One Mid-Summer Night by LAndrews
Summary: An attempt is made to rescue Angel from his ocean grave.
Spoilers: Set between AtS Seasons 3 and 4.
Notes: Liberties were taken where cracks in the storyline have allowed them!
To my Spirit, Kelley, for her unwaning enthusiasm in reading and rereading and rereading... and her ability to see how the story puzzle goes, to Katherine for just the right comment at just the right time, and to Tonya for her generous praise when I needed a confidence booster, and to all the great websites out there offering so much info and insight - and to that God of creative genius, Joss Whedon - without whom life would be extremely boring, and we'd all have a lot more time to sleep and eat.
are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your
(Hamlet I.v. 174-175)
Wondering if his eyes were open or closed, Angel blinked. Open. Dark. He'd been in Munchen. The beer was good, the biergarten girls better. why had he come? Something had called to him. Flickering light. Just the latest symptom of his decay. Soon, not even the whales would wake him.
He closed his eyes and reached for his deep spot again. Color exploded across his vision. He jerked his head back and crunched his eyes tight, terror rising like bile as he braced against his restraints. Bright light. Killer Cordy light. The light moved off to the right. He blinked. *Diver*.
Angel sagged, all the little bit of adrenaline his body could muster burned out of him. Hunger whispered to him, just a whisper. The craving had burned out, too, a long time ago, along with hope and rage, and everything else that had defined him. Everything but fear.
Wesley shifted and tried to wipe the wet from his face. As he slid a hand over his hair, water sluiced down the back of his neck, running past the collar of his oilskin and down the middle of his back. The storm had blown up out of a clear sky at sundown. The rain was sheeting; obscuring his view of the cable reel, but he figured Angel must be within a hundred feet of the surface now. He shivered.
Lilah leaned into him, shouting into his ear to be heard above the storm. "Dalton says less than ten. I say we wait to open that box."
Wesley shook his head, feeling fierce and territorial. "Not the deal. He will not disappear into Wolfram and Hart. You want me, Fred and Gunn get him."
She shrugged and tried to pull the hood of her slicker closer to her face. None of them were properly outfitted. The forecast dockside had been for calm seas and light breeze.
Just looking at her made him swell with masculinity, in body and spirit. It was painful, how she made him feel, turning the fierce defensiveness he couldn't stop himself from feeling for Angel into a raging need to subdue her, force her to bend to him, take her, take her confidence from her. So far, she was still in control, and had somehow restored his own confidence in his abilities. She believed in him.
Anxiety gripped his chest and his heart thumped hard enough to make him slightly nauseous. An airy sensation filled his throat and he could feel it expand. If he opened his mouth, the storm wind would just blow in through his neck and out his mouth, reducing him to a death head, parroting words he couldn't think about, that had flowed from him in his own voice. "Yes." "Yes, recover Angel and I'll research for you." "Yes. That is an adequate amount of compensation." "No." "Yes." "God, yes."
Taking deep breaths to quell his panic attack, he shuffled over to stand with Fred and Gunn, both huddled against the aft bulwark. Their faces were grim. Wes flashed five fingers twice and Gunn nodded.
Sorrow smothered his panic, dousing it completely. You belonged somewhere until you didn't anymore. Even he couldn't fathom why he hadn't trusted them with what he believed to be the truth. Well. that was a lie. He turned back to where Angel would be appearing soon. Any one of them would have run straight to him, and Angel was a dual master of denial when it came to his dark side; able to tell them with a straight face he had no dark impulses while savagely shoving them underfoot.
His inhaled the biting spray, thinking maybe it could cleanse him of the stench of betrayal. He told himself everyone had their setbacks. Even Angel. But most didn't destroy the lives of the people depending on them in quite the spectacular way he had. Twice. Even Angel. And he could see the irony in his destruction of the man who had saved him from his first fuck-up, and whom he was hoping would eventually save him again, God willing. He looked up to see Gunn staring at him, with a hard face and depthless eyes. Fred was intently focused on the cable reel.
God damn all prophecies! And God damn Fred and Gunn. He didn't dare explain himself to them. If Wolfram and Hart had any real idea what Angel's role in the apocalypse would be, they never would have agreed to this little trade. The only reason Wes could see for allowing it was the possibility of eventually getting both Wes and Angel, especially if they could dangle Connor as incentive.
Wes's mercurial mood lightened at the thought of Connor. So far, he was proving to be elusive and deadly. The psychics were beside themselves. And his raucous, often lethal, antics were the only joy in Wesley's life.
The hammock swung to the rhythm of the sea. Angel sighed. He'd be more than happy to never live long enough to see another world-wide war. He had thought the wretched trenches of the first to be deterrent enough. The massive scale of destruction he'd witnessed this time disturbed even his violent side. There was no art in it. The planes, though... they stirred deep longing in him. He'd give most anything to fly one.
Another week or so to New York. It surprised him the first time he realized how much he missed the States. The countries of Europe, even Ireland, chafed a bit now, made him slightly claustrophobic. Maybe he'd work his way back west, to wide, open spaces, where he could hunt larger prey, let the bloodlust roar wide open under the moonlight with no one near to see him, feel skin tear beneath his fangs, unleash his full strength as he held a mule deer through its frenzied journey to death, let the pulsing rush of living blood fill him.
A hollow boom reverberated through the tiny cabin and the ship shuddered before settling into stillness. Angel could hear commanding shouts from above decks, but no alarm as yet, no fear.
Trying to roll from the hammock, he found his hand stuck within its web. He pulled, as the ship shuddered again, stem to stern. Somehow, even his feet were tangled. Angel arched his body, throwing his weight, and tugged hard with his right hand. He swore as the hammock flipped. A flurry of footfalls and a crisp rapping. Fear dried his mouth. Pounding at his door now and it was daylight out and he was dust right now if he couldn't break these fucking ropes right now, right now, right fucking now!
Apprehension coiled low in Gunn's gut, and he swayed from foot to foot as he watched Wesley. The man was not right. While they all wanted Angel out of that box as soon as possible, even Gunn could appreciate how hungry he was gonna be. Didn't take much to make a man half-mad and a vamp...even one as controlled as Angel.well, it couldn't be good.
