38: Final Farewells

DoN_500


Chapter 38: Final Farewells

Lakhesis, she who measures out the Threads of Life, watched the group’s reaction to her prophetic announcement with cool interest. “Come the dawn the balance shall be restored and only the vampire who is our champion shall remain.”

Stone silence filled the Great Hall of the Moirae. Less than a minute passed. It did so at a protracted pace making moments seem like endless increments of time. All at once, a cacophony of discord arose within the chamber.

Erupting from their seated positions the eight outsiders crowded around the marble dais shouting out their questions, comments and complaints in simultaneous fashion.
Their targets remained nonplussed by the verbal barrage from these lower beings. It was little more than an irritant. Resolute, nothing could sway the hand of fate as the interference of the Moirae stood to alter or end the existence of Angel or Angelus.

“The time will soon be upon us, sister,” Klotho reminded as she lifted one hand back to her spinning wheel keeping the other draped across her gravid belly.

With a nod of understanding, Lakhesis shared a meaningful glance with Atropos who spoke in a tone that cut through the din. “Though you like it not, mortals, we Fates have gifted you with knowledge rare few of our own kind possess.”

“What will happen?” Cordelia demanded of the Moira despite the fearful quiver in her voice. The Fates had planned this for two hundred years and whatever it was would come to pass tonight.

Atropos gazed directly into Cordelia’s emotion laden gaze. Though bright with fear of the unknown, no tears fell upon her cheeks. There was only the determined desire to know the truth despite her fear of facing it. The crone’s violet orbs revealed nothing projecting only a reflection of what she saw in the young woman standing before her demanding answers.

“Your vampire will face his true path claiming his promised destiny,” Atropos told her despite knowing that the cryptic answer would not satisfy Cordelia’s human curiosity. “Take heart, daughter. Fate may appear to be cold and without mercy when it comes to cutting the threads of destiny, but endings may be beginnings if it is the will of the Moirae.”

Cordelia no longer cared that these were higher beings powerful enough to snuff out her own life in an instant if the whim hit them. Without warning, she stepped onto the dais not really certain of what she was doing; just wanting to shake some sense into the Moirae before they did something they couldn’t take back.

Angelus tried to reach her, but an invisible barrier blocked his path. It was already too late to shout out a warning for Cordelia was standing at Lakhesis’ side preparing to give her an earful. Since it wasn’t quite right to pick on an old woman or a pregnant one— even if neither were what they truly appeared to be— Cordelia had moved toward Lakhesis only to find a hand curled around her wrist in a vice-like grip.

“Choices are still to be made, daughter,” Lakhesis’ violet eye bore into hers drilling deeper than the conscious mind now focused with such desperate anger upon her. “A champion we will have no matter your pleas. It is your own destiny that may falter if you veer from the path we Moirae have set out for you.”

Sucking in a deep breath of air, Cordelia realized that the Moirae had plans for her as well. “Don’t threaten me. Stop playing these mind games. No more with the cryptic. I don’t care about your champion.”

“Do not lie to yourself, daughter,” Lakhesis held her steady. “You care to the depths of your soul for the vampire and our champion he will be. It is fear that governs your words and actions.”

“Vampires. Plural. Stop talking about them as if you’ve already killed one of them to satisfy your plans. Fix what you’ve done,” Cordelia had never begged for anything in her life, but suddenly did not care if her words came out that way, nor about the fact that she had an audience. “It’s not too late to change your mind. Please don’t let one of them die because you only need one as your champion. I-I need them both.”

Angelus noticed that the trio of the Moirae turned their gaze to him as Cordelia’s plea echoed in the hall. They expected an outburst in response to his mate’s unknowing confession that her feelings for Angel went deeper than she had revealed. Strangely, the news wasn’t really surprising and while his fury over it raged inside him, Angelus understood the reason.

The Moirae had never truly separated them. Not completely. While they possessed different physical forms, they remained connected on every other level. Somehow that included their feelings for Cordelia and in response also her attraction for them.

“Release her, Lakhesis,” Angelus gave the quiet command maintaining total control. “Nothing we say will change your plans. Whatever happens, it is something that was agreed to long ago.”

Klotho chimed in, “You did agree. You promised and now it is our turn to fulfill the course of our mission.”

Trying to keep his own demon under a tight reign, Angel’s rage was visible and violent. The chair Oz and Willow had been sitting in went flying as he paced past it kicking it across the smooth floor. Ignoring the concerned looks from his companions standing around him, Angel stalked back to the edge of the dais pressing up against the barrier.

“I don’t care about your mission,” Angel ground out through clenched teeth. “I want you to let go of Cordelia and stay the fuck out of her life.”

“The Moirae do not yield to pleas, threats or profanity,” Atropos spoke again with a measure of censure. “Vampire, your fate was sealed the moment you agreed to complete the third visitation. As for Cordelia Chase, her life’s thread is as entwined with our mission as yours.”

“Entwined?” Giles inquired from the sidelines. The Fates had said something to that effect before, but without explanation.

“She is as much the daughter of destiny as is the Chosen One or any who play a part for the Powers whether they know it or not,” Klotho revealed. “I would have Cordelia fulfill the thread of fate to which she was born: shaping the course of our champion’s existence. For within him lies the potential for Order and Chaos, Good and Evil.”

Lakhesis gazed up at Cordelia. “Go now, daughter. Seek what comfort you will in the hours ahead. The dawn harkens a time when the vampire will achieve the fulfillment of our promise and your own destiny awaits.”

Released from the Moira’s clutch, Cordelia backed down the steps only to find herself enfolded by Angelus’ strong arms. Her own hands reached up to hold him and she leaned back resting her head against his shoulder while trying to make sense of the plan of the Moirae.

“For now, this interview is over.” Atropos waved her gnarled hand in the air signaling the appearance of a swirling heavy mist that curled into the chamber suffusing it in a matter of moments.

“No, wait!” Cordelia called out to no avail as the dais vanished behind its cover.

As the mist rose, darkness replaced the light and a wave of energy passed through them reversing the spell that brought them to this hall. Once again, the group found themselves scattered across the floor. The wooden surface beneath them, sprinkled powder, and the scent of incense and melted wax filling the room combined to prove their location despite their inability to see.

“Angel,” Giles spoke up. “Perhaps you could get the lights. They should still function and you’d know where to find the switch.”

A moment passed before the vampire answered, still breathing unnecessarily hard. “Sure.”

He’d been distracted by his own demonic senses and the soft sounds coming from the floor near his feet. The darkness was not as resolute as in the chamber before the Great Hall. Angel could see the outline of his brother and Cordelia still entwined in each other’s arms.

When the lights came on, Cordelia was sitting in Angelus’ lap on the floor with their mouths pressed together in a seemingly endless kiss. While Rupert Giles understood the urgency behind the embrace, he also felt it necessary to put an end to it despite the fact that interrupting a vampire in the middle of any task was rarely a good idea.

Tapping Angelus on the shoulder, Giles added the sound of clearing his throat to gain the vampire’s attention. “There are still hours left of the night for…for that. We need to talk this out. The Moirae have given us information, but no clear answers.”

Reluctantly, Cordelia and Angelus separated, but only far enough to recognize the uncertainty in each other’s eyes. If there was any chance that they might not have each other in the morning, being apart for any portion of the night ahead was totally unacceptable.

“The Watcher is right,” Angelus trailed his thumb over Cordelia’s kiss-swollen lips as he realized there was much to discuss even though he didn’t really want to talk. He wanted to drag his mate off to bed and spend every second until dawn’s breaking light making love to her.

Buffy watched as Angelus helped Cordelia to her feet, still holding her close within the circle of his arms. She glanced over at Angel who remained standing by the light switch. A look of dark determination appeared for an instant before vanishing behind a blank expression as he watched the two. The Slayer recognized her own feelings of despair over the potential of losing Angel even though technically he was no longer hers to lose.

