50: Road to LA
Chapter 50: Road to L.A.
Slipping unnoticed into the school library, Angel found a shadow and blended into it as he observed the boisterous gathering just outside of Rupert Giles’ office. His eyes immediately sought out his mate, but Cordelia was not part of the group. A strange feeling had plagued him all morning, ever since he’d finally crawled back out of bed.
Earlier, their lovemaking had been surprising and a complete deviation from their plans to focus on the non-sexual aspects of their relationship for a while. Angel directed the blame for their indiscretion toward himself. Cordelia’s morning kiss had been more passionate than necessary, but he’d been the one to pull her back into his arms. To keep her there with kisses and to convince them both that what they were doing was still within the rules.
If Angel concentrated, he could still taste her on his tongue.
They’d broken their pact or at least gotten around the rules. It amazed Angel that his lauded control constantly failed him when it came to her. He’d started to believe that it was the same for Cordelia and that during the past couple of weeks they had only grown closer to each other. That she was starting to recognize the fact that it was safe to open up her feelings to him.
Then she’d gone and spouted that ridiculous theory that whatever they had together was only temporary. That she knew he would leave her.
Angel thought he had convinced her otherwise, though the idea itself was bizarre and seemingly came out of left field. The way she’d kissed him this morning gave him no time to ponder anything except the fact that he wanted her. Now, he realized that Cordelia’s passion was somehow spawned by those fears.
Realizing this, Angel had attempted to call her on her cell phone. No answer. Figuring she was still in class and knowing that Cordelia had made a habit of contacting him during one of her afternoon breaks, he’d waited somewhat impatiently for the call to come.
Cordelia was either mad at him for the rule-breaking love-making and not answering his calls or there was something else going on. The reason didn’t matter, just his gut reaction telling him something was wrong and prompting Angel to head to the school through the Sunnydale sewer system to confront her directly.
Only she wasn’t here either.
Angel knew there was no cheerleading practice this afternoon and as the time suggested that the last class was still in progress, he knew the Scoobies had their study hall scheduled with Giles. During this last part of the year that also included Cordelia and so Angel was surprised that she wasn’t amongst the squabblers circling the two strangers in their midst.
“This is impossible,” Buffy’s voice carried over the rest as she faced Giles. “Tell me how this… this person is not a total fake. I am the only Slayer here.”
“Get a grip, B,” the curvy brunette let out a short laugh. “I’m a Slayer just like you. Only less whiney.”
Surprise registered as Angel listened in, but then he recalled having an up-close and personal run-in with Kendra the Vampire Slayer. This wasn’t exactly a first despite Buffy treating it that way.
Exasperated after a long period of trying to explain the presence of another Slayer and her Watcher here in Sunnydale, Giles whipped off his glasses from the bridge of his nose and glared at Buffy. It always helped to be stern with her when the world looked a little fuzzy as it blurred the hurt showing in her expressive eyes.
“This is rather complicated. A new Slayer is called only when the previous one has died. Your momentary death at the hands of the Master called Kendra and thus when Kendra was killed by Drusilla, the line continued with Faith.”
Willow piped up trying to sound positive, “This is kinda cool, Buffy. It’ll almost be like having a sister around. You could, y’know do things like hang out, go to the Bronze and patrol toge—”
Her voice trailed off as Willow realized she was describing things that she did with Buffy. After that, the redhead decided maybe it wasn’t so cool after all. “This is just a visit, right? You’re not staying.”
“Actually, I believe that was the plan,” informed the girl’s Watcher.
Angel noted the fact that he looked a little young to have gained that status. Not to mention the fact that the suit and bowtie made him look like he’d stepped straight out of an English prep school.
“Faith’s last Watcher was unfortunately killed by the demon Kakistos. Having left Boston—,” he cleared his throat drawing a smirk from his Slayer, “Faith made her way to Los Angeles where I was sent to track her down. Knowing we were so close to the Hellmouth it seemed an appropriate time and place to continue Faith’s training.”
“You let your Watcher get killed?” Xander gave the girl a harsh look thinking that he’d scored a point for Buffy who was obviously sensitive about no longer being the only Chosen one yet again.
Buffy only blushed furiously and muttered a reminder, “Giles is my second Watcher.”
Giles tugged at his collar and replaced his glasses. “Um, yes. Watcher duties are often dangerous. There are always risks.”
They started in on a discussion about why Giles had not been informed of Faith’s existence when Angel finally decided that he’d heard enough. No matter that this was an interesting turn of events, it apparently had nothing to do with the reason Cordelia was suddenly not responding to his calls.
He’d heard enough whining. Angel wanted answers and planned to get them.
Stepping out of the shadows, Angel approached with his usual undetectable footfalls. Closer now, the brunette Slayer’s head turned in his direction sensing his nature as instinctively as only one of her kind could. Before anyone else noticed, Faith whipped out a stake from her back pocket and lunged toward him.
Angel sidestepped, grabbed her wrist and whirled her around so that her own stake was pointed at her throat. Gasping at the swiftness of the vampire’s move, Faith felt a little thrill at the danger she’d just managed to get herself into. Not that she was going to let the vampire stop her from dusting him, but it looked like tall, dark and hottie definitely had skills.
“I’m not here to fight, Faith,” Angel growled in her ear surprising her when he said her name.
“Angel!” Buffy called out as she turned to see what was going on. She’d been so caught up in her own thoughts that she hadn’t even sensed he was in the room.
“You know this vamp?” asked Faith still being restrained.
Buffy nodded. Then she told Angel, “You can let her go. She won’t hurt you.”
Even Faith had to admit the blonde was making assumptions. “This is a vampire. We slay vampires. That’s the job description, B.”
“You’ve got guts saying that with a stake to your throat,” Angel admitted just before he tossed her forward. “I just don’t have time or the patience to play games.”
Before Angel could demand information on the whereabouts of his mate, the girl’s Watcher stepped forward, “I am Wesley Wyndham-Pryce of the Watcher’s Council, and you, I believe, must be Angelus.”
“This is soul-vamp?” Faith gave Angel a long look up and down the length of his muscular frame. “Can’t tell by looking.”
“You know about Angel?” That didn’t settle well on Buffy’s stomach. It was doing flip-flops at the news. Even after all that had happened, she still felt responsible for him.
Wesley explained, “I have access to the Council’s extensive library. I find the study of certain vampires and demons fascinating. Knowing I would be coming to California and bringing my Slayer to the Hellmouth, becoming reacquainted with Angelus’ file seemed appropriate.”
“Name’s Angel,” corrected Xander. Hearing the other always gave him the wiggins.
Then Willow added for good measure, “He’s a champion now, not evil or in need of staking.”
The young Englishman was interested at the way Buffy Summers and her friends defended the vampire who was once the Scourge of Europe. There were hundreds of questions taking form in his head and he imagined himself writing a paper on it.
Before the first syllable finished forming on Wesley’s lips, Angel cut him off with a stern glare. “I don’t have time for interrogations unless it’s the one I’m conducting.”
Wesley looked depressed at the news and lack of cooperation. “If you will just take a moment…”
“We’ll start simple,” Angel ignored him and turned his attention to Rupert Giles who had a look of deep concern on his face. “Where is Cordelia?”
Attached to the towering high rise containing the corporate offices of Melmon Realty & Development, the multilevel garage was already quite full despite that it was still early in the business day. Cordelia parked her Corvette in a visitor slot and quickly made her way to the corporate suites situated at the top level of the building. She’d called ahead using the number from her dream and made an appointment to see the head of the company.
Cordelia thought it strange that the CEO of what was apparently a successful realty company would agree to see her on such short notice. By some bit of luck, Robert Melmon’s assistant had stepped away from her desk on some random task and the man himself had deigned to pick up the phone.
Then he’d surprised her again by recognizing her name. Apparently Mr. Melmon was an old college buddy of her father’s. They’d lost touch years ago when the kids were still in diapers, but since Cordelia was an uncommon name, he took a chance and asked if she was related to Daniel and Emelia Chase.
“Why should I be surprised?” Cordelia talked to her reflection on the way up in the mirrored elevators. “It’s fate. It’s that trio of interfering, conniving…”
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Cordelia immediately put a smile on her face and stepped into the plush surroundings. Mr. Melmon apparently did very well for himself. The receptionist didn’t keep her waiting very long and showed her to the private offices of the Chief Executive Officer where Cordelia was greeted like a long lost niece instead of a total stranger.
“You remind me of your mother,” grinned Robert Melmon as he enveloped Cordelia in a beefy-armed hug. “Though I think I see some of Daniel in those eyes of yours.”
Cordelia wasn’t really here for reminiscing, though it certainly made getting down to the point of her business a lot smoother. Innately, Cordelia knew that Robert Melmon had the answers she was looking for.
Melmon’s company had some link to her nightmares. The Moirae brought her here, she had come to realize. What else could it be? The whispered voices that knew so much. Warnings of danger. Knowing Angel would heed the call to follow it to its source and by doing so separate them forever. He would leave her and Cordelia could not stand for that no matter that it meant crossing paths with destiny.
Determined, Cordelia knew the man with the answer to saving Angel and their future together was sitting right in front of her. All it took was finding the right question.
“You said this was an emergency,” Melmon prompted when Cordelia seemed lost in thought. “Daniel looking to sell the family estate?”
“No,” Cordelia actually found herself laughing at that prospect. There was a time not too long ago when that might have been necessary. “This actually has nothing to do with my parents. My…fiancé mentioned something about this company’s involvement in a property he’s interested in.”
