was stirring and the fight would be easier with slayer help. He liked fighting alone but this wasn’t a tavern brawl. This was the fate of the world.

Romero chuckled as he looked over at Kennedy. “I rather enjoyed fighting this one. There was no challenge there, and as far as your legendary status goes, you’re still a way off the top. No matter how many slayers you kill, you’re no Angelus.”

The mention of that name gave Spike a strong desire to knock Romero down a peg or two, but he could see Kennedy starting to get up. If he could start the fight she would join in soon enough and help finish it off. “Well if I’m no Angelus,” he said before he morphed his face. “Perhaps I can show you how I beat the pillock ten years ago.”

With a mighty roar he leapt forward and each punch he threw whistled through the air. As quick as the punches came in, however, Romero got his arms up to block them with relative ease.

Seeing the uselessness of going toe to toe, Spike lunged forward, teeth bared and his golden eyes glistening in the thin rays of moonlight permeating the cracked walls. Romero saw the attack, dodged and spun on his heel to send a thunderous kick to the back of the younger vampire’s head, the force of the impact alone flooring Spike.

The sound of rushing footsteps reached Romero’s ears and he turned to see the slayer rushing towards him with stake in hand. Without effort he took her by the throat and used his free hand to take her stake. The old, weakened floor creaked loudly as Romero slammed the slayer into the ground before lifting the stake above his head and driving it into her heart.

Spike could do nothing but watch as the sharp pointed wood forced its way through Kennedy’s chest without any regard for the life it would take by doing so. Superhuman strength, reflexes and fighting prowess were still helpless in the face of death and the weapon of choice that instigated it. He had not done the killing himself, but Spike knew that there was more slayer blood on his hands.

“Well that was easy,” Romero said proudly as he dusted himself down and turned to face Spike, ignoring the sound of the last desperate breaths of the fallen slayer at his feet. “Now, Slayer of Slayers, shall we see whether you can prove the legend or fall at the feet of true power?”


Part 20

To anyone looking at the exterior, Angel was reading his book and searching for any information on the apocalypse. On the inside, however, he couldn’t draw his mind away from the beautiful woman lying in his bed at that very moment. He knew he needed to focus and help stop whatever was coming, but thinking of Cordelia was so much more fun.

Ever since he had come away from her bedside when he took her up he had thought about nothing but going back up to her. Would anyone notice if he snuck away for a few moments so he could watch her sleep? How quickly could he do a sketch of her perfect form, naked and vulnerable beneath the sheets? Would it be too long to get away with?

A few things drew his mind away from her. One was the occasional tapping of Gunn’s pencil against his book. The other was Giles coming over at regular intervals to ask if he’d found anything. So far every answer had been no, and it was unlikely to change. It didn’t help when sketches of demons were all replaced by her figure.

Why the hell was he so obsessed? He had loved her for over ten years, not ten minutes. They had come further than the initial giddiness, yet he was full of it. It was like he was a school boy that was heavily besotted with the untouchable girl who ran with the popular crowd. If last night was anything to go on, she was anything but untouchable.

As usual he was trying to be all broody and stoic on the matter and make it less than it was, but he wanted to just stand up and shout that he was with Cordelia, and he loved her more than anything else. He tried to make it negative and keep his feet on the ground, for his soul’s sake, but it was near impossible to be negative when he was with her.

He tried getting back to the books, but it still dominated his mind. The way her smooth, silky skin rubbed against his as they moved rhythmically. The way she gently nibbled on his lip as she slowly moved and teased him as he longed for her to go faster. Still, the sight of the moonlight bouncing off her perfect flesh, not a blemish in sight, tormented him, and the way she whispered his name as he filled her up and made her his begged him to come back for another taste.

Slamming the book shut he stood up and quickly made his way to the bathroom behind the counter, all eyes following him as he acted out his strange display of spontaneity.

He had been gone for a few minutes by the time Buffy knocked on the door and asked, “Are you okay?”

His only reply, frantic and a few pitches higher, was, “I’m nearly finished.”

* * *

The passage of time was slow, and the call of bed was getting to Angel. He was still groggy from his trip to the bathroom and he had noticed suspicious stares ever since. It wasn’t usual to see a creature of the night nodding off in a chair.

Relief had helped him focus a bit more. His mind had not been on Cordelia as much since he ‘let it all out.’ His mind still wandered to her every now and then, but how could it not. He wasn’t just looking forward to finally being able to sleep because he was tired, but because he would get a night by her side.

There was only one name that could break his happy trance centred on Cordelia, and that was the word Spike. Unfortunately, Buffy had to say it.

“Spike and Kennedy aren’t back,” she said.

Angel leant back, closed his eyes and rested his head in his hands as he replied, “Yeah, it’s nice, isn’t it?” No one laughed, apart from Gunn who just about managed a chuckle.

Buffy made her way over to the weapons cabinet. “I’d better go look for them. Something could have happened.”

Before she could touch the cold brass handles and pull the door open, Angel was there. “No, I’d better go. I can track and I can get there faster. Besides, I’m no good here. I’m finding nothing, and the air might wake me up a bit.”

“You could get hurt,” Buffy said as she gazed into his eyes, her own moistening at the thought.

“I won’t,” he replied, with a smile. “I’ve got too much to come back to to risk that.”

He noticed that she was smiling and her cheeks had blushed a ruby red, but it wasn’t her he was talking about. He wrestled with telling her that he was talking about Cordelia, but he thought it better to leave her to her delusions. If that was how she maintained some sort of relationship between them, he wasn’t going to interfere and make things even more awkward.

“I’d better tell Cordelia where I’m going,” he told her as he quickly made his way to the stairs.

Relief led to a grateful sigh as he rounded the corner on the landing. For the first time in hours he couldn’t feel Buffy’s eyes following him. It had been unrelenting all day and if not for the need for research, he would have left much earlier.

He wasn’t too happy about having to shorten his much loved time away from Spike, but even he was preferable to practically being stalked. Melodrama was one of the many things he had been accused of in his life, but he felt he was on target here.

Angel tried to remove all thoughts of Buffy as he made his way down the winding corridors he had walked so many times. Even after all of his years of solitude away from the hotel and the team, nothing had changed. The decorations were still the same, as were the carpets and the musty smell that was still hanging there.

It wasn’t a paradise, but it was his – thanks to Gunn – and he liked it. It was like his personal oasis in a hostile desert called Los Angeles. And at the centre of that oasis was a goddess, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in his lifetime. Of all the beautiful women he had encountered in his time, none came close to Cordelia.

Gentle breaths grew slowly louder, and a sweet scent grew stronger as Angel approached his room. Already he was smiling, the thought of just being near her exciting him. He had only been away from her for a few hours but it felt like a lifetime. It was only a short time but still too long.

The wooden door creaked open slowly as he edged his way in. Soft moans could be heard as Cordelia reacted to the noise and adjusted her position. Angel halted his movement until she settled before moving in and taking a seat beside her. He sighed a breath of relief as he had finally got what he had wanted all day: one moment with her.

Moonlight streamed through the window and bathed in Cordelia in a silvery light. The way her lips and skin glistened made her look even more beautiful than she had ever been.

Sometimes, Angel wondered why he was with her. He didn’t deserve one so radiant, so perfect. In his darker moments, he even questioned why she had fallen in love with him. He had done unspeakable things in his time, yet she saw none of them. All she saw was the good, and she loved him for that.

He had tried to see the good in himself, but whenever he tried, he came right back to what he did before he was ensouled. Then he reminded himself that it was not his place, nor his right, to declare himself good. Cordelia saw it though, and that was all that mattered to him. Even if one person saw the good, it maintained the hope that he could be redeemed one day.

The thought of humanity was a wonderful one as he stared at pure beauty personified, but it was also terrible because of what he had done just ten years earlier. He had signed away any hope of becoming human so he could never have that with Cordelia. According to her though, that didn’t mean that any hope of redemption was gone.

Her skin was like silk as he ran his hand along her cheek. She nuzzled into it and linked her arm with his, pulling it in tightly as if it was a cuddly toy. He didn’t mind.

Slowly, he leant in close and rested his head on the pillow beside hers. As he watched her, he whispered in her ear, “I love you, Cordelia Chase.” All he could afford her was a kiss on the forehead, but he doubted she would mind, or miss a true kiss.

As he quietly walked towards the door, stirring forced him to turn. Cordelia was sat up and staring at him, her eyes tired and confused. He moved back in slightly but avoided the bed. He had to go and find Spike, and Kennedy, but he doubted whether he could leave if he got to close to her. If she asked him to go to bed, he was doomed.

“I have to go out for a while,” Angel explained as he reached for his coat, on the chair. “I’ll be back soon. You should go back to sleep.”

“I’ve been asleep all day.” Angel watched as she got out of her bed and made her way to the pile of clothes near the bathroom door. His eyes were glued to the base of her firm, supple bottom that wasn’t concealed by his shirt. “Now I need some activity, even if it is just research with Mystery Inc.”

Each button was opened and eventually all that held the shirt in place were Cordelia’s arms. As she moved them, though, the blue material glided down the contours of her body, as if in slow motion, not missing a single inch of her picturesque form, before coming to rest at her feet.

Angel didn’t interrupt her as she got dressed, preferring instead to just watch and admire. He had to say something though when Cordelia asked, “So where are you going?”

“I’m going to find Spike and Kennedy, and they could be in trouble,” he explained. He usually hated taking her anywhere near possible danger, but on a day where he had hardly seen her, he was actually considering risking it and taking her, just so they could be together.

Man, I am really starting to become… womanish.

Cordelia gently pulled herself up by his collar and brushed her lips against his. “So, Spike and Kennedy might be in danger, and the dark avenger needs to go rescue them?” She breathed deeply before sighing sensually, the gentle vibrations in her mouth transferring to Angel’s lips.

“That’s a real turn on,” she continued with a smile. “Maybe later, I’ll need some help from the dark avenger, and his sidekick. That is if you’re not too tired out from the big, hard battle.”

Feeling something pressing against her torso, she looked down, smiled and said, “I don’t think that we’ll have a problem there, will we?” Nothing else was said and Cordelia left him with a soft kiss and a gentle nibble on his lower lip, her hand brushing against his chest and arm, and not parting from his body until the last possible moment.

It was going to take a while to find Spike and Kennedy because they had been gone so long. There was one positive about that though. At least he would have some very nice mental images to mull over, again and again.

Why did she do it? He needed a clear head, but now all he’d be able to think about would be her and what he could be doing with her, or to her. It wasn’t a bad fantasy to carry around, but in the heat of battle, he couldn’t afford to be thinking of her and… stiffening up.

Back in the lobby, everyone watched as he came down the stairs. Cordelia was happily making a coffee, but she was watching him, a sly smile decorating her pretty face. He could see it in her eyes, as he made his way to the door, that she loved making him crazy.

But apart from that, he also found that he loved it when she did. It was a great feeling when she pressed up close, brushed her lips against his and teased him with everything she knew she had. Of course, he had access to it now, but only when she was through making him wait, if she wanted him to wait.

Already he was ready for whatever she had planned, but it could be some time before he got to taste the goods. She knew that as well and she loved it. He was in the palm of her hand, but he liked it. He was pretty sure it was her way of ensuring that she would be the only woman in his mind, but who else could he possibly want there?

No one noticed Cordelia blowing him a kiss or the smile it drew from him. He had loved her for thirteen years, if not more, but he wasn’t sure whether or not he had ever loved her more than he did right now. On a night where everything seemed right and all was well between them, what could possibly go wrong to ruin it?

* * *

Blood filled the floor beneath Kennedy’s still, dead body. It dyed the concrete a dark red, the colour of death. Not even the imperfections of the old ground could stop its gentle expansion as it desperately tried to mark something else with its fate. Nothing else in that room needed death. It was already full of it. A dead slayer, a helpless victim and two walking creatures of the night.

“Why did you come here, Spike?” Romero asked as he stared at the fallen slayer lying at his side. “Was it to be a hero? Or perhaps it was to prove something. That is all your life has been about, isn’t it? Have to prove your worth to everyone.”

Spike thought about the next move he could make, his eyes vacant and distant. Only one of them was leaving and he intended for it to be him. Romero had proven himself to be more than a mere vampire and he would be a challenge to savour. He wouldn’t go down without a fight, but that was where Spike lived.

“Do not worry,” Romero continued as he began to circle the floored Spike, an arrogant smile firmly shaping his mouth. “All vampires may segregate themselves from their human past but we are all bound to it. As much as we are different to our human counterparts, their feelings, memories and desires follow us to the after life.”

“You still long to prove yourself to everyone, no matter who they are or what you feel for them. But tonight, my friend, all you can prove is that I am exactly what I say I am: an elite among elites.”

Dust and stones rolled down the smooth leather surface of Spike’s duster as he rose to his feet. His bleach blonde hair fell back into its set position as he became fully upright and countless cracks of bone could be heard as he clenched his fist, his knuckles heavily protruding under his skin.

Stale air hit him full in the face as he leapt forward with a roar, teeth bared and eyes focused on their target. He landed gracefully and instantly started throwing punches that travelled with great force and velocity, the air hissing as the cultured fists passed through.

As if with foresight, Romero got a hand up to every shot and parried it away. Never the want for trying, Spike pushed him back step by step but he wasn’t making any contact. He knew from experience that Romero would find an opportunity to counter sooner or later so he needed to do the damage now.

Seeing the uselessness of his punches, he moved onto his back foot and spun a powerful heel kick. The older vampire caught it with relative ease however and chuckled quietly.

“Is that the best you have?” Romero watched him as he tried to struggle free with a contented smile on his face. It was good to see one so arrogant failing by his hand.

Without effort, Romero began to spin around with the younger vampire’s leg still in his grasp. As they spun, Spike’s head hit every obstacle in the way, even the concrete pillars jutting out in between the windows. Eventually he let go and Spike flew across the room and through the old, decaying walls.

Dust and rubble settled around the felled vampire as he tried to regain his senses. The sound of Romero laughing on the other side of the wall tormented him and urged him to his feet. His once pale face was now deep shades of blue and purple and drops of blood trickled from numerous wounds and hung from his chin, reluctant to let go.

Groggily he stepped forward, the ringing in his ears blocking out the laughter slightly. He knew there was no chance in hell that he was going to beat this guy but there was no way in hell that he was going to give up either.

“You’re still standing, I see.” Romero smiled as he watched his subordinate struggle to escape the cavity his body had made in the wall. “Don’t worry, my friend. You won’t be standing much longer.”

Spike slowly moved forwards, needless breaths passing his lips, until he was stood before Romero. Neither moved. Both just stared into each other’s eyes even though Spike’s were largely hidden behind the extensive swelling. Even through that, he could see the arrogant smirk on Romero’s face.

“I’m gonna wipe that look off your face.” His threat was pretty meaningless to a vampire that had just defended every move he made and knocked him down in one, and he knew it. Weakly he added, “Then we’ll see who’s bloody laughing.”

With all of his strength, he leaned back and threw the strongest punch he could muster but Romero ducked underneath it, pulled the stake from Kennedy’s heart with a sickening squelch and spun to pick him up by the throat.

“Funny isn’t it?” Romero searched the weak and beaten Spike’s eyes for the look of hopelessness. All of his vampire life he had ensured he didn’t kill his victims until he saw that they had given up on life, on escaping him. It meant that they knew, before they died, that he was superior. He had searched for it when he killed his Master and 900 years on still he searched.

“You are held in high regard in vampire folklore and are second only to Angelus, yet here you are on the verge of death. Tonight you have discovered what a real vampire is capable of and have seen that your feat was nothing special.” The look of despair glistened beneath the swollen flesh and an evil smile took shape on Romero’s face. “Now that you know I am your superior, I will end your pathetic…”

Spike looked curiously at Romero when he suddenly stopped talking. One moment he was aiming a stake at his heart and taunting, and the next he was sniffing the air. He didn’t understand why until he glanced over his shoulder and saw the figure in the doorway.

Romero eventually realised where he had smelled that scent before. He didn’t expect to see its owner for a while yet, but he was happy that his wait had been cut short.

Turning around he saw the man he had been waiting centuries to see again. “What a pleasant surprise, Angelus.”

* * *

Spain, 1769

The night had closed in long ago, yet it was still young for the creatures that walked it. That was no different for Romero, but his walking was done. He had hunted, and fed and now all he wanted was to watch the night sky shine and wait for the orange tint of daybreak to arrive. It was so beautiful to see, yet so deadly if seen from the wrong place.

A vampire had found that not many years back. It had questioned his judgment and Romero made him eat the sunlight, hanging him by his feet while the light crawled along the ground and drew ever nearer. It had been nice to watch the dusty remains dance in the air like embers on a fire.

He no longer had minions, though. He found them to be incompetent and he had neither the time, nor the desire to be constantly punishing them. One thing vampires quickly learned around Romero was that he didn’t accept insubordination, and any vampire that disrespected his position in the lineage of Aurelians would face his wrath.

Voices in the corridor of his palatial mansion drew his attention ad he turned from the window to see who was approaching his room. Within a few moments the door opened and in walked Darla, looking as radiant as ever. As usual she was wearing the finest clothes available. But, there was something different. This time she had a companion.

He was tall, with long, dark hair and dark eyes. He had a smile curling up the corners of his mouth arrogantly and a cocky swagger that seemed to say he was above all others. Romero was not quick to judge, however. He would first see if he liked the boy before deciding whether he left the mansion alive.

“Romero,” Darla began as she walked over and gave him a brief hug. “It’s wonderful to see you. It’s been too long.”

“It has indeed.” His eyes hadn’t left the young vampire standing in his doorway, but he was truly happy to see Darla, despite his response not showing it. He knew she wouldn’t care about it. Evil rarely did.

“We just came over from France, to get away from a rotten little man called Daniel Holtz, and I thought we just had to visit you,” Darla explained with a smile. She always had one for her elders, knowing how much their tempers could flare when not treated with the proper respect. “Also, I realised it was your birthday today and thought it would be the perfect time to come. 655 years old.”

“Yes, and still young.” Romero finally brought his intense stare away from the fledgling and looked into Darla’s pretty eyes. Any creature who could gaze into them for eternity was lucky.

He once again brought his attention to the fledgling when Darla introduced them. “Romero, this is Angelus.”

Romero smiled when he discovered the meaning of the name, and the ambiguity of it. It was clever. “Ah, the Latinate for Angel.”

“His name is already legend in England and France for the bloody swath he cut across them.” Darla suddenly appeared aroused as she thought back on it. “He was magnificent.”

“Was he now?”

Finally, Angelus stepped forward from the shadows, and said, “Aye, that I was. No man has seen a vampire the likes of me before, or will again.” He revelled in the look of annoyance on Romero’s face. “Darla here tells me that you are some sort of elite vampire in the clan, not far off the Master.”

“She speaks the truth and you would be wise to heed her words about me.”

“I’m not for authority types, myself,” Angelus said. “Prefer to go my own way and do what I like.”

“If that is the case then I doubt you will be long for this world.”

Angelus moved in closer and gazed out of the window. “Now why’d you go and say something hurtful like that?” he mocked. “It’s as if you don’t like me. You wouldn’t be the first. The Master was none too fond of me either. At least you don’t live in a rat infested stink hole like he does.”

“You dare speak of the Master in this way!?”

“Aye, that I do. At least you cancel each other out. He lives in a rat infested stink hole while you live in luxury, but he has the looks.”

Romero shot forward and delivered a few brutal blows to Angelus’ face and body, knocking the younger vampire to the ground. “I knew as soon as you entered that I would be killing you before the end of the night.”

Angelus chuckled. “Just as I knew that I’d be begging for death to get away from the likes of you.”

There were more sickening blows as Romero shouted, “You will show the proper respect! I am far stronger than you, boy, and you were foolish to try my patience.”

Angelus looked at Darla and ignored the pain, asking, “Tell me, love. Does he usually talk this much?”

With minimum effort, Romero had him up in the air by the throat and pushed up against a wall. “You’re lucky I’ve let you live this long, Angelus. Now I’ll tell you before I send you into eternity. I am Romero, one of the elites among the Aurelians, while you are nothing but gutter slime. Dust waiting to happen.”

“Aye, that may be,” Angelus said while he tried to swallow the blood before it could come up fully. “But I believe it is my name they fear. I heard them saying it in the street. Some even trembled at the sight of me. And knowing your little history and issues, that’s got to be torture for you.”

Within seconds he was across the room and colliding with a strong oak table. His body was beaten enough, but now he would have much more extensive bruising. Darla was at his side immediately, and it was the only thing keeping Romero from staking him. He knew it, but he didn’t care. He had ruffled the feathers of another “elite” and made a mark that would last.

From the peasant to the elites, there was not one who didn’t know the name Angelus.

“Darla,” Romero said as he dropped his arm to his side, stake in hand, and allowed them free passage to the door. “Take the stallion from my sight. I will let you go free this once, but if I hear that he is still in Spain this time tomorrow, I will kill you both.”

Immediately she helped Angelus to his feet and they left as quickly as possible. But even after they had left, Romero could still hear the fledgling laughing. He had beaten him, but he had still lost. Angelus had got under his skin and for a brief moment, he was weaker.

* * *

Angel stared in shock at the vampire stood before him. So many years between meetings yet it was as if it was instantaneous. As soon as he saw those eyes and that evil grin it all came flooding back. A pool of blood on the floor also caught his eye and he looked at the slain Kennedy, horrified. “My god.”

Romero chuckled as he threw Spike across the room before turning to face his old adversary. “260 years old and still you think you have a God. Like all the rest of us, Angelus, you have no God. Or is that soul of yours clouding your judgment?”

“You’re working for Danandril,” Angel said, his face serious as he tried to focus on anything but the sight of the dead slayer. “Well I’m not the only one with a clouded judgment, am I? The great Romero who swore to never be inferior to anyone is now taking orders from a Granok demon.”

He watched delightedly as the smile faded from Romero’s face. It wasn’t the first time he had been able to make Romero’s seemingly eternal smile disappear in their long association, but it still felt good.

“I take orders from no one, Angelus!” Romero was quick to remind him. “I am merely working with this demon for mutual gain. Nothing more.”

“What do you want?” Angel asked. He circled Romero slowly to get a better position because there was no manoeuvrability in the doorway.

The old smile returned as Romero observed Angel’s every move. “Ah, such a simple question with a simple answer. You’ve already answered it, Angelus. I swore long ago that no one would be superior to me. Still you are feared above all others. I want revenge for that.”

He glanced behind to see whether Spike was going to be able to blindside him but the young vampire was out cold on the floor. “I was feared for centuries in Spain, until you came. When you arrived it was no longer my name they feared. I didn’t believe you at first, but I had to believe when their fear of you, and what you would do to them, made them form a mob to hunt me down. You ordered and they obeyed.”

Angel laughed but Romero didn’t see the funny side. “They were willing to risk their lives to hunt me because they were frightened of what you would do if they didn’t. At that moment I knew that I was again inferior. I swore to avenge that day, Angelus and now I have my chance.”

“So how does this go exactly? You and me duke it out in one last battle to the death to prove who the better vampire is?”

Angel was up for it just to stop the apocalypse before it got started, but Romero’s quiet laugh was putting him off.

“Not quite, no. You see, Angelus, this is just a taste of things to come. My revenge has not even begun, but you will know when it has. What you see in this very room, now, were just previews to the bigger show. Now you know what I am capable of, and that’s before trying.”

Angel took another look at the fallen slayer and wondered how he would tell Willow. How would she take it? He knew exactly how she would take it because he would feel the same if it happened to Cordelia. To learn that someone had taken her life without a second thought would destroy him.

She was his world and he couldn’t lose her. To lose her would be like taking a stake to the heart. When he lost her, he lost a part of himself. The biggest part. That was why he had to fight now, to ensure that Romero couldn’t threaten her, or anyone else, in any way.

“Well, you might not want to start your revenge now, but I’m not letting you have free reign before you decide to make a move. I’m stopping you and Danandril now.”

Without a second thought he was bounding toward Romero, fists raised ready to deliver the first blow. It was a good plan in theory but the practicality was that his punch was too slow to hit anything but air. After every swing Romero would appear somewhere else, chuckling away as he toyed with him.

Angel had to stop and focus for a moment. He wasn’t fighting any old vampire here. This was one of his strongest opponents in his long history so it would take a lot more than mindless punching. As much as he wanted to dust Romero, he had to go easy and think things through.

The problem was that he was thinking about Cordelia too much. It wasn’t completely about the apocalypse. It was about her as well. As long as Romero and Danandril were around, she was in danger. Everyone was, but she was his main focus.

He took another look at Kennedy’s cold body, the blood that had spilled from her chest filling his nostrils and appealing to his lower urges, the urges of the demon.

As he stared he pictured another face there. It was a beautiful face, young and innocent and it was one he loved dearly. The thought of her body like that woke something up in him, and brought out the better side of his demon, the side that wanted to kill anything that threatened her.

He looked at Romero again, his smile digging down deep into his soul and driving him on. That smile was not something that anyone deserved to see. It was the smile of pure evil and it was something that needed wiping from the face of the earth.

Angel burst forward, even too quickly for Romero to see and unleashed a flurry of punches. The first few were blocked, but he feigned another while sending a sharp jab to Romero’s nose. The elder vampire staggered back while Angel spun a powerful kick to his temple.

He watched as Romero lurched away while he held his head, his laugh still filling the empty room. Even a powerful kick couldn’t stop him laughing. It was as if he hardly even felt it.

“Finally I get a challenge. You’ve done more in mere seconds than they did in full fights,” Romero said as he pointed at his prior opponents. “Still, it shall be for naught.”

Angel dodged as the cultured fists came at him and sprung up behind and sent another kick whistling through the air. Romero caught this one without even looking, however, and spun quickly to deliver a small barrage of punches to Angel’s face. He groaned in pain as each one connected but not as much as when an elbow slammed into his head, forcing him to the ground.

Blood filled his mouth as he lay on the floor listening to the taunts of his opponent. He had listened to them before during their first fight. Of course, he was a ruthless bastard back then so he just laughed it off, but now he had things to lose and his failure could cause him to lose them.

“Pitiful,” Romero began as he circled Angel. “When you hit me, I actually thought you were going to be a challenge. I do so hate being wrong.”

Angel groaned as he tried to lift himself to his feet, but he was sent flying through the air as a powerful kick was driven into his stomach. He landed hard against the wall and fell into a pile of old boxes at its base. As he lay there and tried to ignore the pain, he could hear Romero’s laughter echoing around the old room.

Then he pictured it. He saw Romero going to the Hyperion upon orders from Danandril and killing everyone there. It would be simple, if there was no one there to help them. If he wasn’t there. The thought of him hurting Cordelia, and laughing about it like he was now, was enough to make the demon surface.

After a brief second he burst forth from his cardboard enclosure, his vampiric features on full show, his golden eyes burning with rage, and stared Romero dead in the eyes. “Might wanna hold the gloat, chuckles. We’re just getting started.”


Part 21

Angel shot forward like a bullet going for its target. Within less than a second he was within touching distance of his old enemy. He ducked underneath Romero’s powerful swing and appeared at his side, quickly droving two punches into Romero’s face before dodging another shot and repeating the move.

As he unleashed punch after punch, he felt his knuckles smashing into cheek bones and hoped one of his shots would yield a break.

