Conditionally Yours


Conditionally Yours

Angel places certain conditions on Angelus’ claim over Cordelia Chase.

  • CONTENTS:   C/A & C/Aus in BtVS / ‘Double or Nothing’ Bonus
  • FIC NOTES:   This is a ‘What If…’ excerpt from my ‘Double or Nothing’ fic-verse. When Angel discovers that Angelus (granted his own existence by the Fates) has been dating Cordelia behind his back, he comes up with a plan for a little payback. Angel gets caught up in his own net and begins to feel more for Cordelia than just friendship. Set at the start of C/Aus’ official relationship and before Angel loses it completely. Somewhat open-ended, the fic is a good excuse for naughty behavior.
  • RATING:   R/NC17
  • LENGTH:   Novella / 31,000 words
  • STATUS:   Completed
  • FICPIC CREDIT:   Lysa
  • WARNINGS:   UST/Sexual Situations

“No matter that I have not indulged my rights, I still have them.”

—Angel to Cordelia and Angelus / Conditionally Yours


Conditionally Yours

THE SETUP

Angelus nearly crowed in triumph as his brother caved to his wishes. It hardly seemed possible that Angel would succumb to any perceived intrusion upon his friendship with Cordelia Chase. He had fought against the idea, Angelus knew, and demanded answers as to how it was possible that she of all people had fallen for him. Truthfully, it was equally surprising to him in spite of his efforts to make it happen, especially because he felt something beyond a basic, burning need to possess her.

There was a word for it, he knew. One he could not speak of as it would be absurd to claim such feeling, any feeling beside desire. Even if this went deeper than lust, placing a name to that emotion was beyond his ability in the here and now. He needed Cordelia. This world was a much different place where the Moirae, the Fates themselves, had leashed his killer instincts, and made him dance to the Slayer’s tune.

“I want to claim Cordelia as my own.” His words had sent a shock wave through Angel whose icy glare suggested that hell would freeze over before he let that happen. If it had been the other way around, Angelus would have pounded his brother into dust just for asking.

Anyone else would think Angel was unmoved. No one knew him better. Angelus had a unique insight into his double’s mind having been there himself only recently. This was not just about his past as the infamous Scourge of Europe, or seductive games played to win her trust, or the calculated steps used to keep everyone in the dark about them. It was that Angelus wanted Cordelia, his special friend.

Angel’s answer came out clipped and as cold as his stare. “No.” That should have been it. Technically, he had no right to want what belonged to another vampire, but Angelus had been determined to see this through. Their situation was unique. He had pleaded his case, and come close to begging when it seemed that steely determination was holding fast.

What was it he had said? Something got through that thick skull because Angel agreed to talk to Cordelia. Angelus imagined it to be a lecture, as hypocritical as that might be. Those volatile sexual encounters with the Slayer were hardly a shining example of how lovers behaved. If the plan was to persuade her that her feelings were not real, he had failed to change her mind.

Too bad he had not been around to witness Cordelia handing Angel his ass because that would have been a sight to behold. Angelus felt sure that her heart was in this, too, but he knew in his gut that she still had feelings for Angel, different feelings, but something beyond casual friendship. Nothing she acknowledged even to herself. It showed in the way her eyes lingered, in the casual touches he felt should be his alone, and the smile that brightened even the broodiest mood.

Angelus would never admit to brooding over the prospect of losing Cordelia even before they could get together, but there was something achy centered dead-chest that would not go away. He might have spent some time wondering if he had tasted her lips for the last time. Cordelia’s kisses were eager and passionate. Scowling, he wondered if he would have to put up with some young punk, like Harris, trying to put the moves on her. That was not happening—ever—no matter what decision was made during Cordelia and Angel’s little tête-à-tête.

Maybe Angel was more of a putz than he imagined. Maybe Cordelia was just a miracle worker. That, or she had Angel so wrapped up by her natural charms that he could not say no. Reasons did not matter either way because this meant victory. His elation lasted only as long as the announcement’s first few words. “Cordelia wants your claim. I give her over to you, Angelus, conditionally.”

All he managed was discontented growl over unprecedented stipulations. Steeped in old vampire tradition, this ritual handoff was usually quite straightforward. Once yours, now mine. No muss, or fuss. Angelus had never been a fan of elegant rites preferring the mayhem and chaos of doing anything he pleased. This was different. He had already had a number of conditions set upon him in order to exist in his own skin. Requiring him to submit something that was his due was downright unjust making him seethe with anger, even though he respected that Angel actually had the balls to make demands.

It was Cordelia who snapped back, “Hey! What conditions? Angelus and I are going to be together. You don’t get a say.”

Angelus smirked. His little spitfire did not back down even when Angel stepped closer to remind her of something they had already discussed. Apparently, he had tried to explain how things worked between vampires and humans when the intent was to keep them around, especially when it became necessary to prevent rivals from killing your favorite minions and pets. Once, that had all seemed like useless baggage tying him down. He preferred to turn those he wanted to keep discarding the dead shells of the others.

Not that Angelus had that option now. Despite her vehemence on the subject, and the trust Cordelia now placed in him, there would always be a yearning deep down to make her his forever. Angel knew his mind just as clearly, which was probably why stipulations were necessary before officially releasing his claim over her, albeit a platonic one bound by the ties of friendship.

“You still have a lot to learn about vampires,” warned Angel reaching out to claim a hold on both hips guiding her just a little closer. The possessive move made Angelus’ fangs itch for release, but until those damned conditions were out in the open and fully accepted, the other vampire technically had the right to do anything he pleased.

Still barefoot from their stroll through the grassy grounds behind the mansion, Cordelia was at a disadvantage in height forcing her to stare up at him. Jabbing Angel with the pointy-toed sandals in her left hand, she had a quick comeback. “Some of you can be jerks. Lesson learned, thanks.”

Anger flared up as if the fire between them had been stoked for some time, already hot. He found himself conflicted as he watched them, incensed at the intimacy of moment, the way the world closed down around them, making him doubt they remembered he was there. Even if the argument was about him, Angelus felt like an unnecessary third wheel. As much as that pissed him off, he was pleased by the way Cordelia fought for her right to ‘claim him right back’, even if that simple comment proved Angel’s point. She did have a lot to learn about vampires, and Angelus planned to be the one to teach her.

Interrupting their private little war, Angelus found it ironic to be relegated to the role of peacemaker wielding the voice of reason. “Let’s hear what he has to say, Cor.” That way Angelus could tell him where to shove his opinion.

Cordelia broke off mid-sentence, breathing hard and staring as if he was out of his mind for suggesting they listen to what had to be a load of crap. They were both so riled up that he almost hated to put an end to it. Angel’s chest heaved as if he forgot he did not need to breathe. It took a minute for him to settle down enough to speak.

Outwardly calm, Angelus prompted, “What conditions?”

Not wasting any time, Angel threatened, “Harm her in any way and the deal is off. Don’t get too rough.”

Angelus found it easy to promise, “I’m not planning to hurt Cordelia.” Who was Angel to say what was too rough? He enjoyed taking things soft and slow, too. Gentility was not beyond his capabilities when it came to creating pleasure, but he was not about to let things get boring, either. “Our friends, the Moirae, might object,” he reminded Angel that there were restraints binding his actions.

Vehemently, Cordelia predicted, “He would never hurt me.”

“Not intentionally,” Angel snapped back.

Stubbornly, she crossed her arms, so certain that she was right. “Not at all.”

No, Angelus had to agree. He did not believe that he would purposely cause her any physical harm. Perhaps his brother was hinting about things that might happen in the heat of the moment. Humans could be so fragile. Nevertheless, he knew how to control his strength. He wasn’t a brute—unless he meant to be, and strangely enough, he had no urge to show her that side of him.

“Cordelia says she cares for you. Prove you are worthy of that,” Angel challenged him to meet a goal he seemed to think was out of reach. “If this is all some elaborate game on your part, I will make you suffer deeply for it.”

Reminding him this was a mutual thing, he tried to keep it light. “I want her. She wants me. It’s settled. We already covered this, bro.”

“Not if you can’t be trusted.” Angel’s lips pressed closed into a firm line of resolve as if he was letting that sink in. Silence stretched between them for a few seconds until he could no longer hold back his objection. “I’m not your brother. Don’t call me bro.”

“Would you prefer I called you ‘sis’?”

Stone-faced, Angel did not respond to his joke. Angelus let out a dark laugh. “That’s the crux of it. You don’t consider me your equal, both of us putting up with conditions set by the Moirae in order to exist beyond the confines of that gyspy curse. I’m the part of you that you wanted to discard. You do not trust me because you know precisely where I’m coming from.”

That patented mask slipped for a moment revealing the extent of Angel’s inner conflict. Rage and fear and hurt and jealousy all warred for superiority as the brine of guilt slowly seeped in like a rising tide to drown them out. There was more to say, accusations filling his head, too many to filter before Angelus twisted the figurative knife again. “I won’t do anything that hasn’t already crossed your mind.”

Angel’s shoulders stiffened up at the insidious promise since Cordelia was standing right there, her eyes brightened by curiosity, conflict, and a hint of lust. The way she got off on a good fight was just part of her appeal, even if the Soul wasn’t about to admit it. Both of them enjoyed her barbs a little too much, especially when her touch eased the sting. No guesswork was needed for Angel to know his true desire to claim Cordelia in every sense of the word, as a vampire, because he had fantasized about it first.

Denying it would only have made Angelus point out a few examples, but his brother—he’d call him whatever he damned pleased, especially now that he knew it pissed him off—was too savvy to get caught in that trap.

All business, Angel stuck to the point. “That’s why this deal is conditional. Agree to let Cordelia come to me when she needs some perspective. Somebody needs to be there for her, and I’m the only one qualified.”

Ludicrous! Did Angel believe that he would allow anyone to influence Cordelia’s opinions on their love-life? There was no chance of him giving anyone that kind of power. Angelus warned that he was close to crossing the line. “You’re pushing it, Mother Theresa. Clarity comes from me. I’ll be the one answering any questions. Cor doesn’t need your advice.”

Even as he growled out the denial, Angelus caught Cordelia’s quizzical expression. She nibbled at her plump lower lip, thinking about it, making him realize that the idea of a friendly ear had some appeal. “As conditions go, it’s not a crazy one,” she commented.

Before Angelus could point out that their private business was private, she gave Angel a cheeky promise, “If I need a guidance counselor for vampire kinks, I’ll give you a call.”

“I’m being serious, Cordelia.” Angel’s growl was almost drowned out by her laughter. She squeezed her eyes shut and tilted her head back, enjoying his reaction. Pushing Angel’s buttons always seemed to give her a thrill, and as much as Angelus enjoyed his annoyance, he wondered if one day she might push the wrong one.

“Angelus is dangerous. Is it wrong to want you to be safe?” Angel had set himself up as her fierce defender trying his best to convince Cordelia pursuing this relationship was a bad idea.

No worries there. Cordelia had already made up her mind that they were going to be a couple. That was that. Angelus trusted her obstinacy more than Angel’s ability to argue his case. Patting his cheek, Cordelia gave him a smile. “That’s kinda sweet. See, I knew you were a Care Bear.”

Ouch! That had to hurt. Inwardly, Angelus cringed on his brother’s behalf, but only a little. Being compared to a fluffy, cuddly stuffed animal was about the worst thing any vampire wanted to hear, even one with a soul. Angel’s jaw clenched as he bit back an unwise retort.

This was not the first time Cordelia called him a Care Bear, finding Angel to be safe and huggable, at least for her. Whatever he was thinking, it was nothing akin to cotton candy and rainbows. Angelus knew how deeply possessive instincts could run, doubting it was simple human concern that swayed the souled vampire’s argument. No matter his ties to the Slayer, Angel and Cordelia had a connection beyond the thin veneer serving to define their friendship.

Knowing that Angel’s struggles originated with his territorial nature might have made it easier to ignore. He would get over it once Angelus had established his claim. Cordelia would be his and there was nothing his brooding brother could do about it. Of course, things could never be so simple when the Soul was involved. The only thing to be done was to try to placate his noble concerns by agreeing to let Cordelia seek his counsel.

Angel’s dogged determination made him realize that he had little choice except to agree to the condition. Even though she had already said as much, he added his own consent. Trying to be casual about it even though he hated the idea, Angelus shrugged like it was no big deal. “Cordelia can come to you anytime she wants.”

“I already said that I would,” groused Cordelia not taking kindly to the way Angelus took control of what she assumed was her decision.

“Good.” The poker-faced response was calmly directed back to him because Angel knew the score.

“Condition accepted. Maybe it’s time for you to leave,” Angelus was not one for subtlety. “We want the place to ourselves for a few hours.”

“We’re not finished. There is one more condition. Non-negotiable.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes. “What now? I’m putting up with this stupid vampire property exchange because I want this settled, but just so it’s clear, I belong to myself. I do what I want, and if I want to be with Angelus, it’s going to happen.”

That fiery independence was part of her appeal. He enjoyed it, and planned to let her have her way as long as it pleased him to do so. There would be a sharp learning curve, one he felt confident she could handle. “You’ll be mine,” Angelus moved up behind her brushing his fingers possessively across the curve of her shoulder.

The sultry curve of her lips spoke to him in silent promises. Anticipation knotted him up. He wanted to stop talking. The need to show Cordelia what it meant to be his made him anxious to get this over with, agree to any of Angel’s absurd conditions. What was next?

“This one’s for both of you.”

Narrowing his gaze at his souled twin, Angelus nearly reminded Angel this was between the two of them, vampire to vampire, but knowing Cordelia’s insistence on having a say in the matter decided to choke back the words. He had no intention of starting a fight with her now. Maybe later after they fucked. Weeks of seduction, teasing, and foreplay had left them both frustrated. He needed her far too much get sidetracked, even by a rousing argument—that he intended to win.

“My friendship with Cordelia still stands.”

A soft ‘duh’ made it clear that Cordelia thought the issue had already been covered by the whole friendly adviser scenario. Angelus had certainly not revealed that relationships with other men were off-limits. What seemed crystal clear to him was apparently a much cloudier concept. Looking confused, she raised her hand to Angel’s chest, spreading her fingers out across the place where his heart would normally be beating. “Why wouldn’t it? Dating Angelus doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.”

Seeing Angel’s hand cover hers, he couldn’t stop the possessive little growl rising in his own chest. Friendship? Sure. Minus the touching. That was definitely off limits from now on. Conveying her feelings that way, it was instinctual with Cordelia, not intentionally a flirtatious thing, but that did not mean he would tolerate it, either.

“Only to the extent that your lover allows.”

Remaining strategically silent, Angelus focused instead on way Angel’s thumb skimmed a slow circle between Cordelia’s thumb and forefinger caressing the soft skin. That was as far from unintentional as it could get. Flaunting these last moments of possession, yet so subtly that he was the only one who noticed. He considered several methods of ripping Angel’s hand off without injuring hers, but managed to wait it out a few more seconds until they parted of their own accord.

“Angelus doesn’t get to choose my friends, and he certainly doesn’t get a say in what I do when I’m with them.”

Hearing a deep chuckle, Angelus realized that it was him when they both turned to stare. So much for silence. “You’re in for an awakening. Choose carefully, kitten. Because I won’t like it if your friends get too familiar.”

A slow eye roll suggested she didn’t take either one of them seriously. “There’s this little thing called trust you’ll have to learn.”

Oh, she wasn’t the problem. “He’s the one I don’t trust,” Angelus nodded toward Angel.

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s Angel,” she shrugged off his concern as if his name alone gave him a pass.

Stone cold confidence started back at him when Angelus looked Angel’s way. Hardly the sign of someone who had lost this fight. Cordelia was his because she said so, and Angel would have to give her up, even conditionally. “That doesn’t excuse the agenda. He’s got one, and I don’t like where it’s going.”

There was something else coming. Angelus could sense it. He could see it in those eyes. Seconds later, Angel confirmed it, addressing Cordelia by palming her face, and drawing her gaze to his like a magnet. “When we spoke earlier, I explained why Angelus had to go through me in order to claim you.”

“Right. I’m yours—sort of. Can we just get this primitive caveman thing over with?”

“Vampire thing,” Angelus cut in.

“Yes, it’s a vampire thing. Cordy, in the eyes of all vampires, you will belong to Angelus. I will have no right to speak to you without his say so, not without risking retaliation.”

Cordelia looked stunned. “Well, that’s stupid. Besides, he just promised that I could talk to you anytime I wanted. Wasn’t that one of your conditions?”

They all knew that it was.

“The two of you have been hiding your relationship for weeks now. Keeping secrets from me when you know I had the right to put an end to it.”

Although Cordelia scoffed at the idea, Angelus understood completely. Sneaking around was the only way to make it happen. Despite the serious vibes, Cordelia apparently still found it funny. “Naughty us! Is this the part where we get punished?”

“Angelus will certainly think so.”

Her amusement stalled out quickly. “Not me?”

“Perhaps at first,” Angel answered quite cryptically. “It depends how far things go. I’ll leave that up to you.”

This was not just punishment, Angelus realized. It was Angel’s way of reaping revenge. “Don’t you dare go there.”

Whatever Angel wanted to do to him was fine. If he needed to lash out because Angelus had won Cordelia out from under his nose, he was fully prepared for it. Bring it on! But he had said this proviso involved her, too. Fear hit hard, a new emotion for him. He did not like the sensation when he was the one feeling it.

“Daddy usually takes away my credit card,” Cordelia joked, still not quite certain what he intended. “Life without the mall pretty much sucks.”

“Keep your credit card.”

“Um, so, what could be worse? Not a spanking, surely.”

Angelus tensed at the thought realizing that could be on the table. The kind of spanking designed to cause equal parts pain and pleasure with each bracing connection of his big hand against her taut curves. Angel could get off on it and still feel justified, especially since intrigue flared hot in those deep brown eyes. The intoxicating scent of her made him wonder how far her curiosity went.

“Has Angelus ever spanked you?”

Quick to defend him, Cordelia exclaimed, “No! I told you he’s not into hurting me.”

Angel looked like he might correct her lopsided opinion about spankings, but he simply responded, “Good. Then, I won’t, either.”

“What, then?” Angelus demanded an answer.

“You’ve been stealing from me, Angelus. Taking what is mine. No matter that I have not indulged my rights, I still have them.”

Crossing her arms in disdain, Cordelia muttered, “Says who!”

Angelus wanted to make him eat his words, but he could not. “There’s no need for this power play. I acknowledge Cordelia is technically yours. I want her. Now it’s your turn to say whatever the hell you need to get off your chest in order to make her mine.”

“My friendship with Cordelia still stands,” Angel began as he had before, “but during the weeks ahead I will take back what is mine. Every kiss you stole, every caress. Both of you told me how far things progressed. By right I could demand full reciprocity.”

