The Mirror Crack’d . . . Again
A magical mirror discovered at the Hyperion Hotel
holds the key to Cordelia and Angel’s future happiness,
but only if they can survive when Angelus is freed.
- CONTENTS: C/A and C/Aus in AtS
- RATING: NC17
- LENGTH: Novel / 40.000 words
- STATUS: Complete
- CHALLENGE CREDIT: MelBelle (The Mirror Crack’d was altered to fit her criteria.)
- FICPIC CREDIT: Lysa
- WARNINGS/SPOILERS: Explicit Sexual Content / Non-Consensual
Darkness & Daylight Contest Winner: MelBelle
Prize: Addition/Alteration of the Fic/Scene of her Choice
- What book is Angel reading? Details.
- Include Angelus in the rewrite
- Rating change to NC17
The Mirror Crack’d (Again)
Rising voices carried in from the outer office dragging Angel’s attention away from the pages of an early-edition favorite by Irish writer Oscar Wilde. Worn and slightly charred at the edges the old book had narrowly escaped the destruction of their original offices.
Reading not only gave him a way to pass the time, but provided a method of relaxation. It was structured, civilized. A temporary escape from the constant reality of keeping his darkest urges in check by letting his imagination explore what was denied him.
Not this novel now saturated with the acrid scent of smoke.
Rough around the edges, scarred and worn by time and tribulation, it made the comparisons he often drew between himself and the character Dorian Grey far more evident. The plot familiar: an immortal whose soul was tainted by evil deeds at long last seeking a chance at redemption.
He knew all too well that turning a new leaf wasn’t easy when it involved ignoring one’s own nature. Despite a desire for contrition you still recognized that not so deep down a part of you liked to be bad. All you had to do was let it happen.
Angel knew himself capable of evil. The demon within him never truly slept. It was part of him, requiring constant self-regulation. This perpetual vigil was a personal battle he fought every day against things that came all too naturally.
Last night he had shadowed a lone pedestrian, not to protect her, not out of any sense of duty, but because her long dark hair reminded him of someone else. The bouncing chestnut waves and the natural sway of her hips were captivating taking his thoughts in a direction it normally didn’t go during waking hours.
One after the other his silent footsteps had carried him along the street, slow and steady. That deep human sense of self preservation must have kicked in because she paused for an instant like a deer scenting a wolf on the wind. Danger. The air around her ionized with fear. Heartbeat skyrocketing, she quickened her pace along the sidewalk, fleeing what she could not see.
Stalking prey came instinctually. All of the old desires were there, his body tense with it, and the memories of other frightened women far too clear. So vivid were they that he could still recall the taste of blood. It was mouth-watering and offensive at the same time.
Disgusted, he had returned home to the Hyperion hoping that its physical surroundings would serve to get his mind off the brunette and the sadistic memories she had dredged up. Plagued through the wee hours of the morning by his vivid imagination, sleep had evaded him.
Giving up on it he threw on a pair of sweats and a white cotton shirt and slipped down to the basement. The leather punching bag was worse for wear when he was finished. He knew the burn in his muscles wouldn’t last long, but the ache felt good. For the moment it seemed the night’s indiscretion was forgotten, or at least the impulse that caused it was now under control.
Heading back upstairs, he had planned to make another attempt at getting some sleep. The sun had risen at least an hour before and he felt the lure of the soft cotton sheets lining his bed. Anxious to bury himself deep down in the covers to rest undisturbed, he gave the door a swift yank as he reached the top step.
A loud shriek pierced the air as Cordelia-holding onto the other side of the doorknob-stumbled forward. Normally, he would have sensed her presence there. Genuinely surprised, Angel’s reaction time was uncharacteristically slow. A split second away from a nasty fall, he managed to catch her, and held on until he was certain she had regained her balance.
Out of genuine concern, and noting her skittishness, his thumbs circled along smooth flesh in an attempt to soothe her. The warmth of her bare arms seeped into his skin, a delicious sensation that he enjoyed far too much.
Clasping a hand against her chest she panted his name accusingly, “Angel! When are you going to learn that sneaking up on people is a bad thing?”
She poked at him with the corner of the notepad she had somehow managed to hold onto. “You’re all sweaty.” Hint noted, he dropped his hands to his sides, but noticed that her heart rate hadn’t settled yet. “What are you doing up?”
“Training,” he had lied smoothly. Telling her he had been stalking a brunette last night wouldn’t go over well. The suspicious squint in her eyes suggested that she didn’t quite believe him, so he had quickly changed the subject. “This is early even for you.”
Due to their late night hours, Cordelia normally didn’t come in until mid-morning. “Things to do. Places to go. People to see.”
The answer was a little more evasive than usual. Invoices, he assumed. Cordelia was certainly on top of things when it came to making sure their paying clients followed through. Maybe she thought he was going to complain about her bill-collecting techniques again.
They stood there for a moment, motionless and staring expectantly as if they were waiting to call each other out on their little lies. He was drawn to her eyes and watched as the veil of her lashes dropped down. The pink tip of her tongue slid between her lips leaving a shine behind that he found utterly tempting.
With a jerky move to the side, he scooted around her. Thumbing in the direction of the main stairs, he jabbered, “I should shower.”
Cordelia let out a shaky little breath sounding relieved that he had moved. “You are a little ripe.”
Angel had made his escape to the privacy of his rooms. He blamed the remnants of last night’s incident for the way his attention had lingered on Cordelia and the inappropriate way he stared at her mouth, or enjoyed the wispy strands of her loose hair brushing his hands as he touched her soft perfumed skin.
Despite the long workout and a punishingly icy shower his thoughts kept creeping back to the night before. The brunette was no longer a faceless stranger as his guilty conscience replaced her with the woman he saw every day. Part of him wanted to hold onto that thought and roll with it, to get lost in an indulgent fantasy of lust.
How wrong that would be for so many reasons. Once he went down that road there would be no stopping where his imagination would lead. He knew exactly where his thoughts would take him because, shamefully, he had been there before, and his friend deserved better than that.
His soulless past echoed with acts of profound violence, depravity, and self-indulgence. He had to wonder if atonement was truly possible; whether his mission for the Powers That Be could ever make up for the death and destruction he caused.
So he had gotten dressed and headed down to his private office noting with a sense of relief that Cordelia was already out on her errands. He needed some time alone to get his head on straight again. Shelved just above the demon compendiums and other arcane references ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ was propped between several other books he kept with him wherever he went.
Grey had sacrificed his soul for immortality, just as he had done in an equally twisted sense. The demon within him had a face of evil much like the portrait that revealed the compounding effects on Dorian’s soul.
The one thing that separated them was that Angel truly felt the weight of guilt upon him. On days like this it ate away at him as he sat brooding over past misdeeds. There was no quick fix. No single act of merit or contrition he could perform to erase the past.
Would he, like Dorian Grey, fail to achieve redemption?
Now sitting in his office, feet propped on the desk and leaning comfortably back, he was not so preoccupied by self-reflection that the activity around him went unnoticed. Hours had gone by as he soaked up every word of text, one he had long-since memorized, but managed to find nuances of meaning each time he read it.
By the time he had reached the last few pages he felt calm, and in complete control of his baser instincts.
Wesley had arrived an hour before, greeted him briefly when he stopped in the office to remove a scroll he had been studying from the safe, and promptly went about his business. Angel’s preternatural senses kept him apprised of his movements. The soft shuffle of papers as he studied the scroll and made notes on yellow legal pads. Nothing other than the occasional irritation caused by the grind of the pencil sharpener to cause a mild distraction.
That changed the moment Cordelia returned. At first it was the click of her heels sounding on the floor, her familiar gait carrying her to the front counter. His ears prickled instantly to the sound. The rustling of paper bags came next. Items set on the countertop.
He tried once again to concentrate, but found himself listening to a request that came out more as an expectation. “Wes, I need an opinion…Don’t give me that look….It’s important.”
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as Angel realized that she had been out shopping. Her words made complete sense now. ‘Places to go,” she had quipped. ‘People to see.’ What she meant was, ‘Stuff to buy.’
He tried to focus on the words in front of him, but his attention kept wandering back to the front office. It seemed like Wesley had given up on research and was making an attempt at helping Cordelia. “I see no remarkable difference.”
“Obviously there is a difference. Hello! Buff. Beige. Look closer. Beige. Buff.”
Shoes again? Office letterhead? The odds suggested that shoes would be the safer bet.
“I fail to see why you need to change anything,” Wesley blustered. “In the scheme of things this is completely irrelevant and a waste of time.”
Cordelia grumped, “Your time or my time?”
“Mine, of course.”
“That’s because the only thing you do with your time is to stick your nose in dusty old books.”
As Wesley babbled out a response Angel glanced down again at his own old book. What was it they said about eavesdroppers? Shaking his head, he tried one last time to finish the novel.
“What the devil does it matter if you choose beige or buff? No one will be able to tell.”
Angel closed the book. He had long since memorized it’s text, so there was no further point in trying to concentrate. Setting it down on his lap, he leaned back in his chair, legs still propped up on the desk, and closed his eyes.
Unfortunately, the act could not block out the sounds from the other room. He heard a strange clacking, something plastic jangling together. “FIne! I should’ve known better than to ask for help from someone who thinks Blahniks and Choos are types of demon epidemics.”
The click of Cordelia’s shoes moved around the desk in the direction of his office door. Angel’s eyes flashed open focusing expectantly on the door handle, but she stopped short of opening it to listen as Wesley defended himself, “Just how was I to know that? You let me comb through the entire index of ‘Plagues and Pandemics’ before telling me they were just shoes.”
“Designer shoes,” she called out loudly as Wesley made his escape.
Lucky bastard. Whatever it was they had been arguing about had not been resolved. Cordelia was coming into the office to ask for his opinion on her very important matter. Thinking quickly, Angel slammed his eyes shut again, pretending to be asleep. He was tired, after all, and she knew he had been up all night.
The door opened carrying with it the delicate mix of tantalizing scents that was unique only to Cordelia. She’d had coffee while she was out and something with cinnamon. Was it cinnamon-flavored coffee or a cinnamon bun? There was always one way to find out and it didn’t involve asking any questions.
Angel flinched at the unwarranted thought and she must’ve noticed the slight movement.
“Oh, good. You’re not doing anything,” she said cheerily and set her shopping bags down on top of his desk. “I need you. Mr I-Don’t-Have-An-Artistic-Bone-In-My-Body out there is no help at all.”
Admitting it, ‘I overheard you arguing.’ He moved his feet from the desk to the floor and shifted to sit closer to the edge of the desk. Leaning on his elbows, he propped his chin on his folded fingers.
“We weren’t arguing,” Cordelia denied swiftly, adding a indignant little gasp. “It was just a little difference of opinion.”
“There was something about shoes,” he teased knowing the importance of the subject. She was standing too close to the desk to tell if she was wearing new footwear, but he had learned from Doyle that noticing such things earned him a smile.
The thought annoyed him, though. It was just one example of how Cordelia had managed to creep under his skin. She was important to him, certainly. After Doyle’s loss they had become closer, their friendship evolving over the days and weeks that followed, and strengthened by Wesley’s addition to their team.
He marveled at the changes in her over so short a time, but one thing hadn’t changed. Angel’s senses sharped when she was around. For some inexplicable reason he could be comfortable and at ease around her one minute, and completely tense the next.
“Gah! Don’t even get me started.” Throwing her hands up, Cordelia waved off the subject of shoes. “Do you know that he actually had the nerve to blame me for his deficiency? We need to get that man tested for color blindness.”
Her chatter was strangely invigorating. Experience taught him that it was impossible for him or Wes to resist her odd-ball ideas, like the time she had bought non-ground coffee by accident and insisted he crush the beans with his hands. It was sometimes just easier to take the path of least resistance.
Reaching into one of the bags, Cordelia pulled out two white cards. Angel stared from one to the other knowing that this was what got Wesley into hot water in the first place. “Tell me what you see.”
The subtle difference in the two shades of white was noticeable, but Angel had no earthly idea why it was significant. He pointed directly between them. “Buff and beige, right?”
Cordelia awarded him with a smile. “Right! I should’ve come to you first. You’re the artsy one.”
Still clueless, but feeling like he had dodged a bullet, he smiled back.
Dipping back into the bag with both hands this time she pulled out a pile of colored paint and wallpaper samples. Unceremoniously dropping them onto the surface of his tidy desk scattering them haphazardly, she muttered, “The man has no taste,” while sifting through the mess. “To think I used to believe Wes was suave and debonair. That he had style. Now look at him. How could he possibly help me with this?”
Angel waited patiently for her to reveal her latest scheme, hesitant to voice something that might give her even more ideas that involved decorating.
Placing her palms flat on the desk Cordelia leaned casually toward him, her face suddenly calm and serene. A little too serene, Angel realized, as soon as that sweet smile appeared; the one that he’d seen the first day in the old office when Cordelia convinced him to let her stay.
This had to be serious if she wanted it badly enough to turn on the charm. Cordelia’s delectable cleavage was at eye level and quite charming indeed drawing his gaze like a beacon. Hell, he might technically be dead, but he was still a guy. Even he couldn’t blame his demonic instincts on that.
Somewhere above his head, Cordelia announced, “I’ve been doing some research,” snapping him out of his momentary haze.
The combination of Cordelia and research seemed oxymoronic. This was definitely serious, Angel decided, brow furrowing. Since they weren’t working on any active cases at the moment, Cordelia doing voluntary research was startling.
“Was it a vision?” Concerned, he scrutinized her appearance again. No sign of strain. No obvious scrapes or bruises. He hated not being there when she had a vision since they seemed to be far more violent than anything Doyle ever experienced.
“A vis— no, nothing like that.” Rolling her eyes, Cordelia blew off his concerns with a wave of her hand. “Why? Do I look like crap or something?” Bristling, she stepped back from the desk to check out her clothes. “Please don’t tell me I’m wearing my breakfast.”
Angel hastened to tell her that her clothes were fine. “No, you look—fine.”
“You say that like I picked this outfit out of the laundry basket,” Cordelia’s voice dropped dangerously. “I’ll have you know I spent an hour getting dressed this morning trying to look perfect just for you.”
His brows shot up.
Before he could say anything, Cordelia clarified, “Our clients want to see someone who’s friendly and nicely dressed. Since I don’t get a clothing budget, I have to make do.”
For a moment, Angel didn’t know whether to be relieved that he’d misunderstood her or disappointed. Honestly, he didn’t pay much attention to what she wore around the office. Except for the shoes, of course. Lesson learned. He now made a point to notice those.
Curves and lines frequently caught his artistic eye, but it wasn’t unless Cordy was dressed up to go out that he tended to look closely at the clothes themselves. There were less of them, for one thing.
He was just concerned, that’s all, wanting her safe.
Wondering why he seemed to have forgotten how to pay a woman a compliment without tripping over his tongue, Angel growled, “Most of our clients would prefer you wear nothing.”
Cordelia’s expression turned from annoyance to amusement. “That would cut down on my dry cleaning bill.”
Deciding it was a good time to change the subject, he prompted, “You said something about research…,” letting his voice trail off expectantly.
A soft sigh escaped. Lashes dropped low to hide the sparkle in those brown eyes. She resumed sifting through the pile of colored swatches.
“Did you know that the work environment can affect productivity?” The unexpected question completely threw him off. Considering the swatches, he’d been expecting something along the lines of redecorating her apartment, or, more specifically, convincing him to help her.
Angel sat back again tapping the edge of his book on his thigh. It took three seconds to figure out where Cordelia planned to take this conversation. He listened quietly to her ‘research’ findings and how they applied to their new offices at the Hyperion.
It wasn’t that he didn’t believe the information had merit. Redecorating simply seemed unnecessary, and to be frank, “It sounds expensive.”
“I can be thrifty,” Cordelia quickly assured him. “This place has so much potential, but it’s old, worn down and I swear still has old demon vibes.”
Wryly, Angel commented, “Like mine?”
The expression on Cordelia’s face was priceless, a mix of shock, amusement and a hint of guilt. “You are a little fogeyish,” she teased, then nibbled at her lower lip for a moment before getting back to her ideas.
It wasn’t just the lobby that Cordelia wanted to redecorate. That was nothing that a fresh coat of paint and a few plants couldn’t fix. They could wait for new carpeting since there hadn’t been much traffic over the years. It just needed a good cleaning.
The main problem was everything else. “You’ve got seventy rooms, but nowhere to put guests.”
“That’s not exactly an issue.”
Cordelia wasn’t about to give up. “But it could be. We might need to give a client a room for a while. Or Wes might need a place to stay if his research keeps him up too late. He should definitely have a room here.”
Actually, It made sense.
“What about you?” Angel tried to sound casual about asking. The thought of having Cordelia here under his roof where he could keep an eye on her was tempting. He worried about her knowing that a vision could come at any time. Having her here would be safer.
The likelihood of Cordy leaving that Silverlake apartment was nil as long as Dennis was there. Cordelia liked her independence too much to make a permanent place here at the Hyperion.
But something temporary, a space to call her own might be enough of a temptation to keep her from trekking across town when it wasn’t convenient. “Don’t you want one?”
As if the idea was completely new to her, Cordelia paused to think about it. “Come to think of it, you might be right. I could keep some clothes here so I don’t have to steal your shirts when I need a quick change. Plus, I’d have my own bed for my after-vision naps.”
Angel felt his face tighten up, but only realized he was scowling when Cordelia added, “Hey, it’s not my fault I end up in your private little domain every time I have a really bad vision.”
Well, no. That had been his idea. It didn’t seem right to leave her to recover on a lumpy couch when there was a perfectly good place for her to lie down. One night he had just taken her up there. It made him feel a little better about the whole thing knowing she was more comfortable that way. After that, it just became habit.
Despite his honestly unselfish motivations the idea of things changing jolted alarmingly. He was used to her scent lingering on his pillows in ways that were strangely comforting and completely familiar. No, he didn’t like this plan. He didn’t stop to think why.
With denial clamoring in his head, Angel offered, “Keep whatever you need in my closet. Why bother with a whole room?”
She stared at him for a second while Angel mentally kicked himself for opening his mouth. What the hell was he saying? Cordelia obviously thought he’d gone insane for suggesting what boiled down to her staying with him. Where that had come from?
“Right,” Cordy scoffed dripping with sarcasm. “I’m sure Buffy will love that when she comes to visit.”
Angel hadn’t even thought of Buffy, which only made him feel ten times worse. He’d just been thinking of his need to keep Cordelia safe and protected. Since when had that included keeping her close to him too? As for Buffy, “She hasn’t been back since—”
Cutting him off, Cordelia’s enthusiasm over having her own space here at the hotel suddenly gave her plans focus. Gasping, “That’s right. Buffy is way overdue for an unannounced visit, which means I better get a move on. It’s probably best to start this renovation project off by picking out a room for me.”
He doubted that she heard his lack of enthusiasm. “Sure.”
Eyes sparkling, she glanced toward the ceiling as if mentally calculating her options. “First, I’ll need to pick a room. There are so many to choose from. We haven’t done much exploring in the other wings.”
The fact that Angel could feel himself scowling over the idea did not make him feel any better about it. Lucky that Cordelia was too busy concocting her plans to notice. The more he thought about why this bothered him, the less Angel understood it.
“Where are you planning to get the money for this?” he asked when she noticed that she’d already moved beyond wallpaper swatches to furnishings. “I don’t pay you that much.”
Pausing mid-sentence, Cordelia gave him direct look. “Pfft! You’re telling me? Trust me, I know. Having a place to recover from my visions is a business expense. So I figured we could put it on the company card.”
Just how Cordelia had arranged for Angel Investigations to have a Corporate Gold Card was still something of a mystery to him. He didn’t like the idea of racking up debt and was still getting used to the concept of having people like Cordelia and Wesley dependent upon him for their livelihood.
“It’ll be fun,” Cordelia encouraged him with that smile again. “There’s a weekend flea market coming up. I bet I can find some antique furniture if I haggle a bit.”
Angel could feel himself giving in to the idea since she was so enthusiastic, but he did not like the idea of her going on her own. Laughing at him, Cordelia suggested, “If we go after dark, you could always come along and growl them into submission.”
If only that worked on Cordelia, he mused, thinking that the idea had appeal. “You should look around the hotel first. There’s probably plenty of good furniture right here.”
“Meaning it’s free.”
Pausing for effect, he agreed, “So it is.”
For a moment, Angel thought she was going to argue, but having won every other point Cordelia apparently decided to let him have one. “Fine. I’ll get started today.”
Angel set his book back on the desk as he rose to his feet. “Maybe I should go with you. Some parts of the hotel are unstable. You shouldn’t go poking around on your own.”
Cordelia shrugged, “Okay with me. Just remember you volunteered.”
They filed out of the office to find Wes bent over an open tome at the front counter. “Ah, the inquisition has ended,” he sent Angel a nod of sympathy.
Catching Cordelia sticking out her tongue at Wesley as she walked past him toward the stairs, Angel’s mouth twisted in amusement. Wes glowered at her. “And might I ask where you two are going?”
“Upstairs,” Angel nodded his head toward the staircase. “This could take a while. Cordy wants to try out some beds.”
A grunt of acknowledgment followed even though Wesley’s head was already bowed over his research. A few heartbeats later a screech echoed across the lobby. “Beds?”
Searching room to room, Cordelia turned up her nose at everything she’d seen so far. “These boxy little rooms aren’t like yours.”
“I combined two rooms to make my suite,” Angel reminded her.
Cordelia poked her head into yet another room finding it small, dusty and totally unappealing. “Why’d you do that instead of finding something better? You’ve got like seventy rooms to choose from.”
Sixty-eight, actually. After thinking about the myriad reasons he had chosen those rooms, Angel gave her a short answer. “I stayed there before.”
“Oh, right. Back in the 50’s,” she recalled.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. Trust Angel to cling to the past by hanging onto his old room like it was a comfortable old shoe. The same might be said of his relationships, she mused, the thought causing her to snort softly.
With an eager sparkle in her eye, she glanced up at the ceiling imagining what she would find on the top floor. “I guess that leaves the penthouse for me.”
“There is no penthouse,” warned Angel knowing she wasn’t about to find anything like a luxury suite in this wing of the Hyperion. One had existed, but it was located on the other side of the hotel that remained boarded up.
“Urgh! Just my crappy luck.”
He did remember some smaller suites on the upper floor that would probably be ideal, but he was hesitant to take her up there. Too far away in parts of the hotel that were likely to be the least stable.
“Cordy, there are plenty of rooms on this level. You wouldn’t have so many stairs to climb.”
“Pfft! I wouldn’t have to climb any if someone would pay to have the elevator repaired,” Cordelia countered with a smirk. Gotcha there, buddy.
Trying another tactic, Angel pointed out that she wasn’t actually moving in, just in need of an overnight respite and a place to keep some extra clothes. “Unless you’re thinking of giving up the apartment,” his voice dropped meaningfully low before trailing off.
The seemingly casual comment startled her. “Leave Dennis? No way.”
Angel grunted. Just as expected.
“What was that?” Hands on her hips, Cordelia frowned at him. “You know I wouldn’t do that to Dennis. He’d be alone. Or have some ghost hater move in who’d have him exorcised.”
“Like I said,” Angel shrugged as if she had made his point for him, “a smaller room down here would be more suitable.”
Cordelia had already looked at those choices. They were either across the hall from Angel’s suite or had some gory tale connected with them. Angel had been telling her the history of the rooms and the people he’d observed who’d lived, and occasionally died, there. Maybe rooms like that would be fine for visitors once she spruced them up a bit, but her own room needed something more going for it than being in close proximity to him.
She reached out, palm flat against his chest, the cool material of his shirt rasping along her skin with the gentle urging of her hand. “C’mon, Angel, let’s try upstairs.”
Angel didn’t move a muscle waiting for her to move away. Through the barrier of his shirt her touch felt like a branding iron. Every time she laid a hand on him served as an unwelcome reminder of what he couldn’t have. No matter its innocence or casual nature, Cordelia’s touch stirred cravings, desires that needed to stay buried.
