Crisis at Crater Lake


Crisis_at_Crater_Lake


A case leads the Angel Investigations Team to Crater Lake where the rising heat and flaring tempers could change the team dynamic forever.

  • CONTENTS:   C/A in AtS
  • RATING:   PG-13
  • LENGTH:   Short Story / 7,500 words
  • STATUS:   Completed
  • CHALLENGE:   AO/FSB Challenge: Theme#2 The Water Fight
  • FIC NOTE:   Crater Lake National Park is actually in Oregon, but for the duration of this story it is in California somewhere outside of Los Angeles.
  • FICPIC CREDIT:   Lysa

It did more than make me grin and giggle like a maniac, it reminded me why I love fanfic.
—Scorch / Angel’s Oasis

Crisis at Crater Lake

Hyperion Hotel, Los Angeles

“There’s a monster at Crater Lake?” Cordelia’s raised brows indicated her doubt. She dropped her gaze back down to the newest edition of Cosmo before adding, “That sounds like something from a bad horror movie.”

Sitting on the circular couch in the center of the lobby, she was trying to stay focused on her one priority: relaxing. Too much had been getting on her nerves, lately, namely Angel. Ever since they got back from the ballet the other night, he’d been hovering. If she had to listen to his apologetic stuttering once more, Cordy figured she’d start screaming.

On top of her frustration with Angel, the weather had turned from being hot & dry to simply scorching. The Hyperion’s version of air conditioning was antiquated and barely kept the heat from reaching suffocation levels. The portable fans she bought with the company card were making it tolerable, but Cordelia hated the icky sticky feeling on her skin.

It hadn’t taken much to convince Angel that they should move into her apartment until the heat wave was over. “All this heat isn’t good for the baby.”

The look of panic on his face was priceless. Shuffling his feet, he’d seemed like he was about to bolt for the stairs only stand there with a big blank stare that hinted at confusion. “You meant move the office, right?”

“Duh! Hello!” There were times when she questioned the superiority of vampire hearing. What did he think she was suggesting? “We can work out of my living room like we used to. Connor’s crib can stay there or the bedroom.”

Angel had nodded, “That’s what I thought.” He was upstairs packing a diaper bag when their new client arrived.

Bursting through the front door on the verge of collapse, a haggard man panted his plea. “Where is the vampire? I need his help.”

“So you know Angel is a vampire.” Wes pursed his lips. The man obviously wasn’t an ordinary client off the streets. Voice laced with suspicion, he inquired, “Whom might you be, precisely?”

“Mike,” he said leaning against the front counter for support. Sweat beaded on his brow. Visible damp spots caused his cotton shirt to cling to his chest leaving dark swatches behind. “Michael Tolliver. I-I work for David Nabitt.”

Cordelia lowered her magazine to take a closer look at the newcomer. Wrinkled, his clothes were actually well-made if not designer. The shirt, shorts and shoes appeared typical of a Geek-on-Vacation. He obviously hadn’t come straight from Nabitt’s office with a generous check for a new assignment.

“How is Mr. Nabitt?” Wes asked in a suddenly cheery tone.

Before answering, Mike Tolliver gulped down the cup of water that Fred handed to him over the counter. “Good, I suppose. He’s in Malaysia this week.”

“Ah,” Wes nodded. Understanding dwindled some of the extra pep. “So you have not come on his behalf.”

Hello! A little slow on the uptake, Wes? Shifting a little closer to the floor fan blowing cooler air in her direction, Cordelia picked up where she’d left off reading about the newest shade of her favorite nail polish. Seeing that it wasn’t the best color for her skin tone, she lost interest and peeked back up at the client.

Tolliver shook his head, a frightened look on his face. “No,” he admitted, but then changed his mind. “Yes, in a way.”

“What’s the deal?” Gunn cut right to it. “You’re here for our help. Just chill. Tell us about it.”

He looked around nervously, meeting Cordelia’s bored gaze for a moment before moving on to a more sympathetic face. Fred smiled back mutely. “You probably won’t believe me.”

“Mister, I lived in another dimension for five years. Now I work with a vampire.” Fred shrugged his doubts away. “There’s not much I won’t hear ya out on these days.”

Cordelia snorted softly and flipped to the next page of her magazine.

Turning, he addressed Fred directly, the hushed tones still loud enough for all of them to hear. “Mr. Nabitt gave my department a week vacation while he’s on his business trip. The guys and me… we took our families up to Crater Lake.”

“Oh, that’s pretty,” Fred commented. “I know ‘cause I once went there with a friend of mine. He said it would be a quiet place to study, but y’know we didn’t do much studying.”

