39: Champion Revealed
Chapter 39: The Champion Revealed
“Don’t come any closer,” Cordelia screeched as the vampire rose to his knees on the bed obviously planning to make some move toward her. The bedcovers fell away to reveal the same expanse of muscular torso, the same tempting package beneath the stretchy black boxers, the same hard thighs as her mate.
The body she recognized, but his eyes held the difference. From the first, she had been able to tell Angelus apart from Angel, but the vampire currently teasing her with those molten stares was neither one as far as Cordelia could tell. That thought alone was enough to cause her head to spin for it meant she would have to face the reality of why this…new guy was here in place of both of her vampires.
Cordelia darted to her feet edging around the corner of the bed. When he followed her movements with that glittering gaze, she held out a hand as if warding off the way he seemed to strip her with his eyes. “Eyes off. Answer my question. Who the hell are you?”
“You tell me,” he answered almost daring her to guess.
Hadn’t she prided herself in knowing which vampire was which? Cordelia knew that she could not identify him save that everything the Moirae suggested meant that he was their champion. His dark eyes shone with the inner light of someone she did not recognize.
Speaking with the determination to hold back the welling panic springing deep within her, Cordelia admitted, “I don’t know you.”
“Yes you do.”
Cordelia reached the other side of the bed, conscious of his continued stare as she grabbed the cordless phone from its cradle. Despite his assurance that she knew him, there was a distinct feeling of confusion pounding at her chest. Besides, if this was truly Angelus or Angel neither one would have delayed revealing their identity.
Thank God for speed dial.
A groan sounded on the other end. “Mm-hngh? Yes. Hello?”
“Giles! I need you here now.” Cordelia didn’t pause for preliminaries barely giving the Watcher time to ask her what was wrong. “I-I can’t say. Just come. No! Don’t bring the others. Come alone. Now. I don’t care if the others are expecting you to call them. Just get your British butt over here.”
She pressed the off button. “Sheesh! If you were attacking me, I’d be dead by now.”
“Put the phone down, Cordelia,” he ordered while getting out of bed. “There is no need to be afraid of me.”
“Then tell me who you are.”
“Hah! Even you can’t tell me.” Pushing the power button on the phone again, a dial tone sounded as Cordelia moved her thumb to the speed dial for Buffy Summer’s house. “We’ll see how you respond to having the Slayer in your face for the rest of the day.”
With a speed that made her head swim, the vampire appeared directly in front of her and wrested the phone from her grasp before she could punch in the code. Tossing it over his shoulder, he sent the phone flying to the middle of the bed where it bounced once on the mattress before settling amidst the covers. His hands came down on her shoulders, not only holding her in place, but caressing them with his thumbs as he leaned in to scent the trace of dried blood along her throat.
Jerking back, Cordelia slapped at his chest. The panic was starting to win out rising in her throat as a high-pitched shriek, “Personal bubble!”
“I’d like to make it personal, sweetheart,” he returned smoothly causing a shudder to zip down her spine.
Cordelia stared at him as she backed into the bedside chair stopping her progress. It was that husky octave in his tone and the choice of his words that made her wonder. He’d called her sweetheart. “A-Angel?”
“Guess again, love.”
“I’m not your love,” Cordelia snapped at him. At least she didn’t think so. Angelus wouldn’t act this way. Not to her. So the guy admitted that he wasn’t Angel. The twinge of pain that thought brought was countered only by the hope that this was actually her mate playing some twisted vampire game. Doubting it, but having to ask just the same, “Angelus?”
“Want to try again?” He gave her a look that suggested he was expecting her to see the truth. “Just keep in mind…three strikes and you’re out.”
More games. Cordelia narrowed her eyes as she told him, “I’m giving Giles the third guess. After that you or the Moirae better have a damn good explanation.”
“Forget the Moirae.”
“Huh! That’s easy for you to say Mister Mystery Vamp. Tell me the truth,” Cordelia pleaded with him for any news that would explain what the Fates had done to her vampires.
Once again, he came to stand in front of her, invading her space like he belonged there. Touching her hair this time, his fingers weaved through the soft tresses as his eyes continued to travel the course of her luscious curves. Cordelia grabbed the navy robe piled up on the chair, shoving her arms into the sleeves and wrapping herself up in its thin protective covering. Crinkles appeared at the corners of his eyes as he responded to her defensive move with soft throaty laughter.
“Get out!” Cordelia yelled at him. “This is my bedroom. Find one of your own.”
“I’m not leaving.”
Dropping the hand that pointed him toward the door back to her side, she attempted another technique. “Not leaving? Then I am. My parents will probably let me stay in my old room.”
The threat of her departure was no bluff, he realized. Holding onto her upper arms, he pulled her close to his body forcing Cordelia to crane her neck in order to meet his gaze. “I don’t think so, lover. The Fates didn’t put me in your bed intending to allow you to walk away.”
“You said to forget the Fates,” Cordelia struggled against his hold managing only to stomp on his bare foot with her own and dig her fingernails into his waist. “Besides, I won’t be walking away from you. I’m taking my Corvette.”
“And one more thing,” she added for good measure. “I’m not your lover.”
“You will be,” he seemed confident enough to phrase it as a promise.
Shaking her head, Cordelia denied it. As far as she was concerned, he was a stranger that looked like the men she loved. With his hands on her and his cheek now rubbing against hers, Cordelia felt the tears start to gather. As his mouth hovered over hers, she reminded him softly, “Giles is coming soon.”
“Let him come.” Instead of kissing her, he backed off contenting himself with holding her in his arms.
Staring at up him, Cordelia heard the quiver in her voice as she asked him, “They’re gone, aren’t they, both Angel and Angelus?”
“What happened was fated.”
That stirred her anger again warring with the agony now gripping her heart in a vice. “You think I give a rat’s ass about fate? I loved them! I loved them both. I thought…I thought the Moirae would leave me one of them.”
Her pain was unacceptable, but the vampire knew it to be part of the natural course of her grief. Naturally, Cordelia would see this as a conflict where none existed in his own mind. Trying to comfort her, he assured Cordelia, “The Moirae gave you both.”
“Both?” Cordelia caught onto the doubt in his voice immediately.
“I have their memories, Cordelia,” he revealed while realizing the fact for himself. “I have all of their memories. Liam, Angelus and Angel’s. Memories of everything they have done. Memories of you.”
