Scenes 51 – 60
51: That Night. . .
“Last one,” Cordelia delicately filed Faith’s pinky fingernail into a smooth oval as she sat cross-legged on the edge of her bed. The back of the Slayer’s chair was positioned flush with it, Faith straddling the seat and leaning over. “Which one, Sunset Red or Volcano?”
Cordelia’s impromptu salon session came at the end of a long day. There was only so much television and gossiping the two of them could cover, especially since Faith was not very big on coughing up details. During the morning, Cordy had napped making up for the hours of the night when she had not slept.
She woke up when a delivery guy showed up with some flowers, a gorgeous mix of colors that brightened up the neutral tones of her hospital room. “They’re from Angel.” A little smile turned into a big grin as Cordelia confirmed her theory by opening the attached note.
“So what’s it say?” Faith was not shy about asking. “Doesn’t seem like a guy who’s got it bad for his ex if you know what I mean.”
“You were there. You heard what Angel said.” Lifting the card out of its small envelope, she stared down at the single word written there. It wasn’t even an apology, just ‘later’ as if that was some kind of threat hanging over her head. “Pfft, he didn’t even say ‘Get Well Soon’ or ‘Sorry I Was a Jerk’.” It was signed with an ‘A’ rather than his full name.
Shoving the card back into the envelope, she tossed it onto her bedside table. If he thought a bouquet of flowers was going to make up for comparing her kisses to Buffy’s then Angel had another thing coming. “It just says ‘later’ as if I don’t already expect him to come see me. Hello, I am languishing here.”
“Yeah,” Faith’s sardonic snort drew a sideways glace from Cordelia. “You got it real tough.”
Cordelia turned on her side, propping her head in her hand. She plucked at her hospital gown with the other. “Who designs these things, anyway?”
Not long after lunch, Bev came over with some of her stuff. Much to Cordy’s eternal gratitude, she discarded the dreary hospital gown in favor of an emerald green pair of silk short pajamas that came with a matching robe.
“I didn’t realize they would be quite that short,” Bev had pointed out the way the robe barely covered the top of her thighs. “Oh well, at least those young doctors will have something to brighten their day.”
Her grandmother stayed most of the afternoon until Cordelia finally reminded her that this was her Bingo Night. “Don’t stick around on my account. Faith says the gang is planning on bringing pizza and resear— school stuff over.”
It took a little more pressure, but Bev finally agreed to go. Cordelia sent her off with a warning to be home before midnight.
“I won’t turn into a pumpkin, dear.” Laughing cheerfully, Bev pointed out that she was no Cinderella.
Glancing at Faith who was no help at all, sitting there closed-mouthed with that knowing dimpled expression on her face, Cordelia told Bev, “It’s just that there’s gonna be….”
Hmm. Good question. How did one say that there was going to be a plague of locusts in town by midnight tonight without actually saying the words ‘plague of locusts’?
“Nasty weather tonight,” Cordelia told her only to experience a sinking feeling for lying to her grandmother.
Bev opened her purse and fished around for her car keys. “Funny, but I thought the weather was supposed to be perfect for the next couple of days.”
Just going for the truth, “Well, uh, it’s actually not that kind of storm. It’s a plague of locusts. Nasty bug things,” Cordelia shuddered.
“Locusts,” Bev let out a curious huff. “Not exactly the weirdest thing I’ve seen in this town. Sounds like I should put the top up.”
Faith waited until the door closed behind Bev before commenting, “That hardly fazed her. Maybe you should rethink the part about keeping her in the dark.”
“No freakin’ way.” Cordelia was not about to go there. “I want to be able to have a conversation that doesn’t have the words demon goo or vampire dust in it.”
Rummaging through the gym bag that Bev brought, full of clothes and personal items, Cordelia pulled out her makeup bag. She flicked a look toward Faith’s nails and sing-songed, “Someone needs a manicure.”
“Somebody stake me.”
“I’ve seen walking dead with better manicures than that,” Cordy wrinkled up her nose as she took a closer look. “Angel’s hands are so…so…”
The snapping of Faith’s fingers in front of her face got her attention. “Enough with the drooling, Cor. Sheesh! Screw him.”
Thoughts about Angel were not so easily shrugged off. When Cordelia said as much, Faith gave her a hard stare. “I wasn’t kidding. Just screw him. It’s the best cure I know to get a guy out of my head.”
Cordelia stared back, wide-eyed and helpless to prevent the flash of heat flooding her cheeks because it was all too easy to imagine. Being skin to skin with Angel was a frightfully thrilling prospect. “Angel’s cursed, a no-boner. One moment of bliss and we get Angelus, so… not a good idea.”
She started filing Faith’s nails. After a few seconds, Cordy felt her heart thudding in her chest as her friend pointed out, “For a vamp, Angel’s kind of a gentleman. Who’s to say he wouldn’t just be willing to get you off?”
Sensing the barely restrained laughter in Faith’s voice, Cordelia focused on her task. For some reason, this just was not the same as talking to Harmony or one of the other cheerleaders about the guys at school. She could run rings around them when it came to talking about this stuff.
When you did not have much practical experience, it was critical to talk a good game. So why was her tongue suddenly knotted up? A soft voice in her head suggested maybe because it actually meant something this time.
“Hellooooo, he’s a vampire.” Faith should get that being a Slayer, after all.
Faith snorted, “Did that make a difference when you had your tongue down his throat? I don’t think so. Face it Cor, the vamp is a hottie. If I thought I had half a chance, I’d love to take him for a ride.”
“Hey!” Cordelia’s head snapped up.
“Watch the nail file,” laughed Faith as she held her hands in the air narrowly avoiding being accidentally stabbed. “Just saying you should make your move now before Buffy realizes what she’s missing.”
Tugging Faith’s hand back into position, Cordelia resumed shaping her nails into smooth ovals. “Angel’s a friend. That’s all. It can’t be anything more than that.”
Cordelia finished the rest of Faith’s manicure in silence announcing, “Last one,” when she was satisfied that her friend’s fingernails no longer looked like ragged claws. “Which one, Sunset Red or Volcano?”
Faith never had a chance to answer. There was a very brief knock on the door. It swung open to reveal Buffy holding a huge smiley-face balloon with dangling blue and yellow curly ribbons, Xander carrying three pizza boxes, Willow holding what looked like a plant potted in a ceramic frog, and Giles clutching a couple of worn leather-bound books to his chest.
“We’re here to save the day!” Xander grinned widely. “Chasing boredom away. Bringing munchy goodness. Bearing gifts.”
“Hee! I like that part,” Cordelia tossed the nail care items back into her makeup bag and put it aside. “Gifts are always welcome.”
Buffy tied the ribbon onto the top bed railing. “It was this or ‘Congratulations, It’s a Girl’.” The yellow smiley balloon was humongous. “The gift shop was about to close.”
“Hence the froggy?” Cordelia asked as she took the plant and set it on the table next to Angel’s elegant bouquet. She figured the gift shop was running low on the good stuff by this time of the evening.
“No,” Willow patted the ceramic butt of the chubby frog pot, “I just thought he was cute.”
Cordelia’s eyebrow arched. “Cute? Not the word I was thinking.” At Willow’s look of confusion, she cleared it up for her, “Tacky.”
“I see you’re feeling much better,” Giles commented as he stepped in to referee any ensuing argument. None resulted. Cordelia tagged on a thank you to Willow whose frown and pout vanished.
“I feel fine,” Cordelia assured Giles when she turned her attention back to him. “The doctor is keeping me another night, though. He thought he saw something funky on one of my tests.”
Murmurs of concern sounded throughout the room. Giles asked, “Which test?”
“Some brain thing,” she waved it off. “Something about activity that shouldn’t be there which was weird. He said it might be the new tech using the machine, so he wants me to have it repeated in the morning. No big.”
“Cor, you got hit by meteor debris. That’s not exactly small potatoes,” Xander lost that usual quip in his voice sounding all too serious. He put the pizza boxes down on the end of the bed and sat on the edge, but struggled to speak further.
“Enough with the doom and gloom.” Cordelia squeezed his hand for a second and smiled, “You’ll have enough to worry about if you let my pizza get cold.”
As they gorged themselves on pizza, the group talked over Giles’ discoveries and their knowledge to date. The Watcher had found approximate matches for the demon who attempted to kidnap Cordelia. He showed her two pictographs and read out the descriptors. Though both he and Faith had seen the demon, Cordelia had an up-close and personal view.
“It doesn’t say here that he had bad breath, but trust me. Eew!”
Giles stared down at the open book she had handed back to him. “Yes, I’ll be certain to make note of that,” he commented dryly. “So it’s official. Our demon is—”
“A Crosathnam mercenary,” Angel cut off the Watcher’s revelation with one of his own as he stepped into the room closing the door behind him.
Looking a little put out, Giles closed his book. “Precisely.”
Cordelia met Angel’s gaze, holding steadily for several seconds until she started looking for signs of injury. There were none to be seen. The evidence from the meteor shower was long gone and the deep bruises from his fight with Spike had finally faded away. He looked good, very good. All she could think about was Faith’s advice.
Her body awakened instantly at the thought of it, licks of fire rushing along her chest and throat, tingles settling into an achy sensation between her thighs. It was probably too much to hope that he did not notice. So there was no use worrying about trying to hide it.
Flicking her gaze back up to his, “I thought you’d be here later.” Placing an emphasis on the last word left no doubt that she referred to his card and to his promise.
“Hey, the sun hasn’t fully set,” Buffy pointed out the potential danger. There was only a glimmer of it left along the horizon. “You were in a hurry to get here.”
“I came through the tunnels.”
Cordelia watched Buffy step closer to Angel. “What’s the rush? You already sent me flowers.”
Not that she was keeping score, but Cordy figured the look on Buffy’s face as she looked over at the gorgeous bouquet was definitely worth a few bonus points. “I thought your grandmother gave them to you.”
“Nope, Bev bought me new nail polish and the latest Cosmo.”
“Oh,” Buffy tried to sound like it did not matter, but failed miserably. Still staring at the flowers, she commented, “They’re very pretty.”
No longer attached to an IV, Cordelia climbed out of bed, not bothering with her slippers. Walking over to Angel, she stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “Thank you for the flowers.”
Before he could say anything, she turned away to ask Giles, “So what else do you know about this Chrysanthemum demon?”
“Crosathnam,” corrected Giles as he adjusted his tie. “Its unique abilities allow it to produce detailed disguises making it relatively impossible to detect. However, like most bipedal species, it is vulnerable to any weapon that is sturdy enough to pierce its hide.”
The problem was not going to be how to kill the demon. It was finding him in the first place. Angel had one suggestion, “This demon can’t be working alone. We know from our first encounter the night we found the relic that there has been an influx of demons and vampires who have come to Sunnydale for the ritual. Someone has to know more about it. I’ll start at Willy’s.”
“Um, assuming they even let you in the door,” Buffy seemed to doubt it. Cordelia looked puzzled enough that she was given an explanation. “Willy has a bouncer now. There was a fight. Angel apparently bounced him pretty hard yesterday.”
Gaping, Cordelia turned around to face Angel. “You don’t look like road kill.” She eyed him up and down again looking for any sign of injury she might have missed.
