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Sliding Short Of Home

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Only a few blocks from the genteel urban shabbiness surrounding the Hyperion, downtown's streets are edging towards decay. Between Figuroa Boulevard and Flower Street, an auto repair garage fills the front half of an acre lot. Old imports with different-colored parts, missing doors and crunched fenders seem to be parked in no particular order. But maybe they are. Cordy's ambushing of Angel's affection has reminded him that appearances can be deceiving, even in organization.

Angel worries when he doesn't see Gunn's truck on Figueroa.

“This is right where he was when I came by earlier,” Wesley says.

He might be off Flower Street, but the urban myth that's grown up around the Antlion demon they're after tonight specifies entering the property from behind the garage. That's why they chose it as the stakeout point.

He tucks the GTO in between a crushed Toyota truck and an ancient Volvo. Skirting the security lights at the front of the garage, Angel, Wesley and Cordelia find the fluorescents don't reach beyond the building.

“What's that music?” Cordelia whispers.

“Chopin,” Wesley says at the same time Angel says, “Opus 15, number three.”

Cordelia looks from one to the other. “You so need to be together,” she says and creeps forward in the dark.

Wesley squints at her back, his face screwed up. Angel straightens the defensive shrug of his shoulders and waves Wesley forward. The music, probably from a party at the museum on Division, is lofting through the clear air left in the wake of LA's first Santa Ana winds of the season. In a couple of hours, though, the fog will be setting in. Moisture's already weighting the air, though he doubts Wesley and Cordelia are aware of it just yet.

They need to find Gunn, and the couple he was trying to keep off the Antlion's killing grounds, fast. It's already been ten minutes since he called to tell them their research time was up. Although most of the year the dare at the center of the myth is a somewhat safe undertaking, All Souls Day is nearly forty minutes old and the demon always feeds early on All Souls.

“Try Gunn again, Cordy.”

Despite the waning moon, they are only carrying penlights that are easily covered with a hand. Angel's torn between leading the way and watching their backs. There's a fence dividing the front and back halves of the grungy lot.

“Nada,” Cordy tells him and then warily edges off the pavement and reaches out a cautious hand to the wire fence. Angel hopes it's not electrified. Of course, if it were, he supposes, couples wouldn't keep daring each other to survive a heavy make-out session at the center of this particular location in the dead of night to prove their 'true love'.

“Ow,” she hisses.

Angel can't smell blood, so he waits for Wesley to ask.

“Are you all right?”

“Barbed wire.”

Feeling his way carefully, Wesley eases to the fence. Angel checks their surroundings. They are out of sight of cars driving by on Figueroa and nothing is visible across the portion of the lot they're entering. It's odd that he can't see any light coming off Flower Street. When he turns his attention back again, Cordy's scuttled through and Wesley's waiting on him, one strand of wire smashed down with his foot, the other held as high as the tension allows.

Angel steps forward and ducks through, tilting his shoulders carefully so as not to snag his jacket. He takes hold of the top wire, nodding at Wes, who lets go and comes over to the dark side.

And it's really dark. There's a brief pause, the night expectant and then another of Chopin's nocturnes comes piping through the dark.

“It's really dark,” Cordelia hisses. She's only six feet away, but Angel finds himself following the beat of her heart to her side. Her shadow should be darker-than-dark, moonless night dark, but it's just not there at all.

Wesley says, “Can you see my pen light?”

“It's on?” Cordy asks, sounding incredulous.

Cordy's rustling beside him, her arms raised. “And my phone's dead. You have super hearing, is Gunn out there?”

All he can hear is the Chopin and them. He's certain there's a dampening spell laid over the back lot to hide the Antlion's activities. With the particular intricacies of the myth's dare, Angel would rather have Cordelia and Wesley perform the tasks involved, but now he needs Wesley here in case they need to find their way back by his heartbeat and the acrid scent of his nervous sweat. If Gunn's out there and hasn't found his way off the lot, Wesley won't be able to, either. “You'll have to stay here, Wesley,” he stage-whispers.

“But, Angel, the ritual...”

“I can handle it.”

There's a dry click from beside him, Cordy unsticking her tongue or maybe closing her opened mouth. Without hesitation, he takes her hand and squeezes it. She clutches his forearm with her other hand.

“If we can't banish the demon and this spell it's laid, I'll need you here so we can find our way back.”

“But Angel, in order to trigger the banishment spell, the Antlion has to break cover from its lair to feed. You may have to go as far as the actual lovers did to goad it into feeding.”

“Rounding third,” he says dryly. “Isn't that the myth?”

“I'll stay,” Cordy squeaks. “You two go.”