Cordelia tried to reason out what he was saying, but came to the decision that based on everything else he told her that this situation had no similarity to the vampire she knew before Angel and Angelus were separated. “So it’s not like it was before? With Angelus being there?”
“No. There are no voices in my head, Cor. Their experiences are mine,” he admitted, “but I’m not them.”
“Hah!” Cordelia felt as if she had caught him with the truth. “Told you.”
Attempting to explain it, but coming off rather cryptically, he told her, “Individually, they were only a part of who I am.”
“Then who are you, dammit!”
Now giving her a simplistic answer, “I’m…just me.”
“Don’t pfft me.”
“Pfft! I can do anything I want. You have no claim over me,” Cordelia countered with a gleam of triumph.
Only the fact that the triumphal look was echoed in his eyes gave Cordelia pause to wonder if he knew something she didn’t. The chime of the doorbell interrupted them and Cordelia expectantly awaited her release from his arms. When it didn’t come as quickly as she figured, her attention turned back from the direction of the doorway to the vampire who seemed to be staring at the exposed turn of her throat with one purpose in mind.
“Giles is here,” she prompted hoping to distract him away from his obvious intention to claim her here and now.
“Mmm,” he murmured against her throat as his lips and teeth teased at the soft flesh of her neck. “Let him wait.”
Holding her in a way that prevented Cordelia from reaching up to pull his hair, he made no effort to stop tasting her skin. It was only when Cordelia stiffened in his arms and the scent of her escalating fear began to overshadow her usual intoxicating scent that he lifted his head from her throat. Claiming Cordelia was something the vampire had every intention of doing. She belonged to him. The Moirae said so, the sigil of the Order said so, and he wanted it that way.
“Go to the Watcher,” he released her with a soft kiss against her startled mouth. “I’ll put some clothes on.”
Like a deer caught in the headlights, Cordelia simply stared at him trying to figure out why he let her go. Then realizing that she was free, darted in the direction of the stairs exiting the bedroom as fast as she could go determined to have a minute or two alone with Giles before he showed up.
Cordelia pulled open the door to find Giles standing outside wearing a tweed jacket over his burgundy pajamas. No wonder he had gotten there so quickly. The man had literally jumped out of bed, thrown his jacket and slippers on and gotten into his car.
“What’s with the stake?” She asked him curiously noting he carried one at the ready.
Glancing down at it, Giles commented, “You sounded scared over the telephone. This was just in case.”
“In case the vampire decided to politely come to the door to let you in?” Cordelia let out a snort and waved him inside.
Lowering the weapon, Giles tucked it into his jacket pocket. As Cordelia closed the door behind him, he stepped further into the foyer which looked to be in the same state of disarray as they had left it last night. No sign of the Moirae’s champion in sight, he realized just as it occurred to him that Cordelia hadn’t used a name when suggesting it might have been the vampire at the door.
“What is it you couldn’t tell me over the phone?” He saw her calm mask slip and fall away replaced by glittering tears that fell in fat dollops down both cheeks. Combined with her silence, Rupert Giles knew that his worst suspicions had come to pass. Neither personality had survived the night.
Doing the only thing he could, Giles opened his arms and let the weeping teenager rush into them. Trying to comfort the girl was the least he could do in return for her support after Jenny’s untimely death at Angelus’ hands. The uncharacteristic crying was certain understandable if his suspicions were true, but he had to confirm them.
“The Moirae’s champion is here in the mansion?” Giles received a confirmatory grunt and the nod of her dark head against his chest.
Progress. Now for a more difficult question. “The champion is a vampire.”
“But not Angelus,” Giles assumed that to be true from the number of tears gathering on his pajama top.
More silence followed. Not even a grunt or a wail to indicate that Angelus was not the vampire chosen by the Moirae as their champion. Only the stiffening of Cordelia’s clinging frame suggested an answer.
“Angel?” He asked with equal hesitancy in his voice because he had a feeling that were either one of the vampires present Cordelia would not have required him to rush over to the mansion.
Cordelia swallowed thickly and let out a shaky sigh before managing to speak the one word Giles was waiting for. Delivering it with only a whisper of sound, it was accompanied by all the pain welling in her heart. “No.”
“So who is it?” Giles voiced curiously eliciting a sound from the brunette suggesting he had asked something wrong.
“Turn around, Watcher, and find out,” the voice sent a cold shiver down his spine as Giles reacted with recognition and surprise. With a stealthy approach, the vampire had made no sound coming down the stairs and crossing the foyer floor to stand at his back.
Giles wasn’t certain why he reacted that way to the simple comment other than it meant he was about to face the unknown in the form of the familiar. He waited to turn as Cordelia was busily wiping her eyes with the front of his pajama top leaving dark mascara streaks behind. Keeping a supportive arm around her, Giles whirled them around.
“I’m feeling a little overdressed,” the vampire commented drolly glancing at the pair in front of him.
Sputtering a bit, Giles realized that both he and Cordelia were in an untidy state of undress. Compared to the vampire’s immaculate appearance in a royal blue shirt and black pants, it certainly seemed that one of them was dressed inappropriately for the occasion. Tweed and striped cotton were not exactly what he would have selected to meet the Moirae’s champion for the first time under normal circumstances.
“I-I was concerned for Cordelia. The phone call she made suggested that she needed my help,” Giles defended his state of dress as emergency response. “So I came over immediately.”
“Very touching, Rupert,” the vampire responded smoothly meeting the Watcher eye to eye as he strolled closer. “Giving Cordelia a shoulder to cry on this way is so kind and fatherly of you.”
It was not the tone of his voice, but the pointed stare that suggested the vampire hinted his concern might be based on something less parental by nature. Evidenced by the fact that his arm was around Cordelia’s shoulder and her arms remained around his waist. Finally, it dawned on him that no matter who this vampire was, he remained completely territorial when it came to Cordelia Chase.
Fascinating, Giles thought even as he extracted himself out of Cordelia’s arms to put some distance between them.
Cordelia gave the Watcher a confused look as if he was taking away a blanket of protection without explanation. She eyed the vampire suspiciously. “Did you threaten Giles?”
“Me? Threaten the Watcher?” He gave her a look of pure innocence complete with a pair of puppy dog eyes. “All I did was thank him for responding so quickly to your call. After all, he did promise Angelus he would look after you.”
