Lady Starlight -
January 05 2002
Dedicated to the two best beta-readers out there: Wisewoman and Humanitas. Any plot holes remaining are, unfortunately, all mine.
Prologue - Tony LA suburb
“I told you, I’m leaving! I’ve been offered a job in Europe and I’m going.”
“What about the kids? What about me? What are we supposed to do?”
“Not my problem. I told you before; they’re your responsibility. Just sign the papers, all right? Look, I’m leaving you everything, more than half, so just sign.”
Shaking fingers sign the papers. The sooner this is over, the sooner she & her children can begin to build a new life.
6 months later…
Sophy hitched her two-year-old up into a more secure position. She straightened her clothes as best she could and took her six-year-old’s hand again. “Okay, guys, this is the last place. If you’re good and listen to Mommy, after this, we can go to the park.”
“And get ice cream?”
She thought of the state of her wallet and sighed. “We’ll see.” She pushed open the heavy doors and blinked at the transition from light to relative darkness. The small family carefully negotiated the stairs down to the front desk.
Cordelia looked up at the sound of the doors. “Wesley, look alive. Could be a client.” she hissed. “Welcome to Angel Investigations. What can we help you with today?”
Sophy was confused. “Angel Investigations? This isn’t a hotel?”
“Well, it is. Was, I mean. We just rent the building.”
“Oh. I see, I think.”
Cordelia pulled a small bag of candy out of a desk drawer. “Can I?” she asked, motioning towards the kids.
“Yes, thanks.” She prompted slightly garbled “Thank yous” from the boys and put her youngest down on the cool marble floor. “Stay right here. That means both of you.” She straightened up again and pulled a piece of paper from her purse. “Are you accepting resumes? I can type, file, answer phones…” Her voice trailed off at Cordelia’s expression.
Cordelia was trying to think of a tactful way to express the fact that the employees didn’t get paid around her when a voice floated out from behind her. “Send her in, Cordy.” Cordelia smiled at Sophy, holding up one finger as a sign to wait, and went to the office door, closing it behind her. “Are you nuts? I mean, more than usual. We barely make enough money to buy your blood and you want to hire someone else?”
Angel leaned back in the desk chair. “Didn’t say hire, now did I?” He rubbed his forehead. “Cordy, please? Just send her in, okay?”
“You’re not the boss anymore, Angel.”
“And somehow, you manage to remind me of that every day.” He leaned back in his chair. “Cordelia, I’m not going to hire her, but maybe,” he held up one hand. “Just maybe, she could use our help. We are still in the helping business, right?”
“I am so regretting buying you that Business Weekly subscription for Christmas.” she muttered as she held the door open for Sophy to walk in. Sophy’s professional demeanor was slightly marred by the six-year-old clinging to her skirts and the two-year-old busily smearing chocolate all over the shoulder of her blazer. She sat down and transferred the toddler to her lap, while pulling some small cars out of her purse. She held out her hand. “Hello, my name is Sophy Carlisle.” Angel took her hand briefly. “Angel.” Angel didn’t quite know how to proceed. Kids. Kids were a safe topic. “How old are your children?”
She smiled and touched the oldest’s head. “This is Michael. He’s six.” She indicated her toddler. “This is Kevin. He’s two.” She proffered her resume again, determined to at least act professionally. “As I was saying, I can type, file, and answer phones.”
Angel glanced over the single sheet of paper. “It’s been a long time since you’ve held a job.”
“My…ex-husband didn’t want me to work.” She couldn’t quite hide the bitterness in her voice.
“And where is he now?”
“Ah.” Angel tapped his fingers against his mouth as he thought. He noticed a small label on one of the cars. “Do you need a place to stay?” At her surprised look, he indicated the Somerset Women’s Shelter label on the car. She dropped her head briefly and looked back up at him. Shame flickered across her face. “I’m looking for an apartment now.”
He thought for a moment longer. Decided, he said, “Let me offer you a place.”
“A place to stay. I have one, you can stay in it.”
“Why? I mean, what for?”
He searched for the right words. For some reason, seeing this family settled and safe was important to him. “I’ve been…adrift myself. I know how you feel.”
She leaned forward and hissed at him. “I won’t whore for you.”
“No! It’s just a place to stay. That’s all, really.”
Sophy sat back in the chair and looked at him. Her internal debate wasn’t mirrored on her face. “How much?”
“The rent, how much?”
“No rent, no strings attached.”
“I’ve got to pay you something.”
“Why don’t you take a look at the place before we decide that?” Angel stood up from behind the desk and grabbed a set of keys from his desk drawer. He opened the office door and led her back into the lobby. “It’s just down this hallway.”
“This place used to be a really nice hotel…we were lucky to get it at the price we did.”
Sophy looked around at the shabby carpeting and peeling paint. “I can tell.” Angel turned back at the barely suppressed sound of laughter in her voice. He grinned ruefully. “Okay, the key word in that sentence was ‘used’.” He stopped in front of a sturdy door. “Here it is.” After struggling briefly with the lock, he swung the door open and stepped through the doorway. Sophy followed after him, looking around the spacious suite. “This one has two bedrooms, I think there’s still a usable bed in one of them, so you could have some privacy. Not that I think you’d need privacy, or want privacy, or even that I think privacy’s a good idea, but…” Angel wisely decided to stop talking and went to see if the stove still worked.
Michael immediately went to the French doors leading to the enclosed courtyard. “Mom, can me & Kevin go outside, please?” She opened the doors and watched the boys run around pretending to be airplanes. Angel came up behind her and said, “We can get a better lock for those, if you want.” She turned to him and smiled. “Oh, I’ve got the best burglar alarm in the world. I should’ve told you before, I’ve got a dog.”
“That’s fine. I don’t mind dogs.”
“Good. ‘Cause where we go, she goes. Third best thing I got out of the marriage.” Her eyes widened and she stepped away from Angel. “That mirror needs to be replaced too.” She watched her reflection raise a hand to her hair. “Or not.” She turned to Angel, a questioning look on her face. “Never seen a mirror do that before?”
“Oh, right. The whole me-not-having-a-reflection thing. Um, what do you know about the supernatural?”
“What, like ghosts and stuff?”
“Do you believe in that stuff?”
She sighed and leaned against the wall. “Guess I’m going to have to, unless you can come up with an explanation for the trick mirror.”
“It’s a funny story, really.” He looked at her disbelieving face. “Okay, maybe it’s not really funny, and it’s actually a really long story—do you like history, ‘cause there’s lots of history—and there might be some funny bits in it, remind me to tell you about this time I passed out in an alley sometime, and—you’re still waiting to hear about the mirror, aren’t you?”
She nodded slowly, never taking her eyes off his face.
He looked down at the floor. “I’m a vampire.”
She drew back from him and looked around for the kids. Angel put his hands out to stop her and called for Cordelia.
“Please don’t. I mean, I know it’s scary, but you don’t have to be scared of me. I help people now. Really.”
Cordelia walked through the door. “What! I was typing, you know that thing I do to justify my pathetic excuse of a paycheck.” Angel put his hands on her shoulders and brought her a step forward, saying to Sophy, “Look, talk to Cordy.” Sophy looked at Cordelia’s reflection in the mirror and nodded warily as Angel backed off.
