Double or Nothing
Chapter 1: The Ultimatum
Hinges squealed in complaint as Buffy stormed out abruptly causing the library doors to swing shut behind her. Willow yelped, “Was it something we said?” Her mouth fell slack-jawed like Xander’s after their offer to help had been shot down.
Amused by the drama, Cordelia observed, “Somebody’s in a snit today.”
Buffy’s best buds were too busy whimpering about the unexpected rejection to recognize the all too obvious reason. Even Giles was scrunch-browed as if suspecting Buffy might’ve been possessed by a demon yet again. Not even close. For a smart guy who knew things he was clueless about teenage girls.
Obvious much? Hello! Hormones, anyone?
Little Miss Likes To Fight was wound up tight. Patrolling might be a handy excuse to take out frustrations on some unsuspecting evildoer, but it was clear what Buffy Summers really wanted. Six-foot-plus inches of delectable eye candy was hard for any girl to ignore. Very hard. Impossible, really. Cordelia hadn’t exactly managed it herself.
The only surprising thing was that Buffy had left Angel behind, too. Slitting her gaze, she tried to figure out if he was pissed off, confused or as stunned as the others. Angel was poker-faced as usual, maybe a little tight around the jaw while his gaze was fixed in the direction of the doors. Sometimes it was all too easy for Cordelia to read him, bleeding heart, tortured soul, and all. The brooding hero kept apart from his one true love by a terrible curse. Tragic, right? More like traumatic for everyone who had to watch.
Fairy tales had no place on the Hellmouth especially when they had all the hallmarks of a bad soap opera. The nauseating kind that was strangely hypnotic because it was always a disaster waiting to happen. Things would’ve been so much less dramatic in Buffyville if Angel hadn’t escaped that nasty hell dimension, or if he had just left town once he saw that his ex was already dating.
Not that Cordelia wasn’t glad that Angel was back home again soul intact. For a vampire, he was actually good to have around. Besides not being an eyesore, he also had a timely knack for killing things that were trying to kill you. Definitely a plus in her book.
Still, Cordelia doubted it was Angel’s fighting ability that led Buffy to dump Scott faster than she’d thrown out that supposedly one-of-a-kind Todd Oldham after another girl showed up at school wearing a dress just like it. Scott’s problem was that he was just the cheap knock-off some girls settled for when you couldn’t have the designer original you really wanted.
Was it a slayer-vampire thing? Maybe Angel was just that good. Putting aside the whole undead factor, Cordelia figured Angel really knew what he was doing when it came to sex. Curiosity might have prompted her to think about once or twice–not counting those dreams– even after his egomaniac of an evil alter ego had pinned her to the ground that night in the cemetery. Angelus boasted he could deliver her pleasure as easily as death.
These days Angel was practically a eunuch. Call it karma. What goes around comes around. No wonder Buffy was acting out, hormonal and frustrated. Things were rough for anybody who ran into her on a bad day, which lately was every day.
Being honest about it, Cordelia wasn’t totally unsympathetic. Considering Angel turned into a soulless demon whenever he got some, it was only fair that Buffy turned into a bitch when she didn’t.
Some might say that whatever Buffy and Angel did or didn’t do was none of her business, but Willow was oh-so wrong about that one. Cordelia had no intention of sitting on the sidelines for the second half of the Angelus Sucks the World into Hell Show. Despite that they claimed to need no reminders to avoid getting touchy-feely, a little helpful hint now and then couldn’t hurt.
No one wanted Angelus to pick up where he left off, especially her.
A flash of memory carried her back to the cemetery that night faster than she could blink. Angelus had tackled her to the ground making movement impossible, his solid frame pressing her into the soft grass. One of the most terrifying moments of her life echoed far more seductively with Angel as a substitute, but the reality of his words served as a reminder that thinking of him that way could be dangerous.
Shuddering, Cordelia tried to push the memory out of her head just as the library door opened again with an unexpected bang. On edge, she shrieked, but no one seemed to notice because Buffy was back having apparently realized Fido wasn’t automatically on her heels.
An impatient huff preceded, “Coming, Angel?”
Cordelia’s eyes rolled because she knew Angel’s response before he made it. Swift vampire reflexes had him on his feet almost instantly. One figurative snap of Buffy’s fingers and he responded faster than Pavlov’s dog.
Pfft! If he wasn’t so hot he’d be really pathetic.
Buffy trounced out the way she came, blonde hair flipping into place with a toss of her head. It didn’t surprise her in the least when Angel made a move to follow. A noxious comment popped out that Cordelia couldn’t contain. It was little more than a passing thought, but Angel overheard it coming to a sharp stop just a few feet away suddenly focusing on her. Not even certain what she’d said to annoy him, a little quiver zipped along her spine, one not entirely equated to fear.
The poker face was gone, replaced by irritation as his expression darkened. It wouldn’t take a mind reader or a confession for Angel to guess where her thoughts had taken her. Kinda obvious considering recent conversations. It was way too easy to wind him up these days, especially about Buffy. Teasing Angel might not be the smartest thing to do, but it was addictive.
Since his return from the depths of that hell dimension, Cordelia decided to get over the trauma of that night in the cemetery. Angel’s soulless self might be a groper, but was that really his fault? No. Getting him to believe that she genuinely intended to forgive him and had no ulterior motives was harder than Cordelia imagined. She wasn’t there to flirt or convince him that Buffy was totally not right for him no matter how true that might be.
Hello! Dating a girl who accessorized with stakes? That was just wrong in so many ways. Since Angel was basically a resident of Eunuch City now, not to mention still a vampire, it would be kind of pointless to convince him that he could do better. Cordelia knew what it was like to become persona non grata and didn’t care for it at all. The way the others treated Angel like a pariah grated on her nerves. Offering him her friendship made her feel better about the whole nightmarish saga.
