If Only You Knew


AUTHOR: SIDEWALK DOCTOR (aka CAT)
SUMMARY: Based on a challenge issued by Scorch. Set in late S1ish. Buffy and the gang arrive in L.A. Mayhem and awkwardness ensues. And Buffy finds out about C/A. Fun to be had by all!
RATING: NC17
POSTED: 8 Jan 2006
CATEGORY: ADVENTURE / ROMANCE / MILD POETIC SMUT / CHALLENGE FIC
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A
WARNINGS: Sexual Content
FICPIC CREDIT: N/A
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) Thanks to Cali for being a kick-ass beta and coming up with this title!
STATUS: Incomplete


Chapter One

It was as if they were meant to be together, as if their bodies were made just for the other. Time and space seemed to fall away, consumed in the flurry of kisses, caresses, ragged breaths and racing heartbeats. She had woven a spell around him, a dark and exquisite magic that pulled him deeper and deeper with every silken thrust and every soft cry that spilled from her lips.

In and out, up and down… their bodies rose and fell like waves on the sea, intoxicating, irresistible, every moment punctuated by the crack of thunder or the flash of lightning outside the bedroom window. Rain came down in sheets, soaking the glass, but inside the room the forces of nature worked with equal passion and violence. She arched languidly beneath him, his name issuing from her lips in a whispered plea or prayer. Her fingernails raked deep scratches in his back as his fingers tangled in her silky dark hair, her head thrown back to expose the smooth, fair expanse of her neck. So soft, so tempting… so his.

He wanted to taste her, consume her, devour her. He wanted all of his senses filled with her. It wasn’t enough, wasn’t enough. Heaven help him, but if he ever believed in anything resembling religion, she would be it. He worshipped every inch of her silken skin, her strong, lithe body, her passionate and beautiful soul. She was so small, so fragile compared to him, yet she could break him with as much as one glance. She looked at him and he shattered like glass before her, arrested by those rich hazel eyes that could so easily strip away his pride, his defenses, his fears… his soul.

Oh God. Oh God, oh God, oh God. A clap of thunder rang out with exceptional violence, the subsequent flash of lightning illuminating the room with a ghastly, pallid glow. He lurched up in bed, some unseen force tearing him apart inside, simultaneously pulling and tugging until he feared he might fly to pieces. He could feel it inside of him, pushing, struggling, slowly gaining dominance as the last of his humanity slipped away. No! He had to stop it, had to stop it… it wouldn’t happen again. He wouldn’t let it. Not this time. Not again. Not with her…

“No!” Angel sat bolt-upright in bed, sheets soaked with sweat, the room impossibly hot and stuffy. It took a moment for him to get his bearings. That he was alone, still in his room below the office, still with his soul intact.

And someone was banging on the door.

“Angel! The one time I show up on time, and you’re the one sleeping in. Payback’s a bitch, buster!”

Angel groaned and swung his feet over the edge of the bed, nearly tripping over the sheet that had wrapped around him from all the tossing and turning. Impatiently he swatted it away, figuring he’d bother with the bed later. Meanwhile, the incessant pounding on his door was doing little to soothe what remained of his nightmare-induced headache.

He managed to tug on a pair of pants before staggering out to the door, blinking sleep from his eyes. He had no sooner opened it that Cordelia swept inside, hazel eyes flashing and a scowl across her face.

“Took you long enough! I was wondering if you were in a coma or something.”

Groggily Angel faced the angry brunette, who stood before him with her arms folded over her ample chest and her chin jutted out at a defiant angle. She was clad in a tight little sports bra top and warm-up pants that hugged her round rounded bottom a little too tightly for his comfort. In fact, given the dream he’d just had, a burlap sack would probably be too tight for his comfort. “Cordelia… what are you doing here so early?”

She heaved a huge sigh, rolling her eyes. “Hello, training! You said to be here at eight, sleeping beauty. Jeez, did you get hit on the head during that last fight or something? Maybe it knocked something loose.”

His only response was his special “Cordelia” glare, the one that mixed equal parts exasperation, amusement, and endearment.

