4: All About Jude
All About Jude
“Don’t get all huffy about it,” Cordelia did not see why Angel was making such a big deal about such a little thing. “Neighbors borrow stuff all of the time.”
Geez, he was in a mood today. If anyone had the right to be grumpy, it would be her. Hangovers sucked. This was not the first time since coming to L.A. that Cordelia had more to drink than she should. Hollywood parties did not exactly require the use of her fake I.D. and getting buzzed made it easier to forget that she was there on her own. There was never a shortage of men to dance with and it was fun, sexy, exhilarating.
Even with her senses a little fuzzy, Cordelia could read them like a book. Most of them thought they had hit the jackpot. Couldn’t blame them for that, hello, but they were wrong. Besides, she most definitely had a type and they all failed to make the cut even if they could dance. No stranger to getting out of unwanted entanglements, anyone who stepped a little too far into her personal bubble was likely to regret it.
Something was different about last night. There was lots of dancing. Drinking. Having of fun. Cordelia couldn’t quite remember anything after getting off the bus. The rest was pretty hazy. Music. Dancing. Hot dreams. Sexy lover. Waking up this morning still wearing her black dress from the night before Cordelia had no idea how she had gotten into bed.
“We discussed that you should ask.”
“No we didn’t. You told me to ask. I decided not to wake a sleeping vampire. Which one makes more sense to you?”
Angel had no response, which meant he did not want to admit that he was wrong. It was not like she borrowed his favorite coat or his broadsword.
“I found this beautiful old trunk collecting dust in the corner of the basement. You obviously don’t need it, so I thought I would put it to good use until I can get some more furniture. It looks antique, very classy.”
Angel walked around the trunk and sat down on Dr Folger’s tangerine colored couch. Comfortable enough, if verging on the tacky side, it was bright and cheerful. Cordelia could work with that.
“That trunk is an antique. Probably older than I am.”
“Wow! That’s really old.”
Angel’s look soured. “Thanks, Cordelia.”
Kneeling down on the living room rug, Cordelia ran her hands across the smooth wooden surface reassessing the wooden trunk. Now that she had cleaned away the cobwebs and rubbed it with orange oil, it looked almost new. “Antiques can be good investments. You’ve got a lot of stuff for someone who lived on the streets—according to what Doyle told me.”
“Not so much on the streets as living off them. Rats, stray cats, anything not human,” he confessed in a tone suggesting he did not want to say much more about it. “I kept a place here in the city for decades until moving to Sunnydale.”
“Oh. I was hoping for long-term storage. Y’know, a few Ming vases or Van Goghs gathering dust you might have forgotten about.”
Angel’s blackened mood seemed to fade away. Mildly amused by her hopeful tone, he asked, “What else did Doyle tell you?”
“Nothing I didn’t already know; that first vision from the Powers That Be. How he got you involved with the mission.”
Weirdly, Angel looked almost relieved, as if he expected Doyle would reveal something new. Cordelia put that on her mental list of things to ask the next time Doyle cornered her for one of his little chats. He was sweet and attentive in that goofy way that reminded her of Xander when they first started dating.
“About the trunk . . .” Cordelia redirected the conversation back to where she wanted it. She had hoped that he might let her keep it, but realizing that it was probably worth something she suggested that she try to get it appraised. “We could use new filing cabinets for the office and some other necessities. Maybe a video camera so we cou—”
“It belonged to Darla,” he cut in now staring at the trunk as if it brought back memories he would rather leave buried.
“Darla? Oh, her. The one who . . .”
“Made me a vampire.”
“Okay, then,” Cordelia wanted to change the subject before Broody McBroodsalot sank into another gloomy depression. Bringing up former blonde girlfriends probably wasn’t the safest of subjects and she had mentioned two in the last couple of minutes. “Let’s just forget about this old thing.”
Angel readily agreed. “Probably for the best.” He did not want her to sell it, which made her wonder if it was just another example of his need to hoard everything he ever owned or if the reason had to do with its former owner.