He’d convinced himself that it was just the fact that he missed human contact. That the beast inside him was simply responding as it was wont to do by imagining it to be more than it was: enjoying the pleasure of her warmth, her smile, her scent so close to him; resisting urges so instinctive that it was sometimes painful to control them.
These things could be repressed. They had to be. It wasn’t a matter of choice. The curse wasn’t something he fully understood. He hadn’t come close to discovering the truth. Nor had he really thought it necessary to try. After walking away from Sunnydale, he thought he’d left all hope of happiness behind him and let himself drift into a dark and lonely place.
Doyle and Cordelia dragged him back, pointed him toward this path of redemption. They gave him far more than just a purpose. Genuine friendship was something he valued because it was so rare. He’d never taken that for granted and felt the impact of Doyle’s death because of it.
It was the first time he had truly morned the death of a friend. He’d brooded about his past deeds, the atrocities he’d committed without his soul, and those deaths he’d caused with it. Never before Doyle’s passing had he actually felt such loss with someone else by his side, mourning the same loss, seeking and giving comfort at the same time.
In death, Doyle had done far more than pass the legacy of his visions to Cordelia. He deepened their commitment to their mission, to their friendship and to each other albeit in a very platonic way. Just when that simple dynamic had switched in his mind was hardly a mystery. Angel could pinpoint it to the exact moment.
That didn’t mean he would ever let Cordelia discover that he felt more for her than friendship. It did, however, give her an advantage. He was a sucker for that smile. “Upstairs,” he nodded in that direction. “There’s one place you might be interested in. Back in 1952, there was a woman who stayed there. She had some big—”
Cordelia snatched her hand away from his chest. “I’m not interested in hearing about any big-boobed blonde you ogled back then.”
“Actually,” Angel followed along as she headed toward the staircase, “she wasn’t a blonde.”
Snorting, “So you don’t deny the rest of it.” Cordelia tried to ignore the burning jealousy that pooled in her belly. It was beyond ridiculous to feel possessive about Angel. Especially about some stranger who was probably old enough to be her grandmother by now. But she did, anyway.
Stupid feelings didn’t know or care about Angel being a cursed vampire. They just existed to torment her. It was embarrassing and she hoped in no way detectible by super-senses. It was transference, that’s all, that made Angel pop up in her dreams instead of Keanu or Brad.
Angel might be easy on the eyes, but he wasn’t available. Not to her. Not to anyone. Someone needed to get a message to the part of her brain in charge of daydreams and lusty fantasies to remind it that Angel was just a friend—and practically a eunuch.
Not that it would matter if he wasn’t. Cordelia knew Angel’s type and she wasn’t it.
Continuing on up the stairs, she heard Angel admit, “Actually, her figure was quite…svelte compared to yours.”
It probably wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to wind him up a little, but sensing Angel’s eyes on her every step of the way up the stairs made her spine tingle. “That better not be your way of saying you’ve been staring at my ass.”
The sound of Angel stumbling as he caught the toe of his boot on the stairs brought a grin to her face. Without turning around, she laughed, “Dork.”
A chained doorway prevented further exploration beyond this wing of the hotel. The topmost level contained a series of small suites, which Angel assured her were of equal size. The closest one bore a small bronze sign that hung haphazardly on a single remaining peg.
“Eos,” read Cordelia craning her neck to the side. Straightening up, she shrugged, “I wonder what that means,” and reached for the door handle.
Angel’s hand darted out to stop her, his fingers closing over her wrist. “The windows in that room have an Eastern exposure.” She stared at him blankly for a moment before it sunk in that it would get the full effects of the morning light. “Eos was the Greek goddess of the dawn.”
“Not all of us are allergic to sunlight,” Cordelia reminded him with a sigh. Some days it seemed like she didn’t see much of it. But the early light might actually disturb her sleep now that she thought about it. “Um, okay. We can look at the other two.”
Loosening his grip, Angel released her feeling strangely relieved that she had chosen not to go inside. It wasn’t much different from the others except for extra sunshine. The direct light in that particular suite would probably be good for Cordy. Over time she had become something of a night owl, her hours shifting to accommodate him, or, more precisely, their mission.
Now that summer was over, Cordelia no longer made it a point to spend time sun-bathing in the courtyard. It was usually during the hours when he slept. Sometimes when he awakened early he’d find her dozing on one of the lawn chairs she’d found in storage in the basement. There was enough indirect light to let him linger, to catch a glimpse of golden skin if he found the right position. The chair was always turned in the direction of the sun beaming down into the courtyard, hiding Cordelia from his view.
He never lingered there for long. Sometimes Wesley would show up forcing him to slip back into the hotel undetected. The last thing he needed was a lecture about his curse. Angel was hard enough on himself for his lack of control. He didn’t need any reminders about what he couldn’t have.
On the rare occasion that Angel was in the lobby when Cordelia emerged from her sunbathing, she would be swathed in the fluffy white robe that for the moment had a permanent home next to his. “Oh, good, you’re up,” she’d say not knowing just how true that might be if those words were applied a little differently. Then she’d commandeer his bathroom to shower and change clothes.
They’d argued about the amount of stuff she left around. The woman needed someone trailing after her just to put everything away. He wouldn’t miss the wet towels she left on his bathroom floor when she claimed a space of her own. But the aroma of her shampoo, body wash, and the unique mix of scents that were purely Cordelia lingered in the air long after she left.
Angel knew he’d miss that. Though he suspected there would be fewer cold showers taken because of it.
“That suite is called the Helios,” Angel pointed down the hall toward the entrance of the center of the three suites. “It’s the one I told you about.”
“Yeah,” her mouth curled at the reminder. She headed away from it toward the door marked with the brass Apollo Suite sign. “The woman with the big—”
Pausing, Cordelia turned back on her heel to face him. “Did you say emeralds?”
“They were in a necklace.” Angel slightly shrugged one shoulder. “I guess I noticed.”
“So you were either staring at her boobs or her neck.” Rolling her eyes, Cordelia took a guess that it was probably both. Typical. Angel might be a eunuch now, but he was definitely all male and a vampire one at that.
Gruffly, he admitted, “Maybe.”
Cordelia snorted. She followed Angel down the hall to the Helios Suite. “So what was her sad story? Everybody that stayed here back then had something horrible happen to them or did something to regret. Maybe she robbed a jewelry store and stashed her loot in the hotel.”
“I doubt it,” Angel explained that the woman acted like she had money. He opened up the door to the suite, its hinges creaking, cobwebs stretching in front of them. He cleared them away so Cordelia could step inside. “It wasn’t that unusual for people to live at the hotel for weeks or months at a time. They’d come there to get away from something only to fall prey to the Thesulac demon, though I didn’t know why at first.”
Stepping into the small anteroom, Cordelia saw that time had taken its toll on the wallpaper and furnishings. Dust and grime had built up in the material of the settee, carpet and curtains. Layers of dust and cobwebs seemed thicker here than in any of the other rooms they’d searched. Unlike the rooms on the lower floor, this suite had furniture and wallpaper that looked much older than the rest.
It was as if parts of the hotel had been renovated some time in the past only this room had been left untouched. “Are you sure that something weird didn’t happen here?”
Angel wasn’t sure about anything except that the woman was amongst the members of the mob who’d attempted to hang him. And she’d been alive when he left them all to their fate at the hands of the Thesulac. “I don’t know.”
The floorboards creaked under their weight, but Cordelia insisted on poking around to see if any of the drawers or closets might contain some forgotten treasure. Angel stopped just inside the door, surveying the suite with a grim expression. This place felt different than the rest of the hotel, oppressive, and the air thick and stale. He didn’t like it, and knew by instinct alone that they needed to get out.
Unfortunately, Cordelia had already wandered into the adjoining bedroom. Angel went in after her, determined to get her to head back to one of the lower floors.
He found her standing in front of a gilded mirror that hung on the back wall. Like the rest of the furnishings, it was unique to this room. Cordelia seemed entranced by what she saw reflected in it. Not that he could blame her for it. Having no reflection of his own made him a little envious.
With an expression that held more curiosity than confidence, she traced her fingers across her cheek, and ran them through the long swath of her hair. Silky smooth it fell through her fingers like a river flowing down her shoulders and back. For a moment, he wished he could comb his own fingers through it just to find out if it was as soft as it looked.
He saw Cordelia raise a hand as if ready to slap his away. Half turning, she looked at the empty space directly next to her, and then whirled around to find him standing across the room.
“Have you been over there all along?”
Confirming it, he wondered why the color suddenly drained from her face. Before she could say anything, Angel’s long strides carried him across the room. He tucked a finger under her chin to force her eyes to his noting that hers were marked with fear, darkened by confusion. “What is it, Cordy?”
“Nothing,” she blurted quickly and made a move to turn away. “For a second, I thought I saw…, but I couldn’t have. It was just so vivid.”
It was unlike Cordelia to be so evasive. Angel caught her wrist to pull her back to him. He could feel her staccato pulse hammering away. Attempting to comfort her, he tried a hug. Expecting her usual habit of sinking right into him and slipping her slim arms around his waist to hold on tight, he got a hint of resistance instead.
Normally she was a tactile creature, a kitten who responded warmly to gentle strokes, but at the moment she seemed to want to be anywhere except in his arms. Hissing, “I’m fine. Really, it was just a shock.”
Angel let her go when her hands pressed against his chest to put some distance between them. He got the feeling that whatever had frightened the hell of her had something to do with him. “What’s going on?”
“This room is way too creepy. I think we should check out that other one.” She thumbed in the direction of the door.
Moving around her faster than she could see, Angel held his palm flat against the door to stop her from leaving. “We’re not going anywhere until you tell me what has you running scared.”
Denial rattled around in her throat until it came out as a snort. She crossed her arms and gave him that defiant look that challenged him to contradict her. Then letting out an irritated sigh pointed a finger in the direction of the broken mirror on the wall.
“Go look for yourself. You’ll see what I mean. Just how long has it been since you’ve seen your own reflection?”
Angel honestly didn’t expect to see anything. “Vampires don’t have reflections,” he reminded needlessly. “Whatever you saw couldn’t have been me.”
There was definitely something about this place, he decided. He didn’t doubt that Cordelia had seen or sensed it too. Taking another glance around the room, it looked like they were the first to venture there in decades. Every surface was covered in thick layers of dust and cobwebs. It seemed innocuous enough.
“I know what I saw. You walked up behind me and…”
Turning ten shades of red wasn’t the norm for Cordelia, but he could feel the heat of her blush. She captured her bottom lip between her teeth, tugging nervously at the plump flesh. Whatever it was Angel was supposed to have done, she seemed to find it disturbing.
“That—that mirror isn’t normal.”
Maybe he was a little too curious about the cause of the blushes because he decided to indulge her. Humans tended to see things that weren’t really there when fear took over. The shadows moved and changed shape in the light. There was enough filtering in through the filmy curtains to brighten the room without being hazardous for a vampire.
He stepped closer to the mirror, planning to inspect it and fully expecting to see nothing but the reflection of the room in its silvery surface. Cordelia grasped his sleeve and moved along beside him inching closer despite her fear of what she might see.
A blue-green shimmer danced across the mirror’s silvery surface. As it caught his eye Angel realized it was no illusion of light, but a glow coming from the mirror itself.
There was a man in the mirror standing next to Cordelia, one dressed like him. Angel could only presume that it was him and tried to recall the details of the sepia-toned daguerreotypes taken so long ago.
“See,” Cordelia poked him with a finger. “Told you.”
Angel leaned in, raising a hand to his head. “Does my hair really look like that?”
“Hello, that’s so not important right now.” He received another poke of his ribs. “Pay attention, Angel. You can worry about your gel issues later.”
Staring at the reflection, Angel couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that he could see himself. Damn, he looked good. Really good. He looked better than he remembered. When Cordelia’s words finally registered, he met her gaze in the mirror. “Gel issues?”
“Are the least of our problems,” Cordelia huffed as he turned to face her. “We’ve got a magic mirror on our hands.”
He’d have thought she’d be more enthusiastic about it. But, truthfully, anything that could produce the reflection of a vampire had to have a pretty powerful spell cast upon it. Chances were that its purpose had nothing to do with vampires at all. “What exactly did you see?”
Cordelia let out a deep sigh. “It’s stupid. We should just forget we found this thing.”
Strangely, it didn’t surprise him to find a magical mirror tucked away at the Hyperion. The hotel had so many secrets that this one seemed quite innocuous. “Maybe I’ll keep it in my room.”
Grabbing hold of his wrist, Cordelia tried to drag him toward the exit. When he didn’t budge, she let him go, calling him a stubborn, narcissistic doofus. The name calling didn’t bother him so much as her avoidance of telling him what she’d seen. It had to be something more than just his reflection.
This time he demanded answers, “Cordy, tell me what you saw.”
She glared at him for a few seconds, refusing to speak. Finally blurting, “I was just surprised to see you being reflected, that’s all,” while inching away from the mirror. “The rest was just a trick of the light.”
Angel was too busy grinning at himself in the mirror to ask for more details, a fact which was a big relief to Cordelia who had no intention of explaining what must’ve been a daydream on her part. Which was weird. She’d never had that one before- Angel stroking his fingers through her hair.
“If you keep that thing in your room you’ll never tear yourself away from it,” Cordelia snorted at the way he was fiddling with his hair. “I have a better idea. We can put it in the lobby. Letting our human clients see you with a reflection might put them at ease.”
Turning to face her, Angel’s brow cranked up a notch, “They’re uncomfortable?” That was true for the most part, he supposed.
“On the one hand they like that broody mysterious thing you have going on,” Cordelia patted his shoulder when he walked closer, “but nothing shouts vampire like the lack of a reflection and we don’t want to scare our paying clientele away.”
Maybe Cordelia had a point. Human instinct was a powerful thing. Like the girl on the street last night noticing that which was almost imperceptible.
“Besides,” she said smilingly, “I know the perfect spot for it on the lobby wall. It’ll look fantastic. That little crack…pfft! We can fix that up or hide it behind a plant.”
He didn’t bother to argue what would turn out to be a losing cause. Cordelia already had her decorating scheme plotted out. At least that was one less wall hanging they’d have to buy from the flea market. “Whatever you want.”
Cordelia’s soft lips curved into a conspiratorial smile. “Don’t tell Wes. I want to see how long it takes him to notice.”
Laughing at the joke she planned for Wesley, she backed straight into a cobweb that caught on her hair. Angel indulged her with a chuckle. “Are you certain that you aren’t the one with the evil streak? Hold still,” he ordered softly as he reached up to remove the stringy web.
A strangled gasp swallowed up the rest of her words as her shoulders stiffened and her eyes went round as saucers. Angel’s fingers plucked away the cobwebs clinging to her hair, but then lingered smoothing through the strands with his fingertips. Struck by a weird sense of deja vu, Cordelia felt a shiver down her spine. She reacted without thinking, her hand arching up to slap Angel’s away.
Bristling, she took another step back only to see a flash of confusion cross his face. “Your hands are dusty,” she tried to explain it away.
“Sorry,” Angel answered automatically while trying to ignore the stab of pain at the way she had rejected his touch.
Cordelia gasped sharply, “Oh my God! You touched my hair.”
Angel muttered something about spiders and cobwebs that Cordelia barely noted. The color drained from her face as she stared at the mirror, her head suddenly feeling like the inside of a conch shell with the rush of the ocean roaring in her ears. Suddenly dizzy she grabbed onto Angel for support.
The only thing reflected in the mirror now was the room itself, which looked perfectly serene. “I saw it, Angel. I saw it before it happened.”
Rolling her eyes, Cordelia didn’t bother to answer. She grasped his hand threading her fingers through his. “Come on. Wes needs to hear what I have to say.”
“We don’t need to get him involved.”
Cordelia paused as she led him back down the hallway toward the main stairs. She let go of his hand when she turned back around and immediately missed the sensation. Smoothing both hands over her hips, she propped them there to avoid further touching.
“Of course we do. I’m telling him everything.”
Why did Angel suddenly look like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar? Cordelia gave up trying to guess the reason for the flash of panic. “We have a magic mirror on our hands, and Wes is the only expert we’ve got.”
“Oh, the mirror,” Angel chuckled uncharacteristically in a way that creeped her out a little. “You were talking about the mirror.”
Eyeing him for signs of an inexplicable head injury, she arched a brow and said, “Yeah.”
Angel fell into step beside her as she started down the hall again. “I thought it was going to be a secret.”
That was before. “Are you kidding? You saw what it did.”
“Yes. My reflection was—”
Reaching the top balustrade, Cordelia interrupted him to lean over and shout, “Wes!” There were several floors between them, so she made sure to yell loudly. “Wesley! I need you!”
A distant crash sounded followed by Wesley’s query, “Cordelia?” Rapid footfalls followed as Wes ran up the stairs, accompanied by the occasional clunk where he tripped along the way.
“Oh, good. He heard me.” Cordelia turned back to Angel with a grin while brushing her hands together to remove the dust from the railing.
Down in the lobby, Wesley had steeped his tea to perfection having finally decided to take a break from research when his name echoed down from above. The tea cup crashed against the floor in tiny porcelain shards. He nearly slipped on the spilt tea as he rushed toward the weapons cabinet for a crossbow.
Charging into battle, he took the stairs two by two.
Wes was gasping for air by the time he reached the top of the fourth flight of stairs. He held onto his crossbow with one hand and the banister with the other. The rush of blood pounded in his ears as he looked down the hall to his left before sweeping his gaze right.
The moment his intended target came into view, Wesley took aim. “Step away from Cordelia or I will shoot.”
Not looking the least concerned about the imminent danger Angel merely raised a questioning brow. Wesley gulped nervously, but his hand remained steady.
“Hey! Watch it with the twitchy trigger finger,” Cordelia jumped in front of Angel holding out her hands defensively to ward him off. She did not look particularly ravished for someone who had been testing out beds with a vampire.
No, indeed. That look on her face suggested something quite different. Anger. Not at Angel, but most definitely in his own direction. Hardly to be expected during a rescue.
“I heard Cordelia call out for help.”
“That’s because I did.” Looking rather furious that he would come up here armed and ready to fight, Cordelia stood defensively between the two of them. “Were you really planning to use that thing?”
Tilting his chin a degree higher, Wes confirmed it, “Only if necessary. Originally, I attributed your scream to the discovery of a rat’s nest or another roach infestation, but then I recalled Angel’s comment about trying out beds.”
“Do I look like I have a death wish?”
With her back to Angel, she didn’t see the shadows darkening his expression. Wesley did not miss it, however. He felt justified with his answer. “When you bellowed my name I naturally became concerned.”
“Naturally,” Angel gritted his teeth biting back the fury he felt, not at Wes, but over the fact that his suspicion was necessary in the first place.
Wesley sensed that Angel wasn’t very pleased with his assumptions. “Ah, I apologize for the confusion. What is the problem?”
“Angel keeps touching me,” blurted Cordelia. “I saw—”
“What?” Wes cut her off by raising the crossbow again. He ordered her to, “Move aside, Cordy. Angel, you have five seconds to start explaining.”
Neither one complied and Wesley got the subtle hint that they were not feeling very threatened by his demands. “Four…three…”
“Since Mr Jumps To Conclusions doesn’t want to hear it from me,” Cordelia reached over to smack Angel on the shoulder with the back of her hand, “you tell him about the touching.”
Taking a step away from her, Angel held his hands up in the air in hands-off mode. “It was just the one time,” he corrected not counting the part where he’d been thinking about touching her.
“Pfft! That’s not what I saw in the mirror.”
“Mirror?” Wes chimed in.
“My reflection,” Angel shrugged it off. “It confused her.”
Gasping, “I was not confused. I know what I saw. You were touching my hair.”
Wait. Now Angel looked confused. “There was a cobweb,” he pointed out in his defense.
“Before that, dumbass,” Cordelia dramatically rolled her eyes. “I saw you reach out to touch me.”
Angel said nothing to confirm or deny the actions. He seemed lost in thought.
Wes was still trying to piece this together asked somewhat cautiously for clarification, “You saw what, precisely?” He scratched at the back of his head with his free hand, mind reeling as it searched for answers.
Jerking her thumb in Angel’s direction, she said, “His reflection.”
A pause followed as Wesley let it sink in. “You saw Angel in the mirror?” Shaking his head at the absurdity of it, he told her, “That’s quite impossible, Cordelia. Vampires have no reflections.”
The last person to whom he should have to explain that particular fact, Cordelia smirked confidently, “This one does—and he was touching my hair. Only he wasn’t. Then he actually touched it. You know, like it knew Angel was going to do that.”
Wesley’s head was spinning. The only thing he could conclude so far was that there was an awful lot of touching going on. Though it was rapidly becoming clear that this whole thing was a misunderstanding, he wasn’t ready to dismiss his gut feelings.
He propped the crossbow in the crook of his crossed arms. “Angel, perhaps you could clarify what the devil is going on. The beginning seems appropriate.” The crossbow was a bit of an overreaction on his part, but after the Rebecca Lowell incident it never hurt to take a few precautions.
Wesley added, “Why don’t you start with the bit about the beds.”
Their task of bedroom hunting came across with a dispassionate monotone. Apparently, Angel wasn’t ready to reveal that he had strong opinions about where Cordelia slept while under his roof. Wes wasn’t blind, nor a fool.
Cordelia sometimes slept in Angel’s room after a vision. It was understood that the room was hers as long as she was there. Or so he believed.
Though he’d noticed that the two of them appreciated each other’s looks, it seemed superficial, nothing more than a basic attraction and the mutual understanding that friendship was the most important thing between them. Certainly, that was as far as it could go.
At least, that had been Wes’ spin on the little looks they sometimes sent each other’s way when the other wasn’t watching. Most days he decided that he imagined it.
After all, Cordelia seemed convinced that Angel’s undying love belonged to Buffy Summers. And that was hardly a subject Wesley was going to bring up around Angel. It sometimes popped up during conversations with Cordelia, when they were reminiscing about their Sunnydale days.
It was clear that Cordy hated the lingering effect of Angel’s love affair with Buffy. He took that simply as friendly concern for the broody vampire’s emotional and social wellbeing.
Perhaps that’s all it ever was, Wes hoped, considering that Cordelia wasn’t keen on the fact that Angel had touched her. “Perhaps you should skip ahead to the crucial part,” he suggested when Cordelia cut off Angel’s explanation describing their room to room explorations in greater detail than was necessary.
Sighing, Cordelia said that they’d gone into the Helios Suite. Stopping her there, Wesley had to comment that he found it interesting to learn that the hotel named its suites in that manner. “Hyperion is actually a variant form of Helios, the god whose chariot carried the orb of the sun across the heavens.”
“Thanks, but it’s all Greek to me,” Cordelia held up a hand to ward off further lessons.
Wes got in one more point before letting her continue. “It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that a vampire lives in a place with such a focus on the sun.”
Angel suddenly looked pensive as he sank back against a wall and waited for Cordelia to finish talking.
“So I was standing there,” Cordy was saying, “when I saw Angel in the mirror.”
This was intriguing, decided Wes, breaking in long enough to clarify, “You’re certain that it was him. There was no one else in the room?”
He asked this of Angel who answered, “No one.”
Cordelia prattled on. “He was just standing there behind me and he looked really good. Not like that, all dusty and grumpy,” she waved carelessly in Angel’s direction which made the vampire scowl. “I mean really hot. Don’t deny it Angel. You were so into yourself.”
Curtailing his amusement, Wesley tried to stay focused. “A magical mirror?” He had read about enchanted mirrors, but had never heard of one capable of producing a vampire’s reflection. This definitely merited study. “Many such enchantments are used to produce a more pleasant reflection of the owner. It is a fairly simple charm if that is its only purpose.”
“There’s something different about this mirror,” warned Angel darkly. He wasn’t forthcoming with any details, but Cordelia made up for that in spades.
Reminding him about the way she had seen Angel do something that he hadn’t actually done yet, she theorized excitedly, “I think it reflects the future.”
Wesley’s eyes widened in awe at the idea. He started asking questions without allowing any time for her to respond. That would certainly take some powerful magic and might explain the side-effect of vampire reflective capabilities.
