Soulbound – Book 1: Chapter 2


The Connections Trilogy_Soulbound_1


The First Connection

Chapter 2

Lower being, humanity is awash with emotions and the free will to pursue choices that do not always follow the path set out by the Powers that Be. Our Warrior is stained by the emotions that tie him to Sunnydale. A vampire with a soul not yet attuned to the course of his destiny or that his fate is forever entwined with the two human females he constantly finds in his thoughts.

Cordelia wended her way through the crowd near the bar, carrying her cappuccino and scanning for any sign of her new boyfriend, Devon. The lead singer of the band Dingoes Ate My Baby was so cool. She liked being seen with him, but there were times that he seemed distracted when she talked. Almost like he wasn’t really listening. It had to be a musician thing like there were lyrics constantly playing in his head. He was too hot not to forgive that little quirk. Cordelia found it easy enough to handle him even if he was a little pushy about getting physical. She liked his kisses and found it exciting when she touched him, but wasn’t quite ready to let him do anything more than grope a little.

“Speaking of hot…,” Cordelia spotted Angel sitting alone at one of the nearby tables. She figured he was waiting for Buffy as usual. Was it a real date or just another one of their clandestine meetings? It was still unclear if what was going on between those two was official.

They had never really talked after the whole Chris Epps thing when she was almost made into a zombie. One minute Angel had been her calm, cool protector and the next he acted like he owned her. Confidence was one thing, but Cordelia was unused to anyone telling her what to do. That had not fit into the little scenario she had pictured in her head when she imagined how it would be between them. It had ticked her off enough to let Buffy have him without any further effort on her part to convince him that his little obsession was a mistake.

Cordelia ignored the inner fireworks that went off every time she saw Angel choosing to enjoy the eye candy. He wasn’t totally immune to her, either. It was just a chemistry thing when two hotties got within staring distance. If he was going to be around she’d have to get used to the feeling that she might spontaneously combust at any moment. Besides, he looked so uncomfortable sitting there by himself that it was easy to forgive him for being such an ass. Making up her mind, she walked over to join him. “Is the Bronze so not happening, or what?”

Setting her coffee down on the table, Cordelia flashed Angel a smile that would’ve taken his breath away if he had any.  Moving with the music, she made an alluring picture. He gulped down his reaction to her unexpected arrival and tried to stop staring at the way that little black dress clung to her curves. Friendly thoughts were nowhere to be found. Though she had said nothing deliberately arousing, Angel felt a quickening inside as her presence sparked a reaction. Raw anticipation took him by surprise, inner demon tugging on strings turning a natural surge of lust into an urge to act. It wasn’t Cordelia who turned his simple appreciation of beauty into something lurid. He could only blame himself for that one. The darkness inside him wanted to reach out and wrap her up in it.

Angel folded his hands on the table before dragging his eyes up to hers managing an outwardly calm greeting. “Oh. Hi.”

“Hi!”

Realizing that it was his turn to say something, Angel explained, “I’m waiting for Buffy.” He’d had the idea that they could meet here like any other couple. Enjoy each other’s company. Take things slow. While he tried not to frighten her away from what he hoped could become something—whatever that might be. The Bronze was the wrong place for it. Too many humans. Sin and sweat scenting the air. Bodies writhing on the floor. The beat of the music base and sensual. His head buzzed with it. He’d waited here long enough for it to get through his usual defenses. Cordelia’s sudden appearance cranked it up another notch making him struggle with it. Beating it down he blocked out anything but her.

Cordelia didn’t seem to notice being too wrapped up in her own plans for the evening. “Great! I’m supposed to be meeting Devon, but he’s nowhere to be seen.”

Having assumed that Cordelia was on her own or with that gaggle of girls who normally followed her around, Angel barely managed to forestall the interrogation. Who the hell is Devon? Answers to his question came easily as he filled in the blanks without needing to ask. A date. A lover, maybe. Curiosity gave way to a flash of possessive rage flaring hot in his chest for a few seconds before he pulled it together. Despite Cordelia’s eager interest, he held no dominion over her, nor did he deserve it. In the long run, it would be better for them both if she was seeing someone.

Mutual attraction was undeniable. Hell, he was still male even if he wasn’t human, but Cordelia Chase was a distraction he did not need. Giving into it would be a mistake. One time would never be enough to satisfy his interest, sate his demon’s lustful urges or, so he suspected, hers. That would complicate things in a way that made it impossible to do anything more than enjoy a fleeting fantasy now and then. Besides, Buffy was something special to him. There was something about her that drew him to her. Maybe it was the mission. Helping the Chosen One gave him a purpose. Her innocence and naïveté drew him in despite the dangers of her instinctive slayer skills. She knew him for what he was and wanted him anyway. Having sworn to help her with her fight here on the Hellmouth, they shared a common cause.

Still, it irritated him that Cordelia had turned her affections to someone else. It didn’t feel like something to celebrate even if it did take the pressure off. “Nice guy?”

“A total hottie.”

Cordelia remained unaware that he was a vampire. He figured her crush came into play. Believing only what she saw as the truth without looking beyond the surface. Angel had not corrected her misconceptions. There were reasons enough. Not wanting to deal with the hassle, for one. Technically, his past wasn’t her business. One other reason hit a little closer to home—he enjoyed being her hero a little too much. The sordid fantasies weren’t always so random.

Angel was not foolish enough to believe he could keep the truth away from her forever. Sooner or later Xander would blurt out one of those ridiculous nicknames or Cordelia might witness him change. He had been careful to avoid it when she was around, but maintaining the mask of humanity took concentration. During a fight, the bloodlust was sometimes too powerful to ignore, and one of these nights he would not be able to hold it back.

“It’s like he thinks being in a band gives him an obligation to flake.” Cordelia rolled her eyes and grinned completely unaware of the direction of his thoughts. She didn’t seem too upset that Lover Boy had gone astray. “Well, his loss is your incredible gain!”

That might be true if Angel had a hope of keeping up with his end of the conversation. That was one good thing about Buffy. Any discussion that was needed usually involved patrol. He was reluctant to talk about himself and Buffy never pushed him into doing so. Talking to Cordelia might’ve posed a problem, but he soon realized that talking about vampires and demons was the last thing on her mind. They had little in common, but Angel realized he could happily sit and watch Cordelia all day. Light caressed her skin when she tilted her head to laugh. Her face was so animated with life.

Hardly noticing that he didn’t have to say a word, Cordelia chattered on about Devon’s band, the song he’d dedicated to her, and his new car. Angel found himself relaxing. She did not ask any pushy questions. Everything she talked about was very Cordelia-centric by nature and that had him leaning in to hear more, even the nonsensical information that made no sense to him.

“So I told Devon, ‘You call that leather interior? My Barbie Dream Car had nicer seats!’”

Suddenly, they were laughing together. Cars were something Angel certainly understood. Car humor was something of a stretch, but he got the joke. Laughter had been a rarity during the past hundred years since Angelus was cursed with the soul by the Kalderash gypsies. He smiled as Cordelia’s hand squeezed his arm, her brown eyes glittering with amusement over the silly story. It touched him in a way Angel had not experienced since before Darla sired him.

As their laughter subsided, Angel and Cordelia caught movement at the periphery of their vision turning as one to see a bedraggled Slayer standing before them. “Buffy?” Cordelia slowly removed her hold on Angel’s arm.

Jumping up, Angel rushed to her side, checking for visible injuries as he went. “Buffy!”

“Hi! I’m—”

“Late.” Angel finished the sentence. As an excuse it was obvious.

“Rough day at the office,” she quipped.

Eyes sparkling, Angel pulled straw from her hair. “So I see.”

“Maybe it’s the new seasonal look,” suggested Cordelia sourly. She couldn’t explain why Angel’s sudden abandonment left her feeling bereft. “Love the hair. It just screams street urchin.”

Groaning, Buffy realized it was probably true. “Know what? I need to go— put a bag over my head.”

Angel stopped her. He had spent all of this time waiting and now she wanted to leave? “Cordelia was just kidding. Please. You look fine.”

Kidding? Hardly!

Buffy and Cordelia shared a knowing glance that suggested the man was a clueless dork. With a little laugh, Buffy told Angel, “You’re sweet. A terrible liar, I have to admit, but very sweet. I’m surprised you’re still here.”

He’d been waiting for her. “I thought we had a date.”

“So did I, but who am I kidding? Dates are things normal girls have.” She glanced toward Cordelia who looked annoyingly perfect, “Girls who have time to think about nail polish and facials. You know what I think about? Ambush tactics. Beheading. Not exactly the stuff dreams are made of.”

Shuddering at the too recent memory Buffy’s words evoked, Cordelia suggested, “Let’s not talk about beheading.”

“Let’s not talk at all,” Buffy returned with a harsh stare that suggested that the girl should get lost.

