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Elemental, My Dear Angel

Chapter Four

Cordelia and Wesley lay in twin pools of congealing blood that at once whet Angel's appetite and sickened him with disgust. He dropped to his knees between them and felt for a pulse. Relief exploded in his gut as he heard their heartbeats even before his fingers found the carotid. His hands came away sticky with blood and he struggled to wipe it off on his jeans rather than lick it from his fingers. He stared at it, fascinated. The demon screamed for the easy kill. Angel couldn't silence the voice. His spine ratcheted down one vertebra at a time as he bent to feed. Hunger warred with the flickering embers of concern. Red filled his vision until all he could see was the blood, hot and enticing. Twin heartbeats caught his attention once more, drumming an invitation to feast. As Angel moved into position to strike, he glimpsed the cross protruding from between Wesley's shoulder blades. The sight jolted him out of the killing haze and he threw himself back, turning away until he could get a handle on the hunger that burned out of control mere seconds before.

Angel huddled in on himself, afraid to move, afraid even to think. Thinking forced him to face his demon, and what he nearly freed the demon to do. He could've drained Wesley and Cordelia. He came so close to feeding. The memories of living, human blood ripped through him, left him shaky with frustrated desire. Hurt and shocky from blood loss, his control had wavered, and that moment of weakness nearly cost his friends their lives. That's what came of trust and friendship with a vampire, soul or not.

He glanced over at his friends. Time was ticking away, their lives along with it. Each second, each drop of precious blood shed, brought them closer to death. Angel couldn't afford the weakness, the self-pity. Wes and Cordelia were hurt because of him; he had to help them. Calling the police or EMS wasn't an option -- too many questions would be asked -- and anyone else in the know was too far away to do any good. Besides, the last thing Angel wanted was to endanger any other mortals.

Glancing around the room for inspiration, Angel stopped at the fireplace. A memory hovered just at the edge of his mind and he strained to retrieve it. A flicker from beneath the andirons brought the memory to the fore. The blood of Salamanders healed all ills, like the water poured from The Holy Grail.

Angel crawled to the fireplace and knelt before it. With a silent plea to the Powers That Be, he leaned over the hearth and hummed a tune, not too badly off-key. The Salamander responded immediately, rising up through the andirons to hover at eye level. Angel tentatively offered his hand and the Salamaner moved towards him, but stopped just short of landing on his open palm. It flitted around his head, flew low over Wesley and Cordelia, then landed on the grimoire. The true form of the Salamander, human body, tail of a lizard and hair of flame, emerged from the fireball. It waited there expectantly. When Angel only stared at it in confusion, it pulsed impatiently and darted off. It lit upon a sharp-edged splinter, six inches long and the width of Angel's little finger. Angel finally understood: the Salamander would allow Angel to cut its tail and use the blood to heal Wesley and Cordelia.

Angel approached the Salamander with the splinter in hand. As he bent to cup the elemental in his palm, it flitted a few inches away. Angel followed, unthinkingly capturing the Salamander before it could escape. Agony shot through his fingers and straight to his brain, his nerves cauterized by fire. Like a child touching a hot stove for the first time, he drew back his hand and cradled it to his chest, lesson learned the hard way. Blisters were raised along the fingers and palm of his right hand. Hunger and fatigue made reasoning difficult.

Clearly, the Salamander wanted to heal Wesley and Cordelia, but if Angel couldn't touch the fire elemental, how would he deliver the blood where it was needed? The Salamander solved that dilemma. It darted over to Cordelia and hovered close to her head. It touched her temple then lips, briefly, trying to guide Angel. The fog lifted from his brain and he suddenly realized what the Salamander was trying to show him. Slowly, in case he was still mistaken, he reached out to the Salamander and punctured its tail with the splinter, as gently as he could and still draw blood.

The Salamander hovered over Cordelia's temple for a moment and a dribble of blood hit the wound. Within a few seconds, the wound had closed over and healthy pink flesh grew in its place. The swelling reduced and the bruise faded. Next, it darted to her mouth and waited there. Angel parted Cordelia's lips to allow the healing blood to seep into her mouth. He massaged her throat, helping her to swallow. "Please," he breathed. Angel was rewarded with a moan of discomfort, but Cordelia appeared to have risen from the coma into a more natural sleep.

Flitting across the room to Wesley, the Salamander lit on his back. Angel followed, barely able to regain his feet. He sank heavily to his knees at Wesley's side. Thick blood still dripped slowly from the puncture in the Salamander's tail, filling the room with a glorious aroma Angel found difficult to ignore. He swallowed heavily, and pushed the hunger aside. Wrapping his left hand in his pullover, he gripped the cross and pulled it from Wesley's back with a scrape of wood on bone. Blood pooled sluggishly in the wound, but stopped almost immediately as the Salamander's blood mixed with Wesley's own. As with Cordelia the wound closed, albeit more slowly, being larger and deeper. Angel rolled Wesley over and opened his mouth. A large drop of blood hit his tongue and Wesley swallowed automatically. Within minutes, his skin lost the sallow tone and a healthier glow replaced it. His heartbeat strengthened and his breath no longer rattled in his lungs. Angel sighed in relief and sat back. His body, acting on its own, completed the movement and Angel fell over, unconscious.

