07: Courtship and Ritual
Chapter 7: Courtship & Ritual
“Things are weird,” Xander pleaded his case as soon as he plopped down at the table across from Willow. “I’m confused. Please explain it in a way that my tiny brain will understand.”
Realizing that she was no longer alone in her discoveries, Willow hurriedly glanced at the door to make sure no one else had entered. “You noticed!”
“Something,” he nodded vehemently, “but I’m often wrong. So you’ve seen it, too?”
Willow propped both elbows on the table and her head in her hands before letting out a big sigh that signaled her own bewilderment. “If you’ve seen what I’ve seen then it’s definitely something.”
Just to confirm it, Xander hissed the name, “Angelus?”
“Yup! Angelus,” she confirmed with barely a sound.
Both had noted their resident evil vampire had been demonstrating bizarre behavior recently. “Shocking stuff. Saw it with my own eyes.” Xander would never have believed it otherwise. “Angelus helped a little old lady cross the street.”
Gasping, “He did not!” Willow asked if he might have seen Angel instead.
“Nope. Cor was there, too. Ask her if you don’t believe me.” They had been on patrol together, strangely enough, an unusual assignment. Xander had not been happy about the idea of no one else being around to protect them from Angelus, much less the other creepy-crawlies they might run into.
Instead, the vampire had been a riot, sharing funny stories with them about the good old days. He was most hilarious when he tried to keep it clean for Cordelia’s sake by leaving out the gory or graphic parts. Watching her wig out about the gruesome stuff was half the fun. Xander did not see a reason to hold anything back, but was quickly admonished.
Angelus had warned him to behave, “We don’t want to offend any feminine sensibilities,” as if he was the one likely to cause trouble.
When it came to sensibilities, Xander had never noticed that Cordelia had any, or considered whether he actually knew what that was about. “Have you seen those shoes? Sensible is not a priority.”
Cracking jokes was his thing, but after that, it got tense again. Angelus had looked down at those strappy, impractical, high-heeled things Cordelia was wearing, and made a very thorough appraisal— not just of the shoes either. Checking out every curve as if he had x-ray vision, Angelus said something all smooth and poetic that brought a smile to her lips. For a second Xander actually thought she was going to let the vampire get away with it until he went and ruined it by adding something lecherous.
Cor’s stinging retort should have put Angelus in a rotten mood, but he was eerily cheerful. “Harris knows I’m right, don’t you?” Providing Angelus with a little manly solidarity versus being on the receiving end of his ex’s ire was not exactly a choice Xander wanted to make, but it did earn him a spot in the doghouse the rest of the night.
Truthfully, he could only remember babbling around the subject of Cordelia, her gorgeous legs, and whether or not Angelus’ leering was acceptable. His strategy had been to agree with everything and deny everything all at the same time. Neither one of them seemed impressed by his response, but his head was still on his shoulders, so things had worked out well.
Doubting Willow would approve, Xander left that part out. Reminding her of the point he had been making, “A little old lady! What’s next—escorting the Girl Scouts door-to-door at their next cookie sale?”
Giggling at the idea, the redhead sobered up to point out the vampire’s odd actions already extended to children. “Angelus saved a kid from getting run over by a car.”
“No prompting him?”
Shaking her head back and forth, Willow told him there was no time. “Two more seconds and splat! He jumped in front of the speeding car, grabbed the boy, and dived out of the way before any of us had a chance to think about it.”
“Are you sure he wasn’t just looking to grab a bite-sized snack?”
It was unusual that a kid was wandering around the streets of Sunnydale after dark. Most young children had a curfew and the parents stuck to it even if they never publicly acknowledged the reason for it.
“I guess he was more annoyed that the kid cried so much. Must sound even louder to a vampire, I guess,” she supposed. “We found his mother back at the Downtowner Motel. Kid wandered off while she was walking the dog.”
Xander scrunched his brows together as he wondered, “Why were you with Angelus? I don’t remember Giles assigning you to any jobs together.”
“Oh, he didn’t. Cordelia was with me. We were supposed to meet Oz about the Dingoes.”
The band’s lead singer, Devon MacLeish, was another one of Cordelia’s ex-boyfriends. Their breakup had never been a big deal as far as anyone knew. Their sizzle just fizzled. Devon had moved on to one of his newest groupies, and Cordy got her hooks into Xander. Not that Willow still had any bitter feelings about that. Nope.
“Cordy is helping to organize that charity event at the Bronze next month. They’ve got a few bands lined up, and she wants the Dingoes there, too.”
Scratching his head, Xander asked, “What’s that got to do with Angelus?”
“Nothing. I don’t think he’s into charity work,” she quipped wryly.
“Only if it involves nuns.”
Willow reached across the table to slap his hand. “Be nice.”
“Just because he can’t doesn’t mean he wouldn’t,” Xander sullenly slumped down in his chair, “He hasn’t. That’s why it’s weird.”
Nodding, Willow told him, “I know! One second we heard tires screeching, saw the headlights, and the boy in the middle of the road. I couldn’t move. Cordelia screamed. Suddenly, Angelus swooped in to save him.”
“Lucky he was there,” mumbled Xander not quite ready to give the vampire credit for being around when he was needed.
“Definitely lucky. That car was swerving. It could have gone either way. If Angelus hadn’t cleared the kid out of the road that car might have hit us instead!”
Joining them every night, Angelus had fought fiercely alongside the Slayer, his vampire double, Angel, and the Scooby Gang. Instead of rabble-rousing, he spent his free time gathering reconnaissance. He pressured one of the demon gangs into getting out of town. Now, he was even out-heroing Angel with his tactics and sudden do-gooder activities.
Leaning in again, Xander asked his friend, “So do you think this is real, or is he just trying to trick us?”
“The Fates made the rules. If he wants a life of his own he’s got to play by them.”
“Play being the operative word,” he raised his eyebrows signifying that he thought Angelus was treating this a game.
Willow had her doubts. “Maybe he’s just trying to fit in. He can’t do the bad stuff he enjoys. Being evil is out. That only leaves the good stuff. It’s better than being bored for eternity.”
“You’re a good person, Will.” Her willingness to give the vampire the benefit of the doubt was exactly the opposite of his own feelings on the subject. He did not feel bad about it, though. Not a bit.
That thought about Angelus fitting in might have made a microscopic dent in his resolve to remain on alert for hidden motives. Giles had said it was best if they all involved Angelus in their personal activities so that he could acclimate. Meaning it was their job to give him something to do that would not result in the world being sucked into hell.
Somewhat bitterly, Xander noticed that Giles did not have to pretend to be best buds with Angelus.
“Oz and me— we played pool with him the other night,” Xander revealed in case her boyfriend had not already shared the experience.
“Fitting in,” she pointed a finger his way. “That’s what I said.”
Coughing out a subtle expletive beneath his fist, Xander knew then that she had not gotten any details on the night from Oz. “So you don’t know where Angelus took us to play pool.”
The usual tables at the Bronze would have been her guess, but Willow had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. This was Angelus, after all.
He took a little satisfaction in watching Willow’s eyes widen until they were like emeralds drowning in a sea of white. It was the addition of her jaw-dropping gasp that earned him bonus points. She usually had him figured out before he opened his mouth to speak.
Having only heard Buffy describe the demon bar tucked away in a hidden corner of the town, Willow could not imagine it being a place to relax with your friends. As a werewolf, the bar patrons might overlook Oz’ presence in their hangout, but Xander was all too human.
Squirming at the scary image, Willow squeaked out the one positive thing she could say about it. “You’re still alive.”
“Only after Angelus made it clear to everyone that we were not there as the entertainment.”
“What happened— a fight?”
Xander slowly shook his head. “Nope.” He was still a little overawed by the whole experience.
Kind of the opposite of a fight took place between Angelus and a big burly dude covered in muscles and tattoos, sporting a sharp set of fangs. Decked out in a leather vest, denim jeans, and chains, he looked like he would fit right in as the leader of a motorcycle gang. Physically, it looked like an even match, but this was more like a test of willpower. A staring contest in which no one ever needed to blink.
Motionless, Angelus stood his ground when the vampire opposing him tried to back him down. Watching from the sidelines, Xander felt suffocated by the tension in the room. There were dozens of vampires and creatures—demons, he supposed—ready to rip into them if Angelus showed any sign of weakness.
Xander’s eyes watered from the effort of trying to watch every moment of it, but he had no other choice but to close his eyes. In that reflexive instant, something changed. Angelus’ foe began to crumble under the weight of his stare, his head hanging low, body folding down until he was on his knees, and begging forgiveness.
Dominance achieved. “You can go. I’m here to play pool,” Angelus coolly informed them. “Don’t interrupt again.”
That was the Angelus he remembered, the scary as crap vampire, not the do-gooder patrolling the town and rescuing kittens from trees. It confused him, but Xander had to admit Willy’s Place wasn’t so bad once the riff-raff was put in their place.
“No need for a fight. Angelus kept the lid on his temper. We played pool and drank beer,” he added with a grin. No one got carded. “It was kinda fun.”
“You had fun hanging out with Angelus?”
Realizing what he had said, Xander shuddered. “Told you! Weirdness.”
“That’s not all. Get ready for it. Ready? Good. Last night during that fight with the Ichytharkut demon, I think he saved Buffy from being slimed.”
Xander had noticed, too. “That acid would have hit her straight in the face.”
“Said so! Saved her.”
“The rest of us almost got slimed, too,” Xander pointed out that everyone had been targeted. “Does that mean we owe him?”
“Hope not. I tried to say thanks, but he wasn’t listening.” Frowning when she remembered why Angelus was so distracted, Willow wondered if she should tell Xander her suspicions, or wait to talk to Buffy.
Xander had been too busy checking on Buffy to notice much else during the aftermath. Vaguely, he recalled that Angelus had some strong words for Angel, something about doing a better job protecting her since he was the closest. That might makes sense if Angel had been anywhere near Buffy at the time. No way could he have prevented the slime-o-rama.
“Will, a thank you is kind of a waste on Angelus. He doesn’t understand the nice stuff.”
Deciding not to hide her observations, Willow disagreed. “He’s been nicer to all of us, especially to Cordelia.”
True, Angelus’ usual scathing, painfully personal remarks had dwindled to a minimum, almost as if he saved them for special occasions now. He did the right thing instead of finding a way to avoid it. Being helpful— that was just annoyingly strange. His interest in Cordelia, however, was not a surprise. It had been apparent to Xander that Angelus had a little crush on Cor, which pretty much meant lustful obsession, ever since his arrival.
Obvious much? He could practically hear her voice now.
Concerned, Willow told him, “I think he wants—y’know—well, you’d know.”
Yes, Xander knew more than most about wanting things from Cordelia. He did not like it one bit that Angelus already had ideas. Very vivid ideas if his suggestions about Cordelia’s legs were any indication. “He might want the moon, too. Never gonna happen.”
