It’s a case of undercover lovers when Cordelia & Angel discover their mutual feelings.
CONTENTS: C/A in AtS
LENGTH: Short Story / 3,400 words
CHALLENGE CREDIT: Gabriella / LJ
FICPIC CREDIT: Lysa
Beyond the sun’s reach where cool shadows provided protection from its burning rays, Angel kept watch over the poolside. Clear blue water shimmered with dappled light as it streamed through outstretched branches of the old oak trees surrounding the complex. Splashing, soft voices and the occasional shriek melded with the music from a radio.
On the surface it appeared to be an idyllic haven. Five people gathered in the iron-fenced area: a mother with her two young children, an elderly man whose pot belly made a resting place for his beer, and Cordelia. It shouldn’t have surprised him that she was a practiced swimmer, cutting through the water with grace and ease stroke after stroke, somersaulting at each end to make the return trip.
He’d always imagined her as more of a sun-worshipper soaking up the heat and light that turned her skin that honeyed hue. Just like the tennis pro and equestrian trainer she’d mentioned, there was probably a swimming instructor in her privileged past. It still amazed him to think how much her life had changed in such a short span—and how much of it was now entwined with his.
A twinge of guilt pulled at his chest. One he tried to ignore. When he imagined what his existence would be like without Cordy in it he could imagine only the bleak cold of loneliness. Try as he might, Angel couldn’t push that thought aside. Every moment she spent with Wes or Gunn, even Dennis, he coveted.
It wasn’t jealousy. At least Angel didn’t think of it that way. Lately, he’d started to notice a void when Cordelia wasn’t at the hotel. It was desolate, no longer the quiet harbor where he could reflect and relax. The disturbing vision pain she endured now scared the hell out of him. Sometimes it was hard to let her go until she reminded him about the vision itself; that there was a victim out there in need of rescuing.
Cordelia had rescued him in ways he couldn’t begin to count. Her friendship meant more than he could ever try to express. For one thing, he’d never hear the end of it. Angel doubted he could find the words and trusted that she felt it too.
That’s why he was out here now making sure she stayed safe. Friends looked out for each other, especially when they did stupid things like sneaking off for a swim. Angel had his lecture ready to go. He was also certain that Cordy would manage to get out of it. She had a knack for making his head spin.
At the far end she dove deep. Thirty seconds passed before Cordelia appeared again, swimming the entire length of the pool before breaking the surface. Treading water toward the metal ladder nearby, she paused to sink to the bottom again only to pop into view with her hair now slicked away from her face.
One of the kids called out, “Bye Cordy,” and waved at her. After only a few days, she knew almost everybody here. Waving back, she broke into a huge smile, her joyful laughter carrying on the breeze across the courtyard.
For an instant she looked as carefree as she deserved to be. The realization that this was a stolen moment in the sun left him feeling guilty for intruding. Cordelia thought he was sleeping, but the click of the door woke him up. He’d followed determined to keep her safe even though the sun blocked the path between them.
Danger was the last thing on his mind as he had watched her climb out of the pool. Rung by rung Cordelia emerged, rivulets of water streaming down curves and supple limbs. Light caressed her like a lover clinging to the glistening droplets making her golden skin gleam. Like the old goat wading at the shallow end of the pool, Angel couldn’t look away, but for him it wasn’t just about leering at a beautiful girl in a bikini.
A bright flash glinted off the gold band on her left ring finger as she gently squeezed the water from her hair. Angel gulped at the sudden surge of possessiveness. As far as anyone here knew, they were newlyweds. She belonged to him.
They’d been undercover for a week taking up residence in the same condo where three other recently married couples had vanished. The only evidence seemed to be strange sigils smeared in blood, which the police had no means of identifying. No other leads were found. Benny, their client, owned the condos and had come to Angel Investigations as a last resort fearing that his property values would plummet.
With Wesley back at the Hyperion researching the sigils’ origins, Cordelia and he had moved into the condo to act as bait for whoever was behind the disappearances. At first, it reminded him of sharing her Silverlake apartment, minus the ever-present Phantom Dennis. But something subtle had changed between them since then
Maybe the ghost’s absence made everything seem more intimate. Finding their way around a daily routine while fitting in an active investigation had been a challenge.
They were living together, only not. Sharing space, but sleeping separately. Taking turns with the bed that was not truly theirs, just his and hers.
He cooked for her. She often enticed him to take a few bites from her plate, though sometimes she made those irritating airplane movements with her fork until he gave in. Angel usually growled to remind her that he wasn’t an infant. She’d say, “You’re being a big baby; it’s just food,” in a way that was too much of a challenge to resist. Avoiding further name calling was always a bonus. For her, he’d try anything. There was almost something sensual about it. Despite his protestations, Angel enjoyed the experience.
When they weren’t investigating, they fought over the remote. His efforts to relax with a book clashed more than once with her choice of television shows. Apparently some reality shows were intended to be watched with the volume control up. She questioned his taste in music and suggested he invest in some earplugs.