He slammed his knee into Romero’s stomach and swung a kick upwards as the older vampire bent forwards, the sound of cracking as boot met face making him wonder if he had broken his nose.

Romero staggered back dazed from the pummelling he had received and stared vacantly. Angel had him now and he spun again and powered another kick to his temple. This one was caught, however, and Romero started his own attack.

Two quick, powerful punches were enough to knock Angel to the floor, but as the master vampire bore down on him, he swept his leg around and took Romero’s feet out from under him. He could only watch as his elder flipped over in the air and landed gracefully, a cocky smile decorating his 900 year old face.

Angel tried to respond and attack again, but he was sent across the room after another sharp kick to the gut. He hit the wall harder than the first time. Rising to his feet, he was grabbed at the head by Romero who ran him towards the wall.

He tried to fight the greater strength pushing him forward but he couldn’t resist it. Just inches from the wall, Angel jumped and ran up the concrete, flipped off and landed behind Romero. Acting before his opponent could react, he slammed his head into the wall and capitalised on the elder vampire struggling to keep his balance.

Angel kicked Romero’s knee away and jumped in front of him as he tried to rise to his feet. As Romero knelt on the ground, Angel drove thunderous punches into his face. A wound opened above the elderly eyes and he delighted in the sight of blood on his knuckles each time he pulled his fist away.

He didn’t quite understand why he was revelling in the sound of Romero’s pained groaning. Maybe it was because he had placed Cordy’s face on Kennedy’s dead body and now he was enjoying a revenge that he didn’t even need to exact, and hopefully never would.

Ever since he had heard about the coming apocalypse he had been obsessing over losing her. He knew his fear was partly unfounded because there had been no direct threat to her. Just wanting her so badly though kept him worried and ever ready for when she might be in danger.

Angel saw Romero’s eyes roll in his head and saw his chance. Stopping his beating, he threw his arm back and a stake shot out of his sleeve. He thrust it forward as hard as he could but out of nowhere, Romero caught it just inches from his heart.

Both vampires stared at each other as the stake dangled dangerously close to its target. A bead of perspiration rolled down Angel’s forehead as he tried desperately to force the stake into Romero’s chest but all that was on Romero’s face was a small wound, a few bruises and big, contented smile.

“Remember the old teachings, Angelus: never give up the advantage.”

Before Angel could respond, Romero broke the stake from its holster and drove it into his neck. He wanted to scream through the pain but the fast rising blood drowned out any noise. His natural reaction was to drop to the floor and conserve energy but Romero had lifted him by the throat before he could.

“Strange isn’t it, Angelus,” Romero began, the grin still firmly fixed in place. “You fought well, had me on the ropes, yet who ended up on the end of a stake? You see, there is a lesson to be learned here. No matter what you want or how much you try, some things can’t be stopped. My revenge can’t be stopped, Angelus.”

Angel was helpless and could only listen as his elder carried on. “When the time comes, you will not see it coming and you will not see it go, but it will destroy you. When that time comes, I’ll be there to send you to hell with nothing but that thought.”

Romero snickered as he looked behind Angel. He didn’t know what he was looking at because all he could focus on was not passing out from the literal pain in his neck.

“I shall give you one last parting gift, Angelus. Remember another of your early teachings. Don’t divide your attention.” Romero took one more look behind his beaten opponent and smiled. “Until we meet again, Angelus.”

His strength was amazing as he drew back his arm and threw Angel as if he was nothing more than a rag doll. It was hard to believe he was as heavy as he was with the ease with which he was thrown.

Glass shattered all around him as he smashed through the window. The cold night air hit him sharp in the face as he plummeted the many floors to the ground. He felt as if every bone in his body was broken, but it helped take his mind off the excruciating pain where the stake was protruding from his skin.

He shouted as he pulled the wood from his throat and blood spewed from the gaping hole in its place. He lay back, closed his eyes and tried to fight through the pain. He had to get home and warn everyone about what was happening. Most of all, he had to get home to Cordelia. There was no special reason except he wanted to see her.

He knew his mind should be focused on other things but he couldn’t stop thinking about her. It was strange, but he was actually looking forward to her patching up his wounds. Even though it hurt like hell, it was worth it to feel her touch.

All that broke his train of thought was the sound of more shouting followed by a loud thud. He looked for the source and found Spike lying beside him. He was unconscious, but alive, unfortunately. “Great. My night just keeps getting better and better.”

* * *

Angel struggled to get into the Hyperion as he used his shoulder to prop up the semi-conscious Spike, his wounds weakening him more than he liked. He was used to strength and power at his fingertips, and always hated his moments of vulnerability. Now was one of those moments.

“Oh, my God,” Buffy said as she rushed to help the injured vampires. Never had she seen either in such a state. It made them more human to see them broken like that. Demons they may have been, but they were still flesh and blood. “What happened?”

Allowing her to take Spike from him, he took a seat, sighed with relief as the cushions welcomed him, and told her. “We found the Ancient.” It was a task just saying that, but one that had to be undertaken.

Giles emerged from the office immediately and quickly, after taking a brief look at the vampires before him, questioned the one vampire that could give him an answer. “Who was it, Angel? We need to know.”

Angel shot him a look that held nothing back. “Unless you failed to notice, I’m sitting here, bleeding from numerous wounds. So I’m not going through the who’s, when’s and where’s until I feel a little better. Then you’ll have everything you need.”

“I’m sorry, Angel,” Giles continued, folding his arms across his chest stubbornly. “I need the information now. The sooner I know, the sooner I can find a way to stop whatever Danandril’s planning.”

“Giles,” he stopped himself before he said something he’d regret and tried to put it in a more civilised manner. He just needed Giles to know that it wasn’t a good time for him to say anything, especially not after what happened to Kennedy. There was just too much noise in his head. “Tomorrow. I just need to rest tonight.”

Angel tried to ignore how immature Giles looked as he huffed and stomped back into the office, closing the door behind him in a manner not suiting a man of his age and background. It was strange how much he had changed. Had he changed? Or had he always been so pathetic in the face of someone who had wronged him?

Sure, he had every right to be angry with him, but did he need to let what happened to Jenny come into every single decision he made? It was as if all Giles cared about when it came to him was what happened to her. Every thought and action directed towards him would never be a good one because of what he had done to Jenny.

Spike started to come to as Buffy worked away on his wounds, disinfecting and bandaging each one carefully. Opening his eyes, he saw Buffy there and smiled through the aching in his body. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to keep your hands off me for long, love.”

Years ago there would have been a low growl rumbling in Angel’s throat, the anger growing as he tried to restrain himself from ripping Spike’s heart out. Now though, he couldn’t care less.

He still thought it was weird that Buffy had had a “relationship” with Spike, but he would rather she was with Spike than fawning over him. It made him uncomfortable when she acted very lovingly to him when he was clearly in a relationship with Cordelia.

He couldn’t find the strength to talk about it or put her in her place. He knew it would be better for her in the long run, but how did he say something to her that would upset her no end? Why was she even still thinking like that, though? He had told her a while back that he loved Cordelia now.

Thinking of Cordelia, he sniffed the air and found her scent. It soothed the pain as it filled his nostrils and he took it deep inside and held it there. It wasn’t a strong scent though. She hadn’t been in the lobby for some time.

“Where’s Cordy?” he asked Buffy.

“She and Willow went out looking for you,” Buffy explained. “You’d all been gone a long time and they were worried.”

Considering what had happened that night, it wasn’t really the time for smiles and happiness, but he couldn’t help but smile. Cordy had been worried about him. He could just picture her coming home, smiling sweetly and sighing with relief before running over, a hug and a kiss ready just for him.

He couldn’t wait to feel her lips pressed to his or every curve and contour of her body moulding to fit his shape perfectly. The feel of her soft, warm skin against his would take away all aches and make the pain worth it.

With closed eyes he thought about it, and how she would be so tender and loving with him in light of his injuries. She had always been so in the past, but now they were together, there would probably be a lot more of it. In his whole life, there had never been anything as wonderful as a tender, loving Cordelia. Naughty Cordy wasn’t far off that though, especially when she wore that-

“You’re turn, Angel.” Opening his eyes he saw Buffy ready with the first aid kit and a warm smile that used to make his heart melt. “Are you going to get undressed or am I going to have to do it, because I can’t patch up through silk.”

He groaned through the pain as he got to his feet, his legs threatening to give and send him back into the chair. “It’s okay, Buffy. You don’t have to patch me up. I’ll just go and lie down and wait for Cordelia to come back. She can do it. You should get back to helping Giles.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.” She obviously bought it because she put the first aid kit down and went back to the office, her eyes showing a belying sadness at the mention of Cordelia’s name and his want for her.

She knew he didn’t care about her researching. He just didn’t want her patching him up. That was obviously something he wanted Cordelia to do. Obviously, her touch meant more to him. Why was she thinking otherwise? Angel and Cordelia were together now and they were in love. Of course he would want her.

Angel tried to ignore the look and pass it off as the last glimpses of Buffy’s love for him. Or was it obsession? After what he had been seeing, he was borderline on where she was in her head. Part of that ignorance was going upstairs, lying down and waiting for his princess to come home and take the troubles away.

As he made his way to the stairs, the doors opened and stood in the frame were Cordelia and Willow. As expected, she had a smile for him, until she saw his wounds, and Willow, as expected, was searching the room quickly. His heart sank as he waited for the inevitable question.

Then it came. “Where’s Kennedy?”

* * *

A patch of paint on the ceiling had peeled away and was fluttering gently in the wind blowing in through the open patio doors, capturing Angel’s attention as he ran through the mass of things piling up in his skull. So much to deal with, and so little time to decide how to do so. Aside from his ails, his head was sore from it all.

The painkillers, ointments, bandages and disinfectants had done nothing to assuage the lingering feeling that he could have done more to help Kennedy and stop Romero. Romero. Never a name he liked to hear, but never one he had hated.

What could he have done if he had left the hotel earlier instead of flirting with Cordelia? If he hadn’t been messing around with her, he could have been saving Kennedy’s life.

No, it wasn’t his fault, or Cordelia’s. It was just a bad turn of events. It happened, and while regrettable, it was unavoidable.

So why did he feel so bad about it? Why did he feel like he couldn’t look at Willow, knowing that he could have prevented her pain?

The sound of the door opening and someone walking over caught his attention, but he didn’t even look away from the chipped paint. Whoever was coming in would have to wait while he thought things through.

“Hey, baby. You feel any better?” It was Cordelia. She wasn’t someone who had to wait. She was the one person who had his complete, undivided attention. Perhaps that was the problem. And with that thought, the smile that had lifted the corners of his mouth by a small degree faded and he focused on the paint again.

“I don’t feel like talking, Cordy.” He said it, but he doubted that it would have any affect on her selective hearing. Just to test he added, “I just want to be alone for a while so I can think.”

“Well look who makes an appearance: Mr Broody Pants,” Cordelia mocked as she shut the bedroom door and made her way over to the bed where he was lying. “We haven’t seen him in a while. Is this a one night only gig or will there be eight shows a week, including a matinee?”

Angel didn’t look at her. He felt like it wasn’t the time to be revelling in the sparkle of her eyes or the welcoming smile she always carried for him. He had to think things through, but when she was there, she was all he could see and it didn’t always help.

“Funny,” he replied, his voice deep and empty, the stoic look on his face betraying the mix of emotions inside. “Sorry, but I forgot to laugh.”

“Yeah, and why? I’ll tell you why. Because you’re off in little ‘I’m so tortured land’ where the geeks, losers and emotionally stunted go to make themselves feel better by making themselves the sole bearer of the world’s responsibilities.” Cordelia had stood up halfway through and had been walking around the bed, her arms flailing and her face reddening from the lack of stops in her little pep talk.

After stopping and catching her breath, she took a seat by Angel’s side and held his hand. As she spoke she gently caressed his cheek with her thumb, his eyes still focusing on the ceiling. “I know you’re upset about Kennedy. Being the champion you are – the man you are – you’re always looking for a way to save everyone, and blame yourself when they aren’t saved. It’s why I love you.”

Needing him to see her eyes when she said what was coming next; she held his chin and pulled his gaze to hers. “But, you can’t save everyone. We’re fighting a war against evil, and in war there are losses. That is to be expected, and you can’t blame yourself for what happens to those people. Sure it’s sad, but instead of focusing on the self flagellation, perhaps you should focus on stopping the person who did it from hurting anyone else.”

Now with a smile firmly in place, she said, “Try to remember, she died fighting evil. It’s an honourable way to go. It’s better than dying in a hospital bed after six months of bed sores and other icky, gooey stuff. I was lying on a bedpan for God’s sake and I was getting ogled by all the old men staying on that ward.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t, but it stopped you thinking about Kennedy, didn’t it.” She poked her tongue out and got her champion to smile in return. It looked like she had helped, but she knew Angel and he was better at hiding things than he made out. He could have just been faking to get some more alone time. “So, are you okay now?”

“I am, but part of me will always feel bad, like I could have done more.”

“That’s because you’re hu-” Cordelia stopped, smiled and thought about what to say in replace of that evil word that Angel hated hearing in reference to himself. “That’s because you’re a good person. We all feel like we could do more, but we have to take what we can get champ, and do our best with it. If we do that, how can we be faulted for it?”

Angel smiled again giving her all the incentive she needed to lean in and kiss him, their tongues meeting in the middle and gently rubbing over each other as they held each other in their embrace. It was only Angel’s pained groaning that could stop her as she started to get into the heat of the moment and get a little rougher with his still sore body.

After a laugh and an apology, she left to go and help research. Their numbers were down and, despite the major boringness of it and the strange sense of being back in the Sunnydale High School Library, she had to do it.

She would be away from Angel for a while, but she hoped her talk helped him. She had done the first part. She just hoped he could do the rest and realise that what had happened was not his fault and that it was the fault of “The Ancient.” If he could truly come to believe that in himself, “The Ancient” would be in for a surprise the next time he met Angel.

* * *

If Angel could breathe, this would be deep breath time. After a good night’s sleep and a shower when he woke up, he was ready to come out of his room.

Cordelia’s talk had helped him. When she left he really thought about what she had told him and he came to the realisation that Kennedy’s death was not his fault. He also realised that feeling the guilt of such events was, like Cordelia said, part of being a person. A demon he may be, but a human soul still filled his body.

Slowly, he travelled the long, quiet corridors as he made his way to the lobby, dodging old mattresses and remnants of the many rooms. Along the way he spotted stains on the green carpets, stains consisting of dropped food, blood and even demon blood that had sunk in. It wasn’t the nicest of things to see, but cleaning was a difficult task in their line of work.

As he neared the stairs, he could hear the voices of everyone in the lobby. From the sounds of it, Giles, Buffy and Spike were there. The faint scent of Cordelia was heading in that direction, but he doubted she would willingly stay with the Scoobies for too long, if they even still called themselves that.

Reaching the landing he saw everyone was here. Not a soul, apart from Kennedy was missing. Giles was in the office with a pile of books. Gunn, Spike and Illyria were researching with their books on the sofas by the office, while Buffy sat with Willow who was rocking the recently crying baby.

But there, the centre of the room, on the grey circular chair, was Cordelia. Her hair was up in a bunch, and her short, denim skirt left nothing to the imagination. Her luscious long legs were positioned so perfectly that the light from the glass doorways gave them a healthy glow, highlighting her tan wonderfully.

She was the first to notice him coming down the stairs, giving him a quick smile before getting back into the books. He couldn’t stare at her for long as others, including Willow, noticed he was coming. As soon as they saw him, an awkward silence feel over the place, the only sound being the quiet rustling of papers or uncomfortable fidgeting on the chairs.

If he could just ignore her it would be wonderful. He wished that nothing had happened and he could look at her without feeling guilty. But he couldn’t. He had to speak to her.

Well, that was Cordelia’s speech and his realisation of innocence out the window.

He could hardly maintain eye contact as he walked over slowly, his shoulders hunched and his hands deeply rooted in his pockets. Willow, however, couldn’t help but look at him.

This was it. The moment of truth.

“Willow,” he began, his eyes briefly meeting hers. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

A salty scent brushed past Angel’s nostrils as the witch gave baby Oz to Buffy and led him outside onto the patio, where the morning sun could not penetrate.

Folding his arms across his chest, he said, “I’m sorry, Willow. I was too late to help Kennedy, and she’s… no longer here. If I could change it, or if I could have stopped it, I would have.”

“I know you would have, Angel,” Willow replied as she wiped the forming tears from her lower lids. “And I don’t blame you for what happened. Kennedy was a warrior for good, and sadly she was taken from me. But her death has nothing to do with you. The only one responsible is the monster that staked her.”

Romero. The thought of his smug smirk brought the anger and hatred from the night prior back, and Angel felt his hands tightening around his biceps, his teeth clenched together and his jaw muscle tightened, his cheeks jutting out slightly as he repeatedly tensed and relaxed.

“So please,” Willow continued. “Don’t feel guilty about it.” She smiled but couldn’t hold it, and within seconds tears were streaming down her face, the makeup turning them a peachy colour.

Angel knew nothing to do but to pull her in and hug her. As she stood in his arms, he could feel her pain. Every jerk, every gasp for breath just showed him more and more how much she had lost, and made him want to rip Romero’s heart more than ever.

As he held her, he could feel tears in his own eyes, the desperation to hold them back causing a sharp sting. No person should have to suffer with having a loved one snatched away by any means. Willow didn’t deserve it.

His mind again flashed back to the night he lost Cordelia. The memory of her tears on his tongue, her unique on his lips for hours afterwards, and the unbearable loneliness he felt every day after until she returned to him. He had the love of his life snatched away, so he knew what Willow was going through.

For that, Romero would pay.

After finally consoling the young redhead, they made their way back into the lobby, the tears that had fallen no longer bathing her cheeks. The only sign of crying was the faint smudging of her mascara and the thin streaks of makeup on her cheeks.

Giles appeared from the office, a stern look on his face and a frantic nervousness that didn’t suit him. He made his way to Willow immediately and took a seat beside her. This was where vampire hearing came in handy.

“Willow, I have reached a passage in the texts that end very abruptly,” Giles explained. “Do you think it would be possible for you to find me another copy of it?”

Angel immediately questioned what he had just heard when he saw Willow’s face sadden and her head nodding along reluctantly. It was obvious she didn’t want to be there, but the sheer goodness of her character would keep her there. This was no time in her life for her to be around the fight. She needed to be alone so she could grieve and come to terms with Kennedy’s death. Why, considering he had needed the same thing with Jenny, didn’t Giles seem to be giving her that?

As Giles made his way back to the office, Angel followed behind, stopping the door from shutting when the Watcher walked in. He loomed over the Englishman when he turned around, his arms folded and his face showing a frustration.

“May I help you, Angel?”

“Why isn’t Willow going away?”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand what you are saying.”

Angel rubbed his hand down his face, pulling the skin taught, the blood vessels in his eyes that would usually be hidden beneath the lower eyelids now visible. “Kennedy has just died, but Willow is still here helping with our fight. Why?”

“I felt that at this time it would be better for her to focus on work. Perhaps by helping stop the coming apocalypse and the one responsible for Kennedy’s death, she would find some sort of closure.”

“No.” Angel’s response clearly annoyed Giles who slammed the books down on the table. “Willow will find closure by being away from here. She needs peace and quiet, not research. I want her gone, at least until she feels ready to return.”

Giles took a seat in the leather chair and pressed the tips of his fingers together. Angel could see the joy he had when he said, “I’m afraid that’s not your call, Angel.” He must have really been getting off on telling Angel what he could and couldn’t do. But times had changed, and he wasn’t going to follow orders anymore.

“Last time I checked, it is exactly my call.” He revelled in the sight of Giles’ grin disappearing from his wrinkled face. “LA is my town and what happens here is up to me. As long as you stay in my hotel and conduct business in my town, you do as I say. I want Willow gone until she is better. Understand me?”

He had to admit, it felt good to make Giles stomp out of a room. Being told what to do and being undermined was wearing thin. LA didn’t belong to the Watcher so he wouldn’t be leading the group while there.

Angel watched from the office doorway as Giles told Willow, and nodded his head when she smiled at him from the stairs. Cordelia winked at him, having overheard what Giles had said, and blew him a kiss. That just made what had just happened even better.

Making his way back over to the office, Giles asked, “There. Happy now? We have lost a vital member of the team. I just hope her absence doesn’t affect the battles to come. If it does, it shall be on your head, Angel.”

“Yeah well most things are,” Angel said, not fazed by Giles’ attempt to guilt him out of the decision. It wouldn’t work. What Cordelia had said the night before and what Willow had said that morning just reassured him that not all failings were his fault. As Cordelia had said, if he tried his best, how could he be faulted?

“Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to get back to my research.” Angel didn’t budge from the doorway, instead preferring to watch Cordelia walk up the stairs, her firm buttocks moving wonderfully in her skirt that hugged her figure perfectly. “Are you going to let me in or not?” Giles asked, a hint of frustration lacing his voice.

With Cordelia gone from view and Giles standing uncomfortably close, Angel looked down at the Watcher. “Oh, I forgot to tell you. I’m taking my office back.” A broad smile uncharacteristically appeared on his face as he shut the door and closed the curtain over the glass. Even through the closed doors, he could hear Giles’ anger coming out.

After everything that had happened over the past day, it felt good to finally retake his territory. It was time to do things differently and he would make sure things were done right. Research wasn’t needed now. The enemy had shown himself and he had made the first move. Now it was time to make a move of their own.

The fight had just begun.


Part 22

“Romero.” Angel held up the only book that had any information on the vampire. His picture was there, but years of wear had decreased its quality sufficiently. It was still clear enough to show his handsome features, and Angel noted how the women in the room showed their appreciation of such a well chiselled specimen.

Handing the book to Giles, Angel continued. “He was a legend in Spain because of his acts of cruelty and his hunting ability. Most vampires are good hunters, but he was special. Apparently, no one ever escaped him.”

Spike scoffed at the thought and quickly made a rebuttal. “I’m a good hunter, but I didn’t catch all my victims. Even if I was with Dru or you, we never got everyone we targeted.”

“Neither you, me or many other vampires, if any, are as focused as him,” Angel replied. “He would see a victim escaping him as a sign of inferiority. He swore when he was sired that he would never be inferior to anyone again. So, when hunting, he wouldn’t give up until he had his selected mark, even if it took days to get them.”

There were a few suspicious faces in the little crowd gathered in the lobby, and Angel was happy for it. He wanted them suspicious. He wanted them questioning Romero so they knew what they were dealing with. To face an opponent you didn’t know was a dangerous game, and Angel wasn’t willing to lose anyone in attendance because of a lack of preparation, even if his personal opinions of some were not in their favour.

Giles squinted as he wiped his glasses on the hem of his shirt, the questions running through his mind as he tried to learn more. “He swore never to be inferior? That seems like a strange thing to swear.”

“Not when you spend your whole human life being ordered about by someone deemed your better because of a title,” Angel explained. “He watched his family suffer and die in service to his master, and when he was turned, he swore never to be branded as inferior again. To do that, he wanted to build himself a reputation that was feared. His first act was to kill his master.”

His eyes glazed over as he looked back at Romero’s first heinous crime. He could only imagine it from what Darla had described so many years earlier, but it still caused a small smile to curl the corners of his mouth. What Romero did would have been the masterpiece in his work. He was actually surprised he never thought of it.

“But to start his reputation, he had to do something big, which is what he did,” Angel continued. “He went to his master’s manor house for a ball and when it ended, he drank from the old man. After burning the mansion to the ground, he took his master to the sewers and tied him up. For the rest of the man’s life, he was fed and watered and kept alive. But everyday, Romero drank from him to remind him who the real master was.”

“A real psycho Wan Kenobi, then,” Cordelia added, drawing a laugh from Gunn.

Spike stood up suddenly and typically made his presence felt. “Look, gramps. We don’t need the bloody life history of this guy. We just need to know how to kill him.”

Looking around, Angel was met with nodding heads. They all seemed to agree, except for Cordelia who looked bored beyond belief. He didn’t expect her to take part, nor did he want her to. This sort of arena was too dangerous for her. Her place was leading from the back. She didn’t know it, but she was the one who kept morale high and kept everyone going. He was a leader, but every leader needed a lieutenant and he wouldn’t have picked anyone else.

“Well, he’s 900 years old so obviously very powerful,” he explained. “He is stronger than anyone here and one on one he could probably best any of us. He’s not a fighter, but his strength makes up for it. In the end, he’s still a vampire and he will die the same way. And, typical of vampires, he’s very arrogant. That could create an opening.”

Pacing the floor, he carried on explaining the ins and outs of the last fight to try and give them all an idea of his abilities. As he described every move and every gruesome detail, he could practically hear them oohing and aahing along with the story. When he finished, Buffy stood up.

“So you dominated him?” She asked, curious after Angel had told them he had nearly killed Romero.

“Yeah, but not for long. If I had been quicker-”

“And better,” Spike jumped in.

Ignoring the comment, he carried on. “I could have killed him. It only takes one mistake and you’re dead. It’s not about who’s better, or stronger. It’s about who wins, and believe me, it would be stupid to try and do it alone.”

Giles rubbed at his eyes, the fatigue and age underneath their glassy surface showing as the time escaped him. Angel could sense his weariness. Even though he was only 60, a life fighting evil was a hard one and it was obviously taking its toll.

Replacing his glasses, he asked, “So, what do you propose?”

* * *

Cordelia watched with pride as her man gave orders to the group without missing a single detail. There wasn’t an if or but in the place as he made the plan perfectly clear, except for Spike being the typical mouthy idiot he always was. He soon shut up when she said, “Sit down, Billy Idol.”

Surprisingly, “Ripper” wasn’t even questioning Angel. Even he, in all his British snootiness, couldn’t deny how good the plan was, how flawless. She, personally, didn’t understand a word of it, but still.

Every now and then he would look over, notice her doing something silly or purposely seductive, and the corners of his mouth would curl up into a sweet little smile that no one really noticed. She knew it better than anyone so she knew the signs of it, and she loved being the only one who could really get it out of him. It made her feel wonderful to know that even in times like these, he still had a smile that she could bring out.

The speech ended and everyone pottered off to their corners, but Angel made his way to hers. His strong, commanding look had gone and now she was staring into the loving, gentle face that she had fallen for many years earlier.

She felt quite small as he leant on the arms of the chair and loomed over her, his lips dangling close to hers as they teased each other with glancing touches and soft brushes of skin. Avoiding the full contact made it even more special when their mouths finally met in an emphatic flurry of passion and desire.

What they were feeling and what they wanted wasn’t something that could be done in the lobby… when other people were there. No, this was something that had to be done upstairs, which is where they went quietly, slinking away so as not to be seen by the ever watchful eyes of Giles and his little lapdog. Or was that the other way round?

Even with vampire speed, Cordelia wasn’t sure she had ever seen Angel move as fast as he had done on the way to their room. But one thing she did know was that vampire speed gave a new meaning to the expression, “Faster!” She couldn’t even form words to describe the implications vampire strength, and power, had on the term, “Harder!”

Some of the things she said did make her feel ashamed to kiss her mother. Well, a lot less than it would have done if her mother was actually any good at being one. But as long as she had Angel, they could go screw themselves because she needed no one else.

What her life would be without him was something she often thought about. You couldn’t not think about it in their line of work. It wasn’t the nicest life in the world. There’d be no one else after him, that was for sure. And why would there need to be? All the money he had saved up over the years would keep her in enough shoes to get by on.