“No,” Wesley says in unison with Angel.

Cordy shrugs against his shoulder. “I have a sword and I know how to use it,” she states with bravado. “If rounding second doesn't do it, I'm outta there.”


“Gunn's in there, Wesley. I can handle it.” And he has no intention of moving off first base. Cordelia, he's sure, has no idea what a real kiss, an experienced kiss, can do to one's level of lust. Surely lust is all the demon is after.

Wesley's silent. The nocturne slows, nearly a dirge, depicting the deepest hour of the night and life at its lowest ebb. Angel wonders just how close the museum actually is.

“It's okay, Wesley,” Cordy says. “People are going to keep dying trying to prove themselves if we don't stop it tonight.”

“Cordelia, we don't actually know how far the missing couples have gone, it's not like they came back to tell anyone. Third base is the myth, but that's probably because...”

“Guys think that's as far as they're going to get on a dare in a vacant lot in the middle of the night.”

She's right. Angel wishes they'd heard the One True Love myth before yesterday. Maybe they could've hired an actual couple or something. Shit. “We find Gunn, we find the couple that got by him. We get to them before they, you know, and stop it that way.”

Wesley draws a quick breath. “Right. I'll stop anyone else from entering on this side,” he says, reluctance deepening his accent. “Should Gunn re-appear before you, we'll attempt to signal you.”

Angel casts for the words Wesley expects from him, when he'd otherwise just disappear with Cordy into the dark. “I'm sure you'll find a way?”

“I...” Wesley says uncertainly. He clears his throat. “I will. I'm sure. You'll return if, um, you don't find them and second base doesn't work.”

While he'll admit the idea of kissing Cordy has lent a certain pleasurable heaviness to his balls, how hard up do they think he is? Groping Cordy isn't going to get him anywhere close to perfect happiness. “You can stake me if I don't.”

A bright spot of pain lights up his shin. He jerks away, but Cordy's glued to his side, regardless of her opinion of his reliability.

“I will,” Wesley says. “Even if you aren't Angelus after.”

Angel interprets that as permission to leave. He tests his theory by stepping off. Cordy yields easily, going with him. Wes says nothing more. Angel wishes he could see his expression. He heads toward the center of the lot. There's a subtle vortex of energy brushing over his skin that reminds him of the vivid dreams he's been having of Darla's seductive touch. The Antlion demon uses energy the way the ant lion uses sand. Angel's pretty sure the center of the vortex is their target.

Cordy tugs on his arm, and whispers, “How do you know where to go?”

“I can see shadows moving over there,” he lies.

“Like... writhing shadows?”

Writhing shadows? Like the couple Gunn followed in getting it on? “Uh, yeah.”

“Ew,” she breathes. “At least we're not too late.”

Angel swallows his lie and his sigh and wishes he were home sleeping, instead of having Cordelia's lushness forced on him. Damn Gunn.

And then something is moving towards them, fast. He turns sideways, shielding Cordelia, and concentrates. It's small, with a rapid beat and distinct smell, now there's two..three...way more than that.

Cordy screams in his ear and jumps against him, swinging her sword downward, apparently through empty air. A cat hits his calf hard, and then several more slam into his lower legs, making him step sideways. One or more twine between his legs. Cordy lets go of a shrieky breath, and even in the utter darkness, Angel knows her sword is swinging.

He reaches out and blocks it on the downstroke, spinning her into him. “Cats,” he says.

They're swarming around their feet, mewling, relentless in their butting and sinuous movement. Angel finds himself stepping forward to keep his balance. Cordy prances, jerking her thighs on either side of his, stoking his groin into overdrive.

He does the natural thing: swings her up into his arms, and then strides through the crying mob, booting their soft, heavy bodies out of his way. Cordelia's breath is hot on his throat; her arms tight around his neck; the double-blade of her short sword dangerously near his ear. The tight curve of her hip and one butt cheek slides across the top of his burgeoning cock with every step he takes.

“Cats?” Cordy finally gasps.

“Yeah, just cats,” he reassures her.

“Black cats?”

He laughs, despite himself. “It's, uh, dark out here, Cordy.”

“Right,” she says. “Put me down.”

On the next stride, he hits no cats. He deviates on the next step, and the next. There are none within range of his feet, though he hears them out there, moving, shifting, restless as they line the outer edge of the funnel of spiralling energy. Its tingling sensation that has the hair on his nape raised softens and falls away. He and Cordy must have found the center. “I think we're here,” Angel says.

Chopin's nocturne has faded and swelled into a melancholy melody Angel first heard played by the form's creator, John Field, in Moscow. He frowns. It's been fifty years or more since he last heard any of Field's nocturnes, recorded or live. The notes surround them, seeming to come from everywhere. The slow current of energy swirls around them.