The couch wasn’t a complete war zone, however. Yesterday Cordelia had curled up next to him and read over his shoulder for a while. Her numerous interruptions to ask questions about the characters and plot should’ve been annoying, but they weren’t. Not at all.
Little jars of cream and makeup products had slowly crept onto his side of the sink. More than once, he’d commented on the growing pile of clothes and lacy underwear on the bathroom floor. She just rolled her eyes over his inability to coherently talk about panties. Angel wondered just when over the past five days that he’d stopped caring about the mess and started imagining being the one to undress her.
Just looking at her now he wondered how he could ever have been so blind. God, she was beautiful, radiant. The most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Angel stared at her shell-shocked as his feelings crystallized.
Oblivious to his stares, Cordelia walked over to her lounge chair picking up a swath of material that matched her bikini and knotted it around her hips. Gathering her belongings in a huge tote bag, she paused to slip on high heeled sandals. It occurred to Angel that he should head back inside. His lecture would best be delivered away from the prying eyes and ears of their neighbors.
The decision came a moment too late. Their eyes clashed across the courtyard, hers wide with the realization she’d been caught. He didn’t have to hear it to understand the single word that crossed her lips. Though amused by her reaction, Angel tried to look stern. After all, he’d asked her not to do anything foolish without him, Wesley or Gunn around.
Hurrying past him without bothering to explain her little excursion to the pool, Cordy glanced back. “You’re supposed to be sleeping,” she accused gruffly. “It’s daytime, Angel. Sunlight and vampires don’t mix. Helloooo, are you totally insane?”
Angel easily caught up with her. No way was she turning this into his issue. It looked like the lecture wasn’t going to wait until they were inside. “What part of ‘playing it safe’ includes going out without me? It could be dangerous. We’re the bait in a trap, Cordy, not here for a vacation.”
Stopping, Cordelia slung the tote bag over her shoulder. “One, I’m not incapable of defending myself or at least screaming for help,” she started ticking her points off on her fingers. “Two, these couples always disappear together. So technically there wasn’t any danger. Three, I was following a hunch.”
“What hunch?” Angel’s dark gaze narrowed. He couldn’t tell if she was telling him the truth or trying to find an excuse for disobeying his wishes. “It looked like you were swimming to me.”
“Duh, I was also talking to Mrs. Harrison. She’s in the know around here. I needed a chance to catch her with her hair down,” Cordelia shrugged it off, “and she certainly didn’t need you around as a distraction. Gossip is my game.”
Angel almost believed her. “I was there almost the whole time, Cordy.” Crossing his arms over his chest, he watched her squirm a little under his scrutiny. They stared at each other until Cordelia had to blink. Sometimes being a vampire had advantages.
“Fine,” she huffed. “It’s a beautiful day. You were sleeping and I got bored. I couldn’t resist.” Her eyes begged for understanding, and a smile appeared that nearly melted his resolve.
It took him a few seconds to collect his thoughts. “That doesn’t change the fact that it was dangerous to go out like that. Look at you,” his gaze raked across her curves. “Tell me that’s not designed to get attention. Did you see the way that old guy was drooling over you? I don’t want our killer making a move when I’m not around.”
Water droplets beaded across her golden skin, the thin material of her bikini clinging to her rounded breasts. Angel gulped at the tempting sight and dragged his eyes up to hers again. She looked annoyed, one eyebrow cocked in a high arch. “Did you just accuse me of flaunting myself in front of Ralph? He must be eighty.”
“It could be a clever disguise,” Angel parried. “For all we know he could be the one behind these disappearances.”
Glancing that way for a second, Cordelia raised an eyebrow. “Ralph?” It was evident that she wasn’t taking him seriously when she snorted and turned to head back to their condo. “I’d sooner suspect one of the kids.”
“Everyone’s a suspect.” Angel followed behind, skirting cautiously around the edge of a sunny area before catching up to her again. One of their neighbors walked by, forcing him to stop arguing long enough to play his part. He stepped closer to Cordy, slipping his hand around her waist, palm flat against her belly and pulled her back to him.
The still damp skin felt warm against his. She trembled slightly making him realize that his touch was probably cold. But her hand covered his when he started to move it away. “Hi, Mrs. Travers,” Cordelia smiled at the sour-faced woman who eyed them up and down before heading toward the parking lot without a word.
Watching silently until their neighbor turned the corner, she finally admitted, “That woman gives me the creeps.”
Unconsciously, Angel stroked his thumb back and forth stopping only when he heard a little hitch in her breathing. He didn’t want to let go. “We don’t know what’s going on here, Cordy. Until we do, I don’t want you taking unnecessary chances.”
Cordelia turned around without putting any distance between them standing so close that any glance that drifted beyond her face gave him an eyeful of cleavage. “I went for a swim, Angel. I was perfectly safe. Don’t blow it out of proportion.”
Her response was loud enough for any passerby to hear. “Hah.”
When Cordelia made a move to back away, Angel reached out automatically. The smart thing to do would be to let the conversation drop, but he wasn’t ready to let her go. Expecting fury, he found her laughing at him instead. Her forehead pressed against his chest, palms resting along his ribs as her shoulders shook uncontrollably.