After Angel’s initial reticence, he stopped questioning her motives. Whenever alone, they gravitated together for brief little moments either at the Bronze while he waited for Buffy, or the library before the Scoobies arrived. Casual conversations drew them closer. No subject was forbidden between them. She talked. He listened. Sometimes he answered. Lately, he had opened up to the point where his contributions extended beyond a grunt or two, or simple monosyllabic responses.
There was so much about Angel that he kept to himself, but it was fun to find topics that animated his interest. Earning one of Angel’s rare smiles– totally priceless. Not to mention heart-stopping.
Cordelia enjoyed hearing tidbits about his mysterious past whenever he deigned to interject them, even when they were on the shocking side. It was her own fault if he stopped filtering his responses. Art and music and travel were generally safe enough, but whenever she dared steer the topic to him Angel would say something that made her shudder in her shoes. Sometimes because the answer terrified her and acknowledging it was reason enough to forget the way a whispered confession could made her tremble.
Patrol with Buffy didn’t usually fall into the hot confession category. Not for her, anyway. More like the ‘Too Much Information’ category. Today, Angel had shared disturbing news about their round in Old Sunnydale Cemetery. Patrol equalled date night for Buffy and Angel, so. . . no surprise! Their date had been interrupted by a nasty demon. Slayage required.
Cordelia remembered rolling her eyes thinking Angel was going to drone on about a nifty new weapon or a fighting technique. She had planned to steer him toward a more interesting subject like the awesome new hairstyle that he had totally failed to notice. Oddly, she couldn’t get a word in as Angel dished out details. This was far worse than a gory description of a fight. The demon hadn’t been the problem, or the source of Angel’s concern. No fancy footwork or sharp objects required.
If only things had stopped there, but no! The fight was just the big buildup. Now on a roll, Angel took their ‘anything goes’ chat to an all-new level. The heart-pounding, eye-widening, horrifying event he had hinted at happened after the demon died. Buffy had worked up an appetite that had nothing to do with post-patrol pizza.
Gossip was totally her thing and if Angel had been telling her about anyone else she would’ve eaten up every little detail and asked for seconds. Not about this! Kissing had led to groping which led to clothes being undone. Angel and Buffy had totally made out against the Forbes family crypt in Old Sunnydale Cemetery playing their own version of Risky Business. Didn’t they already cause enough concern just by holding hands? Spontaneous combustion and soul loss weren’t just nasty side-effects.
One rational thought pulled her lip into a curl. There might be demon goo or something equally icky on their hands or clothes. Eew! “Killing demons and getting horny don’t belong in the same scenario,” she snapped. Mostly because it was all too easy to picture the hot kisses and the sensation of his hands. “Cemeteries aren’t romantic hot spots.”
Angel’s gaze darkened as he loomed closer. “Neither are janitorial closets.” The rare zinger left her gasping. It only took a second to connect the dots. He knew! He knew about Xander.
Cordelia felt her face flush hot at the memory of Xander’s sloppy kisses, fumbling in the dark, and the thrill of possibly getting caught. Fun while it lasted, but she was so over that clown. Making out with him in the janitor’s closet was the highlight of their time together even before they had made it official. Probably an early sign things were destined to go downhill if only she had paid attention.
Those closet kissing sessions were hush-hush. Xander had been sworn to secrecy, yet Angel knew all about it. Another promise broken. Obviously, Xander had spilled the beans to Willow who had told Buffy who had told Angel. Giles probably knew, too. One more thing on her To Do List for the day, she decided. “I am so going to maim that blabbermouth in the most painful way imaginable.”
“No one blabbed.” Angel quickly cut through the red haze of revenge. He explained with a wry grin, “You don’t normally smell like disinfectants and wet mops–or Harris for that matter.”
“Oh.” Thinking about it for a second, Cordelia lifted a strand of her hair to her nose detecting only the soft scent of shampoo. “Well, who said you could go around smelling people?” Considering how closely they stood together she figured Angel could probably guess what she had for breakfast that morning.
Although he never said much in defense of himself, Angel occasionally bit back. Those one-liners were often deeply personal, borderline hurtful, or highly embarrassing. Things Angelus might say with intent, Angel only said because he didn’t always hold himself in check. The sting always lasted a while.
In typical Cordelia fashion, she did what came naturally by stinging back. Anything to get off the subject of Angel’s supernatural ability to figure out who she’d been kissing and where it happened. “Do I look like an advice columnist for vampires? Getting groiny with you is dangerous, and Buffy obviously likes it that way.”
The grin disappeared back into his usual brooding countenance. “What am I supposed to do?”
Telling Angel to plan a trip to Mars might be taken as seriously as advising him to end things with Buffy. Not. She would be renting a condo on the Red Planet before that ever happened. Relationship advise was totally her thing. Right up there with shopping and locker room gossip. There were so many things to say, but as strong and heroic and brave as Angel seemed to be, he was most vulnerable about his feelings for Buffy. That was annoying, but a truth she had faced a long time ago.
Now he was genuinely asking for help in what was possibly the first test of their shiny new friendship.
Fine. I’ll deal.
Sighing, Cordelia tried to form a serious response, “You have to be the adult here, Angel. Just say no.”
Good advice, right?
“Easy peasy,” she added with a dismissive shrug.
So was picturing her big strong vampire man fending off Buffy’s hormonal advances during their next patrol. Mirthful laughter threatened to bubble up until Angel growled, “You think it’s easy to st–?”
Not wanting to hear excuses, she cut him off by pressing a finger to his lips. “Repeat after me: ‘No, Buffy, sex is bad. Capital N. Capital O.'”