He sounded more amused than pissed off, the corner of his mouth tugging in that telltale way. “Guess not,” she shrugged casually, “considering you spared Spike & Dru their creepy unlives again.”
Any hint of a smile vanished replaced by a stern look. “We’ll talk about it later.”
“Maybe I want to talk about it now.” Cordelia had to crane her neck up they were standing so close. “I sent Buffy after you. Wasn’t a Slayer enough help?”
Angel exchanged glances with Buffy, a look that Cordelia caught, but could not explain. Though she figured it had something to do with their little walk down memory lane last night. Not knowing what they talked about or whether Angel let Buffy do more than just reminisce about old times was driving her crazy with curiosity.
Hands on her hips, she was too focused on Angel to notice the way the silky material of her pajama top strained at the top button until his eyes dropped down to her cleavage. They strayed further down to the exposed length of her smooth legs before taking the slow trek back up. He had a way of making her body tingle just by looking at it.
“Trust me, Cordy.”
Dru was the one she did not trust. There was no telling what she had said to Angel. It seemed clear that he had gone there to dust them both, to put an end to the danger they posed.
She had been afraid for him going there when he was still recovering from injuries. It did not surprise her that Angel could face down Willy’s burly bouncer without any serious injury, but those two were another story. It was not just physical danger to consider. Drusilla’s wild imaginings were uppermost in her mind.
Sending Buffy was done to protect Angel, but Cordelia had thought it would be insurance against him discovering what Drusilla had in mind. Buffy knew none of it, Cordelia was certain. If the Slayer had a hint that Dru planned to teach Cordy how to make Angel a very happy vampire, their conversation this morning would have been a lot different.
That was only the half of it, though. The rest of the vision truly scared her. The part about blood and death, demons and destruction, pain and woe made her wonder if real happiness was even something to consider. Or if it was all Drusilla’s way of hinting that Angel was about to lose his soul and take her down with him.
She had to know what Drusilla revealed to him.
“Just so you know I’m not dropping the subject,” she warned him stepping back so that she had a little more space. Only he moved right back into it. “Later—”
Her voice trailed off as Cordelia noticed Angel’s attention was focused over her shoulder where Xander, Giles and Willow were still standing. Before she could glance that way, he reached down to pick up the silk robe piled up at the foot of her bed. Wrapping it around her shoulders, Angel held it, waiting for her to put her arms through the sleeves.
Tying her belt into a bow, Angel’s icy gaze melted again as he saw the quizzical look on her face. “You looked cold,” he explained with a stuttered pause.
“Thanks,” Cordelia muttered turning slowly to find the others looking anywhere except at her. “Why do I get the feeling one of you three was staring at my ass?”
A wheezing cough sounded as Giles looked up from his open book. “Well, I assure you that it wasn’t me.”
The laughter that followed broke the building tension in the room. Giles managed to turn the conversation back to his discoveries on the Crosathnam demon, the Rites of Tavrok and details gleaned from the obelisk.
“I am very close to determining the identity of the demon god described within the prophecies,” he announced. “Several symbols on the obelisk narrow the list quite considerably.”
Angel asked several questions that made a lot of sense…to Giles, anyway. Cordy had no idea why it was important that a whosiwhatsis symbol was placed above or below the whatchamacallit one. She just found it interesting that Angel seemed so involved in the whole conversation, like he was determined to ensure that this particular Big Bad did not actually get to enjoy the apocalypse.
“Excellent,” Giles looked pleased. “I had not considered the possibility that the two symbols represented a divergence from the original form. That would mean,” he flipped through several pages of the book and mumbled his way through one or two passages, “there are only two possible candidates.”
“Go Angel,” whooped Cordy semi-enthusiastically. “Moving along now. Let’s get to the part where the evil uglies are planning to sacrifice me. Priorities, that’s all I’m saying.”
Giles no longer looked so thrilled at divulging the details of his research. “Ah, yes, well perhaps we should discuss that in general.”
“We can discuss it in plenty, too,” Cordelia insisted. “Don’t skimp on the details.”
When Giles turned pale and muttered, “Oh dear,” she started feeling a little queasy, too. Whatever news he had on the subject was not going to be pleasant.
Wavering on her feet a little, the ache in her head throbbing a bit, Cordy felt her back shored up by the hard wall of Angel’s torso. His hands were a reassuring weight against her shoulders. Her breath caught in her throat, trapped there as she waited for Giles to break whatever news he had about the demony plans for making her a sacrifice.
“The Crosathnam demon spoke of the Rites of Tavrok,” Giles told the group in general. “It is a ritual shared by a number of demon cultures that require cross-dimensional transit. Some of these creatures possess godlike powers. They can access our dimension in some partial or minimized form, attaining worshippers despite their limitations in interacting on this plane of existence.”
“Not those kind of details, Giles.” There was a little growl in Cordelia’s voice as she told him, “Skip ahead to the part about me.”
Angel’s thumbs were moving along the knotted muscles of her shoulders, slipping up to the tight cords of her neck instinctively massaging away the tension there. No one noticed his hands beneath the veil of her hair. They were all caught up in the horror that Giles was divulging and even though Cordelia heard what he was saying, it was hard not to focus on Angel’s touch.
“There are usually several victims involved in the ritual,” Giles explained with a gulp. “Karla Brewer was the first chosen. You are obviously the second.”
Willow obviously remembered details of the future parts of the prophecy. “There are three others, so five in all.”
“Why Cordelia?” asked Xander.
Buffy let out a laugh that seemed rather out of place. “Sorry,” she apologized when everyone turned to stare at her. “It’s just that I was remembering what we were talking about in the car yesterday.”
Joining in on the fun, Willow’s tittering turned into a series of little snorts. She could barely breathe as she shared the joke with Cordelia, “Y’know…virgin sacrifices,” who gave her an annoyed look.
“So, what’s your point? It’s not like I don’t qualify as sacrifice material.”
Angel was statue-still behind her obviously having understood what she meant. Great. Now everyone knew. Though his hands stilled, their comforting weight did not disappear as she thought it might.
Willow slapped a hand over her own mouth when she realized no one else was laughing. She should have left the hand in place because her jaw gaped open as soon as she let go. “Oh. Really?” Staring at Cordelia as if she had suddenly transformed into a different person, and then back at Xander who turned beet red before slinking into the corner of the room, Willow stuttered in surprise, “Gosh. I..I…You never….Wow, I…I’ll just shut up now.”
“You’re a virgin, Cor?” Grinning, Faith spoke up for the first time since the others had entered the room. She looked surprised, but not remotely judgmental.
“What’s the big deal? Is it so hard to believe that I’m just very selective?”
“No. It’s cool,” Faith shrugged. At least she was talking to her when the others all seemed incapable of putting two words together. “I was just thinking,” Cordy saw mischief dancing in Faith’s eyes as she glanced up at Angel standing behind her. “There’s one sure way to avoid being a virgin sacrifice. Find someone to pop your cherry.”
Practically leaping into action, Cordelia moved out of Angel’s gentle hold to walk across the room. She snatched the old demonology book out of Giles hands and blindly started to flip through the pages.
“I don’t think you’ll find that kind of instruction in there,” Giles held out a hand for his book, fear for its safety written on his face.
She shoved it back at him. “What am I supposed to do, hold auditions? The winner takes care of my little problem?”
“Cordy—”, she heard Angel issue a low word of caution.
Anger brewed in his eyes as she whipped around to face him. “If that’s all that’s keeping me from being sliced and diced on some demon altar, then I say Faith has the right idea. It should not be that hard to fix this. Hell, even Xander has the right equipment.”
Angel struggled with stormy emotions. She could read the subtle changes on his face and caught a glimpse of gold and amber glinting in his eyes before the warm brown depths returned. One glimpse of fury and then his face was a calm mask again making her wonder if she imagined it.
Reason returned for them both as Cordy took in long gasps of air, settling down. “Well, I wouldn’t do that.”
There was no response. Did she honestly expect Angel to volunteer? Impossible, even if he wanted to.
When the awkward silence stretched out to an uncomfortable length, Giles finally cleared his throat, taking the initiative to speak. “There is no certainty that links Cordelia’s…ah… circumstances with that of the prophecy, although it is likely the chosen sacrifices will share some common ground.”
“The chrysanthemum guy told me he needed my purity,” Cordelia pointed out. “I got the hint.”
“He referred to you as one of the Varstrae.” Giles looked intrigued by her words rather than taking them at face value. “Purity could mean many things. A virginal state is certainly one of them, but it could also refer to a purity of heart, of spirit, of something meaningful that is necessary to the ritual or to the demon for whom the sacrifice is being made.”
“So not helpful,” Cordy rolled her eyes.
Picking up his other book, Giles told her, “Now that you mention it, I think that I recall a line or two that might give us more information. Unfortunately, the text is in a dialect of ancient Sumerian that I am somewhat unfamiliar with. Some of the subtleties of the language could be lost on me.”
“Oh.” Cordy blinked at the significance of his words feeling queasy in response. Giles had actually admitted he did not know everything.
“The Watcher’s Council is sending someone to assist us,” he announced. “We are actually very close to making the discovery ourselves, but they felt it necessary.”
Buffy leapt to her Watcher’s defense, “You were doing great on your own. Why should they butt in?”
Adjusting his glasses higher onto the bridge of his nose, Giles gave her a slight smile. “If the events of the prophecy all come to pass, the effects will have worldwide impact, far more than just the Hellmouth. I am not beyond accepting a little help.”
It seemed to Cordelia that any more details were going to have to wait. Giles told her that he did not want to get into the actual descriptions of the sacrificing itself because he felt it unnecessary. He was more concerned with the reasons Cordelia had been chosen. Knowing that might provide some insight to the ritual itself and a way to forestall the fulfillment of this prophecy, he was open to looking at this problem from new angles.
“Tonight marks a significant event within the timeline of the prophecy,” Giles told them drawing confused looks from most in the room.
Xander asked, “Locusts?” The rest of his question was obvious. How were locusts in any way significant to anything other than being creepy insects?
“Not the locusts themselves, perhaps,” Giles said, “but the timeline. There is nothing within the scroll to suggest another event within the next three weeks. It bothers me,” he admitted.
Faith turned around in her chair so that she was no longer straddling it. Hearing that tone in his voice must have weirded her out as much as it did Cordy. “What’s up with that? Why nothing?”
“Maybe the scroll is missing something,” Buffy suggested only to be told that the scroll containing the prophecy was found intact.
Nibbling at her bottom lip, Willow paused to say, “It’s like the demons are waiting for a big event, storing up resources.”
Cordy followed up with, “Do demons eat locusts?” The others gave her odd looks for her seemingly random question. “They like the beetles at Willy’s place. Maybe the locusts are like energy bars or something.”
She shrugged at Buffy’s “Gross!” and Xander’s “Ugh!”
Everyone turned to Angel who simply said, “I don’t eat them.”
“Duh, vampire,” Cordelia rolled her eyes at the look of horror on his face. “Dork, no one said you did.”
Her question was not completely off base. According to Giles, “There might be some merit to your suggestions. I don’t doubt there is a reason for the length of time between events, though at this moment I have no working hypothesis for it. As for the locusts, each event is vital to the fulfillment of the overall prophecy. Whether the locusts are simply a visual sign or the snack of choice for this demon god is anyone’s guess.”