“So…” Cordelia started getting curious and forgot about her reason for trying to drop the subject. The trunk was not empty. It had taken quite an effort to drag it from the back of his apartment into hers. “What’s inside?”
He sat back, his arms stretched out on either side of him along the back of the couch, one ankle hooked over his knee, looking more relaxed than she might have expected. Sounding resigned, he nodded a go-ahead. “Open it.” Either he knew exactly what was in there or he figured she was going to find out eventually.
Moving around to his side of the couch she knelt down next to him to open the box. “I thought it was locked.” It had a small knob that turned and sank into the surface of the chest like a puzzle box. The lid opened smoothly revealing layers upon layers of items organized in a style that could only be recognized by someone who had been in Angel’s closet. The trunk and its contents might have belonged to Darla, but he had been through it on more than one occasion.
Now she felt like an intruder delving through private stuff, but he had given his permission. Curiosity won over. There was a box of letters tied up in worn red ribbons their color quite faded. The letters had no envelopes, but were written on delicate folded paper once closed by wax seals. “Love letters from Angelus?”
Evading a straight answer, Angel told her, “Darla had quite a taste for collecting suitors.”
Cordelia glanced up at him trying to figure out what he was trying to hide. One scenario came to mind. “They weren’t just would-be-lovers,” she guessed and dropped the letters back in the box. “They became her victims. These are trophies.”
A hint of fear crossed Angel’s face as his guard slipped and a sinking feeling bottomed out inside her. Though he said nothing, she managed to get the gist of it all the same. “Oh. Her lovers. Your victims.”
He did not deny it. “I— Angelus didn’t like it when other men thought they could have what was mine—his.”
Turning at an angle, she placed a hand on his knee urging him to remember, “The past is the past, Angel. You don’t have to talk about yourself in the third person.”
A pained expression settled into a frown. “Sometimes it’s better that way.”
“I guess that explains it, though,” Cordelia let out a deep sigh, now propping her chin in her hand as she leaned against the couch.
Suspicious, Angel asked, “What?”
“Why you won’t let me borrow your stuff. You’re the possessive type. You don’t like people touching what’s yours.”
A grunt of acknowledgement sounded. “Not without permission.”
Cordelia drummed her fingers against her cheek as she thought about what he said. “So that applies to grappling hooks, too, I suppose.”
“That one?” Angel pointed toward the corner of the room where she was temporarily using his smallest hook as a hanger for her Boston fern.
Geez, he did not miss a thing.
This time he looked more amused than angry, so she turned back to the trunk to continue exploring its contents. The center section seemed to be clothing wrapped up in protective fabrics and tied up with silk bows. A dozen jewel-toned and pastel scarves lined the first package. Layers of beautiful things made Cordelia sigh at the memory of her walk-in-closet with its built-in-shoe racks and the never-ending shopping sprees that kept it full of designer dresses and shoes.
Letting her fingers slide over the folds of a silk dress admiring the intricate stitching and beadwork, Cordelia begrudgingly admitted that Darla had good taste. “Back in the day I bet this was spectacular, but I’m glad that I was born now instead of then. I just don’t see myself as a corset girl. Too much trouble getting in and out of them.”
Dead silence fell between them as Cordelia realized what she had said and one thought popped up. That’s what your lover is for. It was far too easy to imagine Angel standing behind her, his deft fingers working the stays, his actions pulling her against the hard length of his body.
Except Angel was probably thinking about Darla, about their torrid past, and not about her at all, which made that little fantasy shrivel up like a dried prune in the hot sun. Fine. She should not be thinking about that stuff anyway, not with Angel playing a role. That was all kinds of wrong despite the fact that it made her hot to think about having his hands on her.
Muttering to herself, “Jude is so not around when I need him,” she covered up the dress and tied the little bow with fingers that were suddenly shaky.
“What? Oh.” Cordelia had no intention of discussing her fantasy life with her boss, friend and neighbor though he might be, especially since Angel kept creeping back into it.