Staring darkly, Angel caused Cordelia’s retreat. “Talking is the last thing on my mind when she’s in my arms,” he explained as she snatched her hand away.
“Eew! Save the details for your therapist,” she pleaded. “I get it. Kissing is nice, it’s hot, kind of addictive. Makes you want more.”
The tip of Angel’s tongue dragged between his lips as if he was picturing it right then and there. Cordelia sucked in a shaky breath. “I like kisses, too,” she confessed before realizing it sounded like an invitation. Quickly adding, “You just have to set limits.”
It wasn’t a new concept, but Angel sounded like he needed details. “Limits?”
Did he ask because he was clueless, or because it was obvious that talking about his relationship with Buffy made her stomach churn? A butterfly impaled on a pin couldn’t be any more trapped than her. Cordelia groaned. There was no escape from this conversation.
“Oo-kay. Let’s not talk about sex. That’s just distracting.” Boy howdy, was it ever! Changing tactics, Cordelia offered, “I’m better much better with food. Let’s talk about putting you on a diet.”
“Um, I don’t actually eat food,” Angel shrugged apologetically.
Putting her hands on her hips, she huffed, “Beggars can’t be choosers, Angel. You wanted my opinion, so let me give it to you the way I want.”
Cordelia thought her analogy was brilliant. “We’ll call this the Buffy-Lite Diet. You keep the parts of the relationship that are good for you and cut down on the things you shouldn’t have. Before you know it you won’t miss them at all.”
The plan sounded perfectly reasonable at the time.
Apparently their little chit-chat hadn’t sunk in yet. It made no difference in the speedy way Angel just jumped to his feet to follow Buffy out on patrol. Somehow she knew it wasn’t because he was eager to start the new ‘diet’.
“Look at you! Eager as a puppy.” She found it easier to make fun of the relationship than to admit that it bothered her. “Someone just tugged on your leash.” Her amusement at his expense came with the added trill of laughter. “Better hurry! Maybe there’s a treat in store for you tonight.”
The impact of his penetrating gaze made her body flush hot and her heart pound a little faster. Cordelia put it down to the thrill of making fun of him. Maybe she liked it a little too much.
There was no need for her to ask if his collar felt a little too tight or if his apparently short leash was bothering him. Angel had been regaled with Cordelia’s opinion of him as Buffy’s lap dog one too many times.
The joke had worn thin and now left him prickling with the urge to prove her wrong. Not that he would, Angel counseled himself as he stifled sudden plans to wipe that teasing smile from her mouth. Deep down, his instincts stirred with the need to take that natural tendency to bait him at every turn and use it against her. He wondered how Cordelia would react if he actually followed through.
Her inability to hold her tongue and the subconscious way her delectable body reacted often distracted him from the fact that he was in love with someone else. Instinctive, it was just his demon reacting. Just that part of him needing control, bent on subjugating another to his will, mastering her.
Today Cordelia urged him to limit contact with Buffy as if it was easy to stop when desire held you in its grip, a sign that she had never experienced raw passion on the scale he could deliver. Saying so would sound like boasting, and no matter how true it would just result in yet another snarky comment. A demonstration seemed necessary. Maybe then she would get it.
How insane had he been to consider it? Burning with the need to prove his point, Angel had come dangerously close to showing her how easy it was to get lost in a kiss. Thinking it hadn’t felt like a betrayal in that moment. Buffy was his whole reason for needing to gain her understanding.
The soft contours of her lips held his attention as she advised, “Hands stay on top of the clothes.” Only half hearing her, Angel’s gaze dropped to her blouse and the feminine curves outlined beneath it.
“Don’t zone out on me now,” Cordelia had warned him. “The Buffy-Lite Diet is all about avoiding temptation. What was I saying? Hands stay on top of the clothes.”
Angel cringed inwardly as he caught up with her meaning. Buffy’s clothes. Right. Back on track. Although he had sought out Cordelia’s opinion, now in the habit of hearing it, he recognized the subject was a volatile one. Talking about this was difficult enough without the distractions she unknowingly provided. Telling him where to draw the line made it sound as if Cordelia had given that same lecture to other men, schoolboys in her case, causing him to wonder how many of them had dared to break the rules.
Beautiful, mesmerizing, and a little terrifying all at once, she had to tempt them. One day soon some new boyfriend would make a move. The thought of some kid fumbling around with her in the back of a car made his teeth itch. He’d like to see her out of control with passion, caught beneath him in the throws of pleasure, calling out his name as he proved just how much in control he could be.
Guilt flashed like lightning after that, striking instantly. He had no business thinking so possessively, and certainly not in a sexual way. Cordelia claimed to want his friendship. A self-derisive curse echoed silently in his head that the concept seemed alien to him. The natural bond between Buffy, Willow, and Xander made him ache for inclusion in that tight knit circle. There was no room there for outsiders like him and Cordelia. What they had was new. Something that would stave off the loneliness that even his relationship with Buffy had not been able to squelch.
It might have been different if he was free to be intimate without the threat of Angelus looming so close to the surface. Now that he knew an unguarded moment of bliss was all it would take to strip away his soul, it was as if his own inner demonic voice continually kept suggesting new opportunities to break free of it. During his waking hours, Angel’s practiced control usually allowed him to tamp down inappropriately licentious thoughts. That was not the case during the daytime when sleep let his subconscious reign with base images, sensations and emotions.
Would Cordelia be horrified to to know that she often played a starring role in those vivid dreams? Every day his growing fondness for her warmed his heart. There was a danger in it that scared him for her sake despite the fact that he knew of only one way to lose his soul. Sleep indulged secret whims, lustful urges, and the darker vampiric desires he suppressed during waking hours. What he wanted from her in those dreamscapes often turned to the nightmare of Angelus’ escape.