The group discussed other findings after debating the sign versus snack theory. It was getting late and the hospital operator finally announced the end of visiting hours. Giles indicated that they should leave now, but there was still time for one of the two Slayers to make a short round of the cemeteries.
“Just be home before midnight. It won’t be pleasant if you’re caught outside when the locusts arrive,” he warned them.
Buffy sighed. “I’ll stay here and watch Cordelia tonight. Faith’s been cooped up here all last night and most of today.”
“Thanks for volunteering.” Cordy did not like the way she made it sound like saving her life was a chore.
“I’ll do it, B,” Faith stood next to Cordelia. Then her cheek dimpled, “I’m sure Cor said something about giving me a pedicure.”
Cordelia slipped her a playfully murderous glance. “Slayer toes are way different than fingers. I’m guessing you wear those clunky boots for a reason.”
“Just offering,” shrugged Buffy who followed Giles toward the door. “Goodnight.”
“Sleep tight,” Xander quipped, “don’t let the locusts bite.”
Willow waved her goodbyes.
“Coming, Angel?” Buffy turned around in the open doorway fully expecting him to give her an affirmative answer. Cordelia might have enjoyed the shock on her face when he told her no if she was not so busy watching Angel himself.
“I’m giving Faith the night off,” Angel told her.
Buffy definitely did not look happy with that idea. “But the nurses won’t let you. Hospital policy—”
“Isn’t a problem,” Angel cut her off. “I took care of it. Faith needs a night off and you should be at home tonight. After all, Joyce won’t want to be alone when the locusts hit. There is no guarantee some of them won’t get inside the house.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought about that,” Buffy’s worries shifted instantly. “I guess that’s a good idea. So it’s great that you’re taking your turn standing guard.”
There was a flicker of doubt in Buffy’s eyes as Cordelia watched them saying their goodbyes. Nothing in their words or actions suggested that their patrol last night had ended with the two of them locked in a passionate embrace. She supposed Buffy would have been more than happy to share the details if that had been the case.
The angst in the air made her want to gag on it. Cordelia turned away from the sight of the pair only to find herself facing the colorful bouquet Angel had given her. The tiny cream-colored envelope lay on the table next to the flowers. Cordy picked it up and pulled the card with its single-word message into view.
‘Later’ it read.
Cordelia heard the door click and the familiar voices of her friends faded away behind it. Slowly glancing over her shoulder, she found that Angel was leaning against the door, watching her with a lazy, yet purposeful expression.
Maybe it was a silent message that his big frame blocked the only exit. If so, her body reacted as if a thousand butterflies took flight within as she gave in to sheer anticipation. Whatever he meant by it, Cordelia knew one thing with certainty.
Later meant now.
52: Mercy Hospital, Westside, Sunnydale
A click of the door shut out the world beyond Cordelia’s hospital room. Random sounds faded: a ringing phone at the nurses station, intermittent bleeping from an IV pole, the rattling cough of a patient down the hall, and the muted voices of the night shift staff. On some level, Angel remained aware of it all, keyed in to anything out of place.
Right now, the focus of his highly attuned senses stood only a few feet away, taut as a bowstring as she watched him watching her. If he had learned one thing about Cordelia, it was that he would not have long to wait to hear what was on her mind.
Brow arching challengingly, Cordelia’s relaxed tone belied her body language. “So this is later,” she tossed the small card bearing his message onto the tray table.
Angel silently admitted that the one-word note tortured as much as it teased. He hoped that it conveyed his intention to pick up their conversation where they left it. The flowers were simply a gift, not a method of atonement. If he was expected to eat his words, she was sure as hell going to do the same.
Having accepted the flowers, thanking him despite the potentially cryptic note attached, she did not seem half as surprised by the gesture as Buffy, who went pale and wide-eyed upon realizing the flowers came from him. Vaguely, Angel wondered at Buffy’s reaction when Cordy leaned in to kiss his cheek. Being very distracted at the time by the lingering warmth against his skin, he had neither noticed nor cared if it bothered his ex.
Being here had little to do with Buffy, but it was still difficult to push the thought of her completely out of his mind. Angel felt a knot of guilt that would not go away. The fact that he had used their relationship to get back at Cordy was contemptuous. He had dug down deep, biting back with words he instinctively knew would hurt the most, a demonic reaction for something that scraped at his all too human emotions.
Cordy had demanded that he take back what he said at Shady Hill after their kiss. He had every intention of trying to fix that, especially since it was apparent there would be no miraculous bout of amnesia to save him from doing so. However, Angel’s plans to explain his momentary insanity would not be accompanied by an apology for kissing her.
That kiss had been spontaneous and ultimately unavoidable. The tension between them had been building up like a simmering volcano. It was not one-sided attraction, but both of them had their reasons to fight it. He was too confused by the intensity of his feelings to sort out hers. On his part, their growing friendship was a source of so many positive emotions and experiences that Angel did not want to chance losing it, but when Cordelia said that the kisses meant nothing to her, that she experienced better, he knew she was lying.
Angel stalked closer without breaking eye contact, half-expecting to set off an internal defense mechanism in the form of a verbal attack. She was watchful, silently waiting for him to speak, no doubt expecting him to spill his guts by way of apologizing. She would have to hold her breath a long time for that to happen.
They had other important things to discuss, too. Not just their untimely kisses. Cordy’s safety was high on that list. The Crosathnam demon remained at large. The threat he posed was real. Angel intended to personally protect Cordelia or ensure that one of the slayers was at her side when he could not be there.
Drusilla’s words played heavily on his mind, far too much to ignore. Hinting that Cordelia had a destiny that involved him, she spoke of their closeness, new family ties, of blood & death. Just when Angel became concerned that Dru was predicting Angelus’ return, she seemed to offer him more evidence. Cordelia’s blood would spill, she had predicted with a surety he could not refute.
That was only part of what Dru told him. She had enticed him with other things from her visions or her equally vivid imagination. Angel knew that Dru had said something to Cordelia back at Trinity Church that scared her, something about him. Since then, the tension between them had become nearly palpable. If she had suggested half as much to Cordelia as she had said to him, it was no wonder Cordy had been second-guessing his every move.
“Love her, my Angel. For if not, her path will set the darkness free.”
That was his greatest fear, losing his soul, setting Angelus loose upon the world again. It all seemed within the realm of the possible if he gave into his desires. Hoarsely, he said, “I can’t,” as his grip on her arms tightened a notch.
When she leaned in closer to console him, she promised, “Oh, but you will,” only to draw further ire. Angel thrust her away, not wanting to hear more of something that meant he was going to put Cordelia in danger. Not put off by the rejection or his rough move, Dru fell to her knees, collapsing forward, reaching out to steady herself by grasping his legs.
How innocent she looked as her cheek nuzzled his groin. A slow grin appeared conveying a reminder of every intimate or wicked thing that had ever passed between them. For a moment, he thought Dru had plans to seduce him, and she did in a way, by making him listen.
Drusilla’s black lashes fanned across the curve of her alabaster cheeks. “Do what you do best. Make her yours,” she pleaded opening her eyes again to drown him in their depths. He got hard fast under the weight of her stare as if she had taken his cock in hand and dragged her wet tongue root to tip. “Let her find solace in your arms. Let her take you into her body, then again, and again, and again, and again. Until you spear her heart. Until you live inside it forever.”
The vivid picture Dru had painted was arousing as if she had tapped into his new cache of Cordelia fantasies. He pinned himself to the wall as her nails curled into his thighs, afraid to admit that he might welcome an excuse to seduce Cordelia. His childe seemed to want him to have one. Effortlessly, she rose to her feet, fingers skittering across his covered erection. “All for her,” she gave him a pout.
Growling out, “Enough, Dru,” he dragged her hand up to his chest. “I’m not here to play games. I want answers.”
Whatever the nature of the threat in Drusilla’s vision, she was not able to or interested in providing any details. Maybe she had just decided that telling him to seduce Cordelia would be a fun way to force the soul out.
As much as he wanted to believe that the threat to Cordelia was not real, that Drusilla’s seductive advice was just a trap in the form of a lie. Or a false vision he could ignore, he knew it to be real. This was not one of those times Dru thought it might be fun to lie to Daddy just to be punished for it. This was a warning. The threat against Cordelia’s life was all too real, but was he the source of that threat or her savior?
There was the curse to consider. Angelus unfettered. That would not happen. He could not let it.
Angel wanted to say that the curse should be no concern for Cordelia. Not for a friend. Yet, this was fast becoming more than just friendship. It was different than before, too complicated a feeling. Angel was not sure what to call it. He liked Cordy a lot. Simple. Easy. True. That was not even the half of it because the easy emotions were colored with lust making Drusilla’s predictions out to be less crazy than he wanted them to be.
Desire chipped away at his resolve slowly revealing itself to be far more powerful. Angel wanted her. Simple and true, but wrapped up in too many complications to count. Far more than was safe by any measure. These yearnings needed to stop.
Achieving a perfect moment of unguarded bliss a second time might be impossible. His awareness of the risk might negate it completely. Now that he was aware of the danger, he felt that he had some level of control over his actions. He could take things so far, but no further. Do things that focused on her feelings, not his. Never forgetting who he was, or what he was, being physical and not emotional.
Sex with Cordelia would be far different, too. His demon did not retreat into the depths of his subconscious when he allowed himself to fantasize about her.
The images that painted his thoughts were often red with lust, crimson with blood, and sizzled hot. Tonight, he had learned that she was a virgin, a status that surprised most in the room at the time, but strangely enough, not him. His instinctive reaction was an overwhelming rush of possessiveness.
There might even be some wisdom in Faith’s cheeky remarks considering Dru’s warning. The slayer told him that he should take one for the team and help Cordelia out with her little problem. Maybe she was right, but it could not be so easy when Dru predicted a deadly outcome.
Logically, as a friend, Angel knew that he should step aside to let someone else handle the issue. There would be no threat from the curse, no risk to the world, or to Cordelia, only his sanity.
So, who would it be? He growled inwardly at the torturous thought, denial and anger shooting across raw nerves. Xander Harris? The little whelp obviously never knew what to do with Cordelia when they were a couple. Expecting him to man-up now was just laughable. After his betrayal, Harris was probably the last person Cordelia would want to sleep with.
Who, then, Rupert Giles? Ridiculous. Except that during one of their patrols, Cordy had been in over-sharing mode and told him that she thought Giles was hot for an older guy. “It’s probably the accent,” she had theorized. Amused at the time, Angel now wondered if she would find it attractive if the watcher’s voice box was ripped out and handed to him.
Well, it certainly would not be some random schoolmate eager to make a score. Angel mentally cleaved his way through an imaginary sea of young men with a broadsword, leaving a heap of corpses behind. Cordelia must have found them lacking in one way or another, he smirked at the thought of their shortcomings.
Getting angry about it was not going to solve anything. Nor would imagining himself in the role of lover be anything more than a study in masochism, self-torture. He could not have her, not the way he wanted her, again and again, until she belonged to him, again and again, until Cordelia loved him as much as he was afraid he was capable of loving her.
Just looking at her now made his body stir. It would be easy to reach out and to pull her into his arms, but this was not one of his fantasies. Self-denial was his daily routine, and he ignored the crude whispers of his demon urging him to get on with it. Make her pay for comparing his kisses to untried boys and untalented men.
