Disclaimer :: The characters herein are the property of their creators. I make no profit from their use.

:: D e v i l s  a n d  D u s t ::

written by Starlet2367 { e-mail // livejournal }


I got my finger on the trigger/but I don't know who to trust/
when I look into your eyes/there's just devils and dust
- Bruce Springsteen

"…and so I told Serena as if. There's no way I'm going out with some dude with hair plugs even if he does drive a Ferrari. I mean, hair plugs? That's just so –" Cordelia laughed. "Exactly!" She slurped diet cola loudly from the can.

Angel put his fingertips to his temples and rubbed them in circles. He could smell the metallic shimmer of cola, the fake sweetness of suntan oil, the too-floral odor of Cordelia's perfume. Layers of tooth-aching sweetness that belied the cactus-sharp exterior of the girl.

He shoved back from the desk and prowled past her to the door. The window was a dust-dented mirror, casting no reflection back at him. The sun had set; the light outside was purple-tinged gray.

Behind him, her flip-flop slapped against her foot as her leg swung in a jarringly syncopated rhythm.

Why was she still here?

Turning, he tried to ignore the persistent ache under his heart. He was tired of reaching for the phone to call Buffy, of cradling it to his chest, listening to the dial tone. They should never have dropped their defenses.

But he'd been human. He'd smelled, tasted, felt again, what it meant to be alive. He'd held her in his arms, he'd moved inside of her, no thought to the curse except at that final moment when he'd spilled into her – when he'd thought, ha, you bastard, you can't get me now.

Cordelia cackled and slapped her hand against the desk. She cut her eyes at Angel, pointed at the phone, and mouthed, "Hilarious!"

He pushed past her and took the stairs down to his apartment. His chair was waiting and when he sat it creaked in a friendly, comforting way. Angel closed his eyes and shut out the tinny "wah wah wah" of Cordelia's conversation a floor above.


The silence woke him. The silver shush of tires on pavement, the mechanical refrigerator hum, someone laughing outside on the sidewalk. It was never really silent in the city, but in the apartment, at least, he could pretend.

His hand drifted to the phone and he left it there feeling the wrenching ache, the burn in his eyes and nose, the downward twist of his lips. He waited until the feeling passed then stood and crossed to the kitchen, not bothering with a light.

Angel caught a whiff of rain. A storm blowing in. He could feel the clouds, now, their heavy pressure adding to the ache in his head and heart.

He scooped a bottle of blood from the fridge and poured some into a glass, drinking it down, then pouring more. This he took back to his chair, where he sat, letting it warm in the air, while he forced himself not to think of Buffy.

Outside, thunder rumbled, the harbinger of the storm.

When he blinked awake again, it was to a thunder crash so loud it shook him in his chair. He smelled the sharp, electric odor of ozone and waited, hand clutching his glass, for the second strike.

It came only a second later, unzipping the air and setting off car alarms up and down the street. The thunder hit simultaneously, a sonic wave that jarred his teeth and made his body clench.

Not in the mood to deal with a cut hand or to clean up blood, he set the glass on the table. As soon as it touched the wood, the phone rang.

Angel blinked at it, thinking at first it was his ringing ears, then that the storm had set it off. When it rang again, he picked it up tentatively. "Yes?"

The storm moved away, trailing a downpour behind it. Rain crashed against the sidewalk and ricocheted against the street-level windows.


"Doyle?" He sat up, pulled forward by the pain in Doyle's voice.

"Yeah. Vision." Ice cubes clinked in a glass and there was a pause while Doyle gulped whatever painkiller he was plying tonight.

"Where? When?"

"Mother-fucking alley, where do you think?" Doyle laughed. "They like the piss, the needles and the smelly trash, do the Oracles. Think it's funny, don't they, to send old Doyle down into the…." He rambled to a stop.

Angel sighed. "Doyle, you're drunk."

"No shit, Sherlock. But I also had a vision. You try having one of these when you're sober. It's worse."

No doubt. "Okay, give me directions. I'll head down –"

"Gonna take all three of us."

