Title:The Next Step
Author: Dusk (dusk@goldserve.net)
Fandom: Angel
Pairing: A/m (Angel/Host)
Rating: R
Archive: Songs of Mercy, AngelSlash, RareSlash, Slashrealms, LoveLorne
Disclaimer: They aren't mine, and I don't profit from borrowing them.
Series/sequel: Seabreeze Situations #9
Summary: An unexpected gift, and a new step in the relationship.
Comments: For Cleo, who nearly keeled over when I suggested I scrap this one, and is generally a five-star babe.

***

"Enough. Will you go, already? Thank you. Yeah, see you tomorrow, as always." Cary shook his head and closed the door on the last patron to leave.

"Two years," he muttered. "Three nights a week, for two years, and it never changes. Same darn songs, same darn story. Some people never get the hint."

He leaned up against the bar, looking around the dimly-lit room. "Okay, you can stop hiding now."

Angel stepped out sheepishly from the shadows.

"I knew it!" Cary exclaimed. "What's with the lurking, anyway?"

"How did you know?"

Cary shrugged. "Just did. Now, not that I'm not thrilled to see you, but I repeat: why are you here? Again, or is it still?"

Angel stuck his hands in his pockets. "I was just hanging out," he said non-commitally.

"No, two hours ago you were hanging out. By now, it qualifies as stalking." He smiled and patted the bar beside him. Angel joined him, keeping his hands in his pockets.

"I'm sorry about earlier. Some nights, it's just a stampede, suddenly everyone in the city gets introspective and they need to know *right* now if anything interesting's going to happen. Mostly, it ain't gonna, but do they listen? Maybe something's in retrograde this week. Know anything about astrology?" He shook his head. The whole night, he'd barely had time to say 'hi' once or twice in passing, though Angel hadn't looked too upset. Just sat there, as usual, observing patrons and staff alike.

"No, I don't," Angel said, frowning slightly.

"Well, me either. So you've been here all night, and I know it's not for the pleasure of my company, because you've barely seen me, and now here you are. Still."

"Yeah, here I am."

Cary looked at him. "I'm still waiting for the 'why', Mr. Talkative. In anyone else, this behaviour would be downright creepy. In you, it's hard to tell."

"I have something for you. Didn't get the chance to give it to you, earlier."

Cary let the fact that they'd both been in the same room for the past few hours slide. Angel and his little procrastinations. "You brought me a present? All is forgiven. What do I get?"

Angel looked uncomfortable. "Don't get too excited. It's not coffee. It's just... I started thinking."

"Okay... scared now. About what?"

"We had new locks put in at the Hyperion today."

"A break-in?" Angel nodded. "Anything taken?"

Angel shrugged. "Nothing important. Case-related. This Zatar demon was cheating on his wives with a Rubric."

Cary raised his eyebrows. "You're kidding me. A Rubric? Uch."

"I know. The head female asked me to follow him and get proof, so they could do whatever it is that Zatars do to their rogue husbands. I didn't ask for details."

"Wise. It's not pretty."

"So he got the photos, wrecking a few doors and walls in the process. Nothing that can't be fixed."

"He ruined your case?"

Angel smiled slightly. "Not really. He didn't think to take the negatives as well."

Cary laughed. "Zatar males aren't noted for their brainpower. All okay in Angel-country, then?"

"Yup. And the new locks reminded me of something. Which leads directly to your present. I thought you might want this." He withdrew his hand from his left pocket and held it out.

Cary picked up the plain metal key Angel offered him and examined it. No identifying marks, no ancient mystical sigils. It did have a length of red ribbon tied through it, slightly crumpled. Angel had probably been holding it all evening, the big sap.

"A key? You shouldn't have. Do I have to guess?" He pondered the matter with a small smile. "The key to your heart? No, you're not big with the symbolism. Your car? Let's not go there. Oh, I know. You're planning on chaining yourself up somewhere and letting me rescue you? That's it, isn't it?" He grinned. Angel was so easy to wind up.

True to form, Angel's expression was blank, which usually meant he wasn't entirely comfortable. "The hotel," he said.

"I have to rescue you in your own home? Sweetie, I think you're missing the point. To be rescued, there has to be something to be rescued from, that's the way it works."

Angel cleared his throat. "It's the key to the hotel," he clarified. "New locks. New keys. Had an extra one made."

Cary stared at the key for a moment, humour forgotten. "You're giving me a key to your place?"

"Yeah."

"Well, now I just feel bad for making fun of you. What brought this on?"

"I don't know," Angel said frankly. "I thought it was time you had one. I'm sure you could get into the hotel without one, but this way it saves all the pesky breaking-and-entering. Was I wrong?"

"Oh, no, no, no, sweetie, not at all," Cary hastened to reassure him. "You know me and my big fat mouth. When I get speechless, I cover it by talking a lot."

The vampire smiled. "I find it easier to cover it by being quiet."

"Well, if it works for you...." Cary said lightly, then looked down at the key again. "This, I mean... this...." He came to a decision and stood up. "Come over here."

Angel followed him to the large mirror at the far end of the bar. Cary stood in front of it.

He untied the bow, leaving the ribbon threaded through the key just once. It was long enough for what he had in mind.

"Closer," he said. Angel stepped up behind him. No reflection, no breath against his neck, no body heat to detect, just the faint rustle of cloth as he moved. It was enough. Cary held one end of the ribbon in each hand and passed them over his shoulders, bowing his head.

Angel silently took the ribbon ends and tied them together. The slight weight of the key pulled the knot tight when he let it fall. Cary raised his head, looking at his reflection.

