Cordelia Chase was heading back toward her perfect new apartment with the spoils of a successful shopping excursion, already imagining the first wearing of her new outfit. She'd just happened upon the most awesome sale. Smiling as she turned onto her street just after three o'clock, Cordelia hoped that Angel wouldn't call her into work that evening. Six nights in a row was about six too many, and she had a date with her remote control. Brad Pitt would get shirtless at some point during the film on HBO; she was sure of it. Things could be worse on a pleasantly cool Saturday.
Suddenly, things were. Just off to her right, a large, muscle-bound behemoth threw a smaller man against the wall of a townhouse. Wincing, Cordelia reacted instinctively to the abuse suffered by what looked to be a well worn but extremely well made black leather jacket and moved a few paces closer to the action. She found herself hoping the smaller man's abdominal muscles were in good shape, as the body-builder drove his fist repeatedly against them. Realizing that the grip he had on his assailant's suit coat was the only thing keeping the leather jacket wearer upright, Cordy took a small step back and rapidly scanned the vicinity for a weapon or assistance. The arm snaking firmly around her waist and fingers sharply pulling her head back by her hair elicited a scream.
The two men locked in combat looked her way and froze. Recovering quicker, the smaller man pushed himself slightly away from his opponent, reached into his pocket and lunged forward again.
Another sharp tug on her hair focused the young woman's full attention back on her own situation. Unable to see her attacker, Cordelia swung her bag over her head and twisted in an effort to free herself. When that strategy proved unsuccessful, she switched to verbal mode. "Nice Neanderthal impersonation. You really sold it; I'm sure the casting director's noticed you. Soooo ... you can let me go now."
He didn't even do her the courtesy of responding, although he shifted his hand from her hair to her throat. While she was sure her stylist would be relieved, Cordelia wasn't, especially when she realized that she'd decided he was a he based on the bulk she felt behind her. Grabbing ineffectually at the man's arm, she stomped hard on his foot with her new wooden soled shoes. That had no appreciable effect, and she swore she could feel the bruises forming on her side and her neck. So she reverted to the tried and true strategy she'd employed seconds ago inadvertently, inhaling as much air as she could. Her scream came out as a croak, as relentless pressure was applied to her windpipe, and she vaguely recognized that oxygen depravation could quickly become a problem.
Without warning, the pressure was released, and Cordelia was pulled forward roughly, her hands clutching at anything to keep her balance. Realizing that she had two fists full of leather, she stopped and opened eyes she hadn't realized she'd shut. A dark haired, green eyed man, the smaller of the two she'd observed earlier, halted awkwardly. Their eyes met for a second before his began to dart nervously about.
"Come on. Move." He had a firm grip on her arm and was striding away from the identical twin iron pumpers sprawled on the ground and leaking green liquid.
"Eeewww. What kind of demons are those?"
"Huh?" His eyes followed her pointing finger, even as he continued to propel her forward. "Ah ... dead ones."
Aware that she might well have just made the proverbial trip out of the frying pan, she dug in her heels. "Hold it. This was not my idea of a bonding experience. I'm not going anywhere with you. Why should I?"
Black leather simply tightened his grip and pressed on. "Oh, I don't know, sweetness. Maybe you'd prefer to wait for the reinforcements."
When she glanced back toward the bodies, something caught her eye. "More green goo guys? No thanks. But I'm not leaving without my Todd Oldham."
Cordelia was pleased that something that she said had finally gotten through. He'd stopped, although his eyes didn't. They were constantly assessing, although he seemed to be expecting something he didn't see. Hence the pensive frown. "So where the hell was he when you were screaming?"
Fixing him with one of her very best superior expressions, she informed the ignorant. "Fashion designer not demon killer."
His incredulous, "She's going back for some clothes," reached her ears as she snatched her shopping bag off of the ground. After a nanosecond's consideration, she kicked the demon that'd pulled her hair. A startled shout escaped her lips when her foot sunk into the deteriorating body and released fumes that stung her eyes and irritated her lungs. Unable to see through the freely flowing tears and fighting the nearly constant urge to cough, Cordelia tried to orient herself. Her ears were fine and to really liven things up, sirens sounded in the distance and people were shouting and running.
Just when she stepped onto the slippery slope express to panic, a deep voice sounded in her ear. "Try to hold your breath." An arm around her waist steered her until her vision began to clear. Right about the same time that she realized that she could smell leather and sweat instead of the acrid stench of the demon, they stepped out onto the sidewalk of the street Cordy had been walking down when all this started.
The sirens were definitely getting closer. Meanwhile, leather guy was looking up and down the street, obviously undecided on his next move. Cordelia wasn't; she started toward her apartment building at a brisk pace. With one last backward glance, he caught up and moved with her, matching her stride easily. As a police car careened around the corner two blocks ahead of them, he draped his arm around her shoulders. "Stop and watch the cops."
"Why?" she queried, even as she did as he bid.
"Because that's what a normal, moderately curious couple who've no idea what's going on would do."
Nodding absently, admitting that she was perhaps unduly swayed by his reasonable tone, Cordelia watched the car drive by, shrugged and started moving once again. Her eyes drifted with a will of their own back to her companion. Her first good look at him had surprised her, and she wanted to re-assess, if warranted. It wasn't. God, he's dangerously gorgeous. That was the thought that outweighed all others, to the extent there were any, when he smiled his approval and paced her.
"Are you an actress?"
"As a matter of fact, I am," she announced, while increasing her walking speed.
"Walk down the street with your boyfriend."
"You did fine with the cop curiosity scene; just stay in character."
Could she have inadvertently walked onto a movie set and intrigued the leading man? He had the look of someone who was just going with an ad-lib. Taking a deep calming breath, Cordelia tried to imagine walking down the street with Xander. That didn't work. He'd just look at her out of the corner of his eye like a wounded puppy, rather than with the electric intensity projected by the man beside her. Ok, Wesley then. Even worse, Chase. That supercilious coward had nothing in common with the capable leather clad specimen to her left.
"Are you cold?"
"What?" Voice way too strident, Cordy. Get a grip. This could be your big break. "I mean ...," pitching her voice low and what she hoped was sultry, "... maybe a little."