Their client didn’t notice Gunn’s gloomy reaction or the way Wesley’s jaw dropped open. Cordelia knew that Crater Lake was somewhere outside Los Angeles. The lake had formed on the site of a prehistoric meteor crash. She’d seen pictures of it before and agreed with Fred that it had a woodsy kind of appeal; assuming that the woods actually appealed to anybody.

“There’s a monster at Crater Lake,” Tolliver revealed and waited with bated breath to gauge their reaction.

“A monster at Crater Lake?” Cordelia quirked her brows, doubt filling her voice at the description he used. He might know enough to understand the reality of Angel being a vampire, but there were obvious gaps. “That sounds like something from a bad horror movie.”

Tolliver assured her the experience was real. He described that his family went with several others up to the lakeside getaway reserved for company members. Nabitt owned several vacation spots and liked to give his loyal employees a few perks. “We were up there with the kids, twelve of them. It was great timing since it happened to be my son Timmy’s birthday.”

“Timmy Tolliver,” Cordelia rolled the name of her tongue. When their client gave her a questioning look, she smiled big. “How old is Timmy?”

The boy was seven, his father explained. It was actually Timmy who spotted the monster and that set off a panic amongst the children. Herding the kids into the safety of the cars had been their first priority. They burned rubber to get back to L.A., but since the lake was his idea, Mike Tolliver felt responsible.

“Did any of the adults actually see this creature?” asked Wes hoping for a detailed description.

“None of us got a good look,” he admitted. “We were too busy running like hell.”

Tolliver did his best to provide a description, but all they got was a general idea that the ‘monster’ was bipedal, unclothed, and came out of the lake where they had originally mistaken him for a swimmer.

Wes ran a hand over his chin. “Do you intend to report this activity to the Park Rangers, or the police, perhaps?”

Holding up his hands, Tolliver waved off the idea. “No, no, no. We don’t want that kind of publicity. Besides, they wouldn’t believe me.”

“What do you want Angel Investigations to do?” Cordelia leaned forward as she threaded her fingers together on top of Cosmo’s latest poll on sexual satisfaction. “And will we be sending the bill to you or your company?”

“W-well, it’s company property,” he answered. “I haven’t told Nabitt yet, but I’m sure he’ll cover your expenses. I’m the head of my department. I can authorize it. Just take care of the monster.”

Cordelia sat back and relaxed again at the thought: random demon, easy money. “Fred, go tell Angel. It seems we’ve got a case.”

Wesley slowly turned to face Cordelia. “Might I remind you that we don’t normally take assignments so far outside the city limits? Besides which I believe that it is my job to accept new cases.”

“Whatever,” Cordelia rolled her eyes.

“We will gladly accept your case, Mr. Tolliver,” Wes shook his hand. “Consider it done.”

After gathering a few details about the location of the company’s lakefront resort, Wesley assured their client they would waste no time in following up on the case. It was prudent to strike now while there was still evidence to be found. Relieved, Mike Tolliver thanked them, provided some contact information and left.

No sooner had the door closed behind him than Angel walked down the stairs with Conner cradled in one arm and carrying a diaper bag over his shoulder. Fred and Lorne walked side by side behind him.

“We’ve got a case?” Angel saw that there was no one in the lobby. Sniffing the air, he noted, “Something that involves charcoal and lighter fluid?”

“Lake demon,” Gunn explained matter-of-factly. “Sounds like an axe job. Better bring your broadsword.”

Angel glanced down into his son’s alert eyes. “Did you hear that Connor? Daddy’s gonna go earn some money for your college fund.”

“This does sound fairly routine,” Wesley agreed. He suggested that Angel and Gunn handle it on their own, an idea that Cordelia quickly slammed down.

Tossing her magazine aside and rising to her feet, Cordelia huffed, “Why should they get a break from this heat and not us? Angel doesn’t even feel it.”

Coming over to stand beside her, Angel gave her a hurt look. “I can feel it,” he muttered as she softly ran a hand over the baby’s head. “It just doesn’t bother me.”

“That’s so nice for you Mr. Cool and Comfortable,” she glared. Taking one step back she snapped, “Look at me. Go ahead. Take a close look. Cordelia Chase is not supposed to sweat.”

Trapped into complying, Angel’s gaze slipped from head to toe. The short ponytail that stuck up from one of those scrunchy hair things reminded him of Pebbles from the Flintstones cartoon he once watched with Connor. Tiny strands of her hair curled to hug her face and neck.

The slightly dewy appearance of her skin at the dip of her cleavage drew his gaze followed by the extra cling of her cotton top across her breasts. She’d tied the loose ends together in a knot right under those generous curves exposing the taut planes of her belly revealed by her hip-hugging shorts.

