"We're here." Angel's voice cut into Cordelia's nap. She lifted her head from Wesley's shoulder, looking around to gain her bearings. They were pulling up outside the hostel she'd seen in her vision. Several windows were still lit, casting squares of light over the garden. A few people scurried past, heading out to nightclubs, or home after dinner and a movie. Angel pulled the Plymouth over to the curb and parked. They all sat in silence for a moment.
Angel lifted his head, alert, testing the air. "She's coming." She wondered what he could smell. Fear? Sweat? Ugh, gross, he could keep the super-nostrils if that was the case.
Now her footsteps were audible, and Cara appeared out of the darkness, coming along the sidewalk towards the hostel. She appeared not to notice the black car across the road.
As Cara turned up the path towards the hostel door, Cordelia saw a movement in the shadows, between the trees. The Ginsu were waiting. Their sandy colored bodies were dappled in the mix of moonlight and shadow, almost camouflaging them, but the intermittent glint from their long blades gave them away.
"Angel," she whispered, but he'd already seen them, or smelled them. Without warning, he vaulted over the driver's door and sprinted across the road, a short battle sword clenched tightly in his fist. She gripped her knife and followed Wesley and Gunn as they all ran towards the garden, weapons ready. The few passers-by noticed, and scattered.
Cara's scream rent the air. She'd made it most of the way to the hostel door before five talon-waving figures encircled her. They were tightening their circle, cutting off any means of escape for the terrified girl. The blades protruding from their fingers swished through the air, getting closer to Cara's face, her hands, her legs, slicing her skin. The closer they got, the more they cut, and the louder she screamed.
Angel had disappeared. Cordelia tensed with momentary panic. No, she hadn't seen him get injured. He must be hanging back somewhere -- it made sense that he'd keep clear of Cara. Drawing a long breath, she tried to remain calm. She was no use to anyone as a gibbering wreck. Just stay out of the way and try not to get killed.
Gunn moved around to the left, his custom-made axe swinging in a wide arc as he lopped the head clean off the nearest Ginsu. It fell to the ground, bouncing twice and then rolling away like a macabre soccer ball. The rest of the demon stayed upright for a moment, before toppling backwards and slamming full-length onto the grass, black goo gushing from its severed neck.
The other four Ginsu stopped terrorising Cara, wheeling around to look at Gunn. He stood there, bringing the handle of his axe down into one hand, his head tipped on one side, his whole stance a challenge, as he eyed the closest one. "C'mon, Patti la Belle, 'fraid of breakin' a fingernail?" he taunted, his voice icy.
Whether the Ginsu spoke English or not, Gunn's body language certainly provoked them. The remaining four demons began to converge on him, clicking in agitation.
Cara was momentarily unguarded. "Cordelia, get the girl to safety!" Wesley shouted, raising his crossbow.
Cara obviously needed no encouragement to run. She stumbled backwards a few steps, before turning and lurching across the grass to where Cordelia waited. Blood streamed from a gash on her forehead, dripping through her left eyebrow and running down her cheek. Her hands and legs were scored and bleeding, and red drops spattered on the grass as she ran.
Wesley watched just long enough to make sure she was out of the way, then let fly his first arrow. It pierced the arm of one Ginsu, which wheeled angrily in his direction. The chainsaw growling was quite disconcerting. Wesley fumbled for another bolt, his hand coming to rest on one made of wood. No, that was for later -- just in case.
"Wes, look out!" Gunn yelled, and Wesley ducked, moments before a giant blade swished through the air where his neck had been. He dropped and rolled, putting some distance between himself and a really close shave.
From his new position, he could see Angel, crouched in the shrubbery, waiting for Cara to reach the other side of the garden, as far away as possible.
"Angel, any time now would be good," Gunn shouted from where he was fending off three very fractious Ginsu.
Wesley rolled again, avoiding another talon. He hoped Angel was in a fit state to respond. Now was no time for their trump card to be smelling the roses. He glanced over, noticing Angel rise to his feet, advancing hesitantly. He didn't look good, actually, panting hard, his eyes glowing amber, tugging at his hair with trembling hands. Was he losing control? For a second Wesley's heart sank, but Angel shook himself, tightened his grip on his sword, and launched into the fray.
Cordelia made it to the sidewalk. She had her arm around Cara, and could feel the girl sagging, slowing down. Her feet dragged and tripped along the uneven ground. Cara was about to faint. That would kinda ruin the 'getting to safety' part of the plan.
"Come on, we have to hide," she said, dragging Cara into the nearest clump of bushes. They crouched, breathless, watching the fight raging on the lawn.