Confused, Angel said nothing simply waiting for her to reveal what she found so damned amusing. A minute passed during which nervousness faded away as he let himself enjoy the sensation of having her in his arms for more than a hug’s worth of seconds. Finally, she lifted her head, eyes sparkling brightly.
“This has to be your deluded idea of a joke. Isn’t it kind of early in our relationship to be so jealous?” she teased.
Angel looked startled that she pinpointed that emotion instead of friendly concern. A squeak sounded, “Early—what do you mean, jealous?” as panic gripped at his throat.
She lifted her left hand and tapped the wedding ring. “We’re newlyweds. You’re my husband, remember?”
“Um—right,” Angel nodded slowly. He wished— and then wondered where that thought had sprung from.
Cordelia pointed out, “I guess this was our first official fight as a couple…if you don’t count that thing with the remote.” The idea obviously amused her. “You can cut the jealous act. As fake marriages go, ours is all work and no fringe benefits.”
If Cordy thought he was going to let her turn a legitimate concern about her safety into a joke or brush it off so easily, she had another thing coming. “I wasn’t acting.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it acting, either. And you say my performances are bad.” She poked his chest. “We’re supposed to be totally in love, not snipping at each other. Now that I think about it, you wouldn’t fool a five-year old with that corny jealous act.”
How many times did he have to say that it wasn’t an act? Besides, he wasn’t jealous, just concerned about her welfare. It was just a good thing for Ralph’s sake that the sun prevented him from getting close enough to rip out those leering eyes.
No, this had nothing to do with jealousy. Not all of it. Okay, maybe some of it, but it was mostly concern. Angel couldn’t think straight anymore. She’d fibbed and tried to cover it up. Made him feel guilty, too, just because he wanted her safe and felt the need to keep an eye on her. Now he was twisted up with jealousy and— lust.
Hit with an urge to prove his concern was real, that the beauty she took for granted drove men to do crazy things, even him, Angel struggled to maintain his composure.
“Keep focused. Stay in character,” Cordelia advised totally oblivious to the torrent of emotions Angel was experiencing. “You’re supposed to let me get away with stuff like this. I’m your bride. You adore me.”
That was the one thing she’d said that made sense to him. Her cheeky grin softened under his ardent gaze, as Angel muttered, “Something like that.” He kissed her softly barely a whisper across her plump lips before taking possession again. Lingering this time until Cordelia’s soft gasp of surprise made him lift up to gaze into her eyes, he felt as stunned as she looked.
Angel couldn’t find the words to form an excuse. Being honest with himself, he saw no reason to make one. He’d wanted to kiss her.
Touching her fingertips to her lips, Cordy looked startled, almost disbelieving that it had happened. “Nobody’s around. You didn’t have to do that.”
Angel’s only answer came in the form of another kiss, this one no longer hesitant or seeking approval. Cupping her face, he captured her mouth again, coaxing her to open up to him. Traces of chlorine and vanilla gloss clung to her lips. Angel dragged his tongue across the seam of her mouth, dipping it inside where it was warm and tasted only of Cordelia.
An aroused moan sounded between them, one echoed by the other. The thunk of her tote bag crashed onto the pavement and Angel felt her arms go around his neck as she pulled herself closer into his embrace. Another whimper of need emerged from her throat as they connected. Not noticing as the dampness of her skin soaking into his clothes, Angel explored the hot, moist depths of her mouth.
For an instant Angel was swimming through sunshine, liquid heat stirring his blood, making him feel alive again. The pounding of Cordelia’s heart in his ears might as well have been his own. They were so close, their bodies attuned with desire.
He hadn’t given Cordy time to question it, just kept kissing her until she was just as hot. She arched into him when he rubbed his lips across her pulse point, pliant and limber. Clinging to his shoulders, she moaned at the loss of his lips. “Angel, I swear to God, if this is just an act, I’ll—”
In answer, one hand coasted down to her hip, sliding around to cup her bottom. She let out a yelp at the gentle squeeze he couldn’t resist, cutting off her words. All those times down in the basement with her perfect form poured into skintight Lycra came to mind.
Cordelia’s hips lurched forward leaving her pressed tightly against his body and no longer in doubt of his sincerity.
Kissing her one more time, Angel made this one deliberately brief. The sun had changed positions, now bearing down on them fast. The temptation to ignore it was quelled only by the searing heat building up on the back of his neck. “We have to stop,” he reluctantly lifted his lips from hers.
Crestfallen, a whine of frustration sounding, “Just a little longer. You can’t bliss out over a few more kisses.”
“Not if I burn to a crisp first,” Angel chuckled as he swept her up into his arms and made a run for their front door.
Safely sheltered from the sun, he carried her through to the bedroom and didn’t pause until he deposited her on the bed. Angel stayed where he was though every instinct told him he was too far away.
“Your friendship is precious to me, Cordy. I don’t want to screw that up.”