His confidence in Cordelia’s ability to shut down Angelus’ creepy flirtations was unwavering. No one could get through the personal bubble surrounding her like an invisible shield unless she wanted him there. The chance of that happening was nil, even less than nil, and probably whatever was less than less than nil.
Xander did not like the hesitant tone as Willow revealed, “Hmm, I’ve seen them together. Talking. Hush-hush stuff like they’ve got a secret.”
A chill shot down his spine. “What stuff?”
“How would I know? I just said it was hush-hush. They stop talking when I get too close like I’m not allowed to hear.”
“You think he’s flirting.”
“Definitely, but don’t you like him better this way?” Willow certainly did and had to admit it. “The whole him not being evil thing just works for me.”
Putting a halt on that oh-so wrong assumption, Xander warned, “Oh, he’s still evil. Soulless. That hasn’t changed.”
There was plenty of evidence, Willow countered, “Something changed.”
Even Xander had to agree that Angelus was not quite the same. “Me too. Things are weird.”
Two weeks later. . .
Twirling the combination lock left and then right and left again, Cordelia opened her locker immediately spotting an envelope propped against her schoolbooks. Calligraphic ink spelled out her name. It was not uncommon for guys to leave her little presents in hopes of gaining her attention. She liked pretty things, and there was nothing wrong with being indulged now and then.
The strange thing was that the envelope was too big to fit through the small vented slits in the front of the locker so whoever put it there either got her combination from the Principal’s Office, or had another way to figure it out. So, who was it this time? Never being short of admirers normally made it difficult to guess, but there was a tiny little flutter of excitement deep inside telling her that she already knew the answer.
“What’s that?” Harmony asked interestedly gazing over Cordelia’s shoulder.
Snatching it out of the locker, Cordelia was uncertain she wanted to share this surprise with her friend, but that would mean waiting. Anxious to see it, she carefully opened the envelope doing her best not to damage it in any way. There was a hand-drawn card inside, an artistic creation that had both girls gaping at its beauty.
“Wow!” Gasping enviously, Harmony asked, “Who’s it from, Cordy?”
The class bell rang out in the hall giving her the opportunity to avoid the question. Hiding the card between the pages of one of her books, she said, “We need to get to class. See you later.”
Cordelia knew that Harmony would bug her about it until she told her the truth, but she suddenly felt like she did not want to share the first glimpse inside. If it had been just any store bought Hallmark card, there were a few people who might qualify as her secret admirer. Considering recent events, this had to be Angelus’ work. He obviously had some of those latent artistic abilities even after the split from Angel. This gorgeous card was his way of stepping up his game.
Sitting at her desk in class, Cordelia tried to ignore the fact that the card was there, but it was almost like the book kept flashing at her with a neon sign. Trying not to look obvious about it, she opened her textbook to the place she had stuck the card. She glanced from left to right ensuring that her classmates were otherwise occupied before taking a look.
A small portrait occupied the left side of the card’s inner surface, a smiling version of her. Was that how Angelus saw her? The tiniest details amazed her, and all of it from memory. Cordelia stared at it for some time before the teacher called out her name for the second time to get her attention.
Twenty minutes later, Cordelia found another opportunity to check out the other part of the card where smaller script was written out. It was a poem by Lord Byron:
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes
The poem continued it its entirety. Reading it, Cordelia felt simultaneously pleased and irritated. Who wouldn’t love the card? It was beautiful, and he had obviously spent a lot of time creating it. What aggravated her was the way Angelus cloaked his attempts to seduce her with gentleness, romance, and courteous behavior. He surprised her almost daily with his ability to be kind to her, something she first thought was an act, but now felt like the norm.
Tactics became habitual. It was the little things he did that made the most impact. Opening the door for her. Assisting her with her chair. Stroking her cheek when they said hello or goodnight, either teasingly or reverently.
“So what did you do?” Cordelia asked him one night as he escorted her out to her car. “Take lessons from Miss Manners?”
Despite her mockery, she had to give him kudos for trying. Angelus had not been secretive about wanting sex, and sometimes he would say things that made her quake at the thought of being taken by him that way. More often than not lately, it left her feeling turned on instead of scared.
Angel was never around to curtail Angelus’ newest habits. Ever since their confrontation in the upstairs gallery, the only time she saw him was when they all gathered for meetings. She supposed that he was still pissed off because she stopped him from hijacking her revenge against those band geeks. Their day was coming soon.
That was no excuse for being a crappy friend. Angelus was better at it than him right now. Cordelia would have thought Angelus would take his twin’s absence as an excuse to try things he might not get away with under his watchful eye. Roving hands. Stolen kisses. Yet, he had not. Why? Cordelia adored being kissed. Was it wrong to feel cheated?
Knowing she was increasingly attracted to Angelus felt terrifying, but not enough to stop playing along. Not normally the flowers, poetry and candy type of suitor, Angelus was a demon all about bloody hearts, curses, and corpses on your doorstep. Cordelia had not forgotten that. She knew this was an effort to prove he could make her want him just as much as he claimed to want her.
Cordelia Chase was no easy prey, even if those certain jerks in the school band thought otherwise. It would take more than a unique, handcrafted romantic card to make her believe Angelus had reformed. When Angel had warned her not to fall for Angelus’ agenda, it had seemed like an easy thing to do. Every day he seemed to grow on her just a little more—like a blood-sucking leech, most likely—but it was hard not to like the attention.
Still, he had a long way to go to prove this was all sincere. A loooonnnng way! Thought she was a pushover did he? Thought she was serenely calm and eloquent did he? Pfft! Cordelia refused to fall for that, or him.
The rest of the school day went by in a blur. Harmony had cornered her at lunch, which was a good thing because it allowed her to avoid Buffy & Co. Cordelia was a little bothered about lying to her longtime friend about not knowing who sent the card. There was no signature on it thanks to Mister Egomaniac knowing she would guess it was from him.
That let Harmony spend the rest of lunch speculating on the identity of her secret admirer. Not once did she guess that it might be Angelus, which was A-okay with her. Harmony was still miffed about something he had said to her at the Bronze. From what Aura had told her, Harm had good reason.
Early on, Angelus had made it clear that he planned to seduce one of her friends, and Harmony had been all too willing. As far as Cordelia knew, he had not done that again, at least not with any of her closer friends. There would have been gossip. All of them tended to over-share their exploits, or exaggerate them.
She had done a lot of thinking today about both vampires. The explanation Angel had given to her about the splitting of their being affected them on several levels. Vampires were basically equal parts human and demon, so that meant both were still essentially the same in addition to identical physical aspects. Without a soul, Angelus leaned more toward the demonic side of their nature while Angel the more human side.
Did having some humanity mean it was possible for Angelus to change as he claimed? Could he consciously choose to ignore the pull of his demonic side in order to win her trust? This flirtation with the card was something else altogether. It had nothing to do with trust and everything to do with the vampire trying to seduce her. Cordelia wasn’t ignorant of the games men played. She was an expert at fending off their advances, but Angelus was not just a man nor was he in any way ignorant of what women wanted.
A lusty little tingle zipped down her spine. Bad thought! That did not belong there. She wasn’t supposed to envision Angelus giving her anything. It was hard enough not thinking about her little shower fantasy. Now she had to contend with Angelus in the form of the Dark Avenger crashing into her life and attempting to sweep her into his bed. The idea was temptation itself, but hello— evil vampire!
The school was closed up for the night except for the usual folks gathering for their latest Scooby meeting at the library. This one was supposed to be quick. Giles had been busy lately going through the research they had been gathering. This was just a routine check in after which Buffy and Angel could handle patrol, and the rest of them could take the rest of the night off.
Cordelia stopped by her locker opening it up. The inner locker door was decorated with photos, including the one of herself and Xander that she had never taken down. Removing Angelus’ beautiful card from her purse, she tried to decide if it was worthy of being locker door material or if she should rip it apart in front of him just to prove it meant no more to her than he did.
Completely oblivious to his approach, Cordelia gently placed the card inside her locker. No ripping it up tonight, she decided. It was beautiful and made her heart flutter a bit just thinking about the sentiment, even if Angelus sent it. Destroying it could wait until she was one hundred percent sure of what she was feeling.
“Out of sight, out of mind,” she addressed the card just before shutting the locker door a little more forcefully than intended.
Right behind her, Angelus quipped, “I hope you’re not talking about me.”
Yelping at the shock of finding him there, Cordelia protested. “You scared me!”
“It’s what I do!” He flashed a grin, but added, “Just not what I mean to do to you, Cordelia.”
With her heart still hammering, she had to ask, “What do you mean to do?” even while knowing it was setting herself up for something she might not want to hear.
Angelus stroked his fingers across her cheek, his touch as soft as his words. “Make you mine.”
Ooo-kay! So, clearly, he was not wasting any time before getting around to the flirting. Cordelia pushed a finger into his chest as if that would move the wall of muscle standing in front of her. “How about getting out of my way?”
Without moving, Angelus gave her one thing she wanted. He skipped out on his own little game to say, “I couldn’t wait with the others. I wanted to see you first.”
“They’ve seen me all day,” Cordy pointed out shifting her weight from one leg to the other.
Walking around him to head for the library, she stopped and turned as he called out, “Did you like the card?”
Cordelia waited until Angelus crossed the distance between them. Meeting his curiously bright gaze, she faked a surprised gasp, “That was from you? There wasn’t a signature. An old boyfriend of mine can draw. I thought it might be from him.”
“You knew who sent it,” Angelus’ expression drooped into a frown.
“Not really. Angel, maybe?” Cordelia tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Since he has been such an ass lately, this could be his way of making up for it. He’s kind of artsy, and you did say that those were his etchings at the mansion.”
Angel was too wrapped up in his little romance with Buffy, and never sent cards impulsively, but the idea was plausible enough to be believed, so her feigned indecision was not that far off base. Getting to twist him into a knot for once was quite satisfying.
Pointing at his chest, Angelus was quick correct her mistake. “It was from me.” A little grumble darkened his words as he stared back with such a sullen expression that she almost felt sorry for him. Not enough to ignore the urge to laugh.
“Taking credit for someone else’s work doesn’t seem like your style. Unless you just drew it because Xander asked you to. He does like to grovel.”
It clearly bothered him that she might be thinking of someone else when handling the card he no doubt spent hours creating. His frown deepened when it became apparent he thought she did not believe him.
Drawing out the tease out a little longer, Cordelia pointed out, “High school guys aren’t known for poetry, but I’m not sure about vampires. Angel can be so dark and broody—and that’s kind of poetic.”
Angelus roared, “I sent you the fucking card!”
“Well that was a really romantic statement—not!” Cordelia rolled her eyes at the vampire. “No wonder you had to resort to using Lord Byron. Couldn’t you come up with any lines of your own?”
Snarling a bit, Angelus paced around like a madman for thirty seconds or so before turning back to her. It had not occurred to her while teasing him that inciting his anger might not be the best way to survive the night. He even rubbed at his neck as if the Fates sent him a tingly reminder before he could respond with a bite. The dark stare suggested there might be a few other ideas, too.
