Chapter Nine

promise


Chapter 9

“I’d say give me good news,” Cordelia began as she looked at the human ‘art dealers’ in her employ, “but I see that you still have the artifact. What happened? And you’d better have a damn good explanation.”

Fear emanated from the couple, the scent of it exciting her demon. The vampiress had found them in Mexico on her way back to California and had taken an interest in their business. Cordelia paid them to deliver a package to Joyce Summers and convince her that they were simply dealing ancient art. It was something that the Slayer’s mother had an interest in for her studio and something she would not likely turn down. Especially for the asking price.

“Cough it up!” Cordelia demanded of Julio and Yolanda Guevara. “What happened?”

The man wiped sweat off of his brow with a handkerchief. “Senorita Chase, during our early negotiations we were interrupted by the target’s daughter. The blonde you told us to avoid. She was there.”

“In the middle of the day?” Cordelia asked knowing that Buffy should have been at school. Then again— Buffy skipping class? No big. Nothing new. “She scared you away?”

“There was an emergency,” Yolanda Guevara explained. “Señora Summers insisted that we leave so she could speak to the girl.”

Cordelia was irritated at this delay. “So you’ll try again tomorrow.”

“We cannot, Senorita Chase,” Yolanda nibbled nervously on her lower lip as she thought about the large sum of American dollars they would have to return. “We have already been trying, but she is not at her studio. Only her partner.”

“So? Just find the woman and give her the fucking thingamabob,” the vampiress ordered.

Julio tried not to react to the unexpected use of foul language. He wondered what would happen when they told their beautiful employer that today was the last day the magick would be in effect. It would not be pleasant, he guessed. For someone so young, she carried an aura of power about her like an almost palpable presence hidden beneath the surface.

“The artifact’s magick has been active since we first approached Señora Summers. If she does not take possession and lay hands upon it before midnight tonight, the spell will not be binding.”

Pacing back and forth, Cordelia whirled around to face them. She looked perfectly calm. “I have a solution.”

“Oh?”

There was nothing she hated worse than poor service. These two had not provided the results they promised. Taking the box out of his hands, Cordelia sent out a simultaneous mental shout to her minions. Within seconds, five vampires appeared from a connecting room in full game face.

Dealing in the world of mystic curiosities, Julio and Yolanda had naturally heard of such creatures actually existing, but had never been faced with the reality. Reverting back to his native tongue, Julio was begging forgiveness and pleading to God for help.

“Aaiiieee!” Yolanda simply screamed and then fainted.

“Guys,” Cordelia ordered her minions. “Rip their throats out. Looks like I’ll have to take care of this myself.”

 


Angel leaned up against a tree as he watched Buffy Summers work her way through three rowdy vampires. He could see anger and frustration built up in her usually smooth moves and her quips were darker than usual. It was the first time he had seen her in several days, basically because he had spent nearly all of that time reacquainting himself with every millimeter of skin on Cordelia’s luscious body.

When the last vamp was dust, Angel stepped out of the shadows and headed slowly in the Slayer’s direction. Buffy reacted instinctively by whipping around to face him, stake raised in an attack pose. Her eyes darted to his face and a look of recognition appeared, but the pose did not relax as he expected it too.

“A-Angel?” There was a quiver in her voice as his name escaped her lips and suddenly the vampire realized what was on her mind. He hadn’t seen her since the Bronze. Not since he ran after Cordelia upon seeing her dancing there. Buffy’s instincts were sharp and he knew that she would have guessed why he’d been out of pocket the past few days. After their single experience with sex resulted in the arrival of Angelus, she had to be a bit worried.

“It’s me, Buffy,” he commented keeping his hands in his pockets in a non-threatening way. “I’m not evil.”

“Maybe not, but you’re certainly trying your best,” Buffy lowered the stake and stepped close. “Why *aren’t* you evil by now? Your vamp girlfriend has probably been taking every chance she gets to strip your soul away.”

“Buff—,” Angel began only to be cut off.

The Slayer glared at him. “Don’t call me that. Angelus called me that— and don’t bother with the ‘I am Angelus’ speech. I’ve heard it.”

Maybe it was safer to change the subject. Angel was still confused about the fact that he could make love to Cordelia without any repercussions for his soul. There were times that he tried to caution her, but Angel simply couldn’t resist the temptation of his mate. Want and need were too strong to deny.

There was a pause as he lost himself in thought. Finally, Buffy broke the silence, “Aren’t you going to say something? Tell me you haven’t been with Cordelia? Lie to me?”

“I’d never lie to you, Buffy. Even as Angelus, I never lied to you,” he pointed out. No, his soulless self preferred to tell it like it is. Though it was probably going to hurt her to say it, Angel had to remind her, “Cordelia is my mate. That may have something to do with the fact that nothing has happened. We’ve been— safe.”

“Pardon me if I don’t wanna get into the details of your *safe sex* routine,” Buffy’s jaw tightened. God, she was so jealous! The feeling flared up in her chest like a burst of flame until her whole body was burning with it. “She’s evil. The kind of vampire that you help me dust on patrol.”

Muttering, she added, “Used to help me.”

Angel heard the words. “Cordy is my family. She’s my blood and I am hers. That doesn’t change.”

“In the past, Spike and Drusilla tried to kill you,” she pointed out. “They are your blood too. Darla was your blood— your sire— and you staked her.”

“It’s different. There were reasons.”

Buffy just rolled her eyes in response. It sounded like an excuse to her. “Yeah. Reasons.”

Trying a different approach, Angel asked her, “If your mother was turned, would you be so quick to stake someone you loved?”

Loved? The word on his lips shocked Angel leaving him to wonder if he really said that in reference to Cordelia. Did he mean it? Buffy did not seem to pick up on it. She was too focused on her own thoughts.

Now she had him, Buffy glared almost triumphantly as she pointed out, “I put a sword through your chest and sent you to hell, didn’t I?”

Subconsciously rubbing his chest, Angel conceded, “You’ve always done what you had to do, Buffy.”

“Just don’t forget it.”

Realizing what she was threatening, the vampire’s eyes turned dark amber. “Stay away from Cordelia.”

“I can’t make that promise, Angel,” Buffy told him. “Not with everything that is going on right now. I know she’s behind it.”

“What are you talking about?”

Ever observant Angel, the vampire who once seemed to know everything that went on in the demon world now claimed ignorance? “Ask your mate.”

“Buffy, I’m asking you.”

“Weird stuff is happening.”

Angel demanded more details. “Don’t accuse Cordy of wrongdoing unless you’ve got some evidence to back it up. What is going on?”

She told him about Giles. “Principle Snyder suspended him indefinitely. I have no access to my Watcher during school hours and can’t sneak over to his house because his nosy neighbors are keeping an eye on him.”

“No one who really knows Rupert Giles would accuse him of that,” Angel pointed out. “I can see how rumors might get started, but what does Cordelia have to do with it?”

“She was the one he was supposed to be having the affair with. Not to mention you and Willow.”

Some part of Angel found it funny. He supposed that was his demon coming out for a laugh at Buffy’s expense. Even so, Giles was certainly innocent of the accusations.