Everywhere he looked he saw flushed, golden skin. Gulping, he commented, “You look… hot.”

A few giggles and snorts sounded throughout the lobby. Angel realized what he’d said and hastened to correct it. Only he seemed to be making it worse. He finally settled on pointing out, “That’s hardly appropriate for the office.”

“Buy a new air conditioner and maybe I’ll consider changing my wardrobe,” she returned stubbornly.

“Bad idea, man,” joked Gunn. He leered playfully at Cordelia. “Don’t do it.”

Angel scowled as Cordelia reached for her magazine, rolled it up and ran after their fast-moving friend. One lap around the lobby was all it took to make them both plop down on the couch in front of the fan. Cordelia poked Gunn in the side to make her point. “It’s too hot for this,” she groaned.

“Which is why you’ll be taking Connor to your apartment,” Angel reminded her. “Gunn & I will handle this Crater Lake creature.”

Cordelia explained her strategy. “It’s a resort. Why shouldn’t we enjoy a few perks while we’re there? David won’t mind. He’d be the first to tell us to stay for a day or two. After all, we’d be dealing with his monster-sized problem.”

The others weren’t quite convinced. While David Nabitt’s generosity wasn’t in question, their right to be presumptive about it certainly was. Besides, Angel was firm on one thing, “I’m not taking my son into a battle zone.”

“It’s not a battle zone,” Cordelia huffed, fanning herself with the copy of Cosmo. “There’s just one little demon.”

Angel saw the stubborn pout forming on her lips. He could feel himself starting to give in and wondered if there was anything he wouldn’t do for her. “Cor—”

“C’mon, Angel,” her sweet smile would have convinced him to take up cliff-diving if she asked. “Connor will be safe with the rest of us while you deal with the lake monster. Wouldn’t you feel safer knowing he’s close by?”

Knowing that he was being manipulated only made it worse. His jaw clenched at the realization that he’d always been a sucker for that smile. Since the day she first convinced him that he needed her help.

“There’ll be air conditioning,” she teased the others with the thought of it. “Cool air. No more muggy heat. We’ll have a lakeside view from the Jacuzzi.”

Wes dared to point out, “Really, Cordelia! We have been hired to do a job, not to cavort half naked in the wilderness.”

Hearing Fred’s giggle, Angel noticed her gaze focus on Gunn. “Sounds like fun to me.” She blushed until her cheeks were rosy with it.

Adding stiffly, “There is no guarantee Mr. Nabitt’s property even has a Jacuzzi,” Wes slumped down on to rest his elbows on the desk, chin in his hands.

“He’s a billionaire,” Cordelia gave him an eye-roll. “Of course he has one.”

All of the talk about Jacuzzis summoned up reminders of seeing Cordy in a bikini. Angel licked at his suddenly dry lips. Before he could say anything, Lorne piped up, “Count me in sugarplums, especially if there’s a chance of getting a decent Sea Breeze at this little resort.”

Cordelia didn’t see why not. The software designer could afford to have anything he wanted. This little lakeside resort probably came with a butler and a cook, too. She wondered if there would be a massage therapist or a manicurist on staff.

“We’ll all go,” Angel finally conceded to her enthusiasm, “but we’re not staying more than a couple of days. Wes can clear it with Tolliver. Once we deal with the demon, Nabitt may want to free up the resort for the people on his payroll.”

Giving Cordelia a high-five, Gunn congratulated her on her triumph. “Way to go, girl. Can’t get much better: air conditioning and a paid vacation to boot.”

“I’ve still got it,” she grinned back.

 


Crater Lake National Park

“Are you sure this is the right place?” Cordelia asked for the third time as Angel maneuvered the Plymouth onto an even smaller dirt road.

She sat in her usual spot. Wes and Lorne occupied the back seat with Connor’s rear-facing car seat between them while Gunn and Fred followed close behind in the truck. Lorne’s humming seemed to get louder as the tension increased.

“If there’s a resort around here, I’ll find it,” Angel assured her. Although he saw no sign of lights along the lakefront to indicate the presence of any structures much less a whole resort.

Even with the top down there was very little breeze. Moving at a slow crawl did not help any since the car had no air conditioning system. “Admit it, Angel,” she all but growled. “You’re lost.”

“I am not.”

“You should have pulled over at the ranger station when we entered the park.”

Wesley provided a little male solidarity by explaining, “The ranger station was closed for the night.”

“They would’ve had a map,” Cordelia ignored the fact that they would have had to break in to get it.

Angel told her he didn’t need a map. “These roads circle the lake. The resort is at the edge of the lake. We’ll find it.”