Cordelia looked at her reflection and then at Sophy. “Oh, I see. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve known Angel for a long time now and he really is trying to be one of the good guys.”
“Aren’t you scared?” Sophy said softly.
“You know, I’m really not. There are people, real people, out there who would hurt you on purpose, just for kicks, and I’ve met some of them. Angel wouldn’t ever hurt someone on purpose. He might because he’s being a big doofus, but that’s another story or eight.”
“Why are you here, then?”
“There was this guy named Doyle. And he had visions. And then he died, but he managed to pass the visions to me. And well, we’re helping people. And that’s a good thing.”
She turned to Angel. “And you’re living in a big old hotel, offering free places to live, exactly why again?”
“I don’t usually take people in on a permanent basis. I’m just trying to do good.”
“Well, I lived with a lawyer for seven years, I guess I can live with a vampire.” He looked up, caught her grin and answered it with one of his own. Just then, Kevin ran in, tears streaming down his face. “Mama, mama, owies.”
She swept him up in her arms. “Oh, punkin, where’s the owie?” He held up his arm for her to inspect. “Well, you’re not bleeding, so I think you’ll live.” She kissed a random spot and said, “All better.” He smiled and laid his head on her shoulder. She turned to Angel and said, “We’ll take it.”
“Good. When do you want to move in?”
“Now? Our stuff’s in the truck.”
“Don’t see a problem with that.”
They walked back out to the foyer, when Gunn was regaling Wesley with his adventures of the night before.
“Gunn, glad you’re here. Got a job for you.”
Gunn hopped off the desk and said, “Hey, always ready for action.”
“Can you and Wesley help Sophy move her stuff in?”
“Sure, ah, what the hell?”
Wesley leaned over to him. “Angel has apparently decided to become a landlord. This lovely lady,” he nodded his head towards Sophy, who smiled at both of them, “is the first tenant.”
“Right. And I’m sure someone will explain everything to me later.” Gunn turned to Sophy. “Where’s your stuff at?”
“It’s the red and white truck, just outside.”
“That’s your truck? Man, you ever want to sell, you let me know. C’mon, Wes, we’re out of here.”
Sophy turned back to Angel, who was negotiating babysitting rates with Cordelia. “Cordy & I’ll watch the kids, if you want to direct what goes where.” They all froze at Wesley’s yell from outside. “OH MY GOOD GOD, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?”
She shoved Kevin into Angel’s arms and ran for the door. “Freya, Freya, NO!” Angel moved towards the doors to try and make out what was happening outside. As he tried to keep the struggling toddler from falling to the marble floor, he accidentally swept his hand through a sunbeam. He hissed and pulled his hand back, bringing it up for inspection. Kevin immediately stopped struggling and looked at the burn. He turned his head to look at Angel’s pain-filled face. “Owie?” he asked.
“Yeah, owie, but not for long.” Kevin thought it over for a second, leaned forward and kissed the already- healing burn. He turned back to Angel. “Aw bedder.”
Cordelia hissed from behind him. “Angel, hate to interrupt the love-fest, but WHAT IS THAT?” Angel turned back towards the door, only to come face-to-face with a mouthful of teeth, attached to a very large, very snarly dog.
“Freya, sit.” The dog sat. Sophy came in and put her hand on the dog’s head. “Freya, this is Angel.” Freya chuffed and looked up at Sophy. “You have to be nice to him, he’s our new landlord.” She rolled one eye over to Angel. “Yes, really.” She led the dog over to Cordelia. “This is Cordelia. She works here.” Freya immediately sat in front of her and offered a paw. Cordelia gingerly shook it. “Hi there.”
Gunn put down the box he was holding and slapped Angel on the back. “Man, you been dissed by a dog. Howzat feel, anyways?”
“Just move the stuff, Gunn.” Angel forced the words out through gritted teeth. Cordelia took Kevin from Angel’s arms, chattering about the fun games they were going to play while their stuff was moved in. Sophy moved up beside Angel, hand still on Freya’s head. “She’ll be fine now that she’s met everyone. Freya, go with Kevin.” Freya shook herself, glared at Angel for a minute, and paced behind Cordelia.
“She doesn’t like me.”
“Sometimes she just has to…warm up to people. You know that stuff dog trainers say about trusting your dog’s instincts about people? It’s bullshit. She loved my ex’s secretary and believe me, that was someone Freya should’ve chased out of the house.”
“What kind of dog is she?” Angel was making a mental note to ask Wesley to research the topic of werewolf/dog crossbreeds.
“She’s a Timber Shepherd. She’s 1/3 wolf, and 2/3’s German Shepherd. They were really trendy in our neighborhood a few years back. She’s very good with the kids, and very smart.”
Angel knocked softly on Sophy’s door, a large plastic bag in one hand. “Hi, hope it’s not too late.”
“No, no, I was just organizing stuff. Come in.” She closed the door softly behind him. “Sit down.” She perched on the edge of an over-stuffed chair, motioning Angel to a small loveseat. He froze in mid-step as a low growl came from the kitchen. “Freya, that’s enough. Angel’s a friend.” She paced over to him and started snuffling around his ankles. He cleared his throat. “She’s not ah, going to start nibbling, is she?”
Sophy giggled. “No, you just smell interesting right now. Freya, enough. Go lie down.” Angel sat down quickly. “What’s in the bag?” He pulled out two sturdy plastic dump trucks, a bulldozer, and a backhoe. “Um, boys like stuff like this, right? I thought maybe they’d like it if that old goldfish pond had some sand in it, so the truck’ll be here tomorrow morning. If that’s okay.” He mumbled the last sentence into his lap.
She leaned forward and put a hand on his arm. “Thank you. That’s really sweet. I couldn’t get their outside toys out before the sheriff came to auction the house contents off. They’ve missed grubbing around in the dirt.”
He looked around at the boxes and pieces of furniture in some confusion. “But, this stuff is here.”
“About three weeks after my husband left, I received notice that I was liable for all his debts. After taking out a second mortgage on the house, he’d stashed all his cash in the Caymans, and used our credit cards for living expenses.” She looked away from Angel’s sympathetic eyes and continued. “I declared bankruptcy, and managed to store some stuff under a false name before the bailiff inventoried the house for auction.”
“Smart move.” He noticed her stifled yawn and stood up. “I won’t keep you any later. Just wanted to stop by and…”
“Thank you, Angel. For everything.”
He was grinning from ear to ear as he walked up the stairs.
Angel came through the front doors ahead of Cordelia. “Damnit! This is—was my favorite shirt.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Angel, it’s a black silk shirt. You have a lot of black silk shirts. Get over it.”
Sophy looked up from the computer, where she was attempting to construct a database for Wesley’s books. “What happened?”
“Angel zigged when he should’ve zagged.” Gunn found Angel’s distress highly amusing.
“I did not! It was your wild swing.”
The debate as to whom was actually at fault raged on. Sophy gently tugged the shirt out of Angel’s hands. She looked at the rip closely, turning it over to check the backside of the fabric. She cleared her throat. “I think I can fix this. It’s a clean tear, and I’ve got some silk embroidery thread. Want me to try?”