Finding nothing to prove it, Cordelia glanced over at Giles whose face remained calm and without a hint of anything to suggest he was feeling threatened. Except that his hand had wandered into the pocket of his jacket where he’d put the wooden stake.
“I knew it!” Cordelia whirled around so that the oversized navy robe slid right off her shoulder revealing the golden skin beneath. Stalking up to the vampire, she poked him in the chest. “Don’t think you can get away with that crap. I know possessive vampire behavior when I see it and you have no right to play that card with me.”
He found her fury enchanting. Reaching in, the vampire curled one hand around the nape of her neck and brought his mouth down on hers in a heated kiss that left her gasping for breath. Looking even more beautiful with her kiss-swollen lips, Cordelia attempted to smack his face only to have her hand caught and returned to her side.
“I have every right.” A growl of discontent sounded, but it came from the depths of Cordelia’s throat causing the vampire to smirk in response. To her further irritation, he straightened her robe before tucking her into his side and suggesting to Giles that they continue the discussion in the kitchen.
The Watcher had observed the entire exchange with a combination of fascination and concern. At the vampire’s mention of the kitchen, he commented, “I could do with a cup of tea.”
“Is that all he has to say?” Cordelia muttered under her breath. “Tea: the solution to everything.”
Leaning toward her ear as they walked, the vampire whispered conspiratorially, “Just between you and me, babe. I heard that.”
“Let. Go. Of. Me.” Cordelia enunciated the words through clenched teeth. Whispering furiously with another reminder about her personal bubble which went ignored until they reached the kitchen. Springing away from him at the first opportunity, Cordelia scampered to the other side of the island where she busied herself with making Giles his tea.
The Watcher and the vampire sat down across the table from one another with the latter appearing completely comfortable with his surroundings while the former did not. Giles fidgeted in his chair while gathering his thoughts for the slew of questions in his head.
“So Cordelia tells me that you are neither Angelus nor Angel,” Giles started off with the basics. On the other side of the kitchen, Cordelia slammed the metal tea kettle down on the stove causing him to jump in response to the sudden noise.
“I am both, but neither,” the vampire responded after a pause.
Cordelia let out a loud, “Pfft! Cryptic much?”
On the contrary, Giles found the logic quite simple. “You are a unique entity with the essence and memory of those who came before you.”
“I think so.”
“Fascinating,” Giles murmured. Then turning to share his enthusiasm with Cordelia, he remembered the teenager had another opinion altogether. She sent him a harsh glare cutting him off mid-sentence as he was adding, “I find this all quite—”
Turning on her heel, Cordelia opened up the refrigerator taking out the remaining orange juice and the container of pig blood. Setting them on the counter, she went to pull down a mug to heat up the blood, but found only two choices in the cabinet. One belonged to Angelus and the other to Angel. Like she would give one of their mugs to him. Pfft! Not likely.
She returned the blood to the refrigerator, stubbornly refusing to consider any other methods of warming it for the vampire.
Fixing her own orange juice, Cordelia saw there was only a small amount remaining. Apparently Willow used most of it for her pink concoction. Finishing off the quarter of a glass of juice, Cordelia suddenly realized she couldn’t remember what happened after Angelus carried her upstairs last night.
Those missing hours kept her mind occupied until the whistling of the tea kettle snapped her out of her thoughts. Then overhearing Giles’ next question, she nearly dropped the kettle onto the floor.
“Do you plan to call yourself Angelus or Angel?”
The vampire started to respond, “I hadn’t—,” when Cordelia let out a yelp of pain in response to touching the hot kettle with her bare hand. No sooner had she screamed than he was at her side lifting the kettle to the stove and examining her hands for any sign of injury.
Giles hopped out of his chair, stepping over to the island. “Oh, dear. Run your hands under the cold water. Perhaps they won’t blister.”
Pure discontent sounded in the form of a low rumble from the vampire’s chest at the thought that Cordelia might be burned. “Do as he says.”
He turned on the water for her and waited by her side until he was satisfied that she left them under long enough.
“Enough with the attention already,” Cordelia complained. “I’m fine. I barely touched the thing.”
“Let me see.”
Rolling her eyes toward the ceiling, she held her hands out for inspection. “See? All better now.”
“This happened because of Rupert’s question,” he presumed correctly. “You don’t think I should call myself Angelus.”
While drying her hands with a kitchen towel, he explained why she would have to get used to hearing it. “The name is a part of my heritage as a vampire. Angelus and the shorter version Angel will remain with me as a reminder of my origins.”
Snatching her hands away from him, Cordelia demanded, “Pick another name. Hmm. A name for a champion. How about Lancelot? No? Seymour?”
“No. Not vampy enough. Vladamir? I suppose that’s been used.”
Giles cleared his throat in hopes of gaining Cordelia’s attention. Any moment now he expected the vampire was going to explode with rage. Considering that was what the previous two versions of this vampire would have done being suddenly faced with a suggestion that they willingly go by the monikers of Elmo, Barney, Clarence. Being a Rupert by birth rather than choice, Giles figured the vampire would not take kindly to the suggestions.
Instead, he patiently waited for Cordelia to run out of names and air before boxing her in against the kitchen counter. Without looking away from the bright hazel orbs that had his attention, he commanded Giles, “Tell her who I am, Watcher.”
All evidence thus far pointed to the fact that all of Giles’ theories on the subject were correct. “Lakhesis told us of the Moirae’s plans, Cordelia. They planned to fashion a champion from the existence and experience of the human Liam, the demon Angelus and the souled Angel. Through the many trials of life and death, suffering, inflicting pain and experiencing love, they created situations to produce desired outcomes, but only if their future champion followed the path they set before him.”
Giles really needed that tea right now, but forced himself to continue despite his frazzled nerves. “One of those situations resulted in the gypsy curse that not only gave Angelus a soul, but fragmented his psyche. Again, this was a tool used to shape the champion through his experiences. Only recently the separation of those two distinct personalities allowed Angelus and Angel to exist in physical form at the same time.”
“They fought the Good Fight,” Cordelia cut into Giles’ oratory still seeking answers. Fighting back a sob as she stared up at the vampire’s handsome face, “They didn’t deserve to die.”
The Watcher corrected, “They did not die. Angelus and Angel have simply been cured as only the Moirae could accomplish.”