So far, Cordelia hadn’t seen anything but a Smokey the Bear statue urging them to prevent forest fires. One or two small wooden signs pointed in the direction of camping sites. She’d expected to find a stone gate leading onto private property or a big company logo. Nabitt’s Lodge, or whatever fancy name David called his little getaway, was certainly difficult to find.

An owl hooted loudly from the trees overhead, startling Lorne. “This really isn’t my idea of nightlife.”

The big bright moon overhead filtered down through the cover of the treetops. Between that and the headlights of the vehicles, all Cordelia could see was the path directly ahead. The rest of the woods were shadowy. Each time she peered into the darkness between the trees, she thought she saw movement.

“It’s just the trees,” she told Lorne and Wes as she looked over her shoulder at them. “There’s nothing to be nervous about.”

“Tell that to your aura.” Lorne didn’t need her to sing to feel her nervous vibes. He started humming again to distract himself.

Cordelia turned a little further in the seat and pointed out the tight grip Lorne had on the side of Connor’s car seat. Warning softly, “Don’t wake the baby.”

“I’m not the one with the shrill voice,” he smirked and went right back to his soft humming.

Gasping indignantly, Cordelia whirled back into her seat reminding herself that it was just this muggy heat making everything unbearable. As soon as they got to the resort, they’d all be thanking her for coming up with the idea. A little time in the lap of luxury would quickly make them see reason.

Several minutes later, Angel spotted a road sign at a crossroads that lead down toward the lake. “Marker 109. This is it.”

The road ended forcing them to abandon the Plymouth and the truck to follow a small footpath. It opened up as it reached a small area set up with a barbeque grill and a picnic table. There was a moderately sized rustic cabin facing the lake.

“That don’t look like a resort to me,” Gunn commented as he shouldered his axe.

Fred agreed. “Mr. Tolliver never did say it was a resort, just a company getaway. I kinda wondered about that when you mentioned it, Cordy.”

“Why didn’t you say so before we left?” Cordelia had never known Fred to keep her mouth shut about anything before. “The hotel was cooler than this hellhole.”

She whispered the last word just in case the sleeping baby in her arms overheard her.

Shrugging her slim shoulders, Fred simply told her, “I don’t know. When I was up here with Steve that one time, I wasn’t paying much attention to anything else. I do know that the National Park Service normally allows only a limited number of developments in the region.”

“So why didn’t you say so?” Gunn asked the question again, not really wanting to hear more about her study buddy. “Angel and me coulda come up here and taken out that demon without dragging everyone along.”

“It’s not my fault,” Fred reminded him.

Staring at Cordelia, they drew another gasp of outrage from her throat. “How was I to know David Nabitt is even cheaper than Angel? Talk about pinching pennies. This isn’t a getaway. This is—.”

“A cabin on a moonlit lake,” Angel interjected before she could describe it the way he imagined she would.

“Pfft!” Cordelia followed along as he led them toward the cabin entrance, passing through the scattered mess in the picnic area. “You would say that. This is exactly the isolated kind of place serial killers like to hide out.”

Angel stopped, turned and gave her a hurt look.

“Not you, dork,” she rolled her eyes. The little crease in his furrowed brow made her mouth quirk into a smile. Teasing, Cordelia added softly, “Just don’t get [i]too [/i] happy about the scenery.”

Walking forward to grasp the doorknob, Angel found himself thinking that the lakeside scenery had nothing on the images in his head of Cordelia herself. The night of the ballet played over in his mind, flashes of her bare skin, of his lips on her golden flesh, his hands roving across her curves. The way she touched him, kissed him. Only it wasn’t really them, not entirely.

He’d tried to tell her when they returned to the hotel that his feelings for her had grown. That he thought the two of them had gotten closer recently, more so than he ever imagined possible. He wasn’t even certain when the thought first came into his head. The idea that he was actually attracted to his best friend initially freaked him out a little, but it grew on him until it was almost all he could think about.

When Cordelia suggested they forget everything that happened that night, he was certain that she didn’t feel the same way. It was obvious to him that she was uncomfortable with it despite her earlier bravado. The arousal he’d sensed that night was just part of the possession.

It crushed him to think he wouldn’t ever kiss her again that way. To take her in his arms and peel her clothing away. To reveal her beautiful body in a way that no one else would ever see. Making love to her tenderly, passionately, wildly.

The sight of her holding his son in her arms only made it worse because it always started him thinking about things that were even more remote a possibility. He lifted a hand to her cheek, briefly noting the questioning look in her eyes when he touched her.

“Step back. Let me check out the inside of the cabin first to make sure it’s safe.”

“Actually, I was thinking of just waiting in the car,” Cordelia admitted as she took another look at the outside of the cabin. Not impressed, she figured the inside wasn’t going to be anything to write home about. “Your demon slayage shouldn’t take very long, right?”