Buffy let out a laugh of bitter irony. “It’s so stupid.”

“The truth will come out,” Angel assured her. “I’ll ask Cordelia to clear thing up with your principle. That and your own word should be good enough to fix this.”

“You forget this is Commandant Snyder we’re talking about,” Buffy tucked her stake away. “My word is nothing to him. As for Cordy— I’ll believe it when I see it, Angel.”

All Angel could do was try. Cordelia was so strong-willed that sometimes it seemed as though she was in charge. He conceded that his determination to have nothing to do with her minions left his mate to run the works. The only time he stepped in— or needed to— was when the boys got rowdy. The only time they ever stepped out of line was if their mistress was not around.

“I understand,” Angel acknowledged her cynicism. Turning to go, he added a parting, “Goodnight.”

Holding out her hand to stop him, Buffy pleaded, “Don’t leave. Not so soon. I-I wanted to ask you about Willow.”

Angel knew this would come up. He had hoped to forestall the questioning, but now it was too late. This was the main reason the vampire knew that Cordelia would only act on Giles’ behalf if it was in her interests. Willow’s case had already proven that she could and would defy him.

Cordelia had refused to end her mental manipulation of the little redhead declaring that she wasn’t really harming the girl. Though it might already be past the point of no return. Their bonds were mental rather than physical and Angel’s warning in that regard had fallen on deaf ears.

Short of physically overpowering Cordelia and torturing her until she agreed to obey him, there was little he could do to change her mind. They both knew it would never happen. The only thing Cordy responded to was sex, which he would not allow to become an arguing point between them. Angel realized that his soul sometimes put him at a distinct disadvantage in dealing with his mate.

All Angel could do was point out the bare minimum of the truth. “Willow is happy and healthy.”

Buffy frowned while acknowledging to herself that she believed Angel when he claimed that he wouldn’t lie to her. “So— she’s not vamp bait or hanging around as an afternoon snack?”

That pissed him off. “I’d never let that happen.”

“This is so weird. I feel like I’m losing my best friend,” Buffy admitted. Her eyes were a little shiny and damp. “One day we’re hanging out every minute she’s not studying. The next I’m a pariah.”

“People change.”

“Not Willow.”

Buffy would be surprised at how much the girl had changed. He was surprised that it was not a noticeable difference. Unless that was the weirdness that Buffy mentioned. “People always change. Even when those around them least expect it. You may have to accept the fact that Willow has interests in other things.”

“Other things!” Buffy ranted, “Like befriending vampire minions named Jude and evil bitches who dress to kill— literally?”

A low growl rumbled from his chest making the Slayer realize she was pushing Angel’s buttons about Cordy. She was so a bitch. That was the one thing the two girls ever really agreed upon.

“So what you’re saying is that Willow is really there because she wants to be? Or is it that Cordelia is putting some kind of Vulcan mind-meld thing on her?”

“Uh— yes.”

“I was being sarcastic.” Which question had Angel actually answered? Buffy tried again. “Let me guess, Cordy is trying to imitate big bad Dracula.”

Looking confused, Angel told her, “Cordelia has never met Dracula to my knowledge, so she is certainly not imitating him.”

Buffy stood frozen for a second. She couldn’t believe this. Just one more weird thing to add to her list. Angel had actually made a joke.

Okay, so the mind-meld thing was a dumb idea anyway. Playing along, “Dracula’s real. Riiiight!”

She didn’t believe him? Angel decided to drop the issue fast.

“I will watch over Willow,” he assured her. “Nothing will happen that she doesn’t want. I won’t let it. So far there has just been computer work and shopping with Cordelia.”

“See— that’s just against the laws of nature.”

“Just keep your eyes open, Buffy,” he told her. “I’ll lend a hand when needed.”

Huh.

“Lend a hand? Cordelia keeps you— busy. You’re watching out for Willow and fending off minions. Then you say you’ll lend a hand to help me?” Buffy scoffed, “Looks like your hands are already kinda full, Angel.”

 


Cordelia pressed a manicured finger against the doorbell. The Slayer was still out on patrol, but the lights were on in the house suggesting that Joyce Summers was home. After a couple of minutes, the door opened and Buffy’s mother stood agape at the sight of her standing there.

“Hello, Mrs. Summers,” Cordy flashed a grin.

Collecting herself, Joyce gripped the doorknob a little tighter. She reminded herself that no vampire could enter her house without an invitation. It was so difficult to believe that Cordelia Chase was a vampire. Then again, the last time Joyce had seen her was sitting dead in her Corvette out front.

“Why are you here?” Proud of herself for asking calmly, Joyce gave herself kudos for not slamming the door in the vampiress’ face.

“Just paying a friendly visit.”

Joyce sometimes walked through life with blinders on, but she wasn’t stupid. “I highly doubt that, Cordelia. My daughter isn’t home.”

“Oh, but I’m here to see you,” Cordy laughed.

Invite me in.

“Okay.”

“Uh— I need you to say it.”

“Okay. Come in, Cordelia.” Stepping back, Joyce invited her into the house.

Cordelia immediately convinced Joyce that she needed to take the artifact. Keep that in your room tonight. No need to mention it to Buffy.

“I won’t tell Buffy,” Joyce repeated. Then she realized she was being a poor hostess. “Can I get you anything from the kitchen?”

An idea came to mind that Cordelia just could not resist. “What a great suggestion, Mrs. Summers.”

Bring me a big knife.

Joyce returned with a large chef’s knife. “Is this big enough?”

“I think it will do,” Cordelia assessed the seven-inch blade. “Mind if I stop in Buffy’s room for a minute?”

“Why?”

Don’t ask.

“Oh, go right ahead, dear,” Joyce reminded her which way to go. “I’ll just wait here until you get back.”

Each person reacted a little differently to her mental powers, but Cordelia didn’t care as long as they obeyed her wishes. Opening the door to the Slayer’s room, Cordelia walked toward the bed, eyeing the pillow. She planned to leave the knife stuck to Buffy’s bed. It would freak Buffy out, especially when her mother would remember nothing of the entire incident.

Cordelia was about to thrust the knife into the pillow when she pulled back. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of something better. Oh, yeah! Buffy would go insane over this one. Grabbing the soft pink object, Cordelia racked her brain for the creature’s name.

“The jig is up, piggy. No more Slayer snuggles for you. Die, Mr. Gordo. Die.” Giggling, Cordelia thrust the knife deep into the stuffed animal so that it hung suspended from the wall over the headboard of Buffy’s bed. Geez! That was fun.

Downstairs again, Cordelia told Joyce Summers that she was leaving. The reaction was one of sadness. “So soon?”

“I figured I’d better leave before I decided to forget my plan and just kill you instead,” the vampiress told her.

Before Joyce could sputter an answer, Cordelia sent her a mental command to forget that she was ever there. Not that the Slayer wouldn’t figure it out when she saw her surprise.

“Good night, dear,” Joyce waved. “Come back anytime.”

“I might just do that.”

 


Willow whined as she completed her computer networking project. She had tweaked and perfected it until she couldn’t stall anymore. It was finished. Would Cordelia send her away now? It was a question she had asked before. Several times actually. Cordy assured her that would not be the case, but she was still worried.