Still breathing hard, she propped herself on her elbows. It was clear that she knew exactly what he meant. “By screwing me?” She hesitated just long enough to make him realize it was an issue for her, too. “You’ve already done your worst when it comes to losing our friendship.”
Did that mean she wanted this or not? Angel took another step toward the edge of the bed. “You’re right. I probably don’t deserve a chance at this. Whatever this is it’s worth exploring. I know you feel it, too. Tell me I’m wrong, Cordy, and I’ll back off.”
Cordelia blinked as if she was in shock or still reeling from their kisses. “You’re not wrong, but—the curse.”
Realizing that she didn’t know, Angel quickly explained, “No longer a factor. It hasn’t been for quite a while,” hoping she wouldn’t make him go into details.
“Let me guess.” Cordelia’s face twisted into a grimace, “It had something to do with your little epiphany. That would normally be a total mood killer. And later we’re so going to have to talk about why I didn’t know about the no-curse thing until now.”
One word caught Angel’s attention. He gulped. “Later?”
Rising up onto her knees, Cordelia scooted forward until she met him at the edge of the bed. “Much, much later.”
Minutes later, they were tangled up on the bed, still kissing. Though they were not newlyweds like those who occupied the room before them passion was their common denominator. This was more than just desire. Each kiss, each caress told them what neither one of them had spoken.
They were in love.
For the first time since their arrival, they lay vulnerable to the one observing them from afar. Oblivious to anything except each other. Around them, red blood slowly seeped through the recently painted white walls marking them with sigils of unearthly origin. A red-black cloud clung to the ceiling, swirling inward, creating a vortex overhead.
Wesley scurried from the guest parking area of Fairhaven Condominiums. His motorbike hadn’t taken up much room at the front allowing him to get as close as possible to the leasing office. Once inside, he walked past the busy receptionist who was assisting a customer and headed straight back to see the manager.
“Hey, mister! You can’t go back there,” the squeaky-voiced receptionist followed after him.
By the time she caught up, he was already in Jason Pettiworth’s office. There was no time to lose with social niceties. “I’m with Angel Investigations, Mr. Pettiworth.”
Irritation in the man’s stark blue eyes was replaced by dawning understanding. He looked over at his clueless secretary. “It’s okay, Colleen. He’s here to help. Benny hired him.”
Naming the property owner immediately got the girl to back off. In a half whisper so the prospective customer up front wouldn’t hear, “Oh, so you’re here about the couples that keep disappearing.”
Cordelia and Angel were undercover even now, posing as newlyweds. Not only were they investigating the situation, they were the bait. When Benny Craig had first come to them with the case, he’d informed them that it was always the one condo. The markings on the wall were sigils the police had been unable to identify and had been put down to gang-related graffiti.
After nearly a week of research, Wesley had finally discovered an obscure reference to a similar group of written characters. He’d borrowed the text from a source here in L.A. after his own collection failed to provide him with answers. After that it was child’s play. The first clue, always the hardest to find, gave him that, “Eureka!” moment.
He’d nearly given them a ring right then to share the news. Wesley cursed the fact that he had chosen to keep working. He might have a better idea of when they stopped answering their phone—or why.
“I require immediate access.” Without waiting for Pettiworth to find his key ring, Wesley headed out the back door that would provide a shortcut to the condo. The burley manager followed at a slow jog.
“What is it? Have you discovered something? Should I call the police?” he inquired with a gulp.
Wesley paused, shook his head, and then continued walking at a brisk pace. “There is nothing the police can do.”
An object in the middle of the sidewalk stopped their progress. Wesley recognized it as being Cordelia’s tote bag. Its contents were spread out on the ground as if it had been flung or dropped quickly. “Something serious has happened.” He picked up the designer sunglasses.
“Maybe she left it out and one of the kids got to the bag,” suggested Pettiworth leaning over with his hands on his knees, half out of breath from the pace Wesley had set.
Nothing so innocuous, Wes reasoned, tucking the sunglasses into his shirt pocket for safekeeping. “Cordelia went on for yonks about the cost of these frames. She would never leave them out.”
He looked toward the condo noticing for the first time that a red glow filtered through the closed Venetian blinds from the inside. “Good Lord! The key, man, open the door now!”
Twenty-Two Minutes Ago
Cordelia arched under Angel’s sensual touch. His fingertips slid across her skin leaving trails of fire. There were too many layers between them. Her bikini made it easy for him, but he was fully dressed and that was just damned unfair. It was so hard to concentrate on buttons when he was kissing her.
My God! The way he made her tingle all the way to her toes. Forgetting about the damn buttons, she dragged his shirttail out of his pants, letting out a triumphant groan when her hands contacted the smooth surface of his back. He was all hard ropey muscle and silky soft skin.
That was more like it.
She wrapped her leg around his pulling him closer. Felt him against her, thick and hard. Angel’s hand grasped her hip keeping her steady as he pumped his hips once, twice, teasing them both. His mouth against her ear moaning her name, “I want you so much.”