Angel wasn’t so certain about that. “This lake is larger than I thought it would be. We’ll have to track the creature, assuming that we can find a trail.”

“Oh, great.” It wasn’t as if she’d had a vision to lead them directly to the demon’s lair.

“Maybe you should take Connor, Fred and Lorne back to L.A.,” Angel suggested. “There’s no telling how long this will take and we didn’t exactly prepare for this kind of situation.”

Lorne wholeheartedly agreed.

Cordelia nuzzled her cheek against the baby’s soft hair. “Connor will be safe here in the cabin with Lorne. Fred and I can help find this demon so we can all get out of here.”

“Well I won’t mind,” Lorne gave in conditionally, “as long as you hurry up, get inside and point the way to the powder room.”

Wesley thumbed in the direction of the trees. “It’s over there.”

A portable orange outhouse was half-hidden by the shadows. Lorne’s eyes got big. “Yeesh! Nature isn’t calling that loudly. I think I’ll hold it.”

“The sooner we get started with this investigation,” Wesley told them, “the faster we’ll finish the job.”

The cabin was empty. No demons in sight. Its sparse furnishings suggested this was more of short-term camping area than anything else. There was no electricity or plumbing of any kind. Angel could see perfectly well in the dark. Wes and Gunn had grabbed flashlights from the trunk of the car and were able to move around without a problem.

There were lanterns stored against a shelf inside. Lighting these, they were able to provide enough light for Lorne to feel comfortable about waiting inside with only Connor for company. As the others closed the cabin door behind them, Lorne glanced down at the sleeping baby, “Looks like it’s just you and me kid.”

 


“Something was here all right,” Angel confirmed as he sniffed the air catching a faint hint of a non-human scent.

Stepping away from the cabin, they made their way to the barbecue and picnic area to look for anything that might provide a clue. Wesley had informed them prior to their departure from Los Angeles, that there were no legends of any kind of monster at Crater Lake. It suggested the demon was a newcomer to the area rather than an old resident. He and Fred had scoured the internet for any mention of previous sightings, but found nothing.

“Yeah,” Cordelia could tell, “something that likes chocolate.”

The picnic table was decked out with a plastic cloth. Scattered cups and plates were spread across it and the nearby ground. The lack of a strong wind had kept most everything in place. Timmy Tolliver’s birthday cake sat in the middle of the table; seven unlit candles now deeply imbedded or tilted haphazardly in the icing. A third of the cake was gone, but it hadn’t been cut away by a knife.

“That could’ve been raccoons,” Fred pointed out that the local wildlife might be the culprit.

Angel followed the scent he’d spotted and found that it led exactly where he had suspected. “The trail leads straight back to the water.”

Michael Tolliver had mentioned they originally mistook the creature for a random swimmer, meaning that it could have come from any spot along the lake. “Before we start searching,” Wes suggested, “perhaps we need to consider recreating the events of the day. Something drew this creature’s attention here.”

“Recreate it?” Angel didn’t discount Wesley’s idea, but he wondered how they could accomplish it considering the fact that they didn’t have a dozen children running around. “Maybe I should just hike around the lake and see what I can find.”

“We’ll fall back on that if necessary,” Wes agreed, but pointed out that the lake was vast and circumnavigating it would likely take several hours. “We’d have no guarantee of finding cover before daylight.”

“That’s a risk we may need to take. There are probably other campers out here,” Angel figured. “This demon could be preying on them.”

Cordelia voted for anything that avoided a long trek in the creepy woods. It was way too hot for that. “Wes is right,” her announcement brought a shell-shocked look to his face. Squaring his shoulders, Wes was about to thank her for the support when she added, “this time.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” The others knew better than to say anything.

“Just that we’re not likely to run into another Nose Pick demon out here at the lake,” Cordelia reminded him of one embarrassing misinterpretation of an ancient scroll.

Wesley stared down his nose, correcting her in a clipped voice, “That was actually a Nassphick demon. How was I supposed to know the color of my shirt was was an attractant? There was no telling its predilection for mating with other species.”

“Nah,” Gunn shook his head, his teeth flashing as he grinned wide. “She was just interested in you, dog. Had you pinned down right off the bat. The rest of us had to fight off her goons.”

Snorting at the memory of the demoness licking Wesley’s stubbled jaw before Angel managed to save him, Cordelia turned her head to look at Angel, mischief dancing in her eyes. He was staring back, but there was no mirth to be seen there. Just the dark intensity of his gaze creating a shudder that ripped right through her, its errant waves settling deep in her belly and creating an empty ache between her thighs.