“Hey! Watch where you’re pointing that thing,” Cordelia backed away from the crossbow bolt angled in her direction.
Angel was suddenly standing next to him with a hand held palm upward. Sheepishly, Wesley put the bow in his hand. Now that he knew there were no soulless vampires running amok it was no longer needed.
They led him to the room. “Watch out for the floor boards. They creak,” Cordelia shuddered at the memory. “That room isn’t very stable. Even if it didn’t have a cool, yet freaky mirror in it, I don’t think I’d stay there.”
“Whatever she saw in the mirror scared her,” Angel spoke up before Wesley stepped through the door into the suite. He explained that he wasn’t anywhere near Cordelia when she claimed to see him in the mirror.
“I just didn’t expect you there.” She denied being afraid. Her fingers trailed along the silky swath of hair across her shoulder. “More than that. I could almost feel you touch me.”
Angel said nothing. His Adam’s apple bobbed with a reflexive swallow that seemed to Wesley a very human thing to do. The reason for it struck a nerve. He had to ask. “Did he? Was that the future the mirror revealed?”
“There was a cobweb!”
“Yes, I believe I heard you the first two or three times,” Wesley wondered why Angel was acting guilty over the simple act of removing a cobweb from a friend’s hair.
Both denied noticing anything else. Since the room wasn’t entirely stable they decided to carry it down to the lobby. Cordelia instructed them to lean it against the wall for now. “We can hang it up later.”
“I’ll want some time to study it. There are some interesting markings on the frame,” Wesley noted the antique setting and considered that it might provide a clue. “Here is as good as any.”
Cordelia propped her hands on her hips as she surveyed the room. “Looks like I might as well start here, too. Picking out a bedroom will have to wait, Angel. Thanks for the suggestion, but I guess we’ll have to stick to the current arrangement.”
The casual shrug was followed by an intense stare the moment Cordelia turned away to survey the lobby again. Wesley thought he detected the barest hint of a smug smile on Angel’s face. It might have been his imagination, or so he hoped.
“What’s the scoop? It’s been like two hours and I’m still waiting for answers.” Cordelia peered over Wesley’s shoulder to see if he had discovered something about the mirror.
Expecting to see him studying a book of Mystical Mirrors and their Enigmatic Enchantments or at the very least Magic Mirrors for Dummies, she noticed instead the same old scroll and yellow notepads on his desk. She snatched the pencil out of his hand and held it out of reach, which resulted in a whining version of her name as he reached up to grab it.
“Cordelia! I was in the middle of translating this text. Now you’ve made me lose my place.”
“You’ll be lucky if that’s the only thing you lose. What are you doing wasting your time on that old thing when you could be finding out more about our mirror?”
Letting out an exasperated roar, Wesley pushed back his chair to stand up. “The mirror has been gathering dust for nearly fifty years. It is not going anywhere. It can wait.”
“So can your dusty old scroll.”
“I want that pencil back.”
Angel realized he picked the wrong time to come out of the office, but since neither of them even noticed him stroll past their desks it didn’t seem to matter. His plans to tell Wesley about the mirror’s original owner would keep until his oh-so professional employees decided that their scrap in the sandbox was over.
On his way to the stairs he just happened to stroll by the mirror, still tilted against the wall, and paused to glance at his reflection. Maybe he was a little paler than he remembered, but he did look good. Really good. Just as Cordelia had said. She wasn’t exaggerating, he decided with a grin as he turned one way and then the other to get a better angle.
His ass was not fat. Cordelia would have to eat those words the next time she said something derogatory about it.
“You can have it back when you promise to find out how my mirror works.”
“Your mirror? Angel might have something to say about that.”
“I found it.”
“It’s his hotel. Would you stop moving around and give me the blasted pencil, Cordelia?”
Angel didn’t have to turn around to see Cordelia bobbing and weaving around the reception area in order to avoid Wesley’s effort to retrieve the pencil. He could see them in the mirror. He wouldn’t want to spoil their fun by pointing out that there was a full pencil holder on the desk, but was it necessary for them to be so noisy about it?
There were times when he wanted to shut them up and thought about the ways he could do it. Letting his mind wander as he stared at their reflections he didn’t notice at first that the images were changing shape along with his thoughts. A little rope, a couple of gags. It didn’t take much to come up with that little scenario.
Nor did it stop there as the demon inside him twisted it. Cordelia. Wesley. Tied up and gagged, but not in the lobby. Wes restrained, watching, and helpless. Cordelia, tied to his bed, waiting for him to…
A snap sounded as the pencil broke.
Dual squeals followed the momentary shock. “Now see what you did!”
Jerking out of his thoughts Angel’s eyes settled on the mirror. The image was fleeting, but it was there. He whirled on his heel to look behind him, just to reassure himself that he was where he thought he was, and who.
How was he ever going to explain this?
Cordelia and Wesley were facing each other behind the main counter, each holding one half of a pencil. Glancing down at his half, Wesley gave her a slow smile. “Looks like I win. I can still write with this bit.”
Catching sight of Angel approaching, she kept her voice down as she shooed Wesley back to his desk. “Just don’t make any mistakes,” she wiggled the pencil eraser half in the air teasingly.
By the time Angel made it to the counter she had stuffed the evidence into her jeans pocket. “I don’t suppose you can convince Wes to ignore that silly scroll long enough to find out the juicy details about our mirror?”
Angel heard Wesley saying something about his current project and how important it was in the big scheme of things. The explanation didn’t really register. It might as well have been Cordy saying, “Blah, blah, blah!”
Actually, she was saying, “Blah, blah, blah! Angel knows all about your scroll. He stole it for you. Sheesh. One little favor, that’s all I ask.”
Rubbing the back of his neck, Angel tried to put things into perspective. He was almost sure he had seen something in that mirror. His imagination was pretty vivid, just like his dreams, so it wouldn’t have surprised him if the whole thing was in his head. Having Angelus crawling around your subconscious tended to muddy the waters at times.
He considered what Cordelia had said about her initial experience with the mirror. Maybe this wasn’t just his imagination.
What if Cordy was right and the mirror predicted the future?
Cordelia. Wesley. Tied up and gagged. About to be… No, that couldn’t be right.
He watered it down when he told them by leaving it where he started with a quick scenario to shut them up.
“That’s not a vision of the future,” scoffed Cordelia as she leaned toward him across the counter. “It’s called wishful thinking. You so made that up.”
“Perhaps the mirror isn’t limited to hints of the future.” Wesley offered that one scenario as he sat back down at his desk to pick up where he left off.
Leaning in close with the counter between them, Angel reminded Cordy, “You expected me to believe you.”
“Well, you didn’t.” Her lower lip plumped into a pout that momentarily distracted him. “Not at first.”
No, he’d been too busy convincing himself that he hadn’t been fantasizing about running his fingers through her very silky hair at the time or coming up with excuses to explain why he had actually done it minutes later.
“It doesn’t matter what you saw, Angel, because we’ll never know if it means anything. Mister Smarty Pants won’t stop playing with his scroll long enough to help.”
“We could just do the research ourselves,” Angel suppressed a smile.
Cordelia glanced over her shoulder toward Wesley who promised to recommend a few books. “I can’t right now. You know I’m busy redecorating. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t give it a whirl. Or just be the boss and tell Wes to do it. Angel, wait. Where are you going? Angel?”
The idea of gagging Cordelia…maybe it wasn’t such an impossible future scenario after all.
Out of sheer boredom, Cordelia was ready to try anything. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
Although she had to admit that her skin had a healthy golden glow, but that might’ve been due her preliminary redecoration efforts. Calling out to Wes who still had his nose in that old scroll, she grumbled, “It’s not doing anything. How long does this thing need to recharge?”
Angel’s sudden appearance behind her caused her to blink in surprise. Still not used to that. He met her gaze in the mirror. “Maybe it prefers vampires.”
He said it jokingly, but at this point Cordelia was ready to believe anything. “Maybe,” she let out a bummed sigh. Pointing out his little joke might have actual merit, “You were in the room both times something happened. Wave at it. Say something.”
His smile flattened out into a straight line. “We should know more about it first. Who knows what kind of enchantments we’re dealing with.”
“That’s why Wesley should drop what he’s doing to help us find out more about it,” Cordelia nudged him with an elbow. “Dontcha think?”
Angel had no time to answer. From across the room Wes told them, “I am nearly done here. It might go a bit faster without the interruptions. There’s a particular passage I am having some difficulty translating. The texts I need are at my flat, so I’m going to call it a night.”
The scroll was always locked up in Angel’s office safe when it wasn’t under Wesley’s constant supervision. That meant Wesley wouldn’t be able to finish up as planned until tomorrow.
Frustrated that she wasn’t going to learn anything new about her exciting discovery, Cordelia decided that she might as well go home, too. “It’s a slow night. No visions. No clients. I owe Dennis a movie night.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” nodded Angel as his thumb rubbed across a knotted muscle in her neck that she hadn’t even noticed was knotty. “You have been a little tense today.”
Denial was on the tip of her tongue, but it morphed into a purr. Mmm, that felt so good. She so needed to take those fingers home with her.
Closing her eyes, Cordelia let out a long sigh and let Angel’s soothing touch smooth out her frazzled nerves. The stroke of his fingertips across her skin used just the right amount of pressure. Comforting, yes, but it felt more intimate than that.
Tingles sparked like an arc of lightning making her wish that she was already home, relaxing in a steamy bath, the hot water easing her muscles as those fingers worked their magic on her neck, shoulders and down the curve of her back.
For a moment Cordelia could almost feel the heat of his damp fingers moving— “Ow! Did you pinch me?” Grabbing the spot on her shoulder that suddenly hurt like the dickens, she whirled around to face him, her back to the mirror. “Geez, Angel, you’re stronger than you think. I don’t need any more bruises.”
Holding his hand away from her as if he’d accidentally touched a hot iron, Angel fumbled for an explanation. “I-I wouldn’t…I didn’t…,” he broke off for a second. “You felt that?”
“Yes, doofus. It’s called pain.” Cordelia knew he hadn’t intended to hurt her. She said as much. “Compared to the visions it wasn’t that big of a deal, so don’t sweat it.”
Forgiveness didn’t seem to work on Angel McBroodsalot who was probably going to spend the rest of the night glowering about it. Already lost in thought, he wasn’t even looking at her, but staring at a point beyond her shoulder. The mirror. No wonder. “Oh, good grief! You’ve been staring at yourself again.”
Chancing a look back at the mirror, Cordelia wondered if he had seen something in it, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. Well, nothing except the fact that Angel was reflected there.
“Go home, Cordy.”
The rough edge to his voice grated her nerves. “I already said I was going. Geez! If you want to be alone with yourself there’s no need to take it out on me.”
“Go home, Cordy,” he repeated on a softer note turning his dark gaze back to her. The timber of his words washed over her like a cool caress leaving her shivering. “Take one of those long, hot bubble baths you love so much. Maybe it’ll work out the rest of those kinks.”
Kinks. Like having your vampire boss join you for a bathtime massage? Right. Like that would ever happen.
Just where had he gotten the idea? it might be a coincidence that she’d been thinking about it a minute ago, but what if…
“That sounds quite therapeutic,” Wesley commented as he emerged from the inner office area where he had been putting his precious scroll away for safe keeping. “I take it you’re calling it a night, too.”
Distracted from her train of thought, Cordelia nodded and walked past him toward her desk in order to grab her purse from the bottom desk drawer. “Movie night with Dennis. I’d invite you but you’ve got research to finish.”
Chuckling at her persistence, Wesley promised that he would finish up his scroll research as soon as he could. “I am very close to making a breakthrough.”
“That’s what you said this morning.”
They walked toward the exit. Wesley made his farewells. Cordelia echoed her own, but couldn’t resist teasing him. “Goodnight, Angel. Come join us for the movie if you manage to stop staring at yourself.”
Alone in the lobby, Angel slowly backed away from the mirror. Keeping a close watch on it as if it was an opponent that might suddenly attack, he watched for any sign of change in the image the mirror reflected. Once again, all he saw was himself.
Five minutes before that had not been the case.
He had simply intended to express concern, or so he thought. Touching Cordelia hadn’t come as a premeditated act. He sensed her frayed nerves and wanted to help.
As pure as those motives might have been he never expected the mirror to twist such a simple act of compassion into some dark vampire fantasy. The water games that sometimes played out in his head always took place in his shower, and not Cordelia’s bathtub, but that was clearly the image in the mirror.
Steam clung to their skin. She sat directly in front of him, her luscious hair swept up and held by a tortoiseshell clip, exposing her delicate neck and beautiful back to his view. As he stroked her skin in reality, Angel could almost feel the damp heat of the water on his fingers as his hands moved across the smooth skin of her bare back in the mirror.
Was this like before when he thought about something and saw it appear on the mirror just a moment later? His thoughts sometimes moved in directions that were better left unexplored, but this mirror took it one step further.
Meeting his own reflected gaze, Angel saw a satisfied curl twist the corner of his mouth just before his human face morphed away. The vampire in the mirror nuzzled a cheek against Cordelia’s warm, wet skin just before sinking his fangs into her shoulder. Blood dripped down the curve of her shoulder blade mixing with the bath water below.
“Ow! Did you pinch me?” The vision in front of him seemed to affect Cordelia physically, Angel realized after going over her words again. She had felt that. He was certain that he had not placed unnecessary pressure on her already bundled nerves.
He had felt something, too, dark and eager for escape. Hungry for freedom and the taste of blood.
Angel licked his lips. He could almost taste it. Cordelia’s blood in his mouth. How could some fantasy from a mirror’s image do that?
He walked away from the mirror with long strides, determined to be away from its influence. It wasn’t just stealing his thoughts, or hinting at dark desires. The notion left his insides quaking. What if Cordelia was right? Did the mirror predict the future?
Was he supposed to be tempted by the thought of his beautiful friend soaking in a steamy tub of bubbles? Of course he was. Touching her wasn’t supposed to leave him aroused this way, aching for her soft hands on his flesh. He would certainly never harm her. Never. Not with his soul intact.
Was that the future? A warning, perhaps. He needed to stay away from Cordelia. There would be no movie night, not tonight or any other.
Angel headed straight for the basement ripping his shirt over his head as he went. Not even taking the time to change into sweats, he headed downstairs to try to get those images out of his head. Dropping the shirt on the bottom step, he went straight to the punching bag, balled up his fist and pounded his knuckles into the worn leather.
Unnoticed, a bright green glow filled the outline of the basement door emanating from the direction of the lobby.
“Where’s Angel?” asked Cordelia after setting her packages down on her desktop. “It’s almost four o’clock.”
Wesley was hardly one to keep tabs on his boss’ sleeping patterns, but now that Cordelia had pointed it out noticed that Angel was normally awake by this time of day. “Still upstairs as far as I know. The day has gone so swiftly I hardly noticed the time.”
Absently, she asked, “Oh?” while glancing toward the stairs. “Made any breakthroughs?”
“Yes, actually,” the excitement in Wesley’s voice dragged her attention back to him. He wore an ear to ear grin. “It was quite marvelous. The mirror provided the missing clue I required. A bit of good luck, that.”
Cordelia listened with growing anticipation. She too had come in early this morning, far earlier than usual, in order to keep an eye on the mirror. It was important that they not miss anything. What if it could predict the next winning lottery ticket, or reveal whether or not Friends’ Monica and Chandler would ever go through with their wedding?
This morning she had gotten something better. “You too?” Cordelia squeed over Wes’ attempted explanation. “I was here practically at the crack of dawn. Okay, well, not that early, but early for me. The next thing I know the mirror showed me the most adorable little shoe shop—and it had a sale.”
“I suppose you bought out the store.” He eyed the colorful packages on the countertop. “What happened to using your money for redecorating?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. That’s a business expense.”
With a shrug, Wesley told her he had no intention of getting in the middle of that discussion. “I think that’s a matter between you and Angel. In my opinion, I think our cash reserves would be better spent on weapons or some new resource books.”
Wesley apparently didn’t understand her strategy of sprucing up the place in order to bring in more paying clients. “Then it’s a good thing you’re not the boss. So what happened with your breakthrough?”
She hadn’t forgotten about that despite getting sidetracked with her own exciting news. Wesley explained that the mirror showed him an image of a key passage on the scroll. After translating it he was able to make out the cypher hidden in the text.
“What did you discover? Some new prophesy I imagine. Another big bad planning to eradicate humanity?”
“No, as it happens. The scribe’s hidden message wasn’t a prophesy at all, but the story of illicit love for a beautiful princess. He wanted his love recorded for all time, but had to hide the truth of it in code lest they both be killed.”
Cordelia stayed silent for a moment as she pondered his words, watching as his eyes glistened behind the rims of his glasses. The tale of tragic romance had gotten to him. “So you’re saying that you’ve been toiling for weeks over some ancient Sumarian’s diary?”
“How was I to know? The code might have been hiding something of significant importance,” he sniffed defensively.
“Now can you find time to study the mirror?”
He looked perturbed to admit, “I have already made a start.” There was a new pile of books on his desk.
Eyes sparkling with excitement, Cordelia reached into a pink bag and removed a small bakery box containing Wes’ favorite doughnuts. “These are for you.”
Wesley took the box gingerly as if half expecting it to explode upon opening. “An apology from Cordelia Chase?”
Ridiculous. What did she have to apologize for? “No.”
“Ah, so it’s a bribe to do your bidding.”
“Pfft. Does there have to be a reason for me to do something nice for you?”
He chomped into a jelly doughnut and remained stubbornly silent on the matter. Cordelia gave him a grin and headed upstairs to see why Angel was still sleeping. Now that Wesley was ready to focus on researching their mirror, she wanted Angel’s help to learn more about its original owner.
Normally she preferred to let vampires get their beauty sleep. Angel tended to get grumpy if he didn’t get his rest. This was a special circumstance. Turning the door handle, Cordelia popped her head inside, “Angel? Wakey-wakey. We’ve got… oh, you’re already up.”
He sat in his favorite chair, the one he could sink into and brood comfortably. Cordelia figured the tormented look on his face meant bad news from Sunnydale. “You’re looking like the grim reaper. Did Buffy call? Is everyone okay?”
It took a few seconds before Angel lifted his gaze to meet hers. By then she was crouched next to him, her hand grasping his, and the pain of anticipation blooming in her chest, not only fearing for those she knew, but also worrying how Angel would react.
Angel’s hand shifted in her grasp, his thumb softly brushing reassurance across her fingers. “No one called.”
“We need to get rid of the mirror, Cordelia. I think it’s cursed.”
Snatching her hand out of his, she jumped back to her feet. “No! No, it’s not. Just this morning Wes and I saw some fantastic things. The mirror’s not evil. How could it be? These shoes were forty percent off.”
A glimpse revealed Cordelia’s delicately painted toenails peeking out of a new pair of sandals. He didn’t see the connection between her discovery of the perfect sales event and the mirror’s apparent good will.
“You haven’t seen anything more…personal?”
“More personal than it knowing I needed new shoes?” Cordelia reminded him about it predicting him touching her hair. “Just how personal are you talking about?”
“So let me get this straight,” Wesley raised a hand for silence when Cordelia stopped to take a breath. “Angel, you believe that the mirror is somehow accessing your subconscious desires. It has revealed its powers as some form of dark fantasy, by giving itself over to your ego.”
“Yes,” answered Angel tersely.
Cordelia snorted and muttered something about vampires and ‘perv-o-vision’.
“Now, now, Cordelia,” cautioned Wes. “It has apparently been playing upon our desires, too. I had a need to finish my project whilst your needs were more tangible.” He waved a hand over the packages on the counter.
Having only his own experience with the mirror as a baseline, Wesley decided that it would benefit his research to observe more of these aberrations. Even though Cordelia warned him that the mirror seemed to produce its effects at random, he wanted to test that hypothesis.
There was also the matter of how the mirror’s powers were invoked. “Perhaps we have to think or do something specific in order to activate it.”
“Can’t you just find a list of magic phrases?”
“I’m guessing that bibbidi-bobbidi-boo didn’t work when you tried it yesterday,” he smirked at Cordelia earning him a light punch on the arm. “Mirror charms do not always require one. I’ll know more after I see it in action again. Its physical aspects, markings and frame design, might shed some light on its origins.”
Cordelia nudged Angel’s elbow. “What about the woman who owned it? Maybe we can dig up some dirt on her.”
“That was nearly fifty years ago. I never knew her name,” Angel warned them. “The woman was here with the rest of them…us. There wasn’t a person in this hotel who wasn’t twisted up inside by the influence of the thesulac demon.”
“What did this woman look like?” Wesley asked, a green glow suddenly lighting the lenses of his glasses.
Angel claimed he couldn’t remember her face exactly, but supplied a few facts, “Tall. Red hair. Elegant. A little mole right here,” he pointed at the base of his throat.
“Don’t forget svelte,” Cordelia chimed in, “and with big…”
“They certainly are,” noted Wes now visibly leaning to get a better view of the mirror.
The mirror’s glow spread widely throughout the lobby until they were engulfed by its light. The woman Angel had described appeared to approach them from the other side of the glass, a mist surrounding her, disturbed by her movements. Around her elegant neck was the necklace with its large oval stones in a setting of ornate design. She walked slowly, steadily toward them, her blue penoir softly flowing in this mists around her feet.
“Hah. Just as I thought.” Cordelia muttered something about chippies that went over Wesley’s head. Angel seemed to get it, his scowl returning as she asked sourly, “Was this one of your little fantasies?”
“No,” Angel scoffed only to deny it again more fervently. “No, I never actually knew her.”
Wesley kept watching the mirror. He stepped closer matching every step she took until it was as if they both stood on opposite side of a glass window. The mirror’s image swirled with a misty haze, but it did not hide her from them. There was no mischief in her deep green eyes. Only sadness, loneliness, and fear.
“Odd, but I know this woman,” Wesley muttered. The mirror projected no sounds, but her words were clear enough.
To Wesley, it seemed like she was speaking directly to him, begging for his help. He lifted his hand toward the mirror’s smooth surface, closer to the feminine hand searching for his.
A hard vice closed suddenly over his wrist jerking Wes’ hand away from the mirror. “Don’t touch it while it’s active.” Angel knocked him back a step. “Who knows what that might do.”
Recovering, Wesley realized that he hadn’t been fully aware of his actions. “Thank you. I hadn’t considered that the mirror itself might be dangerous.”
Angel obviously had, but didn’t bother to clarify the reason for his suspicions. Wesley decided to drop that for now in favor of focusing on the woman in the mirror. “Cordelia, you’ve seen her before as well.”
At first denying it, she joined him closer to the mirror. After a moment of watching the woman’s continued pleas, Cordelia swallowed hard and admitted, “You’re right. From our research on the Hyperion. She was in one of the articles.”
Neither of them could remember the details.
“What is she doing haunting our mirror?” Perturbed, Cordelia wondered whether the phonebook listed exorcists under ‘E’ or ‘G’ for ghostbusters.
Angel didn’t respond. Wesley noted that he seemed lost in thought as he stared at the face of a woman he hadn’t seen for half a century.
“Perhaps she could be a companion for Phantom Dennis,” he suggested glibly. Suspecting that this wasn’t a haunting at all did not stop him from pushing Cordelia’s buttons when opportunity presented itself.
“What? No way am I letting some skanky ghost anywhere near Dennis,” Cordelia snapped. She reminded him of the phantom’s sensitivity.
“She’s certainly not unpleasant to look at,” Wesley couldn’t help but stare back when the ghostly image seemed so focused on him. “Perhaps Angel will want to keep it. Considering the effects he says it produces whilst he is around, that might provide a pleasant distraction now and then. An outlet of sorts.”
Hearing Wesley’s words caused Angel to turn his attention away from the mirror. Cordelia was looking his way, expecting some form of response. He felt an urge to grab the opportunity to inflict a little payback. He’d stayed at Cordy’s place long enough to know there wasn’t anywhere Phantom Dennis did not go having heard her talking to the ghost while she was in her bedroom or the bathtub.