Now glancing over her shoulder, she repeated the word as a question, “Cured?”
“The Moirae merged them back together, but fixed the split personality problem,” he told her. “The vampire here today is actually a hybrid of Angelus and Angel. With a certain amount of Liam added to the mix. He is the vampire he should have been if the curse hadn’t had that unexpected side effect.”
“Both, but neither,” Cordelia found the words sinking in. “What about his soul?”
Giles was a bit stumped on that one. “I presume he has one.”
“Can’t you tell?”
“Sorry,” he answered dryly. “I left my soul detector in my other jacket.”
“I was talking to him,” she nodded toward the vampire who continued to keep her within the enclosed frame of his arms and the cabinet.
The Watcher felt heat sweep up to his ears. “Oh. Right, then.”
“Yes, I have a soul.”
“Any other side effects for your soul left over from that gypsy curse? Say, you losing it?”
Giles cut in again, almost excitedly as he realized, “The soul is permanent. Not only would the Moirae ensure it, but there is no separate Angelus to emerge.”
“Were you planning to make me happy just so you could have your mate back?”
With a shocked look, Cordelia denied it vehemently. “Make you happy? I won’t even make you breakfast.”
“We’ll see about that Cordelia Chase.”
Asking warily, she questioned him, “Which part?”
“Take a guess, sweetheart,” the vampire smirked. “We can discuss it after Rupert leaves.”
“Giles isn’t leaving.”
“Well, actually,” the Watcher began when he caught the vampire’s gaze, “perhaps I should head back home.”
“No!” Cordelia turned around so that she faced Giles from across the island only to feel the vampire shift closer so that his hips pressed into her curved bottom. “Before you came, Elmo here tried to bite me.”
“El—,” Giles released a long sigh. Then with more concern, “He tried to bite you?”
“Hello! Vampire.” Cordelia reminded him. “He thinks he has some claim on me. Just because Angelus is part of who he is— kinda. Tell him, Giles.”
“Tell him what?”
For someone who was so smart, Rupert Giles could be so damn dense at times. “It’s simple. Just tell him that he has no claim on me.”
Giles removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose as if a sudden headache hit him. Why were there no simple questions? In fact, Giles preferred complicated ones, but not when issuing information out to people who might not like what they were going to hear.
“First off, let’s clear up the issue about the name,” Giles pleaded. “I’m not going to keep calling him ‘The Vampire’ all day.”
“Just call him Clarence,” Cordelia suggested with a straight face while simultaneously elbowing the vampire in the stomach as he trailed the back of his fingers down the curve of her spine.
She sensed he was laughing at her, but refused to turn around to call him on it. Even Giles appeared to be fighting off something, but Cordelia doubted it was laughter. He had Frustration Face on, quickly replacing his glasses as a shield to cover it up as if that did any good.
“Angelo? Jello for short?” Cordelia almost couldn’t stop herself. The thought of calling someone who seemed like a stranger to her by the name of her mate or his brother was not pleasant. It would be a constant reminder of what she had lost.
“Somehow, I don’t think he wants to be known as Jello,” Giles drolled realizing just how indulgent the vampire was being with the girl. Although the Watcher noted that he seemed to be unable to keep his hands off of her. No wonder Cordelia found this unsettling.
Cordelia sensed she was fighting a losing battle with the names, but wasn’t about to give up. “Just trying to be helpful.”
“I see that,” Giles sent the vampire a sympathetic look before he realized what he was doing. “So what’s it to be? Angelus or Angel?”
“Angelus D’Aurelius is the formal version and Angel the shorter variation. To me, they have equal meaning,” the vampire declared. “I have no preference for one versus the other. Call me whichever you are comfortable with.”
Giles nodded in agreement. Despite his recent peaceable dealings with the soulless version of the vampire, the name of Angelus himself would always bring back painful memories. Given a choice, he made it quickly, “Angel it is.”
A distinct grumbling sounded from Cordelia who attempted to move away from her trapped position only to find that she couldn’t budge. Practically draped across her back, her captor rested his cheek on her hair to tell her softly, “I suggest that you don’t squirm so much.”
There was no need to ask the reason. Cordelia could feel it pressing into her behind. She watched a red flush creep onto Giles’ face. Obviously, he’d overheard. The man was only two feet away for cripes sake. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out. With a gasp, Cordelia held herself completely still trying to ignore the lengthening hardness actively announcing its presence.
“This is the problem, Giles. Gropey Vamp thinks he has a claim of some kind. That he can touch me. That he can bite me,” she added with emphasis. “Tell him he can’t. Go ahead! Tell him.”
While Giles figured the job of telling the vampire that touching and biting were off limits was actually Cordelia’s, he realized there was more to it than her discomfort with Angel’s closeness. Resuming Watcher’s mode, Giles figured that this combined version of Angelus and Angel retained feelings and memories that gave him certain preexisting ties to the brunette.
Perhaps it was better to start with what Angel believed his claim to be. Asking gave Giles more information than he realized was coming. Since the ritual of claiming was entirely tied up with vampire sexuality, he also found himself stuttering through his questions while Cordelia impatiently rolled her eyes at him.
“So Angelus couldn’t—,” Giles faltered a bit before starting to rephrase the question. “He wasn’t able to—.”
“Bite me,” Cordelia filled in with a huff. “Virtual handcuffs courtesy of the Fates. No biting humans, remember?”
Giles gave her a look realizing that she was actually angry about the fact rather than relieved. Glancing back to Angel, he queried, “So you have no doubts about your own ability to—”
“Perform?” Angel smirked at the human’s inability to complete a sentence.
“Function. No doubt the Moirae took care of that little issue since they created it in the first place as a deterrent while Angelus was supposed to be focusing on all things non-demonic in his vampiric nature,” Giles covered his discomfort over the topic with a long explanation.
Angel told him, “I’m certain Cordelia knows I function quite well. My ability is not in question, Rupert. She doubts my rights and wants you to convince me that they don’t exist.”
“You must consider that you are technically a stranger to her,” Giles pointed out. “While you may possess the appearance and full memories of Angelus and the original Angel, in Cordelia’s mind you are not them no matter that you are a combination of both.”
The Watcher’s response was not what Angel wanted to hear. So he informed Giles, “Makes no difference. Cordelia bears my mark.”
