06: Dark Avenger
Chapter 6: The Dark Avenger
Angelus strolled toward the Bronze keeping to the shadows out of habit. After the demon thrashing earlier in the week things had slowed down for the Slayer and her little gang of misfits. Not that Angelus included himself in that number. He was just the extra muscle they called in for special cases. Strangely, he felt bored and found himself hoping a hell raising, demon hatching, or anything remotely interesting would come along.
It wasn’t as if he could cause his own special brand of chaos. Surely there was something worth paying attention to around this Hellmouth haven. Fighting the Good Fight wasn’t exactly his deal. He certainly wasn’t going to go out looking to rescue lost kittens, stake fledglings, or investigate things that went bump in the night. Not of his own volition. Still, a little action would be a welcome change from having to listen to Angel for another second.
Being lectured by your mirror image was intolerable. Had he done something worthy of Angel’s annoying tirade he might simply not have taken it so personally. Bringing Cordelia Chase into the mansion without his say so was an issue for the most inane reasons. Doing anything at all with Cordelia was apparently off limits. Angel’s instincts were good; he had to give him that. Maybe he needed to be told exactly where the line had been drawn even if he had every intention of crossing it.
“Cordy came here of her own free will? With you.”
There might have been a little persuasion, but Angelus had not resorted to any overt methods to get her to come inside. That was the easy part. Getting her to stay was more of a challenge.
Angelus remembered his attempt at keeping it low-key. “Yes.”
But truthfully, he’d never been a low-key kind of vamp. When Angel pressed him for more details, he lathered on a little extra just for fun. Twisting a few details here and there just to rile him up a notch or two. “We both know I like a good ride. Cor was so eager to come.”
Furious, Angel looked like he was about to explode. A fight would have been a welcome distraction just then. Besides, he enjoyed the twisted look of jealous rage painted across his face. In order to make this deal with the Fates a success, Angel had been forced to divvy up his possessions. A short list of exceptions remained. Things Angelus had every right to share, but Angel defended as his own. Apparently, that also included a certain cheerleader.
Giving him rules only made him want to break them.
Teasing Cordelia now and then might slip under the radar. Too much a part of his nature to suppress it, Angel rarely bothered to make an effort to stop him. Cordelia was more than capable of defending herself in that regard. Her sharp tongue sliced like a proverbial razor, and he enjoyed its sting.
Touching her even in a casual way definitely pushed the limits of what he could get away with. Anything more would force her protector’s hand, and had done so more than once sometimes without her knowing he was on the verge of making a move. Angel watched him like a hawk whenever Cordelia was around. He knew better than to trust him.
Drinking and brawling down at Willie’s Place might pass the hours without causing too much trouble, but he had not gone there last night. Instead, he had returned here with Cordelia. Knowing precisely how persuasive that soulless bastard could be created just enough doubt in Angel’s mind to imagine she might have fallen for his charms. Angelus had never needed to suppress his passions. He took what he wanted, or manipulated his way into making the impossible happen.
Free of his watchdog, Angelus had to have tricked Cordy into a liaison here in the mansion. What had he said? Done? Why would she let that happen? She despised Angelus. There was no way she would let him treat her so casually by bringing her home for a quick screw. No way. Which meant Angelus was lying.
Cordelia’s feminine beauty might be an understandable temptation for Angelus, but he had no right to lay a finger on her much less seduce her. “You wouldn’t dare.”
Angelus scoffed at the measly threat. “We both know I would.”
Ready to snap, Angel’s hands balled up into tight fists, his knuckles turning white as he tried to restrain his urge to beat Angelus into a bloody pulp. Soul or not, he still had a vivid imagination, and it did not take a mind reader to guess that Angel’s head was full of erotic images that had nothing to do with the Corvette unless she was in it at the time.
That particular fantasy distracted him, too, as he wondered what it would take to make it real. A little plotting was in order. Seducing Cordelia would be a worthy challenge, and as for Angel, he didn’t need to know a thing until it was too late for him to stop it.
“You’re lying, Angelus. Trying to wind me up.” Reeling in his anger, Angel was able to focus his senses to realize that whatever went on downstairs it had not involved sex. That still did not give Angelus the right to involve himself with Cordelia. Words as rigid as his posture, he demanded some answers. “Tell me the truth.”
Pushing it just a little bit further, Angelus smirked as he gave it to him. “Already did. Cordelia gave me a ride home. Did you think I was talking about something else? I wouldn’t need a lift if you let me have the keys to the Plymouth, so let’s call this your fault.”
Angel looked like he wanted to rip him a new one, and he was not certain if it was because he had led him on about the kind of ride Cordelia had provided, or if his protective instincts had whipped into gear over his precious classic car.
“Walk home next time. Cordelia shouldn’t be alone with you. Not in a car, or anywhere else. Certainly not here.”
There was no need to ask for a reason. Angelus already knew that there was little trust between them on most subjects much less her. “Noted.” Not that he was going to let that stop him.
Like a dog with a bone, Angel just couldn’t let it go, regarding him with suspicion. “What are you up to? I can’t believe Cordelia would just follow you in here of her own accord.”
“Maybe she was just that hot for me.” Angelus poked the bear one more time before getting tired of the game. “Don’t get so worked up. Cor was just curious. She’s never seen the place. She wanted to explore, check out those etchings of yours.”
Angel’s art was private. One of those untouchable things that Angelus really had no reason to claim. That did not mean he could not use it to his advantage. “You brought her upstairs?”
“We never got that far. Something disturbing was going on up there that made her cut her visit short.”
Angel looked ready to hurl at the realization that Cordelia’s spontaneous visit coincided with Buffy’s. He sounded a little hoarse asking, “How much did she hear?”
Their lovemaking had rapidly become a duel for dominance. It may have started as a tease, a lighthearted game, but it didn’t end that way. She thrust him to the floor, held him down, rode him hard. He pushed her face against the wall, curled his fingers through hers, held them stretched out above her head, and took her from behind. Their wild coupling went on half the night. It was not until after Buffy left that he had walked downstairs and noticed the lingering scent of Cordelia’s perfume.
“Guess it must’ve been a real turn-off,” Angelus sneered thinking the same thing. “That little blonde pistol of yours doesn’t come quietly.”
“Buffy is my business. Try minding your own.”
“Oh, I am,” he answered quite sincerely.
Cordelia Chase was every bit his business, or at least she would be.
Angel wasn’t stupid. His words carried an underlying threat. “Stay away from Cordy. I can’t believe you brought her home. Exposed her to…”
“Your bedroom romps with the Slayer?” Angelus blew off his concerns with a shrug. “They’re hardly a secret. Everybody knows what puts that irritating glow on her face.”
“My relationship with Buffy is not up for discussion. Stop making snide comments to her friends.”
“Don’t need to. They do that quite well themselves.”
Stewing over it, Angel paces one way and then the other finally coming back to ask how Cordelia reacted to it. He looked torn up over it, as if he had revealed a part of himself that he wanted no one else to see, especially her. Angelus figured he had cause for concern. “It’s not Buffy’s friends you’re worried about. It’s yours. Cordelia. You’re afraid this might put her off.”
Angel did not deny it. Their friendship was still relatively new, and these recent events changed things so much. They were rarely alone now. He missed their little conversations even though Cordy had done most of the talking. Now his spare time seemed to be taken up screwing his girlfriend, and hers avoiding his other half.
“Cordelia knows why I did this, involved the Fates, for Buffy,” he reminded Angelus. “Being intimate with her was the whole point.”
“Didn’t sound so intimate. Those dreamy plans you had for making love to your girlfriend ended up as a brawl with a side of orgasms. Guess she noticed.” Clapping a conciliatory hand on his shoulder, Angelus leaned in to add, “So much for her thinking you’re the romantic hero type.”
Angelus knew just where to prod to make him feel even worse. When Cordelia’s crush was in full swing he had never let himself enjoy it refusing to take advantage of her trust in him. Now that they were friends, he did not want anything to detract from it. Except he might have just given her a great reason to avoid him. Their honest conversations might be a thing of the past. He could only hope to look her in the eyes without seeing them shadowed by mistrust, embarrassment, or disdain.
“The chandelier shook so hard Cordelia decided to get out before the ceiling caved in.”
Angel looked like he’d swallowed a bad batch of pig blood. Muttering a low curse, he resumed his pacing at a slow skulk. “Don’t bring her here again.”
“This is my place as much as it is yours. Cordelia can come over any time she pleases, especially to please me,” Angelus taunted already convinced that he could make it happen. “She’s my friend, too.”
That was more of an exaggeration, but it was the only thing Angelus could claim even though Angel was swift to deny it. “You have a strange definition of the word.”
“I’m new at this,” he smirked. “Cut me some slack.”
Repeating himself one last time, Angel ordered, “Don’t bring her here again.”
“Cordelia’s not naive about sex. Catching you two going at it won’t scar her for life.”
Clear or not, Angel did not want her walking in on them. “Buffy and I deserve some privacy. We don’t need any distractions.”
Cocking his head, Angelus tried to read between the lines. “Cordelia is not going to blame you because Buff likes it a little rough. Or are you just afraid she’ll notice you’re not always in charge? Can’t let your little friend catch her hero looking weak.”
“Don’t put words in my mouth,” Angel warned him about jumping to conclusions.
“Tell it to someone who hasn’t been in your head lately.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Angelus never bothered to answer choosing to walk out instead. He had his own interests to consider. The Soul had made his decision by choosing Buffy. He could not have both of them. Somehow, there had to be a way to convince Cordelia that she could have all of the chandelier-shaking sex she wanted as long as it was with him.
Keeping his plans to himself was a necessity. If Angel had any idea that he was serious about seducing their favorite brunette, he would put an end to it. After declaring that he had a snowball’s chance in hell of actually succeeding, Angel would probably try to castrate him for thinking about it. This had to be her idea, too. Cordelia had to want this enough to convince Angel to let it happen. Who said he had to rush? Patience was his game. Before long that little hellcat would be purring his name, and begging to be his.