It took all of Angel’s restraint not to growl over the reminder. Right now, he considered it a good thing that Dennis was already non-corporeal.
Sensing that his little joke wasn’t amusing anyone but himself, Wesley got back to business. “The mirror’s abilities suggest that this is something other than a haunting. This has all the hallmarks of a curse.”
Cordelia looked wary. “A curse? Like Angel needs another one.”
“I believe she is trapped within the mirror by its own magic.”
Angel grabbed him by both shoulders, startling Wesley who was amazed to see a light of hope shining from the vampire’s eyes. “Then it’s possible to save her.”
“Possible, yes,” he nodded without venturing the odds.
“Are you just being your normal heroic self or is there something about her you’re not sharing?” Cordelia wanted to know. Her instincts were usually on-target.
Almost savagely, he crowded her, towering above in a way that forced her to lift her eyes to him. “Fifty years ago, that woman was part of the mob that tried to kill me. Not knowing what I was, they chose to hang me from the rafters.” Angel watched Cordelia flinch and wished he had softened his words. “I left her here. I left them all here knowing what the Thesulac demon would do to them.”
Wesley watched the two of them in silence. The pain of Angel’s guilt was evident as he stared down at Cordelia, seeking solace or forgiveness. As always, she provided both. It was amazing to watch it happen right in front of him, but he couldn’t deny the bond shared by the vampire and his seer went beyond the boundaries of friendship. He couldn’t define it, and felt certain they were too close to see it.
“If I’d stayed—”
“You would have given the demon what he wanted. He would have kept you and them, Angel.” Cordelia placed a hand on his cheek. “Don’t blame yourself for surviving. You came back. You destroyed the demon.”
“Too late. I have a responsibility to try to save her, Cordy. I have to.”
Cordelia wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tight. When she pulled back, Angel’s hand stayed at the back of her neck. He pressed his lips to her forehead and seemed rather reluctant to let her go.
“You’re not alone anymore, Angel,” she reminded him. “We’re here to help.”
Wesley cleared his throat conspicuously. “Perhaps we should actually get a move on. The mirror looks normal again for the moment. We should come up with a plan before the woman makes another appearance.”
Cordelia tried to focus on decoration mode. It had only been a few weeks since they’d moved into the hotel. At the time, she had been grateful to get Angel out of her apartment. He was so damn clumsy at times, which was weird considering vampires were supposed to be graceful, fast, and precise.
What was up with that?
Although hating to admit it, she actually missed the big guy. It was one thing to have Phantom Dennis around to talk to, share stories with and handle the housework, but it was a lot different to have a guy physically taking up your space.
Angel also had the immodest habit of walking around in his boxers and an open robe. Face it, Dennis couldn’t even compete in the eye candy department. And since eye candy was all she seemed to get lately, it was a little hard adjusting to life without it.
Still, Cordelia was happier about having a real office. Despite its demony background, the Hyperion was actually kind of classy. Once she added a few touches here and there it would be perfect. The guys were clueless about that sort of thing and the fact that Angel was such a penny pincher didn’t make her plans any easier. Not that they had a whole lot of pennies to pinch at the moment.
Having a cool office would bring in clients with money. Assuming they weren’t frightened away by the Mirror Matron. Cordelia could think of one or two convenient ways to get rid of a haunted mirror, but was sure she didn’t need seven more years of bad luck.
She owed it to Angel to help him with this one. Other than the whirlwind of trouble called Buffy Summers, there were very few things that caused him such visible torment.
So it seemed they were stuck with finding out how a woman from 1952 was trapped in a mirror. Cordelia watched from the other side of the lobby as Angel and Wesley carefully hung the mirror on the opposite wall. “That’s not a very good spot,” she warned noticing that she could not only see most of the lobby, but picked up her own reflection from across the room.
There would be nowhere to hide from it.
Despite her initial enthusiasm about the mirror and its potential for making them rich, Cordelia began to sense that it was only going to cause them more trouble. If only she hadn’t insisted on searching for a whole suite instead of a room. The mirror might still be gathering dust.
“You’re the one who said to put it here,” the tension in Wesley’s voice ramped up. It was the third time they’d moved it at Cordelia’s behest and he wasn’t going to do it again. “We shall never get any research done if we spend all of our time rearranging furniture and hanging this mirror.”
“Fine,” Cordelia told him resolving to stay out of its path as much as possible. “Leave it there.” The faster they got on with the research, the sooner that freaky mirror and its ghostly resident would be outta there. If she really was a ghost. That woman was nothing like Dennis. More like Dennis’ mom minus the trying to kill her part.
While Angel and Wesley were hammering in the metal hanger for the mirror, Cordelia went back to her desk. One of her bags contained her mail, which she usually sorted while she was at work. Noting that her monthly Cosmo was in the stack, she flipped through the first half, eager for a distraction.
An article caught her eye. More precisely, it was a photograph of a smooth male torso and a fold-out section that made her linger longer than intended. Smiling appreciatively, Cordelia mentally compared the model to another male torso. Finally dragging her gaze away from the chiseled chest, she read the title, ‘Mapping Your Man’s Erogenous Zones’.
No sooner than a flicker of a thought crossed her mind than chaos erupted. Wes’ high-pitched shriek sounded from the lobby. Hooks and nails scattered everywhere. “That’s…that’s you. Oh, dear lord!” Wesley sputtered while dropping his hammer on his foot. “Ow!”
“What the–?” Standing up to get a better look at the lobby, Cordelia saw Wesely hopping on one foot while Angel held on tight to the mirror.
From that position Angel couldn’t see what she could on the mirror’s surface that had sent Wes in to such a tizzy. Her own breath caught in her throat at the purely sexual illusion playing havoc with her senses.
Naked. Angel was naked. Only part of his pale, smoothly muscled torso was visible. A woman stood in front of him, her long chestnut hair skimming the small of her back, the mirror’s edge low enough to reveal her waist, and most of a very familiar tattoo.
The moment Cordelia realized the image was her she felt strangely connected to it. No space separated them as they stood skin to skin. Angel’s strong hands curved possessively around her hips evoking instant need. Seized by sensations, her body flushed with heat, yet she also felt the imprint of his cool flesh against hers: strong, hard and totally male.
If she closed her eyes, she could get lost in that moment. Mapping out his body with the intent to seduce him. The teasing trace of her fingertips circling his nipple. Followed by a trail of hot kisses against his cooler skin.
Curiosity and desire converged instantly to alter their actions. All teasing ended. Those large, cool hands swept up her back to lift her face to his. Cordelia’s lips tingled at the whispering echo of Angel’s kisses, arousal making her shake. The lusty clutch of the two naked bodies kept getting hotter.
With her heartbeat pounding in her ears, Cordelia managed to hear Angel growl her name. He sounded angry. Ripping her gaze away from the mirror, she saw that he was focused entirely on her. Somewhere along the way, when she was otherwise distracted, he had set the mirror down.
Angel’s gaze was fixed on her in a way she had never seen before, full of lust and longing. She knew he had seen it all, and more. He had felt it, too. Her body touching his. Her hands on him. The wild kisses that kept them in passion’s grip.
The scene on the mirror’s surface was ongoing.
A moan of pleasure rumbled from Angel’s chest. Even though he was across the room, it came to her like a soft whisper against her ear. He took a step toward her, still holding her captive with that raw stare, now half blocking the mirror’s surface.
Mixed emotions filled the sound of his name on her lips. “Angel, I—,” but her attempt to speak was cut off when she caught sight of his reflection.
When Naked Angel pulled back from that last whirlwind kiss, his face had changed. He looked down at Naked Cordelia in vampire form, but she sensed no fear across the magical connection of emotions and sensations. It was Angel. She felt certain of that up until the image turned to gaze over his lover’s shoulder, eyes seemingly focused directly upon her as she stood behind the reception desk.
Something subtle changed in the expression. The warmth left his eyes. Cordelia realized that the vampire in her arms was now Angelus.
She tensed, prepared to scream, ready to point out to Angel that it was his soulless self who had her wrapped in his evil clutches, but Angel saw the direction of her gaze had shifted. He looked over his shoulder just in time to see what happened next.
At the subtle pressure of Angelus’ hand on her back, she willingly arched in his arms exposing her neck for him.
“No!” The cry came from Wesley who leapt in front of the mirror just as Angel was about to smash it to smithereens. Cautioning, “You can’t…”
Cordelia never heard the rest of what was certain to be a rational explanation that involved their plan for saving the woman from 1952. She turned her head away, not wanting to watch Angelus sinking his fangs into her neck, afraid that she was going to feel a lot more than a pinch.
Looking down at her desk she saw her hand spread out across the magazine. She slammed it closed before jamming it out of sight in the back of the desk. All this time she had been telling Angel it was his fault for activating the mirror’s seedier side, but that wasn’t his fantasy flashing up there. It was hers.
Make that mostly hers.
Cordelia wanted an explanation. That and a way to erase the last five minutes. There might be worse ways to be humiliated but right now she couldn’t think of any.
The mirror had to be possessed by a fiend, she reasoned. A cousin to that tentacle demon. One disguised like that woman Angel had seen way back when. Someone with the power to put lusty thoughts where they didn’t belong. It was evil to show them something that could never happen. Angel was a friend, her boss, and practically a eunuch. A no-bone all the way.
Then to have Angelus show up!
Definitely not right.
Being bitten by Angelus was definitely not on her fantasy list. Well, certainly not Angelus. Except for that one time after the cemetery back in Sunnydale, but that had been more of a nightmare. Mostly.
But—what if the mirror’s magic really was playing out the future? Cordelia flushed hot and then felt a chill. How could it happen? Angel would never cross that line. She’d never let him.
Something had to be done about this. Right now. Without looking toward Angel at all, Cordelia ran into his office. She started pulling random books down from the shelves, desperate for answers.
“Are you quite finished ripping Angel’s office apart?” mused Wesley in a calm, measured voice as he glanced in from the outer office door.
“Not until I find what I’m looking for,” Cordelia reached over to grab another book from the shelves. Peevishly adding, “And why am I alone in here? Shouldn’t you be doing something about this? Just because Angel gets to see his reflection now doesn’t mean I want mine to be naked with it.”
Right now Angel appeared to be doing an impressive imitation of Rodin’s Thinker as he sat in statue stillness on the stairs. “Ah—well, Angel might need another moment or two before he joins us. Come sit down. The books you’re looking for are already on my desk.”
“No. No, I’ve got what I want right here.”
“Then bring it to my desk so we can debrief.”
Cordelia walked over to the threshold between Angel’s office and the area behind the counter, but went no further. “I’m not going out there where that evil fiend can see me.”
Despite having pointed a crossbow at him only yesterday, Wesley drew back in alarm at the harsh description. “Whilst I can understand your embarrassment, you will have to face Angel eventually.”
“What? Not him!” Frazzled, she told him, “We had nothing to do with that peep show. Blame her. That demoness in the mirror.”
“There has been no evidence of demonic activity.” Wes looked down at the book in her hands, a compendium of demons and other noteworthy creatures. “Cordelia, you won’t find the answers you seek in that book. These aberrations are either supernatural or mystical.”
Angel walked around the far corner of the office area and leaned into the pillar propping his shoulder against it. Looking far too casual about everything that had just happened. As if it hadn’t happened at all. “She wasn’t a demon.”
“That doesn’t mean she’s not responsible,” she huffed and slammed the book closed. “You’re my boss, and a vampire, and completely unavailable even if you didn’t have the worst possible curse ever. Why would I ever dream up anything like that?”
Angel stared back from where he stood, unmoving, his expression unchanging. Silent. Until she couldn’t stand it any longer because those words were meant to evade the truth, not cause him pain. It wasn’t even a good lie.
Practically shoving Wesley out of the way, she ran to Angel’s side. She needed to get closer in order to explain what really happened. Cordelia’s lifted a hand to his chest, an automatic gesture she regretted a moment after it happened because his eyes flicked down and then back to hers, his expression darkening until she thought she might melt into a pool of want. Stubbornly, she refused to move it.
“My issue of Cosmo came in the mail today.” She pointed toward her desk drawer where the magazine had been exiled never see the light of day as long as the mirror remained in the lobby. “There was this article. A kind of an illustrated sexy How To. I just glanced at it.”
Why couldn’t it have been Jude Law in the mirror? She could’ve easily explained mapping out his erogenous zones.
“The mirror read your mind,” Angel said as if he understood completely. “It took your thoughts and transformed them into the images we saw.”
Cordelia nodded vehemently, “Yes,” only to realize what she was agreeing to. “NO! It twisted everything. I wasn’t thinking about you that way—exactly—I just saw the hot practically naked guy and it reminded me of the way you used to prance around my apartment in your boxers.”
“He what?” asked Wesley who had obviously been listening in.
“I don’t prance,” Angel scowled. “Reindeer prance. There was no prancing.”
Ignoring the fact that Angel was more insulted by that single word than he was about being compared to a smutty centerfold, Cordelia pressed on. “And the next thing I knew we were all over each other. They were. Naked You and Naked Me.”
That still sounded wrong.
As casually as she could manage it, Cordelia shrugged it off, but Angel wasn’t buying it. Pushing away from the wall, he took a step that caused her to shift against the front counter, his hands coming up faster than she could move to block her in. An internal fire licked inside her swelling the latent embers of her earlier arousal as Angel leaned in close.
“But you don’t really want me. You’ve never even thought about it? Not once. Never even let it cross your mind what things might be like if i wasn’t your boss…or a vampire…or cursed?”
He was waiting for an answer, shoulders tense, eyes on hers, the tip of his tongue swiping the crease of his mouth as if tasting the lie that followed.
All his senses had to be telling him otherwise, but Cordelia knew that her first instincts had been right. Angel could never know how often her thoughts strayed in that direction. For all of the reasons she mentioned, he was unattainable and falling for him would lead to heartbreak or something even worse.
The possible threat of Angelus caused her to dig deep for an answer that might remotely ring true. “I suppose if I had thought about Wesley wearing the hospital gown that kept showing off his cute little butt, it could’ve been him up there, too.”
Angel straightened up abruptly to walk toward his office. “Wesley, get me your research on the hotel. The sooner we find a way to free that woman the sooner we can get the mirror out of here.”
Glancing tentatively toward the filing cabinet, Wesley suggested, “Perhaps Cordelia…”
“I don’t think Cordy wants to be within viewing range of the mirror.” The words were no sooner out of his mouth than she had whisked past him into the safety of his office.
Angel tapped the office door so that it swung shut behind them and watched Cordelia’s eyes go wide with the realization that she was exactly where he wanted her. That he had given Wesley a task that might not be as simple as it should be considering her unique filing system.
“Did you think we were finished?” He wasn’t sure why he was pressing the issue. Even if Cordelia admitted to feelings of lust there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. Knowing the truth of it from her own lips was important, no matter that he could read her body’s responses just as easily as he could one of the books littered around their feet.
Cordelia saw his eyes drop down to the mess she made when pulling books off the shelves. It seemed like the perfect excuse to avoid the rest of a conversation she didn’t want to have. “Oh, look…,” she crouched down to put them back into order.
“Leave them,” he snapped more harshly than intended earning him a sharp stare.
When Angel held a hand out to help her to her feet, she stared at it for a moment remembering the way his hands had clutched her hips holding her against his thick arousal. How she needed him to take possession. The truth was that she had never wanted anyone so desperately and that the thought of turning that torrid illusion into realilty made her stir-crazy.
The mirror had unearthed something she had buried inside her. Thoughts and feelings that she had denied even to herself until she was faced with seeing what could happen. If it was anyone except Angel, there would be no fear or cause for hesitation.
“We can’t do this, Angel.”
He didn’t pretend not to know what she meant by that as she slipped her hand into his and let him help her to her feet. The annoyance on his face vanished. Standing next to him changed her perspective in more than one way. There was pain, regret, even loneliness showing in the brown depths as his gaze swept across her face.
The gentle hold on her hand tightened subtly, thumb sweeping across the surface in an almost caress. Anticipation fluttered deep in her belly reminding her of their closeness in the mirror, the false images that felt so real in her mind. God, she ached for a lover’s touch. It was as if a craving had been awakened within her and only Angel’s touch would do.
Who needed a magic mirror when your brain had instant replay?
Cordelia’s eyes widened in horror realizing her panties were actually damp. She tried to pull away, but was held there, Angel staring down at her intently, eyes darkening, nostrils flared. He knew exactly how worked up she was getting. Typically he said nothing. For an instant it looked like he wanted to devour her.
Self-preservation instincts were swamped by something just as basic. She lifted her mouth to his only for Angel to hold his just a whisper away. He brushed his lips so that they touched hers in the barest caress. “Do you want me, Cordelia?”
Standing on tiptoes, she strained to get closer. “Yes,” she trembled as the truth came out.
Then the familiar mask of control slammed in place and Angel let her go. He released her hand so quickly that Cordelia stumbled back against the bookcase nearly falling in the process. “Hey!” Stunned that he didn’t bother to catch her as usual, she straightened up and stalked up to him. “I could’ve broken my neck.”
“But I could’ve.”
With deliberate control, Angel said in graveled tones, “Your neck is fine, Cordy,” sounding to her as if he had other plans for it. “All I wanted was the truth.”
Petulantly, Cordelia shoved him on her way out of the office. “I hope you choke on it!”
Angel stayed put at the threshold of his office. He caught Wesley’s wary expression as he looked up from his impossible task of finding something Cordelia had filed away. He had to give the man credit for his suspicions yesterday when instinct had told him to come armed. Maybe he wasn’t so far off the mark.
Knowing that Cordelia was attracted to him to that degree was far different than thinking she might be holding out on a few of her teenage fantasies. Her high school crush was a memory that brought a smile to his face, but it was a part of their past. These feelings were different and they threatened everything that was important.
Scenting the sweet arousal clinging to Cordelia’s skin, watching her body react in ways both subtle and obvious, he knew that she’d felt the mirror’s effects, too. She had explained about the magazine, which put the first part of the mirror’s images into perspective. Angel couldn’t believe that Cordy had anything to do with the last part.
Having a few fantasies starring Cordelia was bad enough. On the rare occasion when she wasn’t being a pain in the ass it was easy to say that he found her attractive. Very attractive, but that did not give him the right to act like a walking erection every time she was in the same room.
Until now, he’d managed to draw a discreet line between fantasy and reality. That mirror was responsible for taking thoughts so far back in his head that he’d never considered them a remote possibility. Being attracted to Cordelia just proved he was male. It was all of the other feelings of friendship, concern, protectiveness that made it something more.
Maybe Doyle had been right about Cordelia’s humanizing influence over him because she stirred up emotions inside him that should’ve made his demon nature rebel. No, he wasn’t disgusted by her tender concern, the care she took in patching him up, the way she sometimes had him under her thumb. Deep down he wanted more of it, and not all of those fantasies involved a bed of roses. Sometimes she’d push him to the point where he had to leave the room or risk giving her a taste of the demon that lived under his skin.
Letting her nearly fall like that was a rotten thing to do. He felt like a bastard for it, but he couldn’t touch her right then. Not without pulling her closer. He’d done it to prove a point.
Those images in the mirror were just teases. He could feel the silk of her skin beneath his hands, the warmth of her body in contrast to his own. He’d gotten hard as her nails rasped over him. All in the mirror. Little more than a fantasy come to life. But it felt so close to being real that it was hard to accept that Cordy hadn’t been pressed skin to skin, touching him.
Maybe he should be embarrassed over the fact that his deepest fantasies about her were out in the open. He wasn’t. Cordelia obviously hadn’t figured that part out yet being so wrapped up in everything that just happened. But she would once Wes determined how the mirror worked.
Angel’s only hope was that they could figure out what was going on with the woman from 1952. Freeing her was the key to everything. Maybe then he could get out of this situation without ruining his relationship with Cordy. Impatiently, he growled, “What’s taking so long?”
Wesley let out a gruff groan. “I can’t find our research. Cordelia, where is the Hyperion file?”
She had taken up a slumped position in her desk chair, positioning herself where she could not see the mirror. “Where it always is—under Tentacle Demon.”
Staring wordlessly for a moment, Wes realized that she wasn’t kidding. “Would that be D for Demon or T for Tentacle?”
“Duh—tentacle, of course.”
He had looked under the topic headers Hyperion, Hotel, Property, Research and Angel before browsing randomly through the files. He opened the S, T, U, V drawer, flicked his fingers over the file names and found it just where Cordelia claimed he would.
The amount of research Wesley and Cordelia had compiled on the Hyperion amazed Angel. When he originally approached them about the hotel, he had given them no idea what he was looking for. He wanted everything they could find on it and gave them instructions to look into police files: cold cases, homicides, unsolved missing persons, and start from the earliest records through the current day.
He had no idea how much digging they had done. The file on the Hyperion was nearly eight inches thick. Fortunately, they had organized the material on a timeline. “We should focus on the early 1950s,” he opened up the file to that era. “The woman was here when I left. Something happened to her after that.”
Since Wesley thought she looked familiar there was a good chance that the answer to her identity could be found somewhere in the file. There was nothing for the years 1950 or 1951. The first thing they saw when opening up the section on 1952 was the black and white photograph of Angel.
He picked it up, recognizing himself, and trying to compare the slightly blurry image to what he’d seen in the mirror. As was the style then, he’d worn his hair slicked back, and had discovered a taste for muscle shirts and cigarettes. The smokes were an easy habit to break when he gave it up. Those cravings were nothing in comparison to the bloodlust he conquered every day, or the need to feel pleasure and pain. Something other than emptiness and isolation.
Compassion had gotten him nowhere back in 1952. He’d been strung up by that mob for his efforts. Then he’d left them to suffer for it at the hands of the Thesulac who’d wanted to feed off their emotional angst and his own. The person he was now found that abhorrent and it was largely due to Doyle, Cordelia, and Wesley that he could see how much he’d changed.
Glancing across the space of the desk where Cordelia was sitting head bent as she sifted through a pile of newspaper clippings, Angel remembered the promise she’d made to stay with him until he found his way out of the tangled mess that was his existence and earned his redemption. The Shanshu prophesy sometimes seemed like a dangling carrot, impossible to reach. His sins were far too numerous to do enough to tip the scales.
Angel knew he couldn’t do it alone. He owed Cordy so much that could never be repaid. Every vision that wracked her body with pain seemed to cut into him, too. The way she dealt with it made him seem weak in comparison. Her inner strength amazed him and yet she was far from invulnerable. He’d seen her smile through the pain giving him a reason to fight, to survive, and to win.
It wasn’t the first time he had considered how important Cordy was to him. Before now it was simply to marvel at the friendship they’d forged. The thought that he’d someday have to survive without it left a sick feeling in his stomach. And panic set in after that. This mirror was showing things that were reserved for unbidden fantasy, and might have already damaged the trust that had developed between them.
Fear set in. Anger swept in right behind it. There was no way he was going to let Cordy walk out on him because some damned mirror knew more about his desires than he did.
“What’s with the growl?” Cordelia stared at him suspiciously making Angel realized that he was vocalizing his feelings. “I’m looking as fast as I can. It might actually help if you did a little research instead of sitting there like a fat lump on a log.”
Trust Cordy to put things quickly back into perspective. “Right.” He noticed that Wes was staring at both of them, not bothering to hide the concern on his face.
Angel stared back silently daring Wesley to say something, but after a few seconds of silence, guilt flared and he dropped his gaze back to the pile of photographs on the desk. Picking through the pile, memories stirred as he saw familiar faces. The bellhop carting two suitcases toward the elevator. A guest who’d later shot himself in one of the third floor rooms. The hotel manager who tried to sweep things under the rug as long as he could.
He was lost in thought when Wesley’s triumphant, “Eureka!” snapped him back to the present.
Sitting next to him, Cordelia jerked at the noise scattering her part of the file all over the floor. “Geez, you didn’t strike gold.”
While Wes skimmed the article he’d found, Angel went to help her scoop it up. He crouched down on his haunches gathering papers and watching Cordelia fumbling in her haste. Their fingers brushed, both of them freezing in place, staring at each other. Cordy let out a little gasp and looked like she was seconds from bolting.