“I do not!”
“Yes, you do, Cor. Your skin bears a sigil of the Order of Aurelius,” reminded Angel. “That gives me the right to claim you.”
Cordelia hurriedly stated, “No it doesn’t.”
Still thinking about Angel’s reasoning, Giles skipped over the automatic rejection of the vampire’s theory. Confirming with Cordelia, “You have a tattoo?”
She nodded. “I’m surprised Xander didn’t say something. He was drooling to see it.”
In fact, Giles was quite interested himself from a historian’s perspective of course. “I wouldn’t mind—”
“No,” Angel denied him the opportunity to finish his sentence much less take a look at Cordelia’s tattoo. Describing the sigil, he told the Watcher, “You’ll have to take my word for it that it exists and that it is a true mark of the Order.”
Disappointed, Giles accepted the vampire’s decision, but realized that Angelus had been unable to claim his mate through the usual vampiric ritual of bloodplay. He chose to make his mark another way. Now noticing Angel was wearing the Ring of the Master, his sleep deprived brain slowly came to a realization that Cordelia was not going to like his answer. Nor would the vampire considering his clear intentions toward making a claim on the brunette.
Why am I always the bearer of bad tidings? Giles complained silently. Best get on with it then.
“Cordelia, when you became Angelus’ mate and accepted the mark of the tattoo, it was technically no different in your eyes or his that it was a symbol of your bond.” Giles cleared his throat before continuing and watched as her hazel eyes narrowed in suspicion at the direction he was going with this. “You became an official member of the Order of Aurelius.”
“With him so far, babe?”
Detecting the confidence in the question, she reluctantly let out an affirmatory, “Mm-hmm.”
“As Angel is in possession of the Master’s ring,” Giles pointed out, “that makes him the head of the order. By mere association, vampiric laws and tradition make you, uh. . . technically his.”
“Mine.” The husky sound of his voice rumbled in her ear.
Turning around to face him, Cordelia shoved at his chest until Angel gave her some room. “First off, you can just forget about that. Angelus was my mate. You’re not. Try anything that involves your fangs and my neck if I don’t want it and I’ll make sure the Moirae’s champion fits in a dustpan. Got it?”
“Got it, sweetheart.” Angel only threw her own words back at her, “If you don’t want it.”
Was he actually suggesting that she did? That he could make her want it? Pfft! “Get a life. Stop trying to steal Angelus’ by being all grabby, gropey and possessive about me.”
“His life is already mine. We are meant to be together, Cordelia,” he answered with a dangerous gleam in his dark brown eyes. “Get used to it.”
Cordelia huffed and told Giles of her plans to go to her parents’ house to escape the unwanted attention of this New Guy. “Don Juan can’t keep his paws to himself, so I’m leaving as soon as I can get dressed.”
“Not likely,” warned Angel almost too calmly. His expressive eyes told quite another story suggesting he would physically restrain Cordelia before he let her walk away from him, especially considering the memories of her doing that once before. “You’ll be tied to my bed before I let that happen.”
“Giles won’t let you do that,” Cordelia returned never doubting the fact that the vampire would do it if he could get away with such a thing. “Would you Giles?”
There was an uncomfortable pause as the Watcher kept receiving silent signals from Angel suggesting that he should stay out of this business. Giles would have loved to keep out of it. Now that he was here, he felt obligated to speak his mind. “There is no need to tie you up, Cordelia. However, I do think you should reconsider leaving the mansion. The Moirae did tell us that you were intended to remain at the side of their champion.”
Grmph! That wasn’t what Giles was supposed to say. Complaining, Cordelia stated, “They also said that we all have free will to make our own decisions. Just because they created their Champ Vamp doesn’t mean I want him around.”
Giles recalled Lakhesis’ words. “Cordelia, I must caution you. Lakhesis suggested that your decisions and actions would have significant affect upon Angel’s destiny as a champion for the Powers that Be. That they will set him upon a path for Good or Evil, Order or Chaos.”
Having not been impressed by the Fates in the first place with anger overlaying her feelings toward them, Cordelia was not about to concede that anything they told her was the truth. Especially after leading her to believe that either Angelus or the real Angel would still be here this morning.
Glaring up at the vampire, Cordelia mocked the idea, “Be a good little vamp, don’t bite humans and always floss between meals.”
“You’re staying,” Angel ignored her sardonic effort and got back to the original topic.
Cordelia half expected the typical Angel retort of ‘Are Too’, but he wasn’t about to be drawn into that little game. He reached down to wind the belt of her robe in his hand and asked, “Which will it be, Cordy? Silk, leather or metal? I’ll leave you the choice.”
“You are so not tying me up,” Cordelia gasped. “Giles! Did you hear that?”
Giles was currently stifling a yawn as he leaned against the countertop. “At least you have a choice.”
“You’re taking his side,” she complained. “What kind of a Watcher are you anyway?”
“One who’s looking out for the good of us all,” Giles replied. “Cordy, the Moirae did tell you that your destiny is with Angel. No matter that you influence him toward the good or evil side of his nature. Do you believe he’ll let you leave anymore easily than the last time? He’s a vampire, Cordelia and you willingly made yourself a part of the Order of Aurelius. No matter that he has memories of this place, it’s still new to him. Angel may need your help.”
“Playing the guilt card?” Cordelia was torn by everything Giles had told her today. He claimed that this new vampire was both Angelus and Angel. Also that New Guy Vamp was indeed someone unique and different. The person Angelus/Angel should have been instead of being divided off into completely separate personalities.
While Cordelia found it hard to think that the vampire in front of her was the one who was meant to be all along, she couldn’t forget the parts making him whole. He might not be Angelus or Angel, but they were part of him. Not separately existing, but part of him nonetheless. That reality hit hard, making Cordelia realize that she could not abandon him entirely.
“I’ll stay,” she conceded and scrutinized Angel for any sudden sign of triumph that might make her change her mind again. Not a muscle twitched. Then Cordelia added one stipulation, “On the condition that you find another bedroom.”
“The location doesn’t matter, Cordelia,” he responded with resolve. “You’ll be there at my side.”
Cordelia cursed the way her body responded to that husky promise. Damn him for sounding so hot and looking identical to her vampires. The automatic response was not a welcome one considering the circumstances.
