5: Green-Eyed Monster
“This is the tiny problem in the sewer?” Angel hardly needed to call Doyle’s attention to the humongous demon protruding through the damaged ceiling. Broken bricks littered the floor having fallen from the opening above where its king-sized leathery underbelly lay exposed.
Doyle tried to equate what he was seeing with the images from his vision. “My sense of scale might have been off a bit. It really didn’t look that b—”
Bricks and mortar pulverized instantly as three gigantic tentacles burst through from different points on the tunnel walls sending them into defensive mode. Doyle screeched and plastered his thin body against the closest wall while keeping a tight grip on the beer he was still carrying around. This was supposed to be a quick little mission, just a good excuse to stretch his legs and have a little half-demon to vampire chat with Angel about their favorite Girl Friday.
“I’ll keep it busy,” Angel called out as he dodged the closest tentacle with athletic ease. Executing a roll under another before bounding back to his feet, he ordered, “Head back to my place. Grab my sword.”
Doyle was all for getting out of there, but . . . “Easier said than done.” He was trapped between two writhing seven-foot long tentacles and did not exactly have the skill to leapfrog over the things much less with the same pizzazz. “Next time remind me not to tag along.”
“Fine by me,” Angel let out a low grunt and took a stab at the beast with a dagger, the only weapon he thought necessary after Doyle’s faulty description. The creature seemed to sense the danger and moved the tentacle out of the way. “Fewer lectures.”
“Friendly advice,” Doyle corrected as he crouched low hoping to sneak past, but the beast still had him pinned back as if it knew his position exactly.
Vampiric speed and dexterity allowed Angel to keep up with the beast’s movements using slicing arcs rather than stabs. Even with Angel’s strength behind the blows, they did only superficial damage cutting through the tough, leathery skin to the flesh below enraging it into letting out a high-pitched wail that stopped them both in their tracks.
The vision headaches seemed more like a tickle compared to the painful shriek. Instinctively, Doyle lifted his hands to cover his ears trying to block out the sound that pierced through them like shards of glass. Angel was equally incapacitated, hands clapped across his ears, his balance suddenly unsteady as he stutter-stepped back.
“Could you kill that thing a little more quietly?” he quipped despite feeling drained of energy. “Blasted thing made me drop my beer.”
Angel sent him a wry stare before jumping back into the fight this time without the dagger that had dropped to the ground. Well, it seemed this might take a while and since he was trapped and Angel obviously wasn’t going anywhere this was just as good a time as any to finish that little chat. “Cordelia called me this morn—”
At the mention of her name Angel paused mid bob and weave to question, “Why?”
“To talk. Friends do that sort of thing,” Doyle quirked his brow meaningfully. “Occasionally we gripe about the boss. Behind you!” Just before the sneaky tentacle could knock him over the head Angel jerked out of the way. “That was a close one.”
Angel tried something different by pounding at the tentacle with his fists, but it only seemed to swat back at him as if the heavy punches were an annoyance. So Doyle got back to telling him about the phone call putting his own dramatic twist on the news. “Y’see, our girl needed to share her tale of woe.”
“What tale of woe?” Angel stopped mid punch as he realized Cordelia had been upset about something. “The auditions,” he grasped onto the idea. Mixed emotions were evident as he concluded, “They turned her down.” Angel’s smug expression suggested that was the outcome he wanted, but it faded quickly as worry took over along with confusion as to why he was the last to know. “She could’ve told me.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” he delivered the bad news while Angel went back to bobbing and weaving around the tentacle that was trying to grab onto him, “but her auditions are today. By the way she’s pissed off that you forgot to wish her luck.”
That date had been circled on her calendar in red ink. “That explains it.” The proverbial light bulb flickered on as Angel elbowed the creature as it closed in. “There was a note on the fridge. ‘Make plans for tonight.’”
Doyle groaned. “So go on. Tell me.” Sucking in a deep breath, he held it waiting for Angel to describe the fancy candlelight dinner or night on the town he set up. “What’s the plan?”
Throwing another elbow kept the tentacle momentarily at bay. “Tackle the weapons cabinet. Clean and sharpen. Get organized. Good plan.” Or so he had thought.
Snorting at the idea, Doyle nearly stepped into the demon’s path. He leapt back to the safety of the wall. “What happened to offering a girl dinner before asking her to polish your sword?”