Wes maintained that Angel would be weak and the sooner he fed, the better. Guilt talking, that's all that was, Gunn thought. And if Angel recognized him. Maybe that was it; Wesley trying to save Angel's life, so Angel would spare his. Fat chance, with Wesley's blood still drying on his Evil, Incorporated contract. Gunn couldn't stop the frown that formed on his face as he glared at Wes's back.
Wolfram and Hart had a standing no-kill policy on Angel, although Gunn suspected Lilah would welcome his accidental death. Still, they would save Angel with or without help from Wes or himself. And they'd probably be better off playing their little mind games with Angel in- house. But instead, they were handing him over, letting Fred and Gunn haul whatever was left of him home.
The welder lit up a cutting torch and Gunn rubbed a hand across his face, wiping the rain from his eyes. He'd spent days wondering what game Wesley was playing at, and he was no closer to understanding.
Warmth, thick, salty, sliding down his throat. His stomach clutched and he bolted up, blind, feeling the change tear over him. He struck out and the blood splattered. Heartbeats all around him. He grabbed and succeeded in snagging the nearest body. Sound erupted all around as he sunk his fangs in, hot, human blood filling him. He hugged tight. Raw pain sizzled every nerve in him and he fell away, his prize ripped from him.
Gunn stepped back carefully on the rain slicked deck, his years of street fighting giving him liquid grace. He crouched, already dropping into the dance of defense, the taser held steady in front of him. But Angel was down in a wet, crumpled heap.
Ignoring the shocked crew and Lilah's smirk, he turned to Fred, huddled over Wesley's inert paleness. "Fred?"
"Alive. He's alive." She was pressing her hand tight to Wesley's neck. "He got a lot, I think. We need to get ashore... now!" Lightning flashed, followed immediately by thunder that seemed to cascade upon itself across the open water, underscoring her urgency.
Gunn could hear Lilah issuing quiet instructions into her cell phone. The captain was already shouting his own orders and the crew began to scatter. Two crossed in front of him, breaking his eye contact with Fred as they went to help her. Looking back at Angel, Gunn blinked back sudden tears.
Unnatural deeds Do breed unnatural troubles; infected minds To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets. ( MacBeth V.i)
He was watching Cordelia brush her hair. She was wearing a thick robe, sitting in the sunshine of a window seat. Angel moved into the light, placing his hand over hers, taking the brush. Tilting her head back, she sighed.
He stroked. Cordy's dark, damp tresses flowed over the brush. He followed every sweep with his other hand, down over the hard curve of her skull, through the silk falling to mid-shoulder. He leaned forward, inhaling her scent. The sun warmed his face. He pushed the hair away from her neck, exposing the long muscle of her nape. His fangs lengthened and he struck.
Bitter. It was bitter and cold. He choked, wrenching away but Cordy held him, her hair engulfing him, blinding him, wrapping itself into silken bonds that slithered across his skin, bit into his wrists and ankles. Taking in air in harsh, shallow rasps, he opened and closed his fists convulsively, unable to tear away from her. Air.
Every muscle in him dropped its tension at the same time, plummeting him to the bottom of the lake. The water pressed him flat into the mud. Her hair floated from him in soft caress. His hands still loosely fisted, Angel waited in the dark.
No current pulling at him. His eyes were heavy, his lids weighted. He was a stone. His hands fell open. He stopped breathing.
I told Da I was afraid, but, no, he said a lad my age needed to learn to swim. He'll be sorry now that I'm dead.
Myriad discordant and indefinable sounds pierced his skull, rode rip- clatter to the center of him, where he was hiding, and chased him to his outer defenses. He could feel the growl rising in him but it never surfaced.
"Angel, man, you need this. Come on."
Air. The air was stained with blood. Blood...blood... blood. And noise. Loud humming, and booms, and a steady tick, and rhythmic whooshing that built in louder and louder, then receded. He tried to turn his head, needed to cover his ears.
Touch. A light stroke against his face, wetness across... blood, bitter, cool blood. Yes, more, more. He swallowed as it filled his mouth. The craving took him. It bloomed inside, became him.
"Fred! Fred! Get that other...yeah, thanks." Gunn poured more pig's blood into the funnel he was holding to Angel's cracked lips. He watched Angel's hands as they fisted, the muscles in his arms as they strained against the chains holding him. He was rumbling, deep in his chest.
"I think he's coming to, this time."
"Hope we've got enough to hold him." Gunn felt Fred's concern, her worry palpable. "We should warm it."
Gunn shook his head emphatically. "No. He's craving. We don't need to make it any more attractive."
Fred was silent but stepped back to the end table and removed the lid from a third tub of blood. He risked a glance at her as he handed over the empty. She gave him the full one with a sad little smile, her eyes glistening.
Angel was moving restlessly, rolling his head beneath Gunn's hand as Gunn tried to hold the funnel in place. He growled and vamped, his eyes snapping open, golden and blank. Startled, Gunn fumbled, pouring blood down Angel's chin and onto his chest. Before he could snatch his hand away, he felt Angel's tongue dart out, lapping at the spilled blood.
Angel howled then, a long, inhuman wail of frustration and hunger and desire. He thrashed, raging, and Gunn leapt back, knocking his chair over backwards. The bed creaked, but held. Pushing Fred behind him, Gunn backed up.
"He can't last long," Fred whispered.
Gunn just nodded, not able to look away, not wanting to see. Finally, Angel relaxed, groaning down into unconsciousness.
Someone was reading. A pleasant voice, the tone varied, skipping along through several passages, deepening, becoming ominous, and then lightening, the cloud moving on, letting the sun shine down, the lilt return. He smiled.
"Angel?" . heartbeat; blood... blood.... blood...
Warmth. A spreading warmth, moving over him, followed by the coolness of air. Air. His skin prickled. The spongy moss he lay on smelled fresh and earthy. He should do this more often, swim and then dry out in the sun. Towels were overrated. Ahhh... breeze. A shift of pressure and he became aware that Cordy was a warm weight on the backs of his thighs. She rubbed both hands down his neck and he tried to voice his pleasure, but he was so sleepy it came out more as a grunt. She dug her fingers in, kneading, working deep. He flinched, or thought he might, as she hit a sore spot. She worried at it until it loosened, and his whole shoulder melted open for her. He could keep a lass like her. That shoulder had bothered him for days. Ever since Thad landed the flat of his blade there in a drunken scuffle over darts. Angel smiled. How was he to have a proper aim with that great lout standing right there in the way?