He came at her in a flash, too fast to be stopped, his weight settled on top of her when they ended up tangled together on the ground. His hard male body pressed into hers, crushing her breasts against his chest, his aroused lower body finding the cradle of her hips. Those masculine lips claiming hers in instant possession.

Cordelia blinked, seeing Angel still standing a couple of yards away. Hazel eyes widening at the course of her own thoughts, she instantly blamed the heat for causing her to think something so insane.

“We should get started,” Wesley broke through the silence between them to catch their attention.

Their first problem was the darkness itself. It had been daytime when the demon had appeared. Fred suggested moving Gunn’s truck and using the headlights to simulate daytime in the picnic area.

“I could scent charcoal and lighter fluid,” Angel reminded them. “Tolliver had something on the grill.”

Taking a closer look, Wesley noted the presence of blackened, shriveled hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. The charcoal inside had long since turned to ash, but there was a bag of unused charcoal squares nearby. It was angled against a red cooler. Taking a look inside, he found a few leftover hot dogs.

“I will start up the grill,” Wes told them.

Fred already had the bag of charcoal in her hand. “You sure you don’t want me to do this?” She was pretty certain that she’d had more experience with barbecues than Wesley.

Wes gave her an affronted look, “I am perfectly capable of starting a fire.”

“Okay,” Fred said and then pressed her lips together tightly as she handed over the bag. Her smile broke through anyway. “Just holler if you need me.”

“So what are the rest of us doing?” Gunn asked.

“Take a look around you,” Wes suggested. “The answer is mere child’s play.”

The ground was littered with water toys. Squirt guns, bazooka blasters, and super soakers were dropped at random spots between here and the lake. A kiddie pool filled with lake water appeared to have been dragged from below and brought up here. It was filled with a couple dozen water balloons still floating in the pool. The water temperature and the minimal shade of the cabin had prevented them from bursting spontaneously from the heat.

“Looks like the kids had quite a battle going,” Cordelia reached down to pick up one of the water balloons, testing its resiliency in her hand. Good thing she had planned to change clothes once she got to the ‘resort’ and was still wearing her shorts and t-shirt. “You guys have ten seconds to get rid of the axe and sword. After that, you’re fair game.”

Fred and Cordelia took the opportunity to make a grab for the nearest water weapons while Angel and Gunn were putting their favorite fighting tools in a spot that was safe, but easily accessible.

Back at the barbecue, Wes started a ten second count. “ONE one thousand, TWO one thousand…”

Fred giggled as she held her green squirt gun, already calculating just the right shooting angle to hit Gunn with mid-chest. Then she glanced over at Cordelia, her smile dimming. Cordy held her water balloon in one hand and shouldered a neon blue bazooka blaster in the other. The dainty water pistol simply didn’t compare with the shooting power of the other weapon.

Leaning close, Fred whispered with a soft twang, “Why do I get the girl gun?”

“Oh, sheesh!” Cordy made a trade with her and handed over the bazooka blaster in favor of the pistol. She tucked it into the low waistband of her shorts and grabbed another water balloon.

“TEN!” Wes’ voice had Angel and Gunn running for the closest water weapons. They were blocked from the water balloon pool by Cordelia, but there were still several other choices scattered around.

A loud squeal sounded from Fred as she took off after Gunn, determined to get him first. Cordelia simply waited for Angel to choose one of the weapons and come after her. She bounced the water balloon in her hand, licking her lips in anticipation.

“You don’t really think you’re going to hit me with that, do you?” Angel asked as he slowly walked toward her, super-soaker in hand.

“It’s no fair if you use your vamp super-speed. Maybe I’ll take it easy on you anyway,” Cordelia promised cheekily.

Angel advanced slowly so intent on Cordelia that he didn’t notice the other two now standing behind him. Gunn and Fred were already wet having gotten each other at least twice. They decided it was time the vampire stopped jabbering and got wet. He’d taken off his leather jacket and put it down on the picnic bench leaving him in his usual white shirt and black pants.

Hearing Gunn clear his throat, Angel turned to find himself surrounded. Streams of water hit him in the face and chest. Cordelia took the opportunity to aim her water balloon right at Angel’s head. It hit dead-on and burst against his scalp sending a flood of water over his hair and down onto his shoulders.

The spluttering vampire growled at the sensation and whipped back around to aim his super-soaker at Cordelia. Only she wasn’t there. He heard her giggling to herself as she darted through the trees closest to the picnic grounds, using them as cover.

Fred and Gunn had also run off as soon as they’d squirted him. Angel let them go. Eyes narrowing, he spotted Cordy peeking out at him from behind a tree trunk. Reminding himself that they needed to make as much noise as possible, Angel called out, “I see you, Cordy.”