An altruistic soul would keep temptation at a distance, spurn the friendship offered to him, but Angel was not that selfless. He couldn’t identify the void Cordelia seemed to fill, but he needed her there despite the snarky opinions and distracting charms. Unvarnished truth wasn’t always welcome, but he appreciated her ability to provide it.
Cordelia had a point about being more careful with Buffy. That was why he brought up the incident in the first place. He knew the dangers. He needed someone to tell him he was a fool for believing that he could handle having a relationship without the physical benefits. Here she was–telling him how to make it happen instead of advising him to keep his distance completely.
That might be for the best for all of them, but Angel was not considering that as an option. Not yet. Maybe Buffy did have him on some kind of leash, because he felt obligated to stay in Sunnydale. Even now when they were forced into a celibate relationship, the mission was still there. Helping her gave him purpose. Both her innocence and determination called to his heart, and had done so from the moment he laid eyes on her.
For the first time in his human or vampire existence he had given his heart to someone. The loss of his soul, the hellish existence in Acathla’s realm, and the struggles to find himself after his return made Angel feel like a different person at times. Loving someone, being loved, he wanted that feeling back.
Doubt and guilt occupied his conscious thoughts. Making this relationship work was not as simple as picking up where they left off. Spending time together felt awkward for the first few weeks. Neither one had wanted to talk about their time apart. Patrolling together was the only uncomplicated thing between them, and they had slowly been finding their natural rhythm again. Dust one, slay two. They had indulged in a few kisses here and there. Nice, but wholley unsatisfying. Abstinence was becoming problematic. Both of them needed more.
Buffy’s very nature stirred other, darker instincts, and with his century-long stint in hell he was unused to denying his desires.
Something else also distracted him these days, or rather someone. Cordelia’s company invigorated his mind, and not just his body. Their conversations intrigued him even if they took a few tangents into the modern experience he did not understand. Rarely alone together, their friendship had grown from stolen moments. Her forthrightness and sometimes self-centered view of the universe constantly amused and amazed him.
Cordelia awakened a side of himself that Angel had long thought buried. Admittedly, that didn’t mean the cheerleader was not equally adept at awakening his ire. Her insinuation that running after Buffy like an eager puppy might earn him some attention was proof enough of that.
Stalking past her on his way out, Angel paused long enough to growl out his advice in a low rumble, “Be careful about yanking chains that don’t belong to you, Cordelia. Especially mine. You never know what you might unleash.”
Once Angel vanished through the doors, his long leather coat billowing behind him, Cordelia let out a long sigh as the tension suddenly drained from her body. Gawd, if anyone needed to get laid around here it was Angel. All that pent up frustration was starting to rub off on her, too. Though her miniscule experience didn’t give her a lot for comparison, she guessed that being with him would probably be fantastic. So it didn’t hurt to remind him, or herself, on occasion that he was now officially in the no-bone category.
Most of the time, Angel seemed to have iron control over his libido. She assumed he was reigning in all that salty goodness because of Angelus. It was Buffy she actually worried about losing it. Not that Cordelia would ever want to be in Buffy Summers’ so-last-season shoes, but she understood Angel’s asthetic appeal.
“What’d he say to you, Cor?” asked Xander from across the library. Whether it was just morbid curiosity or a hint of jealousy, Cordelia couldn’t tell. “Dead Boy looked at you like you were his after dinner mint.”
“Angel,” she emphasized his name, “doesn’t like anyone to say that he lets Buffy order him around. I can’t help it if he doesn’t like hearing the truth.”
Cordelia watched them squirm at the subject reacting with different levels of discomfort. Looking almost as broody as Angel on one of his better days, Xander frowned and practically pouted at her. Any reminder that despite the forces keeping them apart, Buffy and Angel were still technically together, left him irritated. Willow always took Buffy’s side and quickly reminded her that what the blonde chose to do with her own boyfriend was none of Cordelia’s business.
An appropriately scathing retort was on the tip of Cordelia’s tongue when Giles cut in to announce they were released from further research duty. “Since the date of the upcoming mystic confluence has been determined, you can go for the evening. I, for one, plan to turn in early.”
The idea of going to sleep was ridiculous. It was only 11pm. This was the weekend. “Not me.” Cordelia grabbed her purse and car keys. “The rest of you can probably use some beauty rest, but I’m headed to the Bronze if anyone wants a ride.”
“Don’t get your nose out of joint,” Buffy advised the demon as she leapt off the top of the crypt with a flying kick to its already swollen proboscis.
With a howl the demon retaliated by taking several near swipes with its clawed hands. The Slayer dodged and rolled under the extended arms that threatened to reel her in. She reached into her bag of tricks, which she had dropped when her foe appeared out of the depths of the old Sunnydale Cemetery, and pulled out a short sword. This job required a little more oomph than Mr. Pointy could deliver.
Angel’s stealthy moves allowed him to creep up behind the demon. Fisting his hands together, he jabbed mid-spine causing another cry of pain. Only the beast did not go to the ground as expected despite the use of vampiric strength. It reeled around with its clawed hands poised to rend flesh from bone. The fearsome sight only gave Angel a deep demonic thrill as he realized this was really going to be a fight.
He shook his head letting his true features shift to the surface. Baring fangs, he let the creature see just what it was up against. “Feeling lucky?” His question was for Buffy.
“He’s pretty scrawny,” Buffy quipped from behind him. The demon was easily twice Angel’s size. “I think we can take him.”