Determined strides carried him forward making her backpedal quickly, but there was nowhere to go. Her shoulders collided with the lockers. Angelus effectively trapped her there by pressing his hands on either side of her, his strong arms creating a barrier from which there was no easy escape. Had she pushed him too far this time? Cordelia gulped nervously. He had been so different lately that she freely taunted, teased, and argued without any fear of retaliation.
A nervous little sound emerged instead of a scream. The others could have come running. Most or all of them were probably in the library.
Angelus shifted, flexed his shoulders, and closed his eyed for a moment as his chin dipped toward his chest. Ducking and running for it probably would not get her very far if Angelus actually meant to get even for poking him where it hurt—his ego—in some physical way. He probably had scores of methods to try that he hoped would sneak by the Fates’ painful deterrent.
There were things he could do, and by his own example back at the Bronze, with the strongest motivation he could fight those restraints. Cordelia could see the struggle on his face, and the tension, as he fought those aggressive urges. She was almost certain he would not harm her, but her nerves were on edge. These few seconds of waiting for him to act, to say something, to call her a bitch for teasing him about the card, or to try to rip out her throat for the offence was too much.
Cordelia reached up to stroke his jaw while hoping that her touch would be soothing rather than incite further anger. The muscle twitched beneath her fingertips, but its rigidity diminished as she spoke his name. Anything else she might have said went forgotten when Angelus opened his eyes. There was no raging anger, threat, or censure in sight as he angled his gaze to hers, only raw desire. It burned through her like wildfire sparking a trail of heat leaving her flushed and hot, and craving contact. That frightened her more than he did.
There was no confusion in her mind about who was standing in front of her, so why the rush of excitement? Her trembling hand retreated back down to join its mate in pressing flat against the locker door behind her hiding them from view. She did not want him to see her reaction, but knew by the way he stared that nothing escaped his notice.
When he finally spoke, Angelus’ voice penetrated her with its sensual tones. “Shall I tell you why I’ll be your lover?”
There was a hitch in her breath as Cordelia awaited the answer. He seemed so certain that it was going to be a reality. While that naughty little voice in her head said things to tempt her, Cordelia kept reminding herself that this was all a game to him. Nothing had changed since last night. This was just Angelus’ way of pretending to be romantic, sexy, and good.
He looked at her with such sincerity completely convinced that she would give in to his desires. That confidence drew her closer, held her gaze until she felt connected by it. He was gorgeous, and it was too hard to look away when his attention was so deliberately focused on her. Conceding that he did not have to pretend to be sexy, Cordelia tried to ignore the effects of being so close.
“Because I read it in your eyes,” Angelus told her softly. “They give away more than you know. Your eyes are so expressive, Cordy, even when you’re trying to hide your feelings. They grow dark with your arousal, as they do now, reflecting your desires.”
“That’s just fear,” Cordelia countered swiftly. “Fight or flight.”
Smugly, he saw through her denial. “It’s not fear. I would sense it. You’re also not screaming or running away. You want me, Cordelia.”
He leaned closer. So close she thought he was going to kiss her, but the moment she thought she might flee came and went in a heartbeat as he paused to say, “I know I’ll be your lover because I see the way your lips soften and swell in anticipation of my kiss.” Angelus hovered over her mouth while speaking those words causing precisely that reaction. Her lips tingled and parted slightly of their own accord while her tongue darted out to moisten them.
Cordelia’s eyes fixed on the masculine lines of his mouth, her expression one of growing hunger as she wondered how those lips would feel on hers. Would it be gentle, wild, and insanely hot?
Even to his own ears, his voice sounded heavy with growing desire as he spoke her name, calling her attention back to his eyes. “Cordelia, tell me you want my kiss.”
A tiny startled moan sounded at the back of her throat questioning his interruption of the path her thoughts were taking. Wanting anything from Angelus was impossible. It was wrong even though it was true. Maybe it was curiosity, insanity, or remnants of her old crush on Angel, but Cordelia wondered how any kiss could ever live up to her imagination.
“I can’t. I don’t want you to want me, Angelus.”
Her words did not deter him. “I can hear it in your voice,” Angelus revealed. “It’s what you don’t say that tells me we’ll be lovers. That little moan. The way your breath catches in your throat. Imperceptible to a human, but I hear it.”
Vampire senses were so unfair, thought Cordelia, irritated by her body’s little betrayals. She should not be listening to this, but the fact that she was not moving away had nothing to do with Angelus blocking her path. Her whole body seemed to be focused on his voice.
Still, she had to deny his words, “You’re imagining it.”
“Am I? Is it my imagination that your heartbeat quickens?” He heard it even now, as her heart thudded in her chest. Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub in an ever-fastening thrill that sent blood coursing through her veins. If there was ever a turn-on for a vampire it was that combined with the knowledge that fear was not the cause. “Sweet music. I know that sound, the rate of your pulse, its rhythms, and could recognize them in the dark.”
“You’re a vampire,” Cordy sounded out the accusation.
“It’s a fact that won’t change,” he reminded her needlessly. “It doesn’t stop your body from reacting to mine without a shred of the fear you pretend still exists. I see the flush of your sun-kissed skin. The way your breasts swell begging for the touch of my hands and the way your nipples perk up for attention. Your body recognizes its desires wanting my hands and mouth giving you pleasure.”
Traitorous boobs. Cordelia could not will away her automatic reaction to the sensual timber of Angelus’ voice nor the words that heightened her arousal. Supposing it wouldn’t fit with her argument to crush her breasts against the hard muscles of his chest and just rub against him, she shifted against the lockers again.
Angelus leaned in, this time scenting her skin. “You smell so good. Clean, perfumed, so fragrant, and hot with need.”
Cordelia jerked slightly realizing that he not only noticed the extent of her arousal, but also wanted to make sure she knew that he was fully aware of it. Yes, he turned her on. He was hot. She had always known that, but this was too much. Her body was buzzing, panties getting damp. Her eyes were so heavy-lidded it would be simple just to close them and imagine herself back home in bed where she could do something about the throbbing ache between her thighs.
The wanton thought caused her fingers to inch low across her abdomen as if to make it happen now. Angelus quickly noted the subconscious move to add more flame to the fire. “Do you want to touch yourself, here and now? Want me to touch you?”
She could not answer those questions. Wouldn’t answer them.
All Cordelia could do was let out a hot huff of air that seemed to be caught in her throat. Shifting against the lockers, she was uncomfortable with the questions, even if the truth of it was reflected in his eyes. She imagined the soft brush of his knuckles on her hand, fingers sliding through hers, guiding him down between her thighs. The move set her feet apart ever so slightly, her body answering for her when she stubbornly refused to respond.
All the while, Angelus was still braced against the lockers. He hadn’t moved. Not an inch. All he did was tell her what she already knew, but refused to believe. “You’re ripe with wanting, my Cordelia. Your body craves my touch. It recognizes the inevitable. You should be mine.”
Denial was not quite so resounding a thought as it had been a few minutes before. It was difficult to think when she was so aroused. Ignoring the urge to shut him up by kissing him into silence took every ounce of strength she possessed. She wanted to crush her aching breasts against his chest, wrap him up in her arms, and taste his kiss. Melting into a hot bubbly pool of need, she had to admit that Angelus certainly had a sexy way with words.
“Okay, so maybe you don’t need to depend on Lord Byron to come up with a good line,” she gave him that.
“The only poetry we need to discuss is the way we react to each other,” Angelus smiled sensually. “It works both ways. Do I need to tell you how my body comes alive whenever you’re near?”
Shaking her head, Cordelia did not want to hear any more. It was too much. Her head was spinning with fantasy images and her body felt close to exploding. Whispering a plea, she begged him to stop, fearful of the fact that she was starting to believe what he said. “No.”
Getting this far without a major protest only provided Angelus evidence that Cordelia Chase wanted him, too. Otherwise, she would have thrown more of her accusations in his face. This tiny little squeak of denial was nothing.
Cordelia could not seem to form a coherent thought to tell him to back off. That’s what she needed— for him to back off. Yet, her hands had a mind of their own reaching out for him palms pressing against his chest and moving up to his shoulders and neck, roving over the soft material of his shirt and the dense muscle beneath. Seeking any contact to assuage the needy ache, she moved closer. Too close, she realized with as much awe as uneasiness, that his cock was hard, huge with arousal.
Still braced with his palms flat on the lockers, Angelus moaned at the feel of her against him drawing out a confession. “Do you have any idea how much I want your hands and mouth on me?” The stroke of her tight fist, her wet tongue, the heat of her mouth, not just simple kisses and caresses.
Her own heartbeat thudded in her ears as Cordelia realized with a sudden shock that she far more excited by the proposition than she was willing to admit. Having imagined that and far more, and heard Angelus proclaim his desire for her, she answered him, “Pretty sure I do.”
Nuzzling her cheek, he whispered into her ear asking for permission, “Let me touch you, Cordelia. Let me show you that you’re already my lover.”
Angelus felt a burning sensation stinging his arm and an angry male voice yelling, “Get your hands off Cordy, vampire.”
Reeling back, Angelus vamped out in reaction to the sudden pain. A small hole had burned through the arm of his shirt leaving a scorched mark on his exposed skin. “Harris! Get that cross out of my face.”
“Omigod!” Cordelia was mortified that Xander caught her with Angelus. He was her former boyfriend, a friend, so technically this was none of his business, but she was the one caught groping a vampire— an evil vampire. The interruption was definitely a good thing.
“What do you think you’re doing, Angelus?” Still holding the cross, Xander dared to demand answers being far more pissed off than he had a right to be. “The Fates didn’t leave you a loophole for harassing Cordy. Just because you can’t bite and kill humans anymore doesn’t give you an excuse to try out your old threats on your new friends.”
Angelus obviously did not consider Xander or the cross much of a threat. He seemed more interested to see how she was going to react to being caught. This had all started out as a game that turned into seduction, but there was never any real danger. Not the kind Xander was suggesting.
Realizing that she might need to explain herself, Cordelia muttered a quiet curse before telling him, “He wasn’t threatening me.”
“Then you were—,” Xander gasped as his colorful imagination filled in the gaps. “No! This is Angelus.”
“I know that, dammit!” Cordelia pushed away from the lockers and started to pace back and forth between them. Stopping in front of Xander, she gave him a weak smile, “Thanks for coming to my defense.”
“You’re welcome,” Xander blinked at the unexpected gratitude. “I-I think I’ll head into the meeting. We’re late.”
Meaning he wanted to go tell everyone what he saw in the hallway. “Don’t say anything,” she grabbed his arm before he could turn away. “Not even to Willow. ‘Kay?”
Xander’s jaw hung heavy with disbelief. Not tell any one? “You’re kidding! Is this what you two have been all secretive about? You two a-are. . .”
“No we’re not! Nothing is going on here. We were just talking.”
Cordelia knew he did not believe her, and for embarrassingly good reasons. From his point of view, it had probably looked like she was all over Angelus like a bad rash while the vampire was not even touching her. Any gropage had definitely been her doing. As long as he had not overheard the spicier details, Xander could not know just how close she came to giving into her desires.