“Yes!” Angel remembered his manners. “Please.” She smiled and turned to go.
Angel was right behind her. “You’ll be careful, right? This is real silk, you know. They don’t make these shirts anymore.”
“Yes, Angel. I’ll be careful, Angel. Want to hold the embroidery hoop for me, make sure I use the right anesthetic?”
Gunn shook his head as he watched them go down the hallway. “And this guy was the Scourge of Europe?”
Wesley stumbled through the door. “Angel…” Angel just managed to catch him before he collapsed. He saw the slashes in the back of Wesley’s shirt as he turned him over. “What happened?”
“Kyrex demon. Managed to take him down, but he jumped me from behind.”
“Can you sit up for a minute?” Angel maneuvered him into a sitting position and gingerly hooked a finger into one of the rips. He pulled the ruined shirt away from Wesley’s back and peered at the skin. “Uh, Wes. I think we’ve got a problem here.” The four deep slashes ran from Wesley’s right shoulder to his left hip and were rapidly swelling with pus.
“You’ve got to drain them, right?” Wesley was close to passing out from the pain. Angel sat back on his heels, stripping the shirt off of Wesley. “Yes.”
He got Wesley into a fireman’s carry and started down the hall to Sophy’s door. She answered on the first knock, Freya whining nervously beside her. “Oh my God, Angel, what happened to him?” Angel strode into the bathroom and balanced him on the edge of the bathtub. “Kyrex demon. If these aren’t drained immediately, well, it won’t be pretty.” She was frozen in shock for a minute, the reality of what Angel Investigations did hitting home. She shook her head. Snap out of it, she thought. “Freya, go with the kids.” She closed the door to the kid’s room and went into the kitchen. She looked around the kitchen blankly for a minute, then started rummaging frantically through the drawers.
Sophy walked into the bathroom, closed the door behind her and held out a small paring knife and a corkscrew. “What do you think?” Angel looked over and said, “Will you want to use either of them again?” “Corkscrew it is.” she muttered. She put them on the vanity, grabbed a bottle of rubbing alcohol from the medicine cabinet and twisted the cap off. She held the corkscrew over the sink and dumped the alcohol over it. Angel quirked an eyebrow at her. “Figured we don’t have time to boil water, this will sterilize it a little.” She balanced the corkscrew on the edge of the sink and started to take off her jeans and sweater. Angel started and turned his head away, saying, “Um, what are you doing?” “I don’t have an unlimited wardrobe here. Can’t afford to replace this stuff.” She kicked the clothes into a corner of the bathroom and climbed into the tub, holding the corkscrew in her right hand.
“You said they needed to be drained, right?” Angel nodded, eyes tightly shut. “I’m not strong enough to hold him if he starts thrashing around. You are. Now open your eyes and get him on an angle, back over the tub, hip on the edge.”
Angel was trying to get Wesley into position without actually looking into the tub. Sophy cursed silently to herself, reached over and grabbed Angel’s chin. “Angel. I’ve worn more revealing bathing suits. It’s underwear. Now snap out of it and concentrate. Wesley needs you.” He looked at her and nodded once. After a bit of maneuvering, he got Wesley into position. She took a deep breath and put the point of the corkscrew to the uppermost slash.
“Wait!” She looked up at Angel. “You should turn the shower on, so you can rinse off if any of this stuff gets on you.” She handed the corkscrew to Angel, rose into a half-squat and used the hose to push the nozzle out of the holder. Catching it in her left hand, she turned the taps on with her right and moved back to her original position. “Ready?” He tightened his hold on Wesley as she pulled the corkscrew quickly across the first slash. Pus drained out onto the bottom of the bathtub. Sophy blanched at the odor but managed to aim the shower nozzle at the puddle in the bottom of the tub. Angel took a firmer hold on Wesley with one hand, leaned over, and just managed to flick the ceiling fan on.
She wasted no time in draining the other three slashes. Ignoring Wesley’s feeble protests, she rinsed his back of any traces of the pus and grabbed a bar of soap from the edge of the tub. She worked the soap into a lather and said to Angel, “Hang onto him, ‘cause this is gonna hurt.” At the first pass of the soap over his back, Wesley screamed and passed out.
“Huh, that’ll make it easier.” Sophy finished washing out the cuts and put the soap back on the tub edge. Angel passed her a towel and she gently patted his back dry. “Take him into my room. He can stay here tonight, I’ll watch him.”
Angel lowered Wesley to the bed and rolled him onto his stomach. He heard Sophy’s soft footsteps behind him. “You know,” he said softly. “It’s always Wesley that gets really hurt.” She moved to stand beside him, giving quiet support. He squeezed her hand briefly, walked over to the window and looked into the dark courtyard. “He was shot a few months ago. Zombie cops, if you can believe that.” He turned back towards her and was transfixed by the sight of her almost-naked body as she pulled the damp bra over her head and dropped it on the floor. He belatedly closed his eyes as she blushed and turned her back on him, reaching into an open dresser drawer and pulling out another bra. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Her voice was muffled as she pulled the bra and then a long sleep-shirt over her head and grabbed a blanket from the closet. “I should’ve done this in the bathroom, I guess. Not used to having men in the house anymore. You can open your eyes now.” He grinned sheepishly at her. “Old habits die hard.”
“Well, I’d rather have your reactions that some other ones. At least you’re kinda…sweet.”
He looked up eagerly. “Sweet. That’s good, right?”
She smiled back at him as she sat down on the folded up blanket. “Yes, it’s good.”
He looked out at the courtyard again. “I don’t get people sometimes.” he confessed. He moved to sit beside her on the floor, hands dangling between his knees. “That’s not surprising. From what Wesley said…” Sophy looked at the hurt expression on his face. “I asked him because I wanted a non-biased opinion.”
“I’d be non-biased.” he muttered.
“Oh, come on, Angel. Wesley told me the truth, about Angelus and as much as he knew about Angel— about you.” She reached out and took his hand. “I won’t pretend that your past doesn’t bother me, because it does.” She squeezed his hand. “But, you’re trying to atone for that past. And I admire you for that. Now tell me about those zombie cops, all right?”
Angel leaned his head back against the wall. “It all started when I started to have these dreams…”
Sophy felt a hand shaking her shoulder. “Sophy, can you wake up? I need some help with Wes.” She sat up and blinked sleepily at Angel. “What’s wrong?”
He gestured towards the bed where Wesley was moaning softly. “We need to drain them again.”
“All right, let’s go.” She followed Angel into the bathroom while snagging the robe that hung on the back of her bedroom door. They repeated the operation. This time, Wesley managed to stay awake for the whole thing, even trying for an appreciative leer when Sophy stripped down. Dressed in the robe, she was rummaging in her medicine cabinet when Angel returned to the bathroom. “Children’s Tylenol Grape flavour, Children’s Tylenol Bubble Gum flavour, Children’s Motrin. Isn’t there one grown-up medicine bottle in here?” She closed the medicine cabinet in disgust. She turned around, intending to look in the kitchen and let out a stifled shriek. Leaning against the sink, she closed her eyes and muttered, “a bell. You definitely need to start wearing a bell.”