Cordelia realized Buffy thought she was still after Angel. Tempting, but if she had really been trying, the two of them would have left the Bronze long before Little Miss Likes to Fight showed up here looking like she had been running amok in the cemetery. “I’m waiting for Devon.”

“Oh.” Buffy had forgotten that she’d seen them together. Devon was a hottie, but had nothing on Angel.

Feeling the need to explain that there was nothing untoward going on, Angel stressed to her, “We were just talking and waiting.” Buffy’s imagination had obviously conjured up another scenario. One that wouldn’t have been too far off the mark considering how he initially reacted.

Moving back toward the small hightop table, Angel climbed back into his seat and put his hand on the empty chair at his side. Buffy hopped up. She hooked her heels in the stool’s metal crossbars and leaned forward onto the table.

Since Cordelia was ignoring her hint about leaving and Angel did not seem prepared to shoo her off, Buffy decided that she might as well find out what they’d been talking about while they were sitting and waiting—together.

“You two were laughing when I came up.” She couldn’t remember seeing him laugh that way before, much less crack a real smile. Trying to sound casual about it, Buffy asked, “What was that all about?”

A loud snort sounded from Cordelia. “Nothing important.”

“I’ll bet,” muttered Buffy suspiciously.

Stumbling to explain the innocence of their conversation, Angel got everything mixed up. Consequently, Cordelia was struck by gales of laughter. Grabbing the material of his shirt at his left elbow, she pulled herself close enough to whisper in his ear, “Dumbass.”

“What?!” Buffy demanded to know what was said. Other girls just did not whisper things into her boyfriend’s ear. Certainly not with her sitting there.

“I called him a dumbass.” Blatantly honest about it, Cordelia saw no reason to lie. “He was totally screwing up the story.”

Repeating the tale for Buffy’s benefit changed nothing. “I don’t get it.”

“So what is the story of you two, anyway?” Cordelia realized that she had never taken the opportunity to get the 411 on how they met.

Angel suddenly felt cornered. “We don’t have one.” He’d been mistaken about Cordelia not having pushy questions. She was just saving them up for the right moment.

Looking annoyed at him, Buffy nudged his leg under the table. “What do you mean?” If Cor was asking what she thought, then it was a good sign that her clingy days were over. Maybe dating Devon had cured her of her tendency to drool over Angel.

“Did you two know each other before you came to Sunnydale?”

Angel had a feeling that his, “No,” wasn’t going to be taken as a final answer.

“It’s just that people usually move to the city,” Cordy meant Los Angeles. “Not the other way around. I know Buffy’s parents got divorced.” She shrugged and missed the painful gasp. “What about you, Angel? Are you here for college or work? I mean, I assume that you’re here in Sunnydale for a reason.”

Buffy forgot about the tactless comment about her parent’s failed marriage and focused on the fact that Cordelia had no idea that Angel was a vampire. Now that was funny. She laughed until her face was rosy with it. Saying, “Oh, Angel’s not a student,” between the giggles.

Sensing an undercurrent of tension, Cordelia took a moment to wonder why they were beating around the bush instead of just telling her the truth. What was the big deal? “I didn’t really think so. Not with your moves.”

“I’m here to help Buffy.” It seemed the least complicated way to tell her. Angel decided to offer a few more details hoping that it would satisfy Cordelia’s curiosity. “You should remember the time a few months ago when vampires attacked the Bronze.”

Having stupidly thought they were a gang of ugly street thugs, Cordelia was embarrassed at the memory. She didn’t recall Angel being around then. “Yeah, I remember those guys wanting to kill me. Hello, am I wearing a sign that says I’d make a good chew toy?”

Angel smirked, but hid it behind his hand. “You tend to get noticed.”

“Duh.”

“It’s the mouth,” Buffy grumbled, “as in not knowing when to shut up.”

Cordelia turned on her icy stare for a moment and then shifted her attention back to Angel. “So what about it? You were making a point.”

He explained about the Harvest and the fact that he came to Sunnydale to help prepare Buffy for what she would be facing. “That’s it, really.” An abridged version of the truth.

Angel hoped Cordelia would buy it. Feeling Buffy’s eyes focused on him, he glanced her way. An awkward silence settled around the table as they let the information soak in. “So are you Giles’ other half? I mean a Watcher like him only without the boring librarian gig because you work the night shift? It’s just that most days you aren’t around.”

“I’ve been to the school during the day.” Angel quickly reminded her that he’d been there the day that invisible girl tried to kill her. Shifting uncomfortably on his stool, he had a sinking feeling that this conversation was going in a direction he wanted to avoid. “I’ve been there other days.”

Buffy shook her head over the fact that Cordelia—who could spot fake designer shoes at a hundred paces—had no clue why Angel avoided sunlight. Though sorta surprising, the cluelessness was understandable. It was Angel’s reluctance to come clean that irritated far more than it should. Why keep her in the dark?

“Angel is a vampire. I thought you knew.”

Stunned, Cordelia could not believe Buffy’s level of stupidity. “That’s funny—not!” Did she really expected her to fall for that one? Shooting to her feet, Cordelia stared hard at Angel waiting for a denial, derisive sneer, or anything that suggested he found Buffy’s bad joke as distasteful as she did. The wrongness of it made him look a bit pale, but he said nothing to censure her.

Maybe Buffy felt territorial about her spending some one on one time with Angel, but there was no need to try to scare her by bringing up the ‘V’ word. Planning to leave them to their crummy little date, she said hotly, “You know how much I hate vampires. More than once I’ve nearly been bitten just because I’m within ten feet of you and your little slay-pals.”

Having developed a healthy fear of the local demon population, she knew exactly which end of a stake a vampire belonged. Angel couldn’t blame her for it. Wanting to allay her fears as far as they related to him, he issued a quick promise, “I’m not going to bite you, Cordy.”  Denying intent only made the desire for it flare up faster than he could control.

Eyes flaring wide, Cordelia couldn’t believe Angel was playing along with Buffy’s sick joke. “What’s wrong with my neck?” She flicked her hair over her shoulder and tilted her chin up a notch.

Zeroing in on the rapidly pulsing vein suddenly on display, Angel felt his mouth watering at the sight. “Nothing,” he snapped, more angry at himself for being tempted than her for daring him to show his fangs. This wasn’t the first time he had imagined tasting her.

Barely holding it back, Angel reigned in his temper. What did it matter if words failed to convince her? He owed her nothing, yet he could not let the idea go. Cordelia’s aversion to vampires felt like a personal rejection stabbing like barbed wire on a tender spot—his ego. Making her understand who and what he was suddenly seemed far more important than maintaining the pretense of his humanity. There were plenty of safer ways to prove it, but a morose play-by-play of his origins didn’t even make the list.

Shifting into vampire form in a public place would be dangerous. Even though the music drowned out their conversation, the Bronze was busy tonight, full of potential witnesses. It was a legitimate concern, but he wasn’t certain he cared about playing it safe. Angel pushed aside considerations of taking this revelation outside, or to a dark corner of the club. He curtailed his urge to vamp out right then and there as Cordelia took another jab at both of them.

“How stupid do you think I am? Hello! Vampire Slayer,” she gestured wildly at Buffy and then him, “on a date with a vampire? I don’t think so. Kinda takes dating mistakes to a whole new level.”

Angel’s jaw twitched as it tightened biting back what he wanted to say in defense of his new relationship with Buffy, or what he hoped it could become. The irony resounding in Cordelia’s words made it all sound as if they were doomed from the start. He had given in to conflicted feelings too strong to be ignored. The only mistake was the one he could already see coming—following through on an irresistible urge to show Cordelia why a slayer might break a few unwritten rules to be with him.

Buffy quickly defended him even as his thoughts took an indulgent spin. “I was shocked at first, too,” she admitted with a big sigh, “but then I got to know him. Angel’s not like other vampires.”

Such an innocent, Buffy didn’t know the half of it, nor did he want her to. The darker side of his past was something he hoped would never surface assuming that her watcher had not already dug up the gory details. Cordelia couldn’t even begin to fathom what he truly was even if her recent experiences had put her face to face with his kind. “Trust me, or at least trust her.”

Furious about the game Buffy was playing and that Angel was just going along with it, Cordelia figured there was one sure way to get them to drop it. Play along, too. “Of course! We just need to get to know each other.” Invading his personal space without a second thought, she pressed close against Angel’s side slipping a hand across his broad shoulders. Her rounded nails crested down the back of his neck, fingertips roving in little circular paths unconsciously doing more than just making her point.

Cordelia showed them just how unafraid she was by leaning in even closer. Joking about it, “Angel’s the cuddly kind of vampire—like a Care Bear with fangs.” An irascible growl rumbled up from deep in his chest causing her to reach up with her free hand to feel the vibrations. Silently crediting him for putting on a good show, she offered him one last chance. “So who are you, really? No kidding around this time.”