“Cordelia is no doubt grieving the loss of her mate, Angel,” Giles pointed out. “Give her some time and distance to mourn her loss.”
“She hasn’t lost anything. She has me,” Angel countered now sounding irritated that the Watcher dared to open his mouth when it came to sleeping with or making love to Cordelia. Not that he’d specifically mentioned sex, but the vampire read between the lines with practiced ease. Still, Rupert had a point and if making a temporary concession would get him what he wanted, Angel figured he could wait a while. A short while perhaps, but it was longer than he wanted.
Releasing the belt of Cordelia’s robe, he lifted his hand to the nape of her neck and smoothing his thumb across the edge of her jaw. “Agree to remain in the mansion and stay in my bed. In return, I promise not to force the sex issue until you’re ready.”
“And if I’m never ready?”
“That’s something we’ll deal with if it happens,” Angel forced the confident smirk from appearing on his face knowing it would not be taken well. “Time is something I have plenty of, Cordelia.”
Stay here and sleep with him, but there would be no sex? How gullible did he think she was? Cordelia figured he was not giving her much of a choice. She could leave, but he would no doubt follow her, drag her back to the mansion and proceed to tie her to his bed anyway. Maybe the real question was— did she want to leave him when he was the only thing she had left of Angelus?
Just as Cordelia was about to agree to his terms, the phone started ringing. “Oh, God, it’s them.”
Giles reminded her, “I was supposed to call everyone.”
No one seemed to be moving to answer it, so Angel headed that way. Seeing that he intended to pick up the phone, Cordelia rushed past him and blocked his path. “No, not you. It will only hurt and confuse people.”
“Are you planning to let it ring? The answering machine is off,” he remembered. The look on Cordelia’s face suggested that was precisely what she was thinking.
With a sigh, Giles told them, “I’ll take the call. Any bets as to who it is?”
“Buffy,” both Cordelia and Angel sounded out simultaneous groans.
The phone rang incessantly. Giles had his hand on it. “I’m going with Willow.”
Picking up the handset, Giles held it to his ear. “Hello? Yes. Yes, it’s me. No I didn’t call. Because circumstances prevented me from doing so. No. No. That can wait. Just as you would expect. There is no need to cause hysteria. We’ll discuss it tonight. Yes. Very well. Goodbye, Xander.”
“Xander,” gasped Cordelia. It hadn’t been Buffy at all. Not even Willow, which she might have expected. “What was Xander doing calling here?”
Giles told her, “As I figured, not calling the group has stirred up some worries. They all attempted to call me at home. When I did not answer, they presumed something had happened and that I was here.”
“Are they all in cahoots or should I expect Buffy, Willow and Oz to make their own calls?” Cordelia asked him feeling invaded and hurt by the interruption rather than reassured. “What are they doing? Trying to settle a bet on which vampire survived the night? Guess nobody wins.”
Angel felt like showing her that she hadn’t lost everything, but was too busy growling over Giles’ next statement.
“As your former boyfriend, Xander was actually thinking about you.” Giles pointed out to Cordelia drawing a frown of displeasure from the vampire. “It’s not as if they aren’t going to know when I get a chance to tell them.”
“I know,” Cordelia sighed sadly. When Angel reached out, she jerked away from his touch turning away from him. She felt his eyes boring into her back, but refused to let the sensation affect her.
Adjusting his glasses, Giles looked over to Angel providing a little more information. “I’d like everyone to gather at the library tonight. Usual time. That will give you two some time to adjust to each other a bit. I’ll try to keep the others out of your hair until then.”
“You’re leaving?” Cordelia gulped nervously. That would leave her alone with him.
“I think we’ve already established that Angel is not an immediate danger to you, Cordelia,” he commented. Then the Watcher gave the vampire a pointed stare. “Isn’t that right?”
Inwardly, Angel smirked at the sight of Rupert Giles defending Cordelia from his lustful intentions, the mere thought of which made the Watcher extremely uncomfortable. “You can leave anytime, Rupert. I’d never hurt Cordelia, but there are some things we will have to work out on our own.”
Giles asked Cordelia if she was okay with him leaving. She nodded, realizing that it was unrealistic to expect the Watcher to hang around the mansion in his pajamas. Still reeling from the reality that hit when she first opened her eyes this morning and the explanation that followed, Cordelia knew that only time would distance her from the raw feelings that swirled within her seeking some form of escape.
After Giles’ departure, Cordelia and Angel were again in the foyer staring at each other with an uncomfortable silence between them. Finally, Cordelia dragged her eyes away from his to look at their surroundings. “Geez! What a mess. Maybe I should clean up while you go upstairs.”
“You— cleaning?” A short laugh sounded from the vampire who quickly cleared his throat and shoved his hands in his pants pockets when Cordelia glared at him.
“Because it’s time for bed,” he answered simply. “The sun is shining and I’ve been up all night.”
Cordelia’s eyes widened a little. “Your bedtime. Not mine. I slept all night.”
“Just come upstairs, baby,” Angel tried to make it sound like he was giving her an option. “You can do whatever you want once I’m asleep, but I want you with me until then. We’ll spend some time alone this afternoon and go to tonight’s Scooby Meeting together.”
Get on with it, Cor, she lectured herself. You agreed to this.
Once upstairs, Cordelia hovered around the safe zone of her vanity brushing her hair with an industriousness that went far beyond her usual routine. Her eyes were glued to the mirror, but Cordelia barely noticed the slightly pale reflection staring back at her. She was too focused on the vampire currently undressing behind her. The rustle of clothing sounded while she tried to gauge if it was safe to turn around.
Hypersensitive in her nervous state, her hearing detected the soft thunk of his shoes, the swish of his socks, the pull of his shirt from the waist of his black pants. Cordelia could swear she heard his fingers working on the buttons of that royal blue shirt, opening a wider vee revealing the hard expanse of his chest beneath with each open button. The shirt came off.
Next came the metal clink of his black leather belt followed by a swift sound as Angel removed it from its loops. Cordelia could easily picture how he looked standing there in just his pants with that bare torso completely exposed and his toes digging into the carpet just for the pleasure it gave him. It didn’t take her eyes to know it. She already knew every inch of that body.