An outraged roar followed. The demon lunged forward. Angel grabbed its forearms. Instead of allowing it to tackle him to the ground, he pulled it down with him into a controlled roll using his legs to flip the demon tail over head. Buffy was waiting when it bounded back to its feet.
Fast despite its girth, it managed to avoid her initial attack. The sword sliced through air instead of flesh. A hard hit to her back sent Buffy crashing to the ground. Angel took another shot at it, and they exchanged a series of hard-hitting blows. A painful blow connected with his jaw, searing pain radiating down his neck and shoulder.
Finally, they got their act together. Their turn-taking style kept the demon busy and constantly in the fight, but it wasn’t getting the job done. It took over ten minutes to bring the demon down with their combined efforts, a long fight as compared to their usual patrols.
Pain and adrenalin combined. Angel met Buffy’s gaze with a predatory gleam in his dark eyes and then shifted back to his human features. Though he knew it was his demon jockeying for control there were times it just felt damn good to kill something with his bare hands.
The vampire wasn’t the only one feeling the aftereffects of the fight. Buffy’s insides were still humming with the rush of power at overcoming the demon, rending its body with her weapon and watching it fall to the ground in a dead heap. It was a familiar sensation after a battle, especially one like this that was beyond the usual stakeout.
The buzz left her feeling needy and wanting more… of something.
“Any injuries?” Angel queried stalking close to check for himself.
Buffy eyed the vampire’s muscular body outlined in the dark clothes and leather jacket with equal attention to detail. “Nothing serious.”
Towering above the Slayer’s petite form, Angel deliberately moved into Buffy’s personal space. His vampiric senses were reeling at the scent of her sudden arousal. Far from the first time Angel had noticed the way her body responded after a brawl, his instincts were clamoring for him to take the silent offer. Moving up until he stood only inches away he drank in the sudden scent of hot, fragrant need.
So close, Buffy thought, feeling the lustful sting of her Slayer senses that warned her a vampire was near. Staring deep into Angel’s nearly black eyes, her body hummed in response. Despite her relative sexual inexperience, Buffy instinctually recognized her need. Angel was so close, but not close enough. It would never be close enough until she had him deep inside her dampening the triumphal energy coursing through her body and sating this urge to celebrate victory in the basest way imaginable.
Dropping her sword to the ground, Buffy reached for Angel at the same moment he bent down to wrap his arms about her. Their mouths meshed hungrily. Lips swiped voraciously across each other, nipping at the tender flesh kiss for kiss. Lifting Buffy up to fold her legs around his waist, Angel straightened without ever breaking contact. She tightened her hold, finally pulling away only to draw a panting breath.
Both caught the other’s gaze realizing instantly that this was something dangerous. It could not continue. A look of pain and frustration crept into their eyes. Slowly, Angel let Buffy slip back down to a standing position and he stepped away from her. Their kisses only fed the flame and now both clung to the point of minimal control.
Hardly unaware of Angel’s arousal, Buffy replaced her imaginings of her skilled lover with the harsh reality of him losing his soul. There was only one path when it came to making love to Angel and it lead straight to his darker demonic side. Angelus was not something they could ignore. The threat was all too real.
“That was close,” Angel muttered the obvious, perturbed by the fact that he couldn’t seem to control his lust these days. This was the third time he had patrolled alone with Buffy during the past week and each occasion resulted in the same behavior.
Under her breath, Buffy grumbled her confession, “I miss touching you.”
Naturally, the vampire heard her. Angel’s feelings were obvious, “You think I don’t miss it? Buffy, I find this just as frustrating. It’s not as if I chose to be cursed.”
Before Angelus’ arrival and long before the night they made love for the first and last time in Angel’s apartment, the vampire had slowly been easing Buffy into a more intimate relationship. He was all too conscious of her youth and innocence. By the time the week of her seventeenth birthday rolled around there was not much left to explore except the final ultimate act of breaching her virginity.
Apparently, their little love games had been fun and satisfying, but didn’t quite equate to perfect bliss. Not until they made love and Angel forgot all about being a vampire in her arms and felt the light of hope that was pure human happiness. Then his soul was gone and Angelus swept through Sunnydale killing when and where he chose, stalking the Slayer’s friends and generally playing mind games with Buffy in the hope of driving her mad.
“I don’t need reminders!” Buffy snapped peevishly. Then she remembered that she had forgiven Angel for the things his demon had done when the soul was not around. She considered them different people. There was Angel and there was the demon. With his soul intact, there was no thought of any link to evil, for Angel was her boyfriend, her lover and her champion.
“Apparently, we both need reminding.”
Pouting, Buffy realized that he was right. “This is impossible. We can’t seem to be good. I want you Angel. There has to be a way around this curse, a way to make your soul permanent.”
Angel ran both hands through his hair in a sight of utter frustration that now included the conversation. “I researched this gypsy curse for years. Decades.”
“No,” the vampire admitted, but didn’t really see that it would make a difference. “Coming up empty-handed time after time is maddening. I lost the motivation to keep looking for answers that don’t exist.”
Standing with her hands on her hips, Buffy tapped her booted foot against the ground as she waited for Angel to get the hint. He seemed to see only her irritation without guessing the reason for it. Finally, she waved a hand down the svelte outline of her body.
“Hello, I’m your motivation.” Buffy thought that would have been clear enough. “Find a cure, Angel. Find one fast.”
Irritated by her apparent ultimatum, Angel demanded, “Or what?”
Buffy searched for a quick response, but found none. She could hardly threaten him with holding out on him when that was the problem. Her mouth tightened up into a puckered circle of frustration and her wide eyes pleaded understanding. “I don’t know, I just want you and can’t have you. Please Angel, there has to be a way for us to be together.”