Being held in Angel’s arms usually only came after a perilous rescue making her feel protected and safe once again. Soothing her nerves. The sensation of his hand making contact with the small of her back should have felt no different. There was an intensity to his stare as Cordelia awaited an answer. Tension knotting him up. Something that smoldered in the dark depths of his eyes. A little jolt shot through her when Angel’s fingers splayed out slowly stroking along her spine. Desire flared up instantly fueling her anger because this was not the time for it. Not when he was trying to play her for a fool.

Buffy’s goggly-eyed reaction made it all worth it. Looking like she was going to throttle one or both of them, the blonde’s discomfort with the whole display was obvious. “Back off. That’s enough.”

Making it clear that she was only proving a point, and had not actually enjoyed being in his arms, Cordelia let out a scathing remark that drew Angel’s mouth into a stern line. A sharp edge sounded in his voice as he asked, “What will it take? My word obviously isn’t good enough.”

Cordelia couldn’t understand his anger. Maybe it was just that she refused to fall for his scheme. “Seeing is believing. Right here. Right now.”

Challenge made, she tried to step back in preparation for accepting Angel’s big apology, but the gentle hold on her body suddenly became unbreakable. He wasn’t letting go. Her wriggling efforts to escape threw her off balance causing her to topple forward. Back on her feet in an awkward scramble, she was about to lay into Angel about being too rough when he grasped her wrist pulling her close again. Lifting her hand to the left side of his chest, he held it in place over his heart, and let the weighty silence thickening between them carry his message.

Beneath her open palm there was no rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, no beating heart. The din of the Bronze faded around them as their eyes held steadily. Cordelia waited for him to break off, to fill his burning lungs with air, but Angel’s worthy of the Navy Seals breath holding skills were off the charts. Blinking away the sting of angry tears, she tried to wrest her hand away.

No way. No freaking way! Cordelia could not conceive that any guy as hot and heroic as Angel could be a vampire. She liked him—really liked him. No way could he be one of those nightmarish monsters. Swallowed up by a wave of fear, her anger emerged on a whisper. “It’s not true. I don’t believe it.” This was a lie. It had to be.

Holding firm in her denial, she refused to accept the clues. Her defense of his humanity would have been touching if his demon wasn’t so bent on Cordelia acknowledging him as a vampire. “Too subtle for you?”

“Make it something real.”

The plea he kept repeating scraped rawly from his throat, “Trust me.”

Fury returned full force proving the strength of her denial. “Why should I? You were just holding your breath. Trying to trick me. I’ve seen you breathing before, dumbass. You’re doing it now.”

Reflexive, it was an unnecessary habit he no longer thought about. “It’s just an illusion.”

“Now, Angel. Show me the truth, or let me go.” The anticipation of giving her what she really wanted was both forbidding and electrifying.

Holding up a cautionary hand, Buffy tried to stop the demonstration before it happened. There were people around. “This is a bad idea. Let’s just go outside. You can—y’know.” She scrunched her face into a telltale expression, but Angel didn’t notice. His attention was focused entirely on Cordelia. The simple solution was a good one, but it was too late for it. Outside they would have no witnesses. There’d be no one to see. No one to hear her scream. Consequences were far too distant to contemplate moving from this spot.

Tracing the flushed curve of her cheek with the pad of his thumb, Angel’s steady, “Okay, if that’s what you want,” sounded as if he was offering Cordelia an olive branch, but an urgency building up tightly within his chest echoed his wants, too.

“Yes.”

Her little taunts, the effects of her touch and salty tears roused more than just the need for simple acknowledgement. “You want the truth? I’ll give you what you need.” Every fiber of her being shouted its denial, and the resulting tension radiated hotly between them.

Stubbornly goading him to get on with it, Cordelia gave him a nod. “Go ahead.”

Anticipation knotted up his insides. Part of him got off on the idea of a fearful reaction, but Angel didn’t really want that. He wanted her to feel something other than contempt.

Buffy sounded out his name on a stutter momentarily distracting them both. One glance revealed this had already gone too far. Those green eyes squinted confusion and doubt. Angel knew that he should end this. Let Cordelia go. Wait for other opportunities to show her who he was without risk of being seen, or annoying his girlfriend. Too late. He knew that he should say something to reassure her because it was obvious that she was on the fence about stopping this before it went any further, sensing that his plans went beyond simple show and tell.

Good instincts aside, the slayer needed to stay put. Angel didn’t want her to disrupt what was about to happen. It was her revelation that started this. Now she’d have to accept the outcome. He would fix things with Buffy later. Smooth things over. Try explaining— once he figured it out for himself—why it mattered that Cordelia accepted he was a vampire.

Prompting her about their previous encounters, he asked, “Have I ever hurt you?”

The belligerent tilt of her chin warned him he wouldn’t like her answer. “Not unless you count lying to my face.”

Angel’s left hand shot out to pull her across his lap in one swift move still cupping her ass as he set her down. Straddling him now, her black minidress rode up almost indecently exposing supple flesh. Smoothing his palm along Cordelia’s bare thigh made him stare downward as he stroked the silken skin again. Christ! She personified temptation. He was not immune to her beauty. The delicate skin of her inner thighs chaffed against his tailored pants causing her to wriggle around for a less volatile position.

His physical response was instantaneous if unintentional. Stiffening, the heavy length of him thickened fast drawing an indignant gasp that tasted of sweet coffee and cinnamon. Instinct brought her into perfect alignment as her shifting hips came to a sudden stop making his arousal all the more evident. Never one to ignore the obvious, Cordelia poked at his last nerve by comparing him to every other red-blooded male on the planet. “Am I supposed to be impressed? Must be a figment of my imagination, too.”

The barb jabbed in just the right spot challenging his manhood as well as his humanity.  It wasn’t just the demon in him clamoring to make her take measure of all he could be to her. The bite to her words, mouthy resistance, the heat blooming inside her stirred his lust, made it impossible to ignore it. “What you’re feeling is as real as my fangs,” Angel promised darkly swooping forward to capture her mouth with a domineering kiss.

Possessive and demanding his tongue pushed her lips apart as it plunged inside. Caught up in the kiss, Cordelia opened up to him as he made her take it. Spinning in shock, she felt dizzy, yet her mouth eagerly meshed with his. Angel was kissing her, and it was just as hot as she imagined, but it wasn’t supposed to be happening here and now. She clung to him desperate for a chance to turn the tables when it suddenly stopped. Opening her eyes to find him staring, she jerked away only to have him give chase, brushing his lips teasingly across hers. Softly, gently, no fangs in sight, she noted shakily as his lips sipped surprising kisses across hers, each one its own scrumptious delight.

If Angel was trying to distract her from finding out the truth—it was so working. Telling him to keep his lips to himself was only a fleeting thought. Every little touch stirred her up, and not only because she was angry. This was hot. She liked it. His sexy response to having her in his arms excited her, too. One thing he couldn’t fake. Still, the hotness was just an undeniable truth within the big fat lie she was determined to end. Soon. After a few more kisses.

Probably even more confused about the clinging kisses, Buffy obviously didn’t like the direction Angel had taken their deception. “You. . . you’re, uh, what’s happening?” She sounded out his name when no answer came. Angel wasn’t really the chatty type, and Cordelia had no intention of missing out on an opportunity to lock lips with Angel.

Playing along until Angel fessed up or Buffy begged him to stop would get her a win, and if she happened to enjoy it along the way—even better. Her head might be spinning, but Cordelia had not forgotten he was supposed to be demonstrating something other than seductive smooches. Challenging him, “Don’t you want a nibble?”

Tilting her chin up Angel forced her eyes back to his. “Are you giving me permission to taste you?”

Buffy had an opinion or two. “What? No!” The cheerleader might think there was no risk, but Angel wasn’t exactly the joking type.

“Yes.”

“I shouldn’t.”

Buffy agreed sourly. “No, you shouldn’t. I think. . . ,” she trailed off realizing no one was listening.

Cordelia quivered with anticipation as Angel pressed a kiss along the vulnerable line of her throat drawing another soft gasp. She had so carelessly dared him to bite her never once believing that he would do it. The second’s pause between the sensation of smooth lips and the tug of blunt teeth made her heart skip a beat. Momentary fear faded with the teasing nip followed by the cool dash of his tongue leaving her arched against him.

Gawd! That had been hot and scary. It was all too easy to imagine him nibbling his way across the rest of her body. One kiss here, one little nip there, one dash of his tongue to take away the sting. How easy it was to dredge up the fantasies she had tried to shelve now that Angel and Buffy had made it clear they were trying to be a couple. A prone to playing evil games with their friends couple, maybe.

A few gold fleck brightened eyes darkened by desire. “Show me you want this, Cordelia.”

