Welcome To My Wiggins
After several unsuccessful attempts, Angel cornered the Host by the bar.
"What sort of reading was that?" He gripped a purple arm, restraining the demon.
"Feel the love, Tinkerbell, and watch the creases! I can't read what I can't see. Sometimes I only get the cinematic trailer, not the director's cut with nine extra scenes."
Angel didn't let go. "What did you see?"
"She's not here to hurt you. In fact, she's the one who should be afraid."
Angel nodded. "Yeah, there are assassins after her. I know that."
"They aren't the only ones. She'll be lucky to survive this," the Host said, his face grave. "She's in real danger, bro. Don't leave her side, or it could all be for nothing. Now, Rambo, I'm late for my 'Get' set, so unless you want to come up and sing with me..."
"Sorry." Angel let go.
He sat at the bar and nursed a beer while the Host ripped into 'Get Back' by The Beatles. Staring morosely into the amber liquid, he watched the bubbles rise and burst on the surface, wishing he could taste it like he used to before -- before Darla. He heaved in a reluctant breath, forcing the air back out with a rush. While Cara was here, that ghost was going to keep haunting him.
He wanted to leave. The club was too crowded; warm bodies everywhere, bright lights and too much noise. Too many humans and half-humans milling around, talking, drinking. He just wanted to go to his room, sink into his chair and stare into the dark. Anything to be away from the crowd. The need to get out became overwhelming.
But he couldn't go alone. He had to help the others get Cara out of the club first. And he was supposed to stay with her. However ambiguous the Host's readings were, his advice was usually right. Abandoning his drink, Angel jerked up from the barstool and looked around for his companions.
The Host was now blasting out a creditable version of Billy Ocean's 'Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Into My Car', and several patrons had congregated on the area of bare floor in front of the stage.
Cara bobbed up and down in the centre of the small crowd, apparently no longer bothered by her odd-looking dancing partners. The Angel Investigations team danced around her, glancing repeatedly at the assassin demons in their booth, and forming a human barrier between them and their target.
Angel stood on the edge of the group, trying to make himself heard over the music. "Come on, it's time to leave."
"What?" Wesley put his hand to his ear.
"We should go!" Angel shouted, just as the music stopped, so that the last word filled the gap between the song and the applause.
Everyone turned to stare at him. So much for being inconspicuous. He wanted to shrink into his leather coat and disappear like one of Cara's imploding demons. The Host glared at him disapprovingly.
Thankfully, the mellow tones of a piano drifted from the speakers, Brenda Russell's ballad 'Get Here', prompting the dancers to take a partner and snuggle close.
After two bars, Angel froze. DÈj‡ vu again, this time so powerful, it was as if someone had made it solid and smashed it across his face. He knew this song from... It was important that he remembered where.
He dredged around in his memory until he located the dream. The dream where he was dancing while the Host sang this exact song. Why did it seem so vivid, yet so strange? It had been no ordinary dream. He'd been dancing to this song -- with someone. Red dress, pale skin, blonde hair. Darla. He felt a growl rumble through his chest; cold prickles ran across his skin. He closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. Bad move. Cara's smell was close.
"Angel?" Her voice made his head snap up, and her hand touched his sleeve. "You okay?"
She filled his nostrils, and he fought it off a shudder. "Yeah, I, uh, don't like crowds," he said, swallowing hard, looking around, self-conscious.
"Dance with me?" She looked at him through her long, dark, lashes.
His automatic response came out through gritted teeth. "I don't dance."
"Aw, come on, it's easy," she slurred, winding an arm around his waist and pulling him close to her. She began to sway, while he just stood there, jaw clenched.
Now her aroma washed over him in waves. God, she smelled just like her ancestor. He remembered the girl's sweet taste. Cara's head drooped to rest on his chest. Her small fingers ran down his sleeve, fumbled for a moment, and then interlocked with his own.
As soon as their skin touched, the room began to bend, then waver. He looked around, trying to find Cordelia, but all traces of the club were gone. He was back in Borsa, in that house, in front of the crackling fire.
He glanced down at the girl in his arms -- his birthday gift, in all her gypsy glory. Her head was tipped to one side, milky neck exposed to him like an invitation.
Darla stood beside him. "Happy Birthday, Angelus."
