47: Working it Out
Chapter 47: Working it Out
After double-checking her watch, Willow opened the door to the girl’s bathroom and entered with a casual stride. At least she hoped it looked casual instead of contrived. If Cordelia found out that she’d been checking up on her there would be no end to hearing about it.
Willow already had enough of the minion accusations, though she had to marvel at the fact that once again she’d been called in to help clean up the mess. Technically, she supposed this was Cordy’s first fight with her new mate. The one with Angelus and Angel really didn’t count except as a memory.
While this one didn’t have Cordy dressed in leather and covered in whipped cream, a thought that still left Willow with a strange feeling, she had a hunch that it was going to be harder to fix what these two screwed up. As long as this little encounter was sans Cordelia’s Naked Angel Theory, Willow figured she’d make it out okay.
After all, Willow bucked herself up for the idea of confronting Cordelia, I’m a friendly type person and friendly type people look out for their friends. Even when one of those friends picked on a certain someone in kindergarten, elementary school, junior high, and most of Freshman Year.
Then nodding at her own silent assessment of the situation, Willow added, Even when a certain other friend once killed helpless little fishies and that same someone’s favorite teacher after losing his soul, later broke up with her best friend and fell in love with her arch nemesis.
Especially if that whipped creamy nemesis is the very same person who picked on her in kindergarten, elem— well, a friend just has to overlook all of that if the friends belong together and are stubborn or trying to ignore their own feelings or need some advice.
Not that Willow thought herself an expert on vampire-cheerleader relationships. If having an opinion was worth anything, she had plenty of those to dole out.
She could hear Cordelia’s voice inside and since no one had gone in or out in the past few minutes, Willow was curious to find out who the other teenager was talking to. She found her leaning against the countertop staring into the wall-sized mirror as she prattled away…to herself?
Willow didn’t see anyone else in the room. Since there were no Manolo Blahniks showing beneath the stall doors, she figured Harmony and the rest of the crew weren’t bonding over talk of lipstick, hair products or Brad Pitt. Lost in thought, she didn’t catch onto what Cordelia was saying until the brunette caught sight of her in the mirror and whirled to face her.
The trademark megawatt grin instantly appeared. “Willow. Hello there. Looks like you caught me.”
“I did?” Something dangerous? Something Angelus won’t like? Something I won’t like?
“Practicing my lines for drama class,” Cordelia’s grin stretched a little too far.
“Oh,” commented Willow with interest. What other line would Cor spin?
“Guess that’s enough,” Cordelia laughed. “Already star material. Who needs practice anyway?”
“You don’t have to go!” rushed Willow. How was she supposed to help if Cordelia was running off to wherever?
Cordelia paused on her way out the door. “Why? Need someone to hold your hand while you pee?”
The eye-roll suggested she needed to come up with something quickly or else Cordy would be out of there. Setting her school books down on the countertop, Willow told her, “No. Just here to wash my hands. That’s not against the law. Don’t even need help to do it, either. I just thought we could, y’know, talk.”
Letting the door swing shut again after she had already opened it, Cordelia sent the redhead a hard stare. Since when had she and Willow ever ‘talked’ before? Never! Not unless it had to do with the Scoobies, magick or Angelus and Angel. Narrowing down the possibilities in a matter of seconds, she waited for the witch to reveal the purpose of her mission.
Cordelia’s irritation level increased at a subtle rate during the pause before she walked back toward the sinks and met Willow’s gaze in the mirror. If Willow wanted to play the game, then she better be ready for it.
Taking in a deep breath of courage, Willow talked off the top of her head trying to steer Cordelia into revealing her feelings for the vampire. Ten minutes later, Cordy left the girl’s bathroom with Willow none-the-wiser about Angel and focused entirely on another subject.
Oz had suggested Willow not get him anything for Christmas since the Rosenbergs didn’t celebrate it, but she wanted to anyway and had been stumped for ideas. Until Cordelia, shopping expert that she was, rattled off a whole list of suggestions that left her head spinning with the possibilities.