Kisses or the truth? So difficult to decide at the moment. Definitely wanting something, she felt odd about pursuing the truth with Buffy standing right next to them. If that was supposed to get her to give up, they had another thing coming. “Oh, you don’t play fair,” she complained before crushing her lips against his for an all too brief clash.

Nearby, a word of complaint echoed and went ignored. Angel released her wrist moving his hands across the softness of her skin and the thin layer of little black dress clinging to her curves. She was far too beautiful to be overlooked by any vampire, and he had not been an exception even if he had struggled to ignore baser urges. Touching her without letting his natural aggression consume him came only with the greatest restraint.

Fluttering like a bird trapped in a net, her heartbeat hastened its tune. Arousal mixed with the anger already riling her up. Angel could sense fear, too, but it was fear of the truth, not him. Every touch enticed a response, sparking desire that flamed up fast. She quivered with escalating need, desire pooling between her thighs as her body heat shot up. He could feel it as his tongue swept inside her mouth for one last taste of temptation. The hot little moan that escaped Cordelia’s perfect lips when he drew back from the kiss nearly had him seeking another.

“What are you doing?” Buffy hissed shrewishly.

Justifiably angry, the question echoed meaningfully. Angel couldn’t answer it, too caught up the idea that had taken hold, proving his nature to Cordelia by a means she would not be able to deny or forget. Doing so would require control and concentration in order to prevent shifting into his full vampiric features. Cordelia’s tendency to scream at the first sign of trouble might make that impossible. Yet, the danger did not deter him.

Cordelia answered Buffy’s question when he did not. “Kinda seems like he wants to make out with me.” Curiosity and arousal warred with the fear tingling along her spine.

Quick to deny it, Buffy said harshly, “Guess again.”

“Feels like it, too,” Cordelia muttered getting caught up in the way Angel’s held her close. Part of her wanted to stay right there in his arms, but he was playing games. Getting off on pretending to be something he was not just to rile her up, and give Buffy some kind of sick thrill by scaring her into the idea that Angel was a vampire.

Pushing at the immovable wall of his shoulders, Cordelia avoided his next kiss. “Enough with the seduction scheme. What does making out with me have to do with you being a vampire?”

Angel answered just above the soft swell of her lips. “Desire makes you taste better. You did offer me a nibble.”

Millimeters away, she muttered, “This is so another one of your tricks,” but pressed her mouth to his anyway.

Buffy wanted to physically rip the two of them away from each other, but couldn’t make a scene. Nor could she just run out. Despite her defense of him, Cordelia was still in the very close clutches of a vampire. One she was no longer one hundred percent certain was going to keep his fangs to himself since he was practically seducing Cordelia right in front of her. “No nibbling! Devon won’t like this, and neither do I.”

Oddly, Cordelia had completely forgotten about her date with the Dingoes’ lead singer. A little distraction like making out with Angel might throw a girl off her game. “Devon?” It felt odd to say his name because he was the last thing on her mind. She glanced around half expecting to find him watching, but he was nowhere in sight.

“Leave him out of this.” Angel let out a low growl at the idea that Cordy’s new boyfriend might have stirred her lust in the same way. Devon was not the one holding her now, savoring the taste of her lips, making her writhe needfully across his hardened cock. He did not want her thinking of anyone else right now.

As his thumb rubbed a slow circle around her inner wrist stimulating more than skin, Cordelia arched against him, her hips twisting along a similar path on his lap. “Let go,” she groused despite the resulting friction drawing a resolute response.

“No.”

When Angel reached up to gently slide her hair over her shoulder again, she tried not to sigh at his touch. No matter how good it felt, it was just a part of the game he played,  exposing her throat to his view. His eyes caressed her skin even as the soft trail of his fingertips caused her pulse to leap to a faster beat. Craving more of his touch was not going to help her get him to admit that this was all just a ruse, no matter how sick, twisted, or kind of hot it might be.

Despite the distracting kisses, Cordelia had not forgotten her plan to derail Angel and Buffy’s little ruse. Maybe he thought she would forget. Pointing out that he had still not proven himself as a vampire, she teased, “Am I tasty enough for you yet?”

Buffy let out a gasp. “Stop flashing your neck that way.”

“Pfft! Go ahead, Angel. Let’s see those fangs. Bite me,” she dared fully expecting him to admit that he could not.

The tip of his tongue darted between his lips anticipating what she unwittingly offered. Angel had been clinging to one last shred of control, determined not to hurt her, refusing to give in to the darker desires clamoring to be unleashed. Hearing those words was too much. Cordelia still did not believe him, or the evidence he willingly shared, yet he was beyond allowing her denial to continue. It might be just another way to punish himself, this need to make her accept him as a vampire despite his own inner strife.

“No!” Buffy answered for her only to be ignored by both of them.

Brightly defiant, Cordelia glared up at him. “Isn’t that what vampires do? So do it.”

Buffy’s strong fingers gripped his arm in attempt to urge him to stop. “Don’t, Angel. You can’t do this.”

Compelled by his own needs, Angel felt driven to make it happen. “Don’t interfere.” Now that the seed of the idea had taken root he meant to go through with it. Cordelia Chase would never be able to deny the truth after tonight. He planned to give her a permanent reminder.

Threading his fingers through hers Angel held her wrist up twisting gently to gaze upon it. A needy rumble emerged from his throat. Heat. Soft skin. Her delicate perfume. Blood close to the surface pulsing fast. Drawn to it, he felt himself giving in to the temptation. It wasn’t just a lesson anymore. Not just a moment of truth. A deep yearning stirred within that could not be ignored. He had denied himself a taste of her once before, but not this time.

Angel rubbed his cheek across her pulse point followed by one lingering press of his lips. Cordy’s blood pressure shot up instantly. Tiny caresses stirred a whirlwind of sensations. Nice! Very much so even if she preferred his kisses elsewhere. She could spend all night macking on his delicious bod if there wasn’t a score to settle. He was turned on, too, but was it because of her, or this game he was playing with Buffy? Whatever Angel was planning for his final act she was going to find a way to pull the rug out from under him for this stupid joke. Vampire? Pfft!

Typically, Angel said nothing. A long lick followed as his mouth opened a little wider over her wrist sucking gently against her skin. Although she felt Buffy’s eyes boring into her, Cordelia couldn’t look away from Angel as he stared up at her, his little kisses continuing. The tingling started in little spurts wherever his lips touched spreading quickly until she was almost trembling with it.

Reacting instantly, she flushed with excitement, her body suddenly thrumming with the need for more. It felt so good to be held by him, his touch gentle despite his unbreakable grasp, his frame solid. Maybe it was wrong to be turned on over this silly act, but so was he, and he made no attempt to hide it, not that he could. Cordelia couldn’t either as desire coiled inside her making her taut with tension.

This teasing had to end. “What are you trying to do, Angel, lick me to death?”

Buffy had seen more than enough. “Stop it.” She grabbed their joined hands pulling them away from Angel’s mouth. The skin on Cordy’s wrist was reddened and shiny wet, but unbroken. “Angel, you don’t have to prove anything to her—and I won’t let you.”

“Stay out of this,” he practically growled in warning. Angel stared her down with a fierce look that caused her to let go and reach toward her stake. Voice softening into a soothing tone, he promised, “It’ll be okay.”

“Oh, just let him,” Cordelia sounded irritable wanting this over with. Still wrapped up by Angel’s hold she couldn’t budge. Being pressed up against him was having an affect on her that she couldn’t hide. “It’s not like anything is going to happen.”

Before she could take another breath Angel dragged her even deeper into his lap directly across his rock-hard length again. A shaky sound, unintelligible, erupted at the delicious rub against her swollen flesh. It was impossible not to react. She grasped his shoulder to balance herself as he pressed her hips down more firmly. A grunt of pleasure emerged, her eyes half closing with it, mouth parting in preparation to tell Angel that she suddenly wasn’t sure this was a good idea because this was far more than just a bad joke gone wrong.

Buffy was watching, she remembered somewhere in the back of her mind. But it was only a secondary thought as Angel lifted her wrist toward his mouth again. He stared intensely as their eyes clashed together, holding the moment, letting her drown in the darkness of sudden need.

Saying nothing, he used every bit of control he possessed to shift into vampire form for only a moment. Just long enough to pierce her skin with his fangs before slipping back into the fully human mask that hid his true nature from the world. Cordelia didn’t have time to react. The sharp pain was quickly replaced by the soft suction of his lips against her skin. “Angel?” The plea in her voice begged for him to release her.

His demon raged at the internal controls he placed on himself, but Angel managed to lift his mouth away from her wrist. The last drops of blood burst with coppery flavor across his tongue. Savoring the delicious taste of her, Angel watched as Cordelia’s brows raised into high arches then drew down together as she stared at the bite marks. Blood welled up from the dual pinpricks. Sharply raising her head, she looked up to see the hints of his true nature fading from view, the horror of it contorting her beautiful face into a pallid mask.