“You mentioned him last night,” Angel reminded causing Cordelia to rack her brain for any memory of having a conversation with him after getting home from the club.
The night was a blur for the most part. “I did—mention Jude Law? Forget whatever I said. Um, what did I say?”
Angel squirmed in his seat before answering. “Something about him walking you home.”
“Oh, hahahaha! I thought I might have said something about jumping his bones.” Cordelia clapped a hand over her mouth, eyes wide as she stared up at Angel whose expression was growing thunderous each passing second. She was giggling behind her hand because Angel clearly had no clue who was starring in her little fantasies, or that they were fantasies at all.
He planted both feet on the ground next to her, leaning forward so that his elbows rested against his knees, and steepled his fingers across his mouth as if to hold back whatever he was going to say. Then asked her anyway, “When do I get to meet this new boyfriend of yours?”
Lowering her hand, Cordelia decided she did not like his tone. “Let’s say never! Cut that crap out right now. I am not Darla and you’re not my—well, whatever—father, big brother, or boyfr—.”
Angel launched himself to his feet now towering over her. “No, I’m not. I’m your friend,” he barked the words with such intensity it seemed to startle both of them. “Los Angeles isn’t Sunnydale. The underbelly of this city is pervasive. Demons. Men. They are all tangled up in a dangerous web, and you have already been caught up in it once. Next time you might not get so lucky.”
“What exactly are you saying, Angel, that I should bring home every guy I want to date for the Angel stamp of approval? Pfft! Or better yet, just hole up in my apartment, in the dark, like you? Never go out? Live like a nun? You can get that craptastic idea out of your head right now.”
Just as she made a move to stand up, Angel’s big hand closed around her arm tugging her to her feet so fast that she crashed into him. Spitting with anger, Cordelia squirmed until he gave her some breathing room, enough so that the rise and fall of her chest no longer heaved into his. Given an inch she shoved her hands into the space between them and pushed hard at his chest, but she might has well have been trying to move a wall.
“Stop that,” Angel grabbed her hands and held them behind her. His voice softened as he chastened her, “You’ll hurt yourself.”
“You’re the one hurting me, dumbass.” Cordelia felt him let go the instant the accusation was out of her mouth. She blew off the apology the instant he said sorry. He was not sorry. She knew it. Not unless she ended up with a bruise and then he would probably brood about it for a week.
Cordelia walked away from, stretched her arms as if testing their freedom, and paced back again to stop at the edge of the open trunk. “This is ridiculous! We are arguing about a relationship that does not even exist. Jude is an actor.”
Genuinely confused, with a right to be, Angel brought up her acting class. “Someone you met there? You said that you go clubbing with the group. He was there last night dancing with you.”
“Not exactly.” Embarrassed about the whole argument, Cordelia confessed that there was not much she could remember about last night, but she could guarantee that Jude Law was not involved. “He’s a famous actor, not my date, or my boyfriend. We’ve never met. He’s handsome and has gorgeous eyes and that adorable British accent. What’s not to like?”
She felt certain that Jude Law had just dropped off her fantasy roster. How could she ever look at a picture of him again without thinking about the awkwardness of this conversation? “Don’t you dare make fun of me!” She checked to see if he was doing that subtle smirk thing that meant he was probably inwardly laughing his ass off.
“I’m not.” For a moment she thought that was all the response she was going to get until Angel added gruffly, “Fantasies are all I’ve got at the moment, Cordelia. I would never laugh about yours.”
“Oh. I didn’t think about your lack of a love life, but you’re right. Yours is much more depressing. There has to be a way around that whole curse thingy, a loophole to the loophole. You’ll figure it out someday,” Cordelia consolingly patted his shoulder.
“No problem,” she shrugged deciding that they needed to put this topic behind them. “Jude is forgotten. Erased. You have never heard the name. Got it?”
Angel said nothing, but his mouth quirked just a bit.