She was really grateful to Cordelia for the advice.
There was a perky smile on Willow’s face for several minutes until she finally realized that Cordelia completely turned her interrogation around. Whining, Willow muttered, “I’ve been bamboozled. Next time, Angelus, you can ask your own stupid questions.”
Cordelia entered the study to find Angel dropping the cordless phone back into its base. There were two possibilities, she figured. Her mother, who’d taken an interest in making her ‘future son-in-law’ feel like part of the family— a fact that had Cordy reeling considering the fact that the Chases weren’t exactly family-oriented to begin with— or a certain redheaded do-gooder.
Going with her instincts, Cordelia raised a brow as she walked over to the couch, “Did Willow have anything interesting to report?”
“No,” he answered automatically. “Um…how did you know that was Willow?”
“Wild guess.” The sarcasm in her voice told Angel that the witch had left out a few details of their conversation. Namely that Cordelia knew what she was up to all along. “Do I even have to tell you how much I hate her spying act?”
Cringing inwardly, Angel commented, “It wasn’t spying exactly.”
The description was not complimentary to himself or Willow. “Hey!”
“Pfft! Don’t pretend that it wasn’t your idea. It took me all of three seconds to figure out Willow’s agenda.”
“I’ve been worried about you ever since our talk.”
Cordelia saw no reason not to call it what it was. Correcting him, “Fight.”
“I thought you might open up t—”
“To Willow?” She had to gape at that one. “Are you delusional?”
“Probably, since I’m deluded enough to love you,” he smiled mockingly.
After staring at her polished fingernails for a few seconds, she lifted her gaze again. The hurt shone in her eyes as she said, “I can’t change my feelings overnight, Angel, but I’m not asking you to stop caring.”
Angel thought that was a given. “You’re becoming my obsession, sweetheart. That’s not something either of us need.”
Frankly, Cordelia wasn’t certain what she wanted. Only that whatever it was that it included him. “I thought I was supposed to be Obsesso-Girl. That it was me lusting after you.”
“It works both ways.”
“Glad you realize it,” her voice altered from its defensive tone. Confusion set in as she asked, “What do we do? I meant what I said— I’m trying. I even thought we were getting somewhere.”
“We skipped a few steps.” Angel blamed himself for that. He’d pushed her when she wasn’t ready.
Cordelia was still smarting from the impact of his words during their argument. The unflattering comparison to Angel’s doomed relationship with Buffy made her realize just how foolish she’d been. Though it pained her to mention it, Cordelia swallowed down her doubts before suggesting, “Maybe we just need a little space.”
“How much?” Angel asked after moment’s hesitation. He stepped up on his side of the couch so that his knees pressed into the cushions just before making it clear, “You’re not moving out.”
Surprised, she gripped the back of the couch wondering if he thought that was some kind of option. Leaving him hadn’t even occurred to her. “No. We just need some boundaries.”
Taking a glance at the space between them with the couch a solid barrier, Angel saw a little irony in her choice of words. He’d accused Cordelia of having a cage around her heart. What was this suggestion if not another way of crawling behind that shield she’d set up to keep him out? “Aren’t there enough walls built up between us?”
Cordelia felt the stab of those words. “These aren’t walls, Angel. Just rules. A pact between us to make something good come out of this.”
“You think it’s possible?” That mocking twist of his mouth returned.
There was such a look of doom and gloom on his handsome face that Cordelia had another flashback of the days of Buffy and Angel. “I’m not running away from this and I don’t want you pouting in the dark because you don’t get your way.”
As his mouth dropped back into a firm line, Angel had to give Cordelia credit for keeping him guessing. “I don’t pout.”
“No, you just go out and kill everything in sight,” she commented knowingly. Leaning forward with her weight on her hands, Cordelia subconsciously gravitated closer.
Grunting in agreement, he waited for the details of her suggestion. Though taking a step back to reassess their relationship might not be a bad idea, Angel was not at all happy with thoughts of creating any kind of rules that might inadvertently increase the distance between them. There was too much emotional baggage to sift through and it had already come crashing down on top of them.