“How much longer, Giles?” She found herself asking. “How long were we gone?”

The Englishman glanced down at his watch expecting the hour to be past midnight, but to his surprise his watch indicated, “We’ve been gone only a few minutes. Either my watch didn’t register the time we spent with the Moirae or time flows differently there.”

A comparison of watches and the mansion clocks proved all had approximately the same time. “So it’s only 8:30?”

Cordelia’s question sounded shaky to their ears and conflicted. More time than any had expected, but still not enough. It would never be enough no matter what choice the Moirae had in mind.

“Why didn’t they just tell me which one they plan to murder?” Cordelia asked the Watcher. “Why drag it out? Just to torture us with not knowing?”

Hating to admit that he was just as much in the dark, Giles could only answer her, “This would have happened whether we contacted the Moirae or not. I believe they provided us with all of the answers, Cordelia. We just don’t understand them yet.”

“W-What do you think will happen?” She respected the Watcher’s opinion and while the answer might not be one she wanted to hear, Cordelia needed something.

Before Giles could speak, Angel cut him off as he walked closer to the others. “I’m certain that Angelus is the champion.”

His brother looked flummoxed at the thought. “What?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“No it’s not.” Buffy crossed her arms putting up an unconscious barrier between herself and the idea that Angel might not be there in the morning. “Angel, that is just crazy. What’s so obvious about it?”

A deep chuckle emerged from Angel’s throat sounding rife with irony rather than any kind of amusement. “Crazy? I think you’ve proven my point, Slayer.”

“You’re not crazy,” Cordelia scoffed at the idea. “Just a little…imbalanced.”

“Right.” Xander snorted, “This is Psycho Vamp we’re talking about. You think the Powers or whoever they are want him for a champion?”

“I have to disagree,” Oz put in. “Angel is the one with the soul. Even if Angelus has been sharing some of the effects of it because of the connection the Fates mentioned it still exists within Angel. I can’t believe that the Powers would choose a soulless champion.”

Willow gaped openly at her boyfriend. Not only had Oz chosen to speak up when he would normally remain silently neutral, but he had just indicated that he thought it would be Angelus who was going to die. “You’re guessing! How do you know what the Powers want in a champion?”

“I don’t,” Oz admitted, “but it makes sense to me.”

“Angelus has been the stable one,” Willow pointed out. “He’s fought along side us to keep the Good Fight going. Maybe he doesn’t have a soul, but he’s not evil anymore. Not like he was.”

Cordelia kept staring at Giles hoping that he would tell her that they were all wrong and that something good was going to come of this. That she had misunderstood the Fates and neither one of the vampires would be sacrificed come morning.

“There is nothing to be done except wait,” Giles admitted slowly recognizing his own feelings of helplessness. “The Moirae indicated that the balance would be restored for their champion. It is impossible to ascertain which vampire the Fates mean. As you all have already stated there are arguments for either one.”

The debate continued for some time despite the angst it generated. No one seemed willing to let the subject drop. Angel, Xander and Willow remained firm in their belief that Angelus was the designated champion. Angelus, Oz and Buffy argued that Angel had to be the one. The Watcher remained divided trying his best to remain neutral only to find himself arguing both sides of the fence from one moment to the next, his own indecisiveness surprising him.

Listening to it all, Cordelia found that she could not form an opinion one way or the other. If there was a point favoring one vampire, it was soon countered by another. They had moved into the dining room and were all gathered around the table while the discussion continued. Cordelia tuned them all out.

She couldn’t listen to it. Not anymore. The Moirae were right, she decided, about her being scared. Cordelia had never been so scared before. There was no one to rescue her from this situation. Nothing she could argue to change it. No magick that would erase what would happen as the night vanished with the dawn.

“Drink this,” Cordelia heard Willow’s voice as if from a distance.

Blinking, she turned her hazel gaze to see the redhead standing next to her holding a glass of pink liquid in one hand and a pitcher of the same in the other. “W-What is it?”

“Just orange juice,” Willow told her.

Cordelia pointed out, “It’s pink.”

“You’ll like it. Drink.” Holding out the glass, Willow encouraged her to take it. “Giles suggested tea, but I think this will be better.”

Realizing that she hadn’t even noticed Willow leaving the table, Cordelia took the glass from her outstretched hand. Sipping it hesitantly, she found the concoction to taste quite good. Glad of the distraction and realizing that she felt thirsty, Cordelia drained the juice glass.

“Have some more,” Willow told her.

Xander whined from the other end of the table, “Where’s mine? No sharing?”

“This is for Cordy,” his best friend explained. “There are sodas in the refrigerator if you want one.”

He was halfway out of his chair when Willow added, “Not that we need you on a sugar high right now.”

Slumping back down, Xander distracted himself from the tension in the room by grumbling over the fact that Willow was denying him her fruity concoction.

Angelus pushed his chair away from the table rising to his feet. “I’ve had enough of this. We’re not accomplishing anything except to upset Cordelia. I won’t have that. This is hard enough as it is.”

“I’m fine,” Cordelia sat up straight rushing to reassure him. She didn’t want Angelus to spend his potential last hours worrying about her.

“No, you’re not.” It was Angel who responded cutting through the bull. “You haven’t said anything about the Moirae in the last twenty minutes. I’ve never known you to be so quiet.”

Gripping the edge of the table, Cordelia sucked in a deep breath of air. “What do you want me to say, Angel? This sucks! I don’t want either one of you to die.”

“The idea doesn’t appeal to me either,” Angel readily admitted. “Doesn’t change the fact that I can’t do a damn thing about it.”

“You’re so sure it’s you?”

Angel reached over to take hold of her free hand. “What if it is?”

Pulling away from his touch, Cordelia glared angrily, “That’s not a fair question.”

“Yes it is,” Angelus commented while deciding that it was folly to admit such a thing. He did not want to hear Cordelia’s answer, but his suspicions about her feelings for Angel were no longer just suspicions.

Angelus felt certain that he would be the one no longer there in the morning. He was not certain why he felt so strongly about the idea, but the arguments were there to his mind. Despite the fact that Angel pointed out the Moirae had revealed Cordelia’s future would remain tied to their champion and that as her mate and the legitimate head of the Order of Aurelius that gave Angelus a better chance at survival, he felt that meant nothing to the Fates. They would make their decision based upon their own criteria, not vampiric law or tradition.

“Answer him, Cordelia,” her mate encouraged her to speak, though his eyes were full of hidden emotions. “Angel deserves to know your feelings.”

Strangled by his words, Cordelia realized that Angelus knew about her feelings for his brother. “He knows.”

“You love him,” Angelus wasn’t certain if it was an accusation or a statement of fact.

Cordelia felt the eyes of everyone upon her, but did not drop her gaze away from her mate. This was hardly the setting or the circumstances in which she had envisioned talking to Angelus about her feelings for his brother. “Yes.”

“It’s okay, baby,” Angelus promised even as he bit back the raging jealousy that rose up within him.

“No, it’s not,” Cordelia snapped back. “I love you, Angelus. Until you came along, I didn’t know I could love anyone this much. That I could be loved this much.”

He had her back in his arms within seconds, just holding her this time with his cheek brushing up against her hair. “It’s better this way.”

Still nuzzled into the crook of his shoulder, Cordelia could only ask, “What?”

Angelus met his brother’s suspicious gaze from across the table. “Don’t you see? I’ve only been sharing Angel’s soul through our connection. What will happen if I am the one who is chosen? Without a soul will I be able to love you the way you deserve to be loved?”

Sputtering in response, Cordelia staggered back out of his embrace moving away so that she could see both vampires. “I hate this! I hate the Moirae for playing God and interfering in other people’s lives. It’s not their right.”

Giles gulped down the thick lump in his throat. “The Moirae are certainly not gods, but they are immortal beings with vast power. They have manipulated the outcomes of countless lives and situations for purposes beyond our understanding. If not for their influence who can say whether Angelus would have ever come to exist or that a gypsy curse would return Angel’s soul or that he would ever come to Sunnydale in the first place.”