Without the constraints forced upon him by the Moirae, Angelus wouldn’t have any trouble figuring out how he wanted to do this. Dozens of delightful scenarios popped into his head and that was just a taste. Unfortunately, the trio of higher beings had him on a short leash. There had to be other ways to show a girl you were interested besides nailing puppies to their front door, especially since he had no intention of making her lose her mind. When Cordelia finally gave herself to him Angelus wanted a feisty, eager lover, not a helpless limpet.
Now walking through the small parking zone, he stopped next to the Corvette with ‘Queen C’ emblazoned on the license plate. Cordelia was at the club. Well that added a little promise to the night ahead. A game plan started to take form as he felt his body rush with an unnatural anticipation. It irritated him to be so eager to lay eyes on her. Just the thought of her set off sparks of arousal. There were so many things he wanted from Cordelia. Too many to name. Every base desire tied to his deepest instincts. Angelus didn’t really want to resist them.
What he wanted most was nothing more than just a fantasy now. His fangs slicing deep. The taste of her blood sliding down his throat as he claimed her, and made her truly his. Choosing to call upon the darker aspects of his true nature would be his undoing. The Fates made it clear that he would lose his freedom, regain the soul, and exist only as a demonic influence picking at Angel’s subconscious. The fringe benefits Buffy and Angel enjoyed sans curse would end. Incentive enough for Angelus to toe the line and an excuse for Angel to keep him there. Better to play the game and get away with pushing his boundaries than return to a state of virtual non-existence dependent upon the Soul’s struggle to keep it in his pants.
Screwing the enemy had a certain ring to it, but to love the enemy? It was unnatural. So not right, as Cor might say. Desire, lust, and the right of possession were pure, uncomplicated things. Once judged to be devoid of human feeling, a cold, merciless killer incapable of empathy, love or remorse, he had taken it as a compliment.
The last time he dealt with the Slayer one-on-one was during his obsessive revenge scheme, when his plan to let Acathla suck the world into hell had gone up in flames. Spending decades in that time-warped dimension had been torture. Sharing memories of that time with Angel, he too felt fortunate that they were fading to an almost distant dreamlike state. There was only one thing that came out of the whole experience that Angelus would never verbally admit.
Buffy Summers might be his mortal enemy, but he had greater respect for her as a fighter than he ever had before their encounter. He had beaten her down, taken away everything that could possibly give her hope and yet the girl had fought back using herself as her only weapon. Not only had the Slayer defeated him, but she thrust a sword through her re-ensouled lover sending him to hell in order to save the world.
Maybe he’d been right about Angel losing his balls, because the Slayer certainly seemed to have a set of her own figuratively speaking. From here on out, Angelus reckoned he’d let him handle the Slayer. As long as she did not directly interfere with him or what he wanted, things would stay neutral between them. Buff would keep Angel occupied. They could screw until the whole mansion crumbled around them as long as it gave him time to get what he wanted.
The seduction of Cordelia Chase would not be easy. Just the thought of being able to harass her perked up his spirits. Teasing her mind and body into a state of arousal. Making her crave his kisses and touch until she begged for more. Enjoying her rapturous moans as he tongued her hot little cunt. Knowing her scent already made him crave a taste. Most of all, he wanted to fuck Cordelia until he drove the Soul and anyone else from her memory.
Entering the Bronze, he surveyed the crowd looking for Cordelia. The music was blaring some obnoxious dance song. Multicolored lights flashed to the beat. She was not on the dance floor as expected gyrating with some little punk who hoped the dance might become more. He saw her groupies hanging out in their favorite spot, but there was no sign of her. After a few minutes of watching the crowd, Angelus noted that she had still not made an appearance.
The Cordettes immediately awarded him with eager smiles and batting eyelashes when he cornered them for questioning. They were too busy flirting to notice he wasn’t in the mood to let them practice their little seduction games. His one priority was finding Cordelia. Something felt odd about this. Not just the fact that he couldn’t find her. It was his inability to ignore the kernel of concern rolling around in the pit of his stomach.
“Hi!” Harmony practically lunged at him to plant a kiss on his cheek. Gushing vapidly, “Wow, you’re here. I thought you’d call me.”
Ignoring her disappointed pout, Angelus extracted himself from her arms. Cutting straight to it, “Where is Cordelia? I don’t see her anywhere.”
“Why her? I’m right here.” Harmony let out a frustrated little sigh when he demanded she tell him what he wanted to know. “Cor is around somewhere. Checking her makeup. Taking a tinkle. She’ll be back.”
He saw the neon sign for the restrooms on the other side of the club, and took a step in that direction only to feel a tug on his arm holding him back. “Do you want to lose that hand?” he asked with practiced calm quite satisfied that Cordelia would be pleased he had not simply ripped it off. The girls giggled in concert thinking he was joking.
“Don’t be silly. Why are you so interested in Cordelia when you know how much I like you, Angelkins?”
“The name is Angelus,” he corrected flatly as he eyed those grasping fingers.
“Isn’t that your ‘evil twin’ name?” Harmony released him in order to make air quotes. “If you wanna be bad, you can do it with me. Buffy doesn’t need to know you’ve got a thing for me, or Cor.”
A muscle twitched in his jaw as he clenched it tighter. He did not give a damn if Harmony still thought he was Angel. He was getting anxious as Cordelia had still not appeared. Her car was outside, so where the hell was she? Harmony stepped in front of him blocking his path.
“But don’t you want to dance with me?” Harmony ran a fingertip across the edge of her low-cut dress deliberately drawing his gaze down to her perky breasts. “We had lots of fun the other night. It was amazing. I’d like to do it again.”
Angelus knew exactly what she was asking for, but he had no interest her tonight. The blonde bimbo was definitely not his type. Getting his rocks off was one thing. Normally, he would just as soon drain her dry. He had no interest in a repeat performance. Choosing Harmony the other night had more to do with a certain brunette than it did with her friend.
Never intending to make it anything other than a once night stand, he told her she was just a convenient lay. “Harmony, you’re quite the cock-sucker, I must admit, but you bore me.”
Turning, Angelus walked away pushing his way through the crowded dance floor on the short cut to the ladies bathroom. He received several angry looks from the couples that he bumped into, but did not even notice their glares. Harmony had taken up too much of his time and he had a bad feeling about not finding Cordelia. She wasn’t the type to hole up in a dark corner for a quick bang with some teenager.
If he found her that way there would be hell to pay. First off, the little prick who dared to touch Cordelia would be lucky to survive his wrath. Leash or no leash, he would somehow manage to flay him alive. Then it would be her turn. A little comeuppance for Queen C. Punishment for daring to think she had a right to choose someone else.
Angelus pushed the door of the ladies restroom open and walked inside heedless of the squeals that sounded in the air. After a quick search, he realized that Cordelia was not there. Leaning down to pull one cowering teenager from the floor, he barked out, “Where is Cordelia Chase?”
Speechless, the girl looked puzzled and terrified all at once.
One of the others spoke up. “I-I saw her. She went out back with a couple of the guys from the band.”
Growling in response, Angelus caused the girls to scream again. The frightened girl in his grasp fainted into a dead weight. Not caring, he dropped her to the ground and headed for the back exit leading to the alley behind the club. Recalling something derogatory Cordelia had once said about band geeks, he doubted that she would willing arrange a liaison with two of them. Something else had to be going on and he was going to put a stop to it.
Around the corner of the building, Cordelia struggled to break free of her assailant’s hold. Tuba Guy and his Little Drummer Boy friend were with the band. She couldn’t remember their names. Barry or Harry. Ike or Mike. Whatever! The two jerks tricked her into coming out here by claiming Xander needed her help in the alley. Like, right away.
Maybe that should have tipped her off, because when had Xander ever come to her instead of Buffy or Willow when he needed something important? She had actually been worried for the doofus.
“Guess he left,” Drummer Boy shrugged when Xander was nowhere to be found. “You can help us out instead. Y’know, give a hand. The way you helped him.”
Cordelia shuddered at the creepy undertone. “Xander and I broke up weeks ago. I’m not helping him, or you, with anything.”
A chain link fence blocked off the end of the alley, along with an open dumpster filled with trash bags and cardboard boxes. Obstacles unlikely to be surmounted by anyone wearing Jimmy Choos. Her only option was to try to break through between the two of them as they approached. Make a run for the club door.
They caught her. The hand covering her mouth stifled her scream. She scratched at their skin. Jabbed her heel into an ankle. Elbowed a body part or two. Then managed to latch her teeth onto one of the fingers pressing against her mouth biting hard.
A sharp cry followed. “Ow!” He jerked away clutching his hand.
Cordelia tried to run only to find herself faced with the larger of the two boys. Letting out a shrill scream, she used the distraction by angling a swift kick toward his groin. Though it hit him, she missed the target.
“Ugh!” The blond grunted an angry whisper. “You almost kicked me in the balls.”
“That was the idea, brainiac,” Cordelia retorted as she tried to fein right and left to get around him. He was faster than she figured.
The other one grabbed her by the shoulders and shoved. Her spiked heel caught on an indentation in the cobblestones making her topple back at an awkward angle. “You made me bleed, bitch!” he shouted just as she hit the ground.
Cordelia crowed at the sight of the bite. “Guess it wasn’t the hand job you wanted.”
Furious, he grabbed her legs, shoving them apart, kneeling between them to get closer.
Snatching an empty cardboard box the wind had blown out of the graffiti-covered dumpster, she smashed it across the bridge of his nose. The music from the club drowned out the sound of his painful shout. She tried to get up, but the other one flopped onto her knocking her flat. “We were gonna make this good for you,” he protested. “You screwed it up.”
“I’d never touch you.” Cordelia pushed hard against his shoulders, but she could feel the rest of him crushing her against the pavement. She was pretty certain that hard little object poking at her wasn’t Drummer Boy’s drumsticks tucked into his belt.
Bleeding and pissed off, his friend rose to his feet, and started to unbutton his pants. “You deserve what you get, May Queen. We’re tired of putting up with insults while you cheerleaders lift your skirts for every idiot on the football team. It’s time you put out for the band.”