His mouth began to water. Somewhere in the back of his brain, something screamed at him to pull away, let go and just run, but the sound of blood roaring under translucent skin drowned it out. She was his for the taking.
Cordelia glanced up from her dance with Gunn. "You see Cara anywhere?" she asked, worried.
"I thought you were watching her."
"I was too busy leading. You mean we lost her?" She looked around in desperation, doing a double-take as she spotted Cara in the last place she ever expected to find her -- in Angel's arms. He was -- dancing? For a moment she bristled with anger as she saw Cara pressed full-length against him. But before she could stop to wonder at her own reaction, her eyes reached his face, and her blood turned to ice.
He wasn't moving, just standing there with his eyes closed, jaw rigid. Cordelia saw him swallow once, then again, his lips moist, nostrils flaring. Then he opened his eyes, and she gasped. They shone pale amber, unfocused, restlessly scanning the room. She could see the battle being waged within, and realized Angel was losing.
Cordelia pulled away from Gunn, and took two swift steps towards the struggling vampire. "I'm cutting in," she said loudly, grabbing Cara's arm and yanking her aside.
Cara's hand broke contact with Angel's as she stumbled back. She was trembling and pale. If Angel looked totally out of it, Cara ran a close second. She drew a few shallow breaths, staring at Angel as if he were the devil himself. Gunn took her shaking hand and led her away.
Angel still stood there, motionless, amber eyes wide but unseeing. He was panting, small shallow breaths, and she could tell he had no idea where he was, or what was going on.
As she watched, his face rippled, ridges emerging, fangs extending. She'd been dreading this for so long. She expected to feel terrified of him, of his demon breaking loose. But to her surprise she felt only sadness, pity, and an irresistible desire to comfort him. He was lost, he needed her, and she was sure she could help.
Instinctively she wound her arms around his rigid body, pulling him to her and putting one hand up to stroke the back of his neck. "Angel, calm down, it's okay," she murmured, her lips against his ear.
A growl vibrated through him, making goosebumps break out on her arms, but she didn't pull away. "Angel, it's Cordelia. I've got you." She repeated the phrase like a mantra, until she could hear his panting subsiding, feel his jaw relaxing against her cheek. "Shhhhh," she whispered, swaying him gently in time to the music.
Angel blinked. The room was changing again. Borsa disappeared, and slowly the Karaoke bar formed around him. The urge to feed subsided, and the smell of gypsy blood no longer drowned his senses.
He felt his face change, and tried desperately to work out what had just happened, why he was in the middle of the dance floor, trembling. He rode out the dizziness, letting reality wash back over him, wondering what had stopped him from doing the unthinkable. One word turned over and over in his jumbled mind.
Cordelia. He smelled her everywhere, and realized it was she who held him in a warm embrace. The ringing in his ears faded, and he could hear her soft voice, soothing him. Whatever just happened, she had rescued him from it.
Of all the scenarios he'd dreamed up for holding her close, this was not one of them. But now, 'how' didn't matter. He just wanted to stay there forever, listening to her whispering in his ear, her impossibly soft cheek brushing his face. Her body heat seeped into him, driving away the cold. She was so warm...
Cordelia felt Angel's arms curl around her, his large cool hands splayed across her back, pulling her harder against him. Her breath hitched, and her heart hammered against her ribs. She wondered if she would feel his fangs against her neck -- but his touch was tender, his thumbs caressing her back through her top.
"Cordelia." Her name came from his lips as a jagged sigh. She leaned away just enough to see his face. His eyes, dark brown again, were moist with tears. "Don't..." He swallowed, his face etched with pain. His voice broke as he spoke. "I don't know what just happened to me."
"It's okay, you're fine now. You want to go home?" she asked, trying to ignore the horrible sinking feeling in her gut. He was losing it. When he nodded, she stepped away and took his hand, leading him to the table.
Wesley was sitting there, keeping an eye on the two head-hunters who now occupied a couple of bar stools, closer to the entrance. Gunn stood, shifting from foot to foot, obviously eager to leave. Beside him, an ashen-faced Cara gulped down a large glass of wine, visibly tensing when she saw Angel approach.
"Cordelia, what happened?" Wesley asked, surveying Angel with concern.
"He's not feeling well," she said in a quiet voice.
"Not feeling well?" he echoed.
"I, uh, had a funny turn." Angel looked at his boots.