“I’m supposed to thank them for this?” questioned Cordelia sourly.

“Maybe you should,” Buffy told her with a hint of venom. The part of her that still blamed Cordelia for the breakup with Angel couldn’t resist the stab. “If not for them,
Angelus wouldn’t even be here and Angel would still be mine.”

Dead silence followed until Xander commented, “I thought you were over him, Buffy; doesn’t sound that way to me.”

Buffy got up out of her chair so fast that it toppled over and hit the floor. There were tears in her eyes as she hurried out of the room in the direction of the adjoining kitchen. Watching her departure, Angel felt overwhelming satisfaction at the Slayer’s response. It was the demon in him reveling in her pain. He started to go after her automatically preparing to twist the emotional knife a little deeper when he realized that Xander’s hand was on his shoulder.

“Stay here, vampire,” Xander glared at him. Even if his own big mouth had caused Buffy even more anguish than necessary, it was not Angel’s place to follow her. “Let me do this.”

“The Slayer is yours, Harris,” Angel shrugged carelessly realizing he really didn’t care about going after Buffy one way or the other. “I did give her to you.”

Xander frowned in confusion. “Yeah. Whatever.”

Looking over at his brother, Angel suggested, “If I’m not here in the morning, be sure to explain it to him.”

Willow frowned in disapproval. “This is hardly the time to joke.”

“Who’s joking?”

“If you’re not, then I don’t wanna know about it,” Willow grumbled. Pouring another glass of juice, she handed it over to Cordelia while insisting, “Drink this.”

Cordelia didn’t think to ask why Willow was so insistent about it. In fact, the drink actually tasted good and seemed to make her want more of it. She was on her third glass when she asked Giles, “Is it possible that we’ve got this all wrong? Maybe Miss Slut of the Eon isn’t doing anything to Angelus or Angel. Maybe she’s just doing the obvious and giving birth to a baby champion.”

The Watcher suddenly wondered what was in the concoction Cordelia was drinking. “We’ve been over this already.”

“Oh.”

Giles realized the cheerleader had been rather distracted during much of the group’s conversation. It was possible that she had simply not heard his explanation of why that was not a likely prospect. Unless he was completely wrong about his research. Unless he was fooling himself and only thinking the worst. Somehow, he knew better than to be so optimistic.

“Klotho’s pregnancy is not what it appears to be,” Giles recounted. “The Moirae are not corporeal nor do they reproduce in any manner we would understand. Though she is associated with the beginnings of life and childbearing, it is not in a physical sense, but a metaphorical one.”

“I don’t get it,” Cordelia admitted and deep down she wasn’t certain she wanted the full explanation. “Not sure I want to get it, but tell me anyway.”

As he understood the nature of their powers, Giles attempted to convey that limited knowledge to Cordelia. “Everything you saw in the Great Hall was illusion. Something filtered by our own minds into something we could comprehend. They appeared to us as the Greek goddesses because mythology provides that expectation.”

“The spinning wheel, the tapestry and the scissors are metaphors for their powers,” Willow told her having learned everything Giles had discovered during preparation for the summoning.

Loosening his tie, Giles could see that explanations were lost on the cheerleader. She wasn’t fully listening to him. Still, talking about it helped him come to terms with his own mixed feelings. No matter all the good that Angel had done or that Angelus had done of late, there were countless thousands of lives lost due to their existence. One in particular that Giles could never forget, even after Angelus’ apology. The idea that the vampire who had murdered Jenny Calendar would become a champion for the Powers that Be was beyond his full reckoning.

Giles decided that the Moirae’s reasons were far beyond his understanding. Focusing on the method to their seeming madness gave him a tiny glimpse of perception into what might happen.

“The Moirae deal in mathematical probabilities and outcomes on a universal scale,” Giles explained. “What Klotho revealed to us as— as a liaison with Liam was in fact no such thing.”

“It wasn’t?” Angel smirked at the vivid memory in his head. “Seemed that way at the time.”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia told the vampire, “You would think that. Liam was such a man-whore.”

“A what?” Angel laughed at the new term.

“You heard me. He was after everything in skirts.” Cordelia dared him to deny it.

Angel glared at his brother. “You have been talking, haven’t you?”

With a shrug, Angelus commented, “It was hardly a secret.”

As Cordelia appeared to be a little more relaxed about the conversation, Giles went on to tell her that the Moirae’s ability to affect outcomes is frequently dependant upon the decision-making of the individual. “One person can change the course of destiny through the act of free will. By making the deal with Liam in the manner that she did assured Klotho that her plans would come to fruition.”

“She did something to us,” Angel realized.

Giles nodded. “I believe she referred to it as— uh, gathering your essence.”

“Eew!” Cordelia responded still thinking in terms of them having sex.

“Yes, well, I must admit to feeling a little invaded on their behalf,” Giles confessed to Cordelia. “Though it was all an illusion, it included the gathering of something real that Klotho has watched over for the past two hundred years while making her plans to create a champion for the Powers that Be.”

Willow shuddered, “Pregnant for two hundred years. Can you imagine that being the real thing?”

Ignoring the comment, Giles continued, “I am certain that it is not a child, Willow. It is the vampire the Moirae have interest in. They spoke of him as one being, not two. The only question remaining is whether the one will be Angel or Angelus.”

“Giles,” the sound of his name came from Cordelia’s mouth immediately gaining his attention despite its softness.

Looking at her, the Watcher asked, “Yes?”

“Go away.”

“Pardon?”

“I want you to leave,” Cordelia told him with quiet determination. “Now. All of you. I want everyone out.”

Willow looked like she wanted to cry as she gazed back and forth between Cordelia and Angelus. “But Cordy—”

“Just get out!”

The sound of her suddenly raised voice brought Xander and Buffy back to the dining room from the kitchen. The Slayer asked, “What’s going on?”

“It’s time for us to leave,” Giles explained fully understanding that Cordelia needed some time alone with the vampires.

“No!” Buffy defied him. If there was a possibility that Angel wasn’t going to be here in the morning, she was planning to wait every second out right here at the mansion.

Angelus met her tearful gaze. “Buff, please go with the others. One of us will call you in the morning. Just give us some time.”

Protesting, “I should be here. What if— well, I maybe can—,” her voice trailed off as Buffy realized there was nothing she could do to change the outcome of the Moirae’s decision. Walking up to Cordelia, she no longer cared that her tears were falling. “I should have tried to stop them.”

“You couldn’t,” Cordelia realized that Buffy was blaming herself for not attempting to fight the Moirae.

“I’ve never been faced with anything I couldn’t kill,” Buffy admitted feeling helpless against what was happening. She glanced over Cordelia’s shoulder at Angelus and then back at Angel. “Not anything. This isn’t a fight I can win.”

Cordelia pulled Buffy into her arms for a hug. There was a time, however brief and unrealistic, when they thought they might become as close as sisters. Before the idea of double dating ran into a few snags, the major one being Angel and Buffy’s deteriorating relationship.

“It’s not your fault, Buffy,” she told the other teen while stepping back. “This isn’t something the Slayer has to fight, but you will have to accept it. I’ll have to accept it. God, I don’t want to, but it’s going to happen.”

There was a crack in Cordelia’s voice and unshed tears in her eyes. Something else that Buffy had never before experienced. It unnerved her to see that first tear fall and she followed its course down the curve of Cordelia’s cheek realizing no matter what she was feeling at the moment, Cordelia’s pain had to be doubled. Xander had been right to say what he had when they were alone in the kitchen. This situation wasn’t about her or her remaining unresolved feelings for Angel.

“I-I’m—,” so sorry, Cor, “going now.”

Cordelia sighed in relief, not wanting to argue about it.

“You’ll call?”

“Tomorrow,” Cordelia promised.

Giles suggested, “Why don’t you call me. I will inform the others.”