Cordelia nervously accepted his invitation to share the warmth of his jacket. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she became intensely aware of the heat of his body. When she shifted closer, his arm tightened around her and she went rocketing past pleasantly warm to decidedly overheated. This was some serious chemistry. Someone alert the Academy. Looking up at him with what she hoped was a grateful smile not the manic one she'd been shocked to see on her face during the latest in a series of bad screen tests, she murmured. "Thank you."
He was smiling back, so her look couldn't have been too weird. He's talking. Pay attention. Leading ladies focus.
"You're welcome. What's your name?"
He wants to know my name! Chase, your career is off and running! "Cordelia."
"It's my real name, although I do use it professionally. My agent insisted."
He was nodding and looking at her intently. "So where are we going, Cordelia?"
That question didn't fit with her constantly revising interpretation of recent events. "Don't you know?"
"You weren't in the script."
Relieved at the acting referent, she intended to smile up at him again but her expression got stuck on puzzled. "I don't recognize you."
His grip on her shoulders tightened fractionally. "You're not supposed to. Our destination?"
"Three buildings up. 3133."
"You live there?"
A little caution couldn't hurt. "With my three professional wrestler roommates." He had a deep, resonant laugh that demanded that she chuckle along with him. Leaning her head briefly against his shoulder, she corrected. "Ok, I just made that up. There's only one poltergeist, and I've got him so under control."
"You're gonna invite me up for a drink, right?"
He hadn't been listening, or else he'd dismissed her second comment as he had the first. "I don't even know your name."
"My name's Krekow." An impudent grin graced his face as he opted to imitate 007. "Alan Krekow."
Inordinately disappointed, she sighed. "I've never heard of you."
Grinning at her as they turned toward her building, he intoned confidentially. "No one has, Cordelia. That's the latest in a long line of personas."
Pulling her key out of her pocket, she remained pleasantly aware of his proximity and nodded more vigorously than was strictly necessary. "I knew that. New character. I was just ... you know ... in the moment."
Alan was chuckling, as he looked over their surroundings with a critical eye. Cordelia saw him freeze, his expression suddenly looking as though it was cast in marble when he ordered. "Open the door. Now."
Shoving her key into the lock, the young woman glanced at the man at her side. He was peering around her surreptitiously. What was going on? Turning the key and thrusting the door open, Cordelia made an entrance into her own apartment building. He followed, she assumed, stubbornly refusing to look back. When she opened the door to her unit, she announced. "Ok, Dennis. Totally behave or we'll have to have another 'discussion'. Got that?"
A sharp rapping of her favorite wooden spoon on the kitchen counter was the poltergeist's only reply. Still wary, Cordelia crossed her threshold and spun around. The man, who was five to seven years older than she'd pegged him to be at first glance, entered her apartment without incident. Definitely not a vampire. She'd been careful not to specifically invite him in, a precaution Angel drilled into her incessantly. Get it together, Cordy; he was outside in full daylight. No human torch. No vampire.
She watched him take in her foyer and living area with a rapidity she doubted even she could match. "Nice." He muttered. "Very nice."
Cordelia was out of patience. "So what's the name of the film?"
"Armageddon II: Invulnerable Aliens Attack."
"This is sooooo cool."
"If you say so."
He'd opened the door to her bedroom, glanced in and shut it. Now he was headed toward the kitchen. "Alan, what're you doing?"
The man stopped abruptly, and turned toward her slowly. "My mother was in real estate; I picked up that particular bad habit from her. Sorry."
"It's not exactly high rent."
He evidently knew false modesty when he heard it. "Are you kidding? This is great. Um ... so ... what about that drink?"
Smiling with a nonchalance she was far from feeling, Cordelia took a few hesitant steps toward the kitchen. One of the guys on the floor below had given her a six pack as an apartment warming present. Unfortunately from her neighbor's perspective, she hadn't been sufficiently impressed to allow him to warm her in the fashion he'd have liked. Far from it. "I've got some beer."
He backed toward one of her front windows and peeked out of the curtain. "That's fine." Gesturing toward the door he hadn't opened, he asked. "In there?"
"I'll get it. Why don't you sit down?"
Cordelia Chase almost skipped into her kitchen. She could sense the success she was on the verge of, and she liked it. She liked it a lot. Throwing open her refrigerator door, she extracted one of the beers. Imported. That was good. Hoping that Steinlager was acceptable, she bounced back into her living room. Halting abruptly, her chagrin was palpable. Minus ten style points, Chase. "Would you like a glass?"
He looked at her for a long moment and sighed almost wistfully. "Bottle's perfect, Cordelia."
She approached and tried to keep herself calm. "What's the planned release date?"
"Of Arm II? June 2001. Trying to capitalize on the HAL 9000 retrospective stuff."
He seemed disengaged from her and their situation, as he drained half of the beer in one swallow. How could she not recognize him? He was so obviously a star to have such a cavalier attitude. "Who else is in it?"
Alan sighed expressively and looked at her floor. Oh, God, Chase. How lame can you be? Say something. Quick. "It's ok if it's under wraps. Totally fine. I'm in the game, after all; I understand."
Meeting her eyes, he drew a serious looking handgun out of his pocket. "Do you know the difference between live rounds and blanks?"
She didn't look away. "I do."
Quickly, efficiently and ever so slightly awkwardly, he extracted the clip from his weapon and held it up. Cordy drew a quick breath. No movie studio would let an actor run around with a loaded weapon. Even Lloyds of London wouldn't insure them then. Narrowing her eyes for a closer examination, Cordelia finally noticed the dirt encrusted on his jeans and the fatigue behind his eyes. "Who are you?"
"Someone who needs to be off the street for a few hours."
The realization that she'd indulged in one of her favorite fantasies, the one where Cordelia Chase becomes the next Demi Moore, hit her hard. But, she didn't dwell on it. Forcing herself to review recent events with her safety as the primary consideration, she had to admit that the man seated on her couch and drinking a beer had had ample opportunities to hurt her and hadn't. "How many is a few?"
"However many I can get."
He was looking at her with clear green eyes that spoke volumes. Some she was reasonably certain he didn't want read. Men liked you to think they weren't afraid of anything. She supposed that generalization applied in spades to an armed one in leather. "We'll do the motel thing. Check out time is noon tomorrow."
Releasing a breath, he looked away and murmured. "Fair enough."
"Is your name really Alan?"
Without looking at her, he replied. "No."
"Are you hungry, whoever you are?"