“What is it, Willow?” Angel asked from his position in one of the comfortable chairs. He had been reading while the redhead worked on the computer. With Cordy out and some of the minions hanging out at the mansion, he decided to stick around as long as Willow was there.

“Where is Cordy?”

“Hunting,” Angel told her. If Willow was going to be part of this family— even in the status of a vampire pet— she needed to be aware of the reality of it.

Willow rose from the chair and stood staring out of the study doorway like she had lost something and was trying to find it. Just one more sign, as far as Angel was concerned that Cordelia’s little mind trip was taking this too far. The redhead seemed to spend time actually pining for the vampiress when she wasn’t around.

With a deep sign, Willow turned around and walked over to stand next to Angel’s wing-backed chair. “Do you miss hunting? Probably, huh? You are a vampire even if you are just— Angel. Drinking pig’s blood— eew! I can imagine that the taste and consistency are nothing like the real thing.”

“You imagine correctly,” Angel commented hoping that she would drop the subject, even while noting that she was even starting to sound like Cordelia at times.

“Is it hard living around humans without biting them?” The questions just kept popping into her head. Angel had never really been one to give out the personal details and Willow’s curiosity just couldn’t wait.

Angel closed the book he had been trying to read. “Yes, Willow. It can be very difficult to curtail what is basically an instinctive urge. I have had a hundred years of practice at controlling those instincts, not that I have always been successful.”

“Oh.” Then Willow asked, “So a vampire with less practice, say one almost a year old, might have a harder time not biting?”

It was obvious that she was talking about Cordelia. Every conversation seemed to turn back to the subject of his mate. This enthrallment was getting a little annoying. “Cordy has more strength at controlling her need for blood than other vampires because she is a childe rather than a mere minion. Why do you ask?”

Willow’s gaze darted away from his as she stared in the vicinity of the floor. Mumbling something incomprehensible even to the vampire, she fell silent. It was too much to hope that she had decided to forget this line of questions. Angel did not bother to reopen his book. He had the gut feeling something was bothering her.

“Is that why Cordelia hasn’t bitten me?” Willow’s eyes carried confusion and hurt as she lifted her gaze back to his.

“Why would Cordy bite you?” Angel asked her curious to see where she was taking this.

Sharply, Willow told him. “I’m not stupid. Everyone around here except you calls me pet. I know what it means. Do you have any idea how much research I have done on vampires?”

“Quite a lot,” guessed Angel knowingly. “So you’ve figured out that Cordelia considers you to be her pet.”

“I can’t be! There’s been no biting.”

Rising to his feet, Angel tossed the book down on the seat cushion, “You sound upset.”

As her features tightened with anger, Willow’s mouth drew into a tight bow and her pert nose scrunched a bit. “Upset? Upset! How would you like to be someone’s pet and never get touched?”

Then Willow gasped realizing what she had said and clapped a hand over her mouth. Her eyes were wide pools of green on an ocean of white. Angel barely reacted, as if her words were not as shocking to them as they were to her own ears.

Following a long pause, Angel sought some clarification. “Are you saying that you want to be touched? Want to be bitten by Cordelia?”

“I-I can do without the biting if she can,” gulped Willow as she lowered her hand from her mouth.

Angel grabbed Willow and thrust her down into the chair uncaring that she was now sitting on top of one of his first editions. “You’ll do without more than that,” he told her leaning down to grasp the arms of the chair and bringing his face closer to hers. “I don’t think Cordelia understands that the connection she created is stronger than she intended.”

”Connection?”

“Oh, yes— pet,” Angel made a point of using the term. “She has you enthralled, Willow. You’re here solely because she wants you to be.”

After a pause, Willow realized that while she understood the fact that Cordy manipulated her into being here, the need to stay was too overpowering. Nothing was going to make her leave short of Cordelia sending her away.

“Okay.”

“Is that what you would normally do? Abandon Buffy for Cordelia?”

Thinking about it, Willow had to admit, “No.”

“So why are you still here?”

Willow shrugged. “Because— uh?”

Interrupting what was certain to be a confused answer, Angel asked her, “Did you always lust after Cordelia this way?”

“Lust?” Willow looked horrified. “I do not!”

“Little liar. Why do you think you’re reacting this way? You’re whole body is humming at the idea of being touched. I don’t even think you’d know what to do, Willow.”

Nibbling nervously at her lower lip, Willow dared to ask, “Would she?”

Angel let out a dark laugh. “After living with Spike and Dru for several months, I have to guess that she probably does.”

“Oh!” Well that was a picture that Willow wanted to erase from her mind.

“It doesn’t matter,” Angel told her. “That makes no difference to you. Cordelia is mine, Willow. Anyone who wants her has to go through me first.”

The light that came over her face suggested Willow had taken that as an offer rather than a threat, so Angel vamped out and glared down at her, “No one touches what’s mine.”

Pressing herself back into the cushions of the chair, Willow let out a gulp and asked him in a shaky tone, “If I’m Cordy’s pet that makes it her decision. What if she wants—?”

Angel abruptly straightened pulling Willow up with him. “I am her sire. So technically, that makes you *mine* too.” He brushed his thumb along the pulse of her throat. “Do you want to be bitten? I could claim first rights.”

“No!” Willow struggled powerlessly to get out of his grasp. “I don’t want that.”

“Then keep it in mind next time you go sniffing after my mate,” Angel growled. Maybe he could scare some sense into her. “When it comes to Cordelia you can look all you want, Willow, but if I find out you are volunteering yourself rather than being controlled you’ll be out on your ass faster than a snowball melts in hell.”

“I guess you’d know about that,” Willow muttered unhappily.

 


Three weeks later.

“Peaches!” Spike called out upon entering the foyer of the mansion. His voice echoed in the stillness. Though there were lights on, it seemed quiet. “I know you’re in here mate.”

Drusilla released her hold on Spike’s arm and glided further inside, the skirt of her long crimson dress brushing the hardwood floor. A huge dog walked beside her sniffing the air and scenting the familiar and unfamiliar. He added a gruff woof to Spike’s bellowing, but Dru waited patiently knowing her sire detected their arrival.

Then Angel appeared on the landing above stairs dressed in a blue shirt and black leather pants, looking different and yet the same. It did not matter, Drusilla told herself. The stars had given her a sign that her sire had returned from the hell to which the Slayer had sent him. As he approached them coming down the stairs at a steady if not enthusiastic pace, Dru wasn’t so restrained.

“My Angel!” She threw her arms around her sire burying her head against his chest. “I thought the Slayer sent you away forever.”

“We thought you were dead for good,” Spike commented. “So tell me, Peaches. Who are you today? The vampire who nearly fucked up the world or the souled poof who can’t get enough of saving it? I gotta tell you— seeing you in that leather is confusing.”

Angel’s arms were still around Dru in a comforting hug as he responded, “If I didn’t have the soul, Spike, you’d already be dust for your part in helping the Slayer defeat me. That is one betrayal Angelus would not likely forgive and forget. As for what I think now— I’m glad you stopped me.”