After a huff of a minor protest, Buffy clamped her mouth shut. Secondhand news wasn’t quite what she wanted, but considering that Cordelia was not likely to be happy about any outcome it would be kinder to let her make one phone call. Buffy knew she would not be the cheerleader’s first choice.

“We’ll gather the summoning spell components another day,” Giles told Cordelia. “I’ll speak to you in the morning.”

She nodded and accepted the hug he gave her. Giles held out a hand to Angelus, “I can only say that you have shown extraordinary resolve given this opportunity. Your determination to fight alongside us and your love for Cordelia have proven you to be more than the sum of your past experiences.”

“Should I not be here in the morning, Rupert, I hope I can count on you to watch out for Cordelia,” Angelus told the Englishman as he shook his hand.

A hint of a smile appeared on his face as Giles glanced over at Cordelia. “I shall do so with as much veracity and tenaciousness as she did in looking out for me during my depression.”

“You knew what I was doing?” Cordelia reacted with surprise.

The Watcher grinned. “There is not much that brings you to the library excepting Scooby meetings.”

“That obvious, huh?”

“Afraid so, my dear.” Giles knew that he owed her a lot for those little niceties she provided even when it was only her encouraging smile. The genuine one that nobody thought her capable of possessing at the time.

Angel watched the exchange with amusement. It was only the fact that he realized that Cordelia looked at Giles as a fatherly figure that stopped him from ripping out the Watcher’s throat for daring to smile at her. There must have been something in the way he was staring because Giles kept his distance and didn’t bother with the offer of a handshake.

The Watcher did tell him, “Angel, I am certain that if you are present in the morning and your internal balance is restored we can let bygones by bygones.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Buffy inquired curiously.

“Nothing that concerns you, Buff,” Angel smirked while remembering threatening Rupert Giles a time or two.

“Oh. I-I’ll see you in the morning,” Buffy told him refusing to think otherwise.

Angel looked down at the Slayer who looked rather vulnerable with her tearstained face and petite body. With her blonde hair done up in a twisty knot, she looked even younger than her years. More like she did over a year ago when his heart was so full of her that he could feel nothing else.

“Goodbye, Buffy.” Taking her jaw in his hand, Angel tilted her face up to him as he pressed a hard and fast kiss onto her startled pouting lips.

“C’mon,” Xander took the Slayer by the arm seeing that she was staring up at Angel like she might never see him again, which he supposed was true. “Time to go.”

“No hug, Harris?” Angel laughed at Xander’s glare.

Xander paused for a moment, meeting Angel’s amused gaze. The vampire appeared to be relaxed despite this whole situation. Realizing that this might be the last time they ever faced off, Xander nodded his farewell. “Angel.”

The vampire did the same. “Xander.”

Oz followed Giles’ example with the handshaking. He made no effort to say anything suggestive of false platitudes. The vampires already knew the potential outcomes. It would be useless to say otherwise. The werewolf also kept a safe distance away from Cordelia sensing both Angelus and Angel were feeling a little territorial. He chose to give her a look that conveyed his concern and friendship.

Having purposefully waited, Willow broke into tears. She didn’t like goodbyes of any kind and knowing that one of them was going to be the forever kind made it difficult to say anything. She was closest to Angel having been standing next to Oz while he sent his silent messages of farewell.

Staring wordlessly at the vampire, Willow was completely unable to bring herself to say anything.

“I never gave you that punishment I promised,” Angel’s eyes sparkled. He ignored the look of caution that Oz sent his way. “It’s not too late.”

Willow tilted her chin up a little higher. “Thanks for making it easy, Angel. Goodbye.”

Then she turned immediately to wrap her arms around Angelus’ waist burying her head against his chest. She heard the other vampire chuckling behind her, but was too focused on the sound of her own sobbing to care. “I-I don’t want you to die.”

“The feeling is mutual,” Angelus quipped while wrapping his strong arms around Willow’s quaking form. He sent Cordelia a look of confusion as if he wasn’t quite certain what to do next.

Then Willow wretched herself out of his arms as if she couldn’t take it anymore. He was trying to be funny, but she knew that he had to be feeling sad or scared or any number of other emotions that vampires weren’t supposed to feel.

“T-Thanks for the fish,” Willow cringed at her own words. Surely she could’ve found something better to say to the last person in the world she ever expected would be her friend. Make that second to last. That honor belonged to Cordelia. She hugged the cheerleader tightly wishing that she could make this easier. “See you soon.”

Cordelia caught Willow’s arm as she started to move away. “Willow. I know the spell didn’t work the way you planned. Thanks for trying.”

Tearfully, Willow nodded. “Um, Cordy, I think I need to tell you something.”

Angelus put a hand on the redhead’s shoulder. “Tomorrow, Willow.”

“But—,” Willow’s protest was cut off by her own boyfriend echoing the vampire’s plea to wait.

“Time is passing, Willow,” Oz reminded. “We’re intruding on family time.”

“But—,” she started again only to bite down on her lower lip. Walking out to the van, she mumbled to herself, “Guess they’ll find out soon enough.”

The mansion door closed behind them leaving Cordelia, Angelus and Angel staring at its wooden surface. Its closing meant one of the two vampires would never see the others again.

“Never thought I’d actually miss the Scooby Gang,” Angelus admitted breaking the silence that had fallen around them. “Kinda used to them now. They’ll get over it fast enough. It’s not like I’ve been around very long.”

Cordelia couldn’t believe that he was saying that, still so convinced that he would be the one to go. “Don’t say that! Don’t joke about not being here.”

“Better to face up to the possibility now,” Angelus took her hand in his own. “I want to be here in the morning, babe, but there are some things to consider if I’m not.”

“Don’t go there, Angelus,” warned his brother. “Tomorrow will be soon enough to worry about the future. No point in doing so until we know who has one.”

She had to agree with Angel. “I don’t want to think about it right now. Can we just do something together?”

Angelus knew what he wanted to do and it certainly didn’t involve Angel. “We could go to bed.”

The comment caused Cordelia to pause thoughtfully before clarifying, “I meant the three of us.”

With a smirk, Angel teased, “I’m game if you are,” garnering a death stare from his brother.

“For what?” Then Cordelia realized what Angel suggested and slapped him on the arm, more annoyed than embarrassed. “Eew! The only game I’m playing with you tonight is Scrabble.”

Angel held her gaze for a moment, seeing her eyes dilate and noting the flush of arousal spread over her cheeks. Beating a little faster, her heart added another telltale sign that the idea was a temptation even if the reality was not. He felt himself harden in automatic response. “Scrabble doesn’t have quite the same appeal, does it?”

Play word games or spend hours in bed with the two vampires she loved? It was a stupid question, the subject of a naughty fantasy rather than anything she would normally consider. Not that tonight was normal in any way, shape or form. Cordelia settled for, “You’re just trying to get out of a rematch. I kicked your vampire butt all over the board the last time we played.”

“You got all the good letters,” Angel swiftly defended himself only to find his brother now laughing at him. Obviously, Angelus had not been overly concerned that Cordy would accept his tongue-in-cheek suggestion. Not that he would have turned her down if she surprised him by taking him up on it. “Seriously, I think you cheated.”

“Did not!”

“Did too.”

Angelus put an arm around Cordelia’s shoulder and led her toward the living room grabbing his brother’s arm along the way. He marveled at how the two of them could go from talking about sex one second to acting like bickering children the next. Hell, he almost preferred the sex talk to the ping pong arguments. At least then he’d feel he could participate by bashing Angel over the head a few times just for the heck of it.

Arriving at the threshold of the living room, he suggested to them, “Television?”

Angel groaned aloud and walked over to the couch putting his feet up on the coffee table. “Why do I suddenly get the feeling my last night of existence will be spent watching Roadrunner cartoons?”

He picked up the remote control from the couch cushion and waited for them to settle down. With his thumb hovering over the power button, Angel asked them, “Are we really going to sit here and pretend that nothing is going to happen?”