Joking of course. Shoes and clothes aside, she’d be lost without him. Her life would feel empty; as if everything that made her her had been ripped away suddenly. That was only if he died though. If they were both alive – as much as they could be anyway – she would die every day for knowing that she could reach him, but couldn’t. Like her little vacation to a “higher plane”. She could see, hear and feel him, yet she couldn’t be with him like she wanted to.

If anything happened that forced them apart, she knew that the worst aspect of it, no matter what was happening to her, would be being away from him and knowing what they could have been doing at that very moment. It had happened too much since she had been in Los Angeles.

Even when she was in the psychedelic coma that Vocah gave her. The pain and visions aside, part of her was screaming to get back to Angel. Even after the pain had subsided and the horrors had gone, she wasn’t truly happy until she felt his hand squeeze hers and saw his handsome face looking down at her like there was no one more important in the world.

But even though the pain of losing Angel, in any way, shape or form, would be unbearable, she knew that she would get through it eventually. Why? Because he loved her. His love for her would keep her strong and drive her forward. She wouldn’t let his death be a pointless loss in a battle that already taken people she loved. No, she would continue fighting for him.

The thoughts of negative things subsided though when she rolled over and looked at Angel sleeping beside her, however. He had a world to save later, but she couldn’t wake him. She just wanted to watch him and enjoy every moment of being at his side. Even seeing little drops of drool hanging from his open mouth was something that she savoured.

Why? Tonight, Angel had to save the world. That or die trying. What would happen was unknown to her or anyone else, but she wasn’t going to wake up days later without him there and wish there had been more. If this was to be the last time she saw his face, it was going to be a time that she wouldn’t waste.

* * *

The monitor flickered on the table in Justin Balderas’ office, forcing the young head of Special Projects Division to give it a few light taps. It didn’t matter what they heard now. The plan had been revealed and Danandril and Romero could create their own counter strategy.

The old vampire watched the world below him through the necro-tempered glass, the sun feeling strangely wonderful against his pale skin. Never in his 900-plus years did he think he would enjoy the sun’s rays and warmth again, let alone want to.

This was his first visit to Los Angeles. It took some getting used to. The speed at which things moved was sometimes too much even for a vampire. He was used to the simple life, towns and villages being his preferred home, but LA was the furthest thing from simple on Earth.

Danandril’s reflection in the window drew his attention away from the streets below and to the eyes of the Granok demon. There was a smile plastered on his face, and his red, regal robes, that matched his eyes perfectly, hid the majority of his body from view. Perhaps he had something to hide beneath all of the layers.

“Did you hear?” Danandril asked, in reference to the conversation on the monitor.

“I did.” Since returning from his fight with Angel, he had neither the time nor the patience for Danandril, and his behaviour and attitude while around him showed it. It was because Angel had said something that struck closer to home than he liked.

Angel had questioned him on why he was taking orders from Danandril, mocking the fact that he had sworn never to be inferior to anyone since his human master. He had denied it at first, but had what Angelus said been true? Was he, the great Romero, now nothing more than a mere lackey to a Granok?

Balderas appeared at Danandril’s side; brushing his expensive suit down to keep it looking worth as much as he paid for it. It would have taken a lot to make it look anything other than expensive though. “Do you need any help tonight?” he asked. “I mean, all of them might be too much even for you.”

“Yes, all of them would be too much for me, but I won’t be facing all of them. Two groups are what they planned, which means I shall have to face only a few at a time,” Romero reminded them. “From what I have seen already, that shall be no challenge.”

“I hope you’re right,” Danandril said. “How do you propose to get the ones we need?”

Romero’s face lit up with an evil grin, as he turned back to the window, his eyes lighting up at the thought of the pain he would cause. “It is simple. I shall take the one you seek, Danandril, in the course of fighting the groups. The only factor is which group he is part of, which will determine the length of time I will need to take him. However, I will need you to take my target Balderas. I cannot be in two places at once.”

The young man smiled, nodded and, after taking a seat at his desk and placing the telephone receiver by his ear, replied, “Not a problem. I have some guys that aren’t doing anything. Just tell me when and where.”

* * *

“So here we are then,” Spike said as he looked up at the abandoned building that had seen their decimation at Romero’s hands only nights earlier. He hated losing, and tonight he was going to do everything he could to make sure he won this time, even if Captain Forehead had to help him do it.

As much as he wanted to win, though, he doubted their chances. Part of Angel’s plan had been to split the groups, with Buffy, Illyria and Gunn searching the streets, while they searched the building they fought Romero in last. Also, he was still a bit sore from his last tumble with Romero, and Angel was probably the same. Plus, Angel had the mental baggage to contend with on top of that.

On the way there, he had calmly asked, “What’s up, mate?”, but got nothing more than a grunt. He wasn’t clueless though. He knew what was going through Angel’s mind. It was the bint back home. It was all he could bloody think about from dusk ‘til dawn.

As good as his perception was, he wasn’t capable of reading minds and discovering what sort of thoughts they were, but vampire hearing and typically thin American walls let him in. Being the sappy ponce he was, Angel was worried about how Cordelia would get by if he didn’t make it back. If it had been another day, he would have told Caveman Brow that she would have been better off without him, but there was a time for jokes and a time for seriousness. This day was one of the latter.

Sometimes he didn’t understand Angel’s mindset when it came to Cordelia. It was as if he blew every little detail out of proportion. Before they had even loaded up and decided the groups he was resigning himself to failure and worrying about Cordelia’s welfare. He may have been a fantastic warrior and, while he hated to admit, a good champion, he was a drama queen.

It must have been the 100 years in the US that did it because no person in the four corners of the British Isles was that soppy. The Irish in particular were tough bastards, but Angel was doing their reputation a disservice when he had Cordelia on the brain.

There were times to worry, but there was no need to get in a tizzy when there was no need. If he was seconds away from getting staked, he would be sensible to worry. Or would he?

Spike didn’t know Cordelia like Angel or Gunn did, and he didn’t really want to, her pretty pink princess act getting under his skin a little bit too much for there ever to be anything in terms of a friendship. But one thing Spike did know about her was that she was a tough cow. From the stories he had heard from Gunn, and Wes, back in the day, she had faced a lot of crap and come out the other side fighting.

Angel had been there through it all to see her do it, as well. Angel knew better than anyone how strong she was so he had no need to worry to the excesses he did. Cordelia had faced more than what scared Angel, and made it through by sheer will alone. From what his 134 year old noggin told him, she would get by without him no matter how hard it was. It was the type of bird she was, the type that always found a way.

“Yep, here we are,” Angel replied solemnly.

Spike could see the look of worry in his grandsire’s eyes, the glistening of barely formed tears, the thoughts of Cordelia being alone obviously filling his head. He thought it was quite pathetic to see one so weakened by a thought, but he also sympathised with the big oaf at the same time. Like Angel, he was also a fool for love.

The climb up the dark, dusty stairways was long and eerily silent, the smell of death filling the place. Neither vampire spoke, instead preferring to examine every particle of scent that passed their cultured nostrils with their vampire sense of smell. No scent couldn’t be picked apart by their demon advancements and right now they were picking apart Romero’s, and from what they could tell, he was in the building.

After climbing a few more flights of stairs, they reached the room that had witnessed their beating nights earlier. And there, stood in the centre of the room like the proverbial Holy Grail, was their goal.

The smug grin decorating his ancient, yet young, face gave both vampires a strong urge to kill him slowly. They had their own personal reasons for wanting Romero dead, but both of them agreed on the main point. Romero was a threat to humanity as long as he was working with Danandril, and neither of them had fought this long for it to end now.

Angel growled quietly, the anger reverberating in his throat as he felt the demon trying to surface. It was the sight of Kennedy’s dead body still lying where she had fell, the rotting already setting in that was bringing it to the surface. He so wanted to let it loose but he had to find the balance. If he found the balance, he could unleash his demonic ferocity but keep his level headedness and focus. This wasn’t a fight that could be won by brute strength alone.

As he felt the desire to rip Romero’s heart out growing, he drew his broadsword from a holster in his coat. There was no weapon that he would rather have at this time, nor one that he was as well versed in, and he was sure that even Romero, with all of his strength and power, would struggle to beat him while he fought with it.

Angel glanced over as Spike followed suit, drawing his own broadsword, a cocky smile forming on his face. He shook his head quickly and within moments his forehead had become ridged, his teeth sharp and long, and his eyes golden. Angel didn’t need the added strength of the demon just yet, being stronger than Spike even without it, but he would go vamp if he needed.

Even the sight of two powerful vampires with weapons didn’t seem to bother Romero, something that really annoyed both of them. “How did I know you would bring swords?” Romero asked.

“I don’t give a piss about how you knew,” Spike replied angrily, a low growl sounding with his deep, cockney laced voice. “What I do give a piss about is how I’m gonna kill you with it! Take your pick. Slice or dice?”

“Surprise me.”

Not relinquishing his firm stare that he was focusing on Romero, Angel extended his arm and placed his hand on Spike’s chest, holding the younger vampire back. Spike was a fantastic fighter, but he was too quick to jump in. If he held back a little and prepared properly, he would have been more successful than he already was.

When he felt the pushing on his hand stop, Angel once again dropped his arm to his side and said, “We should take him together.”

“No, I’m taking him now.” Before Angel could stop him, Spike was bounding towards Romero, his sword drawn high as he prepared to swing. Before he could get within reach however, something shot out of Romero’s sleeve and buried itself in Spike’s stomach, sending him crumpling to the floor.

Both vampires left standing looked at Spike as he lay there, shocked and unable to move as he tried his hardest to remove the small, metal knife from his stomach, the blood moistening its surface and complicating the procedure.

“It’s that simple, Angelus,” Romero said. “I can defeat Spike and you that quickly. So back down.”

Another knife shot from his other sleeve and flew towards him, the air whistling around it as it made its way to its target. When it came to a stop however, it was not accompanied by the satisfying sound of tearing flesh and spewing blood.

Instead it came with a clattering of steel meeting wood floor as Angel dropped it and smiled at his age-old foe. “I don’t think so.”

The arrogant, evil grin that had been firmly fixed on Romero’s face disappeared before he thrust his arm slightly to reveal a thin sword concealed in his sleeve, a sword that Angel was very familiar with. It was exactly the same design as Wesley’s. Obviously he had given the designs to Wolfram and Hart and now they were handing them out to their associates.

Spinning and twirling the weapon as if it was an extension of his arm, Romero cryptically warned, “Fine, we shall have to do this the not so easy way.”

Both ran forward, preparing to swing their blades, before meeting in the middle with a clash of steel, sparks forming quickly and dissipating just as fast. The time they were together was only brief before they again drew back there weapons and swung them as hard as they could, while still maintaining a level of control over distance and direction.

It continued on for a few minutes more, both vampires having their moments of dominance. Angel seemed to hold more of that though, his skill with the blade greatly compensating for Romero’s strength. There were a few close calls where he had the older vampire on the ropes, but the 900 year old experience of Romero helped him find a way out.

The fight came to a sudden halt as their blades met again without pulling back, both vampires positioned in such a way that they had to push on their opponent, any relent or attempt to pull away meaning certain death. It was now a battle of strength and Angel was losing.

“Give in, Angelus. You can’t win.”

He wanted to ignore it and push on, but he knew Romero was right. As long as it came down to strength, he couldn’t win. But if he gave up here, he would be dead. It wasn’t good on either side of the fence, but pushing on was the only way he could go. It was his duty.

Mustering all of the strength in his body, Angel pushed back. The progress was slow and he was only moving millimetres at a time, but it was progress none the less. He was spurred on even more by Romero’s fading smile becoming a grimace.

Then he saw the opening he needed. Romero was no longer pushing as hard causing the lock the swords were in to loosen. Angel knew that now was his only chance to make a move and if he pulled it off, Romero was finished.

Ceasing to push forward, he sent himself into a spin, dragging the sword out of its lock with a sickening grind and quickly readjusting for the turn. As he spun, he swung the sword, giving it extra momentum and force, and aimed for Romero’s ancient neck.

The Spaniard had seen it coming, however, and got his sword up just in time. The force of the blow broke the thin steel though, and suddenly Romero was defenceless and backing away from the point of the sword that hung just inches from his throat.

Angel smiled at his defeated opponent and said, “You’ve lost, Romero.”

It was confusing and unnerving to see someone with a sword pointed at their throat laughing, even if it is was a vampire. What was there to laugh at? As soon as the question rang through his head, however, it was answered.

“Have I lost, Angelus? Or is it that I have gained victory by other means?”

Suddenly, in a complete role reversal, Angel was the concerned one. “What are you talking about?”

Romero’s smile grew wider as he tutted and shook his head. “Have you forgotten what I told you last time? I shall, being of good heart and nature, tell you again, Angelus. Don’t divide your attention.”

“Oh, don’t worry. My attention is completely on this sword and your neck. Pretty soon it will be on the pile of dust on the floor where you’re standing.”

After another quick chuckle, Romero added, “Do you really think she’s safe at the hotel? Do you really think Mr. Giles can protect her?”

And all of a sudden, everything had changed. Now he was no longer stood in an abandoned building holding a sword to Romero’s throat, but running as fast as he could down the long staircases. All of a sudden, his desire to save the world was dwarfed by the all consuming desire to get home to protect Cordelia.

The world be damned, and his duty with it. Cordelia was in danger.

* * *

It had been an hour since Angel and the others had left, but Cordelia was still a little restless. She never usually worried when he went to fight the big bads, but this one had sent him home in a doggy bag before. What would be different this time? The only things keeping her from pacing the floor like a caged lion were her trusty magazines.

She hadn’t really spoken to Giles. He was still bitter about Angel taking back rightful control and wasn’t talking to anyone associated with the Angel Camp, unless he really had to. She saw him now and then, appearing from the office to get another book from the counter or to make a cup of Earl Grey, but nothing more than that.

There was a crash of glass as the double doors flew off their hinges to reveal two men stood in the doorway, their golden eyes reflecting in the lobby’s light and their ridged foreheads casting subtle shadows on their demonic faces. Giles was out of the office as quickly as possible but the vampires were already inside.

“Cordelia Chase. Someone wants to see you.”

“Yeah, well I’m not going anywhere with two walking fashion disasters. Bring a limo and a well dressed chaperone and maybe I’ll consider it.” Her cocky comeback and quick wit didn’t conceal her fear and she knew it. They were still making there way over. Not even Giles’ rummaging in the weapons cabinet could dissuade them.

As Giles turned around however and threw something to her, they stopped dead in their tracks. It was obvious that not even they were prepared to risk moving in when they were faced with a stake and crossbow.

“Now,” Giles began as he gently pulled Cordelia by the arm towards the other set of double doors. “We’re going to leave here quietly, and you’re not going to follow us. Understand?”

Both vampires growled frustratedly, but nodded in agreement as they watched helplessly. Their watching was cut short, however, as Giles tripped on one of the steps and fell backwards, the crossbow bolt he had loaded shooting up into the ceiling. Neither vampire waited for him to recover, and moved in.

Cordelia swung her arm but missed narrowly, leaving herself open to attack. Before she could make another move, she was sent to the floor with a powerful punch before being scooped up and carried from the hotel.

Giles tried to help, quickly getting to his feet and loading another bolt. He had no time to fire it, however, as he was hit by a barrage of punches before being thrown through the office window. Hitting his head on the corner of the desk left him with just enough time to hear Cordelia’s screams permeating the air as she was carried away into the night by her captors before everything started going dark.


Part 23

“Cordy!?” Angel shouted as he ran through the open doors. There was nothing there. All that greeted him was a messy lobby, broken patio doors on the opposite side and a smashed office window.

Everything was rushing by too quickly. He couldn’t gather his senses. He couldn’t formulate a plan of action or decide what to do next. All he could think about was her and getting back to her side.

Since the moment Romero told him that she was in danger, or could have been, his mind was all over the place. He wasn’t sure of anything. Deep down he wanted to get home and find her, but he also feared that by leaving for, what may have been a simple lie, he was jeopardising everything.

Romero had said it while facing the point of a sword. Who was to say he was being honest? Knowing he had lost, perhaps he had said anything to get away. Had he fallen for it?

It was all he could think about, but he also didn’t care. Lie or not, he had to know and he had to get home to Cordelia. He wasn’t prepared to risk her for his insecurities. Even if it was a lie, he was willing to risk it for her. It wasn’t a lie though, and now he was staring at the remains of the grim truth. Cordelia was gone again and it was his fault.

He knew what Romero was capable of, even spending the afternoon lecturing everyone to prove that point. And now he was a victim of what he had warned everyone of. Why didn’t he know that Romero would have been watching his life? Why didn’t he realise that he would target the only good thing left?

This was no good though. He didn’t have time to put himself down. That could come later when he had Cordy home safe and sound. Right now, he needed to focus on finding her and the lobby was where the search started.

He sniffed the air frantically as he tried to pick up any trace of her presence. It was there, faintly. Perfume, the sweet smell of papaya that her shampoo blessed her with all day, and strawberry lip gloss. It was her. There was no mistake. There were other scents that he didn’t recognise, however.

The unfamiliar scents were that of two vampires. He could only tell because their scents were gently laced with the metallic edge of blood. They were mixed in with the other scents that filled the lobby, but they stood out enough to be noticed. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

As he turned to leave, a sound from the office caught his attention. It sounded like rustling and moaning. He wanted to get away and search for Cordelia, but he couldn’t ignore it. Plus, it might have been a vampire she managed to knock out that could lead him right to her.

He had no such luck, however, finding nothing but Giles struggling to get to his feet by the desk. Angel granted him no time, though and forced him down onto the desk, holding him in place at the collar.

“Where is she?” Angel growled, the anger seething beneath his cold flesh. He didn’t give Giles any time to respond and continued. “Where is she!?” he shouted again, his mouth frothing and his veins bulging beneath his reddening skin.

Giles tried to respond again but he was silenced when Angel threw him to the floor and left. He knew he shouldn’t have spoken to Giles like that, but at that moment his only care was Cordelia. Apologies and the rest would come later. Right now, he had to save his girl.

* * *

The night was quiet and the air dry. There was no movement, as if they had entered a ghost town. Despite their long time searching, they had found no trace of Romero and could only conclude that Angel and Spike had.

Buffy felt uncomfortable with Gunn and Illyria. She knew neither of them, and the fact that Angel had put in Gunn in charge made it worse. She knew no other way than leading, and felt weak when she couldn’t. She had to admit that she didn’t like Angel’s new attitude. She preferred when he didn’t ask questions and just did what she asked.

Then it hit her. My God, I’m a bitch. She’d never thought of herself that way before, but she had been one, expecting people to just follow her lead. She had just gotten used to being obeyed immediately. No one had ever really questioned her, and those who did never got a good reception.

In fact, she was actually glad that Angel had stood up to her for once. Perhaps by letting him lead, she could grow as a person and realise she wasn’t all knowing and all powerful. Sometimes, she just had to step aside and let those better equipped and better informed take the reins.

Gunn turned to check his team, and noticed Buffy’s vacant stare immediately. “Yo, Slayer,” he said while snapping his fingers just inches from her face. “I need you focused. Big Blue and I can’t fight him alone.”

“Sorry,” she replied, shaking her head in a gesture of coming back to reality. “I was in my own little world.”

Deep laughter caught them by surprise and all of them spun round to see the face that Angel had shown them in the book. It was Romero and, like Angel had said, he was assured of himself. It was obvious to see in his eyes and in his smile.

“It is always wonderful when we can immerse ourselves in private worlds, worlds where our every desire is fulfilled and everything is at it should be,” Romero said as he moved slowly towards them, the sight of a slayer and an Old One not fazing him. He had originally been concerned about having to fight Illyria, but learning that she was never again to see full power, his confidence had returned.

“Luckily for me, my world of dreams will soon be a reality,” he added with a chuckle.

All three charged at him, but within minutes they were all defeated. Gunn was barely conscious by the side of the road. Illyria was beaten and bloodied and unable to continue while Buffy had been thrown through a shop window after having been choked into submission. As they all lay there groaning through the pain and trying to muster the strength to carry on, Romero simply chuckled and knelt at Gunn’s side.

“Mr. Gunn,” he began. “It’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. I wish we could have more time to get to know each other, but Danandril needs you.” Helping the injured black man to his feet, he continued, “You’re a very important person, Mr. Gunn. Apparently, this apocalypse cannot come to pass without you. So, the sooner we get you to Danandril, the better.”

Without another word, Romero knocked Gunn out with a swift punch and lifted him onto his shoulder. He shot Buffy a quick smile as she emerged from the shop before jumping onto the low rooftops nearby and running away. With Gunn in their grasp, they were one step closer to achieving their goal.

* * *

Chains rattling, laughter and the constant drip of an old water pipe were the only things grounding Cordelia to reality. Her hands were bound and her eyes covered with a dirty cloth that reeked of oil and sweat. Her screaming had annoyed even her vampire captors who had seen fit to gag her with another dirty cloth that tasted worse than the other smelled.

Her wrists ached as she constantly struggled against her fetters. It hurt like hell and she cried through the pain of the steel cutting into her skin, but she wasn’t giving up. She’d been taken from Angel by something evil before, and she wasn’t letting it happen again.

They were laughing at her. She was bound and gagged and she knew they loved watching her struggle. They probably didn’t mind the skirt either that, because of the way they put her down, didn’t hide much. She wasn’t really focusing on them though. First, she tried to keep calm and think. Second, hope Angel was on their trail.

Of course he was on their trail. It was Angel, her champion. She knew that he was coming. He was probably scouring the streets of LA looking for her and it wouldn’t be long before he found her and took her back home. Of course, that was after going completely schizoid on the vamps that had taken her.

She could just picture. He’d step out of the shadows, deliver a corny line and then go on to kick some ass, his coat flailing with every fluid motion and the sweat glistening on his pale skin as he beat his opponents around the room. And oh those pecs. What could be said about the pecs? And the biceps.

All that and more was coming soon. She could feel it.

A door opened on the far side of the room and Cordelia stopped her struggling and listened. God, she hoped it was Angel making the polite entrance before kicking ass, but she actually hoped more that it wasn’t another retard that was after some long awaited satisfaction, the kind that was taken without permission.

This was serious though, and she knew it. The laughter had stopped, as had the sick jokes they were telling about what they wanted to do to her, and the stories of their kills. Now it was quiet, apart from the sound of someone walking over in what sounded like very expensive shoes.

“How is she?” She noticed his accent immediately. She’d been to Spain enough to recognise it.

“She’s fine, sir,” one of the stooges replied.

“She had better be. If I find one scratch on her, I will make sure both of you live forever in the worst possible way. Now leave me. I have no further use for you.”

All that followed was the sound of rushing feet, the door creaking open and then banging shut. The expensive footsteps started again, but they were now much slower, as if the wearer was taking his time to survey the scenery. She, despite her situation, didn’t blame him if he was. Anyone who didn’t was clearly a deviant.

Out of the darkness, a cold hand suddenly touched her cheek and a single finger traced the outline of her face. He had a smooth hand, not unlike Angel’s, and she caught herself starting to nuzzle into it. She snapped herself out of it, but wished to feel it again. At this moment, a cold hand caressing her cheek was the closest she was going to get to Angel.

He was surprisingly gentle as he removed her blindfold and wiped the oil stains from her skin. When her eyes adjusted to the low light, she took a long look at her captor. He was hotter in person, but still evil.

His smile was unsettling. It was as if he saw no wrong in what he was doing. Sure, no soul means no conscience, but Angel always said vampires knew the difference between good and evil.

“I am sorry about this, Miss Chase,” Romero said as he removed the masking tape slowly so as to avoid any pain. “I didn’t tell them to go to such extreme measures.”

As soon as she was free to speak, she did exactly that. “Yeah, ‘cause kidnap is so not.”

He chuckled quietly to himself as he stood up and moved to the window, taking in a deep breath when he reached the open air seeping in through the cracks. “You will understand one day. Sometimes, we need to do things that force a reaction. Angel wasn’t taking me seriously. He saw me as nothing more than another mere dust pile that needed to be swept away. Do you think he takes me seriously now?”

“I don’t know if he takes you seriously, nor do I care, but I do know that you are so gonna get your ass kicked,” she explained with a smug grin.

“Maybe, but only on one condition.”

“Yeah, ‘cause that makes sense.”

Romero smiled. It was one of those ‘I know something you don’t’ smiles that made you desperate to know. That was unless you were Cordelia Chase who, most of the time, didn’t care what people knew. Now was no different, but like the archetypal villain, he had to tell all.

“Do you know what you are, Miss Chase?”

“Aside from being a mega hottie and uber stylish?”

“You are fuel, my dear,” he explained as he made his way back over. “Every champion has a fire that burns deep within their soul, and all fires need kindling. They need to be stoked or the fire withers and dies. Angel once had it deep inside of him. At first nothing but the slayer could keep it burning. Then, nothing but the hope of the Shanshu, when the world abandoned him. Now, there is only one thing that can ignite that fire in him again where nothing else can, and that is you, Miss Chase.”

Romero knelt beside her again and continued. “That fire died long ago, and until it is rekindled, he shall never be what he was. I could feel it when I fought him. If my revenge is to be complete, I need him to be a champion again.”

Still he hadn’t finished, and after pulling her face close to his, he carried on. “So you see, it is imperative that he take me seriously, girl. If you are not the fuel that will awaken his dormant flame and make him take notice of me, you effectually are useless to me. Believe me, that’s not a good thing for you.”

Then the polite, gentle demeanour disappeared and his vampire nature finally came to the surface. He roughly wrapped the dirty cloth around her head and forced the masking tape on, pushing her head into the wall as he did so.

“I can make your life miserable if things don’t go my way,” he threatened. “Believe me, there are worse things than death.”

After that there was nothing. He walked away in his expensive shoes, opened the creaky door and left, shutting it behind him. There was no sound apart from the odd car going by or her own breath. As the hours went on, the noises grew from just cars and breath, to rattling chains as she struggled in her bonds and whimpering as she truly realised the enormity of her situation.

And as the hours went on, there was still no Angel.

* * *

Lots of concrete and tarmac, and lots of nothing else. Hours of searching had turned up nothing and Angel was starting to lose hope of finding Cordelia. He could sense the rising sun and in less than an hour it would be up, but he didn’t care. Even if he had to run through ten miles of sunlight, he would get to her.

It was getting increasingly difficult however. Even his cultured nostrils were struggling to keep hold of the ever weakening scent. It had started off strong, but the more roads he travelled and the more distance came between him and the hotel, the more elusive the scent became. It wasn’t often he had to stop and think about a scent, and double check it to make sure he had the right one.

After 260 years of tracking prey, you became an expert at it, but here he was being made to look like an amateur. He couldn’t help but wonder if it was Cordelia. His conflicting emotions that all came to mind when he thought of her in trouble could have been clouding his judgment, unsettling his focus and making the most simple of tasks difficult.

He followed the scent as best he could for a few more blocks, the repetitive nature of the city sounding like a metronome in his mind. It was always the same sights, same sounds and same darkness. It was why he loved Cordelia.

In a city where everything was static and nothing ever changed, she was always moving, always changing and always bright. Even on the days where she felt bad, when she had no desire for anything but to stay in bed with a bucket of ice cream and watch that sitcom she liked called ‘Friends’ or ‘Chums’, she was there with a smile for all, unless you were really on her bad side. It was the only part of her that was repetitive.