Robert Melmon wasn’t certain how that constituted an emergency, but he was willing to listen. Though he could’ve sworn Daniel Chase’s daughter was a little young to be mentioning fiancés and property in the same breath. “Which property is that?”
Here’s where Cordelia’s spontaneous idea went up in flames. Melmon told her that his company dealt in buying, leasing, selling and development of properties all over California. “We’ve been in business for eighty years right here in Los Angeles.”
“I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the place he was looking at,” Cordelia fabricated.
Seeing her hopeful expression, Melmon tapped his thick fingers on the surface of his mahogany desk and gave a shrug. “I want to help you, Cordelia. All I can do from my end is give you a list of the properties we have in development and those that are currently on the market.”
“I’ll take it,” Cordelia readily agreed.
“We have over a hundred properties on that list,” came the warning.
Though her jaw dropped a little, Cordelia decided she’d look at every damn one of them to see if something would connect with the nightmares. As he tapped on his computer keyboard, Melmon got another idea. “If your fiancé has been in contact with my staff, he might be listed as a client. That would narrow the list down to the properties he’s been viewing.”
Cordelia gave him the name Angel D’Aurelius despite knowing that Melmon would come up with a blank. What was she supposed to say to the man? That the Fates themselves were giving her nightmares that included instructions to call him? Not.
Taking the list he’d printed, Cordelia thanked him for his time and promised to pass on his message of hello to her parents. Once again, Melmon gave her a crushing bear hug that Cordelia had no choice but to accept. While he was patting her on the shoulder, she noticed a series of pictures on his office walls. Most were old black and white photos of various buildings she assumed had a connection to the company.
As soon as Melmon released her, Cordelia dropped the list onto his desk and walked over to the closest one. Without thinking twice, she pulled the frame from the wall and turned to him with a shocked expression, “This place! I know it.”
The building was one of Melmon’s favorites, but he hadn’t been back since his father shut the doors in 1979. “That’s the Hyperion Hotel. Built by my great-grandfather in the late 1920s with that California Spanish deco influence. It was a beautiful place once, but it’s got a history you wouldn’t believe. Also made it impossible to sell.”
“Just tell me where to find it.” Cordelia looked ready to take on the world.
“What do you mean Cordelia hasn’t been at school today?” Angel barked at Willow who’d just finished telling him that.
Backing up against the front counter, Willow gulped before answering. Giving a little air-quote, she told him, “I thought there were ‘reasons’ Cordy stayed home.”
“Reasons?” Angel’s dark expression was enough to remind her of the not-so-fun times with his former evil or psycho selves.
“You know,” she stressed with a waggle of her thin brows. “Cos she was with you, I thought. That’s why she didn’t come. I mean— not that Cordy’s comings and going are any of my business. I just thought you two had a breakthrough.”
Angel thought they had too. Now he was really starting to worry. Cordelia wasn’t at school and no one had seen her since she left the mansion this morning. He felt the knot in his stomach tighten at the thought that Cordelia might be in danger and he didn’t have a clue where to start looking.
“Who is Cordelia?” Wesley dared to ask.
“My mate,” Angel answered simply.
Faith jumped in with a flippant suggestion, “Maybe she got dusted,” automatically assuming Cordelia was also a vampire.
Her Watcher gave her a harsh look. “Not only is that rather insensitive, Faith, but if you’d thought about what you were planning to say before you opened your mouth, you might have considered that most vampires do not attend school, which suggests that Cordelia is human, or something else entirely. A form of demon, perhaps.”
Xander snorted, “If you saw Cordy’s form, you wouldn’t doubt she’s all human.”
That left Angel and Buffy glaring at him.
Giles rubbed the back of his neck, trying to focus on the fact that Angel was clearly concerned about Cordelia’s whereabouts in spite of the added confusion brought on by his younger counterpart and the Bostonian Slayer.
Full of questions, Wesley grabbed the opportune moment of silence to comment, “You— Angelus, Scourge of Europe and all humanity, have a human mate? That is tremendously fascinating. Not to mention dangerous for your mate, I would assume. Considering certain contradictions in the aspect of an ensouled vampire’s being, that concept is…”
Angel pulled him up by the throat until only the toes of his polished shoes touched the floor. The action set off Faith who leapt toward the vampire while pulling out her stake at the same time. Seeing what was happing, Buffy threw herself at Faith and managed to knock the other girl down. They wrestled for supremacy as Angel made his fury known to the Englishman.
“Cordelia isn’t a concept,” Angel snapped as he tightened his grip just enough to let the other man know just how close to death he could come for mentioning his mate in a manner that displeased him. “She’s mine and in no way am I a threat to her.”
He dropped Wesley to the floor. Straightening his suit and tie, Wesley narrowed his gaze upon the vampire. Soul or no soul, the vampire was clearly still a danger, he concluded. One that would require closer observation and study.
With the realization that he was taking out his frustration and anger on a virtual stranger, Angel issued an apology, “I’m feeling a bit edgy right now.”
Buffy and Faith grudgingly rose to their feet and took up a stance facing each other, their eye contact unblinking. Until their Watchers called out their names drawing their attention. The two teens walked over to stand by their mentors.
With a deep sigh, Giles suggested, “This is not a time for over-eager curiosity or hot-headed reactions. I suggest we start looking for Cordelia systematically.”
“Good idea,” Wesley nodded while holding a hand to his sore neck.
Then Giles added as the younger man spurred his irritation, “Angel, next time you want to rip my colleague’s head off, please do so outside the library. You know how I hate cleaning up the mess.”
Angel grunted an acknowledgment as if he would consider it in the future. He was too busy racking his brain trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for Cordelia’s sudden disappearance.
Seeing the vampire’s visible distress, Xander decided to take some action. “I hate to say this, but maybe there’s been an accident.”
The vampire’s dark head shot up, his eyes full of pain at the thought. “No. Surely the hospital or the police would’ve called me.”
“If they knew where to call,” Buffy pointed out. Then almost whispering, “If she was able to tell them.”
Xander picked up the telephone at the desk and dialed the admissions number for the hospital. It was a scary thing, he realized with a shock, that he had that number memorized. After making a couple of other calls, he informed Angel, “I guess this is good news. No sign of Cordelia. The police say her car hasn’t been reported as being in an accident and the hospitals say no one by her name or description has been admitted.”
While relieved in one sense, they found the news unsettling in another. It meant that Cordelia had vanished without a trace. Angel was pacing back and forth across the open space of the room looking like he wanted to tear the place apart just to let off some steam.
He stopped when Giles asked him, “Have Cordelia’s nightmares continued? Have they affected her behavior?” Obviously he was searching for any remote explanation.
“They’re worse than before,” Angel admitted. “I thought with our relationship getting closer that the nightmares would fade. That she would forget about losing Angelus and focus on me for a while. Last night, she said something that blew my mind. She said she expected me to leave her.”
Confused, Wesley cut in again, “Why are you referring to Angelus as someone else?”
He received several stares that suggested he’d once again moved into territory that was none of his business. Giles answered cryptically, “That’s what happens when a vampire crosses paths with Fate herself.”
Getting back to Angel’s concerns, Buffy queried in surprise, “Cor thought you’d leave her?” That made no sense after all that had happened. Even she knew that.
Faith suggested wryly, “She skipped town first before you could dump her.”
“I wouldn’t dump Cordelia,” Angel growled at the Slayer. Just her presence in the room was causing his demon instincts to crawl to the surface and the situation was only making it worse. “I’m in love with her and I’ll do whatever it takes to find her and bring her back to me. Are you clear on that?”
Whoa! “Five by five,” Faith took an aggressive stance in front of him despite the warning.
“Angel,” suggested Willow cautiously, “if she did leave, do you have any idea where she’d go? Does she even have any money?”
He was about to say something about not letting his mate go around town like she was destitute when Angel remembered, “She has our credit card.”
Angel pulled out his cell phone and dialed someone up. The Scoobies recognized the fact that he was speaking in French and gave each other a few awestruck looks before waiting for him to get off the phone. “The bank says she’s used it twice. First to gas up the car right here in Sunnydale and next to buy a meal at some place called The Coffee Spot.”
“Where is that?” asked Xander hoping the news included an address.
Willow gulped, “L.A. is huge. How are we gonna find her there?”
It registered that his friends were trying to be supportive and Angel allowed himself a second or two to acknowledge that. Right before Buffy came up with a new idea. “Maybe Cor just took the day off to go shopping. That’s her cure-all, isn’t it?”
“Without telling Angel she was skipping school?” Willow doubted it. “Why isn’t she answering her cell phone? This isn’t like her just to take off.”
Xander had to differ on that one. “It’s not? Being spontaneous, jumping the gun, putting herself in danger?”
“I meant being deceptive,” Willow countered, “but you’re right— she’s done this on the spur of the moment for whatever reason.”
Pacing again, Angel was lost in thought again. Must find her. So… L.A… where to from there? Where in L.A.? Start at this Coffee Spot. Then what?
“Willow!”His sudden move to grab her by the shoulders as he was passing by gave her a start. “Can you cast some kind of tracking spell? We could start at that coffee place. I might be able to follow her scent, but it’s already been several hours. Longer by the time we get there.”
“I’ll try,” she promised. “L.A. is so big that it could take time to track her down even with magic.”
Wesley knew that cutting in with another question could be dangerous considering Angel’s behavior so far, but having thought about Rupert Giles’ statement regarding the vampire and fate, he felt there was something to be explored in relation to this missing young woman and her nightmares.
