"When an irresistible force such as you
Meets an old immovable object like me
You can bet as sure as you live
Something's gotta give
Something's gotta give
Something's gotta give"

Cordelia was singing again.

"Kiss me
Beneath the milky twilight
Lead me
Out on the moonlight floor..."

Wesley and Angel exchanged long-suffering looks across the living room as their friend/office manager/temporary landlord moved around the kitchen fixing dinner. It wasn't that they minded so much that Cordelia was happy and choosing to express that happiness vocally -- it was that she couldn't seem to express it on-key.

"Lift up your open hand
And strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moons are sparkling
So kiss me..."

The reason for the happiness didn't exactly thrill them, either.

"What is she singing?" Angel finally asked quietly.

Wesley forced himself to listen for a moment, then shook his head in apparent bafflement. "I have no idea. Even if she wasn't butchering the tune, I don't recognize the lyrics, which is hardly surprising."

A CD floated across the room and danced in front of Angel's eyes; he grabbed it to steady it, and groaned. "Dennis says it's Lilith Fair. Volume 3."

Wesley's expression spoke volumes. "Oh god, there's more than one. I suppose we should be grateful she's not actually playing the CD." His face darkened. "And that she's in here singing it rather than out with...."

"Wesley." Angel's warning tone cut off whatever the other man had been about to say. Wesley's jaw tightened, but he went silent as Cordelia came out of the kitchen, bearing a tray of food in one hand and a mug of blood in the other.

"So, you guys don't actually have anything for us to do tonight -- no cases or anything, right? So you're just going to sit around eating me out of house and home?" She settled the tray on the coffee table and nailed Wesley with a glare. "And we're out of mayo so I put on more mustard and you are going to eat all of it."

"Yes, Mother," Wesley said under his breath. Cordelia didn't hear him, but Angel did; he stifled a chuckle as he leaned forward for his own dinner.

"No, Cordelia, no cases," he said. "But we--"

Unfortunately, that was when Cordelia spotted the CD in Angel's hand. "Oh, tunes! Great idea! We can hang out and do the bonding thing! I could attempt to teach you two to dance. Again."

She snagged the CD out of Angel's hand and headed for the stereo, as the two men exchanged frantic looks. "Ah, Cordelia," Wesley said carefully, "perhaps our attention would be better used researching, rather than on your, ah... music."

"Yeah," Angel jumped in hastily, "we really need to, you know, concentrate." He winced at the lameness and gave Wesley an apologetic look.

Cordelia turned to fix both of them with another glare, one hand resting on her hip. "Concentrate on what? No case, remember? Real translation: you and your testosterone don't want to listen to any chick music."

Her voice was stern, but a smile lurked around her eyes and lips, so Angel hung his head and admitted, "That's pretty close."

"Uh-huh." She rolled her eyes, but held the CD up on the flat of her hand; it floated back into the rack by the TV. "Okay, then -- what other stunning plans do you two party animals have for this client-less -- and, thus, income-less -- Wednesday evening?"

The guys exchanged another set of glances. "Movie?" Angel finally suggested hesitantly.

"Like we ever have time to watch one after the three-hour fight at Blockbusters," Cordelia pointed out, not inaccurately. "But, cool. What'd you have in--"

Her body went suddenly stiff, her head thrown back and her eyes shut. She was utterly still for a moment, before she gave a gasp that was half-scream and grabbed her head with both hands, bending forward under the weight of the vision.

Angel and Wesley almost knocked over their respective dinners getting past the coffee table to Cordelia's side. Angel made it to her just as her knees gave way, supporting her as he lowered her to the floor and cradling her head against his chest. Wesley knelt on her other side, smoothing her hair back from her face and saying soothing things that she probably couldn't hear, but that made Wesley feel less helpless. Dennis' silent presence hovered around them; Angel could almost see the ghost wringing his immaterial hands.

It seemed like forever, but was probably only a minute or so before Cordelia's body went lax. Her breath came back in on another deep gasp. "Oh, I hate these," she moaned quietly, still clutching her head.

Angel continued to hold her against him with one arm, and held his other hand out. A glass of water and painkillers were delivered there instantly. "Thanks, Dennis."

With Wesley's help, Angel steadied Cordelia long enough to take the pills; after a few minutes, she shook them both off and managed to sit upright. "I'm okay," she said carefully through the post-vision migraine. Angel had always hated seeing Doyle suffer through them, but it was so much worse watching Cordelia.

"What did you see?" Wesley asked carefully, still holding Cordelia's hand.

