The Mirror Crack’d
A magical mirror discovered at the Hyperion Hotel holds the key to Cordy & Angel’s future happiness, but only if they can unravel its mysteries.
- CONTENTS: C/A in AtS
- RATING: R
- LENGTH: Novella / 24,000
- STATUS: Completed
- CHALLENGE: Fall Fic Festival at Angel’s Oasis
- FICPIC CREDIT: Lysa
- WARNINGS: Sexual Themes / UST
The Mirror Crack’d
Lost in the pages of a first-edition favorite Angel soaked in every word. Reading not only gave him a way to pass the time, but provided a soothing method of relaxation. It was structured, civilized. A temporary escape from the constant reality of keeping his darkest instincts in check by letting his imagination explore what was denied him.
Sitting in his office, feet propped on the desk and leaning comfortably back, he was not so preoccupied that the activity around him went unnoticed. Wesley and Cordelia were arguing again; something about the differences between beige and buff. He let the words fade from his notice to focus again on the novel.
Just when the story pulled him back in Cordelia barged through his open office door. Calling to Wes over her shoulder, “I should’ve known better than to ask for help from someone who thinks Blahniks and Choos are types of demon epidemics.”
Angel tucked a finger between the pages as he closed the cover of his book holding his place. He hoped this was going to be a brief interruption, but considering that it was Cordelia he was glad that holding his breath wasn’t an issue. Wesley hadn’t been able to tell him where she’d gone today, only that she’d left word that she would be back this afternoon.
He’d noted her arrival thirty minutes ago, a distraction from his reading. Wesley’s presence was hardly noticeable as he quietly sifted through various resources and filled legal pads of notes. The occasional grind of a pencil sharpener was about the only irritation, unlike Cordelia.
“Gah! Don’t even get me started.”
There was the constant chatter. Angel found it strangely invigorating, especially the times when she came up with odd-ball ideas. Arguing was futile. He had no idea why Wes bothered. Both of them ended up following right along. Like when she’d bought non-ground coffee by accident and insisted he crush the beans with his hands.
Even when Cordelia managed to work quietly, the office was filled by her presence in a way that often left a void when she went home at night. They had become friends. Doyle’s death had brought them closer. He cared for her in ways that were surprising to him.
There was nothing Angel wouldn’t do to keep Cordelia safe. Keeping her happy was something he felt was out of his control. She’d had so much pain and responsibility thrust upon her. He ached with guilt every time her body contorted from the effects of a vision. So if he occasionally let Cordy have her way or get away with something he wouldn’t normally back down from, then he considered it a little compensation.
Besides, Angel was growing addicted to her smile. The damn thing was contagious. He often found himself smiling back, feeling the warmth of affection rooted deep within him.
If his thoughts and feelings ended with concern for Cordelia’s health and happiness, he might not be so distracted from his reading. His concentrated efforts to focus on his book failed again. It was just as well that she’d come to him instead of forcing him to find an excuse to intervene in her spat with Wesley.
Their argument had left her skin flushed, her heart racing a little faster than normal. He could hear her efforts to slow down her breathing, but the soft panting that came from her parted lips just drew his attention. When her tongue peeked out to sweep moisture along the full curves, Angel hastily moved along, dropping his gaze down to the armful of colored paper swatches clutched close to her chest.
Unceremoniously, Cordelia dropped them onto the surface of his tidy desk scattering them haphazardly. “The man has no taste,” she muttered 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?”
A closer look at the pile revealed paint and wallpaper samples. Angel had suspicions, but waited patiently for her to reveal her latest scheme. Cordelia placed her palms flat on the desk and 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.
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. He lowered his feet to the floor scooting his chair closer to the edge of the desk. 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 lunch.”
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 in surprise.
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 do my best 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. Just having her there made the difference.
It wasn’t unless Cordy was dressed up to go out that he tended to take notice of 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, “Our clients would just as soon see you in sackcloth—or nothing.” He muttered the last, but was overheard anyway.
Cordelia’s expression turned from annoyance to amusement. “That would cut down on my dry cleaning bill.”
Deciding that it was a good time to change the subject, “You were saying something about research.”
A soft sigh escaped. Lashes dropped low to hide the sparkle in those hazel eyes. She resumed sifting through the pile of colored swatches.
“Did you know that the working environment can affect productivity?” Cordelia asked him completely throwing Angel off. Considering the swatches, he’d been expecting a question about 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.
Furthermore, “It sounds expensive.”
“I can be thrifty,” Cordelia assured him. “This place has so much potential, but it’s old, worn down and I swear still has demon vibes.”
Wryly, Angel commented, “Like me.”
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.”
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.
She’d never leave that Silverlake apartment 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. “It might be a good idea to keep some clothes here. Or have my own bed for my after-vision naps.”