“Get your hands off me, you asshole!” Cordelia tried to shove him away, but the other one joined in by ripping at her clothes.
Things were happening too fast. Silk tore at the seams, air rushed across her skin, rough hands grabbed her exposed flesh. Fear started to overwhelm her anger.
“Dude, check out the tits.” His jaw hung open, eyes wide as he stared at her exposed breasts. “Awesome! Fucking awesome!”
“Yeah. I’ve seen ’em bouncing around,” he leered as he reached into his pants to rub himself. “Damn. I’m like a rock.”
“Hurry it up! We don’t have all night. I want my turn.”
Cordelia screamed again as he reached beneath her skirt, gathered her panties into a twist, and tore them asunder. “Try it and regret it, you bastard! You are so dead. I’ll kill you. You are so d—”
They did not hear the clang of the club door, nor the soft growl that stirred the night air. The boots on the cobblestones were silent despite their hurried pace. When the shadows moved they did not see it. She did. Angelus’ eyes were hooded. A glint shifted in the darkness leaving them rimmed with ochre hues. Fury tightened his face into a mask pulling his mouth into a grim sneer. Every muscle tensed into stillness.
The rush of relief at the sight of him fell into a cold pit of realization that her threat against them might as well be prophetic.
You are so dead.
She finished the thought with the full understanding of what was about to happen. Angelus was going to kill them. Slowly. An organ or two crushed. A punctured lung. Broken bones. All the while extracting a very sincere apology for touching Cordelia Chase. Only then would he make them understand the depths of his anger finally ending it by ripping out their throats much in the same manner that they carelessly ripped off her clothes.
As much as she wanted to make these rapacious band geeks pay for what they had done, Cordelia knew that Angelus’ actions would have consequences. For him and for Angel.
That much was clear the moment Angelus catapulted into action. His body twisted midair as if an unseen force had slapped him down. A cry of utter agony alerted the two douchebags to his presence even before he hit the ground.
They jumped off Cordelia in a panic. “Shit! What’s going on?”
“Who is that? What’s wrong with him, dude?”
Cordelia pulled herself up into a sitting position taking a moment to grimace at the sticky pavement. Old beer or vomit, she supposed, feeling a little hazy. Her hands trembled as she pulled her skirt down as far as it would reach, knees locked together. The blouse was beyond hope, but her lace bra was mostly intact. Yanking it back into place, she wobbled to her feet standing as straight as she could muster on her broken shoe.
Giving Tuba Guy and Little Drummer Boy one final warning, “If you want to live to see tomorrow, you should run.”
“From that guy? Looks like he’s on something.”
“Get back here!” The blonde guy grabbed her by the arm when she moved toward Angelus. “I don’t care if we’ve got an audience. My dick is still hard.”
Cordelia tried to resist as he pulled her further back into the hidden part of the alley. Despite her natural athleticism, the two of them combined were too strong. She kept looking back toward Angelus, horrified at the way his body seized and twisted in reaction to what had to be excruciating pain. This was the leash by which the Fates held him to his pledge of good behavior. Now she knew just how tight they held him to it.
Tears welled up as they dragged her back down to the dirty pavement. “Angelus! Angelus!” The fear in her voice was for him.
Only minutes before he had been casually imagining what he might do if he found Cordelia making out with some random guy. He had wanted to break his imaginary rival’s bones one by one. An enjoyable idea if he ever had one. This was different. Real. Not something she had consented to. That annoying feeling he couldn’t identify returned full force making him react without thinking about consequences.
Hearing Cordelia scream his name, Angelus used the sound of her voice as a focal point. He could barely move. Every nerve radiated torment. Flexed into a fetal position, his muscles strained as he extended his limbs out, struggling to stand. Walking forward only came with a concentrated effort because every step closer made him think about what he was going to do to those little pricks as soon as he got close enough. No matter the consequences.
Rage tempered the pain a little. Numbed him just enough to keep moving. Steadier now, Angelus reached out and dragged them both to their feet. He enjoyed their shocked expressions, the panic settling into their eyes. There was one thing he would enjoy even more. “I’m going to rip you limb from limb.”
Cordelia gasped his name obviously surprised to see him coming to her rescue. Not as much as she surprised him when demanding he, “Let them go. I’ll deal with this. Trust me, I’ll make their lives a living hell.”
“Not a chance,” he said, gruffly. “They’d have to live for that.”
Here. Now. Pain. Death.
Angelus felt his muscles tensing up again. Even the intent to do harm to these deserving little bastards caused such tremendous pain that it was difficult to continue to hold himself and them upright. They must have noticed because they started to pry themselves loose.
Getting cocky after breaking free, one reminded the other, “There are two of us. We can take him.”
The vampire released a chuckle that resounded from the depths of his chest making Cordelia shudder visibly. She was still on the ground, but staring up at him intently. “Don’t do it, Angelus.”
“How ’bout the dumpster instead?” Angelus fully intended to snap the kid’s neck for what he had done to Cordelia. Torture was not on the table tonight. The Fates were forcing him to be fast and efficient. Just as his fingers touched that scrawny neck he collapsed to his knees.
Debilitating pain returned so swiftly Angelus could not fight against it. He thought he had managed to suppress it, master it, or at least channel it toward his rage. Enough to get the job done. He could barely move.
Instead of taking the opportunity to run, the two boys decided they were up to the task of kicking Angelus’ ass. Cordelia cringed when one of them yelled, “Get him!” Now he would be extra pissed off.
Way to go, guys.
Knocking Angelus to the ground, both teenagers punched and kicked him as many times as they could muster. The added sensation was more of an irritant than anything else, but it distracted him from the constant, almost rhythmic, feel of the Fates’ deterrent. Enough that he blamed them for dragging this out. He was avenging Cordelia. Couldn’t those interfering bitches tell when it was okay to kill a human? This had to be okay.
Pushing at them with as much strength as he could manage, Angelus sent them flying back. They landed hard. Somebody was bleeding. A sharp snap signaled a bone breaking. The sobbing began. Music to his ears.
Letting them snivel for a while, Angelus turned his attention to Cordelia. He reached out to help her to her feet. She slid her hand into his, the warmth of it spreading across his palm. Expecting gratitude to brighten her eyes, he got a wary stare instead. He traced his fingers along her cheek, smoothed her unruly hair, rubbed his thumbs across her shoulders, and waited for her to thank him for saving her. She said nothing in that regard.
Cordelia pressed a hand against his chest. “Don’t.”
For a second he thought she was complaining about his touch. Who could blame her after those little bastards had their fumbling hands all over her? More reason to kill them now.
That tinging sensation was back like a precursor warning him to behave or else. Angelus let out a little growl of complaint. Glaring at the boys, he tried to figure out how fast he needed to move before the real pain kicked in. Barely an inch forward and he felt Cordelia’s fingers curl into the lapel of his jacket. He paused, instantly focused on her again.
Having anyone tell him what to do would normally ensure he did exactly that. Especially when he burned with the urge to make it happen. Killing those two would just be his way of do-gooding for the day by squelching them from existence, and proving to Cordelia that he was never going to let anyone else touch her.
“Please,” she said it again so softly it was barely more than the motion of her mouth forming the word.
Angelus felt himself learning closer, wanting to taste it on her lips, as she begged him to spare the boys. Even after this ordeal, he knew Cordelia was not as fragile as she seemed. He had the sudden feeling he was being manipulated. “Only if you tell me why you’re so damned set on letting them live.”
After a moment’s pause, Cordelia dropped her hold on his jacket, releasing him. “Killing them might kill you, dumbass.”
Maybe this meant she was finally accepting the inevitable, he figured smugly. She wanted him around. This little rescue proved that she needed him.
Cordelia cut off his train of thought, adding, “You’ll end up killing Angel, too.”
“He’s the one you’re worried about?”
She crossed her arms and glanced away for a second. “Just because I don’t want you dead doesn’t mean I care.”
The spark in her eyes was back challenging him to prove her wrong. “You care. I heard you screaming my name.”
“Let them go, Angelus. I don’t want their blood—or yours—on my hands.”
“Fine, but they’re still going to get what’s coming to them. A little punishment when the timing is right.”
Cordelia poked her finger at his chest, “No torture. No killing.”
Despite the residual pain throbbing along every inch of his body, Angelus started to smile. These jerks were in so much trouble. He looked forward to slowly driving them insane. “I won’t lay a hand on them.”
He thought that sounded pretty sincere.
“Get your pathetic asses up off the ground,” he commanded. “It seems I am going to let you live.”
“Look, mister,” pleaded the one with the broken arm, “we were just trying to get our share. She’s a cheerleader, you know. They always tease the band members, but put out for the football team.”
Knowing more about her than she was probably aware, Angelus doubted that was the case with Cordelia. Empathizing was not in his wheelhouse. He didn’t give a shit about their issues. “Why this cheerleader?”
“Look at her! That’s Cordelia Chase, dude. She’s hot.”
Angelus informed him coldly. “She’s mine.”
Both of them shrunk back at the news. He noticed Cordelia neither confirmed nor denied it. Despite her ragged state she looked more like a goddess with that defiant tilt to her chin than a victim.
“Consider yourselves extremely lucky. I’m not going to kill you today.”
“Tell anyone anything and you’ll regret it for the rest of your very short lives.” Angelus knew they might be tempted to spread rumors. They had seen more than enough to describe her accurately enough. She wouldn’t want that, and he might be unable to stop himself from ripping out their tongues.
The blond teen defiantly pointed out, “You can’t prove anything. You ain’t a cop.”
Deadly serious, Angelus warned him, “You’re already guilty in my eyes. That’s all it takes. It won’t be the police that come for you. I’ll bring someone who looks just like me.” Morphing into his vampire form, he flashed his fangs.
Screams of terror followed as both teenagers fled down the alley. “I guess scaring the crap out of people doesn’t count against you,” Cordelia snorted.