"Um, I'm not sure. He was... big. Nasty-looking. There may have been more than one thing, except-- Except I think there was only one thing. There was only one thing, but he looked totally different. And then the same again. I think. It was way weird."

Wesley nodded as if any of that meant something, tapping thoughtfully on his chin. "What did he look like? When he, ah, looked the same?"

"Um..." She focused, and Angel could see what it cost her in the lines on her forehead and around her mouth. "Big. Dark colored -- purple, maybe, or black. Horns, of course, short ones on his forehead. Regular person-clothes, the same ones he was wearing when he was different. Except when he was different, he looked like a regular person. Besides the blood and guts and killing someone part, I mean."

Wesley nodded again, patting Cordelia's shoulder and standing up to find a book. "A shapeshifter, I suspect -- and the description is very familiar...." He trailed off into the pages of his book, and Angel helped Cordelia to her feet, then to the couch. He'd learned from painful experience that she didn't appreciate being carried.

"Did you see where it was?" he asked as he settled her against the cushions.

She shook her head. "Not really. Concrete, walls, no windows -- welcome to L.A."

"Okay. Relax for a while and we'll start looking." He left her in Dennis's hands -- so to speak -- and went over to help Wesley.


The phone rang an hour later, when they'd narrowed the demon down to a Tarlik shapeshifter (Wesley looked very smug) and were trying to narrow down the place. Wesley got to the phone first.

"Ang... Ah, Chase residence." There was a long pause, and Wesley's face darkened. "Yes, she's here, but she's not.... No, I don't think.... One moment." Wes turned around and extended the phone with great reluctance. "Cordelia. It's Lindsey. If you're not up to talking, I can tell him..."

"Gimme." Cordelia's face brightened in that completely disturbing way it did whenever Lindsey McDonald was mentioned, and she snagged the phone from Wesley. "Lindsey? What's up?" She listened and smiled at the phone, then glared up at Wesley, who was hovering over the couch like a dark cloud of doom.

"Private call," she hissed, covering the receiver with one hand. "Go away."

Wesley showed no signs of moving, until Angel grabbed his arm and physically pulled him into the kitchen. "You know the deal," he reminded Wesley when they were safely out of earshot.

"You made the deal," Wesley shot back, absently rubbing his arm and still glowering towards the living room. "I didn't. And I'm still not happy about any of this."

"Never would have guessed," Angel said under his breath. He leaned into the archway enough to see Cordelia curled on the couch, talking into the phone with great animation. The remains of her headache seemed to have disappeared. "Look, Wes, I know how you feel, believe me. But it's Cordelia's choice who she sees. You know that."

Wesley shook his head, as adamant on the subject as he had been when Cordelia had confessed weeks ago. He'd decided to take it as some sort of personal offense, and hadn't let up since. "This is not about choice. This is about allowing Cordelia to associate with someone utterly amoral, someone who has proven to be an ally of the darkest powers, someone too dangerous--"

"Excuse me -- allow?" Angel cut him off with raised eyebrows. "Since when do we allow Cordelia to do anything? She'll do what she wants to and you know it. You've never tried to give orders to Cordy, but trust me -- telling her she can't do something is that fastest way to make her do it. After she walks out the door and slams it in your face."

He shook his head. "At least this way, there's a chance she'll come to us for help when she gets in over her head."

Cordelia laughed into the phone, her young face glowing, and it was Wesley's turn to raise his eyebrows. "You're assuming she'll be able to see when she's got in over her head," he pointed out. "In her current state of infatuation, just how likely do you believe that is?"

Angel opened his mouth to reply, then closed it and shrugged, helplessly. "I don't know. But we can't do anything at all if she shuts us out. Which she will if you don't give the attitude a rest."

Wesley's jaw clenched again. Then he sighed, accepting that undeniable fact as he had the last twelve times he and Angel had had his argument. "Agreed. But that doesn't mean I'm at all happy about it."

Angel rubbed his eyes. "You're not the only one."

They shared a look of frustrated understanding as Cordelia's voice rang out from the living room. "Okay, the nasty lawyer is off the phone. You guys can come back now."

The men came back in. "Are you certain you're quite through?" Wesley asked with awful politeness, and Angel resisted the urge to dope-smack him. It seemed like his fate to constantly be around people he wanted to dope-smack, but couldn't.

Cordelia smiled sweetly, refusing to rise to the bait. "All set."

"Good." Wesley nodded once, then turned back to the whiteboard where they had been listing demon characteristics. "So. Scaly, horny, bloodsucking--"

"You forgot claw-y and shapeshifter, and we don't know it was bloodsucking," Cordelia pointed out.