"Think it suits me?" he asked softly.

Angel pressed close behind him, tilting his head down to gently kiss the vein in the demon's neck. "Brings out your eyes," he whispered against the warm skin, feeling the strong beat speed up beneath his lips.

Cary leaned back against him, closing his eyes. The reflection no longer interested him. It didn't show nearly enough. "It's a lovely gift. Thank you."

Angel hooked his arms loosely around Cary's waist and they stood for a few moments, the vampire soaking up the warmth, the demon simply enjoying his presense.

"So I guess this means I don't get to rescue you?"

Angel smiled. "Sorry. Maybe another time."

Cary turned around within the circle of Angel's arms. "Sounds like a plan to me," he murmured, brushing his lips against Angel's, just the faintest touch, calculated to heat the blood of even the coldest heart.

It worked. Angel pulled him closer and caught him up in a proper kiss. No teasing, just tasting, touching.

They were interrupted by the sound of a door opening.

"Hey, boss, supply crisis," Rico started to say, coming up from the storage cellar. "We..." he trailed off when he came into view. "Oh, *shit*. Sorry. I'll... I'll go." He turned to leave, blushing furiously.

Cary shook his head, not moving from Angel's arms. "Come back, Rico. Whatever it is, the sooner we sort it out, the sooner you can go the hell away. What's wrong?"

"Right," Rico said, attempting to recover himself as best he could. "Um. Lion's blood. We're all out. There was a Toridop on a binge earlier, drank up everything we had, and the next scheduled delivery isn't for six weeks."

"Did you call the supplier? He had a litter of cubs last year, there shouldn't be any problem bringing the delivery forward a little."

"Called him. No go. One of the kitties is ill, can't donate. Six weeks is the best he can do. Any earlier, all he can do is tiger. Or leopard."

"Aw, crap," Cary muttered. "Okay. Get in the usual quantity, but in tiger. He can do that right away?"

Rico nodded.

"It'll have to do, then. And order a few pints of leopard, while you're there. Never hurts to expand the menu a little. Anything else?"

"Nope. Just one crisis today."

"Wonderful. Call it in and go home. *Now*."

"Going. Going right away," Rico said, backing away. "Sorry. Bye."

Cary waited until his footsteps faded and then buried his face in Angel's shoulder. Angel smiled and stroked his back.

"That's the worst part of this job," the demon said, slightly muffled by Angel's shoulder. "Suppliers. Human bars have it easy. One species to deal with. But no, I had to go for the non-human market. Billions of demons, all of whom want their own unique brand of revolting substances to drink. Do you know how hard it is to find someone who's willing to keep lions for their bodily fluids? Or yaks? Or a dozen other scaly, furry or feathered creatures?"

"I can only imagine," Angel said. Cary lifted his head and smiled wearily.

"I *swear*, one of these days, I'm just going to buy a zoo and be done with it. Cut out the middlemen. Let Rico collect, of course, no way I'm braving anything with huge claws and teeth that could bite me in half. Not for a cocktail. I mean, what a stupid thing to die for, right?"

Angel laughed. "I can think of better things. Tiger's blood?"

"Yeah. Ever tried it?"

"Can't say I have."

"Me either. But I'm told it has quite a kick. Not as classy as lion, of course, but... what can you do? Try it sometime. Give me an honest opinion. The leopard, too, althought that's better in a mix where you can't actually taste it."

"Sure. A little variety might be nice."

"Great. Now... any chance we can pick up from where we were so rudely interrupted?"

Angel smiled. "Depends. Any more waiters lurking around the place?"

"Nope. All gone home for the night. Really."

"We've got the place to ourselves," Angel said thoughtfully.

"We do indeed," Cary confirmed.

"Good," Angel whispered, dropping a final kiss onto his lips. Without warning, he picked Cary up and sat him on the bar.

"Sheesh!" Cary inhaled deeply. "Angel, my love, we have got to talk about this manhandling thing you keep doing to me."

"Want me to stop doing it?" Angel stood between the demon's legs, looking up at him, head to one side.

There was a moment of silence.

"That's not what I said. But maybe a little warning next time?"

"Ah... that's not fun." Angel pushed the ever-present jacket back over Cary's shoulders. Cary let it fall to the floor.

"Well, it's not dignified," he tried.

"No, I guess it isn't. Let's see how dignified you look when you're naked and squirming." Angel grinned up at him and set about untucking Cary's shirt.

"Okay, this is getting weird. You're seriously telling me you want to do this here?" He slapped Angel's hand when it began creeping up his stomach. Angel caught Cary's hand and kissed his wrist.

"I'm sorry, am I being too subtle?"

Cary laughed. "Subtle you're not, sweetie. You want to have sex in the bar..." he looked down at what he was sitting on, "...or rather, *on* the bar... and I'm not expected to query this?"

"I was hoping you'd be too caught up in the moment to say anything."

"Well, try harder, maybe I will be," he taunted.

"I do believe that was a challenge."

"I do believe it was, yes. Since you're feeling frisky."

Angel stood on tiptoe and Cary leaned down and kissed him, cupping Angel's face in his hands.

"I'm so glad you seduced me," Angel said when they parted. "Definitely one of your better ideas."

"Funny, because I don't remember it quite like that. I remember you walking in here all quiet and gorgeous and knocking me off my feet. It was clearly you who were doing any seducing that was done."

"Well, memory can be a funny thing. Whoever's idea it was... it was a good one."

"Now *that*," Cary murmured, "I would agree with."

He reached down and pulled Angel's sweater over his head.

"No fair only one of us getting naked," he reasoned.

[end]





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