“Mister Giles, I noticed that in your earlier comment, you personified fate. Were you simply attempting to confound me or is there a deeper message there?” Wesley asked for more details and to his surprise was offered up a tale that left him astounded.
As Giles revealed the basics of the whole Moirae deal, Angel attempted to keep a handle on his ever-thinning control. The young Watcher’s enthusiasm over Angel’s role as the chosen Champion of the Powers that Be and the fact that his entire life and death and unlife had been manipulated by the Moirae themselves to make it happen was too much to take. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce looked like he was going to explode from withholding his questions.
Finally, he could no longer manage it and Angel forcibly kept his hands in his pockets while the Englishman eagerly suggested, “Perhaps these nightmares you have described are not post-traumatic stress at all. What if they are in fact visions sent to Cordelia by the Moirae?”
“Visions?” Angel was suddenly listening.
Wes gestured with his hands as he spoke, “History and mythology frequently tell of humans receiving visions from higher beings including the Moirae. The Fates rarely involve themselves on the mortal plane and use other methods of communication.”
Giles had to admit that he hadn’t considered that notion. The fact that he had done so much research into the background of the Fates and their practices should have given him a clue. The realization stunned him and he was forced to reluctantly admit, “That is a brilliant suggestion.”
“Thank you, Mister Giles,” a pleased grin came over the younger man’s face. “Where was I? Oh, yes. These nightmares could include past or prophetic images sent by the Moirae. If Angel is indeed their champion then it is likely that those closest to him, especially his mate, would remain tied to their plan, to his fate, his future, and to his ultimate destiny.”
Angel remembered the terror he’d sensed in the way Cordelia screamed his name each time the nightmares came. Through the haze of his worries, he heard Giles prompting him to tell them every detail he knew about the dreams. “It’s not much. Fear. Confusion. I’m there, or at least she says it’s me— leaving her. That’s all I know except that she wakes up at the same time each night screaming my name.”
“The same hour of the night—every time?” Wes found that intriguing.
With a nod, he clarified, “The exact same minute. Two-seventeen.”
As soon as he’d said it aloud, Angel made the L.A. connection. “Two-seventeen. It’s not the time that’s important, just the number.”
“I’ll bite,” Xander quipped. “What’s important about 217?”
“That was my room number at the Hyperion Hotel,” Angel revealed. “Wesley is right. This is dredging up my past and if Cordelia’s dreams have brought her to that cursed place then she is in grave danger.”
“What kind of danger?” Buffy asked already planning to kick its butt when she found it.
“The worst,” Angel’s cryptic answer came with a dark sneer. “Now I know why Cordy has been so distant, why she’s been paranoid about holding on to her memories of Angelus. When I get my hands on the demon causing it, this time he’s going to die painfully.”
The Scoobies gulped knowing that it was a vow, not a threat. Then Angel told them, “I’m leaving for Los Angeles.”
Angel turned with a dramatic swish of his long leather coat, heading for the doors of the library. The sound of Buffy clearing her throat caused him to pause. He heard her ask, “Want a little help?”
Los Angeles, Approximately 11 a.m.
“Lost! I’m lost, lost, lost. You’d think the man who owns the building could’ve give me proper directions,” Cordelia grumbled while steering into the parking lot of an old diner. She’d decided to stop for a bite to eat while figuring out her exact location. “At least I’m still in Los Angeles.”
Calling Robert Melmon again might be pushing her luck considering that he’d gotten her lost in the first place. Between his sketchy directions and several construction detours, Cordelia had been driving for over an hour after leaving the garage. Now she was frustrated as well as tired and hungry.
Not the best way to feel when the voices inside your head kept whispering that there was somewhere you needed to be.
The Coffee Spot was not exactly Los Angeles’ classiest place, but it was clean and looked to be popular. The early lunch crowd was already starting to filter in, so she locked her car and grabbed a booth near the back.
A gum-popping waitress took her order returning shortly with a glass of iced tea, a sandwich & fries and the yellow pages. Cordelia hoped to find a map of downtown L.A., but found it had already been ripped out from the front of the book. “Sheesh! People will steal anything.”
“Lost?” The question came from a man standing at the end of her table.
Cordelia wondered how the hell he knew that. She scrutinized his appearance from his neatly cut black hair downward. Brown leather jacket, red shirt, white undershirt and black pants were all clean and tidy enough if not exactly stylish. A dimple came and went as he flashed a smile, gazing at her like he’d found something precious he had misplaced.
“That is none of your business,” Cordelia decided the guy looked too eager to please. “Go bother someone else. Not interested.”
“You will be,” he answered cryptically while inviting himself to sit down on the other side of the booth. “And you’ll find that you’re very much my business.”
Incensed, Cordelia gave him a deathglare that would have packed a wallop at even at a hundred yards. Sitting back in the booth, he held his hands up against her fury even as he listened to her response.
“I may be new in town, but I’m not some low class hooker looking for a pimp,” she practically breathed fire across the table.
Gaping at her assumption, he shook his head, horrified that she’d taken his words entirely the wrong way. His Irish accent thickened as his panic level shot through the roof. “That’s not what I meant. You’re a high class girl, for sure.”
“No, I didn’t mean that either,” he put his hand on her arm as she started to climb out of the booth. “Hear me out, Cordelia.”
The sound of her name on the stranger’s lips made Cordelia pause long enough to shake off his loose grip. “Who are you?” she demanded.
“Name’s Doyle,” he explained looking rather sheepish at having accidentally implied that she was a prostitute. This wasn’t how he’d imagined their first meeting. “I’ve been sent by the Powers that Be.”
Cordelia plopped down onto the seat again, scooting over to the middle of the booth. “Hopefully to give me directions.”
With a laugh, Doyle answered, “In more ways than one. Your little jaunt today is of great interest to them. I’m told it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. In fact, you are a year ahead of schedule.”
“Tough noogies,” Cordelia was too tired from having been awake all night to argue the case. “I’m doing what I have to do.”
“Be certain that you want to take that step, because once you do there is no altering the outcome. Not by the likes of us, anyway.” Doyle wondered exactly what Cordelia knew about the Hyperion Hotel and what she was about to face.
She remained quiet, sipping at her iced tea from a straw and looking determined. He could tell that some details were the order of the day. “It’s a little early, but let me tell you a bedtime story, Princess.”
Cordelia fought off a real yawn. “As it happens, I am kinda sleepy. Awake all night. So tell me, already.”
“Once upon a time, there was a vampire and he was the meanest vampire in all the land,” Doyle began and managed to cause Cordelia to blink as she realized whose story he was going to reveal. “Even the other vampires were afraid of him he was such a bastard.”
“I think I know this one,” Cordelia muttered, but let him continue.
Doyle did so without a pause, “Then one day he’s cursed by gypsies. They restore his human soul and all of a sudden he’s mad with guilt.”
“Let the brooding begin,” Cordelia nodded.
“He’s all… ‘What have I done?‘ …he’s freaked.”
Yawning again, Cordelia looked a little bored. Doyle had to agree with her. “Yeah, well it’s a fairly dull tale. Needs a little sex is my feeling.”
Cordelia suddenly realized where the story was heading and scowled across the table at him, which only pursed her lips and made her just as beautiful if a little scary. He had a feeling this was not a girl to cross.
“So sure enough,” Doyle clapped his hands once, “enter the girl, pretty little blonde thing. Vampire slayer by trade. Our vampire falls madly in love with her and after a time the two of them get fleshy with one another.”
“Don’t think I like this story anymore,” Cordelia told him. “Certainly not this part of it. What’s the point?”
“I’m gettin’ there.” He dimpled grinning at her impatience. “A little perfect happiness comes along and our boy goes bad again; he kills again. So when he gets his soul back for the second time, he figu—”
Cutting in, “Figures it’s time for more brooding?” Cordelia asked.
“No,” Doyle gave her a sharp look. “You said you knew this. He figured it was time to secure that pesky cursed soul of his. No more worries about too much happiness.”
Her dramatic eye-roll was automatic. Cordelia knew he’d left out a few details, not that she really cared. She wanted to know what all this had to do with the reason she was here in Los Angeles.
“That’s when things start to get a little screwy.”
“If you ask me, that started when you sat down in my booth,” Cordelia huffed.
Doyle leaned forward across the table. “The PTB are a little peeved with their kinfolk right now. Seems the Fates have taken a close interest in their future champion and jumpstarted the program before the game was set to begin.”
Remembering that Doyle said she wasn’t supposed to be here for a year, Cordelia asked how he knew that. “The PTB told me that I’ve been chosen to act as the champion’s seer, which is to say they sent me some great splitting migraines that come with pictures…visions of the future.”
“Visions,” Cordelia mulled over the word. “My nightmares… could they actually be visions from the Powers?”
“Not the Powers,” he shook his head and frowned. “The Fates themselves, perhaps, or something else.”
Cordelia realized that she was caught up in the endless struggle that Giles had once described as being the Powers’ eternal game. “They sent you here to stop me?”
“Not really,” Doyle said to her surprise. “More to warn you that going to the Hyperion Hotel today will change the future.”
“I’m counting on it,” Cordelia rose from the booth facing him with a presence and air of self-confidence that bowled him over. These Powers were running scared if they’d called their seer into action just to warn her off. “As far as I’m concerned, the future isn’t written yet, no matter what the Moirae have to say about it.”