"I was actually referring to your boyfriend," Wesley shot back with a pointed smile.

Cordelia's eyes narrowed and Angel lunged into the conversational breach before she could return fire. "Is claw-y actually a word?"

"It's what I said and you know what it means. So, word."

Wesley broke his glare at Cordelia long enough to roll his eyes at Angel. But it was directed at Cordelia's vocabulary rather than her love life, so she let it pass, leaning back on the couch and blatantly stifling a yawn. "So, can we figure out where this vision was or can I just go to bed for once?"

"No sleep for the warriors of light, I'm afraid," Wesley said, with a smile that was almost sympathetic beneath the snarkiness; he hadn't been getting much sleep lately either. None of them had. "A Tarlik demon is extremely dangerous; if what you saw in your vision is its first victim, I shall be very surprised. The sooner we track it down, the better."

"Oh, track it down. You mean, like we did last week?" Cordelia inquired, with a raised eyebrow and a significant look in Angel's direction.

"Hey, that wasn't my fault," he objected, rubbing automatically at his chest. The wound was long-since healed, but he could still feel that claw going in. "It caught me by surprise. I wasn't expecting us to track the thing so fast; we're not usually that good at the finding part."

"True, unfortunately," Wesley agreed.

"Amen," Cordelia contributed. When she suddenly sat bolt upright on the couch, then moaned and grabbed her head, both Angel and Wesley started towards her instinctively. She brushed them off. "I'm fine, I'm fine, I just remembered something. And forgot not to move so fast. There was a name, or a place or something... Nodrin, Nodrain, something like that."

"It's another starting point," Wesley said. "Cordelia, are you up to the computer, trying to track down variations of that name?"

"Sure." He'd been polite and concerned, so Cordelia was equally polite. Angel breathed a silent sigh of relief...

Until Wesley spoiled it by adding snidely, "Unless you and your boyfriend had other plans."

"Listen, Wesley--" Cordelia snarled, fists clenched; Angel grabbed her arm as he stepped between them.

"Cordelia, shapeshifter. Innocent people dying. Computer. Please."

She treated Wesley to another few seconds of the Chase Death Stare, then let Angel pull her to her feet, and shove her gently in the direction of the kitchen. "Fine. Research. Whatever. As long as I don't have to do it around you two!"

She flounced out of the room and threw herself down into one of the chairs around the dining room table that currently served as Angel Investigation's desk. Angel threw a deadly glare at Wesley, who held up his hands and had the grace to look embarrassed.

"Apologize later," Angel growled as he reached past Wesley for the Dictionarius Maleficus to start looking up Tarlik demons named Nodron. "When I'm not around for it. I did not sign up to be a referee."

"Indeed," Wesley mumbled, burying his nose in the Librus Arlus.

Fortunately for their collective sanity, it was only about half-an-hour before a triumphant shout came from the kitchen. "Got it!" Cordelia called. The other two were next to her in seconds, reading over her shoulder. "Okay, I found a Nodraan in the back issue of the LA Times; about two months ago, Ashiva Nodraan was arrested in connection with a triple homicide in Glendale. Really bloody, looks like. Anyway, he actually got arrested, but he was acquitted at trial."

Wesley polished his glasses, carefully not looking at Cordelia. "I'm going to take wild guess at who represented him."

She suddenly couldn't look anyone in the eyes. "Yeah. Well. Anyway, Kate was one of the primary investigators, and Li... um, the defense attorney apparently demolished her on the stand. Bet she'd tell us the 'last knowns' she's got for Mr. Nodraan the Shapeshifter."

"You're sure it's him?" Angel asked, choosing to ignore her slip. Not that they wouldn't discuss it later...

Cordelia clicked something on the web browser and a picture popped up. "Vision Central makes another match."

"All right, you call Kate; she doesn't hate you as much as she hates me. Wesley, get geared up while I call Gunn; I want to get this guy before he has time for any more trials." The other two nodded and started moving. "And let's try and do this without anyone getting hurt this time, all right?"

Cordelia gave him a sunny smile, her earlier pique forgotten. "It's one demon against Angel Investigations. Our only problem will be collecting a paycheck from the Powers That Be -- for good-guy Powers, they sure are good about ignoring their bills." She patted his arm soothingly. "No problem."

"Yeah. Call Kate." He strode after Wesley to the living room, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach. "I hate it when she says things like that...."

The lyrics Cordelia is butchering are Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me".

Comments welcomed at perri@neon-hummingbird.com or drop a note on LiveJournal. Last updated Sesptember 11, 2009.


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