With a shift of his thumb Angel covered up the wounds holding pressure on them to stop the bleeding. There was no need to ask if Cordy believed him now. Deep down there was a part of him reveling in her reaction as fear made her muscles stiffen into knots. After a bad moment or two where he thought she might actually scream, he watched her face go calm as if her underlying anger swept in to burn away anything else.

The truth was worse than keeping her in the dark. Even the fear had its limits. Her fury was building up fast, Angel realized feeling it too. Having proved his word, given in to needs he fought to ignore, with the taste of her still lingering on his tongue, he was still rock hard. Despite this little triumph, he wasn’t finished proving his point. The bite only revealed his nature. Cordelia might loathe vampires, but the truth would never be enough to affect the chemistry between them. He had ignored it until now. Not easily by any means when her flirtations had been so obvious, but his feelings for Buffy had made his choices clear.

“Let go.”

Cordelia’s clipped words suggested they were just the tip of the iceberg, but Angel wasn’t ready to release her from his arms. His body was still hard with arousal and she smelled so good, tasted so good. Maybe it was his demon’s fervent whisperings, or just pure male ego, but it felt necessary that she acknowledge her desires for him remained even now. The way her mouth tightened up into a harsh judgmental line filled his head with ideas better ignored, but he couldn’t.

Buffy snapped an order, “Let her go.” His would-be girlfriend was seriously pissed off at him, and with good reason. It made sense to comply. He knew that he should. Just a few seconds more. That might be long enough to settle this wild need to make Cordelia feel something other than contempt.

Unable to deny himself one last indulgence, Angel reached up between them caging her jaw with an open hand and claiming her mouth in a tempestuous kiss that let his need and her anger rage on. Full of fury, Cordy did not think about why it was happening. A red fog swept over everything except her need to unleash her anger. The voracious kiss left her desperate for something she couldn’t name. Her nails scraped his neck, breasts crushed against him, as her thighs clamped tightly across his so that she felt every inch of his hard sex against hers.

Angel’s tongue swept into her mouth and she bit down hard thinking only of the thrill that swept up her spine when he let out a sharp grunt of pain. It only intensified the kiss for the few seconds that it lasted. Lapping at the velvet surface of his tongue. Sucking on it when he dipped back in for more. Swallowing the taste of her little revenge. Then realizing with a crystal clear thought what she’d done, shoving hard against his chest, Cordelia dragged herself away from his mouth.

“Eew!” Vampire blood in her mouth. She scraped the back of her hand across her lips.

Lifting her wrist to his mouth again, Angel dragged his bloody tongue across the open wounds tasting her one last time and letting his essence seep in. He could already tell that Cordelia was not going to take this easily. She might want him, but she reviled him, too. It took everything he had to release his hold, to stay silent, keeping his thoughts to himself instead of telling her what he had done.

Cordelia pushed at his chest and scooted back on his thighs as far as she could get before butting up against the edge of the table. Fiery-eyed, she claimed, “That was all kinds of gross.”

A shrewish voice sounded beside her. “You didn’t seem to think so at the time.” Buffy was no longer sitting on her stool. Taking hold of Cordelia’s elbow she pulled her away from Angel. He didn’t stop her, but his eyes smoldered with unfulfilled desires.

Buffy was so confused. It was so obvious that he wanted Cordelia she felt the hurt of it aching inside. Why was he kissing another girl when this was supposed to be their date? They’d kissed, too. Not like that, but Angel seemed to like it just as much as she did. So far he had been so patient with her. She had been far less patient. For some reason he had believed a relationship was a bad idea, but changed his mind. Tonight was supposed to be their first real attempt at hanging out together.

Buffy felt certain that Angel was committed to making it work between them. This thing with Cordelia had gotten out of control so fast. There were other ways Angel could prove he was a vampire. Ways that did not involve touching or biting. Kissing was certainly not required. None of this was. The more she thought about it the angrier she got.

“Go home, Cordy. I think you’ve sufficiently ruined our date.”

Busy checking out the small punctures on her wrist where tiny clots had formed over the wounds, Cordelia didn’t bother answering. She barely heard what Buffy said too full of her own thoughts to listen. Angel. Vampire. Angel. Vampire. Oh, God! Angel really was a vampire. As she accepted the fact, with her heart thudding in her throat, Cordelia’s panic subsided. Only her deep pooling anger remained when she looked up at Buffy. She lashed out the only way possible. “I thought it was your job to slay vampires, not date them.”

Buffy actually flinched and Cordelia raised her chin a notch in triumph. She noticed that Angel had not budged a muscle other than to stare at her with the most guilty expression she’d ever seen. All around them the music continued to play and the din of numerous conversations around the bar area kept theirs private despite the few stray looks that had come their way.

“Angel is different. He has a soul.” Buffy wasn’t sure why she took the time to explain things to Cordelia Chase of all people.

Glancing back at Angel, Cordelia had to admit to herself that she was uncertain what a soul had to do with anything. She had not been paying enough attention to Giles and the slay group to learn any details about vampires. Just the important stuff: crosses, garlic, stake through the heart, sunlight.

She cringed inwardly as she realized Buffy was right. God, she’d been blind when it came to Angel. No wonder he was so strong. No wonder he could make her melt so fast. He was probably older than dirt. Ugh. He’d been buried in the dirt. Buried because he was dead. Now undead.

Oh, God! Undead lips had touched hers. Lips of the undead. Actually, they’d been soft and cool and drove her wild, but that was beside the point. Vampire lips, even sexy ones, had no business touching hers.

Buffy obviously trusted him. At least she did before the biting and kissing. There had to be a good reason for it, but Cordy wanted to hear it from Angel. “Are you saying you’re not an evil vampire?”

“Not anymore,” Angel told her. “Not the evil part, anyway.”

“Oh.”

It was far more complicated. “I feel things in ways that others of my kind do not. I have a conscience and feel remorse. Not a day goes by when I do not remember who I am and recall the faces of my victims.”

Frowning, Cordelia tilted her head in a curious fashion. “So you don’t kill humans for food?”

“No.”

“What do you do—snack and run?”

Buffy looked over at Angel somewhat horrified at the thought. She’d never asked. She just assumed he didn’t eat which really made no sense. Vampires obviously had to eat something.

Again, Angel said, “No. Humans are just too tempting.” He looked directly at Cordelia when he spoke. “You saw it. I may have a soul, but I’ll always be a vampire.”

“So a couple drops of my blood and suddenly I’m tops on your list of dinner plans?”

He dropped his eyes to his lap where his hands were folded tightly. What happened with Cordy wasn’t strictly about feeding. He had wanted her. Still wanted her. Deep down his demon was clamoring for him to forget all about this conversation and just do something about it. Lust, that’s all it was. Misplaced lust. Something his demon wanted. Those were the wants he had to ignore.

“Not exactly.” Angel said nothing further to explain his actions. He didn’t think Buffy or Cordelia would want to hear that what he’d done had more to do with sex than anything else. Neither one of them was stupid. He doubted they needed to be told.

Having heard enough, Cordelia announced, “I’m leaving. Buffy, you can have your fun with Angel. Just remember, when it comes to dating real men— I’m the slayer.”

Cordelia Chase flipped her dark brown hair over her shoulder as she turned and walked out of the Bronze. It wasn’t until she arrived home, carefully parked and locked her car, entered her house and closed the door behind her that her anger crumbled. Finally, she let the tears fall like broken dreams. Oh, God! Angel was a vampire.

Discovery of the truth. A human heart closed off to the path of its own desires. Denial: a futile effort against the forces of destiny. A challenge awaits our Warrior. To become our champion, he must face both his past and his future. One must conquer the other for the Warrior to prevail.

Only occasional birdsong broke the restful silence of Sunnydale Park at dusk. Townsfolk knew better than to stick around once the sun settled beyond the horizon. There were no witnesses to the fast approaching classic 1958 Dodge Desoto FireFlite. Its radio pounded full blast to drown out the cranking sound of the engine. Behind the dark tinted windows Spike spotted the ‘Welcome to Sunnydale’ sign and grinned.

He planned to leave his mark on this town and things might as well get started right now. Tightening his grip on the wheel and slamming the brakes, he crashed his car directly into the post holding up the sign. Spike thrust open the door just after the sun set emerging with his game face showing. No need to hide it around these parts. The ride and music were just too good not to let his demon have a little fun.

Ambling over to the curb and lifting his arms, he took in a deep breath of the Sunnydale night air holding it in long enough to taste it. A smirk appeared on his face at the chaos he had caused with his arrival, noting the complete destruction of the town’s cute little sign. It was wrong anyway. The population had just increased by two.