“Cordelia doesn’t want to talk about it.” Angelus reached for the remote only to have it moved away, an easy task since he was sitting on the other side of the couch with Cordelia between them. “Neither did you five minutes ago.”

“I do now,” Angel went from thinking about it to demanding it all in the same brief moment. He was off the couch and grabbing his leather coat from its draped position on a nearby chair before Cordelia had time to blink. “This is no time to play games; certainly not the kind involving lettered tiles or darts or pool cues.”

Moving toward him, Cordelia asked as she reached out for his hand, “What is it you want, Angel?”

“What I want doesn’t have a chance in hell of happening,” he refused to let her touch him and saw the hurt look appear on her face. “I won’t sit here waiting for doomsday to arrive. Angelus may indulge your every whim, but he feels the same way I do.”

Hands on her hips, she huffed, “And how is that?”

“That there is only one thing to be done at a time like this,” Angel’s voice dropped to that husky octave that made her body thrum. “Spend every last hour in bed making damn sure the woman you love will never forget you.”

A strangled gasp caught in her throat at the intense emotion trapped in the depths of Angel’s eyes and the deep timbre of his voice making her utterly aware of his own desires. Impossibility stirred her to action as Cordelia shook her head refusing to let his words sway her original plan. Perhaps Angel was right about Angelus wanting to be alone with her. Thoughts of making love to her mate tempted Cordelia beyond reason, but could not give up holding onto Angel’s company in exchange.

Lifting her hands beneath Angel’s jacket, Cordelia moved them up the hard contours of his chest attempting to push it off again. “Please stay.”

“If the jacket comes off, Cordy, the rest does too,” Angel warned while managing to keep his own hands at his side. The temptation to pull her into his arms despite his brother’s presence was almost overwhelming. “I doubt Angelus wants to share, but he might not care if he was unconscious at the time.”

“You’d better come to the point,” his brother approached at a slow pace and stopped only a couple of feet away. Close enough for Angel to see the growing menace in his eyes, he issued a brief warning, “I don’t want a fight tonight, but keep this up and you’ll have one.

Holding Angelus’ gaze over Cordelia’s shoulder, Angel clarified his plan. “Since I can’t do what I really want, I’m going out to find something to kill.”

Angelus didn’t know whether to protest the departure for Cordelia’s sake or simply be thankful that his double knew exactly where his own thoughts were occupied. He knew this had to take an effort on Angel’s part. The statement about knocking him out and taking what he wanted from Cordelia wasn’t far off the mark. He wouldn’t have said it otherwise.

“I never got around to finishing patrol tonight,” Angelus pointed out. “A quick round of the cemeteries wouldn’t hurt.”

Nodding, Angel told him, “I’ll be back before dawn.”

Angry, Cordelia pushed at his chest, turning her back on them both. She was mad at Angel for planning to leave and her mate for encouraging him. Behind her, she heard Angel add, “There is just one request before I go. Call it a condition if you must.”

The inquiry came from Angelus as if he expected one. “What’s that?”

“Ten minutes alone with Cordy.”

Spinning around, Cordelia looked at Angel like he’d lost his mind— again. What was ten minutes supposed to do? Pfft! Like Angelus was going to agree to that anyway. Crossing her arms over her chest, she sent Angel a defiant look of triumph. Maybe he’d choose to stay if he didn’t get this last opportunity at alone time.

Realizing that was exactly what it was, Cordelia’s smile vanished. Angelus watched the conflicting emotions on her face and was inwardly warring with his own feelings on the matter. “A helluva lot can happen in ten minutes. I don’t want Cordelia hurt.”

“She’s already hurt, dammit,” Angel snarled the words. “One of us won’t be here when daylight comes. Ten minutes, that’s all I’m asking in exchange for giving you the whole night.”

Angelus moved closer to Cordelia, cupping her face in the palm of his hand. Without asking, he knew that she would want the ten minutes if no time at all was the only alternative. Pressing a soft kiss to her temple, he announced, “I’ll be in the kitchen. Want anything?”

“More pink stuff,” Cordelia’s eyes brightened at the realization there was still some of Willow’s juicy concoction left. “That was really good.”

Meeting his brother’s gaze, Angelus nodded curtly. “Ten minutes.”

Seconds passed in silence as Cordelia and Angel watched him leave the room and head down the hall toward the kitchen. “I can’t believe he agreed to this,” grumbled Cordelia realized he had come to the decision rather quickly.

“Ten minutes is more than a fair exchange compared to a night in your bed.”

Duh! “Angelus knows I didn’t want you to leave. What if something happens when you’re out on patrol?”

“Then it will be what the Moirae intended to happen all along,” Angel sounded calm despite the subject matter.

Cordelia didn’t want to hear that. Why didn’t he sound angry? “You’ve just accepted this too easily, Angel. I guess you’ve said your goodbyes to the important people so being with me— us doesn’t matter.”

“Important people?” Angel looked confused for a moment before realizing it was only one person Cordelia really meant. “You’re talking about Buffy.”

“You kissed her!” Cordelia’s eyes flared as she directed her anger and frustration with the situation at him.

Angel took a step forward, “Jealous, sweetheart?”

“No,” came her swift denial as she stood her ground despite the ominous tower of his hard frame.

“I figured it was probably the only kiss I’d be getting tonight,” Angel told her casually as he moved a hair closer.

“Pfft! You guessed right on that one,” Cordelia tried to push at his chest to put a little distance between them, but it was no use. Creating a rebound effect, Cordelia ended up against the wall which had somehow appeared out of nowhere behind her.

Geez! When did I get way over here?

Forming a soft circle of surprise, her plush mouth was captured by Angel’s fervent kiss. The press of his lips, their only point of contact, conveyed all the love, longing and regret Angel’s soul possessed. Sparking an echo of desire, Cordelia responded with a moan reverberating from the depths of her throat. A cry of need immediately answered as the kiss deepened with the cool sweep of his tongue across hers tasting and teasing with each caress.

Consumed by the need to touch him, Cordelia wound her arms around Angel’s neck while threading her fingers through the short strands of his hair to hold him there. Fitting her curvaceous body to the intractable contours of steely muscle elicited an answering groan from Angel. His hands lifted away from the wall to come down at her shoulder blades moving around so that his thumbs brushed against the outer curves of Cordelia’s breasts.

Through the thin barriers of their shirts, Angel felt the hard points of her pebbled nipples rubbing against him. He longed to feel them against his bare skin. To take them into his mouth as he pleasured her, but there was no time for that.

So Angel followed the feminine curves of her back and waist until his open palms filled with the firm swell of her buttocks. Cordelia gasped against his mouth as his hands continued from there, moving beneath the hem of her short skirt and back up again to dip beneath her panties. His slightly calloused hands clasped her bare flesh pulling her hips close into his lower body.

Cordelia felt the hard proof of his desire as Angel’s bulging erection pressed into the soft swell of her lower belly sending shockwaves of need straight to the heart of her womb. Opening her eyes as the contact caused their kiss to break, Cordelia found he was also staring back at her, eating her up with the hot fire of his topaz gaze.

“Let me see your true face,” Cordelia asked as her fingers moved along his jaw line. “I want to remember you that way too.”

“No,” he refused her request, his voice thick with passion.

The temptation to shift into his vampiric features was an urge he could barely resist. Because Angel knew that he could not show Cordelia his fangs without letting her feel them too. The need to claim her too strong to be denied should he relinquish that last modicum of control.

Angel told her, “Not now when my demon is so close to the surface. Besides, even if I’m not here, you’ll still have an identical face to see in the morning.”

One vampire was no substitute for the other in Cordelia’s mind. They were individual and unique. She loved them both with an inexplicable depth and passion, no longer caring why or how, but simply needing to hold on to what she could before the dawn stole one of them away forever.

“You’re different,” Cordelia told him. “I’ve always been able to tell the two of you apart.”