Early after sunset the next evening, Angel found himself browsing through some of Rupert Giles’ books tucked away in the caged section of the Sunnydale High School Library. Carrying several of them out to the worktable, he sat down and began to study sections related to Romany magicks.
“Giles, I’m…” Cordelia Chase broke off her greeting as she caught sight of the vampire. Angel looked up as soon as he heard her enter through the double doors of the library and found it interesting that the cheerleader was here alone.
“He left an hour ago,” Angel revealed leaving out the part about the Watcher hastily disappearing almost as soon as he showed up to do some research. Obviously, Rupert Giles still had some trust issues when it came to being alone with the vampire who tortured him and murdered his lover. Soul or no soul, Angel knew it was never going to be forgotten. “Something about an evening appointment.”
The brunette looked almost disappointed, shifting her balance from one leg to the other. “Oh, okay. Damn.”
Dropping a bookmark in the large tome, Angel closed the binding and pushed the book away in order to turn his attention to Cordelia. “Did you need something? Maybe I can help.”
Cordelia’s smile looked genuine enough, lighting up her face with a glow and bringing a sparkle to her eyes. There was just something about it that made his mind wander, considering ulterior motives. After all, once upon a time, she would have leapt at the chance to get him alone like this.
Without being obvious about it, Angel let his eyes soak up the sight of Cordelia in the knitted top that hugged her breasts and the short skirt that left her long supple legs bare to his view. She looked soft and firm in all the right places, her curves making his hands itch to touch her. Though Angel knew it wasn’t right to think so lasciviously about someone he considered a friend, he told himself that it was only natural to wonder if things would be different if he had taken her up on one of her early flirtations.
Buffy was far from his first sexual experience after being cursed. Just the first lover who had engendered feelings of such depth. Discovering that he loved Buffy Summers had been a shock. For Angel had never been in love before, not really. Not during his human life and certainly not during his time as Angelus. That moment of bliss, the utter contentment he had felt from being in her arms was a feeling Angel wanted to experience again. His body craved it. He felt the loss of her touch and this enforced celibacy was infuriating.
Looking at Cordelia Chase, he found himself thinking things that were definitely off limits. If it had been Cordelia instead of Buffy in his bed would the results have been the same? She roused such base thoughts inside him that he wondered if it would be possible to forget his demon nature. Lately, he’d noticed it more and more. Cordelia possessed an innate ability to bring his demon to the fore unlike any other.
Only the Slayer herself stirred such a response. Angel hated to admit the root cause of those reactions. Part of him wanted Cordelia. Right now for instance, if he decided to do it, Angel could have her. Not because she was easy, but because there was still a part of her that was attracted to him despite the fact that he was a vampire. There was a time when he could have made her his. Angel wondered what it would be like to take her whenever and wherever he wanted. Here. Now. The possibilities of what he could do were endless.
“Was that a growl?” Cordelia asked, placing her burgundy and gold pom-poms on the table. Completely unaware that her breasts jiggled with a delicious bounce when she hopped up on the edge of the table, Cordelia missed his eye-popping expression. He quickly covered it up by rubbing a hand over his face, momentarily blocking the view of her perfectly formed breasts stretching the tight knit sweater of her cheerleader uniform. “It’s not my fault if Giles left you to do all the research.”
Suddenly feeling a little muddled, Angel wondered if Buffy had been talking about her ultimatum. Cordelia was the last person Buffy would make into her confidant, but somehow it wouldn’t surprise him. Buffy was just as frustrated as him by the curse that forced them into a celibate relationship. Though he’d long since gained control over his lustful instincts, lately it was all he could think about.
Angel’s eyes dropped as Cordelia crossed her legs, casually swinging her right foot back and forth, feminine muscle flexing beneath smooth golden skin. “Research?” he asked absently.
“I see a mountain of books,” waving a hand at the large pile on the table, “hence I assume that research is the objective. I doubt that this is your idea of reading for pleasure.”
The word ‘pleasure’ struck a sour note. Angel muttered something incomprehensible and then admitted, “Only in a round about way.”
Cordelia glanced around the library and realized that it was indeed empty except for the two of them. “No Scoobies. Huh. Where is everybody? Since when do they miss a chance for a research party?”
“It’s a private party,” Angel leaned back against his chair as she uncrossed her legs to nudge him with the end of her tennis shoe.
“Is that your way of trying to get rid of me?” Thin brows arched high until Cordelia realized Angel was referring to Xander and Willow. “Ah. Your fan club couldn’t come tonight.”
The sarcastic bite to Cordelia’s words elicited a brief grin. “Fortunately, I didn’t invite them.”
The vampire had never been in Xander’s good graces even before Angelus entered the picture. As for Willow, despite the fact that she had cast the spell that returned his soul, there were certain moments where she saw nothing but her dead fish every time she looked at him. The two of them had made the transition back into Buffy’s life much more difficult.
Even Oz, who had more reason to be a little empathetic considering his status as a werewolf, seemed standoffish, but that may have been his normally stoic behavior. Giles had the only legitimate personal vendetta against him considering that Angelus had tortured him and killed his girlfriend, Jenny Calendar. That was the real reason he left the library so quickly after Angel’s arrival. He didn’t trust himself not to try to stake the vampire.
“So you came here looking for Giles?” Angel questioned curiously.
Cordelia blinked away her surprise. “Duh! Who else would I normally see in the library?”
“You want me to name them all?”
She didn’t want to admit that she had gotten into the habit of looking in on the librarian after Jenny’s death. He had taken it so hard and worked so many hours beyond what he did for the school that she had taken it upon herself to cheer him up, especially when Buffy skipped town after the whole Acathla thing having sent Angel to hell to save the world. It was an easy thing to stop by and check on him after practice. Not that she would ever admit to anyone that’s what she was doing.