Angel smiled. “I get that. Here.” He held out a few bottles of pills. “I ransacked Cordy’s desk drawer while you were sleeping. She seems to be out of aspirin. Will any of these help?”
She held up the Midol bottle. “This should help with the pain. Although I don’t think we should tell Wes just what it is he’s taking.”
Angel took the bottle from her. “Why, what’s wrong with—oh, I see. I think.”
She took the bottle back and shook out four of the pills. “It’s a guy thing. Trust me.” She managed to coax Wesley into taking the pills. After he fell into an uneasy sleep, she looked at the clock and groaned. “Half an hour until I have to get up.” She walked into the kitchen. “Good thing I’m not working today.” She started to fill the carafe with water as Angel stood awkwardly in the doorway.
“I’ll just…” he motioned towards her bedroom. “Sit down, Angel. My coffee’s not that bad.”
They watched the water drip through the filter in silence until a soft noise came from the kid’s room. She opened the door and let Freya out. Freya curled her lip at Angel as she walked into Sophy’s room and sniffed delicately at Wesley. Angel silently snarled back at her, much to Sophy’s amusement. She cleared her throat. “Am I going to have to lock you two in a room and let you fight it out?”
He turned back to her and put on his best ‘who me?’ look. She smiled as she let Freya out into the courtyard. She was just pouring the coffee when Michael wandered into the kitchen. “Hey, bud. Ready for breakfast?”
Michael rubbed his eyes and sat down at the table. Sophy put a bowl of cereal in front of him. He looked at Angel for a minute, then turned to Sophy. “Why’s Angel here, Mom?” She sat down with her coffee. “Wesley got hurt last night and Angel was helping me take care of him.”
“Oh.” He chewed on some cereal while he thought about it. “Is he okay now?”
“Yes. He’s sleeping, just like you do when you’re not feeling well.”
“That’s good. Can I watch Mr. Rogers before we leave for school?”
“You bet. Just be careful with your bowl.”
She yawned and quickly took a sip of coffee. Angel leaned across the table. “Look, you’re tired. I can’t take Michael to school, but why don’t you let me watch Kevin for you while you get some sleep?”
“He can be a handful. Are you sure?”
“I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t.”
She took another sip of coffee. “All right. Michael, time to get dressed now.” She followed Michael into the bedroom. Her voice floated out to Angel. “Hey, punkin. Time to get up now.” He listened as Sophy managed to get both boys dressed in a few minutes. She carried Kevin out and set him down on the floor, handing him a banana. “Michael, check your backpack & make sure you’ve got everything while I get dressed.” She went into the bathroom to dress, calling to Angel through the half-open door. “I’ll take Kevin with me. He likes the walk, and you probably could use the rest.”
She scooped Kevin off the floor, deftly avoiding his banana-smeared hands, and plopped him into the stroller sitting beside the loveseat. She buckled him in and herded Michael towards the door. “We’ll be back in about 45 minutes, if you want to lie down.” Angel stood up and put his cup in the sink. “I’ll be in your room. Just wake me up when you get back.”
“All right. Yes, Michael, I’m coming!” She shut the door and he walked into the bedroom.
Cordelia was half-listening to Gunn and Fred argue about food when she caught a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye. “Uh, guys, did you see that?”
Gunn looked around the lobby. “Unless we’ve been invaded by naked leprechauns, that’s Kevin running up the stairs.”
Cordelia stood up behind her desk. “Shouldn’t we do something?” Just as she spoke, Angel came skidding into the lobby. “Did you see him? Where’d he go?” His shirt was off, his pants were soaking wet, and he looked extremely worried.
“What happened to you?”
“He spilled milk all over himself, so I decided to give him a bath, it was all just bad. Where is he?”
Fred pointed up the stairs. “Right. Thanks.” He launched himself up the stairs, calling Kevin’s name. “Ah-hah. There you are.” He caught up to Kevin at the top of the stairs. “You promised you wouldn’t go anywhere.” Kevin giggled and held up his arms. Angel picked him up and Kevin said “Again!”
“Not on your life, buddy.” They started down the stairs. Cordelia waited at the bottom, tapping her foot. “So, Angel? What’s going on?”
“Wesley got jumped by a Kyrex demon last night.” He held up his free hand. “He’s fine, Sophy & I took care of it. She was pretty tired this morning, so I said I’d watch Kevin for her so she could get some sleep. I’ll tell you all about it later.” He carried Kevin down the hallway as they watched in amazement. “You know, if I’d ever thought about it, which I haven’t, Angel and kids together would mean party snacks to me.” Cordelia mused.
Angel knocked softly on the door. When there was no answer, he tried the handle. Finding it unlocked; he swung it open slightly and called Sophy’s name softly. He noticed the half-open French door and walked through the living room, tripping slightly over the scattered toys. He stepped through the door and caught the scent of tobacco. “Hey,” he said, moving to stand beside the chaise she was curled up on. She turned her head. “Hey, yourself.”
He squatted beside her. “How’s it going?”
“Have you ever looked around at your life and thought ‘I’m a grownup. I have credit cards. I could be on a plane to Mexico in half an hour.’?”
“Right, the no tanning thing. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Rough day?”
She contemplated the burning tip of her cigarette. “Things just…build up sometimes. You know?”
They sat in silence for a minute. She sat up, crushed her cigarette out and said, “So what’s up? Need someone to watch the phones?”
“Um, we’re having a sort of party, and I was wondering if you wanted to join us?”
“What’s the occasion?”
He ticked the points off on his fingers. “Well, we’re still alive.”
“Always a reason to celebrate.”
“We killed the demon. Did I mention it was really big?”
“None of my stuff got destroyed, although Wesley’s sweater was a casualty.”
“So it’s a wake, then?”
He leaned towards her and whispered his last point. “I didn’t have to sing.” She turned her head towards him and stopped when she realized that her mouth was inches from his. They searched each other’s eyes for what seemed like forever. Questions they didn’t know they had were asked and answered. For a brief second, they leaned towards each other, until a large, shaggy head pushed between them. She cursed under her breath, “damnit, dog!” Angel stood up and briefly contemplated dropkicking Freya into the sandbox. He ran a hand through his hair and turned to go.
“Angel, wait.” He turned back eagerly. “I’d like to come.”
He grinned at her and held out his hand. “Grab your thingie and let’s go.” At her questioning look, he elaborated. “You know, the thing…that you plug in…and listen, but it’s not a walkie-talkie.”
Comprehension dawned. “The baby monitor?”
“That’s it.” She grabbed it off the kitchen counter on their way out.
“So just how big was this demon?”
“Huge. I was very brave though, didn’t flinch once. Gunn, on the other hand…”
“For the last time, ducking is not flinching!”
Wesley chimed in. “But ducking and screaming is almost flinching. Especially when you scream like a woman.”
Gunn grumbled to himself as he plugged in the monitor for Sophy. She sat down beside Cordelia and Fred. “So what really happened?” she asked. Cordelia handed her a wine cooler and started to explain the night’s events.