He couldn’t lose that now. There was no way he was going to let her be taken away again. He’d gone through heel before to save her, and he was more than willing to go through it again just to see her face again and feel her warm breath against his cheek, and her lips against his.

It was the little things he savoured, such as the way she nuzzled into the crook of his shoulder as she slept, and the way she gently stroked his chest with her forefinger while he told her of past adventures. Even that was special. He wasn’t proud of his actions as Angelus, but he found himself delighted to know that she didn’t care what he had done in the past, preferring to revel in the excitement of that far off world that he used to live in.

It was almost childish, the way she asked to be told of Galway and Europe in the 18th and 19th century. She always avoided the tales of Darla though, never liking to hear the name of his sire.

There was a special feeling that came with knowing that in her eyes, all that mattered was what he had done with a soul rather than what he had done without. He often thought back on Jasmine telling him they couldn’t be together because of Angelus and questioned why he hadn’t realised at that moment. Cordelia had never cared before, and she didn’t care now.

In a strange way, it was as if she was his redemption because every time he looked into her eyes he saw no blame. All he saw was pure, unconditional love. In her eyes, nothing mattered but the good and that was all he was searching for.

He suddenly remembered what he was looking for as the scent completely disappeared. There was no blood, whiskey, or perfume filling his nostrils. Now all he could pick up was the smog of Los Angeles and the wares of the falafel dealer on the corner.

This wasn’t going to be the end though. No, he wasn’t giving up now. He wasn’t going to lose her again. With that in mind, he ran over to the dealer.

“Excuse me,” he said, trying to get the dealer’s attention away from the portable T.V. “Have you seen two men come by here with a woman in the past few hours? She would have had brunette hair, shoulder length, and is very pretty. She might have been unconscious or struggling.”

“Look, pal,” the grubby dealer replied, his eyes never leaving the game. “You want answers, you buy falafel. I’m trying to run a business here.”

With a growl, Angel had the dealer pinned against the wall by his collar, his golden eyes flashing with rage as his victim screamed in terror. “Look, pal, if you don’t give me answers, I’ll make your only form of income disability!”

“Okay, okay. I did see something,” the man whimpered. “Two men were carrying a pretty brunette woman about two hours ago. They went into that alleyway,” he explained as he pointed towards its dark interior. “That’s all I know, I swear.”

Releasing his grip on the dealer and reverting to his human features, Angel walked towards the alley slowly. Once between its high walls, he took a deep breath and tested every particle of air for any trace of their passing. There was nothing though, as if they had never even existed.

All that was left to do, therefore, was follow the streets as best he could, asking anyone he thought could help to do just that. It was a long shot and he seriously doubted his chances, but he wasn’t going to give up hope.

* * *

“We’re finally here,” Danandril said with a delighted smile firmly fixed upon his face. “After all those years planning, I have finally reached this moment.”

Gunn just stared, his face expressionless as he listened with an obvious nonchalance. He didn’t care about what Danandril said or why he was there, but he did care that he was locked up in a Wolfram and Hart cell. He knew from experience that they were nigh on impenetrable, even for Angel and the crew. That told him that he wasn’t getting out anytime soon.

It was obvious Danandril didn’t care about his indifference as he carried on talking. “When I first arrived here, I did nothing but mess around, coming up with grand schemes to destroy Angel so he would be out of the way. Then, when you shot me, I realised that I didn’t need Angel out of the way. I just needed to get on with my plans, and deal with him if I needed to.”

A satisfied smirk appeared on his scar ridden, Granok face as he thought about the distraction they had put in place for Angel. It was perfect. It was obvious that he would never abandon her and would willingly abandon the fight to find her. He just hoped Romero killed him when he did.

“Understand this, my friend, you are not leaving here. You will bring about the resurrection of my master and the world will witness the beginning of a new order.”

Not wanting to be part of the apocalypse, after having watched Cordelia be used against her will by Jasmine years earlier, Gunn shouted, “I ain’t resurrecting nobody!”

“Well not willingly, no. In the end you have no say. We just need your blood and you can’t stop us taking that.” Danandril chuckled at Gunn’s shocked expression, loving every minute that brought him closer to his goal.

“Why in the hell is my blood so special?” His tough exterior was just a cover. Deep inside he was terrified, not knowing how or why he was involved with all of this. It killed him to think that he was going to be part of the apocalypse. He had signed on to help stop evil, not cause it, but now he was doing exactly that.

“Don’t you remember?” Danandril asked, feigning ignorance. “The fight in the alley, Mr. Gunn. That was where we made our deal.”

“I think I’d remember your ugly ass face, don’t you.”

“Not if one chooses to be forgotten,” was the only reply.

Needing to know more, Gunn shot another question Danandril’s way. “Are you saying you made me forget you?”

Danandril smiled evilly before moving close to Gunn’s small box prison that had barely enough room in it to allow breathing. “We shall speak again tomorrow. Besides, I’m tired and wouldn’t want to divulge too much too early. If I did that, you’d get bored, and you have a long wait yet, my friend, before the ritual. Now, get some rest. I don’t want a cranky prisoner when I return tomorrow.”

Gunn tried to speak again, not wanting to end it there, needing to know more about his fate and the fate of the world. He couldn’t just leave it like that. He couldn’t just wait around, not knowing what was going to happen. Despite his efforts to speak, a stasis field, like the one that contained Pavayne years earlier, switched on and he suddenly became motionless.

He could see, feel and hear everything around him, his thoughts still free flowing. There were countless things routing his synapses as he waited there in his box, unable to move, speak or affect the world around him. His planned death hadn’t taken him yet, but he was certain that this was hell on earth and, unlike Angel’s trip to the fiery depths, there was no escape.

* * *

For at least 30 minutes, Angel had done nothing but stare at the framed picture of Cordelia, Wesley and himself that sat on the desk. He had failed them both. He thought that he could right that wrong when Cordelia returned, but she ended up facing the same fate again. Was failure all he was good for?

He wanted to search the streets and find any evidence of her, but it was pointless. Searching had already brought nothing and he knew that it would lead to the same place again. He hadn’t abandoned her, however, instead preferring to return to the hotel and plan his next move.

Now he sat in the office and thought things through, occasionally noticing Buffy and Giles looking through the window to check on him. He could see that they had things to say, but he was more than happy that they had so far chosen to remain outside.

As much as he wanted to plan and prepare his next move, he couldn’t keep her out of his head. Every now and then he would get flashes of her suffering. He even thought he could hear her calling his name, begging for him to save her. He so much wanted to call back and tell her that he was coming and that he would bring her home soon.

But that wasn’t all he saw. He caught glimpses of Romero’s face, his eyes wide with pleasure and his mouth sporting a delighted grin. Angel knew that his elder believed he’d won. Angel even believed he’d won, but he was willing to take one last rematch to Romero’s door.

There was a quiet knock on the glass and, without welcome, Giles and Buffy entered. His eyes never left the picture, however and not even when they tried to get his attention did he answer.

He had to respond with a glance though when, in an act of courage, Giles snatched the picture from his hands and placed it on the nearby chair. “Angel, I know that you’re upset about Cordelia, but we need you focused. There is still a war to be fought, and we have lost the first battle.”

Buffy knelt at his side, wincing as the pain from her injuries set in, and touched his knee, her eyes pleading with him to snap out of his brood and help. “We need you, Angel. You know more about Romero than any of us. We can help Cordelia later, but first we need to ensure the safety of the world.”

Still he gave them no answer, his eyes firmly fixed forward. He was listening to everything they said, and he liked none of it. Make Cordelia wait? Save the world first? When had the world been there for him? When had it done anything for him? Never, while all Cordelia had ever done was help him. She had spent countless hours, days just helping him stay on track, even giving her life for him.

No person who had done that for him would be left until the world was saved, especially when she was that person. In his eyes, the world could wait.

“Yes,” Giles continued. “We shall not abandon Cordelia, but we must uphold our duty to protect the world from the forces of evil. They have taken Charles to Danandril and, if what Romero told Buffy was true, he is important to their cause. Imperative, in fact. We need you to help us find him, and fight Danandril and Romero before they can gather any more allies.”

“Gunn?” It was the mention of his friend in trouble that brought words to his lips. Obviously, he wanted to help him, but he also knew that they wouldn’t use him yet. They needed more allies first, and they probably hoped that Cordelia would serve as a distraction. That led him to believe that they weren’t going to be making any move any time soon so he could focus on Cordy.

“I’m helping Cordelia,” he told them, not sparing them a look. “She needs me more than Gunn right now. They won’t do anything with him yet. They haven’t got all of their people together, and they obviously want us distracted.”

“Exactly,” Giles said. “They want us or you at least, away from Gunn. We should use this time to help him.”

Angel shot Giles a look that was slightly threatening. He didn’t like what was being said or the complete disregard for Cordelia’s welfare. Was it because she was his? Couldn’t they stand it and wished her gone? No, even they wouldn’t wish that on her. But he didn’t understand how they were so ready to leave her.

“Do you remember the Mayor?” Angel asked as he firmly took the moral high ground. “Do you remember what we sacrificed to save Willow from him and Faith?”

Ignoring the question, Giles added, “Angel, I cannot condone a course of action that puts the world in danger, nor causes us to abandon our duty. This city is, in your words, yours and that brings with it a responsibility to the people within. So we shall not be helping you find her. Spike and Illyria are in agreement with us. We all regret it, but it is what needs to be done for the good of the world. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He nodded and replied, “I do.” His face didn’t change however. It was still stern, and his eyes focused and determined.

“Good,” Buffy said with a smile, moving away from him, believing that they had got through to him finally.

Angel’s eyes were vacant as he focused his gaze on both of them, the black void taking the smiles from their faces before he said, “Take your duty and your mission, and get the hell out of here.”

As he stood up and left the office, he ignored the shocked looks on their faces and focused his mind on Cordelia. Duty or no, he was going to save her and he was going to send Romero back to the hell that created him, and this time he wouldn’t fail.


Part 24

The lobby was unusually quiet and still. Angel was used to it being filled with activity. He was used to coming down to see Cordelia at her old desk, working on the cases that had been abandoned recently, Buffy and Giles researching incessantly for any clue to help, Gunn cleaning the weapons or playing on the games console with Spike.

Now there was nothing. It was just quiet, a thick silence that Angel had once welcomed. Now he wished it gone. Once there was a time when he begged for peace so he could brood on things, but as he grew closer to his friends, he silently longed for the everyday sounds they brought with them. Just smelling the morning coffee brought him some happiness. It was enough just to know they were there and he wasn’t alone.

It had been two days since he ordered everyone to leave the hotel. They had tried to reason with him, but he was way past reasoning. Action was the only course he was going to follow, except it hadn’t turned out like that. Instead of rushing out and saving the girl, he had sat in the office and thought.

He had tried to find a way to get her back but nothing was coming. As much as he wanted to be out there finding her, he was restricted to thinking things through. It was useless though, and he was no closer to finding her than when he had started.

A quiet beep, too quiet to be picked up by human hearing, sounded in the lobby. Angel had heard it quite often since everyone left, but paid no attention to it. But this time he noticed something. Slouching in his chair, he saw a small red light flash in time with the beep, a small red light that was on the ceiling.

For the sake of his sanity, he decided to take a look and made his way into the main lobby. He searched the ceiling in the hope of finding the source, but the red light didn’t flash again. But something else had caught his eye. In the far corner of the high ceiling was something small, black and circular, something that wasn’t in the other corners.

Questioning why he hadn’t noticed it before now, he climbed the stairs to get as close as he could while still out of reach. His advanced sight was a bonus here as he easily picked out details on the object. It had a glassy texture, and the centre was slightly transparent. Beneath that, he could see something moving from side to side. Squinting, he could see that it was in fact a camera lens.

Seeing it jolted something in his memory. Nights earlier, Romero said he knew that they would bring swords. He also asked if Giles could properly protect Cordelia. There was no way he could have known those things without some sort of surveillance, and he cursed himself for not figuring it out sooner.

The camera was untraceable because of the usual noise that filled the lobby, but now there was no noise it stood out like a sore thumb. Then he was suddenly glad that he had made everyone leave.

There was something else about the camera though. Something familiar. He had seen the design before when he removed the last ones installed. There was only one place to go to find the culprits and as he made his way to the office to get his coat, one name ran through his head: Wolfram and Hart.

* * *

Los Angeles, 2004

It seemed like an eternity since the battle had begun, and it seemed like another eternity was to come before it ended. They had all fought well, but it was pointless. No matter how many they killed, more followed in their wake. And of course, there was still a dragon.

Gunn watched from the sidelines, the sword buried in his stomach putting him out of the fight. He had been dead anyway, the injuries from his fight with the vampires earlier in the day sealing his fate. But in spite of that, he had made his last moments memorable, notching up a body count of at least twenty.

The world was starting to fade around him. The sound of pained screams as Illyria cut a swath through the demon army were nearly non-existent, as were Spike’s angered grunting and the sound of the dragon’s ferocious roar as Angel climbed aboard and starting swinging his sword frantically.

The pain was easing and he felt light, as if he was being lifted from the ground. When he opened his eyes, though, he saw another sight. That of his friends fighting tirelessly in a vain effort to halt the Senior Partners. Watching them reminded him of all the friends he had lost in the battle against evil and gave him a strong desire to live on and help them fight this one last time.

“That looks nasty.” Gunn looked to see the face that accompanied the voice. It was a demon anyway, with grey skin that had dark scars on its surface. Its eyes were ruby red, and his body concealed by long, jewel encrusted robes.

“Yeah, well it doesn’t feel too good either,” he replied weakly, before turning back to the battle. He looked just in time to see Angel save Spike from a certain beheading and Illyria take over fighting the dragon.

“It won’t be long now,” Danandril added with a tut, getting Gunn’s attention once again. Seeing the black man looking at him, he explained, “I’m a Granok demon. I can travel through time, and their future isn’t too bright… unless you’re there.”

“What do you mean?”

Danandril tried to hold back his smile so as not to give anything away. “I can also see the lines in time. There are innumerable endings to time, but the one that comes to pass is decided by every single choice we make in life.”

“Anyway,” he continued. “Only one line sees your friends survive this fight, and that is if you’re fighting with them.”

His growing weakness making it ever harder to talk, Gunn struggled to get his sentence out, but he got there eventually. “And why do you care? Aren’t you cheering on your demon pals?”

“Not all demons are evil, my friend. I personally want to see you and your friends live through this and keep the evil out of this dimension.” With a smile he added, “This dimension has a great future in store for it if you and your team survive. You in particular.”

“Yeah, well it’s a shame it won’t be happening then,” Gunn said, pointing to the sword that protruded from his gut.

“I can heal you, my friend. I can make that future a possibility, but only if you say yes”

Gunn couldn’t deny that he wanted to help his friends. He didn’t want to lose more. He’d already lost Fred, Wes and Cordy. Losing Angel as well would have been too much, and Spike was growing on him. But was trusting a demon a sensible thing to do?

He looked once more at the battle and saw Angel surrounded by demons. He was giving them all he had but was struggling nonetheless. Spike and Illyria weren’t doing much better, worse in fact. That settled it for him.

“Fine,” he said weakly. “Heal me so I can help.”

Danandril removed a vial from his robes and carefully unscrewed the lid, being careful not to spill any of the contents or allow the pouring rain in. “This is demon blood. It will heal your body without any side affects.”

“Will I be part demon ‘cause I’ve seen what that can do to a person?”

“No, but you’ll forever have this blood coursing through you. That is all. Quite the conversation starter, I think. Oh, and you won’t remember me either. Granok rules state that we cannot interfere with the passing of time or the choices people make, so I cannot allow you to remember this meeting. Is that okay?”

Gunn took one last look before nodding for Danandril to do it. He was partly afraid of the consequences, but he also wanted to save his friends and make sure the deaths of old friends were not pointless.

There was a sting as Danandril poured the blood into the wound, but within moments the pain subsided and the wounds disappeared.

He didn’t know why he was sat in the alley while his friends continued fighting, nor did he know why his wounds had healed up, but he did know his friends needed him.

He ignored the pain as an empty vial smashed under his weight while he stood up, and raised the sword that had been lying beside him above his head. There were more important things than pain. He had a battle to win.

* * *

Angel had circled the Wolfram and Hart offices for half an hour, scouting the new building out. He had never seen the interior so he wanted to make sure that he cut his time inside to a minimum, which meant finding the executive offices and entering there. He was pretty sure he had found the floor they started on so he prepared for his entrance.

As he prepared to jump across to the offices, he saw something one floor up. Two people were stood at the window, looking out at the city. To avoid being seen, he crouched down and watched them with a pair of binoculars, not even his eyes being able to make out who it was. The zoom function was able to, though, and he suddenly found his target office.

Stood at the window were Danandril and a young man in an expensive suit. Common sense told him that Danandril wouldn’t have been talking to any mere employee, nor would he talk to anyone he didn’t need to. He had made his disdain for humanity quite clear in the past so Angel knew he wouldn’t willingly converse with them unless he had to.

He wished he could hear what they were saying in the hope that it might lead him to Cordelia, but he was trapped on the opposite rooftop. Eventually, Danandril left and the young man turned from the window and took a seat at his desk. Angel saw no better time to strike, and after a quick run up, he made the jump.

Every alarm in the building sounded as the vampire detectors went crazy with high pitched squeaks and screams. The guards all worked as quickly as possible to localise the intruder. After mere seconds they had their information and every guard was bounding towards Justin Balderas’ office with their stake tipped truncheons in hand.

Angel knew it for a fact, having gone through the routine numerous times in the past, either with Holland Manners or Lilah. The only difference was that this time, he wasn’t needed by the Senior Partners, so there would be no hesitation in having him killed. Death wasn’t something he feared, but he wasn’t dying until Cordelia was safe.

He stared into the young man’s eyes, the young man he believed to be called Justin Balderas if the name on the door was correct, and saw nothing there. To work in a place like Wolfram and Hart, you had to be stripped of all emotion, and if you weren’t, it infected you and took it away slowly. This man was the same, bar the fear that emanated from his pores and the tears forming on his lower lids.

Moving his head in close and revealing the demonic side of his personality, Angel actually found some pleasure in Balderas’ quiet pleas for mercy. His only response was to move his now open mouth close to Balderas neck, stopping just inches away to whisper, “Where is she?”

Approaching footsteps of dozens of running guards kept Balderas from answering, a sly smile replacing his fleeting look of fear. Angel knew he had no reason to answer now, and knew he had to get out of there soon. But a glance at the window brought a sly smile to his face this time.

Whimpers and semi-conscious moaning didn’t make Angel deviate his attention from the window he had just jumped from. Inside the office were at least twenty guards who had arrived to nothing but an empty room and broken glass. Their bewildered looks gave him a strange sense of accomplishment. He still had it, but there was something he still didn’t have. He did have the thing that would take him there, though.

After the display Balderas had put on, Angel could see he was a fearful man. He wouldn’t put up a struggle or do much resisting. He guessed that he’d have Cordelia’s location in mere hours. There wouldn’t have to be much torturing either. Of course, there would have to be some. At a time like this, where else would he get his fun?

* * *

It had been at least an hour since Buffy had arrived, but she hadn’t gone in. She was scared, in truth. She’d never seen Angel like that, so intense and focused. It was a side of him she didn’t know, a side that only leant more weight to his words when he had told her years earlier that she didn’t know him anymore. She had put that down to anger at first, but it was true.

There was only one person who knew him completely, and at that very moment he was looking for her. She felt ashamed that they had denied him help in finding Cordelia. Why hadn’t she been more empathetic towards his situation? She knew what it was like to lose the most important thing in her life and should have been there for him.

That didn’t mean abandoning the apocalypse, but it didn’t mean abandoning friends either. Like he had said, they hadn’t abandoned Willow, even becoming the main catalyst in the Mayor’s ascension to get her back. Why was Cordelia any different?

There was a difference though. Cordelia was Angel’s and she couldn’t stand it. That was as clear as the day that surrounded her. Subconsciously, had she wanted to leave Cordelia in a futile attempt to get him back? Was her choice to leave Cordelia the product of deep-seated jealousy?

That was why she stood outside the Hyperion and made no attempt to go in. How could she look him in the eyes after what she had done? If Cordelia was hurt, or worse, it would have been her fault. It hit her right then. If her decision not to help could cause harm to Cordelia, was that not more of an incentive to go inside and offer help?

She thought so and after a deep breath, she slowly made her way through the shady garden and up to the doors. Opening the door, she glanced in and saw nothing but a semi-dark and very empty lobby. There were smashed security cameras scattered all over the floor, but apart from that there was nothing.

Searching brought her nothing and after a good half hour checking every room and every floor, she still hadn’t found Angel. She was close to leaving after resigning his no show status down to patrolling in the sewers when she heard something coming from the basement. Crossing the lobby made it ever louder until it became a full on scream.

Without another thought, she ran towards the entrance, one hand on the stake in her pocket, and prepared for whatever was behind the door.

* * *

It had been hours since Angel had returned to the hotel with Justin Balderas, but the young head of Special Projects hadn’t told him anything. He had beaten him up, threatened him with horrors that only he could inflict and even explored three of the five basic torture groups. Yet, he had nothing. He was no closer to finding Cordelia.

There was still time though. After everything he had done, there were still many other techniques that he hadn’t even skimmed the surface of. He had used the basic torture groups, but back in the day he made them look like childish games. He didn’t want to have to use those methods, even if it was on slime like Balderas, but now he had to.

Balderas was still worse for wear though, despite not going all the way. His wrists were red and covered with shallow cuts where the chains that usually held up the punching bag had dug in. That was exactly what he had been all afternoon, a punching bag that, unlike the standard issue, turned black and blue after a few rounds.

Where he wasn’t bruised beyond recognition, he was blistered and scolded from the boiler grate being pressed against his skin. In Angel’s words, that was “creativity”, but to Balderas it was a hell that not even Wolfram and Hart had prepared him for. Of course, they never had a course on ‘Angelus Torture Methods.’ Still he refused to give it up, but a curling iron down his trousers really pushed him to the limit.

Angel thought that the sharp group would change things but it only served to be just as pointless. He had practically torn Balderas’ chest apart with his car keys, and his arms were streaked red from the shard of glass that had been dragged along his skin. He had to admit it though, the lawyer was tough, or maybe he knew that there were some areas that he would never go to. Maybe Balderas knew that Angel wouldn’t use Angelus’ methods, not with a soul.

That man didn’t know how wrong he was. Soul or not, there wasn’t a realm of existence that he wouldn’t peril to rescue Cordelia, even if it meant going against every moral fibre he had developed.

Realising that it was the only way, he made his way upstairs, to the office, to find anything he could use, just like when he had tried to torture Linwood Murrow for information on Sahjann and Quor’toth. Unfortunately, Linwood had cracked before he got to use anything. Unlike Linwood, however, he was leaving Balderas a quivering mound of blood, puss and other oozing fluids, that seemed to be coming from innumerable new orifices, tied to a chair in the basement. Unfortunately, he had no barbed wire so ordinary rope was his only choice.

Just like he thought, there were a few items in the office that would prove very useful. There was a stapler, a message skewer and a spindle, but who in the group sewed was a mystery. All in all, he had some good things at his disposal, and that was before he’d gone in the weapons cabinet or the kitchen.

He also found something else lingering in the lobby, something he seriously wanted gone. Buffy had been there, and now her scent hung there. Just like her, it hung around where it wasn’t wanted. Sadly, he couldn’t demand a scent to leave and he was too busy to go scouring the hotel for her, if she was still around.

“You really think I’m going to tell you anything?” Balderas asked weakly, his eyes glazed over and distant and his fat lip proving a barrier to his speech. “I have been trained to resist torture by Wolfram and Hart.”

Angel wanted to believe him on that one but after hearing nothing but screams and begs of mercy all afternoon, he was a little sceptical. Ignoring everything Balderas had to say, or sputter, he went back to choosing his first item of choice. He did like the look of the skewer, and smirked as he imagined the various screams and fluids he could get out of Balderas if he dragged it through the old wounds and reopened them. At least the lawyer quietened down when he saw that it was time to start again. He wasn’t quiet for long, however, his pained screams permeating the all too brief silence.

“Where is she?” Angel asked as he removed the skewer from an old cut and positioned it near his eye where he dangled it dangerously close. He revelled in the sound of whimpers and the sight of tears rolling down Balderas’ once handsome face, the salty fluid stinging the cuts as it travelled. “Tell me and you might live through this.”

Just as he started to get into the familiar role, another distraction showed its face in the form of a pretty, small blonde slayer who was proving to be a common annoyance in his life of late.

“Little busy right now, Buffy. Could we do this later?”

“Angel, what’s going on here?” she asked as she warily made her way into the basement, the stake still in her hand.

“I’m just talking with Mr. Balderas here. He knows where Cordelia is,” Angel explained as he went back to his little box of tricks and carefully scanned every item while imagining the effect they’d have.

Buffy put the stake away and rushed to Angel’s side as she saw him pick up a salt shaker and empty the contents into his hand, and pleaded with him to stop. “What are you doing, Angel? He’s human, even if it is only marginally. This isn’t going to bring Cordelia back.”

That got his attention and he looked at her in a way she’d never seen before. His eyes were full of rage and hate, yet they were filled with sorrow and pain. It was as if he considered them to be the only things left in his life. “He’d better hope it does.”

With one of Spike’s broken whiskey bottles in one hand and salt in the other, he made his way back over to Balderas. He didn’t get there, however, Buffy stepping between them midway and holding Angel back with a tiny hand.

“A slayer saving my life. I like the irony.” Balderas cringed almost imperceptibly as his split lip stretched with his wry smile.

“What’s happening, Angel?” Buffy asked as she searched his eyes and begged for him to stop, hoping that the gaze that used to be so important to him would get through his near impenetrable resolve. “Are you finding Cordelia or am I losing you to this monster you’re becoming?”

He leant in close so their faces, their lips were nearly touching and removed her hand from his chest before replying coldly, “I’m not yours to lose. Now leave.”

She didn’t budge. The only movement on her body were the black, mascara filled tears starting to fall from her eyes and her bottom lip quivering before she brought her emotions under control. It wasn’t a time for emotion, and after a moment, she toughened up and her resolve became strong enough to rival Angel’s.

“I’m not letting you hurt him, Angel, even if he does deserve it,” she said, her gaze focused and unrelenting.

Angel laughed and stepped back, replacing the broken bottle in the drawer he had taken from the desk in the office. “How are you going to stop me?”

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” she told him firmly. “It’s my job to protect humans, even if they are slime. I-”

“I’ll stop you there before you start waffling. What gives you the right, anyway? Who made you the voice of all things good and pure, Buffy?”

“It comes with the job.”

Again he laughed at the reply, folded his arms and stared her down. “What job? Slayer? That’s no job. It’s a title that makes you think you’re better than everybody else. In actual fact, you’re less.”

He stepped in closer and got near her face, hoping to see that glint in her eye when she realised he was right. “While you sit there on your high horse and lecture me about right and wrong, you protect a man that’s probably killed more people than you’ve saved. He has hurt people, destroyed lives and all for personal gain, and to top that off, he’s taken Cordelia from me. But still you think I’m wrong to do what I’m doing?”

