36: Alone Time
Chapter 36: Alone Time
Almost immediately after Rupert Giles’ departure from the school lounge, Angelus was on his feet standing directly in front of his brother. Angel had the nerve to look relaxed and comfortable as he took up his corner of the couch. Any second now he was going to get that satisfied smirk wiped off his face.
“The Watcher is out of his mind if he thinks I’ll agree to this.” Angelus sounded cool and controlled in direct contrast to his hot-tempered, barely restrained urge to make this a physical fight. “It’s not going to happen.”
Calmly, Angel responded, “Fine. I didn’t think you’d have the guts to trust me.”
“Trust you?” The comment seemed so absurd that Angelus glanced over at Cordelia expecting to hear a ‘pfft’ or see her roll her eyes. She was doing neither. There was only a concerned expression staring back at him.
Angel caught the exchange between the two, but wanted to point out, “If you don’t trust me, then the Watcher’s judgment should have some impact on your jealous pea-brain.”
That caught his attention again, Angel watched his brother’s head snap back to send him a harsh glare.Stay focused.
“It’s not jealousy. I have every right not to want you near my mate,” he barked back with growing fury.
Clasping a hand to his chest as if promising something that came from his heart, Angel reminded, “I had nothing to do with Rup’s little theory. This is his idea. I didn’t put him up to it.”
Angel added silently, Maybe I hurried it along a little once I figured out what he was thinking. Gave an Oscar-worthy performance or two tonight. But it was entirely his idea.
“His idea sucks,” Angelus growled at the unfairness of it all.
“I don’t think so.”
Pacing now, Angelus turned back to him. “You wouldn’t, considering it lets you spend time with Cordelia. Touching my mate.”
“Hold on!” Cordelia grabbed onto his leather coat as he swept past forcing Angelus to pause in his determined path of wearing a hole into the floor. “’Scuse me for butting into my own business. Who says there’d be touching?”
Forcing himself to suppress a smile Angel reminded them, “Giles did say this didn’t require intimacy.”
The vampire wasn’t certain he liked pointing that out to them, but Angel figured he would say so upfront for the moment. Whatever it takes to get knuckle-head over there to agree.
“Time alone together,” Cordelia stressed. “That’s all he said.”
Angelus took the hand holding his coat, threading his fingers through hers. “Don’t be naive, baby. We both know that he won’t keep his hands to himself.”
With a look of innocence…well, one as innocent as he could muster, Angel assured them, “I’d try.”
Now with the eye rolling, Cordelia thought, Yeah. Pull the other one, Angel. “Like you tried the day you stalked me?”
Before Angel could answer, Angelus commented on the dangers, “He’s unstable.”
“That’s the point. I need Cordelia to balance my fragile psyche,” returned Angel with a smooth veneer. He was so completely opposite of the feral vampire he’d been just minutes ago that it should be clear to everyone which side of Angel they wanted to see on a regular basis. Asking Cordelia, “Don’t you like me better this way? Or do you prefer the fangs?”
“Your fragile psyche should take a few lessons from your ego. There’s nothing fragile about that,” Cordelia pounced on the question.
“Can’t help it if you think I’m hot,” Angel smirked. “You’ll just have to learn to control yourself.”
Fuming, Cordelia yanked her hand from her mate’s grasp and fisted it in the material of the couch as she turned toward him. “Control myself? Control myself! You think I can’t control myself? You’re actually suggesting I can’t keep my hands off you?”
“It’s a struggle, I know,” Angel shrugged casually while enjoying this cat and mouse game.
“Egomaniac! I can too.”
“You bet I can,” Cordelia huffed as her eyes sparkled brightly with the effects of her fury.
Angelus could see what his brother was doing. Provoking Cordelia into agreeing with this plan. She was already sympathetic to it, not wanting anything worse to happen to Angel or to himself if the symptoms worsened. Breaking through their bantering, he told Cordelia, “He’s too dangerous to leave you alone with him.”
“I’d never hurt Cordelia.” Honest anguish at the thought of it showed in his eyes.
Angelus caught the look and didn’t entirely disagree. “Not intentionally.”
Even Cordelia had to pause to defend Angel in that regard. “Angel wouldn’t hurt me. Not at all.”
Try to seduce me? Pfft! That’s another story, but he’d never hurt me. Cordelia accepted that his feelings for her kept him from causing her physical harm.
“This is weird,” Cordelia suddenly told them. A creepy feeling of déjà vu hit her while making her case. “I think I’ve had this conversation before.”
