2: Paint, Ink & Eye Candy
Paint, Ink, and Eye Candy
Back in the sixties or fifties or some other long forgotten decade the owners of the street level businesses upstairs had restructured the old storage spaces within the brick building into apartments. In a perfect world, Cordelia Chase would never even consider moving into a partially furnished basement sublet with no windows, an entry adjoining a parking garage, and a broody vampire living next door.
Better the vampire you know, she thought, trying to stay focused on the positive like her newest Self-Help book had suggested. Besides, she could not afford to be choosy. The modeling money she had made when she first arrived in L.A. was pretty much gone and since her talent agent—for some bizarre reason that was totally his loss— was no longer taking her calls, she needed other options until she could find the resources to jumpstart her acting career. This new job as an associate of Angel Investigations came along at just the right time even if she did have to create it herself.
Today was Saturday, an official day off where she could devote some time to fixing up the apartment. Cordelia glanced around the living room to confirm that the furniture was completely covered. An interior designer might be totally out of the question, but she could certainly afford a new coat of paint in a color that did not resemble a dingy shade of cement grey.
Having called Doyle to give him a list of supplies to gather, he warned her about the potential for interruptions. “My visions don’t exactly schedule themselves Monday through Friday.”
“Let’s hope no one needs saving until tomorrow,” she quipped. “But if they do or if a paying customer happens to come by I will totally put my plans on hold.”
“Very generous of you.”
“I know, right?”
Now that the living room was ready, she moved into the bedroom to clear out the mess. Cardboard boxes of dental supplies haphazardly covered the top of the mattress. They were light enough to move out of the way without help. She carried them through the sliding door connecting her apartment to Angel’s and piled them up on the kitchen table planning to get him to haul them up the freight elevator.
Cordelia paused at the door on the way back noting that it was kind of an eyesore. Made of rusty old metal it had been left in place rather than walled over. Totally ugly, but convenient, Cordelia was happy it was there. Angel’s apartment had a stairway that led up to the office. She could easily use it instead of going all the way around the building to get to work.
The bed would not budge, so she opted for moving the nightstand out of the way. Much easier, except—, “Oh no!” The lamp on top teetered dangerously. She moved quickly, but missed it crashing into the lampshade. It buckled between her and the wall as the ceramic shell shattered against the dove grey cement. “Ack! Ow!”
“What happened?” Angel’s sudden arrival startled her nearly as much as the fall.
Just what she needed—a witness to this fiasco. Not! Guessing that his bedroom must be on the opposite side of the wall from hers, Cordelia figured he heard her cry out and had charged over for the chivalrous rescue, albeit a late one.
Face planted on the floor, one foot trapped between the bed frame and the mattress, and ass in the air, she had to look ridiculous. “Oh, just doing a little yoga,” she quipped from her awkward position. Yanking her tennis shoe free, Cordelia managed to scramble back to her feet before bothering to look in Angel’s direction.
Concern cracked his voice, “You’re bleeding.” He was at her side almost instantly checking for the source.
Cordelia turned at his touch, preparing to comment that it was not a big deal when she realized that he was not wearing a stitch of clothing. “You’re naked!” she yelped almost comically trying to look anywhere but down.
She made an intense study of his Adam’s apple while Angel’s hands set her to rights, his fingers plucking at the tiny bits of ceramic caught in her hair and her denim overalls.
The slightest touch was making her tremble and she was pretty certain that Angel was not going to buy the idea that it was just adrenalin from the fall. “Um, I think I’ll live. Maybe you should, ah…”
“Found it,” Angel’s hand curled around her left arm and pulled her forward just enough to see the oozing scrape across her shoulder. A tiny wound half hidden by the dislodged strap was smeared red with blood. He scooped the strap back into place covering up the silk camisole she was wearing underneath before his thumb closed over her superficial wound. “A little pressure should do the trick.”
Cordelia’s instinct was to reach out for support and when she caught herself doing so she jerked her hands back to her sides. No telling what she might accidentally touch. Those oh, so broad shoulders were safely out of the way, as was his smooth chest with the nice pecs, but the long bare plane of his taut abdomen was well within touching distance. Her eyes followed the tempting trail of her thoughts slipping across hard angles and smooth skin until she found a tantalizing trail of hair leading down from his navel to a thicker patch below.
Catching her lower lip between her teeth, Cordelia bit back the urge to say something, but her mind was reeling at the notion that Angel was even more gorgeous head to toe than anything her high school fantasies had dreamt up. Even that part of him was impressive while at rest, not that she was an expert in that department, but Angel was more than just an average guy.