“Angelus was more than just my lover and I was more than just a vampire’s mate,” Cordelia reminded him with a sad little smile that barely lifted the corners of her mouth. She knew her words would dredge up those memories because they were the only thing she could think of to make him understand what she needed. “We were friends. I know that he’s a part of you, Angel. That you remember what it was like between us.”
The vampire nodded silently, his hands already buried in his pants pockets hiding his curled up fists.
Cordelia noted the complete lack of movement on Angel’s part. No visible hint of a reaction after that simple nod. “We’d do things together. Fun things. Romantic things. Surprisingly, not all of them ended up with the two of us against a wall or a refrigerator or a tree.”
A hint of a growl sounded in the air.
“Is that all you have to say?” Cordelia was doing her best to open up to him about her relationship with Angelus and all the guy could do was growl? Curling up her fingers in the air like a pair of sharp claws, she parodied his response. “Grr?”
“The truth bites.”
“Yeah,” she had to agree. “It bit me on the ass yesterday. I hated you for a minute. Less than that, no more than a few seconds, really. Until I realized you were right. I’ve been using you.”
Having stalled back on the hating part, Angel reeled at the confession. His thoughts must’ve been showing in his eyes because Cordelia quickly warned him, “Don’t you go all broody on me. You’re not a substitute for anyone if that’s what has you looking so glum.”
What could he say to that except, “I’m not broody.”
“Pfft! Yeah, right,” Cordelia’s patented eye-roll followed. “Pull the other one. I can’t pretend that I haven’t had a hard time with you being here instead of Angelus. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.”
Angel’s jaw tightened, but he said nothing. It wasn’t news to him.
“I loved him, and I know that I shouldn’t have to tell you that, but I do because I need you to hear it.” Her eyes pleaded understanding. “Angelus is a part of you and the part of me that recognizes that wants to reach out and never let you go.”
Did they have to rehash this again? Angel watched warily as Cordelia skirted the couch, now standing arms reach away. It drew her scent closer to him, that intoxicating mix of cinnamon, sunshine, and woman. He soaked up her presence and her words, silently contemplating both.
Cordelia licked at her lips, watching for a reaction to what she’d said. It bothered him in some way, she gathered from the stoic response. Well, he’d love hearing this. Not. “Making love to y—.”
He broke in with a swift correction, “For you, it’s just sex. Don’t make it out to be something more.”
The crude distinction left a sour taste in Cordelia’s mouth. She found there was no defense against it and could only say, “I want it to be more than that.”
Angel silently cursed himself for not holding back his anger. He couldn’t manage to compartmentalize his feelings anymore. Not about this. Not about her. His fingertips brushed across Cordelia’s cheek as he told her, “I keep saying the wrong things.”
“No, don’t you see? It’s just the truth.” Cordelia admitted as she took a step closer placing her palm on his chest. There was no heartbeat beneath her hand, but she could not doubt the fact that he loved her. For now. “I want to love you, but— what if I can’t?”
That question sounded as a whisper, but that thread of doubt remained. Her heart had been so tied up in Angelus until his brother crept his way into her affections. It still came as a shock, thinking that she loved them both. Pulled into Angel’s arms, she curled her arms around his waist, her face pressed up against the muscular wall of his chest.
Was she so fickle that she could give her heart to someone else. Again. So soon? Even if the vampire holding her in his arms was basically another version of the man she loved? It wasn’t that simple. Cordelia wished that it was so easy, but love could not be forced.
“We’ll start again, sweetheart,” Angel answered softly with determination. “As much as it pains me to admit it, maybe your idea about a few ground rules is a good one.”
Taking hold of her shoulders, he stepped back so that he could see her face and felt surprised at the hope and determination that shone in her eyes.
Now it had been eight days since they made their pact. Eight days of frustration and withdrawal from their habit of working out all of their issues on a physical level. The first night, they had determined Angel would sleep in the second story bedroom, but they hadn’t counted on another nightmare. After that, Angel refused to let her sleep alone.