“The hell you will!”

Insidiously, Angel asked, “What do they call it, Cordelia? Friends and—”

Wide-eyed, she gasped, “Friends with benefits. Do you really expect that, or are you just crazy?”

“Pissed off that you broke my trust. I never expected any of this, you falling for Angelus, but I won’t let you go to him quite so easily.”

“What about Buffy?” Cordelia brought out the big guns. Bringing up his girlfriend should remind him that he wasn’t free to benefit from anybody. “What will she think about this little plan of yours?”

“This is between us. Tell Buffy anything and the deal is off.”

Angelus ground out, “Another condition?”

“As many as it takes. You will agree to all of them, Angelus, every one. If not, I will see to it that you are denied Cordelia forever.”

A dangerous thread lined those words making it clear that to Angelus just how far Angel would go to make certain he agreed to the plan. There was a legitimate, permanent way to enforce this threat. He had it in his power to use his fangs, to seal his scent upon her, and truly lay claim to her in a way Angelus could not.

Denial quickly took hold, but Angelus knew he would do the same if he was capable of visibly marking her. The frustration of being denied something so basic reminded him that Angel had spent time denying needs of his own. “You wouldn’t dare.”

Cordelia blurted, “You can’t stop me from loving him, dumbass.”

“That’s not the point. Do as I’m asking, Cordy. I won’t fight it any further, not if you truly love Angelus.”

“So, you’ll support us as a couple?”

When hell froze over, maybe. “I won’t object in front of the others.”

Wait, was Cordelia actually buying this? Angelus hoped she would opt for that spanking. At least it would be one and done.

“These benefits you’re demanding include what, exactly?”

“Nothing nefarious,” Angel promised solemnly. “You owe me a few weeks worth of stolen kisses. I intend to collect.”

A heated flush crept up her neck flooding her face with color. “I’m not letting you slip me the tongue just so you can get a little taste of revenge.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“No we won’t. You want to touch me? Fine. Like you do now. Don’t get handsy with me.”

Angelus did not like this one bit. “I don’t want him touching you at all.”

With a huff, Cordelia turned on him, looking equally angry at the interruption. “Get over the possessive vampire act. I’m so over it.”

Turning back to Angel, she picked up where she left off. “I’m not going to kiss you like I kiss Angelus. You’re supposed to be my friend. That’s just weird.”

“Even if the idea excites you?” growled Angelus unable to stay quiet even after she put him in his place. Maybe it was a bad idea to point that out, but it was the truth. “Forget it. Not going to happen. You’ll have a hard time finding his lips when I’m finished.”

Cordelia nudged him with an elbow. “Stop making threats. This isn’t forever. Afterward, I will officially be yours, whatever that means, and Angel will have to let us do our thing.”

“What thing is that?”

“Be together.”

“Listen to her, Angelus. What’s a few weeks compared to that? Once each day I get to claim a kiss from Cordelia, however I choose. Sometime before sunrise, Cordy kisses me back. Easy.”

Like he would ever let that happen. Not.

Plotting ahead, Cordelia asked, “Does a peck on the cheek count?” Even if she was offering up minimal effort, Cordelia already seemed to have accepted the idea.

“Sure. Whatever you want,” Angel answered after a weighty pause. “It’s a kiss. Payback doesn’t have to be painful.”

Oh, it was painful— for him. Exactly what Angel had designed it to be. Angelus knew precisely what was going on here. Catch-22. Trapped between a rock and a hard place, he was faced with the threat that Angel would visibly mark Cordelia, making his own claim permanent, or allowing him to enjoy her kisses on a daily basis for weeks to come.

That was not the worst of it. Angelus realized there was only one way to get out of this. “You expect me to back off completely. That’s what this is all about.” Every condition he set gave Angel rights he would never normally allow. The right to be there, advise her, and now to taste her, touch her.

Maybe Angel deserved to be a little pissed about all of this, but he was making untenable threats. What conniving, underhanded machinations! Oddly, he felt a spark of pride that the Soul could be so artfully devious. Still, there would be words between them later. Or, better yet, a broken bone or two. Not until all of this was settled.

“I gave you options. Agree to my conditions, or I keep Cordelia for myself.”

“Boy, would you regret that,” she warned Angel against the latter. “Whatever hell you went through in that demon dimension—I can do better.”

Angel didn’t budge. “All Angelus needs to do is accept the conditions. He can never hurt you in any way, or the deal is off. You’d become mine again. I’ll be there when he takes things too fast, if you’re confused, frightened. I’ll listen if you just need to talk about it, because I know that you will.”

Growling over it, Angelus realized that while the threat was all too real, Angel was still walking a fine line. Demand anything more and Cordelia would call it off. A night in her bed would have sufficed as payback—the medieval droit de seigneur. No way would she agree to that, and no matter his very personal plans for revenge, Angel still had Buffy in the picture. He had seemingly laid out these conditions without a measure of guilt that his girlfriend might care.

Angelus realized that his souled twin knew him all too well understanding exactly what it would take to make him renege on his plans for Cordelia. He did not like this one bit, but there was only one way to beat Angel’s no-win scenario—accept his conditions.

“Don’t forget those kisses you plan to claim,” Angelus growled out.

A challenging tone laced his query, “Shall we begin now?” as Angel held his hand out to Cordelia.

This was it, Angelus recognized the moment he was expected to back down, and say he would give Cordelia up completely. There was one fault in Angel’s plan. Doing so would just force them to sneak around again. The idea did not appeal to Angelus. He wanted Cordelia bound to him in a way that no other vampire, especially Angel, could refute.

“I won’t settle for the status quo, and I will never let you put your fangs where mine belong.”

That tight-jawed expression was back on Angel’s face proving that he was on the right track in figuring out his scheme. “My conditions are non-negotiable, kisses included.”

“Enjoy them while they last.” Angelus curled his fists at his side. He did not want this, but knew it was the only way to get past the trap Angel had set.

Plan failed, Angel looked shell-shocked. With the conditions accepted, having already announced his acceptance of Angelus’ claim over Cordelia, both vampires realized the negotiations were over. Poor Soul. Angel never thought him capable of bending his will, but he had underestimated Angelus’ feelings for Cordelia.

“Even if Cor has you as a friend, just remember those extra benefits are temporary.”

Cordelia seemed to think their daily kisses would be no big deal believing quite wrongly that she some measure of control over the situation. “Time for you to smooch and run. Angelus and I have some chandelier shaking to do.”

Hearing about their plans for the evening, even if it could not be surprising, still made Angel cringe visibly. “Maybe you should wait. There’s no need to rush into it.”

“We’ve waited long enough,” Cordelia scoffed at his last-ditch effort. “You know that.”

Angelus suggested he head out on patrol. “The night air will do you good. Clear your head. Maybe you’ll realize that Cordelia and I could be good for each other.”

A dark laugh sounded out, little more than a grunt of discontent. “You’ll have to show me how that works, assuming you ever plan to get out of bed.”

Taking offense, Cordelia propped her hands on her hips to complain, “That is so not fair! Angelus and I want a real relationship, not a carbon copy of your post-slayage bedroom antics with Buffy.”

Maybe it was the defiant comeback, the twisty little jab about his beloved Slayer, or the underlying tension that ran like river between them. It happened too fast for Angelus to react. Cordelia barely got out a gasp as her words registered. No matter how Angel and Buffy chose to conduct their late night liaisons, it was not anyone else’s business.

The narrow space between them vanished completely as Angel reeled her forward, her breasts crushed against him, their bodies instantly aligning. One hand traveled up the length of her spine pressing her closer, while the other tangled in the waves of her silky hair.

An eternal second held them all in perfect stillness. Angelus envisioned himself ripping them apart, the idea flashing in his head even as he watched it happen. Cordelia stared up into the blazing fury of Angel’s dark gaze just before his mouth crashed down over her parted lips. There was more passion than skill to the fierce kiss as he devoured her mouth, a sign that it was truly spontaneous. Lasting seconds, it still managed to leave Cordelia weak kneed and clinging to his shoulders.

Rousing to watch in spite of the fury he also felt at the aggressive move, Angelus felt his cock tighten. Maybe it was just a sign he was ready to move on from this negotiation to better things, like introducing Cordelia to the pleasures they denied themselves recently. She was primed for it, already aroused, her body practically thrumming. Angel had gotten her there with their fight revving her up a notch or two practically every time he spoke, but that kiss was hot enough to distract Angelus from his original urge to spill blood.

“Your heart is racing,” Angelus enjoyed its furious pace as she stumbled out of Angel’s arms into his own. He touched his forehead to hers, leaning close, his hands spreading out in exploration of her familiar curves. He couldn’t resist teasing, “Liked it that much, did you?”

Cordelia reached up between them touching her fingertips to her swollen lips. “That was so—not what I expected.”

“Me either,” Angelus admitted sending his twin a narrowed glare.

Angel looked a little thunderstruck in the aftermath of that kiss, as if he never actually anticipated having Cordelia in his arms. If the deal had been called off as he originally intended, the whole kissing scenario would not have been necessary. Now he was stuck with following through with his own twisted plan. Considering that Cordelia deserved exactly what she got after insulting Angel’s relationship with his little blonde bedmate, he wondered if that kiss had been anything close to what he imagined.

As good as their passionate little clinch must have been, Angel looked like he was ready to fall on a stake. Guilt quickly set in clouding the flaming embers of arousal and putting them out one by one. The brooding Soul was back. Was it because his plan went down in flames, or that he had laid a raw, passionate kiss on his best friend in the world? Probably both. Angel deserved to stew in his sorrows for interfering.

“I’m going out.” Opening the front door, he stepped out into the night, probably thinking that finding something to kill would fill his head with battle tactics instead of Cordelia’s initiation into Angelus’ bed. “You’ll have the place to yourselves until sunrise.”

Cordelia’s expression turned impish the moment the door clicked softly shut behind him leaving them alone. “Just you and me alone in this huge mansion. What are we going to do to pass the time?”


DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT

Last night had been fantastic, amazing, beyond anything Cordelia imagined. Everything they had done before might have been hot and exciting, but lovemaking with Angelus was just the most awesomely delicious thing ever. He told her they were taking things on a slow path to ecstasy, giving her a sweet taste of vanilla sex, and promising that she would enjoy more exotic flavors in the nights to come.

Hungry, Cordelia planned to head downstairs to the kitchen where Angelus had said she would find food fit for human consumption. Angel had done some shopping when Buffy started spending time at the mansion, although she never stayed overnight. Apparently, Joyce Summers expected her daughter to sleep at home thinking it was just late night patrols keeping her out, not that there was any sleeping done around here. Not wanting to dwell on any of that, she was glad someone had thought about stocking the fridge.

Breakfast plans had one little delay. Her clothes were missing. They were nowhere to be found in Angelus’ bedroom. She barely recalled taking them off—or him doing it—much less when or where it happened. They had taken a little tour of the mansion on the way upstairs, and might have paused once or twice or even three times before making it to Angelus’ huge bed.

Cordelia found a robe hanging on a hook inside the bathroom door. It swamped her, but it gave her a feminine thrill to wear something that belonged to him, especially because it was the only thing she was wearing. She looked toward the bed half expecting Angelus to be awake and watching her every move. He had allowed her a few catnaps during the night, but every time she stirred he was there to ply her with kisses and caresses, untiring as he made love to her again and again.

Now he was sleeping, his masculine body nude and barely covered by a swath of sheet. Her very own hunk of salty goodness. A wicked little smile spread across her lips as she thought about everything they had done.

Tightening the belt of the robe, Cordelia hummed a little off-tune song as she padded barefoot down from the mansion’s third level. The East wing stairs, and those for the uninhabited core of the West wing ruins converged along a small landing at the top of the central staircase leading up from the gallery below. Startled as she made the turn, she saw Angel lounging on the bottom steps, his back to the heavy wooden baluster.

Even from here Cordelia could tell that he had been in a fight. A dark bruise was visible across one cheek. Knowing vampires usually healed quickly, the fact that this remained suggested it had been one hell of a punch. However temporary, the blackish-blue mark marring his face looked painful. A concerned gasp escaped before she recalled how mad she was about last night.

Bad enough that Angel could not simply accept the fact that she and Angelus wanted to be together, or that he was determined to play out their ritual exchange. Something that should have had nothing to do with him suddenly had all kinds of conditions attached. Overprotective as usual, Angel laid down ground rules and ensured she had a shoulder to cry on—not that she would need one. The final condition confused her. The price of payback was a daily exchange of kisses. If last night’s torrid clench was a sign of what Angel had in mind, Cordelia wasn’t sure how she was going to handle it. That was not the way friends kissed, and she had been far from unaffected.

Now the night was over, and there had been no reciprocation from her, which was her half of the deal. She had agreed to this in order gain Angel’s compliance. Maybe that’s why Angel was lying in wait. Now she owed him two kisses; one from yesterday, and the one for today.

Going on the offensive, Cordelia moved forward. “Shouldn’t you be asleep by now?” There were no clocks in this place, but she knew the sun was already up. The barest hints of amber light seeped through the cracks in the front door.

“That was the plan,” Angel quipped darkly. He flexed smoothly to his feet, their variant positions on the stairs bringing them face to face. His mouth straighten into a firm line.

She knew that look. He was mad about something and she was the unlucky one here to take the blame. “No one’s stopping you. Go on up. I’m sure I can handle breakfast on my own.”

“I thought you might need these.”

When he held up a short stack of neatly folded items, she snatched them away as fast as possible. “My clothes! I was wondering where they wandered off to. Hey! My panties are missing.”

“Never found any.” The ticked off tone instantly turned apologetically awkward. “I just assumed you weren’t wearing any.”

Gasping, “Did you even notice my skirt last night—or when you found it on the floor this morning? It’s a mini. Of course I was wearing panties. Black with a little lace trim,” she said as if he might have mistaken them for someone else’s.

He just shrugged his big broad shoulders. “Maybe you should try retracing your steps.”

Cordelia caught the angry undertone. “Maybe I will. That might take a while, though. We went on a little room-to-room tour.”

“I noticed. Your scent is everywhere down here,” he revealed somewhat distractedly, his voice softening momentarily. Giving the air a subtle sniff, Cordelia noticed nothing. Then Angel leaned in to remind her that the house tour extended beyond the first floor. “Was there a particular reason you climbed into my bed last night? Angelus might have simply been out to prove a point—that you belong to him now. What’s your excuse, Cordy?”

Angel’s bed? Oh, right. That had happened. “Pretty sure there was no thinking involved by that point,” she answered with a half-hearted joke.

He wasn’t laughing. Sternly, he ordered, “Don’t go in there again.”

“What if I’m there to see you about those questions you say I’m going to have?”

Angel quickly pointed across the gallery. “My study has a big desk and a couch. That’s a good place for confessions and testimonials.”

Apparently, he thought she might prefer talking to a shrink instead of just having a little heart to heart chat about sexy vampire habits. Fine. She gave the thought a little roll of her eyes, and couldn’t resist commenting, “Nice desk. It’s pretty good for other things, too.”

Muttering that certain places should be sacrosanct, Angel said, “Living here with you two will be the death of me. Just stake me now.”

Crossing her arms made the oversize robe gape more than it should. Cordelia barely saw the way Angel’s gaze dropped toward the swath of golden skin she accidentally exposed. “Who says I’ll be living here?”

Angel jerked his gaze back up, rubbing at the tension in his neck. “Won’t you? Angelus won’t want you to be anywhere else.”

Honestly, Cordelia had only gotten used to the idea that they were not going to need to sneak around anymore. The thought of moving in had not even crossed her mind. “You do know that I have parents.”

“Haven’t they been out of the country for a while?”

“Daddy travels for business, and when he gets a break it’s easier for them to vacation in the Caymans than it is to fly home. I’m already eighteen, so they don’t feel the need to drag me along. Technically, I do live under their roof. All of my stuff is there.”

“Easy enough to fix that. I’ll make the arrangements,” Angel told her as if it was a done deal. “Be ready to decide what you want to bring with you.”

Dizzy with confusion, Cordelia shook her head trying to sort things out. “Maybe I don’t want to move in,” she said, stubbornly raising her brows. “Wouldn’t want to be the cause of your suicide by stake scenario.”

Angel palmed her face with both hands, touched his forehead to hers as he gathered his thoughts. When he lifted his head away in order to meet her questioning gaze, he spoke softly, as if anything else might frighten her away. “You chose this life as Angelus’ lover. Being with him will require certain concessions. If he cares for you as deeply as he says, he will allow you every freedom he can make. Letting you sleep elsewhere is not going to be one of them.”

There was a long list of things Angel had already told her she would have to live with if she accepted Angelus’ claim. Expectations about her moving in had never come up. It wasn’t that she objected to the idea. “Being asked would have been nice.”

“I’m sure it did not occur to him to think you might want to live somewhere else.” Angel admitted he was shocked that Cordelia had not already packed her bags.

“Buffy doesn’t live here,” she pointed out the same expectations did not apply.

Something dark flashed across his face for a fraction of a second making Cordelia feel certain that she had hit a nerve. “Buffy isn’t ready for that kind of commitment.”

“Moving in?”

Just before responding, Angel bit back whatever he was about to say, as if the subject of his girlfriend was something he could not or would not get into. “This is about you and Angelus.”

“Y’know, the whole talky advise thing can work both ways,” she offered.

Noncommittally, “I’ll keep that in mind,” Angel tried to close the matter.

“You should. I’m always good for an opinion or two.” Taking a turn as a sounding board on the subject of Angel romancing Buffy Summers already felt a bit squicky to Cordelia. Sure, there would be plenty of thoughts to share, but would he listen?

“Sharing your ideas is what got us here in the first place,” Angel’s reminder came out a little brusquely. “Angelus is here, and now he has you in his clutches.”

“Told you I was brilliant. I happen to like those clutches. We all get what we want, right? I have a hot new boyfriend, and you get to be with Buffy.”

He responded with some sort of affirmative grunt, staring down intently as he reached up to cup her nape massaging one little spot behind her ear with the pad of his thumb. “I regret that my selfishness brought this about. If anything happens—”

“Nothing bad is going to happen to me, Mr Broken Record. How many times do I have to say it?” She moved in closer to make her point only to find the pile of clothing wedged in between them yanking it out of the way with a frustrated harrumph. “The only bad thing I see here is your face. Were you hit by a truck?”

The bruise was greenish-blue now and practically healing before her eyes. “Only felt that way. Willie’s bouncer objected when I had it out with a guy bragging about his latest kill, a former cheerleader he used to know from Sunnydale University.”

“This guy is a vampire?”

“Not anymore. Now he’s dust.”

Cordelia was not impressed. “You heard the word cheerleader and went ballistic.”