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer, protector of the innocent? Protector of the moral high ground. Is that you how you look at yourself in the morning when you save vermin like him? Do you just remind yourself that they’re people too and you were right to spare them, while you know full well they’re still out there hurting people.”

“We have to act differently to them, Angel,” she replied. “If we behave like them, we become them. People rely on us to protect them, whether they know it or not. If we become the very thing that we’re fighting, who do the innocent turn to?”

Anger boiled beneath his ice cold skin and the thick silence was almost broken by his grinding teeth. As he spoke again, he got even closer, forcing Buffy to lean away from his large form bearing down on her. “Cordy relied on me for protection. I was the only person she had and now she’s alone. There’s no one there for her and she will have to spend the rest of her life alone in the dark unless I find her. Who will she turn to?”

“Who relied on who, Angel? Who will be alone for the rest of their life? You or her?”

“When you understand loneliness – true loneliness, not ‘I need a boyfriend’ loneliness – you can lecture me, but until then, shut up and get out of my house.”

“Not without him,” Buffy replied with a nod towards Balderas.

He moved in even closer, her breath warm against his cold face and said, “Leave now or I’ll make you, Slayer.”

Now with a smile on her face, Buffy replied, “Try me.”

Angel didn’t move. He wasn’t going to fight her. It wasn’t right. She was preventing him getting what he needed, but she was still a warrior for good, and the world needed her. He wasn’t letting Balderas go though, and he was more than willing to wait it out until Buffy had to give in.

It was obvious that waiting wasn’t an option for her as she turned saying, “I’m getting him out of here.”

He couldn’t allow it. He needed Balderas if he was going to find Cordelia. He wasn’t going to let Buffy jeopardise that. He reached out quickly and pulled her back by her shoulder, but she quickly turned and punched him off. Despite not wanting to fight her, his natural instinct was to hit back and he almost felt her jaw rattling as he connected a firm punch.

For a moment they just stood, staring as Buffy rubbed at her cheek. She’d forgotten how hard he could hit and how much it hurt. But she saw that this wasn’t going to be resolved easily and took the only route that she saw left. Without hesitation, she quickly kicked him in the gut and, as he bent over to grab the point of contact, grabbed his arm and threw him across the room and crashing through the wooden banister.

He wasn’t her first priority, though, and while Angel gathered his senses, she untied Balderas and let him go. He was beaten and bruised and limped up the stairs, but Buffy followed along to prevent Angel stopping him. She could only watch the young lawyer run from the basement, though, as a large hand grabbed her shoulder and threw her back down the stairs to the cold, hard floor.

“Not so fast,” he said as he caught up and wrapped his fingers around Balderas’ throat before throwing him back into the basement, the lawyer’s soughing sounding like music to his ears.

“You couldn’t leave it alone, could you,” Angel said as he walked down the stairs and stepped over Balderas. “You had to be all righteous and save the day. Man, you’re a royal pain in my ass recently. Well, not just recently. All those times in Sunnydale where I would follow your orders and be a good little boy for Buffy really grated on me. I had to follow along though otherwise you’d get all whiny and nasal, and following orders was more bearable than that.”

“It was bad enough having to listen to you moan about how you were the only slayer in the world and how no one could understand you,” he continued as he circled her prone body. “Not alone now though, are we. Got your army of slayers.”

“I am still alone though, and so is she,” he said, thinking of Cordelia. “I can’t leave her like that, Buffy, and anyone who gets in my way finds out how far I’ll go to get her back.”

He moved in close to her, his large, muscular figure looming over her. She had seen him coming though and swung her leg around, taking his out from under him. His head smashed off the concrete floor, drawing a pained groan before he tried to get up. His efforts were pointless, however, as she quickly moved in and pummelled him repeatedly, something that made Balderas laugh heartily before he remembered is own pain.

The sheer speed and force of the blows were enough to ensure Angel couldn’t make his own move, but as she swung a leg at his face, he saw his opening. Grabbing her thin, muscular leg just inches away from impact, he picked her up and swung her body round before letting her go. Fighting her wasn’t something he wanted to do, but he did find a level of enjoyment in seeing her hurtle across the room and crash into the boiler.

It didn’t keep her down for long, though, and she was up again in seconds and charging at him. He dodged her incoming punches and kicks as they came, using his in depth knowledge of her style to his advantage, before hitting her with his own quick punch-kick combination, an attack that floored her and bloodied her nose.

“I thought you were a slayer,” Balderas said as he watched Buffy wipe away the stream of red fluid dripping from her nostril. “Can’t you even beat a vampire?”

Angel started over to Balderas in the hope of shutting him up for a good few hours. That wasn’t to happen though as Buffy hit him with repeated attacks. She was angry, and he could tell. He tried to fight back but she knocked him aside before kicking him with enough force to send him crashing through the door at the top of the stairs.

After a quick chuckle, Balderas said, “That’s more like it.”

Groaning, and rolling onto his back, Angel watched as Buffy slowly made her way up the stairs, her eyes practically red with anger. Before he could react, she had him up by his throat and he was flying towards one of the pillars that supported the landing. The solid barrier knocked him dizzy for a moment and gave Buffy another opening to attack, this time with a powerful round-house kick that felt like an iron girder colliding with his skull, the sheer force of it knocking him to the ground.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Balderas had followed them, albeit slowly, and was laughing away. Buffy seemed to be completely oblivious to the real bad guy, though, her focus completely on him.

“How’s it feel, champ?” the young lawyer taunted with a wince as he rested a hand on his chest where he had felt a rib break when he had been thrown down the stairs. “You thought you could beat me and make me scream? Well, I guess I get to watch the Slayer do the same to you.”

Angel tried to gather his senses as Buffy’s heavy breathing and high heels on the marble floor got closer. She wasn’t finished and was coming back for more. He was reluctant, yet willing, to oblige her that. She had made this into a fight, and he was going to end it.

Suddenly, a smug grin appeared on Buffy’s face. He had seen it before. It was the look of one who had power, but was arrogant with it. She had always been arrogant, but no one had ever beaten the arrogance out of her. He was more than happy to, though.

He was waiting for her to make a move, waiting for his opening and as expected, she made her play and tried to grab him. As she leant over though to pull him up, he kicked into the ground and flipped in the air, kicking her in the jaw as he went over and sending her stumbling back.

He gave her no time to recover and he charged her, his face fully morphed into the visage of a vampire, and unleashed a barrage of unstoppable punches and kicks. She dodged one eventually and threw her own punch, but Angel was already behind her and spinning around for a powerful kick.

She tried to compose herself but Angel was on her in a flash and throwing punch after punch again. With each one her face became more bruised and bloodied, and her peachy started to become a nasty shade of blue. He didn’t stop though. Even when he had her cornered he continued beating her down. Not even her grunts and moans could dissuade him.

Then he saw it and stopped in his tracks. All he could see running through his head was Cordelia’s face, her beautiful hazel eyes watching him and his every move. Then it hit him. What would she think? Is this what she would want?

There differences aside, he knew Cordelia wouldn’t want him to hurt Buffy, even if she had initiated the fight. She would want him to be a champion and not get dragged down into a petty conflict. She wouldn’t want him to become a monster. If he continued, that is exactly what he would become, a monster that hurt those who fought with him. He had already been that before, and he had no taste for it.

So he stopped and moved away from Buffy’s beaten body and looked down at her, ashamed of what he had done. Ashamed that in those latter stages, he had actually wanted to hurt her. His face was the symbol of that. Unleashing that side of him was only done when winning or hurting was the goal and should have never been used on allies, even if they deserved it.

He had to stop and he knew it. This path he was starting down, no matter what the cause, wasn’t taking him anywhere good. There were other ways to find Cordelia, but this wasn’t one. This wasn’t the way Cordelia would have done it. She wouldn’t want to be saved and find out he had destroyed allies to find her.

Suddenly, he heard front the door open and turned to see Balderas outside, standing confidently in the sun. He had forgotten about him during the late moments of the fight. All he had cared about was hurting Buffy.

With intent in his eyes, he stared at the man with the answers, nothing to distract him this time. They still had a lot of things to talk about, and a lot of time to kill. Plus, they had only gone into the five basic torture groups. There were still many things he had to show Balderas. That wasn’t looking possible though as the young lawyer waved and limped away, his right leg dragging slightly from the excessive wounds inflicted on it.

Angel wanted to give chase right away, but there was the matter of a slayer lying bloody and beaten on his lobby floor. He couldn’t just leave her like that. Helping her could be his way of ensuring he didn’t become a monster. With that thought he searched her jacket and found a phone. His problems with voicemail aside, he knew his way around and found Giles’ number.

There was a click as the other end responded. “Hello?”

With no time for small talk, and no desire for it, Angel just said, “Buffy needs you at the Hyperion.” He could hear Giles trying to say something else in response as he pushed the button that cut the call off. He didn’t have time to hear what he said anyway. He had to see a lawyer.


Part 25

“I’m sending someone for the files,” Balderas said after swallowing the lump of foreboding in his throat. “Just give my name at the counter.”

He looked up at Angel’s golden eyes, tinted with a vengeful red, and saw his own death etched there. It was those eyes that had forced him to sign his own death warrant. There was no way that the Senior Partners would forgive him for giving up vital information to their mortal enemy, but there was nothing they could do that Angel couldn’t, and wouldn’t, do ten times worse.

Angel snapped the expensive cell phone shut and hurled it at the wall in a shower of plastic before mocking, “There now, isn’t that better. You can relax now.” He knew full well that the young lawyer could do no such thing with the Senior Partners certain to be gunning for him, but he lacked the needed faculties to care for a creature like Balderas.
There was no denying the humanity that had washed over him though. It was incredible what a few days torture could do to a person. Now the once cold, steely eyes that were so suited to a court of law were nothing but tearful ovals begging for mercy.

“I gotta admit though,” Angel continued. “You’re a tough bastard. No one’s ever held out that long, unless I’ve wanted them to.”

After destroying everything that Balderas had been, it was unfamiliar to see him talk back. “Is talking me to death your last method of torture?” It would have been a bit more serious if he was anything more than a quivering mass of blue and purple flesh covered in bruises, cuts and numerous infected wounds.

“Why would I do that?” he asked in reply. “I’d much rather leave you to the Senior Partners.” Angel walked away and took his coat down from the barrister. He took one more look at the lawyer again, all traces of a smile or Angelus like pleasure wiped away before hitting him with the punchline. “But not until I have Cordelia.”

Balderas’ short display of confidence was soon forgotten and suddenly his eyes took on that tearful complexion again. It had brought Angel much pleasure to see him reduced to that, but now it was serious and it wasn’t enough to brng the smile back to his face, not even a sadistic. Only thing could make him smile now, and that was Cordelia’s face looking back at his.

“But you might never save her,” Balderas said as Angel opened the sewer hatch, a hint of desperation in his voice.

“Then I guess you die here.”

Again the lawyer called to him, his words stopping him this time. “This isn’t you, Angel. Don’t do this.”

It always came back to that. For days it was all he had heard. Buffy’s words had echoed in his brain as they pleaded with him to turn away from the person he was becoming. He couldn’t deny, it had troubled him, even tempted him to stop his brutal torture and find Cordelia by more savoury methods.

It didn’t take much to bring him back from that brink though and for him to carry on regardless of the whiny echo and the self doubt. The questions kept ringing out: Was he becoming a monster? Was he becoming Angelus again by degrees? Was he losing his mind to the madness that losing Cordelia had brought? The answers came as well, though, and it was simply no. He was more himself than ever, no longer constrained by the terms and conditions that had bound him to a form that viewed any sort of morally questionable act as pure evil.

His actions weren’t evil, but a means to an end.

“Wrong Balderas,” Angel said. “This is me. It just took losing Cordelia to bring it out. I guess Romero gets what he wants. The real Angel out of his cage.”

“It still won’t be enough,” Balderas replied, panic in his raspy, fear filled voice. “He is still too strong for you.”

“Wrong again. As long as he has her, no force on Earth, or in Hell, can stop me. There’s nothing I won’t do to get her back. You should know that.”

He ignored the rest of Balderas’ calls and pleadings and climbed down into the sewer. The time to bring Cordelia home was drawing near, and the young lawyer was proving to be nothing more than a distraction. He couldn’t let himself get distracted now and have his focus deviated from Cordelia. He was too close now, so close he could taste it.

* * *

“You wait ’til I get my hands on him!” Spike shouted as he paced at the foot of Buffy’s bed. “I’ll wring his bloody neck!”

It had been a tough few days since Giles had carried a bloody, battered Buffy into the house after she had visited Angel. Since then she had been slipping in and out of consciousness, but her slayer healing had finally taken effect and she was looking better. The thick tension hadn’t dispersed though and there was still a great divide on how to proceed.

Spike, who had taken a constant vigil at Buffy’s side, was the main voice of vengeance. It was an understatement to say he didn’t like Angel, but now the very mention of his grandsire sent into fits of rage. Illyria, of course, followed Spike. Under his influence she had developed a dislike for Angel, not that she had liked him in the first place. It seemed to have escalated to pure hatred, however, since Spike had started swearing bloody vengeance, as if she was feeding off the vampire’s emotions.

Surprisingly, Giles had been the one to argue caution. He wanted to focus on Danandril and the impending apocalypse. “Angel can wait” was his argument. He by no means wanted Angel’s actions to be forgotten but they were of little importance in comparison to the fate of the world. Plus, it was clear from looking at Buffy that he had surpassed the slayer, and possibly all other slayers, and was in prime position to take on Romero. At that point in time, there was no one else that could hope to take on the ancient vampire, bar the one who knew him and wanted revenge against him.

Buffy, although coherent sentences were few and far between, seemed to agree with him. Still, she was in no state to prevent Spike, let alone Illyria, going after Angel if the rage overcame him, something that would leave another of their warriors dead or seriously injured. Giles didn’t see Spike being able to defeat Angel, nor Angel sparing him in his current mindset. That was an unpleasant thought, despite his feelings for Spike, as they needed all the help they could get. The newly formed Watcher’s Council had already denied them any slayer backup because Danandril “wasn’t enough of a threat.”

“We can’t go after him, Spike,” Giles argued. “The apocalypse takes priority here, and there is no way you can beat Angel.”

Spike was gearing up to start his argument when a knock at the door stopped all conversation. All three filed down the old wooden stairs, each creak echoing off the bare walls, and stood in the lobby, ready. They had been wary of any visitors since one of Danandril’s lackeys had come calling, trying to exploit the lack of a slayer. They always made Illyria wait out of sight, however, in case it was a human at the door, her blue skin not being something the mailman would expect to see.

Slowly, and with a nod to Spike, Giles turned the door knob pulled the wooden open slowly with another long, groan echoing around the house.

“Door needs oil,” came Angel’s voice through the ever widening crack.

Spike rushed at him with a roar, but Angel had seen it coming and halted his grandchilde, wrapping his large hands around his throat and throwing against the wall. before Spike could make any attempt to break free, Angel had released a stake from its sleeve holster and was holding it mere inches from Spike’s heart.

“Move again and you’re dust,” he warned his childe who was still snarling through gritted fangs.

Illyria had made a brief charge herself, but seeing Spike’s impending peril and Angel’s “do you really want to risk it stare made her think otherwise. For an uncaring Old One, she had developed strong ties to Spike and Gunn over the past decade and Angel knew she wouldn’t risk losing Spike, not when she had already lost Gunn.

“What the bloody hell do you want!?” Giles asked frustratedly, little drops of spittle flying from his mouth with each anunciated word.

After two quick tuts, Angel replied, “Giles, is that any way to talk to an old friend?”

“Just get to the point and leave because, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, you’re not welcome here.”

“Not welcome most places,” he replied. “Comes with the whole vampire deal.”

“I doubt “most places” are housing a young girl that you brutally beat because of some selfish vendetta!”

Angel took his attention away from Spike at that point and pushed his finger close to Giles’ face. “Hey, I wanted her gone, but she threw down. I just gave her what she wanted.”

After a quick glance at Spike out of the corner of his eye, he smirked and continued, “The only difference was that I didn’t bang her afterwards. The decor’s too nice to be throwing her naked body around.”

Again Spike growled and tried to free himself from his sire’s grasp, but got nothing for his troubles except a smack in the mouth and the sharp end of the stake pressed a little harder against his skin.

He was going to push as long as they pushed him, so the quicker they got down to business the better it was for everybody. He got the feeling that Giles knew this when he resigned himself to asking, “What do you want?” in a much more polite way.

“Better.” Angel reached into his inside pocket, pulled out an inch thick, light brown file and handed it to Giles. “I came to give you that. It contains everything you need to know about Danandril and his plans. Use it and stop him.”

“Did guilt make you bring this?” Giles asked. “Because I strictly remember you turning your back on this mission.”

“Not the mission,” Angel replied, staring Giles’ dead in the eyes. “All of you who didn’t want to help Cordelia. I always cared about Gunn, and stopping Danandril. It took me a while, but I managed to solve both problems. Think of how much better off we’d be if you’d all helped me from the get go? For one you wouldn’t have a broken slayer upstairs.”

Spike growled again but didn’t attempt to break free. Obviously he had realised that it was futile. He still gave a typical threat, but Angel wasn’t fazed by it. He had beaten Buffy. What chance did Spike have?

Flashing the younger vampire a quick smile, he recalled the stake into its holster, pulled his coat closed and walked away without another word. He could feel them watching as he left, withheld questions lacing their breath. He knew he had got the point across to them and he hoped that they took what he said seriously. There was no time to find out though. He had already wasted enough.

* * *

There it was, the old garage that Cordelia was in. Angel could already smell her. Her scent had wafted over his nostrils enough times for him to recognise her immediately. There was also the unmistakeable melon smell that her shampoo gave her. That just confiremed his suspicions, and the Wolfram and Hart file which had given him everything.

He inspected every room that he could see from his rooftop look-out point and noticed a small number of vampire goons and Wolfram and Hart Special Forces. It didn’t sem like Romero to hire help. He had always been the type to do the job himself, unless they were there for some other reason. Whatever it was, he had to go in and get Cordelia. He was too close now to just walk away.

With that he took a few steps back, measuring the distance again and again as he did, reconfirming how far he would have to jump. It wasn’t a small gap to jump across, but he had jumped bigger. Bounding forwards he kicked into the ground and flew upwards into the air, his hair and coat flowing in the stale air. Within seconds he was over, but he had landed on a steel walkway which was certain to alert the guards. It did, and in mere seconds a vampire was inspecting the walkway. Mere seconds after that, it was dust blowing in the wind.

Gazing into the open window through which the vampire had come, he searched the room for any sentries that might spot him entering. There were none as far as he could see, but it was still a dangerous moment. Getting in was the hard part. After that, he could exploit the shadows and the small spaces to get around the room easily. Holding a breath that he hadn’t even taken, he stepped in and quickly rolled behind a wooden box simply labelled ‘Parts.’ Wolfram and Hart obviously weren’t going for attention to detail in using the place as a cover operation.

Keeping perfectly still, he listened to his surroundings. To his left, two heartbeats and whispering while on his right there were four hearteats and nothing more. The two to his left would be easier as they were distracted, but he would have to go for the other four, and the remaining vampires at some point.

After a quick, silent sprint, he was within inches of the two talking guards. Peeking around the corner though, he saw that only one was a guard while the other was a vampire. That meant-

“Hands up,” said the guard who was stood behind him. Cocking his gun, he continued, “Slowly.”

Angel did as he was told, not needing bullet wounds when going into the fight with Romero. He stayed alert though, and waited for his moment. He could hear the heavy breathing of the guard, and the rapid heartbeat. That, added to the smell of sweat, led him to the conclusion that his captor was nervous.

A nervous man was a careless man, he had found in his 260 years and right on cue, the “Special Operative” made a mistake and put his gun too close to Angel’s back. With a quick reach back and a sharp tug forward, Angel pulled the soldier so that he hit his face off the large metal crate ahead of him, instantly knocking him unconscious.

The impact had made a sound, however, and he had to move to avoid being spotted. By the time the vampire was around the corner, he was in the rafters. Then by the time the vampire turned around, the second guard was in the rafters with him. The confusion gave him time and as the vampire looked around, he dropped and buried his stake into the vamp’s heart.

It wasn’t over though. Four more guards, and at least one more vampire to go. Back up in the rafters, he looked down on them all. These guards were well spaced out and looking much sharper than the other two, but the vampire looked frustrated, like a caged animal. Working for Romero couldn’t have been an easy job, and probably not one that allowed many lunch breaks. Forming a plan, a grin flashed across Angel’s face and he moved into position.

Standing directly above the guard that was nearest to the vampire, he made a slught cut on his finger and held it out. It took a few moments but eventually drops of blood started falling from his broken skin and down onto the guard’s clothes. It didn’t take long for the vampire to notice the smell and start sniffing around the soldier. He could see that the vamp was hesitant, and it kept scanning the room looking, Angel believed, to make sure Romero was nowhere around. Seeing he wasn’t, he took a bite and started feeding.

Screams permeated the thick, dusty air as the vamp chowed down and the soldier fought desperately to get him off, but it was useless. The others came but their comrade was already gone and they had already abandoned him and set their aim. Without hesitation, they opened fire on the vampire, the barrage of high speed bullets knocking it to the ground. They were quick to pile on with stakes in hand and finish it off, but they weren’t so quick to move out of the way as Angel dropped onto them, knocking them all out in one. A sharp punch to each one would ensure they stayed down.

“What the hell is going on out here?!” a voice boomed through the darkness. “I hope, for your sakes, that you haven’t done anything that would displease me, for I am in a killing mood tonight.”

Angel stepped out and, staring at his old adversary, said, “That makes two of us.”

* * *

“My god,” Giles said as he stared open mouthed at the file laying on the desk in front of him. He removed his glasses and wiped his moist brow as he gave it another read over to see if he had read it right. To his horror, he had. “Three days.”

Illyria and Spike looked at him, confused, from their spot on the flowery sofa. Three days?
“I think the old codger’s finally lost it,” Spike said as he lifted himself from the indentation he had spent hours getting just right and stood at Giles’ side. “What are you talking about, old man.”

Giles glanced at him and led him to the passage with his finger. Waiting for Spike to finish giving it a once over, Giles gave his brow another wipe as the sweat was coming much quicker now. Seeing that Spike had finished, he asked frantically, “Do you see?”

“Yeah, I see. It’s a bloody passage of text that means piss all!”

Closing the file frustratedly, Giles replied, “Granted Angel has problems, but at least he had a brain cell and something useful to contribute.”

“Hey, I’m just as brainy as that raving poofter!” Spike said. “Right now, my brain’s telling me that you’re making mountains out of mole hills.”

“Ritual of Blessed Blood shall be performed upon the beginning of the third lunar phase of the ninth month,” Giles said as he tapped at the passage rapidly with his index finger. “Upon the spilling of blessed blood, the fallen one shall rise and lay waste to the world of light.”

Spike nodded slowly along. “So, there’s gonna be a ritual of blessed blood, whatever that is, in September when the third lunar phase begins? When’s that?”

“Three days!”

“You’re thinking this is what Danandril wants with Gunn, aren’t you?”

“Precisely,” Giles replied with a relieved smile. “Then, something is going to wake up. We can’t let that happen. We need to stop that ritual before the next lunar phase.”

“We can’t,” Buffy said from the stairs as she struggled to keep herself upright. Giles and Spike rushed to her side but she waved them away, wanting to do it herself. Continuing as she walked, she said, “There is no way we can get to Gunn while he is in Wolfram and Hart. It’s impossible. That file must say where the ritual will be performed. They can’t just perform it there.”

Giles nodded. “I’ll look for any locations it mentions.”

Sitting down beside Illyria on the sofa, Buffy carried on. “With me still healing and only Illyria and Spike at 100%, we can’t stop Danandril. We need more, and I say Angel is who we need, and Gunn’s old gang. They’ll be highly invested in this.”

“No,” Spike said immediately. “I don’t want Angel involved in this. Not after what he did to you.”

“That’s exactly why we need him, Spike,” Buffy argued, although weakly. “He nearly killed me the other day. He is stronger than any of us. Maybe not Illyria, but she lacks proper skill . If we’re going to win this, we need Angel.”

Spike was angry and everyone in the room could tell it. No matter what Angel did he got away with it, or so Spike thought. He hated that Angel seemed to pay for nothing he did. He failed to remember that everyday of Angel’s life was spent paying for past crimes. There were also other things he didn’t know about that had decided this plan of action.

“Anything else to suggest while we’re making crap ones?” Spike asked, dejectedly.

“Just that we need one more thing.” Buffy looked at the picture sat on the table beside her and smiled, their majority firepower lying in the hands of the person inahbiting that frame. “We need a witch.”

* * *

Angel had to smile as he watched Romero struggling to his feet. He had been beating his elder around the room for a while now with little reply and he was enoying every moment of it. He just wanted to make sure he suffered before he was sent to hell. He deserved nothing less.

He was sure that Romero was regretting bringing out the real Angel, seeing that the real deal was beating his sorry ass with little effort. As each punch landed, was he wishing he had left Cordelia alone? Was he wishing he had never come to Los Angeles? Was the old vampire wishing he had never set eyes on him? Another punch, another goan of pain and the certain answer ‘yes’ flashed in Angel’s mind.

It was getting boring though. He would much rather end it sooner rather than later and get to Cordelia. He just had to get her home where she was safe. That was all that mattered. Why waste energy fighting a vampire that he was going to dust anyway? He could be using that energy to help Cordelia and look after her, not beating an old enemy to a bloody pulp.

He could see that Romero knew what was coming as tears flooded his old eyes. He released the stake regardless and raised it above his head, ready to deliver the final blow.

“This is the end for you, Romero.”

“How many times must I tell you?” Romero asked as he took Angel’s legs from under him with a quick sweep of his leg before jumping into the advantageous position that Angel had held. “Never give up the advantage.”

Angel tried a leg sweep of his own, but Romero jumped over it and unleashed a forceful kick to his body as he got to his feet. Smashing into a concrete wall knocked him for six and Romero was on him again in a flash, punching and kicking with unrelenting ferocity and power. The fight that had been so one way for so long was again in Romero’s favour and he was helpess to stop his elder as he tore into him.

He could feel his skin tearing, bruising and swelling with each punch and kick that landed. He could feel as it slowly trickled from his nostril and down onto his mouth but still he was helpless. All he could do was groan with each blow and hope he could find a way to fight back. If he didn’t, Cordelia was doomed, and so was he.

It was only after Romero sent him crashing through the large steel doors that he saw Cordelia. She was bound and gagged, and bruised in various places. He could smell her blood as well. Romero had hurt her, made her bleed. In theory he’d pay, but the practicality was that Romero was dominating.

Not even Cordelia’s crying and muffled begs could rouse him.

“What was it all for, Angel?” Romero asked as he took a short break from the beating the crap out of him. “You turned on your friends, went on a mad spree to get her back and even went against your ‘Champion’s Code of Honour.’ Yet here you are, lying in a pool of blood, beaten and a failure. Tell me, why bother?”

Another kick felt like it shattered bone and Angel let out a shout. He was like a ragdoll, however, as Romero lifted him by the throat and made him look at Cordelia.

“Do you see that? Can you see what you’re failure has done?” Romero squeezed a little harder and pulled him close. “I will kill you here, Angel, and then I shall deal with her. What she has experienced over the last week will be minimal in comparison to what is coming. I will make her beg for death when she feels pain, the likes of which she has never experienced. I will make her scream when I feed from her every day and I shall make her bleed when I take her over and over and over again, for the rest of her life.”