The weight of his stare raised the hairs on the back of her neck. Of course he had noticed her looking. Before she lifted her gaze back to his, it seemed that his loins were stirring to life, looking fuller, longer, and harder than a moment ago. Cordelia hastily swiped her tongue across her lips, suddenly dry-mouthed at the thought of coming up with a decent explanation for staring.
Angel did not look panicky at all. If anything the glint in his nearly black eyes suggested he was amused as well as aroused by the way she had checked him out. He certainly had nothing to be embarrassed about. Nor did he make any effort to hide the fact that he was getting hard. Guess he had gotten over the shy stage a long time ago. She remembered how he had come to his door dripping wet and wearing only a towel when she needed a place to stay.
Realizing that it was not her fault he charged in buck naked, she decided that she did not need an explanation for her actions. “Not that I mind the eye candy, but you should probably put that thing away.” A quip was the plan, but her words came out a little breathlessly. Her cheeks flamed. Cordelia tried to look away, but his hand caught her jaw gently tilting her face up.
The amusement in his eyes faded as his words took on a serious tone. “Relax. You’re safe.”
After a millisecond of disappointment, Cordelia realized that it would be stupid to want something to happen. “Glad to hear it,” she quipped trying to sound just as nonchalant about his nudity.
Angel’s thumb crested back and forth across the curve of her shoulder now smeared with a thin layer of blood. He seemed surprised that he had done more than try to stop the bleeding. The movement had the opposite effect causing the wound to weep more profusely despite its small size. His expression darkened with all too obvious desires and something she was not sure she wanted to acknowledge.
Her nervousness vanished as her instincts kicked into gear. This was not something to ignore, especially since their relationship already had its complications. Trust had its limits and she just wanted to know where things stood. “So…” she tried keeping her tone light. “Are you turned on because of me or the blood?”
Lifting his hand away from her skin, Angel moved it between them so close to her face that for an instant she imagined he planned to smear the blood across her lips or maybe his own. Freak. Yet, her lips tingled with anticipation parting on a gasp of fear as he drew closer. Instinctively she lifted her hands to hold him off. His skin was cold against her palms and the instant she pressed them against his chest, he jerked back, staring with a mystified, almost accusing look on his face as if he had just realized what he was doing and blamed her.
He stood far enough back that she got a good look, and despite the slightly creepy feeling that he wanted both her and her blood, Cordelia’s body buzzed in response. Her nipples tightened into aching points against the silk cami, fortunately hidden by the thicker layer of denim, as she watched Angel slowly drag his tongue across his bloodied thumb.
“Guess that answers that. Waste not, want not?”
There was a hard, clipped tone as he answered, “I’m a vampire, Cordelia. What do you think?”
It seemed like he was deliberately trying to scare her. Sex and blood were kind of a matched set, she supposed, gulping at the idea, and suddenly feeling like this was a test she was supposed to pass. Spine straight, her chin tilted up a notch, “My apartment. My rules. There is a reason those things are called privates.”
Grabbing one of the folded sheets piled up on the bare mattress, she tossed it his way, and Angel showed mercy by covering up his now rampant erection. He cupped it there for a second letting out a restrained low moan at the sensation as the soft sheet and the pressure of his hand made contact. Getting it together, he explained, “I thought you were hurt. Clothing didn’t seem like a priority.”
“Don’t you sleep in boxers?” Cordelia was legitimately confounded. She had seen him in boxers, which had totally, or so she thought at the time, answered the Boxers, Briefs or Commando question that had been a hot topic amongst the Cordettes. Now he had thrown a new iron into the fire, so to speak. Even though she should be shooing him out of the room to get dressed this was one little tidbit that suddenly required an answer.
For first time he actually looked a little embarrassed, which only made her press him for a response. “Wait.” Her eyes narrowed as she reviewed the scenario, “If you sleep in the raw that means…” she let out a strangled little gasp, “you’ve been totally naked in the same bed I’ve slept in every night?”
Angel obviously did not feel the need to defend his sleeping habits. He pounced on her last question with a quick retort, “You’ve got a bed of your own now. You don’t need to worry about what I’m doing in mine.”
A rush of forbidden images flashed in her head making her cheeks feel hot. Fighting against the breath caught in her throat, she managed a soft denial. “Pfft! I’ve got to clean and paint first before I can actually move in. Duh!” Cordelia rolled her eyes and made a face at his ridiculous suggestion. It would be at least a day or two before the bedroom would be ready.