Unlike some people, thought Angel who couldn’t look past the fangs or leather pants even when that had been a telltale clue. Except Cordelia always knew, even when their personalities seemed to switch. Ultimately, it was a sign of recognition of her mate and while Angel wanted that to be him, he doubted the Moirae would be so kind or that anything they created would be so simple. Especially as Angelus already possessed that claim on Cordelia, no matter that she loved him too.

This wasn’t how Angel wanted to end it between them. Not groping Cordelia’s bare ass beneath the silky material of her panties. Moving his hands and straightening her skirt, Angel held back a moan as her hips shifted over his erection. He heard his name on her lips questioning the sudden departure of his touch. Pulling her arms away from his neck, Angel took her hands in his threading his fingers through hers and lifting them to rest on the wall beside her head.

Cordelia wanted to touch him and let out a frustrated grunt from her throat when he purposefully kept a small distance between them. “Angel, touch me,” she murmured between kisses needing to feel him against her. The denial was torture even as the possessive rhythm of his mouth and tongue had her whole body tingling with need.

The taste of her and Cordelia’s responsive kisses were akin to rapture itself. Angel’s plan to keep some distance between them and to part with a simple kiss was quickly abandoned. Dragging his mouth away from her lips, Cordelia’s panting breath felt warm against his cheek as he continued to trail kisses across her jaw line down to the pulse point of her throat.

As Angel’s face nuzzled her neck, Cordelia automatically gave him instant access by turning her head to the side. A subconscious move of acceptance even as she felt his face shift into the prominent vampire features. Angel continued to press kisses along her throat feeling the heady pulse quickening in anticipation of his bite. Without fear, she stood ready before him scenting of need and desire.

No thought of stopping entered Angel’s mind. He was too far gone with a basic urge to claim what his heart told him belonged to him. There was no thought of Angelus. No thought of the consequences. No thought of the dawn only hours away. Opening his mouth, Angel trailed his fangs along Cordelia’s throat producing a thin line of blood that his tongue greedily lapped up. He felt Cordelia shudder beneath him and Angel positioned his fangs over the tender spot on her neck that would bear his mark forever.

Before he could bite down, Angel suddenly found himself sprawled across the floor with his brother standing over him also in game face. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Angel?”

Licking at his fangs, Angel realized exactly what he had been doing and suddenly no longer cared that it might not be the right thing to do. He’d let his demon out and no one was going to come between him and what he wanted, especially his brother.

“What does it look like, Muffin?” Angel sneered as he stared up from a relaxed pose on the floor.

“Muffin?” Distracted from the sudden urge to kill his twin, Angelus glanced over at Cordelia as if to ask where Angel had heard that one. It was less masculine a term of endearment than the usual Bad Boy, but Angelus had gotten used to Cordelia calling out all sorts of things during sex. He just wondered where the hell Angel had heard this one.

“I think it suits you, Angelus,” grinned Angel not caring that he was stirring up even more trouble. “As for what I’m doing, I plan to take back what’s mine.”

Cordelia stood behind Angelus where he had placed himself as a barrier between her and his brother. Protecting her from him. It might be more accurate that he was also protecting her from herself considering the fact that she had practically egged Angel on wanting to see his demon face, to run her tongue over his fangs, shuddering in need when they scraped the thin skin of her throat.

As Angel finished his declaration, his leg swept out to knock Angelus off balance and sending the other vampire flying across the coffee table. Flipping to his feet, Angel grabbed Cordelia pressing a hard kiss across her mouth. “Give me a minute or two. I’ll be back.”

Leaving her against the wall, Angel turned back to Angelus who was already on his feet and stalking toward him. Cordelia wasn’t about to sit back and watch this again. She’d had enough of their fighting long before this and tonight was the last night she wanted animosity between them.

With a running jump, she landed on Angel’s back wrapping her arms and legs around him while yelling in his ear. “You can stop it with the Psycho Vamp mode.”

“Get off him, Cor,” Angelus growled now wanting to hit Angel and finding her in the way. “I don’t want you hurt.”

She only held on tighter despite Angel squirming and trying to get her to release him without hurting her at the same time. Cheerleading had produced strong leg muscles and Cordelia gripped him around the waist making it impossible to easily remove her. “If you insist on playing, I have to tell you that isn’t the position I want you in,” Angel imagined those supple legs surrounding him in quite a different way.

Dammit if he didn’t use that sexy tone. Cordelia felt the response of her own body to the suggestive comment and knew that he had to feel it with her pressed so closely against him. “Please don’t do this,” she murmured against his ear. “I don’t want you two fighting.”

Angelus could barely control his own anger despite his mate’s plea. The scent of her arousal made him come close to losing it, especially knowing how close Angel had come to putting his mark on her. Recognizing Cordelia’s feelings for Angel and even understanding the source of them was far different than seeing and scenting the evidence before his eyes.

Glaring at his brother with anger burning from the depths of his ochre gaze, Angelus reminded him, “I gave you ten minutes. Your time is up.”

“Maybe I don’t care,” Angel retorted seething at the idea that he had agreed to leave Cordelia alone with his brother. That Angelus would be the one to make love to her through the remainder of the night. “Cordelia should have been mine.”

“You made the deal with the Moirae,” Angelus barked driving the painful reminder home like a stake through the heart. “You gave her to me. She bears my mark, the sign of the Order of Aurelius. She is my acknowledged mate, Angel, not yours.”

His words were hardly calming. Angel sounded out a low dangerous growl and only the constant reminder that Cordelia was still physically in harms way kept him from lunging at his brother. Only her voice whispering in his ear pulled him back from the edge slowly bringing Angel back into a state where he grasped onto a thin thread of control. Finally, Angel let his demonic visage slip away to produce a renewed sense of his original intentions.

Maintaining his guard, Angelus also let his game face shift back into the softer curves of his human appearance. He could tell by the look in Angel’s dark eyes that he had come to some decision, though it was impossible to know its nature. Cordelia slowly slipped down to her feet, untangling her limbs from around Angel’s body and moving to a position between them.

Silence became almost palpable in the moments that followed. Licking her suddenly dry lips, Cordelia asked Angelus, “Will you let me decide what happens next? I need this night to end without any more fighting.”

Angelus frowned. He wasn’t certain that he wanted to relinquish control of decision-making to Cordelia. Not that he ever had full control around her, but it was a fantasy he imagined himself to possess. What if she decided something that he couldn’t deal with? Knowing that the little twist of fate made her acknowledge her own passion for Angel suggested she might want to allow him to have her and claim her. Angelus did not know if he could stand the idea much less the reality of it. He’d been prepared to allow them their stolen kisses, but anything more was something that would tear him apart before he would agree to it.

“I always give you what you want, babe,” Angelus told her while keeping the anger from sounding in his voice. “Tonight is the last night I would deny you anything.”

A confident gleam appeared in Angel’s eyes as if he had just won a battle. No matter what Cordelia had to say, it would be more than he was originally allowing himself. She stood between them like a determined goddess, beautiful and tempting beyond anything Angel had ever known. The love shining from her eyes eclipsed the basic feelings of lust and need that had overtaken him giving Angel something else to hold onto in his struggle for control over his emotions.

“Will you agree to my decision?” Cordelia asked him stepping closer so that she was once again within arms reach. Trusting him not to grab her and claim her all in the same swift move that could begin and end before Angelus had a chance to stop him.

Depends on the decision, Angel thought about responding that way. He sought out her decision in her eyes, but they gave away nothing except showing him the depths of her feelings. Ask me to stay, Cordelia. I’ll do it. Roadrunner cartoons. Scrabble. Sharing you with Angelus. Whatever I have to do.

“Yes,” Angel forced the agreement from his throat finding it hard to say the word.

A shaky sigh came out as an elongated breath as Cordelia took another step closer. She met Angel’s gaze for a moment before turning to hold out a hand toward her mate. Wondering what she was planning, Angelus simply took her hand moving up to join her at Angel’s side.