The smile he aimed her way in response to the exasperation in her voice made Cordelia all warm and fuzzy. It was nice, and she knew, and didn't care, that she was grinning. "Very. And I have some basic and not-so-basic culinary skills, if that matters."
He can cook? "Why didn't you say so? Anyone who can cook is welcome here. And I do mean anyone, although good-looking men are ... um ... more welcome."
After she met his mildly speculative glance with a small smile, they went into the kitchen. Her lack of ambition in the food preparation arena wasn't exactly well hidden. A box of pasta and a jar of sauce were her norm.
He stared at the ingredients for a moment before he asked. "Do you have an onion?"
"I think so." Rummaging in a cupboard, she produced a barely acceptable specimen. "Here."
Thinking about her excursion with Angel the previous evening, she had to admit. "Fresh out." A heavy sigh and slumped shoulders panicked her. "I've got both powder and salt though. Inferior ingredients both, but ...."
He opened her meager spice cabinet and began looking at his options and muttering. Feeling superfluous, she asked. "Do you need anything else?" Anything at all?
"Any other vegetables?"
She smiled sheepishly before she pretended to search for non-existent vegetables. When she turned back toward him, he had about every spice she owned opened and was attending to the sauce like he knew what he was doing. Triumphantly, she approached with a can of mushrooms. "These."
Frowning, he weighed the options. Might as well. "Would you open the can?"
Alex Krycek took a deep breath, as he watched her move away. She was seriously cute and very young. Keep your mind on the objective, Alex. Dinner. Dessert was definitely going to be chocolate or nothing tonight. Cordelia was off limits. He might be able to stick to his agenda, if she'd stop bending over like that. Jesus, she was hot. Yet he didn't evade when she glanced over her shoulder and caught him looking. Why the fuck not? Don't be stupid, Alex. Some coed wasn't going to turn him over; he'd been through far too much.
Sticking with the collegiate theme, he asked. "Shouldn't you be wandering around UCLA or USC with a bunch of pre-med and pre-law boys trailing behind with pounding hearts and sweaty palms?"
Her expression was so serious when she stood to face him that he instantly regretted the impetuous question. "I was accepted to both before the IRS caught up with my parents. Poor little rich girl loses the 'rich' part of her title. Not a pretty sight."
Gesturing vaguely to their surroundings, he commented. "Pretty nice place for a non-material girl."
"You have no idea what I went through to get it."
She didn't want to talk about whatever it was that she'd experienced; that much was very clear from her tone. "Are you actually expecting me to believe you don't have a bunch of guys who show up the moment you beckon?"
"You can believe whatever you want. I don't believe in relationships. Everything turns out badly, no matter how it starts out."
She sounded so sad; he found himself trying to lighten the mood. "What if something starts out badly? Any hope there?"
"Are you perchance referring to a chance meeting over body blows and dead demons?"
She'd smiled shyly and moved toward the stove. Pleased that her mood seemed to be improving, Alex played along. "Maybe."
Tentatively, she reached out to touch the fabric of his black cotton shirt. Shifting closer when he didn't object, Cordelia placed both hands lightly on his chest. "Maybe."
Their eyes met and held. Alex felt like he was falling off a cliff into the depths of hers, diving into the mystery and promise they held. Krycek, this is a girl. Little more than a child in a provocative woman's body. Definitely not someone to wax poetic over. Besides which, your waxing poetic days are long gone. Shaking himself mentally, Alex focused on creating distance and raised a wooden spoon between them in an effort to assert a boundary. "Tell me what you think."
Cordelia winked at him before accepting the utensil, and Krycek couldn't deny that he was pleased by the genuine pleasure and increased respect he saw in her eyes after she tasted. "This is good! A chef with a 9mm; who'll believe it?"
Alex found himself laughing and noticing at a very visceral level how her tank top fit. "Cordelia?"
Her tone sent a shiver down his spine. "Can't ... uh ... aren't you cold?"
Genuinely puzzled, she looked him over with concern. "No, are you?"
Helplessly, he muttered. "No."
Understanding far better than he wanted her to, Cordelia glided to within a hair's breadth of him and paused to stare into his eyes before sashaying out of the room. Trying to regain control or at least a semblance of it, he leaned against the stove and lowered his head. What was it about this girl? Has it just been too long since you've gotten laid? Don't kid yourself, Alex. She's got both the body and the attitude that can bring you to your knees. Just hang on, damn it. You can do anything for eighteen hours. You've proven that over and over again.
Looking up quickly and not expecting a distraction from wondering whether he was truly capable of "not doing" a particular something before noon tomorrow, Krycek was sure he was blushing slightly. She'd put an oversized button down shirt on over her tank top. That should've helped, but it didn't. What the hell was happening to him? When in doubt, lie. "Yeah."
"Good. I wouldn't want you to be ... uncomfortable."
She knows, Alex. She knows. Think fast. "Dinner's ready."
To his relief, she ignored the increasing tension in favor of attending to practicalities. "I'll set the table. The plates are in there."
More uncertain of himself than he'd been recently, Krycek took two plates out of the cupboard, drained the pasta, mixed it with the sauce and served up two hefty portions. Cordelia took them from the counter and placed them on her small dining table and lit the candles that he'd noticed in passing. So much for practicalities. A candlelight dinner? Christ, how long had it been? Too many years. Had it really been years? It had. Pathetic, Krycek.
Realizing that he was delaying the inevitable by ever so slowly getting a beer from the refrigerator, Alex steeled himself to have a pleasant dinner, continue to win the girl over and to not take her to bed. The phrase "Two out of three ain't bad" was running through his head when he approached the table with his beverage.
The meal was pleasant. Alex had gotten Cordelia talking about her acting career, such as it was. She made a few passing references to high school that scared him. It seemed that that was a much more recent experience than he'd first thought. Ignoring how nervous that made him, he continued to prompt her until she finally had enough. "Your turn. Tell me about you."
There was really nothing he could say that she'd believe. "You want to know about me? Well, I'd really like a shower."
Grinning mischievously, she asked. "Why? You don't smell bad."
She made him laugh. "Thanks. That means a lot coming from a young woman as discriminating as yourself. But I'd really rather ... if you don't mind, that is."
He let his voice trail off uncertainly. She found it endearing and irresistible. "Why not? If you get fresh or rough, all I have to do is call Angel."