Hearing him say that was almost enough to do it for her. Cordy shuddered with want, her eyes clamped closed as Angel’s wet kisses traced a path along her neck. His hand pushed beneath the bikini top to palm her breast. A hot spark shot down to her belly. Wanting his mouth there, her hand shot up to the nape of his neck, gentle pressure providing enough of a hint.
He smiled against her collar bone kissing his way toward his goal. Cordy let out a little cry at the sensation of his mouth closing around her tightly budded nipple, sucking at the peak through the thin material. It rasped against her skin, his tongue laving, teeth nipping gently.
As good as it felt, she wanted that barrier gone, “Please, take it off,” reaching up to the thin strap to tug it out of the way.
Instead, he slid his hand out from beneath the top stilling her. His fingers curled around her wrists pressing them down upon the bed. “Not yet.” Angel claimed her lips hungrily. When she was crazy with it and a little confused by her excitement over being restrained, Cordy writhed beneath him.
So strong, Angel was gentle, too. Finally releasing he wrists, he scooted down her body, pressing butterfly kisses across her tummy. Her body buzzed when his fingers traced the edge of her bikini bottom. Half a second away from begging for his touch, she bit her lip to stop herself.
Cordelia hitched herself up on one elbow as she reached for him with her free hand. Her fingers plucked at his shirt, tensed as his mouth skimmed closer before skipping over to nip at the inside of her thigh. “Oh, yeah,” her groan of anticipation turned into a gasp as her eyes opened.
A swirling vortex engulfed the entire ceiling. “Oh!” Angel licked at her inner thigh. “No, stop!” She smacked at his shoulder until he looked up at her, those smoldering eyes full of confusion.
“Don’t you like—?” the question died on his lips as he followed Cordelia’s gaze toward the ceiling. He leapt back off the bed, scooped her up and set her on her feet beside him.
Grabbing onto him as the vortex started to pick up momentum she felt a pull from it, her hair whipping across her face as if caught in a sudden wind. “Swirly holes in the ceiling never a good sign.”
“Cordy, let’s get out of here,” Angel started to pull her along behind him, but the force of the swirling dimensional gate was too much. Its energies surrounded them in a red glow. Out in the living room, the phone began to ring, but neither one could move. A tugging sensation followed and the world suddenly went wonky.
Wesley burst through the door as a low-pitched thump sounded from the adjacent room. “Stay back,” he warned Jason Pettiworth who followed him inside wide-eyed and gaping jawed at the still dripping red markings on the walls. “We are dealing with supernatural forces. This is the work of a kha-ahbuum demon.”
“Demon?” Pettiworth gulped again. “Maybe I should wait outside.”
The petrified man escaped back out the front door leaving Wesley to handle the situation. From the moment he’d discovered that they weren’t answering the phone, he had begun to get suspicious. It was past mid-morning, a time when Angel should definitely be in bed and asleep. For safety concerns Cordelia had been instructed not to leave the apartment unless one of them accompanied her.
It did not surprise Wesley to discover that Cordelia had disobeyed their wishes and gone to the pool, as evidenced by her tote bag, beach towel and sunglasses. The unlocked door also suggested trouble, possibly that she’d noticed something unusual and run inside to help Angel.
The other theory was a bit more disturbing. Research indicated that kha-ahbuum demons were extradimensional creatures that existed between various realities. Once every thirty years, their feeding cycle required them to obtain sustenance in the form of humanoid energies. Only strong emotions of sustained anger or lust could trigger enough power to open a vortex to their realm where the demon would devour its victims.
In the back of his mind, Wesley hoped they’d been having an argument. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t lived with each other before quite platonically. Knowing Cordelia, she was probably complaining about being confined to quarters. Yes, that suited him to a tee considering the only other likely option.
The bedroom door was ajar. He noted the red glow was already gone, but lifted the floor lamp like a spear and proceeded forward. “Eeyah!” Wesley cried out when the electrical cord, still plugged into the wall socket, reached its limit.
Eyes narrowed at the plug, he tugged sharply on the cord until it popped loose and then proceeded forward undaunted by the momentary delay. The room was empty. Cordelia and Angel were gone. A frustrated scream built up inside him, which Wes held back, letting out his anger at being too late by tossing the lamp to the floor. It crashed on the hardwood, metal clinking as it rolled to a stop, shade collapsing.
Blood red sigils marked the walls. The bedcovers were rumpled, but they would’ve been if Angel had been sleeping. Though, admittedly, it would’ve been difficult for Angel to get into an argument whilst unconscious. A search for additional clues proved fruitless. There was nothing else concrete. He had only his theory to go on.
Jason Pettiworth was standing on the far side of the grassy knoll as far away as he could get and still see the front door. He approached slowly when Wesley emerged. “Wh-what did you see?”
“The same as before,” Wes reported, “red markings on the walls and nobody left inside. My colleagues have vanished just like the others.”
Clutching his heavy ring of keys, Pettiworth inched down the sidewalk. “We should call Benny. He’ll want to know. Something has to be done.”