Cordelia emerged from a deep sleep and stretched. Her head throbbing like the aftermath of a vision, she decided that movement was not a good thing. She cautiously cracked open an eye and, when she wasn't instantly eviscerated, she cracked open the other one. Lifting a hand, she gingerly examined her head with her fingers. Her hair was matted with blood, and some strands were pasted to her cheek.

She sighed. "Just what I need," Cordelia muttered, "more blood stains."

Deciding that her head was still reasonably attached, Cordelia risked taking it out for a spin. Turning to the side, she spied Wesley and her heart skipped a beat. But the even rise and fall of his chest confirmed he was still of the living. Becoming bolder, she actually sat up. The world kind of spun, her stomach attached to the same tilt-a- whirl, but she managed to swallow down the bile. She would not add spewage to the other unsightly stains marring her embroidered blouse.

Hearing a low moan, Cordelia whipped her head around. Angel was lying postrate on the floor three feet away. He looked bad. She had seen him in bad condition, but this was graphically worse. His face was swollen and misshapen, still cast in the prominent brow of the vampire. Not one inch of his skin was free of blood. A large gash lay open on his cheek, with smaller coordinated cuts on his forehead, lips and nose. His clothes were dark, as usual, so she couldn't be sure, but she thought his thigh and stomach were also punctured. It couldn't be a good thing for a vampire to lose that much blood. Pulling herself up, Cordelia walked on her knees until she hovered over Angel.

Angel rose slowly out of the unnatural sleep, pulled by the awareness of nearby prey. He managed to open his eyes after a couple of unsuccessful attempts, and finally focused on the face hovering above him. He knew that face, even pulled into grim lines by concern and half covered in blood. Blood. Bad observation on his part. The demon noticed, too. Warmth, coppery tang, elixir of life, healing potion. An acute pang of hunger twisted like a knife in his guts.

Weakened by injury and desperate for sustenance, Angel nevertheless caged the demon. As he watched Cordelia's hand approach with wide eyes, he realized he had to do something. He couldn't let her touch him. Touch would disintegrate his tenuous control, release the demon to feed. And she would be touching the vampire face, a distorted, unworthy version of himself with which no one should connect. He tried to force his face to morph into his non-evil version, but he was too weak, too hungry. Angel cringed away from her exploratory hand, a tantalising scent of blood wafting from her fingers. Cordelia frowned and just moved closer, not catching the clue that Angel threw to her like a life line. Angel should have known she wouldn't make it easy for him. Simultaneously frightened and gratified by her trust, he shimmied away another few inches.

"Stand still, Angel, let me see," Cordelia demanded.

"No," he whispered hoarsely, turning his face away.

He tried to inch away from her but she practically had him pinned in place. Fatigue weighted his limbs and he found he couldn't do much more than twitch or move his head from side to side. If only she didn't touch him, she'd be safe. She'd have to fall on his distended fangs in order for him to feed.

"Men are such babies," she informed him in a well-suffering tone he had come to know well.

As Angel feared, Cordelia ignored the warning signals and gently placed her hand on his chest. He groaned at the contact, and the demon raged against the faltering restraint. Some flicker of the demon must have shown through, or some instinct made Cordelia freeze with her other hand half-way to his face. She looked into his eyes, predator's eyes, and Angel could see his inner demon reflected in the horror and fear clouding hers. Her gaze slid away. Angel had to give her full marks for bravery. She had witnessed first-hand the evil that Angelus had perpetrated, but she held her ground. For better or worse, they were friends now, and he understood her trust was deep and abiding without being suicidal. He knew she believed, as did Buffy, that she must trust him or he'd never believe himself worthy of that trust. Angel could read the resolve from her expression and body language.

Cordelia very deliberately cupped his cheek with her hand. His lips parted in surprise. Very few people in his life since he regained his soul willingly touched his true face. He could name them on the fingers of one hand: Riana; Buffy; and now Cordelia. Angel felt tears well up, though he kept his eyes wide to prevent the tears from spilling. Cordy nearly recoiled from the burning liquid she felt on her fingers, mistaking the tears for fresh blood, but she maintained the contact. They shared a meaningful look, full of understanding and acceptance. As Cordy removed her hand, Angel caught and lightly grasped her wrist, deftly turning her hand in a gentlemenly gesture of a bygone era, brushing his lips fleetingly over her knuckles. As his lips spread in a grotesque caricature of a smile, his face morped back to human and he released her wrist.

Closing his eyes, he feigned sleep. As he hoped, Cordelia sat back, and those few extra inches of space gave him the metaphorical breathing room he needed to keep the demon in check. He listened as Wesley came to his feet with a groan of discomfort and shuffled over to Cordelia's side. By the sounds, Angel knew that Wesley had helped Cordelia to stand and he drew her reluctantly away from Angel. Angel had no doubts that Wes had a fair amount of faith in his vampire employer, but years as a Watcher had given him a healthy dose of caution and reticence that Cordelia lacked. Wesley would know without hesitation that injured vampire equaled hungry vampire, soul or not.

"Well, the proverbial fat lady has sung, so you should be safe going home," Wesley suggested. "You'll want to get those stains out before they set," he teased. "Allow me to escort you to your car."

Cordelia hesitated, and Angel could almost feel her eyes on him. "Let sleeping vamps lie, huh?"

"Excellent advice, but I have another."

Wesley removed the shim and pulled the door away from the shattered jamb with a grunt of effort.

"Yeah?" Cordelia prompted impatiently.

Angel heard his response as the door was wedged back into place. "Keep the home fires burning."

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