“What do you want me to say, Angel?” prompted Cordelia defensively, a hint of red flushing her cheeks and throat. “Maybe I’m having a hot affair with Giles. I sneak in here so we can do it behind the stacks.”
The corners of the vampire’s mouth quirked upward. “I guess you already know what they say about cheerleaders.”
Gasping playfully, Cordelia countered with, “How would you know, Mister Culturally Deprived? Have you ever bothered to come to one of our night games? No, you have to be all solitary and mysterious or pretend to be Buffy’s shadow on some creepy graveyard patrol.”
Besides the Slayer herself, Cordelia was the only member of the Scooby Gang who freely accepted Angel back into the fold. She’d given him a tongue-lashing about him keeping his undead body parts away from Buffy in order to avoid certain unmentionable happiness clauses. More than anyone else, she seemed to recognize his guilt over Jenny Calendar’s death and accepted it as being punishment enough.
Angel had noted at the time that she never even blamed him for the wicked things his soulless self had promised the night he tackled her in the cemetery. None of the things he had threatened her with would normally be so easily forgotten.
As the memory surfaced, Angel’s smile dropped away. Asking seriously this time, “Why are you here?” he knew there was more to it than Cordelia just popping in for a visit. While he felt certain there was nothing sexual going on between the Watcher and cheerleader, he suddenly needed to know what it was, feeling an irrational wave of possessiveness rise within him.
Trying to keep it light, Cordelia rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, “I told you, I’m…”
“The truth, dammit,” he growled with such foul force that Cordelia jerked in sudden response.
Wide-eyed, Cordelia let out an outraged gasp, “What crawled up your ass tonight? Grumpy, much?”
“Never mind. Ignore me. I’m sorry, Cordy,” Angel pleaded understanding. The need to tell her what was going on suddenly became unavoidable. “This thing with Buffy has me so frustrated I can’t even think straight.”
Understanding suddenly dawned as Cordelia realized why a vampire who could no longer have sex might feel frustrated. Some of the demonology books she had read were actually rather informative. Sex Ed of the demon world. It was the one research topic Cordelia found interesting enough to actually study.
Vampires had a very strong sex drive. Unlike living humans, it was not directly tied to their reproductive methods. Through blood rites, they drained their victims and made them into not-so-little fledglings. Sex was an emotional outlet, an intimate form of showing domination or submission in ways that could be either tender or brutal. A way to fill the long days of eternity with pleasure instead of boredom.
As intriguing as that might be in theory, Cordelia couldn’t seem to get past the fact that the man of her dreams wasn’t a man at all, but a creature of the night. Though definitely a hottie, Angel was technically a walking corpse. That creeped her out just a little and the thought that Buffy had actually done it with the undead. Eew!
Still, there was something undeniably attractive about Angel that surpassed his male beauty. He left her curious to know more about him. Even about Angelus. There was just something magnetic that kept her coming back, eager for information. The more they talked, the more curious she became.
“What thing with Buffy? Same old, same old?” As if she didn’t already know, the wry thought popped into her head.
Angel pushed out of his chair and flexed his shoulders to ease the growing tension. “I’m not talking to you about it, Cordy. I already said more than enough yesterday. This isn’t a subject I should be sharing with a teenager.”
“You shared a lot more than that with her,” Cordelia drolly pointed out the other girl was even younger. “Just tell me what is bothering you. It’s just sex. I’m sure it’s nothing I haven’t heard before. Cheerleaders talk. If I haven’t done it, I’m sure someone has told me about it.”
So it was a big stretch of the truth, but if it got Angel talking that was a-okay with Cordelia. It wasn’t as if the vampire was going to spread rumors amongst the Scooby Gang or find out that she was a lot less experienced with sex than her reputation indicated.
For a moment, Angel clenched his jaw and gave Cordelia a defiant stare, but she simply stared back until he decided to tell her the truth. “I’m looking for a way to make my soul permanent.”
“So you can sleep with Buffy,” she cut straight to the point without even batting an eyelash. Pretending there was some other reason for it wouldn’t change that rather annoying fact. Being supportive seemed the right way to go. “Any luck so far?”
“No,” the growl was back in his voice again, frustration showing as his eyes actually made a subtle change from near black to dark amber.
Subconsciously, Angel shifted his stance placing himself directly in front of her with his hip touching one bare knee. Cordelia automatically opened her knees a little wider without noticing she accommodated the vampire as he moved up to the edge of the table where she sat. “You should ask Giles for help.”
Letting out a gruff laugh, it seemed clear to Angel that Giles would sooner to send him back to hell than help him with this project. “Ask the Watcher to find a way to make my soul permanent. Do you honestly imagine Rupert Giles assisting in any research designed to allow his protégé to have sex with a vampire, especially me?”
Cordelia freely admitted, “Giles would sooner stake you.”
“We agree on that.”
Leaning back on her elbows, Cordelia put a little distance between herself and Angel who seemed to have edged into her personal space. “What if you don’t find a way?”
“Eternal frustration,” Angel almost moaned. He didn’t know how Cordelia managed to get him to talk about things like this, but she seemed to have a knack for wheedling information out of people.
“That’s why you’re so grumpy. You’re not thinking with your head,” she commented. “I know guys when you get like this. Instant stupidity hits. You can’t think beyond what’s in your pants.”
Angel glanced down noticing for the first time the position they managed to get into. He was standing between Cordelia’s legs with the flap of her cheerleader mini-skirt barely covering her red panties as she reclined before him. As his gaze traveled up past the generous mounds of her firm breasts, he caught the tiny flutter of her pulse which brought his other senses into play.