“The poof is back,” Spike groaned. Then he had to admit, “Damn, but I’m almost happier to see you than that insanely obsessive bastard. Angelus may know how to party, but at least you don’t go around trying to suck the world into hell vamps and all.”

When Drusilla finally stopped clinging quite so closely, she pulled back and asked about Cordelia. “Her scent is here. Where is my sister?”

“Out.”

Spike finally noticed it too. “So Cordelia found you. Was that before or after she put the big hurt on the Slayer for nearly killing her and ending your pitiful life?”

“I saw her the first night,” Angel told him. “It was a surprise to both of us. As for Buffy, no one has laid a finger on her and it’s going to stay that way.”

Raising an eyebrow, Spike got the feeling that his grandsire knew crap about Cordelia’s revenge game. Not that he knew a whole lot himself, but there was no way the beautiful vampiress was going to let Buffy Summers get away with what she had done.

Angel felt something rubbing against one of his hands. It was the dog, a huge black-furred monster of a creature with large guileless eyes. “Puppy?”

The dog plopped his back end down to the floor and stared upward at the vampire. Woof!

“Not so much of a puppy anymore,” Spike pointed out. The name hardly suited the mutt he had given to Dru as a Valentine’s Day present. He thought she would consider it a nice snack, but no— his sire kept it. Now it was this gigantic vampire hound who obeyed her every whim and made his own life the occasional hell.

Drusilla bent down to ruffle the dog’s fur. “Puppy likes you, Angel, even with the nasty soul.”

“Probably because of it,” Angel pointed out. The puppy had been scared of Angelus and only the fact that it was a low priority probably prevented him from snapping the puppy’s neck.

Spike’s attention turned to the front door. “What the hell is that noise?”

Listening, Angel told him wryly, “That would be my darling Cordelia and her crew of misfits and minions.”

“Cordelia has minions?” Dru clapped her hands together in delight.

Angel noted sourly, “Five of them.”

There was a squeal outside as Cordelia recognized the black DeSoto, followed by the fast approach of clacking heels. “You’re here. You’re both here!”

Spike was the closest to the door and Cordelia ran directly into his arms. “What took you so long to come home?”

The blond vampire didn’t bother answering. Taking her by the waist, Spike pulled Cordy close covering her mouth with his. Far from being a simple greeting, the kiss was full of passion. Angel noticed that Cordelia looked like she was actually enjoying Spike’s mouth on hers. She was enthusiastically pressing herself into the kiss. At one point it looked like she was going to swallow his tongue.

Beside Angel, Drusilla watched her childe with equal scrutiny. Her arms crossed over her chest and her long red nails tapped against her pale ivory skin. Sharing a look of irritation with her sire, Dru took hold of Spike’s arm just as Angel latched onto Cordelia’s. Pulling their childer apart, each told the other’s childe, “Don’t touch what’s mine.”

Then Dru added with a curling smile and a naughty wink, “Not without me getting my share.”

Angel was still glaring at Spike as the dark vampiress tagged on the line. Maybe Drusilla and Spike had done more than protect Cordelia during the time following Acathla, but that did not mean he was going to allow it to continue now. Nor was he about to dig up parts of their relationships that belonged to the past.

Noting his jealousy, Cordelia turned into his arms and kissed the corner of his mouth. “I love that you want me to yourself, my Angel, but it’s just the family. Aren’t you as happy to see them as I am? Dru and Spike are back. Now we’ll really have some fun.”

“Depends on the fun you have in mind,” commented Angel as his fingers touched her cheek.

A low growl sounded that startled Cordelia. Glancing down at Angel’s side was the largest dog she had ever seen, but despite the changes that came along with its growth spurt, Puppy was still recognizable. “What are you— part horse? Geez, Spike! Couldn’t you just get Dru a lap dog— like a little Toy Poodle or a Chihuahua— instead of this monstrosity?”

“Wasn’t thinking he’d live to be a dog,” Spike admitted with a shrug.

Puppy sent another low growl in Cordelia’s direction. “Rude, much? This is why dogs aren’t my thing.”

Signaling to her minions, Cordelia instructed them to lay out her shopping bags in the living room so she could show Dru what she had purchased. While they followed her instructions, Cordy made introductions. Spike was not overly impressed with the five minions and felt a flash of jealousy as Dru wandered around them inspecting the guys from head to toe and front to back.

Then Dru and Cordelia were giggling and chatting over clothes and men, talking about having a girl’s night out for the first hunt after their reunion and all that. So Spike turned his attention back to his grandsire and Puppy surprised to find them with someone he recognized.

What the hell was the Slayer’s sidekick doing here? Spike took a moment to look at Willow Rosenberg in much the same manner as Dru had been eyeing the minions. Who knew the little witch could look so tasty? Cordelia had obviously been fixing her up a bit.

“Hello, Red,” Spike greeted her with a leer. “Looks like there’s a new pet it the family. I think Puppy may be jealous.”

The dog was actually quite happily situated between the petite human and the vampire with a soul. Willow scratched behind the dog’s ears until its mouth hung open with sheer contentment. She simply glared up at Spike as he approached.

“Miss me?”

Drawing a deep breath, Willow told him, “Yeah! Like a plague of locusts. I really missed you trying to kill me.”

Spike smelled no fear on the girl. She did not blink or attempt to cower from his close presence. That might have something to do with Angel standing next to her, but the girl seemed to be genuinely unafraid of him. She was confident of her protected status here in the mansion.

“See you’ve grown a little backbone, Red,” Spike let out a laugh. Eyeing Angel, he sent him a glance to indicate he was only playing. No use coming home only to have your head ripped from your shoulders. His grandsire was close-mouthed, but clearly watchful. “So who do you belong too, luv, Angel or Cordelia? Both of them?”

Flashing him a defiant look, Willow actually stepped toward him. “I belong to me.”

“Right,” Spike seriously doubted that. He knew that it was Cordelia’s influence. Peaches wouldn’t have the balls to keep a pet— especially this one. Not having both Cordelia and the Slayer around. Cupping her jaw, Spike turned her head from side to side noting that her ivory skin was completely smooth.

“No marks, pet?”

“Shut up, Spike!” That was still a bone of contention with Willow. After a month, Cordy had not even tried to bite her.

“Not even a nibble?” Spike went on though he dropped his hand to his side. “Poor little Red. Keeps you on a tight leash, does she?”

Angel issued a warning, “Watch it.”

Both Spike and Willow ignored him. The blond vamp was too amused and Willow too angry to stop now. “I don’t have to take this from you, Bleach Brain. Cordelia is my best friend.”

Red was using one of Cordy’s nicknames for him and she still claimed that the vampiress was not influencing her? “Best friend? I thought that was the Slayer.”

“Pfft! Buffy? Buffy who?” Willow stood with her hands on her hips. “That girl is going nutso. All she does is call me at all hours when I’m at home. Never talks about anything I want to talk about. Blah, blah, blah. Cordy is way more fun.”

It was as if Cordelia’s words were coming straight out of Willow Rosenberg’s mouth and her hatred of the Slayer was showing. Spike was stunned. He knew exactly how this was happening, but he was amazed that Angel let this go on. The vampire appeared grim after Willow’s little rant, but remained stoically silent.