Cordy was less than impressed. With an indignant hmph she crossed the room toward the supply of weapons he kept downstairs. “Well, hurry up and get dressed. I want to learn more swordfighting. You said we would learn more today.”

“You mean fencing.”

“Whatever, you know what I mean.” She withdrew a particularly long and dangerous-looking weapon from his stash, eyes sparkling with excitement. “This is so cool. Now if a bad guy shows up, I can just shoomp shoomp shoomp !” She punctuated each shoomp with a sweep of her sword, narrowly missing Angel’s ear in the process.

“All right, enough swordplay for you.” He grabbed her wrist to take the sword from her, and nearly jumped at the jolt of electricity that shot through him. You have got to get that dream out of your head , he ordered himself, hastily pulling his hand away. Cordelia looked shocked and offended.

“God! What is your problem? I knew exactly what I was doing!”

“Yes, that is why you almost shoomp shoomped my ear off.”

“I was just testing your reflexes,” she said with a haughty lift of her chin. “You know, seeing if you were awake.”

He responded by tossing her patented “Cordelia” glare, the same one from before. She regarded him balefully, lower lip thrust outward in that oh-so-delectable pout of hers. The one that made him want to draw that lower lip between his teeth and nibble…

Maybe he should start the training ASAP. He was more than willing to brave the risk Cordelia and swords posed to his ears, if it meant working off some of that leftover lunacy—er, tension—from that blasted dream.

Unfortunately, that decision ended up having the opposite effect. Teaching Cordelia swordplay involved far too much physical contact for his comfort. As he stood beside her, his hand over hers as he showed her how to hold the sword, all he could think of was how perfectly her lush curves molded to his muscular frame and how warm her skin must be under those tight clothes and how unnervingly close that perfect butt was to… certain parts of his anatomy.

It also didn’t help that she wiggled that perfect butt quite often while adjusting her stance. Which of course caused him to squirm uncomfortably lest the contact cause an unexpected and incredibly humiliating physical reaction on his part.

God, he could just picture her face. “Dammit, Angel! What the hell is wrong with you! Can’t you just watch porn like other guys and get it out of your system?”

On the bright side, at least she’d know he wasn’t a eunuch.

Cordelia’s eager voice brought him back to the present, and not a moment too soon. “OK, like this?” she asked. Swish!

He leapt aside just in time. “Cordelia, if we make it through this lesson with all my body parts still attached, I will consider it a success.”

He fully expected Cordelia to fire back with one of the snappy retorts that seemed perpetually on the tip of her tongue, but she had gone eerily still, the sword hanging limply at her side while her forehead crinkled in a pained expression. Quick as a flash he was at her side, catching her just as the sword clattered to the floor beside her.

The images sliced through her head like a knife, white-hot and blinding, leaving their imprints burned on her brain like flashes on the retina after looking directly into the sun. But the fear, the despair—she felt it, tasted it, was engulfed by it so thoroughly and fiercely that she was unsure if the pain that seized her body was only physical. She heard the victim’s heartbeat thundering, felt the blood roaring in her ears as panic bled into the terrifying, icy sensation upon realizing that she was indeed going to die. No, please, not yet… not like this…

“Cordelia…” Angel’s voice sounded muted and far away. But she felt his strong hands holding her, supporting her as he gently lowered her into a chair. “What do you see?”

And then it was over, the horrific images faded away, and she was left only with the acute throbbing headache that always followed these visions. “A girl… an alley… oh God, Angel, she was so scared. So scared…”

“Shhh, it’s OK… we’re going to help her.” The vampire drew her close to comfort her, pleased that she couldn’t see the anguish that her pain brought him.

“It was… it looked familiar. By that park on Sunset, I think… with the basketball courts… you know the one…”

“Yes, I know where that is.” Cordelia was referring to a location she undoubtedly passed every day while driving to the office from her Silver Lake apartment.

Angel grabbed a notepad and pen and jotted down the details of Cordelia’s vision. Meanwhile, she was still curled up in the chair, her appearance very small and vulnerable compared to her display of ferocity just a few moments ago. “Hang on, I’ll get you some water,” he said, and quickly grabbed a glass from the kitchen.