Finally, he looked truly interested in something she'd said. "Angel?"
"My boss. Works nights, helping people in trouble."
He cocked his head and smiled ruefully, as he muttered. "An angel that only comes out at night. There's an XFile for you, Mulder."
"Hint for the hostess?"
"Never mind, Cordelia. Just a random comment. I start doing that when I allow myself to contemplate being clean. Hot water, lots of soap clean."
Wondering how rare an occurrence that was, Cordelia smiled at her unexpected guest and crooked her finger. He took the hint and followed her. When she opened the bathroom door, Cordelia leaned on it and watched him move past her. "Ok, mystery guy. Knock yourself out."
"Thanks, Cordelia. I mean it."
She stared into the heartbreakingly vulnerable eyes for a full minute. "Find a gullible girl, if you want to try that stuff. In the meantime, I'll see if I can find something for you to wear." Pointing dramatically, she ordered. "Shower."
The young woman turned quickly as Alan, or whatever his name was, reached for his shirt buttons. While she was more interested than she'd care to admit in what was shortly about to take place in her bathroom, she knew that she had to be careful. Instincts honed by life in Sunnydale told her that this man was as dangerous as he was hot, and that was saying something. Taking one deep breath after another, Cordelia slipped out of the button down shirt and stared at her front door, knowing that she had to steel herself for the ordeal to come. David Tern.
Finally, she felt she was ready. Opening her apartment door, she strode down the hall and knocked. He answered in an instant. "Hey, Cordelia, bring your fine self on in here. I've been waiting too long for the moment when you finally came to appreciate my unique charm."
"I need to borrow a sweatshirt and jeans or sweats. My ... ah ... cousin has come in from Boca. Very unexpectedly. His luggage got lost, and I don't want to spend the evening with sour smell airline boy, sooooo .... Could you help me?"
His beer gut proudly displayed, David put his hand over his heart and silently vowed fealty to the vision in stretch jeans and form fitting tank top before him. "I'm on it."
Not daring to cross into the Twilight Zone that was David's apartment, Cordelia waited in the hall, tapping her foot restlessly. Fortunately, he was highly motivated. "Take your pick, my queen."
Cordelia took a quick look over the offerings and made her selections. Black sweat pants and a red Chicago Bulls sweat shirt. It certainly wasn't what she would've purchased for the man in her bathroom, if she'd met him before her shopping excursion of earlier in the day and was inclined to outfit him optimally. Hugo Boss. Nothing else would do. But, sadly, that option wasn't available. Blowing a kiss at David was the most she could bring herself to do after scooping up the clothing and holding it against her chest. Getting within reach was asking for a big clammy hug; his eyes unerringly tracking her chest were quite enough, thank you. Waving and grinning, she retreated up the hallway, never comfortable enough to actually present her ass to his view.
The moment she re-entered her apartment she made for the bathroom to collect her visitor's clothes for ritual burning. All except for the jacket, of course. They had to find a way to save that. As she rounded the corner, she found an extremely well muscled back exposed to her view. She spoke the only name he'd given her before she noticed the prosthesis that was his left arm from just below the shoulder. He spun and faced her, suddenly very different from the confident man that had dispatched the strange demons and talked his way into her life. Cordelia couldn't remember ever seeing anyone outside of Sunnydale High standing before her awaiting judgement.
Surprise did nothing to temper Cordelia's predilection for plain speech. "Looks like high quality plastic."
That reaction obviously wasn't what he expected, and his reply was guarded. "Space age polymers, so they tell me. Still doesn't flex worth a damn."
"You aren't very awkward."
Her bluntness earned her a slight smile. "I've learned to compensate."
"I bet you have." Fixation was something that Cordelia always noted unerringly in others. Right now, she was single-mindedly focused on the wish that he'd secured her midnight blue towel less snugly around his waist, thereby making an 'unfortunate accident' easier to plan and execute.
"I ... ah ...." He held up the pile of dirty clothes. "Washer?"
"Do you think they'll hold together without the grime?"
"I take risks for a living, Cordelia."
She was in her apartment with a one-armed man with a gun, silently praying that Tommy Lee Jones wouldn't rudely interrupt and make off with her fugitive. And she'd thought working for Angel had constituted a strange turn of events. "While we conduct the experiment, try these."
Cordelia hadn't consciously made the decision to simply hold out the clothes toward him and make him come to her, but that's what she'd done. He hesitated only for a moment before moving to take the shirt from her. "Thanks."
The chest wasn't anything to sneeze at either, but his stomach was badly bruised already and likely to get worse before it got better. "Oh, and you're my cousin from Boca Raton, should a big bellied guy from down the hall ask."
"Ok." Grinning at the ploy of asserting familial relationships, he started to pull the sweatshirt over his head. A hiss of pain aborted the process. Cordelia winced herself, as he lifted one of the straps securing his prosthesis, revealing raw irritated flesh. "Damn."
"Give me your clothes, get yourself another beer and sit down. I'll be right back."
He'd opened his mouth to protest, but shut it before doing so, proving to her in that instant that he wasn't stupid. Her evaluation was confirmed moments later when she accepted the dirty clothes with her fingertips and held them away from her body. The man couldn't suppress a smile, but he didn't comment. When she tossed the items in the washer, she was pleased to note that she still had the borrowed sweatpants draped over her arm. Good. She really liked him in that towel. A quick trip to her bedroom and she was ready to return to her guest.
He was bravely trying to bear the pain without another beer when she plopped down beside him on the couch. "Take it off."
"Wicked grin is rated a ten out of ten by everyone but the French judge." Cordelia noted that she liked the more sheepish smile better. "The towel stays ... for now, but seriously I think this will help."
"You've auditioned for a commercial recently."
That was a sharp left turn in the conversation. "Yes, why?"
"You're holding that stuff up like it's Miracle Wax or something."
He was avoiding the matter at hand. Cordelia simply did not tolerate such things. "I think that you ...."
"Cordelia, I appreciate the offer. I really do. But ...."
She didn't acknowledge buts. "I'm not squeamish."
"I believe the direct quote was, 'Eeewww'"
She speared him with an ironically raised eyebrow. "They were gross. Are you trying to tell me you ooze?"
"No, but ...."
"What's with you and the 'but' thing?"