"Yeah, close encounter with a dance floor." Cordelia forced a smile. "You know how that makes him. We should get out of here." She dropped to a whisper and leaned in towards Wesley. "And make sure Gunn keeps Cara away from Angel."
"I don't think that will be a problem," he said, glancing at the shaken girl.
They moved to leave, Gunn half comforting, half supporting Cara. She looked a bit green, and Cordelia hoped she didn't barf in Angel's beloved car. If he was upset now, that would send him totally over the edge.
"Uh, Cordelia," Wesley said, his mouth barely moving as he motioned to the bar with his eyes. The demons that wanted Cara were now sitting with their backs to the bar, watching the room. They were only feet from the exit, and would easily be able to tail three unarmed people, one roaring drunk and a freaked vampire into the alley outside. Angel was supposed to be their protector, but he looked in no fit state right now. Getting out of the club would be no simple task.
As the music stopped, inspiration struck. Cordelia climbed onto her chair, stuck her fingers in her mouth, and let fly with a shrill whistle. The majority of the patrons stopped talking and stared at her.
"What the hell?" Gunn muttered.
"Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen and -- things," she shouted. "For the next two minutes, free drinks at the bar." She leapt from the chair, catching Angel's hand in hers again. "Run," she hissed at Wesley.
The result was quite dramatic. As she dragged Angel towards the door, a tide of people and demons swamped the bar, shouting their orders at the horrified staff. She could see the Host, waving his hand at her, his face going an even more vivid shade of green. Cara's demons were pinned against the counter, unable to get off their seats.
"Good thinking, Cordelia!" Wesley yelled over the din as they fled.
As Gunn eased the car through the late night traffic, Cordelia kept a tight hold on Angel's hand. He was silent and unmoving, which wasn't entirely abnormal, but his face was pale and drawn -- more than usual -- and he made no attempt to push her hand away. Something was horribly wrong, and she didn't like it one bit.
By the time they reached the Hyperion, Cara was sound asleep, having nodded off in the front seat sometime between their hasty exit from Caritas, and dropping an exhausted Wesley at his apartment.
Gunn carried her inside. "I'll put her to bed and take the room next to her." He shot a glance at Cordelia. "You two okay?"
She nodded. "Yeah, thanks, Gunn."
Leading Angel up the stairs, she wondered what she would do when they reached his room. Just leave him there to brood? That approach didn't help last time. Oh God, was this 'next time'? Angel wig-out number two?
When they got inside, he finally pulled his hand away, and sank into his chair, slumping down, closing off.
She had to do something -- she couldn't let him retreat to wherever it was he went when life got too hard. "Want to talk about it?"
"No, I want to be alone." He looked up at her, face blank. Just like it had been the day he fired them, expressionless apart from his dark eyes, which betrayed his fear and confusion. This was not going to happen again, she wouldn't let it.
"No, you don't!" she exploded. Stamping her foot, she balled her hands into fists. "Don't you dare do this to me!"
"Cordelia..." he said on a sigh.
He was obviously in no mood to argue -- but she didn't care. "No, you listen to me," she snapped. "I will not let you push me away again. You promised it would be different now, but here you are, going right back into hermit mode."
"You don't want to know what's happening here. If I tell you, you won't trust me anymore..." He lowered his eyes to the floor. "And I can't risk losing you again."
She paced for a few tense seconds. Could he hear her heart, pounding in fear and anger? Could he tell her stomach was in knots with worry? Did he care?
"You just don't get it, do you? Ugh, Angel!" she shouted, stamping her foot again. He looked up, puzzled, and maybe a little frightened. His expression drained all the anger from her; God, Angel was scared. And he really didn't get it -- that much was clear -- so yelling at him probably wouldn't help.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, she walked over to him, and knelt down between his legs. Laying one hand on each of his thighs, she looked up into his face, and locked her eyes on his. Tears threatened, but she forced her voice to stay calm.
"Angel, you don't understand. You think I was mad because of the way you acted over the whole Darla thing?" He nodded, looking uncomfortable, and she sighed again. "Yeah, I was pissed about you firing me, and I was pissed about you giving away my clothes -- okay, a lot pissed about the clothes -- but what hurt most was that you shut me out. I thought you were my best friend. It hurt so much that you didn't trust me enough to ask for help. You should have told me what you were going through, Angel, you should have told all of us."