Reaching up with her other hand, Cordelia trailed her fingers along the line of Angel’s jaw and down to the nape of his neck. Standing on her tiptoes, Cordelia brought her mouth to his in a close-mouthed kiss that lasted mere seconds of time, but conveyed her feelings just the same. Angel managed to keep his hands at his side since it ended so quickly only to hear her say, “I love you, Angel, but you were right about not staying tonight.”

“So you want me to leave.” Angel felt like he’d just been gut-punched.

Cordelia nodded. “It’s for the best. I have feelings for you. Angelus knows it. Maybe it is something the Moirae have influenced. Maybe it’s my own stupid heart, but I’m not going to let things go any further between us. Not even now.”

With his fingers clasping hers, Angelus gave her hand a soft squeeze. It couldn’t be easy to tell Angel to leave. Not when he knew that she wanted him here. Especially knowing that he had given her the freedom to decide whatever she wanted. Though Cordelia had never spoken of fantasizing about the three of them being together, he had to wonder if the idea had ever crossed her mind. Perhaps it was simply that she knew he would never agree to it under normal circumstances. Who was he kidding? Under any circumstances. Even these.

“I’ll go,” Angel ground out the words. “If that’s what you want.”

No, it’s not want I want, Cordelia admitted to herself. “It’s what we have to live with, Angel. Just promise me that you’ll come back before dawn.”

“I’d promise you anything, Cordy,” Angel cupped her face and kissed her with such passion that she moaned into his mouth. Her entire body responded from the tingling of her scalp down to the curling of her toes and every erogenous zone in between.

Only the nearly imperceptible growl from his brother called Angel’s attention back to reality. “My ten minutes is long over by now. Guess that’s my signal to leave.”

“Guess so,” Cordelia felt the tears gathering in her eyes and fought them off with a determination not to let him see her cry.

Angel sent his brother a nod of acknowledgement as he turned to leave. Reaching the door leading out into the hallway, he paused, turning to look back at Cordelia. “If I’m not back by sunrise never forget that I loved you, sweetheart.”

Her heart beat wildly in her chest at the thought that Angel might not return. That he might meet some grizzly end out on patrol just because the Fates determined that it had to be that way. Or because he was convinced that Angelus would be the one the Moirae picked as their champion.

Wide-eyed, Cordelia heard the front door shut behind Angel as he departed. Turning to Angelus, she asked, “He wouldn’t do anything stupid. Would he?”

Angelus almost laughed at the idea. “No, Cor. If anything, he’s going out there one last time to prove to himself and the Moirae that he is the champion you deserve. He wouldn’t willingly give you up without a fight. If it isn’t me he’s fighting then it will be whatever unlucky demon happens to get in his way tonight.”

Relived by his words, Cordelia snuggled into Angelus’ embrace as he pulled her into his arms. With her head resting against his muscular chest, she found it necessary to apologize to her mate. “I’m so sorry, Angelus. I never meant to love Angel the way I do. It just happened and I told him that nothing could come of it.”

“I trust you, babe,” Angelus answered truthfully. “The Moirae hinted at the reasons for your feelings. They’re preparing you for your future whatever it is they have in store. Maybe you would never have acted out your feelings, but tonight is different.”

Moving so she could see his face, Cordelia rested her hands on his shoulders. “This isn’t fair. They’re manipulating all of us. I’d wish that they never interfered except it would mean I would never have had you.”

“Separating Angel and me merely gave the Moirae what they wanted. An opportunity to develop their champion,” Angelus found the whole thing ironic.

“I don’t want anything to happen to either of you,” Cordelia told him as pain showed clearly in her eyes. A hint of guilt appeared as she added, “I do love Angel, too, but is it evil of me to want you to be there in the morning?”

Holding her tightly again, Angelus kissed the top of her head. Murmuring against the soft halo of her hair, “No, baby. You know I’d fight for you if there was a battle to be won. If the Fates made some contest of champions and you were the prize I wouldn’t let anything stop me. So I’m glad that you want me too.”

“Take me upstairs,” Cordelia told him with the sudden need to make love to him. It had nothing to do with any residual arousal that Angel had stirred up. There was only the need to be with her mate one last time or two or three before the Moirae’s final interference brought with it lasting despair.

Grinning, Angelus swept Cordelia into his arms eliciting a laugh as she told him, “I didn’t mean literally, but this could be fun.”

Winding her arms around his neck, Cordelia didn’t mind playing Scarlet to his Rhett Butler. Not when she knew what was coming at the end of the long climb up their three flights of stairs. Angelus headed out into the hallway when Cordelia spotted the glass of juice he brought sitting on the table against the wall. He’d left it there when discovering what Angel was about to do to Cordelia. Seeing it, Cordelia suddenly felt completely parched.

“Stop!” Cordelia called out reaching out a hand toward the glass. “Pink stuff.”

“Now?” Angelus gave her a strange look. Rolling his eyes, he walked over so Cordelia could pick up the glass. “Huh! I’m about to carry you off and make love to you and you get distracted by juice.”

Cordelia’s only explanation was, “Thirsty.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you liked that stuff a little too much.” Angelus figured it was just a human thing. Cordelia started to gulp down the pink liquid even as her mate headed for the stairs. The rate at which he ascended made it difficult to drink at the same time, but somehow she managed to get it all down.

“Mmm,” Cordelia murmured as she swallowed it all. “Good to the last drop.”

No sooner had she gotten the words out than Cordelia’s head fell against Angelus’ shoulder and the glass crashed to the floor. The vampire paused on the top step, looking down to find her eyes closed. “Cordelia?”

Nudging her with his shoulder only produced a soft grunt and Angelus quickly came to the realization that she was asleep. Not in any form of natural sleep, either. This was a result of Cordelia drinking the damn pink stuff.

“I don’t believe it,” Angelus moaned. “The Fates have it in for me. Or Willow does.”

The witch had obviously put something into the juice without telling anyone, Angelus realized in frustration. Seeing that Cordelia was so upset by the news given them by the Moirae, Willow no doubt meant well by making her pink witch’s brew. Obviously, it never occurred to her that Cordelia might want to spend the night in bed doing something other than sleeping.

Angelus opened the door to their bedroom and walked across to the bed. Carefully setting Cordelia down, he paused to look at her and wondered if this might not be easier on her after all. Even if it frustrated the hell out of him.

Grabbing the bedside phone, he pressed the speed dial to Willow’s house needing to know just how long this sedation was going to last.

“Rosenberg residence,” chirped the familiar voice on the other end. It was almost too happy sounding making Angelus realize that Willow had been feeling something quite the opposite of happy and was faking her way through.

“What was in the pink stuff?”

“Angelus?” A loud gulp sounded on the other end followed by a long pause. Then the voice changed to a fake automated tone, “I’m sorry. Willow is currently unavailable to take your calls. Please leave a message after the tone and—”

Growling at her through the phone, “Willow.”

“Eep! I’m sorry, Angelus. Really, I am,” Willow begged forgiveness. “I-I only thought Cordelia might get hysterical. You know— because of stuff.”

“Have you ever known her to be hysterical?” Angelus had to ask.

Willow mumbled something incomprehensible even to the vampire. “Not exactly now that you mention it. When she first started acting as Bait Girl, she screamed a lot, but always kept her head on her shoulders. She knew just where to run away when it got bad and boy could she run. I think Cor could have joined the track team if she wanted too because that girl has some legs on her.”

“You’re babbling, Will,” Angelus pointed out as he cut off her next sentence. “Is this going to last all night?”

A whine sounded on the other end of the phone. “Yep. The effects wear off at dawn’s first light.”

“How poetic.”

Hearing the growl in the vampire’s voice, Willow was suddenly very glad to be on the other side of a telephone line and not standing in his presence. “I-I didn’t mean to do anything bad. The night won’t be so long for her now.”