Watching them run, Angelus gripped his frustration into tight fists. This deal with the Fates not only kept him from killing humans, but it severely limited his ability to inflict damage or pain. Bruises and a broken arm were nothing compared to what they deserved. His threat was legitimate. He meant every word.
Angelus fully intended to tell Angel what happened here. His twin would be just as pissed about it. While it was unlikely Angel would be willing to kill the bastards in his stead, dolling out some harsh punishment would be quite another story.
“Bad enough dealing with everything that just happened, but does my wardrobe have to suffer, too? Just look at my shoe!” Cordelia pointed toward the damaged heel. Muttering, “Maybe they do deserve to die.”
Angelus knew that she wasn’t serious about it. Not after defending her own would-be rapists. Somehow, this was about protecting Angel from any action he might inadvertently make by killing the scumbags. It was her way of saving her friend’s skin. No matter that he was the one writhing on the ground in horrific pain just because he was trying to save her.
It sickened him to think that one of them might have succeeded before he recovered. Bad enough that they had handled her so roughly without knowing how to play that game. They had seen the intimate parts of her that were not to be shared with others, except for him. That alone made him want to pry out their eyes with a dull, wooden spoon.
There would be bruises by morning. Cuts and scrapes that she would have to hide or explain away. He would allow Angel to see them as proof of the treachery because Cordelia would deny anything happened if she thought it might put Soulful Sam in danger. He might be at the Slayer’s hot little beck and call, but Angel was not completely under her boot, and would not hesitate to act. Even if he was a pathetic excuse for a vampire, Angel had every right to come to the defense of his friend, or to execute swift justice if he saw fit.
Technically, Angelus knew that he had no rights at all when it came to Cordelia Chase. He needed that to change. Still in his vampire form, Angelus settled his ochre gaze on her only to find her staring back. She was not frightened by his true form, but did seem antsy about something. Glancing around the alley, almost in a panic, she narrowed her gaze on him again.
Thrusting her hand out, palm up, she gave him a hard stare. When he took her hand to pull her close, she let out a gruff, impatient sigh, and yanked it away. “You’re such a dumbass. I swear you are gonna get it if I find them in your pocket.”
Cordelia proceeded to pat him down and then reluctantly reached into his jacket pockets finding them empty. “What about the pants? Turn out your pockets.”
“Check them yourself if you want.”
She had no intention accidentally touching anything down there. “I’ve had enough close encounters of that kind today.”
Angelus couldn’t understand how she could joke about it, not when he wanted to pulverize those cretins into dust on her behalf. “We should go. Let me take you home.”
“No! I can’t just leave them here. One of those jerks might come back to snap them up as a souvenir— if you haven’t already done it.”
Figuring it out, Angelus scanned the alley. His enhanced vision spotted the source of her worry almost immediately. The ripped panties were made of lacy black silk. It was all too easy to envision her wearing them and nothing else, and just as simple to remember why she wasn’t wearing them now. Crouching down, he picked them up from the ground holding the torn scrap of fabric out to her.
Cordelia snatched them out of his hand. “Don’t touch those.”
“Just trying to help.”
Careless of the fact that he was still in game face, Cordelia charged up to shove at his chest. “Who the hell do you think you are? The Dark Avenger, sweeping in to save the day?”
The rough move barely budged him. “I did save it,” Angelus responded far more calmly than he would have done if anyone else had done that.
Suddenly furious, she pushed him again. “How did you know? You were following me. Again!”
That was true enough, he conceded, but took offense at her tone. “You should show some gratitude.”
“To my stalker? Not!”
Cordelia was understandably distraught, but taking it out on him went too far. No one got away with mouthing off and getting physical without being put in their place. Not Darla. Not Dru. Not…
Angelus stopped the ongoing roll call in his head as he realized he was creating a distraction, making excuses to avoid disciplining her even while telling himself that he should. “Let’s get you home.”
“No!” Cordelia jerked away from his hand even though he hadn’t touched her. “I’m not going anywhere with you, Angelus. Don’t you get it? You’re no better than they are. In fact, you’re worse.”
Concentrating, Angelus shifted back to his human features hoping that she would settle down. Trying to remind himself that Cordelia was probably in shock and was reacting to what happened by taking things out on him, he calmly asked, “What do you mean?”
Letting out a shaky laugh, Cordelia responded by reminding him, “You’ve tried the same thing with me before. That night in the cemetery when you whispered the things you planned to do to me. Just the other night, you told me you wanted all that and more.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Angelus defended himself, now getting angry that she was comparing him to those two little creeps. Maybe it was true that he would still follow through if he had the chance, but now he was willing to sacrifice what he really wanted just to have her. “I want you as my lover. What happened a year ago is water under the bridge. We were different then.”
“Not so different.”
“I just saved you from would-be rapists,” he pointed out with a confident gleam in his eye. Where were his kudos for heroism? “I wouldn’t have done that a year ago.”
“Of course not. A year ago you were the would-be rapist,” Cordelia retorted. “In fact, there is no would-be about it. Maybe I was lucky to escape you thanks to Buffy, but how many others weren’t?”
Angelus felt seriously offended. “I rarely force anyone. They usually beg me for it.”
Insufferable bastard, she thought. “Egomaniac! What about those who didn’t? Bet you didn’t let them go.”
Got him there.
Damn, even in shock Cordelia Chase was too quick delving through the bull to find the point she wanted to make. “So I admit it, but I am a vampire not some pimply-faced weasel looking to score.”
“That makes no difference to me. You’re still a killer, Angelus. The Fates may have you on a leash, but nothing is going to take away that history.” Cordelia’s fear seemed to have vanished. He no longer sensed it. Unless it was his own discontent with the direction of this argument, Angelus realized that Cordelia was not even afraid of him despite the fact that she named him a murderer.
Angelus thought about it and almost missed the sensation of her fear. However, he hated this reaction to him. She was taking this entire incident and turning it back on him as if he was the one at fault. Then it occurred to him that Cordelia didn’t treat Angel this way. He was a vampire, too. He had the same past.
“What about Angel? Are you going to shove this crap down his throat as well?”
Cordelia pursed her lips before commenting, “Angel isn’t you anymore, is he? You’re the one responsible for killing Ms Calendar, for torturing Giles, for threatening me. Maybe Angel has your memories, but they’re still yours.”
Got him again.
Angelus freely admitted, “I did all those things. I enjoyed it, Cordelia. Is that what you want me to say? What do you expect? Do you want me on my knees begging forgiveness for doing things that are in my nature to do? Don’t hold your breath. I won’t apologize for the past. I can only move forward from here.”
“Pfft! You want redemption?” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Like you could earn it? Not! You have no spark of goodness in you. No soul to guide you. The only reason you came to save me was because you want me for yourself.”
A low growl sounded as Angelus reached the limit of his patience. “Whatever the reason, Cordelia— I did save you.”
“Thanks,” the word practically dripped with sarcasm. “Don’t expect me to give you any more than that.”
There wasn’t a shred of real gratitude in her heartless little statement. Angelus was pissed at Cordelia’s reaction. His first thought was to throw her down on the ground and bury himself inside her just to live up— or rather down— to her expectations. For someone who could be so tantalizingly hot or subtly sweet, she could turn into a sub-zero cold bitch at the drop of a hat. One other thing that frustrated him about this entire deal—Cordelia Chase would make one helluva vampire and he could do nothing about that.
Angelus was forced to react when he preferred to be proactive. If he had his way, Cordelia would have been his long ago. Now he was all but tied up by the Moirae preventing him from doing what he wanted causing him to have to stand here and take what Cordelia doled out. She stabbed him deeply with her figurative knife and kept on twisting until it opened up a wound that could only be healed by her touch.
Even after her ingratitude and insulting comparisons, Angelus wanted Cordelia now more than ever. For more than just sex. Her words actually hurt. He wanted her feelings for him to be different. That thought came as a shocking realization because he had never wanted an actual relationship with a human. Buffy Summers was Angel’s choice and Angelus had simply been obsessed with the idea of making her pay for the emotions that she produced within his souled self. Angelus wanted Cordelia in his bed and by his side, but the chances of that becoming reality looked rather remote.
Why he cared or wanted to pursue such a possibility was a complete mystery to him. Angelus could walk back into the Bronze, pick any girl he wanted, and have her in his bed within the hour. If it even took that long. Hell, even after insulting her, he could still get what he wanted out of Harmony without leaving the club. Cordelia’s statement to Angel about her sexual experience had been an exaggeration; Angelus had enough sense to know that she stretched the truth. Despite her beauty, popularity and cheerleader status, Cordelia was not an easy lay.
Maybe it was just the idea of the challenge itself that made him want this. That sounded reasonable, but the seduction of Cordelia Chase would be no simple task for anyone, much less a vampire. Especially one whom she saw as being a soulless killer without a shred of goodness. Once, Angelus would have worn that description as proudly as some wore a badge of honor, but crowing over his lack of human feelings would not win her over.
This would not be easy, or anything close to his plans, but he needed to change Cordelia’s opinion of him. He wanted to see something other than disdain when she looked at him. He needed to change more than her desires by making her body crave his. He wanted her heart, too.
“I can prove to you that I’m more than just a killer,” Angelus vehemently promised. “Things are going to change between us, but there is one thing you’ll have to accept. I will always be a vampire. Some instincts run too deep to ignore.”
“Just because you’ve got a pair of fangs doesn’t mean you can use them,” she smirked knowing that it was a sore subject.
He watched her tongue slide across the edge of her teeth teasing him with the thought of a bite. His fangs on her flesh. Her teeth nipping at him. Whether or not it was consciously done, Angelus felt his body tense with anticipation.
“Cordelia, I’m going to stick with this deal. I’ll fight alongside the Slayer and use my skills to defend the Hellmouth.”
“You have to, dumbass! That’s the only way the Fates will let you have your own body to run around in.”
True, but he had not actually been giving it his all.
“You’re going to be mine, Cordelia, but we don’t have to rush. I’ll give you all the time you need.”