This was not about revenge. Her words still hurt, even as he denied their validity. Angel needed Cordelia to acknowledge their mutual desire in order to understand the need to avoid any mishaps in the future. He would no longer let her believe that her kiss meant nothing, or that he felt more for someone else than he did for her.
Drusilla’s words echoed, “Love her, my Angel.”
He was frightened for her, but just selfish enough to want to claim what little he could for himself. She needed to know where he stood, where they stood. It was a precipice from which any misstep would cause them to fall into darkness.
53: Mercy Hospital, Westside, Sunnydale
Cordy’s heart was racing, feeling like it was going to leap right out of her chest. A sound that super vampire hearing had to detect.
Anticipation had her reeling inside as she watched him prowl closer like a panther on the hunt, those dark sexy eyes trained directly on her. He was not here to talk about the flowers or to explain his cryptic message. The flowers were just that age-old polite thing to do, but Angel had never been a gentleman.
The note was all about taunting her, stirring her up. Talk about mixed signals. He promised to take back what he had said, but falling back into old habits had not said a word to her since he had closed the door. Monosyllable guy had returned, even if he did look hot.
Inwardly grumbling, Cordy realized that she was not supposed to be thinking about Angel’s hotness factor. But, helloooooo that was hard to do when he was standing right there looking so intense.
Turning toward him, Cordelia took a step forward, her feet bare. The chill of the speckled flooring went unnoticed, but the way her body leapt inwardly in reaction to his nearness did not. Her tingles had tingles. All she had to do was reach out in order to trail her fingertips down his chest.
Something stopped her. It was the thought that despite the fact that they were alone, Buffy still stood between them. Instantly annoyed, she said, “Funny, but I thought you were supposed to be eating your words right about now, chowing down on them, in fact.”
Wrong thing to say if that scowl meant anything. Apparently, they needed Bev to act as interpreter or referee because all Cordelia could detect was the low grind of his teeth.
“What?” Cordelia asked when Angel remained silent. Eyes narrowing suspiciously, she wondered if he was planning to say nothing at all.
Maybe Bev’s assumptions about their supposedly kinky romance bothered him. It was a little unsettling to have your grandmother nose into your love life especially when it was no such thing. Cordy shoved that thought aside. If anything, Angel had been amused by Bev’s comments.
No, the reason for the silent treatment was another B-word altogether. Ooh, if he really did compare her to Buffy, he was going to be deader than usual when she finished with him.
“When you said later, I didn’t realize you meant the next millennium.” Lifting her hand, she covered a wide yawn. Feigning boredom, Cordelia turned back toward the tray table to examine her flowers more closely.
Just because Buffy ended the relationship did not mean that Angel was even close to being over it. Cordelia knew that Angel felt some attraction toward her, but vampire though he might be, he was still a guy, and she was still Cordelia Chase. Faith was right about one thing. If she wanted anything more than friendship with Angel, this was the time to act, before Buffy realized what she was missing.
Cordelia could sense him right behind her. He had moved closer when she turned away. She fingered the delicate petals of one flower while waiting for him speak, to say anything, but she did not have the patience for it.
Whirling around, butting into him, she tilted her head up and told him what she wanted to hear. “You were so not thinking about Buffy when you kissed me. I do not need a hormone detector to know when a guy wants me. As for you, buddy, let’s just say—”
Angel’s kiss swept softly across the warmth of her lips. A muttered protest faded to a sigh as the light between them vanished, as her eyes closed. Gently, his fingertips skimmed across her hips, flesh rasping against silk, moving upward, leaving an internal wake of fire.
Cool leather could not hide him from her touch. Kneading his biceps, she reached up, brushing her hands across his broad shoulders to wind her arms around his neck.
Cordelia pulled herself closer, instinctively pressing her breasts against the hard wall of his chest. Her fingers combed through the short hair at the nape of his neck, nails curling, scraping softly. The sound Angel made deep in his throat echoed into her mouth as she touched her tongue to his as it licked her plump lower lip.
His gentle, almost tentative touch altered instantly. There was nothing but want in the way she kissed him, acceptance in her touch and the way her body clung to his. Hiding her feelings was the last thing on her mind even if the worries that still remained huddled in the darkness.
A gasp of remembrance sounded as they parted for an instant. Cordelia half-lifted her lids, seeing only the way Angel stared at her mouth as if letting her up for air had deprived him of something vital. She rubbed her cheek against his, breathing a sigh across his skin and felt him shudder in her arms.
Angel’s large hands stroked a wide path along her spine still layered with silk. His touch left her blood humming, her body flushed. Almost desperately, she sought out his mouth, her eyes slamming shut again as their lips collided.
He kissed her until her breath ran out, tracing the line of Cordelia’s jaw with soft kisses and his teasing tongue before coming back to her mouth for more. Pliant lips molded hers, tasting, nipping, leaving her gasping and mewling, opening up to him.
Hot, yet trembling, she felt almost panicky with the need to be closer, to touch him. Cordy dragged his coat off his broad shoulders. It hung at his elbows until Angel reluctantly dropped his hands away from her hips. Tossing the coat onto the bed, Angel’s potent gaze held hers. She ached to feel his hands on her skin this time, but there was something in those eyes that kept her from asking for it.
Recognition that this was dangerous, that they had both won and lost their fight to make the other pay for words neither one of them meant. Not that she would actually admit it. In Angel’s arms, Cordelia could see herself falling for him in a way she had never done with anyone, but it only took one thought of Drusilla’s predictions to remind her why it was a bad idea.
His name poured from her lips with a warning. Cordelia took half a step back only to stop when Angel reached toward her. Dazed by his haunted eyes, she wanted to take back the words that sounded next, “We can’t.”
Angel traced the curve of her flushed cheek, fingers lacing through her hair to cup the nape of her neck. His thumb rubbed softly along the line of her jaw. “We can. Just this,” he pressed his lips to the beauty spot on her cheek. “Here, tonight, this is safe, Cordy. Trust me to keep you safe.”
Those last words whispered across her mouth, his lips hovering temptingly close to hers. In truth, she wanted more. Urging softly, “So kiss me, already,” Cordelia flashed a smile as Angel closed the gap between them.
They kissed until the night nurse caught them making out in the corner. She had come in after a brief knock, but Angel had only reluctantly broken their kiss. It was a tough choice to decide who was more embarrassed, but Cordelia decided that the nurse took the prize. Mumbling something about forgetting her stethoscope at the desk, she bolted out of the room, closing the door behind her.
“Think we should’ve told her it was around her neck?” Angel asked slowly.
Cordelia leaned back against the wall again pointing out, “She could’ve been the demon guy. What happened to being my bodyguard?”
“I’m guarding it,” Angel curled his hand around her hip, rubbing his thumb along the elastic waistband of her shorts. Her robe had somehow come undone.
Rolling her eyes at the smug smile twitching at his lips, Cordelia poked a finger at his chest. “You heard her coming.” After all, with vampire speed, Angel could have been in the chair pretending to be reading a book or magazine before the nurse took a step into the room.
“Maybe I did,” he confessed, dropping his head to close his mouth over hers.
Clinging to the kiss, Cordelia stood on tiptoes as he started to straighten up and move away. Her hands went up to his shoulders again to pull him back into her embrace, but his hands closed over her arms, his body tensing. Cordelia dropped back to her feet and gazed in the direction of the window as Angel moved toward it, suddenly intent upon listening to something she could not hear.
He lifted one slat in the Venetian blinds covering the windows to stare out into the darkness. “It’s happening. They’re coming.”
“Who?” Cordelia grew wary. Moving up beside him, she placed her hand in the crook of his elbow and leaned in to lift up another slat of the blinds. The parking lot was illuminated outside. The darkness beyond was thick, yet seemed to be moving, swarming.
“The locusts,” Angel explained as he dropped the slat back into place. Reaching over, he pulled on the cord for the curtains, closing them over the windows. “It’s time.”
In a matter of seconds, muffled screams could be heard from ground level. Then a roar of white noise drowned the sounds. It went on and on. Cordelia jerked back as random splats hit the window two-stories up from the ground. “They can’t get in here, can they?”
He did not even hear the question, Cordy realized when she saw Angel holding his hands to his ears. At supra-human levels, the noise the locusts were creating was obviously painful. It was etched across his face. Backing away from the windows, she put her arm around his waist, leading him toward the door figuring that the further they got away from the noise, the easier it would be for him.
Cordelia grabbed for the door handle, but the commotion she heard on the other side told her things were not going to be quite so simple. A slice of light showed beneath the door, shadows blotting it out as the sound of running footsteps pounded on the floor. Shouts came from the hallway, “Close the fire doors, close the fire doors.”
There was no fire, but the swarming insects had managed to get into the building and were already showing up on the upper floors. The hospital staff was trying to block the locusts from getting into the patient rooms. Cordelia realized they were trapped inside for the moment, but the thin space between the door and the floor was just large enough to allow unwelcome buggy visitors to crawl through.
Grabbing a towel from the bathroom, she shoved it into the crack beneath the door. Standing again, Cordelia looked up at Angel who was watching her with a bemused expression on his face, hands now at his side. She reached up to cup his cheek. “Are you okay?”
“The worst is over, but they’ll be everywhere for a while.” Angel advised that they stay put.
“Eew.” Cordy felt she already had more than enough experience with bugs for one lifetime. She danced away from the door with a hip-hop toward the bed as she looked around to ensure that none of the locusts had gotten into the room.
Moving forward, Angel took two handfuls of silk robe into his grasp. He slipped the robe off her shoulders pulling it taut around her arms, bringing her a step toward him. Cordelia went willingly, sliding her hands around his waist to the muscular planes of his back. He felt so good beneath her fingers.
A secret smile crept onto her face as she lifted her eyes toward his. “Go me!” Cordy murmured to herself just before Angel’s lips touched hers.
The kiss was gentle like the first of their kisses tonight. It ended far sooner than Cordelia wanted. Her newly discarded robe lay at the bottom of her bed pooled against Angel’s leather duster. She stared at it for a moment thinking thoughts that brought a little sigh of frustration to her lips.
“Time for bed,” Angel’s words caused her to jerk out of her thoughts, a rosy flush coloring her skin. He pulled back the top sheet and blanket, standing by with an expectant look on his face.
With a crooked eyebrow, Cordelia gaped, “Excuse me?”
Angel swiftly dropped the bed linen. “I only meant…,” his voice dropped off as he struggled for the right explanation. Finally muttering something about the late hour, thumbing toward the wall clock, reminding her that this was a hospital and she was still a patient, Angel eventually managed to make his meaning clear.
“Oh. Whatever,” Cordelia climbed into bed, pulling the sheet over her legs. This obviously meant that the kissing part of the evening was over. Trying to hide her disappointment, she launched into a discourse on the evil doctor who refused to release her to go home today.
54: Mercy Hospital, Westside, Sunnydale
Settling into the bedside chair, Angel listened as she rambled on from one subject to another. Avoiding, he knew, the one thing they should be talking about. What happened between them tonight was not something to skip over. Even though it had not gone beyond kisses and chaste caresses, it was only because Angel had forced himself to hold back.
He had been playing with fire and he knew it. Making certain that Cordelia knew it, too, seemed necessary. It was the right thing to do.