In that infuriatingly silent way of his Angel said nothing leaving her to wonder what was going on in that head. She couldn’t tell if he was ticked off that she was going to have to take another turn or two in his bed, if he was just busy willing his erection to go away, or if it was simple amusement over her embarrassing attempt at trying to save Dr Folger’s lamp.
Strands of hair had escaped its ponytail causing her to blow it away from her face. The denim overalls were part of her specially purchased apartment renovation wear. Their upturned cuffs were askew, one lodged halfway up her slender calf. More self-conscious about her appearance than the fact that Angel was standing there wearing a folded sheet, Cordelia wondered what he was thinking.
I’ve seen more graceful moves from a drunken hobo.
Buffy would never wear that.
Hmmm, shopping at Sears now, I see.
“Um, I didn’t mean to wake you,” she apologized pushing all things Sunnydale out of her head. “Not until I was ready for some help. Since you’re here you might as well put all that manly vampire strength to good use.”
There was that look again telling her that she was missing something obvious. “Oh, I’m not forgetting the fact that you’re still mostly naked, but the bed is right there. This won’t take long.”
Maybe it wasn’t the best time to use the words naked and bed in the same sentence when your very sexy, cursed vampire boss was only wearing a folded sheet across his sizable man parts. Cordelia tried not to think about that juxtaposition of ideas, but it was impossible not to do so.
Still, she had work to do and the only way to get it done was with Angel’s help. “Before you get back into bed I—”
Wryly, Angel cut in, “Oh, I think I’m up for the duration.”
Curious eyes dropped down to where his hand held the sheet in place. Up, he had said. “Yeah, I noticed. Maybe a cold shower will help with that little problem.” Adding with a quirked brow, “Not that it’s little.”
Angel chuckled a grim sound.
Even though she realized what he meant, Cordelia refused to be embarrassed about it. He didn’t seem to think much of it, which she figured was possibly just a vampire thing, but even way back in his human days a man that gorgeous would have to be pretty comfortable in his own skin. “Whatever. I need the bed moved for my painting project.”
Cordelia slid her hand along the rounded brass bed frame curling her fingers around it. “I tried to handle it myself, but I . . .” As if she had suddenly forgotten how to speak the words seemed to elude her as Angel moved closer and dropped the sheet back on the bare mattress freeing up both hands for the task of moving the heavy bed away from the wall.
A frisson of excitement shot through her at having him standing within touching distance. Incapable of turning her eyes away again Cordelia’s gaze drifted down his smooth torso, across the angles of his chest and down the plane of his abdomen. Her lashes lowered with the direction of her curiosity finding him still semi-erect, no longer rock hard.
Thoughts of returning him to that state painted a vivid picture as she wondered what he would feel like in her hand. Big, smooth and cool? A shaky sigh emerged unbidden from her throat catching his attention. Angel’s gaze grew more intense. He knew how her body was reacting to this. There was no hiding from those keen vampire senses.
When Angel’s hand closed over hers removing it from the brass railing it felt like a live wire had touched her. Jumping back, she gasped, “What are you doing?”
“Moving you out of the way,” Angel answered roughly as if he was not completely unaffected either.
Her frazzled brain wondered why, and then in the space of a blink Cordelia remembered that she had assigned him a task. “Right.”
Turning around only gave her a completely new view of his back and buttocks. Eye candy from every angle! Angel was the poster boy for hotness, except that there was nothing at all boyish about the way he looked and that was so much more appealing. Also just wrong. Hello, he was a vampire—a cursed one. Not to mention her boss, the notion of which, being honest with herself, did not really set off the same kind of warning bells as thoughts of Angelus.
The muscles in his shoulders and back rippled as he pulled at the bed frame making his tattoo dance across his pale skin. Someone once mentioned that Angel had a tattoo, probably Buffy, or maybe it was from the research the Watchers Council sent to Giles. One time when Angel was injured, Cordelia had caught a quick glimpse as he took off his shirt, but she had been too concerned about the ugly gouge in his chest to focus on it.
“What kind of bird is that?”
The bed thumped on the floor as Angel dropped it in place. For a moment he neither turned around nor gave her an answer. “It’s not a bird, exactly. It’s a griffin.”
Cordelia stepped closer to examine it, her fingers itching to trace the dark lines across his pale skin, somehow resisting that temptation. A mixture of eagle and lion features the creature’s claws framed the letter A.