The actual sleeping wasn’t difficult with their parade ground of a bed. It was actually the waking up that made it difficult to remember they were trying to focus on being something more than just lovers. No matter how close to the edge of the bed they started out, both of them gravitated to the middle and into each other’s arms by the next morning.
They agreed that their morning kiss could remain in place as long as things didn’t get out of hand. Neither of them wanted to miss out on that little ritual of intimacy. Their temporary abstention from everything else was designed to let them focus on the other aspects of their relationship. Unfortunately, it was as difficult as they both imagined it to be.
“Jesus, Cordelia,” the vampire let out a low moan as her firm buttocks inadvertently brushed across his groin. Angel stood behind her, his hands now grasping her hips to keep them slightly apart. “I told you training wasn’t a very good idea.”
“You’re not getting out of this one,” Cordelia glanced at him over her shoulder. “Not unless you want me to become demon chow one day. I can stick with the Bait Girl act, but I’d prefer to know how to protect myself.”
Angel hated the idea of bringing Cordelia on patrol. Even if she’d been out there on many occasions fighting vampires and demons with the Scooby Gang. Being in love with her made a huge difference in how he assessed situations and reacted to the existing threats.
“I’ll protect you,” he assured her knowing there was no way he would keep her at home barring following through with his threat of tying her to the bed.
He knew she would make a scene about it with Rupert and Buffy just has she had promised, but neither he didn’t want to turn something potentially as fun as using those silk scarves into a situation that might make her hate him for it.
“Hello! You’ll be fighting the Big Bad the next time an apocalypse decides to come to town. I don’t want you so focused on me that you get hurt, or worse, that we all end up sucked into some hell dimension.”
“I’ve done that,” Angel quipped. “Not really wanting to repeat that experience.”
“Good. Now when do I get to play with your sword?” Cordelia asked him eagerly.
Groaning at the turn of phrase, Angel focused on what she really meant to ask, “Letting you play with sharp objects is not on the list for a while. Besides, Cor, it’s practice not playing.”
“Potato, po-tah-to, Angel,” she rolled her eyes. Turning to face him, Cordelia put her hands on her hips to make her case. “Same thing.”
On a number of levels, training Cordelia was as frustrating as it was enlightening and entertaining. She claimed an ability to learn moves after one demonstration thanks to her cheerleading experience and Angel had been impressed to see that she was not exaggerating. Cordelia possessed the balance, flexibility and body awareness of a dancer or athlete which made her introduction to the martial arts an almost innate process.
Angel actually enjoyed the hours they spent here in the basement, although in the back of his mind he could recall making love to her for the first time right there on the thick blue pads on the floor. Those memories made their close proximity during practice sessions hard to bear.
Hard being a word that applied in more than one sense, he thought ruefully.
While keeping his hands from doing things to her that his body was screaming at him to do, Angel tried to maintain a calm veneer. Still, he relished every single touch.
“The day you have me flat on my back during one of these sessions, Cor, we’ll move beyond the basics,” he promised.
Cordelia’s eyes sparkled. “It doesn’t take a drop kick to have you on your back.”
Those deep brown eyes melted into her, but Angel chose not to respond to Cordelia’s automatic sensual tease. That had gotten more common in the past few days. From both of them. The things he’d whispered in her ear at last night’s Scooby meeting certainly had them both distracted from the research.
Only the scrutinizing gaze of Rupert Giles kept Angel from dragging Cordelia off into a dark corner of the library to drown her in kisses.
Hell, at one point he could have cared less about the dark corner. She was his mate. She belonged to him. He had every right in the world to kiss her when and where he pleased and that included doing it right there at the table.
Then reality set in when Xander caught him staring lustfully at Cordelia’s profile and asked, “Need me to get the fire extinguisher?”
Angel had only glared at Xander before moving over to his old spot on the stairs. It put some distance between himself and Cordelia while offering him a better view of her beautiful face at the same time. He didn’t miss the smile that teased at her lips or the sparkle in her eyes as she stole glances at him from across the room.