“Home, sweet home,” Spike chuckled gleefully as he lit up a cigarette. He couldn’t wait to bring some death and destruction to this sleepy little town. “So. Who do you kill for fun around here?”

The hand of chaos arrives in Sunnydale accompanied by his visionary sire, a vampiress of the darkest nature. Drusilla, childe of our future champion, driven mad by the one who turned her and now in need of her sire’s blood to cure her ills.

“I was dreaming,” Drusilla told her demon childe. Her words were as weak as her frame was gaunt from the wasting sickness.

Spike gently soothed her brow, “Of what, pet?”

Her mouth made the effort to curl into a smile. “We were in Paris. You had a branding iron.”

Sounded like a good dream to him. Kissing her forehead, he told her, “I brought you something.”

Drusilla continued to describe the contents of her dream, “—and there were worms in my baguette.” That wasn’t as appealing as the branding iron. He would have indulged her by listening further, but there were better things to talk about.

Stepping away, Spike knew there was only one way to get her attention where he wanted it. He was back in moments dragging the unconscious form of a solidly-built vampire in his strong arms. “Your sire, my sweet.”

Raising her head, Dru’s black eyes sparkled with happiness. “My Angel?”

“The one and only,” Spike grinned in satisfaction. Dropping Angel to the floor, he again went to sit on the bed next to Drusilla. “Now all we need’s the full moon tonight, and he will die, and you will be fully restored.”

Kissing her hand, he murmured, “My black goddess,” then nibbled at her ear, “my ripe, wicked plum. It’s been—”

Evil laughter welled in her chest as the vampiress completed his thoughts, “Forever.”

Their lips clashed together as Spike pulled Drusilla fully into his embrace. Tongues clashed and sharp teeth nipped at each other until they caught the iron taste of blood in their mouths.

As she licked her lips, Dru pleaded breathlessly as she stared over his shoulder at the unconscious form of her handsome sire. “Spike, let me have him. Hmm? Until the moon.”

Never one to deny Drusilla anything, Spike readily agreed with her wishes. “Alright, you can play, but don’t kill him. He mustn’t die till the ritual.”

Clapping her hands in delight, she held out her arms. “Bring him to me.”

Spike pulled Angel to his knees dragging him before Drusilla whose eyes washed over the bruises over his face and chest. He began to stir. Looking into the brown eyes that opened wide in recognition, her mirth turned as dark as her raven black hair. Raising her hand, she sent a resounding slap across Angel’s face.

“You’ve been a very bad daddy.”

Family. So many meanings to that word. So many permutations. Even the undead have such a thing. This family reunion comes with the portent of an apocalypse brought on by those who bear our Warrior’s blood. First, she who is tied to the future wraps herself in a cocoon of lies, one shaped from the clay that gives birth to human emotion. Cordelia Chase and Xander Harris. Is it love or a method of avoiding true desires? Nemesis. Lover. Two states of being which are diametrically opposed caught up by a spark of passion’s flame. What burns in their hearts for two others, goes unseen as the flames burn brightly in the darkness of their own adversity.

Willow looked up as the library door swung open, “Hi, Cordy. Looks like you made it after all.”

Smiling at the computer nerd, Cordelia told her, “When you said Giles was in trouble, I cancelled my afternoon hair appointment. I’m all yours.”

The thought made Xander cringe. “Ooh, gang, did ya hear that? A bonus day of class plus Cordelia. Mix in a little rectal surgery, and it’s my best day ever.”

Buffy rolled her eyes at her friend. Not that she didn’t enjoy a good stab at Cordelia Chase now and then, but she had to admit Giles was a bigger priority. “We have work to do. Will, I want you to find out anything and everything you can about the Mark of Eyghon.”

“I’ll try the ‘Net, but ‘Mark of Eyghon’ sounds like a Giles and his books sorta deal.”

She agreed. “Then we hit the books.” Thinking further, Buffy asked, “Xander, how do you feel about digging through some of Giles’ personal files and seeing what you can find?”

“I feel pretty good about it,” he looked serious for a moment. Then asked her, “Does that make me a sociopath? Nah.”

Cordelia eagerly stepped up for an assignment and her intention to help went completely over Buffy’s head. They hadn’t said much to each other since that night at the Bronze when she’d practically dared Angel to bite her and they gave each other a tongue bath. It took two days before Buffy even spoke to Angel. She’d left him sitting there and run off to dust a few more vampires.

That little bite, licking the wound and getting carried away by it really wigged Buffy out. Beside the fact that it was a completely unnecessary way of proving to Cor that he was a vampire, it was just wrong to mack on another girl during your date. There were things about vampires and about Angel that Buffy wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

He’d come to her window last night to apologize. Told her he was still adjusting to being around humans again. That the bloodlust had temporarily caused him to do something he normally would never consider. Angel made it clear that Buffy was the only girl he really wanted.

That was exactly what she wanted to hear. She let him in despite the fact that she was in her pajamas. Angel kissed her and touched her until Buffy almost forgot about him being a vampire. He didn’t want to talk about it again. To forget they were Slayer and vampire for a while.

No problem.

Staring at Cordelia as if she was a strange phenomena Buffy had no idea what she was looking so eager about. “What?”

“What about me?” Cordelia couldn’t understand the delay in giving her something useful to do. “I care about Giles.”

Buffy scrunched her eyebrows together thinking she had suddenly fallen into the Twilight Zone. “Uh, work with Xander.” Cordelia never volunteered for research. Never.

Gulping, Cordelia tried to wheedle out of her assignment. There had to be something else she could do besides help that jokester. He looked equally horrified by the prospect. They had been on each other’s nerves since kindergarten. “Well, when I say care, I-I mean—”

“Cordelia—,” Buffy’s voice was full of warning.

“Okay, okay!”

Willow sighed and turned back to her computer screen. You didn’t have to be a science whiz to know that Buffy Summers had just made a terrible decision. Since Giles was in trouble, she supposed her friend’s judgment might be a bit off. Putting Cordelia and Xander together on a project was like mixing combustible chemicals.

It didn’t take very long for the chemicals to react. “Do you know what you need, Xander, besides a year’s supply of acne cream? A brain.”

“That’s it!” Xander threw the file in his hand to the desktop. “Twelve years of you and I’m snappin’! I don’t care if you’re a girl or not, I’m throwin’ down! Come on!”

Cordelia scoffed at him. “I’ve seen you fight. And don’t think I can’t take you!”

“Give it your best shot,” Xander said and he wasn’t certain he was kidding.

Calling into the office from the main section of the library, Willow yelled, “HEY! We don’t have time for this! Our friends are in trouble! Now, we have to put our heads together and, and get them out of it! And if you two aren’t with me a hundred and ten percent, then get the hell out of my library!”

Meekly, Cordelia chirped, “We’re sorry.”

“We’ll be good,” Xander’s sheepish response sounded.

Willow sat back at her computer with an impressed smile on her face. “Wow! I even convinced myself.”

After helping with Giles’ situation, Cordelia started making frequent visits to the library. It felt good to help out even if it was with a moron dweeb like Xander Harris. Someone who wasn’t around so much was Angel and that was fine. Ever since she’d discovered that he was a vampire, Cordelia had wanted to avoid seeing him, but for some reason she kept finding herself right back here where an Angel sighting was almost guaranteed.

The first time Angel tried to speak to her she froze him out. Not her shiniest moment, but Cordy made it pretty clear that she could care less about any of it. The bite had healed without any lasting scars, and the kisses weren’t memorable enough to stay upset over, or so she had said.

Cordy had lied to his face and hoped he bought it. There were still two tiny white marks on the inner aspect of her wrist still visible against her golden skin. Worse, it was kind of hard to forget about kisses that you dreamed about every night. She was getting less and less wigged out that he was a vampire.

The fact that she wasn’t freaked out about Angel anymore tended to freak her out. It was obvious he was in love with Buffy. All the lovelorn looks, the puppy dog eyes, the fact that she seemed to have him on a tight leash suggested he was in pretty deep. Once in a while Cordelia caught him staring at her instead, but his eyes would be dark and full of guilt and regret.

“I so need a boyfriend,” Cordelia had decided. There were just no qualified candidates around. College boys she met all seemed to have evil plans to sacrifice her to the nearest snake demon. The high school boys were either dimwitted jocks, brainy nerds, or total losers like Xander.

The anger she felt about Angel hadn’t really gone away. Buffy quickly got over the night at the Bronze having bought whatever story Angel had given her. Instead of taking it out on the so very happy couple, Cordelia unleashed her wit and fury on the nearest willing target. Her childhood nemesis, Xander Harris, wasn’t anywhere near her list of potential boyfriends. It was just good to release some of her pent up frustration by getting caught up in an argument.