Angel glanced out the window at the pouring rain. "I don't want you and Cordy to come out in this." Actually, he didn't want to hear her bitch about her hair, her clothes, her whatever was getting ruined yet one more time by the storm, by her crappy life, by –

"You think I want to hear her gripe about being out in this mess?" Doyle snorted. "Believe me, that'd be a big no, bub. However, the Powers showed me the three of us going up against this big bastard, so the three of us it is."

Angel sighed. "I'm not calling her."

There was a beat of silence. "That'll be a fifth of Jameson for the trouble, man."

"Fine. Give me directions. I'll meet you there."


The downpour had slowed to a steady drizzle by the time he made it to the alley. The temperature behind the storm was cold and it crisped up the air and turned everything to black gloss.

He parked the car and took off at a jog. When he heard muffled screams, his jog became a run.

The Orobas was a shape-shifter caught between forms, with the head and hindquarters of a horse, and the torso and arms of a man. Angel shivered. His Catholic side had died long ago, but the superstitions lived on and in his day, the Orobas was a mighty prince of Hell.

Angel pulled his sword out as he traveled over the slick, grubby pavement, aiming the diamond-sharp edge for the crease between the creature's shoulder and neck.

The Orobas turned and a strange, incense-like smell wafted from its leathery skin. It shifted, horse-like features retracting and taking on the features of a man.

Angel struck, knowing the change made him vulnerable.

But the Orobas scuttled backwards, its hooves clacking on the ground. Behind him a girl lay, her head facing the back wall, and her body turned toward the alley. The back of her head carried the imprint of a hoof in the caved-in skull.

"I told her I'd been sent for her," the Orobas hissed. "It was her time. Her time was up. She owed her dues. I warned her –"

That was the thing. These guys didn't lie. They were like the oracles of the underworld. Sometimes they were also the muscle who collected the overdue fees.

In the end though, Angel thought, as he swung the sword, it didn't matter. The Orobas had to be stopped, whether he was a minion of hell or a soothsayer. He'd killed someone and that was that.

But of course, these types never went down easy, he thought, as he stepped into the fight. His adrenaline kicked in and his mind became one-pointed with focus. It was like a dance; he'd always liked thinking one or two steps ahead of his partners almost as much as he'd liked putting them down at the end.

The Orobas kicked with a deadly hoof and Angel dodged.

"Angel!" Cordelia's voice rang down the alley.

He turned instinctively toward her and another kick caught him on the temple. He went flying back, shoulder blades cracking into the brick wall.

He registered running feet and felt her hand on his forehead. "Angel! Are you okay?"

Grunting, he pushed her hand away. "Fine. Just need a sec." When he shook off the dizziness and stood, his mouth drew into a frown.

He must have been out for awhile because Cordelia and Doyle were at the dead-end of the alley with the Orobas backed into a corner. Cordy swung one of his small axes over her head in wild arcs. Doyle, wobbled beside her with a short sword in his hand.

Just two days ago, Angel had been licking peanut butter off of Buffy's soft shoulder, her skin the color of golden summer grass. And now she was gone and he was stuck in an alley with a drunken Irishman waving a knife and an ex-cheerleader who was afraid to make contact for fear of breaking a nail.

Grunting in disgust, he moved forward, ready to spear the demon in the heart and go after whichever minion of hell had brought him up here to do his bidding.

The demon shifted again, its hands again becoming hooves. He rose up to his full height and pawed the air.

Doyle stumbled back. "We have to kill the conjurer," he yelled over his shoulder to Angel. "It's the only way to send him back!"

Before Angel could yell, "Don't you think I know that?" the Orobas shoved Doyle to his knees. Then he cracked the axe out of Cordelia's hands and in a one-two kick, sent her flying.

Her body floated upward in an arc that was destined to connect on its downward end with the sharp-edged dumpster.

He spun and leapt for it, landing between Cordy and the metal box just as her body impacted it. The edge of the dumpster bit into his back and the already bruised bones crunched.

Angel felt several bones puncture his lungs. He slid down, fighting to keep hold of her even as he fought darkness, himself.

The Orobas laughed and shouted something that Angel barely registered.


"Angel, come on man. You gotta wake up."

He grabbed Doyle's hand. "Stop hitting me." His back raged with pain. He shifted and realized he was still holding Cordelia. The thought jolted him awake.