Not wanting to burst her little bubble, Doyle knew that the Powers and beings like the Moirae influenced far more than humans or demons wanted to believe. Free will and blind luck got you so far and after that some things were unavoidable.
“You’re off to the Hyperion without a clue of what you’ll be facing,” Doyle told her.
“Doesn’t matter,” Cordelia stated despite the fear that curled up in her belly at the notion of doing this alone. “Those nightmares…visions…fate-o-grams…whatever… they came to me for a reason.”
He didn’t doubt it, but Doyle had to make the suggestion, “Did it ever occur to you that the visions were intended to make the champion take action rather than you?”
Cordelia looked down with confusion. “To convince Angel to leave me? To find the Hyperion and— do what? My nightmares tell me the only thing he’ll find there is eternal suffering. That’s not gonna happen.”
“You’re terrified,” the Irishman’s black eyes rounded with the sudden realization. She had put on a brave front, but his other senses were telling him what lay beyond the surface. Not that he wasn’t right there with her on the fear front. “Fair enough. Who wouldn’t be considering.”
“Don’t try to frighten me off, Doyle,” warned Cordelia fixing to walk out. “Maybe the vision didn’t come with detailed instructions, but I heard enough to convince me that I have to go.”
That caught his attention. “You say that you heard enough? The Fates actually spoke to you during the dreams? Directly?”
Shrugging, Cordelia huffed, “Pfft! No big. A lot of scary whispering. Overdone if you ask me.”
Despite the bravado, Doyle knew the experience rankled her. “Then I guess there’s no use to try to change your mind.”
“Give the guy a gold star,” she quipped. Then Cordelia put her hands on her hips looking like a defiant Amazon from Doyle’s angle adding, “This is something I have to do.”
Doyle grinned. He couldn’t help himself. She was so sure that she could do anything to beat this. If he didn’t know the outcome of the little bedtime story he’d spun, he wouldn’t mind making a play for her himself. The thought brought a little sadness to his heart without understanding why. If anything, he should be glad knowing that it was possible to love and be loved like Cordelia and her champion.
The PTB had given him a vision with multifaceted sounds and images of things to come. Creation of their champion vampire had changed the course of the future as known to them and they needed it back on track. Whatever was leading Cordelia to the Hyperion did so without their knowledge or consent.
The Moirae themselves possessed the power, but were rarely known to take sides in cosmic schemes. Doyle didn’t care about the politics, only that this beautiful girl was about to put herself in danger to save the man—pire she loved from something that hadn’t even happened yet. If she had her way, it never would.
“Have a seat, Princess,” he nodded toward the other side of the booth. “Finish your sandwich. We’ve a long day ahead of us.”
“Since when is there an us?” Cordelia tapped her fingers on her hips. The Irishman had come out of nowhere with cryptic warnings from the Powers that Be. Whether that was to stop her or help her seemed to be the question of the day. “Does that mean you’re tagging along?”
Taking one of the French fries from her plate, Doyle chewed and swallowed before answering. “I suppose it does at that. As for there being an ‘us’, we’ll just keep that between you and me when you introduce me to Angel,” he winked.
Cordelia slid back into the booth again breaking into a smile for the first time. After that Doyle looked a little mesmerized until she told him, “Just keep in mind that he’s the possessive type.”
“Can’t say as I blame him,” Doyle admitted readily. Turning serious, “Assuming we come out of this in one piece— and I’m not saying we will— there’s more than a game at stake. The PTB have a mission for their champion and I, for one, would like to be around to tell him what it is.”
Upon hearing Buffy’s offer of help, Angel stopped before reaching the library doors. He’d been about to charge off on his own thinking only of bringing Cordelia home safe and sound. This wasn’t as simple as saving the damsel in distress; he knew all too well what awaited them at the Hyperion. Besides, it was still daylight.
“Here’s what you need to know,” Angel swung back around and looked each one of them in the eye. “This isn’t your typical cemetery patrol. There’ll be no vampires to stake. The Hyperion Hotel is the den of a Thesulac demon and it’s powers will force each of you to face your worst enemy— yourself.”
Wes commented that he remembered reading something about Thesulacs, but could not immediately recall the details. The vampire barely paused to let him speak, “It’s a paranoia demon. Non-corporeal, it instills fear as it whispers to its victims, feeding on their innate insecurities.”
“Cordelia insecure?” A snort sounded from Xander which drew unwanted glares from a certain vampire. Angel’s concerns on he behalf were obvious, but Cor was a hard nut to crack. “Just saying she’s usually kinda confident.”
Giles pointed out, “Nevertheless, she is human and her recent personal experiences put her at risk. We will all be in danger going in there. Even Angel. Paranoia demons feed off emotions and there are none of us who can claim a lack of those.”
“Well I’m ready to kick a little ass,” Faith bounced up and down punching her fists in the air. Asking Wesley, “Can we go, too?”
Frankly, Wesley was not about to be left behind. He was exceedingly fascinated by the whole thing. “Absolutely. We must do what we can to help.”
Angel looked at the lanky Englishman. “Do you have any field experience at all or do you just study vampires and demons?”
“Well, it’s not all books and theories nowadays,” Wes flashed Giles a condescending smile. Then proudly informing Angel, “I have, in fact, faced two vampires myself. Under controlled circumstances, of course.”
Even Faith grinned. Her new Watcher was cute considering he was such a dweeb. All he needed was someone to break him in a bit. Faith figured she was just the gal to do it.
Giles drolled, “Well, no danger of finding those here.”
“Vampires?” Wesley glanced at the one standing directly in front of him.
“Controlled circumstances,” answered Giles.
Angel wasn’t blind to the territorial behavior of Buffy’s Watcher. It was something he completely understood. Still, he had to get everyone on track and chose to disagree with Rupert Giles.
“Then let’s control them,” Angel said as he informed the group about the demon, what to expect and precisely how they would go about killing it.
“This thingy doesn’t sound easy to kill,” Buffy commented upon hearing that it could neither be seen nor touched.
Wesley indicated, “There should be an incantation to make it corporeal, a raising ritual of some kind.”
“I had it once,” Angel admitted as he remembered his long walk down the Hyperion corridor. “I lost it during a lynching.”
“Deadboy has to keep reminding us that he was evil,” Xander automatically issued the dig. “As if we’d forget.”
Angel gave the teen a hard stare, clarifying, “My lynching. They put a noose around my neck and left me hanging from the hotel ceiling.”
“Eep!” Willow cringed at the mental image. “Good thing you were already dead.”
“Who did that to you?” Buffy was horrified at the thought. They were caught up in the revelation and no one, even Angel, thought of it as only secondhand memories.
He told her, “My fellow residents at the Hyperion Hotel.”
“I’m right aren’t I?” Xander asked. “The Hyperion is that creepy hotel Klotho showed us during our little Moirae-guided time-trip? Circa 19-whatever. The hotel she told us was more interesting than what we actually came to see.”
“That’s the one,” Angel nodded in confirmation. Realizing then, “You’re right. Klotho was hinting at something. To me. To Cordelia. All of us even then. Trying to say that the hotel was important. Dammit! The Moirae knew this would happen.”
Giles felt certain that there was more going on than just the influence of a paranoia demon. Still, it was best to take one problem at a time. Solve the immediate threat and them move on to the big picture. “Perhaps you’d better tell us everything that went on at the hotel.”
Angel gave them the abridged version. Even that left them horrified. Wesley gasped with morbid curiosity. “Did they shut the place down? What happened to the rest of the residents?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted as his jaw clenched and he swallowed reflexively. “I left them there after the lynching. All of them helpless. I told the Thesulac to take them. To take them all. Nothing would ever force me to set foot in that building again.”
Silence fell for a heavy pause until Buffy dared to say, “Except this. Now. Cordelia.”
She was the only thing he could think of that would ever make it happen, Angel realized. Just when he thought he’d found happiness, it looked like fate decided to deal one last blow wracked with agony and irony and pain. If anything happened to Cordy…
Willow caught Angel’s attention, her hand on the sleeve of his jacket, “This was when again? The 1950s?”
The extent of his decision became clear as Willow realized, “You had a soul then.”
“With or without a soul, I have a lot to make up for,” Angel wasn’t certain that was possible. This was just a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of blood he’d spilled. “Tell me how that qualifies me as a champion to anybody.”
Wesley and Giles shared a look of understanding before the younger Watcher said, “So that’s what this is about— unfinished business.”
“Never doubt it, Wesley, this will be finished.” Angel had Cordelia to think about and that mean dealing with a problem fifty years in the making. “Here’s what we’ll need. You mentioned the raising ritual. Rupert, I need you to check your resources for an appropriate incantation.”
“Absolutely,” Giles answered, already moving in that direction.
Angel called after him, “I don’t suppose you have an orb of Ramjarin collecting dust on a shelf, do you?”
Wesley held up a finger to catch the vampire’s attention. “I know of a place in Los Angeles that specializes in ancient crystals. I’ll give them a call. We can pick it up on the way to the diner.”
“Good,” Angel doubted that his original source was still there or that he had another orb. “We’ll also need some sacred herbs and divining powder.”
“Bingo!” Willow told him. “They’re at home, but we can stop lickety-split and I’ll have them.”
“What else?” asked Buffy now eager to get going.
Angel remembered the words he’d heard back in 1952. “Just something really big to hit it with.”
“Cool,” commented Faith. “Sounds like fun.”
Within a matter of minutes, Giles returned triumphantly. “I’ve found it. Just where I thought it would be.”