Reminding her, Angel explained, “That’s because we talked about Angelus when he begged for my permission to have you.”
“I didn’t beg.”
“Close enough,” Angel told his brother suddenly glad that Cordelia had brought up the other conversation. “Just remember, Angelus, I took a huge leap in trusting you with Cordelia when you asked for permission to have her and to bring her home to the mansion.”
“That was different.” Angelus couldn’t believe that he was trying to compare the two situations.
“You were nothing but my soulless evil alter ego wanting something that by tradition was mine, so don’t delude yourself into thinking I don’t know where you’re coming from on this. I chose to trust you. Time to return the favor, bro.”
Cordelia realized that Angel’s words were causing her mate to waver on his decision to forget the Watcher’s plan. Hearing him curse his brother for playing that particular card caused her heart to go out to Angelus. She knew the reasons why he hesitated. He loved her. He had reason to believe that Angel would take advantage of this for his own purposes. While she had made up her own differences with Angelus that did not mean the wound was completely healed.
“Damn you, Angel.”
Got you there, bro. A burst of triumph filled his chest with warmth as Angel saw Angelus giving into the idea of it. “Take a chance on me.”
Facing Cordelia, Angelus let his fingers rove over her cheek curling down to her chin as he perused her expression, silently seeking her opinion and finding resolve. “You want to do this.”
“Yes,” she confirmed, “if that’s what it takes. This isn’t just about saving Angel. It’s about you, too.”
Angelus admitted softly, “I don’t want you in the middle of this.”
That was her point too. “I already am. Let me do this Angelus. He’ll either behave or it will be over.”
“I don’t want you hurt.”
“Not gonna happen,” she assured him. “Besides, if Willow has any luck, the Moirae can fix this whole situation.”
Cordelia was too determined to listen on that score, but he had to make the request. “Reconsider getting them involved. The Fates are not to be toyed with or trusted.”
In Cordelia’s mind, there wasn’t an option. In fact, Giles’ suggestion would have to become a long-term plan if they didn’t find another cure, assuming that he was right about her presence acting as a buffer against Angel’s demonic instincts. “If we don’t summon them, I have no choice but to follow Giles’ advice. There is no other way.”
Slowly, Angelus admitted, “I know.”
“So what are you saying?” Angel demanded full clarification. He didn’t want anyone to doubt that his brother was accepting the arrangement. There was no hiding the look of victory on his face as glinting light sparkled from the black depths if his pupils and the curve of his lips gave way into an irrepressible grin.
Grabbing him up by the already abused lapels of his leather jacket, Angelus made certain Angel knew he was not happy with this decision. “You’ll get your ‘alone time’, dammit. Just remember that I’m trusting you the same way you trusted me.
Quirking an eyebrow, Angel quipped, “So not far, huh?”
“Exactly,” Angelus agreed dropping his hold. “That means I get to lay down the ground rules.”
Straightening the rumpled leather, Angel already knew what was coming. “Save your breath. I’ve got it. No touching or claiming what’s yours. Blah, blah, blah. Got it.”
Cordelia watched Angel with a hint of suspicion. He was too relaxed about this whole thing. Maybe Angelus was right to want to lay down the law, but she was the one who was going to have to put up with both of them. Standing up, she pushed at Angelus’ chest until he sat down on the couch.
“First off,” Cordelia began, hands on her hips in a no-nonsense pose, “you can cut the sarcastic routine, Angel. Your brother is serious about this and so am I. It isn’t a game. Second of all, I’ll handle the ground rules.”
Angelus started to protest.
Cutting him off, Cordelia added, “Because I have some for both of you.”
Groaning, Cordelia pushed at the vampire’s shoulder. “Angel, stop.”
“You’ve got to like that,” Angel saw nothing to complain about. “C’mon Cordy. I know you do. Just look at it.”
“It’s too big. Just stop trying to put it where it doesn’t belong,” Cordelia complained.
He actually growled, “I think I can figure out where to put it.”
“Obviously not,” she huffed as she watched his fingers move into place. “Don’t touch it. Let me.”
Angel protested her sudden action, “Don’t be so rough.”
“Go away,” she told him in frustration. “I should just take care of this myself.”
“No. I’ll handle it.”
Cordelia bent over watching Angel’s every move. “Gotta say, I’m kinda disappointed. I thought you’d be better at this.”
Defending himself, he grumbled, “It’s not like I do it all of the time.”
“You think I do?”
“Then let me put it where I want it,” Angel’s impatience was growing.