The knowledge that Cordelia was thinking about what he’d said to her while also obviously enjoying the direction of those thoughts allowed Angel to relax and get down to the business of the evening… demon research.
That teasing glint was back now tempting him into throwing caution to the wind and just taking her the way he wanted. Angel gave himself a moment to enjoy the sexy images that tumbled through his head, but pushed temptation aside. The stakes in this were too high to allow passion to get in the way. They both knew it, settling for this dangerous game of flirtation
The research project had kept them up so late that Cordelia was exhausted by the time they got home to the mansion. Angel was grateful despite his own frustration. Though part of him wanted nothing more than to forget all about their little pact and just continue with his original plan to bind Cordelia to him in the one certain way that he could, Angel wanted more. Cordelia did too, so she said. That was enough to keep him on the straight and narrow.
While Angel admitted to himself that physical intimacy wasn’t the end all be all of a relationship, it certainly had it’s place. Considering the downfall of his relationship with Buffy and the fact that sex had not only once, but twice ruined what they had together, he figured it should be easy to give it a rest.
While not celibate during his long years of virtual solitude after the curse, he’d never found it difficult to suppress his lust when he wanted too. Until recently, apparently. The difference was having someone you really wanted in your life and being denied her.
He blamed the influence of his demon for the breakup with Buffy. They were natural enemies trying to find a connection that expressed the emotions they’d felt at one time. It didn’t matter that it was just the part of him that was Angel that experienced that failure.
It left a bad taste in Angel’s mouth. No matter how he looked at it, the memories were still his.
Being with Cordelia was an entirely different set of issues. There was no ancient demon-slayer dynamic to blame. There was no single part of himself to point at and accuse of causing trouble.
Not even Angelus. How could he blame him when it was that part of him who won Cordelia’s heart in the first place?
Not Angel. The friendship that had blossomed into something more gave him hope for the same.
Not even Liam whose licentiousness might be the root cause of the lust that welled up between them. He felt certain that it was Liam’s humanity and potential for love that made any of this even possible.
They were all a part of who he was and Angel needed Cordelia to understand that. To love him because of it or even in spite of it.
He opened up the curtains and Venetian blinds allowing the moonlight to filter in through the windows. It fell across the bed in soft beams lighting up the smooth surface of Cordelia’s skin caressing the curves of her face as she slept. Angel took his sketchbook and pencils from the nightstand drawer and sitting down in the bedside chair, he sketched her with loving skillful strokes upon the page.
Two hours passed before Angel paused to look back through his sketchbook. He’d drawn Cordelia in a number of poses, not just the position she’d curled into in the bed. A smile played over his mouth at the captured memories, until the sound of her sudden moaning broke his concentration.
Angel’s eyes darted to the bed. Fear. It was so strong that it hung like a cloud in the room. She squirmed against the sheets as if trying to escape something. He was off of the chair within the space of a second, at her side, taking her hand in his while wondering if he should wake her.
A glance at the clock brought a frown to his face. Two seventeen. Could it be just a coincidence? Was it just Cordelia’s normal sleep cycle that caused her nightmares to come to a climax at the same time on any given night? Before he could try to come up with an answer, Cordelia sat up in the bed screaming his name.
Breathing hard, Cordelia found herself caught up in Angel’s arms. His soothing voice sounded in her ear, reassuring her, “I’m here. I’m here.”
“No,” she whispered back while clutching at him. Still feeling like she was trapped in the dreamscape, Cordelia listened to the echo of her own voice. “No, you’re not.”
Cordelia’s nightmares caused Angel as much heartache as they seemed to terrify her during their increasingly frequent occurrences. She remembered more each time the dream came, but seemed to talk about it less. The more Angel heard, the more he felt the Watcher was right. He had to wonder if it was even his name that she was crying out. It could be the other Angel, his other self, just as it could be Angelus she was missing. After all, it was Angelus who was no longer here.
Helpless against it all, Angel could only provide meager comfort and hope that soon the nightmares would fade away.