Angel leaned back in the chair, watching her talk, noting the way the light played across her face and the way her lips glistened when she paused to lick them. He counseled himself to say something to convince her that there could be no repeat of tonight, no more kisses without consequences, but he could not bring himself to say the words when he did not want to believe them. Instead, saying nothing, Angel listened to her story, more attuned to her voice than the words themselves.
55: The Library, Sunnydale High School, Eastside, Sunnydale
“The only thing I learned tonight,” Buffy told the gang as she plunked into a chair at the research table, “was that Willy has a special on chocolate-covered locusts.”
Cordelia scrunched up her nose, “Eew, gross.”
“Disgusting,” Willow agreed, momentarily turning her attention away from the website on Ritual Sacrifices and its detailed jpeg files. “Though, I have read about places that consider that kind of thing a delicacy.”
“There’s still some pizza left, Buffster,” Xander tapped the box. “If you don’t mind the anchovies.”
Her stomach rolled at the thought. Post-patrol hunger was not an issue after watching Willy prepare bags of insects for tonight’s bar crowd. “I’ll skip the snackage.”
Except for dealing with demons with unusual taste in munchies, Buffy’s patrol had been fairly routine. Giles had kept the rest of them at the library researching stuff on Cordy’s Crosathnam demon. As usual, Faith was nowhere to be found tonight. After dropping Cor at the library, she had taken off again just when Angel showed up.
It was not Buffy’s business to keep tabs on Faith, but it was weird that she just took off whenever she felt like it. That had to irritate Giles, but he refused to talk about Faith’s behavior.
Buffy was more concerned about Angel’s behavior than she was about the other Slayer. As soon as the sun went down, he was stuck like superglue to Cordelia’s side. She had been out of the hospital for two days. She was totally fine. There were no signs of any kidnapping demony cops or trouble-making vampires around and yet everyone was hovering over her like Cor was some damsel-in-distress.
Lately, Buffy just had a weird vibe every time Cordelia and Angel were together. It was not anything she could lay her finger on. They stuck to their spot on the steps as usual, researching. Talking quietly, too quietly. Buffy frowned in their direction as she realized Angel was actually having a conversation with Cordelia.
Casually getting out of her chair, she stretched her arms over her head, her pert breasts moving beneath her thin sweater. She was about to walk over to join them when Xander asked again, “You sure you don’t want some pizza?”
It seemed like the only person who had noticed her attempt at gaining a little deserved attention was Xander. Giles’ nose was turned into a book and Willow was again focused on her computer screen.
“No,” Buffy sighed. Dropping the act, she walked over to the steps. “What are you two up to?”
Simultaneously, Angel and Cordy lifted their heads to focus on her. “Just talking,” Angel answered quietly though he was the picture of guilt.
Buffy noticed that he shut the book they had been looking at together, holding his finger between the pages to save their place. “About what? I think we have covered all there is to know about Crosathnam demons. I could kill one blindfolded.”
“Assuming we find it,” Xander pointed out, eavesdropping.
Glaring at him briefly, Buffy muttered an agreement, “Yeah,” before turning back to the two huddled shoulder to shoulder on the steps. “So what’s the research on tonight?”
She pointed at the book that had a modern glossy blue binding instead of the usual frayed cloth or worn leather of Giles’ ancient book collection. It had come directly off the library shelves.
“Nosy much?” Cordelia huffed irritably only to turn toward Angel who had given a gentle nudge. Snorting, “Well, she is.”
Angel held up the book so she could see the cover, still holding his place as if he was anxious to get back to the conversation. Surprised, Buffy felt her jaw gape open and quickly shut it. “Tai chi? What’s that got to do with the demon cop or the prophecy?”
“Cordy and I were going over some defensive techniques,” Angel explained with a shrug. “I promised— considering the circumstances, I want her to be prepared.”
Cordelia was smiling again. What was it about being a potential demon sacrifice that made a girl like Cordelia Chase smile so much? “Giles and I can show Cor a few moves. Not that she’ll need them with one of us around all of the time.”
Having heard his name mentioned, Giles offered, “We can certainly include you in our training sessions, Cordelia.”
“Thanks,” Cordelia stood up next to Buffy so that her natural height gave her the tiniest advantage, “but Angel plans to show me all of the moves I’ll need.”
Cordelia brushed past Buffy who tensed up as she read between the lines. She watched as Cor made her way over to the counter where the extra sodas were lined up. Popping the top of a Diet Coke, she took a long swig. A seemingly random comment followed, “Mmm, some things are just better cold.”
Buffy could not help but make a connection to between those words and Angel’s cool touch. Surely, Cordelia wasn’t hinting, was she? The snappy comments and the weird vibes and those huddled conversations on the stairs were just too much. This all added up to something she didn’t like, not one little bit.
No doubt Angel was just concerned for her wellbeing. He was just being protective of his patrol partner. Just look at the trouble she had already caused. Not only did they have a prophecy to prevent, they had to safeguard Cordelia from crazy vamps and melty-faced demons.
Poor Angel. Over-exposure to Cordelia Chase would cause anyone to act weird. It was just Cordelia’s influence that had him acting strange. Obviously, she was just trying to make Buffy believe that Angel was actually interested in her. Just like she used to after they had first met him. It was funny how Cordelia used to embarrass herself over Angel, but kinda strange how it was not equally hilarious now.
Thinking about it now left a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. Besides, it was not like Angel could actually do anything about it even if he was interested. Not that he was. Nope. He could not be.
Unsettled, Buffy tried to remind herself of the many reasons why she broke up with Angel in the first place. Sometimes, it was hard to remember.
56: Mayor’s Office, City Hall, State Street, North Central Sunnydale
“I guess you’re wondering why I called.” Mayor Wilkins was smiling at her in that same way he did on the bulletin boards at the bus stops.
Faith shifted in the leather chair, feeling the weight of the cell phone in her front jacket pocket. “I already told you, I’m not interested.” She pulled out the phone to hand it to him. “Maybe you should take this back. No deal.”
“Don’t be so hasty,” the mayor tut-tutted. Reaching over to a sideboard against the wall of his office, he picked up a silver tray. “Cookie? My mother used to make the best chocolate-walnut cookies. There’s nothing better than homemade cookies and a cold glass of milk.”
Standing abruptly, Faith told him, “I don’t want your cookies or your phone.” She dropped the silver cell phone on his desk. “Whatever scam you’re running, I don’t want any part of it.”
She was about to move away when the mayor’s voice darkened authoritatively, “Sit down, Faith. You’re not going anywhere, yet. Just remember what I told you will happen if you don’t listen.”
Faith’s jaw tightened. Rage rose up fast. The anger flowing through her was close to uncontrollable. “Don’t threaten me,” she panted through the urge to hurl the mayor against the wall and bash his head with his silver platter. “You leave them out of this.”
“You should try some warm milk instead,” the mayor tilted his head. “I find it has a calming effect. As for your friends, you should have thought of that before.”
Eyes blazing fury, she stood her ground, refusing to sit despite the order Richard Wilkins had given. Her hands curled into tight fists held at her side. One mistake and now he had her under his thumb.
“Cooperate with me, Faithy, and you’ll be around to witness the birth of a god.”
Sneering at him, Faith was not one hundred percent sure what he was getting at, but it didn’t sound good. Was he mixed up with this whole prophecy deal? “Maybe I don’t like to watch.”
The mayor simply smiled again. Opening the right-hand drawer of his desk, he pulled out a long, flat box tied up with a pink ribbon. “Go ahead. Open it up.”
Sensing that she had no choice but to comply, Faith snatched the box from the desk. With one tug of the ribbon, it fell loose. She dropped it on the floor and smirked at the way the mayor’s eyes went wide as the ribbon curled up on his clean carpet.
“What’s this?” Faith demanded as she gazed at the contents of the box.
The answer he gave belied his matter-of-fact tone. “An ornate ceremonial dagger forged in the subterranean fires beneath Mount Hidaknui by the spawn of the demon lord Ornkadu. Just your typical pointy object. You do know how to use one.”
“I have a good idea,” Faith glared at him.
“You know you can’t kill me,” he reminded her. She’d seen that much. “Now take your present. You young people are so ungrateful these days.”
Faith didn’t bother to hide her sarcasm, “Thanks. What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Oh, there’s a certain someone who could interfere with my plans,” Wilkins let out a deep sigh. “We’ll go over all of that as soon as we deal with the issue of that dreadful place you’ve been living at. There are actually illicit things going on in that hotel.”
Snorting, Faith shrugged, “That and all the screwing.” A grin formed despite the fact that the mayor was still pissing her off.
“Well, it’s no place for my girl.”
Her smile faded quickly. “Just tell me what I gotta do.”
57: Thousand Oaks Drive, Sunnydale
Sunset left behind a biting wind that whipped along Thousand Oaks Drive. A storm front was moving into town, its dark, heavy clouds randomly obscuring and revealing glimpses of the nearly full moon overhead. Cordelia tugged her jacket closed, but the chilly air breezing around her legs and under her skirt made her wish she’d changed into her exercise outfit before leaving April Fools for the night.
Faith walked at a brisk pace next to her seemingly unaffected by the first taste of winter. Dressed in her jeans and matching jacket, it did not look like the slayer was in a hurry to get to a hot date, but it certainly seemed like she was in a rush.
“Slow down, Speedy,” Cordelia jogged a few paces on her high heels and reached out to catch the edge of Faith’s sleeve. “I’d like to get there without looking— or smelling like crap.
A dimple appeared in Faith’s cheek an instant before her smile followed. “You’re planning to get hot and sweaty anyway, right? This is just a warm-up for your workout.”
The double-entendre was not lost on Cordelia who had had to tell someone about her make-out session with Angel. It was just too juicy to keep all to herself. Of course, she had sworn Faith to secrecy on the matter and had confidence that she would not spout off to the Scoobies.
The only thing was that there had not been any real decision between herself and Angel about what happened next. What was the next step and was it possible to even have one considering where that next step might lead? They were supposed to be friends, after all, she reminded herself.
It was a fact she had told herself many times since her release from the hospital two days ago. Most of her time had been spent at school, work or squeezing in a little time with Angel. Last night after the Scooby Meeting had ended, Angel brought her straight home. Giles had told them of the expected lull in demonic activity, a brief period of time when the demon worshippers were gathering strength before things started up again with a bang.
Despite the fact that Cordelia felt fine, Angel had wanted her to wait another night before they resumed their training sessions. Faith was not planning on taking over bodyguard duty until after midnight, so Cordy had convinced Angel to spend the evening inside the house with her instead of patrolling the perimeter.
He had given in to her plea for company only after she smiled and warned him of the potential dangers to her young psyche. “Bev is out,” she had explained that no one was home. “This is her Bingo Night. Or what used to be. She’s on a crusade now that the mayor has closed down the bingo hall. Pfft, somebody should tell him that Willy runs a demon bar.”
So they had ended up on the couch watching the Turner Classic Movie channel, a compromise between Cordelia’s choice of her favorite reality TV show and Angel’s discovery of a Charlton Heston flick. It had taken a while to get Angel to relax as he was in high-alert mode, but Cordy managed to convince him that he would hear something if one of the bad guys was breaking into the house.