“Must’ve hit a raw nerve.” Angel explained his lack of focus, something he would have kept to himself at one time, but was now used to sharing thoughts with her. “I couldn’t get it out of my head all night, the thought of you being intimate with Angelus, knowing everything he wants. My worries that he would take things too far.”

That sounded almost jealous, but Cordelia knew it was just guilt eating away at him. He put unnecessary blame on himself, the burden of it heavy. Distracting, too. According to Xander’s descriptions of the bar that one time he and Oz had played pool with Angelus, the bouncer was a mountainous demon with ham hock sized fists. That definitely had to hurt.

Well, no sympathy here. “Serves you right.” It was time that Angel learned that he could not control everything. Certainly not when it came to her feelings for Angelus, who kept on surprising her at every turn with his ability to adapt to his new circumstances, and to make her feel as if she was the center of his universe. Trying new things excited rather than scared her. “Not that I need to remind you, but Angelus knows a thing or two about sex. It was all good. Every minute of it.”

Leaning down so that his cheek brushed hers, Angel whispered rawly, “I know. You’re intoxicating, Cordy. It’s like you’ve been draped across my skin all night, as if you’ve had me inside you.”

Cordelia flushed hot, and not only from embarrassment. The graphic picture painted by his words was far from an unfamiliar fantasy. Angelus was his mirror image, physically identical. This wouldn’t be an issue for human twins, but the enhanced vampire senses provided intimate insights. Awkwardly, she said, “That sniffer of yours is a little nosey.”

She patted at his shoulder a couple of times urging him to step back when he seemed content to linger. Letting out a soft expletive, Angel gave her an inch of space. Enough that she could see a flash of torment in his gaze before he lowered it. “It never occurred to me. We’re exactly the same. My threat would have been an empty one.”

“What threat?”

“Nothing to concern you now. This is my issue. I’ll just have to learn to ignore it,” Angel sounded determined. “Somehow.”

Ignoring his super senses sounded like a great idea. “You do that.”

It did not surprise Cordelia that he had threatened Angelus in some way in order to test the seriousness of his interest in her, or even to try to get him to drop the idea. She had no idea about the nature of that threat except that it probably involved her. Whatever. It meant nothing now that Angelus was officially her guy.

“Sun’s up. It’s past your bedtime, and I have stuff to do today, starting with breakfast.” Cordelia waited for him to get the hint, but Angel did not budge.

Seconds ticked by before he said, “I think you’re forgetting something.” Cordelia glanced down to the stack of clothes she was holding, thinking about needing to search for those missing panties. He nixed that agenda. “It’s a new day, Cordy. You owe me.”

“What, right now?”

Cordelia thought she might leap out of her skin at the thought of repeating that hot kiss. Equal parts dread and anticipation had her heart thumping. She wasn’t supposed to like locking lips with Angel, especially because he sprung it on her that way. Hot, demanding, and laced with tongue. Luckily, he ended it before she could really respond.

Hoping she would not make fool of herself, she raised her lips toward him half-expecting him to dive in for another toe-curling kiss. Angel’s hand covered hers as she nervously curled her fingers into a tight grip around the lapel of his soft leather jacket. Her body leapt at his touch leaving her jittery with anticipation.

“Relax,” Angel said when her eyes clenched shut. They flashed open to find amusement tugging at his mouth as he laughed inwardly.

Still holding her hand, he reached toward her with the other, tucking a mussy strand of hair into place behind her ear. His gentle touch as he stroked his fingertips through the lengthy silken strands caused her to sigh. “Aren’t you going to kiss me? I’m waiting.” Cordelia could not tell if she sounded annoyed or needy.

A brush of his thumb opened her palm to him. Lifting it to his mouth, he pressed his cool lips against the mound of her thumb sending out little shockwaves. Simple, it seemed so intimate in a way that made a guilty little twinge settle deep inside her. Cordelia yanked her hand out of his grasp pressing her palm against her belly and tried not to rub away the effects of his kiss.

“That’s it? Good. We’re done here.” Cordelia made a move to rush past him, but Angel caught her by the wrist.

“Before you go, I wanted to say that it was never my intention for our first kiss to be so volatile.”

Cordelia doubted that qualified as an apology, more like a statement of fact. “Drop the whole scheme if you’re sorry about kissing me.”

“I’m not sorry,” Angel’s response bounded back so adamantly, she jumped nearly losing her balance. He steadied her immediately with those capable hands. “You’re not getting out of this that easily, sweetheart. You lied by omission. Angelus crossed an uncrossable line. Now you’re paying for it.”

“Payback can be overrated,” she quipped.

“That’s not what you said when it came to plotting revenge against those twerps in the band.”

“Oh, that’s different.”

“Not by much.” The anger in his voice drained out as he said, “Let me have this, Cordy. Whether you understand it, or not, Angelus deserves a lot worse for what he has done.”

Cordelia already knew the answer when she asked, “Do I have a choice?”

“Not if you’re going to be with Angelus. Do not test my resolve. Either he lives with the conditions I have set, or it’s over.”

“Fine. I already promised. Just don’t expect me to enjoy this revenge game.”

Before Angel could respond, Cordelia grabbed a handful of lapel and pulled him a little closer. Landing a quick smooch against his bruised jaw, she cooed, “Hope it feels better now.”

Making her move now instead of putting it off until later seemed to surprise Angel. She felt his eyes on her with every step she took down those stairs.


A MEDLEY OF KISSES

Annoyed wasn’t strong enough a word for the situation. Angel figured if anyone at the mansion should be accused of ‘bedroom antics’ it should be Angelus and Cordelia. Their sexual romps were rarely limited to the their third floor suite. Privacy seemed to be a concept they did not understand. Easily distracted by each other, they were constantly caught up in blatantly lustful displays. 

Being nearby made little difference. They were too into each other to notice. The training room in the basement was Angel’s only refuge as its sound-absorbing foundations provided a barrier between him and his housemates. He really did not want to know what they were doing, but having supernatural senses tended to keep him constantly aware of what was going on even when they were behind closed doors. Worse, when he happened to be in the room, he found it difficult to ignore what he was seeing often catching himself watching them long enough to seethe over the display.

Even though they spent an inordinate amount of time enjoying the physical aspects of this new relationship, Angel also knew they had other things going on. Cordelia kept up with school and cheerleading activities. Oddly, Angelus had decided to renovate one of the adjoining rooms upstairs—something about Cordy needing closet space. Bizarre enough that his evil twin was playing household handyman, but making her happy seemed to be a thing. The flowers, candy, and little love notes he had used during his courtship continued. They also went out on dates doing things that presumably did not include cemetery patrols or hunting demons. He could not blame Buffy for having responsibilities, but Angel did feel a little envious—and guilty—because of it.

Kissing Cordelia on a daily basis certainly did not ease his burdens, but his thoughts centered on the betrayal he felt rather than what his girlfriend might think about his method of revenge.

Almost a week into their new arrangement Angel started to believe that his brother, as Cordelia had also taken to calling him, was in love. The effort he made to curtail his evil behavior was astonishing. Whether this was the work of the Moirae, or just Cordelia’s good influence, he approved. That did not change Angel’s need to make them both pay for their deception.

Angel did not speculate why this was a necessary form of punishment. It was effective. That’s what counted. Angelus was forced to watch Cordelia kiss or be kissed while remaining helpless against it. As for Cordy, she kept holding back. No matter how innocuous they kept their daily kisses, he sensed that they aroused her. One unexpected problem cropped up—he had started to enjoy this twisted condition a little too much and would often find himself planning his next move while feeling the anticipation of it building up during the hours in between.

Today, being proclaimed a ‘doofus’ as she made fun of him for some elusive reason hit a raw nerve. He supposed he should feel good about the fact that she felt safe enough with him to say and do anything. Was it the teasing or her smile that flipped his switch? A smile that lit up the whole room with its brilliance made his throat tighten up. Suddenly, she was in his arms and his mouth was on hers clinging softly, possessively, swept away by the need to correct her oh-so-wrong image of him with some physical means.

One soft moan against his lips as they parted provided a bittersweet thrill. Fact: Cordelia liked his kisses. Almost as much as he usually enjoyed making her wait it out. Yet he had betrayed her trust with this spontaneous move. This wasn’t on her approved list of casual kisses. The kind she could brush off and ignore. Payback wasn’t supposed to provoke desire, but it shone in her eyes as they sought his out for an explanation.

Cordelia was still in his arms as she asked, “What was that?” He expected anger to lace the question, but it was quiet and curious instead.

The lack of revolt encouraged him to be truthful, but Angel couldn’t bring himself to admit he simply wanted to feel her lips under his. “You owe me. I’m collecting.” He felt her back stiffen up beneath the slow sweep of his hand.

Every day she had taken her turn almost instantly, a quick little brush of her lips that ticked the task off her To Do List. “You’re not supposed to kiss me like that.”

“Like what?”

Bristling in annoyance, she snapped, “Like you mean it.”

He had acted on impulse without considering consequences. Anger he could handle, but hurt feelings were something else entirely. That was something he couldn’t give into if he was going to see this through. Especially because she was right. He felt more than he should, but Angel decided he wasn’t going to feel guilty about it. “Don’t be a spoilsport, Cordy. It’s just a kiss.”

“Right.”

They deserved to squirm over what they had done, and if he enjoyed it too, that was a bonus. Every day Angel gave her something unique. Never at the same time or surroundings. Keeping her guessing was part of the fun. Although she usually tried to follow through immediately with some light and careless kiss, he started to avoid her quick response. He told her that drawing it out was part of her punishment. Maybe, but some part of him acknowledged it as an excuse to have her in his arms twice in one day.

Trying to keep it simple was far more complicated than it seemed. When Angelus was there he was even more likely to push the limits. Taking kisses during awkward moments. Making them more intimate than necessary. As twisted as it was, Angel enjoyed the fact that he turned her on. Angelus wasn’t immune to it, either. It was often a tossup whether he would ram his fist into Angel’s face afterward or simply take advantage of Cordelia’s heightened state by taking her somewhere else to make love to her. 

Angel didn’t have that luxury. Fantasizing himself in the role of her lover came more frequently than it ever had before. Cordelia was his friend, he reminded himself. Friends didn’t envision themselves giving each other orgasms. So he tried to tune it down by going back to simple kisses and denying himself a taste of her warmth and the traces of cinnamon and coffee on her breath each morning. 

Finding her in the kitchen making coffee tested his intentions right off the bat as he stepped up close behind her, watching silently for a few seconds before saying, “Good morning.”

He had expected a surprised shriek, and her usual complaint of him sneaking up on her, but Cordelia seemed to be aware of his presence. “You’re up early. Have you even been to bed yet?” 

Keeping it simple, he answered, “No.”

“Want some?” She meant the coffee, of course. Nothing as sordid as what played out in his head. 

“Sure.”

Every little move held his rapt attention as Cordelia reached into the cabinet for his favorite mug and filled it with piping hot coffee. The sleeveless blouse she wore showed off her toned arms and shoulders. The loose fall of her hair hid her throat from him, so he brushed it over her shoulder with his fingers letting his eyes trace the delicate curves. How mad would his brother be if he left a mark there? Nothing so bold as a bite. Just a little purplish spot to remind them both that his lips had tasted her skin, and how close his fangs had come to that golden flesh.

Cordelia’s furtive glance kept him from deviating from his plan to play it safe. Dropping his gaze down to a tiny freckle, he pressed his lips to the bare skin of her shoulder making the kiss soft and all too brief. She stood still for a moment, waiting for a trail of kisses, the turn of her throat anticipating his next move. Finally, she turned around to face him, an eyebrow quirked up in obvious consternation. “That’s it?”

“Disappointed?”

“No!”

A little too quick, too insistent, the denial was obviously a lie. Angel came so close to calling her out on it. Instead, he kept the thought to himself, his lips stretching into a hint of a smile. “There’s always your turn.”

Cordelia stepped closer, her hands moving up the wall of his chest to his shoulders and further still to his neck. The sensation of those fingers against his skin was enough to make him forget about his hands-off approach for the day. Pulling her into his arms, he stroked his hands over her back and hips, each touch edging closer to more tempting curves as he waited for her to decide how far she was willing to go.

He had been determined to stay away from those lips, but he felt drawn to them. The need to kiss her was growing more powerful with every passing moment as she tiptoed higher to reach him. Softly swollen, her lips parted just millimeters away from his. “No rush, right?” she asked before sliding out of his loose hold.

The devlish little smile lighting up her face was pure payback. Christ, she knew exactly what buttons to push to twist him up into a tight knot. Now he was the one waiting anxiously for her to return the kiss. All damn day. 

“You’re wearing a hole in the floor,” Angelus commented later that afternoon upon finding him pacing around the study.

Having tried to read, Angel couldn’t concentrate on the book. Not the author’s fault, he had to admit, but because he was anticipating Cordelia’s return. No doubt he should be thinking of his upcoming evening with Buffy, and their plans to do something “non-Slayery” before patrol, but he couldn’t focus. When Cordy arrived home he forced himself to stay put pretending to read. She popped her head in long enough to say, “Hey, I’m home.” Naturally, he kept his response to a curt nod as if too engrossed in the book to do more than acknowledge her presence.

Even if it was the perfect opportunity to lure her over to the couch, pull her down beside him, and let her make up for teasing him, Angel wanted Cordelia to make the first move. She drew it out for hours deliberately ignoring opportunities right up until it was time for him to leave. In a way he wasn’t certain was completely sincere, she said, “Have fun with Buffy.” Before he could respond, Cordelia grabbed the lapels of his black leather jacket, dragged him close, and kissed him hard.

Angel felt her pulling back, but wasn’t ready to let go. His fingers wound into her hair, his lips still on hers as he took a step closer pressing her against the door as he opened her up to a deeper kiss. Pressing a fisted hand against the wooden door, he fought against the need to palm her taut ass and drag her closer into the tightening thickness at his groin letting her feel it as he dipped into her mouth. Cordelia clung to his shoulders, tangled her hot little tongue with his in a wild exchange of kisses, and was nearly breathless as they parted. It was a good thing Angel didn’t need to breathe because it was enough of a struggle to let her go.

They stared at each other for countless seconds as if neither one of them knew what had just happened. “See you tonight,” Cordelia recovered first and ducked out from between him and the door moving a few steps back toward the center of the foyer.

“Don’t wait up.” Not that she ever did, but he felt the need to remind them both that he wasn’t going to be alone. After their date, Buffy expected him to help her make the usual rounds at the cemeteries. “Patrol.”

Cordelia snorted indelicately at the word being reminded of the ongoing joke she shared with their friends. Patrol was just a euphemism for the adrenalin-driven sex that followed. Killing got Buffy worked up, and Angel was along for the ride. Why was it Cordelia’s business anyway? He watched as she walked away with a little bounce in her step suddenly feeling like he had made a huge mistake. Kissing her wasn’t the problem. It was the timing. Now he would be thinking about her all evening instead of focusing on his girlfriend. Muttering a curse, Angel opened the door, stepped through, and slammed it shut behind him.

Worrying that his thoughts would be on Cordelia became a non-issue. Cordy and Angelus were on Buffy’s mind, too. Utter contempt for Cordelia’s relationship with her mortal enemy kept her talking all night, both during their brief stop at the Bronze, and afterward during patrol. “She’s crazy to trust him. I can’t believe you’re letting him get away with this.”

Well, he wasn’t exactly. Not that Angel could explain his method of handling things. He couldn’t  disagree with Buffy’s concerns. They were legit. Yet he felt the need to defend them anyway. “I think she’s good for him, Buffy.”

“But is he good for her?”

Angel went silent on that one as everything he wanted to say got stuck in his throat. He didn’t really want to admit that the reverse might be true. 

“Cordelia Chase could be with anyone,” Buffy railed. “Why him?” The question was one he had frequently asked himself. “Maybe she’s still got a crush on you? He’s practically your twin.”

Having gotten a tongue-lashing for pointing out Cordelia’s old crush, Angel knew better than to let Buffy think that was a possibility. “She knows the difference.” He hadn’t meant to slap Buffy with the reminder that she still had trouble telling them apart, but it finally cut short any further discussion of Angelus and Cordelia. 

When patrol fell short of their expectations—only a single vampire to dust—Angel walked her home, but declined coming up to her room. There was a time he could have spent hours just holding her in his arms and been perfectly content, but he felt anxious, needy for something Buffy could not give him. Sex was one thing, but she wasn’t ready for the kind of intimacy he really wanted. This wasn’t the right time to discuss it. 

Half expecting to come home and find Angelus and Cordelia taking advantage of his absence, Angel moved cautiously toward the living room. The television was on and he recognized Cary Grant’s voice. Not one of Cordelia’s choices, he assumed, since she preferred modern rom-coms to anything filmed in black and white. “That feels nice,” she sighed deeply. He took one more step closer to the door. Quickly warning Angelus, “Do not tickle me.”

Their personal interactions were interrupting their movie watching, Angel decided as his senses tuned in to pick up other clues. Should he go in or avoid them? It was too quiet despite the sounds from the television. Whatever they were doing it wasn’t accompanied by their usual sexually implicit commentary. Still, there was a good case for leaving them to it and heading upstairs. He ignored the idea listening instead to the voice that told him he had every right to relax in his own living room. It was public territory, after all.

“Movie night? I’m game.” He tossed his jacket over the back of the nearest chair without a glance at where it landed. 

Cordelia was lying on the couch, her bare feet in Angelus’ lap as he gave her a foot massage. When she lifted up onto her elbows asking, “You’re back already?” he slid down into the spot she had vacated.

“Slow night.”

“Not what she was asking, Bro,” Angelus pointed out unnecessarily. They both knew that she meant he had cut short his time with Buffy. “We didn’t expect you home until dawn.”

“Problems?” Cordelia pushed for an answer, but he wasn’t about to tell her that he had been more interested in coming home.

Angel denied it. “No. Shush! We’re missing the movie. I haven’t seen this one in years.”

For a second he thought he might have earned a tongue-lashing for telling Cordelia to shut up. Her brown eyes widened, and then narrowed sharply. “You’re hiding something. I’ll get it out of you later, y’know.”

Cordelia had a way of prying the truth out of him, especially since their friendship had grown to include actual conversations. No subject was truly off limits because he couldn’t control where she randomly hopped from subject to subject. She just had a way of getting him to talk. They had previously spoken briefly on his “Buffy issues” as she annoyingly called them. Now she expected him to fess up.

Angelus showed no signs of sympathy. Setting conditions on allowing him to have Cordelia lost him any chance at gaining some brotherly concern. “Might as well confess now.”

“Don’t be pushy,” Cordelia nudged Angelus with her toes. She snuggled back down on the couch, this time with her head against Angel’s leg using him like a pillow. Angelus didn’t say anything even when Angel lowered his arm to hold her there. She casually took hold of his arm, even while ordering her lover to, “Get back to my massage.”