“Kleefaks Compendium of Spells?” Wesley asked interestedly.
He received a nod from Giles.
“I’ll cast the spell,” volunteered Willow before the two Watchers could say anything.
Angel declined the offer. “Rupert can do it. I have something more important for you to handle— if you think you can.”
Her large green eyes blinked as Angel described her appointed task. Willow nodded despite her nervousness and promised to try.
“Weapons locker.” Angel glanced at Giles who tossed him the keys. Opening it up, he took out two matched swords. Tossing one to each Slayer, he watched them catch the perfectly balanced steel, brandishing the swords in an equally flashy show while trying to size each other up.
Angel barely allowed himself a moment’s amusement at the sight. Then he grabbed Xander’s shoulder and nudged him in the direction of the locker, “Grab a weapon.”
Xander took out a machete while Angel picked up a heavy axe, wishing that it was his own. No time to go back to the mansion, though. They already had too many stops to make between here and the Hyperion.
Then Angel’s gaze darted around to the corners of the room as he realized that there was one other person missing from the group. Normally the werewolf was so quiet that he was easy to overlook. “Where is Oz?”
“You need Oz?” Willow asked then glanced at the wall clock. “He’s at band practice by now.”
“Get him,” Angel told her. “We need the van. Sunset is too far away to risk delaying our departure.”
“I think we’re driving in circles,” Cordelia complained to Doyle who was comfortably seated on the passenger side of her car. “Are you sure you know the location of the hotel?”
“Definitely,” Doyle assured her. He knew it all right. He’d promised to get her there. Not that he’d get her there quickly, though. All he knew was the Sunnydale cavalry was coming in a few hours and they’d need every minute to do whatever it is heroes did to save the day.
Cordelia stopped at a corner and since there was no other traffic, turned to face Doyle. “We are definitely going in circles. I’ve seen this club before.”
“What? This place?” Doyle eyed the construction site thinking he’d made a mistake about taking her past this spot again. It wasn’t every day that dandily dressed demon club owners made an appearance out in the sunshine just to direct workers in the hanging of the marquee.
“Caritas,” Cordelia read the sign that was being placed over the main entrance. She noted the red horns, green skin and bright suit of the demon issuing the orders. Why should that surprise her? This was L.A., after all.
“Careful, crumbcake,” he called out to a beefy construction worker as he pulled on a rope. “That’s a very expensive sign. A little higher on the left.”
Cordelia gave Doyle another impatient look. He finally admitted, “We may have come by about half an hour ago. Cool place, this club. At least that’s the early buzz on the street. Demon karaoke bar that’s set to open next week, so they tell me.”
“Enough with the delay tactics, Doyle,” she sounded out a growl worthy of her mate. “Take me to the hotel now.”
“That’s really not a good idea.” He had been given enough of the panorama vision to know what was coming was not of the goof. Still, he gave in to Cordelia’s demands and they arrived at the gated entry to the hotel within fifteen minutes.
When they emerged from the car, Doyle looked around for any sign of another way of distracting Cordelia from this task, but found nothing. She popped the trunk of the car and pulled out a small club, which she handed to Doyle and took a sword from its scabbard for herself.
“Ah, what’s this for?” Doyle eyed the club in his hand.
“What do you think, dufus?” She rolled her eyes and headed for the front gate.
Looking horrified at the notion, he muttered, “No, no, no. I’m just the seer, ya see? Demon maiming and killing…that’s for the champions and the nutcases.”
Cordelia let out a, “Pfft! Which category are you putting me into?”
Well, he’d certainly walked into that one. Doyle suggested, “Neither one. You’re the brilliant girl who’s gonna realize any second now that it would be a far better idea just to wait right here.”
“I haven’t come all this way to quit or be turned away,” Cordelia told him as she reached for the handle on the iron-wrought gate. It didn’t budge. “Looks like it’s locked.”
“It’s a sign,” Doyle told her, grabbing her elbow and pulling her back toward the car. “No trespassing. Keep off the grass. No attempted breaking and entering.”
Wrenching her arm out of his grasp, Cordelia reached into her pocket and pulled out a set of keys. “I happen to have permission to be here.”
Doyle recalled her telling him about meeting with the development company CEO. Rotten luck, he’d call it, if he didn’t know it was more than that.
“Creepy hotel,” commented Cordelia as they entered the deserted, littered lobby covered with the grime and dust of sitting empty for the past twenty years.
Walking beside her, Doyle asked, “Bad vibes? Let’s go.”
“Too late,” she said softly as her ears picked up a distant whispering. Familiar, it was calling out to her. Then it was gone.
“What was that?” Doyle was looking around at every corner of the lobby holding his club out like he was lifting a torch to light the shadowy corners.
“Sheesh! Paranoid much?”
Gulping, Doyle realized that his demon senses were picking up those bad vibes he’d mentioned. “There’s something in this hotel.”
“Duh! Reason for the sharp, pointy weapons,” Cordelia swooshed her sword to show him what she meant. “I didn’t think I was here to meet Little Miss Muffett.”
“Well, you are in a way, don’t forget.” Glancing down at his dull, not-so-pointy club, Doyle suddenly wondered if she’d taken the better weapon on purpose. “Hey, what if I want the sword?”
“You’ll have to convince me you can handle it better than I can,” she commented, not bothering to tell him Angel hadn’t gotten around to that part of her training yet.
“Guess it’s the blunt basher for me,” Doyle frowned. Not that he wanted that either. His vision hadn’t explained what made the hotel so dangerous, but he’d felt the fear and despair Cordelia described to him. It had come from her, from him, and from the woman somewhere inside these walls who saw her prison of torment as a haven of protection.
Cordelia was running on instinct and adrenalin. Her nightmares brought her here with no explanation of the details, only speaking of danger and eternal suffering. When Doyle spoke of the old woman in his vision, she felt relieved that there was actually going to be someone to confront. Doyle seemed to think she was a victim, but how could she know that his visions were accurate?
The more she thought about it, her doubts seemed to grow. “Let’s start at the top and work our way down,” Cordelia told Doyle.
They conducted a room to room search. Arriving on the second floor, Cordelia found herself standing in front of room 217. The numbers stood out as glaringly as a neon sign as she gripped the door handle. Giving Doyle a meaningful look, she whispered, “I think this is it.”
With a gulp, Doyle nodded and held his club at the ready. Cordelia threw open the door, leapt into the room holding her sword in front of her. “Hah!”
After a long pause and a glance around the room to confirm it was empty, Doyle told her, “Nobody home.”
“That’s weird,” Cordelia frowned, lowering her weapon as she turned to face him. “I could’ve sworn there was something important about this room.”
“Two-seventeen,” she explained, “is the time I woke up from my nightmares.”
Doyle shrugged. “Don’t ask me, Princess. The PTB weren’t overly generous with the details when they sent me to find you.”
“Think they’d share the important stuff, wouldn’t you?” Cordelia rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Like exactly where the helpless victim is holed up.”
“They can’t do it all,” Doyle found himself defending the higher beings who’d chosen him as their seer. “Something has to be left up to us mortals.”
“Pfft!” Cordelia strode back into the corridor. “Why can’t they leave it all up to us? If they’d mind their own business, we’d be just fine, but noooooo, they have to stir up trouble and interfere with lives and don’t care who they hurt along the way.”
“They’re the good guys,” Doyle reminded her following along. “Fighting the Good Fight, and all.”
Cordelia opened the door to the next room, forgetting that she was still facing Doyle. “We fight the fight. They just sit in the director’s chair and try to call the shots.”
Caught up in their discussion, neither Cordelia nor Doyle noticed the room they just entered had an occupant until a voice sounded in their ears, “I’ve been waiting such a long time.”
The deep male drawl sounded in a tone that made Cordelia think of Southern Fried Chicken and Used Car Salesmen. Whirling around, she saw only the frail outline of an elderly woman sitting in a wing-backed chair by the window. She was staring at the two intruders with fear and a hint of hope in her eyes.
“I’ve been waiting such a long time,” her soft voice sounded hesitant. “Is it safe to go outside now?”
Cordelia and Doyle stared at one another, both thinking they had heard another voice before the woman spoke to them.
“I thought I—.”
Breaking off, they put it down to nerves and decided to focus on the woman instead. They lowered their weapons, not wanting to appear as a threat.
“Are you Judy Kovacs?” asked Cordelia with a glance at Doyle for confirmation of the name.
The use of her name on a stranger’s lips caused the woman’s eyes to turn suspicious instantaneously. “Who are you? You’re not here because of—?” she couldn’t even say it after all these years of fears and self-doubt.
“Cordelia and Doyle,” she answered with a smile of encouragement. “We’re not here to hurt you. We’re friends.”
A look of sadness replaced suspicion. Judy told them. “I thought I had a friend once. Tall and handsome. Someone to protect me from the world.”
“Wonder who that could be,” Doyle gave a wry look.
“Angel was here in the fifties and hasn’t been back since as far as I know,” Cordelia told him. “You think she’s been here that long? In a deserted hotel.”
Doyle gluped and glanced around the room again as low, imperceptible whispering sounded from the space around them. “Maybe it’s not so deserted as we thought.”
The low sounds suddenly made sense and Doyle turned toward a corner of the room. “Yes,” he said for all visible means of detection to the horrid wallpaper. “I am. No, I won’t. I won’t… I will?”
The fact that Doyle seemed to be talking to the wall might have been something of a concern to Cordelia. Unfortunately, she was suddenly focused inward and hearing the voices from her nightmare return. Doyle walked out the door leaving the two women alone, neither of them moving, too caught up in their own thoughts to take notice of his departure.