Cordy's strong hands smoothed the muscles across his mid and lower back, pressing him down into the lushness of his homeland. Home. She could be home to him, he liked her so. He frowned. What would you be thinking now, Liam? She began to hum, a low moody melody he couldn't remember having heard. I'm thinking I could love her, right here on the shores of Lough Corrib, where anyone could see us. Let her ride me into promises of marriage, and then sit with her at table, Da smiling at one end, and Mum crossing herself at the other, and me knowing Cordy's thighs are moist with me, and that it's me has put the flush on her face. He lay still, letting the pleasant pressure build in his groin as she kneaded and smoothed, working out to his biceps now.
She leaned forward and her hair brushed against his bare flesh, raising goosebumps. Breaking into a cold sweat, he forced his eyes open. Not Cordy. Not Ireland. And he'd never be welcomed at his mother's table again. Shit. Darla. He tried to pull his arms in. Weight across his wrists. He fought in vain for release, Darla clinging to him and yelling meaningless sounds in Fred's voice as darkness spiraled down on him.
Cocooned in softness, Angel turned his head, feeling cool linen slide under his cheek. Bed. He was in a bed, with pillows under his head and more under his shoulders. He groaned. Felt good. He was heavy and warm and. content. The quiet was logy and hushed. Torpid, that's how he felt. Drugged.
His eyes were taped shut. He tried to rub them, but his arms wouldn't move. God, how many beds had he been chained to over the years? His eyes flew open as he jumped, hitting chains all around. White light nova, a brilliant blinding burst, stunned him and a harsh, guttural yell shattered the silence. He scrunched his eyes shut again, tightening up so that he hit the ends of the chains again, the manacles scraping his abraded skin. Something, something was in here with him. Tremoring, he vamped. It was growling.
Footsteps flying into the room. Hands on his chest.
There is no evil angel but Love. (Love's Labour's Lost I.ii. 165-166)
He was on a beach, walking towards a girl standing close to the water, not moving even when the water lapped further up the sand, washing over her feet. Buffy. He stood silent behind her, breathing her in. Cordelia. Heat flooded him and he reached for her.
Plastic. He opened his eyes to the sharp smell of blood. He gulped greedily. He was propped up in bed, pillows supporting him. Loosely chained. He rolled his eyes, still drinking from the container he was clutching with both hands. Gunn. Music was playing, something classical and turned low. He could hear Fred on the phone out of his sight. Gone. Blood was gone. He licked the rim, swiped a finger down inside.
"Angel." Commanding tone. "Angel, here."
Gunn holding out another tub of blood. *Thank you. Thank you*. The refrain went round and round his brain. *Thank you, Gunn. Thank you, Gunn*. He stiffened, felt his fangs recede. *Gunn*.
Gunn jumped, his eyes going wide. "Uh..."
Blood forgotten, with a wild surge of hope bursting into his throat, Angel scanned the room. His room. His hotel. Reality was a living thing, pulsing all around him in the clarity of detail and the raw, rank scents, and the decidedly human biological cacophony surrounding him. Gunn. And Fred, somewhere nearby. "You found me..." he meant to say, but it came out strange.
Gunn smiled, a big grin spreading across his face, and it was the most beautiful thing Angel had ever seen. Gunn nodded and Angel could feel tears spilling down his cheeks. He sobbed and Gunn grabbed him, shouting with triumph.
"Fred! Fred, Angel's back!"
Straining against his restraints, Angel wrapped his arms around Gunn, spilling the blood, burying his head in Gunn's shoulder, happiness overwhelming him, sobs of relief wracking him. Fred threw herself onto them. He could feel her thin arm, a band of steel across his back. They rocked him.
Angel quieted, and Gunn could literally feel the energy seeping out of his wrecked friend. Fred moved first, giving them both a tight squeeze, and letting go. She grinned at him, and Gunn felt his heart jump. He patted Angel's back and leaned forward, pushing Angel back down and Angel let him. Gunn wiped his own tears away. He'd thought maybe Angel was gone for good, had even contemplated staking him to end both their miseries.
"Man, I thought you were never gonna get better."
Angel gave him an exhausted, lop-sided smile. "You found me."
"No..." His eyes slid to the spilled blood.
Gunn's stomach dipped, his elation dropping a level. "Fred, would you get Angel another tub?" Keep smiling, baby.
"Coming right up." She brushed her hand across his cheek as she left.
Closing his eyes, Angel sunk back against the mountain of pillows Fred had hauled into the hotel and let his head fall back against the headboard. "It's okay, Gunn."
"You've been out almost two weeks."
Angel grunted, grinned again, eyes still closed. The smile faded. "How long?" He took a deep breath and held it.
"Almost three months."
Sitting very still, Gunn watched Angel carefully. His face was wet, and he was starting to shake. Reaction. Gunn had seen plenty of that. Boys shaking uncontrollably after their first brush with vamps. Hell, he remembered it himself, how drained and unreal he had felt.
He gripped Angel's shoulder, digging his fingers in hard. Angel let his breath out in a rush. Gunn reached for the damp cloth they kept on the nightstand and roughly wiped Angel's face. "Hey. Hey!"
Angel opened his eyes.
"This is real, Angel. You're safe."
"Charles," Fred said, coming into the room. "Is he..."
"He's fine." Turning to take the warmed blood from her, it struck him again how beautiful she was. Even tired and disheveled, she stirred him.
Their eyes met and he hoped everything he was feeling showed on his face. Her eyes softened. He let his fingers linger on hers. Angel shifted beside him, and an intense joy spiked deep inside him. I am so pulling out the good music tonight, gonna dance the dance of joy with my baby tonight. Angel was okay; Angel was. vamped, reaching for the blood. Gunn forced himself to remain calm, and meet Angel's golden eyes.
"He's fine, Fred. Just hungry." To his own ears, his voice was remarkably steady. His hands tangled with Angel's as he helped him get the blood to his mouth. At the first swallow, Angel's eyes closed again and a look that could only be described as ecstasy crossed his face. He drained the container and his hands dropped away. His face regained its human features.
Gunn cleared his throat and Angel's eyes went wide with alarm. He struggled to get up. With practiced ease, Gunn placed his hands firmly on Angel's chest, leaning hard into him.
"Where is she? Where's Cordy?"
Fred inhaled sharply. "Oh, Angel."