“Angel,” Cordelia says sharply. “Put me down.”

He lets go of her legs, sliding his hands to her hip to steady her as she finds her feet. She's flush against him, her lower belly hot. She doesn't move away or take her arms from around his neck. He doesn't want her to.

“The incantation,” he whispers.

“Hmmm..” she says, and fits one knee between his legs, inching closer to him.

Palming the full curve of her bottom, he tucks her closer, and shifts until her heat settles on the firm muscle of his thigh. She groans, her breath ghosting over his lips. He clears his throat. The spell has a pull he hadn't anticipated. He gathers his wits. “Gatyer moryut gatrik. Huma ortama...”

Cordy stretches up at the same time she presses down onto his thigh and wiggles her hips. His cock has risen past the band of his boxers. He closes his eyes, picturing the page Wesley found while they were driving over here. If only they'd had a little more time; if that couple hadn't ... hadn't... Cordelia slinks her fingers into the short hair at the base of his skull and all he can think of is Cordelia on top of him.

“Angel,” she says against his mouth. “The incantation?”

He has to make a real effort to focus. “Huma ortama jumuik solyut moryut gatrik. Gallyukrit, gallyukrit, gallyukrit ortuma. Okay, now we, um...”

She kisses him. Her mouth is warm. It strikes him for the first time that Darla's mouth is warm in his dreams. She's velvet and licorice and burgundy wine, but Cordy... He sinks into the kiss, lets his tongue follow the contours of her tongue. Cordy's Himalayan salted pecorino cheese and hemp and...

“King Louie,” Cordy sighs.

Surprise warms his chest. He likes the way unpredictable tastes. “I'm a hundred-and-twenty-dollars-a-shot bourbon?” he murmurs, stringing kisses down her neck. His fingers linger over her brastrap.

“Mmmm...undo that hook and you're a dead man.” She tilts and somehow captures his mouth again.

When she comes up for air, he pops the hook. Her breasts spring up, and then soften and flatten against his chest, her nipples hard enough that he can feel them through their clothes.

She rocks on his thigh. He's aching to lay her down. He teases her shirt and bra up to cup her right breast.

“Why isn't it working,” she wonders as he's blowing her nipple, flicking his tongue across the hard tip. He closes his teeth and she arches in his arms. He picks her up. Her legs wrap around his waist and God... thrusts against her, his slacks sliding against her heated, worn jeans, the seam bumping over her clit. He wishes she were wearing a skirt and that there were a wall somewhere close.

“Maybe,” she pants. “Maybe we need to, y'know, um, 'lovers' implies...”

Angel bends his knees.

“No!” she shouts, stiffening in his arms.

He locks his knees and jaw.

“We can't, y'know, for real.” She wriggles closer to him, trusting him to hold her, tightens her grip around his neck, and brushes her lips over his.

He sucks in her bottom lip in and resigns himself to standing. Readjusting his hold on her, he swivels his hips. She leans back in his arms and grinds herself on him. He can smell her, wants her wetness, but friction will have to do. He bumps her up and she holds on for the ride, using her hips in a way he never even fantasized about.

The dark is close and damp, cooling their heat just enough that they curl into each other, touch the never-never, pull away at the last second, renew their attack with the swell of the nocturne, lips, and tongues, hard and soft, the wax and wane of almost, almost, almost until...

Cordelia tightens, her muscles straining. She's still and seeking. He presses her against his aching cock, too many layers of clothes still between them. He rocks and rocks and ...she shudders, and then he's coming, too, head back, mouth open.

“Oh, God,” Cordy whispers. “Oh,God.”

The music roars. The energy vortex, which had in some way been supporting him, collapses, the upward rush of the Antlion sucking them down. Angel staggers, catching his heel on Cordy's dropped sword. He's falling backwards. Light flashes, brilliant as an atom bomb. Cordy's knees thump into the dirt; her head smashes into his mouth.

Grabbing her upper arms, Angel rolls her over, and leaps to his feet, sweeping his dagger out in confrontation. Silence. The weak moonlight reveals an empty landscape, save the scattered litter of weathered, discarded clothes, weeds, and the odd spare tire or two.

“Ew,” Cordy complains from the ground. Angel glances down. His feet are planted on either side of her hips. Bare skin rises from the low hug of her jeans. One breast, its delicate pink pucker of areola and nipple gleaming wet, peeks from the disarray of her blouse. Her cheeks are flushed, her lips swollen; desire and satisfaction, and... Cordyness... rise from her. A single drop of blood drips from him and lands on her quivering belly. Angel touches his split lip, staunching the blood. Pulling her shirt down, Cordy scoots to sitting and holds her hand up. He helps her stand.