A rush of warmth bloomed at the memory of curling up on the couch next to him and at the moment when Angel finally gave in to the urge to put his arm around her shoulder. How his eyes darkened to reveal an instant of longing that Cordelia could only begin to fully comprehend. All she knew was her own need to kiss him was overwhelming.
Angel moaned against her mouth as she palmed his face and pressed her lips against his, a throaty mix of pure want and defeat. He gave in to it long enough to make her melt inside, for the tingles of excitement to become an unbearable need to touch and be touched.
Somehow, she had ended up straddling his lap. Cordy could not recall exactly how she had gotten there. It just felt right to have him between her thighs. The thought caused a flash of heat that seemed ten times hotter against the cool night air, but she could not stop thinking about it.
Kisses, hot and hungry, lasted only minutes numbering far too few for either of them, but too inflammable to let continue. Cordelia let out a short gasp against his throat as his hands cupped the weight of her breasts through the thin barriers of her blouse and bra.
Lifting her head a fraction of an inch, Cordelia’s eyes flicked down to watch as his teasing thumbs brushed lightly across the cresting peaks. Then Angel’s dark head obliterated the view as he leaned in to rub his cheek against one hardened tip before sliding his lips across her flushed skin to the bounding pulse point at her throat.
Cordelia shifted her hips, leaning closer. She could feel him getting hard beneath her. With her boyfriends, she would normally be the one to put on the brakes when things got to this point, but Angel was not just another guy and she was far from wanting to stop.
He must’ve seen it in her eyes because he looked all smug and male for a second before dropping his head to the back of the couch, closing his eyes and wrapping his arms around her. Cordelia tucked her head against Angel’s shoulder and tried to fight off the urge to protest. The soothing movements of his hands against her back tended to linger low on her spine; ineffective in curtailing the needy ache centered so close to its cure.
Cordelia shifted into an upright position propping her hands on his shoulders for support. Her bottom settled directly over Angel’s arousal causing him to buck upward in automatic reaction. His hands flew to her hips, holding her there as they both moaned in response, staring into each other’s eyes. Angel’s were full of unhidden desire, regret and guilt.
Deciding she was not going to let either of them regret anything that happened or let Angel start brooding about it, Cordelia pointed out, “Y’know, we’re missing the movie.” Not that she really cared about an old film that was not even in color. That just gave them an excuse to stop without mumbling apologies that neither one of them meant.
Moving back to his side, Cordelia deliberately reclaimed her previous spot, looking at Angel expectantly until he dropped his arm back around her shoulder. “Watch the movie,” she prompted when he kept looking at her instead. Someone needed to tell him to patent that smile.
Dragging her thoughts back to the present when Faith’s laughter filled her ears, Cordelia commented, “The only workout we have planned is a little Tai Chi. I’m supposed to be learning to center myself, to gain awareness of my surroundings and an understanding of body movement.”
“Uh huh.” The quirk of her brow suggested Faith had something else in mind.
Cordelia protested, “Does your mind always move in such skanky directions?”
“You bet,” Faith quipped.
They walked on passing the crossroads at Maple Court where The Magic Box, a creepy store Willow frequented, was located. Unlike Mrs. Finkle, the store offered late night hours. Cordelia was grateful that dear old Finkface liked to get home to her ten cats. The woman was a stickler for closing right on the dot.
Actually, she was a stickler for just about everything and had her eye on every employee, customer and item in her store. The dress shop was not exactly full of haute couture, but Cordelia liked being surrounded by pretty things even if she could no longer afford them.
“I had to stop Mrs Finkle from calling the cops on you,” Cordelia revealed with a laugh.
While Faith had been fulfilling her promise to Angel by keeping an eye on Cordy, Mrs Finkle’s overly suspicious nature had gone on full alert. She had gone as far as warning Cordelia to, “Watch out for that one.” Apparently, Faith was not the type who normally frequented the shop.
“Yeah, I believe it,” Faith shrugged. “Your boss-lady is a snob. She took one look at my boots and for a sec, I thought she was gonna faint.”
Cordelia glanced downward noting the slightly mud-encrusted edge of said boots. “Um, yeah, they’re very…sturdy; no doubt a good way to hide your hammertoes.”
Joking about the whole bodyguard situation, they kept the subject light despite its serious nature. After an interior sweep under Mrs. Finkle’s watchful eye, Faith had retreated to the perimeter of the building making frequent patrols of the area. Loitering nearby had not gone unnoticed.
“No offence, Cor, but guarding your ass is a bore,” Faith admitted.
“That’s fine and/or hot ass to you,” Cordelia corrected with a grin.
Faith played along, teasing her, “Angel thinks so.”
After a pause, “Does he?”
“You’ve got to be kidding. Do you really have to ask?”
Well, no, but Cordelia liked the confirmation. Though she had to wonder if Faith was just basing her observations on what she had witnessed at Shady Hill, or if it was obvious to everybody. Cordelia purposely had not done a lot of thinking about Buffy having pushed all thoughts of her to the back of her mind.
Only it was not that simple. Explaining things to Buffy seemed complicated. Not that she owed Buffy an explanation. It was just that they were friends of a sort. And Cordy had a thing about girls macking on other girl’s boyfriends.
Ex-boyfriend, Cordelia emphasized the point. “Whatever. I just want to be ready if this demon attacks me again. This is so not how I imagined the whole bodyguard scenario. That usually involves stardom and a limo.”
Complaining about the lack of action, Faith punched a fist into her open palm. “I hate waiting around. We ought to be doing something. Search this dude out and kick his ass. There’s too much going on in this town for someone not to know where to find him.”
“The usual snitches aren’t giving us anything,” Cordelia reminded that Buffy and Angel had already questioned Willy. “Nobody’s talking. Now we don’t even have the nightly disasters to clue us in to their evil schemes. Until the crap hits the fan again, things are dead around town.”
“Tell me about it,” muttered Faith who suddenly seemed to be in the mood to kill something. She kicked at an empty garbage can neatly upturned at the end of a driveway sending it flying onto the lawn.
Raising an eyebrow, Cordelia suggested, “Take it easy and save it for the demon. The only troublemaker out on the town tonight is probably Bev,” she added with a wry laugh as she told Faith about her grandmother’s plan to picket City Hall first thing in the morning. “She is out and about trying to drum up supporters from her bingo crowd.”
The subject did not seem to lighten Faith’s mood. “You should tell her to back off.”
Puzzled, Cordelia asked, “Why? It’s just a bunch of old ladies. The mayor isn’t gonna make a big deal about something like that.”
“No, he won’t make a big deal, Cor,” she agreed. “It’s politics. Guys like him just sweep things under the rug.”
Confident that Bev could handle it, Cordelia figured that her grandmother would have her bingo parlor open again by sunset tomorrow. “Mayor Wilkins won’t get away with it if Bev has her say. Just wait and see.”
As they turned north along the sidewalk on Crawford Street, Cordelia changed the subject. She had heard Faith talking about the mayor before, saying that he seemed like a nice guy. That she did not meet many nice guys that didn’t want something from her. So Cordy shrugged the whole thing off as Faith defending Mister Nice Guy.
It was easy to forget because the closer they got to the mansion the more her thoughts were focused on Angel. Slayers, mayors and grandmothers were not high on the priority list. For all of her intentions about getting some real training in, she could not help but wonder whether Angel would kiss her again, touch her in a way that left her wanting more.
Inwardly, Cordelia chided herself for wanting what she could not have. More like should not have. Angel was off-limits for so many reasons, the main ones being: cursed and vampire. Although the latter did not turn her off half as much as it should.
The front door swung open almost as soon as they had reached the steps to the mansion. Angel stood in the shadows of the doorframe, “I heard you coming,” he explained casually.
Faith cleared her throat and nudged Cordelia with her elbow. “Guess I’ll be taking off.”
“You could come in, too,” Angel invited, a little too awkwardly to be mistaken as completely genuine.
“Nah,” Faith declined the offer explaining, “I’ve gotta bolt. Gonna check out the Bronze. It’s been ages since I’ve hit the dance floor.”
Saying nothing, Cordelia just sent her a meaningful glare. Faith’s dimpled grin returned as she told them, “Have fun, you two. Since B gets day-watch, I’ll be at Bev’s by sunset tomorrow.”
A rumble of thunder sounded as Cordelia watched Faith jog down the pebbled drive, her dark brown hair bouncing around her shoulders. When her friend turned the corner out of sight, she let out a long breath she had not realized she was holding. Excited about the idea of being alone with Angel again, she felt a rush of nervous energy.
Not taking her eyes off of him, she heard the click-clack of her heels against the marble steps as she walked up to meet Angel. He was dressed for their training session in a black top and matching low-riding sweat pants, his pale skin starkly contrasting with his clothes.
“H-how was your day?” Angel’s tongue fumbled over the words as his eyes swept over her wind-swept hair before settling on her face.
Cordelia did not bother with a description of school or Mrs. Finkle’s suspicions. She stepped within arms length, still hugging her arms across her chest in effort to keep the cold out even though it was the last thing on her mind. “I missed you.”
For an instant, Angel’s body tensed, his eyes rapidly darkening until it seemed they would swallow her up. He reached out, his fingertips caressing her cheek with the barest touch before he dropped his arm back to his side. Cordelia felt a stab of disappointment hit when she realized no kiss was to follow.
A little confused, she stepped past him into the foyer as the breeze whooshed in through the open door. Angel looked out at the dense clouds, “The wind seems to be picking up. Smells like rain.”
Watching as Angel closed the door, shutting out the cold, Cordelia realized that she was not used to having to hint to be kissed. The guys she was used to were all mouths and hands. Though admittedly they were amateurs compared to Angel. A tiny little hello smooch would not have been rejected, or a long, hot welcome kiss for that matter.
Cordelia tossed the backpack that was slung over one shoulder onto the floor as she removed her jacket. “I see you’ve been practicing small talk,” she sounded a bit miffed. “Now that you’ve mastered the weather, maybe we can move on to more daring subjects— like your health, for instance.”
“Um,” Angel frowned looking ultra-serious as he reminded her he had no pulse.
Rosy lips fell open, “Oh, right, got me on that one.” Silence ticked between them for a few seconds. Cordelia Chase did not beg anyone for kisses, but she decided to give Angel a break. After all, his social skills were a little underdeveloped to the point of being almost non-existent.
Stepping close, she grabbed a handful of his cotton shirt and tugged him the rest of the way. Tilting her head up to meet his curious gaze, “Kiss me,” Cordy issued her little directive.
Angel’s brows lifted, mouth quirking at one corner. “I thought we were going to take things slow.”
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Cordelia remembered agreeing to that. After all, it had been her idea— sort of, but it had nothing to do with hello kisses. Angel did not wait for her to comment. His arms wound around her, reeling her closer so that her breasts pressed into his chest. Big hands slid across her silk blouse, one pressing between her shoulder blades, the other wandering up to claim a fistful of her glossy tresses.
Pliant lips covered hers, soft in their exploration, as cool as her wind-chilled skin. Cordelia’s lips parted beneath his. Her living breath warmed them both. Angel’s tongue dipped in gently, his mouth worshipping hers until she moaned into his.
The hands clutching at his sides slid beneath the cotton shirt he wore. Cordelia pressed her palms open wide spreading upward from the waistband of his sweats. Hard muscles rippled beneath her touch as she moved them up the smooth contours of Angel’s back. Clasping his shoulders, Cordelia tiptoed instinctively to press her belly closer still, a deep throb building within.