Her eyes brimmed over, and a tear streaked down each side of her face.
"I wanted to protect you," he whispered, his voice hitching. "You didn't deserve to be dragged down where I was going."
"But did you ever stop to think that I could've held you up?" More tears spilled, she couldn't hold them back. With uncertain fingers he reached up and brushed her cheek, wiping the warm salty drops away. She inhaled sharply, but didn't pull back.
"Angel, I know you feel like you're going crazy again, I can see it in your eyes. Sure that frightens me. But what scares me most is that you're going to close off, put that big wall up between us. Please don't do that anymore. Tell me everything, let me help," she begged, her lower lip wobbling.
He looked away, and she steeled herself for the trademark 'just leave me alone'.
"Promise you won't leave me, however terrible it sounds?" he said. It came out in a rush of desperation, and made her want to cry even more.
Her heart aching for him, she said, "I already promised you that. I'm with you until you live again, remember? As long as you let me stay, we're a team." Putting her hand against his cheek, she brought his gaze back to hers. "You Hero, me Vision Girl. Now, you promise me something."
"No more secrets?" She held her breath, wondering if she'd stepped over the line.
"Okay. I promise." He nodded, looking like he was about to cry as well. He took a deep breath, probably because it helped, and blinked hard.
Cordelia smiled, wiping her face with the back of her hand. "Look at us, you'd think the world was about to end," she laughed. "Of course, not saying it's not a possibility..."
"You're amazing." Angel shook his head, and for a second she was treated to a genuine smile. Her heart lurched, leaping into her throat like it was trying to escape.
"All the time." He reached up and smoothed her hair with his hand. "And I don't tell you enough."
There was an uneasy silence between the two of them for a moment, and then Cordelia stood up, nearly hitting her head on his in her haste. "Where are your glasses?"
"What? I don't wear glasses."
"Drinking glasses, dumbass. We need a drink." She marched into the kitchenette and began opening doors.
He was grateful for the opportunity to compose himself a little, as he watched her ransacking his cupboards with a ferocity that would normally have had him fearing for the safety of his crystal.
She was incredible. He couldn't even think of her as the same spoiled, shallow girl he'd known in Sunnydale. Here she was, forsaking everything she had for him, even in his darkest moments. She knew what he was, what he'd done. Yet she still stood beside him, unwavering in her devotion.
His eyes began to prick again, and he wiped them, glad she wasn't watching. Taking a deep, calming breath, he rose to his feet. Perhaps if he helped her in the kitchen, the contents of his cupboards would make it through the night intact.
"Jeez, Angel, unsociable much?" she said, closing the door on the empty pantry.
"I don't do a lot of entertaining in here," he replied apologetically, scuffing the toe of his boot on the floor.
"Never would have guessed," she muttered, looking into the fridge.
"Sit down, I'll make tea." He pulled out a chair for her, and she sank into it without protest.
Angel puttered around the kitchenette, boiling the kettle, getting cups out, spooning loose English Breakfast into the bone china teapot. He could feel her eyes on him, and he was relieved they weren't making the sort of awkward small talk that usually followed such personal moments.
He set the tray down on the small table, and sat in the chair opposite her. Lifting the ornate pot, he poured her tea. She curled her hands around the cup, sipping slowly.
"So?" she said, looking up through her lashes at him.
"What?" He paused, holding his tea in front of his mouth.
"This is where you tell me what's happening to you." She blew on the hot liquid before drinking some more.
He set his cup down, a tremor in his fingers making it rattle against the saucer. "It's Cara," he said, after a long pause. "It's like, whenever she's close to me, I remember things. Stuff comes back -- from before."
Angel paused, struggling. He wasn't used to articulating such things, especially to Cordy. This was the sort of thing that should be internalised, buried deep where it couldn't hurt anyone else.
"Before?" she prompted.
"The gypsy girl, in Romania, I keep remembering what I did to her. It's so vivid, I can even hear Darla's voice."
Cordelia sucked in a sharp breath. Angel knew his confession alarmed her. He certainly wasn't sounding like the poster boy for mental stability. He stopped and looked at her, uncertain if he should continue.
"It's okay," she said, reaching across the table and putting her hand over his.
"Sometimes it's more than a vivid memory." He shook his head, trying to make sense of what he was saying. "I'm really there. And I'm -- him."
"Angelus," she said quietly.