“You actually allow this?”

Angel shrugged.

This was obviously part of Cordy’s scheme, but he found it interesting that she hadn’t claimed her little pet. All that smooth skin— what a waste. When Cordelia and Drusilla suddenly emerged from the other room it was to find Spike slowly weaving his fingers through Willow’s straight red hair, absently petting her.

“What the hell are you doing, Spike?” Demanding an explanation, Cordelia stalked up to him.

Realizing what he was doing, Spike grinned sheepishly, “Touching what’s yours. Got a problem with that?”

“Only if Willow has a problem,” Cordelia stood back and waited for the girl’s response.

Back in the limelight of her mistr— of Cordy’s attention, Willow’s confidence increased by leaps and bounds. She pulled away from Spike’s touch, glared at Angel for not saying anything to stop the other vampire and then proceeded to verbally rip Spike up one side and down the other.

After a minute of Willow’s ranting, Spike was still grinning, now in admiration of her spirit. “I like a chit with a bit of fire in her eyes.”

Almost instantly, Spike saw the whites of her eyes turn dark and a red flame leap to life in the back void of her pupils. “What the bloody fuck was that?”

Spike leapt back a couple of feet and found Willow laughing at him as her eyes returned to normal. “Wanna play with fire? You’re gonna get burned.”

Drusilla threw her head back and laughed merrily at her childe’s response. “Did the witch surprise you, my Spike?”

“Hell, yeah. That’s a dangerous little pet you have there, chit,” Spike told Cordelia with a look of shock still plastered across his face.

“Willow is getting quite powerful now that the Watcher is not around to restrict her study of magick.”

“Didn’t know she was a witch,” Spike pointed out still flabbergasted.

Angel told him, “Willow cast the spell that returned my soul.”

Suddenly, Drusilla wasn’t laughing anymore. She glared at Willow despite the fact that she had just witnessed what the human could do. “Get rid of your pet, Cordelia or I will.”

Cordelia stepped between the older vampiress and Willow. “Don’t threaten what’s mine, Dru. I won’t have her looking over her shoulder every time I’m not in the room.”

“She gave him the nasty soul. Took Angelus away from us. The witch shouldn’t be here.”

“Get used to it,” Willow snapped as she peeked around Cordelia’s shoulder.

Angel took matters in hand, smoothing out the tension that had suddenly skyrocketed in the room. Soon, Dru was cooing in her sire’s ear and promising not to hurt the little witch as long as she stayed away from her.

“No problem,” Willow promised. Like she wanted Drusilla anywhere near her. If anyone scared her in this mansion full of vampires, it was certainly the loony lady vamp. There was little doubt considering her knowing smile that the black-eyed vampiress knew it as well, sensing the sudden fear that welled from her inner depths.

“Well, I’ve had enough of this happy reunion for one night,” announced Spike. “I’m going out for a little kitten poker and a helluva lot of booze.”

 


“Willow is home safely, Mistress,” Jude reported after returning to the mansion. “She asked me to give you this.”

He handed over a small gift-wrapped box to Cordelia who bestowed a mesmerizing smile upon her minion. “Jude, you’re a jewel.”

Closing the door after him, the vampiress gleefully ripped the bright paper away from the box. Cordy walked up to Angel as she went along, eager to show him what she already knew to be inside. “We had fun at the mall today,” she told him.

Angel’s mouth quirked in reaction. “I saw the shopping bags. Did you leave anything in the stores?”

Sticking her tongue out, Cordelia gave him a smile. “Not much.”

Opening the box, she pulled out a narrow frame that held a series of four pictures from the mall’s photo booth. Just herself and Willow. Glancing over her shoulder, Angel saw that the first two looked fairly normal. Like two friends smiling and laughing into the camera. The others were vivid proof that the relationship was far from normal. The third picture showed Willow pretending to lick Cordelia’s neck while the last revealed Cordy vamped out with her fangs poised over the redhead’s throat.

“This is your idea of fun?” Angel watched as his mate set the small frame down on her mirror-free vanity. “Shopping and pictures are fine, but giving the girl ideas about biting her is another.”

“Willow thought it was a riot,” shrugged the vampiress.

Angel countered, “Willow thinks what you want her to think.”

“She does not.”

“Does too, Cordy.”

“Okay, so maybe she does,” admitted Cordelia with a sigh. “Can I help it if I’m a great inspiration to her?”

“You control her.”

“Not often,” Cordelia told him defensively. “Most of what Willow does is her idea.”

“I warned you this would happen. The lines between her free will and your enthrallment of her have blurred.”

“Are you the I-told-you-so type, Angel?” Cordelia stalked back to him. “If you have a problem with what I’m doing, I don’t want to hear about it.”

“Too bad, baby. It’s time you got over this little game of yours. If having a female around to go shopping with is so damned important to you, use Dru. She seemed happy enough with the idea. Let Willow get back to her life.”

“It’s not the same.”

“You can’t control Dru.” The idea dawned in his head. “She doesn’t hang on your every word like Willow does as your pet.”

Cordelia frowned at Angel’s quick realization. There was something about the other vampiress’ visionary abilities that blocked out any attempt at mind control. Drusilla had her own abilities to enthrall humans if they were up close and personal, but she could not do so with the scope that Cordelia could or maintain the enthrallment over a long period.

“No. I tried it when she left Spike. Wanted her to come back to him, but she only laughed at my attempts to turn her thoughts to my way of thinking. Dru told me it tickled.”

“Really?” Resolve came over Angel’s face. For the moment, he knew exactly what he was going to do. “Maybe it’s time you got a little of your own back. I happen to know a thing or two about tickling.”

Her hazel eyes popped open wider at the unveiled threat. “No! No tickling. Vampires don’t tickle one another.”

“I don’t think I mentioned anything about you getting a turn,” Angel glared mockingly as Cordelia darted away from him like he’d told her he was going to bring out the bullwhip.

With a shriek of loud laughter, Cordelia ran across to the other side of the bed using it as a shield. Yanking off her high-heeled shoes as he approached stealthily, she tossed them in his direction. Angel caught both and dropped them neatly onto a nearby chair. “Get on the bed, Cordy. You might as well face this now because you’re not going to leave this room tonight.”

“Gotta catch me first,” Cordy stuck out her tongue and leapt onto the mattress while her sire attempted the longer route around. “Maybe you need to start working out more. You used to be faster.”

“Are you calling me fat?”

“Hey— if the Michelin fits,” she joked suggesting that he had a spare tire around his middle. Not that he did, but Angel was just narcissistic enough to believe it.

Hopping back onto the floor, she ran toward the door only to feel the whoosh of air pass close as Angel used a burst of speed to block the doorway with his broad frame. “What was it you were saying?”

Cordelia was standing in the middle of the bedroom as he leaned back against the door. Eyeing his tall frame with her twinkling gaze, she suggested, “Maybe you should take off your shirt and let me check things out. I wouldn’t want you to get a complex.”

The shirt was gone in about five seconds leaving Angel half-naked and all yummy. “So?”

“I think maybe I was right the first time,” Cordelia couldn’t resist saying.

“What?”