Angel could feel the tension building up between them. She licked her lips making his gaze drop down to note the shiny trail of moisture left behind. He wanted nothing more than to cage her jaw in his hands and plunder that mouth until he’d tasted every nook. Instinctively, his tongue swept across his own lips.
The space between them started to shrink.
“Alice Waterhouse went missing in April of 1953,” Wesley’s enthusiastic findings caused them to leap apart, both on their feet clutching jumbled papers and staring wide-eyed at each other from across the room.
They settled back in their chairs grateful that Wes was too caught up in telling them the news to notice what had almost happened. Cordelia’s head dipped down while she made an effort to put her papers back in order, her hair falling forward to shadow her face. Her hands visibly trembled to the point that she had to stop.
Cordelia decided she was being a wuss about something that hadn’t even happened. Raising her head she noticed Angel’s fathomless gaze still focused on her. Jaw tightly clenched, he looked like he was ready for a fight. Sheesh! So what if she’d almost kissed him. Twice. Or told him that she wanted the impossible. Him. It was the freaky mirror’s fault and they couldn’t do a damn thing about it anyway.
Turning her attention to Wesley, she listened in as he summarized the article. “It appears that Miss Waterhouse was something of a socialite. Wealthy, she lived at the Hyperion for a number of years before she went missing. No known close contacts at the hotel itself.”
“What does it say about her disappearance?” Angel tried to stay focused, but the lingering arousal in the air made it hard.
The article wasn’t very forthcoming with information. However, during their initial research, they’d attached a copy of an old police report. It went into more details and included interviews with the hotel employees. Alice Waterhouse often came and went with no mention of her plans to the concierge. She left her keys at the desk whenever she went out and picked them up upon her return.
This convinced the detective in charge of the case that Alice Waterhouse had been in residence at the time of her disappearance. The keys were not at the front desk. The room showed signs of a disturbance: a toppled lamp, scattered contents from the vanity, a broken mirror. As was protocol, the room was cordoned off during the remainder of the investigation.
The victim’s rich relatives were unavailable to the press, and rather closed-mouthed with the police. When brought to the scene of the crime, her brother was stricken by a strange malady and went into a coma. Upon his recovery, he refused to set foot in the hotel ever again and claimed that his sister was lost to them forever.
Throughout its history, the Hyperion had been subject to strange and unexplained cases as this. Few contained such an obvious motive. Alice Waterhouse possessed a necklace of great value. Ancient emeralds handed down the female line from mother to daughter. It was said that she never removed them, even during sleep.
A housekeeper had provided that little tidbit for the case file. She’d gone into the Helios Suite to turn down the bedcovers as she always did only to find the woman already asleep. Her jewels were still around her neck.
When she was in residence, the hotel staff had been instructed to deliver breakfast at a specific time to her suite. The meal had gone untouched and it was only on the second day that someone brought it to the manager’s attention. The last person to see her had been the clerk on duty three nights before.
The emerald necklace never turned up and the police never had any suspects except for Alice’s brother Richard, whose reaction was apparently suspect enough for them to question him again.
Despite the newspaper article and the police report, there was little to go on except the Waterhouse name. “I’ll track down the brother,” Angel decided, “see what he has to say about his sister’s disappearance.”
“Angel, that was almost 50 years ago,” Wesley warned him that Richard Waterhouse could be dead by now. “He was thirty-eight at the time of his interrogation.”
It was worth a shot considering they had nothing else. Now that Kate Lockley had discovered Angel was a vampire, they no longer had her access to police department records and her valuable insights as a police detective. Approaching her might get him staked, but Angel was willing to take the chance that she wouldn’t. Not again, at any rate. If she did, Angel knew that next time she wouldn’t miss.
“While you are searching for Richard Waterhouse,” Wesley set his section of the file down on the desk. “I must go back to my flat. There is one book on the occult I did not bring with me that might have a bearing on this case.”
Wesley’s simple plan alarmed Cordelia. “You’re leaving me alone with—,” she glanced over at Angel, “with that mirror?”
Angel glowered at her, so tempted to give her a real reason for concern. “Stay here. Look through the rest of the articles. See if anything else crops up about the Helios Suite. I’m going to the Police Department. Maybe Kate Lockley can give us a current address for Waterhouse.”
Hearing Kate’s name was so out of the blue. Cordelia wasn’t even sure she even knew that they had moved into the Hyperion. They’d had no contact with her for several weeks.
If Angel thought he was going to get any information out of that bitter woman, he had another thing coming. She blamed him for her father’s death. Loathed him for what he was, and hated herself more for helping him.
Angel was the last person Kate would want to see.
On the other hand, this did get him out of the Hyperion for a while, so Cordelia hadn’t bothered to try to talk him out of going. She needed some alone time to decompress. Right now she was so wound up she would probably jump out of her skin if the phone rang.
Maybe Angel would get lucky while he was gone. With the police.
Angel’s good idea to use Police Department resources to track down Richard Waterhouse was the only thing that helped stiffle the rampant irritation she felt at the idea of him seeing Kate again.
The cop was trouble and Cordelia didn’t want her anywhere near Angel.
That was just her concern for his safety talking, Cordelia told herself. It had nothing to do with his obsession for blondes. And maybe, if she concentrated on her assigned task, she could get him out of her head for more than two seconds.
Los Angeles contained a labyrinth of tunnels connecting almost every major building. The route to the downtown precinct of the LAPD was one Angel had traveled before. It smelled rank just as a sewer should. Hardly pleasant, but it was better than risking the sun.
He tried to use the time to think of ways to convince Kate to get him the information he wanted. Unfortunately, it was difficult to get Cordy out of his head. Arriving in the lowest section of the LAPD parking garage twenty minutes later he was no closer to concocting a plan.
It wasn’t difficult to make his way into the depths of the station where the detectives had their desks. He’d done it before. Even after the incident with the talking stick. No one bothered to stop him to ask questions. There were new faces amongst the few he recognized.
It wasn’t until Angel reached Kate’s desk and found a brass name plate with “Det. Jack Couser” emblazoned on it that he realized she wasn’t around. The mustached man sitting behind the desk was someone he’d seen before, but never met.
The cop looked up. “You here looking for Kate Lockley?”
Angel gave a curt nod and watched his face turn grim.
“Thought so. I’ve seen you before.” Angel had seen him, too, but never spoken to the man. “I think she mentioned you’re a P.I.?” The detective seemed to know a lot.
“Yes.” Brevity had its virtues. But he wanted answers, too. Angel got the feeling that Couser was reluctant to talk about her. “Is Detective Lockley okay?”
“That’s the kicker, isn’t it?” He rubbed his fingers along the length of his mustache looking disturbed by the query. “Since you’ve worked with Kate before, I’m gonna trust you.”
Calling Kate by her first name suggested Couser considered her a friend. “Just tell me where to find her.”
“Kate won’t be much help to you. She’s taking a little sabbatical. Been assigned to another precinct, but hasn’t reported for duty.”
The news was troubling. Since her father’s death, and her discovery that the LAPD didn’t know the half of what went on in their own city, Kate hadn’t been herself. It was a bad sign. Angel might’ve considered going after her, checking in to see if she was alright, but Kate Lockley was too hard-nosed and stubborn to accept any shred of concern he might offer.
Best to leave her alone, give her time to lick her wounds and heal. Maybe someday she would recognize the fact that he wasn’t the sum of all evil.
Angel decided to head back to the hotel. He was about to leave when Jack Couser held out a hand motioning for him to stop. “Hold up, buddy. You came here for something. Was it just to see Kate or were you looking for information?”
Seeing that he might not have wasted his time, Angel described the nature of his request.
His arms laden with a cardboard box, Wesley pushed open the door and entered the Hyperion lobby. Having decided to cross-reference with some of Angel’s resources, he’d brought back a book he used only rarely. A fresh set of sharpened pencils and some new legal pads were also packed in the box.
“Cordelia?” Stopping short, he saw her standing in the center of the lobby gaze transfixed on the mirror. A hesitant glance in that direction showed her frolickilng on a bed of cash whilst covered only in a sea of $100 bills. “Oh my!” his jaw dropped open.
Taking care not to look again, Wes shouted her name snapping Cordelia out of the trance. “What are you doing back?” she asked as if he’d been gone only minutes instead of an hour.
“How long have you been standing there?”
Cordelia glanced around, eyes widening, seeming to realize that she was standing in the center of the lobby directly in the mirror’s path. “Omigod!” She grabbed Wesley by the elbow and tugged him back toward Angel’s office nearly causing him to lose his grip on the cardboard container.
She let go when he slowed her progress darting inside and waving her hands for him to hurry. Wes calmly set the books down on the front counter before following. “I don’t suppose you care to explain that little romp,” he chuckled lightly. “That was quite a show.”
“Very funny,” Cordelia plopped down in a chair looking anything but amused. “It’s not my fault if that mirror turns everything into some lewd display.”
“The vision that helped me with the scroll wasn’t at all lewd,” Wesley popped the bubble on that theory. “Nor was that very important sale you had to get to.”
Cordelia conceded that part wasn’t quite as depraved as everything else they’d seen so far. “It tricked me into thinking we needed to keep it. That mirror is evil.”
When he asked why she was in the lobby instead of staying in the office as planned, Cordelia rolled her eyes. “I had to pee,” she admitted. “I think it caught me on the way back from the bathroom.”
She would’ve had to cross part of the lobby to get back to the office, Wes realized. “And where did the money come in?”
A shrug followed as Cordelia’s normally straight-forward responses became a series of vague grunts and gestures. Instead of making direct eye contact, she evasively let her gaze wandered. Finally, Wesley stomped his foot down and demanded answers. “Pay attention. Please try to be more succinct. This could be important.”
After a moment, Cordelia let out a sigh, slumping in her chair and resting her cheek on her hand. “I dunno,” she shrugged one shoulder. “Maybe I was thinking about the fact that this is like a case we aren’t gonna get paid for.”
Wes started connecting the dots. It was Cordelia’s self-appointed job to worry about the money that was collected for their cases. Not that they’d seen much thus far. So it was not much of a stretch to believe that she had been concerned about it.
“I also might’ve been thinking about the fact that we’re not exactly rolling in money,” she pointed out unnecessarily. Wes had made that leap himself. “And that’s when Robert Redford came in with his Indecent Proposal.”
“The actor?” His tone dripped with disgust. Wes leaned back toward the office door to glance into the lobby area. They were the only ones there. “What did he say to you? Good heavens, Angel will have his head.”
Cordelia laughed like mad. “Sheesh! And I thought Angel was bad.”
Clearly confused, Wesley asked for clarification, blushing furiously when he learned that Cordelia was merely referencing one of the actor’s films. “I am not exactly a film buff.”
“Movie buff,” she corrected him, still chuckling lightly.
“Back to Robert Redford,” he waved his hand to prompt her to continue. “You were saying…”
The laughter died quickly as Cordelia got back on track. “Oh, yeah, right. Indecent Proposal. I was thinking about us not rolling in money and that led to me thinking about the scene where Robert Redford tells Demi Moore that he’ll give her a million dollars to sleep with him.”
Wes was starting to get the picture as to why Cordelia thought the mirror produced lewd effects. “You imagined yourself taking him up on it.”
“Eew! No, he’s not my type.”
“But you were rolling in cash,” Wes had seen that much. He was just curious to know if there had been anything else to what she’d seen. “Did someone issue you a similar proposal?”
Cordelia shrugged. “I can’t remember,” she lied badly. “One minute I was thinking about money and the next thing I knew the mirror was doing its thing.”
Trying to overlook the potentially embarrassing details, Wesley focused on the fact that the mirror had produced images of something Cordelia had been thinking. “The earlier aberrations seem to be induced by something you or Angel—”
“No they weren’t!” Cordelia cut him off so fast he leaned away from it. “Shouldn’t you be looking through those books of yours? I’ve got a few more police reports to research.”
There was only one way to take that response: positive proof that Cordelia had something to do with one or all of the previous manifestations. He had not yet determined the exact manner by which the mirror interacted with the subject. This latest manifestation appeared to take images from random thoughts, but there was a fantasy element to it as well.
His theory was still in the formative stage at best.
Further questions would get him nowhere. Cordelia wasn’t about to open up to him about her motivations. Wesley had a feeling that he was beginning to understand them all too well. For now, he decided to begin sorting his books and to start organizing a plan of attack where the research was concerned.
“Find anything?” he asked before heading out in to the outer office.
Cordelia had already scooted forward in her chair and was browsing through an old document. “Yes, but we should wait for Angel to get back. I’ll finish these first.”
They didn’t have to wait long. Angel turned up before either of them expected. He informed them that Richard Waterhouse had died in 1983. Not long after revealing the news they heard crying coming from the direction of the lobby.
Bent over on the lobby floor, a vaporous figure swirled in a foggy green mist, cries echoing softly and tears dripping at a hundred times the norm. The lights were low barely illuminating the area despite that all of the other hotel lights were set to full brightness. In the mirror, the seemingly solid form of Alice Waterhouse held out her arms in supplication to whisper her same mournful words.
White light beamed from the mirror and the mist swirled toward it as if a vortex pulled it in. When the last echo of her crying filled their ears the lobby chandelier flickered back on.
The three of them high-tailed it back into Angel’s office.
Flicking through the phone book page by page, Cordelia walked over and plonked it down on top of Angel’s once-tidy desk. Now covered with an array of scattered swatches, old newspaper clippings and Xeroxed police cases it was hardly recognizable.
“There are only 16 entries for the Waterhouse name in the Los Angeles area,” Cordelia told him. “Assuming the family doesn’t have an unlisted number, maybe we could track them down by making a few calls.”
“Better than asking Detective Blondie,” she snorted softly. “I’ll handle the phone calls and try to convince folks we’ve found their long lost cousin—or aunt. Maybe Richard had kids.”
At this point, Angel was open to anything.
Before getting on with the phone calls, Cordelia showed them the articles and police reports she’d found. “There are five other reports of spooky stuff in the Helios Suite. One even mentions the mirror. I found one newspaper clipping from the 1960s that listed haunted places in the Los Angeles area.”
“You betcha,” Cordelia confirmed. “The Helios Suite at the Hyperion was on that list. The article mentioned that it hadn’t been used since the mid fifties and that the hotel never bothered to refurbish it when they renovated the rest of the hotel.”
Wesley, who had been deep in thought and only half-listening to their conversation, admitted that he might have been wrong. “Originally, I believed that we were not dealing with a ghost or phantom. After this latest experience, I may have to reassess the situation.”
“Hah! Told you,” Cordelia felt a spark of triumph. Then she realized what that meant. Sobering, she quietly asked, “So you think Alice is dead?”
Answering the only way he could, Wes shook his head slowly. “I cannot say with any degree of certainty. There are particular tests. Perhaps I can find a spell to communicate with her. She might be able to tell us what happened.”
Cordelia suggested, “Ask her if the mirror has an off switch. I’ve had enough of those ridiculous look-alikes of mine behaving like raving nymphomaniacs.”
The fact that Cordelia seemed to get more and more upset about this made Angel irrationally angry about it. He knew he shouldn’t feel that way because he didn’t like it any more than she did—the times his desire for her was visible for everyone to see. He knew that she wanted him, too, but it wasn’t exactly flattering that she was so disgusted about it.
Demanding, “Why is it so ridiculous?”
Wes raised a brow, sitting on the edge of his seat frozen to the spot as he awaited Cordelia’s response. Considering what information he had already garnered from her description of her last individual encounter with whomever replaced Robert Redford, he was beginning to form a rudimentary idea of some of the mirror’s functions. It might be helpful to hear what Cordelia had to say about this—not to mention bloody fascinating.
“Hello, curse!” Cordelia raised her hands up in the air as if signaling the enormity of the issue. “Sex isn’t exactly on the menu.”
A crash sounded as Angel’s chair hit the back wall. He was on his feet and leaning toward her across the desk. He was damn tired of being filed away under Unfeeling Eunuch in the Cordelia Chase classification system. “Just because I’m cursed doesn’t mean I’m incapable of—”
Cordelia lunged across the space between them to clamp a hand over his mouth. “I don’t want to know if things are still fully functional. Really, I don’t. It’s not like you can do anything about it anyway.”
He dragged her hand away, but kept a firm grip on her wrist tugging just enough to stretch her closer across the desktop, forcing her to stand on her tiptoes. “I’m not incapable of feeling,” Angel finished what he’d intended to say and watched the resulting tint of red creep up her throat.
“I-I know that,” Cordelia shivered as Angel moved in closer brushing his cheek up against hers to whisper in her ear.
“Everything functions just fine. Don’t pretend you’re not curious—or turned on.”
She jerked back and yanked at his hold on her. “That’s a big fat lie.” Cordelia wanted to crawl into the nearest hole. Geez, how embarrassing and totally unfair considering Angel had preternatural senses. She rubbed at her wrist glaring hostilely as he took his seat again.
Inwardly panicking, Cordelia’s mental litany of OhGodOhGodOhGod broke off into scattered thoughts of self-blame and mortification. He knew. Damn vampire senses. He blamed her for those manifestations.
There was a dark smirk on Angel’s face, a smug, satisfied look that Cordelia wanted to wipe off. He looked like he’d just rid himself of a heavy burden and was too caught up in the idea to realize that it was pissing her off. Wesley tucked a finger into his suddenly too-tight collar. It was definitely getting hot and hard to breathe in here.
He had no idea what Angel had whispered to Cordelia, but it was clear that it upset her. And he wasn’t so out of touch that he couldn’t recognize rampant sexual tension when he saw it. Angel and Cordy were practically smoldering with it. He cleared his throat to get their attention.
“Perhaps it would be best to get on with the research as quickly as possible. Cordy, I suggest that you ring the Waterhouse listings from your desk,” he nodded toward the outer office.
“No way,” Cordelia stubbornly sat down in the seat she had vacated and yanked the phone book onto her lap. “I’m not going out there again. I’ll use Angel’s phone.”
That wasn’t helpful in trying to separate them before someone got hurt and Wesley wasn’t counting Cordelia out in that respect. “Then perhaps, Angel, you could give me a hand by going through this book,” he walked over to pick out a particular leather-bound volume: Meader’s Guide to Incantations and Enchantments. “There is an entire section dedicated to the use of mirrors.”
Angel took the book from Wesley’s hand, but turned around to walk back into his office. “Where are you going?”
“It’s my office, my desk and my chair,” Angel growled unreasonably. “If Cordy is uncomfortable about being around me, then she can find another place to make her calls.”
Stubbornly, Cordelia didn’t budge.
“Fine,” Wesley gave in deciding that it would be simpler just to get on with the work. He needed to figure out a way to contact Alice Waterhouse either in the spirit world or upon whatever dimensional plane she existed.
The first six tries got Cordelia no closer to finding any living relatives of the mysterious Alice Waterhouse. When one man, F Waterhouse according to the phone book, asked if she was single, Cordelia kept him on the line instead of hanging up on him like she normally would any other sleazy guy more interested in her bra size than helping her.
So what if it was a deliberate attempt to annoy Angel. He deserved it for being such a jerk. She chatted with Frank for about five minutes, flirting outrageously, before she felt the hairs rising on the back of her neck. The phone line suddenly went dead.
“Oops!” Spinning around, she saw the phone cord in Angel’s hand. He shrugged and tried not to smile too much. “Must’ve snagged it.”
Seeing red, Cordelia gritted her teeth ordering Angel to, “Put that back right now. I wasn’t done talking to Frank.”
“You are now.”
Angel held himself perfectly still. “Hardly. Certainly not of Frankie. You don’t need to throw yourself at strangers to try to prove you’re not interested in me. It’s a little late for that.”
Outraged, she slammed the phone back in its cradle. “I was not throwing myself at him. I was trying to loosen him up a little. He was hiding something.”
“Notice you didn’t deny being interested.”
So maybe she couldn’t deny it anymore. Angel’s super-sniffer made it impossible to hide her body’s reaction. “Okay, so maybe under way, way different circumstances I might find you really hot, but it’s not my fault that mirror turns our reflections into something from late night cable.”
The guilt in his dark brown eyes was an early indicator of Brood Mode. That wasn’t the reaction Cordelia expected from her confession. Gloating, yes, but she certainly wasn’t ready for him to say, “I know. It’s my fault.”
“Not what the mirror does,” Angel rubbed a hand over his forehead, “but I think it’s reading my mind.”
Cordelia’s gaze narrowed. “Your mind?” That was all kinds of wrong. “Do you think you’re being chivalrous or something for taking credit for it? Thanks, but I’ll suffer with the consequences.”
Obviously, Angel hadn’t been the one reading Cosmo and thinking about mapping out his erogenous zones. Cordelia nibbled on her fingertip as the image popped into her head again. Or better yet, letting him map hers with a trail of touches, kisses and the wet slip of his tongue. Now that was worthy of one of a long, hot bubble bath where she liked to close her eyes and let the cares of the day fade replacing them with something made of pure fantasy.
When her daze faded, Cordelia noted that Angel’s brooding expression had turned darker still. She turned away ashamed of thinking such thoughts about someone who was her best friend. Crossing her arms at her waist, she walked away from the desk and pretended to be interested in one of the plants by the window.
The creak of the chair hinges sounded as Angel got up to follow her. “You don’t get it.”
Suppressing a shiver as he came up behind her, Cordelia shook her head. No, she was missing something from the big picture, but, “What?”
“None of this is your fault,” Angel assured her gently taking hold of her shoulders and pulling her back against the rock wall of his chest. She melted into him letting her head fall back onto his shoulder. “It’s both of us, Cordy. There’s some sort of sorcery involved. Whatever feelings exist—I think this mirror can bring them to the surface.”
A soft pfft sounded. “So you’re saying none of it is fake. That I really do want you.” Cordelia supposed there was no use trying to deny it anymore.
“No Cordy,” he turned her around to face him, his hands coming up to slide through her hair and cup her face, “I’m saying that I want you, too.”
With her heart thudding madly, Cordelia’s eyelids shuttered softly closed as the light dimmed and the space between them slowly slipped away. One feathery kiss, soft and sweet touched her lips. Another, determined, yet full of tender care. A gasp left her lips as she moved closer into Angel’s arms, her hands seeking out the strength of his arms and shoulders, holding on for fear that she would fall into the waking world, that this was only a dream.
Angel slid his lips over hers, teasing, urging her to kiss him back. Her mouth chased his, capturing it with searing heat, opening up to the shallow dip of his tongue. She licked back, their mouths meshing hotly, a moan sounding between them. Cordelia arched into his hands as they swept down her spine and up again beneath the hem of her shirt, but going no further than the soft skin at her waist.
Kisses turned frantic. They bumped into the back wall, the sudden contact knocking them both to their senses. Cordelia’s panting breaths drew his attention down to the rise and fall of her breasts. Frustration sounded on their lips, both wanting more, but aware that they’d already crossed a dangerous line. A point of no return where there would be no putting their feelings back into Pandora’s box.
Quivering while repeating her earlier warning, “We can’t do this,” Cordelia planted both hands against Angel’s chest needing some support just to hold herself upright. Her legs were wobbly rubber bands. Salty tears stung her eyes, a sob catching in her throat.
Just as devastated, Angel kissed her one last time, his free hand moving up to caress her damp cheek. He pulled her tight into his embrace, resting his cheek on the top of her head. “I know.”
That’s how Wesley found them some time later. Standing locked within each other’s embrace. After a slack-jawed moment where he could do nothing but stare, he made a loud rattling noise in his throat and rapped his knuckles on the door. “Ah, I see you two have, ah, made up.”
Cordelia lifted her head from its place on Angel’s chest and he tenderly combed his fingers through her hair smoothing it behind her ear. They were lost in each other’s eyes, a stormy sea of lingering emotions too tangled to clearly decipher except for one. And that realization filled Wesley with gut-wrenching dread.
“Good heavens,” he muttered and then tittered at the words he’d chosen, the irony of it reminding him that this might be an appropriate time for prayer. For all of his bandying about with the crossbow earlier on, he’d never honestly suspected either one of them to possess anything more than a superficial attraction for each other.