She’d grabbed another water balloon before her escape. Her only hope was to draw him in a little closer. “Then come and get me.”

Angel stalked slowly toward the tree line, his super-soaker aimed toward her. He took a shot when she stuck a hand out to wave at him, teasing him from her protected position. Dripping wet, Angel was determined to get back at Cordelia. She wasn’t dealing with a five year-old here and if she thought he’d let her get away with this, Cordy had another thing coming.

A squeal sounded behind him accompanied by a burst of heat. It was Wesley. Three-foot flames leapt from the grill. He didn’t appear to be hurt. The flames slowly started to lessen, though a black cloud surrounded the barbecue pit. Wesley stood by with a couple of the water balloons as if contemplating using them to put out the flames.

Taking the opportunity, Cordelia stepped out from behind the tree and let her last balloon fly. She let out a triumphant shout when it connected mid-chest. Angel let out a surprised shout. “No fair! I was distracted.”

Cordelia found herself a little distracted, too. His shirt was plastered to his torso, the damp material outlining every hard male angle. The moonlight was just bright enough to provide startlingly yummy eye candy. It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen his bare chest a hundred times, but there was just something extra hot about seeing him like this.

Thoughts of unbuttoning that clinging shirt to smooth her hands over the damp skin of his chest buzzed through her head. She might have been gaping a little because the stream of water shooting out of Angel’s gun splashed into her mouth as well as soaking her exposed front side.

“I can’t believe you did that!” Cordelia’s hair was flat, strands clinging to her face and neck. Her white cotton top was practically see-through revealing the lacy pattern of her bra.

Angel hadn’t counted on that. He hadn’t even considered the benefits behind this little game. Certainly not the way his body tightened in response to the sight of her curves cupped close by something so sexy, yet hidden away by a thin layer of cotton that managed to reveal everything. “Ummm… sorry?”

He didn’t sound very sorry. Cordelia gasped at the undisguised lust staring back at her. Those dark eyes glittered with it, practically eating her up, his body tense as if ready to pounce. Hers tingled in reaction, heat flaring instantly, her nipples budding under the weight of his stare.

“Cordy…,” it came out almost gutturally. Angel took one step forward, stopping in his tracks when she pulled out the water pistol from the waistband of her shorts.

“Stay there,” Cordelia panted the words, her warning softened by a mischievous tone in her voice as she added, “I’ll shoot.”

There weren’t any ghosts of undead lovers to blame for this. She’d seen that look on the faces of many men before, but they weren’t Angel. None of them had ever caused her to react this way. She thought back to that night of the ballet when they were possessed. Acting blasé about kissing Angel had been just that, an act.

He’d been so set against going back into that room, obviously having issues with the thought of kissing her. Friends didn’t do that, apparently, even when it was just possession and not really them at all. But it was. Cordelia could remember every kiss, every touch, the way his aroused body moved against hers.

It wasn’t just the possession. This had been brewing between them for quite a while, at least on her part. Although Cordelia had to admit that it hadn’t seriously occurred to her until now. “This isn’t a wet t-shirt contest, buddy,” Cordy started backing away, still aiming her squirt gun in his direction. “Try to be a little less obvious about the leering.”

Angel looked horrified. “I wasn’t leering,” he hastened to deny it.

Throwing her head back, Cordelia let out a loud laugh. “You were too.” Then, with a mischievous sparkle in her eye, called out, “Angel was leering, Angel was leering,” in a singsong voice as she skipped backward along the slightly sloping ground.

If Fred, Gunn or Wesley heard her, neither Cordy nor Angel really cared. They were too focused on each other. The sounds of their friends’ laughter further up the embankment went completely ignored. Even Lorne had poked his head out of the cabin after the shouting and giggling became too much to ignore. He’d quickly retreated back into the safety of the dry cabin.

Cordelia felt the water lapping at her ankles and realized that she’d unwittingly cornered herself at the edge of the lake. She started to make a move, but Angel was right behind her. The super-soaker in Angel’s hand dropped to the ground, but he continued his pursuit. She shrieked loudly, squirted him with her water pistol while inwardly cursing the fact that she’d given Fred the bazooka blaster she’d first acquired.

The small squirts did nothing to stop him and it was clear that Angel was ready to do just about anything to shut her up. He was right in front of her when the heel of her sandal caught on something hidden beneath the shallows. Cordelia went tumbling back, dropping her squirt gun, arms flailing wildly. At the last second, Angel caught her hand, but the momentum had them both tumbling into the water.

After the initial splash and the heavy body that toppled onto hers, Cordelia let out a loud whoosh of air. Too stunned to move, she found herself staring up at Angel who seemed just as surprised at the position they’d ended up in.