The look on his face was priceless. “Mmm! Salty goodness. You’re such a hottie. You’re perfect, my Angel.”

The vampire wasn’t so slow that he didn’t catch on to her strategy. “The compliments won’t get you a reprieve.”

“No, but now you’re more naked than I am,” Cordelia pointed out. “Just try to tickle me, mister and you’re gonna get your fair share of the torture.”

Angel held her gaze as he walked up to gently curl his hands around her head capturing her lips with his own. “Think so?”

Her hands came up to his chest in a move that was more a caress than an effort to stave him off, knowing that this was just distraction. He had broken the kiss to remind her that this wasn’t over. Well, she was quite happy with his distraction techniques. Cordelia had a few of her own.

Kissing him again, Cordelia let her hands wander over his shoulders and down his back being careful to avoid any overly ticklish regions. It was so hard to think, damn him. He kissed her like her lips were the only thing he’d ever known. Made especially for him and something he worshipped daily.

Distantly, Cordelia hear the sound of a zipper and felt the whisper of cloth fall away from her skin. Though her eyes were half-closed with pleasure and lips slightly swollen with his kisses, Cordelia lifted away long enough to realize that she was now standing before Angel in only her matching lace bra and panties.

Geez! He was good. When she lifted her eyes back to his, Cordelia found them sparkling with a mixture of amused triumph and arousal. She lilted, “Think you’re winning?”

Before Angel could respond affirmatively, Cordelia grabbed onto the belt buckle she had undone when her mate was otherwise distracted with her. Yanking it out of its loops, she took a step back and watched his pants fall open revealing the grey briefs underneath. “I don’t think so,” she sing-songed.

All Angel had to do was zip up again, but getting dressed again was rather pointless. “If you want me naked, tigress, all you have to do is ask. I like having those hungry eyes on me. Even if you do think I’m fat.”

“You’re not fat, dumbass!” Cordelia kept backing away closer to the bed. She was now holding the belt folded over in one hand like a weapon. “There’s no need to tickle me. You know I hate that.”

“Love it.”

“Hate it.”

“Love me touching you.”

So she couldn’t deny that. Besides, Angel was distracting her again. After kicking off his shoes and peeling his socks away, he stripped off his pants tossing them away. Though she knew he was looking at her, Cordelia’s eyes automatically dropped away from his handsome face to travel down the length of his smooth torso to the regions below. Oh, my, but he was built. Just right. Just for her.

Angel tucked his thumbs into the waistband of his briefs and let them fall away from his body eliciting a mewl of need from Cordelia. He could scent her own building arousal, see it on her face and the response of her flesh.

“Are you ready?”

She was more than ready. Nodding, Cordelia’s voice sounded in a husky octave. “For you, I’m always ready. Want you now, Angel.”

“Then give me the belt,” he held out his hand.

Having forgotten that she was holding it, Cordelia seemed surprised to find it there in her hand. “Why do you want it?”

“Give it to me,” Angel ordered, his tone brooking no further defiance on the matter.

The last time they had used his belt, Cordelia’s wrists had been bound together as her sire punished her by not letting her touch him. Angel knew she got as much pleasure out of touching him as he did her. Being bound was almost worse than the thought of being mercilessly tickled. Unless Angel planned to do both.

“Cordelia,” a gruff growl sounded from his throat commanding that she comply with his demand. Finally, the vampiress turned over the belt into her sire’s keeping.

Angel stalked up until he was so close his thick erection bobbed against her flesh causing her to shudder with need. Cordelia’s head was tilted back to meet the amber glint in her sire’s gaze, the early sign of his change, but he controlled it. Raising the hand holding the belt, Angel lifted its supple loop up to her face letting it brush along her skin. Then Angel moved it away, replacing it with his mouth as he kissed his way down to her neck tasting and teasing her with his flickering tongue and the soft smooch of his lips.

Hearing a little chink as the belt hit the floor freeing up Angel’s hands to touch her, she let out a moan. “Oh, yes, finally. Put your hands on me.” Cordelia dragged his hands up to her lace-covered breasts holding them there for a moment even as Angel continued to nuzzle at her throat.

Angel moved his mouth to her ear. “Tell me what you want, tigress.”

Too much. Everything. Fisting her hand in his hair, she brought him up to meet his gaze. “I want your mouth on me. Everywhere. I want your tongue between my thighs making me come. I want to touch you, feel you, every inch of you. Then I want you inside me. How’s that for a start?”

“Not bad,” Angel’s sexy mouth quirked into a lopsided grin, but his eyes were suddenly twinkling with more than lust, “but it won’t be the start. We can do that somewhere in the middle.”

Still reeling from the images she had created in her head, Cordelia could only respond with a confused, “Huh?”

Suddenly, she was down on the mattress with Angel looming over her. The hands that had been evoking such pleasure were now doling out this strange paradox of sensations as his fingers touched her skin. Tickling her with his gentle touch over sensitized areas that he knew all too well, Angel watched her squirm beneath him.

Howling with laughter, Cordelia held onto his shoulders, trying her best to do as she had threatened and do the same, but she was helpless to react. Her ankles clutched at the back of his thighs. Then the tickling was interspersed with his mouth against her upper breasts as his lips made a path across the lacy edge of her bra. The combination drove her to the point where her hips gyrated against his.

“Oh, Angel,” her voice sounded in a plea, but for what she didn’t quite know. Cordelia’s hair cascaded around her in a wave of silk as her head twisted back and forth against the mattress. Screaming, laughing, moaning, yearning— whatever he was doing, Cordy felt like she was coming unglued. There were fireworks going off in her head and he hadn’t even made an effort to remove her panties.

“Want me to stop?” His husky voice questioned offering her a reprieve.

Cordelia’s fingernails curled into his shoulders at the collarbones coming close to breaking the skin. “You know what I want.”

“Not the answer I was looking for,” Angel told her and started in on the tickling again, this time circling a finger around her bellybutton.

“Not there, not there,” Cordelia panted. He knew her navel was especially sensitive. After a minute of causing her to cry out his name, she felt his palm press into her waist. Upon opening her eyes, she found her mate staring down at her.

Slowly, Angel extracted himself from the legs that had curled around his to stand beside the bed. Intently, his gaze traveled down the length of her body and his hands followed the course back up from her ankles to her hips. There, he gave a tug on her lacy green panties and Cordelia cooperated by lifting her hips so that he could pull them away.

Sitting up momentarily, Cordelia unfastened the clasp of her bra, but got no further than that before Angel gave her a gentle push to send her back onto the mattress. Both straps of her bra slipped down her arms, but her full breasts held the cups in place. Cordy was too busy watching Angel to care that she hadn’t finished her task.

“You have such sexy legs,” Angel murmured as he lifted her left leg extending it up so that he could run a hand along its length.

Cordelia shuddered with pleasure at his touch, her entire system still buzzing from the effects of his tickling. He kissed her ankle, caressed the curved muscle of her calf and darted his tongue into the soft spot behind her knee. That caused her whole body to jerk as his tongue flicked across the sensitive area. Every time he did that the nerve endings seemed to dart little shots of pleasure back to her loins.