Ordering Angelus around was never a good idea perhaps even for her. Angel noticed the evil intent in his eyes a moment before his fingers slid skillfully across her bare skin. “Not there!” she shrieked. “No! Ack! No tickling!”

She clung to him as Angelus’ touches shifted from those torturous tickles to soothing caresses. After that the only torture was his own as he tried not to move his hand.

The next day he ran into Cordelia in the hall as he came up from the basement training room. She was on her way out. Something to do with organizing a raffle at school to raise funds for a dance. “Gotta dash!” she said after a quick explanation of her plans.

Cordelia didn’t immediately head out the door. Instead, she stood before him glancing up as if expecting him to use that moment for his daily fix. Their first kiss of the day. He wanted it, too. Crooking his finger beneath her chin, he tilted it up, staring down at her face and watching her eyes darken with a desire she would not consciously acknowledge. His thumb brushed lightly across the curve of her bottom lip as he thought about acting on his own simmering feelings by kissing her breathless again. “Before you go, Cordy…”

“Hmm?” Only half listening, she moved another inch closer, both hands coming up to his waist while leaning into him.

“When you see Buffy today tell her I’ll make it up to her tonight.”

The pliant figure in his arms stiffened sharply. “Do I look like your errand girl?” Cordelia pushed away and took a step back. The sound of Buffy’s name soured what could have been a tender moment had he kissed her in the way he wanted. Those proverbial claws scratched more like a kitten, so he supposed he got off easy. Her mouth pressed into a petulant little line that Angel was tempted to kiss into submission, but did not.

Teasing her was only likely to get him into further trouble, but too tempting to resist. “What happened to forcing my confession? I thought you wanted all the details.” 

“Not now! I don’t want to be stuck with images of you and Buffy in my head all day.” Cordelia curled her lip. It wasn’t the idea of sex that turned her off. Just the fact that Buffy was involved. Was it jealousy or her insistence that they were all wrong for each other? “Eew! Whatever went wrong, we can talk about it later.”

Angel had no intention of telling her that she was the cause of his disinterest in extending last night’s date with Buffy. “Sure,” he answered. Having a little one on one time with Cordelia was always a bonus even if it included an interrogation.

“Okay.” Issue settled, she gave him that expectant stare again.

Oh, how he wanted to plunder that mouth and wipe away that perfectly untouched look before she left for the day. Angel held still telling himself it would be better if he waited until he could control what happened. If he kissed her now, he wasn’t quite sure whether he could stop.

Finally, Cordelia asked impatiently, “Aren’t you going to kiss me?”

The tip of his tongue dragged between his lips as if tasting temptation itself. “It can wait.”

Self denial was torture. The need to pull her into his arms was almost too strong to ignore. Her brown eyes widened as she realized he wasn’t going to make today’s exchange of kisses easy. He recognized panic when he saw it building up inside her, a moment where he thought she might take the lead again just to get her obligations out of the way. Just as suddenly she stepped away as if to keep him out of her personal space. 

“You’re right. No big. See ya!”

Angel showered and slept until early afternoon. His first thoughts on wakening were of Cordelia and what he was going to do about wanting more from their kisses than payback required. He craved the taste of her, the soft sensation of her lips beneath his, the warmth seeping into him as he held her in his arms. Did he want her because she belonged to Angelus now? Pure right of possession niggled at some deep down instinct he could not ignore. 


‘T’ is for T.L.C. & TROUBLE

The only way to stop the increasingly sensual fantasies playing out in Angel’s head was to stay too busy to think about Cordelia. Listening to Angelus plan an assault on a demon nest rumored to be somewhere in the hills near the high school was a welcome distraction, but the mention of the location caused his thoughts to wander. Buffy and Cordelia were at the high school right now, and there were hours to go before he could see either of them. He needed to smooth things over with his girlfriend, but would that happen before or after he pulled Cordelia into a corner to claim a kiss?

“. . . and then we’ll tie them up and tickle them to death with feathers,” Angelus ended his strategy session with a twist designed to grab Angel’s wandering attention.

“What?” Angel snapped out of it upon catching that last statement.

“Pay attention, bro. Your life is linked to mine. I don’t want you charging in all gung-ho without knowing the plan.”

Angel was still lost on the subject. “Feathers?”

“Swords,” corrected Angelus crunching his forehead into a low-browed glare. “We’ll come at them from opposite sides of the nest. Frontal attacks usually give them an advantage.”

“Right.”

“You’ve been out of sorts since last night. Problems with Buff?” Not that Angelus cared. It was more about having fun at his expense.

“No problem,” Angel denied it. “We just had an early night.”

Angelus’ gaze narrowed as if he was reading between the lines. His colorful imagination filled in the blanks all too quickly. “Let me guess—Buffy just wanted to hold hands. Are the boys blue?” He let out a derisive laugh, pointing out the issue, “Romance doesn’t substitute for getting your pole greased.”

Telling the other vampire to shut up would only be like waving a red flag in front of a bull. He’d charge straight at him with more annoying commentary. “Is that what you tell Cordelia?”

“Do I look like I have a death wish? I just got my existence back. Besides, my girl doesn’t have to sneak around to get what she wants. You’ve got that mother to contend with.”

Never mind that Angelus was practically suggesting he snap Joyce Summer’s neck just to get her out of the way. It was an annoying inconvenience having her within earshot now that they weren’t limited to kisses and cuddles. It wasn’t far off base to suggest that he had used her presence as a good excuse not sneak up Buffy’s bedroom. Not that Angel was planning to admit that.

“Buffy’s mother isn’t the issue,” Angel snapped as if his brother had broken the last straw.

That only caused Angelus to smile slowly as if he had his prey pinned in a corner. “So there is an issue. Cor was right. She’s got good instincts, especially when it comes to you. I say Buff needs to put out more. You’ve been cranky. Vampires have needs.” 

Whether it was his opinion or stepping into his space, Angel’s hackles went up. “Buffy and I aren’t your business. Stay out of it.” The growling response only mirrored the anger replacing the amusement on Angelus’ face as his forehead rippled into bonier ridges. 

No longer teasing, Angelus flashed his fangs. “You’ve got nerve. We both know what your real problem is, brother. Kissing Cordelia is twisting you up into knots. More than your woeful little soul can handle. Feeling guilty?”

“You’re only half right,” Angel told him not feeling the least intimidated. Those kisses often left him hard and aching for more of her. Having her in his arms felt more familiar than it should, as if she belonged there. Telling himself otherwise only made him angry at himself. Yet the blame lay at Angelus’ feet for being so underhanded about his pursuit of Cordelia. Revenge was his right. “Kissing Cordy can be volatile. It’s not exactly the chore I thought it would be.”

Angelus glowered silently giving Angel an opportunity to dig in deeper. “Any guilt is irrelevant. Cordy enjoys our kisses.” Clinging to him afterward, she would sigh his name softly hinting for one more kiss, before finally pushing away. “Don’t pretend it doesn’t bother you.”

Maybe he deserved the punch that followed, a hard jab to the jaw. “Just remember you’re on a deadline. After that she’s officially mine. Only mine.”

That fact had not escaped him. Every passing day brought them one kiss closer to the last one. A sense of dread pooled in the pit of his stomach. Enough to dull his little triumph over Angelus by making him show his contempt.

“So what was your deal last night?” asked Cordelia tracking him down in the lounge. He should have expected escaping this conversation was impossible. “Buffy was in a mood all day. Did you have a fight?”

Angel had laid out weapons for the demon hunt tonight. He rearranged a couple of daggers by size before asking, “What did Buffy say about it?”

“Nothing. She was all huffy and walked away.”

Even though he wasn’t surprised that Buffy hadn’t opened up to Cordelia about how they left things last night, Angel felt a rush of relief. Was he supposed to fess up? Not a chance in hell.  “Take a hint, Cordy. The subject is closed.”

Cordelia gasped as if he had done her bodily harm. “Rude much?” A little huff escaped as she unwound her tightly crossed arms, whirled on her heel, and headed off down the hall. No doubt to tell his brother that he wasn’t giving in to her need to know everything.

A matter of seconds passed. Each footfall carrying her away from where he wanted her. Angel didn’t think about moving, or stopping her. It just happened in a whirlwind of motion where in one moment he was watching her, and the next blocking her path.

Angel flashed in her eyes as her mouth pressed into a stubborn line. He could hear her heart picking up the pace. “Out of my way,” she demanded trying to zigzag past without success.

Saying nothing to clarify his actions, Angel didn’t bother to force the words out because it had to be obvious. Letting her walk away wasn’t an option. They were far from finished. He clasped her waist to prevent her escape, which only focused her hostility. “Don’t you dare,” Cordelia snapped as he threaded his fingers through her luxuriously soft hair, cupping her head, and pulled her close. “I swear if you kiss me right now, I. . .,” she faltered trying to come up with a threat, “I’ll bite.”

Already torqued up, those words had a far different effect on Angel, sounding husky and rough as he said, “That’s not exactly a turn-off.”

“Oh!” Giving her only a second to think about that mistake, Angel swooped down to claim his kiss as her lips rounded into a tempting circle.

Throwing gasoline on a fire was less volatile than the first touch of her lips. A hot spark jolted between them. Aflame, he pulled her even closer, crushed his lips against hers, and felt her arms slide around to keep him there. The heat of her mouth consumed him as he dipped his tongue inside. Countless kisses followed in alternating waves as clashing emotions kicked in. He could taste her anger right along with the sweet desperation making her wriggle against the explicit proof of his desire for her.

Giving her a momentary respite, Angel lifted his head because he wanted to see her eyes. They were stormy with need and confusion. She whispered his name telling him, “This is wrong. It’s starting to feel like cheating.”

Silently damning the truth of those words, Angel didn’t want to think about how things were getting out of hand. Pressing her was probably the wrong thing to do, but he needed to hear confirmation. He knew that she wouldn’t acknowledge feeling anything more than friendship. Emotionally there, he teetered on the edge of something he couldn’t entirely believe was true. “That’s not all you feel, Cordy.”

Cordelia’s gaze dropped down between them. “Well, it’s not a salami,” she laughed awkwardly, which did not ease the tension. He had asked for her feelings, not a snarky commentary on the all too apparent erection surging between them. “Kinda hard not to feel it.”

Joking about it didn’t diminish his desire to kiss her again. “Don’t play games,” warned Angel dropping his hold on her. Slowly, she unwound her arms from where they had settled around him, but remained temptingly close. “My physical reaction may be obvious, but I assure you, sweetheart, that I can sense your arousal just as clearly.”

Biting down on her lower lip, Cordelia seemed to be trying to hold back something she wanted to say. A denial? She knew the truth when she heard it. Would she actually lie when their whole friendship was built on truth? Not when a straight forward attack would do.

A snippy disclaimer laid the blame squarely on him. “Kissing me was your idea. That’s as far as it goes. Your loss.”

When she stormed off down the hallway, no doubt back to his brother, Angel let her escape. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear from her, but it was truthful enough to make him stew over what she had said. Physical desires were only the most basic thing between them having been there from the start. Being in love with Buffy had made it easier to ignore the obvious charms offered up to him with every smile or touch of her hand. Angel hadn’t wanted the attention. It was too distracting, too tempting because Cordelia stirred up other desires he needed to suppress.

Their friendship worked because neither of them let that mutual spark have an effect on them.

Now he had obliterated the status quo and was far from satisfied with his revenge scheme. It wasn’t enough to claim kisses. Tangled up with too many feelings, they were somehow still not enough. He wanted more from her, and until she was willing to admit that there was something going on between them, Angel didn’t see any point in denying himself the benefits.

Especially because he had to put up with watching Cordelia with Angelus. The way she gave him a goodbye kiss before they left to take out the demon seemed as if she was seeing her lover off to war. Angel supposed it wasn’t that dissimilar, except that they were both laying it on extra thick as if to punish him. Walking out the door, Angel paused, “What about mine?”

Crossing her arms, Cordelia sounded out a patented, “Pfft!” She was already pissed because they weren’t letting her help out on their mission tonight. Reminding her that she still owed him a kiss only earned him an eye-roll. 

Angelus grabbed him by the arm and yanked him out the door. “Keep it up, bro. More of that and she’ll be taking a knife to that salami of yours.”

As if he needed any further proof that Cordy told Angelus everything. “What else did she say?”

“Overheard most of it myself.” Angelus shrugged and kept on walking.

Confused by the casual response, Angel caught up with him. “So…”

“So—what? You expect me to be surprised that you two get worked up? C’mon, it’s hardly the first time you’ve gotten hard because of Cor.”

It was annoying to have your evil doppelgänger share every memory. Thankfully just the ones they shared pre-separation. “Don’t you care?” The whole point was to punish him for seducing Cordelia behind his back. 

Stopping, Angelus turned around to give him a hard stare. “Every time you touch her I come up with a dozen new ways to torture you.”

That was more like it. At least his plan was proving its merits. Angel felt a burst of satisfaction just before Angelus confessed, “Cordelia lights up like a firecracker, and watching that is sexier than it should be. You’re not the only one sporting wood. Any hotter and one of us is going to spontaneously combust.” The demon in him got off on the display. 

It definitely had not been Angel’s intention to put on a show. Certainly not one that aroused instead of tormented, but it wouldn’t have been the first time. Just the other night Angel had managed to let the entire day go by without kissing Cordelia. Having kept himself occupied in town, Angel had finally returned home close to midnight and headed straight for a long, hot shower.

Drying off afterward, he had heard incessant knocking coming from the bedroom door. There was no doubt who was causing the ruckus. Having slung a towel around his hips, Angel had muttered a complaint as he left the steamy warmth lingering in the bathroom. 

Jerking open the door, he had made an effort to tell her to wait outside giving him a chance to get dressed. “Cordelia, can’t this wait a few mi—?” Words failed him. Angel forgot what he had planned to say. Seeing her standing there already dressed for bed wearing a silky little short set and matching top made his brain short-circuit. 

Her hair had been up in one of those Scrunchie things with a few loose strands tickling at her face. Brushing them away, she sounded frustrated and impatient. “No. No, it can’t.”

Angel gulped at the sight of her. Those long tanned legs, the delicious curve of her breasts beneath the clingy top, and the graceful line of her throat drew his gaze making it difficult to look away. It was one thing to see her everyday, so beautiful, charming one moment, a pain in the ass the next, and no matter the mood she invoked, always more of a temptation than he could handle.

Tightening his hold on the towel, Angel felt naked and exposed, and not only because of his state of undress. Cordelia had flashed him a surprised stare, but moved on to the topic at hand far more quickly. He supposed it was because she saw Angelus like this every day.

“Where have you been? You haven’t kissed me today, and now I have to take my turn, too.”

Sounding anxious, impatient about taking care of business, Cordelia shifted a step closer just past the threshold. Angel held up a hand to ward her off. “We discussed you staying out of my rooms.”

“Discussion? Pfft! More like an order.”

“You don’t follow orders very well, do you? I told you not to come in here.”

“Kiss me quick,” she urged him to get on with it. “Angelus and I have plans for some fun and games tonight. I need to get back upstairs.”

Somehow, Angel knew she was not taking about a rousing game of Scrabble. Angelus had been slowly introducing Cordelia to the pleasures of the flesh allowing her a glimpse into his accumulated knowledge about sexual delights. Eavesdropping on their time together was rarely intentional, borne out of curiosity or just concerns. Those concerns seemed to be unwarranted if the sensual sounds emanating above provided an accurate picture.

Angel usually left them alone, seeking out his own girlfriend for what usually amounted to a hard screw before or after patrol. Another impatient little sigh had parted her lips, pulling his focus there. He had still been picturing the kiss he wanted when Cordelia decided not to wait any longer. 

“I’ll go first.” She had announced moving even closer into his space and causing him to stifle a pleasurable groan as her palms connected with his damp skin. “Mm, you’re still warm.”

That soft little murmur managed to distract him making him think about that shower in a whole new way. Letting himself fantasize about undressing Cordelia, and making love to her there with the water sluicing around them took a few seconds too long. Giving up on him bending down to offer his cheek, she had settled for a target she could reach. Angel felt a drop of water splash from his damp hair beading down from shoulder to chest until Cordelia’s warm smooch stopped its wayward path.

Angel followed the pink dash of her tongue as she swiped at the moisture on her lips. In that instant he needed to taste her, too, no matter that it might be more than what she thought was warranted. Letting go his grip on the towel clinging to his hips as the need to hold her in his arms outweighed any false sense of modesty. Gathering her against him, Angel encircled his arms around her, instantly enjoying the press of lush breasts and the wiggle of her hips as she settled into his embrace.

“You’re making me wet,” Cordelia complained, the innocent gist of the words taking a sordid turn in his head. He wanted to send her back to Angelus visibly affected by this kiss, proving that she was not so indifferent about them, and to remind his brother that this was his punishment. Mostly because he wanted to feel the soft slide of her mouth under his.

One barely there caress preceded another, deepening slightly until the swell of Cordelia’s lips parted as she whispered his name. It sounded like a question, one Angel didn’t want to answer because that meant stopping, and he was not yet ready to give her up. With a moan sounding low in his throat, his lips settled over hers again deliberately sweet and slow, the gentleness of it luring her in until she responded in kind.

Angel could sense curiosity in her exquisite little kisses, as if she was sampling forbidden fruit and finding it tasty, tentative at first, and then eager for more. Need slammed into him as Cordelia responded, clutching at his shoulders as he plied her with a medley of sultry kisses one after the other, both of them getting lost in a haze of sensation.

A voice came out of nowhere. “As hot as this looks, I think you’ve met the quota for the day.”

It had taken a moment for Angel to figure out what was happening. Being interrupted brought a growl to his chest, and an amber tint to his eyes as he registered a threat. It was just Angelus, he realized suddenly, watching them. Managing to look pissed off and amused simultaneously, Angelus casually leaned back against the banister across the hall as if he had been lounging there for some time.

Angel turned back to Cordelia who had collapsed back against the doorframe breathing in little gasps, pressing her fingertips against those now kiss-swollen lips as if they had suddenly gone numb. That aqua colored Scrunchie had disappeared leaving her long brown locks loose and mussy, his fault no doubt. He enjoyed the sensation of it as it fell through his fingers.

For once, she seemed to stunned to speak. Eyes, bright with arousal, darted back and forth between them both. A little gasp of horror sounded when she glanced down at her silk top and shorts. Now damp they clung to her like a second skin, and the material had become semitransparent, teasing him with tight peaks, tempting shadows and curves he wished he had spent more time exploring.