He was getting frustrated and starting to fidget. "It's the appropriate conjunction to make my point."
"So let me see if I'm totally with the program. It's ok to ask if you can stay here, have dinner with me, take a shower and stroll around half-naked, not that I'm complaining or anything so don't get the wrong idea. But it's not ok to accept some salve?"
Glaring at her, he reached up and unfastened the straps that held the prosthesis in place. Tension was flowing off of him in waves, and Cordelia realized that helping him remove it would be incendiary. So she sat back on her heels and squirted some salve onto her hands and waited.
"Fuck me," he groaned as he removed the artificial limb.
Excellent idea, but first things first. It wasn't hard for Cordelia to fight down the blush that her run away thought demanded, as she regarded the stump ending just below the shoulder. It was brutal. The finality of the disfigurement took her breath away and made her angry. When she looked up, she realized that he was, and likely had been, regarding her closely to gauge her reaction. He reached out and touched her damp cheek with the back of his hand. "Don't."
"I cry when I'm angry."
That simple statement reached him. The only time his eyes weren't glued to hers when she gently and thoroughly applied the lotion to his skin, they were closed in relief. She couldn't identify the emotions coursing through her as a result of the pleased and grateful sounds he made. As she finished with the skin on his chest, he shifted forward so she could have access to his back and whispered. "Thank you."
"A little lotion and a few minutes of my time isn't much."
"I meant for being angry."
She couldn't see his face, but his voice had been rough with emotion and the muscles in his shoulders and back were tense. "I don't understand. Who wouldn't be?"
Everyone who thought I deserved it. "No one else ever has been. Other than me."
How was that possible? How alone was this man? When she finished her self-appointed task, Cordelia shifted closer, rested her head on his back and whispered. "I'm very angry." When he didn't speak, she ventured. "What happened?"
"Long boring story."
The clipped monotone ate at her insides in ways she'd never imagined possible. "My boss, Angel, ... he ... ah ... helps the hopeless."
She couldn't describe how relieved she was that he was laughing again. "I'm many things, Cordelia, but I'm not quite hopeless. At least not yet."
"I mean, he helps people who're in trouble."
Gazing over his shoulder at his unexpected benefactor, Alex muttered. "The kind of trouble I've got, there's no help for."
Closing the small distance between them with a slight smile, the young woman stared into bloodshot eyes and touched his cheek gently with her fingertips. "For part of yours, there's something called sleep. You take the bed."
"I'll be fine out there on the couch."
"Into bed with you. Now."
"Are you sure?"
"I am, but I'm not going to drag you there, kicking and screaming."
The smile that graced his face at that point was amazing. Tired and she was sure genuine. "That Todd guy doesn't know what he's missing."
As if she'd consider letting a fashion designer into her bedroom. Following his slow steady tread, the young woman acknowledged that she felt completely safe. She'd invited a man with a loaded gun into her home, and she had no fear of him. Maybe part of that was what she intended to do once he fell asleep, but she doubted it. There was something about this guy, and it wasn't just how he engaged her protective instincts when he wearily climbed under the covers of her bed. Especially because moments thereafter he casually discarded the towel, an action that called very different instincts to the fore. Equally warmth generating, but far more disturbing.
Kneeling down by the side of the bed and tentatively touching his still wet-from-shower hair, she wondered aloud. "What is your name?"
Shifting his head into her touch, he murmured. "Alex."
Looking at the man who was already more than half asleep, she whispered. "Good night, Alex."
No one had ever called her that. And she'd deny it loudly, longly and with her most caustic wit if anyone asked, but she liked it. A lot. Shaking her head, the young woman looked out the window. Full dark. That meant she could call Angel.
"He's in there."
"Didn't your mother ever have that talk with you about letting strange men into your bedroom?"
"Immediately after a string of very strong admonitions about inviting vampires into my apartment, Angel."
Dressed in his signature black, the vampire accompanied Cordelia into the inner sanctum of the abode Chase. Angel regarded the man who was sound asleep, sprawled comfortably across the bed. Very pale. Dark circles under the eyes. Skin irritation along a line in the vicinity of his shoulder, presumably courtesy of the prosthesis Cordelia had mentioned. Human, for the most part. There was a subtle scent of something else, but Angel couldn't identify it.
Turning to the often times insufferable young woman. "Are you sure he needs help?"
"He's running from someone or something, Angel, and I don't think it's only the green gooey demons."
Angel gaped at Cordelia; she enjoyed it, as it wasn't often that she could surprise him. "Green gooey demons?"
"Why do you keep calling them demons?"
Cordelia felt a shiver run down her spine in response to the raspy voice emanating from her bed. Sitting down on the edge and putting her hand on Alex's shoulder, she became aware of the intensity of Angel's scrutiny of the both of them. And that Alex was staring at Angel, rather than at her. Sure, the vampire was much more likely to cause the man physical damage, but still. She'd thought she looked good. And he'd seemed to concur with that assessment wholeheartedly earlier in the evening.
She frowned at his assertion of control over the situation, when Angel asked. "What do you call them?"
All it took was another glance at Alex to restore her good humor. He was now looking at her expectantly. "Alex, this is Angel."
"Oh. The night owl."
His tone was casual, but his restless movements betrayed the tension in his muscles. Cordelia suspected she knew the underpinning. "You don't need your gun." His eyes were doing the 'must see all' thing again. Definitely not calming down, so she tried again. "I ... I put it somewhere safe. He's here to help you."
"He looks like he's here to protect you."
"No, he's ...."
Angel moved in unnaturally quickly to settle the debate, forcing the man back against the headboard. "Nothing happens to Cordelia, do you understand?"
"Things happen to everyone. That's the way the world is."
Leaning back slightly to give the man more space, the vampire inquired softly. "What's happened to you, Alex?"
A bitter laugh escaped the sculpted lips. "What hasn't?"
"I help people."
That took Angel back a step. Cordelia watched with increasing interest as the vampire pondered the man's question before he somewhat tentatively asserted. "Problems."
"What kind of problems?"
Cordelia wasn't interested in roaming the sidelines in this conversation any longer. "Women who's boyfriends beat them up, spy on them with disembodied eyes or grope them with way roaming hands. People who move into haunted apartments or are trapped in a very well appointed enclosed place with a vampire who's well respected in the community. People who find that the person they take home from the bar is more interested in their life essence than in a long-term relationship. You know, those set upon by people who've made a deal with one devil or another."