The subtle supportive squeeze of Cordelia’s hand did not go unnoticed. Wesley was just waffling over the idea that something serious had happened between those two since he’d stepped out of the office. Angel headed back to his chair as Cordelia did hers.
A hint of ruthless determination sounded in Angel’s voice as he ordered Wes, “Have a seat.”
Wordlessly, he sank into the nearest chair already calculating the chances of Angelus making another appearance. His gaze shifted over to Cordelia who sat far too quietly compared to the norm, stunned, a little smile tugging at her lips.
“Might I suggest that whatever insanity happened whilst I was gone not recur for all our sakes?” Wesley knew better than to remind Angel about the curse when Cordelia was present, especially as the vampire was looking rather hostile at the moment. Gulping, he tried to ease the tension with a joke, “And Angel—that’s not your color,” circling a finger around his lips.
Angel silently wiped the glossy smudges from his mouth and took a long look at the color against his fingertips. His eyes strayed back to Cordelia, a purely male smirk on his face despite the angst that was still palpable to everyone in the room. Cordy was grinning, too, and yet Wes found it difficult to bear watching silent messages passing between them.
If they were any other couple Wesley would be thrilled for two friends discovering hidden feelings for each other. No other pair had the threat of Angelus hanging over their heads. He could only hope that their mission and their friendship would win out against attraction. One misstep could be fatal.
“We’ve discovered how the mirror works,” Cordelia blurted when she couldn’t put up with Wesley’s wide-eyed stares any longer. Getting back to business was the best strategy to distract him from delivering a lecture. The last thing she needed right now was a reminder that she had to put Angel’s kisses behind her because they could never have anything more.
Who needed Wesley’s old lecture anyway? Cordelia realized she had all of the facts. Having been face to face with Angelus was plenty of incentive to keep her hands to herself. Knowing the consequences didn’t make it hurt any less.
“It projects what you want to see,” Wesley commented before she could state her theory. “Deep-rooted thoughts, fantasies, small truths, little lies, an illusion brought to life through the power of a spell.”
Cordelia looked perturbed by his commandeering of her announcement glaring at him from the neighboring chair. “How’d you know that?” He’d been focusing on the spell to communicate with Alice Waterhouse, not the mirror.
“Simple observation,” Wes told her smugly. “However, I haven’t quite figured out which one of you—”
Snapping, “Nevermind,” Cordelia asked him what came next. They now knew where the mirror got its peep show material, but not any specifics on how that brand of magic connected with Alice.
“There is also the matter of Angelus’ appearances,” Wesley reminded. “I haven’t quite rooted that one out yet. It hints at something darker associated with the mirror’s magic. Unless Angel has some insight into the matter.”
Angel told him no. “I need to know more. We still don’t know if the mirror has anything to do with revealing the future. We could work on that next.”
“Actually, I was going to suggest a short break.” Patting his stomach, Wesley asked her if she wouldn’t mind arranging something whilst he continued researching.
Now that she thought about it, Cordelia realized she was hungry. “How about if I run over to the deli and grab some sandwiches?”
Angel was halfway out of his chair. “The sun set a while ago. I should go with you.” But Cordelia wouldn’t put up with him tagging along now any more than she would have before they kissed.
“I don’t need a babysitter.” After grabbing her purse from her own desk drawer, she took one last look into the office. “Besides, how is Mr. Worrywart going to have that little man-to-vampire chat he’s brewing up if you’re with me?”
Just how Cordelia managed to figure that out unnerved Wesley a bit. Disagreements with Angel over business matters were hardly the same as cautioning him about his personal relationships. Since Wes had joined Angel Investigations, his brooding boss never seemed in real danger of loosing Angelus upon them—excepting that one dire happenstance when that actress slipped him a drink laden with doximal.
Lecturing Angel against the dangers of falling in love with Cordy was not going to be pleasant. He’d been hoping for a few moments of quiet reflection before speaking to him about it. The odds of pinning Cordelia down for a similar chat were rather poor. And he quite liked his family jewels intact.
Given the odds of survival, Wesley would rather face Angel than Cordelia any day.
Lifting a hand to block her view of the mirror, Cordelia scurried across the lobby. No way was she going to get caught for another round of perv-o-vision. She slung her purse strap over her shoulder and dashed out the front door. The evening air, a little cooler in mid-October, felt fabulous after being cooped up all day doing research.
On nights like this couples went out on leisurely strolls, holding each others hands and stealing kisses under the glow of street lights. Would she be denied the luxury of a little romance in her life? It was almost like living with a curse of her own.
God that was such a depressing thought.
Head down and lost in thought, Cordelia walked down the street toward Manny’s Deli almost on automatic pilot. Having admitted that she was attracted to Angel was one thing, but to know he felt the same way was both wonderful and earth-shattering at the same time. She loved Angel as a friend and her champion, in so many ways that it made her heart hurt. Being in love—was she? —wasn’t exactly hearts & flowers when a gypsy curse was involved.
Cordelia almost wished she’d taken Angel up on the offer to accompany her to the deli. She imagined doing nothing more than holding his hand, or snuggling on the couch, and maybe, just maybe, signing up for more of those kisses. It didn’t seem possible to work with Angel every day and know that he was thinking about making love to her without jumping his bones.
That made it official. Her life sucked big bumpy horny toads.
Arriving at the corner store that was half-delicatessen, half-butcher shop, Cordelia pushed open the door barely noticing the jingling bells that announced her arrival.
Like most of the store owners in the area, Manny knew her by name and benefited from being situated in close proximity to Angel’s territory near the hotel. She was the girl with the friendly smile who liked her deli sandwiches with extra cheese and always took a ‘Sanguine Special’ to go.
“What ya doin’ here, doll?” The beefy butcher had moved to L.A. from New Jersey because he wanted to act and preferred the West Coast to Broadway. He’d actually gotten bit parts in three local commercials.
Cordelia leaned up against the tall counter resting her chin in her hand. “Oh, the usual.” Maybe it was strange that the butcher who supplied them with toasted deli sandwiches and pints of fresh pig blood would be a source of inspiration to her, but she always thought of it as proof that anyone could make it in the business.
While Manny layered the contents of one deli club together, he chatted about his day and finally got around to asking, “Troubles, toots? You look like you lost your best friend.”
“No, I found him,” Cordelia answered with a wobbly smile.
Minutes passed by after Cordelia’s departure without a single word being spoken. It wasn’t a pleasant silence. Wesley started to squirm and then went still as he fell back on his training. If this was Angelus instead of Angel he would know precisely what to do. He wondered where friendly concern crossed the line with interference.
Still, he felt compelled to say something. Surely Angel would hate him for bringing it up, but honor demanded that he not let this go.
During the entire time, Angel’s steady gaze had been fixed forward in his direction, ready for confrontation, aggravation and anger bubbling just beneath the surface. “Just say it,” the order growled out when Wes babbled in effort to speak his name. “Once and get it over with.”
It was a free pass that wouldn’t come again. “Be careful.” Both a warning and a plea, the two words were sufficient to get the point across.
Angel scowled darkly as if imagining dastardly deeds that involved his throat. Slowly, the anger faded away to a look of lost hope. For a startling moment, he thought the vampire might actually shed a tear. He didn’t, of course, swiveling his chair back to center himself at his desk, carefully paging through Meader’s Guide of Incantations and Enchantments.
Slumping back in his own chair, Wesley started to wonder if the loophole in the curse was actually a loophole at all. Being denied true happiness was just as torturous as the deep remorse Angel felt for his past. He couldn’t walk away from Cordelia like he did Buffy. As long as she was his seer there would always be ties between them wrought by the Powers that Be. Nothing as mundane or extraordinary as love could break them.
Wesley watched him for a few seconds longer contemplating the nature of the gypsy curse. He asked himself if it was possible to remove the curse, yet keep Angel’s soul intact. Inklings of ideas and possible avenues of research started to swarm around in his head, but he shook it off. That would have to wait for later.
Right now they had a mission. A woman to save. A mystery to solve. A mirror to crack, no pun intended. Perhaps a small one, Wesley thought, eager for the challenge ahead of them.
Despite the fact that this was supposed to be a break from the research grind, Angel couldn’t relax. Not after everything that had happened between him and Cordelia. Why had he kissed her? All these months he had kept his growing feelings in check. He had focused on friendship. and the sense of family that had developed between them.
Glancing around at the disarray in his office, he saw Cordelia’s hand in all of it. Every messy square inch. If all things were equal they would still have to put up with a lot to be together.
Not that it was remotely possible.
Anger hit him head on. Dammit, he already knew that life wasn’t fair. If anyone gave him hope that things could change it was Cordelia. He had been happy with their relationship. It gave him something he had never really had before, or at least not since he had become a vampire.
As long as they were both in denial about their attraction to one another, as long as they could maintain the status quo, things were hunky dory. Now he didn’t know if it was possible to go back to the way things were. How could he forget the warmth of her mouth, the taste of her on his tongue? It was untenable to imagine going day after day without more of the same.
Picking up the books scattered across the floor, he came across the novel he had been reading yesterday. The old binding had a new crack in it having accidentally fallen from the shelf when Cordelia had bumped into the bookcase. It seemed like ages instead of only a day that he’d been relaxing with that book.
He wandered out of the office with the book in his hand and flipping through the pages until he came to a familiar passage.
Dorian Grey’s mistakes on the path to redemption had earned him an eternity in hell. Angel’s thoughts turned back to the sight of Angelus in the mirror. Perhaps, like Dorian, he should never have looked upon his own image.
The thought prompted him to glance at the mirror seeking out the reflection that was in many ways still very strange to see. Angel walked around the desk toward it, drawn forward by the odd perspective it showed. It wasn’t a routine reflection. Not even the perfected version of his image that it sometimes showed.
He still did not fully grasp the mirror’s magic. It showed their deepest desires, but twice now it had shown Angelus biting Cordy. The thought stirred all kinds of conflicting feelings. All three of them had believed that the mirror predicted future events that no one comprehended what was really happening.
The mirror didn’t show Angelus in the future.
Because Angelus was already here.
He was a part of him, that demonic consciousness held at bay by Angel’s soul and the will he imposed upon it. Perhaps that was enough for the mirror. The demon’s influence was there all of the time. Why would it not affect him, too?
The eyes reflected on the silvery surface turned cold and unrecognizable a moment before the image shifted into vampiric form. Angel had never seen the demon he became without his soul. He possessed every memory. Knew the pain he had caused. His depraved, evil nature and the desires that sometimes meshed quite easily with his own.
Especially when it came to Cordelia.
A determined sneer twisted Angelus’ face as he bounded forward straight toward Angel. The lobby filled with an intense supernatural light. Pain radiated throughout Angel’s body eliciting a shout of pain.
And then it was over.
“Angel? What happened?” Wesley called out from the inner office already on the move to see for himself.
Turning slowly to face Wesley, still clasping a hand to his chest with one hand and holding the book with the other, Angel looked somewhat shellshocked. “Did something happen?”
Wes frowned out of concern noting that Angel was back in front of the mirror again. “That was my question. I saw a flash of light. You shouted.”
Angel looked legitimately confused. “I don’t remember.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Cordelia touched a hand to his forehead as if testing him for a fever. That, or it was just an excuse to touch him. He noticed the way her hand lingered as it slipped around to the nape of his neck.
Touching apparently hadn’t been placed off limits. He wasn’t about to deny himself something so basic. Before she could protest he curled a hand around her waist and pulled her down onto his lap. Cordelia let out a little yelp of surprise and Wesley gaped at them.
“I feel fine,” he assured her confidently. Palming one cheek, he placed a soft kiss on the other. Cordelia looked like she was about to take flight. A fine tremor shook her body. Nervous, so uncertain, but he knew she was eager for more.
After setting her back on her feet he nodded toward the paper sack containing their sandwiches and blood. “We should eat. I wouldn’t want your trip to the deli to be wasted.”
“No,” Cordelia agreed with a gulp. She stared at the sack for a moment as if it was a completely foreign object.
While she turned away to deal with the food, Wesley told him to, “Take a look at this,” and passed a book into his outstretched hand. There was no need to point out which particular illustration he wanted examined. “Perhaps this can shed some light on the situation.”
Before murmuring affirmatively, Angel carefully studied the sketch’s design and thoroughly read the short description. “The emerald necklace.”
“Alice’s necklace is in that book?” asked Cordelia pausing as she removed the carefully wrapped sandwiches from the bag. “So I’m guessing that it’s not some cheap knock-off.”
Taking the book back, Wesley paraphrased the information in the text as he translated it from the original Latin. “Apparently, the emeralds are of ancient Roman origin once possessed by an emperor. He gave them to his mistress when she gave him a son.”
“Huh, men,” Cordelia rolled her eyes as she started to unpack their dinner. “Typical.”
She put Wes’ sandwich down on the corner of the desk. He paused long enough to glance at the white paper wrapping. “Rye or pumpernickel?” Smiling delightedly followed when she gave him the answer he’d hoped for. “Good job.”
Shrugging, she admitted, “I’m a woman who likes to take care of her guys—even if some of them are chauvinistic little oinkers.” Before Wes could do more than look affronted, “That reminds me: one Sanguine Special,” she lifted the pint out of its separate plastic covering. “It might’ve gotten a little cold on the way over. Want me to heat it up?”
“It’ll be fine, thanks.” Their fingers brushed across one another as Cordelia handed over the cup. Her eyes flashed to his, darkening with longing.
After a pause, Cordelia turned to Wesley to snark, “Angel knows how to say thank you.” Taking her own sandwich out of the bag, she grabbed a napkin and sat down in her chair on the other side of the desk.
Wesley reached for his sandwich. “Thank you kindly for fetching it.” He yelped as she slapped his fingers faster than a striking cobra. “Ouch! I said thank you.”
“Finish the story first.”
“It’s rather vague,” Wesley explained after deciding that the quickest way to get to his sandwich would be to continue. “Although a Roman slave, she was a noblewoman in her native land. During the chaos after the emperor’s untimely death in battle she escaped, returning to her homeland where she was reunited with her family and her future husband.”
Thinking that it sounded like the plot of a cheesy romance novel, Cordelia swallowed down her first bite to ask about the baby. “Did she escape with her son?”
Wesley scanned the text again. “No mention of him. The woman’s family belongs to a matriarchal society. A bastard son, even one of an imperial ancestry, would be of little consequence to history.”
“Yeah, who cares,” Cordelia agreed. Babies were something of an adorable mystery that she really didn’t want to think about. “Get on with the part about the emeralds.”
“Over the course of time they were passed from person to person along the maternal bloodline. The gemstones were discovered to contain various protective properties further enhanced by mystical energies to render the wearer nearly invulnerable.”
Cordelia had to point out, “That didn’t help Alice.”
Setting his Sanguine Special aside because it tasted more unpalatable than usual, Angel’s brow raised a notch. “Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” He waited to see if either of them would make the same connection he did.
Nearly dropping her sandwich, Cordelia gasped, “The Ring of Alpaca!” Snapping her fingers as she tried to recall the name, “Alfalfa, no, Ampata—no, that was that Incan mummy girl. Am-something.”
“Ring of…Amara?” Wes enunciated the word carefully and then instantly forgot about any interest in food.
“Yes! That’s it.” Cordelia relaxed again. Remembering that Wesley had already left Sunnydale by then and hadn’t yet joined them, “Oh, I guess Angel forgot to tell you about the torture he went through to keep that ring away from Spike.”
Angel didn’t exactly want to reminisce over that. “It’s not important.”
“I tend to disagree,” Wesley was of another opinion on the matter. “Vampires down through the centuries searched everywhere for the Gem of Amara because its power could protect them from their natural vulnerabilities. If you have the ring, why aren’t you wearing it?”
“I destroyed it.” The dropping jaw and strangled gasp that followed told him that Wesley wasn’t going to let the topic drop. “As long as I was in possession of the ring, Spike and any other power-mad lunatic would be after it. I couldn’t take the chance that somebody else would go through Cordelia or Doyle to get to me.”
Angel’s surprising capacity for heroism went up another notch in Wesley’s estimation. There were not many out there who would give up something so powerful. He had to say it, though he suspected the vampire might already know. “Angel, it might have protected your soul.”
A little gasp sounded from Cordelia.
The cool detachment on Angel’s face gave away none of his inner turmoil, but his two friends knew him far better than that. “That changed nothing, Wes. It made the temptation to keep it harder because of Bu—because of what I thought I wanted at the time.”
“You can say Buffy’s name, dumbass,” she snorted. “I know who she is. Just keep in mind that every time you say it gives me the okay to talk about Xander.”
Sending him a high-wattage smile, Cordelia enjoyed the scowl that flashed across his face at the name of her ex-boyfriend. They stared at each other for a few seconds until Wesley cleared his throat to remind them they were onto something important. If there was a remote possibility that the Gem of Amara originated from the same emeralds in Alice’s necklace, it needed to be explored.
Cordelia heard Wes’ voice, but was too caught up in thinking about Angel being safe from harm, and from the effects of the curse. “You should’ve seen Angel standing on the beach after taking out the asswipe who tortured him. He looked so—”
The thought of it glimmered with temptation, but Angel knew that it didn’t matter. He would choose the same thing again for the same reasons. To protect the people he cared about the most and to prevent anyone dangerous from using it for evil. “This whole conversation is pointless. Whatever happened to Alice Waterhouse it is clear that she wasn’t invulnerable despite wearing the necklace.”
Taking the book, Cordelia looked at the illustration. “It looks exactly like the one we saw around her neck. But Angel’s right. If that necklace is magic it didn’t save her from getting sucked into the mirror.”
“Actually, I think it a distinct probability that it did save her,” Wesley said cryptically as he rose from his chair and walked to the door taking his sandwich with him. “There are some supplies I need to purchase and I will need you two to bring up some items from the basement: a tarp, cleaning rags, a pair of rubber gloves, and a bucket. If my theory is correct, Alice Waterhouse is not only alive, but she can save herself.”
Wesley turned on his heel and dashed out of the office. Watching him go, Cordelia couldn’t stop the grin that followed. Telling Angel, “He gets that dramatic exit thing from you.”
Shrugging casually, he said, “He’s less of a wimp than he used to be.”
That was a sorry excuse for a compliment, Cordelia thought distractedly. Wesley still had a few goofy moments, but he was reliable, intelligent, brave, and a good friend to both of them. She pointed that out, but Angel had no interest in talking about Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.
A stormy sea of emotions washed over his face settling on regret. “I should never have kissed you.”
Maybe it was selfish to be more concerned about this sudden thing between them than Alice Waterhouse, but it was impossible to stop thinking about it.
Cordelia obviously had issues with it, too. Unlike him, she wasn’t prepared to face the fact that ignoring their feelings would’ve been preferable to this. “Don’t say that.”
“It doesn’t matter what we want.” Shoving away from the desk Angel walked around to her side. “Just forget it happened.”
Typically defiant, Cordelia had ideas of her own. “No, I can’t,” she shook her head. “I won’t. Are you telling me that you can, just like that?”
Angel had to walk away unable to look in her eyes. He stood at the office threshold rubbing his hand over his mouth and remembering the way her lips felt beneath his. “It was pure reaction, Cordy. The effects of the mirror had us both worked up. We’re friends. We have a mission.”
“That’s a lameass excuse, Angel.” She dumped her partially eaten sandwich and its open wrapper on the desk. “I’m not just going to accept some line of crap because you think it’ll be good for me.”
Tight jawed, dark eyes glittering intensely, he stared back wordlessly for several tense seconds before heading out the door toward the basement.
“Don’t you dare walk away from this.” The chair toppled to the ground unnoticed as Cordelia darted after him. Catching up to him behind the front desk, she yanked on his arm. “I want you to take that back. Tell me why.”
Circling around, Angel walked her back until she was caught between him and the desk for no other reason than he wanted her there. Intimidation came naturally to him and when it came to butting heads with Cordy, he easily fell back on instincts.
“That’s not what you want.” The demon in him liked it mean & nasty and right now that suited his purpose. “You want me inside you.”
Cordelia shuddered, but not in fear. It was true. They both knew it and that only made it worse. She’d wanted to talk about their feelings, not beat each other up about it. Outraged that he would throw their mutual desires in her face, she shoved at his chest, “Bastard,” and tried to squeeze out from her trapped position.
Reaching up before she could escape Angel took a fistful of hair and held her in place while she squirmed and scratched at him like a yowling kitten, and demanded that he stop acting like a jerk. “You’d have to put up with a lot more to be with me.”
“I put up with you everyday,” she countered stubbornly. He didn’t frighten her one iota. The fact that her heart was pounding out a rapid tattoo had nothing to do with fear. Clutching at his waist she inched closer without even realizing it. “And I can handle anything you’ve got.”
Focused on her mouth he leaned closer only to stop short, his lips hovering above hers. Angel abruptly let her go. “I’m not going to kiss you right now. You’d want more.”
He walked away, heading toward the basement leaving Cordelia oozing frustration from every pore. She snapped, “What do you mean I’d want more?”
Without bothering to glance over his shoulder, he knew that Cordelia was following right behind him. Never one to let a challenge like that pass her by he had every confidence she wouldn’t let the subject go until she had proven that they were equally capable of making each other want more than a solitary kiss.
An idea started to form that was just too irresistible to ignore. Call it a little experiment.
“You know exactly what I mean,” he said while pushing open the basement door and waiting for her to step through. That sultry imagination of hers was proof enough. The annoyed harrumph she made on her way down the stairs told him he was right.
Cordelia was halfway down the staircase when Angel closed the door behind them shutting out the light. She made a grab for the banister and stopped in her tracks. “Hey!”
“Scared of the dark?” His tone made her shiver causing her to snappishly demand that he turn on the light. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
A click sounded and the basement filled with the familiar glow of the low wattage bulb hanging from the ceiling. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust and by that time Angel was standing next to her on the step. She slugged his arm, but he only grinned as if he enjoyed it.
Angel stopped in the middle of his training area to look around as if he was checking things out for the first time. The front section of the basement had been cleared out for his personal use. One of these days Cordelia planned to get him to teach her more than just a few defensive moves. He couldn’t always keep her out of dangerous situations or promise that he could get to her before the bad guys did.
“We moved cleaning supplies into the old bomb shelter section,” she reminded him, pointing to the central core of the hotel basement. “There are some really old sheets we can use as a tarp, assuming that we don’t actually own a tarp.”
“Kinda creepy, actually. Wesley says it was put in after the hotel was first built. There are a few storage areas where some old furniture has been piled. Maybe we can find something good for my redecoration project.”
“I can think of one less room you’ll need.”
The bedroom intended for her. The one she would use after her visions so that she wouldn’t take up Angel’s space. It only made sense. Now more than ever it seemed like a smart idea. Sleeping it off in Angel’s bed suddenly took on a whole other dimension.
“Angel, you can’t really mean you want me to stay with you. That doesn’t sound very…safe.”
“You don’t think I can hold you in my arms without losing control?”
“Based on what’s happened so far, I’m not so sure, because unless I’m just imagining it you want me just as bad. And you seem to think I can’t stop after one kiss.”
Stepping through the open shelter door, Cordelia kept on walking, her head full of insanely wanton thoughts that before today she would never have considered. Now that she had seen her deepest Angel fantasies flashed across that mirror, now that she had touched him, kissed him, it was impossible to not want more.
Suddenly she knew what it was like to be Buffy Summers and didn’t that just make her want to puke. Choking on the question because she feared the answer, Cordelia asked, “Do you think there’s a way around the curse?”
There was a pause before he answered and the sound of the steel door sliding shut. “It’s what gives me this soul, Cordelia. I want it gone, too.”
“Angel, wait! I didn’t bring flashlights.” The warning came too late as the door slammed into place. The shelter’s lights had shorted out some time ago, probably when Angel used the power box to kill the Thesulac demon.
Suddenly, they were left in total darkness. This time there was no switch to flip. “Angel, what are you waiting for? I can’t see a thing.” Holding both arms out in front of her she felt only air around her. The corridor was wider than a regular hall with small rooms located at regular intervals.
“The door won’t open.”
Turning toward the sound of his voice, Cordelia asked, “Where are you?”