When he got back, Cordelia accepted the water gratefully and took a long sip. Angel could tell she was still rattled, and noted grimly that the effects of her visions appeared to be getting even worse. As much as he hated to speak ill of the dead, he almost cursed Doyle for unwittingly passing them on to her. The half-demon could handle them. He was tough. But Cordelia… she was just a girl. A girl who hadn’t been chosen for anything other than a “normal” teenage life, who just happened to be drawn into this insanity by having the unfortunate luck of befriending a slayer…

“Is that all?” Angel asked, and hated himself for being unable to say anything other than that, anything more comforting or caring or something to help ease her pain.

Cordelia shook her eyes, hazel eyes round and suspiciously bright. “This girl… she’s different. Not like anything we’ve dealt with before.”

Angel’s disquietude grew. “How so?”

“Because she’s like me. Like Doyle.”

“She’s part demon?”

“ I’m not part demon, genius. Angel, s he sees. ”

“So she foresaw her own death… and you saw her foreseeing her own death,” Angel summed up, not really caring about how awkward the sentence sounded given the bizarre nature of Cordelia’s vision.

The brunette nodded , her fine features still twisted into a grimace as she held the glass to her forehead. “I… I’m not sure. But I suspect I might have. Either way, I just knew that she could. And her fear wasn’t just because she was going to die. It was deeper than that. It was confusion, despair, a feeling of being so overwhelmed… I haven’t gotten anything like that from another vision.”

Angel simply nodded, once again reminded of what an inadequate, trite gesture it was to describe his turbulent feelings. “I believe you.”

“We have to save her. Not just because it’s what we do but because…”

She didn’t have to finish the sentence. He understood. Because I’m not alone.

His mouth stretched in a taut, thin line, and he stood up straight. “I’ll get Wes. You wait here, and rest.”

He knew he shouldn’t have been surprised, but somehow he was when Cordelia set the glass down and rose to her feet, making a valiant and near successful effort to hide the shakiness in her legs. “No way, no how. I’m going with you.”

“Cordelia…”

But the brunette wasn’t hearing any of it. Despite her fragile state, she placed her hands defiantly on her hips, adopting a poker face to hide the aftershocks of vision pain. “In the past four years I’ve been stalked by a psycho invisible girl, used as a human sacrifice by evil frat boys, lived in fear for months that I would get attacked in my car by… well, you… knocked up by a demon spawn surrogate and beaten up by a rogue slayer. And all of those times, I’ve done nothing. I’ve had enough of being on the sidelines. It’s time I actually got to help .”

“Cordelia, you’ve been helping,” Angel tried to explain, but was interrupted by a perfectly manicured finger being jabbed at his chest.

“Answering phones, researching demons, and organizing your files is not helping. Being the carrier of mind-numbing skull-crushing visions… well, that’s a help, I guess, but in the end I’m still sitting here while you, Wesley and Gunn go off being macho men.”

“But that’s enough,” Angel tried to explain. “You have your part, and we have ours.”

“Yes, but how has the sitting in the office helped keep me out of danger? No matter what you do to ‘protect’ me danger always finds me.”

“Yes, all the more reason you shouldn’t go looking for it,” Angel retorted sharply. But he could tell from the look on Cordelia’s face that his arguments might as well be aimed at a brick wall. Once she made up her mind to do something, there was no stopping her. Frankly, if he were smart he’d just throw her over his shoulder and lock her in his bedroom till he got back. But despite the ways she frustrated him, he knew he’d never get physical with her—especially since the thought of carrying her into his bedroom might lead to other ways of getting physical, which was not good for anyone involved.

Meanwhile, Cordelia had already dismissed his protests and was going for the long sword that had almost severed his ear that morning. As she turned and walked back to him, Angel didn’t miss the ever so slight wince she gave when another post-vision headache flared up.

He frantically seized this slip in a last-ditch effort to keep her from coming. “You just had a vision. If you’re still in pain, you’re at a disadvantage. I can’t afford to take that chance.”

Her only response was a withering glare. “Angel, after months of carrying these visions, I think I know when I can handle it and when I can’t. Trust me, I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it.”

Oh, but he did. First of all, he was well aware that if nothing else—well, except perhaps talking too much and being a general pain in the ass at times—Cordelia was brave. Not to mention stubborn as an ox. And in this case, he feared that bravery was clouding her common sense.