“You’ve found my tasty treat,” the whispers became fully audible. “So delectable, but wearing around the edges. Another year of this and there would be nothing left to dine upon. Now that you’re here, it’s time for the next course, and that’s always a thrill.”
Her immediate reaction was the return of the terror she’d felt in the dreams. It kept her frozen to the spot even if her acerbic tongue remained unaffected, “Cordelia Chase is nobody’s happy meal.”
The demon’s laughter filled the room drawing a screech from Judy who cowered in her chair. Some days the voices were soothing, almost fatherly as they convinced her to remain safe inside the hotel. Others brought only further doubts and a surety that danger remained and that leaving would result in her worst fears. It wasn’t just the money she’d stolen. Not anymore. Not since 1952 when she’d accused the man from 217 for crimes he did not commit and got him killed.
“That’s where you’re wrong, luscious one,” the Thesulac told her. “I’ve been feeding off your fears for ages now. Ever since I caught a whiff of them during the time of the vampire’s residence and this one’s youth.”
“The fifties?” Cordelia’s confusion sounded until she realized that it had to do with the Moirae’s time trip down memory lane. They’d been non-corporeal, not truly in the sphere of reality, Klotho had told them. Apparently close enough for a demon to sense them. “I was across the street. You could tell?”
Conversation was the Thesulac’s strength and a weakness, for it enjoyed the little debates that it’s victims often made as he spoke to them. Explaining that its mental tentacles reached out beyond the scope of his physical environment to draw victims into its den, the demon did not bother to hide the fact. Watching her face as it told Cordelia of the mental link formed between them at that moment and the resulting angst it caused was equivalent to whipping up a satisfying snack.
Mmm, mmm, Good!
“He was with you then,” the demon reminded. “Your thoughts, your concerns, your deep fears all focused on him. I almost had you then. You nearly came to me. Then you were gone.”
His irritation at the loss of his meal came across as shouted white noise, like a blank television channel with the volume turned all the way up. Cordelia covered her ears after dropping her sword to the carpet. The action failed to stop the whispered words from getting through.
Cordelia had no idea how the demon had found her fifty years and a hundred miles away. Upon her asking, it returned smoothly, “You found me.”
“Did not,” Cordelia snapped back. “Why the hell would I ever come looking for you? Except for now, obviously, and it’s not like I’m planning to stay— just telling you to leave Angel alone.”
“Ha, ha, ha, ha,” the deep chuckles left her shuddering. “What led you into my den, luscious one? Your mind, your thoughts, your very being turned to me. Focused here upon the threshold of our future, renewing bonds you never knew existed.”
“We have no future, buddy.” If the Moirae sent her the dreams as a warning or even, as Doyle suggested, a message for Angel, they also managed to activate the psychic connection made by the demon. She had no idea what kind of demon it was; only that it kept referring to her as its next meal.
That was never a good thing according to Cordelia’s Handbook of Hellmouth Survival.
The Thesulac found her amusing, such a mixture of tasty emotions ripe to devour. In truth, she might provide an excellent replacement for his aging tasty treat, but there were other things to consider. This luscious one would give him a quick boost before the main course arrived, one that would keep him filled up for eternity. The one he’d allowed to escape having stirred the hotel residents into a murderous frenzy.
“Your mate will fall into the web of your own making,” the demon informed Cordelia. “When he finds your cold, lifeless body and climbs into the pit of despair from which there is no escape, he will be mine.”
“No!” Cordelia’s anguish resonated as she realized that Angel would figure out a way to find her. Once here, he would fall into the demon’s trap and it would be her fault for leading him here. Was that the Moirae’s warning all along?
“If there was ever a soul marred by angst and pain, it was that one,” the Thesulac made a sound of pleasure anticipating what was to come.
Cordelia felt sick and as the seconds ticked by she fell deeper and deeper under the influence of the Thesulac.
Time passed unnoticed by Cordelia as the demon held her in its thrall. Judy sat as unmoving as a statue in her flowered dress and faded sweater while Doyle wandered the halls searching for something he’d lost. Preying upon their fears and doubts, the demon tugged at every emotional thread he could identify searching for the one that would give him the most in return.
Until it stumbled upon the one thread that led the demon astray.
Attempting to prey upon Cordelia’s innate doubts about her feelings for her mate, about the conflict she felt regarding the parts that made up the whole vampire versus the sum whose essence surpassed the parts, the Thesulac reached deep into her mind expecting to find the worst of her pain of loss and suffering, but found only love and the confidence that came with the unwavering belief in its existence.
If there was one thing Cordelia knew with certainty, it was that Angel loved her. No single doubt of that fact could be traced. Even with her fears of him leaving, which she now realized were caused by this demon, they were never about him not loving her. They were all about her being afraid to lose him like she’d lost Angelus.
Except that she hadn’t lost Angelus. Not completely. Only now with the Thesulac’s voice in her head did Cordelia realize how many things it had used against her. Any doubt or concern, any small insecurity had opened her up to it’s influence. Even to the extent that it warped her acceptance of her true mate.
“Tell me anything,” she called out to the incorporeal demon, “but don’t bother trying to convince me that Angel’s not in love with me. As for me loving him, don’t even go there. That’s why I’m here, dumbass.”
Silence came as her only answer, muted rage that thickened the air in the room with its nearly palpable presence.
Cordelia grabbed her sword from the floor, pointing it in front of her and moving into a defensive position in front of the old woman who looked to be slowly coming out of a stupor. Still hoping the demon would show, Cordelia called out, “Do you even have an ass?”
She suddenly sensed a change in the atmosphere, no longer feeling the demon in the room. Since the whispering had stopped, Cordelia wondered if it was something she said or if the demon had simply gone off to look for Doyle who seemed to have vanished. Turning to Judy, she explained that she needed to look for Doyle, but that she would be back to help her. “We’ll get out of this, I promise.”
Dashing out into the hall, Cordelia immediately found the seer who was coming in her direction. Doyle explained that he’d been looking for some physical sign of the demon and was in no way hiding from it in one of the empty rooms. “Pfft! Like I’m supposed to believe that? This demon guy is invisible, intangible and also not looking to be easy to kill. Somehow, it tricked me into coming here and thinks it can get its mental hooks into Angel.”
Between the two of them, they guessed that the demon had piggybacked into the dreams given her by the Moirae as a warning. “It’s been feeding off my emotions ever since the Moirae merged Angelus and Angel, exaggerating my concerns and doubts.”
“That’s why I’ve been so damn confused,” Cordelia told him. “Missing them. Loving Angel. I’ve been pulled in two directions because it’s been preying on my emotions; I don’t like playing the victim.”
Doyle muttered, “We’ve got to stop this.”
“Careful,” Cordelia warned him, surprised at the sudden determination to beat their foe. “I might start thinking that you want to be here.”
“Who, me?” Shaking his head, Doyle clarified, “I meant we needed to stop talking and get that old lady and ourselves the heck out of here.”
Between the two of them, they managed to convince Judy to leave with them. Doyle felt certain that it was because the demon was not in the room whispering to her not to trust them. Even before arriving at the top of the stairs, they heard a commotion down on the lower level. Voices filtered up from below and the closer they got to the landing, the more confident Cordelia became.
Angel was here, but he hadn’t come alone. While there remained a thread of concern over his safety, Cordelia knew to blame the demon for it and felt a growing sense of confidence that the future she’d seen in the nightmares was a dwindling possibility. There was nothing they couldn’t beat together. Besides, she had a few things to say to her mate and no nasty demon was going to stop her from doing it.
Still here or not, the creature no longer had any power over her that she didn’t give it. Unfortunately, that didn’t apply to everyone else. As far as Cordelia knew, Angel had no idea that he was walking into the demon’s trap. That didn’t change her instantaneous reaction upon seeing him at the bottom of the stairs.
Having just finished issuing last minute reminders to the group, Angel had turned to head up to Room 217 where he felt certain he would find Cordelia. Then suddenly, she was there at the top of the steps. His mind registered the fact that she wasn’t alone, but he was too focused on the fact that she was alive to look any closer than that.
“Angel!” Her face glowed with the brilliance of her smile as Cordelia caught sight of him. The vampire raced up the stairs at an accelerated speed, then stopping on the step just below the top. Face to face, they simply stared into each other’s eyes for a endless seconds before he breathed her name on a ragged sigh of relief.
A short, intense kiss followed summing up all of their feelings in one brief moment until both pulled back. This wasn’t the time for passion. Danger remained and the safety of everyone was at risk.
“Explanations later, champ. There’s a demon running loose,” Cordelia warned. “We have to get Judy out of here.”
The name caused Angel to focus on the old woman. She was staring at him while a dark-haired man supported her with an arm around her waist. Deep wrinkles marred her familiar face, but it was the eyes he recognized still full of fear and reflecting the darkness of decades past.
From the look on Angel’s face, Cordelia could tell the seer had been right about the woman. Judy Kovacs had been at this hotel for nearly fifty years under the influence of the faceless demon. It seemed clear by the shock registering in his dark eyes that Angel never suspected to find anyone from that time still at the hotel, especially her.
“Is it really you?” Judy asked with awe despite her confusion. It was like looking back in time and seeing him exactly as he was half a century ago. Before her actions got him killed. “You’re alive? Not a ghost come to haunt me.”