“Fine,” Cordelia gave in. “Just go for it, but I’d better like it.”
“The ground rules said nothing about this,” Angel complained as he moved the blue cube of construction paper to another area of the sculpture. “Helping you with your modern art homework isn’t exactly the kind of alone time I was planning on.”
“What did you expect? Candlelight and mood music?” Cordelia gave him a hard stare as she handed him the Elmer’s Glue. “Go ahead, Michelangelo. Make my day.”
“How’d it go?” Angelus tried to sound casual.
Cordelia walked into the small sitting room attached to their bedroom finding him on the couch reading. “You know it helps if you hold the book right side up.”
Glancing down at the novel, Angelus realized he had it upside down. Damn, she sees everything.
“I heard you coming,” he confessed. “I didn’t want it to seem like I was listening at the door.”
Pulling the book out of his hands, Cordelia sat down on his lap and looped her arms around his neck. She had purposefully arranged her first session alone with Angel to be time-limited and here in the mansion. Just in case. “What did you hear?”
“Nothing,” Angelus answered hastily. It was one thing to own up to the fact that he was eavesdropping, but not to admit that he had come close to charging downstairs because he misinterpreted their conversation. “So… how’d it go?”
“I didn’t stake him,” Cordelia grinned. “That was good.”
“Did he try anything?”
Angelus almost laughed at her surprised tone. “Don’t sound so disappointed.”
“I’m not, silly vamp,” she pressed a soft kiss onto his lips. Tracing the angles of his face with a fingertip, Cordelia told him, “It was fun in a frustrating kind of way. Angel wasn’t exactly up for constructing modern art, but he played along.”
Chuckling at the image of his brother cutting and pasting, Angelus almost felt sorry for him. “I’m sure it was therapeutic.”
“Hmm. Not sure Angel would agree,” Cordelia murmured against his mouth as she felt his hands moving along the curve of her spine. “Now it’s my turn for therapy. It involves a hot bath with lots of bubbles and you.”
“Bubble therapy?” Angelus lifted her with him as he rose to his feet heading toward the bathroom. “I could go for that.”
As soon as Angelus departed on patrol, Cordelia squared off with Angel from across the kitchen table. After a week of supervised-from-a-distance alone time sessions, Cordelia convinced Angelus it was time to let his brother stretch his wings a little.
Amazingly, there was no sign of Psycho Vamp during their little tête-à-têtes and so it seemed that Giles’ theory was on-target. That didn’t mean that Angel kept his hands to himself, just that he seemed to make an honest effort to avoid being too obvious.
“I’m not going to sit in the dark with you for two hours,” Cordelia told him as they discussed the plan for tonight’s outing.
There was a challenge in Angel’s dark gaze, one that she was doing her best to ignore. “It’s just a movie.”
“You still don’t trust me,” he glowered.
“Earn it, Angel. It’s only been a week since Harmony’s house.”
Wanting to point out to Cordelia that he meant every word he’d spoken that evening, Angel refrained from doing so. Giles little theory gave him an opportunity that didn’t exist before and Angel intended to use it to his advantage. All it took was planning and patience, although the latter seemed more difficult with each passing day.
“You don’t need to be afraid of me,” Angel assured her reaching across the table to take her hand in his own. She stared down at the connection as if that alone was crossing the line. Her fingers twitched once at the contact, but Cordelia did not move them.
Cordelia purposefully left her hand in his. It was something their friendship would’ve allowed before even if it had usually been her initiating contact. “I’m not afraid.”
That defiant tilt of her head contradicted the brisk pulse beneath his fingertips. Was it him she feared or her own responses? “I’m not going to jump on you the second we’re alone together. When you left us here at the mansion that night, it just set me off. I needed you back.”
“Don’t give me excuses, Angel. What you did to me…the things you said…I can’t just forget about that.”
Dropping an octave, the words tumbled from his mouth, “Maybe I don’t want you to forget.”
Trying not to react to the sensual thrumming that made its way from their threaded fingers all the way down to the core of her sex, Cordelia met his searing gaze. Just a touch, just the sound of his voice or a look from those deep, piercing eyes was all it took to arouse her. Forget everything he’d told her that night? Not likely. No matter how much she wished she could.
“See why I’m not planning to go to the movies with you?” Cordelia figured it should be obvious. Considering what had gone on between herself and Angelus the last time they all went to the theater, Angel probably any number of ideas in his warped brain.
“It’s just a movie, Cordy.”
Shaking her head, she pointed out, “No, it’s too much like a date. That isn’t what this is about.”