Arms arched above her head as she lay flat in the water, Cordelia realized that their fingers were still entwined. Angel must have realized it too because he gave her hand a soft squeeze before releasing it,

“You okay?” he asked softly. Shifting his weight so that he wasn’t squashing her, he moved no further.

Cordelia let out a shaky, nervous sigh. “No,” she admitted causing instantly Angel to panic.

“Where are you hurt?” he demanded, too scared to move as that might make it worse.

“Right here,” Cordy told him. She pressed a fingertip to her lips. “Make it better?”

Angel stared down at the moist fullness of her lips. His eyes snapped up to hers. “Dammit Cordy! I thought I’d hurt you.”

Her fingers curled around his arms to tug him that much closer. “Are you really going to lecture me?” she teased.

Angel shifted, his big body enveloping her as his head dropped down to block out the light. As the warm lake water lapped around them, his lips slid across hers in a butterfly stroke testing her reaction. A soft mewl emerged from her throat as her mouth opened to his.

“Humans have strange mating rituals,” a voice bubbled up from the waters beside them.

Reacting instinctively, Angel’s eyes went gold, features shifting fluidly to reveal his true nature to the demon emerging from the lake. Grabbing the creature by the neck, he hauled him up out of the water. Its webbed feet dangled inches above the surface.

Cordelia scrambled out from the danger zone, the water splashing around her as she struggled to her feet. She called out to the others bringing a sudden end to their water fight.

In an arcing throw, Angel tossed the demon onto the bank. Gunn was coming at them on a full run, axe in hand. Wes had picked up Angel’s broadsword at the same time, but was a few steps behind.

“What you waiting for?” Gunn asked as he slowed to a halt. Angel was standing there with the demon at his feet.

Wes arrived and immediately identified it as a rare variety of water demon, one known to be non-violent. “There are several interesting accounts. Actually, I should have considered the possibility before. These demons are renowned for their love of isolated places.”

The scaly-skinned creature was curled into a tight ball, shaking from head to toe. “P-p-please let me go. I was j-j-just curious.”

Cordelia propped her hands on her hips, ignoring the fact that she was dripping wet. “Well, your timing stinks,” she huffed angrily.

Angel shot her a look over his shoulder, the corner of his mouth quirking upward as his eyes lingered on the splotches of color on her cheeks.

“I thought his timing rather opportune,” Wesley commented having missed out on the action at the lakeside. “Better to appear sooner rather than later.”

Having been involved in their own water fight, Fred and Gunn hadn’t witnessed a thing, but it wasn’t exactly difficult to guess considering the way Cordy and Angel were looking at each other.

“You owe me five bucks,” Fred told her boyfriend and then turned to head back toward the cabin. He followed along beside her. “I told ya something happened between those two at the ballet.”

Wesley watched them go, but tried to control his reaction. He wasn’t used to the idea that Fred had chosen Gunn over him. Not that he’s said anything to her, but he’d missed his chance. He turned back to see Angel helping the water demon to its feet.

The topic of Cordelia and Angel would wait until he had an opportunity to speak to them alone. If Fred was right as usual, there were weighty matters to consider. Though he doubted Angel capable of experiencing such an unguarded moment as perfect happiness, Cordelia was the one person with whom he figured it might be possible. Such theories could only be tested with time and yet he knew that his friends deserved far more than cautionary words.

“You’re free to go,” Angel told the demon who immediately shuffled toward the waterline. “Just be cautious about your curiosity. Next time it may get you killed.”

“I wouldn’t hurt anybody,” the demon assured him. “Usually, I see so many adult humans. They camp and hunt in the woods. Today I saw younglings. They were playing with the water as you have done.”

Cordelia asked, “Is that why you came back?”

“I scented the smoke from across the water,” he explained. “I live on one of the small islands at the center of the lake. When I thought the same humans had returned, it was my desire to make a plea for their silence.”

Angel informed the demon that David Nabitt was more open-minded than many humans. “Not all of his people are aware that demons exist. He may have some luck in holding off the authorities, but I won’t guarantee the spread of rumors.”

They watched the demon dive into the lake disappearing beneath the surface with barely a ripple to distinguish his trail below the water. Wes stood between Angel and Cordelia as they stared after the creature. Clearing his throat, he suggested, “Perhaps now would be a good time for me to give you a bit of adv—”

“No,” came the dual answers though it was softened by Cordelia’s feminine giggle and a rare grin from Angel. As they turned on their heels and headed toward the cabin Wes watched Cordelia slip her hand into Angel’s, their fingers threading as the distance closed between them.

“I suppose that now would be a good time to start researching that curse,” Wes advised himself. “Lord knows I won’t be getting any sleep for a while.”

The End.

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