Until now Cordelia had just slept it off in his bed. Lately, he’d put her there himself. Her scent lingered on his pillows in ways that were disturbingly tantalizing, strangely comforting and completely familiar. Surprisingly, the thought that she would have her own room wasn’t entirely welcome.
Before he stopped to consider what he was saying, Angel offered, “You can use my closet.”
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 in his room. He had no idea 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? 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. “I could start there,” she beamed. “First, I’d 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 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 around.”
“Meaning it’s free.”
“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 down 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?”
Angel pointed upstairs, “Cordy wants to try out some beds.” Ten heartbeats later, Wes’ screeched response carried to his ears.
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, but who was counting. After a thoughtful pause, Angel gave her a short answer. “I stayed there before.”
“Back in the 50’s,” she recalled.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. Trust Angel to cling to the past hanging onto his old room like it was a comfortable old shoe instead of trying something new. 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. Though he remembered that one had existed, it was located on the other side of the hotel that remained boarded up.
“Urgh! Just my crappy luck.”
However, he knew of some small suites on the upper floor that would probably be ideal. For some reason Angel was hesitant to take her up there. “Cordy, there are plenty of rooms on this level. You wouldn’t have so many stairs to climb.”
“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 low 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 clueless nutcase move in who’d have him exorcised.”
“Like I said,” Angel shrugged, “a smaller room down here would be more suitable.”
Cordelia had already looked at the choices down here. 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 Angel.
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; wanting.
These things could be repressed. They had to be. 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. When Angel walked away from Sunnydale, he thought he’d left all hope of happiness behind him letting 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.
Angel had never mourned the death of a friend before. 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 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 and her…figure was quite svelte compared to yours.”
Snorting, “Trust you to remember the important details,” Cordelia tried to ignore the sudden flash of burning jealousy that swept through her. 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. He looked available even though he wasn’t.
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 a eunuch. Even if he wasn’t in the no-bone category, which he most definitely at the top of the list, Cordelia felt confident that she knew Angel’s type and she wasn’t it. Although she might argue that Cordelia Chase was anybody’s type.
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 made her spine tingle. “That better not be your way of saying my ass is too big.”
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 of the hotel 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 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 now 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. Dammit, Cordelia 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 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 told her. “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 answered, “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 they regretted. 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, oppressing, 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. No sooner had he started to move forward than Cordy let out an ear-piercing shriek.
Angel was across the room in an instant pulling her close, staring down helplessly at the look of panic on her beautiful, though smudged face. He could hear the staccato beat of her heart hammering in her chest, and the shaky gasping breaths. His name was muttered against his chest as Cordelia wrapped her arms around him holding on for dear life.
“What is it?” The question was half-growled as he looked around the room for any sign of trouble. He rubbed his hand down her back in a soothing motion then up to join the other in cupping her face, turning it so he could look into her eyes.
The hazel depths were marked with fear, darkened by confusion. “I saw something,” Cordelia trembled beneath his touch. Clutching at his shirt as if it anchored her to Angel, she chanced a glimpse over her shoulder back at the mirror.
Its splintered surface was quiet again reflecting the room, the broken shards across its lower right corner still visible. What she’d seen before was back again. Angel was too busy looking at her to notice that the mirror’s image showed the room in pristine form. There was no dust, dirt or cobwebs anywhere. The colors weren’t faded at all.
That wasn’t what had made her scream.
“In the mirror,” Cordelia stumbled over the words, her head spinning as she tried to make sense of it, and finally realizing why it didn’t, “I saw—you, Angel.”
“Vampires don’t have reflections,” Angel pointed out needlessly. “Whatever you saw couldn’t have been me.”
Cordelia moved her hands to his chest and pushed herself out of his arms. Standing back, she tucked her hair behind her ears, licked her dry lips and tried to calm down. “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, but Angel was no longer in a hurry to leave. 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 arm and moved along beside him inching closer despite her fear of what she might see.
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 that were 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 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.”
“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. This time he demanded answers, “Cordy, tell me what you saw.”
She glared at him for a few seconds, refusing to speak. “Fine. You want to know? I’ll show you. Look at me.”
Angel was already facing her. He let his gaze drop down from those angry hazel eyes to the soft curve of her lips, the creamy golden skin of her throat down to the swell of her breasts and the little glimpse of cleavage his height afforded him. The sudden smack of her hand against his arm caught his attention. Annoyed at the distraction, he flicked his gaze back to hers.
“You asked me to look.”
“I meant my reflection.”
Turning slowly, Angel was glad that vampires didn’t blush. He focused on Cordelia’s image in the mirror. Slowly, it hit him. It wasn’t just the room that looked perfect. So did their clothes. There was no sign of the traces of dust they’d picked up during their room to room search. And Cordy’s hair wasn’t quite the tangled mess she’d just made by running her hands through it.
The sight distracted him from other observations as he thought about the fact that he liked Cordelia’s long hair. It looked so soft, touchable. He wondered how it would feel if he let his fingers comb through it, if it trailed across his skin as they—
“See!” Cordelia pointed frantically at the mirror. “You’re touching me.”