He hated the sound of his old name on her lips. He knew she dreaded the emergence of his alter-ego on a daily basis. And that she kept a cross and holy water in her purse -- just in case. Now he believed he was going crazy, and that Angelus would emerge as a result. That had to scare her.
She must have sensed his concern, because she smiled and nodded. "Go on."
"At Caritas, I think I was going to bite her. I couldn't stop it. I was reliving the whole thing. The club actually disappeared. I was in Romania." Visualising Cara's throat, he felt the demon stir, and get battered down by a tide of guilt. He hung his head in shame.
"That's happened before -- the virtual reality thing?" Cordelia said, unease creeping into her voice.
"The night she arrived, when I helped her up." He looked up. She was on to something.
"And at Caritas, what were you doing when it happened?" she asked.
"She asked me to dance, she took my hand..."
"It's when she touches you!" she gasped.
Cordy was right. It brought a rush of unexpected relief. When Cara was near, there were memories, voices, but he was still Angel. It was only when she touched him that reality took a complete holiday. And that meant he wasn't going crazy. If there were rules involved, it meant something was being done to him. It wasn't just his mind running amok.
"It must be some sort of mystical link, because of the curse," he said, thinking out loud.
"We should ask Wes about it in the morning," Cordelia said, stifling a yawn.
"How am I supposed to protect Cara if I can't go near her?" he asked.
"Let those things eat her -- how good could this gift of hers really be anyway?"
Startled, Angel raised an eyebrow.
"She's starting to rub me the wrong way." She avoided his gaze. "I don't like her upsetting you."
"She's not doing it on purpose," he began to say, when another huge yawn erupted from Cordelia.
She rubbed her eyes. "I should go."
"Stay?" His voice was so small, he wondered if he'd really said it.
"Please stay here tonight, just in case -- in case I need you?" He forced the words out. It was hard, but he wanted her there so much -- especially with Cara close by.
She rubbed the back of his hand with her fingertips, a simple gesture, but so comforting. "Of course I'll stay."
Angel cleared away the tea things and collected some of the sleepwear Cordy had stored at the hotel, while she showered and dried her hair. He closed his eyes and slipped the small, soft garments through the bathroom door, and then got changed himself before she came out.
"It's a slumber party." She grinned, looking at him in his sweatpants and tank-top.
He wondered if she knew he normally slept naked. "Slumber party?"
"A teenage girl ritual, involving food, talking about boys, and hitting each other with pillows," she explained.
It didn't sound much like fun. "We're not gonna do the pillow thing -- are we?"
"We can leave that off the agenda," she said, laughing.
They stood in the middle of the room for a moment, silent. God, he wanted to grab her and kiss her so hard... "I'll take the couch," he said, trying not to let his gaze slip below her chin.
"Don't be silly. I'm here to protect you, so I'll need to be close. And the bed's big." She took his hand, pulling him through the French doors.
"Okay," he agreed, wondering if she'd be so relaxed if she knew the thoughts running through his mind.
They climbed onto the soft mattress, pulling the comforter up, and lay side by side for a few moments. He could hear her breathing slowing down as she relaxed and slumber beckoned her.
He inhaled deeply, letting her scent envelop him. Under the masculine perfume of his shampoo and soap she was still there, uniquely Cordy. As long as she was with him, the blackness and fear stayed away. He sucked in another lungful of air.
She rolled onto her side, facing him. "You okay?"
"As long as you're here," he said, keeping his voice steady with some effort.
Her fingers brushed his bicep, and she moved closer. "I'm not going anywhere," she said, slipping her hand over his chest, snuggling her body against his.
"Cordelia," he murmured, turning towards her, his arm circling her slim waist, pulling her flush against him. She didn't resist. It was such sweet agony, having her so close, yet unable to tell her how he really felt.
Her nose brushed his cheek, and she sighed before kissing his mouth softly, briefly. Her head drifted back to the pillow, leaving his lips tingling, begging for more. He lay there, shocked, wondering the gesture meant, hoping she didn't notice the way his body reacted to it. "Cordelia?"
"Mmmm, s'okay, I'll look after you," she mumbled, the words thick with sleep. "'Night, Angel."
"Goodnight, Cordy." Cradling her head against his chest, he watched her drift off. It was a long, long time before he was able to join her.
Continues in chapter four...