Once again, Angel realized grimly, he had taken things too far. He stared at the ceiling as if he would find reason there, already acknowledging his behavior was inexcusable. Yet, he wanted it, too. More than he should, and for reasons he couldn’t quite fathom.

Angelus reached out his hand to Cordelia. Their fingers threaded together as he gently pulled her close. Whispering his demand for the truth, “How was it?”

“We, um, got a little carried away with the kisses.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

Glancing over her shoulder toward him for a fleeting moment, Cordelia turned back to Angelus before answering with a hint of defiance. “Hot.”

“Thought so.”

Yeah, so did Angel.

“Should I beat him to a pulp for getting handsy?” Angelus’ eyes hardened like steel. It had been one of her counterpoints set for Angel. Friendly touches, nothing more. “Or I could just thank him for warming you up. You’re a delicious, fuckable mess.”

Angel shot out an objection to which Angelus only chuckled. “Cor knows I’m just teasing. Don’t you, babe?”

“You’re being an ass, too. I won’t apologize for a few meaningless kisses.”

Angel might have enjoyed watching their little tiff if Cordelia hadn’t blown off everything that just happened between them as being trivial. That hurtful little jab centered deep in his chest. Anything he had to say about it would sound juvenile—or jealous, or both, and he refused to let them see hint of it. “Stick to neutral territory if you don’t want to pay the forfeit,” he said coolly. “My room, my rules.”

“You’re the one who’s been out all day,” Cordelia had stalked over again after wriggling out of Angelus’s handhold. “I was just trying to stick to your stupid rules. Next time, I’m gonna skip out completely.”

“Not likely.”

“Says you!”

“That’s right. I do.”

“Whatever! Pfft! Tomorrow’s a new day, and we’ll just forget this ever happened.”

Not only trivial, but forgettable in her eyes, even if the kisses had qualified as being hot. Angel had never known Cordelia to lie quite so smoothly, so he attributed it to stone cold denial. She was equally affected as he, but he chose not to point out the evidence since Angelus’ raunchy description had been quite clear on the matter.

“Goodnight, Cordelia. Enjoy your games tonight.”

“I will. Always do.” A little smirk spread across those tender lips. “Oh, and Angel—your towel is slipping.”

Perhaps there was a way to take advantage of Angelus’ twisted interest that allowed him more than just a few fleeting kisses with Cordelia. An extension of this deal that let him have her, too. The thought of it teased him all the way to the demon den, and distracted him during the fight that followed.

Angelus did most of the killing efficiently slaughtering the beasts one by one. “Stay on task, bro,” he was warned. It took a wake up call in the form of a boney spike in the chest for Angel to get with the program. He bared his fangs and leapt into the fray brandishing his sword and taking out his frustrations upon the last survivor. If felt good to kill. He enjoyed watching the life fade from the demon’s eyes as its blood seeped from its wounds. It gave him a rush, but the distraction was only momentary.

“We’re done here. Let’s head home.” Back to Cordelia. She owed him one more kiss.

Only Cordelia wasn’t at home when they returned. Angelus spotted the handwritten note first. It read, simply, “Bronze,” and was signed with a heart and a flourish of x’s and o’s.

Angel was annoyed that their triumphant return wasn’t greeted with celebratory kisses. Even if she was still pissed at him, Cordy always eventually paid up. He wasn’t the only one who was bothered by her absence. “How many times have I told her not to go out at night without one of us? We live on a Hellmouth. She’s a magnet for trouble.”

Having rescued Cordelia on several occasions, Angel couldn’t disagree. “We should stop by to check on her.”

Raising his brows, Angelus pointed out that he was in no shape to show up at the Bronze. “You need a shower and time to heal. That spike did some nasty damage.”

Yeah, it hurt like hell, but Angel wasn’t about to admit that. “It’s not that bad.”

“Right.” The hard stare that followed suggested he knew better. Adding, “I’m going to clean up and meet Cor at the Bronze,” did not produce any arguments.

The shower pelted him with water hot enough to fill the glass enclosure with steam. It felt good against his skin warming him up and easing some of the tension that had built up. The wound wasn’t healing the way it should. The pain remained digging into his chest, the puncture open, still seeping blood. Half dressed, he had pulled on pants, but not bothered with anything else.

Cursing himself for not listening when his brother described their prey, Angel wondered if he’d been poisoned or if it was something else preventing the wound from closing. Sure, this wasn’t the worst pain he had ever felt, but it was inconvenient. If not for the injury, he could be at the Bronze keeping an eye on Cordy. Making sure no one made a move on her. 

Angel never overindulged himself when it came to liquor, but tonight it went down smoothly. On his third glass the pain had only dulled slightly. He sat on the couch stretching his legs out on the top of the coffee table, laughing a little at the memory of lecturing Cordy about doing the same, and he hadn’t been kidding, either. 

“Seriously? This is my house, too,” Cordelia had argued for the right to put her feet where she wanted. It hadn’t been that long since she moved in, so there had been a hint of doubt as she asked for confirmation, “Right?”

The simple answer he had given held more meaning than she knew. “You belong here.” What he had meant was that she technically belonged to Angelus.

Growling over the idea, he rehashed every decision he made leading up to and after the deal with the Moirae. What would he be doing now if he hadn’t made that deal? Making puppy dog eyes at Buffy? That’s what Cordy had told him. She dared to tell him the slayer led him around on a leash. Not anymore. Those days were long over. If he was her lap dog they still had one thing in common. Both of them liked a good bone.

Angel snorted at his inappropriate joke. Maligning poor Buffy wasn’t right. It wasn’t her fault he couldn’t get Cordelia out of his head. Buffy hadn’t been the one to hand Cordy over to his evil, vampire brother. He did that. He let his beautiful blond girlfriend distract him at a time when his full attention should have been on Angelus. What did he care if his alter ego seduced his way through Sunnydale’s population making up for years of suppression under the influence of his soul? As long as he wasn’t killing or plotting to end the world, it had given Angel the freedom to enjoy his newfound lease on love with Buffy.

Angelus wasn’t supposed to pursue Cordelia. He had turned on the charm, reinvented himself as someone she admired and loved. How was that possible? Angel still thought it had to be a mistake. She had allowed Angelus countless kisses, caresses, and more pleasurable pursuits. All the while Angelus had the full understanding that Cordelia belonged to him. It didn’t matter that they weren’t lovers. That was just the way of things. He had taken back so many kisses, one after another, day and night, and more to come. What about the rest? Reciprocity should come in equal measures. He had already told Angelus it was his right to claim it in full. Maybe he would.

Lifting his glass higher, Angel stared down into the amber liquid watching as it swirled around. Cordelia thought it was cheating, but it wasn’t. Payback negated such considerations. Every kiss had been stolen.

The last time they had come back from the Bronze together unintentionally provided him with a wild and passionate display. Their lust overwhelmed the need for privacy or even a routine scan of the room. One kiss after another only heightened their need. They never made it to the stairs much less their third floor bedroom, nor see him standing near the aquarium feeding the fish, which had somehow become his responsibility. 

No sooner than they collapsed together onto the couch than Cordelia’s panties were gone, shredded into a scrap of silk on the floor. Angel could only imagine how she tasted as his brother made her writhe under the onslaught of his tongue until she begged for release. Still, Cordy spared no time asking for more of him in exacting detail, never one to hold back the truth even in this. 

Angelus freed his cock and thrust deep as Angel watched. No teasing seductions or clinging kisses forestalled their frenzied encounter. Her thighs spread wide as Angelus reared up onto his knees, roved his hands along her legs, and grabbed onto the high heels of her designer shoes as if they were handles holding her open and steering his thrusts into her body’s tight embrace. It was all too easy imagining he was one inside her making her cry out in ecstasy until her voice gave out and only illegible noises remained. 

Would it be that way tonight? The two of them let their lust blind them to anything else, even him. Angel brought his drink to his lips slinging it back and enjoying the burn.

Nearly an hour passed after his first drink to the last. He had lost count and now faced an empty bottle. “Shouldn’t have done that. My bad,” Angel added with a snort as he echoed something Cordy had said the last time she left her stuff scattered all over the desk in his study. Also the wet hair towels frequently draped over a kitchen chair. Was there a problem with the bathroom hamper? Yeah, she so needed a lesson—in something.

He was just getting started imagining what shape that lesson might take when the front door opened, and her voice called out, “Angel? Angel!” The fear in her voice snapped him out of his little stupor.

Calling out, “In here.”

“The lounge,” Angelus clarified it for her.

Cordelia burst into the room dressed in something simple, but sexy. Everything looked that way on her. Maybe it was just her. “Angelus said you were hurt,” she said running into the room.

Was he? Oh, right. “It’s nothing.”

She stopped a couple of feet away, mouth agape as she sucked in a gasp at the sight of him. That bad? The wound did itch a little.

“You left him like this?” Cordelia turned her sudden fury on her mate demanding answers. 

Glancing down at his bare chest, Angel noticed that he had forgotten to blot the oozing wound causing blood to drip in rivulets across the length of his torso. That deep red was such a pretty color.

Angelus held up his hands in surrender. “He was fine when I left. The demon stabbed him with one of its tail spikes. It should have healed by now.”

Trouble in paradise? He never failed to feel a twinge of satisfaction when they argued. Making up was another thing entirely.

“Well, you should’ve told me sooner.”

Nobody else on the planet could admonish Angelus that way and get away with it. Cordelia just had a unique affect on his ability to control any instincts that led to his natural need to punish her for mouthing off at him. Angel didn’t understand it. Sometimes he felt it, too. The urge to prove his power over her in a physical way. Nothing harmful, of course, but something she’d never fail to forget.

“Go get my stuff,” Cordelia ordered Angelus to hurry it up. Angel read annoyance on his face, but he complied when Cordy softened it up with a, “Please, Angelus. Let me help him. I’ve got to do something.”

The stuff she meant was a collection of bandages, salves, and other items in her growing first aid kit. Although he and Angelus had told her on multiple occasions that their wounds didn’t require such careful attention, and that their supernatural healing abilities would take care of the scrapes and bruises almost as fast as she could tend to them, Cordelia insisted on giving them her own special brand of TLC. Maybe it was all business on her part, but Angel enjoyed having her take care of him.

Cordelia turned her attention back to him as soon as Angelus left to do her bidding. “I need a bowl of water,” she said and made a move to head to the kitchen. He caught her by the wrist to stop her from leaving, suddenly reminded that there were more important things between them that needed attention.

“As much as I’d love for you to give me a sponge bath, I’d rather have that kiss you owe me.”

He did not release her when she tried to pull away, but held her there watching those succulent lips tighten up in stubborn denial. “You’ll take what I give you.”

Angel wasn’t sure what he liked better, the way Cordy sometimes melted submissively into his arms, or ripped into him with those verbal barbs. He said nothing because he was far too busy twisting her words into something that fired up his vivid imagination.

“Let go anytime,” Cordelia huffed and rolled her eyes. “We need to do something about that gaping hole in your chest.”

Angel didn’t really want to play doctor, but since Cordelia was the one offering to patch him up he wasn’t going to argue. Before long, both Cordy and Angelus had returned. She had filled up a large mixing bowl with warm water. He brought her box of first aid supplies, and one of their demonology books. “Maybe this will tell us something,” he directed his comment to Cordelia.

“We should call Giles,” she suggested another option. That hardly seemed necessary. He had just been stabbed by some spiny thing that hurt like hell. It wasn’t the next apocalypse. This would heal up in no time. Cordelia seemed to have other opinions. Drawing a desperate little breath into her lungs, she let it out in a whoosh, “What about Willow?”

Angel frowned at the idea of Cordelia picking up the phone to call Willow Rosenberg. “We can make our own magic, sweetheart.”

The looks on their faces gave Angel a rush as an ongoing laugh track sounded in his head. He was almost certain he had said those words aloud. Guess so because Cordelia and Angelus were yammering on about whether or not it was acceptable to slap him or rip out his tongue. Cordelia pointed out the empty bottle. “He’s drunk!”

“Delirious,” countered Angelus explaining it would take a lot more than one bottle to seriously throw a vampire off his game.

When Cordelia finally got around to cleaning him up it felt more like the prelude to interrogation than the tender ministrations of his devoted caregiver. “You’re pale,” she told him while wiping away the excess blood. Concern was interlaced with fear. 

Next to him on the couch, her legs tucked up beneath her as she faced him, Angel reached up to caress her face. “You’re beautiful. Every beat of your heart pulses faster. It’s intoxicating the way the fear infuses your blood.”

“That better be the demon venom talking, bro,” Angelus growled from across the room.

More afraid of the harm it might do than the notion Angel wanted a taste test, Cordelia gasped, “You think there’s venom?” 

That might explain it, Angel considered the idea, but offered up another theory. “Feels like something’s still in there.” He had clawed at the wound. Tried to prod it out with the tip of a dagger, but whatever it was eluded him leaving his wound worse off than before. Telling Cordelia only resulted in her leaning over him with a flashlight and tweezers as if conducting major surgery.

“This is kind of like Operation,” Cordy agreed only to have to tell him there was a game by that name. “Grab the bone without touching the sides.”

Was it his fault that his mind went straight to a very indecent place? She could grab his bone anytime. Angel kept a lockdown on that particular thought, but couldn’t suppress the urge to have her closer. He reached over to pull her into a straddled position across his lap. “You’ll be able to see better this way.”

Angelus glanced up from his research long enough to send him a cautionary stare, which was totally uncalled for. Nothing going on here except treatment for his wound. Well, certainly on her side. A stolen caress or two as he settled her on his lap might have been enough to justify his brother’s suspicious vibes, especially because Cordelia felt so good on top of him, yet he managed to refrain. Focused on tending to his injury, she didn’t seem to notice that his hands weren’t quite as idle as they should be. Not until something else decided to stir.

Getting hard now wasn’t exactly the best timing, not with a wound that wouldn’t heal, pain pricking at his senses, and Cordelia poking him with a sharp object. Stilling, she retracted the tweezers, and leaned back an inch to meet his gaze. He could only imagine what she saw there, feelings he couldn’t hide from her mixed with lust and pain. There was no denying the improper placement of his hands as both palmed her rounded buttocks. Moving them to a less volatile location along her hips would have been the right thing to do.

Somehow, he couldn’t seem to move them away. It was difficult enough not to press her closer against him because he really wanted to do things he shouldn’t. Things that would give them both extraordinary pleasure, yet the status quo denied him everything except the kisses he had made a condition of their deal. The day was coming when those daily kisses would come to an end, and the thought of that loss stirred up ideas he would never have considered.

“Hold this,” Cordelia thrust the flashlight into his hand freeing up hers for her little game of Operation. 

Angel didn’t argue against her process even though the pokes and prods of those sharp little tweezers sent stabbing pain across his chest enhancing the effects of what was already there. Cordelia’s every little move kept him focused on other sensations. The slightest brush of her hand against his bare skin made him crave her touch. Up close like this, the subtlest scents were apparent. He wanted to run his tongue between her breasts, and lick at that throbbing pulse at her throat. Christ! The way her teeth nibbled at her bottom lip as she concentrated made him want to do the same to her.

Raising her head up, Cordelia huffed, “This isn’t working. Stupid tweezers. I can’t tell if I’m grabbing anything or just you.”   

His brother took that moment to reveal, “Says here the demon isn’t actually venomous. That boney shard must be imbedded too deep for the wound to close. Maybe you should let me dig it out.”

Not a bad idea, Angel honestly admitted, but he heard Cordelia nix it before he had the chance to say so. “No way! Angel’s already hurt. I don’t think an even bigger hole in his chest is going to help. I’ll do it.”

Angelus tossed the book aside and gestured for her to proceed. “Go ahead, babe,” he spoke with an amused undertone. “Let’s see how far you go without getting squeamish.”

Cordelia’s lips tightened up at the challenge. She glanced toward her first aid kit where a pair of latex gloves were sealed up in a package, but didn’t linger there. Angel caught her gaze as she turned back to him, silently waiting to see if she really planned to probe his wounded flesh with her finger. Planting her left hand against his chest, she moved the right until her fingers skirted the edges of the wound. “This may hurt,” she warned unaware that the tension emanating from him had more to do with her closeness and the warmth of her skin than with the anticipation of pain.

“Eww, eww,” the soft little whispers escaped despite Cordelia’s plan to remain unmoved by the experience of pushing her finger into the bloody gouge. “It’s a good thing I like you.”

Echoing the insipid word, “Like?” Angel thought it barely covered the basics. Perhaps Cordelia didn’t love him and Angelus equally, but there was far more than just friendship between them now. He could sense it in her touch, and with every kiss.

“Got it!” A triumphant gleam brightened her almond eyes as she extracted a sharp bone shard. Having just caught the edge with her fingernail, she wriggled it into her grasp, causing Angel’s jaw to tighten as pain ripped along his nerves. It emerged in one long, thin sliver, temporarily distracting him from his thoughts.

No wonder it had hurt like hell. Angel watched as Cordelia dropped it onto the open lid of the first aid kit. Before she could wipe the blood away that covered her fingers and thumb, Angel closed his hand over her wrist pulling her back to him. If only it had been her blood covering those fingers. The stray thought should have bothered him, but he was far more intrigued by the way her eyes widened as he slipped her fingertip inside his mouth to lick the blood away. He could hear Cordelia’s heart hammering, feel the tension in her thighs as they tightened up across his. It wasn’t exactly fear, but it came so close he wanted to taste it.

In a flash, Angelus loomed over them annoyingly quick to put an end to things. “Don’t even think about it.” For Cordelia’s sake, his tone was light, but the glare carried his true intentions.

Cordelia didn’t notice. Any other time she might have accused him of trying to give her a case of ‘vampire cooties’, but she came to his defense instead. “With the blood Angel lost, I think he needs a snack. Go heat up a mug. Please?”

Oh, those doe eyes usually got Angelus to jump hoops, but not this time. “Angel can handle that himself. Can’t you, bro? That wound won’t take long to close.”

The pain diminished with every passing second until it was barely more than an ache, but it would not heal completely until he fed. The thought of warming up the congealed pig blood in the fridge sounded unpalatable, especially with Cordelia in his lap. Fleeting moments when he thought about tasting her had always led straight to a self-loathing guilt trip, but nothing like that weighed on him now. Still, this didn’t feel like the right moment with Angelus butting in. Cordelia needed to be savored and possessed in ways that his interfering doppelgänger could no lo longer fully enjoy.

He needed a plan.

Angelus didn’t budge from Cordelia’s side even though she made it clear he was being a jerk by not doing his injured brother a favor. Multitasking, she covered his wound with a glop of ointment, gauze, and medical tape. “All patched up!”

“Good,” groused Angelus. “This little TLC session is over.”