Angel’s hands were clenched closed at his sides. He was certainly not touching her, but his mirror image was doing just that by lifting his hand to the silky strands of Cordelia’s hair, running his fingertips through it, lifting it to his lips.
“We’re leaving,” Angel swiftly guided Cordelia out of the room without looking back at the mirror. The floor boards creaked beneath them as they scurried back into the hall. They shut the door to the suite leaning back against it as they looked anywhere but at each other.
Breathily, Cordelia muttered, “Well that was weird.”
“We should probably get an expert to check that mirror out,” Angel certainly wasn’t going back in there with Cordy anytime soon.
“An expert,” Cordy nodded. “Right.”
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 and then swept his gaze to the right only to see Cordelia and Angel strolling casually toward him.
“What’s with the crossbow?” Cordelia stepped in front of Angel just in case Wesley had a twitchy trigger finger. He wasn’t likely to do something he’d regret if she was standing in the way.
Still holding the weapon toward them, Wes cautioned her to step away from Angel. “I heard you 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 akimbo 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.”
Angel looked hurt. “What did I do?”
“Earlier, you made reference to trying out beds together. At the time, I thought you were making a poor attempt at humor.” Wesley lowered the crossbow to his side. “However, upon hearing Cordelia’s muffled scream, to which I originally attributed to the discovery of a rat’s nest or another roach infestation, followed by the bellowing of my name, I was naturally 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.
“What?” Wes raised the crossbow again. Ordering her to, “Move aside, Cordy. One of you had better start explaining.”
Cordelia only demanded that he drop the crossbow. “Tell him what you did, Angel.” She reached back to smack his shoulder.
Taking a step away from her, Angel held his hands up in the air in hands-off mode. “It wasn’t me. Not exactly,” he corrected considering that it would probably be better if he left out the part where he’d been thinking about touching her. “Well, it was, but it wasn’t.”
“Cordy, perhaps you could clarify what the hell is going on here,” Wesley crossed his arms still holding his bow at the ready.
“Fine,” she rolled her eyes. “Let me do the talking. Angel keeps screwing it up.” It was easy enough to explain their task. She’d been talking to him about her scheme to redecorate when they’d gotten into the argument about whether Angel would even allow it. “We were checking out rooms for me to fix up. I wanted one to keep my stuff in.”
Wesley glanced over at Angel, saying nothing about the fact that he knew Cordelia sometimes slept in his room after she’d had a vision. It was understood that the room was hers as long as she was in 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. 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 thought he was imagining 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, usually 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,” Wes suggested when Cordelia started to describe their explorations in greater detail than was necessary.
Sighing, Cordelia explained that they’d gone into the Helios Suite. Wesley found it interesting to learn that the hotel named its suites in that manner. He cut in saying, “Hyperion is actually a variant form of Helios, the god whose chariot carried the orb of the sun across the heavens.”
“Thanks, but I’ve had enough history lessons today,” Cordelia stopped him.
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 found a dark corner to skulk in while Cordelia continued on with the story of their run-in with the magic mirror. He was certain that the mirror picked up on his thoughts. It was a good thing he’d gotten them out of there before it revealed the naked part.
“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 saw his reflection?”
Cordelia nodded. “Yes. At first I didn’t think about it. He was just standing there behind me and he looked really good. Not like that,” she waved carelessly in Angel’s direction which made the vampire scowl. “I mean really hot.”
“You’re certain that it was him?” He needlessly reminded her that vampires had no reflections. “Was Angel in the room at the time?”
Another nod. “I heard the floor boards creak. That room isn’t very stable. Even if it didn’t have a freaky mirror in it, I don’t think I’d stay there.”
Concluding that they were dealing with some form of enchantment or curse, Wesley encouraged Cordelia to tell him everything. The more details he had, the more likely it would be to discover the mirror’s true purpose.
“One minute I was just looking at his reflection and the next thing I saw was Angel macking on my neck,” Cordelia complained, her gaze sliding toward Angel. “He was really into it, too. I thought I was going to end up with a gigantic hickey at the very least.”
“That never happened,” Angel stepped out of the shadows to defend himself.
Cordelia rubbed her neck noticing that her skin still tingled at that spot. She could almost feel Angel’s lips against her pulse point making her tremble at the delicious sensation. “No, of course not, but I saw it just the same.”
“You screamed because I—my mirror image was kissing you—yours?” Angel tripped over the words. She’d been so scared.
“Duh! Vampire at my throat.”
“Cordy, I would never hurt you,” Angel tucked a finger under her chin forcing her wandering gaze to settle on him. “You know that.”
Her hand found a home on his chest again. “I know.”
Wesley suddenly felt like he was intruding which only made him more uncomfortable about his earlier suspicions. Clearing his throat, he commented, “That was quite a complex aberration. Most mirrors are used for scrying spells or to enhance images. The latter may be at play here, but there is obviously more to it.”
