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And No Good Thing Ever Dies

Hope is a good thing,
Maybe the best of things.
And no good thing ever dies.
--Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption

Chapter Four

Cordelia paused with the receiver halfway to her ear. She abandoned the call to the local deli to give her full attention and a dazzling smile to the woman who walked into the offices. She was shapely, well-put together in a designer suit that whispered success. Cordelia came around the desk to greet the prospective client. The woman met her halfway and offered her hand. Her handshake was firm and confident, a woman used to doing business in a manís world.

"Welcome to Angel Investigations. We help the helpless. If thatís you, youíve come to the right place."

With a swift mental calculation, taking in the tailored black pantsuit, the matching pumps, understated yet elegant jewelry, Cordelia came to an answer that spelled a client able to pay. She widened her smile even further, and put on her best professional face.

"Hi there. You must be Cordelia. Angel told me about you last night."

OK, so maybe not a client at all. She let the smile dim just a bit. "Oh, how nice. Who are you?"

"Lina Russo. Iím an old friend of Angelís."

"Old friend?" Cordelia disengaged her hand and slipped around her desk and to the window in a move practiced to look nonchalant. That encounter with Penn some weeks back had taught her a few more survival skills. "Gosh, itís dark in here, isnít it? And it must be beautiful out. Canít get enough of that Vitamin D." Cordelia yanked on the cord and the Venetian blinds rose in a clatter of metal slats. Sunlight flooded the room and cut a wide swath across the piece of floor Lina occupied.

"Yes, itís beautiful out," Lina agreed. Cordelia recognized the tone. This Lina Russo thought she was crazy. "And Iím an old friend of Angelís, but not that old."

Her guest was still in one piece and not in a billion tiny motes of dust, so Cordelia lowered the blinds with a crash and a shrug. "Canít be too careful these days."

"I agree. Maybe we should start again." She offered her hand. "Hi, Iím Lina Russo, an old friend of Angelís."

Cordelia came from behind her desk and took Linaís hand again, this time noting the warmth. "Cordelia Chase. I run this agency - along with Angel, that is."

"Itís nice to meet you, Cordelia. You fit Angelís description to a "T".

There was nothing in the words or tone, or body language for that matter, that indicated rancor or sarcasm, but Cordelia discovered she didnít like Angel talking about her to another woman. Not that she and Angel were involved - that would be a gigantic mistake that she would never make - but Cordelia had Angel staked out as her own personal cause and she didnít appreciate anyone else in her territory. It was like wearing the same dress as your rival to the big dance of the season.

"Oh really? Angelís never mentioned you at all."

"Not surprising. He thought I was dead."

"Happens in our business," Cordelia drawled.

"Mine too."

"So just how much do you know about Angel?"

"Do you mean - do I know heís a vampire?" Lina asked with a distracted air.

Lina turned away to peer through the inner door into the gloom beyond. Cordy took the opportunity to smooth her hair and adjust her clothes for maximum effect. She used to have her hair done by the finest stylist and wear clothes from exclusive boutiques, but she found that attitude counted for a lot now that she was forced to bargain hunt. Cordy hitched a hip on the corner of her desk and was in that casual pose when Lina turned back and seated herself in one of the guest chairs.

"So, that qualifies you as a friend? Half of L.A. knows Angelís a vampire." Even to Cordeliaís own ears, the words sounded bitchy and challenging.

"Iím sure you know quite a bit about Angel," Lina ventured.

Cordelia had the impression Lina was trying her best to be patient, and to ingratiate herself. Well, she could afford to be magnanimous. After all, Cordelia had known Angel for ages and had an established place in his life; this woman - however beautiful, put-together and well-coifed - was probably just a visitor to Angelís life. Sheíd show this woman what place she held in Angelís life. "Letís see. What do we know about Angel? He met Darla in a seedy alley, she caught him in a deadly embrace and it was From There to Eternity. Maiming and killing followed until the Gypsies got ticked off. They served him up some soul and he got all broody. Comes to Sunnydale, meets and greets the Slayer. They get all fleshy with one another and he went evil again. Tried to suck the world into hell, but Buffy stopped that. Willow served him up another helping of soul, but he went to hell anyway. Came back, but he and Buffy exed in a star-crossed lovers theme and he came here. Broody again. And now he helps the helpless."

"Ah, yes. Gypsy curse, Angelus, demon raising, hell, First Evil. And you a witness and steadfast friend through it all. I admit Iím a bit jealous of you, Cordelia. I wish I couldíve been there for Angel this last decade."

Well, so much for having more of a stake in Angelís life than this visitor. "So, you really are an old friend, in the regular sense of the word."

"I met Angel when you were a young lady," Lina confirmed.

"Iím a woman now."

"Yes, Cordelia, I know. And Angel has a wonderful friend and comrade in you, one he highly values." Lina rose from the chair and took a few steps forward, stopping an intimate distance away. "People are dying, Cordelia. Itís my job - my calling, really - to help them. But I canít do it alone. I hope Angel can help. I need to talk to Angel now. Please."

Cordelia weighed Linaís words. Measured against the death of children, her own concerns over territory seemed petty and trivial. Besides, they could always fight over Angel later, after the bad guy was history. Now was the time to help the helpless. That was her calling. "Have a seat," Cordelia offered. "Iíll see if heís awake."