Scoffing at the idea, she rolled her eyes at him. “Pfft! Like forever?”
Something flashed in her eyes besides defiance. Doubt, maybe. Curiosity. An almost imperceptible quiver of anticipation made her pulse jump, and brought a slow smile to his face. “As long as it takes.”
Cordelia clutched at her torn blouse with one hand and gestured wildly with the other. “In your dreams, maybe. Besides, do you really think you can do it?”
“Make you want me?”
Gasping, Cordelia denied it. “Not gonna happen! I meant fighting the Good Fight. Behaving. Not killing.”
Just the idea of being restricted that way would normally enrage him, but it did not. Angelus felt certain that he could commit himself to anything. He wanted Cordelia, and there was only one way to achieve it without forcing her into it. That too would never have been an issue before. Want. Take. Have. As mottos went, it was a good one for a vampire. Now he needed more from her.
“Baby, I’m gonna show you just how good an evil vampire can be,” Angelus promised her. Proving himself to Cordelia would be far more difficult than it sounded because he wanted more than just a Gold Star for good behavior. “While I’m doing that, you can think about our next kiss.”
The pink dash of her tongue left her lips glossy, and silence stretched out between them just long enough to prove to Angelus that Cordelia’s thoughts had already drifted in that direction. As much as he wanted to crush that perfect mouth beneath his in that moment, he denied his own needs, limiting his actions to cupping her face and lightly rubbing his thumb across those tempting lips.
“You are going to see a side of me you never imagined existed.”
Pushing his hand away, Cordelia simply dared him, “Bring it on.”
Starlight could not outshine the luminous beauty of Cordelia’s smile on any given day, but Angel already missed its warmth. Quieter than usual, she was worrisomely reserved. Neither of them had said a word to each other when she entered the library just ahead of Angelus. Cordelia averted her eyes denying him that simple method of determining if she was okay. He needed her to say it, and to see the truth for himself.
Angelus’ assurances had been the only thing to prevent Angel from making an uninvited appearance on her balcony last night. It seemed the other vampire had spent much of it there, unbeknownst to Cordelia. Watching over her while she slept proved the extent of his concern, whatever the driving force behind it. Any tender feeling was completely uncharacteristic of the former Scourge of Europe. They argued about Angelus’ priorities and whatever underlying scheme might have kept him at her side instead of tracking those rapacious bastards back to their homes.
Suspicious of his motives, Angel had asked, “Were you guarding Cordelia or spying on her?”
“There might have been a few fringe benefits,” Angelus’ smirk had not lasted long. The satisfaction of smashing his fist into his face still lingered.
Whatever Rupert Giles was telling them about their research and patrol tasks sounded more like droning background noise. His thoughts were in turmoil, wracked by guilt, anger, and concern. Focused on Angelus’ description of the attack last night in the back alley behind the Bronze, and what he imagined doing to make her assailants pay, he barely noticed the man was talking.
“Keeping that strategy in mind, Buffy, I suggest that you and Angel begin your patrol with Restfield Cemetery and proceed south.”
“No problemo. We’re on it.” Eager to get going, Buffy practically hopped out of her chair and headed straight for the door.
Angel realized he was supposed to dutifully tag along, and half expected Cordy to chime in with some teasing comment about his sidekick status. Leaning against the post at the bottom of the stairs, he straightened up, looking her way, but she gave him a side-eyed little glance. Her stiff posture and closed-off body language revealed a lot even though she refused to fully meet his gaze, which made him all the more determined to confront her sooner rather than later.
“Coming, Angel?” Buffy queried from the doorway.
Tapping Angelus on the shoulder as he lounged across the bottom steps, Angel silently conveyed what he wanted hoping the other vampire would get the hint. There was no way he was leaving the library without talking to Cordelia, and he felt certain she would not want him to make a scene about it in front of the others. Dragging her into a corner for a private word and making Buffy wait for them to finish would only cause trouble.
Since they both already knew what needed to happen, Angelus did not bother to argue. Volunteering to sub for Angel, he told Giles, “I’ll patrol with the Slayer tonight. Let’s call it practice.” His mouth stretched into a grin at the horrified look on her face.
Giles seemed surprised, but thought it, “A fine idea.” After all, anything that kept their resident evil vampire under a watchful eye was a good thing.
Buffy muttered quietly about where she might like to shove Angelus’ idea. Approaching Angel, she put a hand on his arm squeezing just enough to convey her feelings. There was a familiar needy look in her eyes. She spoke softly so no one would overhear. “I thought we were going back to your place after patrol.”
Normally, Angel would enjoy fulfilling those plans. “Not tonight,” he answered flatly. The promise of sex was not about to change his mind. He had one priority and it had nothing to do with his girlfriend.
The confused pout on Buffy’s face should have bothered him or made him feel a twinge of guilt, but it did not. Her sympathy-seeking expression vanished the second Angelus crooked a finger beneath her chin. “Just to make it clear, Slayer. I won’t be helping you with that particular itch.”
“You’re vile! I hate you!” Buffy slapped at his hand before storming toward the door.
Angelus laughed at her reaction. “Patrol won’t be a bore,” he concluded. “I just hope she doesn’t get whiney about not getting laid tonight.”
“Focus on the job, not making trouble.” Even as he said it, Angel knew there was little to no chance of Angelus ignoring the opportunity to push her buttons.
Insistently, Angelus urged, “Leave Buffy to me. You talk to our girl,” the possessive tone made Angel’s nostril’s flare. “Cordelia can be stubborn. She won’t tell you the worst of it unless you pry it out of her. Don’t let her spare any details.”
Their whispered conversation drew the Scoobies’ interest. It was not every day Angelus lectured Angel instead of the other way around. Suddenly no longer determined to look away, Cordelia gave him an accusing little stare, guessing that she might be the topic of their quiet conspiracy. Her natural defenses were already up, Angelus having warned her that he would ask for particulars.
“Get going. I’ll handle it.” Angel motioned toward the door.
“What was that all about?” Xander piped up when he approached their table, too curious for his own good. “Sounds like you were getting reamed out about something. Did you borrow his fang sharpeners without asking?”
Not in the mood, Angel checked his instinct to flash his fangs just to show how naturally sharp they could be. Reaching slowly toward Xander, he watched the boy’s eyes go wide and the color drain from his cheeks, and at the last moment moved his hand to grab one of the books from the pile stacked in front of him.
“Don’t be an ass,” Cordelia snapped before reaching for a book of her own.
Xander automatically responded, “Sorry,” but Angel knew that her invective words were meant for him.
Without offering an apology, Angel simply returned to his usual spot on the library stairs and tried to focus on the research at hand. He was slower than usual finding it necessary to reread the same passages. The key words and phrases he was supposed to look for might as well have been gibberish. Knowing why he was distracted did not help. Cordelia was right there just a short distance away, and he kept staring. Imagining what she had gone through, and the worst that could have happened, enraged him. The need to find out every detail, to discover if she was truly unhurt was distracting. Anxious, the ability to wait for the right moment to talk to her privately was fading fast.
The tension in his shoulders tightened into uncomfortable knots. Over an hour passed before Angel had an opportunity to talk to Cordelia without prying eyes and ears close by. Finally, Cordelia brought a book over to Giles asking for clarification one of the many symbols depicted in an ancient text. One clue had led her to believe that she might have some luck with a different kind of source. “What about pottery? This kind of stuff is all over the museum.”
“The Sunnydale Museum has no exhibits from this era in antiquity,” Giles explained that a direct attempt would be unfounded. “Yet you do make an excellent point. Cultures frequently utilize art to depict stories important to their history. Pottery, mosaics, even cave art have revealed many things not found in ancient scrolls or texts.”
Giles instructed Cordelia to finish reviewing the other books in her stack before pursuing this new lead. “The arts are in the 700s,” he pointed toward the library’s upper gallery. “Do look through anything that might include the origins of art. After that, you might try the 900s for books covering the history of the ancient world.”
Cordelia whimpered a little after telling Giles he might not see her for a while. “There are a gazillion books up there.”
With everyone assigned to his or her own tasks, no one could volunteer to help. Xander chuckled, “You did it to yourself, Cor. It’s best to keep ideas to yourself. They just add to the research duties.”
“Too late now,” quipped Willow with a sympathetic shrug.
Xander promised, “We’ll send snacks, or maybe a rescue party if you get lost up there.”
Another thirty minutes passed before Cordelia finished skimming through the books she had been assigned to review. Angel had been ticking down the minutes, watching every turn of the page. He caught the little curse she muttered when turning toward the steps, stopping mid-motion upon realizing that she would have to walk directly past him to go upstairs. The only option was the staircase on the other side of the room. The slight tilt of her head to look over her shoulder made Angel realize she was actually considering avoiding him.
Anger flashed hot in his chest in that moment. All he wanted was to help. A few details, a look at the evidence, and he would know the precise degree of punishment to inflict upon her attackers. As if she could not bear to face him, Cordelia looked like she was ready to make a run for the other staircase. He stood slowly, not wanting to scare her off, but ready to give chase if she wanted to turn this into a public display.
Scrapping the cowardly little notion by deciding to move forward, Cordelia squared her shoulders, let out a sigh of resolve, and headed straight for him. For the first time that night, he noticed that she was dressed differently than usual. A pretty blue blouse was buttoned up almost all the way to her throat. She wore stylish pants instead of one the miniskirts she favored that showed off her gorgeous toned legs. Beautiful as always with no outward sign that she had been attacked—at least none that were visible—Cordelia looked sleek and untouchable. No one had said anything about her choice of clothing, so perhaps this was not out of place.
The prickly vibe she exuded would probably fend off just about anyone else. Angel was not deterred by it. He waited to see if she would silently pass him by or acknowledge his presence with more than platitudes. Not giving her enough credit, he felt surprised when Cordelia stopped right in front of him. Close enough to touch if they wanted. Normally, she was so tactile conveying as much as anything else she had to say. He tried not to touch anyone except Buffy unless it was necessary as it often roused cravings for blood or other base reactions he would prefer to suppress.