It was bad enough that Angelus and his brother were identical physically. That had been enough of a challenge. One Cordelia had failed in resisting. Now this new Angel was also the same in form and face making it all too easy to picture him completely. Then the obvious unzipping sound that seemed to cause an electric ripple to travel down her spine heralded the removal of his pants.
Cordelia’s hand shook slightly as she returned the brush to the vanity top. Letting out a shaky breath, she decided to ask for a reprieve, “Would you leave the boxers on?”
A pause behind her suggested contemplation of her request. When the answer came, Cordelia realized she should have suspected the truth all along. “One problem, babe. I’m not wearing any.”
Gripping the edge of the table, Cordelia contemplated what to do next. Should she beg him to wear pajamas to bed? She doubted there were any. Tell him to put on some boxers? Should she refuse to leave her seat until he was under the covers and then stay on top of them herself?
Ridiculous! Who am I? Whiny the Wonder Wimp? It’s not like he has anything you haven’t seen before. Cordelia met her own gaze in the mirror realizing that she did not like the frightened expression staring back at her. Just don’t look at it. No! Him! I meant don’t look at him. Just get your butt off the chair and get into bed.
Standing, Cordelia held her head erect as she walked toward the bed, her chestnut hair shining in long waves down her back. Focusing on herself rather than Ang— the vampire, she unbelted her borrowed robe and flung it carelessly over the back of the chair. Picking up the phone from the center of the bed, she replaced it on its cradle on the bedside table and proceeded to straighten out the bed covers.
“Which side of the bed do you want?” she asked keeping her voice steady, but still not looking in his direction.
Then his hands suddenly curled around her waist pulling her back against him. Oh, God! He was still semi-erect and while he made no overt move to press his erection against her, his arousal was entirely obvious. Cordelia’s heart fluttered at the feeling of recognition flooding her body with warmth. Closing her eyes as she attempted to dispel the feeling, her body reacted to his closeness nonetheless.
Angel answered Cordelia’s query sensing that she was simply trying to hold herself together despite the way she responded to his closeness. “The side I always sleep on,” he told her.
Whipping around to face him, forgetting his naked state, Cordelia poked a finger into his bare chest. “You have never slept in my bed. Maybe you were in it earlier since the Moirae put you there, but you haven’t been anywhere before today.”
He wasn’t about to argue with Cordelia at this point. She was distraught and looking for a fight. Anything to keep them both out of bed. “I was planning some shut-eye before tonight’s big meeting, but if you insist on keeping me up I can think of more interesting ways to occupy our time and it won’t matter which side of the bed we’re on.”
“Hmph! You promised you wouldn’t touch me,” Cordelia shoved her hands on her hips defiantly.
“I promised no such thing,” Angel countered, tucking his hand through one of her angled arms to spread out to cover the small of her back. “Now get into bed before I put you there.”
Cordelia refused to budge. Damn right he was going to have to put her there. No way was she volunteering to climb into bed if he planned to be touchy-feely. Hazel eyes glittered defiantly and the tip of her chin raised just a fraction. Unblinking in her determination to make her point, Cordelia stood her ground and did not budge.
Hot-headed, stubborn little— Angel’s thoughts broke off as he felt the demon in him rise to the occasion. Making no attempt to hold back the reaction, the vampire let the primal urges surface within. There was no outward indication except the dark intensity of his eyes, but that was more than enough for Cordelia to see that she was pushing the limits.
A low sound rumbled from the depths of his chest, so soft that it was barely above a breath. After an endless moment, Angel ground out, “Don’t make me move you.”
Angry, Cordelia merely narrowed her gaze refusing to give in to his demand. In the next instant she was lifted up and tossed into the center of the bed. And before she could even untangle her legs from the long silk nightgown, he was next to her, over her and holding her down with nothing more than the heavy weight of his stare.
Cordelia’s arms were raised at an angle, resting on the pillow near her head. He was leaning above her, his weight balanced on his hands which were on either side of her chest. Close, but not touching. Just like his lips coming down toward hers. Close, but not touching.
“What’s next?” Cordelia panted the question as her breathing came too fast to sound calm. “Is this where Neanderthal Vamp ravishes me? Pfft! So not impressed with the technique, Lancelot.”
Did Cordelia know how close she was to ravishment? She was so fucking close and smelled so damned good. There was no hint of her earlier fear, just the natural scent of her skin, hair, blood and liquid arousal. Maybe it was not her choice to react the way she did to his presence, but Angel knew she felt it.
“That name may apply to certain aspects, Cor,” he told her leaning in so that his tumescent penis pressed against her from hip to thigh, “but it’s not the name you should be using.”
Lancelot? What was— oh? Cordelia felt heat bloom in her chest spreading up to her cheeks. She wondered if Queen Guinevere realized her knight might have been named for something other than the big lance used for his jousting contests.
“Egomaniac,” Cordelia grumbled glaring upward.
Not to be sidetracked, Angel decided he was fed up with her game of denial. “Tell me who I am, Cordelia. Use my name. I want to hear it on your lips.”
“Clarence.” She smirked defiantly, otherwise holding still beneath him.
“Try again, sweetheart.”
“Not what I want to hear.”
Angel’s mouth twitched at one corner. A deep timbre sounded in his voice as he said, “You are incorrigible, but you’re not going to win this one. If it’s not going to be my name on your lips, it will simply be my lips on yours.”
With infinitesimal slowness, Angel moved closer to claiming her mouth with his own. Cordelia watched him lean in, torn between remaining obstinate just for the sake of it while wanting to avoid the intimate touch of his mouth. Hesitating just a fraction too long, Cordelia prepared to speak her mind only to provide an open invitation to his kiss.
Though vivid memory provided knowledge of Cordelia in all her intimate glory, there was no substitute for experiencing the real thing. Angel had kissed Cordelia twice already, both times close-mouthed and far too brief. She moaned a protest, a soft disgruntled moue, into his mouth as his cool lips pressed down upon hers shaping them to meet his own.
His tongue flicked across Cordelia’s lower lip tasting the delicate flesh of her inner lip and darting gently to tease the tip of her tongue as it moved responsively against his. Lowering himself to the mattress, Angel turned her body to fit to his running a hand down her spine to the curves of her buttocks. His soft kisses continued to coax a response until finally Cordelia’s arms settled around his shoulders and her hands dug into his hair.