He tried a different tack. “I don’t need you distracting me,” he said gruffly. “You’ll be a liability.”

For an instant he swore he saw something—hurt? Disappointment?—flash across Cordelia’s face. But the expression faded as quickly as it had appeared, and her stubborn scowl had returned. Damn it, that woman drove him crazy sometimes. Truth was, it wasn’t her stubbornness that discombobulated him so much as that fierce sense of protectiveness he felt for her. The idea of her in danger filled him with a gut-wrenching anxiety that he hadn’t felt—hadn’t allowed himself to feel—since… someone else.

Angel forced away the painful and all-too fresh memories, choosing instead to focus on the willful young woman before him. Clearly she hadn’t been listening to a word he’d been saying, or if she had, she didn’t care. She merely shook her head and said, “You’re not going to talk me out of this. You know that, right?”

He sighed, raking a hand through his heavily gelled hair. “Fine. Stay behind me. Don’t do anything unless I tell you to,” he growled, turning and grabbing his coat before striding up the stairs.

He could practically hear Cordelia rolling her eyes as her light footsteps sounded on the stairs behind him. He couldn’t decide who was in more trouble here—her or him.


Chapter Two

Echo Park was never a particularly safe place to be at night, particularly south of Sunset. The neighborhood, located just outside of downtown L.A., had once been a hip, boho district full of funky boutiques and vintage clothing stores. Now, the once-chic storefronts were shabby and dingy, the walls covered in grime, peeling paint, and graffiti. Dilapidated tenements and houses marched up and down the hillside on either side of Sunset Boulevard. The park itself was still lovely, but the surrounding area wore a constant air of neglect and squalor.

During the day, the Hollywood sign was faintly visible in the distance, an irony not lost on the three investigators. Now, in the darkness, there wasn’t much to be seen but the seemingly endless sprawl of lights across the Los Angeles basin. They climbed out of Angel’s GTO, parked on a side street off Sunset and by the park Cordelia had seen in her vision. The street was quiet, save for the usual L.A. sounds—the faint rumble of traffic on the 110, a booming car stereo, the distant wail of a siren. Angel took the lead as the gang walked toward the alley, weapons at the ready as they glanced around the dark street suspiciously.

Cordelia could not deny the little thrill that coursed through her at the thought of being part of her first fight—well, her first intentional fight. Back in Angel Investigations’ infancy, she and Doyle were mostly the cleanup crew after Angel had finished disposing of the bad guys. Now that Wes and sometimes Gunn were around, she had even less to do. Despite her bravado earlier, though, a trickle of fear wormed its way into her previously buoyant mood. It wasn’t only demons she was worried about. They weren’t in a safe neighborhood—reports of gang activity here frequently made the news, and a broadsword wouldn’t do her a heck of a lot of good against stray bullets.

Following her boss’s advice, she stayed close to Angel, although she tried to make it look like she was only doing it because he made her instead of out of (mild, not a big thing really) fear. She strained her ears for any suspicious noises, kept her eyes peeled for any movement. The street was as quiet as could be expected at this hour. She wondered if this vision was a fluke. It could happen, right? Even if it hadn’t happened so far …

A bloodcurdling scream rent the air as something suddenly shot out of the darkness and grabbed her ankle. Shrieking, Cordelia kicked furiously and raised her sword. But before she could lash out with it she found herself staring into the bloodshot eyes of a homeless man. “Spare some change?” he asked in a reedy voice.

Heart thundering against her ribs, Cordelia yanked her cross-trainer-clad foot back and glared at him. Although she did feel sorry for the man, he’d scared her half to death. Didn’t these guys sleep? Wesley took pity on the man and pressed a bill into his grimy palm. “Thank you, bless you!” the homeless man called after them, and shuffled off.

Angel didn’t say a word, lips pressed tightly together and brow crinkled. Cordelia didn’t need to hear the words to know he was pissed. Well, it wasn’t her fault! Did she ask some crazy homeless guy to grab her leg? He could just as easily have grabbed Wesley’s leg! Angel wouldn’t have been all pissy if he’d done that, she was sure. He wouldn’t be all weird and overprotective. She shot Wesley a fierce glare, leaving the Englishman confused by her momentary hostility. What did he do?