Any little thing would set them off. Bouts of verbal abuse came frequently and in all settings. Neither Buffy nor Willow had a clue how to fix it. But since the arguing often came with amusements for the audience, perhaps it was an even trade. Some days, all they needed was popcorn and a soda to enjoy the show. Like boxers they would duke it out verbally and then go back to their own corners until the next round.

Pacing across the concrete floor Cordelia muttered, “I can’t believe we’re stuck in the basement.” Helping Xander with research always managed to get them into trouble. Now they were locked in the Summers’ basement hiding from a bug demon.

“Could you sit down, or change your pattern or something?” Xander watched her move back and forth like a tennis ball across a clay court. “You’re making me queasy.”

“At least I’m doing something,” Cordelia returned as she leaned up against the washer. “Because you’re just sitting there. You should be thinking up a plan.”

Xander looked at her as though she missed the obvious. “I have a plan. We wait. Buffy saves us.”

Typical. For a guy, Xander acted a lot like a damsel in distress. “How will she even know where to find us?”

“Cordelia, this is Buffy’s house. Odds are she’ll find us.”

Who knew when that might be. Hours and hours. “Well, what if she doesn’t? What am I supposed to do? Just waste away down here with you?” Cordelia righted herself and glared at him. “Haw, haw, no thank you!”

As she moved toward the stairs, he shifted over to stop her. “What are you doing?”

Did she really have to spell it out? Cordelia stopped and turned to face him. “Going to see if he’s gone!”

“That’s brilliant! What if he isn’t?”

“Oh, right!” Cordelia raised her palm to her head. “You think we should just slack here and hope that somebody else decides to be a hero?” Three determined strides brought her back to the washer. “Sorry, forgot I was stranded with a loser!” she shouted

Leaning back, she crossed her arms and continued to glare in Xander’s direction. He was not about to let that one go. “And yet I never forgot that I’m stuck with the numb-brain that let Mr. Mutant in the house in the first place!”

Yelling back, Cordelia reminded, “He looked normal!”

Scoffing loudly, Xander asked, “What, is he supposed to have an arrow with the word ‘assassin’ over his head? All it took was the prospect of a free makeover, and you were practically licking his hand like a big, dumb dog!”

“You know what?” Heading for the stairs again, she told him, “I’m going.”

Raising his eyebrows, Xander appeared ready to let her go. He was watching as she moved across the room. Then Cordelia stopped at the foot of the stairs and faced him again. “I’d rather be worm food than look at your pathetic face!”

With a shrug, Xander waved toward the stairs. “Then go! I’m not stopping ya!”

Some hero. “I bet you wouldn’t! I bet you’d let a girl go off to her doom all by herself!”

“Not just any girl.” The doom having would be just for her. “You’re special.”

Cordelia fumed at the irony of it all. “I can’t believe that I’m stuck spending what will probably be my last few moments on Earth here with you.”

The bitch just didn’t know when to quit. Caught up in their argument, he told her, “I hope these are my last few moments! Three more seconds with you, and I’m gonna—”

He found himself a step closer to Cordelia. Angrily, she also stepped toward him. Daring him to finish his sentence. They were practically toe to toe. “I’m gonna what? Coward!”

“Moron!”

That did it. Cordelia summoned up all the rage churning inside and told Xander Harris the absolute truth as she saw it. “I hate you!”

Not to be outdone, Xander echoed her sentiments. Only louder. “I hate you!”

Their mutual hatred burned in their locked gazes as Cordelia and Xander were hit by the same impulse. For a single second longer, each saw the same thing. Then they were all over each other, grabbing and pulling closer. Lost in a mad, passionate kiss, they held on until they had no breath left. With a simultaneous gasp for air, they broke apart. Each stared at the other with utter bafflement.

Xander was the first to speak. “We so need to get outta here.”

Nodding, Cordelia could only manage, “Mm-hm!”

Sworn to secrecy, neither Xander nor Cordelia ever mentioned their lustful moment in Buffy Summer’s basement. As much as they tried to fight it, the mad passion they felt was reenacted again and again. Usually in broom closets or behind the bleachers. Their friends were completely ignorant of their secret rendezvous. Both liked it that way.

Until Xander opened his mouth at the wrong moment, things were just fine. “Hey, Cordy! Nice outfit.”

“Oh, very funny,” Cordelia tried to play off his compliment as a backhanded insults.

Puzzled, he frowned at her angry stare. “Not really.”

“What are you saying?” She tried to get the hint across. Hello! Buffy and Willow were right there sitting next to him.

What was he trying to say? Oh yeah! “Nice outfit?”

Moron! “Well, why don’t you just keep your mouth shut!”

Cordelia stormed off as fast as she could, no longer certain where she was headed. With a quick glance at Buffy and Willow, he jumped off the bench to go after her. “Would you guys excuse me for a sec?”

Struck by a weird feeling, Willow asked Buffy, “What’s up with them?”

Having caught up with Cordelia who was now strolling calmly along the outer corridor of the school, Xander stepped up beside her. Flashing him a dark look, she asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

Still confused, Xander pointed out, “I gave you a compliment.”

“In front of your friends! They’re gonna know!”

“Know what?”

“Please!” Cordelia rolled her eyes. “It’s too traumatic for me to even say it!”

Now he got it. “That we kissed?”

“Uhhh!” Glancing around, Cordelia was relieved to see that no one was within hearing distance.

Xander didn’t know why he was so insistent upon following this instinct, but he couldn’t stop himself from following through. “Look, I’m not gonna tell, they’re not gonna know. Not your friends, not my friends.”

He paused briefly when Cordelia seemed to settle into the idea that things would remain a secret. “You wanna go to the utility closet and make out?”

“God! Is that all you ever think about?” Cordelia huffed loudly and then reconsidered, “Okay.”

Secrets were kept and there was much kissage and gropage in the closets of Sunnydale High. Until, “So— Buffy’s party. Mañana.”

“Well, just because she’s Miss Save-The-World and everything, you have to make a big deal?” Cordelia pointed out, “I have to cook and everything.”

Xander was both surprised and somewhat scared by the idea. “You’re cooking?”

“Well, I’m chips and dips girl.”

He pulled of a fake shudder. “Horrors! All that opening and stirring.”

“And shopping and carrying.”

Grinning at the beautiful girl, he slyly suggested, “Well, then you should have a person who does such things for you.”

Not getting it, Cordy told him, “Well, that’s what I’ve been saying to my father, but does he listen?”

Trying again, Xander fumbled over the words. “Um, so, uh— you’re going, and, and, and I’m going. Should— we maybe— go?”

“Why?”

Her flat response wasn’t giving him a lot of hope. “I dunno. This— thing with us, despite our better judgment, it keeps happening. Maybe we should just admit that we’re dating.”

“Groping in a broom closet isn’t dating,” she countered. “You don’t call it a date until the guy spends money.”

As usual, Cordelia had his head spinning. “Fine. I’ll spend, then we’ll grope. Whatever. I just think it’s some kind of whacked that we feel we have to hide it from all our friends.”

“Well, of course you wanna tell everybody. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I, on the other hand, have everything to be ashamed of.” Cordelia stared at him as though that should be obvious. Her fall down the social ladder of Sunnydale High would be complete if anyone found out what she was doing with Xander. Already on shaky ground because of her little adventures with the Scooby Gang, Cordelia wasn’t about to jump willingly into shark-infested waters.

Fed up with it all, Xander tried to stop the emotion from showing in his eyes. “You know what? ‘Nuff said. Forget it. It must’ve been my multiple-personality guy talking. I call him Idiot Jed, glutton for punishment.”

The Powers give pause to honor love in all its myriad forms, but only as fits with the plan they weave. There is no time left for petty posturing. With the dark goddess restored and the childe of chaos mending there is cause for celebration as the Chosen One reaches a milestone of her existence.

Angel brushed his hand across his girlfriend’s silky hair. Concerned, that Buffy seemed distracted, he asked, “Hey. Is everything okay?”

Looking up at him, Buffy nibbled at her plump lower lip. “That’s what I was gonna ask you. You’re okay, right?”

“Sure. I— I’m fine. What’s up?”

Looking down again, Buffy told him, “Um— I had this— dream that Drusilla was alive.”

Angel knew that Slayers had dreams that were actual portents to the future. Was this one of them or just a nightmare? “What happened?”

Hardening herself against the memory, Buffy found that she was unable to hide the pain that it caused. She crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself with her hands. “She killed you. Right in front of me.”

“It was just a dream,” he tried to assure her. “It wasn’t real.”

Protesting with tears in her eyes, “But it felt so real.”

Holding onto her now, Angel felt the need for a little comfort himself. “It wasn’t. I’m right here.”

“Angel, th—this happened before. The dreams that I had about the Master, they came true.”

“Still, not every dream comes true.” He hoped that wasn’t the case. “I mean, what else did you dream last night? Can you remember?”