“You don’t suppose that creepy tentacle demon has a cousin who’s playing tricks on us?” Cordelia suggested, dropping her hand, but still standing close to Angel.
“No,” Angel assured her that wasn’t the case. He gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze and told himself that it was accidental that his fingertips trailed down the length of her hair as he released her. “I don’t think we’re dealing with a demon, but a magic mirror.”
Cordelia let out a soft pfft, “Magic schmagic. It’s perv-o-vision.”
“Ah, perhaps these supernatural effects have a purpose.” The image had certainly shaken Cordy up, but it was quite impossible to come up with a hypothesis until he had witnessed the effects for himself. “Let’s have a look, then.”
“Don’t bother,” Cordelia suggested it was a waste of time. “It’s broken. We’ve got enough bad luck around here without messing with it.”
“Broken? That could be significant,” Wesley told them, censuring Cordelia for leaving out that important detail.
“Sorry, I was too busy worrying about Fangs-R-Us nibbling on my neck to notice.”
Wesley chuckled inwardly at their priceless expressions. “Perhaps it would be best if I examine this mirror alone.”
He got no arguments from either of them.
Leaving his crossbow in Cordelia’s hands, Wesley entered the Apollo Suite retracing their steps toward the bedroom. The ornate mirror was easy to find on the far wall. It was rectangular, approximately 5’x3’ in size. From this distance, he could clearly see the fractured shards of glass along its surface, a circular impact point centering in the lower right corner.
As described to him, the reflection of the room was bright and clean in comparison to the reality laid out before him. Several possibilities raced through his head. Common spells known to be used by those with a passing knowledge of magic.
This sounded like something else. The manifestations in the mirror had taken a life of their own, their actions different than their real counterparts. It wasn’t until Angel had entered the room that Cordelia noticed anything significant. He theorized that the mirror’s interactive magic might require two participants.
There was only one way to gather more information and that meant experiencing the effects for himself. Angel was only a shout away in case of trouble, but Wes expected none. These type of things were usually little more than illusion.
The floorboards creaked woefully with each step he took. He’d noticed this in other parts of the hotel, but put it down to the fact that the Hyperion had been around for nearly eighty years. It was bound to have dry rot and termites in places. Doubtless having a demon squatting here the entire time did not help the matter.
He felt a wisp of something tickling his cheek and brushed at his skin to rid himself of it. A cobweb, he presumed. The room was full of them.
Wesley approached the mirror at a slow pace watching intently as his image grew more and more succinct. The man reflected there was well kempt, rather rugged in his masculinity, and exuded self-assuredness. Seeing that it was him, Wes stood up a little straighter to match the confident pose of his reflection.
Examining the image, Wes decided he liked what he saw there. “Not bad if I do say so.”
Getting on with his task, he moved his attention to the details of the room reflected in the mirror. There were subtle differences to be seen beyond cleanliness. Personal objects were scattered across the dressing table. The bedcover was turned down in preparation for bedtime, a chocolate laid out upon the pillow.
From the corner of his eye, Wes caught a flash of movement. It was a subtle shift in the mirror’s visual field. As if a fine mist had rolled into the room it covered every surface he could see. He was no longer alone. She was there, behind him walking slowly, steadily toward him, her penoir softly flowing around her feet, reaching out for him.
Wes turned around, a sudden shriek escaping as he held up his hands to ward off an attack. There was no one there. Angel and Cordelia burst into the room only seconds later, but the image was once again the still reflection of the room.
“There was a woman,” Wesley gulped, wide-eyed with equal parts wonder and fear. “For a moment, I thought she was behind me, but she was only in the mirror.”
As Angel silently pondered Wesley’s discovery, Cordelia was faster to guess what he’d seen. “This woman wouldn’t be a skanky blonde with big—emeralds, would she?”
“No,” Wes gave her an odd look. “As a matter of fact, she was a redhead, quite slim, rather tall, wearing a blue nightgown.”
Angel looked at the mirror and then back at the two of them. He asked Wes, “This redhead didn’t have a little mole right there, did she?” pointing at the base of his throat.
“Well, I—,” Wes thought about it. “Yes, I believe she did now that you mention it. She was also wearing a rather unusual necklace. The gems did look like emeralds.”
“Hah.” Cordelia muttered something about chippies that went over Wesley’s head. Angel seemed to get it, his scowl returning.
Surmising, “I take it that you two know this woman,” Wesley asked for details. “Did you see her when you were in here before?”
“Way, way before,” Cordelia returned rather grouchily. “And it was just him.”
“The woman you’re describing sounds like someone I saw when I was here back in 1952,” Angel explained causing a memory to flicker to life in Wes’ head.
He snapped his fingers. “Of course! That is why she looked familiar. Cordelia, you’ve seen her, too.”
