Chapter 24: Conflict
Angel let the mansion door drift shut behind him. Dropping his car keys onto the foyer table, he bent over it gripping onto the edges and trying to ignore the urge to send the table crashing to the floor. He was so lost in his own thoughts that he did not see the shadows move behind him, nor hear the almost silent step of the one who approached with stealth equivalent to his own.
“Turn around, you bastard,” Angelus demanded. “I’ve been waiting for you to show up just so I could do this.”
As the souled vampire turned, Angelus pulled back with his fist and sent it crashing along his twin’s jaw. Angel staggered with the blow, but did not fall having expected what was coming the second he heard his brother’s voice.
“Feeling better now?” he queried.
Angelus shrugged, “Slightly. We’ll see if you deserve more than that after you give me an explanation.”
“I don’t have the patience for this right now,” Angel told him. “Can it wait?”
“No. Cordelia was almost killed tonight and it’s your fault.”
“What?” Angel rushed forward to clasp Angelus’ shoulders. “Where is she?”
“Upstairs. Finally asleep.”
Fear held Angel in its grip. “What happened? Is Cordy okay?”
“She’s fine. I got to her in time. Just before that little prick of a vampire chomped into her,” Angelus growled at the memory.
Angel tried to remember what they had planned for the evening. He’d been too busy talking to Cordelia about his rendezvous plans with Buffy to ask her what she and Angelus were going to do. “You two went on patrol?”
“No, we went to dinner at that new restaurant she wanted to go to. It wasn’t until afterward when we were walking back to the car that we were attacked by that little nut and his gang. New in town, obviously. Didn’t know who he was messing with.”
“Probably didn’t expect to see another vampire coming out of a restaurant,” Angel commented. He still didn’t see how this was any fault of his. “Why was Cordelia in danger? Surely she was wearing the choker. The sigil would protect her from harm by another vampire.”
Angelus scowled angrily. “It clashed with her other jewelry. She refused to wear it tonight.”
“I trust that won’t happen again.”
“I didn’t wait here to be lectured by you, Angel,” the other vampire crossed his arms and glared darkly. “We took out the gang of them, but Cordelia was distracted. She had been all night. Thanks to you.”
Meeting Angelus eye to eye, Angel demanded that he come right out with whatever he was trying to say. “Don’t dance around the subject. If you’re accusing me of something, just do it.”
“That’s just it. I don’t know what you did. Cordelia wouldn’t say. She just kept telling me that you weren’t her friend,” Angelus explained. “Considering everything that has happened, I know that Cor thinks of you as her friend— her family. Whatever you did or said to her has cut her deeply.”
This had to be one of the worst nights of his undead life, Angel decided. “What I said was for her own good— and yours. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to hear any more.”
Angelus’ eyes narrowed as he took in a good look. “What happened to you tonight? Looks like we weren’t the only ones in a fight. You look like shit. Your jacket’s gone. Your shirt is ripped and burnt. There are burn marks on your back and scratches on your neck.”
“I’ve had better dates.”
“I smell blood. Slayer’s blood.” Angelus’ eyes opened wide with the realization that Buffy Summers’ blood had been spilled tonight. “You wanna tell me if it was during the fight or what happened afterward.”
Angel only glared at him coldly. “That’s none of your damn business.”
“It’s happening, isn’t it?”
The question held meaning and weighted heavily in Angel’s mind as he considered and denied it in the same moment. “No.”
Yelling back and cutting Angelus off, “I don’t give a damn what they said. It’s not happening.”
Holding out his hands in a cautionary pose, Angelus told his double, “You need to control this. If I can do it without a soul, you can certainly do the same.” Angel was now reminding Angelus of himself. No matter what he said, it seemed obvious that something was setting him off. “Deny it if you want, but do one thing if you value that soul of yours. Stay the hell away from my mate.”
Cold laughter sounded from Angel’s throat. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do. Stay away from her. Do you have any idea how hard it is? Every time you touch her, it’s like I’ve been there. My scent all over her skin. I was handling it until you marked her with that sigil. Until you put her back under my power. Now I can’t seem to get Cordy out of my head.”
The fact that Angel was attracted to Cordelia was no surprise. It was always there, just something the vampire had never consciously admitted. That he would do his best to behave himself also came as no surprise. It had even amused Angelus to think that his double was tortured just a bit by the fact that Cordelia was his mate.
“What does my mark have to do with you?”
Angel simply suggested, “Think about it.”
He did and the swift conclusion that Angelus came to was unacceptable. “No fucking way. There is no way I am acknowledging you as the leader of the Order of Aurelius. You? Soul Boy? The Master would roll over in his grave if Buffy hadn’t pounded his skeleton into dust.”
“I am your Master,” Angel stood his ground and spoke with such conviction that even Angelus had a difficult time refuting his certainty. “Deep down, you know it’s true.”
“Denying it makes no difference. You can’t escape the truth and you can’t challenge me to claim the title thanks to the constraints the Fates have put upon us.” Angel was glad to have it out in the open. It was something that needed to be done and now it was over. He saw the angry light of acceptance gleam in Angelus’ eyes.
The soulless vampire thought of the three Fates. “Remind me to kill those bitches the next time I see them.”
Angel saw the tension gathering in Angelus’ shoulders. The other vampire was barely in control. Join the club. Angel felt the same way. Still, he had to admit what he knew to be true, “Cordelia is your mate, Angelus. I recognize that. I also know she loves you. The fact that I want her may torture me, but I’m not planning to encroach where I’m not wanted.”
Not until she acknowledges that she wants me.
Angelus gritted his teeth, seething inwardly and showing it without any attempt to hide his fury. “There was a time I would have killed you just because you looked at what was mine. I can’t. Again, thanks to the Fates. Well, look all you want, Angel. If that’s what it takes for you to keep your hands off Cordelia, I don’t care. Just don’t touch what’s mine.”
There were so many things Angel could have said in return. He could have told the vampire that he had every right to touch Cordelia in any way he wanted. After all, she belonged to him as much as she did Angelus. But there had been too much conflict tonight already.
“I’ve had a helluva night. I’m going to bed.”
Angelus watched the retreating back of his twin until he saw Angel turn down the second floor hallway toward his room. Grabbing the keys to the Plymouth that Angel had carelessly tossed onto the table in the foyer, he headed straight to the car. With screeching tires, he pulled up ten minutes later in front of Rupert Giles’ house, leapt out of the car and proceeded to pound on the Watcher’s front door.
“Took you long enough,” Angelus complained when the door finally opened to reveal the human’s sleep-tossed form.
Glancing over the vampire’s shoulder, Giles saw the Plymouth convertible on the road. Despite the fact that he knew Angel never let his double drive his car, it was clear to the Watcher who had come to him.
“So, what we feared has come to pass,” Giles accepted the realization calmly having expected this for some time. Stepping back, he opened the door wider. “I invite you in, Angelus.”