The crass joke lacing the question was automatic as was Angel’s defensive response, “I find it relaxing,” which completely avoided the point.
After listening to Cordelia’s complaints this morning Doyle felt sideswiped by the notion that Angel’s behavior was something more than just protective concern. Cordelia felt smothered by it and complained accordingly. He listened because it was hard to get a word in edgewise.
Angel looked like he had no clue. “What’s wrong with the weapons cabinet?”
“Nothing if your girl happens to be a Slayer.”
Taking instant advantage over the distracted vampire the demon sideswiped Angel with enough force to send him flying. Doyle ducked out of the way as he crashed into the brick wall sliding down onto the damp, sticky floor. His leather coat provided a bit of protection, but there were scrapes across his cheek and hands where the broken brick dug into his flesh.
Doyle crouched down beside him. “That looked painful. What I have to say won’t feel any better.” The tight-jawed glare made him gulp, but he pressed on. “Cordelia needs some normal in her life, just like you need a little normal in yours.”
The gruff response, “I know that,” only suggested that Angel was on the wrong track. “I want her to have that. It’s just . . .”
The demon made its presence known again with another roar, this one lower-pitched, and more annoying than painful. Angel picked up the broken beer bottle by the neck and launched it at the tentacle blocking the tunnel leading back to his place. The beast curled the tentacle up in an effort to remove the glass shards.
Taking the opening he was given, Doyle slipped through to the other side. “I get it, Angel. You’re a vampire. You’ve got this whole possessive side that doesn’t like to let go.”
“It’s your fault,” Angel said just before leaping dexterously onto a moving tentacle trying to squeeze the beast into submission. The bulk of its body was out of reach, but it obviously was not going down without a fight.
Taken aback at the gruff accusation, Doyle held up his hands gesturing his innocence, “And what did I do might I ask? I’m not the broody medieval guy with the nanny complex.”
Even though Angel was being whipped back and forth as the demon tried to shake him loose, he still heard him quoting Cordelia’s morning phone call. “She said that?” He plopped to the ground face first only to be grabbed by the leg and held aloft. Blood dripped across his forehead.
Flinching at the sight, Doyle stepped up to help, but was smacked down the moment he made a move. The huge grey tentacle tracked him as he scrambled back to his feet swaying back and forth in the same direction. “I think I should go get that sword.”
Before he could make a move Angel had already flexed his body up to pry himself loose. He fell, but landed in a panther-like crouch on all fours quickly rebounding to his feet. Striding over, Angel batted the tentacle out of the way, grabbed Doyle by the leather collar of his jacket and dragged him back into the middle of the tunnel. They seemed to be at the one point where neither tentacle could reach them.
“The sword can wait,” snapped Angel who released his hold yet stood so close that Doyle had to crane his neck up. Quite intimidating from that angle it gave him a pretty good idea how those goons felt when Angel got them off his case.
“Don’t kill the messenger.”
“Cordelia has never had a problem telling me anything. Why start now?”
“Telling you wasn’t exactly her idea. I thought it might earn me a few points if I got you to lighten up on the whole over-protective routine.”
“Oh, you know . . .”
Angel looked like he knew exactly what Doyle was hinting at, but growled, “No,” just so he could make him say the words.
“So that I could get in her good graces before asking her out,” Doyle clarified with a grin.
Completely ignoring the thrashing demon behind him Angel stared down at Doyle with such intensity that he wondered if the vampire had suddenly changed targets. There was a war raging behind that brooding forehead. The tight-lipped expression had nothing to do with his natural stoicism or with the apparently false impression that Angel was just looking out for Cordelia like any caring boss, family friend or over-protective big brother. No, it looked a lot more like jealous rage.
Recoiling back a bit from the nasty aura, Doyle was taken aback. “What’s this now? We had this conversation. You told me to ask her out.” Flummoxed, he tried to recall Angel’s exact words that day.
“Well, no. I was working up to it.” The news did not seem to ease any tension. Maybe there was more going on than met the eye. “Just how long has this been going on? First you don’t want her living anywhere near you and now you’re acting like you’ve got some kind of claim.” Doyle’s eyes widened. “Do you? I thought you didn’t mind if I—”
Pressing a hand against Doyle’s chest he pushed him back an inch until he was crowded up against the brick wall. “Shut up, Doyle.” It was a warning, not a plea for silence. “You’re the one who moved her into my place. Blame yourself if I feel…protective. Cordelia is not my mate, my girlfriend, or my pet, and there’s no official claim to stop you.”