Suddenly Angel stopped dead in his tracks, motioning Cordy and Wesley to stop as well. Cordy, who had been momentarily distracted by her thoughts, stumbled to a halt and Wesley bumped into her.

There was a faint, high-pitched sound coming from the alley… a whimper, like a cat… or someone crying? Cautiously, Angel entered the alley, Cordy and Wesley behind him. It was empty, save for a small figure huddled behind a dumpster. It was a girl, sitting on the damp asphalt with her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped around them. Her face was hidden by a tangled mass of stringy light brown hair.

Angel walked up to her. “It’s OK… we’re going to help you…” he started to say, only to be interrupted by Wesley’s sudden cry of, “Look out!”

Cordelia barely had time to react before several dark shapes emerged from the shadows. A shriek tore from her throat as one of the shapes lunged straight toward her, fangs bared and dripping with a slimy viscous substance. It was about the size of a wolf, with long perilous fangs and glowing, protuberant yellow eyes. Its thick and spiny hide looked almost as dangerous as its teeth. But worst of all was the foul, fetid stench it emitted—like the olfactory embodiment of death and decay.

Cordelia recalled only a blur of motion and a low guttural growl as the creature knocked her down. It attacked savagely, slimy fangs bared and eyes glinting with deadly intent. Fighting back her terror, she flailed and kicked beneath it as she scrambled for her weapon. The creature was too close for her to use her sword… she’d have to try something else. Her right fingers closed around the hilt of the dagger she’d tucked in her belt, just as pain exploded in her left arm. “Oh, you are so going down, you… demony thing!” she cursed, yanking her dagger free and slashing out frantically. It contacted flesh; she drove it in with all her strength. The creature shrieked in pain, giving her enough of a distraction to scramble to her feet and grab her sword.

Unfortunately, the wound she had inflicted seemed only to anger the beast more, although it did slow it down. As the creature lunged toward her she lashed out with her sword, rewarded when it contacted flesh. Gaining more confidence, she slashed again and again, finally managing to sever the creature’s head. Bile rose in her throat as she regarded the grisly spectacle, and for a moment she thought she might throw up. But she knew she had to stay alert. Still clutching the bloody sword in both hands, she glanced around to see how her friends were faring.

Across the alleyway, Wesley was holding his own against another one of the beasts. Angel was vamped out and battling one creature, dispatching it cleanly when his blade slid between the beast’s phosphorescent eyes. He went on to fend off another one, seemingly unfazed. The whole time, Cordelia was keenly aware of the grace and mastery with which the vampire fought. Now that she was learning herself, she could fully appreciate his skill. But despite his fighting prowess, Angel was outnumbered, and Cordelia knew he needed help.

At that moment, the vampire’s eyes fell up on her. He briefly took in her bloodied state—although most of the blood wasn’t actually hers, he probably couldn’t tell at the moment—and a look of… something flashed across his eyes. Fear? Concern? Cordelia wanted to shout that she was all right, but before she could react, disaster struck. Angel’s momentary distraction had cost him, and one of the beasts lashed out and managed to gouge on his arm.

Yelping in pain, Angel forced himself to turn away from Cordelia as he dealt with the more immediate threat. Furious with herself for being the cause of his distraction, Cordelia gritted her teeth and jumped into the fray. Angel, wounded, was now fighting off two of the beasts. Forcing herself to ignore the throbbing pain in her left arm, Cordelia raised the sword with both hands and plunged it into the back of the second creature just before it tackled Angel.

He shot her a grateful look before immediately turning to finish off the first beast. Cordelia was grateful to let him take over, the pain in her arm becoming too much as she slumped against the wall of the alley. Fortunately, the fight seemed to be over. Between Angel, Wesley, and herself, several creatures lay dead or dying in the alley—either they had killed them all, or the survivors had run off. Either way, for the moment they appeared safe.

Angel surveyed the scene grimly, a battered but seemingly none the worse for wear Wesley joining him. Although the Englishman had sustained a few wounds, it was nothing serious.