Her tantalizing scent toyed with his sense of better judgment. Breathing deeply, he savored the unique mix that made up Cordelia. Sweet breath, the coppery tint of her blood, the slight saltiness of her soft skin from her recent workout at cheerleading practice, traces of her delicate fruity shampoo and body wash were savored on his tongue and the back of his throat. One thing more proved that Cordelia was not as unmoved by this conversation as she pretended to be.
The slightly musky hint of feminine arousal caught his attention. For a moment, it was all Angel could do to keep his hands still. He imagined himself sliding his hands along those silken legs to pull the red cotton panties off. Then he could see her, then he could taste her on his tongue, then he could bury himself inside her slick heat.
Lifting his heavy gaze to Cordelia’s beautiful face, Angel realized that her mouth was moving. She was saying something to him and he hadn’t heard a word.
Only half hearing her, he asked, “What?” having missed the point.
Cordelia rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “Come on, Angel! It wasn’t that shocking a suggestion.”
“No, I… uh, didn’t hear you.”
“Right. So much for vamp super-senses.” Cordelia pursed her lips, “Are we dealing with the instant stupidity factor?”
Shoving his hands in his pockets to hide the appearance of his burgeoning erection, Angel denied it, “Absolutely not.”
Cordelia looked doubtful. “What I asked was whether you had considered doing other things.”
“What other things?”
Fidgeting a bit, Cordelia felt her leg move along Angel’s thigh and suddenly realized the way they were positioned seemed overly intimate. She sat up immediately only to find that the move brought her even closer. The vampire appeared to notice nothing and he did not voluntarily step back. Cordy shrugged it off as her imagination getting away with her, but answering that question when she was physically up close and personal seemed more than a little wrong.
Since when had Cordelia not been able to say exactly what she was thinking? Angel took pity on her. “Yeah, I know. I’ve been around for a while, remember? It’s not an option. Buffy and I can’t do the things we did before I knew about the clause to this curse. There is no guarantee we would stop.”
“I get that,” Cordelia gripped the edge of the table.
“Cordy, Unless you’re planning to help me research this problem I think I’ll just take it from here.”
Help with research when the end of the world was not at stake? No way! “Not that I wouldn’t jump at the chance of finding a way to get rid of Angelus, but I suddenly have unexpected homework tonight.”
That was what he figured she would say.
“Do you mind?” Cordelia asked as she nibbled on her lower lip.
Angel actually thought it would get done a lot faster without her around to distract him. Her steady heartbeat sounded in his ears like a beacon calling him back to the pulse at her throat. So close. The scent of her intoxicating. He could feel her warmth from here just a few inches away.
His voice belied his thoughts as the demon within kept clamoring for fulfillment of its needs. “No, it’s fine.”
Flashing the vampire a grin, Cordelia thanked him for understanding. Planning to leave, she put her hands on his chest to move him out of her space, but Angel didn’t budge. “Move, dumbass! If I’m going to leave you to your research, you need to let me off the table.”
“There’s enough room,” Angel lazily surveyed the scant distance between them. “Go ahead.”
Grmph! Stubborn vamp. As Cordelia scooted forward, she squeezed herself into the space between the table and the vampire until she found her entire body pressed flush against his. Every hard inch of it.
“Angel move!” She tried to wiggle through, but only felt the stiff bar of flesh pressing against her through the layers of their clothes. Cordelia froze in place, partially in shock at the sensation and partly in anger that he was taking his Buffy-induced sexual frustration out on her.
“I should,” Angel agreed that moving was probably a good idea, but he couldn’t seem to will his body into action when her taut form was pressed up against him. Then both hands came out of his pockets and brushed along her small waist up to the sides of her breasts where his thumbs encroached upon their curves with the softest of caresses. “Stay still, Cordy. Just for a minute.”
“You are officially out of your mind.” Cordelia’s anger escalated, also accompanied by a sliver of fear. The eyes staring back at her were those of a predator. Not at all like the ‘Care Bear with Fangs‘ that she once jokingly called him. No, he was gazing down with the same darkly sensual expression that Angelus wore the night he almost got lucky enough to kill her.
“What you need more than a permanent soul,” Cordelia futilely pushed against his upper arms, “is a cold shower.”
Her words were almost as effective. Angel dropped his hands away from her body and stepped back to a distance that kept her out of arms reach. What the hell was he doing? This was Cordelia Chase, his friend, not the fantasy version that invaded his dreams or crept into his head first thing after awakening.
Angel hated the fact that there was only one outlet for this self-imposed celibacy and it included a few too many fantasies that involved this beautiful and willful brunette. He was in love with Buffy! That was why he was here at this damnable library doing research on his curse, hopeless cause though it might be. Not only had he come on to Cordelia, possibly endangering their budding friendship, he had frightened her.
Apologizing profusely, Angel begged her to forget his course, inexplicable behavior. To his surprise, Cordy relaxed almost immediately. He had a way of looking so guilty that it couldn’t be anything but legitimate. “Hello, I’m not your girlfriend. We’ll just blame this on the obvious lack of blood flow to your already dead brain cells.”
Picking up her pom-poms from the table, Cordelia wished him luck with his research. “You know, Angel? It’s too bad someone just can’t separate the good you from the bad you. Then you could just lock Angelus up and throw away the key.”
As Cordelia flounced out of the library her words repeated in Angel’s head. Separate the good from the evil? The simplistic notion provided him with the sudden clarity that he did not need to do any research at all. The answer to his problems was right there all along. Why the hell hadn’t he thought of this before?
No motivation, Angel reminded himself sardonically.
There was a very real solution to making his soul permanent. For the first time in decades, Angel realized he possessed the key to his own cure. Until now, he hadn’t been willing to pay the price it would require.