Angel repeated the process with her right leg, kissing his way from ankle to knee before grasping her lower thighs and scooting her to the edge of the bed. Then he sank to the floor on his knees and began the slow process of kissing every inch of her supple thighs. Cordelia kept her eyes fixed on what he was doing, the sight of it as exciting as the touch of his mouth, hands and teeth on her thighs.

With blunt teeth, Angel nipped his way up to the spot that he liked to bite, but contented himself with laving it with his tongue. He was so close to the apex of her thighs that his hair tickled at her intimate flesh causing Cordelia’s hips to dig into the bed. His hand was kneading the other thigh ensuring that it did not go ignored until he turned his attention there.

By the time her sire worked his way back up to the inner curve of her thigh, Cordelia had moved her hand down her belly to weave though the soft curls covering her mons. Two fingers pressed against her outer labia exposing her clit to their light touch.

Turning his head, Angel kissed those fingers and then met her gaze, “I’ll take care of that. Just relax.”

The tension that had built up in her shoulders dissipated. She trusted him to be true to his word. Mmm. He was going to make her come and then it would be her turn to play. Would Angel let her tease him the way he had been teasing her? She wanted to kiss and bite her way across his sculpted flesh until he was begging her to bring him off. Then he would see how it felt as she made him wait.

Cordelia’s thoughts of lustful revenge got lost the instant she felt Angel’s mouth on her. She tried to watch what he was doing, but her eyes kept closing and her head lolled back upon the mattress. Losing all track of time, Cordy had no idea how long he stayed down there or even the number of times he brought her to orgasm. Keening cries and purring sounded in her ears along with the occasional comment from Angel that was as pleasure- inducing as his touch.

In the midst of another climax, Cordelia felt herself being shifted. Opening her eyes to look at him, she saw that her sire was on his feet and lifting her hips at angle to meet his. Angel paused for a moment as Cordelia’s legs curled around him in a demonstration of her extreme flexibility. He entered her with one smooth movement, groaning in pleasure as he felt her inner muscles clasping him.

“You feel so fucking good, baby,” Angel withdrew and thrust again as his human features gave way to reveal his true face.

Cordelia flashed a grin before saying, “You’ve told me that before.”

“It’s worth repeating,” he leered down at her while maintaining a steady rhythm. “Before the night is over, I’ll wager you’ll be telling me the same thing.”

“Oh, really? Think you have that much stamina, big boy?” Cordy moaned and rotated her hips with the next thrust.

“Just try me.”

“Mmm, I’m glad we went to bed early,” Cordelia purred.

 


“What’s this all about then, chit?” Spike inquired as he caught up to Cordelia the next evening. She was dressed head to toe in black blending with the night, but he had tracked her scent. “Isn’t that the Watcher’s house?”

“Yes,” Cordelia answered as she leaned up against a tree. “I thought I’d check on Giles, but it looks like he has guests over. There are five or six people in there.”

“The Slayer isn’t one of them,” concluded Spike after a moment.

“No.”

“Wanna crash the party?”

Cordelia shook her head. “Not really. Those are probably members of the Watcher’s Council— Giles doesn’t have any friends left in Sunnydale who are willing to talk to him.”

“Part of your revenge, luv?”

“Yeah.” Cordelia shrugged finding the subject of Giles getting to be a bore. It wasn’t the same as getting back at the Slayer directly.

Spike wondered, “What exactly is your plan?”

“That’s simple,” Cordy told him with a lethal grin, “I’m going to make Buffy’s life here in Sunnydale pure Hell on Earth.”

“I hope that’s figurative,” Spike raised a brow at the memory of Angelus’ plan to make it reality.

Cordelia laughed at him, nudging his shoulder with her own. “Dork! I’m not doing the Acathla suck the world into Hell thing. Buffy’s world is the only one I care about and I’m going to rip it apart piece by piece until she has nothing left.”

If anyone was capable of doing that to the Slayer, he figured that Cordelia Chase could pull it off. Through sheer determination she would succeed, but was she considering the fact that Angel still thought of Buffy Summers someone he had to protect? What would happen when he had to choose between them?

“So how’re things going now that Peaches is back?”

Meeting Spike’s gaze, Cordelia felt the smile drop away from her face. Even though the vamp was something of an asshole at times, he was someone she could talk to without the threat of reprisal. Dru would run to Angel; Willow would run to Buffy, while the minions simply wouldn’t understand.

“I’m so confused, Spike,” she admitted. “The soul complicates everything.”

“Why not get rid of it?”

Cordelia actually growled at him. “You think it’s that easy?

“Wasn’t that hard for the Slayer,” Spike pointed out. “One good shag and poof! It was gone. What the hell have you two been doing? Or not doing? Peaches been holding out on you?”

Cordelia slugged him sending Spike reeling back across the front lawn of the neighboring house. “Angel is my mate and your grandsire. He deserves more respect than that despite being cursed with a soul. I know I do, Spike, and if you need reminding of that I’m more than willing to help you remember.”

“Just stay there, chit,” Spike held up a finger. “We can’t fight that way. If you come back with bruises, Angel is gonna get pissed and take it out on me.”

Holding out her hand, Cordelia helped the blond vampire up to his feet. “Then don’t be such a jerk, Bleach Brain.”

“So— what part of what I said set you off?” Spike dared to pick up the conversation.

After a moment of silence, Cordelia admitted, “All of it. Tomorrow is a year to the day that Angel lost his soul, the anniversary of my death as a human. Why do I have mixed feelings about having Angel around? I should be celebrating, but I can’t because I know that any minute he’s going to remember what happened and start brooding about it.”

“Give him a reason to forget about it— or remember in a good way.” Spike suddenly wondered if his earlier guess had been on-target. He added, “Unless Peaches really is holding out on you. Cordelia, are you okay, luv?”

The fact that he had used her real name instead of calling her chit, cheerleader or luv was enough to prove Spike wasn’t trying to rile her. “You must have been out until the crack of dawn last night or you wouldn’t have any reason to doubt that Angel and I are together in just about everyway we can be.”

Spike’s little nod confirmed it.

“Believe me when I say that I can’t get enough of what Angel does to me,” Cordelia let out a sigh, “but sometimes I think he’s holding something back.”

“Bloodrights?”

“No, not that.” Cordelia told him that sex with Angel rarely ranged into pure violence as she knew that it could, but he never denied her blood. “In fact, I was the one to hold out on him at first. Not that it lasted long.”

Spike grunted in response. He figured he had better let his thoughts remain silent on that one else Cordy might shove her fist in his face again.

“It’s almost like Angel purposefully keeps us constantly on the edge. Not too violent. Not too tender.” Cordelia hopped up onto a low brick wall keeping them deep in the shadows. “Angelus could be both. I can do without the punishment he dealt out when I misbehaved a time or two, but I miss the moments when he left all that behind.”

Taking her hands in his, Spike tried to offer a bit of advice. “Look, luv, I don’t know what the poof is thinking. Having the soul— well, I don’t know what that is like and I hope I never find out. But he’s got it and I gotta imagine that he plans to keep it since he isn’t out looking for some magical mumbo-jumbo to remove it again.”

Cordelia listened quietly, letting his words sink in.