From there the kiss became heated with the thrust and parry of their tongues and the heady moans of their desire sounding from their throats. Angel took her tongue into his mouth sucking gently feeling her entire body react. Pulling back, he pressed a series of butterfly kisses along her jaw down to her throat.
“Want you so much, baby,” he confessed the obvious as he moved his mouth to her ear.
A soft shudder of pleasure left a wave of tingles behind along with an aching need that centered deep within her. Cordelia splayed her hands across his muscular back holding him to her aching breasts and feeling their pebbled tips crushed against him. With a shaky sigh, she sounded out his name uncertain of what she was asking for, “Angel.”
“Say it again.” His topaz gaze held hers for a moment before he attended to the other side of her neck providing it equal attention with those tender caresses.
“Angel,” Cordelia repeated, her heavy-lidded eyes staring down at the hard male body wrapped in her embrace.
In the back of her mind, Cordelia knew Angel was making a point. At the same time he was kissing her again knowing exactly how she liked it, exactly how to make her respond. He kissed with a combination of power and gentility drawing her response like a moth to a flame.
Murmuring against her soft swollen lips, “My full name, Cordelia. Acknowledge me.”
Cordelia’s eyes snapped open meeting his with a last hint of defiance. Saying it meant accepting reality and she wasn’t certain she was ready for that. Whispering her answer, Cordelia told him, “No.”
“You will, sweetheart,” Angel cupped her face with one hand to caress her cheek with his thumb. “I promise you that you will. Even if it’s not today.”
Silent, Cordelia had already used up the last vestige of her defiance. So she was very fortunate when the vampire suddenly backed off and settled them both on the bed. Left with feelings of surprise and confusion, Cordelia asked, “You’re going to sleep now?”
A wave of relief warred with her arousal as he commented, “I promised you no sex until you were ready. Are you trying to tell me that you are?”
“That’s what I thought,” Angel told her. It was a frustrating as hell realization, but it was one he was willing to admit. He remained almost painfully erect. “Just hold still for a while.”
Pfft! Easy for him to say. Cordelia watched in amazement over the next ten minutes as Angel’s body slowly shut down. She knew precisely when he fell asleep despite the fact that there were no outward signs.
Looking at him like this with his eyes shut blocked out the signs she normally read that told her who she was seeing. Like this, she might easily mistake him for Angel or Angelus. Her body obviously responded like it didn’t know the difference, but then it never had. Physical compatibility wasn’t an issue, but considering this vampire had the depth of experience that he did including personal knowledge of her that came as no surprise.
Both, but neither, Cordelia thought over the words. Her fingers reached up to softly touch his face. Could the Moirae be any more cryptic?
Just how much of her mate remained within him, she wondered. Was it possible that Giles was right about Angel being a true hybrid of both vampires? Did that make this vampire someone she needed to love or was he really just a stranger? The way he alternately called her baby or sweetheart dredged up memories of Angelus and Angel using those endearments. This new guy clearly didn’t think twice about it and simply called her by those names as naturally as he called her Cordelia.
The heavy weight of Angel’s arm was wrapped around her waist and his dark head pillowed against her breast as he slept. He felt so good. So familiar. Cordelia hated the feeling because in her mind it smacked of betrayal.
Adeptly extracting herself from the vampire’s embrace, Cordelia edged off the bed and trekked into the bathroom. She couldn’t stay with him like that. Not without thinking of Angelus. Not without thinking of Angel. Not without acutely feeling their loss despite the fact that this vampire was here and in her bed.
Cordelia stripped off her nightgown leaving it in a heap on the floor. Turning on the water, she stepped into the shower hoping to wash away her guilt. If only it was that easy. Methodically, she washed her hair and scrubbed herself with a loofah. Then she found herself standing there with nothing to do but get out and get on with whatever needed to be done.
The hot spray of the shower had cooled slightly, but the beads of water spraying her suddenly seemed to pelt her skin eliciting the release of emotions she had bottled up since awakening that morning. Angelus! Angel! She’d never know them individually again. There was nothing to mourn. Not even dust.
Out in the bedroom, Angel awakened with a start, his acute vampire senses hearing the muffled sounds of sobbing emanating from the bathroom. Instantly aware that it had to be Cordelia, he leapt out of bed striding toward the closed door. Pausing for a moment, he wondered if he should let her have some time alone. It took only the next shaky cry to have him discard that notion.
Angel let the door swing open, walking in and seeing the steam clouding the shower stall. It obscured his view of Cordelia and he could not tell from here just how bad things were based upon the sound of her sobs. He knew the cause for her tears just as he figured they would eventually come. She had been crying a bit when Rupert Giles showed up, but it wasn’t really the catharsis she needed.
He couldn’t stand her crying alone feeling the need to be there to comfort her. So without further delay, Angel opened the shower door and stepped inside. She let out a gasp staring at him in shock and perhaps confusing his reason for being there. At least until she looked in his eyes and saw only concern written across his handsome features.
Cordelia hesitated a moment before stepping forward into his space, the warm water now sluicing over them both. He wrapped her up in the safe comfort of his arms and held her quaking body as the tears continued to fall. Standing there for an untold amount of time, Angel waited for a sense that Cordelia was through the worst of it.
Turning off the water, he led her out of the shower. Cordelia still appeared to be in a state of shock. Speechless and staring. Never a good sign with her, he knew. With efficient and gentle moves, Angel toweled her off and bundled her in her own terry cloth bathrobe. Taking his time fluffing her hair so she wouldn’t get cold, he even combed out the tangles. Cordelia mutely watched as he dried himself off tossing the towel onto the top of the hamper.
“C’mon, let’s get you back to bed.” Angel felt her arms come up around his shoulders as he lifted her into his arms. While there was a distinct possibility that Cordelia was clinging to him simply out of a need for comfort, he wondered if there was an inkling of acceptance.
Gently depositing her in the bed, Angel climbed in behind her tucking the covers around them both. Soft sniffles replaced the alternating sobs and periods of dead silence. He spooned his body against her pulling Cordelia into the safe harbor of his arms. She stiffened against him, making Angel realize comfort was not so simple when you were the reason for the angst and pain. Worse, the idea that you could be jealous of yourself.
“I can’t bring them back to you,” Angel spoke quietly with his head resting on the pillow next to hers, “but I promise that I will do my best to love and protect you. I don’t know what the Moirae have in store for me, but I want you by my side. Always.”
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