Gunn shook his head, surprised at the renewed grief that closed his throat. Shit, he'd known this would happen, hoped for it, but he wasn't ready. Angel stilled beneath his weight.
"What? Where is she?"
Taking a deep breath, Gunn concentrated on the chains still manacled to Angel's wrists. He could feel the intensity of Angel's gaze, a burning of his scalp, as he studied the security of the attachments to the bedposts. After the first couple of days, they'd run more chain to the studs in the wall on either side, in case the posts gave. And they had just done away with the leg chains three days ago.
Feeling Fred's hand creep over his shoulder, he reached up to grip it with one hand, keeping the other flat against Angel as he looked up into those lost brown eyes, already reflecting a deep and tortured pain. Angel's grip on his arm was verging on painful and Gunn was suddenly glad Angel was still so weak.
"There..." He swallowed hard. "There was an accident. She wrecked her car..."
Burning. In his chest. Had to know. Where she was. He tried to focus, but Gunn's voice was dim, sounding far away. An accident. The pain ruptured him, and Angel gasped, throwing his head back. No! Not now! He hadn't... It had only been a moment, just a moment. *Warn them*. He had to warn them.
Hot. Sun. Lunging up, Angel bolted for darkness. There was none. His senses blitzed in a rush of white static and he hit a wall. He spun back toward the light. *Damn, damn*. He slid down the wall, feeling sick. He was pounding. He sucked in air, could feel it deep down in his chest... he could feel it. Realization hit him hard and he froze. His throat still beat, he was throbbing. *Alive, I'm alive*. "I'm alive."
"Only kinda sorta."
"Cordy!" He jumped up again, took two steps toward her. Naked. I'm alive and naked. And... He snatched up a throw blanket lying on the floor nearby, and took his time wrapping it around his waist. Cordelia was crossing to him across a bright, spare room, with an entire wall thrown open to the sun. Green leaves fluttered on a lattice of limbs. It was like being in a huge tree house.
She stepped right up to him, toe to toe. He started to step back but she hooked her arms around his middle, bowed her head into his chest. He placed both hands on the top of her head, smoothed her bob, blinked anew at the bright highlights, and then slid his hands down her neck and onto her shoulders. Cordelia hugged him tighter and he finally wrapped his arms around her, resting his head on hers.
"I don't understand, " he murmured.
"I love you, Angel."
"I love you, Angel. I need you to know that." She pulled back just enough to look at him. A tear overflowed, spilled slowly down her cheek. He felt like he was dying inside, joy and fear for her boiling over, confusion knotting his belly.
He kissed the track of that tear, and the next, and her eyes, and then her mouth, let his emotions spill into her, and she took them in, letting them flow back out in tears.
Gunn flailed his arms for balance as he was knocked off the bed. Angel seized, every muscle taut. Before Gunn could react, Angel roared again, folding up on himself, drawing into a tight ball. Small, deep, tormented cries bubbled from his throat. Fred moved to comfort and that's when Gunn found his strength again. He leaped up, nearly knocking her down in his zealousness. "No! Don't touch him." He hugged her, drawing her away from the bed.
"But, Charles, " she pleaded. "He needs us."
"Just wait, I don't want him to hurt you." He could feel her heart pounding. "We can't trust him. Not yet."
Gunn turned her so he could look into her eyes. "Grief does funny things to healthy people, Fred, and he's not healthy, not by a long shot." He wiped her cheeks with his thumbs and she leaned into him.
Angel's whimpers were fading fast. His chest hitched once and he was still.
The course of true love never did run smooth. (A Midsummer-Night's Dream I.i. 134)
Tears leaked from the corners of Cordelia's eyes. They welled up, gradually spilling over. Annoyed, she wiped a tear off the nectarine she'd just placed into a blue porcelain bowl, and swiped her hand across her eyes. Just stifle. You're a higher being. you'll figure this out. So why did it have to hurt so much?
She sighed and sniffed and finished filling the bowl with immaculate fruit. More nectarines, peaches, huge black California plums. She strolled back into the open, airy room where Angel was sleeping on his back, arms thrown wide, wearing only the loose black bottoms she had given him. They had cried and kissed but managed to avoid talking. She couldn't look into the maelstrom of emotional turmoil on his face and form coherent thought.
Exhaustion had quickly overwhelmed him, and he hadn't moved in hours. His breathing was deep and steady, and she sunk down beside him. She placed her hand on his sun-warmed chest, and reveled yet again in the strong thump of his heart.
"Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much; such men are dangerous." (Julius Caesar I.ii.194)
Down the street from the Hyperion, Wesley sipped at his third cup of tea and shut the laptop off. Angel was awake. Not happy, not speaking, but alert and living in this reality, and Wesley thought that was a good thing. Gunn called every afternoon as arranged, and Wesley didn't tell him of his need to be close to the hotel. Lilah teased him about his afternoon obsession with Starbucks, but since it was her special project he was watching, she let him go.
After the first two days at Wolfram and Hart, Wesley quit searching for the bugs and cameras, finally accepting he couldn't find them, and realizing that if he did, they would be replaced within the hour. Instead, he launched into full work mode, discreetly digging for his own knowledge, while competently putting out the research fires brought to him by staff assistants anxious to keep their heads.
Of course, he wasn't the only researcher; there was a whole wall of offices lining the main library. He was assuming the stranger species were kept elsewhere and he knew that many an expert worked on retainer and only when needed. But within the library, the assistants quickly pegged him as efficient and mostly accurate, and he was already having to delegate to the others, which had certainly not made him any friends. And he could feel a swell of pride growing in him, a small thread that was worming its way through his overriding feeling of fraud. With every solved puzzle he handed to a grateful assistant, he thought, just wait, one day I'll hand you one of these, and within the week you'll be nothing but compost. The only thing that kept him from doing it on purpose was that thread of pride. How perverted was that?
Oh, he could handle the small failures, the daily oops, the clue he'd missed, or the mistranslated word. But he knew in the end he would fail Wolfram and Hart in some major way. Hoped to, fervently. One must always endeavor to turn his weaknesses into strengths. The trick would be in making the inevitable event company-wide and not just personal.