Angel did not always feel worthy of the trust conveyed by Cordelia’s touch. Oblivious to the way it affected him casual contact between them was as natural to her as breathing and just as foreign to him. He enjoyed every little stroke, pat, and hug far more than he should. That was just her way, understandable, meaning nothing more or less than she intended. It was the reverse that bothered him. Touching Cordy often proved difficult to resist, and not always with the tender handling their friendship required, especially when she mocked him for being at the Slayer’s beck and call.
Somehow managing to remain still instead of encroaching upon her personal space, he used the opportunity to study her face in search of any sign of injury or mental strain. The only feeling Cordelia willingly shared was the hint of resentment as she asked, “See you upstairs?”
Accepting his involvement was not the same as encouraging it, he realized. “Yes,” Angel answered brusquely.
Saying anything more might have alerted their companions. Not that a simple discussion should draw their attention, or seem too out of place, but this wasn’t going to be simple, or easy on either of them. Angel let her go without further comment, and returned to his seat on the step. Opening up the book again, he tried to focus on those key words again without letting his thoughts stray to Cordelia.
Waiting even ten minutes felt like torture. Standing abruptly, he announced, “I’m going to stretch my legs.”
Before any of them could respond, or suggest that he be the one to make the pizza run, Angel headed out the door. He made a quick dash up the school’s main stairwell to the second floor and quietly accessed a back door leading into the library’s upper gallery. It did not require a search of the Dewey decimal numbers to locate Cordelia. He found her easily enough by following the sound of her voice as she grumbled about the extent of her assignment.
Glancing at a photo of an antique ceremonial vase, and noting its origin to include gross and creepy purposes, Cordelia curled her lip. “Eew! I so have better stuff to do.” With a disgusted look at a second photo, she reluctantly decided the book was worth a detailed search adding it to the metal book cart.
The next two books had nothing gross, interesting, or relevant. Returning them to their original spot on the shelves, she asked herself, “Why couldn’t Giles take me up on the museum idea? Art is cool.” Angel never thought of Cordelia as an art connoisseur before. He recalled Angelus mentioning her interest in his etchings. “Expensive art. Priceless art. What’s not to love?”
As usual, Cordelia had his head spinning trying to figure her out no matter what subject she was prattling about. In any case, her mood seemed normal. The world continued to turn in its Cordelia-centric way without a hint of despondency about the events of last night. Maybe it was her way of keeping away any bad memories.
“Pottery research might be cool if it came with a Patrick Swayze lookalike. Slippery wet clay, a pottery wheel, and a hunky ghost— so not boring!”
“No ghosts around tonight,” Angel commented softly making his presence known.
Cordelia jerked at the sound of his voice managing to hold back a scream. “Just lurking vampires. Geez! How long have you been there?”
The words were barely out of his mouth before Cordelia went on the offensive. “Angelus warned me you’d go into interrogator mode. You can see for yourself that I am perfectly fine. This isn’t your concern.”
Despite knowing this would not be as simple as asking his questions and getting straight answers, Angel was not anticipating that Cordelia would claim he had no say in dealing with the fallout. “Not my concern?” He felt flabbergasted that she thought this was not his business. “Don’t piss me off any more than I already am, Cordy. I didn’t come here to fight about it. All I want is for you to tell me what happened.”
Stubbornly, Cordelia turned her attention back to the bookshelf and ran a finger across the bindings as she prepared to select another art history book. “No. That’s yesterday’s news—and you missed it.”
Angel took that as an accusation. Walking closer, he felt guiltier with each step, the weight of it gathering in his chest like a heavy stone. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to save you.”
Cordelia whipped back around. Gasping, “I’m not your designated damsel in distress.” She whacked his shoulder with the book in her hand. He felt her intent more than the impact.
“No, but I’m still responsible for you,” he told her drawing a questioning stare in return. “Keeping you safe is important to me.”
Concluding that he meant, “We’re friends,” Cordelia said as much. Adding, “That doesn’t give you the right to know squat if I don’t want to tell you.”
That stubborn streak was going strong making Angel growl in discontent. “You might be surprised by the rights I choose to claim.”
“Whatever! You’re being bossy and nosey.”
Angel was tired of arguing and Cordy was too riled up making it unlikely that she would share anything on the subject. The gallery was not exactly cut off from the main part of the library, and they had not been very quiet. He needed Cordelia to calm down so they could speak rationally before someone decided to investigate the source of the noise.
Lifting a hand to her face, he stroked his fingers across her cheek, and cupped her head to guide her forward into his arms. “Don’t fight me on this,” he said keeping his words soft, almost a whisper.
The soothing motion of his hands initially reduced her tension making her body pliant as it curved into his. The tiny moue tumbling from her throat sounded like encouragement. Angel momentarily forgot the reason for his actions and simply let his hands work their magic. Threading his fingers through her silky hair, he massaged her scalp with small circular movements, moved on to rub softly at her neck, and with deeper, larger arcs across her shoulders.
Holding her felt insanely good, but this was supposed to be just a method of calming her nerves, not seduction. Both of them were becoming unintentionally aroused by it, and that was going to become obvious to Cordelia if he kept this up. “We should move,” he said it even though his hands kept up a slow stroking motion along her back. He closed his eyes and cursed himself for enjoying the way her body felt against his.
Curling her hands into his sleeves, Cordelia held on a little tighter. Her cheek nuzzled his shoulder. “No we shouldn’t. That feels good,” she muttered while arching into him with the gentle pressure along her spine. “All inquisitions should come with massages.”
Taking a step back made his engorged cock throb at the loss of contact. “I’m not here to torture or cross-examine you,” he denied swiftly.
Worry deepened the well of her eyes. He sensed fear, but not its cause. Was it memory surfacing from last night? It might be him, Angel realized. Wanting to reassure her, he softened his words, “I’m here to listen, Cordy.”
“I’d rather you just forget about it. Pretend last night never happened.”
Not a chance in hell.
Cordelia was deflecting again, trying to shut him down. Being aroused, angry and feeling overprotective made for a potent combination. He wanted answers and his patience was wearing thin. “Take down that wall you’re trying to hide behind. Just talk to me. How did this happen? What did they do, Cordy?”
“The truth is simple.”
Even as he said it, Angel silently reneged on that statement. Truth was never simple. It came with strings. Truth led to consequences. Depending upon the details of Cordelia’s experience, he planned to ensure her assailants were introduced to those consequences in a way they would never forget.
“If I do will you go away so I can get on with my research? Willow won’t make it magically disappear.”
Even her ill-timed humor made Angel smile. He did not want to laugh right now or talk about research.
“Actually, I might have a shortcut for you. I think I may have seen one of those symbols on some artifacts at a museum.”
“Hah! I was right. Which museum?”
“Not so fast. Start talking. Once we are finished to my satisfaction, I’ll tell you the name of the museum. There’s sure to be a book of some kind covering the exhibit.”
Cordelia propped her hands on her hips, pointing out, “This is blackmail. You’re holding out on key facts. What if Giles needs this pronto?”
“Then you should stop delaying the inevitable. Talk to me, Cordy.”
“Fine, but I do this only for the common good—and so I don’t have to be here all night.”
Angel leaned against the bookcase along the back wall ready to listen. “So, you were at the Bronze. . .” he gave her an opening.
Once Cordelia started talking the events of the night flowed out like the recounting of a television show, all drama and little substance. Angelus had not been able to tell him the circumstances that led her to accompany the boys outside. Having arrived only in the nick of time, he had missed a lot because excruciating pain physically disabled him. He had no idea what they had time to do, except that there was no evidence they finished what they started.
Angelus told him that she had done well defending herself. He was quite pleased to hear that she managed to bite one of them. Reaching up, he pushed his thumb pad against her bottom lip to rub at its soft inner flesh and to dash across the edge of her teeth. Imagining how it might have happened, Angel asked gruffly, “Did he try to kiss you?”
“Like I would let that happen? No. Eew! I bit his hand when he had it over my mouth.”
The more he heard Angel became convinced that Cordelia had made a lucky escape. He was relieved to hear that she had not been violated, but it would make no difference to them. Intent made them guilty enough in his eyes even if they failed to achieve it.
“I owe Angelus a debt for coming to your rescue.”
“You do not. Angelus has his own agenda. He doesn’t deserve any favors.”
Sounding angrier about Angelus’ involvement than the attack itself, Cordelia urged him to leave the other vampire out of it. “That’s a little harsh, Cor.”
“No, it’s not.”
She did not elaborate on her stubborn stance when it came to Angelus. That should have pleased him. After all, he did not want Cordelia to have anything to do with his wayward doppelganger, especially because Angelus seemed to be more than a little interested in her. Having already made his opinion clear, he hoped that it would not become an issue.
“Angelus did a good thing at great risk to himself. If we expect him to join our cause and behave accordingly, a little positive reinforcement can’t hurt.”
“Pfft! I thanked him. There ya go!”
Holding up both hands up to surrender the point, Angel explained, “He said you were ungrateful.”
Cordelia snorted. “Next time I’ll just make out with him instead. Maybe you’ll both be satisfied with that,” she smirked knowing it would only rile him up.
Angel did not dignify her little rant with a response. He did not believe that Cordy would willingly kiss Angelus any more than he believed Angelus had seduced her back at the mansion. Either scenario seemed unlikely.
Stepping a little closer, Cordelia pressed a palm to his chest. “I held up my part of the bargain. Now it’s your turn. Tell me about the museum.”
The warmth of her hand seeped through his sweater. Just that simple touch made him reciprocate by closing his hand over hers. He stroked little concentric circles around her quickening pulse. “We’re not done here yet, sweetheart. You’re going to show me every scrape and bruise.”
Cordelia yanked her hand away. Gasping, “No way! I didn’t agree to a peep show.”
“Don’t argue with me on this. I need to see for myself that you’re okay.” Angel knew that she had no true understanding that his need for visual confirmation went beyond casual curiosity and the concern for a friend. He preferred to keep it that way even if it left her in the dark about the reason he was so insistent.