Angel grew even paler, if that was possible, when he caught sight of Cordelia’s arm. “Cordelia, you’re hurt…”

“I’ll be fine,” she assured him, but her slight flinch belied her offhand tone. Her sleeve was already soaked in blood. She hoped it was just a flesh wound—those bled a lot and weren’t really serious, right? Even if they did hurt like a sonofabitch…

“Here, let me see that.” Angel inspected Cordelia’s wound closely, concern reflected in his brown eyes. Grimly he tore off a strip of his shirt and wound it around her arm in a makeshift tourniquet. For a moment Cordy was struck by the reversal in their roles—usually it was she bandaging his wounds after a bad fight. She was surprised by how gentle and caring his hands were—the same hands that just moments ago had brutally slain several demon hounds or whatever the hell they were. That was the thing with Angel. He might come off as Mr. Grouchy Broodypants Creature-of-the-Night, but there were moments… albeit rare moments, but moments–when she saw through the façade to the part of him that was, at the end of the day, just a man.

She glanced up at his eyes, and all the feelings of tenderness immediately drained away. After his initial concern, they had grown very dark, and he had that look again—the thin-lipped, crinkly-foreheady one he only got when he was really stressed or pissed.

Great. He was pissed at her for having gotten herself hurt after she’d just saved his ass. Typical!

“Angel, you take care of Cordelia… I’ll see to the girl,” Wesley said, and walked across the alley to comfort her. Angel barely noticed.

“I knew I shouldn’t have let you come,” he muttered, still looking at Cordelia.

She scowled. “Hey, in case you forgot, I saved your ass out there!”

“If it weren’t for you, my ass wouldn’t need to be saved!”

Cordelia’s mouth dropped open. “What?”

“You distracted me.”

“Yeah, well… if I hadn’t been there, who knows what would’ve happened?” she countered, hazel eyes flashing. “I killed one of those things, in case you forgot! Why do you think I’m covered in blood?”

Angel’s scowl did not budge. “Well, when I saw that you were hurt, I felt…”

“Felt what?” Cordelia shot back. “Like I wasn’t capable of defending myself? Like all I’m good for is sitting in the office getting visions….”

“I felt fear,” Angel interjected, his scowl deepening. “That it was my fault for bringing you here. Afraid of not being able to save you.”

Whatever reply Cordelia had been ready to fire back died on her lips. She had expected him to get all grouchy and boss-manly and… well, Angel-like. But never would she have expected to hear that.

However, before she could think of anything to say, Angel gruffly checked over her arm and muttered, “I think you’ll be all right till we get back to the office. Come… let’s check on the girl.”

Without waiting for a reply he lumbered across the alley. Biting her lip, still thrown for a loop, Cordelia followed.

“She’s OK, right?” she asked worriedly, once she and Angel caught up to Wesley and the girl.

“She doesn’t appear to be hurt,” Wesley confirmed, kneeling down beside her. She was still sitting on the ground hugging her legs, gazing straight ahead with huge, glazed blue eyes. Cordelia was struck by how pale she was—worse than Wesley, and God knew that guy needed a visit to the cheap-but-reputable tanning place in Studio City that she occasionally visited. The girl appeared to be a young teenager, about fifteen or sixteen. She was a waif, her tattered skirt, t-shirt, and ratty sweater practically hanging off her gaunt frame. It took a moment for Cordelia to realize she was shivering—and it was only in the lower sixties outside.

“Hey there… it’s OK now, you’re safe,” Cordelia assured the girl, kneeling beside her. At the sound of her voice, the girl looked up. For the first time, she seemed to acknowledge her rescuers—well, Cordy at least. Her gaze fell upon Cordy’s bloody and bandaged arm. “You’re hurt.”

Cordelia put on a tough smile. “Yeah, but I’ll be all right. Are you hurt?”

The girl didn’t respond, her vacant stare returning. Cordelia shifted her weight awkwardly. But before any of the gang could say anything, the girl spoke again.

“They’re coming for me… and now they’ll be coming for you, too.” She turned up to Cordy with round, terrified eyes. “Go now. Save yourselves!”

Cordelia peered at the girl with equal parts confusion and concern. “Sweetie, the alley is empty… no one’s here. You’re safe.”