Wesley sighed and stretched, swiveling in his seat to watch the street. He knew he was waiting. Angel had taught him how in the beginning. He couldn't tolerate Wesley's repetitive nervous gestures and run-on conversation. Patiently, subtly, he encouraged stillness and silence. And Wesley absorbed it. Angel had taught him a predatory skill. He had, several times, used it to good effect on Lilah.
So, he knew he was waiting. What exactly it was he was waiting for, Wesley still did not know.
He stayed vamped for the most part, and silent, thinking, planning. Gunn and Fred took turns keeping him company. They read to him. They fed him that vile excuse for blood. He could hear them talking to others occasionally, and that nosy green demon had come twice.
Both times, the look the demon had given him had forced him to scream watery images into his head to cover himself. Beyond generalities, Lorne had never been able to read him without music.
And others couldn't read him at all, so he ignored the prying he could feel at night. Lilah would get hers when he was free. And so would Connor. That young whelp would get a taste of forever; and find a true outlet for his violent nature. He'd be a natural.
"Yo, Angel!" Gunn waited until Angel's eyes had tracked slowly onto him. "I brought you something." No reaction.
All the same, Gunn was aware that Angel was almost up to full strength. His limited movements had become controlled and graceful. He was easy and lazy in the same way as a lion laid out in the hot savannah sun. They couldn't wait much longer, they were going to have to let him up soon, whether he was talking or not.
He held up the sketchpad and pencils. Angel let his game face drop, his eyes lighting up. Gunn smiled. Okay! This is good. Fred and he had had one hell of an argument over that sketchpad, but maybe Fred was right. He handed the goods over. "A little therapy for `ya. Just try not to obsess on any one thing, okay?"
I say there is no darkness but ignorance. (Twelfth Night IV.ii. 41-42)
Fred had grown so used to reading out loud that it had become like reading to herself. She got lost in the story. She glanced up at the end of the chapter and realized Angel was sleeping, his sketchbook askew in his lap. He'd improved rapidly over the week since he'd first spoken. Of course, he hadn't spoken since, but it was obvious that he was fine, except for missing Cordy. He stayed silent, wearing his game face more often than not. Wearing his emotional distress, she thought, rather than expressing it. He loved Cordelia. They had kyrumption.
And Fred knew that was the real reason Gunn was stalling. Angel wouldn't talk to him. And he was afraid Angel would go that extra step in trying to find Cordelia. Use the dark magiks that had landed them all here in the first place.
Since Cordelia's loss, she'd thought often about her love for Gunn; wondered if it was worth the risk of having her heart torn asunder if something happened to him. But when he kissed her, every time, she was lost again and knew there was no way to avoid loving him. She smiled. Love was. love was definitely a many splendored thing.
The sketchbook fell and she jumped. Connor stared up at her. The lines were bold and sure. Angel had drawn his son feral, with a predatory snarl, and cruel, calculating eyes. She stole a glance at Angel. Cold eyes appraised her reaction.
He blinked and was Angel again. He pushed himself up and sat still, looking down at his manacled wrists, hands resting palms up in his lap.
She retrieved the sketchbook and perched on the bed next to him. Without looking at him, she asked, "Do you mind? If I look?"
From the corner of her eye, she saw his nod as he reached for the book. His hand closed on her arm. Faster than a west Texas rattlesnake, Angel had her crushed against his chest, his fangs resting against her neck, and one hand cupping her chin. The pads of his fingers dug so hard into her cheek that her jaw popped open. The skin of her neck crawled and she realized she was waiting to feel hot breath. but there was none. Angel was cold and still.
The sketchbook landed back on the floor, a strike of thunder. Angel squeezed, drawing her head around. *I'm dead! I'm dead! I'm dead!* Gunn. She thought of Charles in his red shirt, a radiant smile dawning across his face. The muscles of her neck screaming, Fred threw her head back as hard as she could, kicking out against the bed for momentum.
Angel's grip loosened and she drew in a tight breath. He growled but didn't bite even though her nails in his arm were drawing blood. He shook her. Blackness invading her vision, she quit. He licked her neck and let her breathe.
Sitting between his tea and a stack of floppy discs, Wesley's cell phone rang. Glancing at his watch, he knew it must be Lilah, but when he picked it up, he saw it was Angel's number on the display. Sweat trickled down his arm. "Pryce."
"Come," Gunn barked. The line died.
"Release her." Charles. At the foot of the bed, crossbow taut and quivering in his two-handed grip.
Angel laughed. It sounded so normal. Except that she'd never heard him laugh before, not with this hearty, carefree sound that made her think of crisp October nights at the county fair. "Release me, Gunn. And I'll think about not killing her. No promises."
Now, there was a thought, boys back home never turned out to be demons in disguise, or refugees from some other dimension. Vampires didn't exist back home. Angel licked her again, and then suckled at the skin over her jugular. She stopped breathing. Get real, Fred, now you'd see them everywhere.
She squeaked and he laughed again, a low chuckle she could feel in her chest, riding on the wave of anguish that swelled from her depths.
"You kill her and you're dust in the very next second." Gunn's voice was deep, with little tremor.
"Then I might as well enjoy myself; drink her slow..." He rubbed up against her, moving his hips just enough for Gunn to notice, and he kissed her ear. "It hurts at first..." Angel's voice dropped, and became the feel of suede leather. seductive, that was the word. "But then... but then they want it, ask for it, need it, Gunn." He pressed one hand down her body, lingered at her breast for just... too long... before reaching her crotch. Thank god for jeans.
Fred clamped her legs together, but Angel brutally drove his fingers down between them, unerringly applying pressure to just the right spot. She gasped and kicked, driving back into him again, but he easily contained her, locking her head down against his shoulder, and wrapping his legs over and around hers.
"Angel." Her voice filled him, surrounded him. Cool hands stroking his forehead. Cordy. He rubbed his face against her, his head in her lap. She laughed. "Angel. Open your eyes."
She was smiling down at him. In one motion, he was up, holding her crushed against him. She tilted her head up and he kissed her.
Her lips parted and she let him in. The kiss he'd wanted from her for so long. He cupped his hand around the back of her head, deepened the kiss. Longing, his old companion, came to him, suffusing him. He ran his hands down her back, pressed the whole length of him against her, trying desperately to touch her everywhere at once. She melted, fitting herself to his contours, meeting his demand with her own rampant desire.
He pulled her down, onto the softness they were standing on. Without breaking the kiss, he stroked her throat, his fingers catching in the neckline of the gauzy whatever she was wearing. He ripped it from her; tearing a small cry from her as well.