The man was looking from Cordelia to Angel and back again, shaking his head as though to clear it. "Literally?" In the face of two affirmative nods, he continued. "Wow. You people make my story sound almost mainstream."
Running her fingertips gently along Alex's forearm, Cordelia whispered. "Will you tell it, Alex?"
"I'd like to hear about the demons Cordelia mentioned."
Alex leaned back, sighed and shut his eyes. Cordelia exchanged a look with Angel before sliding closer and wrapping her arms around the man in her bed. She had to bury her head in his shoulder, so that neither he nor Angel could see the ear-to-ear grin she was sporting. She had a man in her bed. A man. Not a stuffed bear or other plush toy. Not a boy wanting her to put out and shut up. Not a demon after her bodily fluids or an organ or two. A man.
The silence was now becoming strained. Preparing herself for the worst, in her view a rejection combined with laughter and derision, Cordelia shifted to rest her chin on Alex's shoulder and whispered in his ear. "Please."
Cordelia bit her lip as she felt his shoulders tense, and she almost giggled with relief, when his arm settled around her waist. When he met her eyes, she found she couldn't look away. She had to call all of her friends and make sure the news got around. A naked man was in her bed and holding her close. Well, relatively close anyway. And, ok, so Angel was right there, but there was no need to play that up, was there? The answer to that was an emphatic 'No'."
"They weren't demons." Alex began speaking in that flat monotone again, his fatigue coming through with every word. "Those two were aliens. Assassins. Working with wealthy powerful men connected to the highest levels in the governments of every industrialized nation in the world. Working to ensure that their invasion of our planet proceeds with nothing more than token resistance."
Cordelia picked her head up and stared at the man in her arms, mouth open unattractively in shock. Angel was chuckling. Alex just stared at them both before reacting. "How's that any less plausible than vampires and body parts floating around?"
Sobering with an effort, Angel allowed his demon free reign. Alex reacted, but the man's blanch was far less severe than the vampire was used to and his recovery time was nothing less than astonishingly fast. Whatever his story truly was, this man was no stranger to terrifying sights.
Impressed with the man's resiliency, Angel asked, "Do you have any proof of what you're asserting?"
The monotone was gone, but his voice betrayed no fear. "In my jacket, I've got the tool to end it and the evidence to indict the men responsible. Only trouble is, I have no way to use either."
Cordelia noted with interest that Angel had leaned in closer and Alex had reacted only the tiniest bit. For a non-native of Sunnydale, he was holding his own amazingly well and continuing to make one of those natives very restless.
"The tool is a transmission. A tone. A single continuous tone that will disrupt what passes for the cellular processes of the aliens. Both of the invaders and the rebel forces opposing them."
"Bummer for them, huh?"
Smiling at the young woman, Alex impulsively kissed her on the nose and whispered. "The rebels are the ones who designed it and gave it to me."
His voice filled with skepticism, Angel persisted. "Why you?"
"There was no one else." Pausing to assess the vampire's reaction to his words, Alex shifted to fit the girl's body more comfortably against his and wonder what he was getting himself into by telling these two his story. "I was assigned to infiltrate the organization working with the aliens. I did, and, as instructed, I established my reputation as an undercover specialist. All phases. Recruitment to elimination, I handled it all. My contact kept me sane, more or less, and my eye on the ball. 'Take the long view, Alex,' she always said. Then one really hot summer day all lines of communication were severed. I couldn't contact the woman who had been running me. They killed her without knowing her connection to me, but that was the only fortunate thing about it. I had nowhere to turn. No official status. No identity. The man I was had never existed, as far as anyone I could find was concerned."
Taking a ragged breath, the man continued. "So I kept going, made some mistakes and landed even further outside the core group than I already was. With no real alternative, I plotted to force my way back into the fold. And then the shit really started to hit the fan. The rebels arrived armed for bear. I figured out what they were doing, made contact and worked with them. Mostly representing their interests in an alliance with a splinter faction of the international group that was cooperating with the others. With some planning and a bit of luck, we eliminated most of the human conspirators. So things were proceeding nicely, for about twenty minutes, until it became evident that some of the rebels had double-crossed their colleagues, taking a specimen that would've allowed the design of a more directed strike against the invading force. So we have to settle for a suboptimal solution. Destroy them all."
Cordelia's mind whirled with the implications of what Alex had said. When her thoughts coalesced, one thing was clear. "So everyone's after you."
"That's as good a summary as any."
"We have to help him."
Angel met Cordelia's eyes and was taken aback by the determination he saw in them. Curious, he idly inquired. "Why?"
"We can't just let them kill him and sit back and wait for the GG men to show up."
Struggling to keep his eyes open, Alex pointed out. "The G men are already in LA, Delia. I've seen them."
Delia and Alex? This wasn't good from where the vampire sat, but he couldn't keep from clarifying Cordy speak. "Green goo not government."
"Oh. They're here too, but not that many. Two fewer after today."
Seeing the man's fatigue catching up with him and how he was shifting more comfortably into the young woman's embrace, Angel spoke with quiet urgency. "How do you transmit your tone?"
"A high frequency am radio signal from anywhere on the West Coast will do it. It'll perpetuate and amplify itself, they said. I don't know how it works."
"Ah ... Alex?"
The young woman's tone had permeated the man's fading awareness, and Krycek forced himself to sit up straighter. "No, Cordelia, I don't own, work at or have any reasonable access to a radio station."
She nodded and bit her lower lip as she considered the matter.
Angel shared a glance with Alex, and glared pointedly at him. Alex's eyes narrowed and then widened, as he realized the problem. Krycek stilled the hand that had been gently, albeit absently, running through Cordelia's hair. But he didn't remove it, his entire body daring Angel to do something about it.
Suddenly, Cordelia laughed, kissed Alex on the cheek and grinned at Angel. "Your lady detective friend can get us in."
Cordelia chose to deal with Angel's query first, aiming a "Duh" look in his direction. Satisfied that that ridiculous matter was settled, she focused on the man's prohibition and softly inquired. "Why?"
"They'll be on the look out for me. The conspiracy is massive, Delia. It reaches everywhere. They tracked me here, even though I used every trick I know and a few I made up on the fly. Local cops will do as they're told."