Close enough that her warm breath brushed across his right shoulder blade when she responded, “Kind of a strange choice . . . a mythological beast on a vampire. Did you wander drunk into a tattoo parlor one night?”
The inked creature disappeared as Angel turned to face her. Not even thinking about his lack of clothing at this point, Cordelia craned her neck up to meet his dark gaze. He seemed reluctant to talk about it. There was so much about his past that she would never want to ask about, but this piqued her interest enough to momentarily forget that she was standing so close to a naked vampire.
“Tattoos aren’t always just for show. This one is personal.” Teasing a little, “The A is kind of a giveaway.”
Angel’s nostrils flared either in annoyance or amusement, but she was not quite sure. She did not know him well enough yet to read him like a book. With him, a scowl had twelve different meanings.
Finally, he unclenched his jaw to tell her, “A griffin’s symbolism represents a duality between vengeance and salvation. It seemed fitting.”
“Because you need saving or retribution?” Maybe all the glooming and dooming was not just about Buffy. He did have lots to brood about. Centuries worth, if she guessed it right. “Because of Angelus.”
Angel’s lids dropped down to shadow his eyes. He hesitated, but she waited out the silence, willing him to open up to her. Correcting her, his voice went deeper, darker than before. “No. Because of everything I have done as Angelus. All of the pain I’ve caused. You have no idea…”
Her hand cupped his cheek, and finally he looked into her eyes as she told him with all seriousness, ignoring his nudity, and focused only on the distress in his voice. “I know enough. This is your chance to—”
“What the devil!” Doyle’s arrival in the doorway was heralded by his shocked response to the sight before him. Snapping at Angel, “I am beginning to think you have an aversion to clothing.”
When Cordelia whirled around to face the seer, color brightening her cheeks and feeling a lot like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar, she griped, “Helloooooo, knuckles are for knocking. I do have a front door.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to rethink moving into that commune two streets over?” Doyle asked only half joking. “The naked chanting can’t be much different than this. You’re already half way there.”
Angel had already wrapped the sheet around his hips by the time he stepped out from behind Cordelia. “Naked chanting?” His brow quirked upward at the idea as he added, “Must have its benefits.”
Cordelia could not help but laugh over the whole situation even as Doyle ranted on about not wanting to make a habit of coming over to find random acts of nakedness. He started unpacking the brown paper bag he carried onto the bed, all items that he had been sent out to purchase. Removing a pair of men’s jeans and a blue work shirt, he handed them to Angel. “Here ya go, then. You might want to put these on sooner rather than later.”
Angel had stepped into the jeans and carefully zipped them up before pulling the sheet away. Before he could ask why Doyle was buying him clothing, Cordelia noticed the jeans fit perfectly. “Good. They fit.”
He put his arms into the shirtsleeves as Cordelia held it up for him. There was something unfathomable in his gaze when he glanced her way just before he shrugged the shirt into place. He left the buttons undone as they talked, not bothering to mess with them, and she ignored the urge to take up the task herself. That smooth patch of torso still showing was a distraction.
“Hope you don’t mind that I took a quick peek at your closet,” Cordelia said to Angel while walking over to make sure that Doyle had gotten everything else on her list. “Just to see if you had anything suitable. You’ve got some sweatpants that could’ve worked, but I thought these would be better.”
His closet provided a very interesting look into his psyche, all that black and dark grey. The tailored pants with designer labels, way in the back, ignored, but not discarded, flashes of velvet, red silk and butter-soft leather. Angel was either a hoarder, prepared to be wardrobe-ready in case of future soul loss, or secretly liked the more vibrant colors and textures his evil half seemed to prefer.
Angel did not look surprised that she had snooped. “I take it I am being conscripted to paint your apartment.”
Duh. Where else was she going to find cheap labor? Blood and demon goo had to be difficult enough to get out of his clothes. No need to add paint to the list.
“Doyle, too.” He was already dressed for it wearing similar jeans and a disgustingly tacky print shirt. Trying not to shudder at the sight, Cordelia started to explain that Angel had come to her rescue when she was moving the furniture around. “Dr. Folger’s lamp is like in a million tiny pieces. Do we have superglue?”
“Don’t worry about the lamp,” Angel interrupted them. “Clean up that wound while I finished getting dressed.”
The mention of a wound was enough to distract Doyle from assessing the irreparable damage to the ceramic lamp. Cordelia waved off his concern. “Oh, it’s nothing. Angel charged in here when I crashed into the wall.”