Two of the Ginsu were down now, and it also looked like Wesley had been injured. Angel was battling hard, leaping in the air to avoid his feet being cut out from under him, and then spinning and kicking his assailant in the face. Cordelia averted her eyes, somehow finding it much harder to watch him fight now -- now that she knew how he felt.
"How did you know?" Cara said, her voice wobbling. "How did you find me? Oh -- God." She looked down at her hands, staring at the blood dripping from her fingers. Big flaps of skin hung open, glistening in the moonlight like ghoulish petals. It was too much, and she fainted.
"Oh, for the love of..." Cordelia muttered, letting Cara slump to the ground. It was impossible to keep the girl sitting up when she was completely limp and all slippery with blood. No big -- she'd wait for the guys to finish their slash-a-palooza, and then call an ambulance. By the look of things, everyone bar her and Angel would need stitches.
She fished in her jacket for her cellphone, breathing a sigh of relief as her hand closed around the small plastic and metal case. Just holding the piece of modern technology made her feel better. But -- it sounded like it was clicking. She pulled it from her pocket and held it up in front of her face. It wasn't even turned on.
Her spine prickled as she saw the reflection in the small screen of the Ginsu hunched behind her. "Of course," she said out loud. "Should have known -- they always come in a set of six."
Sharp pain screamed through her side, just above her hip, followed by the warm trickle of her own blood. Ignoring it, she spun as best she could from her squatting position, falling onto her butt, facing the demon.
One wild kick knocked it back a mere step, and the blood-curdling clicking noise rattled more loudly in its throat. She threw her knife at it, and missed completely. Great, there went her only weapon.
The Ginsu just stood there. Why didn't it attack? It moved its head slowly from Cara to Cordelia, sniffing. It was trying to work out which one of them was the target. She was covered in Cara's blood. Oh God, it would probably give up in a moment and just kill them both.
Panting hard, a habit that never left him, Angel stood over the body of the slain Ginsu. The air was thick with human blood. Cara's was all over the grass at his feet, and he fought off the urge to bury his hand in it, wipe it across his face, over his tongue...
After a moment's intense concentration, he dragged himself away, and looked over to Gunn, who was hacking away at the last of the five demons. "Need help?"
"Nah, go see if English is all right," Gunn said, between blows.
Cordelia's scream ripped through the still air. Angel hesitated. Wherever Cordy was, so was Cara. He couldn't go there, it wasn't safe. Another scream. He looked from the dazed Wesley to the battling Gunn.
"Angel!" She screamed.
There was no choice. Cordelia needed him. He began to run.
Her cries led him around the side of the building, where she was trying to find a door, anywhere she could get to safety. She was moving slowly, too slowly, dragging a semi-conscious Cara with her. The sixth Ginsu was tracking them like a wolf, pacing, waiting for them to fall. It stood between Angel and his Seer, unaware anyone was approaching.
Angel could smell Cara again, stronger now that he had rounded the corner. He hesitated for a moment, unsure if he could trust himself to go on, and then something else pricked in the back of his nose. Cordy's blood. It coated one of the Ginsu's talons. It would die for hurting her.
His game face emerged, and he flew at it, striking out with his sword. The two of them tumbled into a heap and went backwards through a bush.
Angel hit out, rage infusing him with extra strength. "Don't you ever. Go. Near. Her. Again!" He slashed furiously, chopping off lumps of flesh with each livid word. They rolled back, slamming against the wall of the hostel, coating the paintwork with black goo. The Ginsu roared, flashing its fingernails in all directions, trying to survive the onslaught.
When it grew silent, Angel stood up, casting the sword to the ground, and spinning around to see if Cordelia was okay.
"Angel!" She ran towards him, holding out her arms. He caught her in a fierce embrace, clutching her against his chest. She was all right, thank God. Her hands clasped the back of his neck, as if she were holding herself up.
"You okay?" he asked, his demon face buried in her hair. She nodded against his cheek, and he pulled away, dipping his head to kiss her.
Her reaction was immediate, recoiling, avoiding the fangs. "Angel, I can't," she gasped, stumbling backwards, looking down, evading his gaze. She began to tremble. "Oh, God, what have I done? Angel, I'm so sorry."
"What?" He didn't understand.
She held her hands up in front of her, looking at them as if they had betrayed her. They were covered in blood. Cara's blood.
He inhaled. He couldn't help it. Cara's scent covered him. It was creeping all over him like ivy, the tendrils of scent curling into his nostrils, growing up into his brain.