“No ghost,” Angel shook his head. “Later, after we get you to a safe place, I’ll tell you everything.”
“I’m safe here,” Judy looked back toward her room. “He told me so.”
Angel gently cupped her shoulders and tried not to shudder at the skeletal sensation of her bony frame under his hands. He was responsible for this, he knew. “Trust me, Judy. I have to ask you to trust me.”
She looked hesitant. After all, she’d trusted him before and that had only gotten him lynched by an angry mob. Looking at the kind expectant faces of Doyle and Cordelia, Judy nodded her assent.
“Let’s get her downstairs,” Angel told the others. He picked up the frail woman and carried her down to the ground level. Calling out to Oz and Xander, he decided that it was safest just to get Judy out of the building.
Cordelia accepted Willow’s enthusiastic hug and acknowledged the others’ relieved looks with a smile, but it looked like everyone was busy doing something, she saw. Even Willow didn’t take time to pepper her with questions about what she had done. Xander was all seriousness as Angel transferred Judy into his arms.
“These are friends,” Angel explained as he quickly introduced the two guys. Meaning every word and needing her to know that, he added, “I’d trust them with my life.”
Judy’s eyes widened, constantly thinking back to the hanging, but she also felt a bit of hope upon seeing the sunlight filtering in from the glass-doored entryway of the hotel. She lifted a hand to Angel’s face and gave him a smile— her first one in over fifty years. “Thank you.”
While the vampire was occupied with seeing the demon’s victim to safety, Wesley and Giles were busy preparing for the raising ritual. The young Watcher held a container of divining powder mixed with sacred herbs and was sprinkling it in a specific pattern around the lobby.
“Cordy, you should go with Oz and Xander,” suggested Angel. “Make sure Judy is safe. We have a demon to kill.”
“Uh-uh, big guy,” Cordelia shook her head. “I’m not leaving you now.”
Doyle told them, “If they need a hand, I’d be willing to give it.”
Angel still had no idea who the man was, but until he knew for certain he didn’t want him anywhere near Judy Kovacs. No matter that he had been helping Cordelia with the old lady. “Stay. No telling what will happen here.”
“Then Cordelia and I will stand by. Guard the door in case it gets through the front lines,” Doyle told him.
“Yeah,” Angel liked that idea. It would keep Cordelia out of tentacle reach should his plan not work and things got nasty. “Do that.”
Cordelia gave Doyle an irritated look, but decided that she didn’t have all of the details. Obviously, Angel knew exactly what they were about to face and the gang had not only come up with a plan, but brought in two strangers to back them up. No time for questions now, she realized.
“Did you hear something?” Doyle asked her a couple of minutes later, just as Giles was opening up the compendium of spells to its bookmarked page.
“Ignore it,” Cordelia snapped. “That’s the demon. Trying to get your attention.”
“But—,” Doyle couldn’t ignore the doubts plaguing him. What if the champion failed? What if the demon won? What if…what if…what if…came the self-directed questions as he stared at the goings-on.
Cordelia nudged him with her elbow, tired of hearing his muttering. “Shut up.”
“Hey,” the Irishman suddenly pointed in Buffy’s direction. “Is that who I think it is?”
“Shut up, Doyle,” repeated Cordelia.
A state of enhanced apprehension tensed each one of the group concentrating on the tasks assigned to them. Each of them felt a growing fear stemming from even the tiniest of doubts of their success. The demon dug a little deeper, latching on to other thoughts and whispering into their minds ideas that seemed to turn insecurities into certainties.
Seeing the group faltering in their efforts, Angel shook off his own doubts reminding them what they were facing. “It is the demon. Don’t listen. Just focus on your tasks.”
Giles’ voice rang out, “We call thee forth, Thesulac of the Netherworld. We command you, leave our minds and join us on this, the physical plane.”
He held out his empty hand toward Wesley who reached into a knapsack he’d been carrying. With extreme caution, Wesley handled the orb of Ramjarin, knowing that ancient crystals were extremely delicate. With the orb in hand, Giles continued the incantation.
“We invoke thee by the power of all the priests of Ramjarin,” he intoned. “What was once in our thoughts, be now in our midst.”
The air crackled with energy as the Thesulac phased into view. Its appearance drew gasps of surprise. None of them had seen anything quite like the creature hovering before them. Leathery grey flesh covered its form while blood red eyes mocked their presence despite their numbers and weapons. Its large humanoid upper body was cloaked in a hooded black robe, while the lower half consisted of numerous flailing tentacles.
Angel had his axe, Buffy and Faith their swords. Giles and Wes reached for weapons of their own now that the raising ritual was complete. No telling how the demon would react in its physical form. The tentacles alone made its appearance ominous.
Cordelia wondered what they were all waiting for. Normally Buffy would be all over the demon by now, flipping and quipping her way to kicking its ass. Angel would be carving his way up that very ugly demon torso and finding out just how loudly its bones cracked under pressure. She had no idea who the other chick was or why she reminded her of Buffy in the way she held herself, but Cordelia didn’t have to wait long to find out the deal.
Once Willow started speaking, it became apparent they were waiting for her to cast a spell. Cordelia gulped as fine strands of her hair started to float in the air as static electricity gathered. Then the witch raised her arms, lightning shooting out from her fingertips.
“Omigod!” gasped Cordelia as she watched the demon writhing and screaming as it disintegrated into a gray ash that drifted to the floor. She knew her friend had skills in the spell-casting department, but this elemental conjuring was something she’d never seen before. “Go, Willow!”
“Well that was a letdown,” Faith looked sad that there hadn’t been a fight.
Buffy had to agree. She turned to the other Slayer and started up a conversation about what moves she’d planned to use on the demon. Caught up in their own little egocentric topic, neither one saw their Watchers rush to Willow’s side as the witch nearly fell to the ground.
“Whoa! Just a little dizzy,” Willow grinned giddily, her red hair still standing on end. “I did it! Hehe. Too bad Oz and Xander didn’t see me. They’d be so proud.”
As Willow plopped down on the circular lobby couch, a cloud of dust poofed in the air. Wesley waved his hand in front of his face to clear it, hacking loudly. Ignoring the noise, Giles simply told Willow, “I’ll be proud enough for both of them.”
Doyle leaned against the edge of the front desk looking from group to group with a satisfied smile on his face. Now that the danger was over, he could relax a bit. For the moment, anyway. There was still work to be done here, he thought as his gaze turned toward the Power’s champion and his beautiful mate.
Lots of work, but telling them that could wait a few minutes. At least until they came up for air, Doyle told himself as he watched them kissing. As soon as the demon was gone, they’d dropped their weapons and made a beeline for each other meeting up at the midpoint of the lobby.
He gulped in awe at the sight thinking he’d just jumped into the live version of his vision. Doyle had a feeling that dealing with these two was going to be an awful lot like living with free cable. As a dimpled smirk appeared on his face, Doyle figured he would somehow manage to get used to it.
As Cordelia sucked in a little gasp of air, Angel rested his forehead against hers. “You aren’t leaving my sight for a long time, I hope you know.”
Her mouth quirked upward. “That goes for you too, champ.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t call me that,” Angel ground out rather seriously. “Willow saved the day. I’m no one’s champion.”
“Gotta give Willow the props,” Cordelia nodded. “She earned it. Though I’m betting it was you who got them here. I know that you’re the one who missed me, who found me and figured out what was going on.”
There was a low grunt of acknowledgement. “With their help.”
Cordelia realized he didn’t think that counted. Her arms were still around his neck until she pulled back to slide both hands over his chest. “There’s nothing that says a champion has to walk alone. You’re my champion, Angel. Not because you came to L.A. to rescue me, not because the Moirae say so or because the Powers have sent you a seer to make it happen.”
She nodded her head in Doyle’s direction at Angel’s look of confusion. They made eye contact for a moment and the Irishman gave him a brief salute from his spot at the desk.
“It’s because in spite of everything in your past, your heart is good and noble even though it doesn’t beat. Everyday you struggle to keep a balance between the man and the demon within you and I know that it’s not easy,” Cordelia admitted. “We all have our own kind of demons, I’ve discovered, like fears and doubts. Even the little ones can grow and fester until we don’t recognize the people around us.”
Angel’s hand covered hers as they covered his heart even as her words filled it close to bursting. It didn’t need to beat, he thought, certain that its cadence would match her own. Words failed him. He just couldn’t find a thing to say in the wake of what Cordelia had to say. Her utter confidence in him sounded clear as a bell and in the back of his mind, Angel wondered if it was okay for champions to cry.
Those pliant lips spoke nothing but truth and when Cordelia continued, Angel took it as an oath, “I love you, Angel. I love you so much that I ache with it, and no demon, person, or the Powers that Be will ever stand in the way of that again.”
He read her heart in her eyes as they shimmered with tears. Angel’s voice cracked, “Cordy,” before claiming her mouth again.
Cordelia looped her arms back around his neck as Angel pulled her close using his large hands to sinuously follow the curve of her spine down to her hips. He held her there as kiss for kiss they met in perfect unison of love and need and passion until both became conscious of the fact that they were far from alone.
“Soul boy sure knows how to kiss,” Faith drooled at the sight of the increasingly hot scene at the center of the lobby. “Where do I sign up?”
Buffy glared at the other Slayer. If she was missing out— and Buffy reminded herself that this was partly her decision— then this attention-seeker certainly wasn’t going to imagine the opportunity existed. “Hello! Care to adjust your contact lenses? Since when is kissing vampires in the Slayer job description?”