“All naked like,” Doyle commented sourly.
Now she could laugh about it, repeating his words only minus the adorable Irish accent, “All naked like. C’mon, you can help me finish covering up the furniture with these sheets.”
Angel had been headed out the bedroom door toward his own apartment when Cordelia’s words stopped him in his tracks. He was back at her side closely examining the sheet he had been using as a cover. Slowly, his gaze drifted in the direction of the living room. Marching those big, bare feet across the carpet, he braced his hands on the doorframe, looking as incredulous as if he had spotted one of those mythical griffins lounging on the sofa.
Stepping into the middle of the room, he turned back so that his focus fell directly on her. Enunciating every syllable, Angel sounded pretty pissed off, “Come in here, Cordelia.”
Curious as to what he was ticked off about, Cordelia let it slide that he didn’t say please. Surveying her earlier work, she saw nothing wrong. The furniture was properly covered.
“These are my sheets.”
Her eyes widened into saucers. “Oh, yes. True. I forgot to tell Doyle to bring drop cloths. I would have used my own sheets, but I left them behind in my old apartment. Who knows how many creepy crawlers touched them.”
Angel grabbed the edge of a top sheet holding it out for her inspection. “Egyptian cotton. 900 thread count,” he emphasized.
Fingering the soft blue fabric, Cordelia admitted to herself that it slipped her mind that Angel was picky about his sheets. “We don’t want to get paint on Dr Folger’s couch, do we?” Hello, she was just trying to save the furniture.
Angel stormed around the room gathering his sheets until the wild bundle reached his chin. He made brief eye contact with Doyle who responded with a nod and said, “I suppose I’ll just be off to pick up some proper drop cloths.”
“Good.” Angel headed back to his apartment at a fast pace.
Doyle shook his head, a smile on his face. “I’ll be back in a jiff. Try to keep your clothes on this time.”
“Wait a sec!” Cordelia grabbed the empty paper bag he thrust in her direction. “Just one little thing before you go.”
She was about to ask him to help Angel haul the boxes of dental supplies up to Dr Folger’s main storage area when the vampire’s voice called out to her again, “Cordelia, get your ass in here.”
Having let him off lightly for the first summons, Cordelia was not about to let him off so easily a second time in as many minutes. Shoving the crumpled bag back at Doyle, she stormed through the open connecting door into Angel’s apartment. She found him in the kitchen. “If anyone’s ass is going to get mentioned here, I don’t think it should be mine. What’s wrong now? I let you take your precious sheets.”
He nodded toward the piled up boxes on the table. “So? I was just about to ask you and Doyle to move them to the upstairs storage.”
Angel gritted his teeth. “Did it occur to you to ask first?”
“You rifled through my closet, used my kitchen table, and stole my sheets,” Angel groused.
“Fine. Be a jerk about it. No need to go territorial on me. I was just trying to get things started so you could get some sleep. Don’t you like the jeans?”
Angel’s eyes narrowed. “Sure,” he conceded that point albeit very begrudgingly.
What wasn’t to like when they cupped and grabbed and clung in all the right places, she thought smugly. Uh… “Right. That’s because they fit. Thanks to me checking on your size first. Plus, I’ve got stuff in the closet, too, so it’s not like I wasn’t already given permission to be there.”
His death grip on the sheets loosened a bit.
“Your kitchen table is closer to the freight elevator than mine. The boxes aren’t heavy, so they won’t scuff anything.”
The scowl seemed fractionally less scowly.
“What about the sheets?” Angel held the billowing pile up only to reel them back in as they threatened to fall out of his grasp. “First it was the peanut butter. . .”
Cordelia pressed her lips together to stop herself from grinning, but failed miserably. After the first laugh she couldn’t seem to stop. She kept on laughing until it hurt.
“Oh…snort…Angel you are so…bwah ha…such a dork . . . snarffle. . .ha!”
Panting breathlessly, Cordelia promised that she was not part of a plot to ruin his beloved sheets. Grabbing the loose edge of one sheet, still bundled up in his arms as he glowered silently, she gently swatted his chin.
“They are kind of awesome.” Nuzzling her cheek against it, she suddenly realized that she would have to buy new sheets for herself and the ones she could afford were not going to be anywhere near as nice as these.
“Angel, I don’t suppose I could borrow one of your extra sets for my bed?” He turned on his heel and swiftly walked away. “Hey, it was just a simple question! Oh, come on . . .”