“Way to overreact, Xander. It was just a hug. You’re such a doofus.”
Conceding that he might be exactly that if he let himself believe it, Xander said, “If it’s not a big deal you shouldn’t mind me telling the others. No one should freak when I say you’re giving out free hugs to vampires.”
Angelus playfully knocked Xander on the shoulder. “Wanna make a bet? Do you think the Soul will lose it or just get in line?”
“Watch the knuckles! Ow. Angel might have something to say to you,” he scowled. “How many times has he warned you to stay away from Cordy?”
No longer amused, Angelus snapped, “Watch your mouth, Harris. Cordelia asked you to keep it shut. Nothing has happened yet that needs to concern Angel.”
Xander told them, “Whatever this is, I’m pretty sure that it is a really, really bad idea, but I won’t say anything about the . . .,” making air-quotes around the word, “hug.”
Letting out a big sigh as Xander walked brusquely down the hall and into the library, Cordelia asked Angelus, “Think he’ll talk?”
“Not if he knows what’s good for him.”
“Don’t threaten our friends,” Cordelia reprimanded. “Xander’s a good guy. He was just trying to save me from the big, bad wolf.”
Angelus regarded her quietly for a moment. “Why does he get the thanks with a smile after ‘saving’ you and I didn’t?”
“Are we still reviewing the ‘One Hundred and One Reasons Not to Trust an Evil Vampire‘ notes I made for my future memoirs?” Cordy asked snippily.
“No,” Angelus answered unamused by her tone. “We’re cutting through the bull and laying it on the line. My past is not going anywhere. Get over it.”
Erase everything. Give him a clean slate? “You’ve been keeping up your end of the bargain, for the most part. Kudos for that.” If forgiving was different than forgetting was there a way to forgive Angelus for the pain and anguish he caused? “It’s not that easy.”
Lucky that Xander had already retreated to the library because Angelus felt he was responsible for this sudden reversal. Cordelia had been so close to admitting that her attraction to him was something real, nearly acting on it. Now they seemed to have taken two steps back to the days when he had to put up with constant accusations, even if they were true, or reminders that he was a killer. Also true, but it had nothing to do with his desire for her.
This confrontation was not going to be an excuse for her to pretend that her arousal was not real. Even if his past disgusted her, he knew Cordelia wanted him. The responsive way her body reacted to his little flirtation made it all too evident that she craved his touch, and wanted the pleasure he could provide.
There was only one shred of doubt that plagued him. Cordelia’s feelings for the Soul might cause confusion. That bothered him. He did not like having his double as a rival for her affections, but Cordelia was not Angel’s lover as she would be his. Making certain there was no misunderstanding between them when it came to any lingering attraction, he cupped her chin tilting her face toward his. “Don’t deny you haven’t fantasized about this body. I want you, Cordelia. Seems like a win-win situation to me.”
Outraged that he was dragging her old crush into this, Cordelia jerked away from his grasp. “You might look exactly like Angel, but you’re not him. He’s my friend. It’s not like that. We don’t . . . I don’t . . .”
Angelus’ mouth quirked up at one corner as she struggled to describe what defined her relationship with Angel. “Don’t lie to me. We both know you’re bad at it.”
“Okay, so he’s a hottie,” Cordelia conceded with a roll of her eyes. “Maybe I used to think about him that way. Not any more. Well, not recently. Okay, so, only after your little vampire wrestling match. Your fault!”
Enjoying her frazzled little speech, Angelus relaxed back against the lockers as he recalled the scuffle and the way he had arranged for Cordelia to take a convenient little fall right between them. Things heated up fast once the initial shock was over. If only the rest of the Scoobies had not been there to interrupt.
Recalling the fragrant scent of arousal clinging to her freshly showered skin when she had rejoined the group, Angelus could tell that Cordelia had not resisted the temptation to finish what the three of them had started. “Was he the only one touching you in this fantasy?”
“Yep. Just him.”
“What did I tell you about lying?”
Cordelia flushed hot at the memory of her imagined threesome with Angel and Angelus. There was no way she was ever going to admit dreaming that one up, especially since she was wide awake at the time. “Just because you look like Angel doesn’t mean I have any intention of jumping your bones.”
“Your loyalty does you credit. I’ll expect the same when you become mine.”
“Stop pretending that you don’t want me as your lover. Tell me what you want. Let me find a way to give it to you.”
“It’s not that easy, Angelus,” she responded with a shaky tone. “What if I said I want someone human? Would you pay another visit to the Fates?”
Trust her to say something impossible. “This was a one-time deal.”
“Pfft! As if you would,” Cordelia huffed loudly. “You like being a vampire. You like to play demon when the fighting gets good.”
“That’s right,” he agreed. “I do. I already told you this is the one thing that won’t change. You know that and it hasn’t made a shred of difference in the way you want me.”
Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest in a defensive stance. Revealing, “I want someone real in my life. Not a stalking, obsessive maniac. If that’s how you’re going to play this game then you might as well quit now.”
“It’s not a game,” Angelus countered vehemently. Maybe it was, but he did not feel that way now. There had to be something he could do to make her see the truth. What could he do to prove he was sincere? “Tell me what you want.”
Narrowing her gaze, Cordelia wondered if this was just a deeper level to his seduction strategy. Angelus wanted sex. He saw her as a challenge. Clearly, he did not even have to lay a finger on her to melt her resolve. The way he could make her buzz with just a few words promised so much more. Even if she knew that it was wrong to feel anything for Angelus besides contempt, it was too late.
What if the thing she wanted was just him? No conditions. No more games. Mind-blowing, hot, and probably more than she could handle sex would be a fun distraction from the craziness of the Hellmouth. The tempting thought evoked delicious jitters. Angelus needed to understand that she was not so desperate for sex that she would settle for it in lieu of a relationship.
“Sex isn’t the only thing.” Cordelia only realized after saying it that it also revealed something else.
Angelus’ weighted stare felt like a caress. “You do want it,” he said purring the words in satisfaction at her confession.
“Sure, who doesn’t want that kind of excitement? With the right person.”
“I’m the right person.”
Confidence infused his response. She had no doubt that Angelus felt secure in his skills after more than two hundred years, whatever awesome talents those might be. Hello, vampire. “That’s highly debatable. Are you even capable of caring about me?”
That sounded suspiciously like a trick question. Angelus hated to admit any emotional weakness, but knew he had no choice. “I care.” He growled it out not expecting to feel a painful ache at the need to prove it. That judgmental stare was not the expression he wanted on her beautiful face.
“You care about getting laid.” Cordelia could tell it was difficult for him to argue against the truth when it was something he had never tried to hide from her. “I want more than that. I want everything.”
If only Cordelia was talking about the Kama Sutra, he had it covered, but she was not talking about sex. “Romance?”
“Definitely on the list.”
“Do portraits and poetry qualify?”
“So that card really was from you?” The opportunity to tease him again was too tempting to resist.
Limiting his response to a low intonation of her name, Angelus warned her not to push him.
“Okay, so I knew it was yours. It’s beautiful, and I do love it. Did you make it because you really feel something, or because it would soften my feelings toward you?”
Another one of those questions! Angelus did not like being on the receiving end of an inquisition, especially because he usually enjoyed the part that included torturing the subject. “Both. This is all new to me, Cordelia. I don’t understand why I feel anything, but I do. Yes, I hoped the card would make you look at me differently.”
Angelus reached out and brushed his thumb across slope of her cheek. “I want to be your lover, Cordelia. Given time and your trust we can be more.”
Keyword: trust, a cautionary chime rang out its notice.
He made no effort to exaggerate his feelings, which only seemed to tell her that whatever did exist might actually be real. Maybe it was little more than lust, but at least he was honest about it. She was tired of guys who wanted something from her whether it was status, connections, or sex, not without being up front about it.
Angelus’ honesty was refreshing, and being honest with herself, she had to admit that his gentle touch made her want more. He made it sound simple. Cordelia knew the reality was much more complicated, and possibly a little dangerous. No one had ever pursued her with so much conviction. It might still be a game, but why not play it? If nothing else, it would be fun to see if Angelus would indulge her whims, and just how far she would be willing to let him go.
“Let’s say I might be open to the idea.” Cordelia felt his fingers still against her. Covering his hand she nuzzled her cheek against his palm. “Only if you take things slow.”
Stunned, Angelus started to tell her he had already been extremely patient, but she pressed her finger to his lips. “What do I want? You might not be surprised to hear that I can be a bit high maintenance. I do have needs that I like fulfilled.”
He started to smile causing her to snatch her finger away. “Is that so?”
“I wasn’t talking about sex,” Cordelia hissed. “Other stuff is important, too, not just the poetry, flowers and candy, or the jewelry.
Romance was part of the deal. Angelus understood the notion. “Flowers and candy?” That seemed simple enough, almost too basic. Women had always liked pretty things, especially if they sparkled, but he should have guessed that Cordelia would be so bold as to expect it.
“Are you listening? I said other stuff.”
“Name it, Cordelia, whatever you want.”
Taking a step back, she snarled in annoyance, “We’re not negotiating the terms of my surrender.”
Angelus wanted to tell her that was exactly what was happening, but held his tongue. It took every ounce of restraint to bite back the sarcastic, dirty little remark he wanted to make. There was nothing to negotiate as far as he was concerned, not with Cordelia. She wanted to go slow. Patience, she said. Fine. He could do that. Even though he would rather lift her up against the lockers, thrust high and hard, and fuck her thoroughly, relentlessly, splendidly, until she came screaming his name.
What was a vampire to do except shut up and wait for the chance to strike back with some terms of his own? “I’m listening.”
“Most of the guys in town, here at school, the university, they just see me as Daddy’s little rich girl. I’m a Chase. Dating me gets them noticed, opens up opportunities for parties, introductions, recommendations.”
That confirmed what he knew about the men of Sunnydale. They were all useless idiots. Xander Harris was starting to look like a prince among men, except even he had cheated on her. Was that why Cordelia was considering this? Maybe she had grown tired of high school boys and their socially inept manners. Most teenagers did not even know how to make a woman come, or simply shot off prematurely. Perhaps there were other shortcomings. It was a mystery that would have to remain.
Cordelia had come to a profound conclusion. “None of that matters to you, Angelus. You may be a vampire with a one-tract mind, but at least you’re honest about it. When you say that you want me at least I know that you actually want me and not a summer job at Daddy’s firm.”
“Be mine, Cordelia.”
The image of pastel hearts and silly Valentines popped into her head even though Angelus spoke with such passion that his voice dipped into a lower register. Moving into her space inch by inch, he traced the length of her arms, took hold of her shoulders, touched her face.
The tiniest hint of vulnerability glimmered as he stared deeply into her eyes stirring up a rush of emotion he could only associate with protectiveness. “If you have some hidden agenda, I don’t see it.”
“My only agenda is you.” Softly, Angelus caressed her lips with the barest of kisses, a gentle promise that left her wanting more.