“Personally, I always thought the big prick was something of a wanker,” Spike verged on the disrespectful again, but held tightly to her hands. “He never cared about anyone or anything. Not his bitch of a sire. Not even Dru except that he cared about driving her mad before he turned her. Me— I was just his whipping boy when times were bad.”

She had heard the story in many different versions, but never from Spike’s point of view. What did it have to do with anything now? “So you never liked Angelus. What’s your point?”

“Angelus was too wrapped up in his own self to care about anyone.” Spike told her. “He isn’t the end all, be all when it comes to relationships. The guy can fuck, but that doesn’t make him king of the jungle.”

To Cordelia’s dismay, she actually let out a snort of laughter upon hearing Spike’s words. Still, she had to defend her mate. “He’s different with me. He’s always been different. As Angelus. As Angel. Sometimes he can be a dumbass, but he cares.”

“Does he care enough, Cordelia? Why is it he still has the cursed soul? Is he incapable of a moment of happiness with another vampire? Or is it because whatever part of him that touches that soul is still wrapped up in the memory of our dear friend Slutty the Vampire Slayer?”

It was a good thing that Spike held onto her, because she suddenly reeled back at the thought nearly falling off of the wall. “You’re wrong.”

“Oh, luv,” Spike dropped her hands to her lap so he could touch her face. “If you think that, you’re already behind in the game. Peaches will always have feelings for Buffy Summers. That’s the way it works. I’ve been around the block a few times, remember?”

“So you’ve known a few Slayers in love with soul-having vampires?” Cordelia’s voice turned sour.

Spike had to admit, “No.”

“Then keep your advice to yourself,” she grumbled.

“Do you love him?”

The question startled her again. “What’s love? I have vague memories of it. Childhood memories of something I thought was love from my parents— not. Silly crushes on men who existed only on movie screens.”

“What about your boyfriends?”

“Pfft! They worshipped me. I let them get close, but not as close as they wanted to be.”

“So you were a tease,” Spike grinned.

“Was not!”

“If you say so, luv.”

“Xander—,” Cordelia started to explain that Xander Harris was the only boyfriend who had ever stirred any true feelings within her. Irritation, anger bordering on hatred, and the birth of desire that went unfulfilled. “I killed him.”

Spike wondered if this little discussion was only making things worse. “Some people think vampires incapable of love. Bollocks! I love Dru. Just look at the mess I was in after she left me.”

“Pitiful!”

“Yeah,” Spike had to agree. “What did you feel when you thought Angelus was killed by the Slayer?”

“He was my mate. I was devastated at his loss,” Cordelia answered. “What do you think I felt? Why do you think I’m avenging him?”

The blond vampire had her riled up, but at least she was thinking about it instead of just pounding him with those sharp little knuckles. “Obsession. The ties of your blood. The loss of the one who made you.”

“My lover!” Cordelia added with a roar watching him step away.

“Your lover.” Spike was already turning to leave when he added, “Just think about it.”

 


A tentative knock sounded on Angel’s bedroom door. Having recently returned to the mansion after a night of demon-hunting, he had just emerged from the shower. Willow had been downstairs in her usual position in the study helping Jude with the computers and keeping a close eye on the door for Cordelia’s return.

Wrapping a towel around his waist, Angel opened the door to find the redhead looking nervous and nibbling at her thumbnail. Her eyes widened a bit at his state of undress, but she pasted a smile on her face quickly enough when he demanded to know what she wanted.

“I wanted—,” Willow started to speak only to break off as Angel let out a groan.

The vampire looked irritated. “Not again, Willow. I already told you that I’m not giving in to your whining. I know that I told you that you’d have to go through me first, but I wasn’t offering myself on a platter.”

Blushing, Willow rushed to tell him, “I’m worried about Cordy. I wanted to talk to you about it.”

“Oh.” If Angel was capable of blushing, he might have done so. “This couldn’t have waited until I was downstairs?”

Shaking her head, Willow stepped into the room and shut the door behind her. This was too important. “Some of the minions are down there. I didn’t want their super hearing in on the conversation.”

“Let me throw on some clothes first,” suggested Angel.

“Doesn’t bother me,” Willow shrugged eyeing the towel he had hurriedly slung around his hips.

Angel followed the direction of her gaze. “I’ll be right back. Stay there.”

“Okay.” She immediately wandered over to Cordelia’s vanity and rearranged the framed photograph to a better angle.

Having grabbed a pair of boxers and his robe, Angel returned wrapping the belt tightly around his waist. He gave her a look noting that she had moved. “So what are you so worried about?”

“Cordy has been acting frustrated,” Willow told him pointedly. “I think it’s your fault.”

“What?”

Willow ignored the anger in his voice and kept going. “It’s got to do with your soul, I’m betting.”

“My soul,” Angel parroted the words wondering where the witch was taking this.

“You’re holding back because you’re afraid you’ll become Angelus again,” Willow told him. It was a hypothesis she had pieced together from conversations with Cordelia. Not that Cordy had said anything directly, but sometimes when she opened her mouth to talk it didn’t close for a while.

Holding back? Maybe he was, in a way, Angel admitted to himself. Telling Willow was not going to happen.

“Angel, you know I’d do anything for Cordy. Just anything. She deserves to be happy.”

Yes, he knew that Willow would do anything even beyond the course of reason to ensure that her mistress was happy. Her own frustrations with the fact that Cordelia continued to treat her as her best friend had to be hitting a sore spot. Now the girl was coming to him to tell him of Cordy’s frustrations? There had to be a catch.

“I have some news for you, Angel,” Willow revealed with a confident smile. “Something you’ll want to hear.”

“Then tell me.”

“Not so fast. Can we negotiate just a little? Trust me— you want to know what I have to say.”

His chest rumbled with a low growl as Angel approached her from across the room. “What is it, Willow? What do you want?”

Looming over her, Angel presented an ominous picture, but Willow figured he wouldn’t really hurt her. He was supposed to be protecting her. It gave her an edge and she ran with it.

“Don’t be so growly when I’m around,” she listed her first demand. “Cordy is my friend. I like Cordelia and she likes me so you shouldn’t be so mean to me.”

Angel gripped her chin, tilting it up in a way that was not comfortable without actually causing real pain. “Stop dancing around the issue, little witch. I know what you want with Cordelia. You’re just a pet begging to be sired. You want your mistress as a lover, want her touch on your skin and her fangs in your throat.”

“Eep!” Willow let out a squeak.

“You’re still playing by the rules, Willow,” the vampire told her. “You haven’t touched what’s mine and now you’ve come to me for permission— but it’s denied.”

He released her, causing the petite teenager to stumble back against the door. Willow was unable to tell him that while in the back of her mind that was really what she wanted, it wasn’t the primary reason for her coming to see him.

“Forget the negotiations,” Angel growled dangerously as he grabbed her by the arm with one hand and opened the door with the other. Thrusting her out into the hallway, he told her, “Keep your secrets.”

Willow stood agape as Angel shut the door in her face. Forgetting all about the potential audience, she lifted her closed fist and pounded on the door. “Dumbass! It’s about your soul.”


NEXT CHAPTER:   Chapter 10


 

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