And he stopped, frigid fingers tripping down his spine. He shivered, closing his eyes, and then flushed, the rush of blood bringing with it the absolute certainty that he had forgotten something horribly important, some warning to the others.
"I...I..." can't remember. And Cordy was here, feeling more real than anything he'd ever experienced, and that must mean the others were safe from him, and he was still lost, wandering within himself.
She kissed his neck, nipping at the skin, inflaming him, and blocking his every thought save one. He wanted her, needed her, now. He nuzzled his way to her breasts; sure he'd never felt anything so firm and giving, nor tasted anything so salty-sweet as her skin just here. He groaned, rolling over her, tucking her beneath him.
Her legs wrapped around him, and she scrabbled to push away the fabric remaining between them. At the touch of her heat against him, he lost all control, buried himself in her, her body, her scent, her being.
All that lives must die, Passing through nature to eternity. (Hamlet I.ii. 72-73)
At least he wasn't touching her anymore, though she could feel the hard length of him against her lower back. She felt trussed, as helpless as a calf feeling the heat of the branding iron, smelling its own flesh burning.
A drop of sweat was rolling down the side of Gunn's face, but he was cold, so cold in his eyes. "How `bout I just shoot you both. This bolt's long enough to nail you where it counts."
"That only works in movies, Gunn. You're thinking a hospital, surgery, she'll live. But she won't, Gunn. I'm faster than you. I'll make sure you hit her where it counts, too." She knew he was grinning.
"This is the good fight. Sacrifice the one for the many." Gunn's voice was a steel cable and the crossbow was frozen dead center on her chest.
The world receded, a wave of cold pulsed from her heart to her head to her feet, and all her muscles felt weak. From far away she could hear someone talking in her own voice, sounding hollow and not her. "Do it, Charles." *Do it? No! I don't want to die!* The heat of rushing terror as everything snapped back into clear, up-close focus.
Eyes locked on hers, Gunn sunk to his knees, and placed the crossbow on the ground. "Okay, man. Just don't..."
Angel nodded against her neck. He didn't exactly ripple, but she felt him change.
"You're not gonna..."
Angel shook his head, his cheek scratchy against hers. She'd admired that these last three weeks, fascinated that it never grew more than the slight, end of day roughness he'd had when he died so long ago. She knew if he let it, his hair would grow to his shoulders, but no more.
"No. Unlock these," he gave one chain a vicious yank, nearly strangling her in the process. "And I'll let her go. I've got other business to attend to." Fred shivered beneath his weight, thinking of Connor.
"Fred?" He nuzzled into her neck. "Maybe we can do this another time," he whispered.
"Lay off, man!" Gunn said, voice hoarse. He was digging in his jeans for the key. He reached for one of the heavy padlocks at the wall.
Angel tsked, and Gunn froze. "Buying time's not going to be good for your girlfriend, boy." He hugged and Fred couldn't stop her scream as her ribs gave with a sickening crack. Her stomach lurched and she could hear Gunn's outraged cry, but all she could see was Angel. Angel on the floor of her cave, trembling in shock at the sight of himself. She had stroked him, crooned comfort to him. She began to cry, silently, eyes closed against the pain.
Satiated, and satisfied, and feeling pretty damn happy, even with all the memories crowding up against the back of his eyes, Angel glanced down at Cordelia, snugged up against him on what had to be an ancient and outrageously expensive hand-loomed cashmere carpet in the center of. an impossibly simple, and simply exquisite, room. It was wonderful... and impossible. He couldn't get by that.
And the smell of that resplendent fruit in that perfect blue bowl was overwhelming his senses. His stomach growled. He hugged Cordelia gently and extricated his arm, sitting up. He rolled a plum in his palm, savoring the moment, and then closed his eyes as he bit into it, sucking out the juice before it could run down his chin.
Cordy stroked his arm. He groaned for her amusement and flopped back down beside her, offering his plum for her to share.
When it was gone, she handed him a nectarine and strolled out of the room, giving him a leisurely view of something he thought he'd never see. The view when she returned was just as enticing. He made an attempt to tamp down his desire, and then gave it up. She was carrying a pitcher of ice water and two glasses. Hand-blown. The sight of the condensation on the pitcher made him lick his lips. He gulped down the first glass and she poured him another. Halfway through, he stopped and looked at her. She was smiling at him.
"I forgot. I forgot how great water tastes."
"You drink water."
He dropped his head, looking at the ice cubes in his glass. They were a miracle, these small cubes. He could remember the first time he'd parted with a dear amount of money to experience the wonder of molded ice, grit-free. "Yeah, but it's not the same. I didn't truly need it, it most certainly wasn't what I wanted, and it always tasted flat."
She scooted closer to him and captured his lips. Her mouth was cold from the water and because he could, he took the initiative in warming it up for her. He broke the kiss and took her glass from her. Leaning back into her, he forced her to the ground. Ice cubes were good for lots of reasons. Cordelia kicked her leg out with a shriek, making contact with the pitcher and sending it skidding across the pine floor. Angel was only dimly aware of the harsh shatter of glass from far below.
Looking entirely too satisfied, Angelus held up his hands, letting Fred curl up between his legs. Damn. Damn him. Damn me for ever getting involved. She whimpered. "Oh, baby, it's okay, it's okay," Gunn whispered. He fished for the right key and then unlocked one manacle. Angelus sighed, dropping his hand to stroke Fred's cheek, a lover's touch. With all his strength, Gunn willed himself into movement, around the bed, to the other side. She'd be all right, he'd make it so. Angelus was just another vamp. with Angel's face. I can do this. Conviction pooled in his belly and he felt stronger. I can do this. Just another vamp. Yeah.
Grasping Fred's braid, Angelus jerked her head back. Her breathy gurgle tore Gunn in half, and he fumbled the key. It bounced off the remaining manacle and dropped neatly into the depression defining Fred's clavicle, the hollow of her throat. He had kissed her there just yesterday, breathed in the warmth of her scent.
Angelus looked at him, a burning look, full of darkness, and the shadowed shapes of thoughts so dangerous, Gunn shuddered. The beat of Fred's heart rocked the key in its cradle of bone. Angelus waited.
Gunn couldn't move, crouched over them, within striking distance and he could not move, riveted to the beat, the rock, the butterfly flutter of life pounding on in this instant of frozen vulnerability.