Angel’s kisses were addictive. Each one made her want more. The hand on her back slid down to cup her firm bottom, a gentle caress with just enough pressure to bring them into closer contact. She hooked one ankle around his calf, the heel of her shoe catching on his black sweats. A whimper escaped her throat as the action brought her up against an unmistakable hard ridge. Cordelia’s eyes flew open for a second as their lips parted, long enough to catch the steady, determined control masking Angel’s handsome face.
Cordelia pressed her flushed cheek into Angel’s shoulder, holding on as he rocked their bodies together once, twice and again, teasing them both. He shifted his hold, untangling them and Cordy’s legs felt like spaghetti as she stepped back. Angel let her go, but he looked as if he might snatch her back into his arms and forget all about the idea of going slowly.
Pfft, they seemed to have skipped a few steps along the slow route. Not that Cordelia minded. She had never felt so wanton before, so out of control. Angel’s touch evoked responses she did not know herself capable of feeling. Though she did not consider herself a novice when it came to making out, his experience totally eclipsed hers. While that made her a little nervous, Angel was obviously just as affected by their kisses.
Kinda hard to hide the fact, she smirked inwardly as her gaze trailed southward. The visible tenting was a little more than Cordelia could handle, especially when Angel did not bother to try to hide it.
“Boy howdy!” Her eyes darted back up as a mischievous grin spread across her face. “I guess you do know how to say hello, after all.”
Amusement flitted over Angel’s face for a moment before settling back into that expression of controlled desire. Physical reactions aside, there was not any doubt in her mind that he wanted her, too. Under normal circumstances, Cordelia knew she would not hesitate to go all the way with him.
But these were not normal circumstances.
The reminder weakened her smiled. Cordelia sucked her lower lip into her mouth, catching it between her teeth. She looked away, her eyes darting around in effort to find something to say that was not, ‘I want to touch you now.’
“Great,” she muttered, turning and reaching down to snatch her backpack from the floor. “One little kiss and I’m a raving nymphomaniac.”
Straightening up, Cordelia noticed Angel rubbing a hand over his mouth. Her eyes narrowed and then widened dramatically as she realized he had overheard her little observation. “Maybe we should get to the Tai Chi stuff. I think I could use a little distraction.”
Angel reminded her, “Tai Chi is about focus and self-awareness,” his voice deeper than usual.
“Pretty self-aware at the moment,” Cordelia chimed. “Maybe we should skip to the ass-kicking part of my training.”
“You’re not ready to get rough and tumble.” Angel might not have intended his words to have a double meaning, but Cordy’s imagination had other ideas.
The room had not gone into total blackout the way it had the first time after Angel shut the door. Previously unnoticed, the glow of several candles brightened the semi-darkness of the foyer. The candlelight shone golden across Angel’s skin and deepened the shadows in the corners of the room. She glanced toward the end of the hall where a glimmer of light showed beneath the closed study door. “I need to change into my training clothes.”
Angel’s gaze flicked down to the backpack guessing, “The blue cling—,” when Cordelia’s amused snort cut him off.
“Eew, no,” she rolled her eyes. “Not the blue clingy one. As if I would actually wear that one again. It has meteor stains.” Adding on for good measure, “and that creepy demon touched it.”
All perfectly good reasons why that exercise outfit deserved to be burned in an eternal hellfire as far as Cordelia was concerned. “Can I change in there?” she pointed toward the study.
“Sure,” Angel answered and then quickly shut his mouth.
Cordelia paused in front of him, unable to resist commenting, “It’s the red one.”
She felt his eyes on her all the way down the hall, a notion Cordelia confirmed before opening the door. Tossing her hair over her shoulder, peeking back at him in the process she felt a burst of feminine pride as she realized he could not take his eyes off her.
If only that feeling wasn’t at war with her practical side that kept reminding her of Drusilla’s dark vision of the future. As the memories of that shared vision flashed through her mind’s eye, Cordelia shuddered.
58: The Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale
Angel felt grateful that Cordelia took a while to change clothes. He needed to get a hold on his emotions, to curtail the urge to continue where they had left off. Cordy possessed a natural enthusiasm that made it easy forget her inexperience. Desire stirred low in his loins, still thick and heavy, as thoughts of a far more personal training session painted tempting images. Teaching her all that he knew about sex would be a pleasure in many ways.
The tragedy of their situation was not lost on him. He felt it acutely. So much that it quelled his arousal, anger at his own folly rising within him. He could not have her the way he wanted, not without risking everything. How many times did he have to remind himself of it? Angel knew it would not be the last.
He leaned up against the wall, head back, eyes closed as he soaked in the utter silence of the foyer. Beyond the dark stretch of the hallway, he heard Cordelia’s movements as she shifted her belongings and moved around the study. More distantly, the unique song of the night filtered to his ears. It soothed his frayed nerves.
When the door opened, he was ready to face seeing Cordelia wearing blood red, curve-hugging, midriff-baring Lycra— almost. Angel gulped instinctively.
“The basement is this way,” he thumbed in the direction of the door. “I’ve got it all set up for us,” and then adding unnecessarily, “for training.”
Angel opened the door and waved her toward the stairs. She smiled almost shyly, and in the next instant turned to jog down the stairs. Cordy had put her hair up in a ponytail that bounced wildly, but it was not what had his attention. Groaning inwardly, Angel told himself to focus on the training session. He needed to learn quickly about not letting Cordelia distract him.
“First, you will learn to awaken the Chi,” Angel instructed deciding to make this a hands-off session. The temptation to touch her, to guide her movements into the appropriate positions was strong. Giving into that need would not bode well for the rest of their lesson.
Following along with Angel’s example, Cordelia moved through the motions of the various Tai Chi exercises. He was impressed with how quickly she memorized the correct forms; though she tended to break from the rhythm of Qi Gong laughing over the names as he explained what each form was called.
Arms stretched out, Angel lifted up his hands, moving them back down through a form that loosened the joints of the shoulders, elbows and wrists. As Cordelia mimicked the fluttering arm movements, Angel spoke the name in Chinese, the sound rolling off his tongue.
Repeating it in English elicited another fit of giggles, “Wild Goose Looks for Food.”
“Oh, yeah,” Cordelia snorted. “Next time we’re in a bar fight, remind me to use that move.”
Annoyance flitted across his face. Angel straightened up from his slightly crouched position propping both hands on his lean hips making his shoulders look even broader.
“Sorry, sorry!” Cordelia stifled one last laugh and hopped in place. Coming to a halt, she pointed at her face, “Serious mode now. Teach me.”
Giving her one last suspicious look, Angel turned back into position. “We’ll start over.”
Cordelia nodded, “Ready!” automatically moving back to the first position.
Almost instantly, they started moving in sync side-by-side. Their bodies stretched and flexed as one, motion after motion following form until a light sheen of sweat glistened across their skin. Angel heightened senses keyed into the steady beat of Cordy’s heart, her slow, deep rhythmic breaths and the subtle lingering sent of her arousal.
She had joined him in silence for longer than he had imagined possible. Cordelia was a natural talker. She could hold up both ends of a conversation with ease. So, it was no surprise when she finally spoke, this time without breaking form.
“I told Faith,” Cordy confessed with a glance in his direction.
Angel finished another move before responding, “You mean about us.”
“The kissing part at the hospital,” she clarified. “I wasn’t sure, technically, if there is an US.”
That brought the exercise to an end. Angel straightened up, watching her for a moment as Cordelia continued to move through the rest of the form. She stared straight ahead instead of looking at him, but he could see the tension that built up in her shoulders.
Sensing her uncertainty, Angel closed his big hand around her upper arm whirling her to face him. Whatever clarity the Tai Chi session may have provided, it seemed only to have heightened her doubts.
Angel had enough of his own to worry about, especially whether or not getting involved with Cordelia was the right thing to do. God knows he wanted it badly enough. She had to know that much after what happened between them earlier.
The issue seemed clear to him, but Cordelia managed to make it confusing. “Are we together officially or unofficially, or are we just having a little fun? Y’know, a little macking on the side while—”
“Stop,” Angel barked in effort to get a word in. Anger, frustration and confusion jockeyed for control as he tried to find the right way to answer her question. “If you’re asking me if I’m serious about this…about being with you, then the answer is yes.”
He heard a little sigh escape her lips, but she seemed to be waiting to hear more, so Angel pressed on. He released his hold on her arm, lifting his hand to cup her cheek. “There’s nothing unofficial about it, Cordy. Not if you want me the same way.”
“Yes.” Not even a slight hint of doubt sounded in her rapid response.
Briefly, Angel pressed his lips to hers, pulling back when she would have given him more. He sounded harsher than he meant to, but Cordelia needed to face facts before getting in too deep. Because Angel knew once he truly started to let himself think of her as being his, he would never want to walk away from this or from her.
“I’m a vampire,” he morphed into his natural features, hard ridges supplanting smooth angles. “You can’t ever forget that, or let me. There’s a reason I’ve been cursed and I pay for it every day with the memories of the countless people I’ve drained, tortured and left for dead.”
Cordelia paled slightly. It was an ugly truth, after all. Yet she looked deep into his ochre eyes to say, “I know all of that.”
“Cordy, I don’t want you to be one of them,” he stressed. “I lost my soul because I let myself forget about everything I’ve done, about the evil inside me. There is no guarantee that I—.”
“Whoa, buddy! There’re no guarantees for a lot of things.” Cordelia poked him in the chest. “You don’t need to rehash the exploits of Angelus. I have seen you evil, up close and personal. Not easy to forget.”
Shifting back into his human form, Angel relaxed a little at the fact that Cordelia did not scare easily. “What if I told you that I want you?”
Angel tried to fight off the smile that threatened to appear as he continued. He needed to know that she was ready for a relationship, partly blaming his failed love affair with Buffy because neither one of them knew what they were getting into. He was also fully cognizant of the risks. “I don’t know how far we can go, physically.”
Heat bloomed beneath his hand as a bright blush colored her cheeks. “As far as it’s safe, I suppose. Funny how they don’t cover soul lossage in Health Ed. It’s all about condoms and bananas.”
He lost his train of thought after that.
“So…umm,” Cordelia clasped her hands behind her back, swaying side to side. “I told Faith about us. She promised to keep it quiet.”
“Do you want to?” Angel asked suddenly picturing the hullabaloo that would follow any announcement that they were a couple. “Keep it quiet, I mean.”
Cordelia frowned thoughtfully. “Could we keep it between us for now? Part of me wants to tell the others, but you know what will happen.”
“Yes,” Angel nodded. “Buffy and Xander—”
“It’s none of their business,” Angel growled at the notion that their two exes had any say in the matter. At the same time, he had to concede, “But they deserve to be told at the right moment.”
“And in the right way,” Cordelia totally agreed. Pointing out, “I’m pretty sure that ‘Bite me, Angel’s mine now’ won’t go over in a big way.”
That mesmerizing smile appeared on her face holding Angel captive and making him helpless to do anything more than smile back. Finally, he decided that Cordelia was right about waiting a while. Springing the news on everyone right now while they were in the middle of this apocalyptic prophecy, especially when Cordy was in danger and needed Buffy’s support, seemed like the wrong timing.