Cordy made her way down the stairs to check on her boss. She heard the groans before she was halfway down the staircase. Unpleasant memories almost made her turn around, but she wouldnít give in to the fear. Reaching the last step, Cordelia felt for the wall and guided herself along until she reached Angelís bedroom. He was asleep but tossing and turning, very restless. The sheets and blanket were twisted around his hips and his bare chest was exposed to the chill of the room. Cordelia went closer until she was standing over him, trying to decide whether she should wake him. Should you never wake someone dreaming because they might be flying and waking them will kill them, or would that matter for a vampire? She couldnít even tell if he was sick. He didnít normally breathe unless he was talking and on the occasions he let her tend his wounds, his skin was always cool to the touch. Yet he looked feverish, his lips moved soundlessly and his eyes darted back and forth beneath his lids. There was a sheen of sweat on his face and chest. One touch wouldnít hurt. She leaned down, grabbing the headboard for support.

He lay on the ground in fetal position. Rats ran over his feet, gnawed at his boots. Cold seeped into his bones, his clothes absorbed the dampness. Water dripped, marking the time in uneven increments, like the sweep hand of a clock whose battery was running down. He was always wet, always cold, always hungry. A rat came too close and he drained it in a rapid, practiced move. The blood was hot but the heat dissipated in seconds. Cold replaced the fleeting warmth. The hunger remained. Never dry, never warm, never sated. Blood stained his mouth, his fingers, the only color in his black and white world, borrowed life. No life, only death. No breath, only dust.

He lay on a couch on his back. Soft fleece covered his chest, his arms, his legs. A fire lent warmth, a semblance of life. Music lifted his worries, cocooned his soul. Belly full, strength in his limbs, the beat of the music borrowed for the beat of his heart. Life filled him, but death was just beyond the door. The door swung open, death flowed in.

He lay on the floor, arms covering his head. Fire leapt up the wall to the ceiling. Timbers exploded, bullets of wood raining down. Heat washed over him. Smoke clouded his eyes. Ashes choked him, his own distilled essence betraying him. Death hovered above him, laughed its pleasure, a throaty laugh heard deep in his cells, a sound he tried to keep buried but one for which his body still longed. Death was his true heartís desire, this still heart, not the dream heart that beat to the cadence of rain on a metal roof, a killerís heart. A killing heart. A dead heart that beat only in his dreams.

He lay on the steel deck, knees to his chest. The light of angels bored into his eyes, pins and needles, even through closed lids. Cold light. Light without comfort for his kind. A doorway to the next life, but death in this one. A heroís welcome waited on the other side. Too many heroes gone across, so few remained. Pull the door closed, he tried to scream, but the blue-white flare explodes around the jamb. Blue-white light swallows a hero. Death seeps through the smallest space to fill eternity.

Fire explodes upwards.

Fire warms from the hearth.

Absence of fire, no warmth, only cold. Water drips, marking time.

Open wound drips blood. Beat, drip, beat, drip. A field of red, a feast pools beneath his feet. Dangling feet, red face, a crackling like dry twigs and drier leaves, drumbeats of fear.

Spice. Food. Blood. Feed. Free!

At the first touch of her hand, he exploded from bed, coming to a standing position in the blink of an eye. He was impossibly fast and for a moment Cordelia couldnít process his speed, or the fact he had her pinned against the wall like a butterfly on display. Knife sharp fangs, distended brow, eyes yellow and glowing only inches from her face grabbed her attention and her mind could focus only on the danger. The spidery beginnings of terror crept down her spine. Her body betrayed her first by freezing and then by an uncontrollable trembling that started in her legs, rose to her bowels and stomach, then continued until it inhabited each limb and settled in her heart. Her first attempt at speech was a croaked syllable that may have been a stab at his name. Her second attempt was aborted by the visceral need to press herself as far into the wall and away from him as possible. He had begun a lingering journey, inhaling her scent, his nose brushing her flesh from hairline to throat. Cordelia fought the impulse to break free and run; running from Angel was a bad idea and would only end in tragedy. She pulled in a breath, a trickling stream of air that did little good for her physical well-being but helped center her emotional state of mind. She swallowed, tried to work up enough moisture in her mouth to speak.

"Angel? Angel, itís me, Cordy. Time to wake up." A nervous laugh punctuated her sentence. The only sign that she had reached any part of his sane, waking mind was his sudden and unnatural stillness. "Angel?"

The low growl was not encouraging but he blinked a few times. Cordy watched his eyes track away from her neck and up to her face. Angel didnít release her, but he extended his arms to their full length. The single word was guttural and nothing like Angelís usual quiet tone, but she recognized it. "Cordelia?

Cordy regained a bit of bravery, bolstered by the extra yard of space which had opened between them. "Yes. Cordelia. What is your tragedy?"

Peeling herself away from the wall, she pushed against his chest. He was like the face of a cliff, immovable. Cordy examined his face, his eyes. Angel looked away and down, and although his face was still the demon version, Cordelia knew that Angelus would never avoid eye contact. He was an "in your face" type. Cordy ducked under Angelís arm and sidled away.

Angel made no move to follow, remaining with his hands pressed to the wall. "Go upstairs," he growled.

"Youíre not the boss of me. Oh wait, you are. Work-wise anyway. Um..." Cordelia came to a halt, realizing she was babbling, and worse, she had regained his attention. He turned feral eyes to her. Not about to become take-out for her vampire boss, Cordelia decided on a dignified retreat. "Tell ya what, Iíll just go upstairs." Pausing just beyond the bend in the stairwell, she called down, "Better put your face on. We have company."

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