She lifts her other hand and strokes his cheek. He closes his eyes, turning into her touch. And then her lips are on his again, kissing the blood away. It's intoxicating to taste it on her tongue. He's aware of Gunn and another man running in from the Flower Street side of the lot, and Wesley coming fast from Figueroa.

“Turn around,” he murmurs. “I'll cover you.”

Her back to him, she reaches back and does up her bra. He discreetly tugs at his pants, jiggling everything back in place, hoping the drape of his jacket and the dark covers any evidence of their actions.

“The incantation worked,” Wesley crows.

“You okay?” Gunn says to Cordy. His gaze sweeps over to Angel, challenge in his eyes. He's glad Gunn knows his limits, but Gunn looks at him differently now and Angel doesn't like that at all.

“The couple you followed?” Wesley asks.

“This is Malcolm. He's cool. His girl's in locked up tight in my truck.” Gunn and Malcolm, about the same age, exchange grins.

“Scared us to death; nearly ran us over out here.” He looks into the night, frowning. Malcolm's got a scar on his throat that Angel would put money on as thwarted vamp attack. “Seems like it was a lot darker before.”

“Thanks for coming so fast,” Gunn says, deflecting Malcolm's train of thought.

They're too exposed now, between the moon and the streetlights. The fog is filling all the empty space, hiding the demon's leavings. “We need to go,” Angel says. He claps Gunn on the shoulder. “Meet us back at the Hyperion?”

Gunn meets his eyes and Angel sees a man committed to helping the helpless looking back at him. Even if his vampire boss is the helpless in question. “Give me twenty. I'll drop Malcolm, first.”

“Wait,” Wesley says. “What music did you hear?”

Gunn shakes his head. “None,” he says at the same time Malcolm says, “Armstrong. Really clear, too.”

“The music died after you and Cordy disappeared, Angel. I suspect it was bait, of a sort.”

“After that Chopin stuff, we heard Usher,” Cordy pipes up.

“Gesundheit,” Angel says, automatically. She looks ravishing, hair full and framing her face, eyes sparkling. Angel thinks he might dream of her, tonight, instead of Darla. Although he got off like a teenager, he's still... He needs to be away from Cordy now because he's dogged, even though it's hours yet until dawn, and his defenses are low. “We heard John Fields,” he says, before yawning so hard his jaw cracks.

“John Fields,” Wesley says. “I've never actually heard his music.”

“John Fields?” Cordy echoes.

“Heading, catch 'ya in a bit,” Gunn says and turns away.

Angel yawns again. Cordy rolls her eyes. Wesley frowns, looking from one to the other. “I'll drive,” he says. He turns on his heel, and walks, talking over his shoulder. “Cordy can leave a tip for Kate in the morning, see if there are any human remains left here.”

He glances at Cordy, who hasn't looked at him since Gunn and Wesley joined them. He never intended to go further than a kiss. His personal limit had been first base and a lot of make-believe. “There was more to the bait than music,” he says, finally moving to follow Wes, who's got a good headstart on them. She falls in beside him. He sees her nod from the corner of his eye. “Pheromones, maybe.”

She sniffs and wipes her cheeks roughly with both hands, releasing the salty tang of tears to join the fading scents of almost sliding home with him. She tilts her head, her glance grazing off his shoulder, skimming downwards. “Just... I'm taking tomorrow off. And you're never telling anyone, anyone, ever, what happened.”

Angel wants to offer her his hand to hold, but he's afraid she won't take it and afraid if she does, he'll want more of her. Instead he shoves both hands deep into his pockets. He nods.

“We're okay,” she whispers.

This time when he glances over, she meets his eyes. “Okay,” he agrees.

Cordy offers her hand. He takes it, linking his fingers through hers.

She holds onto him all the way back to the fence, where Wesley is standing in the gaping hole where Gunn drove his truck right through the fence. “How'd we miss this? I guess it was really dark,” he muses. The scuffling marks of their shoes in the grass are just five feet down the fence line.

Sirens are ripping the night, headed their way.

The explosion of light must have generated calls to 911. He doesn't want to be stuck answering awkward questions about that, or this hole in the fence. All he really wants to do is go to bed. With Cordy. “Here, Wes,” he says, and throws him the keys. “Take Cordy home, I'll draw them off.”

They head for the GTO. Angel eyes a VW Cabriolet. Hot-wiring it in no time flat, he moves it through the broken fence, waits for the first of the cop cars to catch up and takes off into the night.