Denying it, Cordelia walked back toward the sitting room. “Have not.”
“I can’t recall the details, but we’ve seen her face before,” Wes assured her. “In one of the newspaper articles we pulled while doing research on the Hyperion.”
They were deep in the midst of rebounding ‘have too’ and ‘have not’ when Angel barked at them to shut up. “Will you two stop arguing and look at the mirror.”
Cordelia and Wes turned simultaneously to stare at their reflections aligned perfectly in the mirror. They’d been reduced to cute five year olds each holding the opposite ends of a tug-of-war rope. “How degrading,” Wes muttered as he straightened his tie.
Snorting at the sight, Cordelia leaned in to tell him, “I so would’ve won.”
As they watched, the mirror’s image swirled filling with a misty haze that fell away to reveal the redheaded woman. There was no mischief in her deep green eyes. Only sadness, loneliness and fear. She spoke to them. No voice emanated from within the mirror, only shadowed whispers almost like a half-remembered dream.
The plea was clear as a bell. Her hand reached out to them. 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 over his wrist jerking Wes’ hand away from the mirror. “Don’t touch it,” Angel knocked him back a step. “Who knows what that might do.”
Wesley realized that he hadn’t been fully aware of his actions. “Thank you. I believe you are right in that regard. The mirror itself might be dangerous, but I believe that it would be safe enough to handle its frame.”
“We could put it in my office,” Angel suggested. It would be safe enough down there.
“A haunted mirror,” Cordelia thought they were nuts to suggest keeping it. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Wesley shrugged, “At least he didn’t suggest his bedroom.”
Cordelia’s eyes got big and round. She was about to let him have it for putting the idea into Angel’s head when she realized the vampire was watching for her response. With a casual shrug, she told Wes it didn’t matter. Smirking, “I’ve already got my ghost. Dennis isn’t creepy and knows just how to make me relax after a hard day.”
It took all of Angel’s restraint not to growl. He’d stayed at Cordy’s place long enough to know there wasn’t anywhere Phantom Dennis didn’t go. Good thing Dennis was already non-corporeal.
“I’m fairly certain this isn’t a haunting,” Wesley told them. He decided to steer clear of asking about ghostly relaxation techniques. “More like a curse, it seems that the woman is trapped within the mirror.”
“A curse? Like Angel needs another one.” She really hated the idea of having that mirror around. Considering what happened earlier, it wasn’t safe to be around it if Angel was in close proximity. Not unless she could learn to control her imagination, that is.
Hello, Cordelia wasn’t about to admit that she’d fantasized about Angel pressing his lips against her neck. It wasn’t her fault that the mirror made him look so hot. He wasn’t even there. That made it comparable to imagining Jude Law. Why couldn’t it have been Jude in that mirror instead of Angel?
She could only guess that the second incident was a continuation of the first. The only time Angel was ever seductive like that was when he was drugged or evil—or in one or two really hot dreams that left her sweaty, aroused and tangled in her sheets. The first time she’d called in sick, because obviously it had to be delirium. When it happened again not too long ago, Cordelia had put it down to the fact that they’d been working out down in the basement earlier that night and attributed it to hormones.
Angel reminded her that the woman was one of the ones he’d left behind presumably to be devoured by the Thesulac demon. “I have a responsibility to save her if I can, Cordy. If I’d stayed—”
“Don’t brood about it now.” Cordelia didn’t want him to blame himself for this. “You can’t control everything. If you want to help, we can help. Wes can do research.”
After much discussion, it was decided to hang the mirror in the hotel lobby. Being on the ground floor, it was the most stable area of the hotel. And it offered them the comfort of being roomy enough to avoid falling into the mirror’s effective range. And Cordelia was happy about keeping it out of Angel’s bedroom. No telling what it would show if she was lying in Angel’s bed post-vision and that thing turned the whammy on again.
It had only been a few weeks since they’d moved into the hotel. After the initial clean-up of the lobby, they’d organized their offices and filed away anything that was remotely salvageable from their original one. At the time, Cordelia had been grateful to get Angel out of her apartment. He was so damn clumsy at times.
Though hating to admit it, she actually missed the big guy. It was one thing to have Dennis around to talk to, share stories with and handle the housework. But it was a lot different to have a guy taking up your space even if he was a vampire. Eye candy was certainly less available now, something her resident ghost couldn’t provide. And since eye candy was all she seemed to get lately, it was a little hard adjusting to life without it.
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, but having a cool office would bring in clients with money.
Right now they were the client. 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. Assuming that luck had anything to do with anything, she wasn’t going to take chances.
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.
“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.”
The swirling mist appeared in the mirror again as did the woman, tears rolling down her pale face, a plea on her lips that Wesley heard like a whisper, “Help me.”
“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.