Cordelia let out a heavy sigh as if irritated by being rushed or not trusting her to handle him. In all fairness, she had no idea how much he wanted to push her beyond her comfort zone, and his decision to find a way to reverse Angelus’ claim. Time to think was imperative, but so was the need for blood, a drink, a long hot shower, and handling his incessant erection.

“Goodnight, Cordy.”

“Oh, fine. As long as you’re okay.”

“Better with your help,” Angel told her in all honesty. No matter his machinations, he was still grateful for her genuine concern and efforts to take care of him.

She reached up to touch his face offering a sweet smile in return. “You know I’ll always take care of my guys.”

Angelus sounded disgruntled as he urged them to hurry it up. “Get on with it. Kiss the bastard.” 

There was no need to gloat. Cordelia owed him a kiss and they all knew Angel wasn’t going to let her go without his nightly fix.

It wasn’t often that Cordelia had to pay her dues with Angelus watching. She usually made it a habit of trying to catch Angel alone for one of her barely there little smooches. That might be acceptable if there were a hundred of them, or if she trailed across his bare skin searching out sensitive spots.

Pursing her lips for a quick little kiss, Cordelia surprised him by aiming for his lips rather than a cheek, but it was over in a blink. The soft sensation barely registered before it was gone. He caught her gaze noting hers to be wild like a doe ready to run at the first sign of trouble. Surely, that left her just as unsatisfied. No matter that this was her turn to initiate their kiss determining how much of herself she would offer, Angel could not let that tiny little peck to be the extent of it.

Though the urge to pull her back to him was strong, he remained still. All he did was speak her name, softly and with purpose. The struggle to resist faded from her eyes, and Cordelia leaned in again, a sigh on her lips as she kissed him twice, softly but with genuine feeling. The urge to pull her closer into his arms to deepen those kisses was difficult to resist. Tender and sweet and full of care, they weren’t the usual meaningless tokens. When she pulled away again to say goodnight, Angel felt the loss of her touch quite acutely.

“Try to avoid getting stabbed next time,” Cordelia tacked on one last lecture before shifting off his lap.

Angelus was there to help her to her feet. Quickly claiming her attention, he didn’t bother to hide his jealous response. “Payback doesn’t come with a lap dance.” Swooping in for a kiss that was the antithesis of the tender ones given Angel, he claimed her mouth with a dominant display. Cordelia barely had time to process what he had said before Angelus slid a hand behind her head pulling her up onto her toes. 

Watching as Cordy held her own against the fervor of that stormy kiss, Angel held back the urge to rip her out of his brother’s arms reminding himself that for now he had no right to do so. The momentary discord between Cordelia and Angelus leached away into a sensual display of clinging kisses leading where they always led. Even he could not deny their passion for each other. “Take it upstairs,” he growled into their ears as he rose up from the couch. They were in his way, after all, and he still needed blood.

When his kiss the next day barely touched her lips, Cordelia asked, “Are you feeling okay?” as if she suspected his injury had not healed.

Unbuttoning his shirt to check things out for herself, she ran a hand across his chest where her bandage had covered up the gaping wound finding only smooth skin. “I’m fine,” Angel assured her taking hold of her wrist to hold her hand in place a moment longer enjoying the warmth of her palm. 

Cordelia looked pleased by the news. “I guess my special brand of TLC works like a charm.”

From behind the newspaper he was reading, Angelus gruffed, “So does supernatural healing, babe. He’d be fine without you fawning over him.”

“Maybe I’ll remind you of that next time some demony thing takes a chunk out of you,” she poked his shoulder.

Angel enjoyed listening to the discord even though it nipped at their harmony rather than took a bite out of it. Every day they grew closer, disgustingly in love, dealing with existence on the Hellmouth, learning to live with one another—under his roof. Still, better to have them here under his watchful eye than off on their own. Angelus couldn’t be trusted, not with her. 

Cordelia hadn’t completely discarded her feelings for him, Angel knew. They had changed, or she had tried to fit them into some neat little box labelled friendship, but they were beyond it in ways she could not yet admit. He couldn’t force those feelings from her without risking it all, and so it was necessary to bide his time. Figure out a way to extend these conditions because giving her up completely was something he could not do.

Leaving them to their bickering, Angel decided to get out of the mansion for a while. Daylight wasn’t a problem. It was one of those rare overcast days when a thick layer of clouds blocked out the sun. He could have gone to Buffy, pleaded forgiveness for his abrupt departure the other night, and taken advantage of the moment by creating a pleasurable distraction for them both. No doubt one of her loyal sidekicks would be at her side, Angel realized quickly changing his mind about showing up at Buffy’s place.

Instead, he found a shopping list on the foyer table scrawled in Cordelia’s handwriting. Things to buy and tasks to accomplish. Was the list her own or intended for Angelus? How quickly she had domesticated the wayward vampire. Tender, attentive, and obsessively in love with Cordy, he seemed to easily ignore the darker side of himself when she was around. Angel couldn’t quite understand the transformation, especially because lately he felt the need to unleash the inner restraints he placed on himself. He felt that same need for her, previously subdued, but now all too apparent, and magnified by her closeness. Angel was tired of fighting against it.


DANGEROUS GAMES

Things were hardly routine, if living with two vampires had any such chance. After the initial surprise wore off, the others had slowly settled in to the idea that she and Angelus were a couple. Buffy, although she had issues when it came to not trusting any vampire around Cordelia, needed time to stop fixating on Angelus’ past.

Everyone needed to learn to be more openminded. She decided to start with Buffy. If the Slayer could come to terms with her relationship with Angelus, and the fact that she was living at the mansion, the others would fall into line, too. That was not going to be easy because they were so antagonistic, but Cordelia was confident that she’d find a way.

The whole double-dating thing seemed like a great idea for former enemies to become friendly, or at least stop wanting to kill each other every thirty seconds. Buffy reluctantly agreed to the idea. “I’m tired of feeling jealous because Angelus wants you. Why should I care? He’s the evil one. He’s not Angel.”

“Formerly evil,” corrected Cordelia. “Mostly. He’s working on it.”

Buffy gave her a stare still doubting that any leash the Fates put on Angelus would make any kind of permanent change to his personality. “Angel worries about you, too, y’know. I think you’ve lost your mind by trusting Angelus the way you do.”

“Unlike some people, he knows how to have a good time.”

“Hey!” Buffy took offense on her boyfriend’s behalf. “Angel—”

Cutting her off, Cordelia said drolly, “I meant you. These days you’re all Slayer stuff and no fun, unless you’re off somewhere macking on Angel.”

“That’s fun. A lot of fun, actually. Maybe he’s not a party animal, but Angel’s really good at other stuff,” Buffy pointed out making Cordelia wonder if she was talking about those chandelier shaking events, or his handy fighting skills during midnight patrols. It wouldn’t surprise her at all to hear it was the latter, but Buffy stayed on-topic. “I adore Angel’s kisses.”

Cordelia totally got that. “Me, too. They’re pretty dreamy.”

“What?” Buffy quirked her head.

“What?” Cordelia instantly returned the question having become distracted by the memory of those bedroom kisses. It took a second to catch up to what she had said. So used to speaking to Angelus with the unvarnished truth, it had not even occurred to her to withhold her opinion on enjoying Angel’s dreamy kisses. “With my vampire, I mean—Angelus’ kisses are like that, too.”

Buffy’s lip curled unenthusiastically. “How nice for you.” Talking about Angelus’ romantic, or blatantly sexual talents and tendencies was too much like they were comparing notes about Angel.

A few expletives went off like firecrackers in her head. Cordelia felt a little panicked by what she had almost revealed. Mainly because it was true. She definitely liked Angel’s kisses even if they were part of his conditional deal. Not that Little Miss Kicks-Ass-a-Lot could ever know about that. Besides, it was just temporary, a means to an end.

She loved Angelus more every day, and not just because of his bedroom skills. Together, they just seemed to fit each other. Despite his history, the little world they were creating felt safe and far more like home than her parents’ house. She was never ignored. Never left just let loose on autopilot. Angelus loved to tell her there were boundaries she could not cross, but it felt both exciting and a little dangerous to blow them off now and then.

The games they played sometimes took place outside of the mansion. People-watching, as Angelus liked to call it, or as Cordelia quickly realized, “Stalking. We’re not going to follow them home like a pair of Peeping Toms, are we?” It seemed creepy and wrong to intrude. She thought it might be one of those things about Angelus that she would have to work on.

One night Angelus had brought her to a little house with a white picket fence where a young couple, and their small children were gathered in the living room watching TV. “Tell me their story, Cordelia. What is it they want most in this world— or do you think they have already found it?”

Cordelia wondered at his motives. It felt like test more than a game, unless it was one being played on her. Maybe it was just Angelus’ way of learning what she wanted from life, other than just him. Beyond the thrill of the hunt it had to give him, Cordelia found a creative twist that kind of appealed to her by weaving a little story around the people they watched. Imagining what it would be like to step into their shoes, as if she was an actress taking on a role, figuring out her character’s motivation.

It was different the next time. Their evening stroll took them past a condo where bright lights were not the only indication someone was home. Telltale sounds of boisterous sex resonated through the open second story window. Angelus nodded to the driveway, and gave her hand a little tug. Stopping beneath the window, they spooned against the wall, as he murmured, “Who’s up there, do you think?”

Angelus nuzzled the top of her head as he enclosed his arms around her waist. Although he touched her in a stimulating way, his big hands remained on top of her clothes, never overtly sexual, even as they quietly made up a story to go along with the litany of grunts and oohs, distinctive slap of skin on skin, and the rattle of the bed-frame.

Cordelia neither knew nor cared about their identity, but listening to those strangers get it on was hotter than she wanted to admit. “Let’s go home.” Annoyed by her response to Angelus’ voyeuristic little game, she tried to ignore it. All she could think of was his sensual touch. The coast of his fingers down her throat as she leaned into his shoulder, cool against her heated skin. An open hand sliding across her ribs just under the curve of her breast. The tease of his thumb strumming against her lower lip.

They made it as far as the corner lamppost before Cordelia decided she did not want to walk all the way back to Crawford Street without taking the edge off. “If you don’t kiss me right now, I think I’m going to scream.”

“Go ahead,” Angelus opened his arms to gesture at the crossroads daring her to do it.

It was not so late that the streets had emptied out completely. A few drivers zipped by in a hurry to get home or head out for a night on the town barely pausing at the four-way stop sign. People were still on the sidewalks: a dog-walker with a Pekinese, a jogger in a burgundy tracksuit, neighbors chatting. Not exactly close, but not that far away, either.

Cordelia decided she should just take what she wanted. A kiss for starters right here and now, but once they got home to their bed he would be all hers. “I have a better idea.” Lots of them, actually.

Imagining pouncing on him gave her a thrill because as much as Angelus liked to be in control, he loved her feisty refusals to submit. Every now and then he let her take the lead. Whatever else might happen, she wanted his grunts and growls of pleasure as she sucked him off tonight. It took more than a few swirls of her tongue to cause Angelus to lose it. Vampires—at least hers—being more of a challenge than any other guy on the planet, enjoyed a symphony of sensations. By the time they finished, she’d have him singing like it was a night at the opera.

Cordelia stepped close, pushing her hands between his open leather duster to press her palms against him, her fingers mapping the muscular angles of his abdomen and chest. Sliding them up to curl around his neck, she urged, “C’mere. You’re too far away.”

Both hands settled possessively on her waist guiding her closer until it became obvious that Angelus was equally aroused. Yet he seemed to be in no hurry. “Try practicing some patience, kitten. Not your forte, I know, but it will be even better if you do.”

A little snort of disbelief followed. How much better could it get? “Patience? Pfft. I’ve got something better to practice tonight,” she said with a smirk teasing him with unspoken promises.

Angelus had a one-track mind missing out on her little hint. Still stuck on the idea, “One piercing scream, maybe? Or that adorable little shriek you used to make. You’re already a stellar performer. I do miss that sound.” His head dipped low as he touched his lips to hers lingering there for a soft smooch.

“Kiss me again.” Cordelia bristled in frustration wanting one of those wild, wolfish kisses he sometimes laid on her, demanding, totally in control even as she spiraled out of it. He thought she wouldn’t make a spectacle of herself because nobody was watching. Daring her to cause a scene. “You’re my boyfriend. I don’t care if all of Sunnydale is watching. Screaming will only get their attention. If it’s an audience you want, I can arrange one.”

With a bit of a bite in his voice, Angelus asserted, “You’re the one who likes an audience. A crowd of them watching your every move. Want. Hate. Love. Envy. Hanging on your every word.” He swooped down to claim a hot little kiss that ended far too quickly. “You enjoy twisting them up in knots.”

“Maybe a little,” Cordelia shrugged one shoulder. “Not these losers, though.”

“Who, then?”

That was an easy answer. “You, of course. Winding you up is kind of hot.” Who wouldn’t want to be the center of attention? That was the best. “Besides, teasing you has perks.”

“You’ve already got me hooked. Who else?”

There had been the whole Invisible Girl incident that went totally wrong, but normally it felt exciting to see the way people looked at her or reacted, putting them in their place when they dared to get too close. Cordelia knew Angelus was not asking about anyone like that. Realizing that he wanted her to name someone specific made her tense up. He felt it, of course, along with her sudden jitters.

A random name popped out. “Um—Buffy?” The Slayer wigged out anytime she caught them kissing, so Cordelia laid it on a little thick, not that Angelus had objected to the intensity of those kisses. If she dashed out of there or watched the whole time was a mystery because they might have gotten a little carried away and forgotten she was there.

“Nice try. We all enjoy making her crazy.”

Cordelia really did not want to play this little tell-all game. She enjoyed their openness most of the time, but sometimes the telling the whole truth made it painful.

“There’s always Xander,” she drove in that nail with a harsh little reminder. Even if her ex wasn’t exactly a threat to Angelus or their relationship, he was still living, breathing, and in Cordelia’s life. Angelus might have gone out of the way to be friendly with her friends, but there were limits.

“Harris knows the score. We had a little chat. It’s fun to see him squirm when you show up looking spectacular, and he forgets for a spit second that you haven’t dressed up for him. Let him look. He knows to keep his hands off.”

Xander was too far off her radar these days. Any privileges she had given him had been rescinded. She might have noticed him staring now and then, but his other distractions had not changed. He seemed more like a comfortable pair of old shoes still hanging out on the shoe rack. Not wearable, but too difficult to discard completely.

Feeling a little defensive, Cordelia grumbled, “He’s just a friend. I don’t intentionally try to turn him on,” she protested the notion.

Angelus lit her afire stroking slowly along the curves of her spine. His strong hands were gentle, but branding in their exploration dipping low before making the return journey. A triumphal glint appeared in those dark eyes. Bingo! “He’s not your only friend.”

How did he do this? Angelus never missed anything. Maybe it was just that obvious that some friendships fell into vastly different categories. This one was tangled up in a lot of red tape. A bloom of heat swelled up inside her mixing lust with chagrin. Remembering last night’s kisses was enough to make her want more, and that was wrong on so many levels.

Raising her chin a notch, Cordelia stubbornly responded, “I have a lot of friends. A whole squad of them. Don’t forget Giles. Older guys with British accents just do something for me.”

“That’s a subject for another time, Cor.” A depraved grin flashed in the halo glow of the lamppost just before Angelus prompted her further. “Who else, Cordelia? I want to hear you say his name. The way you did last night.”

Begrudgingly, Cordelia gave him what he wanted. It come across a little breathlessly just as it had when Angel had shown up unexpectedly. He was supposed to be out with Buffy for a few hours, and not around to interrupt their impromptu game of Chase and Catch around the downstairs lounge, especially because most of their clothing was haphazardly strewn across the furniture and floor.

It had begun when Angelus had landed his Top Hat token on Boardwalk already occupied by a bright red hotel. He didn’t have the cash to pay up, but didn’t want to rack up debt with the bank, either. Cordelia propped her chin in her hand as she leaned against the table, enjoying every second of his inner struggle. “I so have you where I want you.”

“Who invented this game?” Examining the properties lined up on his side of the board, he growled as if a few heads might need to roll.

“Tell you what, Mr Grumpy Pants, you can forfeit the game to me now—or we can tweak the rules a little.”

Angelus readily agreed. Never one for rules in the first place, he was happy to break any that might give him a chance to come out on top. “Tweak away.”

“Any time you land on one of my properties is gonna cost you either an item of clothing, a household chore, or a kiss. Same applies to you if I land on one of yours. Opponent’s choice.”

“Deal.” The game was on.

Neither one of them thought about how they were going to determine the winner, but it hardly mattered. Cordelia couldn’t remember a time she had laughed so much, or was so turned on over a simple board game. Well, not exactly simple. They haggled over the worth of Connecticut Avenue with Two Houses. She had popped open two pearl buttons on her lavender blouse. Indiana Avenue earned her a spectacular kiss.

A few minutes later, an unlucky roll brought Angelus into Cordelia’s territory again. “Park Avenue this time! You do have expensive taste in hotels.” Cordelia gloated a little. “Enjoy your stay at the Chase Manhattan. That shirt is mine now.”

“Come and take it.”

Cordelia had taken her time removing Angelus’ shirt. One button, one kiss, one caress at a time turned their fun little game into something sexier. A few more rounds went by in teasing measures until they forgot about rolling the dice, and just focused on each other. Slowly unzipping Cordelia’s skirt, Angelus had slipped it off her hips to pool on the floor at her feet. A single pearl button precariously held her blouse in place over apricot lace bra and panties.

He had reached down to pluck at that button distracting her by teasing her lips with the barest caress before saying, “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Cordelia felt her heart skip a beat. Beaming back a glorious smile, her pleasure over his praise was obvious. “You’re not so bad yourself, but how can I be sure when you’re still half dressed? I’ll need to conduct a very thorough inspection.”

After wrestling with his belt buckle, Cordelia recalled giving it an enthusiastic yank. Too enthusiastic it seemed. The belt flew out of her hand landing directly on the game board scattering tokens, houses, hotels, and colorful cash. After a shocked gasp, she let out a little, “Oops!”

“Now you’ve done it—forfeited the game.” Angelus crossed his arms over his bare chest, his pants hanging a little low on his hips causing her gaze to flit down momentarily until his words caught up with her.

“Forfeit? Never!”

He took a step forward. “You’re wearing less. Therefore, I win.”

Neither one of them liked to lose. “Debatable,” she had countered vehemently. “I’ve got three things on. You’ve got pants. Maybe they cover up a little more, but we both know you’re not wearing anything else.”

“You damaged the board. Tossed out the evidence. That’s a loss. Loser gets a spanking.”

Whatever line existed between amused glint and serious gleam, it had shone with bright intent as he stared back at her slow retreat. Cordelia hoped Angelus was still playing the game with her and not actually planning to follow through, but she wasn’t just going to wait around to find out.