The Bronze was rockin’ Friday night. Half of Sunnydale was on the dance floor jamming to some of their favorite bands. Everyone who loved music was there even if two of them had sufficient reason to stay safe at home after the sun went down. Barry and Mike had not been to school in over a month, although the rumor mill never quite explained the reason.
People tended to disappear all of the time in Sunnydale, so it was not like anyone except the other Band Geeks took notice. After tonight, they would be the talk of the town if not the whole music scene. The charity event had drawn a few reporters and at least one camera crew.
Cordelia danced her way through the crowd toward the tables where the Scoobies were gathered. “Having fun?”
“Sure,” Xander nodded and lifted his soda in a congratulatory way. “This is great!”
The concert was an annual thing with the Chases being usually involved in the organizing or publicity. The tickets usually cost more than Xander could scrape up, but it was worth it. Cordelia’s connections got them free tickets this year, so the whole gang was here. Well, the part that mattered.
“It would be better if Angel would get here,” Buffy pouted. “He promised. I want to dance.”
Cordelia told her there were better dancers. “Dance with Xander. He’s not exactly light on his feet—or yours—but he’s fun.”
“Yeah, he is,” Buffy conceded with a sigh. She held out a hand to Xander who eagerly pulled her off the stool to her feet.
Before they headed toward the strobe lit dance floor, Cordelia told Buffy to relax. “I’m sure Angel will show.”
That left her alone with Willow who sipped at her soda through a thin straw. Oz was backstage prepping for his set. Dingoes Ate My Baby was coming up soon. “Thanks for inviting the Dingoes to play tonight. It’s great publicity.”
Cordelia agreed that it was a good opportunity for the band to be seen and heard by others in the music business. However, her motives might have been a little more centric to her plans for revenge wanting to have Oz and Devon backstage instead of out-of-towners. Should anything go topsy-turvy tonight, those two would help rather than hinder, and manage to convince their bass player and drummer to go with the flow.
“Is Angelus coming tonight?” asked Willow jerking her out of her thoughts.
The casual question stabbed at Cordelia’s nagging fear that one of the gang was going to figure out that she had been dating Angelus for the last three weeks. “How would I know? Pfft! He’s probably at Willy’s Place.”
This was not the first time Cordelia had kept a relationship hidden from her friends. It was not a point of pride so much as a way to let it happen. With Xander, it had been a crazy, spontaneous thing that caught them both by surprise and nearly wrecked havoc with her reputation. Neither one of them had wanted anyone to know that they were actually an item.
When their friends found out it was embarrassing. Everyone thought she was slumming, but they did not know Xander Harris anymore that anyone in the Scooby Gang knew Angelus. They had seen him in battles fighting at their side, acknowledged the changes in his behavior, and credited him with making an effort to join their cause. That was all on the surface. Cordelia had seen far more than she thought possible, and felt it in the way Angelus treated her. Not as a precious commodity, as she might have expected, but as if she was the girl he loved.
Maybe it was her own startling feelings that made her hope Angelus to be capable of anything of the sort. Cordelia knew there was a chance this was all an elaborate, slow seduction, but it felt real.
Angelus had also insisted on silence. No one was to know, especially Angel. Not that Mr Big Shot was around to notice anything. He was always supposedly busy at the mansion, which was probably code for boinking Buffy. Cordelia preferred to think that he was reading, drawing or doing something that kept him there on his own, but it was difficult to find an excuse to explain the Slayer’s absence, too.
Taking things slowly had been her own stupid idea. Cordelia was so over it. Their clandestine dates were exciting. She liked sneaking around. Kisses, caresses, and outright groping kept them both on edge. It was a good thing Angelus seemed to have iron control because she had none lately. When things got too intense the last couple of times he took care of her by slipping his fingers into her panties and stroking her until she came. Yet, he would not allow her to do the same for him, even though Cordelia teased him with a vivid description of what she wanted to do.
Cupping her neck, Angelus had pulled her close, kissed her hotly until she wanted to crawl on top of him. No denying that he wanted her just as she wanted him, completely, but he had ended the kiss and moved away. “I’m sorry, baby. We have to stop.”
The little endearment made her bristle. “Why? Isn’t this what you wanted?” Three weeks of taking things slowly had been about two and a half weeks too long, so Cordelia had discovered.
“Not even close. I want everything.” Angelus had thrown her words back at her. He spoke with such conviction that she knew it stemmed from emotion, and not just basic lust.
Cordelia stepped into his arms again clasping him around the waist. With a promise on her lips, she kissed a spot on his neck beneath his jaw, saying, “You can have it.”
The awestruck expression on Angelus’ face proved he had not expected that response. There might have been a hint of triumph in his deep brown eyes, but he was truly affected by her willingness to open herself up to him, body and soul. “Are you giving yourself to me, Cordelia Chase?”
Cordelia needed him to understand that she wanted to be with him without reservations. “I say it. I mean it. That’s what I do.”
A smile touched his lips. Almost reverently, he swept his fingers through her silky hair, tucked an errant strand behind her ear, and caressed the curve of her cheek. “Do you claim everything that I am?” Such serious questions when she would prefer that he shut up and kiss her again. “Tell me that I am yours.”
That definitely had a nice ring to it. Cordelia had enjoyed the possessive tug inside her. “You’re mine, Angelus. Definitely all mine.”
Apparently, he was all talk and no action. His brief kiss had done nothing to assuage the fire his touch ignited. When he told her goodnight, and that he needed to speak to Angel, instead of staying with her, Cordelia’s frustration had caught up with her. “That is so unfair! Why say that . . . make me say that unless. . .”
“Make no mistake, Cordelia, we will be together. We can fuck each other into a stupor when that happens. Everything you have is going to be mine,” his voice thickened with lust. “All of you. That works both ways. Take what you want. Tell me everything that gets you off, and I’ll do the same.”
Brash honesty was usually her thing, so Cordelia could not fault him for his direct style even if it did come with some crudity. The base sexual language unbalanced her a little being unused to it, but the intent behind it made her tingle. Coming from Angelus, it was kinda hot, but then everything having to do with him seemed that way, lately.
“The next couple of days are critical to your revenge scheme,” Angelus had reminded her they could not afford distractions if she wanted her plan to succeed. “I need to update Soul Boy, and tell him about us.”
Cordelia felt a frisson of terror all the way to her toes. Knowing that Angel would give Angelus a hard time about getting close to her, it sounded like a potentially dangerous deal. “Promise me that you won’t fight about it.”
All he could say was, “I won’t throw the first punch.”
Angel was a big fan of lecturing her, or so it seemed. Maybe it was her own fault for encouraging him to talk to people more than a couple syllables at a time. “We could spring it on all of them at once. That way we can sneak out while they’re all losing their minds.”
Angelus had nixed the idea for reasons he would not get into. “Let’s get the concert out of the way first.”
Now finally the night she had been waiting for had finally come. Cordelia’s nerves were on edge. So much was going on. The Bank Geeks were in for complete and utter public humiliation, and what would probably be years of unending gag reels at music fests across the country. Neither Angelus nor Angel had shown up, which hopefully meant they were simply laying low, and not that they had managed to kill each other.
There was going to be a confrontation with Angel; she knew it down to the depths of her bones. Whatever objections he had to her relationship with Angelus—and they were probably many—she had to find a way to convince him that she knew what she was doing. It was none of his business. If she wanted to fall for a formerly evil, still soulless vampire, that was completely within her rights, end of discussion.
Putting it that way might not be the best way to go, Cordelia decided. Still, it was going to happen. Angelus seemed to think they needed Angel’s okay. Ridiculous! The Fates did not put Angel in charge of Angelus’ relationships. He did not need anyone’s approval to be with her except hers.
Tonight was all about getting on with her life. More ways than one, she figured wryly. “Willow, you might want to head closer to the stage. The Dingoes are up next. I wouldn’t want you to miss anything.”
The redhead hopped off the barstool just as the lights went out sending the club into complete darkness. The musicians onstage stopped mid-song, and the crowd let out a collective scream. Historically, it was a sign of trouble rather than simple lighting problems. When the generator kicked in with a buzz a few seconds later, it only lit the emergency exits.
A voice called out from somewhere above them. “Enjoy the show!” So, the locals waited instead of running for the doors. The light shining from the news camera burned bright as it panned the scene. Noises from above and the sound of creaking metal alerted them to activity on the upper level.
“Something’s up,” Buffy’s voice sounded right in front of them. She ushered Willow and Xander back toward the table where Cordelia was sitting calmly. Telling them to, “Stay put. I’ll check it out.”
Before the Slayer could move toward the stairs, the club strobe lights came on again and a spotlight revealed that the metal dancing cage used during a few guest band appearances had been lowered into place. Two guys inside the cage were completely naked in a not so appealing way. “Gah! My eyes!”
A roar of laughter followed the shocked gasps of the crowd. “Barry? Mike?”
Someone recognized them. More laughter followed. Their names echoed on everyone’s lips from one side of the club to the other. “Make ‘em dance!” The mystery voice shouted again, and the crowd started to chant, “Dance, dance, dance!”
Onstage, the band started up the music again, and to everyone’s shock, the two caged Band Geeks turned around to shake their booties at the crowd. If the music was playing, they kept on dancing. The club manager brought a couple of t-shirts from the Lost & Found box, but wrapping up their privates made it look like they were wearing diapers.
Buffy discovered the cage door was bent in a way that no one could open it. Slayer strength could fix it, but she was not sure about letting them out. “What have you two done to deserve this?”
“Nothing! We did nothing. This was all our idea.”
Barry seemed terrified that she might suspect someone else. “Must’ve been bad.”
“You’ll just make it worse.” Mike gripped the bars of the cage staring into the shadows behind her, and whimpered, “Please go away.”
They looked like they had been scared within an inch of their measly little lives. It took the fire department and a blowtorch to get the boys out of the cage. When the police asked them to identify who put them in there, both refused. They claimed it was just a dare.
The charity concert continued after the boys were hauled off to jail for their public stunt. Cordelia had no idea if they would be there for a while or just overnight. Humiliation was their real punishment, and both vampires had a message of their own to impart before trapping the teens inside that cage. It was certain to bring them nightmares for a while longer.
Angel would have preferred to dish out a little corporal punishment instead of public humiliation. This is what Cordelia envisioned, and so he had gone along for the ride even if he thought her assailants were getting off way too easy. Waiting for her to come up with this scheme had taken ages. Having limited his contact with her to the Scooby Meetings, and managing to avoid further private conversations, he thought it would allow him to shake off the possessive, overprotective feelings that had swept over him when he learned about the attack.
After more than a month, he thought he had things under control. Cordelia also seemed to be avoiding him for reasons he recently discovered. Before Angelus sprang the news on him today, he had not been able to fathom the cause. Yes, he had come across a little strong when questioning her about the attack, wanting only to assure himself that she was physically okay. What had she called him— bossy and pushy? Maybe, but those were just good intentions.