Wes put a hand on his shoulder. Chin up, holding back his wn emotions, he attempted to steady the man. Promising, “It will be. Keep this building secure. No one goes in until I return.”
The terrified manager asked what he planned to do when he came back. Wesley wasn’t entirely clear about the details yet. “Once I have the supplies I need, I will require some backup.”
“You don’t mean me, do you?” Pettiworth gasped and held his breath.
Wes sighed. “No, Mr. Pettiworth. Angel Investigations employs an experienced demon hunter.” The relief on the man’s face was evident. Wesley didn’t have time to answer more questions. He needed to get back across town to his apartment and to ring Gunn. “Tell Mr. Craig to do nothing until he hears from me again.”
They headed back at a brisk pace toward the leasing office. “Wh-what if we don’t hear anything? People do keep disappearing.”
“Give me 24 hours. If we’re not back, your employer will have to burn this building to the ground,” Wes informed him. These demons could access only one focal area at a time during its feeding periods. He reasoned that was why only this particular condo had been affected. “It is the only way to put an end to this.”
If Angel stopped the demon in its own realm, he and Cordelia might not be able to get home again. They needed a way back and Wes was determined to give them one. He only hoped it wouldn’t be too late.
Cordelia was still unconscious when Angel came to. Just how long they had been under was impossible to tell. The first thing he noticed was the stench of death and something foul permeating the stale air. A dim red light seemed to reflect from the walls without any identifiable source. He heard nothing except the soft rustle of his own clothes, Cordelia’s steady heartbeat and breathing.
He crouched low on his haunches to check her for injuries. Seeing nothing obvious, he patted her cheek. “Cordy,” he hoped the sound of her name would be enough. It took a firm shake to rouse her.
Sitting up, she wavered to the side and back. “Whoa! My head is still spinning,” Cordelia grabbed onto it to steady herself and then dropped her hands onto Angel’s shoulders. He helped her to her feet and held on when she wound her arms around him. “What is this place?”
“I don’t know,” Angel wasn’t one hundred percent certain. It looked like a cave. Jagged stalactites clung to the uneven dome above, the ground being just as rocky. “At a guess I’d have to say one of a thousand hell dimensions.”
“Hell is right. Ugh. What I wouldn’t give for some air freshener,” Cordy stepped back to wave a hand in front of her nose.
Spring scents weren’t Angel’s top priority. Getting Cordelia home safe was his biggest concern. Right now he didn’t have a clue how to do that. There was nothing here to tell them where they were or if it was even possible to get back.
He nodded toward the area of the cave that appeared to turn into a narrow passage. “That might be a way out. Let’s get out of here before whatever brought us here shows up.”
A hint of blood scented the air. Alarmed, “What is it?” Angel turned to see her lifting up a bare foot and scraping away a shard of black rock.
“My shoes didn’t make it. I think they slipped off when we—”
Angel’s eyes widened. “Right.” He didn’t need any reminders that their lovemaking had been interrupted. She’d been so vibrant and full of passion. He’d wanted to sink into her and never come out.
It still stunned him to think just how strong those feelings were when only earlier today he’d believed they were just friends. At least on her part. Cordelia had brushed off any attraction between them. Anything he thought he sensed when they were together was easily dismissed.
Right now all he sensed was her fear. “How are we going to get out of this, Angel?” It showed in her eyes. He could smell it ionizing the air around her.
He cupped her cheek and raked his thumb softly across her lips following it with a kiss. Though Angel meant it to be a brief caress, her mouth parted for him and he lingered long enough to taste her. They both moaned when he tried to pull away.
Cordelia didn’t let him go. Standing on her tiptoes, she clung to his shoulders, ate at his mouth with her own, kissing him frantically as if that alone would make all of this go away. They clung to each other for a few seconds longer until the red glow of the cave brightened considerably and a resonant growl sounded from the darkness beyond.
From the depths of the cavern soaking in the putrid brine that kept him warm the demon Atlosh sensed that his prey was awake. Even now he could feel their emotional energies suffusing the atmosphere. The sensation rippled across his skin filling him with sustenance, providing him a hint of the rich meal to come.
Those who came before proved less satisfying. Fear tasted so different than passion. Their emotions ran high, but the lust he’d sensed vanished the moment they awakened. Something was different about these two. He noted a peculiar lack of screaming.
Tilting his knobby head this way and that failed to detect any sound despite his acute hearing. Atlosh decided that it was time to greet and eat the newcomers. He slithered from the bubbling goo taking a moment to shake the clingy fluid from his reptilian tail.
Nearly blind only the bright red glow of the cavern filled his vision, but his other senses were keen. Movement was felt more than seen. The air shifted in ways undetectable to most humanoids allowing him to anticipate their actions. Though slower than his prey, his frightening visage provided another advantage. Most cowered before him, too scared to move, unknowing that the fear itself was what fed him.
Two by two he brought them to his realm. Their passion, anger, fear kept him going, and provided him strength and life. When he was done with them, only skin and bone would remain. Like the others, these two would feed him, fill him. Until his hunger returned and it was time to feed again.