That loosed something in Angel’s mind and with a scream of anger he broke free from Romero’s grasp and knocked the older vampire into the room where the fight had started with a kick. Morphing to vamp as he charged, Angel began to viciously pummel Romero, not stopping for anything, shouts permeating the air with every blow. He revelled in the feel of Romero’s blood on his fists and craved the sound of his pained shouts. He would pay for what he had done and what he intended to do.

Not even when Romero begged for mercy did he stop. He much preferred the feeling of the vampire’s flesh ripping beneath every punch. A glint of light caught his eye and looking, while continuing the beating, he saw a steel pipe. For a brief moment he stopped and walked to the pipe, leaving Romero a bloody mess against the concrete pillar. It wasn’t long though before Angel had picked up the pipe and thrown it with such force that it buried itself in Romero’s chest and pinned him to the wall.

“You’re going to pay for what you’ve done, Romero,” Angel growled, his golden eyes glinting in the silver moonlight. “You hurt Cordelia, and that’s a sin I can’t forgive. I’m ending this now and sending you back to hell!”

Releasing another stake, Angel lunged forward, but his arm was caught and held still by Romero’s greater strength. The old spaniard didn’t attempt to fight though, instead begging for mercy.

“Please, Angel,” he began. “Please, don’t kill me. You once believed in redemption. Well I beg of you, grant me some form of redemption. Let me take my own life. Grant me the power to be the one to do it. Don’t let me fall to another’s hand. Please.”

He so wanted to kill the son of a bitch himself, but he could also hear Buffy screaming at him in his mind to not let the monster get him. Was this his chance? Was this his last oppurtunity to be what he should be, a champion again? Was showing mercy to the one who had hurt Cordelia the way to do it?

Without saying anything, he slammed the stake into Romero’s shoulder and ran back towards Cordelia.

Even beneath the gag he could see her relieved smile, and the tears rolling down her dirty, yet beautiful, face. He’d never been so happy to see those eyes looking back at him as he was in that moment, and he’d never enjoyed the feel of her against his body as he did when he hugged her right there.

He could feel her give him everything and load it off onto him as she broke down in his arms. He was willing to take it from her and free her from the horrors she had had to endure. In those few moments it felt like a lifetime, and like they’d never been apart. He had her back again, safe in his embrace. There was no greater feeling, not even when he carried her past a concrete pillar that had a steel pipe buried in it, and a stake and a pile of dust at its base.


Part 26

“Not used to this,” Cordelia said. Angel looked up from the delicate procedure of cleaning and bandaging her wounds, and gazed into her eyes as she smiled back, sweetly. “Usually, I’m the one patching you up.”

Angel smiled as he returned his focus to wrapping the thin, white material around her forearm. “Yeah, but luckily these aren’t as serious as stab wounds, bone deep gashes-”

“A rebar through the stomach?”

It was enough to make him laugh a little. He wasn’t used to the thought of Cordelia being in such danger. He had always been able to protect her from that, but in actual fact he was blocking out all the things he hadn’t been able to protect her from. She had been through a lot in her 23 years.

This was one more thing to add to her list of horrors and like the rest, she would fight whatever had happened to her and beat it. Then she’d be stronger for it. However, she should never have been allowed to be put in that position. As strong as she was, she shouldn’t have to fight these things off. She should just be happy, living her life without worry of something striking in the night and taking her away again, filling her life with more hell.

He should have protected her from that.

Finished with her arm, he began examining other wounds. Some were mere grazes or shallow cuts. There were others that concerned him, however, some that would make him uncomfortable for a few days at least. “I don’t like the look of some of these, Cordy. What did he do to you?” he asked as he grasped her knee and stared up at her, watching her eyes closely.

“Just the usual,” she began. “A little light torture, a few slaps here and there. You know the drill.”

“Yeah, so I know what sort of things vampires like Romero do to their victims, which is what bothers me,” Angel replied, frustratedly.

“He did nothing to me that was any worse than what others, including your evil self, have tried to do to me, and who can blame them,” she replied, moving her hand from her head to her feet as if she was displaying a priceless necklace on QVC.

“Yeah? Well this looks a lot worse than pinning you to the floor or threatening you from behind steel bars,” he said with a growl, anger boiling up at the thought of Romero hurting her. It was too late to enact revenge on the son of a bitch though seeing as he’d already staked himself. “You’ve never been hurt like this!”

“I’m fine, Angel,” Cordelia urged, looking away from his searching eyes as they stared intensely. “I’ve had worse.”

He noticed the look in her eye immediately as memories resurfaced and knew exactly what she was talking about. It was the clear winner in the competition for the title of worst year of his life, and it was probably the worst in hers as well. It was quite an achievement seeing as he had had over a century of really crappy years. That year was the prelude to the worst decade of his life, the decade without her, a time where only one day had any form of happiness in it before she left again and took it with her.

“Angel, it wasn’t the best week I’ve ever had and I really don’t want to have to go through that again, but I am fine,” Cordelia explained as she stroked his cheek. “All I want is to forget about it and move on, starting with a hot bath and falling asleep in the arms of the man I love.”

Cordelia had been his best friend for many years, and the woman of his dreams for many more. There was nothing about her he didn’t know, including the way her body reacted when she was lying. He could smell it, hear it in her heartbeat and even see it in the way her eyes lacked that glint of happiness, the sparkle that could light the darkest room.

He knew there was more that she wasn’t telling him, and she wouldn’t be planning on telling him anytime soon. There was no sense in pushing the issue. She had been through a hellish week and just wanted to move past it and get on with life. He might never know what happened, but he would oblige her that. Anything to make her happy.

“Give me 30 minutes and I’ll be done,” he said as he searched the first aid kit for more bandages.

With a smile she replied, “I’d be done in fifteen.”

“I guess I don’t have the female touch.”

“No, you don’t have the Cordy touch.”

* * *

It hadn’t taken long for Cordelia to fall asleep. She had just nestled into the space between Angel’s chest and arm and relaxed. As she had lay there in his arms, he felt every muscle in her body loosen accompanied by soothed sighs. There was no sound bar her slowing heartbeat, but it was a sound Angel had missed.

She had been sleeping for around an hour, but Angel didn’t dare let her go. Her scent was enveloping him, and his love for her consuming him once more. He had forgotten how much he loved her when she had been gone, the endless need to get her back driving his senses, rather than love. She was back now though and he was going to enjoy every moment.

He could feel the pull of sleep now. He wouldn’t be awake much longer, even though he really wanted to stay in the moment. There were too few potential “freeze the moments” in their relationship so when one did arise, he tried to make it last as long as possible. He couldn’t resist sleep any longer though, so he closed his eyes and allowed himself to drift.

“Angel.” The whisper through the dark opened his eyes and immediately he looked to Cordelia. She was sound asleep though, peaceful and beautiful. “Angel.” It sounded close, yet distant, and was accompanied by a strange sense of familiarity.

“It’s coming, Angel.” Not only was it familiar, but confusing. He wasn’t going to find the source just lying in his bed listening to crazy whispers, though. Gently lifting Cordy’s head and replacing it on the pillow, he got up and made his way out the door.

“Can you feel it, Angel?” came the voice again as he wandered the corridors, trying to find the one responsible. “Closer it draws, day by day.”

“I don’t know who the hell I’m talking to, but you’d better hope I don’t find you,” Angel called out, but quietly so as not to wake Cordelia. However, it was an empty threat. He couldn’t find whoever was there because, strangely, there was no scent. All he could go off was the voice which hadn’t changed since he heard the first call, as if the voice was inside his head, not the hotel.

He continued to listen to the cryptic messages as he made his way to the lobby. Things just got stranger there, however. The voice was no longer a soft whisper carried on the air, but more serious and at a higher decibel than before. There was even a hint of anger there where there had been concern.

“Soon, it shall be upon you, oh great champion,” came the voice again, deep and gutteral. “A fate awaits you that you cannot change, yet shall be your choice. Days remain until you must face the abyss. Days until you must stand at the centre of time and choose the future of all creation.”

Angel looked around the lobby to try and find any sign of life. He kept his eyes on the landings to make sure there was no one up there. Nothing.

“Can you feel it? It’s coming.”

Annoyed, Angel shouted out into the emptiness, “Can I feel what!? What’s coming!?”

And there, suddenly, a presence behind him. He waited for it to draw near. It was mere inches away now, and in his ear he felt it whisper, “Death.”

Spinning around, he swung his fist to take down his stalker, clocking him right in the face and knocking him to the ground.

“What are you doing, you pillock?” Spike shouted as he lay on the floor, holding his nose. “What the bloody hell was that for!?”

Now he was confused. The voice hadn’t been Spike’s, and it wasn’t Spike that he felt. Whatever had been speaking to him hadn’t actually been there in corporeal form.

“Oi, you listening to me, shit for brains?” Spike called as he stood up, yet got no reaction. “Obviously not. Well, you’re lucky I’m on strict orders not to stake you or you’d already be dust for that.”

“Will you just shut up?” Angel snapped.

“So you can hear me then.”

“Unfortunately, yes, and because of your constant whining I can’t think straight.”

Adjusting his nose again and groaning as it cracked a little, Spike said, “Didn’t look like you were thinking at all, shouting at an empty lobby, looking as if you were ready for a scrap.”

Sighing and admitting defeat, mostly because he couldn’t be bothered listening to it anymore, Angel faced Spike and asked, “What do you want?”

“A whiskey and a good shag,” he replied, taking a seat on the red sofa by the office window.

“And you came to me for those because…”

“I didn’t. You don’t have any whiskey that costs over twenty quid and you always have to be the dominant one,” he said slyly. Seeing that Angel really wasn’t in the mood, he continued, “Buffy wanted to pay a visit, but Miss Hop-along walks slowly and the car is parked down the road. Didn’t want any attention.”

Rubbing his eyes and exhaling unused air, he took a seat. He really wasn’t in the mood for this. He wanted a night with Cordelia, but instead got something whispering at him, and a visit from the ever delightful Scooby Gang, if they could be called that anymore. If the whisperings were a sign of impending insanity, he was sure the coming meeting would push him over the edge.

He didn’t look up when Buffy entered, wincing a little with every step, instead staring straight ahead, his mind elsewhere. With Spike’s help, she made it to the sofa and took a minute to catch her breath. He had noticed how bad a state she was in as soon as she came through the door, even though he hadn’t acknowledged her. Guilt was his initial reaction. He didn’t enjoy hurting her, or anyone else, like that. But, guilt aside, he revelled in his own handiwork. Spike had killed Slayers, but had he caused one to suffer injuries to this extent where slayer healing wasn’t working as it should?

“Hello, Angel,” she said, trying to get his attention. She didn’t know it but she had it all along. “How are you?”

“You wanted to see me? Fine, but cut the small talk.” He finally met her eyes with his own and continued, “Say your piece, and leave. You’re lucky I’m granting you this time.”

“And you want to work with him,” Spike jumped in. Angel could read his childe like a book and it was clear that he hated it that he had been replaced. He hated it that Buffy had relegated him to second vampire. Strange because he had never been top.

“I doubt she wants to, Spike,” Angel replied. “But she needs to.” He knew it was the reason, but he didn’t care that that WAS the reason. He wasn’t looking for bonding or friendships, just to get the job done and get to come home to Cordelia every night.

Looking a little deflated, Buffy said, “Giles has looked through the files you found and discovered what’s going to happen. In three days, Danandril will perform a ritual that will resurrect his old master, Llirdryn, who will then ‘lay waste to the world’.”

“And you’ve come to me because I’ve got the most chance of beating Danandril before he performs the ritual, right.”

“Originally, we wanted to get help from Willow and Gunn’s old gang as well,” Buffy explained, struggling a little with the pain. All this moving around wasn’t doing her injuries any good. “Willow can’t come back though and if Gunn’s old gang fought they would all be slaughtered within minutes.”

“So it’s just us and Illyria?”

“No, Giles will be there to perform spells from the back line,” Buffy explained. “And…”

Angel waited for the sentence to end but it didn’t come. Whatever she was trying to say, it looked like she was ashamed to say it.

Spike wasn’t though and he blurted out, “We want Cordelia there, as well. Giles’ll need a bit of help and the only other person who can is Cordelia. Everyone else is either gone or us.”

“Let me get this straight,” Angel said, standing up. He could already feel the anger boiling up inside him. Was it stupidity or were they really out to get her? “Cordelia has been locked away somewhere for over a week, no thanks to any of you. She’s been back mere hours and already you want her back out there. Guess what. No chance.”

“Angel, we need all the help we can get,” Buffy pleaded as she struggled to her feet.

“Find it somewhere else then, ‘cause she’s not getting involved.”

Buffy nodded in resignation while Spike just looked completely unsurprised, even smug in his judgment. “Fine, she doesn’t have to help. We’ll manage without her. Can we come here, though, Angel? It’d be more convenient if we could meet here and plan ahead.”

“No,” was his reply, sharp and to the point. On top of her large injuries, it looked like he had struck another painful blow. “Make the plans and let me know. Until then, I don’t want you here.”

Buffy nodded again, stood up and made her way to the door. Angel watched them go, but as she made her way to the door, she turned and asked, “How is she?”

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. When she had been gone, they hadn’t cared one iota about her. Now, they were asking how she was, and for her help in the final battle. He wondered how he had ever felt anything for this girl. She hadn’t always been that way though. She used to be a good person, but after being brought back from the dead, she had been a different person. Since then, she had been cold to anything that wasn’t to do with her. Her wants, her needs, her mission was all that mattered to her. Screw everyone else.

He had loved her once, when she was a kind person, a giving person who tried her hardest for everyone around her. It was her that had first showed him the importance of helping people, not just moping around feeling bad. Where was that person now? She hadn’t been resurrected with the rest of her was the answer. The Buffy he knew was certainly dead, replaced by a shell of a person.

“You don’t get to ask how she is,” he replied angrily. “You didn’t care before. You can’t just switch it on when she’s back. The time when we needed you has gone. You let it slip. You can’t just crawl back now.”

Spike suddenly turned, forced the unclosed door open and got in Angel’s face. “I’m getting pretty sick of you, now! She has made it clear that she’s sorry, and that she cares but you’re still whining. She knows – we all do – that we should have helped Cordelia, but it’s in the past. Let it go! She’s safe.”

“Let it go!? How do I let the fact that my so called friends and allies refused to help her when she needed it, but are the first ones through the door asking for our help when they need it, go?”

“Oh, spouting the same old crap, are we?” Spike asked, rhetorically. “You know, I don’t think it’s us that have the problem here. It’s you, throwing blame around and making everyone else seem dirty because you can’t stand to look at yourself. Casting blame on us doesn’t cancel out what you’ve been doing over this past week!”

Angel didn’t answer. He couldn’t deny he felt bad about what he had done, and perhaps subconsciously he was trying to offload blame, but they deserved it. No matter what he had done, they were worse in his eyes. He wasn’t going to indulge Spike, however, who was just looking for him to throw the first punch. He so wanted to give him that, but he couldn’t. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t what Cordelia would want.

“Is that the reason you don’t want us here, Angel? Don’t want Cordelia finding out how it is you managed to save her?” Spike smirked. “How would she feel knowing she’s only alive because you’re an evil son of a bitch?”

“How would you feel getting your ass whupped, because that’s all that’s gonna happen if you keep pushing, Spike.” Everyone looked up the stairs to see Cordelia descending. She didn’t look like she had been through a week of hell. She looked good in fact, yet the dark circles under her eyes betrayed this facade she was using all of her strength to maintain.

“Need your bint to defend you? Not the Angelus I knew,” Spike said, purposely trying to drop Angel in it with his bird.

“Why would he need defending from a little runt who’s all tongue and no balls?” Cordelia asked, stepping between both vampires. If it kicked off, she was gonna be right in the firing line. Not a comfortable place to be, but she reached her hand backwards and kept in constant contact with Angel, while maintaining her tough stance. Feeling him there behind her, guiding her, supporting her, gave her the strength she needed to take on Spike, because right now she didn’t feel she had the strength to verbally bash anyone. Romero had taken it out of her.

Spike smiled, and bit his tongue. He would have continued, sensing Cordelia’s fragility, but Buffy gently pulling on his forearm persuaded him otherwise. “I’ll give you this one, sweetness, but maybe you and your boyfriend need a sit down. Get the last confessions out the way before the big showdown. Don’t want him dying without clearing everything up with you, now do we?” Another smug smile was all he left them with as he slowly guided Buffy down the garden path.

Angel watched them for a short time before looking to Cordelia. He smiled a little, kissed her forehead and said, “Thanks. You didn’t need to help though. I could’ve handled it.”

“Yeah, you probably could have, but I wanted some sleep and I was sick of listening to it. Besides, anyone who picks a fight with my man picks a fight with Cordelia Chase,” she replied with a smile. He had forgotten how beautiful she looked when she smiled and how much she could make the worst moments feel so much better.

“Look, you need your rest so why don’t you go up to bed and I’ll join you in a minute,” Angel said, brushing stray bed hair out her eyes.

“I could do, or you could tell me what the hell’s been going on this week.”

* * *

He hadn’t wanted to tell her. He hadn’t wanted her to know the grim details of his actions. He hadn’t wanted her to know that the man she loved had tortured a human being to save her. Her reaction was the reason why. All she had done for twenty minutes was sit in the chair, in the office, staring off into space as if there were a million and one things running around her head.

At first he resisted, ignoring her incessant nagging, denying her the information she so wanted. For that short time, she had never fit the bossy housewife so perfectly, her arms crossed and her foot tapping lightly on the floor while she stuck her neck out waiting for the answer to her question. It wasn’t as simple as getting drunk with friends though. His answer was one she couldn’t know.

He couldn’t burden her with it, the memories of Billy fresh in his mind. All he could think of was how she had reacted when she found out that the man he had freed to save her was killing people. Instead of blaming Billy, or him, she, because of the person she had become, took it on herself, blaming herself, her salvation for these peoples’ deaths. It wasn’t her fault, never had been, but she didn’t look at it like that.

He knew that if he told her what he had done in order to save her this time, it would just add to the burden she already carried. She denied it, but he could read her like a book with transparent covers. He could see it in her eyes, like a shadow behind her. The thing with shadows is they grow longer in time.

But he had told her, his efforts at ignorance failing. He had shown no signs of guilt, or like he was hiding anything, but when he went to the fridge for a midnight snack, instead of the light hitting him, he got a smack in the mouth by Cordelia’s logic. All his techniques, mastered over centuries, which allowed him to hide anything from anyone failed because of Spike. She had concluded that, because Spike was getting worked up over what Angel had done, he had to have done something to Buffy. She didn’t know Spike, but even she realised that Spike didn’t get angry unless someone did something to Buffy or those he was very close to.

She knew that it went deeper than just Buffy, though. Anyone with half a brain would know that he wouldn’t fight Buffy for no reason. From that, she concluded that Buffy had interfered in something he was doing, something he shouldn’t have been, something he felt was vitally important. She stuck her oar in, became all ‘holier than thou’ and got a bludgeoning for her troubles.

He hadn’t told her anything, but she’d worked it out. Realising he had nothing left to lie about, he came clean. He told her about how he kicked everyone out when they refused to help, abducted the head of Special Projects at Wolfram and Hart and tortured him brutally in the basement, for the best part of the week, to find out where Romero had taken her.

When he had finished, she made a beeline for the basement. He followed behind, practically begging her not to look down there. It was too late though. The door opened and the severity of it hit her. He had tortured a man to the point where he was no more than a quivering mass of blood and open wounds, and all for her. After that, nothing. He had expected fireworks, her heart to race and her lungs to stop functioning while she screamed blue murder at him. Nothing.

And here they were. She was on the sofa, staring off into space while he was knelt in front, rubbing her knee, trying to offer any words of comfort. But how could he comfort her? He was the reason she was feeling this.

“Are you okay?” he asked, caressing her hand with his thumb as it lay limp in his hand.

“Not really,” she replied. She didn’t look at him. It was as if she couldn’t stand the sight of him, as if he was disgusting in her eyes. If he knew Cordelia, he would be, and that was partly what he was trying to avoid.

Losing her to death was one thing, but losing her to hatred was something he would never be able to deal with. He was used to the people he loved dying or leaving. It hurt and the memory never left but eventually he moved on with his life. However, to know she was alive and well and living her life somewhere, her last memory of him one of disgust, hatred and shame, was something he would never be able to move past. By not telling her, maybe he could avoid that outcome. Now though, he had to wait and see how she would react.

“Angel, what you did was wrong,” Cordelia said, cupping his hand in her own and squeezing gently. “Torturing Balderas and beating Buffy up was wrong. On top of that, you practically abandoned the mission. Why? To save me?”

“Losing you… it was tearing me up inside. I’ve lost you before, and I wasn’t going to lose you again.”

“That’s no excuse,” she said quickly, her voice soft, even weak. “We’re supposed to be above these people, better than them. It’s why we’re on the opposite side. We’re not supposed to act like them. For the past week, you’ve been just as bad as them. In fact, you’ve been worse. These people have no consciences, and if they do they don’t hear them anymore. You don’t have that excuse because last time I checked, your conscience was screaming at you with Dolby Surround Sound.”

“Would you rather I hadn’t done anything and left you to suffer?” he asked, almost angrily, sensing that his actions had gone unappreciated and were no more than more evidence to be used in the ‘Angel deserves to be punished’ case.

“Angel, I will always be eternally grateful for what you did for me,” she said, stroking his cheek and never breaking eye contact. “You saved me after all. What I can’t do though is sit back and say you were right to abandon everything you stand for to save me. If you do, they’ve already won.”

He looked away, not able to continue looking at her. Was it shame? Anger? Maybe both, he didn’t know. It felt as though he was the victim in her self-inflicted martyrdom. It seemed as though she wouldn’t be happy until she was back in her grave, his rescue proving more an inconvenience. Her touch, her eyes gazing into his showed him that wasn’t the case though. When she said she was grateful, she meant it.

“Angel, to know that you would go to the end of the earth for me is the greatest feeling,” she said with another smile, something he had been seeing all night. “But you have to understand, I don’t want to be the reason for human suffering. I was for too long. You also have to understand that compared to the world, I don’t matter. We made an oath to protect the people of this world, die for them if necessary. If saving me means abandoning them, I’d rather die.”

“What we do for them… they don’t care,” he said. “We’re just passing strangers, inconsequential to their lives. We fight and die for them, and they don’t care. You do care though. You’re part of my life. You are my life. How can I leave you for them?”

“Because you’re a champion,” she replied, her smile returning as she told him once again just what he was, how important he was. “It’s your job to help these people. Years ago, it was your choice, whether they were grateful or not, whether you gained or not.”

She was right. No matter what his feelings towards the world, it was his duty as its champion to save it. Knowing that evil was caused by humanity made it hard to want to save them, especially if he had to choose between the woman he loved and knew inside out, and complete strangers. He knew that not all were bad, and what he did saved souls. But where would those souls be on the long cold nights when he was sleeping alone, his wounds untended and his heart in pieces? That was why he always chose Cordy.

“So, I’m gonna let you off for this. But don’t forget what I said to you. The world comes first, no matter what’s at stake. And, I want you to let him go,” she said with a gesture towards the basement. “Take him back to Wolfram and Hart tomorrow. You have me back now.”

Angel resisted as she led him away, a million and one things running through his mind. Everything she said, everything she wanted him to do, the choices she wanted him to make if need be. It was a lot to think about. There was one thing he wanted added to the list of things on his mind, though.

All night he had seen her smiling, putting on the act – making him wonder how she never made it as an actress – and hiding something from him. He knew her too well for it too work. Her smile was dead, no more real than the ones he had seen models perform in Cordelia’s magazines. He knew her smile and the way it lit her eyes and the way it made everything seem a little brighter. Nothing was brighter though and her eyes were still full of angst.

She was like a part of him, though, so no amount of fake smiles or diversionary tactics would knock him off the scent. Something was wrong with her. Something had happened and it was affecting her deeply. He wanted it.

“Cordelia, I’ve told you my secret, the thing I didn’t want you to know,” he said, as she looked at him questioningly. “Now I want you to tell me what he did to you.”
Suddenly she looked worried, as if she was trapped with no avenue of escape. She didn’t want him knowing, it was clear, but he didn’t care. He wanted to know exactly what happened so maybe he could fix it, and she wasn’t leaving until he got it out of her.

His eyes unwavering and his tone firm, he moved closer, his body practically engulfing hers and said, “Cordy, tell me.”


Part 27

Racing heart. Soft whimpers. Steady drips of blood against the concrete floor. To a vampire’s ears it was music, a melody that he hadn’t heard in a long time. Too long. Some would say he had lost his soul. Some would say Angelus had returned again to wreak havoc and reclaim his title. They would be wrong. This wasn’t Angelus. This was Angel, but he had seen the light. All they understood was force, brutality, pain. That was what he would give them.

Cordelia had told him to release Balderas. She had pleaded with him to return from the brink of evil, chastising him in her own way when she found out he had tortured a man to find her. She had made him promise; practically swear on his life it as they lay together in the bedroom. He had promised.

Some people would get offended that the person they loved chose the side of the man who took them. Some would see it as a sign that maybe the love they thought they shared didn’t’ exist at all. He wasn’t offended. These were the traits he fell in love with. The woman who, no matter what, wanted to save souls. She had been trying to save his since she started working for him.

She probably hated Balderas because of the part he played in her kidnapping. She was still too innocent, blind to the real world. That wasn’t her fault. In essence, she was only twenty- three years old. It had taken him two hundred and fifty to realise the truth. Plus, she was probably more concerned, like she said, that she would lose him, or the world would be destroyed in one of his vain attempts to save her.

As usual, it was everyone else before herself. Sometimes, he wished she would be a bit more like self centred Cordy of old, but not completely. He loved her for who she was, but he wished she would wise up. People weren’t worth dying for. He once believed they were. None of them were good, their own latent evil feeding the more powerful forces of hell. What was the point in fighting? They could only lose.

Now one of those bottom feeders sat before him, whimpering and bleeding from orifices that had healed since Angel had last visited the basement. Thankfully, the lawyer wouldn’t be in his basement much longer. The call was made, a limo was coming and Balderas was going back to Wolfram and Hart. He would keep his promise and release him.

He had needed to beat him some more, after what he had heard. Cordelia had told him everything that Romero had done. She had remained calm, took deep breaths and retold the story that she had kept secret. She was wonderful, but so transparent. Every word was like another form of torture. The fact that the memory remained was torture in itself. That was one of the major torture devices. Make them suffer, then make them remember because when the torture is over, the pain, the memory remains, and the torture is eternal.

Romero, the vampire credited as the master of torture, the most evil vampire before Angelus’ time, had done a good job on her, and every minute she had to relive that week was like salt in fresh wounds.

He had barely held it together as she told him everything, the anger raging beneath him as a war was fought between his mind and his heart. Did he exact bloody revenge on all involved, or respect the wishes of the woman he loved? He chose the latter. So, all that left was rejoining with the Scoobies and releasing Balderas. That would happen in mere moments. He just hoped Balderas left that place feeling just a third of the pain Cordelia had felt. Even that would probably be too much for a spineless worm like him.