Not quite so pure was the deep physical need that lingered long after their encounter in the library. Both of them had become unintentionally aroused that night. Cordelia might not have noticed, but having her in his arms was something of a revelation. It felt natural, comfortable, and stimulating all at once as if she belonged there. The notion certainly did nothing to moderate his naturally domineering inclinations.
Buffy noticed he had been moody, but took him at his word that there was nothing going on. As long as he helped out with nightly patrols, things went on unchanged between them. On the slow nights, they sometimes found a quiet spot where she would snuggle against him, and talk about whatever her latest struggle seemed to be. Angel listened, but sometimes drifted off to Cordelia’s mysterious plans. Those nights usually ended in a kiss on the porch after escorting Buffy home. Busier nights filled with vampire dustings or demon slaying worked the Slayer up into a lusty fervor, and Angel noted that she did not care about the state of his mood as long as he could keep it up for her.
Blaming himself was habitual, but Angel knew he was partly responsible for this. He had made a conscious effort to avoid Cordelia until she settled her plans for revenge against her would-be-rapists. Every time he saw her, he was tempted to break his word about not going after them. Since Angelus had been the one to rescue her, it was his not-so-brilliant idea to ask the other vampire to keep an eye on her when he was not around. Watch out for potential creeps. There was supposed to be no interaction during these stalking activities designed to protect her.
Obviously, Angelus had not kept up with that end of their bargain. It was easy to determine his motives, but what about hers? How was it possible that Angelus and Cordelia were in any kind of relationship, much less one about to become intensely intimate? Trying to wrap his head around the idea had only made him angry. Frankly, he hated it for more reasons than he could count, and even more that he could barely acknowledge. None of that mattered, though. It was just wrong, and he was not going to let it happen.
Revenge was not the only thing on his agenda tonight, and the next would be far less pleasant than the first. Telling Cordelia Chase that she could not have something she wanted was not going to be an easy task. Angelus had to be lying, exaggerating the truth, or manipulating her into this. No way could she have fallen for Angelus.
“Get out of here,” Angel had demanded of the other vampire immediately after the police hauled the two teens away. “I’ll let you know my answer back at the mansion.”
Angelus grabbed his arm and pulled close. “Better make it the right one.”
“That’s up to Cordy.”
A confident smile appeared as if Angelus was just that certain of Cordelia’s feelings. “Word of warning. Cor knows what she wants, so tread lightly. If I know my girl, she’ll probably rip you a new one for interfering.”
Naturally, Angelus had not informed Cordelia why this conversation was a necessity, one more reason that he could not be trusted. Letting her dive into a relationship without understanding what she was getting into would be irresponsible. Angel was not going to let her take such an insane chance with her life.
After Angelus departed, Angel surveyed the crowd looking for familiar faces. The usual trio of Buffy, Willow, and Xander occupied a table on the far side of the dance floor, plus Oz who had finished his musical duties for the night. He considered stopping there first to speak to Buffy. If she saw him leaving the club with Cordelia without saying a word to her, it would result in an awkward explanation he would rather avoid.
“Hey!” Cordelia’s sharp voice cut through the din of music and the crowd to reach his ears. Already irritated, he wondered if Angelus had tipped her off about their pending talk. “Did you just make Angelus leave? I wanted to say thanks.”
Realizing that she must have seen them together, Angel told her, “There’s no need for it. This was our revenge, too. And, yes, I asked him to leave.”
Cordelia was visibly disappointed. “Why? I wanted to celebrate.”
“Because of that,” Angel tugged gently at her lower lip. “You’re pouting.”
She touched her mouth drawing his gaze back to it. “So he told you—”
Angel shushed her. “Later. We’re about to have company.”
Buffy showed up a few seconds later. “Well, well, look who you have here, Cordelia. Better late than never.”
Only after a few seconds of watching his girlfriend stare at him wide-eyed and questioningly did Angel realize that she was still uncertain which vampire was standing in front of her. With a sigh, Angel pulled her close answering her silent ‘which one are you’ query. He kissed her forehead and watched the smile come over her features.
He was about to tell her that he had to leave again, but Cordelia cut in first. “I found him lurking nearby.”
“Sounds about right. We’ve got a table over there,” Buffy pointed toward it. Threading her fingers through his, she gave his hand a tug. “Wait until we tell you what you missed!”
Trying to nip that conversation in the bud so that he could move on with his plans to get Cordelia out of there, he told Buffy, “I caught the end of it.”
Too late, he was forced to join the others as they regaled him with the story of the naked cage dancers. “And that’s when they were hauled off to the hoosegow,” Xander ended it a while later.
Angel kept his response to a minimum and tried to figure out a way to get Buffy alone. A new song began after a short change in music. It caused Willow to leap from her seat. “I love this song!”
Without a word, Oz held out his hand and led her onto the dance floor. A moment later, Xander tapped on Cordelia’s shoulder. “Wanna dance?”
Cordelia glanced his way for a fraction of a second knowing that it was just a temporary escape from the inevitable. “Okay.”
They weaved their way through the crowd and started dancing. Cordelia’s graceful dance moves contrasted sharply with Xander’s herky-jerky style, but they appeared to be having fun. Watching her was a distraction. He was already thinking about what he needed to say about Angelus to convince her she was making a huge mistake.
“How about us, Angel?” asked Buffy eagerly. “Let’s dance.”
To this music? Not a chance. “You know I don’t dance.”
“Sure you do. Just to slower music. We could make a request.”
Downfallen, Buffy slumped a bit. “What’s wrong with tonight?”
Angel practically snapped at her, “Everything.” He could not reveal why the events of the night, both ahead and behind him, created a deep sense of frustration. All he could say was that it was getting to him. “I want to kill something.”
Solution ready, Buffy got up out of her chair, “Then let’s go on patrol.”
Confused because patrol was usually their way of spending time together, she asked, “Why not?”
“Because I need to hash something out with Cordelia.”
Stunned by his angry tone, Buffy glanced toward the dance floor. “What’s she done this time?”
Trust her to believe that Cordelia deserved a lecture. Maybe it would be better to let her believe it, but Angel had never outright lied to Buffy about anything. Cordelia had demanded silence on the subject of the rape attempt and their involvement in tonight’s revenge scheme against the culprits. He had no intention of betraying that confidence. It would be different if Cordy was not coping with what had happened, and he thought she would benefit from speaking to another female about it, but she seemed to handle it far better than him.
Buffy might have helped her with those plans if she knew anything about it. Knowing she had been left out of the loop might hurt a feelings a little, but in the end, Angel knew she would get it. The reason he needed a private conversation with Cordelia was quite a different subject. If he could only make the whole thing just go away after talking some sense into her, no one would ever have to know. Angelus had made quite an argument for himself in trying to convince Angel that Cordelia should be his. That he had real feelings invested in this liaison and wanted more.
Telling Buffy that Angelus had any such plans would piss her off, too. It was a bad idea no matter who heard it. No doubt, she would also be mad about it. The only question was whether she would kick Angelus’ ass first, or his for withholding information in the first place. There was still some tension between them about him making the deal with the Fates without her full consent. Bringing Angelus back to Sunnydale into his own existence was not a choice the Slayer would have made, which Angel realized in hindsight.
Despite the fact that Buffy remained wary of Angelus as a potential danger, no one had taken his flirtation with Cordy seriously. Most of the blame was his own for keeping some distance between himself and Cordelia, but the others were also culpable. They seemed to wear blinders and only saw what they wanted. They were unrealistically pleased with Angelus’ positive turn in behavior, either because he sucked up to them or seemed to follow the Slayer’s orders without question.
Even Angel had been giving him a little more leeway when it came to doing things without reporting his plans or whereabouts. When he did report in it was to tell him Cordelia was safe at home. Sometimes Angelus described in vague terms what she had done that night, which Angel had believed were the other vampire’s observations from a distance. Now he suspected that whenever it had been revealed that Cordelia was on a date, it was actually with Angelus.
What was Angel supposed to say to Buffy about Angelus? “He wants Cordy, and since he’s been a good little demon, he thinks I’m going to let him have her.”
The thought made him cringe visibly, which only drew another strange look from Buffy, but that was essentially what he would be doing. The fact that Angelus had come forward with his intentions toward Cordelia made the matter serious, formal and requiring him to issue a response. If Angel did not put a stop to this by rejecting Angelus’ declaration that he was going to make Cordelia his lover, it would be the same as giving his consent.
That was why he needed to talk to Cordelia tonight. To find out what she wanted. Was it just Angelus’ depraved idea or did she also want this? No matter what Cordelia answered, he wanted to tell Angelus to keep his hands off Cordelia because it would be a cold day in hell before he ever gave him his approval. Angelus had insisted that Cordelia was aware of what she was getting into. That she wanted Angelus just as much as he wanted her.
Just the idea of it infuriated him. He could not pinpoint a single reason. It just pissed him off. Buffy was still waiting for some kind of response from him. He was going to have to answer soon, because the seconds were ticking away. Finally saying the only thing he could, “I can’t tell you, Buffy. There is something that involves Cordy and I need to make sure it is okay. You’ll have to trust me.”
“I trust you,” Buffy responded with a look that questioned him for doubting her. “Is Cordelia in trouble?”
“No questions,” Angel pleaded despite the genuine concern in her voice. “I can’t have this conversation here at the Bronze. I have to leave and take Cordelia with me.”
Buffy thought it sounded serious. She could only think of two possibilities as to why he would not clue her in on the subject. The first was that Cordelia had tried to make another play for Angel and he was letting her down easy. That had not been an issue for a while; not since she discovered he was a vampire. Then there was Angelus. The fact that he existed made him the probable cause of any trouble. Angel’s evil twin. The evil twin who was not so evil lately. Actually, he had been kinda heroic in a highly suspicious way.
“I’ll get Xander to dance with me,” Buffy strategized. “You talk to Cordy.”
Standing, Angel pulled Buffy into his arms for a hug to show his gratitude. “Thank you for understanding.” He kissed the top of her head and then told her, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As soon as Xander came back to the table with Cordelia, Buffy quipped, “My turn!”
He asked annoyingly, “Doesn’t Vamp Boy want to brave the modern music? Fun for me.” Xander followed Buffy back onto the dance floor with a silly grin.
Angel quickly realized that Cordelia had already started to look for means of escape. “Ooh! That’s Aura.”
Before she could wave in her friend’s direction, he grabbed hold of her arm to stop her. “Don’t even think about it. We’re leaving,” Angel informed her as he picked up her leather jacket from the chair.
“Only if it’s to celebrate our victory tonight. Everything went perfectly. What about them?” She nodded toward Buffy and the Scoobies.
Angel was not in a celebratory mood, but if letting her believe it was what it took to get Cordelia out the door it might work to his advantage. He opted for a half-truth. “I told Buffy I needed to talk to you privately.”
Cordelia looked panicky for a moment. “You didn’t tell her why, did you?” This was something she did not want Buffy nosing into.
“No.” Angel held open the supple brown leather jacket so Cordelia could slip into it.