After a long and weary pause, Buffy told him, “I dreamt— I dreamt Cordelia was your secretary and that Giles and I opened an office supply warehouse in Vegas.”

His lips curling upward, “See my point?”

Nodding, “Yeah, I— I do, but— what if Drusilla is alive? We never saw her body.”

“She’s not.” Angel hoped he wasn’t lying. As Dru’s sire, surely he would have felt her death being so close here in Sunnydale. He used to have a close connection with his progeny, but it had been so long since he had seen them that the link had faded. “But even if she was alive, we’d deal.”

Buffy did not think she could deal with Angel’s death. God, she loved him so much! It was too much to deal with. “W-w-what if she—?”

Cupping her face, Angel pressed his mouth to hers.

“What if what?” He asked after a few moments, their lips parting.

With her arms inching up the vampire’s broad chest to encircle his neck, “I’m sorry. Were we talking?”

Their lips met again. This time Buffy sighed into his mouth opening herself up to the invasive seduction of his tongue. Soft and wet, it massaged her own before darting back into the safe cavern of his mouth.

Breaking away, Buffy muttered a heart-wrenching apology. This had to stop. “I’m sorry. I, um— I have to go to school.”

As Angel bent forward for another kiss, he whispered into her mouth, “I know.”

Their kisses became numerous and heated. One melded into another. Angel pulled Buffy as close as he could practically lifting her off her feet to press her up against the evidence of his arousal.

“Oh, God, you feel—,” Buffy’s brain seemed to be short-circuiting as the unspoken came only as an echo in her mind. You feel so good.

Reluctantly pushing her to the floor and removing her arms from his neck, Angel tried to put a stop to things. He wanted her badly, but Buffy was still so young. “You have to go to school.”

“Right. I know.” Leaning up into another kiss, Buffy smooched her way across his chin until he brought his lips down to hers again, “This is me. I’m going.”

Buffy gripped onto Angel’s shirt, feeling the hard muscles of his abdomen beneath her touch. Was there a better kisser in existence? Her fingers drifted down to his belt buckle and her eyes opened in naughty merriment as he gave her a hard stare.

Now holding her wandering hands, Angel pointed out, “You still haven’t told me what you wanted for your birthday.”

Pouting that her fun was ending, Buffy simply said, “Surprise me.”

“Okay. I will.”

Turning seventeen only came once. And with Angel at her side, Buffy was certain that her birthday would be a memorable one. Reaching a hand up to caress his cheek, Buffy kissed the corner of his mouth before resolving that it was time to go. Smiling at him with her heart reflected in her eyes, she told him, “This is nice. I like seeing you first thing in the morning.”

Smiling too, he countered, “It’s bedtime for me.”

“Well, then I like seeing you at bedtime,” she corrected her statement only to blush at the accidental connotation. “Uhm— uh! Heh. Y-you know what I mean.”

With an ache in his heart at the beauty of her innocence, Angel kept smiling. “I think so. What do you mean?”

“I like seeing you,” she admitted. He knew that. What he might not know was, “The part at the end of the night where we say good-bye— it’s getting harder.”

Thinking of the ache in his groin, Angel could only voice an agreement. “Yeah. It is.”

The day went by in a whirlwind. It turned out that Angel was not the only one who had planned a surprise for the Slayer. This was an end of the world, apocalyptic kind of surprise that Buffy would much rather have done without: Drusilla and Spike’s assembly of the Judge, a demonic beast whose only purpose is to destroy humanity by burning it from existence.

Narrowly escaping death Buffy and Angel fled the warehouse where the vampires had taken refuge. The rain came down in torrents soaking Buffy to the skin. Angel’s coat protected him from some of it, but his hair was dripping. They burst into his apartment. Angel flipped on the light while Buffy closed the door behind them.

Removing his heavy coat, Angel put it aside, leaving him mostly dry. He saw that Buffy was sodden, her clothes plastered to her skin. Moving close, “You’re shaking like a leaf,” he noted with concern.

Teeth chattering, Buffy could only answer, “Cold.”

“Let me get you something.” Moving over to his armoire, Angel reached in and pulled out some sweats and a t-shirt. Handing them to her, he instructed, “Put these on. Get under the covers, just to warm up.”

Walking over to the bed, Buffy sat down only to look up at him with a silent question. He quickly turned his back to her, providing her with a semblance of privacy. Simple things like modesty were easy to forget. Angel awkwardly opted for self-deprecation, “Cordelia was right— I am a dumbass.”

The untimely mention of Cordelia Chase made him cringe. She was rarely a topic of conversation between them for obvious reasons. Her continued presence in Buffy’s circle had surprised him, but he tried not to dwell on his actions that night at the Bronze. The guilt of it bothered him deeply, but he would never apologize. Not after she made it clear to him that she wanted nothing to do with him as a vampire.

Even if her fears were at odds with her desires, neither one of them spoke another word to each other about it. Oh, she had been civil whenever their paths crossed. Too civil. It had taken a lot of control on his part to ignore the urge to remind her that he knew her taste, her scent. Avoiding him would change none of that. He let her get away with it because Cordy stirred him up faster than anyone he knew pushing his demon instincts to the limit. Sometimes all it took was the sharp quirk of a brow to rile him up, much less the caustic sting of her tongue.

Now the beautiful hothead had started keeping secrets from her friends. Did she think he hadn’t noticed Xander frequently smelled of her perfume? It was bad enough that the boy harbored a crush on Buffy. That was futile, something Angel could easily deal with. This was different. Annoying. He had no dominion over Cordelia or her relationships. Besides, it had to be what she wanted. There was no denying Xander’s humanity.

With Cordelia avoiding him, Angel focused on his feelings for Buffy. Every day that passed, they fell more and more in love. It was sweet and gentle instead of frantic and needy. When Buffy was in his arms his inner demon seemed to fade into the background, as if the sheer presence of the Slayer was enough to subdue the beast within.

When it was just him and Buffy there were no distractions. Nothing to take away from the fantasy that they were just a young couple in love. Angel had to smile, calling up the memory of giving Buffy her birthday present. Despite the events of the day, where he’d nearly been forced to leave Sunnydale, Angel found the time to give her the claddagh ring that symbolized his feelings for her.

“It’s beautiful,” Buffy had whispered as she gazed at its intricate design.

Angel explained its significance. “My people— before I was changed— they exchanged this as a sign of devotion. The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty— and the heart— well, you know. Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody. Like this.”

Lifting his hand, he showed her the ring on his own finger with the heart pointed to him. Buffy had touched his hand, leaned over and kissed the ring.

“Put it on.”

Angel was reliving the moment of placing his ring on Buffy’s finger when he heard her wince in pain. Swiveling around despite the intent to give her privacy, he found her to be struggling with her shirt. “What is it?”

“Oh, um— it’s okay. I just have a cut or something.”

How had he not noticed that? Angel’s hands were itching to ensure that she was okay. “Can I—? Lemme see.”

Buffy clutched her shirt to her chest. Whispering, “Okay.”

Sitting down on the bed behind her, Angel gently touched her back and looked at the cut. “It’s already closed. You’re fine.”

Leaning back into him, unable to resist his closeness, Buffy cuddled her face to his. Then his arms came around her. Trembling at her cold state and the colder memory, Buffy was still shocked. “You almost went away today.”

“We both did.”

Sobbing, Buffy called out his name between her sniffles, “Angel— I feel like I lost you. You’re right, though. We can’t be sure of anything.”

The steady rhythm of her heart Angel thumped beneath his hand as it rested along her back and the sweet smell of her mixed with the clear scent of the rainwater. She was warmer than he despite the cold she felt.

“Shhh.” Angel shushed her softly. His ring pressed into his palm as Buffy clutched his hand. She was so close, temptation and innocence personified. Having promised himself not to push her too quickly into a more physical relationship, it wasn’t always easy to ignore his desires. He was on a fine edge. “I—”

Buffy turned slightly to look at him. Something about the way he watched her made her heart race faster. “You what?”

He said the words she had dreamed about. “I love you. I try not to, but I can’t stop.”

Buffy stuttered, “Me— me, too. I can’t either.” She could never stop loving Angel.

Kissing. It was so easy to get lost in just the kissing. They had certainly practiced enough by now. Buffy no longer felt the cold. All she felt was Angel’s strong arms reeling her in. Then he pulled back, breaking off the kiss with a suddenness that left her gasping for more.

“Buffy, maybe we shouldn’t—”

“Don’t.” Stopping his from delaying this moment any further, Buffy pressed her fingers over his mouth. “Close your eyes. Just kiss me.”


SOULBOUND – BOOK ONE – THE FIRST CONNECTION: CHAPTER LINKS

Book One Chapter 1                    Book One Home                 Book One Chapter 3


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