The girl just shook her head, so fiercely her stringy hair swung back and forth. “They won’t go away… death won’t stop them. They’ll keep coming… they won’t stop until they find us. All of us.”

Cordelia paled, severely creeped out by the urgency in the girl’s voice. While she did seem terribly disoriented, and her babblings made little if any sense at all, something told her that she’d better heed this one.

She glanced up at Angel and Wesley, who seemed equally perturbed. Somehow, she couldn’t shake the niggling sense that the girl was right and they weren’t out of danger yet. Far from it.

***

Angel and Wesley disposed of the bodies—a rather disgusting and nasty task Cordelia had no compunctions about leaving to them, if only because Angel insisted she stay back and watch over the girl. She’d done enough, he’d said, and she was already injured. After Angel and Wesley returned, the gang stopped to reconnoiter briefly.

Cordelia had finally coaxed the girl out of the alley, Angel’s coat draped around her shivering form. She was so tiny, the coat practically engulfed her. She let Wesley and Angel assist her, but spoke and addressed only Cordelia. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get any more information out of her but the same incoherent babblings she’d been uttering in the alley. They had no way of knowing if she had a home, or parents, or even what her name was. Judging by the rattiness of her garments and her general unkempt state, she likely hadn’t experienced the creature comforts of home in a while.

“She might be a runaway,” Wesley surmised. “Probably been living on the streets.”

“We need to take her back with us,” Cordelia spoke up, drawing curious stares from her associates. “Someone must’ve sent those hellhounds or whatever they were after her. If she’s really a seer, then it’s not hard to believe that someone would want to get to her.”

Angel and Wesley had to acknowledge the validity of Cordelia’s points. Although both men were still leery about taking this strange girl back to the office, they understood Cordelia’s concerns. After months of believing she was the only one with visions, she was undoubtedly eager to meet another person like her—particularly someone who was, like her, a young girl.

So far, she seemed harmless. While personal experience told Angel that even the smallest wisp of a girl could have powers he didn’t know about, so far this one had exhibited nothing out of the ordinary but being utterly terrified and not entirely lucid. She was probably still in shock. Angel’s Investigations was about helping the helpless—and this girl wouldn’t have appeared in Cordelia’s vision if she weren’t among the latter… right?

So they brought the girl back to the office. She cooperated, and while she remained silent, it seemed that she understood she was in the company of friends. Try as they might, however, no one but Cordelia could seem to get anything out of her.

“There we go… I knew there was a girl somewhere under all that dirt,” she kidded, dabbing their guest’s face with a damp washcloth. Despite Cordelia’s soothing tone, the girl didn’t seem much more relaxed than she had been earlier.

“I’m Cordelia,” she continued in a casual vein, as though the girl were actually engaging in the conversation. “What’s your name?”

The girl didn’t answer. Cordelia glanced dubiously at her associates, only to immediately turn back when she heard a softly murmured, “Anna.”

Pleased that she was making some headway, Cordelia broke into her brilliant smile. “Hey, Anna… nice to meet you.”

Anna just gazed at her with those huge round eyes, looking more frail and childlike than ever. Cordelia continued asking her questions, but Anna’s brief moment of lucidity seemed to have ended, and she began mumbling the same dire predictions she’d issued back in the alley.

Knowing that it was pointless to continue, the gang finally agreed that Anna might be more cooperative once she had some rest. Angel suggested she stay at his place, where she’d be safe. Cordelia helped get her cleaned up, then gave her some spare clothes she kept at the office, just in case. Anna was so thin that Cordelia’s sweats hung off her like a sack, but it was the best they could do for now. It wasn’t long before the girl drifted off into a restless sleep.

Angel took advantage of the quiet to better clean out and bandage Cordelia’s wound, while Wesley got cleaned up. She winced slightly as Angel dabbed antiseptic solution across the long, shallow slash on her arm, It was red and sore, but at least she wouldn’t need stitches by the look of it. He was looking even grouchier than before, which in turn brought back Cordelia’s earlier irritation.

“Jeez, Angel, what’s your deal?” she demanded. “You and Wes get hurt in fights all the time. I’ll be fine.”