Faster than his eye could follow, Angelus snagged the key. He paused, letting Gunn register its absence, and then air blew into Gunn's eyes. Everything went dark and he was flying, flying. He spread his arms, tried to tuck his chin down. The wall slammed into him and his breath sped out, shattering his chest into a thousand fragments all screaming Fred's name.
A meaty crackle. The dry, final snap of her neck echoed in mournful reverberation off the room's walls, bounced back down onto him in full treble and bass from the ceiling.
Angelus roared and was on him. Gunn sucked in the cold and fetid stench of him, stared daggers into those insane golden eyes, and had time to wish he'd never taken up the good fight before Angelus drank him dry.
Though this be madness, yet there is method in't. (Hamlet II.ii. 205-206)
"I think," Angel said slowly, "I might need a steak."
They were still sprawled on her heavenly carpet, sweat drying. The sun had moved, and fell now through the trees. "And fries. And I want to learn all about the appeal of ketchup."
He oozed into a pool of sunlight and sat with his face turned up, eyes closed.
"Angel." He looked into her and her heart stopped, her soul dropped. It seemed he saw it because he started, and then his eyes softened and he leaned over to kiss her. The gentle kiss of forgiveness.
"It's okay, Cordelia."
"No, it's really not. " Her voice cracked and she had to drop her eyes.
He bumped her chin back up and she couldn't help but notice his nakedness, admire him, on her way back to his eyes. His soul was naked, too. He loved her. He trusted her. She had to find the way; she couldn't do this again.
"Cordy..." he whispered. He swallowed and started over, stronger. "I know this is impossible. It feels so real."
"It is, Angel, but you can't stay."
"It's not real. I'm human, and... I dreamed you were dead."
"You are. I am." He frowned, and that's when her soul gave altogether, ripping the stitches she'd mended her heart with the last time they'd done this, and the time before. She was leaking again, blinded by tears.
"I don't understand." His voice was ragged and his indrawn breath shaky. He didn't touch her. *God, god, don't make me do this*. She knew from experience that she couldn't let him leave without knowing why. It felt worse to her that way, although it would make no difference to him.
Cordelia swiped at her eyes, but the tears continued coming. No matter, she could talk anyway. This was her choice, to suffer. It was just that she never knew the outcome for sure, until he was here, on this plane, and after the first time. she ached for him. Always had to hold him here, linger in their need for each other, although it would hurt less if she just sent him on.
"We're soul to soul, Angel, on a higher dimension." Hope cut through the confusion in his eyes, and straight into her core. She traced the contours of his lips with her eyes. "Do you remember what you were thinking when you first saw me?"
He shook his head. She touched his temple and saw the shock of it cross his face. "I had to warn them. My soul."
"I want to show you something, the reason you can't stay. It's not your fault, Angel, you can't control the timing of a moment of perfect happiness." Her breath caught in her throat.
Angel reached for her then, pulled her onto his lap, all heat and blatant male strength. Safety. She let the visions roll from that place inside her and he clenched up around her, buried his face in her hair.
Fred lay sprawled across the bed, head at an odd angle, glasses half- buried in the twisted sheets, flat eyes staring into the void. Crumpled against the wall, Gunn looked young and peaceful, the harsh, angry lines erased from his face forever. Wesley let the scene wash over him and away. He needed to focus on the task at hand.
Angelus crouched before him. He licked Gunn's blood from his lips and stood. "Too late, Wesley." Angelus shook his head sadly, with a look of disappointment. "You just can't help failing, no matter who you hook up with."
His gaze never left Wesley's eyes, but Wes could hear the three Wolfram and Hart operatives shift uncomfortably behind him. For the first time, he was glad that Lilah was having him tailed everywhere. He shrugged, but wasn't sure he could manage a steady voice. yet.
Eyes narrowed, Angelus took on a considering expression. His nostrils flared, and then he threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, is that the way of it, now? I might just have to taste some of that myself."
He stalked towards Wesley, veering off just out of reach, forcing Wesley to move his feet and become the prey. The small group all fell back instinctively, blocking the entrance. Chuckling, Angelus stopped in front of the closet and boldly turned his back on them. He shucked out of his black Tai Chi bottoms and pulled on the black leather pants he kept on the top shelf. Rummaging through Angel's oxfords, he hummed.
Something by Vivaldi, Wesley thought. He could feel the heavy stake like reassurance; it nestled against his chest, hidden in the light jacket he wore. Lilah would have his head if he killed Angelus. Wolfram and Hart had been trying for this since Angel had come to their attention, and here it was, handed to them when they least expected. "Why?"
Angelus turned, holding a deep burgundy silk shirt with French cuffs that Wesley had never seen before. He slid it on, raising his eyebrows. "Why," he mused, buttoning. "I was hungry. Starving, really, and the girl woulda been good, but Charles. " He tucked the shirt in, grinning. "Let's just say. adrenaline and fear.salt and pepper."
Anger erupted with a deafening bellow in Wesley's consciousness. He refused it exit. "No. How did you lose your soul?"
"Oh, that!" Angelus bounced a little, still barefoot. "I don't know. It was just a moment." He shrugged, looking at Wesley from under his lashes. Remaining silent and still, Wesley waited.
Angelus caught him at it and laughed with a freedom Angel never allowed himself. He sobered and gave Wesley a wink, spreading his hands in surrender. "Seems I was pretty happy at being found. And being fed. And I am. Grateful. Really. I need to go thank my son." He vamped. "I owe him."
Wesley nodded and Angelus went to dig out a belt and socks and retrieve his boots. The group dropped back two more paces. Glancing over his shoulder, Wesley tried to calculate the distance he'd need to get to Angelus before one of Lilah's men could stop him. The fools. Then again, maybe Angelus would appreciate the protection.
Angelus stood and tipped his chin at the men. "Them. Do they have tasers? Maybe stunguns?"
"Oh. Uh. they aren't going to stop you."
"I know that, Wes. I just want to know how hard they're going to try."
Wes let his mouth turn down and shook his head ever so slightly. "Are you boys going to try and stop Wolfram and Hart's special project?"
"No," the one standing directly behind him said. Dorn. "Although we would like to ask you to accompany us back to the office."
"We have standing orders to ask you to consider a request of employment."