He could hear the car pull up outside from the basement, the vibrations of the engine and the rushing feet heading for his door too noisy to go unnoticed by a vampire. Specific instructions were: Come to the door, but don’t come in. If they didn’t follow the rules, there’d be a penalty. What that was he didn’t say, but he felt a finger would suffice. Balderas did, of course, have nine more or seven if you wanted to argue semantics.

The rules were followed, so he delivered the goods. Of course, that involved throwing Balderas out of the door and slamming into the long still fountain, probably breaking a cheek bone. “You’ll pay for this, vampire,” were the last words he heard from the lawyer, suddenly brave as he limped away in clear daylight.

A much more pleasant sound followed, a new type of music that had become so sweet to this old vampire’s ears. Her heart slowly beating as she walked down the stairs, even her waking movements graceful. A hum on her breath as she wandered somewhere in her mind, the quick, “Morning, baby,” as she walked past and straight for the fridge. It was like a symphony, and so much more pleasurable than the music of old. Sometimes though, you had to reminisce.

He clicked his phone open, dialled in a number and spoke clearly and quickly, not allowing for any reply. “Rondell, you know what to do.”

* * *

Angel and Cordelia stood hand in hand by the office door as they waited for Buffy, Spike and Giles to arrive. Angel was calm, but he could tell Cordy was a little apprehensive. You couldn’t see it on her face, but she was squeezing his hand ever so slightly, and her heart was beating a little over her usual rate. Plus, she was tapping her thigh with her free hand in a tune that was just a mixture of various songs that sprang to mind.

He had to smile. Why was she nervous? She’d always been able to handle Buffy and her lot before. She hadn’t really been right since coming home, though. Her little confrontation with Spike hadn’t helped. That was probably the cause for the Elton John, Queen and Cliff Richard Medley on her thigh. She was afraid it would all kick off again, and she was probably still feeling too vulnerable for anything like that.

The door opened and Buffy limped across the threshold, a bag in her hand. Giles followed behind with a stack of books that covered his entire face. Then, Spike rushed through underneath a thin blanket, smoke running off him as he brushed himself down in the lobby. Straight away Angel was sick of them, the very sight of them annoying him after what they did.

“We don’t have much time to prepare so I think it’s best if we just get on with it,” Giles said, handing Angel an open book with the relative passages underlined. “We need to be ready for this, Angel. Are you ready?”

“To save my friend? Of course I’m ready,” Angel said, glancing over the passage of scripture. “Don’t think you or Cordelia should be there though. Not really a place for non-super powered humans, though, is it.”

“I’d rather you didn’t feign interest in my well being,” Giles said, pointing out where he wanted Cordelia to look, his proximity to her making Angel want to reach out and throw him aside. Turning back to Angel he continued, “I have duly noted that you don’t want Cordelia involved, but unfortunately it is the only way to win.”

“Then I guess we don’t win,” Angel said, firmly, shutting the door behind him and closing the curtains on the window. They were allowed back in, but that didn’t mean he had to stay with them. However, through the thin walls he could still hear everything going on.

He wasn’t surprised that Spike was the first to speak up. “I told you he wouldn’t be interested. All he cares about is the bint. No offence.”

“None taken.” Lie. Angel knew she took offence, just not feeling up to arguing.

“Yes, well be that as it may, we need to win him round,” Giles said, his voice quieter now. He’d obviously moved away from the office. “Believe me, Cordelia, if we could keep you away from all this we would, but I need someone to help me with the spells. With Willow not returning, we’re in a bit of a mess.”

“I have no problem being there,” Cordelia said. “It’s just Angel. You must understand how he’s feeling. He lost everyone. I died, Fred died – speaking of, where’s Illyria? – Wesley died, Lorne left and now Gunn is missing. To lose everyone like that, it’s got to make you a little overprotective of those left. Buffy, would you have ever subjected Dawn to any harm unless absolutely necessary?”

“I did when it was necessary, but Angel doesn’t seem to get it,” came Buffy’s voice. Once it sounded so sweet, enough to make his still heart jump a little bit when he heard her, saw her or smelt her. Now, it just made him angry, her self obsessed, self important attitude making him wish she’d never come to L.A.

“Look, I’ll talk to him,” Cordelia said, each word getting louder as her heels approached on the marble floor. Within a second, the office door opened and she entered with a smile, took a seat across from him as if it was an all important job interview, and stared at him, probably her way of gauging where his mind was at.

He didn’t dare look at her. He’d heard what she’d said, and he knew she was going to try and persuade him to allow her to go. Knowing her, she’d have some way to make him change his mind, some look or touch in her inventory. Even though he’d known her for so long, he was sure there were hidden depths to her that he hadn’t discovered. God, he was dying to discover them.

Eventually, he gave in, her burning gaze drawing his eyes up to hers for a mere second before he looked at the book again, let out a “Uhmm hmm” to make it seem like he was trying to read, and shuffled uncomfortably in the chair. He couldn’t do it though, the black on white text not as tempting as her hazel eyes, and he looked at her, this time not trying to escape her stare.

“I don’t want you there,” he said softly, not even needing to hear her say anything.

“Well, I’m needed,” she replied, walking around to his side of the table and sitting on the arm of his chair like she used to years ago when she would stay behind late and help him with cases, the tiredness and aching joints not enough to pull her away from his side. Her fear now wouldn’t keep her from his side. If he was entering the fight of his life, she was going to be at his side. “And I told you, my life, yours, Buffy’s are inconsequential, Angel. The world needs its champions to fight for them, die for them. Otherwise, who will?”

“It shouldn’t be you,” he said almost angrily, his fist clenched on top of the old book, the paper wrinkling beneath it. “You’ve fought enough. You’ve given enough. I can’t watch you die again.”

“You think I’m not scared, for me, for you?” she asked, her own anger seeming to rise. “It tears me up inside thinking that I might never see you again after this fight. When I died, you didn’t just lose me, I lost you, all of you. It’s my duty, though. How could I look at myself if I knew that I could have stopped it but didn’t because I was too afraid?”

He felt as though she’d ignored everything he’d said last night. He had told plain and simple that he didn’t care about the people anymore. He didn’t want to be their champion or help them. They were all the same, evil, selfish and not worth dying for. Now, all he fought for was her and Connor, wherever he was now. He was challenging Danandril for her. He killed Romero for her. He would die for her. But he didn’t want her where she could be hurt.

“Angel, let me do this,” she pleaded, pulling him close for a hug. “Let me fight.” Her scent overwhelmed, wrapping itself around him like her arms, pulling him in. How could he let her fight and risk that, risk everything he loved and wanted?

“Cordy-”

“You know what,” she said as she let him go and moved out of his reach on the other side of the table. “Why am I asking your permission?” she asked, her hands on her hips as she leant forward slightly, her cleavage slightly visible through the top of her blouse. “I don’t have to ask you for anything, buster. You don’t own me or control me. When have you ever told me what to do?”

“Cordy-”

“No, I am going, mister and you aren’t going to stop me,” she said while she pointed with her index finger, the nail light brown varnish on the nail faded because she hadn’t been able to top it up. “I want to be there, so I’ll be there. And if you don’t like it, T.S.”

He had been waiting for her to get over her vulnerability. She’d been quiet and submissive since getting home, even needing him for support when she confronted Spike. That wasn’t Cordelia. But why the hell did she have to change back now?

“I know you’re worried, and I know you don’t want me there, but you need me there so I’m going,” she said. “I’m not giving in to this one, Angel. However,” she paused, probably to scan the mood of the room. He was definitely back to brooding of the heaviest kind now.

“If this fight is so life threatening, we need to do something together. We can’t spend our last day trapped in this stuffy lobby with that lot,” she said gesturing to the lobby. “Tomorrow, we’re going out.”

“Great, so before we all die a horrible death I have to spend my savings on shoes you’ll never wear.” Now his mood was worse.

“No,” she moved in close again, her hips swaying seductively – a purposeful action – and took a seat on his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck and pushing her lips against his so they brushed together softly. “You’re going to buy me a sword so I can put my training, and my pent up aggression, to good use. Then, I’m going to take you somewhere. Free of charge, obviously.”

“Obviously.”

She smiled and kissed him softly before she rubbed his shoulders, eyeing him sexily, saying, “And then when we get home….hoo doggy.”

Another kiss, and then she was gone, but her scent remained while he worked. Unfortunately, so did the lingering feeling that something was going to go wrong. He tried to focus on the book but all he could think of was the voice he heard the night before, the whispers of foreboding in his ear.

“Can you feel it, Angel? It’s coming. Death.”

* * *

Sunlight glistened on the clean black steel as the limo pulled up outside Wolfram and Hart. The driver walked around quickly and opened the door at the back and waited patiently as Balderas climbed out slowly, every muscle aching, and every cut stinging as they threatened to split as he moved. “Thank you,” he said, weakly.

The sun was warm and welcoming against his skin. As it warmed he could already feel the dust and cobwebs blowing away, and the last two weeks fading into obscurity. He was even certain he could feel his wounds closing, his inner tissue recoiling from the light it was never supposed to see.

It had been a long time, and never before had the office looked so beautiful. It was a place of evil, where the deals meant life and death for the little people, the very people who fuelled its activity. It was evil, but it was home, and within those walls he would find everything he needed to recover. Firstly, he would make a trip to the medical wing, have his wounds healed instantly and the memory of his pain wiped clean. It would be as if Angel had never touched him.

With a sigh and a smile, he began the short walk towards the doors.

“Yo, Balderas,” came the voice from among the rush hour crowds walking the pavements. He looked to see the owner of the deep voice, finding him as a thirty-something black man emerged. His eyes squinted; he waited for what he had to say.

He tried to run, tried to escape, but there was no way out. “Angel says bye.” He tried to ignore it, death walking towards him. If he ignored it, would it fade away, would he be free? He was so close to home. Surely, Angel would never do this. Surely not Angel, the vampire champion, hero of the people.

That wasn’t Angel anymore, though. Now, Angel had become something else, a creature hell bent on making sure that people like him suffered for their crimes. He had made him suffer for two weeks, and now he was going to finish the job. He thought so little of him though that he sent a lackey to do the dirty.

Two bangs sounded, echoing off the surrounding buildings, and they were followed by two sharp pains in his chest. He looked down, the taste of blood getting stronger as thick, red fluid dripped from his mouth. No one tried to help him. His driver had fled and the assailant was nowhere to be seen. No one from inside Wolfram and Hart came to him. He was alone, in pain and waiting for the darkness to descend. Angel had wanted him to feel what Cordelia had, and now he had his wish.

Angel answered the phone before the first ring had even finished. His ear to the receiver, he listened as Rondell said, “It’s done.” The phone clicked shut again, and the smallest of smiles appeared.

Music.


Part 28

“So everyone is clear?” Giles asked after once again explaining the plan. It was a resounding “Yes” from all present. Even Illyria looked like she had grown tired of the same thing being repeated numerous times, which was surprising seeing as she usually only had two emotions: Calm and angry. They needed the latter one tonight.

“Good, then may I suggest that we prepare our equipment and, for lack of a better saying, move out,” he added, moving towards the bag of weapons Spike had returned to Willow’s for.

Angel declined the sword Giles offered and explained he had his own arsenal in the cabinet in the corner. He allowed the Watcher to examine the contents of the cabinet while he made his way over to Cordelia.

“How you feeling?” he asked her, her silence for the past hour saying more than words could.

“When I get past the joy and elation at being able to fight with you, I’m terrified,” she replied, looking to him for comfort, her soft hazel eyes pleading with him to say the right words, hold her in just the right way and make it better.

“Well now you know how I feel, minus the elation and joy part,” he said, wrapping his arms around her shoulders, which always seemed so small, and pulling her tight to his body, her shape fitting him like a puzzle piece.

“To be honest, I don’t really feel those things,” a little glimmer of a smile showing as she spoke. He tried to reply but before he could she broke in, saying, “And no, I’m not changing my mind. I said I was fighting with you, bucko, so I’m fighting with you.”

“Yeah, but you better stick to the plan and stay well back from the action with Giles,” he told her, almost forcefully. He didn’t dare be too forceful.

She kissed him lightly on his dry lips, the texture rough against her own from where he had been biting. “Yes, dear.” She stood up and tapped his knee, saying, “I’m gonna go and have a few minutes.”

He just nodded and followed her to the foot of the stairs. He understood what it must have been like for her after what she had just come back from mere days earlier. She was just too damn stubborn. No one would hold it against her if she stayed clear. Well, he, Illyria and Spike wouldn’t. She was adamant that she would be there, though. It was probably fear for his life more than anything. She wanted to personally ensure that he was coming home.

It wasn’t necessary though because he was coming home. He wasn’t leaving her now, not after everything.

He was glad they had had a day with each other, now. He hadn’t been too enthusiastic but he was grateful for it now. They spent the day training with her new sword, which had been delivered by one of Spike’s “guys”. As soon as the sun set, though, they went out, much to the displeasure of Giles who believed they needed to finalise battle strategy.

They didn’t go anywhere that cost money. Cordelia insisted that she be allowed to drive them because she had the “perfect place” in mind. The whole journey he had worried about the cost, but when he felt the car come to a halt, the brakes jerking the car forward, his worries were allayed.

For the next few hours they just sat on the edge of the cliff known as Point Dume and watched the ocean. He tried to clear his mind of all things, but he couldn’t help but wish they had met up at this spot originally. How much would things have been different? How much happier would they be, if at all?

Through that wishing, though, he realised that now they did have each other. This time they had made it. They were together forever. That was when he realised that nothing was going to stop him from coming home to her. They were going to be happy. They were going to be together.

Air rushed by his feet as someone closed the empty space behind him. He didn’t need to look. The scent was better than a visual for identifying someone. “What do you want, Spike?”

“Look, before you get all huffy and start telling me in your own words to piss off, I want to call a truce,” Spike replied, his voice not carrying the usual undertone of sarcasm. “You don’t like me and I sure as hell don’t like you, but we can’t be at each other’s throats through this. We’ve fought side by side before. We need to do it again.”

“Fine,” Angel said, turning to face his age old enemy turned slightly less of an enemy.

“And you don’t have to worry about me hanging around after its all done and dusted,” Spike continued. “I’m going with Buffy to help train slayers. They need to get some experience against the best the vamp world can offer. Who knows, they might be fighting me and you for real one day. Come to think of it, if you and Cordelia keep at it they won’t need me for a sparring partner.”

“Been listening in?”

“Didn’t need to. You were practically shagging her with megaphones all around the bed. Didn’t think her the type to like it rough.”

“Not a great way to maintain a truce,” Angel said almost threateningly. Why did he bother? His threats had never fazed Spike.

“Fine, what I meant to say was…” It was as if saying something decent was so difficult for him that he had to mentally prepare for it. He prepared more for decency than he did for any fight he’d ever had. “If something happens to you, and I really think it likely, I’ll make sure she gets out alive. Not for you or anything. I just think she’s been through enough before adding gruesome death to the list.”

“Uh, thanks, I think.”

“No probs, mate,” he said before swaggering off to the weapons bag.

It was as nice a gesture as you would get from Spike, but an unnecessary one. He was coming home. He wasn’t leaving her alone now. He had promised. Was he coming home?

* * *

There was a cautious hush in the group as they ascended the final staircase within Wolfram and Hart. The steel door between them and Danandril rattled as wind permeated any orifice and lowered the pressure.

They had come expecting a fight, their weapons already drawn when they walked into the lobby. Instead of the usual ringing alarms and the rushing of dozens of feet on the shiny, marble surface, they heard only the polite greetings of the receptionist who informed them that Danandril was waiting on the roof. An arrogant gesture, but a welcome one.

Angel hesitated behind the door, his eyes fixed on the black centres of Cordelia’s eyes. This was it. The final battle. There were no guarantees from this point on. Some would live, some would die. Maybe all of them.

Looking at her, his eyesight improved greatly in the darkness of the stairwell, he finally realised just how much he didn’t want her here. The magnitude of the situation hit him full on like a battering ram. Here, on top of Wolfram and Hart, may be his final moments with her. They were in bed together, in the throes of passion. They weren’t holding each other or watching the stars from the coast. They were in a war.

There was no going back now, though. She knew it as well, smiling, teary eyed, and nodding, letting him know she was ready. Terrified, but ready. Like him.

As soon as the door burst open they all got in formation. Spike and Angel took the flanks, broadswords in their hands. Buffy and Illyria, who had chosen to remain without weapons, stood side by side in the middle while Giles and Cordelia, on Angel’s demand, sat on the opposite side of the roof, as far from Danandril as possible. While Giles prepared the equipment, Cordelia flicked through the spell book, which they had taken from Willow’s, to the page Giles had indicated.

Angel knew that the others were completely focused on Danandril. All he could see was Gunn chained to a makeshift altar, and all he could think about was Cordelia. Was she far back enough? Would Danandril take the spell casters out first? Was she stupid enough to get involved if something was to happen to him? He couldn’t focus.

“Well, I am glad you could all make it,” Danandril said, clapping his hands once before turning to face his guests. “I was worried Mr. Gunn and I were going to be celebrating alone.”

“We’ve killed everyone you’ve got,” Angel said, his head finally in the game. To protect Cordelia, he had to take out the threat. “You’re next.”

“How you doing, Charlie boy?” Spike called to Gunn, genuine concern lining his cockney accent. “Don’t worry, mate. We’re gonna make sure you keep the red stuff on the inside.”

“Danandril chuckled almost innocently. “Why would you do that? You’ll spoil the party. If you just let me take what I need, I will return your friend to you.”

It was like a starting pistol had gone off when he pulled the ceremonial knife from his sleeve, as everyone charged at him, swords and fists at the ready. His response was to calmly remove his robes and place the knife on the altar.

He wasn’t paying attention, though, and if he was he was being too calm about the imminent attack. They had forgotten how fast he was, though, and before any of them could react, he had taken Spike and Angel out and was dealing with Buffy and Illyria.

“Bollocks to that!” Spike shouted as he threw his sword to the ground, preferring the flesh on flesh approach.

Angel’s first reaction was to look to Cordelia. She was in the middle of a spell, her soft lips caressing every word as she spoke them. The sight of Illyria being thrown into the empty stairwell brought him back to reality, though. Before he could do anything he had to watch as Spike was thrown from the roof and, after she had attempted to stake Danandril, Buffy’s wrist was snapped like a twig before he threw her into Giles and Cordelia, interrupting their spell and destroying the equipment.

Angel rushed forward and swung his sword, but missed, so adjusted his position and spun a kick at Danandril’s stomach, hitting him but not fazing him. Before he could do anything else he had his own sword taken from him and shoved through his torso, the blood filling his mouth before the pain even set in. Danandril tutted as though it had been a pointless effort and then threw him away like used rubbish.

Returning to the altar, Danandril said, “Six of the world’s champions challenge me and none of them worth the time. You see, Mr. Gunn? You insisted they were coming and that they would save you. You were wrong. I believe that’s twice Angel has failed you.”

“No, he hasn’t failed me,” Gunn said, looking at his fallen friend as he removed the sword from his stomach. “He tried his best. Can’t ask for more than that.”

“A noble sentiment, but a pointless one,” Danandril replied as he dragged the knife along Gunn’s chest, drawing a shout from the big man as blood trickled down his stomach into a bowl made of stone.

Angel knew immediately that it wasn’t a fatal wound. Danandril hadn’t intended on killing Gunn, just taking enough.

Danandril sliced his own hand, not making a sound as the steel ripped through his flesh. Clenching his hand into a fist he allowed the blood to drip into the same stone bowl before stirring the contents and pouring it on the ground.

After chanting for a moment the earth began to shake as if every tectonic plate near L.A. had decided to shift at once. After that, nothing but silence interspersed with heavy breathing and Danandril’s victorious laugh.

“My, God,” Giles said, rising to his feet. “We’ve failed.”

“Well,” Danandril began as he turned to face the defeated warriors. “If you had called ahead I would have saved you the trip.”

Spike and Illyria appeared together at the top of the stairs. There wasn’t a mark on Illyria but Spike looked like he could barely stand. His head was leaking crimson fuel, staining his blonde hair. They looked at Angel almost questioningly until they saw that he could barely stand himself, knowing why he hadn’t stopped the ritual.

Within moments, the air behind Gunn began to spark orange flame. They all knew what it was. The portal was opening and Llirdryn was coming. It didn’t open with a bang, or a mighty announcement of its coming, but with a whisper as the flames danced silently within.

“My friends,” Danandril called. “I present to you: Llirdryn. However, contrary to popular belief, he is no longer living. Nothing can exist in the void between dimensions. Not even one as powerful as him.”

“What was it all for then?” Angel asked as he finally gathered the strength to stand up.

“When my Master was trapped between the worlds, he was destroyed, disintegrated like everything else,” Danandril explained. “The power had to go somewhere and it found a place, pushing the walls between dimensions to their limit, just waiting for something to open the floodgates. It is fuelling this portal, the extensive power pushing its walls further open each second. It won’t stop until this dimension has been completely sucked through to the other side, when it will collapse in on itself, sealing the way forever. I am punishing this world for what it did to my Master by literally sending it to hell.”

“It’s like bloody Acathla all over again,” Spike said.

Angel looked to Cordelia again, dread etched on her face as she tended to Buffy. He couldn’t let it end there. He had to keep fighting for her. He had to make sure she never saw that place.

“Spike, Illyria. We’ve got to stop him.”

“What for? We’ve already lost. I’m seriously considering drinking a few humans one last time before we take the hell ride.”

“Because you can still stop him,” Gunn called. “There’s a way.”

“‘Nough said,” Spike said as he vamped, followed closely by Angel and a battle cry from Illyria.

Spike and Illyria charged at Danandril, drawing his attention fully as Angel made his way over to Gunn.

“How do I stop it, Gunn?” he asked, frantically.

“First, grab the knife,” Gunn said. He waited until Angel had it before continuing. “Second, kill me and then Danandril.”

That wasn’t what he expected, and it certainly wasn’t what he wanted. This was his friend, a man he had fought side by side with for nearly fifteen years, if you conveniently forgot his ten year absence. He couldn’t kill him.

“Look, man, you either kill me here or I get sucked through to hell where I’ll be living and breathing suffering for all eternity. I’d rather be the selfless hero and meet my maker,” Gunn said.

“Gunn, I…”

“Just do it,” Gunn said, forcing a smile. “Don’t tell me you’ve gone soft.”

“I’m sorry,” Angel said before he thrust the knife into his friend’s heart before snapping his neck to end it quickly, the crunch more sickening than it had ever been before.

Gunn went limp, his body lifeless before the portal sucked his dead body and the altar through.

Now it was time for Danandril. He couldn’t just stab him, though. He would be stopped and probably run through again. He had to use an old trick, and without thinking he leapt through the air, landed on Danandril’s back and sank his fangs into his neck. The demon shouted as he drank the foul tasting fluid down. Before he could finish, Danandril threw him off, but he had taken enough.

With super powered blood he could fight him on equal terms, just like he had with Hamilton. He rushed forward and swung a punch. It connected perfectly, but Danandril didn’t budge. The only movement was his mouth stretching into a smile. It hadn’t worked.

Danandril laughed before kneeing him in the stomach and knocking him to his knees. He then picked him up by the throat and dangled him close to the portal, his grip tightening as he mocked the champion. Angel could feel the heat now, and the pull as the portal tried to bring another demon home.

“Now, shall we feed this thing the finest meal it shall eat today?” Danandril asked. “I will take great pleasure seeing you-” He stopped suddenly and gasped for air, dropping Angel from his grasp.

Angel looked and saw Danandril had been stabbed through the gut with his broadsword, his dark blood dripping from the end of the sword onto the concrete and oozing from the wound down his grey stomach.

“You’re absolutely right, Danny,” Cordelia said as she stood over his dying body. “Six of the world’s champions challenge and it takes normal powered, human me to kill you. Irony’s a bitch, ain’t it?”

Question answered. She was stupid enough to intervene if something happened to him, but he was grateful she was stupid enough.

“Angel, do your pun thing and then kick him into that thing so we can go home,” Cordelia said, her face a picture as she treated it like it was any other day. For them, it was.

“I haven’t got a pun,” he replied, as if to make it clear he didn’t plan them beforehand. Well, he didn’t all the time.

“Well just do the kicky thing then.”

Danandril laughed weakly as Angel prepared to send him through. With the last remnants of his strength he pulled himself to his feet. “It won’t close when I go.” He laughed again. “This thing will only close when all of Llirdryn’s blood has left this world.”

“Oh for God’s sake,” Spike said as he walked over and hit Danandril with a sharp kick which sent him flying into the flames. As if he had never been there, he was gone. “Now, that bloody problem’s sorted. We done here?”

The rest of the gang gathered and talked while Angel focused on one person alone. “You okay?” he asked her as she wrapped her arms around him, a sigh of relief leaving her mouth as she squeezed tightly, oblivious to the fact that she was pressing right on his stab wound.

“I am now,” was her reply before she gave him a light slap on the chest. “Where’s my thanks? If it hadn’t been for me you’d have been deep fried and not even a “thank you”? I mean, when you save the day it’s all hail Angel but when I-”

“Quiet,” Giles cut in. “It hasn’t closed,” he said, pointing to the still growing portal.

Typical. Happy moment broken by more developments. Why couldn’t they catch a break? Go home, get cleaned up and then spend the night with Cordelia. Was that too much to ask?

“I don’t understand this,” Giles said, examining the ever growing portal from a safe distance. It should be closed. All of the blood has gone.”

It was never a good feeling, the one of sinking and a hot flush in the face when you came to a sudden realisation. Obviously, having happiness with Cordelia was too much to ask. He shouldn’t have expected any less. He had debts to pay still, and it was time to pay the piper. How could he tell them, though? How could he tell her?

Another guttural roar announced that the portal was getting bigger as the flames danced in the air before dissipating into nothingness. This was going to be hard, but he couldn’t let her get sucked into hell. She had suffered enough. He would rather die and leave her forever than let her meet that fate. It was time she was happy. She just had to be happy without him.

“I know why it isn’t closing,” he said, stepping forward, his eyes never leaving the orange vortex. As soon as his hand parted with Cordelia’s he felt the pain. He’d never touch her again. If he did he wouldn’t be able to do it. “All of Llirdryn’s blood isn’t gone. The rest is in me. I drank from Danandril thinking it would make me stronger. Never thought it’d kill me.”

“My God,” was all Giles could muster.

Illyria was unresponsive while Buffy was clearly upset, yet fighting with every ounce of her being to hide it. Spike looked confused, almost lost. He’d never been Angel’s biggest fan, but Angel had always been one of the constants in his life. If Angel was gone, where did that leave him?

Cordelia looked like the weight of the world wasn’t resting on her shoulders, but had hit her full force. Her eyes were wide, her mouth open slightly as she just stared straight ahead, in shock. Everything they had worked for, everything they had overcome and this was how it ended?

This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. She was supposed to spend the rest of her life with Angel, helping him fight evil and saving the helpless. She was supposed to die an old woman as he cradled her in their bed. She had always expected to have to leave him again someday, but never this.

He had wondered why Buffy had brought a stake to a fight like this, but now it was poignant in a way. As a slayer she was never far from her stake, but never had that stake been directed at him. Even when he was Angelus she had never been able to point the business end his way. It was fitting in a way that her stake would be the one to end it.