Releasing her hand, Angel sat back in his chair suppressing his growing frustration with this conversation. What he really wanted was to forget about this whole process and make Cordelia admit her desire for him. Other than the acknowledgement and the pleasure of claiming her, Angel knew his triumph would be short-lived. Angelus couldn’t stake him, but he’d no doubt arrange shackles and a cage fast enough so it never happened again.
Angel had to be satisfied with alternatives. Methodical planning, slow implementation and a tight reign over his emotions gave him the freedom he needed. He had no idea if the Watcher’s theory had any measure of truth; he could only acknowledge that he was happiest being in Cordelia’s company. Maybe he’d prefer to have her in a dark theater where they’d be alone despite the crowd, but Angel told himself that it didn’t matter.
Not as long as some of Cordelia’s time belonged only to him.
“Rental?” He suggested with a rare infectious grin that dragged Cordelia out of her stern mood.
Seeing that Angel was willing to make concessions, Cordelia readily agreed. “That’s a good idea. Let’s go.”
Angel helped Cordelia on with her brown leather jacket letting his hands linger on her shoulders a moment or two longer than necessary and taking the opportunity to soak up a little of her warmth and the strawberry scent of her silky hair. Her hazel eyes darted up as she glanced over her shoulder and for a second Angel thought she leaned back into his chest. Until Cordelia pulled away, walking to the circular table at the center of the foyer to grab her car keys.
Grumbling at the loss of her closeness, Angel caught the look of suspicion covering it up by saying, “I want to take the Plymouth.”
Sticking out her tongue, Cordelia returned, “Some of us don’t always get what we want.”
The pointed stare made her realize their words came with a double meaning. “We can take your car, but I’m still driving.”
“Not likely, sweetheart.”
“Dontcha trust me?”
“Cordy, it’s a classic. I don’t even let Angelus touch my car.”
“You want me to trust you. Now it’s your turn. I give a little. You give a little. C’mon Angel,” she encouraged smilingly. With her hands tucked behind her back and her shoulders gently rocking, Cordelia flashed those hypnotic hazel eyes and the vampire found himself giving in to her.
Dammit, he’d accused Angelus of being pussy-whipped, but he didn’t even have the excuse of getting any. What the hell was it about Cordelia Chase that gave her the power to wrap him around her little finger? Holding out the keys, Angel watched as excitement took over her whole body.
Suddenly, Cordelia had him wrapped up in a tight hug. Stunned, Angel couldn’t move much less take advantage of the fact that her warm curvaceous body was pressed up against him. Just the feel of her arms around him, the crush of her breasts and hips, the giggle caught in her throat aroused him instantly. His sex swelled beneath the fly of his leather pants encouraged by the subtle shifting of her hips with that innocent hug.
The cold rush of air that swept between them as Cordelia pulled away brought Angel out of the fog of lust that had risen so fast he couldn’t bother to hide his expression. Fortunately, Cordelia grabbed the keys from his open palm and eagerly ran out the front door toward the garage presumably giving him no chance to change his mind.
“How do you like the ride?” Angel questioned her when they were half way to the video store. His lust-addled brain put a twist on those words picturing her straddled above him surrounding his cock in her intimate embrace so tight and wet and warm.
“It’s big,” Cordelia guilelessly responded comparing it to her Corvette. “Lots of power under the hood for something so old.”
“Old?” The question snapped out of him before he remembered Cordy was talking about the car.
Laughing, Cordelia told him, “I suppose it’s not so old compared to you.”
“The engine is in perfect order,” Angel pointed out with a glare no longer certain if he was talking about the car or himself.
“I’m sure it is. Considering all of the TLC you give it.”
Pfft! “C’mon Angel, I’ve caught you stroking it when you think no one’s looking.”
With a simple shrug, Cordelia sounded a little bored as she answered, “Sure. It’s not anything to be ashamed of… just a typical guy thing.”
“Think you could handle the job?”
“Pfft! Why would I want to do that? I prefer to let someone else take care of things,” Cordelia told him as she pulled into the parking space in front of the video store. “I’m sure Angelus could handle it.”
“Whatever gave you the idea that I’d let him?”
“Geez! You’re so picky. What’s the difference who handles it? Angelus likes it too. If you won’t let him play with yours, he can certainly play with mine.”
Angel watched as she turned off the engine and climbed out of the car shutting the door behind her. He was still sitting in the passenger seat by the time she reached the sidewalk. “Just because I was driving doesn’t mean I’m gonna get the door for you, dumbass. C’mon. If we’re renting a movie, I’d like to get one before all of the good ones are gone.”