"The soul's finances do leave a little to be desired." He glanced back to Wes. "What about him. He come under your protection?"
"Yes." Dorn said.
His skin flushing with anticipation, Wesley centered himself. Wait. Let him come to you. Angelus stared at him, even his game face looking not quite right, not something one could pinpoint, but decidedly not Angel.
"You might fool them Wes, but not me. No matter how deep your self- hatred goes or how much your *family* hurts you, you won't be switching sides."
"I beg to differ." Leave it to Angelus to understand him best.
Striding forward, Angelus stepped into Wesley's space. He could feel the coiled energy Angelus tried so hard to contain, knew it could explode into fury and blood lust in a single heartbeat. Striving for indifference, refusing his own fear, Wesley waited.
"You took my son, Wes. Do you think I'm just going to walk away and leave you breathing?"
Wesley's eye twitched. He had no idea why he was surprised, but he was anyway. It trickled down into the most načve parts of him. The parts that most loved his friend; the ones that kept driving him to keep his promise despite Angel's failure to believe in him. The pain hit him fresh and his resolve wavered.
Angelus saw it. "Yes, Wesley. Yes. I've been telling you for years that this is who I am. I'm not a nice person. The soul just slows me down a bit," his volume was escalating. "And, no, you don't get credit for helping me lose it. I had plans for that boy," he yelled. "And you stole him!"
He grabbed Wesley by the throat, digging his fingers into the scar. Wes yelped. Wait, wait, he screamed in his own head. The demon bore him through the men and into the wall near the door. Wesley could see the fear on their faces as they turned in his wake. What, they were expecting evil to be polite?
Angelus was snarling at him, saying something incomprehensible in what sounded a lot like Gaelic. Wesley pushed back wildly against his chest, trying to cover his covert attempt to reach his stake. Angelus was ripping his throat out. He could feel the blood soaking into the collar of his shirt.
He focused with all his considerable mental strength, something which he had only recently discovered he possessed. Damn his self-directed mission. Someone else would have to infiltrate Wolfram and Hart. He, Wesley Wyndam- Pryce, had made his friend a promise. He would not fail Angel again. He focused savagely on this, his single purpose, his last. He hid behind it.
The stake seemed to come right into his hand, and adrenaline flooded him. He let himself sag, his knees bending. Angelus leaned in, and Wesley, with a fierceness he'd never felt before, launched himself with every good intention he'd ever had, stake first, into the body Angel had left behind.
Electricity stunned him in the same instant that Angelus closed his fist. Dust hit his face and he was falling. Dorn's shout of dismay faded and darkness filled his vision as Wesley's life drained from him.
Angel exploded away from her. He fell and lay still, panting.
Cordelia hugged her knees and let him be. She hated this. She could hear him fighting off the tears. Her love for him was a tornado jammed tight in her chest. She thought of that night, so long ago, when she gave him up for the good fight. Funny how she still heard those words in Doyle's voice, even though Skip sometimes said the same thing and she'd known him so much longer now.
One day she'd tell Angel about Doyle's new incarnation, how he'd carried his Irish humor and love of a good wager with him into his new life. But, not yet, not until Angel was headed into his own new life. Cordy sighed. And first she had to fix the old one, a major duty that had eluded her consistently.
It was a good thing all time was a constant. It was a bad thing that it crossed all dimensions. She had to find just the right combination of factors that would allow the Powers to prevail in the majority of them. Even a small majority would do.
"He changed the prophecy."
"No, you were right." She faced him. " A prophecy can't be changed, only fulfilled. Or not." And right now, yours is not.
He sat up, and scrubbed his face. "Connor."
"It's not Connor so much as Quartoth. The rip. The rips. Reality's been torn, Angel. By Sahjahn and Connor... I still haven't figured out exactly what it was you did. None of that can't be changed. We need you..." to be a little more sane and a lot more pissed. Cordy crept closer to him, wanting to touch him, but afraid he might flinch away from her. I need you.
"We need you to... Connor needs you..." Help me out here, Angel. He had on his stony face, his mask, making an ill attempt to hide all his thoughts, and she couldn't believe after all the practice she'd had doing this with him that she still couldn't find a way to both explain and wipe that stricken look off his face. She loved him so much. "You've got to go back. The critical period is your rescue, the timing of it. I promise it'll all work out." Somehow.
"Cordy. I'm ..."
"Don't, Angel. Don't say you're sorry."
"This is all my fault."
"No, it's not, and I know that for a fact now. The world is the way the world is and everybody has a role to play. This is ours. It just needs. tweaking..." She tried a wry smile and her chest fluttered when he smiled back.
He stood up and offered her his hand. She pressed into him, and he swayed. "I'm scared, Cordy. I don't want to go back down there. I dream, down there."
"Only... I can't tell I'm dreaming."
Cordy stared at him, trying to grasp at the concept dawning in her mind. Angel had told her lots of different things in their times together, but never this. Could she vision him into the proper mental state? Could it be that simple?
Her skills must have been enhanced over time for a reason. And her tasks had challenged her to learn how to use them. Shit. She was the key. Using her own gift was definitely simpler than arranging for a thunderstorm. She felt both thrilled at this revelation and completely stupid. Damn. The Powers could have clued her in years ago; what was their damage, anyway?
Tears of frustration roughened her voice. "I *am* going to fix this, Angel."
He kissed her, a soft and needy kiss that grew into a wild fire of want. Her whole world shrank to the dizzy pleasure he invoked in her. He broke the kiss, holding her face in both hands and studied her, breathing rapidly, his heart thudding into her chest, his back strong and solid and warm beneath her hands.
"Send me now, love, or not at all."
The rest is silence. (Hamlet V.ii. 367)
Beating. The beat of hearts surrounded him. The scent of blood, warm blood in the cold that surrounded him, was him. Angel struggled up from the dark memories that were his blood lust, tore himself from the torture he was currently inflicting on some father's drunk and worthless son, rose from Darla's bed, her fingers brushing the length of him as he passed, slid soundlessly through his endless form of tai chi, his golden girl a shadow at his shoulder, leaving it all behind him, to ascend into Cordelia's arms, sharing a kiss of bruising sadness that lifted him to the surface, to the whales. They surrounded him, their sonar and their heartbeats bouncing endlessly off his home, his prison, his world. Wondering if his eyes were open or closed, Angel blinked.