Vampire vision was strong at night, but there was no light shining into the vault-like shelter area. He was just as blind as Cordelia. “Keep talking to me. I’ll find you.”
Within seconds she was wrapped up in his strong arms. Sinking against him, she let out a long sigh of relief. His hands moved soothingly up and down her spine. “So you are scared of the dark. What else don’t I know about you?”
A chuckle sounded in her ear followed by the soft press of his lips against the top of her head.
Cordelia pushed away from his chest, but wrapped her hands around one thick bicep. “Don’t make fun of me. I’m not scared of the dark. I just prefer to see where I am.”
“You’re here with me. That’s all you need to worry about, kitten.”
“Kitten! Do you really think we’re at the pet name stage after just a kiss or two?” Cordelia was too peeved to let herself enjoy it. “Try the door again.”
“Told you. It’s jammed.”
“Try unjamming it.”
“No, I don’t think I will considering I prefer it stays shut.”
“That’s stupid. Why would you want that? We’re locked in here with no way out. It’s dark.”
“Because, Cor-de-lia, you’re here… in the dark… with me… and there’s no way out. That’s exactly how I want it. You should be scared. If you’re not now I promise you will be.”
Now she recognized that tone, but didn’t understand how it was possible. “A-Angelus?” A sharp scream emerged from her throat that echoed down the hall.
She tried to run, but his arms were around her in seconds. One hand wrapped around her wrist like a steel vice. “Don’t spoil our fun. I don’t know how much time we have.”
Wesley. He’d be back. Eventually. Cordelia tried calculating the time that had already passed, but it seemed to leave an eternity before he would return. What then? He would have no way to get into the shelter with the door jammed shut and that would give Angelus all the time in the world to do what he wanted.
“Fun? I don’t understand.” Cordelia had a feeling he had a very different idea of fun than she did. “How did this happen?”
Those kisses had been pretty spectacular, but surely not blissful enough to lose his soul. Mind spinning, Cordelia knew it had something to do with that blasted mirror.
What she needed now was a weapon. There was no holy water stashed away down here. Not even anything she could pretend was holy water, not that that particular trick would work again.
Old wooden furniture had been stashed somewhere in the shelter. Several mops and brooms were with the rest of the cleaning supplies. Even if she managed to find them in the dark it wasn’t like Angelus would give her the time to make a stake just to be sporting about it.
Maybe there was something she could drop on his head to knock him out.
Angelus answered her question honestly. “I don’t really know what happened. Something to do with the mirror. It’s not like before.” He sounded a little confused about the issue himself. “The soul is still here, struggling to take control again. It seems that I’m just in the driver’s seat at the moment. That’s why we can’t waste any more time.”
Cordelia felt a burst of hope light up inside her. God, if only she could stall for a while maybe Angelus would simply go away. Maybe, if Angel was really in there, he would hear her words of encouragement. “Fight him, Angel. I know you can beat him.”
Struggling to free herself, she kicked and scratched, but the vampire easily subdued her. That didn’t stop her from calling him every name in the book.
Angelus snarled, “Shut up, Cordelia. If you want your precious, emotionally whipped vampire back, you’ll have to survive to be there when he wakes up. Otherwise, I can arrange for him to come to while holding your very beautiful corpse.”
She stilled in his arms, the curses dying on her lips. The only sounds were her rapid breaths, shallowing slowly as she tried to control her fear and anger. Bitterly, she spat out, “What do you want from me?”
Pitch blackness surrounded them. He shifted slowly until she felt his cheek close to hers. “We’re going to play a little game. One that was your idea. Something about erogenous zones. Playing in the dark will make it even better, don’t you think?”
Given the ‘games’ Angelus might have chosen, Cordelia supposed there might be worse ways to survive the next hour or two. That didn’t mean she was giving into it. “Wouldn’t Angel’s bedroom make that easier?” Cordelia tried sounding seductive, but she trembled as his fingers traced the line of her throat.
“There are several ways to escape his suite, one of them being the windows,” Angelus tutted. “I wouldn’t want you to take a nasty fall.”
“Can’t blame a girl for trying.”
His touch loosened, presumably to start playing his seduction game, and Cordelia took off running. The hallway was a straight shot and clear of the mishmash items that had cluttered it when they first found the shelter. She had been down there enough to remember the layout.
It was too dark, and Angelus’ sensitive hearing made it impossible to hide. “Don’t you know that vampires like the thrill of the chase? We’re hunters. I can hear you breathing.”
Cordelia sucked in a deep breath and held it, crouching down in the corner of one of the rooms. Her ears strained for any hit of his presence, but he was silent in his approach.
The first sign that he was in the room with her was the feather light touch of his fingers as they found the top of her head. “Stand up,” he commanded just as softly. She slid back up the wall into a standing position while searching the darkness with unseeing eyes.
Despite the inability to see her Angelus unerringly found her face with his hands, his fingers sliding up through her hair, and gently massaging her scalp. “There’s no need to be so tense. I have no intention of hurting you for the moment. Let’s call this little game ‘Sensations’.
As he talked he kept moving his fingertips in gentle circles, his thumbs brushing across the rims of her ears. What was he doing to her? It felt…good. Despite being afraid, she felt herself loosen up, no longer pressing herself into the wall as if she was part of it.
Her mouth parted on an uncontrolled sigh as one of his hands traced the line of her jaw trailing shivers in its wake. The soft press of a thumb rounded its way across the outline of her lips in a teasing caress. Leaning close, he brushed his own lips in a trail of butterfly kisses toward the curve of her ear.
One of his hands followed the line of her arm, his fingertips sliding across the surface of her palm to trace her fingers with his own. Hers twitched at the sensation, a jolt running through her. Reversing course, Angelus moved to lift her hand to his face.
“Your turn, kitten. Don’t disappoint me,” he murmured while nuzzling against her hand.
Cordelia tried to ignore the way his hands moved to slowly unbutton her blouse somehow managing to take each one at a snail’s pace and tantalize the skin underneath with a barely there caress.
Her hand trembled at first as she made an effort to comply with Angelus’ demands. The shape of his face was human, devoid of vampiric ridges, or fangs. But she couldn’t just caress him like this pretending that it was her choice.
Now knowing where to find it, Cordelia reeled back her hand and slapped his face, the crack of it against his cheek resounding in the small room. She tensed immediately, expecting something terrible in response. Instead, he chuckled, “That’s my girl.”
Apparently, he enjoyed the sting. “You liked that?”
“Coming from you, yes,” he admitted just before claiming her mouth in a wild kiss. When her fingernails curled into his neck to punish him for doing so, he seemed to get even more excited.
Cordelia wanted to hate it. Her big plans for chomping down on his bottom lip melted away with the rest of her insides. The softest, teasing kisses played havoc with her senses building up a trust that he did not deserve. An ever increasing tempo made her breathless, almost eager for the next one.
Face, hands, body, they were all Angel’s but he wasn’t Angel. “I’m not your girl,” she broke away from his tempting mouth just to deny it.
He yanked her head back, a hand tangled in her hair, exposing her throat. Instantly followed by the wet slide of his tongue right where her jaw met her neck. Wracked by a shudder, Cordelia wasn’t sure if she was creeped out or turned on by it.
Anticipating a vicious bite, her eyes shut tight reflexively despite that she could not see. Instead, he blew softly over the spot creating tingles. Desire coiled through her veins making her throb. He released her hair, his big hands smoothing across her curves to squeeze both firm globes of her ass bringing her in contact with his body.
The prominent bulge told her this wasn’t just a wicked game on Angelus’ part. He wanted her. For the moment he seemed to content to play this pleasure game without turning nasty. Though that might change on a dime. If this wasn’t part of an elaborate lie then all she had to do was stall.
Trying to be calculated about her responses was practically impossible when she was quivering with need. Every touch of his knowing hands ramped it up another notch. Wrong, so wrong, but it felt incredible when his mouth came back to hers, the taste of him now familiar. Schizophrenic kisses followed. Lips on hers gliding one moment in the softest tease, then firmly demanding the next.
A sudden thrust of his hands pushed her back against the wall. Winded, she let out a sharp huff of air. What now? Was playtime over? Angelus was still close, she sensed, renewed fear curdling in her tummy. The rustle of clothing gave her an answer. She felt his shirt brush against her leg as it fell to the floor. The clank of a belt sounded, followed sharply by the unmistakable zip of his pants.
Cordelia gulped and dared to ask, “Just how naked are you getting?” Her imagination started filling in for the lack of visual aides.
A jolt of anticipation made her throb with want. Denial kept repeating its mantra in her head, but it was playing tug of war with her oh-so-wrong desires. This was Angelus. Angelus! Getting naked was not a good thing. Not. Even if it meant that she could explore every muscular dip and angle of that gorgeous body.
The thought spun around for a second. Why the hell not? It wasn’t like she would get another chance. Angelus might kill her. Even if Angel returned they wouldn’t be able to do this without risking an accidental case of happiness.
There was no time to reason it out any further. His hands were on her again, this time slipping her blouse down her shoulders. It joined his shirt in a puddle of discarded clothes on the floor.
Cordelia lifted her hands to his chest, her palms pressing against the contour of muscles there. They bunched against her as she slid them over his nipples, across his pecs and circled out to test the broad stretch of his shoulders. Holding still as she explored, he let out a little grunt of pleasure when she found his neck and curled her fingernails to trace the path of his throat from ear to collarbone.
He growled, leaning so that his body caged her against the wall. “Bite me.” Lust deepened his voice.
As long as he wasn’t planning to reciprocate, Cordelia decided to follow her own instincts and play along. Curiosity and the desire to make him react to her in the same way enticed her to act. Pulling closer she found her way to his willingly offered throat, nuzzling her way up to it.
Hesitating earned her a swat of his hand leaving her bottom stinging. “Do it, Cordelia. Unless of course you’re too scared,” he said challengingly as he tugged her skirt over her hips to circle her waist. One cool hand slipped over the heated spot.
Who did he think she was, the village idiot? Being scared was a given.
With a bite that didn’t quite break the skin, she chomped down hard, and felt him respond with more than just a sexy growl. There was no mistaking what was impressively nudging her bare thigh. For a second she was actually tempted to reach down to touch it, curious to discover if there was really so much more there than she had previously imagined, but this wasn’t Angel.
Here in the dark she was at the mercy of a killer, one who knew her well. Death was not his only skill. Artistic hands caressed the curved landscape of her body, eliciting responses Cordelia was determined to withhold. She moaned at her own weakness when he cupped the curves of both plump breasts. The thin silk of her bra between his fingers and her skin only added to the sensation.
Cordelia clung to his shoulders as he grabbed her around the waist with one arm leaning her back so that she was dependent on his strength to keep her from falling. Was this it? A better position for biting? It wasn’t his teeth grazing her shoulder, but his lips. She felt him tuck a finger under her bra strap, pulling it down until the whole of her breast was exposed.
Instinct kicked in and she covered it up with her hand. He couldn’t see it, but his fingers made the discovery seconds later. Amused, this only seemed to encourage him further. Her splayed fingers couldn’t cover everything much to his lecherous delight. Delving between them with the tip of his tongue he flicked at her skin, barely touching it. Just enough to let her feel it.
Though he hadn’t even touched her nipples, both tightened almost painfully. She removed her hand, the stimulation too much as the hard nub pressed into her palm. Angelus muttered his approval before angling his teasing licks across the soft skin around her distended nipple. Yet he still didn’t touch it.
Her free hand swept across his shoulder and around to cup the nape of his neck without even thinking about what she was doing. “Please, Angel.”
A fingernail flicked hard causing her to yelp at the sting that made her whole body throb. The cool swipe of his tongue a moment later was followed by a reminder, “I’m not him.”
A soft yank lifted her back to a standing position. He walked her back until she was plastered against the wall again, its surface rough against her skin. Part of her wanted to tell him to shut up and kiss her again, but that wasn’t right. “I wasn’t talking to you, Angelus. If Angel is still in there, I want him to hear me. I want him to fight for control.”
“Your stalwart hero knows what I know. You’re wet for me. Eager for it.” Unerringly, he found her mouth again, kissing her deeply, and stirring up her need until her body felt like it was going to leap out of its skin.
Biting his lower lip, she tugged hard, and scraped at the skin behind his ear and tried to put up a struggle that her body didn’t exactly want to make. Her legs easily parted at a nudge of his foot against hers. It felt like a betrayal.
“If you want to lie back and think of Angel, go right ahead,” encouraged Angelus as he trailed a finger from her aching, still damp nipple down the center of her body to rim her bellybutton. It made her hips jerk and he let out a groan when his erection grazed her skin. “Angel wants this too. A part of him knows it couldn’t happen any other way.”
Cordelia was startled by the suggestion. She barely noticed Angelus unzipping her skirt. Both it and her thong slid down to the floor. “Leave the heels on,” he ran his hands possessively up and down her curves.
“You’re a liar. Angel doesn’t want you touching me.”
He found the core of her body with one big hand, his long fingers stimulating, and teasing. She hissed, and arched into his touch.
“Why lie when the truth is so much better? He makes himself so miserable with his dreams of you. Kissing you. Saving you. Fucking you.” Angelus made his point with the deep slide of his fingers into her creamy heat. His mouth close to her ear. “Tell him you want that, too.”
“Yes,” she hissed the word as her hips canted to the tune of his talented fingers. “I want Angel. He knows that already, you bastard.”
Cordelia didn’t want to touch him. She crossed her arms over her eyes and leaned back into the wall. Even though there was no light, she was trying to shut him out, but it was impossible not to react to what he was doing to her.
“I want you too, Cordelia.”
That might as well have been Angel’s words washing over her here in the dark. That voice. Those words. His fingers stroking her. Pleasure curled up inside her, racing through her veins.
Each thrust came a little faster, taking her that much closer to the brink. Little erotic grunts and moans replaced coherent thought. The delicious bang of his hand against her body intoxicated her with every jolt.
Winding her arms around his shoulders, Cordelia shifted closer, body nudging up against his and trapping his hard cock between them. He half-growled, “There’s one thing Angel won’t like, Cordelia…”
A protested whimper escaped when his fingers suddenly slid from her body. She felt empty, almost desperate. Angelus lifted her up wrapping her long legs around his waist as he did so. “That I was here first,” he said thrusting his hardness inside her.
A moment of discomfort quickly passed as her body stretched around him, turning swiftly into mind-numbing pleasure. Strong arms supporting her, he held her steadily, penetrating deeply again and again. Crushed against him, her tender breasts rubbed against his chest with the rhythm of their movements. Her legs gripped his hips, heels digging into his skin.
Trembling, partly out of a renewed sense of fear, she complied when he demanded that she kiss him. Finally pulling away from the temptation of his mouth, and though short of breath, she had to ask, “Why this? Why not just kill me? Angel would be miserable enough for you then.”
“Because it has been too damn long for me, too.”
He rode her in a wild rhythm, his hips moving in a way that heightened her pleasure with every thrust. The wall was rough against her back, but it only mattered that he was hard inside her.
“Come for me, Cordelia,” he rasped lewdly knowing instinctively that she was on the cusp of an orgasm.
The added touch of his fingertips stimulating her as he reached a hand between them brought a short scream to her throat. “Angel!” A burst of shame swept like wildfire as her body peaked, remembering suddenly that this wasn’t him.
One intense spasm blossomed into a pulsating sensation, rapid little bursts of pleasure. Her legs shook uncontrollably barely able to maintain their clutch on his hips. Easily, she felt Angelus reposition his arms under her legs, splaying her open to his slow strokes, and letting her come down gently from the intensity of her little death.
He let out a low, sexy moan as her tight core clenched around him, the sound vibrating through her. Lips pressed against her throat. Hard ridges along his forehead brushed across her skin. Strangely tender, he murmured against her lips, “Now that’s something the soul will never take from us.”
Cordelia dragged her mouth away from his almost as soon as he kissed her. Denying hotly, “I was faking it!”
Not believing her for a moment, he taunted huskily, “Angel doesn’t think so.”
Curling her nails into his shoulders, she tensed in his arms. It was almost impossible to protest when she was coming apart at the seams. It felt insanely good as he moved inside her, the slow pace making her itch for more. Clamping her teeth on her bottom lip she bit back the urge to ask for it. She tried to move her hips, but he had her legs butterflied in a way that gave him full control.
As much as she would have preferred that Angelus shut up and get on with it, he was a capable multitasker managing to flawlessly maintain his torturously slow rhythm, tantalizing caresses and taunt her about Angel.
“Poor soul. Throw him a bone.” He might have sounded sympathetic if it wasn’t for that evil little chuckle. It morphed into an erotic growl as he penetrated to the deepest point. “Tell him how you feel.”
This hardly seemed like the right time for that conversation. Though he was fully capable of keeping her distracted, Cordelia knew he was up to something. “As much as I’d like a heart to heart…,” she paused on a throaty moan and rotated her hips until the sensation made her eyes roll back. “Kinda busy.”
Angelus stopped moving, his forehead bent to her shoulder, muscles bunching up beneath her hands. Close to losing it before he was ready, she guessed and kept up with it, now teasing him with her body.
“This what you want, kitten?” He started moving again, more earnestly, sending sparks flying inside her with each move of his hips. “You’re killing him with this. Angel’s an emotional mess.”
“Do you love him, Cordelia? Tell him what he wants to hear. Make him happy.” Angelus’ advice suddenly made a whole world of sense. Bastard. He issued a warning, “When he gets his turn again things might get ugly. You know how he likes to brood.”
Cordelia felt a rush of excitement swell up that had nothing to do with the fantastic moves he was making. A laugh curled up from inside her as she responded, “He does, doesn’t he? Big and broody, that’s my Angel.”
“So fix it. Tell him.”
Clasping his face between her hands, Cordelia softly plundered Angelus’ mouth carefully letting her tongue draw across his sharp fangs. “He’s not the one I’m kissing right now, Angelus. Can’t do this with him, can I?”
“No, that’s right,” Angelus agreed by dropping the act and picking up the tempo. “It’s my touch you’re getting off on, not just some half-imagined romance with the Soul.”
“What say you shut up and stop playing nice. Show me you want me, too,” Cordelia purred into his ear, her breath coming in pants with each hard thrust.
She was so hot and tight inside, like the sun on silk fisted around his cock. He moved in and out, with a pounding rhythm, no longer in control of it. Angelus felt her teeth on his throat digging in sharply. Excitement tightened his balls. He came almost instantly, carnal bliss driving him wild with the need to mark her.
At that instant Angelus felt something rising up inside him. A swell of emotion. A fury. A raging thunder he could neither stop nor withstand.
A glow surrounded him, a light flashing in the darkness. The first and last thing he saw was the look of triumph on Cordelia’s face. The bitch had tricked him. As Angelus faded back into the subordinate role of indwelling demon, he felt the gentle touch of her hand on his check as she asked, “Angel, is that you?”
They were still joined together when Angel came to a full awareness of what had transpired. He moaned her name as if in pain. Shame and anguish hit him like a wrecking ball. A tear dripped down onto Cordelia’s shoulder. “What have I done?”
Instead of the enmity he so deserved, a joyous cry filled his ears. “Broody! It is you.” She kissed away the dampness on his cheek.
Slowly, he slipped out of her body, a place it seemed highly doubtful he would ever be invited to enter again. A sigh shuddered through her.
Helping her into a standing position, he asked, “Are…are you okay?”
Cordelia grabbed onto his arms for support. He couldn’t see her in this darkness. All he could smell on her was sex; there was no trace of blood. That, at least, was something to be grateful for.
“Oh, I’m better than okay. Angelus so thought I was going to fall for his not-so-subtle scheme that he had no idea I was playing him, too.”
Unexpectedly, Angel felt her arms loop around his neck as she pulled herself closer. The move pressed her lush bare breasts against his chest. His hands landed on her hips, equally naked. The contact between them drew a response from his body that he found surprising after what had just happened, not only with Cordelia, but the drain of his internal battle with Angelus.
From his point of view, Angel had been privy to everything that happened. Only without having the slightest measure of control to prevent it. Cordelia’s smug words made him realized what he had missed. Neither he nor his demon had picked up on it.
Angelus’ behavior was strangely gentle. He masked his true purpose with a sensual game. Sex wasn’t always a sadomasochistic romp. Torture and blood followed by a slow death. When he was tender the demon was at its most diabolical.
“I’m proud of you, Cordy. Few people survive an encounter with Angelus. If you had resisted his plan to seduce you, things would have gone badly. Revenge would have been his tool of choice.”
She shifted in his arms, one of hers slipping down to trace her nails up the length of his thigh in a direction he badly wanted her to take. “Kinda partial to your tool,” she purred and pressed her soft pillowy lips against his chest.
It didn’t help that he wanted her hands on him, or that she managed to make him laugh at their ridiculous situation. Locked in a bomb shelter. Naked. In the dark. The only two people in the world unable to take advantage of it.
He moved her hand to a safer place on his chest. “You know we can’t tempt fate that way. The mirror somehow allowed Angelus to free himself. As long as it’s still around, I can’t take any chances.”
“Easy enough to fix. We’ll get rid of it.”
Angel agreed. “Wesley thinks he has a way to free Alice Waterhouse. The mirror was never part of the Hyperion’s property. She brought it with her. She can take it when she goes.”
Silent for a moment, Cordelia finally asked him, “What if she’s the one who freed Angelus?”
That hadn’t occurred to him. Angel had gotten used to thinking of the Waterhouse woman as a victim. “Then we’ll deal with that when the time comes.”
“What about us, Angel? I’m not just someone you can deal with. My feelings for you are all over the place right now, but I know I can’t ignore them.”
Wanting to reassure her, he found the curve of her face, cupped it in his hand and leaned into kiss her forehead. He avoided the temptation of her mouth. “It’s the same for me. Don’t think for a minute that i don’t want you, Cordy. You know I do.”
Cordelia let out a bitter grunt of acknowledgment. “Angelus was right. We can’t ever be that close again. Not without risking your soul. Is it really all or nothing? Can’t we have anything?”
Angel hesitated. He didn’t want to get her hopes up about a theory he wasn’t entirely certain about. Achieving a state of pure bliss might be impossible if one was constantly aware of the potential dangers. That might make the loophole invalid.
On the other hand, “Sex isn’t the only path to perfect happiness. Who’s to say there aren’t other ways to lose my soul?”
“One issue at a time, please.”
Cordelia took a step back, no longer touching him. The air shifted around them and he sensed that she had crouched down. A rustle of clothing preceded a sudden ball of cotton hitting him in the face. “Boxers. Yours.” For someone who couldn’t see, Cordelia had great aim.
They dressed in the tight space of the storage room, trying to avoid one another, but bumping the occasional elbow or hip. Angel took her hand when they were done in order to lead her into the main corridor.
Before they reached the shelter door, Angel felt a tug on his hand. Cordelia had come to a stop. “Wait. Before we go out there we need to make a pact.”
“What kind of pact?” Angel wasn’t sure he wanted to hear this.
“Whatever happened here in the dark stays in the dark. Angelus didn’t just seduce me, Angel. He gave me no other choice.”
A scowl tightened his face as he thought about what she said. He was glad she couldn’t see it. “I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. You can’t think I blame you for what he did! If anyone is guilty here, it’s me.”
“Don’t even go there, Broody. All I’m saying is I did what I had to do. I figured that if I made him the happy one it might give you a chance.”
With weighted words, “He was going to mark you,” Angel recalled his fury at Angelus’ plans. The details of those plans were not for her ears. She had reason enough to fear him. He didn’t want to risk it.
“Our pact, Angel. Listen. This is how it’s going to be.” That no-nonsense, defy-me-and-reap-the-consequences tone rang clear as a bell.
That pushy, pain-in-the-ass side of her was such a turn-on and that wasn’t his demon talking. One of these days he was going to…
Before his thoughts could segway into one of those illicit fantasies that had become so clear of late, Angel tried to focus on what she was saying.
“One. This is between us. Wesley can beg for details for research purposes, but he won’t get a thing out of either of us. Got it?”