Now standing next to her, Angel held onto her elbow preventing her from going into the store. Looking confused, he asked, “Cordy, what were we just talking about?”
Cordelia blinked at him. “Grabbing a movie before only the sucky ones are left?”
“No,” he clarified gruffly. “What you were saying about Angelus.”
“Oh!” Cordelia gave him a look of surprise. Rolling her eyes, “Like I’m supposed to remember something I said two minutes ago? Since you’re so stingy with your big black convertible, Angelus is the one who takes care of my Corvette. Silly vamp. He actually spends more time cleaning it than he does the dishes. Wax on. Wax off. Not as bad as you worshipping the Plymouth, but near enough.”
Grunting in understanding, Angel turned to grab the handle of the glass door leading inside the store. His head was spinning. One of Cordelia’s little phrases popped into his head. Instant stupidity factor.
Walking in behind her, Angel adjusted his fly to ease the building pressure there. Getting through the rest of the evening was going to be torture. Damned if I’m going to be the only one hot and bothered and frustrated tonight. You just wait and see, sweetheart. I’ll—
“Hello you two!” Xander and Buffy rounded a corner of the video store nearly running into them in the process. “So how’re the May Queen and the Soulless Wonder doing tonight?”
Cordelia and Angel shared a glance realizing that Xander mistook him for Angelus. Grabbing his forearm, Cordy signaled for silence. She really didn’t want to have to explain things. Not to these two.
“We’re good, Harris,” Angel answered, playing along. Shaking loose from Cordelia’s deathgrip, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder pulling her tight against his side.
Flashing a blinding smile, Cordelia distracted them as she ground her high heel into Angel’s shoe. “Just here to rent a movie?”
“Yeah,” Buffy nodded giving her a strange look. “That’s normally what people do in here.”
Angel moved his foot out from under Cordelia’s and muttered “Don’t get nasty about it.”
Overhearing, Buffy thought he was talking to her. “I wasn’t getting nasty, Angelus. I was just stating the obvious.”
Catching a glimpse of the car parked directly out front, Xander asked, “Since when does Angel let you drive the Plymouth?”
“I was driving,” Cordelia said quickly.
“Double dittos,” Xander quipped. Adding a snort, “What’d you do, Angelus? Steal the keys from Soul Boy again?”
“Again?” Angel had to ask as sudden anger welled up. “What does that mean?”
Xander shrugged. “Don’t get all defensive. It’s not like it was my car. Giles said you drove it the night you came over to his house.”
“When was that?” Ignoring the nudge of Cordelia’s elbow, Angel continued his fury driven interrogation.
“You know,” Xander’s voice dropped off and his eyes darted in Buffy’s direction.
“Oh.” Angel realized where the boy was headed. “Well no need to tell, uh, Angel about us borrowing the car. Isn’t that right, ah—baby?”
Cordelia glowered at him through the brilliance of her cheesy smile. “Absolutely, muffin.”
“Muffin?” Buffy’s mouth dropped open. Only Cordelia would have the nerve to say that to the former Scourge of Europe.
Xander’s shoulders shook with the force of his suppressed laughter until finally a loud guffaw blasted from his throat. “Hah!”
“Oh, that’s just short for studmuffin,” Cordy winked while reaching up to run a hand through his spiky hair leaving it in a state of disarray. “My manpire is just so strong and studly I can hardly keep my hands off him. According to him, I just can’t resist such salty goodness.”
Buffy’s stomach churned at the sickeningly sweet look Cordelia sent the vampire’s way. It was almost as if they were communicating with their eyes, sharing secrets. Any irritation on his part seemed to vanish, his hand coming up to curve around Cordelia’s neck and tilt her face a little closer so that his mouth was just above hers. Glancing away, Buffy didn’t want to see it. She’d never gotten used to watching the two of them together even on the double dates.
Her heart was thudding in her chest as Cordelia watched Angel’s lips descend and part so close to hers. What started out as a little bit of fun suddenly seemed serious as he leaned in to kiss her. Then his cool breath washed over her heated skin as he asked softly, “Wanna be bad? I think it’s time for truth or consequences.”
Kiss him now or be forced to tell Xander and Buffy the truth about whom he was and why they were here together? Cover up the game and the lies with a brief embrace or face the Slayer’s wrath and Xander’s derisive wit?
Pushing at his chest, Cordelia backed away to find Angel smirking at her hasty effort to escape his arms. “Get away from me, dumbass.”