Cordelia didn’t know if the mirror or the ghost was responsible for those unnerving images, but she really wanted that to stop. Yes, it was true that Angel was a hottie. And maybe—just maybe she’d thought about him that way once or twice since they’d met in L.A., but they weren’t serious thoughts.
It was a completely normal female response, that’s all. Normally easy to ignore. All she had to do was to think ‘Buffy’ or ‘curse’ to put things into perspective. Not to mention his social ineptitude.
Sitting down at her desk while waiting for the guys to finish hanging the mirror, she grabbed a random magazine from her desk drawer hoping to distract herself from the replay of Angel’s lips plying kisses across her neck. That might’ve worked if the magazine wasn’t last month’s edition of Cosmo. Or if she hadn’t flipped to the article about ‘Mapping Your Man’s Erogenous Zones’.
A high-pitched shriek sounded from the lobby followed by the thud of a hammer and the sound of scattering hooks & nails. “I-Is that Cordelia?” Wesley sputtered.
At the sound of her name, Cordelia slowly turned her head toward the lobby. Wesley was slack-jawed as he stared at the mirror’s image. She could see herself standing skin to skin with Angel, her back facing them so that was shown was her loose hair, her waist, and most of her tattoo.
For a moment, she was mesmerized by the sight of Angel’s strong hands wrapped possessively around her hips. There wasn’t any space between them. Her fingers were roving in a teasing circle around his nipple. Angel growled out to Wes to hurry it up.
If she closed her eyes, Cordelia could almost feel the imprint of his cool body against hers: strong, hard and totally male. It was almost like being there in that moment. Just like upstairs when she’d felt the whisper of his lips on her neck, her senses were singing, body responding.
“Cordy,” 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.
Panicking, Cordelia slammed the magazine closed and jammed it into the back of her desk. “Oh crap, crap, crap.” The mirror was possessed by a fiend, that’s what it was. One who looked like some woman Angel had seen way back when. Someone evil enough to put lusty thoughts in her head about a friend who also happened to be her very non-boneable boss.
Without looking toward Angel at all, Cordelia jumped up from her chair and ran into his office. She started pulling random books down from the shelves. Wesley had slowly been building up their collection, but had yet to move his books out of his apartment. Most of Angel’s books had survived the bomb blast at the old office. So there had to be something she could find to fix this.
And if she couldn’t, Wesley would find it. Or else.
“Are you quite finished ripping Angel’s office apart?” Wesley poked his head in.
Cordelia was on the floor, a huge tome open on her lap. “Not yet. Just getting a head start on the research.” She glanced up, “Where’s Angel?”
Rubbing a hand across his jaw, Wesley muttered his answer. “Ah—he’ll be here in a minute or two.”
Instantly irritated that Angel wasn’t in as much of a rush to handle this problem as she was, Cordelia complained peevishly, “Just because the vamp gets to see his reflection for the first time in forever doesn’t mean I want mine,” she poked a finger at her chest, “to be naked with it.”
“That was quite—um….” Even Wes couldn’t find the appropriate words to describe what he’d seen. “The nature of these aberrations might provide us with clues as to the mirror’s true purpose. It might enable us to find out how this woman continues to appear in the mirror and whether she has any control over what we’ve seen.”
“Evil fiend,” Cordelia muttered as she continued to browse through the pages of the book.
Wesley moved into the office positioning himself to look over Cordelia’s shoulder to see what subject she had chosen to research. It was a compendium of demons and other noteworthy creatures. “There is no evidence of demonic activity,” he pointed out. “This is either supernatural or mystical. Most of our references on the occult are at my flat.”
“So what are you waiting for?” Cordelia blew her bangs out of her eyes and kept on looking, convinced that she’d find that woman’s face depicted within its pages.
With a sigh, Wesley headed to the outer office area, passing Angel as he walked in. He paused to ask, “Do you remember the woman’s name?”
Angel drew a blank. “No. Mostly, she kept to herself. So did I.”
“Pfft.” Cordelia shoved the book back on the bottom shelf and grumbled wiping the dust off of her jeans.
When Angel held out a hand to help her to her feet, she stared at it for a moment as she remembered feeling it curl around her hip. Her eyes flicked up to his searching for a clue that he was also unsettled by this whole thing. Nothing. Whatever Angel thought about this, it was hidden from her. Normally, she could figure it out, but if that blank expression suggested anything it was that nothing more than a simple annoyance.
Standing next to him changed her perspective. He licked his lips. The gentle hold on her hand tightened subtly, thumb sweeping across the surface in an almost caress. Cordelia’s breath caught in her throat as anticipation fluttered deep in her belly. It reminded her of their closeness in the mirror, the false image that felt so real in her mind.
God, she ached to be touched. It was as if a craving had been awakened within her. Somehow it had to be Angel. Only his touch would sate her needs. His hands on her breasts, curved around them. Coolness sliding across her skin. Cupping her bottom to pull her up against the hardness she had imagined she’d felt, fingers sliding down stroking her between her legs to pleasure her.