Wesley glanced casually over to where Angel, Sophy and Cordelia were sitting. When Angel’d heard what Cordelia was telling Sophy, he’d hurried over. “Damage control” he’d thrown over his shoulder. As Wesley took in the scene, his eyes widened. Angel was sitting very close to Sophy, his arm stretched along the chair back beside her, and she appeared to be leaning back against him, feet up on the circular bench. Cordelia finished the current story, and Sophy started to laugh. Angel looked like he was trying to explain something to Sophy, but she was laughing too hard to listen. She put her empty bottle down on the floor, stood up and said something to Cordelia. Angel stood up also. As they walked towards Wesley, Sophy smiled and said, “Good night.”
He nodded distractedly and caught Angel’s sleeve. “We need to talk.” he hissed into Angel’s ear. “All right,” Angel said mildly. “Be back in a minute.” Wesley sat down beside Cordelia. “Did you see what he was doing?”
“You know, for a Watcher, you don’t see much, do you?” Over Wesley’s spluttering, Cordelia said, “They’ve been close ever since you got hurt that night. I kinda like it. He’s not all Mr. Broody Guy anymore. He actually wears some colours other than black now.” She paused thoughtfully. “Not that the monochrome look wasn’t working for him, but still.”
“But, his curse! What about his soul?” Cordelia stood up and looked at Wesley’s panicked face. “You told Sophy about that, didn’t you?” He nodded. “So what’s the problem? She knows the score. She’s got more to lose than we do if Angel goes grrr.” She yawned and grabbed her purse. “I’m going home now. See ya.”
Wesley rummaged in his desk drawer, finally finding the bottle of scotch. Angel tapped softly on the doorframe. Wesley turned, setting the bottle down on the desk. “Ah, Angel, good.” Angel sat down across the desk from him. Wesley fumbled with the bottle for a minute, formulating his thoughts. “What is it, Wes?”
“Ah, you and Sophy, and what about your soul?” Wesley dropped his eyes and poured them each a glass of scotch.
Angel was rather enjoying Wesley’s discomfort. “Are you trying to ask me if we’ve slept together?”
Wesley took a gulp of his drink and nodded. Angel leaned forward and dropped his voice conspiratorially, “No. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it. A lot.”
Wesley choked on his drink. Angel leaned over and thumped him on the back a couple of times. When Wesley was finished, Angel said thoughtfully, “You know, that happiness clause was about the dumbest thing those Gypsies could’ve done.” He looked at Wesley. “Although, I suppose they thought I’d never be happy again.”
“And your point is?”
“Wes, why does everyone assume that sex equals perfect happiness?”
“I suppose because of what happened with Buffy.”
He leaned back in his chair and sipped his drink. “I was really happy when we got back from Pylea.” He leaned forward. “Think about it. We’d rescued Cordelia and Fred, liberated a whole planet, destroyed an evil priest, and managed to make it back alive. So how come nothing happened?”
Wesley got a troubled look on his face. “I don’t know.”
“I think I do. Because of what happened when Buffy and I…well you know, I will always feel guilty about that. Even when I got, um, happy, with Darla, there was that guilt in the background.”
“But are you willing to risk your soul on that conclusion?”
Angel sighed. “Well, that’s just it, isn’t it?” He rolled a sip of scotch around in his mouth. “I really like her. She’s an attractive, strong, intelligent woman. She knows a lot about me and for some reason, she likes me in spite of myself. But do I have the right to get…involved with her?” He smiled. “Which also piles on the guilt.”
They took a reflective sip of scotch and were silent for a minute. In a soft voice, Wesley asked, “What about Buffy?”
Angel rubbed a hand over his face. “Wes, what’s the average life span of a Slayer?”
“About tw—oh, I see what you mean.”
“She’s died twice now. As in not living anymore. I love her, I’ll always love her, but what if the Powers lied?”
Wesley gulped the rest of his drink. “You don’t seriously think that!”
“Why not?” Angel leaned across the desk. “Is it really out of the realm of possibility that they did? That they needed their warrior so bad that they weighed the two evils and decided that a small lie was the lesser?”
“And somehow you’re okay with this?”
“I can see the necessity.” Angel smiled ruefully. “And if they really didn’t want this to happen, wouldn’t they send a sign of some sort?”
“What, like a vision?”
“I was thinking more like a plague of locusts. If locusts hit L.A., I definitely won’t…do what I’m thinking about.” He burst into laughter at the stunned look on Wesley’s face.
Wesley smiled tentatively back at him. “So you have no—imminent plans?”
“Nothing beyond finishing this bottle.” Angel poised the bottle above Wesley’s glass, a questioning look on his face. Wesley nodded as he said, “Right, then. Sounds like a good plan. I’ll help you.” Angel chuckled and splashed a generous measure into his glass.
Cordelia watched as Sophy struggled down the hallway, burdened with shopping bags, an extremely grumpy Michael and a stroller filled with a protesting Kevin. She’d offered help, but it had been refused. She thought for a minute, then made a decision. “Wesley. Wesley!” He came running out of the small room they used as a library. “What? What’s wrong? Is it a vision?”
She lowered her voice as he came up to her. “You have to help me with something.”
He perched on a corner of the desk. “Of course, what do you need?”
“Good, ‘cause we’re babysitting tonight.”
“Babysitting. I just realized something.” She sat down and toyed with a pencil. “Sophy hasn’t had a break since she moved here. With other divorced people, you send the kids off for visitation, right?”
Wesley nodded, not sure where she was going. “Well, her ex is god-knows-where doing god-knows-what, so—no visitation. She needs a break, and since I haven’t had a vision, let’s do it tonight.”
“Are you planning on telling her this?”
“She’s on a need-to-know basis. Go get the car seats and put them in my car.” Wesley wrestled the car seats around, muttering to himself the whole time. When he came back in, Cordelia had Angel backed up against the wall and was lecturing him. “Look, will you just go down there, knock on her door, and ask her out for a meal that she didn’t have to plan, shop for, cook, serve and clean up after?”
“Will you stop bothering me?”
“For now.” Angel had to be content with that. He walked down the hallway and knocked on the door; Cordelia and Wesley close behind. “Will you two just back off!” he hissed, just as the door opened. “Oh! Sophy, hi.”
“Hi.” She caught a glimpse of Cordelia hovering behind Angel. “What’s going on?”
“Um, would you like to go out for dinner with me?”
“Right now?” This was Cordelia’s cue to brush past Angel and scoop Kevin up off the floor. “Hi, guys. Listen, you two want to come to my house for a visit? We’ll get McDonald’s and rent some movies and maybe have a sleepover. Wesley’ll come too.”
Michael tugged on Sophy’s jeans. “Mom, please can we? Cordelia says there’s a ghost living at her house. But he’s friendly, like Casper.” She looked at Kevin. “What do you think, bud? Wanna go to Cordelia’s?” He nodded and plunked his thumb solidly into his mouth. She turned to Angel. “Looks like I’m going to be free tonight. I’d love to go to dinner with you.” He smiled down at her. “Good. I’ll pick you up at 7:00.” She started packing a bag for the kids as he walked out the door.