As his hands came up to curl around her shoulders, Cordy glanced back at him, amused by the gentlemanly habit she had lately come to expect from Angelus. “Are you taking lessons from Angelus, now?”
Letting out a low growl, Angel presumed that was just one of the tactics his pest of a housemate was using. “Let’s go. I need to get out of here.”
Angel led her directly to the Plymouth which had Cordy asking, “What about my car?”
“Either we’ll be back for it or I’ll take care of it myself later on.”
Puzzled, Cordelia shrugged at his response and sat down in the passenger seat. He closed the car door, but stood there for a moment staring down at her wondering how they were going to get through the rest of the night without one of them saying or doing something that would permanently damage their relationship.
“Are we going back to your place? Is Angelus meeting us there? I can’t wait to hear the details, and how you pulled it off.”
“You’ll be the one providing the details,” Angel explained that this was not a celebration, but a chance for them to talk. “We’re going somewhere private. You’re going to tell me what the hell you think you’re doing with Angelus.”
“Oh, that is so not happening.” Cordelia grabbed the door handle and gave the car door a push, but Angel was still there to thrust it closed again. “My love life is none of your business.”
The muscles in his jaw tightened as he clenched his teeth. He wanted to tell her how wrong she was on that subject, but decided to wait. “We’re going to have this conversation, Cordelia. Try to get out of this car again and I’ll toss you into the trunk.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
Outraged, she defiantly reached for the door handle again. Angel caught her by the wrist before she could get to it. “Don’t push me tonight. If you want to fight save it until we get there.”
“Why are you being such an asshole? You’re scaring me.”
Angel’s mouth curled wryly. “I’m not the one you should fear.”
“Get in the car, Angel. Take me to wherever it is we’re going and let’s have this out once and for all.” She faced the windshield, crossed her arms, and sat unmoving in her seat.
Once the car was in motion, the silence between them thickened. Neither one was willing or able to talk. Cordelia figured that screaming at Angel like a banshee would not come across as very mature. She would hold off until she heard what he had to say first. Then she would scream at him. The silence was a cloak of protection to Angel saving him from talking for these few minutes. He did not want to talk in the car, not about this. It would almost be like sullying the Plymouth with a distasteful subject.
Pulling up next to a wooded area with a small clearing, Angel turned off the ignition and walked around to let Cordelia out of the car. Before he opened the door, Cordy smoothed her wind-blown hair and asked, “Where are we?”
Glancing over his shoulder for an instant, Angel turned back to hold out a hand for her as she got out. Her high heels were more suited to the club than the pebbled side of the road or the turf they would be crossing. “It’s a small park behind the mansion. Quiet. No interruptions.”
“Good! We can get this ov—,” Cordelia started only to twist her ankle as her heel caught in the heavy turf. “Ouch!”
Angel caught her before she fell. “Take off your shoes. It’s like this all the way to the house,” he indicated the thick grass beneath their feet.
Bending down, Cordelia yanked her designer shoes off only to realize as the soft blades of grass tickled her toes that she was now going to be barefoot for the argument she knew was coming. The sudden loss of three inches of height left her at a disadvantage. She had not forgotten what she was going to say and this little delay only made her defensive, especially when Angel seemed more concerned about her comfort than getting on with it.
“I’m fine! Will you please start the lecture so I can tell you where to go stuff it?” Glaring at him had no effect other than making him look more ticked off than he was before.
Cordelia’s knack for pushing his patience to the limits did not bode well for either of them. “Angelus tells me you want to belong to him.”
“I’m his girlfriend, not a pet poodle,” Cordelia objected to the phrasing. “I want to be with him. You should get that more than anyone considering the risk you took for Buffy.”
She had a point, but it was one Angel did not want to argue because it felt like Buffy had no place in this conversation. “Angelus’ girlfriend? Cordy, he is incapable of that kind of relationship. He wants to own you.”
The slow roll of her eyes suggested he was exaggerating the situation, but Angel knew the vampire’s mindset all too well.
Cordelia let out a soft, “Pfft! Then he’s got a few things to learn about girls from Sunnydale, but you’re wrong about him, Angel. He has changed a lot just to prove to me that he can, and he honestly cares about me.”
“That’s what he said,” Angel sneered in disbelief. He walked a few feet away to stare up at the night sky as if it might prove some clarity.
“Then what’s the big deal about? Is it so impossible to think that Angelus wants me, too?”
Angel kept his back to her for a moment, closing his eyes as he imagined the hundreds of reasons Angelus might want to claim Cordelia Chase as his own. “Don’t be naïve or try to romanticize it. Angelus wants sex.”
“When was the last time you wrote your girlfriend a love letter?” Cordelia challenged him. “You don’t give him enough credit.”
Turning around, he saw a little smirk playing at the corners of her lips, as if she was tallying up all the ways Angelus had done something to please her. He knew how deceptive his soulless self could be, and the lengths to which he was willing to go to achieve his goals. Brute force was not his only tool. Seduction came a close second, a game he had often played with Darla or their victims.
“Angelus wants you in his bed, or out of it, for that matter.”
“Thanks for the news flash. Sounds like fun. Are we done here?”
Cordelia moved in the direction of the mansion, but Angel darted in front of her blocking her path. “Not until I’m certain you understand what Angelus will want from you.”
“Out of my way!” She poked at him with the tips of her shoes. “Maybe what he wants is none of your beeswax, Mr Buttinski, especially if it’s something I might enjoy giving him.”
Angel honestly did not want Cordelia giving Angelus anything let alone sex. There were very unselfish, concerned, and legitimate reasons to feel that way about this relationship both of them seemed so determined about. He could not get his head around the idea that Cordelia had developed feelings for Angelus who— until what seemed like only a few days ago— was just an offensive, evil, leering, ‘Stalker Guy’ with a set of fangs.
The innuendo in Cordelia’s words struck a raw nerve causing him to answer back without trying to sugarcoat it. “Then I hope you enjoy a lot of sex, Cordelia, because that’s what Angelus will want. He’ll want you every way there is to have you.”
His words were having an effect on her, but not in the way Angel intended. Even in the moonlight, he could see a slight flush of color against her skin. Her heartbeat picked up another notch, and when her breathing quickened, his eyes were drawn to the cleavage creatively displayed by the design of her dress.
A few choice images flitted through Angel’s mind in exacting detail. “You’re so damned innocent you don’t even know the half of it.” He was angry that Angelus had approached him about Cordelia, and angrier still that he could recognize the jealous trace running through every word he said.
“Neither did Buffy until you two got together. You both like sex. Quite a lot if your rattling ceiling has anything to say about it.” Cordelia let out a little laugh and quirked an eyebrow causing him to let out a grunt of discontent. “You’re a vampire, too. What you want can’t be so different.”
For the most part, Angel guessed that might be true, but Angelus got off on a whole other level that sometimes involved excess, domination, bondage, and pain. The assurances he had tried to make when he approached him about it did little to make Angel feel any easier about letting this happen. Dissuading her seemed like a lost cause, but he needed to know why she was so determined to accept a claim by Angelus.
Asking him about what he wanted made him wonder about her motives. Could this be about that old crush? Lingering attraction. Cordelia had wanted him at one time, and while he had to admit to himself that he was not immune to her, either, it seemed more than just coincidental that she would fall for his double.
Sensing this might be a risky line of questioning, Angel remained on-guard against a bombardment of flying shoes or other handy weapons. “Does this change of heart toward Angelus have anything to do with your feelings for me?”
Cordelia shot him a puzzled look. “You ignored me for a month, and now you’re suggesting the only reason I want to be with Angelus is because I missed you?”
That sounded reasonable, too. “Actually, I meant your crush on me.”
Her shoulders stiffened, eyes widened, mouth gaping open in surprise just long enough for him to see that Cordelia never thought he would bring that up. Slamming him for it, “Ego much? Pfft! That was ages ago.”
“If you say so.”
“I know so!”
Angel knew better than to tell Cordelia just how responsive she was to his presence. That the subtle signals her body made revealed more about what she wanted than anything she had to say. It was just natural chemistry they both pretended to ignore for reasons of their own. She had to be aware of it on some level. There were at least three recent occasions that one or both of them had come close to doing something regrettable.
“Is that why you’re so interested in Angelus? Physically, we’re the same.”
Feeling like he was digging himself into a deeper hole instead of convincing Cordelia that there might be a reason for her inappropriate attraction for the soulless vampire, Angel watched uncomfortably as she inspected him head to toe. She walked around him in a circle, her fingertips brushing the material of his jacket across his arm, back, and shoulders until she reached the front again. Just that slight touch stirred a craving to press both palms against her warm skin and rove over her curves.
Cordelia did not give him a chance to delve into that fantasy for more than a fleeting second much less reach out to pull her closer. She seemed to be agreeing with him. “That explains it. Obviously, my feelings about Angelus are not about him at all. They’re about you.” With a hand to her chest she let out an exaggerated gasp piling on the drama. “Thanks, Angel. This little chat is so enlightening.”
“That wasn’t a no.” Angel was tempted to make her admit that she still felt something for him.
“Pretty sure it was sarcasm.”
“Angelus is still more demon than human.”
“Maybe, but he’s not a monster,” she defended him fiercely. “You’ve been so distracted with Buffy that you probably never noticed that Angelus has been trying so hard to be good. To prove that he can be like you even without a soul.”
Not to be sidetracked from making his point, Angel emphasized, “He’s not me, Cordy.” There was a distinct difference between them that she seemed to have forgotten during the last few weeks.
“Unlike some people I don’t need to play Twenty Questions to tell you apart. There’s no need to pretend Angelus is you, Angel, because it’s him I want.”
It bothered him far more than it should. The sting of those words thickened his plea, “Don’t ask for this, Cordy. You deserve better.”
“I’ll be the judge of what I deserve. ”
“Think about what you’re planning. This is not right.”
“Being with someone who cares about me— what’s so wrong about that?”
Nothing if it was the right person. That answer seemed simple enough, but it was one he could not put to words because the idea of someone, anyone besides him, touching her in that way struck a raw nerve. His love for Buffy had nothing to do with these possessive urges. He knew the cause, and that clarity allowed him to feel it without too much guilt dragging him down.
“Wanting you is certainly not in doubt. What Angelus feels is driven by lust and desires you have no clue exist. He cares to the extent that it is possible for him to feel anything at all, but he cannot love you, Cordy.”
“Maybe I’m wrong, but Angelus is capable of more emotion than you think. I know that he’s different with me. I feel it. He can be tender and sweet or needy and demanding, but it’s me he wants and if that makes me hot I’m not going to apologize for it.”
Angel did not want an apology. He wanted to hear her admit that she was making a mistake. That he had convinced her not to pursue a relationship with Angelus. Hearing her say the other vampire turned her on was bad enough, but the masochist in him needed more details.
“I’m going to ask you something you won’t want to answer,” Angel tilted her face up with a finger tucked beneath her chin, “but do it anyway. Let’s see if your stories match. Angelus has had to tell me everything he’s done to you. Now it’s your turn.”