"Is she okay?" Doyle crouched over them, hands hovering over Cordelia's shoulders, arms, hands. "I don't want to touch her. I mean, she shouldn't be moved, right? In case her back, or her neck or –" He looked over at the dead girl the Orobas left -- her head turned wrong, glassy eyes staring -- and swallowed.

Cordelia gasped. Her eyes snapped open.

"Shh, don't move." Angel slid out from under her, ignoring the spearing pain of the broken ribs. He coughed, tasted blood. But he could already feel them re-knitting, like a low-grade burn deep in his bones.

It was a feeling that two days ago he'd thought he'd never feel again. No matter how near death he came, he always healed, back to the same boy he'd been the night Darla turned him.

It made him a monster. It made him grateful.

Angel snapped, "Take off your coat and put it under her head." But what he was thinking was: what if I had stayed human?

Doyle shucked off the leather blazer and made a pillow. "Now what?"

"Mmm, hurts," Cordy groaned.

Angel rushed his fingers over her scalp, down her neck, across her shoulders and hands. "Can you move your feet?" The pointy-toed boots wiggled. "Okay, good. Now your hands."

She blinked up at him.

"How many fingers?'"

She squinted. "Did he get away?" Blood trickled down her shoulder and under her collar, staining it red. Her brow wrinkled. "Tell me he didn't."

Doyle said, "I'm afraid he did, love." He clasped her hand. He was bleeding too, from a gash in his head.

Angel stared at them both, his drunken Irish man and his vain ex-cheerleader, and realized that they had more to lose than he and the Slayer. And Cordelia, most of all.

She was human. Yet she was out here fighting, risking her life, with no super powers that mattered in an alley when facing down a demon.

He shook his head. "We need to get you to the hospital."

Cordelia tried to roll to her feet, but stopped, wincing. "Can't afford it. You'll have to –" She gasped. "Just give me some of his Jameson's and a handful of Advil."

Angel stood and picked her up, holding her carefully to keep from jostling her.

"If any of this scars, you're paying for the corrective surgery," she said groggily.

Doyle said, "We can't just leave her." He nodded toward the girl.

"Go find a phone. Call it in."

He nodded. "I'll meet up with you later."


"Ow, hey!" Cordelia swatted at him. "You could at least blow on it."

He patted the peroxide-soaked cotton ball on the cut on her collarbone, thinking of the time the Master had drowned Buffy. He'd wanted to resuscitate her, needed too, and had to step back and watch Xander do it. "Sorry, no air."

"Oh, right." She fanned herself with her free hand, sighing when the cool air crossed her abraded skin. "I'll trade a little cool air for a life-saving leap any day. Did I say thanks? 'Cause, really, thanks." Her smile warmed him like the sun coming out after a storm.

He couldn't help but smile back. "You're welcome." He closed the first-aid kit and put it on the bedside table. "I'll go get the cards. You can't sleep till we're sure you don't have a concussion."

"So we're playing poker?" she called as he left the room.

He rummaged through the junk drawer in the kitchen looking for a pack of cards. "Sure," he yelled back.

"If I win, you provide insurance."

Angel glanced up at the brick wall. "And if you lose?"

"You provide insurance?"

He huffed out a laugh as he snagged a deck of cards from the drawer. Shutting it, he crossed back to the bedroom, where she lay, bruised and looking smaller than her usual bad-ass self.

Whatever he and Buffy had once had, he finally had to admit that their paths had diverged. He still loved her so much that thinking of her was like dying. But just now, looking at Cordelia, he realized something: he had a friend in her.

And he also had a responsibility to her. She was human. Fragile. She needed protection in a way that Buffy never would. And he could provide it. He would keep her safe because she was putting something so precious on the line for him every day: her life, her soul.

"Insurance? I don't know. That's kind of expensive, isn't it?' he asked, careful to keep a straight face as he pulled up a chair next to the bed.

"There are plans that don't cost a lot. I've been looking, you know, in between cases. If you actually charged something and let me follow up on collections it wouldn't be so bad…."

It wasn't until later that night, as he prepared to wake Cordelia again from her light sleep, that he remembered the Orobas's parting shot: It's time to let go of the past and wake up to your present, for that is where your future lies.