Angel knocked on the door again. “Come in.”
“You know, that’s not a good habit to get into,” he said as he closed the door.
“Well, I figured it was you when Freya went to sulk in the corner.” He was studying the refrigerator art when she came out of the bathroom. “You look nice.” He studied her outfit of jeans and a cropped sweater, suddenly very thankful that he’d worn full-cut slacks.
“So do you.” They stood awkwardly for a minute. “Would you like to go for a drink first?”
“All right.” That broke the silence and they talked easily as they walked to Caritas. “I should warn you, you might see some interesting things in here. Nothing will hurt you, but be prepared.”
“And we’re going in here, exactly, why again?”
“Mostly because it’s a nice place, but also because nobody looks twice if I don’t reflect.”
“I can see where that would appeal to you.” She grinned and looped her arm through his. “Lay on, Macduff.”
They were able to find a table easily, as it wasn’t very crowded. Her eyes widened slightly as she took in the various patrons. She leaned over the table and whispered, “I’m feeling like a minority suddenly.” He looked around. “You are.” The waiter materialized beside them, and they placed their orders. They had sat through two karaoke numbers when Lorne pulled up a chair. “And where have you been hiding this one, Angel? Hi, I’m Lorne. No doubt Angel’s told you all about me. It’s all a lie, unless it’s flattering.”
She shook his hand. “Hi, I’m Sophy.” She looked at both of them. “Will you excuse me for a minute?”
“It’s the door on the right, sweetie.” He took a sip of his Sea Breeze as he watched Angel watching her. “Fascinating thing about karaoke. Sometimes people in the audience sing along.”
“Huh, what was that?”
“She’s going to need you.”
“Why? What’s going to happen? Tell me!”
“Down, Fido. It’s not going to be tonight, or even tomorrow. Just keep it in mind, all righty?”
Sophy slid back into her seat and noticed Angel’s expression. “Angel, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Lorne just reminded me that I owe him some money.” He turned to Lorne. “Can I pay you later?”
“Of course. Run along now, kiddies. There’s a clan of Rochmeyns coming in soon.” He leaned in and lowered his voice. “Frankly, I’d like to tell them to party elsewhere, but when there’s fifty of them and one me…well, what’s a boy to do?” They stood to go. “Buh-bye now. Come back soon.”
Angel placed a hand on the small of Sophy’s back and steered her out of the club. “Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?”
He took a deep breath and smiled. “Positive. Now, let’s find somewhere to eat. Do you like Italian?”
“That depends. Do you?”
“I don’t mind it.”
“Then Italian it is. Isn’t there a café around here somewhere?”
Angel looked around for a minute. “A couple blocks from here.”,p> They walked to the café in a companionable silence. Once their orders were placed, Sophy leaned over to him and asked, “Angel, why again did you ask me out?”
He looked down at his hands. “Three reasons. Um, Cordy sort of made me. Not that I didn’t want to. ‘Cause I did. A lot. Did I mention that I wanted to? And there haven’t been locusts yet.”
“Locusts. And flying insects pertain to this…”
He looked up at her and smiled. “You’ll have to ask Wes to explain.”
“And don’t think I won’t.”
She took a deep breath, gathered her courage and reached for his hand. Twining her fingers through his, she said “Angel, I really like you. And not in the ‘let’s just be friends way’ either.”
He squeezed her fingers gently and disentangled his hand. “And I really like you too. But, I’m scared to do anything.”
She sat back and blinked at him. “Because of the curse?” He nodded. “Angel, I’m thirty years old. I don’t believe in perfect happiness anymore. And somehow, I don’t think you do either.”
Angel took a drink of wine. “Aren’t you scared to get involved with me? Scared that I’ll hurt you, or your kids?”
She leaned forward and took his hand again. “Angel, we live in Los Angeles. Anyone I get involved with could hurt me. Or could want to hurt my kids. That’s life these days. You’d just be more…direct about it.” She took a sip of wine and looked at him thoughtfully. “And possibly happier.”
“But I can’t give you a home, or play outside with Michael and Kevin…”
“Listen, I had the husband and the house in the ‘burbs. Even, gods help me, a white picket fence. The husband worked 14-hour days and was banging his secretary and the house was a prison. The fence marked the boundaries of my life. So you can’t go outside in the daylight. So what!”
The waiter deposited their plates in front of them. “Let’s not talk about this any more, all right?”
Angel leaned against the doorframe as Sophy fumbled with her keys. She unlocked the door and looked up at him. “Thank you. I had a lovely time.” She lightly kissed his cheek.
“So did I.” He trailed a finger down her face. “I should go.”
She took a deep breath and slid her arms around his waist. “You don’t have to,” she whispered.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” The word was barely out of her mouth when Angel dropped his lips to hers. They kissed leisurely, exploring each other’s mouth. She pulled back to breath and said, “Besides, Wesley gave me a stake and some holy water a while back, just in case.” He laughed and opened the door.
After a few more impassioned kisses, Sophy broke out of Angel’s arms. “Angel, please, I have to…” she blushed and finished her sentence in a whisper. “go to the bathroom.” He chuckled and released her. She looked over her shoulder before opening the door and said, “You can wait in the bedroom.”
He pushed open the bedroom door and was met by a snarling Freya. He looked back at the closed bathroom door and smiled as he closed the door behind him. “You know, dog, we really need to…talk.” He circled around Freya, looking for just the right moment. Off-balance, Freya looked at the ground for a second. That was all Angel needed.
He leapt over and tackled Freya. She yelped in surprise and tried to squirm out from under him. He grabbed the back of her neck in his teeth and growled through the fur. “Look, I like her. I won’t hurt her. So stop acting like I pissed in your water bowl.”
They both looked up at the sound of the door opening. Angel spat out the mouthful of fur and tried to look like he knew what he was doing. “Um, hi.”
“Is this some weird vampire thing that Wesley failed to warn me about?” Sophy tapped her foot on the floor and tried to look stern.
“Wesley…warned you about things?” He shook his head. “No, I just thought that we should…get to know each other.” He slowly levered himself off of Freya and got to his feet. Freya got up and stood beside him. They both shifted nervously under her gaze until she burst out laughing.
“All right, Freya, out.” She held the door open as Freya slunk out. “And as for you,” she turned back to Angel after shutting the door. “Explain it all later.” She held out her arms and Angel went to them gratefully.
Sophy fumbled the handset off the bedside table. “Hello,” she mumbled.
“How do you do this?”
“What, Cordelia? Is anything wrong?”
“Not unless you count me needing all new makeup. Somebody got up really early and flooded the bathroom!”
“Oh, Cordelia, I’m so sorry! I’ll replace every—” A large hand snatched the phone away from her.
“Cordy, it’s Angel.” He held the phone away from his ear, wincing at the shrieking noises coming from it. When they started to die down, he put the phone back up to his ear. “I’m fine…of course Sophy’s fine, you just talked to her…even the damn dog is fine…Cordy, would Angelus have left the dog alone? Especially after last night?”
He poked Sophy in the ribs. She managed to gasp out “Freya, speak.” Freya barked once. “There, are you happy now?”