Angel pulled her into his arms, hands shifting over her shoulders and down to her waist, enjoying the sensation of so much bare skin. “We’ll wait to tell them.”
“Good.” Arms around his neck, she reached up to kiss him. The warmth of her lips lingered even after she pulled away.
Angel pulled the scrunchy elastic thing out of her hair, fingering through her long tresses. Even damp with perspiration she was beautiful, womanly beyond her years despite her innocence. He had meant to be frank with her so she would understand the risk she was taking. Still, he doubted she knew just how much he desired her.
That he had been fantasizing about her in ways that also fueled his demonic nature. Things she was nowhere near to being ready to experience yet. Angel felt his loins tighten just at the thought of it and quickly admonished himself for bringing such base thoughts into the realm of possibility.
Maybe it would not surprise her. Cordelia was passionate enough to have an active fantasy life of her own and he hoped he played a part in it. That was something he wanted to eventually explore. Angel knew they needed to take this slowly, but as they had already demonstrated that wasn’t likely to happen.
He had the ability to be patient when he wanted to be. For Cordelia’s sake, Angel planned to try. Slow was out of the question, but there was a difference between moving ahead and moving too quickly. Just to test the notion out, he kissed her with determined tenderness, finding his resolve wavering when Cordy let out a mewl of pleasure.
There was just one thing he needed to know before letting things go any further. It was a question he had been asking for a while now. One Cordelia stubbornly refused to answer.
Lifting his head, Angel watched her eyelids flutter open and the silent question forming on her still-pursed lips. He brushed his mouth across hers one more time before asking, “What was it that Drusilla said to you at Trinity Church?”
He felt her body tense beneath his hands. Cordelia blinked, and then looked away for a moment. Slowly, she lifted her gaze back to his. “The future, I guess. That’s what she does.”
“What future?” Angel wanted specifics.
Cordelia pressed her lips together. They opened with a soft pop as she told him, “Ours, I suppose. She showed me….”
Any elation Angel felt died when he remembered that Dru’s vision had frightened Cordy. “What?”
“It’s just that—,” she began only to falter. Then Cordy’s grin appeared, not as genuine as the last. Her eyes pleaded for him to press no further. “I can tell you that there’s a serious lack of limousines and red carpets.”
59: Angel’s Mansion, Crawford Street, North Central Sunnydale
“Tell me,” Angel refused to be daunted by Cordelia’s diversion tactics. As they stood toe to toe, he laced his fingers through hers, softening the impact of his demand by stroking her palm. “Be honest, Cordy. Don’t keep me in the dark. What was so frightening?”
Cordelia squeezed his hand before hesitantly raising her eyes back to his, “You.”
Stunned, Angel jerked back dropping his hold on her hand as he tried to fit that revelation into the picture Drusilla had painted for him. He shook his head slowly. All he could think about was his fears of repeating mistakes he made with Buffy. That somehow his soul would be lost again and as Angelus he would renew his plan to target the Slayer’s friends for death, this time starting with Cordelia.
Only death would not serve as an escape, but a sentence to an eternity by his side. Angel felt sick at the surge of pure demonic lust that welled up inside him at the thought of truly making her his. It was a thought, an instinct he suppressed as other images flashed through his mind of her wrists bound, her body writhing as their lovers’ games went far beyond the point of pleasure.
He was a vampire with demonic desires, but that wasn’t what he wanted. Every remnant of humanity within him wanted something more. Voice thick with denial, “You know I’d do anything in my power to protect you, even from me.”
Angel touched his lips to her forehead before continuing, “Promise you’ll stake me if I—”
“Pfft! That’s a given,” Cordelia raised her brows and sent a look that suggested he was way off track. “I wasn’t talking about Angelus.”
That meant he frightened her, which was a hundred times worse. Looking for answers in her eyes, Angel saw only the slow buildup of a smile that started with a satisfied little smirk. Confusion kept him silent until Cordelia finally explained, “Drusilla showed me glimpses of my future. You were there— um, with me.”
Angel wondered just how far in the future Dru’s glimpse had taken them. “We’re still seeing each other?”
“Oh, yeah, a lot,” Cordelia clarified. “When I said you were with me, I meant you were with me. There was nakedness and…” a blush colored her cheeks as her words trailed off, eyes tilting upward as she got lost in the memory of it.
Fear diminishing, Angel began to realize the reason for Cordelia’s initial reaction to him. With their friendship so new, it was no wonder seeing something like that had frightened her a little, especially considering the curse. If that was all that was holding her back, Angel knew he could alleviate some of those fears. Not all at once, perhaps. Not even tonight.
Curious, he wanted to hear more. Confidence renewed, Angel stepped forward again. His fingertips slid over the curves of her hip spreading out to span her small waist. “Were we making love?” he asked, purposely phrasing it gently.
When her hands lifted to settle on his arms, he felt like purring at her touch. God, he wanted more, now. Somehow, Angel managed to keep still despite the urge to make that vision a reality. Despite sensing her early arousal, he knew Cordelia was not ready to make that leap in their relationship, even if it was somehow possible.
Cordelia’s tongue dragged across her lips. They parted as her gaze slipped down to his mouth. “Yes,” she answered looking back up at him.
There were limits Angel was holding to tonight, but that did not meant he could not push them a little. “Tell me what you saw. Did we kiss?” His lips captured hers briefly, only a tease as her head tilted up for more when he lifted his mouth away to let her answer.
As she opened her eyes that had drifted closed during the kiss, Cordelia let out a little mewl of protest, wanting more. “Yes,” she admitted licking her lips again to savor the taste of him, “but not just my mouth.”
“Here?” One hand moved up so that his thumb brushed the curved underside of her breast.
Cordelia nodded and a little pant escaped her throat as his hand turned, the back of his fingers moving across the outer curve and then shifting again to fully cup her breast in his palm. The Lycra proved a thin barrier as it revealed the budding shape of her nipple.
Before he gave into the temptation to bend his head down to drag his tongue across the peaking fabric, Angel moved his hand back to the curve of her waist. He settled for kissing her instead, a soft moan sounding between them inflaming the soft touch of lips into something more.
Mouths parted into a wet slip-slide of tasting and teasing. Like an addict, Angel could not get enough. He fluttered his tongue against the flat of hers eliciting a lusty little sound as Cordy’s arms wound around his neck, and crushed her body against his.
Maybe it was for the best when Cordelia reluctantly ended the kiss by settling her hand on his cheek. “Angel, wait. I have to tell you the rest.”
60: Giles Place, Oak Park Street, South Central Sunnydale
Having just settled down for a relaxing evening of light research and a hot cup of tea, Rupert Giles was not expecting the doorbell to ring. He had sensed that everyone was at a point where they needed to take advantage of this break in demonic activity. His Slayers needed a night off.
At a guess, Giles figured that it might be Faith stopping over to provide him with an update. A glance through the peephole revealed he could not be further off the mark. The visual distortion caused by the small glass revealed only an unnaturally enlarged pair of eyes and nose behind thick frames as his visitor leaned close to the door.
Giles stepped back and opened the door. The young man suddenly stumbled over the threshold righting himself after a moment. While pressing his hands down over his suit jacket as if straightening unseen wrinkles, he lifted his jaw a degree higher and spoke, “Rupert Giles, I presume. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce here. It is an honor to meet you.”
During the handshake that followed, Giles noted that they seemed to be sizing each other up. The young man was far from what he expected. The Council had not provided many details, just a rather vague curriculum vitae. Their primary concern was to send assistance as it now appeared that they had not only one, but two apocalyptic-level events that would endanger the security of the Hellmouth and the world at large.
His hand was soft except for the calloused edge of his third finger, which indicated to Giles that he did a lot of writing, typical of a scholar. The name Wyndam-Pryce preceded him. Like Giles’ father, his too had Council ties. That alone made Giles want to give the younger man a break for arriving a day ahead of schedule.
However, it was not simply scholarly expertise Giles required. Dividing his time between two Slayers was problematic. Buffy needed guidance and depended on him to provide it. Keeping her on track through the volatile course of her personal ups and downs was a handful. The world could not afford a lapse of concentration.
Neither did it help that Buffy and Faith were such disparate personalities. Much like squabbling siblings vying for the attention of their father figure, their relationship angled toward the competitive.
Faith needed something quite different than Buffy when it came to training. She needed control and temperance, someone she could not dominate into letting her have her way. Giles only hoped that appearances were deceiving when it came to Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.
“I understand that you narrowly beat out Gwendolyn Post for the job,” Giles said as he ushered him into the living room.
Apparently, Ms. Post did not have the necessary expertise in ancient languages required to deal with this current crisis whilst he did. Considering Faith’s sexually charged habit of manipulating the men in her sphere, through teasing or outright seduction, providing a female Watcher would have been an ace decision on the Council’s part. Putting Faith’s development as a Slayer into this young man’s hands was somewhat concerning.
On paper, his credentials were sparkling. What they did not mention was his experience in the field. Beaming proudly in response, he told Giles, “I have taken it upon myself to become extensively familiar with Sunnydale history, the origins of the Septarius scroll in your possession, and with the rather illuminating reports about my Slayer.”
Giles pressed his mouth closed and then offered his new comrade some tea. “I believe you will have better luck with Faith if you let go any preconceived notions about her.”
“Luck is immaterial,” he sounded certain of it. “It is my duty and therefore I will and must succeed.”
Oh, dear. Giles lifted his cup to his mouth hiding his smirk behind it. Idealism was hardly going to make an impression on Faith. It might be amusing to see how she reacted to her new Watcher especially since she had already protested that she neither needed nor wanted one. And yet it was necessary.
“When might I be able to meet her?”
The enthusiasm to get on with his new role was strangely annoying, and yet equally familiar. Giles could remember his own nervous anticipation at meeting Buffy for the first time. Whilst he had not expected to become Watcher to a second Slayer, acting as such on Faith’s behalf had been a challenge. They had only just settled in to a steady working relationship building up the trust between them.
“Not tonight,” Giles sounded a bit perturbed. When Wyndam-Pryce’s brows shot up in reaction, he knew that he had noticed. Tempering his voice, he explained why. “I gave everyone the night off.”
Jaw dropping in reaction, he clipped, “Evil doesn’t take the night off, Mr. Giles, neither should Slayers.”
Giles watched him set down the teacup and rise to his feet. Perhaps this young man needed a little lesson in the realities of dealing with his new assignment. “Very well, then. I think it’s a good bet that you’ll find Faith at the Bronze.”
“The Bronze?” A frown appeared. “Is that a sort of nightclub?”
“I thought you’d researched Sunnydale extensively,” Giles could not help but mock the new Watcher. Enthusiasm was one thing, but overambitious idealism could be dangerous especially considering.
“Only what’s important.”
Showing him back to the door, Giles gave him directions to the eastside club. “A word of advice…”
“Yes, Mr. Giles?”
“Don’t underestimate what’s important to your Slayer,” he said. “These girls are young women with interests and…desires like any other. Stick to the training, but do not try to run every aspect of Faith’s life. That’s the road to failure.”
Mulling over the advice, he gave a curt nod, obviously still chock full of his own ideas on the matter.
“After you’ve seen and heard enough,” Giles told him, “come back here. I’ll fill you in on a few details you might not have read in the reports.”