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.
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, 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. “Just drop it.”
Petulantly, Cordelia shoved him on her way out of the office. When he moved to follow, she held up a hand. “Uh-uh. Stay there where the mirror can’t see you.”
Wesley paused in his search of the filing cabinet. “We’re far enough away over here that the mirror should have no effect.”
“Huh.” Cordelia knew differently. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to take chances.”
“Might I point out that you’re standing here with me and nothing is happening. It’s perfectly safe,” Wes shook his head and went back to looking for the Hyperion file.
She answered with a snort.
Angel stayed put at the threshold of his office. Not because Cordelia said so, but because he was afraid that she was right. And there was no way he needed Wesley around as a witness assuming that thing could pick up on his thoughts. 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.
Though he couldn’t own up to the source of the images this time, he assumed they were thoughts pulled from his subconscious. He didn’t think it would be a good idea to expose anybody to the idea that scenting Cordelia’s arousal made him want to swipe the contents of her desk onto the floor and take her right there. The more he tried to suppress those images, the more he thought about it.
This was ridiculous. “Wes, whatever it is you’re looking for…find it.” They needed to deal with this as fast as possible. 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. Okay, 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. 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 against him, 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. 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. If they could discover the truth he might be able to get out of this thing 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?”
“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’d looked under Hyperion, Hotel, Property, 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.
Angel nearly stepped out to join them, but held back at the last second. “Bring that in here.” He turned to walk back to his desk leaving Wes and Cordelia no choice but to follow.
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 damage the trust that had developed between them.
Fear set in. Anger swept in right behind it. There was no way Angel 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. It was the freaky mirror’s fault and it wasn’t like she had cooties or anything.
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 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 will head back to my flat to pick up those books. Perhaps I can find a spell that will identify the nature of these aberrations.”
Wesley’s 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.”
“Stay here, woman” Cordelia mimicked Angel issuing orders twisting her expression into a stern mask and curling her fingers up into fangs. “My obsession with blondes forces me to do stupid things.”
She rolled her eyes.
If Angel thought he was going to get any information out of Kate Lockley, he had another thing coming. She blamed him for her father’s death. Hated him for what he was, hated herself more for helping him. Angel was the last person Kate would want to see.
Cordelia wasn’t even sure Kate knew that they had moved into the Hyperion. They’d had no contact with her in several weeks. The fact that Angel was probably right about tracking down Richard Waterhouse using Police Department resources was the only thing that helped stifle 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.
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 foul and 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. Angel arrived in the lowest section of the LAPD parking garage twenty minutes later, 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.
“You here looking for Detective 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 box of books, Wesley pushed open the door and entered the Hyperion lobby. Having decided to cross-reference with some of Angel’s resources, he’d brought several key compendiums and spell books. 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 lying on a bed of cash frolicking 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.”
“Our tug-of-war game wasn’t lewd,” Wes popped the bubble on that theory. “You did make an adorable five-year-old.”
Cordelia conceded that part wasn’t quite as depraved as everything else they’d seen so far. “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. “Is it possible that the earlier aberrations were induced by something you or Angel—”
“No!” 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: as positive proof that Cordelia might have thought something that led to one or all of the previous manifestations. Though it was quite disturbing to think about considering what he’d seen. Further questions would get him nowhere. 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.
I am lost. Help me.
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.
Angel had seen a lot in his time, but nothing quite like this. He took a seat at his desk, leaning back and propping his feet up. Upon seeing the book he was reading earlier, he allowed himself a wry smile. It seemed like ages instead of only a few hours that he’d been relaxing with that book.
If Cordelia hadn’t barged into his office wanting to redecorate the hotel, they might never have discovered the mirror. Naturally, she blamed him for taking her up there even though he’d wanted her to choose a room on the second floor. Hell, truthfully, he never wanted her to pick a room of her own.
The images produced by the mirror were plain proof that having a room far away from his was probably a good idea. He dared to glance over to see what she was doing. She’d abandoned the police files in favor of the phone book.
Flicking through it page by page, she walked over and plonked it down on top of his once-tidy desk now covered with an array of scattered swatches, old newspaper clippings and Xeroxed police cases. “There are only 16 entries for the Waterhouse name in the Los Angeles area. 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, phantom or any other kind of supernatural phenomenon. 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. “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—his secret desire for her visible for everyone to see. But it wasn’t exactly flattering that she was so disgusted about it.
Demanding, “Why is it so ridiculous?” Angel suddenly didn’t care if Cordy found out that he had been the direct cause of the manifestations, and that the mirror picked up on his sub-conscious thoughts.
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!” Cordelia raised her hands up in the air as if waving for attention and nearly shouting, “You cursed vampire, me non-nympho seer,” as if that made any sense at all in the scheme of things.
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 have a curse doesn’t mean I’m incapable of—”
Cordelia reached across the space between them to clamp a hand over his mouth. “I really, really 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.