“Cordy, no! Cordelia, you volunteered yourself for this job.” By this time Sophy had the giggles. Angel rolled his eyes and continued talking. “No, you cannot put in for hazardous duty pay…I don’t CARE if you lost your makeup, you look better without it anyway.”
He propped himself up on one arm and squinted at the clock. “Cordelia, if you bring those children back here before 10:30…yes, you and Wesley can cope for another three and a half hours…I said, before 10:30, I will tell Wesley that you want to catalogue and cross-reference his books…I mean it!” Sophy heard Cordelia’s anguished voice as Angel reached across her and hung up the phone, first turning the ringer off. “Now,” he breathed in her ear. “where were we?”
***** Gunn opened the hotel doors, talking animatedly. “That is the last time I go out of town with you. I mean it!”
“Look, it’s not my fault the guy in the bar thought we were gay. And it’s certainly not my fault he came on to you.”
“Angel.” Cordelia said softly.
“What? What is it?”
Wesley held out a sheaf of papers to him. “Sophy’s husb—ex-husband filed custody papers in Belgium. A judge granted him custody. His lawyers came in today and took the children.”
Angel flipped through the papers, his face a mask of anger. He looked up at them. “How could you? How could you let him take them?”
“They didn’t have a choice, Angel.” He looked up at the balcony. “Everything was legal. I called my lawyer to make sure.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I would have—“
“Would have what? Gone to Belgium and ripped him apart?” She walked down the stairs.
“I would’ve helped somehow. Lawyers, money, something!” He threw the papers savagely across the room.
“This was my problem.”
“No, it wasn’t. When you allowed me into your life, it became our problem! You should have told me.”
“What would you have done, Angel?”
“I don’t know. You never gave me the chance to find out, did you?”
“Angel!” Wesley’s horrified hiss made him turn slightly. “This is not the time.”
He walked over to her and looked into her eyes. “You should have told me.”
He had to strain to catch her reply. “I thought it was just a passing thing. I didn’t think he was serious.”
He enfolded her gently in his arms. “Sshh, baby, I’m sorry. We’ll get through this.”
“They wouldn’t let me pack for them. They said he would buy new things for them.”
He rocked her back and forth, crooning softly. “Everything. He took everything from me. And I had to stand aside and watch him do it.” She clutched at his shirt in despair. “My babies are gone, Angel. He took my babies.” She dropped her head to his shoulder and started to cry. He picked her up and walked up the stairs
. Chapter 5
As Angel moved fluidly through the broadsword exercises, he heard the door open behind him. He finished with a final downstroke and turned. “Sophy.” He racked his sword and walked over to her. She looked at him steadily. “Teach me.”
“Teach me to do…that.”
“The broadsword might be a little heavy for you.”
“So pick something else.”
“You can’t be serious. Wouldn’t you rather…” he racked his brain furiously for something else to suggest. “Have a bath? Or we could rent a movie? Cordy’s disturbingly vision-free lately.” He took her hand and tugged her towards the door.
“No., Angel.” She pulled away from him. “I’m sick and tired of being coddled! I need to do something. I’m only working mornings now. I need to…I need to move.”
He sank down onto the floor. “You want me to teach you to fight.”
She squatted in front of him. “Yes, I do. I could help you.”
“If you say ‘a woman’, I swear I’ll smack you so hard.” She stood up angrily. He caught her hand in his, effectively stopping her flight. “Let me finish. You’re special to me. And I don’t really want you in the crossfire.”
“But it’s all right for me to sit at home and wait for you?” As she pulled free of his hand, Angel dropped his head and swore quietly in Gaelic. He looked up at the ceiling and said, “A curse wasn’t enough for you, was it?” He got wearily to his feet. “All right. Come here.” He walked over to the weapons rack and stood thoughtfully for a minute. He finally picked a rapier, turned, and handed it to her. “Try this.”
She took the sword from him. “Okay, now what?” He moved to stand behind her. “Bring the sword up vertically in front of you. Good. “ He reached around and placed his hand over hers. “Now, this,” he directed her into a lunge, “is a thrust.” He brought the sword up on an angle in front of her. “And this is a parry.” He let go of her and stepped back. “Try it.”
Sophy started to lose herself in the rhythmical movements. Thrust, parry. Thrust, parry. Thrust, parry. Thrust, parry. Clank. She re-focused her eyes on Angel’s smirking face. “You didn’t think that was it, did you?”
“Well, no.” She smiled back at him and copied his movements as he raised his sword in front of him, pointing her sword tip towards his eyes. They started sparring, circling around each other. Angel would use a move against her, then break it down slowly so she could follow each motion. She would practice, then attempt to use it against him. After she nicked him in the upper arm, he called a halt. “Enough for now.” He looked at her critically for a moment. “You’re better than I thought you’d be.” He racked their swords and leaned against a corner of the weapons rack. “I’ll dig out a couple of books for you, if you want.”
She slid her arms around his waist and leaned into his chest. He looped one arm loosely around her hips and slid his other hand up her back, cupping the nape of her neck. “Thank you.” He dropped a kiss on the top of her head and whispered, “you’re welcome.” They stood peacefully until Angel groaned and pushed himself away slightly from the corner. “Let’s go to bed. I’ll find those books for you tomorrow.”
“For the last time, Cordelia, I don’t know why Angel wants us down here.”
“Well, you would think that the Great Not-So-Broody One could give us a little clue. He’s supposed to be the great detective, we’re just the Watsons.”
With the ease of long practice, Wesley, Gunn, and Fred tuned out Cordy’s grumbling. Gunn eased the door to the practice area open, trying to make as little noise as possible. They slipped inside and closed the door behind them. Cordelia whispered to Wesley, “So what’s the big deal? It’s just Angel doing his stuff.” Fred listened hard for a minute, then said softly, “There’s someone else here.”
“How can you tell?” asked Gunn.
“They’re not quite in total sync. If you listen carefully, you can hear the other person. It’s almost like an echo.”
They watched Angel moving though the Tai-Chi exercises. As he pivoted slowly on one foot, Sophy was revealed. They were transfixed as the two gracefully moved as one. Fred leaned over to Wesley and said, “see, if you watch closely, Sophy’s foot hits the floor a second before Angel’s. I guess it’s because she’s got shorter legs.”
Angel and Sophy finished the exercises and stood still for a moment. He reached into the weapons case, grabbed a broadsword, and walked to the middle of the floor. “Try not to break anything this time.”
“What, like you? Or other stuff?” Sophy’s impish grin belied the ease with which she was twirling the quarterstaff.
“Well, not breaking me would be a start.”
“I haven’t broken you yet.”
He swept the sword over his head and brought it down towards her. Instead of trying to block the descent with the staff, she dodged quickly and aimed a snap kick at his knee. He managed to pivot out of range at the last second, and brought the sword around in a flat arc. Sophy smacked the sword aside with the staff, snickering as Angel stumbled.
“Laugh now, ‘cause there’s no laughing later.”