What about me? Angelus nearly barked the question out, but thought better of it.

“I-I’m sorry,” Willow’s voice sounded tiny and utterly apologetic.

“Forget it, Will,” Angelus didn’t want to make the girl feel any worse than she already did. “Goodnight.”

He heard her gulp at the word. “G-Goodnight, Angelus.”

The blaring sound of the dial tone filled his ear as Willow hung up the phone. Angelus returned it to its cradle and sat down beside the sleeping form of his mate. The witch may have meant well, but her actions had denied him more than just a final night of bliss with Cordelia. Missing out on something his brother managed to accomplish, he would not get the opportunity to look into her eyes and tell her with conviction what he could only now say to her sleeping form.

“I love you, Cordelia Chase,” he whispered softly as his fingers trailed down the soft chestnut tresses spread out across her pillow. “No matter what the morning brings, no matter that our love was accidental or fated by those who weave destiny’s thread, it existed. Nothing will take that away from you.”

Cordelia’s only response was the soft sound of her breathing. The rhythmic sounds of her heart and lungs became hypnotic to the vampire who simply sat and listened for untold minutes. Finally, Angelus decided that he had to do something besides stare at his sleeping mate for the remainder of the night. He headed into the bathroom to take a long hot shower trying to let some of the tension drain from his body.

Emerging nearly half an hour later, Angelus dried himself off and dressed himself in a pair of stretchy black boxer shorts. Tossing the towel around his neck back into the bathroom, he decided that Cordelia should also be dressed for bed. That way he could pretend she was sleeping naturally instead of being under the spell of Willow’s juicy witch’s brew.

Carefully undressing Cordelia, he removed all of her clothing piling it up on a nearby chair. Angelus trailed the back of his fingers down his mate’s beautiful frame from collarbone to hipbone noting how responsive she was even in her sleeping state. A sardonic smile quirked his lips as he fought off the urge to kiss every silken inch of her skin no matter her lack of awareness.

Winning that inner battle, Angelus dressed her in the oyster white silk nightgown and pulled the covers up to her waist. He climbed in on his own side of the bed scooting closer and propping himself onto his side so that he could watch her the rest of the night giving in to the fact that he could never sleep thinking he might not be there to watch her wake up in the morning.

Hours passed and neither the vampire nor his sleeping mate had moved a muscle in all that time. Angelus whiled away the hours by reliving every moment he had spent with Cordelia since the time of his separation from Angel. He didn’t know the exact time, but realized that dawn was approaching. The front door downstairs opened and shut followed by the sound of footsteps ascending the stairs.

Angelus turned his eyes to the bedroom door realizing that Angel hadn’t stopped at the second floor landing. Without bothering to knock, Angel swung the already ajar door open wide and leaned against the doorframe. Both vampires were surprised by what they saw.

“What the hell happened to you?” Angelus questioned his brother who was bruised and bloody. His leather jacket was full of dust as was his hair.

“Nest of vamps in Trudzinski’s old warehouse,” Angel explained. “New in town. Now they’re just dust.”

Raising an eyebrow, Angelus had to wonder if Cordelia hadn’t been right. “You took out a nest on your own?”

“There were only twelve of them,” shrugged Angel as if it hadn’t mattered. Glancing toward Cordelia, he commented with a stab of jealousy, “I see you wore her out.”

Angelus covered Cordelia’s folded hands with one of his own. “Unfortunately, I can’t claim my usual prowess on this one.”

Sauntering into the room on his tired legs, Angel suddenly realized that the bedroom was not permeated by the scent of raw sex as he would expect. Cordelia certainly didn’t appear like she had been thoroughly tumbled. In fact, she looked glamorous in her sleep, almost untouched in her beauty as she lay in quiet repose beneath the silk sheets.

“What have you done?” Angel glared at his brother suspiciously.

“Nothing,” Angelus answered. “It was Willow. She put some kind of sleeping spell on that pink concoction she made Cordelia drink.”

“So you’re saying that Cordy has been asleep all night?” Angel gaped at him.

Without answering, Angelus simply sent his brother a death glare.

The chuckles came sporadically at first until Angel couldn’t stop himself. “I truly feel for you, bro. Honest.”

“Shut up, Angel,” grumbled Angelus despite himself. It was kind of funny in a way that had nothing to do with actual amusement. “Just promise me that if you are the one still here in the morning that Willow gets her ass spanked.”

Snorting, “I owe her one anyway.”

Narrowing his gaze, Angelus pointed out, “I was kidding.”

“I wasn’t.”

Angelus rolled his eyes and then asked on a serious note, “How much longer?”

“Less than an hour.” Angel told him. “I’m going to head down and take a shower. Get this dust off, but I’m coming back.”

The other vampire didn’t doubt it. “Cordelia would want you here.”

“Good.” Angel hadn’t expected it to be so easy. He left the room at a much faster pace than he had entered it heading directly to his own bathroom.

Returning in under fifteen minutes, Angel wore an open navy robe over his black boxers. He noticed immediately that Angelus had moved Cordelia into the middle of the bed obviously making room for him. That came as another surprise since Angel figured he’d be relegated to the bedside chair for the remainder of the night.

“I’m through fighting you, Angel,” his brother explained. “I’ve had a while to think about it tonight while Cordelia has been sleeping. In fighting, we’ve simply been going up against ourselves.”

“Doesn’t change the fact that the Moirae will do what they want,” Angel shucked off his robe tossing it over the pile of Cordelia’s clothes. “That we’ve been their pawn for the past two centuries. That one of us will still be their pawn when this is over.”

“That’s not the case,” Angelus had thought about that too. “The Moirae will no doubt have a champion, but they’ve left the rest open. It’s all about the choices we… you or I make from this point onward.”

Angel remembered what Lakhesis had said about the champion being a tool for the Powers that Be whether it was as an instrument of Order or Chaos, Good or Evil. The potential for anything existed and Cordy would somehow play a key role influencing which characteristics would prevail.

“I know that you love her, Angelus,” he moved his fingers along Cordelia’s soft cheek after climbing into bed next to her. “It’s been torture having Cordelia so near and yet not being able to have her. If by some strange turn of fate, I’m still here…I just want you to know that I’d never hurt her.”

“Cordelia was right to call you a dumbass,” Angelus told him. “You think I don’t know how you feel about her? How you’ve always felt even when you had other things on your mind. If I thought there was a slight chance of you hurting Cordelia, I would’ve staked you long before now no matter the consequences to myself.”

“Oh. Good to know,” Angel commented in surprise as he pulled the bedcovers up. “As long as we’re sharing—.”

His brother flinched at the idea.

“I just want to say it’s been great not having your irritating voice yapping in the back of my mind day in and day out,” finished Angel with a laugh.

Cordelia heard voices and laughter pulling her from the depths of sleep. Masculine and familiar, the comforting sounds made her wonder if this had been a nightmare. That fate couldn’t be so cruel to take Angelus or Angel away from her just to satisfy some centuries-long plan to create a champion. Fighting for consciousness, Cordelia felt the cool touch of fingers trailing down her arm.

As her eyelids fluttered open, Cordelia noticed the indirect light of early morning as it filtered into the bedroom. Several things became apparent in a short period. She was in her own bedroom, wearing her nightgown and she wasn’t alone. All of these things seemed to fit in with her hope that it was all a bad dream.

Sitting up, Cordelia turned to find herself trapped by the molten gaze of her bedmate as he silently reached up to thread his fingers through her hair. With a gasp, Cordelia pushed at his bare chest and scrambled to the far corner of the bed. As he moved to follow, she tumbled off of the bed onto the floor landing with a thunk.

When Cordelia peeked over the edge of the mattress, she found him lounging prone in a casual position, waiting for her verbal response. With her hazel eyes as wide as they could get, she asked with a combination of curiosity and despair, “W-Who are you?”


CHAPTER LINKS

DoN Chapter 37          DoN Home          DoN Chapter 39


 

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