“Huh?” Xander and Buffy gaped at the two of them.
Confessing, Cordelia told them. “It’s Angel.”
Buffy’s mouth immediately shrunk into a tight angry circle. Maybe he was no longer her boyfriend, but that didn’t give him the right to flirt with someone else right in front of her. Especially Cordelia. While Buffy figured Angel to be capable of any bad behavior at this point, it actually surprised her to see that Cordelia was so willingly involved considering everything.
Was the cheerleader out of her mind? “Are you actually cheating on Angelus?”
“Wh— no!” Cordelia answered now looking as flustered as she felt, color suffusing her cheeks. “I-I just didn’t want you to think I was here with Angel.”
“At the video store?” Xander looked around them. “Real den of iniquity here. Nope, can’t risk public exposure coming to this place. Might be seen renting the latest PG-13 thriller.”
“Harris,” the vampire growled his name.
“Angel?” A gulp sounded from Xander in response to the threatening tone.
“Don’t tell Xander to shut up,” Buffy complained. “You’re the one at fault. Both of you, actually. Lying to us. Playing some game. Trying to cover up the reason you’re here together.”
“It’s not like that,” Angel growled back. “Cordelia isn’t cheating. Trust me, I wish she was, but there’s a reason we’re here together.”
“Renting a movie,” Cordelia told them and tried to pull Angel down the aisle. Only he wasn’t budging.
Buffy wasn’t sure what was going on, but nothing on Earth save another apocalypse was going to make her leave the video store without some answers. “What’s the real reason? We’re not together anymore, but I don’t deserve to be tricked or lied to.”
As Angel reeled Cordelia back to his side, he told Buffy, “We’re following instructions. A temporary measure to curb my demonic instincts.”
Xander queried, “Renting movies?”
“The Watcher told me I needed some alone time with Cordelia.”
“Excuse me?” Buffy stumbled over the words. “A-Are you s-saying that… that G-Giles actually wants you two to… to have—”
Angel confirmed despite suspecting the direction of Buffy’s thoughts. “Alone time.”
“Is that what he calls it?” Fuming at the images flooding her head, Buffy grabbed the video case from Xander’s hand and shoved it onto the nearest rack. “C’mon, Xand.”
Cordelia and Angel watched as the Slayer pulled Xander behind her as they headed toward the exit. “Should we call Giles and warn him?”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Angel asked as she turned around to face him again.
“Nowhere,” Cordelia answered angrily, her hands going to her hips. “I’m sure Giles will be more embarrassed to tell Buffy than he was to talk to us about it. That was why he told us in the lounge instead of in front of everybody.”
Pointing out to her, “You could have avoided this. The Slayer and Harris didn’t need to know a thing.”
“Avoid the truth by kissing you?” Cordelia’s breath came out in a shudder partly in anger and the rest in reaction to the memory of just how close his lips had been to hers.
Angel lifted his hand to press his thumb across her plush lower lip in a mock kiss. “I know you wanted it too.”
“No,” she denied it even though her voice was only a whisper.
“Come here.” Angel’s voice sounded in her ears as her eyes closed against the potent power of his gaze. Even though she was already less than arm’s distance away, he wanted her closer.
Cursing the fact that she took that step forward, Cordelia flattened a hand against his chest and opened her eyes. “Don’t. Just don’t even try it.”
“Only if you give me the truth, sweetheart.” Angel pulled her in to the hard contours of his body wrapping his arms around her slim form, his hands coming to rest on the upper curves of her bottom.
“Truth or consequences?” She echoed his earlier words. “Same response. I go for the truth.”
“Did you want my kiss? To have my mouth on yours? Knowing it was me and not my brother.”
What would he do when she said it? Cordelia knew there would be consequences no matter how she answered. It wasn’t her answer she feared as much as his response. Because she’d already promised herself that if Angel got out of line tonight that they would not step foot out of the mansion alone again.
Moistening her lips, Cordelia gave Angel the answer he was looking for. “Yes.”
Angel’s hands came up to cup her face and he stared down for untold moments while interpreting the glassy appearance of her eyes. Unshed tears and a hint of defiance glinted along their surface. While he wanted nothing more than to seal this small victory with a kiss, claiming her mouth with his own and tasting her sweetness on his tongue, Angel’s instincts were too strong not to recognize a trap when he saw it.