Her only answer was to advance on him, quarterstaff a blur in front of her. He sidestepped her rush and spun quickly on one foot, raising the sword with both hands. Sophy pivoted to face him, brought one end of the staff down and rapped him hard on the ankle. He staggered to one side, unbalanced by the blow. She spun the staff in front of him and hit him on the knuckles. Bringing the other end of the staff up quickly, she knocked the sword out of his hands. He spared a quick glance to watch the sword fall, then was driven back by a flurry of feinted blows.
Wesley and Gunn traded glances. “That is superb fighting.” Wesley commented.
“All right. Enough!” Angel held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. He looked up towards the rest of his gang. “What’d you think, Wes?”
Wesley leaned on the landing railing. “How long has she been at this?”
“About three months now.”
“I have a name, you know.”
“Bit of Berserker, maybe?”
“She practices almost 25 hours a week.”
“HEY!!” She smiled sweetly as they turned to look at her. “You know, Wesley, you could be asking me these questions.”
“What’s the fun in that?” Angel’s face was completely serious.
“Do you not see the large stick I’m holding?”
“Stick?” He walked over to her. “This is not a stick. This is a solid oak, hand-turned quarterstaff.”
She turned it over in her hands. “Okay, a fancy, expensive stick.”
Wesley cleared his throat. “Before this degenerates into name-calling, perhaps we should talk about this rationally. Gunn, have you stolen the rest of my twelve-year-old scotch yet?”
“It’s not stealing if you plan to put it back.”
“Borrowed, stolen, whatever! I think I’m going to need it. Now let’s go.”
Cordelia rummaged in her makeup kit. Finally finding what she was looking for, she walked back out to the living room. “Okay, I’ve got Purple Passion and Berry Explosion. Which one do you want?”
Sophy put her hands out in front of her and closed her eyes. “Surprise me,” she laughed. Before Cordelia could make it over to the couch, she gasped and dropped the nail polish bottles. She pressed her hands to her temples and tried to concentrate on the images that were flashing through her mind. The vision finally over, she opened her eyes and focused on Sophy’s worried face. “The guys…they’re in trouble.”
Sophy stood up. “Let’s go.” She grabbed her keys. “We’ll take my truck, it’s faster.” She looked at Cordelia’s gray face. “And you’re in no condition to drive, either.” She helped Cordelia out the door and down to the truck. “Where are we going, exactly?” she said as she started the truck.
Cordelia closed her eyes and concentrated. “Um, an alley?” she finally said.
Sophy sighed and pulled out onto the street. “Do you remember where they were going?”
“Okay, that narrows it down by a few blocks.” Sophy flicked a switch on the dash. “You might want to grab on.”
“Grab on to what?” Cordelia nervously asked.
“The ‘Oh, Shit’ handle.” Sophy answered as she hit the gas.
Cordelia closed her eyes and began to pray. Oh, Lord, or whoever, I’m not picky. Please get me out of here. I promise never to do anything bad ever again. Oh, about the shoes, I know they weren’t on sale, but Jimmy Choo sandals! At 75% off! And the saleslady was really cranky about helping me, so, hey, it’s karma, right? Besides, they were asking for it, putting their sale rack so close to the designer stuff anyways.
“Hate to interrupt your private time, but, is any of this looking familiar?”
Cordelia cracked one eye open and looked around. She spotted a familiar building. “Yes, we’re close. Turn left at the next corner.”
Sophy slowed down to accommodate traffic. “There’s a CD in the glove compartment. Throw it in and turn it up, ‘kay?”
Cordelia opened the glove box and found the CD. She read the handwritten title as she put it in. “Angel Finding?” She turned to Sophy.
“Angel has vampire hearing, right?”
“So, he can hear farther and better than a human, right?”
“And he hates rock ‘n roll, right?”
“So this way, he knows we’re coming.”
Cordelia opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off by the first lines of the song.
I’m driving down the road and I’m flirting with disaster.
Cordelia’s eyes widened with delight. “He must hate this!” she yelled over the music.
Sophy rolled her eyes. “You have no idea,” she yelled back.
She braked suddenly as she caught sight of a lot of very large demons stepping out from alleys on either side of the street. She reached forward and flipped off the stereo. “Of course,” she said calmly, “if you use a technique too often, sometimes the bad guys figure it out.” She reached under the dash and pushed a button. Cordelia jumped as the back window lowered.
Sophy fumbled beneath the seat for a minute, and then came up with a crossbow and a handful of arrows. She unbuckled her seat belt and shifted into reverse, keeping her foot on the brake. “You’re going to have to drive. Or at least steer.”
Cordelia gulped, but reached over and grabbed the wheel. “What do you want me to do?”
“Just don’t hit anything, and we’ll be fine.” Sophy rolled up on her right hip, keeping her foot on the brake. She twisted so the crossbow was pointing out the back window, holding the arrows in her left hand. “Ready?” she asked.
“Ready.” Cordelia answered, taking a firmer grip on the steering wheel.
“Let’s do it.” Sophy hit the gas and they shot backwards. “Turn the steering wheel a tiny bit to the left, Cordy. Good. Now, shift into Drive.” Cordelia screamed as the truck swung through a tight turn. Sophy sighted down the crossbow at the demons and started firing. “Shift into Reverse and steer straight. I think I can get all of them.”
Cordelia looked at Sophy in disbelief, even as she shifted gears. “You think! Can’t anyone in this gang come up with a better plan than ‘Gee, I think this’ll work’?”
Sophy rolled back into the driver’s seat and grabbed the wheel, sparing one hand to hit the button that would roll up the window. “Okay, now we have to drive very, very fast. Where’s that alley again?”
Cordelia looked around and said “Turn right up ahead, it’s the alley halfway down the block on the left. And by the way, how did you learn to drive like that?”
“Defensive driving school.” Sophy hit the gas and they accelerated with a screech of much abused tires. “The instructor taught evasive maneuvers to anyone she thought was good enough. I was.” She negotiated the corner on two wheels and managed to muscle the truck through a turn so the passenger door was more or less in front of the alley. She hit the horn once and turned to Cordy. “Open your door, get into the back seat and flip the front seat forward.”
Just as Cordelia was more or less settled, Wesley came hurtling into the truck. “So glad you showed up, girls.”
Cordelia glared at him. “Just for that crack, you are taking me for many drinks later.”
Gunn shoved frantically at Wesley’s legs. “Will you move it, English?”
Leaving the three of them to sort out the tangle of legs in the back, Sophy shoved the seat back just in time for Angel to leap into the truck. “Hi there.”
“Hi yourself.” She hit the gas again and just managed to avoid hitting one of the demons that had been pursuing Angel. They both winced as his claws raked down the passenger side. “All right, that’s at least a full paint job right there.”
“I know some people that can fix that.”
“Oh, like the same people that ‘fixed’ my muffler? Don’t think so.”
“Okay, the muffler thing was a bad idea, but these guys are really good. They painted my car a while back.”
“Yeah, like black’s hard to paint.” She screeched around another corner and slowed down to merge with the traffic. “I’m telling you, Angel, you owe me a new paint job.”
“We’ll see.” He leaned over and started to whisper in her ear.
“Don’t fall for that!” Cordelia shrieked from the back seat.
“Yeah, make him repaint your wheels.” Gunn seconded.
Wesley just leaned his head on the back window and sighed.
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