“I’m a vampire… I heal fast,” Angel said shortly. “And as for you and Wesley, do you think I’m happy when one of you gets hurt?”

“Obviously not, but you don’t get all weird and… I don’t know, like you are now when he gets hurt.” She scowled.

“Wesley has more experience in this sort of thing than you do.”

Cordelia snorted. “Wesley? Mr. Uptight Watcher Man? Please! I bet he never got a speck of dirt on those Pierre Cardin slacks before he went all rouge demon hunter on us. Does it drive you so insane to have me in there with you, instead of sitting here waiting for Macho Man Angel to rescue me?”

A scowl clouded Angel’s rugged features. “You’re a liability. I don’t need you there to worry about.”

“Liability?! Gee, thanks!” she replied, stung. “Well, if I hadn’t been there tonight, you’d be worried about a lot more than a small flesh wound on my arm!”

Angel took one look at the indignant spark in Cordelia’s hazel eyes, and grudgingly had to admit—to himself at least—that she had a point.

Cordelia sat back with a triumphant look upon her face, knowing by his expression that she’d got him there. “Admit it, Fangy… I did well tonight. I held my own, and no one needed to rescue me—quite the opposite.”

“You did well,” Angel conceded, albeit sounding grudging- although inwardly he reckoned she’d just been lucky this time round; he still didn’t like the idea of her being in the line of fire.

“So am I in on the next mission or not?” Cordelia persisted. “I know Anna is probably in shock right now, but… something about her warnings really creeped me out. Something’s got her terrified, and whoever sent those hellhounds after her tonight probably isn’t going to quit. She only seems to open up to me, for whatever reason… maybe because I’m a seer, too. She might sense it or something, or maybe she saw me in her vision. I know you want to protect me, Angel, but whatever’s going on here, concerns me, too.”

“You’re putting that much faith in the babblings of a scared teenager?” Angel asked dubiously.

“Well, do we have anything else to go on?” Cordelia countered. “We don’t really have a choice right now but to believe that for whatever reason, the PTB sent me that vision to protect Anna. But maybe it was a warning too … that whatever is after Anna is after me, too.”

“If Anna is to be believed,” Angel pointed out.

“I believe her. I can’t say why exactly, but I do.” Concern shone in Cordelia’s eyes. “Angel, we have to help her. She’s terrified and confused… she’s barely more than a kid. I’m having a hard enough time dealing with these visions, now… I can’t even imagine how I would’ve dealt if I’d gotten them at her age.”

Angel nodded, touched by Cordelia’s protectiveness of Anna. Despite her bitchy exterior, Angel had known Cordelia long enough to see that beneath that façade lay a deep-seated compassion and vulnerability few others ever got to see. Having finished bandaging Cordelia’s wound, he took her hand in both of his. “We’ll help her… I won’t let anything happen to either of you.”

Cordelia responded with a small, grateful smile, and lightly squeezed his hand. For a moment, they both just sat there, taking comfort in each other’s companionship. As much as she relished her independence, sometimes she was perfectly content to lean on Angel… and to let him lean on her, although she knew that he’d be damned before he’d crack his tough-guy façade and let her know it. It was odd to think that one of the moments when she felt most safe and secure was in Angel’s office, with a terrified girl asleep on his bed and who knows what after them.

“So do I get to be in charge for the next one or what?” she asked eagerly.

“Huh?” Angel looked slightly disoriented.

“The next mission. Can I be in charge?”

He frowned. “Cordelia…”

“Come on, Angel… I proved myself tonight. You agreed. And this case involves me as much as it does you and Wesley—perhaps more.” Her lower lip jutted out in that pout that made her that much harder for Angel to resist. “Well… I suppose,” he sighed, his reluctance obvious. “But I’m keeping my eye on you…”

Cordelia, despite her injury, was tempted to throw her arms around Angel and squeal. But before she could act on it the moment was interrupted by the crunch of shattering glass and the crash of the downstairs door being thrown open.


Chapter 3

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author mentioned that chapter 3 was already written at the time of posting Chapter 2. So, um, where is it?


…TO BE CONTINUED…

THIS APPEARS TO BE AN UNFINISHED STORY


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