“Told you I was irresistible,” Angel rerouted his lips and pressed them to her forehead with a chaste caress. Keeping his arm around her shoulders, he moved them down the aisle pretending to ignore Cordelia’s confounded expression. “What kind of movie are you interested in? How about a nice blood and guts horror film?”
Snapping out of her own thoughts, Cordelia crinkled her nose at the idea. “Eew! We get enough of that on patrol. How about something a little less reality-based?”
“An old fashioned romantic thriller,” Angel steered her toward the classics section.
Cordelia wasn’t certain that was a good idea. “Comedy?”
“Romantic comedy section dead ahead.”
“Those are black and white,” Cordelia pointed out with a disgruntled frown. “They’re old.”
“So am I,” he joked. “Some of them are a helluva lot better than those new releases. I’ve seen them on the big screen.”
Cordelia stopped, pulling out of his casual embrace to issue an accusation. “Why did you and your brother act as if you’d never been to a theater before?”
“It had just been a while,” Angel shrugged. Specifying, “More like a few decades and I was always alone. Having you there was a new experience.”
“Oh.” Cordelia felt a strange sense of satisfaction at his answer before remembering that they weren’t there together. Angel was stuck watching that boring movie with Buffy while Angelus took her to the back row of an empty theater where he made passionate love to her.
“What was that about hot, sweaty sex?” Angel heard her mumble under her breath.
“Nothing,” Cordelia denied, blushing furiously as she realized her thoughts had once again come forth unbidden from her mouth. Still, it couldn’t wipe her grin away at the memory of her own naughty behavior that night at the theater. “You weren’t the only one having a new experience at the theater.”
They started laughing together. Cordelia knew it was hardly the safest subject, but the fact that Angel’s response was genuine made her hope that they could recapture some of easy-going feelings between them. That by some miracle her presence at his side during their time together could stem the raging tide threatening to overtake his will and replace it with instinct alone.
That once again she could tell him anything without fear of reprisal. To stand within the shadow of his towering strength feeling utterly protected by his goodness. Never once fearing the demon that was his true nature.
Just knowing he’d be there.
Cordelia went from laughing to feeling the first tear fall on her cheek in a matter of seconds. She sucked in a deep breath of air and turned her head away staring blindly at the video display.
The abrupt move combined with the scent of pure fear surrounding Cordelia caused the laughter to die in Angel’s throat. He sensed the tears though silently they fell upon her cheeks and he was clueless as to the reason. Except that somehow Angel knew he was the cause and he didn’t want Cordelia crying because of him. It was something she just didn’t do, which made it seem all the more serious.
Creeping up behind her, hesitant to speak, the vampire trailed a finger along one flowing tress of her chestnut hair letting her know he was there. Angel waited for her to turn around, to say something, anything that would give him an idea about what he’d done wrong. Other than the whole truth or consequences dare that she’d called him on, beating him at his own game even if it did tell him what he wanted to hear.
“Cordy?” Concern sounded in that deep timbre as a rolling wave that passed from his chest brushing up against her back to surround her heart in its honest purity.
The floodgates opened without warning and Cordelia could not shut them off. Not just the tears, but the emotions built up inside her over the past week. She wasn’t one to cry at the drop of a hat or a Hallmark commercial, but walling herself off with pure determination from the realities facing the two vampires in her life forced her to admit her feelings for both of them.
Angel’s arms surrounded her, pulling her close and his head came down to nuzzle her hair. “Whatever’s wrong, I’ll fix it. Go to Buffy and Xander. Apologize.”
Lifting her gaze to his, Cordelia sniffed away her tears. “What are you talking about, Angel?”
“I’ve done something wrong. Tell me so I can fix it,” he urged while gently turning her to face him. Seeing Cordelia like this was tearing him apart.
“Fix it? It’s not that simple, Angel,” she told him touching her fingertips to his cheek. “An apology changes nothing. It’s not a demon you can fight.”
His own demon reared up within him, a hint of amber in his eyes giving it away as Angel imagined the problem to be something so simple just so he could kill it and put an end to the tears still glistening on her lashes. “Then what is it, sweetheart?”
Wrapping her arms around his waist, Cordelia snuggled her face into the crook of his shoulder. That move alone startled Angel. She told him, “This whole situation. The Moirae. Whatever it is that’s happening to you and Angelus. It scares me because— because I love you and I don’t know what I would do if anything took the two of you away from me.”
As Cordelia fell silent again, Angel simply held her in his arms trying to put what she had said to him into context. The fear was natural and as such the tears were just a healthy form of catharsis, but Cordelia had said something else that caught Angel’s attention. Something he wasn’t so certain about interpreting because it brought forth a feeling the vampire hadn’t felt in what seemed like an eternity: hope.