“How is that any of your business?”
“Because it is.”
“Nuh-uh! In your perverted dreams, maybe.”
“It’s a fact. One that Angelus has to live with if he wants to pursue you. I’ll tell you the truth of it, Cordelia, but only if you start talking. Tell me what I need to know.”
Demanding full disclosure got him more than he actually wanted to hear. As if she sensed he was uncomfortable with the very details he wanted, Cordy tormented him by providing more than just the facts of each encounter. She told him how Angelus made her feel with each kiss and caress, the way her body soared when he touched her intimately.
From what Cordelia described, their “make-outs” had not gone beyond what Angelus described to him, not that any physical contact was acceptable. It seemed that he had made an effort to put the brakes on before either one of them took it too far. “Tell me what you did for him.”
A frustrated little sigh followed. “Not much. Angelus told me we had to wait for the rest of it.”
Cordelia was a girl who was used to having her way, and he could see that extended to anything she wanted. “Did that bother you?”
“Yes! I wanted to touch him, too.”
Angel moaned her name at the picture she presented taking it a few more steps by imagining her hand fisted around his cock riding up and down its engorged length while she teased him with her tongue. It was far from the first time he had imagined Cordelia in a purely sexual way, but never when he knew she wanted someone else.
He blamed Angelus for taking advantage. Somehow he had manipulated her into this. Angel reached out to her because he had to have that physical connection even if it was just the slide of his fingers around the back of her neck, his thumb softly rubbing at her throat. “Cordy, I know how capable Angelus can be when it comes to seducing women.”
“Because you’ve got the same skills?” Cordelia pushed his hand away. “You shouldn’t touch me since you think I’m so susceptible to your supernatural charm and good looks.” Laughter burst forth granting him a moment with that brilliant smile, but it did little to soften his resolve.
Prowling in a tight circle around her kept him from pulling her into his arms. She needed to learn that it was a bad idea to mock a vampire, but he could not act upon the urge to teach her a lesson no matter how strong the desire.
“The Fates may have Angelus on a leash, but you’ve seen firsthand what he is able to endure. Who knows if the pain will stop him from going for it the next time he decides he really wants something.”
“That’s on the Fate’s no-no list. He couldn’t bite me even if he wanted to.”
“He wants to, Cordelia. No question. Barring him from using his fangs takes away a whole other skill set,” Angel piqued her interest by explaining fangs were not just used for killing and feeding. “They’re for sex, too.”
Not that Angel had experienced anything like that level of intimacy or trust with Buffy. It had not even occurred to him, nor did he see her allowing it.
“Maybe there’s a loophole for the sexy stuff,” Cordelia kept it positive.
“Angelus already benefitted from one loophole. Finding another one sounds pretty unlikely.”
“Oh, right.” That reminder did not deter Cordelia from asking for examples. “What do you think he would do if he could?”
“Tease every erogenous zone you possess. Trail his fangs across your smooth skin leaving thin little trails of blood and lapping it up. Doing his best not to leave any scars— except for the one he wants to make.”
Confusion clouded Cordelia’s fascination with the ways Angelus might use his fangs to play with her during sex. Her attention had wandered away, but the mention of scars brought her back into focus. “Why would he wa—”
“Because that’s what vampires do, Cordelia, especially when they have no soul to curtail their instincts. We brand what’s ours. Mark you with a sign to all other vampires that you belong to us, so that no one else dares touch you.”
“Why does that sound so hot and yet creepy at the same time?” A shudder passed through her making her body quake slightly as he moved his hand back to its previous spot.
With his thumb skimming cross her pulse point, Angel’s words were meant more for himself than for her. “Maybe Angelus would have stayed the hell away if I had put my mark on you.”
“But why would you? We’re not—“
“Lovers?” He sounded out the word and felt her pulse speed up beneath the stimulation of his touch. “If we were lovers, Cordy, you would not have had the time to become so fascinated with Angelus.“
“There’s that ego talking again.’ Jokingly, she asked, “What would you do— tie me to the bed?”
Angel answered seriously, “I wouldn’t need to. You wouldn’t want to get out of it.”
“That’s pretty much what Angelus tells me. If you’re really that awesome in bed I guess he is too, right?” Excitement brightened her eyes again, a little smile playing across her lips simultaneously teasing and poking at the sore subject of Angelus. “Go me! Then it will be my turn to make that chandelier swing.”
Guilt reared its ugly head again as his girlfriend came to mind. “Buffy can be enthusiastic,” he growled out his irritation having to say her name right now. “Sometime she—”
“Eew! No details.”
Realizing he was about to say more than he should, Angel rubbed a hand over his face, and then ran his fingers through the short strands of his dark hair. Just because he needed to know every nuance of Cordelia’s intimate encounters with Angelus did not mean she also possessed the same base curiosity about him. He had no need to prove his prowess by example.
‘Fine. No details,” Angel agreed somewhat reluctantly.
Recently, lovemaking had become less about love and more about Buffy’s overbearing need to be in control. Although he wanted to give her more, it seemed that there was only one way to get her off. They needed to have a frank conversation, like this one, but Angel doubted she would listen. Some aspects of sex were usually off-limits, even the most basic oral pleasures, because she thought it was gross or messy, although she had no problem being on the receiving end.
Angel’s practiced patience was growing thin. He was starting to see it as a problem instead of chocking it up to Buffy’s relative inexperience. The only person remotely qualified to discuss Slayer-related behaviors was Rupert Giles, and that was a conversation Angel was certain would never happen. He was not that desperate.
“Good. Now can we stop dancing around the issue?” Cordelia took hold of the open placket of his leather coat and tugged twice.
Preferring to put his decision off as long as possible, Angel let himself get sidetracked. “I thought you liked dancing.” For a second, he was tempted to pull her into his arms for a waltz across the grassy, moonlit park.
“I’m not sure I like the bunny hop, either.”
Angel cringed at the thought. “Too bad. That sounds like something I could handle.”
Then Cordy pointed out he was stalling. “Still dancing, Angel.”
Cordelia had grown tired of his attempts to convince her that her interest in Angelus was not only a bad idea, but potentially dangerous. Realizing now that he should have been more aggressive about it, Angel sensed it was too late. Scaring the hell out of her might have accomplished the task. Though it would probably have shredded what was left of their own friendship in the process. Now she would know why he was doing it and that would send her straight into Angelus’ arms.
“Look, it’s sweet of you to be so concerned about me, but Angelus and I are going to be together. Get used to it.”
Even after everything he had said, Cordelia still had no clue that this was more than just a conversation between friends. “Angelus asked me for consent.”
Staring back, Cordelia could not fathom a reason Angelus would need to ask Angel for anything. “Consent for what?”
His response sounded clipped and cold. “To claim you. Bed you. Make you his lover. Have you under my roof.”
A hot flush bloomed in her cheeks. “H-he asked you that?” she stuttered.
“Why would he need to ask you?” Cordelia didn’t understand. “He didn’t ask for your permission when he came onto me at the Bronze, or ended up with Harmony after I turned him down.”
Asking consent was for old-fashioned families and boyfriends asking fathers to take their daughters on dates or fiancés asking fathers for permission to marry. Since none of those situations applied, Cordelia found it shocking that Angelus would even bring up the subject to Angel, much less be required to ask permission. Cordelia certainly did not think of Angel as a father-figure, and she was sure he felt the same way.
“That was when he just wanted to get laid, Cordy. This isn’t about fucking you until he sates his lust,” his nares flared, mouth twisting along with the crude words. “This is about a relationship. About claiming you as his own.”
“Claiming me?” She ignored the crude comment in favor of getting details. After all, Angelus had used the word, too. “I still don’t understand how you’re involved in any of this.”
Then Angel dropped a bombshell. “Because you were mine first.”
“Nuh-ungh! No way! What fantasy were you acting out?” Cordelia gasped at his declaration.
“Right of possession. First dibs. Call it what you want.” Angel felt a rush at knowing it was out in the open now. Sounding nonchalant, he said, “It’s a simple and ancient vampire custom. Technically, it places the entire Scooby Gang under my protection. You’re all mine.”
Hoping this was some kind of joke, she asked, “Even Xander?” Cordelia’s eyebrows curved upward.
“Sadly, yes.” Angel chuckled grimly. “Although there are times when he uses those irritating nicknames that I disavow him.”
Trying to put it into perspective, Cordelia said, “Being ‘yours’ is really just a possessive vampire thing.”
Angel curled a finger around a loose strand of her hair wanting to touch her even in this small way while he had the technical right to do so. “Right now, you are mine, Cordy. My responsibility. I claimed you all as my friends and colleagues before Angelus came into his own existence. That is why he has to ask for permission.”
“If Willow had decided she was into Angelus you’d be here with her right now?”
“There’s not a chance in hell that would happen.”
Did she want him to admit just how important she was to him? Angel had no real explanation why she had gotten under his skin this way. Giving her to Angelus would not deprive him of her smile or their conversations. They might not be lovers, but they had become closer during the months since his return. If it was selfish of him to want to keep that Angel was not going to feel guilty about it.
“It’s different, Cordelia,” he cut her off almost harshly. “You know it.”
For once, she did not try to wind him up. “I know. I like you too, most of the time.”
“Do you trust me?”
“Trick question, right? I know what you’re going to say, and—by the way—now is not one of those times.”
Cordelia obviously wanted him to give consent. “Trust me when I tell you this is a bad idea. Stay away from Angelus.”
“What if you don’t agree and I seduce Angelus anyway?”
Drawing his mouth into a stern line, Angel told her, “Then you both get punished.”
A little snort emerged suggesting that she thought he was joking. “You’re kidding, right?”
Angel didn’t answer. He watched in silence as her amusement died, and a soft circle opened across her lips upon realizing he was all too serious about it.
Horrified and intrigued all at once, she whispered the question, “What kind of punishment?”
“Don’t go there,” Angel warned her not to ask for the details. The thought of it was enough to stir his cock into a semi-hard state.
“Because you wouldn’t like having to do, um, whatever.”
“Pretty certain I would.”
Wide-eyed and burning with curiosity, Cordelia nearly went there anyway. It fascinated her, even turned her on more than it should. Nothing he had said tonight had dissuaded her against pursuing this relationship with Angelus. If anything, she seemed even more interested in having a vampire lover. Any further effort to keep them apart would only make it more difficult to keep a close watch on them.
Cutting off her questions, Angel said, “I’m giving my permission, Cordy. It’s what you want.”
Cordelia beamed that megawatt smile in his direction and Angel felt certain he was going to burn up under its light. She was happy for the moment, so he had to be content with his decision. For now. Angelus had better stay in good-behavior mode, just as he had vowed to do when he asked him for permission to claim her.
Buried in his thoughts, Angel was surprised when Cordelia flung her arms around his neck hugging him close. She pressed a warm kiss against his cheek before saying, “I love you for giving Angelus a chance. You won’t regret it.”
Regret it? Angel found that he already did.