Stubbornly, she crossed her arms and reiterated, “I’m fine.”
“Oh, good grief! You’re being ridiculous. Please tell me this is just a vampire thing, and that you’re not crazy.”
Angel had no intention of explaining even if she did accept that there might be a reason. “I’m not crazy, and you’re just stalling. Start with the blouse, Cordelia.”
Visibly angry, she dared him to act like the jerk she thought he was being. “Why don’t you just rip it off like they did?”
Being compared to the two punks who attempted to rape her tried his patience, and that had already worn to a thin thread. It took a moment to rein in the urge to get physical with her just to force her compliance because then she would be right. He would not be much better than them. Quietly, he said, “I’m waiting.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him just how long he could wait and where to do it. Defiance flared for a moment; her gaze narrowed on his as she slowly reached up to pop open the first button. “Fine.” Pushing the second through the buttonhole, she told him, “Don’t rush me, and stop looking so pissed off. This was your idea.” The next few buttons opened up her blouse into a low vee revealing curved cleavage adorned by pale blue silk.
Angel realized his agitation made his patented poker face impossible to maintain. There was no hiding the distracted stare that followed each new revelation as her fingers went from button to button. Their fight had done as much to arouse him as touching her, and now this. Inwardly, he berated himself for being weak, but he had to see this through.
As soon as the last button popped open, Cordelia dropped her hands back to her sides. A vertical slit of golden skin and soft blue silk peeked from between the open edges of the blouse. She was beautiful, temptation personified, and belonged to him whether or not she had a clue that friendship was not in the vampire lexicon. Cordy might think that he was overstepping his bounds, but he was actually holding back by limiting this encounter to a tally of injuries.
Retaliation against her attackers was not just a goal, but went deeper than the need for revenge being far more basic. Surely, she could not fault him for wanting them to pay for the crime by a preferably painful method. Angelus had mentioned why she was so vehement about not killing them—a concern that it would damage their deal with the Fates. Since he did not have the same constraints placed upon him, he could handle it, and do so in a calculated way.
Suppressing his deadlier urges seemed easier than the rest. A torment of other cravings stimulated his senses. He had felt this before in a mild way whenever Cordelia was with some random guy, even more so with Xander, but had considered that to be a normal male reaction, just random attraction over which he had no control. This was a deep, possessive need to erase any lasting remnants of their vile touch, even the memory of it, by physical means. Distracting her with pleasure so that the only thoughts she could summon would be of him.
It shocked him, seeming to come out of nowhere, but the feeling was there nonetheless. That primal need for connection nearly overwhelmed his reason, but in those moments of struggle, it made perfect sense. Cordelia had claimed his friendship without realizing it only deepened their existing connection. She was his. No conscious effort elicited the extreme response. Something in him that might have been part caveman jabbed at those base desires made him think about sex.
Angel’s fingers moved down the edge of her silk blouse slipping the tips inside to stroke at her skin. A strong compulsion to kiss her made him stare at her rose-tinted lips, and he nearly leaned in to touch his mouth to hers. Only with the utmost effort was he able to remain still. There would be no turning back if he kissed Cordelia. The depths of this possessive need would take over, and it would not be long before pleasuring her with his hands and mouth led to something more.
He held onto that idea for a moment turning it over in his mind, its genesis more about ownership than intimacy. It certainly had nothing to do with friendship, he realized with a stab of guilt and a rapidly growing sense of horror that he had nearly followed through whether or not he had her consent. Comparing it to the teenagers who had attacked her last night, Angel was disturbed by the thought that his actions were no better.
One other disturbing realization came to mind. Not once until this moment had he given any consideration to Buffy, his own girlfriend. Strangely, he wondered if that would have deterred him even though it definitely should. He loved Buffy. She loved him, too. It was a feeling they shared. So, why did the concept suddenly feel so foreign compared to this wild, animalistic passion?
Another moment of contemplation made Angel conclude, reluctantly, that those feelings might have been there all along. His forbidden fantasies all knotted together. They had just come to the fore because of this maddening situation. “Temporary insanity.” Angel decided it was the only explanation he could accept.
Cordelia’s response snapped him out of the haze he had fallen into. “Maybe it’s not so temporary,” she quipped. “You’re the one who decided to play doctor. Get on with it.”
The games he preferred to play would wipe that pretty little smirk from her lips, Angel thought blithely. Although Cordelia was annoyed, he knew that she trusted him enough to indulge his demands to inspect her injuries. He was no longer certain he deserved it. These inappropriate thoughts had come out of nowhere, slammed into him in a way he could not easily forget.
Perhaps hoping to talk him out of his plans at the last second, she warned him, “There isn’t much to see.”
Angel had already come too far to back away from this decision, and the need to see the evidence outweighed his self-directed rancor. Testily, he said, “I’ll be the judge of that.”
“Judge, jury, executioner,” she scoffed back. “You’ve already got something planned. I know you, Angel. You aren’t going to let this go.”
Not denying it, “No, I’m not.” He enjoyed the mere thought of roughing them up. If he decided they deserved more than that, so be it.
The collar of her silk blouse slid open as she moved to poke at his chest. “Leave them to me. If you think I can’t come up with a way to punish them, you’re wrong.”
Only half-hearing her, Angel’s attention zoomed into a purplish bruise darkening the skin across her collarbone. He pushed the material out of the way only to gape at the sight of more finger shaped marks peeking out from the edges of her bra. Seething, he felt like he was about to come out of his skin, barely managing to hold onto his human form. His brow rippled with the effort to maintain it.
“Where else did they mark you?”
“Nowhere you’re going to see, so back off. We’re done here.”
Angel reluctantly let her have her way. “On one condition. You tell me exactly where and how they touched you, and how many bruises they left behind.”
Her hand felt hot against his cheek as she palmed it. “Angel, I’m fine. Promise. If I am a little sore, it’s because I put up a fight. They grabbed and groped, but Angelus got there before. . .”
Once again, he felt a rush of gratitude that Angelus had somehow managed to be in the right place at the right time to save Cordelia. It irked him to have to find this out second hand, still feeling guilty for not being there. He was all too aware that his reaction to this event went beyond the bounds of the normal, easy-going friendship developing between them. It unsettled him how easily protective feelings toward her became domineering, driven by more than simple concern.
Not letting her finish, Angel vowed to retaliate. “I’m going to break them,” he said in an almost whisper because it was difficult enough to speak at all. There would be no need for confessions, just the satisfaction of snapping their bones one by one.
Cordelia reminded him that she did not want them dead, something incomprehensible to him at that moment. “Sheesh! I thought you would be the sensible one. Even Mister Bad Influence himself promised to play by my rules. Why can’t you?”
An incredulous laugh preceded some harsh words. “Don’t fall into that trap, Cordelia. If you think Angelus doesn’t have an agenda, you’re a fool.”
“Well, you’re being an ass. Rude, much? I don’t think I like you today,” Cordelia curled her lip in contempt. Her anger carried over to her fumbling attempt to button her blouse adrenalin making her hands shake.
Anger took a slow churn in his chest as Angel counted to ten. Sounding more menacing than intended, he warned, “Be careful.”
“About Angelus’ agenda—or yours?” Cordelia bit back almost instantly.
Impatiently waiting for him to respond, she propped her hands on her hips, tapping her foot as if she might plan to stomp on his. Her stance caused her shirt to gape open in a way that exposed even more lacy bra and curved breasts than before.
Faltering for a second, Angel was not quite certain how he wanted to answer. Cordelia valued the truth and that was simply something he was not going to reveal. “I’m just trying to be a friend.” Maybe it would have sounded more sincere if he had not reached forward to button the damn buttons, his nimble fingers pushing them back into place. His effort stalled a time or two when he inadvertently touched the swell of her breasts.
“Finished?” asked Cordelia sounding annoyed drawing his attention back up to her face.
There was one more button right at the top that remained open where her throat dipped softly. That spot provided more than enough temptations now that he was in that frame of mind making him want to press his lips there and follow the line of her throat up to her pulse point. He let his thumb rest there for a couple of seconds before releasing his hold.
Cordelia did not wait for him to speak, not that he could think of a good excuse anyway. “This isn’t the Dark Ages. You can’t lock me away in a tower where it’s safe. My house may have big gates, but I won’t let it be my prison.”
The whole Ivory Tower scenario actually appealed to some part of him, Angel admitted, but that was not what he wanted for Cordelia. He could not expect someone so full of life to stay quietly sheltered while he dealt with her assailants. That might make him feel less guilty about not being there to stop it from happening in the first place, but would not help her resolve it, or deal with any emotional fallout she might try to hide.
Reluctantly acknowledging that Cordelia had the right to her own brand of revenge, Angel decided that it should be her call. “Plot and plan your revenge scheme if that’s what you’re doing. Just keep Angelus and me in the loop. We can help.”
“Promise you won’t do anything until I say so.”
When would that be? He was in no mood to agree to a drawn out plan. “Take too long and I’ll—”
“That means when I’m ready,” she cut off the only promise he was willing to make.
“Not if I see them first.”
Cordelia obviously did not like his tone or his unwillingness to fall in line and comply with her wishes. “You don’t even know what they look like,” she pointed out a flaw in his plan to defy her.
The triumphant smirk fell into a frown when Angel pulled out a folded piece of drawing paper from his pants pocket. “You’re not the only one who saw them.” Angelus had drawn a sketch of their soon-to-be unrecognizable faces when he had asked for details.
Lunging for it, Cordelia easily missed as his faster reflexes jerked it out of reach. “Give me that!”
Angel probably should have stopped their impromptu game of keep away, but he liked the fire burning in her eyes, and the way her body pressed into his as she attempted to grab the sketch. “I can keep it up all night, Cordelia.”
“That’s nice news for Buffy,” she quipped between grunts and mewls of frustration as her efforts to grab the drawing failed. Climbing halfway up the length of his body using some kind of athletic cheerleader move to ascend, her knee pressed on his upper thigh dangerously close to his groin. She made another try for the sketch, adding, “But I’m not interested in your stamina.”