Bathed in the glow of the cavern his silhouette stretched out before him as Atlosh moved into view. A high-pitched scream sounded from the female. “Angel,” she called out to her mate. Swinging her arm in a wild arc to point at him, “Over there,” helped him to pinpoint her exact location when her words alone did not.
The female was definitely human, but he did not sense the same life energies coming from the male. There was plenty of emotion resonating there: anger, determination, fear for his mate. An excellent meal in the making, but his snare had never caught one with such power.
“What are you?” Atlosh scooted sluggishly toward them. He paused to press his three-fingered hands against a large flat-topped boulder. A flash of light revealed a panel with two large crystals, one glowing yellow and the other blue.
Before he could respond, the woman cut in with a noisy threat, “Your worst nightmare. And if you had one, Angel would so kick your ass.”
“Cordy,” the male advised her far more calmly than expected, “let me handle this.”
Was this the beginning of an argument? Things were looking up. Atlosh adored the taste of a woman’s fury. “Pfft. Okay, but why are you still standing around? Go kill it.”
Curious, but that sounded rather confident. Threats themselves weren’t new, but actually believing that her mate could beat him was a singular experience. No one had ever done so before. They were usually busy screaming by now. It was rather unsettling.
“You’ve got one chance to tell me where to find the others,” Angel surprised him again by inquiring after those who had come before him.
Atlosh saw no reason to lie. The truth would be far more frightening to them. “I have consumed them. You will find their remains over there.”
Cordy walked a little closer to the shallow pit where he tossed the refuse. “Eew, I thought so.” After such a promising start with that ear-piercing cry there was again no screaming.
Their fear was minimal compared to what was required to reinvigorate him after opening a portal. Disgust was insufficient. Anger remained, but that in itself was not enough. The two of them were not in emotional sync. The female’s confidence in her mate offset his drive to protect her.
It would not be an efficient feeding, but Atlosh proceeded with the preparations anyway. He was convinced that he could evoke the emotional states he needed, first by inducing intolerable pain.
“You have not yet told me what you are,” Atlosh noted that Angel was much closer than before. He wondered how that had happened without him noticing. His attention must’ve been on the woman. The air had not shifted to indicate his movement.
The man was now close enough that he could see his face, but it suddenly blurred and shifted. Soft angles became bony ridges, teeth turned jagged. Atlosh recognized Angel for what he was even though he had never come across one like him in this dimension. It had been impossible to tell before now.
This was no ordinary prey, but another predator. “I’m a vampire,” Angel announced just before he executed a hard kick to the rocky stalagmite rising from the cave floor next to him. It broke off crashing to the ground.
Atlosh wasn’t stupid. He knew the vampire was fashioning a weapon. There was little else in the cave to be used as such. The crystals were his only means of defense. He did not know how they would affect a vampire, so choosing his target was simple.
“Your deaths will be easy if you cooperate,” he told them. “I can make it painless for you.”
“Cooperate?” Cordy let out a loud blast of air that Atlosh took to be the sound of sarcasm in her voice. “I don’t think so, Slug Butt. Then again, not really liking the painful death scenario.”
Atlosh picked up the glowing yellow crystal. “If your mate does not back off, yours will be the first.” Holding it in his hand he extended out his arm toward the female, uttered the mystic word required and listened to the beauty of her scream.
Almost instantly her fear escalated exponentially along with the pain. He could feel the emotional energy suffusing him, giving him life and power. The distraction caused him to lose track of the vampire. Angel moved in ways that confused his senses.
By the time Atlosh found him again, Angel was directly in front of him brandishing the stalagmite in his arms. His body twisted as he hurled the rock forward. Before Atlosh could move, he felt pain. Only this time it was his own. Glancing down, he saw the outline of the rocky weapon sticking out of his torso. Dark blood gushed slowly around it and his lower body began to get numb.
After delivering such a deadly blow, Angel’s attention turned to the female, “Cordy!”
Collapsing, Atlosh slowly pulled out the pointed rock from his gut. He lay dying, but sensed the pain diminishing swiftly. Her quick recovery from the intense sensations was remarkable. “It’s okay. Compared to the visions, that was nothing.” She ran to her mate as if the pain meant little to her, but made a contrary complaint when her feet scraped on the hard shards along the cave floor. “Ow, ow, ow! My feet.”
Some discomfort was apparently worthy of comment. Even through his own pain he sensed a hint of hers. It was not powerful enough a sensation to feed him. Not enough to overcome this injury.
Angel bent down to brush the rocky pebbles away from her feet. When he rose up again, she threw her arms around him, her fear subsiding, the pain forgotten. Relief and pride in his accomplishment clear. Their inner emotions were so vibrant. Atlosh knew that if they kissed again, if that spark of love and lust grew into a flame, it would provide him energy.
All was not lost.
Their embrace lasted for seconds that seemed longer to Atlosh whose life was dripping away with each moment that passed. Their upper bodies pulled back a bit as they looked at each other. Cordy lifted a hand to his face while he lovingly ran a fingertip across the curve of her shoulder. Anticipation was building up, but his remaining sight was failing him. It was difficult to sense what the vampire and his mate were doing.