“Not gonna happen unless you’re on the receiving end.” Cordelia countered only to add a retraction. “Except you’d probably like it. I’ll find some other way to make you pay.”

Angelus took a step forward. Cordelia took another one back. He moved in a measured pace, slow and determined. Escape was futile, and she knew it. He had every advantage, but there was no way she was going to make it easy for him. She ran zigzags across the lounge, hopped on and over the couch, and made sure he was on the other side of the room before making her break for the door.

Turning, Cordelia had slammed straight into Angel. Shock faded fast replaced by a sense of triumph because she knew that whatever nefarious plot Angelus had going on in his head, even if it was all in fun, was over. Damsel in distress or not, her hero had arrived just in the nick of time.

Cordelia had been out of breath at the time, but the “Angel” on her lips was full of trust and a wealth of tangled emotions. Squeezing tight, she had buried her head against his chest seeking protection as if it was the original vampire on her heels instead of just her boyfriend. The protective circle of his strong arms closed around her, his hands soothing as they stroked her hair and pressed her close.

“What’s going on, Angelus?”

“No worries. We’re just having some fun.”

“He’s planning to spank me!”

After scanning the chaos around the room, Angel asked straight-faced, “Do you deserve it?”

She pushed at his chest until he released her. “No! He’s being a sore loser.”

Angelus stood akimbo. “I didn’t lose. Cor doesn’t want to pay the forfeit. Tell him. Let Angel judge for himself.”

It didn’t even register that she was standing there in front of Angel in little more than her underwear. Having worn less at the beach, it was something of a non-issue, at least until she noticed his hungry eyes eating up every exposed curve. “Angel,” she gasped in protest. More so because of the way it made her belly somersault than because he was looking. “Stop staring.”

Saying nothing, Angel’s jaw clenched tight, but he never even blinked as she described everything that had happened. Almost everything, anyway. Ending with, “And that’s why I win.”

Angelus shook his head slowly. “I’m the clear winner here. Cor is just in denial. Pick me.”

“I’m his friend. He’s not going to pick you— or else!”

“Or else what?” asked Angel, clearly amused by the whole thing, including her threat.

“Live in fear. I’ll think of something.”

Angelus had to point out, “Threatening the judge isn’t going to help your case, babe.”

“Says you!” Cordelia grinned and stuck out her tongue. “Angel’s going to declare me the winner. Right, Angel?”

With both of them staring him down, Angel really had only one smart choice. “I call it a draw.” They had boo-hissed the decision, but Angel was not finished with the upsetting news, at least for her.

Warily, she asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The minute I walk out of here, Angelus is going to follow through with that spanking. As long as it’s all in fun, I have no right to stop him. If it’s not, the Moirae’s power will keep you safe.”

So much for the timely rescue. “You’d let him spank me?”

“It’s not my call.”

“This is one of those vampire kinks you warned me about. They’re usually kinda fun, as long as I get something out of it, too. You wouldn’t spank me,” Cordelia felt certain that Angel would never go that far.

“Don’t tempt me. You have a beautiful body, Cordelia, and I could take pleasure in doing a great many things to you if circumstances were different.”

The honesty of that statement shook her deeply, left her flushed and a little dizzy feeling as if she had waited forever for him to admit that he was attracted to her, too. Realizing that he wanted her beyond the scope of their kisses sent tingles across every erogenous zone she possessed. She didn’t care about his blonde obsession in that moment, or the depths of her feelings for Angelus, only the powerful effect of those words.

“Do you ever wonder—?”

Angry now, he interrupted to say, “Yes, Cordy. I think about it far too often.”

“Why do you think he picked kisses?” Angelus insinuated himself into the conversation.

“Because it ticks you off when he touches me.”

“That’s one reason.”

“My motives don’t need to concern you. I’m just collecting what you owe me. If Cordy happens to enjoy it, that’s for the two of you to discuss.”

Angelus chuckled, “Oh, she enjoys it,” earning him a sharp poke of her elbow. “Most of the time, she needs a good screw after one of your little make out sessions. Which, I am more than willing to provide.”

Embarrassed by Angelus’ frank revelation, Cordelia was momentarily struck silent giving him the chance to add, “But you know that.”

“You listen to us?” Her eyes flared open darting back to his after hiding behind the veil of her lashes.

Angel made a vague sound in his throat, rubbed at the tension building up in his neck, and then finally put the blame on her. “You’re not a quiet lover, Cordelia.”

“That’s going to be problem, y’know, toning it down.”

“Don’t you dare,” Angelus growled at the suggestion she try to hold anything back from him.

“Be as passionate as you want to be,” Angel encouraged as he gently touched her face. “At least I know that you’re in capable hands, someone who knows how to please you, even if it is Angelus.”

“No endorsements necessary, bro.”

Ignoring his brother, Angel told her he was going down to the basement for a while. “It’s quieter down there.”

“You’re just going to walk away? Angel, wait!”

“Let him go, Cor. We were in the middle of something. I’ll even give you a head start.”

Cordelia barely recognized her voice as it took a throaty dip, “I want you to stay.” Making him turn back at her raw plea as she spoke his name, “Angel.”

Obvious tension strained across Angelus’ shoulders as he stood behind her, but this felt like something she had to do. Letting him know that she wasn’t ignoring him, Cordelia squeezed his hand urging him to follow along. “We’ll pick this up again in five. Make him stay.”

“Sounds like fun. The clock is ticking. Don’t take it too far,” Angelus rasped into her ear. He gave her a little push in Angel’s direction. “Whatever she wants.”

Angel’s patented poker face was nowhere in sight. He looked terrified that she might ask for more than he could handle. Their daily exchange of kisses had taken place first thing this morning. Despite their mutual attempt at keeping it simple, Cordelia had ended up splayed across his lap at the kitchen table, as he slowly explored the taste of strawberry jam clinging to her mouth. She couldn’t begin to make herself pull away from him even knowing that Angelus sat only a few feet away.

“Cordy, please don’t ask for anything you’ll regret later. Touching you right now would—”

Shushing him, Cordelia assured him he would not have to do anything. “Don’t move. I’ll do the touching.” Her tone might have been the only warning Angel got just before her palm connected with his cheek in a resounding slap.

Angelus burst out with raucous laughter. “That’s my girl! You’re just full of surprises. I didn’t expect that.”

Looking more shocked than hurt, Angel gaped, “Neither did I. What was that for?”

“Obvious, much? You’ve been kissing me under false pretenses.”

It was one thing to force conditions on her relationship with Angelus in order to convince himself that she would have a safety net. Sure, she got that, even if it was unnecessary. Cordelia had assumed that Angel specified kisses as their mutual punishment because it would be awkward for her, being his friend, and because Angelus would hate that Angel got to touch her at all. Now she discovered that the attraction she had always felt was in no way one-sided, and that their out of control kisses were rooted there, and not just because Angel was making a power-play on his brother.

“You actually like it,” Cordelia accused jabbing a finger at his midsection.

“Obvious is right. Who wouldn’t?”

“This is supposed to be business for you, all vampire rituals and stupid contracts.”

Angelus had something to say about that. “If that were true Angel would have handed you over to me without a fuss. This is ten percent business, and ninety about his guilt-ridden lingering desires for you.”

“That’s even worse. It’s not a new thing. Just how long ago did you actually notice that I’m kind of a hottie?”

When Angel took too long to answer, his brother eagerly chimed in to dig him a deeper hole. “From the second he laid eyes on you. He’s not blind to your beauty. Let’s just say he’s got tunnel vision when it comes to a certain blonde.”

Hardly unexpected, Cordelia didn’t even flinch at the news. “So the entire time I crushed on you—and don’t even pretend you didn’t know it—you did nothing about it.”

Angel started making some excuse only to be cut off again by Angelus. “Claws in, kitten. You’ve had a top spot in Angel’s masturbation fantasies for a while.”

“Really? Good. That’s fair considering I used to—”

Before she could admit to it, Angelus tilted her chin up claiming a swift kiss. “Did you? Tonight, I want to watch you get yourself off.”

Fascinated by his hot stare, Cordelia trembled in anticipation. “Do I get to watch you?”

Anger ripped at the last shred of Angel’s control. Letting out a low curse, at the picture their words painted, he grabbed them both by the neck. “Stop talking. Neither one of you possesses any concept of privacy. Unless you’re inviting me to join you, I suggest you shut up.”

Cordelia felt a hot jolt at the idea of Angel being right there with them. “You’re the one who likes the details.” He had demanded the truth about everything she had done with Angelus, and she had told him. Mainly because it was a condition he set before providing permission for Angelus to claim her. It was also thrilling to watch him get so worked up.

Making no physical move to enforce it, Angelus icily told his brother to, “Let go. We both know Cor’s not ready for those types of games, and you’d take it too seriously. Just look at the way you can’t even handle a simple kiss without wanting more.”

“You’re still talking,” Angel growled in complaint. He released them, but stayed close. “I intended to make a point.”

“Make it.”

Cordelia felt his fingers gently smoothing out the hair he had ruffled before sliding down to the small of her back. Despite his cool touch it seemed to burn through the thin silk as she imagined being with the two of them. Even if she did consider it an illicit fantasy, it excited her. Before the night was over Angelus would eke out every nuance while they made love making certain that his reality overshadowed anything she might imagine.

“Being attracted to you is like breathing,” Angel told her only to have her cut him off.

It sounded like he was aiming for an excuse and making one up as he went along. “Back in the day when you actually had to breathe.”

“It’s just that basic. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it’s the same for you.”

“Chemistry 101—pour in two hotties and stir?”

“It’s not complicated.”

Cordelia wanted to believe that there were no other motivations involved. She glanced over at Angelus, never one to shirk an opportunity withhold an opinion. “Passing this off as raw chemistry would make it simpler. Ease the guilt. Make it less difficult to face your girlfriend.”

“I warned you when we made this deal. Leave Buffy out of this.”

“Have I let her in on your little scheme? No, and you know I won’t because that’s one of your conditions.” Angelus paced away and then back, his fists closed up tight, restraining his urge to strike a hard blow because Cordelia was standing in the way. “Both of you try to downplay it by pretending there are no other feelings involved. I’m no expert, but you care about this so-called friendship, whatever label you want to put on it. You struggle to maintain it because it gives you something you need even if it’s not everything that you want.”

It was painful to hear, especially coming from him. Angelus had a way of cutting straight to the heart of an issue. Usually unburdened by emotional entanglements, he saw truth in a way few were capable, but the dispassionate viewpoint he once possessed was now gone. “Nothing to say? You want to deny it, but you can’t.”

A heavy sigh preceded Cordelia’s realization, “Because of Buffy.”

Angel didn’t try to sugarcoat it, leaving his response raw and out in the open. “Yes.”

“Don’t forget that he’s got feelings for her, too. Bigger ones if those declarations of love and devotion have any meaning.”

There might have been a hint of bitterness, but no hesitation when she said, “I know that.”

“Maybe it has to do with your feelings for me.”

“That’s what Angel said when he was trying to persuade me not to be with you.”

“Doesn’t seem so altruistic now, does it?” Angelus couldn’t resist taking another jab at him before let her have it. “Whatever low down tickle you feel when Angel kisses you is just a remnant of that schoolgirl crush.”

Cordelia’s hand arced toward his cheek, but being prepared for her incensed reaction, he easily caught her by the wrist to draw her forward. His grip was not as gentle as usual, but clearly not intended to harm. Still, Angel cautioned him, “Be careful.”

“You’re the one needing to exercise some restraint. Cordelia chose me. Remember that the next time you exchange kisses.”

“That’s not something I’m likely to forget. This isn’t what I planned. I never thought you would accept this deal.”

“You forget that I know how you think.”

“If Angelus called your bluff why keep up with it at all?” Cordelia wasn’t certain what was more upsetting, that he threw the condition in without actually wanting to follow through with it, or that being in his arms felt so insanely good.

“Why, Angel? Kissing me the way you do makes me want so much, too much. That’s not fair to any of us, and that includes Buffy.”

“At first they were little bits of nothing, a quick little hello, or goodnight. I figured I could handle that.” Angel forlornly admitted that he had been wrong.

Cordelia had also believed it would be easy to remain unaffected by a little kiss. Wrong, so very wrong. “What if—what if you drop the whole thing? Forget about the kisses.”

“No!” His answer came swiftly. “You may not like the deal, sweetheart, but you made it.”

“It’s the smart thing to do.”

“Be realistic, Cor. You’re asking an addict to give up his daily fix” Angelus scoffed. “What you two need is closure, and the only way that is going to happen is by putting this deal to bed.”

“Bed—whose bed?”

“What kind of closure?”

“Let’s just say I’m going to stay open-minded as long as you make it happen within the rules of the deal.” Standing close between them, Angelus draped an arm across their shoulders. “Have one of those heart to hearts,” he suggested. “Lay it all out there, so you can let it go.”

“This doesn’t qualify?”

“Details aren’t my thing.”

“Don’t pretend those details don’t excite you, Cordelia. Intrigued might be a better word as it applies to Buffy and Angel. What’s it like between the two of them compared to us? Is the sex just as hot? Are your kisses even in the same league as hers?”

“Sometimes you really are an evil bastard.”

“Don’t want to lose my edge completely, even for you,” he returned smoothly.

“That’s your solution? Talk it out.”

“Keep up with your lip-locks, too. That’s all part of the deal. We’ve got to pay our debt.”

Angel wasn’t about to let him forget it. “Yes, you do.” The rational part of his brain told him this had gone way past collecting payback. Whether or not he wanted to admit that something instinctually vampiric was in pure accord with more human desires, he felt it deeply.

“Start weaning yourselves off one day at a time, or just go cold turkey at the end of the month. After that final kiss there will be no others,” Angelus gave their shoulders a little squeeze, “not even those friendly little smooches you fail to keep casual.”

“My other conditions stand regardless.”

“You can be Cordelia’s big hero if she ever needs saving from me,” Angelus doubted that would ever be required, but she deserved a safety net even from him. “Advise her if you think it will curb her curiosity, but don’t be surprised when it doesn’t.”

Angelus had one last word to the wise. “When the month is up, it’s hands off for both of you. Maybe it’s just your way, all of those tender touches, but you’ll learn fast.”

“That sounds like a threat.”

“It’s a promise—and a threat. It works for me that way. You’re mine, Cordelia. I have no intention of sharing you a second longer than is necessary to get him out of your head, but we’ll do whatever it takes to get you there.”

Under any other circumstances, Cordelia would have told Angelus where he could stuff his dictatorial ideas. This was Angel, her friend. Even with the conditions binding them to this course, their connection meant something to her. Together, they opened Pandora’s Box of uncomfortable truths, and now they would have to live with it.

Only a few nights later standing under the crossroads lamppost, Cordelia discovered that Angelus’ plan came with a few more depraved twists. “We’re just going to play a game.”

Normally, she liked Angelus’ suggestions, whether they involved fun in the bedroom, or a night on the town. Some were a little kinky, but—hello, vampire boyfriend! If he of all people could learn to play by the rules set by the Moirae, Cordelia figured she could be flexible, too. Even if that meant a peek into some of his voyeuristic habits.

“What kind of game?”

“One that involves taking a few risks with Angel and those kisses you enjoy so much.”

Alarmed, she asked, “Is this some kind of punishment?”

Denying it, Angelus said, “You go up in flames every time you’re in Angel’s arms. It’s as if I can see myself from a different perspective. You’re beautiful to watch, the two of you. I might want to strip the skin from his bones, but it’s arousing all the same.”

“What happened to not wanting to share? First you tell us to keep up the Payback Game, and now you want to have some fun with it.”

“High time I get something out of it, too.”

“Watching your girlfriend make out with your brother should not be a turn-on.”

“You don’t get to see it the way I do.”

“Perv.”

“Says the girlfriend who makes out with her boyfriend’s brother.”

“That’s only because it’s in the contract.”

“You like it, too.”

“So what if I do! I was the one who suggested we stop.”

“Three weeks until the end of the month,” Angelus reminded her, “yet you two haven’t made any progress. It’s time for an intervention.”

“What now?” There was no telling what was going on in that devious mind.

“This may take a couple days to set up. When you talk to Buffy make sure she thinks it’s all your idea.”

A chill crept along Cordelia’s spine. “What’s this got to do with Buffy? I’m not gonna like this, am I?”

“Since you have avoided being alone with her for the last couple of weeks, my guess is no. Do it anyway. Angel is getting a little too comfortable having his cake and eating it too. Time to shake things up a little. I think you call it double dating.”

“Hooboy!”

Cordelia had tentatively knocked on the study door. Without waiting for Angel to give permission for her to enter, she opened the door and walked up to his desk. Palms flat against its smooth top, she leaned over to ask, “Hey, Angel, is the doctor in? We need to talk.”


FAMILIAR PLACES

Double dating with Angel and Buffy actually had its merits proving that life in Sunnydale was not just about surviving the Hellmouth. It could be fun, too. No surprise that both of them had doubts, but Cordelia persuaded them to give it a fair try. “Anything that keeps Angelus out of trouble is a great idea,” Buffy finally decided. “I’ll be able to keep my eye on him.”

“He’s not plotting the next apocalypse,” Cordelia promised. Although, there would be hell to pay if Buffy discovered the truth about Angelus’ real plans.

“Okay. Let’s do this.”

“Relax, Buffy. We’re just hanging out together, not charging into battle.”

With a little shrug, Buffy admitted, “One of those things sounds easier than the other.”

Cordelia decided to keep things simple for their first outing. A stroll along Main Street with a stop at Tasty Treats, the local Ice Cream Parlor and Bakery, seemed safe enough. She couldn’t imagine Buffy and Angelus coming to blows over anything there. Not being foodies, the guys let them choose the ice cream while they stuck to coffee.

“Scaredy cats!” Cordelia had called them on it. “You try stuff at home. This is easy.”

Even Buffy agreed. “Yummy, too.” She took a long lick at her large waffle cone of Rocky Road with chocolate sprinkles. Somewhere underneath was a second scoop of Chocolate Fudge Ripple.

Not certain if she was impressed or disgusted by the mega portion, Cordelia tried not to stare. Somehow she couldn’t hold back an opinion. “Supernatural metabolism must be a real plus for you.”

“Yep! Sure is.”

Angelus chuckled at the little pout forming on Cordelia’s lips before leaning in to smooch it away. “Don’t worry babe, I’ll give you a good workout tonight.”

“Promise?” she asked cheekily.

A shiver of anticipation made her flush hot even as her tongue stroked across the dome of the ice cream scoop leaving a little dollop on her lips. Angelus swooped in for a quick taste, pulling away just far enough to let her see the naughty twinkle in his eyes. “How do you like it best—vanilla?”