Knowing instinctively what he wanted to ask, Cordelia confirmed it softly, “You heard me the first time, Angel. I’m not saying it again.”
“You love me. You really love me?”
“Sally Field you’re not,” Cordelia rolled her eyes as she let him move her so that they could see each other’s faces. There was some confusion on his and Cordelia realized that her Academy Awards speech reference might have gone over the vampire’s head. “You mean so much to me. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Nothing is going to happen,” Angel didn’t care if he was denying the inevitable just so long as the fear in Cordelia’s eyes faded away. Threading his fingers through her hair and pulling her close, Angel leaned in to kiss her only to have Cordelia’s fingers cover his mouth at the last second.
“No promises you can’t keep,” she entreated as her hand dropped to his chest, “and no kisses. I’m still in love with Angelus. He’s my mate and we belong to each other. Nothing has changed that.”
Angel let his hands fall to his side, straightening up and backing away as he fought the urge to yank her into his arms and drown her in kisses. “Why tell me? Why tell me just to keep me at arms length? To expect me to continue to spend time with you just to satisfy the Watcher’s theory. To expect me to keep my hands off you knowing how you feel?”
He waited for Cordelia’s answer watching the mix of emotions alter her beautiful features until finally they settled into a picture of perfect resolve. “I don’t expect anything from you, Angel that I’m not expecting from myself.”
Turning on his heel, Angel headed for the door preparing to shove it so hard that the glass would shatter into pieces, much like she’d left him feeling. Halfway there, he paused to look back at her. There were no more tears in Cordelia’s eyes, just love and anguish and determination. It took every ounce of resolve not to go to her, to let his human features fade away and to claim what he wanted, what he needed and what some part of her recognized she wanted and needed too.
Angel fought and won the battle raging inside him subduing the instincts that drove him to follow those desires. There was only one thing stronger keeping him grounded allowing him to hold on to his control. That was the knowledge that she loved him. Kissing, touching, claiming, all that would wait. At least until he could change Cordy’s mind about it.
Then he reconsidered while holding out his hand to her. Maybe a little touching.
Cordelia walked forward, silently meeting his gaze. Seeing that he was unable to say anything more for the moment, she slipped her hand into his feeling his cool fingers tangle with hers. “Take me home?”
“Keys, Cordelia,” Angel’s voice sounded thick as he spoke. “My turn to drive.”
Angel pulled the Plymouth up front not bothering with the garage. Giles’ car and Oz’ van were parked outside when they arrived. Cordelia glanced at the vehicles with a worried expression. “What are they doing here?”
“Only one way to find out,” Angel moved swiftly to her side of the car and opened the door noting the fact that Cordelia waited for him to do so despite the fact that she normally beat him to it.
Holding a hand against her stomach, Cordelia got the strange sensation that she did not want to go inside. Nerves. Just my mother’s nerves. Thanks for those genes. Not.
On the way home, Cordelia had been trying to figure out a way to talk to Angelus about this. She had to tell him no matter that she told Angel nothing would happen between them. Only Angelus wasn’t alone in there. Giles and Oz and probably the whole Scooby Gang were inside. No doubt Buffy and Xander too.
Angel paused with his hand on the doorknob. “Cordy?”
“Buffy and Xander. Are they inside?”
After a moment of contemplation, the vampire nodded. “Yes.”
“Okay. Just asking.” Cordelia wasn’t about to run away from any confrontation that they might stir up having seen herself and Angel at the video store. Especially after the whole Angel being Angelus routine. “Let’s go.”
Opening the door, they found that the large foyer had been stripped of its furniture and replaced by a large mystical symbol created from a powdery substance. Incense burned from sconces set up in the corners of the room along with candles of various sizes and colors.
From the open living room door came their friends and family. Angelus was followed by Giles, Willow, Buffy, Xander and Oz.
Angelus and Cordelia stared into each others eyes from across the room. The intense look they shared communicating more than just a greeting. Then she pulled Angel in behind her, slamming the door and demanding to know why this was happening without any warning.
“I asked them to come,” Angelus surprised her not in an entirely good way. “When Rupert told me the spell was ready to be cast, I figured that it might as well be tonight. Before anything happens that can’t be taken back.”
His gaze traveled to his brother, ready to hear his arguments against this action. Angel only gave him the go-ahead by saying, “Glad to hear it. The Moirae are the only ones who can settle this once and for all.”