Their words filtered to him as if from a great distance. Concern over being trapped in this dimension. “How will we get home again, Angel?”
“We’ll find a way.”
Only knowledge of the sigils could open a path between their worlds. For them there was no escape. They would die in the cave just like him. He would have that one satisfaction.
Atlosh felt numb. He felt nothing from them now. There was only the maw of blackness closing in around him. It was cold. He longed for the warm brine of his sulphurous pool.
A flash of light pulled him from death’s final grip just long enough to witness. The wind picked up as it created atmospheric disturbances. “Another vortex,” Angel held on to Cordy.
From this juncture, they could see through the aperture. “It’s Wesley! It’s our way back home.”
Their excitement warmed him. It was delicious. But for Atlosh, it was too little, too late. Angel swept Cordy up into his arms and took a running leap into the vortex. It closed behind them with a loud shwoomp leaving Atlosh to die alone in the dark.
Gazing into the swirling cloud as he chanted the spell, Wesley saw his friends looking back down. It was as if he was gazing at someone else at the bottom of a pool. There was only one way to get from there to here. “Stand back!” he called out a warning to Gunn.
Positioned at a safe distance he was, “Already there,” but ready to make his move. Gunn shifted his battle axe from one hand to the other. “We goin’ in?”
A loud boom sounded as Cordelia and Angel fell through the vortex landing with a bounce on the bed. It closed behind them leaving the ceiling in its normal state. Calling out their names both Wes and Gunn moved closer. They appeared to be uninjured though a noxious odor clung to their clothing. Both were unconscious.
“Woo, what is that smell?” Gunn waved a hand in front of his nose, his face twisted into a mask of disgust.
Wes had to agree. “Perhaps it is just as well that we didn’t have to go through to the other side. I can’t imagine that it was very pleasant.” He suggested that it was prudent to wake them. Whilst he would normally recommend letting them come round on their own they had not yet established the full outcome of the situation. It was necessary to determine the status of the demon.
It wouldn’t do to linger here if the demon was still alive. Gunn pointed out that Angel had more than enough time to kill it.
Rousing their two friends took little effort. They were disoriented for a few moments, but soon saw that they were home safe again. “Great timing,” Angel nodded approval, which caused a little sunburst of pride to swell inside Wes’ chest.
“What of the demon?”
Angel gave him the answer he wanted. “Dead.”
“Told ya,” Gunn gave Wes a friendly punch on the shoulder.
“You two so rock!” Cordelia smiled brightly. She sat up, arms out to reward them with a big hug. “I was starting to think Angel and I would be stuck in that stinky cave forever.”
Wes and Gunn stared back at her, not budging. “Guys?”
“Man, I think I left the truck running,” Gunn snapped his fingers. “I’ll catch a rain check on that hug, Barbie. Next time you need an undercover guy, feel free to call me first.” He winked and exited before Cordelia could respond.
Cordelia dropped her arms crossing them in front of her. “What was that all about— and why are you throwing your mojo stuff in that bag so fast?” she targeted Wes scurrilously.
He held the backpack containing his supplies close to his chest. Stuttering, Wes finally found a response. “I-I really should return this book. Good job that its owner was able to allow me to b-borrow it. He needs it. Right away” he assured them, wide-eyed behind his glasses.
“I should go,” Wes darted out the bedroom door. Pausing, he glanced back at them both. “We should talk—later. There is something I’d like you to clear up on exactly what you were doing before that first vortex opened.”
Wes disappeared around the corner, the front door slamming shut as he left the building. Staring after him, Cordelia let out a confused huff. “Weird.”
A deep chuckle sounded next to her. Angel was leaning back on his elbows, wearing a goofy smile on his face. Turning onto her side, Cordy lay back down beside him. “What’s so funny? Guys don’t usually run away from me when I’m wearing a bikini. Are you sure this is the right dimension?”
Leaning in close, Angel brushed a soft kiss across her lips. “It might have something to do with the fact that you stink.”
“Stink!?” Cordelia sniffed the air. She’d gotten used to the smell. “Oh, gross. So do you.”
“Then we’re two of a kind.” He moved to kiss her again, but Cordy leapt off the bed, a squeal of laughter sounding.
Holding out a hand to ward him off as he moved to follow, she was still grinning when he caught up with her near the bathroom door. “No kissing me with stinky lips.”
Cordelia stopped short when her back connected with the firm surface of the doorframe. His hands curled around her hips holding her steady, bringing their bodies together. She grasped his arms and felt his strength, slipping her hands up to his broad shoulders. With his mouth close to hers, Angel whispered, “Make love with me, Cordy.”
The words sent a shiver of want straight through her. “M’kay,” she moaned against his mouth. “After we shower.”
Another chuckle sounded from Angel as he slowly led her back into the bathroom She felt the cool tile under her bare feet. It was one of those I-know-something-you-don’t sounds. Coming from Angel, it sounded like a promise. “Only after?”