That might have been her choice of scoop for her sugar cone, but Cordelia knew Angelus was not talking about ice cream flavors. “Tastes good, doesn’t it?” She held out the cone and watched him take a slow lick.

“Definitely, but it tastes better on you.”

Cordelia completely lost her hold on the cone when Angelus swooped her onto his lap for a longer kiss reminiscent of coffee with vanilla cream. His soft lips teased as they tasted hers again and again. Pillowy little kisses lingered just long enough to convey a depth of feelings that defied the lightness of each touch. Not at all his usual style, but captivating in a way that left her a little breathless made it difficult to pull away.

Teasing him with a grin, she said, “Enough special Tasty Treats for you, manpire. We’re trying to have a little fun together, not put on a show.”

“That could be fun.” Angelus let her escape back to her chair. “Play it however you want, Cor. Just remember you’re in the game.”

A quick glance at Angel revealed that he had saved her ice cream cone from disaster. He wasn’t happy about something. She could tell by the subtle signs across his face, and an intense glint in those dark eyes. Maybe it was the public display, or the mention of their little game in front of Buffy. He was protective about her in ways that confused Cordelia, as if he wanted to shield her from any part of himself having to do with his vampire side.

Cordelia did not get that at all. Being in love with a Slayer was enough of a challenge for any vampire, much less both of them having so many hang ups. One of them was going to have to give a little or there would be trouble ahead. Not her biggest concern even if both of them might have something to say about Angelus’ latest scheme.

Giving him a pointed look, she told him, “What’s that you said to me about practicing patience? Try it.”

Buffy quirked her head, instantly suspicious at the challenging tone. Either her curiosity took over or she was trying to work out whether Angelus was up to something worthy of a punch in the nose. “Kissing games?”

Cordelia had to give her credit for having good instincts. It didn’t help that Angelus was practically putting her on high alert. He couldn’t say anything directly to Buffy about Angel’s conditional rules. Giving her hints that something else was going on in the midst of their double date was an all around bad idea.

Considering the degree to which Angel carried out his conditions, it seemed surprising to Cordelia that he had not shown Buffy just how playful he could be. It was a side to him she didn’t see everyday, but when that somber mood of his lightened up now and then he loved to tease her making her think she was about to be kissed, or just planting one on her unexpectedly.

Opting for openness, she revealed, “Vampire games usually come with a sexy twist.”

Buffy’s eye-popping reaction edged on horrified. “Sounds twisted alright.”

“Does it? I thought you and Angel would—”

“No! Don’t be gross.”

Not a word Cordelia would apply to Angel’s fantastic kisses. “I’m not. Maybe you just need to lighten up a little.”

“Maybe you should mind your own business.”

“Look, I can tell that he wants—”

A little crack sounded as the sugar cone in Angel’s hand imploded under sudden tension. Vanilla ice cream splattered everywhere. The bulk of the remaining scoop hit the front of his leather duster sliding downward in a long, viscous trail. He thundered, “Cordelia!”

“Napkins?” With a guilty little smile she pulled a stack from the dispenser at the center of the table.

Realizing Angel objected to her giving his girlfriend helpful hints about their relationship, Cordelia figured it might have been better to say nothing. She wanted to share enough, minus the details of course, to make Buffy see that Angel might have needs, too. Was it a bad thing to want Angel to be happy, even if it was with someone else? The unsettling idea caused her to shove it aside in favor of a distraction.

“You might want to go inside to wash that off,” she suggested when Angel’s attempts to wipe off the ice cream left his hand and coat sticky.

Angelus had been laughing the whole time. Whether he was more amused about Buffy’s prudish reaction, Cordelia dishing out unwanted advice, or Angel’s mess, was difficult to guess. “Good times,” he chuckled in the midst of the chaos.

“Not helpful,” she sing-songed.

When Angel headed toward the Tasty Treats main door, Angelus suggested Cordelia go too. “He owes you some ice cream.”

Being alone with Angel when he was obviously pissed off with her for saying too much did not sound like the greatest idea. He was going to say something about it eventually, but Cordelia was fine with putting that off until later. “Oh, I’m good.”

“Try a new flavor this time.”

Angel was quick to grab the opportunity. “Good idea,” he said closing his hand around her bare arm.

“You’re still sticky,” Cordelia complained, but he did not let go.

“Want anything, Buffy?” asked Angel.

Shaking her head, Buffy responded with a quick, “Nope.” She held up her half-eaten waffle cone.

“Look at us having some one-on-one time,” Angelus leaned forward across the table.

Buffy mumbled, “Terrific.”

“Do you think it’s okay to leave them by themselves? I should probably play referee,” Cordelia suggested. Tugging at the hold Angel had on her arm proved ineffective. He wasn’t even as careful as usual. “Enough with the rough stuff. You told Angelus to be careful, but you’re not.”

There wasn’t even a hint of guilt in those eyes as she felt his fingers tighten just long enough for her to feel it. He jerked her forward an inch. “Can you tell the difference?”

“That you’re being an ass? Yeah, I can tell.” Her mouth quirked into a little smirk as she stubbornly refused to make it easy.

Angel loosened his grip sliding his fingers down to grasp her hand instead. “Let’s go,” he said with far more gentility.

The store manager helped them out by providing a damp towel to clean up the gooey ice cream from their hands. Cordelia watched Angel carefully dabbing at the last spot on his leather duster. “I told you it would be fine. No stains! All is right with the world again.”

When he commented, “Not quite,” she knew it was not about the coat.

Dreading it, Cordelia let out a big sigh, “Could we just skip the lecture?”

“One condition.”

“You’re so good at those, so, um, sure. Anything to get out of having to hear the blah, blah, blah of it.”

“Tell me what you’re doing.”

Obvious, much? “Fixing whatever’s causing you to skulk around looking so frustrated.”

“You think that’s Buffy’s fault?”

“Yours, maybe, if you’re not being honest with her about what you want.”

Angel swallowed down his first response opting instead for another question. “What is it you think I want that I’m not getting?” He sounded curious, but ready to break out that lecture at any moment.

“I’m not a mindreader, but something is not so hunky dory in Buffyville. Maybe you just need to spice it up,” she offered a friendly suggestion.

Her advice drew a mixed reaction first with an amused quirk of his brow and mouth soon followed by a frown. “Stay out of this, Cordelia. Not everyone is quite as eager about sex or as open to exploring it as you.”

A burst of fury plunged quickly into an icy maw. Gaze narrowing upon him, she tilted her chin up a notch before coldly inquiring, “Was that a subtle way of calling me a nympho?” and hoping for his sake that he had a good answer.

Lucky for him, he did. “You’re beautiful, and sensuous, and everything a vampire, or any man, could want in a lover.” Angel assured her that he never intended any insult. “For all his faults, Angelus isn’t stupid. Pursuing you is probably the best thing he has ever done for himself.”

A little awed by everything he had said, Cordelia’s demeanor thawed instantly. “Glad you realize it,” she said, feeling odd that she was the one who seemed tongue-tied, fumbling over her response.

“My issues with your relationship have more to do with Angelus’ influence and concerns about your safety than your pursuit of pleasure. I’d rather it not be Angelus, but at least I know what he can do for you.”

“Don’t try to sidetrack me by talking about Angelus. We’ve been over this a dozen times. You know I love him, right? Being with him is hot, sexy fun. I don’t deny enjoying every second of it.”

“Oh, I know you do.”

“So why hold back with Buffy? Considering the frequent post-patrol disappearances and that chandelier shaker, she’s not afraid of sex. Tell me what will make it good for you. I can have a little cheerleader to slayer chat and fix this.”

“There’s one flaw in your plan, Cordelia. The main source of my frustrations is you.”

“So—not Buffy?” It felt like the Twilight Zone theme should be playing.

Angel rubbed at the tension at the back of his neck before saying, “You’re not completely off base. Buffy and I are trying to work out a few issues.”

“Bingo! I knew something was wrong,” she said, feeling totally justified.

“That’s not your concern.”

“Easy for you to say. You don’t have to live with you like I do. Why am I the problem?”

Cordelia mentally scrolled through Angel’s long list of dos and don’ts most having to do with household chores, or anything to do with trying to spice up his food. According to Angelus, their daily diet of pig’s blood tasted pretty bland, so it only seemed right to try to make it less boring for them. She guessed Angel did not appreciate her trying to spice up his love-life either.

“Because I’ve been a fool thinking I could kiss you every day without wanting more.” The shame tinting his confession left a little crack in her heart making it impossible to berate him for feeling more than he should when she was caught up in the same trap.

That brought them to the real reason for tonight’s outing, revealing Angelus’ plan. Filled with equal parts excitement and trepidation, Cordelia offered Angel one final way out. “Let’s stop, then. Just call it off.”

“You already know my answer to that.”

“You’re just punishing yourself right along with the rest of us.”

“So be it.”

“Then I suppose this the time to tell you that Angelus decided to add a condition of his own to your little deal.”

Muscles tensing up, Angel’s head jerked in the direction of the glass doors. Glaring at his brother’s profile as he sat with Buffy at the iron-wrought table outside, he sounded out each word as if restraining a more violent response. “That is not his prerogative.”

“Even if you do feel like getting into a brawl with him, we both know you’re not going to say anything in front of Buffy. So, listen up! I don’t pretend to know all the rules to this vampire game, but I’m going to play to win.”

Angel slowly turned to face her again, his expression tight, but outwardly calm. “This is not a game, Cordelia. It’s your life.”

“That’s why, if you agree to this, you promise nothing changes between us. Can you go back to just being my friend?”

“Everything has already changed between us, Cordy. Whatever label you want to put on it, I will always be here for you.”

Tears pricked at her eyes welling up too fast to be blinked away. Cordelia tried to hide it, not wanting to let Angel see her crying. She dipped her head letting the veil of her hair fall forward, but he already knew, the salty scent of those tears betraying her. Too many feelings tangled up inside her. As much as she loved Angelus, and the relationship they were trying to build, having Angel in her life was just as essential.

Cupping her face, he brushed softly at the moisture across her cheek until she lifted her gaze to him again. “Promise me you’re not going to be bitter about it forever.”

Silence stretch out between them, moments when her heartbeat sounded in her ears as she waited for him to respond. Finally, he managed to find his voice, although it was just as rancorous as she feared. “I’ll try.”

“Good!” Trying to stay positive, Cordelia forced a smile. “That’s a good start.”

“We’ll figure it out as we go,” he said with a little more certainty.

This time a genuine grin broke out. “Much better, Broody Boy. I like that.”

“What’s Angelus’ scheme?”

Starting out like it was going to be no big deal, she told him, “Let’s just say he wants to have a little fun with it.”

“This is his punishment. Why would I do that?”

“Because it could be fun for us, too.”

“You think I would enjoy the kind of games you two play?”

“Well, yeah. You may have a soul, but that doesn’t mean you don’t share Angelus’ basic needs or instincts when it comes to what you want. You can’t be so different, can you?”

A little thrill shot through her as he answered, “Not when it comes to you.”

“That’s what he said,” Cordelia felt a little confused by his easy response. She preferred the raw truth, but knew that whatever Angel felt for her it was shadowed by his feelings for someone else. Claiming the little bit that belonged to her while she still could pushed away any further doubts about pursuing it.

‘The only thing is,” she swiped at her suddenly dry lips with the tip of her tongue, “it’s definitely on the kinky side, just so you know.”

Angel’s jaw clenched, the muscle twitching with tension. “No surprise there.”

Angelus’ strategy was designed to invoke Angel’s guilt. Making him feel guilty about their kisses would supposedly make them less palatable. That part of the plan seemed sucky. Cordelia liked the idea of Angel enjoying their kisses the same way she did—way more than she should. Revealing the guilt factor might negate its effects, so Cordelia left that out when she revealed how Angelus wanted to tweak things.

“When you kiss me it has to be somewhere public, or with our friends close by. Kiss me as quick as you want, as long as you want, however you want.”

“Dangerous games come with penalties, Cordelia. What happens if we’re caught?”

She didn’t want to consider the consequences right now. “We’ll think of something.”

“Doesn’t sound like much fun for Angelus. What’s the catch?”

“My turn. When I kiss you it has to be somewhere private. No one else except you, me—and him. That’s the kinky part. I can do whatever I want. Kissing, touching, anything, just as long as Angelus is there.”

Hesitating, Angel wanted clarification. “Watching or participating?”

Cordelia instantly thought back to being sandwiched between the two of them during the fight at school. Her already flushed skin turned a deeper shade of red.

“Angelus is a hands-on kind of vampire, Cordelia. I think you know that.”

One shoulder rose and fell into a shrug. “He didn’t really say.”

“Do I get to reciprocate by touching you? Angelus would never let me have you in every way I want, so tell me where he’s drawing the line.”

Cordelia did not pretend to be surprised. His physical response to their kisses was never in question, but knowing he often fantasized doing something about it made her wonder exactly where Angel would draw the line if Angelus hadn’t obliterated it. “There’s no line, just me. Whatever I want.”

He looked stunned, confused. The soft whisper of her name sounded more like a prayer as Angel touched his forehead to hers. “Do you really want this? Because I can’t say no to any of it.”

“Either we stop now—no more kissing—or we can try to have a little fun with it.”

Angel soured the word, “Fun,” taking issue with its use.

“That’s all it can ever be, right? At the end of the month, Angelus will officially have me all to himself, and you’ll be able to focus on patching things up with Buffy.”

His response dragged out slowly. “Right.”

“Great! It’s settled. We should probably put our order in. Looks like the guy is already starting to close up shop.”

The manager was bussing tables in the back corner when Angel tapped him on the left shoulder nearly causing him to drop his bucket of dirty dishes. “Sorry, dude, I didn’t hear you.” He pulled a headset with small styrofoam pads off his ears and let it curl around his neck. Pointing to a Walkman attached to his belt, he explained, “My favorite jam was playing.”

Angel was still looking thoughtful when they walked up to the counter. Slipping her hand into his, Cordelia gave it a squeeze before leaning in to whisper, “Jam as in tune, music. Not strawberry jam.”

Bemused, he smiled as he whispered back, “I know that,” just before smooching her on the lips.

That tiny little kiss left her shell-shocked. He hadn’t even looked outside to see if Buffy might happen to be glancing their way. “Are you crazy? We’re not trying to get caught.” Peeking around his shoulder, Cordelia saw that no one seemed to have noticed a thing. Buffy and Angelus seemed to be in the middle of an argument. “Oh, thank God!”

“Having fun yet?”

Cordelia flashed Angel a narrowed glare. She was certain he enjoyed that jab. “No, but I will be later tonight.”

“What can I get for you folks?” asked the manager as he stepped up behind the counter. He had washed his hands and put on some clear gloves before grabbing a scooper.

Angel perused the multi-colored ice creams and their labels. “Which one do you want?”

Pointing through the glass, she picked a yellow ice cream. “Definitely that one.”

“Not the mint chocolate chip?” That was Cordelia’s other favorite.

That had been established early on after she moved to the mansion. Freezer essentials definitely included mint chocolate chip. “You’ll like this one,” she promised knowing that those vampire super senses could make food off-putting. “It’s kind of tart, a little sweet, and a bit floral. Kind of hits all the right notes.”

Edging into her space he teased softly, “Sounds like you.”

Cordelia snorted, “You don’t need to flirt with me. My kisses come with a guarantee.”

“Don’t brush this off, Cordy, or cheapen it. Nothing about my contract with the Moirae is what I thought, and the same goes for this deal with Angelus. He can call it a game, and get off on watching us twitch on the end of a pike if that’s where this trap of his leads. I won’t give you up completely, not a second before it becomes necessary.”

A sharp pang pricked at her feelings when Angel’s vehement words made them swell up like an overfilled balloon. Almost too much truth to handle, even for her. Somehow, the three of them were tangled up in a knot of their own making. He wasn’t wrong to worry about consequences, but like him, Cordelia could not turn away. Having offered him the opportunity to opt out early, his refusal to do so had only given her an unexpected sense of relief.

“I just want things to be good between us when this is over.”

Gently taking hold, Angel sealed his promise with a soft velvety kiss. “Better than good,” he murmured before reluctantly pulling away.

A rumble sounded as the Tasty Treats manager cleared his throat. “Total is eight ninety-five, folks. Cash or credit?”

Angelus spotted them first because Buffy was too busy glaring at him in stubborn silence after a rousing argument. All he had tried to do was keep her distracted with a fun little game he had tweaked for his own amusement: Bite, Fuck, or Torture. The Slayer had no sense of humor. It wasn’t like he actually planned to do any of those things to the crowd, but it he loved to see her squirm over the details.

“Just in time to save me,” Angelus joked as he straightened up having propped his feet up on one of the chairs. “Buff was about to stake me.”

Scowling at him, Buffy snapped, “You’d deserve it. If only I could.”

Cordelia tried not to laugh because she was certain there was good reason for her to say so. He might be her boyfriend, and be restricted by the Fates’ ground rules, but Angelus was still Angelus. Defending him would only turn the Slayer’s radar in her direction, and since she felt antsy about having kissed Angel with only a few yards of space and a glass door between them, she opted to stay quiet.

“That took forever,” Buffy grumped at them once they sat down. “Did they have to milk the cow and churn the ice cream?”

When she saw Angel glance over expectantly, Cordelia realized he thought she would do the talking. “Cleaning leather can be tricky.” The excuse went over well since Buffy was probably no stranger to patrol-related laundry issues.

Angelus asked, “Where’s the cone? I sent you in for ice cream.”

“We got a pint.” Cordelia nudged Angel who set the bag on the table. “We can try it out later.”

Buffy, who had finished off her double-scoop waffle cone held up her hands. “No thanks. I’ve had enough.”

“Probably past your bedtime anyway,” Angelus pointed out. He shared one little tidbit of actual conversation Buffy had made before he got bored. “Buff has a thing with her mom first thing in the morning.”

“Yeah, sorry Angel, I meant to tell you I’ll have to cut things short tonight.”

Cordelia tried not to eavesdrop as Buffy and Angel discussed plans for a quick patrol of the westside cemeteries and hotspots before they split up at Crawford Street. Everyone knew what usually went on between them when patrol was over. Despite being crunched for time it seemed unlikely that Buffy would forgo getting intimate with Angel, even if it was just quickie.

Jealousy flashed fiery hot for an instant. The irony was not lost on her. Minutes ago she had been trying to give Buffy some friendly advice on pleasing her vampire. Now it felt like the blonde was trespassing on her territory. Knowing that she had no right to be so possessive about Angel didn’t change a thing, and that scared her a little. Angelus’ plan was meant to resolve their attraction, settle things, and ultimately end them, not have the opposite effect.

“Passionfruit,” Angelus read sales ticket. “Nice pick. Think I’ll like it better than vanilla?”


The End.


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