“Don’t think I can’t tell that you want me.”
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. Somehow he had figured out that she was the cause. That somewhere in the depths of her brain she thought he was really hot and wanted them to have wild monkey sex.
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 Cordelia 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 relatives of the mysterious Alice Waterhouse. When one man, C 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 Chuck for about five minutes before she felt the hairs rising on the back of her neck. The phone line 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 finished talking to Chuck.”
“You are now.”
Angel held himself perfectly still. “Hardly. Certainly not of Chuckie. You don’t need to throw yourself at strangers to prove you’re not interested in me.”
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 on 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, “We can’t do this,” Cordelia planted both hands against Angel’s chest needing some support just to hold herself upright. Her legs 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 especially as the vampire was looking rather hostile. 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.
“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-manpire 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.
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 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.
It was 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. There were ties between them wrought by the Powers that Be and nothing as mundane or extraordinary as love would 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.
“Take a look at this,” Angel passed the book into Wesley’s outstretched hand. There was no need to point out which particular illustration he wanted examined. “Maybe this can shed some light on the situation.”
Before murmuring affirmatively, Wesley carefully studied the sketch’s design and thoroughly read the short description. “The emerald necklace.”
“Alice’s necklace is in that book?” asked Cordelia walking into the office carrying a paper sack containing the sandwiches and blood. “So I’m guessing that it’s not some cheap knock-off.”
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 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,” Angel took it from her carefully ensuring that their fingers did not touch. Right now even that slight sensation would be more than he could take.
“Angel knows how to say thank you,” Cordelia pointed out. Taking her own sandwich out of the bag, she grabbed a napkin and sat down.
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.”
“Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” Angel raised a brow and waited to see if either of them would make the same connection he did.
Nearly dropping her sandwich, Cordelia gasped, “The ring you destroyed.” Snapping her fingers as she tried to recall the name, “Alpaca, Ampata—no, that was that Incan mummy girl. Am-something.”
“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 what 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 Angel that Wesley wasn’t going to let the topic drop. He needed Wes to understand why he did it. “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 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.”
“Actually, I think it a distinct probability that it did,” Wesley rose from his chair and walked to the door. “There are some supplies I need. If I’m right about this, Alice 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.”
The smile faltered when her eyes moved forward again, meeting his. Harnessing the stormy sea of emotions within him, Angel admitted his mistake. “I should never have kissed you.”
Maybe it was selfish to be more concerned about 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.”
“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 toward the stairs.
“Dammit, 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.”
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 had to fall 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. Not that it’s possible.”
“I put up with you everyday,” she countered.
Focused on her mouth he leaned closer intent upon reminding her it was different now. Only he stopped short, his lips hovering above hers. Angel abruptly let her go. “I’d want more. That’s exactly why we need to forget this ever happened. Let it go.”
Softly, stubbornly, Cordelia refused, “No.” Her hands slipped up between them to slide around to the nape of his neck, her fingers brushing against the short strands of hair. “Maybe it does take a magic mirror to show us what we want. Yes, it sucks that we can’t have it all. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have something.”
Angel let his forehead drop to hers, and opened up his fist to let her silken hair fall through his fingers. He grabbed onto the edge of the counter with both hands and closed his eyes silently vowing to find some way around the curse.
Deciding that he would say nothing about that plan, make no promises he couldn’t keep, Angel opened his eyes and pulled back enough that he could see her face. “I don’t know how that will work, Cordy, but I’ll try.” The instant he said it, a smile lit her face, hope shining in her eyes.
Upon Wesley’s return, he found Cordelia and Angel sitting outside in the courtyard. They were side by side, their arms and legs touching, heads bent close. They looked like a couple in love. He had to trust them to do the right thing by abstaining from total intimacy. They both were well aware of the risks involved, but it worried him nonetheless.
“Angel, Cordy,” he called out to them. Having prepared everything before disturbing them, he was ready. “It is time to begin.”
They gathered in the lobby noting that the mirror once again reflected all three of them. Angel put his arm around Cordelia’s waist and watched his mirror image press a kiss to her temple. He’d wanted to do that, but had chosen to stick to pulling her close.
“What is all this?” Looking around at the items Wesley had neatly arranged, it didn’t seem like he was preparing a communication spell. The theory that Alice Waterhouse was still alive might be true, but they still had no direct way of talking to her, Angel pointed out.
Wes picked up a mortar containing crushed glass. “You’re right. I plan to repair the mirror.”
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.
The husky tones were real this time. Not in their heads. 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.”
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 meeting. 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.”
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 desire.”
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 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. “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.”
“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 two emeralds.”
Giving one to Angel would still leave her with one, 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 in the courtyard 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 on he gave her turned to one of deep concern. “Cordy, are you okay?”
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.”
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. “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.
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 today. Earlier this afternoon 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—I don’t know that the curse is 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.”