Angel had no plans to tell Wesley that Angelus had gotten loose. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his days chained to the bed with the former Watcher/self-proclaimed Rogue Demon Hunter standing guard with his crossbow. “Got it.”
“Two. You will not brood about this.”
“Don’t Cordy me. You did nothing wrong, Angel. You weren’t in control. It was the mirror’s fault. Angelus’ fault. Not yours.”
Though her reasoning was sound that didn’t stop the guilt from eating away at him. Those raw feelings stemmed from his own desires and not Angelus’ actions. Unnerved, Angel ground out his confession. “I wanted it. All of it. Every touch, every kiss. I felt him slide inside you.”
He’d startled her with his intensity. Cordelia gasped against his mouth as he swept her into his arms. The taste of her was like swallowing sunshine. He couldn’t get enough, but managed to break away from it. His hands reached up to drag her arms from around his neck.
“Don’t ask the impossible. Maybe I could have stopped it sooner,” Angel knew the shame of that possibility would plague him. “I didn’t.”
“Three.” She resumed her key points only this time there was a quaver in her voice. “I won’t take a guilt trip either. I wanted you, Angel. I know it was Angelus, but you were a part of him, too. I liked it.”
That gutted him, but he understood it completely. The duality of his nature prevented him from completely separating himself from Angelus. Even now his demon howled for revenge.
“Wanting me isn’t something to feel guilty about. I want you to want me.”
“Good. Because I do. Every touch, every kiss was for you. Not him. I need you to know that.”
Angel couldn’t let himself think about that because it felt too good. He swallowed reflexively. A smile she couldn’t see spread across his face. “One day soon I’ll let you show me.”
“Very soon I hope. Patience…it’s not really one of my virtues.”
Angel drolled, “I never would’ve guessed.” He reeled her in to kiss her forehead. “When this is over we’ll have to do some serious research. There’s a theory we might want to pursue. It could require some hands-on testing.”
“Oh, I’m all for hands-on, mine and yours. Promise?”
Despite her insatiable teasing, Angel replied with all seriousness. “I promise not to stop until I find a safe way for us to be together. I want to make love to you.”
Heat flushed her cheek under his gentle hold. She started to speak, perhaps to respond with a similar sentiment, but pulled away from his touch instead. Her heart beat a rapid tattoo.
Blurting suddenly, “Just how stupid were those gypsies?” Her heels clicked along the cement floor as she blindly moved toward the shelter door. “One teensy moment of bliss and presto their crappy curse unleashes evil on the world again. I don’t get it.”
“It’s a curse, Cordelia. One that I have to live with for now. It’s what gives me my soul.”
“That’s what Angelus said. Ooh. When he said he wanted it gone, I thought he was talking about the curse, but he meant your soul.”
The clang of metal against metal sounded from the door. First as a knock and then in some sort of pattern. Angel cocked his head, listening. “Morse code. It’s Wesley.”
“Nice deduction Vamp Detective. Tell me something I don’t know like why we’re still standing here in the dark.”
Between Wesley’s crowbar and Angel’s strength, they managed to unjam the door to the hotel’s bomb shelter. “My word! Best to keep that door open from now on. It must’ve been pitch black in there.”
No answer came. Wesley half turned to comment on the need for a couple of torches when his dropped jaw rendered him incapable of speech. Both Angel and Cordelia were in a complete state of disarray. Wild hair. Misbuttoned buttons. Shirt half untucked. Wrinkled skirt.
He shrieked a high-pitched sound. “Dear lord! What have you two been doing?”
“Yes, well I very much doubt that.” Wesley held the crowbar out like a sword, pointing it toward Angel. “Let there be no mistake, I will not hesitate to–”
With a lightning fast move, Angel grabbed one end of the crowbar and twisted until Wesley was trapped between it and his chest. The heavy metal bar pressed into his neck holding him in place. Thinking his worst fears had just been confirmed, he looked toward Cordelia to tell her to run, but she was simply standing there giving him that look.
“Wesley,” his name emerged as a slow growl from the vampire behind him.
Just for clarification he asked Angel, “So, ah, you’re still not evil?”
Releasing him just as quickly as he had caught him, Angel’s cryptic response unsettled him. “Not at the moment. Lucky for you.” The crowbar rhythmically against his leg as he waited for Wes to make the next move.
For a split second, Wesley considered reminding both Angel and Cordy that they were playing a dangerous game, but they already knew it. Nor was it a game. Not to them.
He felt no embarrassment about jumping to the wrong conclusion yet again. What he read in their eyes proved that he was justified to do so.
Every day he watched the two of them growing closer. They were blind to it, which was for the good of all concerned. The mirror had changed that. Now they could see it all too clearly, not only their mutual desires, but the possibility of unrealized hopes.
His heart ached for his friends. The mirror’s false mages promised nothing except temptation. For all their sakes he prayed they would not give in.
After gathering the equipment Wesley needed they headed back upstairs. Angel was reluctant to approach the mirror. He had no control over what happened with Angelus and was not sure what triggered it.
On his way to the office he noticed at the items Wesley had neatly arranged. “What is all of this?” It didn’t seem like this was the usual preparation for a communication spell.
Whether Alice Waterhouse was alive and trapped by the mirror’s magic or some kind of ghost, they still had no direct way of talking to her.
Wesley hand them place the tarp, bucket and cleaning cloths in a neat pile at the edge of the lobby. “Should my theory be wrong we’ll need those to clean up the ectoplasm.”
“No one said anything about dealing with ghost goo,” Cordelia added one more thing to the list of reasons why that mirror was so out of here. “I just finished cleaning up the place.”
“Just a precaution,” Wesley assured her. He wasn’t exactly keen on the notion either.
Angel nosed around the spell components. He picked up a small mortar containing crushed glass. “You plan to repair the mirror?”
Confirming the plan, Wesley was all too eager to share his theory with them. “Amongst its other abilities, I believe that it serves as a gateway. Miss Waterhouse appears trapped. Lost. If the mystical gate between our reality and the one where she exists were intact she should be able to cross over under her own power.”
“Fixing the mirror will fix the gateway.”
“Precisely. I think.”
Cordelia walked over to join them and noticed the array of dried greenery piled up with the other items. Sighing deeply, she grumbled resignedly, “Stinky herbs it is.”
Drawing close to it they saw that the mirror once again reflected all three of them in an idealistic fashion. Perfect images. No Angelus in sight. Relieved, Angel settled his arm around Cordelia’s waist and watched his reflection moving to press a kiss to her temple. He’d thought about that, but had chosen to play it safe.
With the aid of a spell and the waving of a few stinky herbs, the cracks on the glass surface sealed. No sooner had Wesley’s incantation ended than the lobby lights went dim again and a bright green glow began to shine from the mirror. Mist poured into the room clinging low to the floor swirling around their feet and a gust of wind blasted from an open dimensional vortex.
Papers from the desktop went flying. A short scream sounded as Cordelia’s hair whipped around her face. She wrapped her arms around Angel’s waist tucking her face into his chest for protection. He held her tightly, standing against the force of the wind. Wesley held his arm up to block the most of it from hitting his face as he tried to stay focused on the aperture.
As suddenly as it opened the vortex closed with a schwoop. The mist dissipated and the lobby lights flickered back to full power. The mirror’s surface no longer reflected three figures, but four. An elegant redhead in a silk nightgown stood behind them, a glittering necklace of gold and emeralds at her throat.
They turned to find Alice Waterhouse smiling at them, tears of gratitude streaming down her face. “You’ve done it, Wesley.”
“Y-You know me?”
“Of course,” a slow nod followed. Her light grey eyes scanned Wes’ face before they slid across to Angel and Cordelia. “I have been aware of everything that has passed within a certain radius of the mirror since my entrapment.”
Instantly fascinated by the concept, Wesley started to rattle off questions. Cordelia interrupted him. “Stop pestering the woman, Wes. She’s been trapped in some weird mirror for decades. All she wants now is a hot shower, some food and a change of clothes, not to be interrogated.”
Ordering Wes to go fetch his uneaten sandwich, she told Angel they’d be borrowing his rooms for a while. “I probably have some stuff you can wear,” Cordelia offered. “Of course they might be a little loose up top.”
“I am grateful.”
“Oh, we do this all the time,” Cordelia shrugged it off and started to usher Alice in the direction of the stairs.
Wesley ran back in from the other room carrying the club sandwich. “Can’t you at least explain how you were trapped or whether the necklace protected you?”
“I can see that you are resourceful,” Alice touched her fingertips to the necklace. “If you know of the necklace, then you must know about me.”
With a proud countenance, Alice announced, “I am a daughter of Amara, a race of sorcerers, healers and mystics who strive to protect the weak and to vanquish evil where we find it.”
Angel realized that her stay at the Hyperion was not coincidental. “You were here to defeat the Thesulac.”
“Yes, though it evaded me for quite some time.” She explained some of the demon’s history, that it had been there far longer than the hotel itself. “Its non-corporeal state made it difficult. There were so many with whom it could hide.”
He remembered the fact that she was there with the mob. “It affected you, too.”
Again, Alice answered in the affirmative, shame and embarrassment making her pale and flush within the space of a few moments. “I sincerely regret the outcome of our first encounter. My actions then were deplorable, but out of my control.”
“Ah, the necklace protects against physical harm, but not so mental forms of attack.”
“That is correct.”
“So where does the mirror come in?”
Alice smiled. “It is an antique belonging to my family. I take it with me when I travel. For me it provides a little taste of home and shows me what I am missing when I am away.”
“We got the Skinemax version.” Cordelia’s tone was enough to explain what she meant.
“Hidden desires are easily revealed by its magic.”
“What else do you desire, Cordelia? My release earns you anything within my powers to grant.”
Initially stunned by the request, it only took seconds to recover and to come up with her heart’s desire. Snapping at the chance, “Angel’s soul—,” she was cut off before she could finish.
“It must be something not tied to the others here. They will receive their own chance to gain something they want.”
Thoughts of stardom, designer clothing and tons of cash flashed through her head. It was exciting to think about it, but Cordelia wanted to think big. She glanced over at Angel and Wesley asking for advice, “What do you think about Dennis being able to hang out at the Hyperion whenever he wants? I’ll be spending more time here in the future.”
Angel noticed with a dangerously happy grin that she wasn’t asking for his permission, just stating that as a fact. “I think that’s a great idea.”
“Really?” Cordelia let out a squee. Hugging him, she kissed his cheek and turning in his arms to face Alice explained, “Phantom Dennis is a ghost. I hate to think of him spending so much time alone.”
“You surprise me,” Alice smiled and agreed to the request as if the task was easily handled. “I expected something quite different from someone so young.”
Cordelia wasn’t sure if that was an insult or a compliment. “Thanks, I guess.”
Turning to Wesley next, she held out her hand to him. “You are a treasure. Thank you for repairing my mirror.” Alice squeezed his hand. “When the demon confronted me, feeding upon my own fear of failure, I attempted to use the mirror against it. I opened a gateway wherein I hoped to imprison the thesulac.”
She released him and walked to examine the mirror. “Instead, I fell into the trap of my own making. The necklace protected me from harm, kept me alive, let me live through the mirror’s magic.” The memory of it was clear despite the years that had passed. “My escape route was cut off. The demon was furious that it could no longer reach me. Its tentacles struck out at the mirror, cracking it.”
Hanging on every word, Wesley stuttered something about her bravery.
“What will you have of me, Wesley?” she walked back to him. “You are a man of many talents and possess knowledge of the true world. If information and understanding are so important to your happiness, might I choose a gift for you?”
Curious, but content to let her do so, Wesley nodded. Any answers she gave him to the many questions buzzing in his head would be worth it.
Alice grinned delightedly at his decision. “Then you must accompany me for a night and a day when I make my journey home.”
“Where exactly is home?” Cordelia’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Not that I don’t trust you, but you know what they say about gift horses.”
“Evasive much?” Behind Alice’s back, Wesley was giving Cordelia the sign to shut up. “Fine, okay, sheesh!”
Then it was Angel’s turn and Cordelia’s bristles went up again. She wasn’t sure why, but Alice Waterhouse gave her the shivers. Maybe it was the spooky grey eyes that seemed to sense what she was thinking. Or the fact that she’d witnessed some very private fantasies that were none of her business.
Whatever it was, Cordelia tried to convince herself to shut up. If the woman had the ability to do what she promised, then things would be a lot different. It was scary to want something so much. Sensing her nerves, Angel threaded his fingers through hers as Alice approached them.
“My people and I owe you a great deal, Angel. You have taken part in saving my life, yet I attempted to deprive you of yours.” The irony of it played across her face in a wry smile before she continued. “You have vanquished the demon responsible for the accident that trapped me when it was my duty to end its existence. And today I have learned that you destroyed the lost ring which was the shame of my people, created at the behest of a master vampire who threatened to wipe out our bloodline.”
There was far more to that story, Angel realized, but the thickening of her voice as she spoke suggested now was not the time to ask for details. Maybe Wes would find out during their night and day together, though he had a feeling that providing knowledge was not the only thing Alice had in mind by arranging an escort home.
“Thrice have I indebted myself to you and so must I repay it in kind.” Alice’s words called for his attention.
“You know what I want,” Angel wasn’t going to dance around it, “but it’s impossible.”
Observing him quietly for a moment, Alice agreed. “Wesley suggested that the Gem of Amara might secure your soul. He was right, vampire, I believe that it would.”
Cordelia loosed herself from Angel’s hold pulling away to face them both. “I don’t understand. Why is it impossible? You just said that it would work. That necklace has five emeralds. You can’t spare one?”
“That would diminish its power.”
Giving one to Angel would still leave her with four, Cordelia pleaded to no end. “You said you owed him.”
Trying to calm her down was useless. “I can’t take it, Cordy.”
“Nor is it mine to give,” explaining that the necklace belonged to her people. “The gemstone Angel destroyed was originally part of a larger emerald. It provided its wearer a method of attaining vast power. Greed and jealousy led to betrayal and the ring fell into another’s hand and then another’s at the cost of many human lives. I cannot allow that to happen again.”
“But Angel isn’t like that—not with his soul.” Cordelia had to concede that Angelus would’ve loved to be indestructible. And the thought of what he would be capable of if he could walk in sunlight without turning to dust gave her an instant understanding of Alice’s fears.
Angel reminded her about Spike’s betrayal. “Word would get out if I had something like that ring again. I can’t take the chance, Cordy, not with you—or Wes. And before you say that the two of you face dangers every day, I already know that. This would be different.”
Gulping down her frustration, Cordelia knew it was selfish of her to want Angel’s soul to be secured, but she couldn’t help it. Was it really asking too much to be able to be with Angel? To show him how much he meant to her when now it seemed dangerous to say the words.
Everything they’d talked about before they opened the basement door seemed like a distant memory now. Promises of openness, decisions to let things progress slowly, to do things that didn’t always start out with stakes, crossbows and a patch up job. If Alice couldn’t give him one of those emeralds, that actually changed nothing. Their plans were still the way they’d left them.
Only it seemed like they’d been cheated. A way around the curse was within their grasp and yet denied them. One more bump on the horny toad of life, she decided, miserable about it.
“There may be another way,” Alice seemed hesitant about bringing it up. “Curses are not exactly my forte as they are more like prayers for harm rather than magic.”
Her comment left them all a little confused. “A young Wicca of our acquaintance was the one to reinitiate Angel’s curse after his soul was lost for a time,” Wesley told her. “It was a spell she cast using the information collected about the original curse.”
A grin dimpled Alice’s cheeks, a light laugh bubbling forth. “Then I can help. If your soul was lost that means the curse was broken, Angel. Giving it back to you was an act of magic, not a true curse.”
“The original curse contained a soul-lossage loophole,” Cordelia explained that Willow had to use all of the words she’d found in Jenny Calendar’s notes. “She was afraid it wouldn’t work.”
Alice moved toward the mirror again, speaking a few words that Cordelia recognized as Latin, but didn’t understand. The mirror reflected the four of them. A green glow appeared within the glassy surface separating out into two balls of light that hovered over Angel’s head and her own.
“What is that?” Cordelia swatted at the light until she realized that it only appeared in the mirror. She also knew that she was the only one in the room who had no clue about the words Alice had used in that spell.
Angel cleared it up for her. “It’s a detection spell of sorts.” The puzzled look he gave her turned to one of deep concern. “Cordy, are you sick?”
Hesitating for a moment too long, she answered, “I’m fine. Ticked off, but fine.” She glanced nervously toward Wesley who stepped closer with that same look of concern on his face.
“That spell was cast to detect illness.” Alice told her that she thought the condition of Angel’s soul might respond to a mystic cure. The glow indicated her theory was right.
Cordelia backed away from all of them. “Then why is the glowy ball above my head? I’m not sick.”
A dire tone sounded in Alice’s voice, “Yes, I am afraid that you are.”
“The visions,” he thought about the effects they had. Asking Wes, “Could the effects be cumulative?”
He’d never considered it, but it now seemed clear what Angel would ask from Alice. Doing so in his stead, “If they are life-threatening or harmful, you must help her,” Wesley hoped that she would agree. Technically, it would be helping someone other than Angel, which might not fit within her little scheme of rewards.
Luckily it seemed that Alice had her own way of getting around the rules. “Cordelia’s health is your happiness and so I will make it the second of your gifts. A healer from amongst my people will attend you both.”
“Cordy will be okay?”
“Whatever her ailment it is within our power to cure permanently.” Confident of it, Alice assured them that it would not affect Cordelia’s visions. As they had explained that they were from the Powers that Be, she smiled somewhat secretly and promised that all would be well.
Cordelia was still a little rattled about the fact that she had some weird vision trauma and didn’t know it. “What if we hadn’t found your mirror—I might’ve gotten sick. Died, even.”
If it was possible for Angel to be any paler than normal, the thought that he had no idea that Cordelia was being affected by the visions was enough to do it. The selfish thoughts of the life they might have together once his soul was permanent were nothing next to his desire for her to be safe from harm.
“The visions are painful.”
“I do not know if the pain may be diminished,” Alice admitted. “That may be part of the vision itself that our healing powers cannot change. But the harm they cause can be eradicated.”
The news added to the hefty burden Angel carried close to his heart. “Cordy, I’m so sorry. I should’ve noticed. Done something.”
“It’s not your fault, Angel, and even I didn’t really think anything was wrong.” The post-vision headaches had always been bad and had seemed to get a little worse, but Cordelia hadn’t really thought about it much. Putting up with the pain was just her part of the mission. “Besides, Alice says I’m fixable, so it’s all okay. I get to keep the visions at no risk.”
Quietly pleased that she was making progress in discovering how she might repay Angel for what was considered an immeasurable debt, Alice prompted him, “What of your third gift? State your desires.”
Looking down at Cordelia who was once again sheltered in his arms, Angel had only one wish that came to mind, but he knew what Alice’s answer would be even before he mentioned the Shanshu Prophesy. “I cannot grant you humanity. That is beyond my abilities. Redemption must be earned and that is between you and the Powers.”
It was the answer he expected.
Wesley suggested Angel hold off on answering. “You might need a favor one day.” But the idea did not sit well with the sorceress who claimed to dislike owing someone a debt.
Pushed to decide on the spur of the moment, Angel caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. The novelty of seeing his reflection hadn’t worn off. Assuming that the threat of Angelus could be eliminated the mirror’s effects might actually be diverting.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got another one like that hanging around somewhere?”
“No way,” gasped Cordelia slapping his arm. “Some client will walk in and it’ll be in full fantasy mode.”
Bending closer to her ear, Angel murmured softly, “I didn’t say we had to hang it in the lobby.”
Cordelia blinked and then his meaning finally sunk in. “Oh. That could be fun.” She smirked at the direction her thoughts were taking.
“Good heavens,” Wesley slapped a hand over his eyes. “Angel will you please get Cordelia away from the mirror before she dreams up something else.”
On the circular couch in the mirror, Cordelia was straddled across Angel’s lap kissing him enthusiastically. Watching, wide-eyed, Alice muttered, “I never thought of using it that way.”
“Is it voyeuristic to watch yourself making out?” Cordelia wondered just before Angel kissed the tip of her nose.
He let out a short laugh, amazed that he could after all that had happened today. It was a knack she’d always had with him: the ability to make him smile. “Maybe we should save that question for later.”
“The mirror is yours,” Alice claimed to have seen more than enough of that particular looking glass. She assured them that no danger existed. Its magic was quite simple.
Angelus’ underlying desire to assume control had created a unique circumstance that allowed him to do just that. It was easy enough for Alice to cast another spell to block Angelus from any access to its powers.
When lights of the taxi disappeared around the corner, Cordelia let out a sigh. “That was a let down. Not exactly a flashy exit. I thought a sorceress would use some kind of hocus pocus to get home.”
Shrugging, Cordelia rolled her eyes at her own folly. “I don’t know. Come to think of it just getting a cab at this time of night was probably magical enough.”
When Angel turned to go back inside the hotel, an idea she’d had earlier came back to her. “Hey, let’s stay outside for a while. We can stroll around the block or go get some ice cream or something.”
“That’s not a very exciting first date,” Angel mused as he jogged down the steps and held out his hand to her.
“Pfft! That depends on the person you’re with.”
The slide of his cool skin along her fingers made a little zing of electricity shoot down her spine. Surprised, she jumped and laughed at the way her body reacted to such a little thing. The way his much larger hand engulfed hers clasping it to his own was so simple and real that her heart thumped happily.
Angel guided her down the Hyperion steps and onto the sidewalk that wound around the block. The old hotel was really a beautiful building despite its dilapidated state. Its foundation had survived countless quakes and mystical phenomenon. Though the inside was a little rotten in places, with sections left unexplored, Cordelia found her plans for renovation popping back into her head.
Only now she was confused about what to do. The whole dynamic between her and Angel had changed. It was only yesterday that she’d been planning to spruce up the place, looking for a bedroom that was far away from Angel’s second floor domain.
She stopped in the glow of the corner street light to search his face for any sign of Angel having second thoughts. Her stomach was twisting in nervous knots.
“What is it?” he asked lifting a hand to caress her face.
“Doesn’t it seem strange to be doing this?” Cordelia’s free hand settled on his chest. “Things change so quickly and it’s hard to keep up. When I woke up this morning I had no idea that I—I’d be in danger of falling in love with my best friend.”
Stunned was the only word she could come up with to describe Angel’s expression. Admitting attraction was one thing, but—oh, God—she’d just used the ‘L’ word, hadn’t she? Cordelia’s nervous knots were joined by a swarm of butterflies that melted away under the sudden onslaught of Angel’s kiss.
They were locked together in an out-of-control mesh of roving hands and mouths and moans.
Lost in a hungry haze of sensation, Cordelia let out a tiny mewl of protest when his lips pulled away. “Neither did I,” Angel muttered against her lips. His eyes were full of wonder as Cordy slipped hers closed again lifting her mouth back to his for more kisses.
Angel’s grip slipped to her shoulders and pushed her away as gently as he could. “I think we should stick to the hand-holding, Cordy. Hearing you say that, being able to touch you, to kiss you—remember what I said about the curse not being just about sex.”
Dawning understanding forced Cordelia to step back. “I guess my kisses are just that good, huh?” she teased feeling too happy to stop smiling even when reminded of the curse. “Guess you’ll just have to learn to be patient.”
“I’m not the one who needs the lesson,” he smirked as his meaning sunk in. Angel had practiced control over baser urges and reigning in his emotions for a long time. Cordelia, on the other hand, tended to want things her way and pronto.
“Are you suggesting that I can’t keep my hands off you?” Cordelia raised a brow as if he’d just issued a challenge. “You’re not that irresistible.”
She took off down the street at a brisk pace only to find him in front of her seconds later. “No fair sneaking up on me with the vampire speed.”
Reminding him that they were supposed to be out for a walk, Cordelia tucked her hand in the crook of his arm and nodded in the direction they’d been going. “Think we can make it around the block without ripping each other’s clothes off or getting into a fight?”
Angel closed his hand over hers, his thumb circling slowly, just that slight touch enough to make her tingly all over again. “It’s worth a try.”
A little hitch of anticipation sounded as Cordelia answered, “I think so, too.”