After he asked her for it, she reluctantly handed it over, her eyes pleading with him not to do it. How he wished he didn’t have to, but that was his life. Full of angst and bitter heartache. He couldn’t complain. He didn’t deserve happiness after all.

He took another look at them as he stood in front of the portal and prepared to drive the stake home. He looked everywhere but at Cordelia.

“Wait!” she shouted, grabbing his arm before he, in a sense, pulled the trigger. “You can’t do this. Not now. Not after everything.”

“I have to,” he replied. “If I don’t this whole world will be sucked into hell.”

“And? Not two days ago you were telling me how you didn’t care anymore. The world didn’t deserve it. It wasn’t grateful. Why now are you being all noble champion again?”

He touched her cheek, knowing that touch would damn him, and said, “I hate this world, Cordy. I’m tired of it all. All the evil seeping from every pore on human bodies. I’m sick of fighting for a world that is causing its own downfall. However, as long as you’re part of that world, I’ll fight with everything I have to protect it. I won’t let you die here. I won’t let you suffer any more.”

Tears welled up in her eyes as sorrowful anger flushed her cheeks a rosy red. “And what do you think your death will do to me, ‘cause it ain’t gonna be a trip to lollipop lane. If you die here, I die.”

“Those wounds heal,” he explained as he wiped a descending tear. “You’ll move on, find someone else in time. You can still be happy, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure you have that chance.”

She wrapped her arms around his body and hung on as tight as she could, her head resting against the heart that had died long ago. “If you want to kill yourself, you’re just gonna have to take me with you. I’m not losing you again!”

Angel sighed, and looked to Spike, receiving a nod of agreement. “I really am sorry, Cordelia.”

It felt as though his heart had been ripped out when Spike pulled her away, using his strength to hold her back. Her screams nearly forced him to drop the stake, her earlier words making sense. She was wrong though. In time, she’d get better and find someone. It just couldn’t be him.

“Angel, no!” she screamed, tears flooding down her cheeks now, the faint mascara she had worn – because you had to look good even when fighting the hordes of hell – staining her cheeks with black trails.

Even his lip quivered as he stared at her one last time and raised the stake above his head. “Goodbye.”

In this last moment, his eyes closed, there was nothing but himself. Her screams died down, and the soft pulsing of the portal faded away. Even through closed eyes he could see her, though. Not even the gap between them could make the feel of her skin leave his mind. She had truly infected him over the years. Would she stay with him in hell? Would her face, her imaginary touch be comforts to him through the suffering? Eternity was a long time in hell, but not as long if he had her.

His hands shook as he counted down in his mind from three. Just as he reached zero someone interrupted him, saying, “Always with the angst. I sometimes wonder whether you find some warped happiness in being the tragic hero.”

He opened his eyes to see who had spoken to him and found something he hadn’t expected. Nothing. Everything was still. The portal wasn’t dancing. Cordelia wasn’t screaming. Buffy wasn’t scratching her eye to catch the tear before it fell. They were all frozen in time.

The voice sounded again as a dark figure emerged from the shadows, its accent heavily English. “Quite a parlour trick, wouldn’t you agree, old friend?

It couldn’t be. Could it? “Wesley?”


Part 29

“Wesley?” It couldn’t be. Wesley had died over ten years go. It couldn’t have been him. It was just a distraction, like the time freeze, to take his mind away from stopping the apocalypse. Probably the Senior Partners sending an impersonator in his form.

“I know what you’re thinking, Angel,” Wesley said, a knowing smile etched on his face as he remembered what Angel was like, how he thought. It had been centuries – for him anyway – since he had had to think about it. He only realised how much he missed his old friend, his mannerisms included, when he was stood before him again. “You think I’m just a distraction sent by the Senior Partners to prevent you from stopping the apocalypse.” A small chuckle sounded from his throat. “We broke from their hold a long time ago.”

“Besides,” he continued. “I’m surprised you weren’t expecting this. A man as smart as you must have thought something was amiss when you began hearing whispering voices. I tried to get to you before now but I couldn’t reach you. Only my voice was bridging the gap.”

Angel listened to the image of a man he once considered a brother, watched how he moved, analysed how he spoke. He also sniffed the air a few times to catch the scent. No one could accuse the Senior Partners of lacking attention to detail. This was Wesley, at least until you got down to the rotten, demonic core.

He didn’t take his eyes off it, even when he walked to Cordelia’s side and brushed her cheek gently. He was tempted to tear his head off right there for touching her.

“It’s been so long since I last saw her,” Wesley said, looking into Cordelia’s eyes while his own were teary, and distant as if he was remembering good days gone by. “She was taken from us centuries ago. She still looks as beautiful as she did that day.”

Shaking his head, as if breaking from a daze, he turned to Angel and stepped a little closer. “I know you don’t trust me. I don’t blame you, but you must believe that I am the very same Wesley that you called friend.”

“Alright, I’ll play ball for a while,” Angel replied, replacing the stake that he had been dangling over his chest back in his pocket. “Why are you here?” He refused to call him Wesley. He was going to listen, but he wasn’t ready to trust this was the man he knew just yet.

Just like he used to, Wesley paced up and down, his hands barely moving and his eyes focused on tiny, invisible spots on the floor as he explained. “The Powers that Be sent me. They have a message for you.”

“Guess which three words you shouldn’t have said there.”

“Angel, if you would just-”

“I have no interest in anything the Powers – if that is who sent you – say anymore,” he said, angrily. “I listened to them for far too long and look where it got me, you and everyone else. Why the hell should I care what they say!?”

Wesley reached out his hand to his old friend said, “Come with me and I’ll show you.”

Angel was hesitant, looking back and forth between Wesley’s eyes and hand. There was a choice. Trust someone that might be Wesley, or stake himself and save the people he knew were real.

“If you don’t like what I say and don’t accept our offer, I will return you to this very moment and you can stake yourself, fulfilling your dreams of being the lonely hero giving up all good things for the sake of the world,” Wesley said, remembering this side of Angel all too well.

Pride, and a centuries old distrust of anyone that hadn’t been around him for years, was staying Angel’s hand here. He understood why he didn’t trust, why he didn’t like to get close, but he was a friend. If he couldn’t trust a friend, he was really was a sad, lonely soul.

Angel sighed, took another look at Cordelia and reached out to Wesley.

* * *

Angel blinked repeatedly and rubbed at his sore eyes as a pure white light shone around him, even brighter than that of the White Room. There was nothing but endless white, with him and Wesley stood in the middle of it. He looked around, trying to adjust his eyes, which were only used to dark Los Angeles streets. As he did though, things started to take form.

He could see mountains in the distance, trees, sandy beaches and the bluest sea he had ever laid eyes on. It was the warmth of the sun which brought him out of his awed daze and forced him to rush for the nearest tree to avoid burning up.

He looked back from his shady spot to see Wesley laughing. He knew why. Every day he fought demons of indescribable horror and never feared, but the feel of the sun against his skin soon made him squeal like a girl and run for cover.

“The sun can’t harm you here,” Wesley said, the last remnants of his laugh sounding as he did. “We don’t have UV. No skin cancer in heaven, but we do get lovely tans.”

“Heaven?” It was hard to believe that he was stood in a place vampires should never tread, but looking once more at the beauty of the place, and feeling the calm and peace that the place gave him made it clear that was saying was true. He was in heaven.

“If you didn’t believe I was Wesley before, you can believe it now,” Wesley said as he watched Angel step out from the shade of the tree and just absorb every drop of sunlight he could with a satisfied sigh. “No creature of hell can set foot in these holy places.”

Angel followed without question as Wesley led him by the arm and half-listened while he basked. “This is no ordinary heaven. This is the heaven where all the champions of the Powers That Be find their eternal resting place. It’s a very exclusive club. Millennia worth of champions reside here, including Doyle, myself and Cordelia long ago.”

“But I didn’t bring you here to give you a tour,” Wesley said, his voice becoming suddenly serious, enough to break Angel from his daydream. “I brought you here to make you an offer. A one time only deal given by the Powers That Be to you, if you accept.”

Angel scanned the beach-side apartment that Wesley had led them into. It was like the apartment Cordelia always told him she was going to own when she reached her inevitable superstardom.

“This was her apartment,” Wesley explained, taking a seat by the window.

“What’s the offer?” Angel asked, suspiciously. He was wary of anything they offered anymore.

Aside from that, he didn’t want to talk about Cordelia. She was a painful distraction. Someone he wished he could forget. Maybe that would make everything easier. He hated himself for that, but soon remembered how much he loved her and how meaningless his existence was without her.

“A second chance,” Wesley replied. “Time isn’t just a straight line where nothing we do matters, Angel. There is a start and an end point and every choice we make determines what ending will occur. If a man decides to kiss his wife in the morning instead of leaving straight away, he might avoid being hit by a car. One choice, two different outcomes. The little things are important, but the choices that you, in particular, make are of the utmost importance. You’re not the Powers’ chosen champion for nothing.”

As Angel listened intently, his eyes focused on the sea outside, Wesley continued, “Every choice you made in life has affected what end the world shall face. Walking into an alley to see a beautiful woman, drinking from a gypsy girl, signing away your shanshu. All have played a part, and they are just the tip of the iceberg. Basically, the powers want you to go back and change it all. Relive your life, but this time, make the right choices.”

“Wesley,” Angel began. “I’ve lived a very long time and never in my long existence has there been a moment that I would willingly want to go back to. Why would I subject myself to all that pain and misery again?”

That wasn’t true. Any moment that involved Cordelia was a happy one, especially if Connor was there with them. But reliving those moments exactly as they were wouldn’t be easy, if possible. He may never even see Cordelia again. That wasn’t a pleasant thought, and not something that he would subject himself to, even if changing the past, present, future was the outcome.

“If you go back and change things, life won’t be this horrible mess that it’s turned out to be,” Wesley explained desperately, as if a no from Angel was the end of all things. “It would be the life you were meant to have, the life the Powers wanted you to have in the first place. Numerous times they warned you away from certain choices but you didn’t listen.”

Suddenly angry, Angel asked, “When? When did they ever give a damn about me?”

“When you went after Darla and Drusilla,” was Wesley’s answer. “They sent you a vision that you ignored. You chose the wrong path, and the line of time took another turn towards a less than desirable ending. And here we are.”

“Fair enough, but I needed them far more times than that!”

“It is not their place to interfere in the human world. They guide, but they cannot force the choices of man. That is the way of the Senior Partners who manipulate people to do things to bring about their goals.”

Sighing, Angel stood up and walked to the window to survey the beautiful land before him. It was a stark contrast to the world he had just left, a world of darkness.

“Angel, this is the end,” Wesley said, gravely. “The end of the battle, the victory of the Senior Partners. When you die to save the world, there is no champion left who can fight them and their armies. Within years the world we know shall be nothing more than a word on the lips of those who survive the purges and are enslaved.”

Angel’s contemplative look turned into one of realisation, smug smirk and all. “The Powers don’t want me to go back to have a better life, a second chance. They want me to go back so they don’t lose,” he said. “That’s the way it’s always been. They don’t give a damn about who lives and dies as long as the end is a victory for them. Look around. Millions and millions of fallen champions who lived and died for the Powers’ Great War, pawns in a game of chess. Now the Powers don’t like it that the Senior Partners have checkmate.”

“Yes, look around, Angel,” Wesley said, anger in his voice now. “This place is beyond description. Perfect. These great warriors, some you called friends, rest here for all eternity in peace. No more pain, loss, battles. Just an eternity of happiness. Seems to me the Powers do care. They cared so much that they sent one of their greatest back for one day so she could see the man she loved one last time, and vice versa.”

What he said was true and Angel knew it. The Powers had tried. They had warned him on occasion. They did care, and now they were offering him a chance to go back and change it all for the better. However, he wasn’t sure he wanted to. He was tired, and just wanted to rest. Whether his eternal resting place was heaven or hell, he didn’t feel like he could fight anymore and was ready to end it all, even if that meant eternal damnation for the world.

“I know you’re tired, Angel,” Wesley said, tapping his friend’s shoulder gently. “But let me show you what will happen if you don’t accept this offer.”

Again Wesley reached out his hand to Angel, an encouraging smile on his face. This time, Angel didn’t hesitate.

* * *

Again, it took a few moments for Angel to compose himself. With a few shakes of his head and rubs of his eyes, he gained his composure and took a look around. He knew immediately where he was. It was the roof of Wolfram and Hart where he had fought Danandril and, if not for Wesley’s return, would have staked himself to close the portal that was to suck the world into oblivion.

“Why are we here?”

“One week,” was the answer he gave. “Exactly one week since you gave your life for the world. Look at it. Nothing has changed. Demons still stalk the night, people still suffer. The war rages on in the hearts and minds of all mankind. Until now.”

He pointed at something in the sky while Angel followed his line of sight to some invisible point. He saw nothing but the murky smog of LA silently poisoning every member of its population. “What am I-” Then he saw it. A flicker of, what looked like, electricity, orange like the flames of hell; like the flames in the portal he was going to die to close.

He had seen this before, just before Connor burst through the portal from Quor’toth. That meant one thing. The portal his death would close would still be open and the world would be sucked into nothingness anyway.

“So, if I die, nothing changes? Either way, the world is gone?”

“No,” Wesley replied. “Much worse.” Angel looked away from the sparking wound and into his friend’s eyes. Truth, fear, remorse were all he could see there. “Danandril had it wrong. His master may have been the last demon sucked through and he may have been destroyed in the void between realms, but it is not oblivion that waits beyond the barrier. It is the Senior Partners.”

Confused, Angel gestured for more information, what was given not being enough to satiate his desire to know the fate beyond his death. More importantly, Cordelia’s fate. What seemed to the outside observer as a genuine concern for the world, it was nothing compared to his concern for Cordelia. If anything, he wanted the world saved for her. If the world ended, she went with it.

“The Senior Partners were also among the last to go. The humans believed that the ‘bigger’ demons had priority. The Senior Partners were sent to another dimension, the place they now call home. Llirdryn was to be sent there as well but was caught between worlds. That portal opens, it’s the Senior Partners on the other side,” Wesley explained. “When you die, you close the portal, nullifying Llirdryn’s energy, leaving a clear path for the Senior Partners.

“How many?” Angel asked, desperately, as if he was planning how to stop them. That was, however, impossible. Whatever he chose, facing the Senior Partners was not something he’d be doing. “Can’t Buffy and the Slayers handle them?”

Angel didn’t understand why Wesley laughed. It wasn’t a time for laughing as far as he was concerned.

“The armies will do all the fighting,” Wesley said, a few remaining chuckles sounding as he did. “In six months time, the Senior Partners will come through, followed by their armies, and watch as the plan they’ve been working on for millennia comes to fruition.”

“And our side?”

There was no answer, just a flash of white light and, within moments, they were in another location, but this one was not familiar. It was a wasteland of flames, bodies and war-torn buildings. Then he knew where it was.

“Los Angeles, exactly one year after you give your life,” Wesley said, a sadness filling his voice. Perhaps he felt it as well, the pointlessness of their suffering. They had suffered so long for this?

Wesley continued, “Many battles have been fought. Some have seen victories, but most defeats. The last battle is about to take place and the last resistance to the advancing armies are to put up one more fight. Listen.”

Angel did just that and in the distance he heard it, the feet of thousands marching in unity, drawing ever closer to them. Then, rubble toppling behind him made him turn to see the resistance rise up out of the ashes of war to face their destiny. The resistance, earth’s last stand was nothing more than Buffy, Spike, Illyria and at least 50 slayers. No match for what was approaching in the other direction.

She wasn’t there. That meant only one thing. Cordelia was dead. What was worse though? Dying early, or having to suffer for a year, battling in vain against an enemy that couldn’t be beaten?

“Where does she go, Wes?” he asked, not needing to explain who he was talking about. “Heaven? Will she be happy?” If the answer was yes, he could be happy. At least, despite death, she was in a place where she could have the happiness he wanted for her.

However, Wesley’s head dropped, his eyes watery and his face pale. Without looking, he pointed towards the marching armies which were, had the streets been intact, mere blocks away. What was he looking at?

Suddenly, they stopped, a short running distance from the last of Earth’s warriors. Behind him, he could hear Buffy rallying the troops and their collective heartbeats increasing, vital bursts of adrenaline being pumped though their bodies. But then something else caught his attention.

“Slayer,” came the voice. He looked up to see a woman, with long, brown hair and medium build stood on a large piece of rubble taller than anything else in what was once downtown Los Angeles. She wore battle dress, and a sword was sheathed at her side. Drawing it, she called out, “You ready to take that sweet hell ride, ‘cause I didn’t dress in this for nothing? I mean, it doesn’t even highlight my fantastic cleavage. And don’t even get me started on how it hides my award winning ass!”

“Talking us to death first, Cor?” Buffy shouted back. Angel’s still, dead heart dropped when he heard that name. He had denied it at first, ignoring her familiar voice and appearance as coincidence, but that was irrefutable. Cordelia was evil and fighting for the Senior Partners. “If we’re gonna do this, let’s do it. We’re ready.”

He looked back at the woman he loved still stood on that pillar, a smile now etched on her beautiful face. He had seen that face filled with evil before. It was something he vowed never to see again. He was never going to let her fall victim again. But he had done just that. By saving her, he had damned her.

Watching in horror, she gave her head a quick shake and from pure beauty came pure evil. Her forehead was shaped by ridges, her eyes a golden red and her teeth ready for blood. In her eyes there was a bloodlust, something that didn’t belong there. Those eyes, so innocent and bright, were now housing an evil desire for death, destruction and pain.

“Baby,” she called out. “Let them go, but leave the slayer and the vampire alive!”

After a brief pause, where nothing happened and there was no sound apart from the wind whistling through the cracks in the rubble, there was a huge rumbling as if the earth itself was opening up to swallow them whole. Instead, the armies began their charge with a demonic battle cry, their victory already assured.

Angel and Wesley watched in silence as the armies of hell tore through the last remnants of humanity. Illyria, despite putting up a good fight, was dead within moments as the hordes enveloped her. The slayers were not far behind.

The heat of battle died down, the battle cries fell silent and once again all that could be heard was the wind whistling through the rubble. The armies formed up in front of the two remaining warriors. Buffy and Spike hadn’t been allowed to get into the fight, restrained by demon soldiers from the start. They had had to watch helplessly as their friends were cut down.

Parting like the red sea, the thousand strong army allowed Cordelia through. Laughing maniacally, she stared at the last heroes of earth. Angel couldn’t believe what he was seeing. What had happened to her? Who had done this? Why, even in death, couldn’t he protect her?

“Here we are then,” Cordelia said, her face still vamped out, as she paced in front of the captors. “You know, I could kill you now, but that wouldn’t be very fair, would it. We’re gonna let you go, and we’re gonna end this. No interference. Just us.”

“Two on one? Those are the odds I like to play,” Spike said, ever confident of his abilities even without help.

“Silly boy,” Cordelia replied, wagging her finger and tutting. “You don’t get to play with me.” Facing the army, she called out, “Sweetie, he’s ready.”

Again the soldiers parted and allowed a tall man with dark hair, wearing a long, black coat to walk through. Angel couldn’t believe it when the man finally came within range and he saw who it was.

“Angelus, baby,” Cordelia said, stroking his chest seductively. “Can I have the Slayer?”

“Have whatever you want,” he replied with a smile. “I just want to make sure that my face is the last thing soul boy sees before I send him down to one of my old neighbourhoods.”

Nodding, the soldiers released Buffy and Spike. Angelus vamped out and met vamped Spike in a flurry of punches and kicks. Cordelia was quick to pounce on Buffy, but never stuck around long, hitting a few and then moving away, forcing Buffy to chase.

Angel watched, and slightly enjoyed the sight of himself beating Spike to a pulp. Warrior for good or not, when Spike became nothing but a cloud of dust, the corners of Angel’s, and Angelus’, mouth curled up into the tiniest of smiles. Buffy was next. She was about to stake Cordelia when Angelus walked up behind her and snapped her neck.

As Cordelia and Angelus met with a kiss, everything stopped and a silence fell over the evil, but beautiful, moment. Angel looked to Wesley, whose British resolve stood strong, and waited for an explanation. He knew though, from what he was feeling, that Wesley couldn’t have been taking it well, seeing Cordelia like that. He had come from perfect happiness, to a sharp reminder of hell on earth.

“She loved you too much,” Wesley said. “Every night, to make sure there was no void in your absence, she sheathed your broadsword, strapped stakes to her wrists and patrolled L.A. in the Plymouth. Your training gave her everything she needed to take on vamps and demons. Illyria and Spike were always around to help with the stronger opponents. She took on too much though and, after being beaten in an alley, she was sired.”

“But even then she loved you too much,” Wesley continued. “She joined the Senior Partners and asked them to bring you back. They had the power to do it. They did, the thought of you at their side to appetising to turn down. You came back, soulless of course, and went on a reign of terror with Cordelia. As a reward for this,” Wesley said, pointing at the death and destruction Angelus and Cordelia had caused, “you were given a part of the world, untouched by the armies of hell, to use as a feeding ground for the rest of eternity. I suppose Angelus would see that as romantic in a sadistic way.”

Angel didn’t say anything, dumbfounded by it all. If he goes back, he dies to save the world from being sucked into hell, but then, six months later, the Senior Partners will break through and lay waste to the world and make it their eternal home. Worst of all, Cordelia would be turned and resurrect him, after which they would rule over an untouched land for eternity. He so wanted to go back, stake himself, just to have that ending where he was with her. But it wasn’t her. She wouldn’t be the woman he loved, and he couldn’t allow himself to become that monster again. He didn’t have it in him to unleash his evil self on the world.

So he had a choice. Go back and stake himself but allow the world to be plunged into eternal darkness, or allow the Powers to fold time so he can redo everything and make sure that his life, everyone’s life, turns out the way they were meant to the first time round. He didn’t quite know what that entailed, but he couldn’t allow this to happen.

“I’ll go back,” he said to Wesley, who was stood over Illyria’s dead body, his thoughts focused on Fred. “Fold time and let me redo things. Let me change it for her,” he said as he stared at Cordelia, frozen in time, her evil eyes boring a hole into his soul.

Wesley walked over, a smile on his face, and raised his hand to touch Angel, but he was interrupted. “Wait.” Angel said frantically. “What about Connor? What will happen to him?”

“Angel, if you go back, everything that you remember happening beyond the point where you emerge, never happened. You alone will remember the original time, but it has never happened. Things will change. Some children won’t be born; some who lived last time shall die. But it works both ways. Whatever happens is down to you. You could, if you so wanted, make it so Connor is born. It’s up to you. But, if you don’t, he ceases to be. He never was. All he is is a figment of your imagination.”

“Then I don’t want to remember,” Angel said quickly. “Take away my memories.”

“But, if you have no memory of this time, you will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes.”

“Wes, the Powers are the most powerful beings in existence. I’m pretty sure they can find a way.”

He watched as Wesley listened to something that had no sound, nodding and agreeing with silent words. “Fine,” he said, suddenly. “They have a way in mind to help you make the right decisions. You’ll remember none of this life.”

“Will this time continue on? Will I just be in an alternate reality?” Angel asked, worried that Cordelia’s “suffering” might continue.

“No, one timeline, Angel,” Wesley replied. “The Powers will literally fold time. Everything that you have lived ceases to be. Everything that has happened beyond the point at which you return hasn’t happened. I know it’s hard to grasp but you must trust me.”

A solemn nod was his response, followed by, “Do it, then.” Closing his eyes, he waited.

“Goodbye, old friend. Again, the world owes you a great debt.”

He stared at Cordelia, her face fully transformed into a monster’s and realised exactly how much he had failed. “They owe me nothing.” He wasn’t sure Wesley heard him as his words were immediately followed by another flash of white light and a sickening silence that seemed to stretch off into eternity.

* * *

Voices sounded in the distant. He felt like he was spinning and he was disoriented. Thoughts ran through his mind, routing his synapses one last time. One of the last ones to fade was Connor lying between him and Cordelia. The scent of both of them mixed into a wonderful smell, one that kept him hypnotised and strengthened his love for both of them. Then all he remembered was a strange baby in his arms, and then a strange hotel filled with people who really annoyed him, yet were the world to him.

The hatred he had harboured for humanity started to drift away, fading into nothingness along with his memories. Again he found himself caring for them, wanting to help them, feeling their suffering was undeserved. He realised the Powers needed him at that place so he could truly help, but why he hated them he didn’t know. Then suddenly, he forgot that he had hated them at all.

He forgot he loved Cordelia, and the love that had once completely consumed him disappeared as silently as it had arrived. Cordelia was nothing now, just a face like everyone else. And then nothing.

His only thought now was the voices talking at him as he tried to gain his thoughts. Everything was black and he just wanted them to shut up so he could think. Then he opened his eyes.

Stood before him was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, her hair long and a gorgeous shade of brown. The very rays of light making it into the room danced on her skin as she fiddled with things in what looked like an office. His office. The office he had been living in for three months.

Cordelia. He knew her now. It was Cordelia Chase, from Sunnydale, one of… Buffy’s friends. “Oh my God, Buffy,” he said, the first words he had been able to form since he had experienced whatever it was that he had experienced.

“Uh, rude much? I was talking,” Cordelia said, huffing as she folded her arms and began to tap her foot.

“Sorry,” Angel replied. “I was just off in my own world.” Right now that felt about right. Why the hell did he feel like it had been fifteen years since he had left the basement with Doyle and entered this conversation? Doyle! Another name to a face.

“No worries, bud,” came the Irish accent. “You’re bound to have a lot of things bouncing around that head of yours right now.”

Suddenly, he didn’t even remember being disoriented, or lacking memory. He just fit back in. He was perfectly synchronised with time. All memories had gone and the time he knew had faded away. Beyond this point, nothing had happened. He was just there.

“You want to charge people?” he asked, fitting in beautifully with events. To him it was nothing, but Doyle and Cordelia noticed.

“You’re weird today, Angel,” she replied. “But yeah, we’re bound to help some rich people eventually, right?” she said, looking at Doyle.

“Possibly, yeah.”

“Hand me that box,” she said, hoping to prove her usefulness before laying the smackdown. “So I figure that we should charge based on a case-by-case analysis, but with me working for a flat fee. I mean, um…that is, if… you think that you can use me?”

He felt like he had known her for years, and her smile penetrated his soul, warming his long, dead heart. How could he resist that? With a smile, he handed her the box and watched as she sauntered away.

“You made a good choice,” Doyle said, his Irish brogue pleasant to an old Irishman’s ears. “She’ll provide a connection to the world. She’s got a very… humanizing influence.”

“You think she’s a hottie,” Angel said, understanding perfectly the instant appeal men had in Cordelia. She was, in her own words, salty goodness.

“Ah, yeah, she’s a stiffener alright, I can’t lie about that. But, you know, she could use a hand.”

“True.”

“You know there are a lot of people in this city need helping.”

“Hmm. So I noticed,” Angel replied, thinking back on the woman he failed to save, Tina. He had gotten revenge for her, but it was too late.

“You game?”

Angel didn’t know what it was. It was as if a destiny, a long forgotten duty was calling out to him, pleading with him to save the world. All he knew was that the people of the world shouldn’t suffer like they do and he wanted to help them, and he wanted Doyle and Cordelia at his side when he did.

With a smile, he turned to his little Irish acquaintance and replied, “I’m game.”


…THE END…


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