"Then Angel will neglect to mention you."
When the two that he was having trouble thinking of as anything other than a couple turned toward him, the vampire hesitated. "I need to see this evidence."
"Angel! Time is of the essence." Despite her forceful delivery, Cordelia turned toward Alex for confirmation. "Isn't it?"
"Yes, but your whole plan hinges on him, so we should try and meet his demands. Um ... are my clothes dry yet?"
Cordelia tried to ignore the vampire's inquiring look, as she stood and moved to her dresser. "Here."
Alex caught the sweat shirt/sweat pants combination she tossed his way and pulled the shirt on over his head. "Do you have a computer?"
Angel went back to the office to retrieve a laptop, and Alex uplinked his information. Man and vampire went through the material for almost two hours with Cordelia hovering nervously. She'd seen enough. There really were aliens planning to invade. The Weekly World News was right after all. Finally, Angel pushed back from her desk and regarded Alex thoughtfully. The man withstood the scrutiny for over a full minute before offering. "There's plenty more."
Cordelia could tell from a brief look at Angel hat he wasn't completely satisfied, although she couldn't imagine why not until he spoke. "Why can't you use the evidence?"
Alex sighed softly and yawned. "There was a man who could've once. He doesn't exist anymore."
"Did they eliminate him?"
Shaking his head in answer to the young woman's breathless query, he answered with a hint of regret in his tone. "Not in the way you're thinking. They've manipulated him so much and so often that he doesn't know which way is up. He and his partner still plod along on this great quest to find the 'Truth,' but neither would recognize it now if they tripped over it."
The young woman was not to be denied. "What about Rolling Stone? Isn't that where people take stories that have to be told?"
Chuckling, Alex hugged her close. "In the movies. A few years ago, I might've had some luck with Sixty Minutes. Now, all the evidence will do is buy me a larger piece of peace of mind." Smiling at the strange juxtaposition of words, Alex continued. "Once the tone is transmitted, there'll be no reason to come after me. If I put it in a safe place with some instructions about disposition upon my death, as they'll undoubtedly anticipate, I'll be as free as anyone else. Able to access my Swiss accounts at least."
Cordelia's interest was definitely piqued. She couldn't believe her luck. A total babe with multiple numbered bank accounts had just dropped into her life. And, to the extent a man could, he'd actually come out of nowhere. "I say we go. Angel?"
Either this man was on the level or his fabrication was incredibly detailed. Cordelia, despite her many shortcomings, was a reasonably good judge of people, as was he. "I'll call Kate, and I'll be vague."
About a year later.
"Delia, are you home?"
The kitchen. Oh God, she's trying to cook again. Bracing himself for anything, all of it bad, Alex Krycek cautiously opened the door and poked his head around it. Nothing. No disaster. Nothing burning. Every bowl in a three block radius wasn't strewn about and dripping with Cordelia concoctions. She was sitting at the kitchen table in the dark. The only illumination in the room was that of the rapidly fading daylight.
"Are you all right?" After he spoke, she looked up at him with those big brown eyes, prompting Alex to kneel beside her.
Reaching out and gently touching his face, Cordelia sighed. This man had changed everything for her, and yet she hadn't realized what their association meant to him. Why he couldn't stop shaking that night that they'd transmitted his tone and ended the battle he'd been waging for so long. They'd held each other until morning, him only finally able to sleep when adrenaline could no longer offset exhaustion. She unable to rest until she was sure he was asleep and likely to remain so for some time. He hadn't ever mentioned that night again. When she woke up late the next afternoon, he was in her kitchen making them "a real dinner" and she discovered, much to her surprise, that the way to her heart was through her stomach.
"Delia? C'mon, you're making me nervous here."
She focused, moved from her chair and wrapped herself around him. Alex certainly hadn't contemplated coming home and holding a silent young woman on his lap on the kitchen floor. Silly him. He thought he was just stopping by to change his clothes before tackling whatever Angel had in store for them. Three nights a week was the deal, and they'd settled on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Finally she spoke. "I read your novel."
Her bleak tone made him defensive. "It's that bad? I mean, Jesus, Delia, the publisher didn't think so."
Shaking her head vigorously, she pulled back and stared at him with haunted eyes. "You went through so much."
"Well ... ah ... I did fictionalize it a little."
"How much, Alex?"
This conversation was making him decidedly uncomfortable, and he didn't precisely know why, so he commented on what to him was a potentially deflecting topic. "Well, for one thing, the part with Marita reads a whole lot better than it actually was."
She whispered in his ear. "I did notice that her, shall we say indoor wardrobe on that excursion in Geneva was surprisingly similar to my three month anniversary present."
An occasion that you reminded me of every hour on the hour for three days, so you could brag to your friends that I remembered it. "What are you talking about 'surprisingly similar'? I described it exactly!"
She couldn't keep from giggling, yet Alex understood that his gambit to cheer her up had failed when her eyes turned serious and sad again. "I know. That's my point. I think you described any number of things ... exactly. I didn't realize. I just ...."
"Hey, stop. That's over. That's all over. Thanks to you and Angel. Mostly you."
Her sulky pout made him smile. She looked so damn cute when she did that. Didn't pay to mention it though. Most certainly did not. He'd learned that lesson the painful way. "Well, ok, so Angel and his wound-too-tight lady got us in, and he did secure our perimeter and get us out, but you've done far more than that. You've put up with me. Encouraged me to write the damn thing."
"What was I supposed to do? You don't just let a man who can cook like you walk out the door without a struggle. I'm getting used to presents arriving with and without occasion."
Laughing, he hugged her closer and enjoyed the feel of her body against his. He'd known she was interested in his money, but her wants were limited to designer clothes for both of them and regular fine dining. Nothing insulting there. And he had fun picking stuff out for her. The sales people on Rodeo Drive were very helpful. Smiling, he recalled the first time he took Cordelia with him to shop for her. An overly flirtatious saleswoman, who thought he was in the throes of a fleeting infatuation, had pissed Cordelia off, and she sought revenge in her own unique way. Choosing a dress when he wasn't looking, she'd disappeared into a fitting room, leaving him in the woman's clutches. He'd suffered stoically, of course. When she emerged and cleared her throat, Alex had been overwhelmed by the way what little fabric there was clung to her body and muttered, "We'll take it," as he crossed the room. She'd smiled an invitation to do whatever he wished at him as he approached, and they'd kissed savagely before he added, "off," loud enough to be heard by the saleswoman debiting his charge card. Cordelia still remarked occasionally about the intensely jealous look on the woman's face.