He reached up with a trembling finger and drew it through the moist red patch on his neck. He held it in front of his face, staring at the blood for an endless second, before putting it into his mouth and sucking. It tasted better than anything he could remember. His gut twisted. So hungry...
"Angel, stop it, you're scaring me," Cordelia said, balling her hands into her jacket pockets.
He looked around. The lush drapes, the rich, thick, woollen rugs, the roaring fire. He knew this place. He ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth, cold saliva rushing in anticipation.
"She's not just for you, I get to watch." Darla's breath cooled his ear.
He growled low in his throat and advanced, scenting the air.
"Angel, it's me, Cordy."
What was it saying? Something wasn't right. Didn't smell right. The smell was stronger -- behind it.
Cordelia felt her stomach drop. He didn't even know her anymore. She was covered in gypsy blood and she couldn't help him.
With a snarl, Angel sprang forward. She screamed, expecting him to grasp her shoulders and bite deep. But he shoved her aside, stopping to kneel over Cara, who was on her backside on the grass.
Cordelia watched in horror as he pushed up Cara's skirt, exposing her thigh. He dipped his head, and buried his fangs right into the spot she knew bore the birthmark. The slurping noise was awful, but not as horrible as the noise coming out of Cara's throat -- a scream of pure terror.
Cordelia felt the bile rising. As much as she knew Angel had no control over this, a tide of revulsion still engulfed her. Part of her registered this as her Angel killing Cara.
But through the disgust, another feeling struggled free. A fierce spark, that grew and burned in her chest. He needed her now, just as she had needed him a moment ago. It was her turn to be the strong one. She'd promised him she'd stop him from doing this, and she damn well would, whatever the cost. The spark in her chest burst into flame.
With a scream she threw herself at Angel, landing on his back. Kicking and punching, she pummelled his arms, his back, his head. For a moment, he broke away from Cara, and Cordelia's heart soared. One strong arm reached behind, grabbing her around the bicep. His fingers crushed into her flesh, and then she was tumbling to the ground, falling on her back, all the air jolting from her lungs. She couldn't get up, couldn't breathe. Couldn't block out the noise of fangs sinking into flesh and Cara's thin wails.
"Angel, put her down!" Wesley's voice was thin but menacing, and he used the same expression that one would when scolding a naughty dog. Cordelia rolled onto her knees, dragging air back into her chest. Thank God for Wesley. He would make things better -- he had to.
Angel lifted his head again, distracted. He turned his face to the sky, and Cara's blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.
"Cordelia, do something. You said if he freaked you could bring him back." Gunn reached for Wesley's crossbow, his voice betraying his distress.
"I can't, I'm covered in her blood," Cordelia coughed, holding her shaking hands towards them as evidence. "I got it on Angel and it changed him. He didn't even touch her. And I can't..." She stopped, pressing her sleeve to her mouth, unable to get another word out. It was her fault.
There was a crunching sound as Angel's teeth sank once more into Cara's thigh. She'd stopped struggling now.
"Move aside, Cordelia," Wesley said, his voice cold and determined, though his body wavered.
She looked at them, open-mouthed. "Oh, no, no."
"I gotta do it, Cordy, get out of the way." Gunn raised the crossbow, pointing the wooden bolt at Angel.
He was right. It was what Angel would want. He'd rather be dust than a killer. She hauled herself to her feet, backing away.
Time slowed down. She saw Gunn's finger, squeezing the trigger, Angel hunched over Cara's failing body, Wesley swaying and putting his hands on his knees for support. And in that split second before Gunn fired, her heart broke, and she knew. She finally knew how she really felt. Too late, once again.
In a blur, the world snapped back into real-time. And then everything happened at once.
A pulse of blue light burst from Cara's body.
"Gunn, wait!" Cordelia screamed, but the crossbow fired even as she opened her mouth. The bolt embedded in Angel's back, as the explosion rocketed him into the air.
Cordelia barely had time to register that he was flying towards her, on the crest of a blue shockwave. He landed, knocking her into Gunn and Wesley, and the four of them went down. There was some shouting, a lot of tumbling, and then painful quiet.
Cordelia tried to move. It wasn't easy with Angel, a dead-weight, sprawled across her back. At least that meant he hadn't dissolved into dust. Something sharp jabbed her ribs -- possibly the crossbow, possibly part of Wesley. He was way too bony for a pile-up like this.
Finally, she managed to free one hand and wipe the dirt and grass from her face. It was the only movement in the eerie stillness. Just laying there and waiting for something to happen felt like a good plan.
Wesley's voice, coming from somewhere by her left knee, broke the silence. "Ah, right. Of course. I think I've worked it out."
Concludes in chapter seven...