From nearby, Giles cleared his throat rather loudly. Willow wasn’t certain if it was because of Buffy’s hypocritical comment or the fact that Cordy and Angel seemed to be under a state of permanent lip-lock.
Xander happened to rush back in through the doors and stop midstep upon catching sight of them. “Is there a kissing contest? Buff— wanna sign up?”
Moaning, Buffy turned red. They hadn’t told anyone they were officially dating. As he saw her reaction, Xander paused with an apologetic grimace and commented, “Looks like we won if this is the victory party.”
Reluctantly parting, Angel and Cordelia stayed close enough to wrap one arm around each other as they turned to Xander. He told them, “Oz has Judy settled down. He’s so calm it was like they were communicating with their eyes. Kinda freaky. I bugged out to come help with the demon dude.”
“Willow killed it,” Cordelia explained. “One zap and he was toast.”
A gleeful gleep followed from the redhead. “I fried it,” she confirmed with a Cheshire cat smile.
Xander had to run over to hug her after which Buffy had to run over to hug them both. Watching with raised brows at the sight of all the hugging, Faith asked Wesley, “Are you sure Sunnydale is the place for us?”
Sighing, Welsey promised, “We won’t be there forever, Faith. Just to give you some time training with Buffy and Mr. Giles. The benefits of their experience and my newer techniques will vastly improve your slaying skills.”
“Damn, all that hugging isn’t natural.”
“Think of it this way,” Wesley decided she could consider the other option. “There’s another Hellmouth in Cleveland. We could go there.”
Faith’s mouth dropped open. She’d never been to Ohio. Knew nothing about it. As far as she was concerned, it was about as far removed from New York, Los Angeles and Boston as the moon. “Sunnydale. Cool.”
With that, she sauntered toward Doyle who watched her swinging hips approach with a lump forming in his throat. He gulped as she gave him a long look commenting, “I’m Faith. You from Sunnydale?”
“No,” Doyle answered and then looking a little nervous at the prospect, “but I think I will be. For a while, anyway.”
Cordelia finally realized the connection after hearing the formal-looking Englishman speak. He reminded her of Giles, only stuffier if such a thing was possible. The girl had this whole Buffy vibe going on. Combined with the man’s comments, she came to the conclusion, “There’s a new Slayer in town?”
“Sore subject,” her mate gave a nod in Buffy’s direction. Cordelia tried not to smirk, but couldn’t stop herself from grinning. “On the way into the city she did look a little like someone who’d had her favorite stake taken away.”
“Mister Pointy?” Cordelia asked. “Wasn’t that the one she got from…?”
“Kendra,” answered Angel soberly.
Stepping up beside them, Wesley commented, “The lives of Slayers are often short. Kendra’s death called Faith to her duty and I would see that she meets it with honor. That is something you have shown today, Angel, duty and honor. Something I would have bet anything you knew nothing about.”
“I’ve learned some hard lessons,” Angel admitted.
Wesley nodded and then held out his hand to Cordelia in introduction. “You are the vampire’s lovely mate. Cordelia Chase, missing no more. I am Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, Faith’s Watcher.”
The corny formal greeting brought another smile to her lips as Cordelia shook his outstretched hand. Before she could answer, Wesley was telling her that he was exceedingly fascinated by her relationship with Angel and would be very interested in talking to her about it. From Angel’s low rumbling, Cordelia got the idea it would not be pleasant for Wesley to actually try asking questions.
So did Wesley. He gave the vampire another disappointed look and quickly changed the subject choosing to comment on their surroundings. “Amazing that this place operated for so many years under the Thesulac’s influence.”
“According to the Hyperion’s owner,” Cordelia told him, “strange things have been happening here since it was first built back in the 1920s.”
Wesley wasn’t really surprised considering the nature of the Thesulac and the stories Angel imparted on their way to Los Angeles. “For the better part of the last century this has not only been host to a malevolent demonic presence, but the very worst faces of humanity. This is a house of evil.”
Gazing around the lobby, Angel knew that history had finally come to an end. They had cleansed this place of the monster within and even he felt a weight lift off his shoulders. The Hyperion wasn’t evil. Angel shook his head, “Not anymore.”
Doyle stepped up in time to comment, “The place has definite possibilities.”
Turning simultaneously to the stranger, both Angel and Wesley asked with a hint of irritation at the interruption, “Who are you?”
Slapping Doyle on the shoulder, Cordelia told them, “This is Doyle, my trusty guide. Not so good with the directions, but since he’s been appointed by the PTB to help Angel with his mission, we’ll be seeing a lot of him in the future.”
“Well, you’re a little ahead of schedule,” Doyle went on to say, “but that doesn’t mean the Powers can’t adjust the game plan.”
They talked for a while about helping the hopeless with Wesley finding everything about the idea exceedingly fascinating. The others stepped over, tired of being in the background eavesdropping. Angel looked a little shellshocked by the idea, but it grew on him so fast that even he couldn’t take it all in.
“Cordy,” he pointed out as if she hadn’t been there listening, “I have a mission. The PTB sent me a seer. Why do I need one of those?”
Doyle crossed his arms over his chest. “The Powers decide on the mission, they show it to me with one of their flashy little numbers, and I tell it to you who goes out and saves those helpless types we’ve been talking about.”
“We knew you had a destiny somewhere, champ,” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Looks like we needed to come to L.A. to find it.”
Angel liked the idea more and more. Los Angeles, City of Angels. It seemed… right, somehow. Fitting. Fated. He supposed it was after all.
Then frowning, Angel remembered, “You still have school.”
“Pfft! So we stay in Sunnydale until graduation.” Cordelia told him. “There are surely a few helpless types back home to save.”
“You’d consider moving here? Leaving the mansion?” Angel wanted to be certain that this was something she would agree to.
Willow cut in, “There’s always the shopping.”
Laughing, Cordelia squirmed excitedly at the notion. “Not that shopping for great shoes isn’t one of my life’s ambitions, but my priority is you, Angel. If your mission is here in L.A., then so am I. End of discussion.”
They were staring, smiling and leaning closer again until Xander made a gagging sound that caught them off guard. “Still kinda dusty in here. Must be the demon toast.”
Cordelia looked around at the slightly hazy air and decided the seer had been right. The place did have possibilities. “Angel, what do you think about living here?”
“We need a hotel?”
Shrugging, she compared it to their sizable home in Sunnydale. “It’ll be roomy like the mansion. There’s what? Only a hundred rooms or so. That might be enough for your book collection and a training room.”
Angel gave her a little squeeze at the dig she’d made about his books. “I don’t need that much space. Besides, there are only 68 rooms here.”
“Plus, I know the owner of the development company,” Cordelia smiled. “Uncle Bob, as he’s asked me to call him, has been trying to off-load this place since he took over from his father. Bet we can get it cheap.”
“Sounds perfect,” Angel answered and Cordelia grinned having made up his mind.
Willow looked around the littered lobby now covered in a fine layer of powdery ash. “A little dusting, a few throw pillows… what’s not to love?”
There was one person in the room that was clearly not thrilled with the idea. Buffy looked hurt that Angel would consider leaving Sunnydale. It felt like desertion even though he owed her nothing. Even though technically this was not the same vampire she had loved and lost. She just didn’t like it.
“You’re really going to leave Sunnydale?” Buffy asked gripping Xander’s hand a little too tightly.
“Buff! Circulation!” Xander called out.
“Sorry,” she apologized automatically and then turned back to Angel awaiting her answer.
He thought about it for a while before responding. “Sunnydale has its champion in you, Buffy. Its Slayer. Now it looks to have a spare as well.”
Faith didn’t quite like that description and told him so. Then she really got into it when Xander jokingly suggested she and Buffy could be the female version of the Dynamic Duo.
“This is going to be an interesting adjustment,” Giles pointed out to his colleague.
Cordelia turned away from the squabbling Slayers as they argued over which one of them would take the lead on tonight’s patrol when they got back to Sunnydale. This timing seemed perfect. Too perfect. As if one warrior had been brought in to replace the other.
Fate steps in again, she realized wryly.
“Angel, do you think this is all just one big manipulation by the Moirae or the PTB?” Cordelia asked him. “Are we playing into their hands?”
Wesley practically leapt back into the conversation. “I find that concept exceedingly fascin—,” he let his words fade away as he sensed irritation with the interruption. The vampire’s mate apparently possessed the ability to silence a man with only a glance for he suddenly found it far more interesting to look than to speak; doing both took too much concentration.
Cordelia continued with her questions, this time including Wesley and Doyle as she asked, “Can these Powers be trusted? They’ve set Angel up as champion to a cause, but have they locked his destiny in stone?”
“I’d need time to study the issue,” Wesley answered honestly. Even then, he doubted that anyone except the Powers themselves could tell her. Not that they would.
With a shrug, Doyle reminded Cordelia, “I only know what they tell me.”
“The Moirae made a promise,” Cordelia reminded him. “Cooperating with them brings you a grand destiny. Sound familiar?”
“I know what they promised,” Angel smoothed his thumb across her cheek. “They have been purposely vague during the meetings with Liam and Angelus and Angel. Promising, but never coming through with the details. Until we all appeared before them and they told me, or them, actually, that you’d be mine.”
Cordelia smiled at that now that her doubts were stripped away. “Angel, they’re you. I get that. Really, I do.”
Then Angel told her, “You are my destiny, Cordelia Chase. The Moirae themselves said so and I plan to hold them to that bargain. Beyond that we’ll take the future as it comes. Together.”