Coming back to the present, he took a deep breath and suggested. "Can we move this conversation to the couch or the bed? My knees are killing me."
She kissed him gently on the mouth and asked. "Which would you prefer?"
"I think you know the answer to that."
"Yeah. The couch to torment Dennis."
He was smiling widely and helping her to her feet. "Is it my fault you've got an apartment with a jealous poltergeist? That was pre-green goo, my dear. You can't blame that on me."
"He wasn't jealous before you showed up, Romeo."
Something in her voice called out to him, an underlying and unexpected seriousness. "Is that how you think of me? A tragic hero?"
They held hands as they moved to the couch. "Sometimes."
"I'm not dead, so I don't qualify."
"Are you sure? You certainly weren't interested in anything I suggested this morning, were you?"
Cordelia was applying herself to removing the tie that she'd picked out for him and demanded that he wear to the meeting with his publisher. The woman loved Hugo Boss. "I was wandering around in the sewers of LA until 5:30 in the morning. Following debriefing and a shower, it was after 6:30. If Princess demands servicing before noon under those circumstances, much less before 9:00, she's SOL."
Tie folded and gently placed onto the coffee table, she moved on to his shirt. "I think I need a younger Prince."
"Is ... is that right?" Damn, she'd developed excellent technique at undressing him. Gone was the uncertain girl he'd made an elegant dinner for the night after they'd broken into the radio station. She'd been watching him so closely as he finished up the prep work that he'd found himself getting nervous. The feeling was unusual enough that he had to explore it. A little. Yeah, right. They'd started kissing over the appetizer and the tension had built exponentially from there. The decision to skip the dessert he'd made in favor of the one they concocted together had been made by two trembling and excited individuals. He'd taken the lead, but she'd followed with the best of them. Better. In the shy young woman's place was left a demanding and increasingly aggressive ... what? Partner seemed to be the right word. And there was no need to dwell on the implications of that right now.
"You disagree with my sophisticated analysis?"
"I'm thinking it's a matter of more reasonable expectations."
"What about better incentive?" she murmured, as she slowly climbed off of him.
He knew the right answer to this question. "Delia, I can't imagine incentive better than ... than ...." His inability to leave well enough alone would draw her wrath for sure.
She stopped with two buttons of her silk shirt unbuttoned, her voice as cold as arctic ice. "Than what?"
Aiming his very finest apologetic smile her way, Alex shook his head dismissively. "Nothing. It was just a ... random observation."
"I'm always interested in your observations."
"I bet I'm more interested in what you're hinting at." Moving fast, he caught her around the waist and pulled her back down on top of him. "Can I see?"
It wasn't fair. He was speaking in the tone of voice that completely focused her on him, and gently untucking her shirt. "Alex?"
"Hmmm?" Breathless voice was a good start. Now for that spot on her neck that could make her scream under the right circumstances. Under these, she writhed against him and whimpered. Perfect. "What have you got for me, little girl?"
With trembling hands, Cordelia levered herself up so that she was straddling his thighs. Alex watched her with a knowing smile on his face. She looked so vulnerable right then, he wanted to pull her into his arms, hold her and protect her. But when she removed her shirt, all thoughts of protection ... all thoughts about anything ... flew from his mind. A very sheer black mesh bra drove them away.
The man loved naughty underwear, particularly black, and she really liked what such items inspired in him. "Do you like it, Alex? Can I make you forget all those other treacherous women?"
Krycek had to swallow twice before he could speak. "I don't think I can remember my own name, Delia."
"Come up here."
"Try and stop me," he murmured, as he shoved himself into a sitting position.
Before he could shift to lean against the back of the couch, a sharp pain in his elbow caused his arm to give out. "Fuck you, Dennis. I wasn't talking to you."
Why the two of them insisted on doing this competition thing almost daily, Cordelia had no idea. "Maybe I better come down there."
Maybe? Not acceptable. What's hers was hers. She'd earned him. Hell, she had to constantly keep on her toes and ramp up her workout regimen to swat other women away. What's more, she'd elevated glaring to an art form. Her eyes were the weapon of choice to keep men at an appropriate distance. "You have a problem with that, Alex?"
"Not me. I don't have a problem with you doing ... whatever you're doing.
Grinning wickedly, she relaxed against him and stared into his eyes, while allowing her hands to continue roaming. "Finally, he gets the right answer."
"God, Delia, you feel so good, but ...."
Backsliding was unacceptable. "I hate that word."
"I know, but ...."
"Alex, just relax. You won't be sorry; I promise."
She was driving him insane, but he managed a feeble. "But Angel's expecting me to ... come ... and ...."
Her sardonic tone had improved during their association. "Angel's expecting what? Is there something you'd like to tell me?"
He was becoming accustomed to a baseline level of exasperation. "To come to the office, you insatiable tease."
"He can wait until I'm done with mine."
Her hands and her mouth were taking him places he desperately wanted to go, but a small part of his mind was trying to follow her train of thought. That, he'd discovered, being a generally wise course of action in dealing with Cordelia. "Your what?"
That was too much. Alex started laughing, but a sharp nip on an earlobe refocused him on the young woman.
She stared into his eyes and whispered. "I have to make sure my fallen angel is taken care of."
The expression popped into his head, and it was out of his mouth before he could stop it. "I've fallen and I can't get up."
Now it was Cordelia's turn to chuckle, and she chose to do it directly into his ear. "Oh, I wouldn't say that."
Losing control was so easy with her and a whole lot of fun. Being with her, particularly when she was in this mood, was much more fun than he could've ever imagined having before she turned down the wrong alley and distracted an alien assassin or green goo demon depending on your perspective, a realization that failed to trouble him anymore. Besides, she was right. Angel could wait. After all, it wasn't like he was getting paid for his part in hopeless helping. "What is this, Delia? Seduction by bad pun?"
"Would you like to register a complaint?"
"Nah. The damage is done. I'm at your disposal."
"As it should be."
Neither of them noticed that Dennis had disconnected the telephone and turned on the CD player, but the rhythm of the slow melodic jazz pervaded the moment.