Doyle took the fact that his head was still attached to his shoulders as a good sign. “So this friendly chat is your way of giving me the green light?”
Proceed with caution was more like it. “Interpret it any way you want. Just for the record . . . I mind.”
“Mind what?” Cordelia asked as she approached from the far end of the tunnel with Angel’s broadsword slung over one shoulder. “I’m the one who minds having to carry this thing all the way down here. It’s super heavy.”
The moment Angel released him Doyle straightened up and brushed off his jacket. “Good timing. I’d ask how you knew we needed it, but—,” the deafening roar of the demon cut him off.
“Yeah, these tunnels echo,” Cordelia cringed at the noise. Angel was instantly at her side shielding her from the swiping tentacle that honed in on the newcomer. He took the sword, stared down at her for a moment silently questioning, Doyle knew, whether or not their echoing voices had given away the content of the conversation.
With the right weapon in hand Angel dealt with the demon in a matter of moments. Evading the thrashing tentacles, he made his way to a spot on the floor directly beneath the creature’s chest. Fast and true, he thrust the sword directly into its heart. Its death knell accompanied the uneven thump of its lifeless tentacles hitting the walls and floor.
“Well that’s some carcass for City Public Service to deal with.” Doyle imagined the trouble they would have getting rid of it. Someone had to be assigned to that sort of thing otherwise there would be a whole lot more enlightened people out there when it came to demon kind.
Cordelia laughed and hugged him tight. Something Doyle reminded himself was usually reserved for the big guy. “You’re a funny guy.”
Doyle noticed that Angel wasn’t exactly amused by the way Cordelia kept her hands on him, even it if was just to wipe off the brick dust.
“I couldn’t wait to tell you!” Cordelia beamed happily as she told him about her audition. “I did it. I’m in.”
No matter that there was a dead carcass in the background and an undead vampire looking on, Doyle grabbed her into a hug and swung her around. “That’s fantastic, princess. I knew you’d do well.”
“I did!” A delighted squeal sounded, but before Doyle could get too comfortable about having her in his arms Cordelia practically bounded out of them as Angel walked up beside them. She stopped short of hugging him too, confusion written on her face, and the excitement dimming in her eyes.
Hands resting on the leather lapels of his jacket, Cordelia reminded Angel, “My audition was today. I’ve got the part. The director said I was perfect. Isn’t that great?”
As if all of his energy had drained away during the fight, Angel’s words sounded lifelessly hollow. “Yes. Great. Congratulations.” Cordelia’s smile faded completely making Doyle want to beat some sense into the vampire. He could be a coldhearted bastard at times.
Angel handed Cordelia the broadsword. Her arms sagged under the weight. “I’ve done my part here tonight. You two can clean up.”
“Not exactly the way I planned to celebrate,” Cordelia called out after Angel who kept walking down the tunnel without a backward glance. “Go figure. Guess I can always count on Broody for a good buzz kill.”
Thinking about Angel’s response, Doyle realized there was more to it. “You didn’t tell him that this was just a short term run, did you? Four weekend matinees, I think you said. He probably thinks you plan to quit.”
Cordelia did not deny it. “This could be my lucky break. Fame and fortune could be right around the corner.”
Doyle wanted her move toward the center of the tunnel stepping gingerly over a tentacle and avoiding the congealing pool of blood. She picked up the dagger that Angel had dropped during the melee. “So when are you planning to tell him that his favorite Girl Friday isn’t handing in her letter of resignation just yet?”
“We’ll see,” she laughed conspiratorially. “Maybe I can convince him to give me a raise to stay?”
“That’s not exactly fair play,” Doyle thought he might be rubbing off a bit.
Cordelia only rolled her eyes. “Be serious. Pfft! Like we can afford that right now.”
“What’s this for?” Doyle asked as she handed over the dagger.
Nodding in the direction of the dead demon, Cordelia let out a long sigh. “Welcome to the Angel Investigations Clean Up Crew. Demon Dismemberment 101 brought to you courtesy of the high school at the Hellmouth.”