Hearing Buffy’s name threw him off guard. Angel stumbled back toward the wall taking Cordelia with him, and toppling the overstacked book cart in the process. The paper in his hand fluttered to the floor when he dropped it to catch her instead. Barely managing to find his balance again, Angel slowly settled her back on her feet.
Still clutching his shoulders, her body quaking at the near fall, Cordelia looked down at the chaos surrounding them. The cart had been upended and dozens of library books strewn across the floor. Her gaze darted back to his, perhaps a little startled that they were not on the floor, too. When mirthful little laugh emerged, she tried to stifle it by tugging at her bottom lip with her teeth.
Finally having caused enough of a ruckus to be noticed, their friends downstairs called out in concern. Chairs scraped back and the sound of Cordelia’s name seemed to echo on the air as they headed for the stairs. For the first time tonight, Angel noticed a hint of fear. She fidgeted, looking this way and that, as if hoping to escape whatever questions they might have. Cordelia did not want anyone else to know what led up to this, nor did he want to have to answer questions about sneaking around with her. Not that it was any of their damn business.
“You’re okay,” he prompted as quietly as possible. “Make them believe it.”
Loudly, Cordelia called out, “I’m fine! Klutz City. The cart fell. Too many books. No big.”
“Okay, good!” Xander yelled back even though he was already halfway up the stairs.
Willow chimed in, “Golly, I thought she was in trouble. It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“We don’t have time for distractions,” Giles shooed them back toward their research. “I will check on the books—and Cordelia.”
Angel could hear the Watcher’s quiet footfalls on the stairs. No matter that he might also be worried about the condition of his library books, the man was still the group’s mentor and friend. He had some right to show concern when one of them had an accident in his own place of work.
“You should consider talking to Giles,” Angel suddenly suggested. “He might be able to help if you need anything that you’re unwilling to discuss with me.”
A confused trill emerged as Cordelia extracted herself from his arms. “He’d want me to go straight to the police.”
“It’s not a bad idea. You bit one of them. Maybe that’s enough evidence.”
“I said I would deal with it,” she whispered furiously.
The suggestion was his half-hearted effort to be sensible, as she put it, and Cordelia had chosen to blow it off. Preferring it that way, Angel had no intention of being reasonable when it came to dealing with those two little thugs. Straightforward action was the way to go, not involving the Sunnydale Police, but he had been prepared to placate her with the idea for a while.
Just as Giles closed in on their location, Angel made himself scarce by making his way out the back door, and quickly returning downstairs. “Make any progress?” he asked strolling up to Willow and Xander who were nose-deep again into their research.
“Nah! Nothing that makes sense,” Xander pointed to a pile of notes.
“We found stuff,” protested Willow not wanting to make their efforts sound like a waste of time. “I don’t know what it’s all about yet, but it’s progress. A teensy-weensy kind of progress, maybe, but definitely of the good.”
Angel nodded as if he cared, and then tried to look casual about asking, “What about Giles and Cordelia?”
He barely let Willow explain about the accident with the cart before using it as an excuse to join them upstairs. “Maybe I should help.”
“The books will survive,” Xander waved him off.
Willow agreed. “Giles wants us on research.”
This time Angel dropped the excuses and turned toward the stairs taking them two at a time. He heard Xander chuckle in his direction. “Off to the rescue. Sometimes I think he should put on a mask and call himself the Fanged Crusader.”
Barely noticing their snickering, and not caring at all about it, Angel quickly navigated the maze of the upper gallery. Cordelia and Giles were gathering the fallen books. The librarian was apparently attempting to place them in an orderly fashion on the cart, but Cordelia had her own ideas. “You’re screwing up my system.”
“I thought your system involved making a tall stack.”
“An organized stack! Holding up two books with depictions of ancient works of art, she explained, “This one goes on the bottom. It looks like a yawner, so I’ll leave it for last. This other one has stuff on pottery art, but it’s got jewelry, too!”
Giles and Cordelia had very different ideas on how to prioritize her research, much less organizing the books. “Well, ah— what’s this?” He reached beneath one of the books to pull out the folded sketch that Angel had accidentally left behind.
“Probably nothing!” Cordelia hastily rose to her feet when Giles did the same. “Just a bookmark, maybe. Let me throw that out.”
“Hold on. It’s a sketch. Quite a good one, at that.” He passed the drawing to Cordy only to see her immediately ball it up into a wad. “Those boys look familiar. Barry Stewart and Mike Filmore, I believe.”
Angel committed the names to memory having already done so with the faces revealed by the sketch. “Everything okay?”
Pursing his lips as if to say the answer should be obvious, Giles explained, “Cordelia had a bit of a tussle with the book cart. No permanent damage. A folded page or two.”
“He means me,” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “There might be bruises, but I’ll live.”
Giles stuttered a bit at the misunderstanding. “Oh? Apologies. You look perfectly fine, a bit tussled, perhaps. Have you been hurt?”
Shouldering the wall, Angel settled in to enjoy not being the one on the receiving end of Cordelia’s sharp tongue. Listening to her, anyone would think she had been knocked flat by a leaning tower of books. Or that Giles had ignored preventative maintenance of the library equipment causing the cart to collapse. If anyone spotted her bruises in the days ahead, Cordy now had a legitimate cover story.
“Do you need a break?” The Watcher suggested she head straight home to rest. “Angel could take over your assignment. This might take all night.”
Cordelia was struggling not to smile. The corners of her mouth twitched as she pressed her lips a little tighter. With the mood she was in, he could see her choosing to abandon him to a mile high stack of books. Even if he did have an idea about that one symbol, he would still have to search for a resource on the right museum to prove the theory.
Annoyed at the way she was able to manipulate both of them, Angel suggested, “It will go faster if both of us stay.”
Surprising him, Cordelia agreed. “I’ll stay. I bet we can figure this out in no time.”
After a few more apologies, Giles headed downstairs again to resume his own research tasks. Angel waited until he was out of hearing distance before moving closer. “Where were we?”
Cordelia tossed the balled up sketch in the air and caught it. “Talking about stamina.”
Ignoring the temptation to grab the wadded paper she was purposely teasing him with, Angel focused on the prompt instead. Letting her rib him about his habits was one thing, and talking out his pre-separation, curse-related frustrations yet another, but he was not so certain that directly discussing his sexual prowess was sanctioned under the guise of this relationship.
Brow furrowing, he opened hesitantly, “If that’s what you want to talk about.”
“Oh, hell no! Pretty certain I have had an earful of that already.” With a shudder, Cordy added, “Harmony did not skimp on any details after she slept with Angelus. Then you and Little Miss Likes to Fight decided to rearrange your furniture.”
Angelus had not been exaggerating when he described Cordelia’s reaction. “It wasn’t like that! I’m—”
Cordelia finger whipped up to press his lips closed preventing him from explaining. “Not caring! The only stamina I need from you is your ability to be patient.”
Now he knew where the distracting topic was actually leading—into a trap. Angel waited until she moved her hand down to his placing that wadded sketch into his palm. “Keep it for future reference. You’ll get to help me with some payback,” she assured him, “but only when I’m ready.”
Angel’s fist crushed the lumped sketch into a tighter ball wishing it were actually them being pulverized. “What you’re asking me, Cordelia, I’m not sure that it’s possible.” Now he knew their names, and it would be easy enough to discover where they lived.
“What’s so impossible about not going on a murderous killing spree?”
Two did not make it a spree. Doled out in an excruciating way, Angel preferred to call it, “Justice.”
“My kind of justice, my way, and in my own time.”
The fury inside him would not be easily forestalled. It welled from something too deep to ignore. Angel knew that he would have to fall back on old habits of meditation to restore his sense of equilibrium, and to allow him to wait this out. Maybe a few extra workouts in the basement gym would take the edge off. Buffy was always eager for an energetic workout, no matter how far it took them.
There were plenty of ways to channel his energy and control the urges he had thought would lessen without Angelus’ constant presence in his subconscious mind. The instincts were all vampire, but the feelings they engendered were human enough. If this was not going to be resolved tonight or any night soon, Angel made a painful decision. He had to stay out of it completely until she was ready. Offering to help her plan her little revenge scheme would only increase the likelihood that he would break his promise.
“I’ll do what you want,” Angel told her not bothering to hide his irritation.
Cordelia’s determined expression softened into surprise. “That’s great! Angelus said you would be on the fence, but that you would cave if I asked really nicely. You did anyway even if I forgot the whole sugary sweet scenario.”
Another jolt of anger hit, this time directed toward Angelus. He had agreed to Cordelia’s waiting game, and given her the idea that he could also be seduced into compliance. “I think I would have noticed.”
“I’m not trying to trick you,” Cordelia moved her thumb across the back of his hand to convey her sincerity. “The whole my enemy is your enemy thing is great, but I want to handle it.”
Angel felt the effects of that simple touch in a magnified way. “Whatever you want; you know I’ll give it to you.”
A satisfied murmur sounded as he caressed her cheek. “Good,” she sighed softly. Angel leaned in to press his lips to her forehead in spite of his plan to avoid touching her in any way. The gentle kiss almost felt like he was leaving behind an invisible brand to mark his territory.
Once again, Angel knew he had overstepped the bounds of friendship. He was trying. He wanted to be and do whatever Cordelia seemed to expect. Mutual seduction should have no part in it, but by the slowest increments and the littlest ways, both were tied up by a knot of their own making. Letting go was not so simple, especially because he was not looking for a clean break. He just needed a little time and distance, even if that distance was just arms’ length away.
Angel tucked the crumpled sketch into his pocket to free both hands, and then took hold of her shoulders moving her just enough to watch the questions lighting up in her eyes. He imagined her busy thinking. What are you doing? Why did you kiss me? Why did you say yes, when you really want to say no? Want to kiss me again, maybe somewhere else? Will you tell Buffy?
The unnerving questions faded from thought when he discovered that Cordelia had something else on her mind. “About that museum…”